Monday 28 November 2005

green chick·en cur·ry

I wonder what proportion of tables of omnivores at a Thai restaurant include a green chicken curry in the order. I think the percentage would be fairly high. In fact I would hazard a guess that green chicken curry is the most ordered dish at Thai restaurants [outside Thailand]. Well, it is always included in my order!
I cannot profess to the authenticity of my method, and within my method I have degrees of authenticity to my own recipe. If I am in the mood, and craving the ritual, I will make a green curry paste from scratch with fresh ingredients ; if I am able to take advantage of a previous indulgence of the ritual, I will use some homemade paste from the freezer ; but if it is a Tuesday evening, after a hard days work, and I want something restorative, yet quick, yet tasty, I will use a packet of bought paste from the cupboard. All are good, all have their place, and their merits.
This is my recipe for a green chicken curry :
My basic proportions for 2 people are 1 chicken breast, 440mL of coconut milk ; the amount of paste used has to depend on the nature of the paste and your taste.
In a wok, fry some sliced onions in oil until golden and remove. Fry the curry paste in oil until fragrant. Add sliced or cubed chicken, frying until coated in the paste and starting to turn golden. Add the coconut milk, stir well and leave to cook gently for at least half an hour. When you are ready to eat, and the rice is almost ready, add the onions and some frozen peas, or other vegetables as you like (pea aubergines if you are lucky enough to have some), turn the heat to high and bring to a boil.
Serve on rice with a sprinkling of corriander leaves.

Friday 25 November 2005

cook·ie swap

Is My Blog Burning – Sugar High Friday Cookie-swap Party virtual cookie swap thanks to the Domestic Goddess and Alberto of Il Forno! Well this is something I have been looking forward to - taking part in a food blog event - hooray!

There are so many cookies, or biscuits that I love to make. There are chocolate-chip, almond, peanut butter, afghan, jammy dodger, muesli and ANZAC . . .
But for this occasion I think that I will choose two special biscuits or cookies. One that I believe is particular to New Zealand - the Afghan - and one that is shared between New Zealand and Australia - the ANZAC biscuit.
No-one seems to know why the Afghan biscuit is called an Afghan biscuit. Is it because of the walnut half pressed into the chocolate coating that is reminiscent of an afghani hat? Is it because these biscuits were invented by one of our Great-Grandmothers to send to her Beau posted to Afghanistan in the First or Second World Wars? Or was it that a handsom Afghani gentleman made his way to our far shores and made such an impression on baking day that a biscuit was created in his honour. I suppose we will never know. But the afghan lives on.
One can buy packets of mass-produced afghans, or one can spend a bit more and buy "home-made" afghans from a gourmet grocer, one can even refer to the Edmonds cookery book that we got when we first left home, or one can use the recipe that your mother gave you over the phone when you first felt homesick enough to make them in your flat. This is the recipe I use, albeit with a few modifications that I feel reflect the next generation of Afghan biscuit bakers.

This is my recipe for Afghan biscuits :

175g of butter
1/2 cup of caster sugar
3 tablespoons of cocoa
1 1/4 cups of flour
2 cups of cornflakes
Dark chocolate
Walnut halves

Melt the butter, sugar and cocoa in a saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients. Stir in teh flour and cornflakes, mixing well. Form into biscuit shapes, pressing the mixture together as you go. Bake at 180° for 10 minutes or until they are set.
Melt the chocolate and spread on the biscuits and press a walnut half onto each one.

ANZAC means a soldier from New Zealand or Australia and stands for A(ustralian and) N(ew) Z(ealand) A(rmy) C(orps). When our great-grandfathers were away fighting in World War One our great-grandmothers would make these long lasting biscuits to send in care parcels to their men. This is a fabulous example of the ongoing influence of our Scottish ancestors - ANZAC biscuits are cheap to make, nutritious, keep for a long time and taste good. The best time of year to make these biscuits is in April in order to commemorate ANZAC day on the twenty-fifth. This is a recipe that my mother has always made and we always used to have in our lunch boxes for morning tea. Perhaps this is a perfect example of comfort food and nostalgic cooking?

My recipe for ANZAC biscuits is :

125g of butter
2 tablespoons of golden syrup
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda dissolved in 1 tablespoon of hot water
1/2 cup of thread coconut
1/2 cup of caster sugar
1 cup of rolled oats
3/4 cup of flour

Melt the butter and golden syrup in a saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Bake generous teaspoon sized rounds at 180° for 10 minutes or until golden.

Saturday 19 November 2005


Yes there are feet in that picture. We thought it was amusing . . .
Anyway, there are few things better than the perfect burger. But there is so much that has to be right for a burger to be the perfect burger.
There is the bread - perhaps first and foremost, but some would place that with the patty. And there is of course the patty. For me, the perfect burger is always a cheese burger and therefore there is the cheese to consider. Then there are the sauces and condiments. And for some, especially New Zealanders, there are what I shall file under other ingredients.
So, the bread : I personally think that the bread needs to be substantial, have something to it, complement rather than pander to the meat patty. I like homemade soft milk bread rolls with sesame seeds on top, occasionally poppy. There has to be resistance in the crust, but not so much that it causes the insides to fall out. The inside needs to be soft so that it melds into the contents. But having said all that, I do also on occasion like to have a bought plastic softer than soft six to a packet burger bun and a burger like that is all about the meat. And sometimes it has to be all about the meat.
The patty : I just like to squidge good mince from the butcher with some chilli, garlic, and pepper and sometimes an anchovy, with my hands until it comes together - no need for egg - and form into patties. The patties have to be griddled in very hot cast iron or cooked over charcoal - they need to be slightly charred.
The cheese : some form of cheddar, or gouda perhaps and the slice needs to be put on the first cooked side of the burger as the second is cooking.
Sauces and condiments : This is one of the three foods on which I like tomato sauce - the other two being hot dogs and cherrios! I also need a good schmear of hot English mustard on the lower half of the bun. The only other things needed are sliced gherkins and pickled jalapenos.
Other ingredients : New Zealanders are notorious for adding fried eggs, tomatoes, pickled beetroot and so on to their burgers. I, personally, would always have them on the side. The McDonald's Kiwiburger is a case in point . . . !
But a burger is a sandwich and as such is a highly personal thing.


I have always wanted to make something using vine leaves. Must be my classical [sic] education. Years of Latin, classics and the like. Vine leaves were what the ancient Greeks used to eat and therefore, I am sure, the Romans.
But here in New Zealand it was always very hard to find the pickled vine-leaves as specified in the recipe books. I kept reading and eventually had the epiphany that the leaf of the ubiquitous silverbeet would make an admirable substitute and as they say, we were away laughing.
Silverbeet is dime-a-dozen or perhaps as cheap-as-chips in New Zealand. When one orders a thirty dollar mixed vegetable and fruit box from the local organic fruit and veg shop silverbeet is always abundant. There is only so much steamed silverbeet one can endure before searching for alternatives.
Silverbeet is similar, but also not, to spinach. Silverbeet is a much coarser proposition. Make of that what you will. Silverbeet is known in the Continent as Swiss Chard. It is often suggested that silverbeet be substituted for spinach, but this to my mind results in a much different dish. Spinach can be creamed but I dare anyone to try that with silverbeet -
and enjoy it.
All that said there is one contest in which silverbeet beats spinach hands down and that is in terms of robust construction. Enter the dolmades.
A dolmade is a traditionally a vine leaf formed into a cigar shape with a savoury stuffing. I think that this is an exemplary vegetable dish, which of course could be perverted with meat as one chooses. I find that a spicy tomato sauce is a lovely accompaniment, albeit not essential.
This is my recipe for faux dolmades :
Soak Basmati rice in cold water for at least one hour. Fry chopped onion until golden. Mix the now drained soaked rice with the fried onion and what ever flavouring you might fancy. I suggest chopped tomato, mint, parsley, dill, caraway seed, or even cooked chopped meat, plus of course salt and pepper. Trim the white stalks from the silverbeet leaves and blanch briefly until soft. Refresh in cold water and lay out to receive the filling. Loosely fill each leaf with a tablespoon or so of filling and roll up into a cigar shape - remembering to allow room for the expansion of the rice as it cooks. Place each dolmade in a steamer seam down. Steam the dolmades for thirty minutes or so until a tested dolmade results in cooked rice. Serve with a tomato sauce and enjoy!

Friday 18 November 2005


I love pastry. Offer me chocolate cake or a sausage roll and I will take the sausage roll every time. Or the vol-au-vent. Or the pie with the flaky pastry on top.
I have read so many times that people are afraid of making their own pastry. Well perhaps not afraid, but more that they don't want to perhaps. The catalyst to my conversion was the first time I tasted the difference between a pastry made with butter and that made with margarine.
I think that pastry has been only available to buy as a commercial product fairly recently. My mother and her mother and her mother and so on had always had a "rough pastry" in their repertoire : Rub fat into flour and bind with a liquid. The ratio of fat to flour dictated the shortness of the resulting pasty. The addition of sugar made the pastry suitable for a dessert. The liquid could be egg for a rich pastry or water for a plain pastry or orange juice for a pastry suitable for Christmas mince pies. The possibilities were endless. All you had to remember was cold hands make good pastry - or something like that.
Pastry was originally used as a casing for a portable meal. A Cornish pasty is a famous example of this and a Bedforshire clanger another perhaps less known. The story of the Bedfordshire clanger is this : A pastry case was filled with one end a savoury meat mixture and the other a sweet fruit mixture. One end was marked for identification, both of the owner and the identity of that end's filling. The clanger was then dropped down the mine by the cook to her lucky husband at the dinner hour. I am not sure how well the clanger would have stood up to being dropped down a mine shaft - but that is the beauty of folk lore is it not?
My basic recipe for pastry is this :
Rub half the weight of fat into a quantity of flour with a pinch of salt until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Bind the mixture with the minimum amount of liquid required - add a bit at a time. Knead briefly until smooth. Do not handle or work the pastry too much to avoid strengthening the gluten in the flour which would make the pastry tough - we want tender. Wrap up and put it to rest in the fridge for half an hour. Roll out and use as required.

Wednesday 16 November 2005


If I am not sure what I want to have for dinner and perhaps I am feeling a little tender and need something restorative in a bowl to eat, I fairly regularly think of noodles. There are always noodles in the cupboard. Noodles are quick to cook. They are (generally) healthy. Everyone likes noodles. A noodle dish is a dish with so many possibilities.
I like to buy organic dried asian noodles, there are so many kinds : soba, ramen, green tea, egg. But at the moment I have a certain fondness for mung bean vermicelli. It could be that they are made from beans and I love beans and beans are good for you.
I once went to a lot of trouble to find a recipe to make my own noodles. Perhaps I am a little slow on the up-take but I was surprised that all the recipies for noodles - in the Asian sense - were the same as the recipies for pasta - in the Italian sense. I still have no idea why I thought they would be different. Isn't it amazing how the accompanying flavours - tomato, garlic and cheese vs. chilli corriander and fish sauce - can cause you to percieve something that is essentially the same as being completely different. Well I find it amazing!
I understand that it is believed that Marco Polo brought noodles back from china to Italy - so it all begins to make sense . . .
One of my favourite recipes for a whipped up store cupboard dinner is this :
Prepare a broth from chicken stock, tom yum paste from a jar (no MSG thank you!), bashed lemongrass stalks, corriander root and stalks, sliced chilli, kaffir lime leaves and what ever else you fancy. Bring to the boil and simmer briefly. Poach some chicken or seafood in the broth, or reheat some left-over cooked meat. Fish out the lemongrass, lime leaves, and corriander roots at this stage if you like. Add the noodles and when they are almost cooked add vegetables - quartered mushrooms, quartered tomatoes, asian greens - anything you have on hand, even frozen peas would do. Serve piping hot in large bowls with chopsticks and chinese spoons for slurping.

Monday 14 November 2005


I have been making yoghurt for a year or so now and I am always dissapointed when I haven't been organised enough to have made my own and have to buy a pot of commercial stuff. I cannot believe I used to buy low fat artificially sweetened "yoghurt". The last time I had this reconstituted-milk-powder gelatine-thickened nutrasweetened product was so long ago I can hardly remember the taste, so unremarkable it must have been, except that I was dissapointed.
My mother used to make yoghurt in an wee electrical device with 6 or 8 pottles (love that word!) which she would make in the evening and would be ready for breakfast the next morning. She used to make this from milk and a starter saved from the previous batch.
Yoghurt is so good for you. Proper, live, real yoghurt anyway. It is debatable that the regular commercial stuff is not actually bad for you - in my opinion.
Yoghurt is a dairy product made by the bacterial fermentation of milk. The bacteria concerned is most commonly a combination of Streptococcus salivarius and thermophilus, and a Lactobacillus such as acidophilus, bulgaricus or bifidus. If the yoghurt is not pasturised after fermentation and is therefore still a living organism it is considered live and carries the most health benefits. Because the lactose has been partially digested by the bacteria during fermentation, those people who have experienced lactose intollerance with other milk products may find that they have no such problems with yoghurt or for that matter cheese.
My recipe for making yoghurt is this :
Bring 1 Litre of full cream, non homogenised if possible, milk to the boil in a large pan since we all know how milk likes to boil over. Stir the bottom of the pan as it comes to the boil to prevent sticking. Once it has boiled you can stir it less often, but watch for it boiling over. Reduce this litre of milk by a third. I measure this by marking a wooden chopstick with the litre mark and again at the two-thirds mark. Once it has reduced, strain into a china bowl and add 75mL of cream and stir well. Leave to cool until you can hold your little finger in the milk to a count of ten. Stir in 75g or about 3 tablespoons of yoghurt from the previous batch. Cover tightly and leave in a warm place, perhaps wrapped in a towel for 8 hours - overnight is perfect. If this is your first batch then you will have to buy some yoghurt unless you can borrow some from a yoghurt-making friend. Just make sure you buy live yoghurt so those bacterium are still alive and kicking.