Monday 20 February 2006

prawn cock·tail

Prawn cocktail comes and goes with the fashion. But there will always be room on my table for a well dressed prawn.

Our Christmas dinner begins with a prawn cocktail. Albeit, there are years that one of the family decides that it is time for change and subsequently provides an entrée of chilled pea soup. The chilled pea soup was very nice but it just was not prawn cocktail. The prawn cocktail has been a good entrée for many a happy dinner guest.

The prawn cocktail itself has evolved from the mayonnaise rich Marie Rose sauce of my mother's Cordon Bleu days to the savvy vinaigrette versions of today. However it is not only the dressing that has changed ; we are now liberated to serve the cocktail however we choose.

Might I suggest serving the basic recipe as the traditional prawn cocktail we know and love in a glass bowl on top of a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce?

Or maybe an Asian style appeals with prawn cocktail presented as san choi bow in a lettuce leaf bowl ; perfect for party food.

Perhaps the more substantial prawn cocktail crostini is what you are looking for? Prawn cocktail served on a slice of toasted baguette.

My prawn cocktail is made like this :

Whole, raw prawns, as many as you need. 6 per person for an entrée or one per piece of finger food
Avocado, approximately one per dozen prawns or to your taste
Herb sprigs, e.g. bay leaves, thyme, parsley, dill
Extra Virgin olive oil
Lemon juice
Sat and pepper
Lettuce or baguette to serve

Bring a large pot of water to the boil with the herbs. Drop in the prawns and simmer until the prawns are pink and one tested proves to be cooked. Refresh in cold water to stop the cooking and drain. Peel once cool enough to handle. Leave the tails on a few for aesthetic purposes. Store in the fridge until needed, for up to 24 hours.
Prepare a vinaigrette with the proportions of twice the oil to lemon juice, adding garlic, salt and pepper to taste.
Peel, stone and cube the avocado. Only do this when you are ready to prepare the cocktail.
Combine the peeled prawns and cubed avocado with enough vinaigrette to lubricate. The avocado will break down a little making the dressing lovely and thick, but try not to be so vigorous in the tossing that the avocado turns into mush.
Serve on a bed of shredded lettuce, in a lettuce leaf cup or on a toasted slice of baguette, drizzling a little more vinaigrette over the finished product.

Af·ghan bis·cuit

My mother has always made Afghan biscuits, yet she could never explain why the Afghan biscuit is called an Afghan biscuit. No one seems to know. It is a New Zealand institution. A mystery.

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 handsome 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 biscuit 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 the 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.


I am going through a phase at the moment of having Ryvita and ricotta for breakfast. With a piece of fruit afterwards I think this is a pretty good breakfast. This started with me having ryvita and cottage cheese which then evolved into Ryvita and ricotta because ricotta is easy to make and cottage cheese is more difficult.
I then moved on to wanting to make the Ryvita. I figured that it is just a type of bread and therefore I could make it. This morning I did just that. I had to improvise a bit due to lack of ingredients and because I wanted the Multi-Grain type rather than Original.
I found several recipes but none that seemed exactly what I wanted, nor had the ingredients to make.
All required rye flour but I only had rye flakes that I use for making bircher. But isn't flour ground up flakes, in a round about sort of way? The flakes went in the food processor.
I wanted to have some grains included so I soaked some purple wheat grains in boiling water then added them to the rye flakes food processor to break them up a bit.
Fennel seeds, I didn't have any . . . but the flavour of anise is a bit like fennel and Pernod is flavoured with anise so why not add a slug of Pernod to the dough. I thought that was a great idea. Luckily yeast is one of the few things that can survive in alcohol.

In the end I made knackebrod like this :

85g purple wheat grains
150mL boiling water
200g rye flakes
130g stoneground unbleached flour
15g yeast
1 teaspoon of salt
a couple of slugs of Pernod

Soak the grains in the boiling water for as long as you like. Overnight would result in a softer result. I only gave it about 30 minutes because I was impatient.
Put the soaked grains and their liquid in a food processor with the rye flakes and process to a dough like mass. The flakes and grains should be well broken, a few grains will be visible.
Mix to a dough with the flour, yeast, salt and Pernod. Add more water as required. The dough will be stiff.
Break the dough into four pieces and form into balls. Leave to rise for 40 minutes.
Preheat the oven to its highest temperature - my oven reaches 250°c.
Shape the dough by rolling out as thinly as you can without it breaking. You can make traditional rounds with holes in the middle or rectangles or indeed, any other shape you like.
I made half the dough into the rounds you see below, and half into the rectangles, aka Ryvita, you see above. If you make rounds cut a hole in the middle large enough to fit over the handle of a wooden spoon for cooling once they are cooked.
Prick the dough all over with a fork to prevent it rising and cook for four minutes or until they look cooked and slightly golden. Leave to cool - in the case of the rounds on the handle or a wooden spoon or just on a wire rack. Turn the oven down to 180
°c and put the whole lot back in for 5 minutes or until they are dry and hard.
Some end notes :
The Pernod was a fantastic addition, it worked really well. The anise flavour was definitely there but not overpoweringly so.
These are really good crispbread, I am very pleased, it was a good experiment! I am going to buy some rye flour and try a plain version. Breakfast is sorted for a while yet - I see a world of crispbread opening up before me.

Tuesday 14 February 2006

beet·root and car·rot jel·ly

Caligula, Roman Emperor from 37 to 41 A.D., was known, among other things, for his extreme extravagance. However the carrot is the reason I mention Caligula today, Saint Valentine's day. The carrot has been known since Roman times as an aid to seduction. Perhaps this was the reason Caligula, in the hope that the aphrodisiac properties of carrots would work, treated the Roman Senate to a banquet of carrot dishes.

Aside from the rich and sensual colour, beetroot is rich in boron which is essential for hormone production and as such has been considered an aphrodisiac since ancient times.

Honey I have already mentioned.

All this talk of aphrodisiacs is easily explained with the mention of slurp & burp and - Thanks MagicTofu! The ingredients for this, the 15th episode of Paper Chef are :


And why not use the juice of such sweet vegetables as carrots and beets, just a touch of honey to sweeten and a pear and lime sauté to top things off nicely? The mystery ingredient of aphrodisiacs was satisfied not only with the carrot and the honey, but as a surprise bonus aphrodisiac, the beets as well. How lucky are we?

Beetroot and Carrot Jelly with Pear and Lime Sauté :

750 mL of beetroot and carrot juice*
3 leaves of gelatine
2 teaspoons of honey
2 pears, cut into small chunks
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
Juice of one lime.

Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes. Heat 100mL of the juice until almost boiling and stir in the honey. Squeeze the water from the soaked gelatine and whisk into the hot juice. Add a bit of the cold juice to the hot liquid then mix the hot into the cold. Pour into a mould to set. It will take at least three hours to set in the fridge.
Melt the butter in a heavy frying pan and sauté until the pear begins to colour. Stir in the sugar and the lime juice. Remove from the pan to cool.
Serve the jelly with the pear sauté.

A light, refreshing jelly came to mind as a good Valentine's Day desert, a time that a heavy dessert would be wrong. On another evening this would make a good and unusual entree or perhaps a refresher for a more involved dinner.

*I do not have a juicer so I bought a large beetroot and carrot juice from a juice bar to use for the jelly.

Friday 10 February 2006


Sugar High Friday , as decreed by Jennifer is all about improving the collective Valentine's Day with Aphrodisiac foods.

I toyed with the idea of a chocolate "caviar" and blini, but decided that there was nothing whatsoever romantic about tapioca, chocolate or not. I thought that something eaten with the fingers would be the way to go. As I was reading through a list of Aphrodisiac foods these caught my eye :

Almonds - Throughout time almonds have been associated with desire and fertility. Epitomised by Sampson's wooing of Delilah.

Pine Nuts - The Romans believed in the aphrodisiac power of the pine nut ; many a libido was stirred in Medieval times with a handful of pine nuts.

Honey - Honeymoon, my honey, who doesn't believe honey is seductive?

Basil - Stimulating to more than just the circulation, basil is also said to have a scent that drives men wild!

Aniseed - The ancient Greeks and Romans knew aniseed had special powers ; we now know anise contains estrogenic compounds - one way to increase your desire.

So what to do with that lot? Baklava, or more specifically as it shall be named for the occasion Baklover!

I thought a mixture of chopped almonds and pine nuts could replace the more usual pistachio or walnuts. Honey could be included in the syrup. And why not combine the basil and the aniseed in the one plant and use Thai basil which I find to be basil with an aniseed taste, and infuse the syrup with the leaves?

I made the baklover like this :

1 cup of caster sugar
1/2 cup of water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon of manuka (for extra power) honey
2 sprigs of Thai basil
250g phyllo pastry
60g butter, melted

175g almonds, finely chopped by hand

75g pine nuts, finely chopped by hand

Make the syrup by dissolving t
he sugar in the water with the lemon juice then boil for a couple of minutes or until the syrup coats a spoon. Stir in the honey and the basil leaves. Remove the basil leaves after a minute. Cool, then chill the syrup.
Preheat the oven to 180
°c. Have ready an oven proof dish the size of half a sheet of phyllo.
Layer half the phyllo in the dish brushing melted butter between each layer and folding each sheet in half. Spread the nuts over this layer of pastry. Continue layering and buttering the remaining phyllo to cover the nuts in the dish. Butter the top layer. Cut the nut-pastry stack into diamond shapes right to the bottom. Bake for 30 minutes or until it is golden and puffy.
Pour the cold syrup over the hot pastry the moment it comes out of the oven. Leave to cool then recut and remove from the dish.
Eat with your fingers and be aware of the consequences!

Notes : I had not made baklava before this and I think I probably should have before I started to experiment. I do not think I chopped the nuts finely enough and therefore it fell apart a bit too much. I think I might have left the basil in the syrup too long - much longer than the minute I specified above. But all in all I rather liked it - the basil syrup was less cloying than the traditional rose water or orange blossom flavours I have eaten, almost savoury in a strange way. I think the infusion of herb flavours in deserts is wonderful, but the intensity needs to be managed.

Wednesday 8 February 2006


Socca is a Provençal dish which for some reason I came across a few years ago and have made ever since. I have no idea now where I first learnt of socca ; I have trawled my books but I was unable to find a single mention.
Socca is essentially a chickpea pancake. I make socca when I need a quick and easy, yet protein filled, starch to go with dinner. Ratatouille is an excellent foil for socca. I firmly believe this is the perfect type of supper for health giving and satisfaction - quite often two opposite ends of the supper continuum. And it is as cheap as chips - which is always a bonus!

A quick, easy and nutritious option to add to your supper goes like this :

Whisk chickpea flour with water until it is like thick cream or crêpe batter. For two people I use 1/3 cup of chickpea flour. Add more water or chickpea flour if the texture is not correct. Season with salt and pepper and leave for an hour to rest.
Heat a tin in an oven set as hot as you can - my oven's highest temperature is 250°c. When you are ready to cook lubricate the tin with some olive oil and then pour in the batter. Cook for 10 minutes or until crinkly at the edges and looking good. Remove from the tin, tear into pieces and dip into your ratatouille.
A popular addition to the basic batter is rosemary needles.

I have no idea if this is a traditional version or recipe and would welcome any comments on the subject.

Monday 6 February 2006


Scotsman : Is that a pavlova or a meringue?
New Zealander : You were right the first time.

A Pavlova is indisputably a New Zealand invention. I can say that because I know and there is evidence. Today is Waitangi Day, a public holiday in New Zealand. Apart from it being a great day to spend with family I think it is also a great day to celebrate, through the medium of cooking, what it means to be a New Zealander. To me this means Roast Lamb and Pavlova. So for dinner this evening, naturally enough, we had roast lamb and pavlova.

This morning I made the pavlova like this :

4 egg whites
250g of caster sugar
2 teaspoons of cornflour
a splash of white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence
300 mL of cream, whipped
fruit - kiwi berries are perfect, passionfruit is good or any other fruit that you like.

Preheat the oven to 180°c.
Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until peaks form. Continue whisking then add the sugar a bit at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Gently fold in the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla.
Scrape the meringue onto a baking sheet with a piece of baking paper on it, making a traditional round, or a more unusual rectangle. Smoothing the shape as you go remembering that the finished pavlova will be an expanded version of this raw shape.
Put the meringue in the oven, turning the temperature down to 150°c as you do so. Cook for 1 hour 10 minutes then turn the oven off. Leave to cool in the oven.
When cool turn the pavlova out onto a plate with the topside down so the outside forms a good shell. Smear with whipped cream and decorate with fruit.

Serve after roast lamb and God Defend New Zealand.

Saturday 4 February 2006


A Valediction: souf·flé morning

As virtous egg passe mildly'away,
And whisper to their yolks, to goe,
Whilst some of their sad friends doe say,
The souffle goes now, and some say, no:

So let us melt 30g butter, and make no noise,
Stirring in and cooking 2 tablespoons flour,
'Twere prophanation of our joyes
To stir the roux with love.

Moving of the roux brings smoothness and warmth,
Men reckon what it did and meant,
But adding of warm milk,
One cup, no more, is gradual.

Simmer sublunary lovers roux
(Whose soufflé is near) for 5 minute.
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which heated it.

But we by a'love, so much refin'd
That we ourselves stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons gruyère,
Inter-assured and finely grated,
and 2 tablespoons of parmesan.

Our 4 yolks therefore, which are added one by one,
Though I must goe, whisk 5 whites
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to ayery thinnesse beate.

If they be five, they are five so
As stiffe egg whites compasses are five,
Thy whites are folded, makes no show
To fold, but gently, into the enriched cheese bechamel.

And though it in the center sit,
Of a buttered and cheesed dish,
It bakes, at 200°c for 23 minutes,
And growes erect, as it comes home.

Such wilt thou be to mee, who must
Like th'other foor, obliquely runne;
Thy firmnes makes my circle just,
And makes me end, where I begunne.

And the souffle is Donne, just right.
It must be served on, or with baguette
to make it a Cook sister!
Extravaganza in this stanza.

Thursday 2 February 2006


This is the most fantastic thing to make if you want some thing healthy yet tasty and satisfying. Every time I make it, it is different, and therefore something I cannot get sick of eating. Sometimes it is just smooth like Barry White. Sometimes it has a bit of a kick like the Bee Gees. Sometimes it is a bit sickly-sweet like Barry Manilow - but that is possibly pushing the Barry theme a bit.
The ingredients are flexible but always include garlic and tomatoes. Generally courgette, onions, aubergine and capsicum are also involved. On occasion chilli, carrot and anchovies make a guest appearance. But this is the dish with which to improvise. If you need to clear out the fridge throw all your vegetables in a dish with some tomatoes and garlic and call it ratatouille.
The cooking method introduces another level of interpretation. I regularly make ratatouille in the oven to accompany a roast chicken or another lucky joint. We know it is summer when we throw together a ratatouille to cook on the barbeque, either in a tightly wrapped foil parcel or in the old beaten-up frying pan that has been relegated to BBQ duty. But if there is no reason to turn on the oven, an open pot on the stove top is just fine.

The ratatouille you see above involved :

4 large courgettes, cut into large chunks
1 large carrot, cut into large chunks
3 beefsteak tomatoes, cut into large chunks
12 cloves of garlic
8 anchovy fillets
4 stalks of marjoram from my new garden (so exciting to have herbs again!)
Some of the oil from the anchovies and some extra olive oil
Salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and cook in the oven in a large roasting dish, tossing occasionally, at 200°c for 45 minutes. Remove the marjoram branches before serving.

P.S - I love the anchovy bone that is sitting on top of the courgette in the photo, more proof of the nutritional (calcium in this instance) benefits of this dish.