Thursday 28 June 2007

chil·li corn nib·bles

Corn and chilli, a perfect match.

A store cupboard snack, perfect for eating while relaxing. Perhaps when playing cards while enjoying a glass of wine. Or for some impromptu nibbles when cracking open a bottle of wine with some friends seem like a good idea. Or even if you aren't hungry enough for a proper meal but know you should have something to eat or regret it at about 1am when you wake up hungry.

Actually they would be pretty good for when you do wake up at 1am hungry . . .
Chilli Corn Nibbles
Enough for a good snack for a couple of hungry people

1 egg
a good glug of Tabasco
1 tablespoon olive oil
white pepper
2 heaped tablespoons of flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
splash of milk
1 cup frozen corn kernels
Olive oil for frying

Beat the egg with the Tabasco, oil and the salt and pepper. Mix in the flour and baking powder and enough milk to make a thick batter. Mix in the corn and leave to stand for about 30 minutes.
Heat a frying pan to medium hot with a good layer of olive oil and fry teaspoons of the mixture until golden and crispy. Keep the fritter warm in a low oven between batches and serve with a chilli sauce.

Sunday 24 June 2007

Brus·sels sprout soup

I can't change thyme, but thyme can change soup.

For not having a scrap of cream in it, this soup is surprisingly creamy and satisfying. And full of the good flavours of Brussels sprouts. It is the brief 10 minute cooking of the sprouts that has prevented the little beauties from turning into the grey and bitter slop of many a childhood nightmare. I think this could be the recipe that could turn a Brussels sprout hater into a Brussels sprout lover, providing you don't tell them what the soup is made from before they have complimented you on your kitchen skills. The onion sweetens the soup, and the thyme gives a lovely savoury note, but of course substitute another herb you have handy.

I don't think you necessarily need bread with this soup, but then again a piece of hot buttered toast never goes amiss.
Brussels Sprout Soup
serves 2 generously

1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 tablespoon of butter
250g Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half, or quarters if especially large
500mL chicken stock
2 good sprigs of thyme
Celery salt and white pepper

Melt the butter and cook the onion over a low heat with the lid on for about 30 minutes or until very soft and almost melting. Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium, and cook until the onions just start to colour. Add the Brussels sprouts, stock and thyme and cook at a simmer for about 10 minutes or until the sprouts are tender. Remove the thyme and puree the soup. Season with celery salt and pepper, reheat and serve.

Friday 22 June 2007

cream of to·ma·to soup

Takes on and beats the best of the cans.

We left it as late as possible to harvest the last of the tomatoes and pull out the plants, finally giving into the cold that was about to hit. When we did we had a huge pile of tomatoes ranging from all green to ripe and wonderful. I tried to ripen the green ones on the window sill, just wanting the hugest pile of ripe redness before I set to boiling them up to pop in the freezer. I did sneak a few from the pile to make my favourite soup - cream of tomato.

Cream of tomato soup is something else mass produced that I like to try to imitate. And I am always very happy when it doesn't match up

Hot and smeared with butter.
Cream of Tomato Soup
Scale to feed your crowd.

Fresh tomatoes
Parsley stalks, leaves reserved for garnish
Salt and Pepper

Cook the tomatoes with just a dash of water, the parsley stalks and the garlic until completely fallen apart into pulp. Puree then pass through a sieve into a clean pan. Add water and cream to reach the thickness you prefer and reheat without boiling. Season with a dash of Tabasco and salt and pepper.

Serve, of course, with hot buttered toast.

min·i ap·ple pies

Ernest Adams, Sara Lee or Laughing Gastronome?

I have this thing where I like to make things like those that are usually bought : digestive biscuits, custard creams and most recently, those individual snack size apple pies. They never turn out exactly how they are when bought, but that is a good thing, isn't it!

The apple pies I was hoping to mimic have a cubed apple filling in a thick, sticky sauce flavoured with cinnamon, short crust pastry - often quite cakey, which I didn't want to reproduce - and all sprinkled with sugar. You know the kind. I most often see them at office morning teas and they are always disappointing, making you wish you had stuck to the tim-tams.

These are perfect to take in your packed lunch, but if you want a full size pie, have a look here.
Snack Size Apple Pies
Makes 12 patty pan size

Shortcrust pastry
100g butter, chilled and cubed
200g flour
a good pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
cold water

1 tablespoon butter
3 Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and cubed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour, slacked with a wee bit of water

Caster sugar for sprinkling

Make the pastry by rubbing the butter into the flour with the salt, then forming a dough with almost all the egg, saving some for brushing the pies before baking, and enough cold water. Leave to rest in the fridge for an hour while you make the filling.

Melt the butter then add the apples, cinnamon and sugar, stirring together well. Cook on a gentle heat until the apple is tender, then thoroughly mix in the cornflour slurry and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°c and put a baking tray in to heat.

Roll out the pastry and using suitably sized cutters, cut 12 sets of tops and bottoms to fit a 12 hole patty pan. Line the holes with the larger circles, divide the filling among them, brush the edges with a little water then lay over the tops. Crimp the edges together with a fork then rest in the fridge for 10 minutes. Brush the tops with the reserved egg from the pastry and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15 minutes.

Tuesday 19 June 2007


Hot, comforting food for a cold evening.

It is just starting to get really cold here in Wellington. We were ever so lucky in May with the warmest temperatures for the month on record. But June seems to have made up for that already.

It always pays to look on the bright side of life (are you whistling?!), and the bright side of winter is the food and the cooking : Stews, puddings, roasts. Things that are the antithesis of warm days and balmy nights ; save the cool, light dishes for summer. At this time of year I want something to comfort and to warm. Lasagne is just the thing.

Attractive? Maybe not. But very, very tasty.

I first made lasagne about two and a half years ago, I remember because it was what I took to my sister and her family when my youngest niece was born. That was my first lasagne because I flatted for years with a friend who made the best lasagne ever, so why would I make one, much better to talk her into it!
Simple Lasagne
serves 4

The meat
1 small onion, chopped finely
150g beef mince
2 cloves garlic, minced
bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried mushroom powder
1/4 cup red wine
1 cup tomato puree, not paste, or canned tomatoes
salt and pepper

Fry the onion gently in a little olive oil until starting to turn golden. Add the mince and fry until brown through out. Add the garlic, bay leaf, mushroom powder, wine, tomato puree and enough water to just reach the top of the mince. Simmer for 30 minutes, topping up with water as necessary, but the end result should not be too wet. Remove the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper.

The Béchamel

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/4 cups milk
salt and pepper

Melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook over a medium heat for a minute then gradually stir in the milk, mixing well to avoid lumps. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

The pasta
150g fresh pasta, made with 100g flour and 1 egg, rolled thin and cut into squares.

Cook the pasta squares in lots of rapidly boiling salted water for a minute, in batches, then lay on a damp tea towel.

To complete
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Butter a baking dish and lay a third of the pasta in the bottom. Spread the pasta layer with half the meat then a third of the béchamel and a third of the Parmesan. Repeat the layers, finishing with pasta, béchamel and cheese. Bake at 200°c for 30 minutes and serve piping hot.

Sunday 17 June 2007

what we are drink·ing this week

Served with plain roasted popadoms, followed by a mild chickpea curry, dahl and naan.

Served with smoked salmon, lemon, black pepper on lightly buttered bread.

Served with guacamole

Brus·sels sprout cole·slaw

These used to make the best Sindy cabbages!

The idea for using Brussels sprouts in a coleslaw was, like all good ideas, the result of mistake, a misunderstanding. I had just got back from the shop and excitedly told G that I had bought some Brussels sprouts, and because coleslaw was on the menu for dinner G asked if they were for the coleslaw. OK, so that isn't exactly a huge leap to another tangent, but a Brussels sprout coleslaw is a new dish in our kitchen.

I said I came home and excitedly announced the Brussels sprouts because I do love the little green bundles of joy. I think perhaps this love goes back to my days of using them as cabbages for my Sindy dolls. And these were our first Brussels sprouts of the season ; my mother has always told me to wait until the first frost to buy Brussels sprouts. Ah, the joys of winter!

I think Brussels sprouts are the perfect stir fry vegetable, outer leaves removed and cut into quarters, the stay together and cook quickly in the heat of the wok. Lightly steamed they make a love pile of miniature cabbages (see above) to enhance any meal. For a quick fix - throw them around the roast for the last 10 minutes or so. Finely sliced, they can be added raw to salads.

So I knew what I was going to enter for the fourth round of Heart of the Matter, which is all about vegetables. This is an event is brought to you by The Heart of the Matter, and is hosted this month by Joanna.
Brussels Sprout Coleslaw
serves 2, but scales well

6 Brussles sprouts, outer leaves removed and finely sliced
1 carrot, peeled or well scrubbed and finely sliced
2 spring onions, finely sliced

2 tablespoons yoghurt
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon wasabi paste
white pepper and celery salt

Mix the dressing ingredients together well, tasting for seasoning, then toss with the vegetables. This salad will stand well, so can be made a couple of hours ahead and kept in the fridge.

Saturday 16 June 2007


Och aye tha noo!

Greig is Scottish, and he of course makes the best porridge in the world. Ever. I am not biased this is simply a fact. He eats it rather differently to me however : I grew up having soft brown sugar and a bit of milk on the cooked porridge, and if I was lucky the top of the milk or some cream. My sister likes a wee dram of whiskey on her porridge, with the cream and sugar. But Greig, just adds a bit more salt, and maybe a spot of milk if he is feeling a bit naughty.

One of the best things with which to stir the porridge is a spurtle. A spurtle is a wooden stick like tool which is able to get right into the corners of the pot, but doesn't resist its path through the porridge like a wooden spoon can.

We use steel cut rolled oats, never any that are processed more than that - what is the point? We sometimes mix in a proportion of jumbo uncut oats, just for a wee change, ye ken?

It is so wet and rainy here in Wellington today, that porridge was the perfect breakfast.
serves 2

1 cup rolled oats
2 cups water
approximately 1 teaspoon salt
approximately 1 cup of milk

Mix the oats, water and salt in a pot and cook for a while, stirring frequently with your spurtle. Add the milk gradually to make the consistency you prefer. Taste and add more salt before serving with soft brown sugar, whiskey, cream and more salt.
It is so wet and rainy here in Wellington today, that porridge made the perfect breakfast.

Friday 15 June 2007


Meat, meat, meat.

Arfi asked for it, so I will give her meat. Cassoulet has more meat than you should probably eat in one sitting. But when it is for a good cause, what can you do?

Arfi is raising awareness for iron deficiency in women by encouraging the consumption of meat to help alleviate anemia. I am lucky in the respect, and perhaps rather unusual, I have iron levels that are at the top, and sometimes slightly over, the normal range. This is unusual for a woman of my age. I do think it is in part due to my enjoyment of meat, but we must also consider other ways to get iron from our diets.

There are two types of iron, haem and non-haem. Haem iron is only found in animal tissues, non-haem iron is found
in grains, fruits, vegetable, legumes, nuts and eggs. Haem iron is most readily absorbed by the body and also increases the uptake of non-haem iron. Yet another argument for a balanced and varied diet.

I think my secret weapon is cooking in cast iron pans, which apparently and debatably, contributes iron to the foods cooked. But I choose to believe it!

This is my simplified version of cassoulet, no claims to authenticity, but fairly easy and a great winter's meal. A couple of notes - I found I did not have enough beans when I came to prepare the cassoulet, so it turned out a bit more like cassoulet soup, which with some crusty bread was rather good! I made the Confit of goose, which I will write up in a later post. Confit of duck could be substituted.

to serve 4

1 cup dried white beans, soaked overnight
250g pork belly, with skin removed but reserved
1 bay leaf
4 sausages, plain or spicy, cut into generous pieces
Confit goose breast, skin removed, cut into generous pieces
fresh thyme leaves
1 cup Chicken stock
1/2 cup grated cheese
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Drain the beans and put in a pot with the pork belly and bay leaf. Cover generously with water and simmer until the beans are tender. Drain, reserving the liquid and cut the pork belly into generous pieces, discard the bay leaf. Brown the sausages in a little fat.

In a suitably sized oven proof dish, lay the pork skin on the bottom then layer with 1/3 of the beans, 1/2 of the meats, a seasoning of pepper and thyme and repeat ending with a layer of beans. Pour in the chicken stock and enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the top layer of beans.

Cook in a 180°c oven for and hour then reduce the heat to 140°c and cook for another hour. Cool and chill until the next day.

Cook again at 180°c oven for and hour then reduce the heat to 140°c for another hour adding more of the bean cooking liquid as you think necessary. Turn the oven back to 180°c, top with the cheese and breadcrumbs and cook until a nice crust has formed. Serve immediately with a hearty red wine and no other plans for the evening.

Wednesday 13 June 2007


Finally - crunchy grissini!

I am quite proud of myself - I have finally achieved something I have been wanting to successfully do for years : crunchy grissini!

You know those bread sticks that come in little packets at certain Italian restaurants, that you can sometimes buy in bundles at specialty food shops? (The only time I ever see them is at the Kirks sale - and I can't walk past them.) I just love them. I have tried and tried to reproduce them at home, but mine have always been too soft. You would not think it was so hard to produce a dry bread, would you? None of the recipes I had found, in books or online, have resulted in the dry, crumbly sticks for which I hanker. I have tried changing the recipe and the preparation, but finally I have discovered that the answer lies in the baking.
makes 12 long ones

225g bread flour
15g fresh yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
Luke warm water

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and mix in 50g flour to make a soft dough. Leave for 15 minutes to start to bubble. Mix in the salt and the rest of the flour, adding enough warm water to make a good dough. Knead well and leave to double in size for an hour.

Divide into 12 pieces and roll into thin sausage shapes as long as your baking tray. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave again in a warm place for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 250°c.

Put the grissini in the oven and turn the oven off. Keeping an eye on them, and test one after 20 minutes, turning the oven onto 100°c if you think it is necessary.
As pictured above, I served the crispy, crunchy grissini with prosciutto, mortadella, salami and mozzarella for a wonderful antipasto.

Monday 11 June 2007

ap·ple me·ringue

Is this nostalgia, or a meringue?

My Gran used to make this pudding, a pudding I thought I had forgotten, but yesterday as I was stirring the apples I was stewing I was presented with a vision, a memory. A vision of Gran serving a wonderfully golden and white pillow of sweet fluffy cloud sitting atop smooth apple.

My Gran was not a lady to waste a thing, and that is one of the best parts of this pudding. Usually when you make a meringue, the yolks from the eggs are set aside, intended for another use, but probably end up wasting away in the back of the fridge and then getting wasted. Gran, who may or may not have invented this technique, beat the yolks into the apple. This seems to make the apple more mousse like, more creamy, just better. And there is no waste - isn't that marvelous!

Apple Meringue
the proportions below serve 2, but the recipe scales beautifully

1 cup of stewed apple
1 egg, separated
50g vanilla sugar

Beat the egg yolk into the apple. Put the apple into a suitable oven proof serving dish and heat in a 200°c oven while you make the meringue.
Beat the egg white with a pinch of salt until thick then add the sugar gradually, beatign until a glossy marshmallowy texture is achieved.
Spread the meringue on top of the now hot apples making lots of swirls and ridges to catch the heat and caramelise in the oven.
Bake for 5 to 10 minutes until the meringue is golden.
Serve with lots of cream to pour over.

Saturday 9 June 2007


or how to cook popadoms at home without a microwave.

About four years ago our microwave caught caught fire. It was the second microwave I have blown up actually. The first time was at a flat I was sharing with a friend, I was cooking a kumara for lunch and the next think I knew there were flames and smoke pouring out the vents at the side.

We decided that I probably shouldn't have a microwave again, at least for a while.

I don't know how often you use a microwave, but we used to rely on it for cooking things as well as reheating and defrosting. We thought it would be hard to live without, but actually it was fine. There were a few times that I was a bit stumped as to how to do something without the microwave, but that was just because I had to do them differently.

The first time was when I was faced with cooking frozen peas. I honestly/sadly couldn't think how to do it without a microwave ; the peas were so much nicer being boiled in water on the stove.

Another time was when my sister's baby was just starting solids and she needed to heat Millie's food ; a pan of simmering water, with a bowl on top did the job, possibly better than the microwave.

Reheating leftovers was probably the biggest challenge. However we have found that soup gently heated on the stove doesn't get that crusty edge with the cold middle as it can in the microwave. Meat reheated in a foil package in the oven or in a pot with a wee bit of gravy or sauce tastes tastes much better without that rubbery texture and taste. Above all, a fresh cup of tea is miles better than your forgotten half cup reheated for the third time.

The most satisfying discovery of all was when we wanted popadoms with our curry. We had always cooked popadoms in the microwave. It is one of the most fun and exciting acts of microwave cookery. We could hardly think where to start with out the microwave. We now cook our popadoms in the oven and once you taste a roasted popadom next to a microwaved popadom I am sure you will only use the microwave to cook a popadom to entertain small children.

And with that final challenge overcome I can honestly say, I don't miss the microwave at all!

Home Roasted Popadoms

Popadoms, any size
Optional ingredients: oil and spices such as garam masala or ground cumin

Heat the grill in the oven to its maximum, with a shelf as close to the grill as possible.
If you want to spice up the papadoms spray or brush them lightly with oil and sprinkle with the spices.
Place the popadoms under the grill, either on a tray or directly on the shelf. I usually do no more than two full size ones at a time because they cook so quickly. Removing as soon as they are puffed and golden. I like a few singed areas, but if you do not, be extra vigilant. No need to turn them over if the grill is hot enough.
They can also be baked in a hot oven, but I think the grill gives the best result.

Thursday 7 June 2007

roast veg·e·ta·ble pas·ta


So, I got home, no idea what to have for dinner, wanting to use up the vegetables we have before we get our box delivered tomorrow, see some orzo in the pantry that I decide needs to be used up, pull a chicken breast out of the freezer, turn on the oven, peel the vegetables, cut the vegetables, oil the vegetables, season the vegetables, and cook the vegetables, boil the pasta, fry the chicken, deglaze the pan with lemon juice and a chicken stock cube, serve dinner, take a photo, eat the dinner.

Not a bad evening's work.

Roast Vegetable Pasta

Monday 4 June 2007

herb·y corn·bread

Cornbread can be whipped up in an instant for [almost] immediate satisfaction. Well I suppose that isn't actually true. It does take a wee while in the oven, but once you have mixed the ingredients and scraped them into a tin and into the oven, you can be relaxing on the couch until the timer finally rings and hot herby cornbread is ready for you.

If you can make muffins you can make corn bread, and anyone can make muffins, so it naturally follows that anyone can make cornbread. Like muffins, cornbread is chemically leavened and like muffins, cornbread appreciates a minimum of mixing.
Herby Cornbread
Makes 1 loaf, to serve 4

1/2 cup polenta
3/4 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 egg
1 can creamed corn, approximately 1 cup, if more reduce the yoghurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup yoghurt
A good handful mixed herbs, chopped, such as parsley, coriander, chervil

Preheat the oven to 180°c and grease and line a loaf pan.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat the wet ingredients together in a jug. Mix the wet into the dry, but only enough to combine, then fold in the herbs.
Bake for 35 minutes or until turning golden.
Slice and enjoy!