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Archive for the ‘gluten free’ Category

Asparagus mimosa

In Brunch, gluten free, snacks, spring, vegetarian on 26 December, 2012 at 9:49 pm

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So with Christmas come and gone we’re approaching high summer (thirty degrees in Wellington yesterday! Who would’ve thought it?!), suddenly tomatoes and courgettes are cheap, sweetcorn is… well… if not yet cheap, at least available, and asparagus season is getting ready to wind down. I’m sure for many of you the initial excitement around the appearance of one of the most-celebrated spring vegetables has died down. But not for me: I was in Japan for most of asparagus season this year and I’m in serious catch-up mode now.

I adore all forms of asparagus (except tinned ones and those that have been boiled to death), but more often than not you’ll find me eating them with eggs. I know, not the most imaginative combination, but there’s something just so perfect about the contrast between bright, earnest green and runny yellow yolks that, given the option between doing something new with asparagus and having some with topped with a poached egg, I’ll almost always choose the latter.

Which is probably why it took me so long to try out this recipe for asparagus mimosa from everyone’s* favourite Ottolenghi cookbook, Plenty. Because who can be bothered looking up new recipes for asparagus when you can just chuck some spears in the oven drizzled with olive oil, or in a pool of garlic butter sizzling in a skillet, then sprinkle over some salt and pepper, top with a poached egg, bam. Need variation? Lemon zest/juice, or parmesan, or pine nuts or all three. Or soy sauce and butter, or miso butter. Too easy.

So I almost always skip the asparagus recipes, and I don’t really think too much of it. But today I thought, it’s Boxing Day, why not do something a little special? And now I’m kicking myself for not having made this before: it’s incredibly simple, I almost always have all the ingredients at hand, but it feels a bit fancier than my usual poached egg on asparagus. Ottolenghi suggests adding some chopped tarragon to make it extra nice and I couldn’t agree more – the subtly aniseedy flavour adds a sort of haunting sweetness that ties together the sharp saltiness of the capers and the soft grated egg. If you have tarragon in the garden, don’t leave it out. (If you don’t have tarragon in the garden, I suggest you plant some asap.)

I ate this greedily, messily, alone in my lounge following an afternoon swim at the beach, and it was the best thing ever. I’ll be doing this again before asparagus season’s up.

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Ottolenghi’s asparagus mimosa
(adapted from my favourite cookbook of all time, it’s probably safe to say)

For 1-2 people as a starter or a snack:

Boil an egg. Ottolenghi suggests simmering it for 9 minutes or so; I lost track of time and cooked mine for about 11, but even still it was only just hard-cooked, so use whatever timing/method you trust the most. (You don’t want it to be overcooked, but you want the yolks to be cooked through so you can grate them.) Let the egg cool down in a bowl of water. Peel the egg; grate it on a cheese grater.

Take a bunch of asparagus – ten or so thick stalks will do, more if they’re slender – and snap off the woody ends. Bring some water to the boil in a pot wide enough to hold the asparagus stalks. Simmer the asparagus for a couple minutes or until tender. Drain and run some cold water over them – not enough to cool the stalks completely, just enough to slow them down, they’ll continue to cook if they’re still hot.

Coat the spears with the best olive oil you have – something with clean, grassy notes will play off the herbaceousness of the asparagus quite nicely – using your hands to roll the tips in the oil if you need to. Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and top with the grated egg and capers. Sprinkle with chopped fresh tarragon if you have it.

Best eaten alone**, with your hands, dipping and smushing the asparagus into the grated egg, scooping up capers with your fingers, pushing each spear into your mouth, licking your fingertips afterwards. Or just use a fork.

*well, if you’re me or anyone I know who owns this book, anyway
**or in the company of someone whom you don’t mind witnessing this slovenly spectacle

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banana smoothie with maple syrup & nutmeg

In drinks, eating in, gluten free, year-round on 9 April, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Really, really quick post for today, because I’m in the middle of cooking dinner (well, I’m not physically in the kitchen right now – I’m waiting on some beef cheeks I’m braising, so I’ve got this window of time) and I really want to share this recipe for the smoothies I’ve been drinking all Easter weekend long, and I’m pretty sure if I don’t write this now it’ll never happen, because I’ll stuff myself full of tacos and do the dishes and put the sheets on the bed and then it’ll be time to collapse into the deepest sleep I can manage before throwing myself into the (thankfully short) week ahead. So.

The Easter holiday has gone by in a flash and I don’t even think I’ve eaten a single chocolate egg all weekend, though I have had more than my share of hot cross buns. I came into the weekend with a hangover and a list of about eighty-five things to do and this idea that since the weekend was twice as long I was going to get ten times as much done. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess that I was wrong.

But what I did do this weekend was far better than what I’d planned: I sat in the sun with a beer and a book, went for a walk in the woods, ate too much cake at an afternoon tea-party which culminated in the type of Easter egg hunt where you do half-assed looking because you’ve already eaten far too much to even think about putting chocolate in your mouth, watched David Attenborough narrate the South African sardine run and then, appropriately, cooked some salt-crusted whole sardines the next day. Fixed my car. Went for a drive around the south coast. Visited the ever-generous Sue‘s garden and had a bit of garden-envy at… EVERYTHING. Went home with my arms full of beautiful produce.

And, for once, I didn’t even care that it was Easter and everything was closed* because I’m not eating out this month** and so there was no chance I’d be visiting any of my favourite cafes anyway.

So instead of brunch at a cafe (and to fortify myself before leaving the house, just in case a growling stomach led me astray) I made myself one of these smoothies one morning. It was so good, I had it the next day. And the next. And I probably won’t forget about this one anytime soon.

Banana is such an obvious smoothie flavour that it’s almost silly posting a recipe. And I wouldn’t normally think to make a smoothie from a recipe. But hear me out: this particular combination of ingredients is good. It’s like a banana-tinged eggnog, or a creamy, slightly tangy version of a banana ice cream mixture. And despite how good it tastes, it’s actually pretty good for you – just banana, yoghurt/buttermilk, egg yolks (protein!), as much maple syrup as you like.

And, the most important part? It worked. I was full for ages, didn’t get any weird cravings, managed to stay awake despite not having had coffee. I didn’t even miss my cafe brunches. (Er, okay, maybe just a little bit.) But on a sunny weekend morning it was pretty hard to beat a nice, cold, sweet smoothie. This is a recipe I’m holding onto.

(Right. Now I’ve told you about these smoothies, and just in time, because my beef cheeks should be ready just about now. Back to taco-making!)

*though I did do some Easter-closure-induced panic buying at Moore Wilson’s that was probably wholly unnecessary.

**For whatever reason I’ve set myself this challenge of not eating out this month (you can read all about it here!) and so far it’s been a bit of a challenge, but mostly okay.

BANANA SMOOTHIE WITH MAPLE SYRUP & NUTMEG

(adapted slightly from this book*) 

1 banana
2 egg yolks**
1 tbsp coconut oil
3/4 cup plain unsweetened yoghurt
1/2 cup buttermilk
4 tbsp maple syrup
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
a handful of ice

Chuck everything in a blender*** and blend until smooth. Taste, adjust spices/sweetness to taste, pour and serve. Makes enough for two tallish glasses.

*It’s by Sally Fallon Morell, who recently gave a series of talks in New Zealand – rather interesting stuff about the benefits of raw milk and butter and that sort of thing.

**Fresh is good. Now if you’re a bit squeamish about the egg yolk you can leave it out, but if you’re at all the type of person who eats raw cake batter or sneaks spoonfuls of custard before you’ve cooked it or if you like eggnog or, heck, I dunno, if you like your smoothies a little bit richer and, well, smoother, and if you want that little extra protein to keep you going for longer, just do it. Trust me. I was uncertain about it at first, but it really is delicious, and as long as your eggs are from a good source and they’re reasonably fresh you’ll be fine.

***I find it helps if you have the ice towards the bottom of the blender (put it in first!).

hazelnut & blueberry buckwheat pancakes

In breakfast, eating in, gluten free, year-round on 26 March, 2012 at 8:15 am

This is actually Pancake #5 out of the little Pancake Project I’ve been doing this year (here are parts one and two) but I’m blogging this out of order for a couple of reasons. First, Pancake #3 was a bit of a flop and I’m going to have to rework the recipe, and pancake #4 was delicious but I’ve lost the bit of paper I wrote the recipe down on and I’m going to have to try making them again before I can confidently post it on my blog. But more importantly, I wanted to blog these pancakes I made over the weekend in the hopes that you try this recipe before fresh blueberries disappear off supermarket shelves until next summer. (I mean, you can always use frozen – I actually did – but there’s nothing quite like using fresh, seasonal produce!)

I got to thinking about blueberry pancakes the other day while having a coffee and a scone at Nikau Cafe, one of my favourite pre-work breakfast spots. This isn’t a post about Nikau so I won’t go on too much about how much I love that place, but they do make the most excellent scones: cheese scones for the savoury option, and for those with a sweet tooth, date scones, or blueberry in the summertime.*

The other morning I was eating one of these blueberry scones and thinking about how astoundingly delicious they are: served warm, they’re a bit crispy at the edges, soft and airy on the inside, generously studded with big, bursting blueberries that get their purple juices all over your lips and fingers and the plate.

I was trying to think what they reminded me of, and finally I got it: when I was a kid, my mum would make, occasionally enough for it to be special, the best blueberry muffins. In my mind she only made them in the summertime when blueberries were fresh and ripe** and my brothers and I would wake up to the smell of fresh muffins and the sun would be shining through the windows in that summer-holiday angle (the angle we’d only see at home on the weekends during the rest of the year, since we’d be at school by 9am) and as soon as the muffins hit the cooling rack we’d be at them, the blueberry juices burning our tongues and staining our lips, and then we’d be back for more.

And then there were the mornings where we’d have blueberry pancakes, cooked on the big, flat electric griddle that only came out of the cupboard for such occasions. In my (now-probably distorted, blueberry-shaped) memory the pancakes were most often blueberry pancakes, leaking dark purple juices all over our plates and forks and mixing with the maple syrup we drenched the pancakes in, despite our mother’s protestations.

I can’t remember my mum’s blueberry pancakes being made with buckwheat, but I’ve been wanting to make buckwheat pancakes ever since I bought some buckwheat flour a while ago. Not having made them before, I looked up a few recipes online and settled on this one from Simply Recipes which happened to only include ingredients I already had at home that morning. I only made a couple of changes: using all buckwheat flour instead of a mix, adding blueberries (of course) and chucking in some chopped up hazelnut left over from some other baking venture. 

These behave exactly like normal pancakes made with wheat flour do, and taste incredibly similar, but with a hint of the gritty nuttiness of buckwheat and the subtly sweet crunch of hazelnut. It makes them taste a bit more wholesome, and it also makes them gluten-free, which is great if you or a loved one can’t eat regular pancakes. And even if you’re not bound by dietary restrictions they’re delicious, which makes this recipe an all-around winner.

I wanted to make these pancakes with fresh blueberries, like I remember my mum doing years ago, and certainly there are still plenty of blueberries to be had at a time when it feels like most summer fruit is some distant memory. (Actually, I feel like this year there have been more blueberries than in other summers, though maybe I’ve just noticed them more… does anyone know? Has there been a blueberry glut this summer?) I ended up using some blueberries I’d frozen myself, after getting overexcited and buying a few too many punnets of berries a few weeks ago, far more than I could eat. And you know what? The result was just as I’d hoped I’d get from fresh blueberries: juicy, bursting with flavour and colour, utterly delicious.

*I think.

**Although I’m sure she must have made them during the rest of the year, either using frozen or out-of-season berries shipped from somewhere far away.

HAZELNUT & BLUEBERRY BUCKWHEAT PANCAKES (gluten free!)
(adapted from this recipe from Simply Recipes)
Makes enough for 3 or 4 people, depending how hungry you are.

1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp (about 45g) melted butter
1 egg
2 cups buttermilk*

Heat a skillet (or griddle, or non-stick pan) on medium heat, until a drop of water bounces around on the surface.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix together a cup of buttermilk and the egg. Slowly whisk in the melted butter, and pour this mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Mix together really gently, adding the rest of the buttermilk as needed** to get a nice, smooth, ladle-able batter.

Butter or oil the skillet and wipe with a paper towel so that the surface is well-greased but there’s no excess oil bubbling around. Ladle the batter onto the skillet in whatever quantity you desire, depending on how big you want your pancakes. I made two at a time using about 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake.

Resist the temptation to turn the pancakes over too early; give it about 3-4 minutes at least, until the underside is nice and brown and the top is starting to look almost-dry. Flip them over and cook another couple of minutes or so, until browned on both sides.

Top with butter and maple syrup, or golden syrup, or some blueberry sauce*** Serve at once, or if you want to be civilised and serve everyone at the same time you can keep them warm on a plate in the oven. Up to you.

*Although buttermilk is awesome and something you should definitely try to keep around the house, don’t fret if you don’t have it: in a pinch you can substitute milk topped up with a little vinegar.

**The original recipe says you may not need all the buttermilk; I ended up using it all. Your results may differ depending on what kind of buckwheat flour you’re using.

***Sometimes I’ll make up a big batch by cooking down some blueberries with some sugar and a bit of water in a pot on the stove, but this time I cheated and took a handful of berries, a teaspoon of icing sugar and a bit of water and zapped it in the microwave. Easy!

 

cornmeal griddlecakes with vanilla-mint strawberries & honeyed sour cream

In breakfast, gluten free, summer, sweets, year-round on 5 January, 2012 at 12:59 am

I don’t know about you, but today was my first day back at work for 2012. (Happy new year, everyone! Hope you’ve all had a relaxing holiday. And if you’re still on holiday, hope you’re making the most of it!)

Tearing myself away from my dear, dear bed this morning was the hardest thing I’ve done all year (granted, we’re only four days in, but…), and I wasn’t feeling overly happy about heading back to work.* But I wasn’t feeling overly sad, either. Which was really good news: an improvement over this same time last year.

On the first day back last year I had the back-to-work blues, hard. I pretty much spent the whole of that first shortened week shuffling around in a mopey haze – I think I even had to go have a secret cry in the bathroom at work, which sounds utterly stupid in hindsight, but at the time it was serious business, like any half-decent self-pity session is when you’re in the midst of it.

Last January I was grieving the abrupt end of a summer holiday, pining for things I never knew I loved so dearly until I was torn away and shoved back under glaring fluorescent lights: the cliched things like sun, surf, sand, diving headfirst into waves, watching phosphorescence tumble through seafoam at midnight, cold watermelon scooped into balls, books and board games and beer. I was all full of mournful regret at not having had the foresight of taking extra time off work, and yeah, okay, first world problem, I’m sorry now, it sounds so silly in hindsight. (And, I’m happy to report, I got over it pretty quickly.)

So this year I was pleasantly surprised that, aside from a little difficulty actually putting work-related sentences together (and the weird typos that come from getting reacquainted with a normal keyboard, not my runty laptop one), today went pretty well. No tears, anyway, and with the help of lots and lots of coffee, I made it to 5pm relatively unscathed. And ready to do it all again tomorrow. Amazing!

Anyway, I don’t know what this all has to do with pancakes. But I can tell you that this year I’ve subbed pancakes for Pakiri, and going back to work was a little easier. A correlation? Probably not. But pancakes are always good.

For the first three mornings of 2012, I made three different batches of pancakes, each very different from the other. For whatever reason, I dubbed it the Pancake Project, and maybe it’ll continue over the next few weekend mornings, if I’m so inclined. Anyway, I intend to share at least the first three. So here’s the first (keep an eye out for the next two!).

These are pretty good: a bit different from your usual fluffy flour-based pancake because they’re made with cornmeal (aka polenta, depending on where you’re based) and so they’re a lot denser than your average pancake. But in exchange for fluffiness you get that sweet, crunchy exterior you find on the best, fresh-from-the-skillet cornbread** and a mild-flavoured, soft-textured interior that goes so well with the sweet-sharp strawberries and the sour cream.

You could just eat these with butter and honey or golden syrup or maple syrup, but I can highly recommend the strawberries and sour cream I’ve included here. Besides looking pretty, they’re really delicious: the strawberries get all syrupy and sweet and the sour cream gets all runny and dreamy with melted honey mixed in. A winning combination.

These would be perfect for a weekend brunch, or if you’re trying to impress someone special, or if you’re silly enough to get up extra early on your first day back at work*** you could make it for yourself as consolation that your holiday is, well, over. It’s not the end of the world, though.

*I must put this in perspective: I am so lucky to work at what is, without a doubt, the best place I’ve ever worked, and I’m not just saying this in case my boss is reading this – work is actually really, really great. It’s just that my bed holds just as dear a place in my heart.

**one of my favourite things on earth, especially while still hot from the oven. Oh boy.

***oh no, not me, no way. I clung to my sheets for as long as I could this morning.

CORNMEAL GRIDDLECAKES WITH VANILLA-MINT STRAWBERRIES AND HONEYED SOUR CREAM
(The recipe for the griddlecakes comes by way of this one by Mark Bittman for the New York Times. I’ve changed a few things to my liking after my first efforts fell someplace different from what I had in mind: I added an egg, sugar and ground almonds, and used a bit more liquid than the original recipe. But the method of using partially-cooked cornmeal as the base for the recipe is unchanged.)

This recipe makes enough for 2-3 people. Feel free to double or triple the quantities as needed.

For the strawberries

Put 1 cup halved strawberries (quartered if they’re particularly big) in a bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste, a few torn-up mint leaves and 1 tablespoon sugar. Give it a good stir so the sugar starts to dissolve, and let the strawberries macerate while you make everything else. They should get all nice and syrupy by the time you’re ready to serve.

For the sour cream

Make as much as you like, however sweet you like it: for every 1/3 to 1/2 cup sour cream, mix in a tablespoonful or two (I used two) of melted honey. You can play around with this ratio depending on your desired sweetness.

For the griddlecakes

3/4 cup fine or medium cornmeal (polenta)
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup buttermilk (you might not use this all, but good to have set aside just in case)
1 egg
1 tbsp melted butter

Mix the cornmeal, sugar and salt together and add 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir it all together and let it sit for 5-10 minutes until the cornmeal has absorbed all the water and is kind of half-cooked. Let it cool a little.

Add the ground almonds to the mixture and stir again to combine. Add the egg, 1/4 cup of the buttermilk and the melted butter. Depending on how liquid your batter is, you might want to add a bit more buttermilk. I ended up using between 1/3 and 1/2 cup and got the nice thin little pancakes you see here.

Cook by the ladleful (really, in whatever shape or size you like, just as you would normal pancakes) on a hot griddle or cast-iron skillet. Flip over when they’re nice and bubbly in the middle.

I found 3-4 minutes on the first side, 2-3 on the other side to be just about right for the little ones I was making.

Serve with the sour cream and strawberries and eat while hot and crisp from the pan (keep warm in the oven if you’re making these for a crowd; they’re so much better hot than cold).

*****ps. You can now find me posting random stuff (things I eat, photos of my cat, bits and pieces from the internet) on tumblr: http://eatinganddreaming.tumblr.com. Still trying to get the hang of it, but do come check it out if you like that sort of thing.

cucumber & mint sorbet

In desserts, gluten free, sorbet, summer, sweets, vegan, vegetarian on 22 December, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I’m only repeating what everyone around me has been saying, but whoa. Where did this year go? I can’t believe we’re only three days out from Christmas. And finally, it seems, after a week of torrential rain and cloudy skies that weirdly got me really down and unmotivated to do anything Christmas-like, the sun’s out. And it looks like it’ll stay. Summer is here!

I’ll keep this post relatively short because I’m sitting barefoot in the grass on my lunch break, squintily typing away while not knowing exactly what’s going on the screen. But I really wanted to share this sorbet before Christmas, you know, just in case you need a couple more things to add to your to-make list (mine is, luckily, pretty light since I’m going to Christmas dinner at my relatives’ place). Yes, you can enjoy a sorbet anytime during the summer (and all year round, if you ask me) but I just had this fleeting thought that this cool green sorbet would be more somewhat Christms-appropriate served alongside a bowl of strawberries, or you know, something bright red and festive.

I’ve been wanting to make cucumber sorbet for a while (Laura of Hungry and Frozen made a luscious-looking cucumber-lychee one earlier this year) but it hasn’t really been a priority: I have a growing list of about 16 different frozen dessert flavour combinations I want to make, and cucumber-mint was just one of them.

But on Sunday I found myself at the market clutching my last 50-cent piece, wondering if I could get one more thing. And then I realised I was standing directly in front of a box of 50-cent cucumbers. And I remembered cucumber-mint on my sorbet list, and my mint plant was getting pretty bushy… done.

Sunday turned out to be the first sunny day in what felt like an eternity but really was about a week straight of rain. Even though it was still a bit chilly I thought it’d be appropriate to celebrate the return of the sun by making sorbet that very day.

I can totally recommend making this too. It’s super easy to put together, and all you need to plan for if you’re making this for a special occasion is the time it takes to freeze (several hours, at least). And the flavour is divine: it’s without a doubt cucumbery, but not in a salady* way. It’s cool and sweet, almost watermelon-like in flavour, with the mint giving it a beguiling herbaceousness that doesn’t jump out at you but coolly sidles in alongside the cucumber. And then, long after the freezing-cold ice thaws in your mouth there’s a hauntingly minty chill. Yes, so refreshing.

Okay! So now that I’ve told you all that I’ve got to get out of the sun and back to work (just in time, too; I don’t think my eyes can squint any more than they already are,** and I’m starting to sweat from the heat of the sun).

Just a quick note – the recipe below makes about (very roughly measured by me, after I’d already eaten some, whoops!) 400ml so if you’re feeding more than 3-4 people I’d make a double batch. Enjoy!

*my goodness, can you tell it’s the silly season, my brain has turned to mush and my adjectives have turned… adjective-y.

**apologies for any typos. I’m really having a hard time seeing the screen!

CUCUMBER AND MINT SORBET
(makes about 400ml)

150g sugar
¾ cup water
handful of mint
300g cucmber, diced*

First, make some mint syrup: place sugar, water and mint in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring a bit to dissolve the sugar, until it reaches boiling point and the sugar has dissolved. Let cool.

While the syrup is cooling, cut up the cucumber and puree it (it’s probably best to use a food processor for this – I used a blender and it didn’t really work because it wasn’t liquidy enough. If you only have a blender, don’t fret – you can get it to a nicer consistency once you add the syrup in the next step).

Add the cooled syrup to the cucumber puree and blend until it’s a nice, smooth consistency. Strain out the pulpy bits using a sieve. Optionally, you could add an egg white here to prevent the sorbet from going all icy in texture, especially if you’re not using a food processor, but I didn’t have any handy so I used a tablespoonful of Hendrick’s gin** for the same purpose.

Freeze. If you have an ice cream maker, great – follow the instructions. I’ve never owned an ice cream maker so instead I just try to give the sorbet regular stirs as it freezes in order to break up the ice crystals that form. Giving it a couple of whizzes in the food processor during the freezing process made this fairly painless, too.

Before serving, let it sit out for a few minutes to soften up and become ultra-scoopable. Delicious!

*you can peel it if you like, but I didn’t bother – I liked the extra-deep green the skin added to the colour, and you strain out the pulpy bits anyway so you don’t need to worry about texture. Plus… more nutrients? Maybe?

*Cause really, does Hendrick’s and cucumber not just scream summer?

Edited to add: I’m submitting this post to the Sweet New Zealand blogging event, started by Alessandra and hosted this month by Bron – you can see all this month’s entries here.

garam masala & coconut popcorn

In gluten free, snacks, vegan, vegetarian, year-round on 6 December, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Today’s post is not so much a recipe as it is a set of instructions on making one of the best snacks around.

The other night around midnight, after a failed dinner, a failed blogging effort and a failed attempt at sleep, I found myself wide awake with a semi-growling stomach and so I pulled myself out of bed and into the kitchen. Yep, that’s right. Midnight Snack Time.

Sleeping is something I don’t normally find difficult, so Midnight Snack Time is hardly ever something I experience (unless you count, of course, those post-revelry takeaway noodles I sometimes find on my bedside table on certain weekend mornings, but those don’t really count; for one, they’re usually eaten far past midnight to qualify as a Midnight Snack).

But Sunday night I was all out of whack, after a week packed with post-holiday catching-up and madwoman running around organising wigs and gowns and celebration plans for that thing I did on Friday*, and then that thing on Friday and then of course the celebrating and then on Saturday morning I woke up at an ungodly hour** for family activities with my visiting parents and by Saturday evening I was in bed, asleep, before it was even dark out (don’t you love that about summer?) and so Sunday I was physically well-rested and mentally drained: not a good combination for trying to will yourself to sleep.

I’m not sure why popcorn and garam masala were on my mind at that hour of the night, but it was lucky I had chosen those two things rather than, say, cereal or yoghurt or hot buttered toast or even leftovers, because as a consequence of my recent Melbourne trip, I’ve had very little money left with which to buy staple foods like milk or yoghurt or butter.

Or… butter. The realisation struck me as I opened the fridge, after I’d gotten out the popcorn and spices. I was completely out of butter (and, as luck would have it, all other cooking oil). I was about ready to add Midnight Snack Popcorn to my list of Sunday failures when I remembered the bag of random goodies (gin, chocolate, conditioner, my old silk scarf, and so on) my parents had left with me as a parting gift. I was pretty sure the bag also contained a jar of coconut oil. I was right.

So, out of desperation came this pretty damn amazing combination of coconut oil and garam masala on popcorn. I’m not going to pretend I’m the first person to discover it, because it’s pretty elementary. But the discovery, for me, was one of my biggest post-midnight triumphs yet.***

Garam masala (or sometimes curry powder, or other spices) on popcorn is an old trick I’ve had up my sleeve since my university days when I needed a quick study snack. But I’d always turn to butter or vegetable oil to cook my popcorn. I should’ve tried coconut oil sooner: the coconutty flavour isn’t that obvious at first, and the aromatic spiciness of the garam masala fills your mouth with each bite. But then, beneath that, there’s a subtle burst of supple, mellow, almost-sweet coconut flavour that melds with the spices, evoking the warm sea breezes and swaying coconut palms of someplace far from here (that possibly exists only in my imagination, but hey).****

This is better than any movie theatre popcorn (or microwave popcorn, or whatever’d otherwise take your fancy). The spices give it a lingering heat that sticks around far longer than the popcorn actually stays warm; for this reason, it’s ideal for prolonged nibbling over the course of a ninety-minute feature film. Or you can scarf it down, standing in the hallway, at Midnight Snack Time. It’s up to you.

Anyway, it was so good that I had it again yesterday afternoon when I got home from work. Still tasted just as impressive. I urge you to try it, especially if you have some coconut oil (or can get your hands on some). If you don’t, I’d just use butter or a neutral-flavoured oil, and maybe toss some shredded coconut in along with the garam masala just to give it that faint, sweet whiff of some imaginary tropics. Go on. (edited to add: if you’re doing this, might be better to add the coconut in at the end to prevent burning. Thanks, Lucia! x)


*!!!!! It was super exciting.

**of course, with a half-eaten box of char kway teow next to my bed.

***not that I have many post-midnight triumphs (for the most part, I’m asleep at that time of night and when I’m not, I’m not sure I’m achieving much), but still. This was definitely a triumph.

****I’m pretty sure the reason why I associate these particular spices with coconuts and tropics is because my mum brought them over to me from Kerala, a place I’ve never been but which exists strongly in my imagination as a place where there might possibly be hot sea breezes and coconut trees.

GARAM MASALA & COCONUT POPCORN

Melt 1 1/2 – 2 tbsp coconut oil* in a saucepan with a lid. Add a couple generous pinches of salt and 1 tsp** garam masala. Add 50g (approximately 1/4 cup) popcorn kernels and cover the pan with the lid. Heat over medium-high heat, giving everything a good shake every now and then to coat the kernels, until they start to pop. Keep shaking the pan over the heat, using a back-and-forth motion, until the popping slows down. Remove from heat and add more salt and/or garam masala to taste; toss and serve.

Devour while hot or make a big batch and pick at it slowly through the course of a movie: it’s up to you.

*bonus: if you get some on your hands you can slather it all over your skin and you will smell delicious. True fact. (If you don’t have coconut oil, cook the popcorn in the oil of your choice, perhaps adding some shredded coconut with the salt and spices).

**or more, to taste

quinoa salad with avocado, radish & lemon

In gluten free, salads, sides, spring, vegan, vegetarian on 9 November, 2011 at 11:35 pm

It’s rather predictable, really, but when spring rolls around all I want to eat is salad. There’s something about that raw crunch, the burst of flavour, the pure freshness of it all that’s missing over the long, dark winter stretch of Cooked Food (sure, you can have salad in winter, but is it ever as earnest as all the young leaves of spring?).

And I’d be exaggerating if I said everything I ate over winter was a monotonous succession of homogeneously-textured slop, because I certainly ate well throughout the winter months. But I can hardly remember the details of the stews, the soups, casseroles and curries that got me through. I’m too engrossed in trying all the different flavour and texture combinations within the realm of salads.

And as far as flavour and texture combinations go, this salad, which I’ve adapted only very slightly (and only to reflect the ingredients I had at hand) from Yotam Ottolenghi’s most excellent cookbook Plenty*, is a winner. Nutty, yielding quinoa. Hot, crunchy radishes. Smooth, mild avocado. Sour, juicy bursts in the form of lemon segments. Edamame adds a bit of nubbly texture and, um, more nutty flavour, and the baby mustard greens I used add just a breath of barely-there heat.

I wasn’t sure how it would all work together but I shouldn’t have doubted Ottolenghi. I should really be used to that oh-my-god-so-eye-poppingly-delicious feeling by now, but like every time I try something a little bit new and delicious I did a little personal squeal of delight (quiet enough for the flatmates not to notice… hopefully): all of the FLAVOURS! And all of the TEXTURES! And they all work so well TOGETHER!**

So this is a salad I urge you to try. It’s a little bit substantial, too, thanks to the quinoa, avocado and edamame: plenty of good stuff like proteins and amino acids and monounsaturated fats and whatnot. And it’s got that added bonus of being gluten-free, in case you were wondering. But enough of the health benefits. It’s just good, okay? And it tastes just as good, if not better, when you pack it up and eat it for lunch the next day (though I’d recommend letting it reach room temperature before serving).

Also while we’re on the subject of this salad can I just say I love radishes? Radishes thinly sliced with salt, radishes with butter and salt, radishes with butter and salt and crusty baguette, radishes in salads, radishes cut in wedges, radishes whole, radishes short, radishes long***, I am a girl obsessed. And in this salad the radishes in all their sharp crispness are the perfect foil for the creamy, luxurious avocado, so much so that I don’t know why I haven’t been consciously aware of this opposites-attract combination. And now I’m thinking about radishes, thinly sliced, with salt and avocado in a halved segment of very-fresh baguette.****

*it really hasn’t taken long for this book to become a favourite. Some nights I go to bed with it, waking up at 2am all confused as to why I’m clutching a hard, rectangular object… sad but true.

**cue little shoulder-shrug and cheeky silent excited-smile and resisting the urge to do little handclaps even now, yes, it was that exciting.

***those ones came from the same Wairarapa-dwelling workmate who brought me the bag of Jerusalem artichokes that went into this soup, as well as the freshest eggs I’ve ever tasted. She’s awesome. And the radishes were deliciously hot.

****And now I’m thinking I should end this stream-of-consciousness rant about radishes and get onto posting the recipe. Sorry everyone. I’m very tired and bleary-eyed tonight, and I love radishes. Though maybe not as much as that I-love-cats girl (making the rounds on youtube a wee while ago) loves cats.

QUINOA SALAD WITH AVOCADO, RADISH & LEMON
(from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, with a couple minor changes)

Serves 2-4, depending on whether you’re eating this as a main course or a side dish, how hungry you are, that sort of thing.

Cook 100g quinoa using your favourite method. Ottolenghi recommends bringing it to a boil in a pan with lots of water, then simmering for 9 minutes, draining, rinsing with cold water and letting it dry. It worked for me.

Meanwhile, cook and shell (or defrost, or whatever you need to do) 250g edamame.* Let cool slightly.

Slice a lemon into segments by first cutting off both ends, then carefully removing all the skin and outer pith, then slicing between each membrane so you get pretty, jewel-like segments.** Do this over a bowl to collect the juices and chuck the segments in there as well.

Cut a small-to-medium avocado into thin slices and add to the lemon juice. Toss very gently just to coat it with the lemon juice, then add the quinoa, 100g radishes cut into wedges, the edamame, a handful of baby mustard greens***, a clove of crushed garlic, 1/2 tbsp ground cumin, 2-3 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of chilli flakes. Season with flaky sea salt and cracked black pepper and toss with the gentlest touch you can manage.

Garnish with some more baby mustard greens. Serve into bowls and eat with all the wide-eyed joy of a child discovering all the different flavours and textures at once. (Okay, maybe a little child would turn its nose up at this salad. But you get the picture).

*the original recipe used broad beans. If this is something you have in your garden right now, don’t hold back. USE IT. I just had no broad beans handy, and plenty of edamame in the freezer.

**Since first trying this technique when I made this salad (also roughly based on a Plenty recipe) I’ve become more convinced of its utility, despite the extra time. Not only do the citrus pieces look beautiful, they’re also free of the tough membrane you so often find in lemons.

***I was conveniently needing to thin the pot of mustard greens I’d planted some time prior to making this salad, and was glad, because I had none of the purple radish cress Ottolenghi lists in the recipe. If you have neither baby mustard greens or purple radish cress, don’t let it stop you from making this salad. Bits of peppery rocket would do, or any microgreens or baby greens would work, as would leaving them out altogether.

Coconut rice pudding with palm sugar & cinnamon-poached pear

In desserts, gluten free, puddings, winter on 31 August, 2011 at 7:59 am

Like I said before, winter’s fast drawing to a close whether we like it or not. I know this because I’m sitting in bed typing out a blog post and I’m not wearing multiple layers of wool tights, fluffy socks, pajama pants, merino thermals, thick wool jumpers (the answer to “but didn’t you get uncomfortably hot in the night?” is yes).

And like I said last time, I’m not so reluctant to let go of winter anymore. It’s the sunshine, the flowering trees heavy with anticipatory buds, that wonderful feeling we take for granted the rest of the year of leaving the house and coming home from work while it’s still light out. And I’m getting so excited for asparagus.

But the nights are still chilly (ish) and there are still plenty of pears on supermarket shelves and I’m sure we’ll be hit with one last polar blast before we can truly say spring is here. So, okay, we’re cautiously watching the ebb of the bleak, cold signs of winter. But we can still enjoy comforting puddings like this one.

Rice pudding is one of those polarising desserts that people seem to love or hate: maybe it’s the texture, or having had too many stodgy, mealy rice puddings as a child. I remember my parents eating it when I was growing up, though I was never interested: to me, rice was something you eat along with Asian food, a savoury thing, a staple food, not something that would be good in a dessert. But I came around eventually, which is good, because rice pudding can be So Good – creamy, silky, sweet and comforting – and can take on so many different flavour variations.

So I was excited to see a slew of different rice pudding recipes while browsing through the June/July issue of Donna Hay, enough that I was convinced to buy the magazine and try out some of the variations. This was probably my favourite: the rice is cooked in coconut milk rather than cow’s milk, and drizzled with a syrup made from poaching pears in palm sugar syrup. YES.

In the end I made some changes to the recipe, mostly based on what I had in my cupboards, but found it turned out beautifully: I used a combination of half-milk, half-coconut milk (because I only had about 2 cups of coconut milk) and 2 pears instead of 4 (I only had 2 pears in the fruit bowl). It was still nice and coconutty even with less coconut milk, and I found that half a pear for each serving was just fine. Feel free to use all coconut milk if you like (as the original recipe had it) – this would be especially good for people who are trying to avoid dairy. I imagine it would work well with half-coconut milk, half-almond milk as well.

I have a feeling the coconut rice pudding would work really well with fresh strawberries, mangoes, pineapple, peach – so there’s definitely potential to keep this recipe around beyond the end of winter (today!).

COCONUT RICE PUDDING WITH PALM SUGAR & CINNAMON-POACHED PEARS
(adapted from Donna Hay #57, Jun/Jul 2011)

Peel 2 rather firm pears, slice in half and remove the cores. In a saucepan big enough to fit 4 pear halves, place 2 cinnamon sticks1 cup (270g) grated palm sugar and 4 cups water. Heat, stirring, over high heat until all the sugar is dissolved, then bring the heat down to low. Place the pear halves into the simmering liquid, cover and poach until tender.  This should take about 10-15 minutes. Once the pears are done, remove from the liquid and bring the heat back up to high; reduce the liquid until it starts to get all syrupy and amazing-looking. Also, your kitchen should smell beautiful right about now.

Meanwhile, bring 1 cup arborio rice, 1 litre coconut milk (or 2 cups coconut milk + 2 cups milk) and 1/2 cup caster sugar to the boil in a saucepan placed over high heat. Give it a good stir and reduce the heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 25-30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Once it’s ready the rice will be tender and the liquid will have thickened somewhat so that it’s silky in texture.

Serve hot, topped with a poached pear half and plenty of syrup. Amazing.

Serves 4.

beetroot, orange & fennel salad

In gluten free, salads, sides, winter on 30 July, 2011 at 7:55 pm

I don’t normally post things the day I make them. I usually like to sit on a blog post for a day or two (at least), think about it a bit, maybe make the recipe again. But not this: the dishes are still all over the kitchen, my now-empty plate is sitting next to my laptop as I type, my fingers are still stained a brilliant hue of magenta from peeling cooked beetroot. This is one of those things that’s too good not to share immediately.

A couple weeks ago, I finally got myself a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty. It was one of those purchases you plot out months in advance and think longingly of every time you hear it mentioned or see it on a bookshelf somewhere. Anyway, ever since I got it I’d been thinking about making Ottolenghi’s beetroot, orange & black olive salad, mostly because I had all the ingredients on hand and I’ve been trying to become the kind of person who doesn’t let food go to waste.

But it’s been too cold to think about salads, and I’ve been living off over-the-top hearty fare: braised short ribs, Ottolenghi’s winter couscous, creamy rice pudding. Yes, when it’s cold out I almost exclusively cook with a cast-iron pot. So the salad went unmade.

Until today: a burst of sunshine, a bit of cheer injected into the otherwise dull winter cynicism a lot of us have been experiencing lately. So with a bit of optimism I set about making the salad, only to quickly discover I was out of olives (had forgotten they’d gone into some olive & feta muffins I made for Week Two of the Wellington on a Plate Bake Club we’ve been doing at work). I also only had one orange instead of two, and in a fit of excitement hadn’t read the ingredients list carefully enough to remember to pick up an endive at Moore Wilson’s.

The sun was still streaming through the balcony onto my kitchen counter, though, and not to be deterred, I made a few adjustments to Yotam’s original recipe: I halved it, substituted capers for the olives, used fennel instead of red endive, threw in a handful of watercress for good measure.

The result was the most beautiful, fresh-looking thing I’ve eaten probably since I got back from holiday in the Northern Hemisphere summer. It’s exquisite: not just the jewel-toned beetroot juices staining everything in sight, but the flavours too – sweet, salty, earthy, fresh, soft, sharp. Everything’s exactly as it should be.

BEETROOT, ORANGE & FENNEL SALAD
(adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)

Slice off the tops and bottoms of a couple beetroots (I used 1 regular-sized purple one and a handful of baby golden beetroot) and boil in salted water until you can stick a knife in them easily. Let cool.

Meanwhile, cut an orange into wedges. Ottolenghi suggests you do this by first removing all the orange rind and white pith, then using a small, sharp knife to cut the orange into segments by running a knife down the side of the membranes. It means you won’t have any tough membraney bits in your orange pieces, which is nice, but if you’re short on time and don’t mind too much you could just as easily cut the orange into wedges and slice the flesh away from the skin. Either way, do this over a bowl to catch any dripping juices.

Peel the now-cool beetroot and slice into wedges; place in a mixing bowl. Add the oranges and their juice, 1/2 a sliced fennel bulb, 1 tbsp or so of capers, 1 tsp orange blossom water, 1 tbsp each red wine vinegar & olive oil, a handful of watercress, sea salt & freshly ground black pepper. Toss very gently with tongs so that everything’s nicely coated but still keeps its colour more or less.

Serves 2 as a side dish.

(For a version of this salad that’s truer to the original: Mairi’s post on Toast)

PS. Part Four of my series of old airline cutlery is this old Ansett New Zealand fork. A relic! (For those of you reading this from outside NZ, Ansett hasn’t existed for a while now. I’ve flown with them once or twice, on my first visit to see my grandparents in New Zealand when I was six. Unfortunately I don’t remember too much about the airline itself, other than being in Auckland airport waiting to board the plane.)
Parts One, Two and Three are herehere & here.

hot milk, honey + nutmeg (the best hot drink, hands down)

In autumn, drinks, gluten free, winter on 24 July, 2011 at 10:09 am

If you’re reading this in Wellington (or, well, most of New Zealand) you’ll know why I’m posting this today. This weekend has been disgustingly miserable, cold and blustery and wet, and I made the big mistake yesterday of leaving the house. On foot. I had a raincoat on, not that it made much difference: I was completely soggy from mid-thigh down, and damp everywhere else. My usually waterproof handbag had a little puddle of water inside. By the time I got back home I was exhausted, shivering, chilled to the bone in a way I haven’t been in a long time. So: to the rescue, only the best hot drink there is.

This drink comes by way of a dear friend and former flatmate who worked at Deliaro what feels like an age ago. It was our first year flatting, in what might have possibly been The Coldest Flat in Wellington (tied, of course, with most other cheap student flats in Aro Valley and Kelburn, I’m sure) where wind blew through cracks in the floorboards in the lounge and bottles of olive oil would start to solidify in the cupboards. I’m not making this up, though admittedly the drafty lounge floor was partly our own doing: it took us a long time, maybe until the second winter, to finally decide it might be a good idea to move the rug the landlord gave us to put in the lounge into the lounge. (But I mean, it clashed with the grass-green lounge walls, the colour we’d picked out when we moved in and the landlord said he’d have the lounge repainted. Sheesh. Nineteen.)

When winter rolled around and we all went and bought heaters for our rooms and then got our first $1000 power bill and then quickly banished all the heaters to underneath the unused dining table that sat next to Fridge No. 2, which always leaked unpleasant odours, we mostly abandoned the cold, drafty lounge. Or at least the way I remember it. In any case, I never spent much time in there that winter.

What I remember more from that first cold winter was, if I wasn’t huddled under duvets in my room, hanging out in the kitchen: glaringly bright from the combination of stainless steel benchtops, ancient cupboards the colour of rancid cream and the harsh fluorescent light that took up most of the ceiling. It was probably the smallest room in the house: puzzling for a place that housed eight, more or less. We’d stand shoulder to shoulder chopping vegetables, jostle over stovetop elements, argue over who hadn’t cleaned up their mess (touchy subject when bench space was at a premium) or who’d been eating whose cheese or Nutella.

It was a volatile space, not the most pleasant. But for whatever reason, people would mill about there: standing around, waiting for the jug to boil, leaning against the awkwardly placed microwave, talking to whomever was cooking or doing the dishes. I doubt it was because the kitchen was any nicer than the rest of the house (it was pretty much on par), or because it was brighter (the colour and lighting scheme was austere, institutional more than anything). Probably because it was a little warmer than the rest of the house, and probably for the same reason people mill about in kitchens the world over.

Anyway it was late on one of those cold nights where we’d stand around the cramped yellow kitchen in our slippers and dressing gowns that I first watched my flatmate making this drink. It’s something they had (probably still do?) at Deliaro when she worked there, and she used to make it back at the flat. It was also the first time I’d seen someone grate fresh nutmeg into anything. Fascinating.

I didn’t really get into making this drink for myself then, but the thought stayed with me until maybe a couple years ago, when in a fit of nostalgia and also probably the throes of a winter storm I remembered the drink my friend used to make, and realised I now had my own little box of whole nutmeg for grating into things. Since then it’s been my go-to hot drink: forget hot chocolate or lemon, honey & ginger drinks. This stuff is The Best. (And the least fuss.)

I wasn’t ever one of those kids who got given hot milk before bed, mostly because I didn’t like drinking milk. But I imagine this would be perfect for that sort of thing: smooth, sweet, warming, laced with deeply fragrant nutmeg.

HOT MILK AND HONEY WITH NUTMEG

Heat up a mugful of milk per person (preferably full-fat/whole milk, the best you can find*) until just starting to froth. Put a spoonful of honey**, to taste, in a mug.*** Pour the hot milk over the honey; give it a stir. Grate some nutmeg over the top. Carry the mug over to the couch. Snuggle up under a blanket; enjoy.

*I don’t have any on hand to test my theory but I bet this would be beautiful with a creamy, full-bodied raw milk. If you have access to raw milk, let me know if you try it!

**I usually use a honey with a pretty strong flavour, like manuka – I like how the taste of the honey stands out as distinct against the milk and nutmeg. But feel free to use whatever honey you prefer.

***To help the honey dissolve effortlessly, before adding the milk I usually pop the mug (with a spoonful of honey in the bottom) in the microwave for about 10 seconds or so until it goes all liquidy.

brussels sprouts with toasted walnuts & pancetta

In autumn, gluten free, sides, travel, winter on 19 July, 2011 at 10:17 pm

The other night, I simultaneously burnt and overcooked-to-the-point-of-mushiness what should have been a delicious bowl of brussels sprouts (oh, internet with your myriad distractions).  Half out of sheer hunger/tiredness and half out of you-got-yourself-into-this-mess stubbornness, I smothered them in pecorino romano and butter and ate them. I’ll say this: the cheese was good. I’ll also say this: even without the acrid burnt taste they would’ve still conjured up childhood vegetable nightmares. Yep, they were that bad.

These are not those brussels sprouts. But I felt I had to do something to make up for the ones I did such a disservice to. Because brussels sprouts – poor things, they’re so maligned, and undeservedly so – need all the good press they can get. Cooked right, they’re a joy: nutty, almost sweet, tender-crisp. And cut in half they’re the perfect bite size, their little cabbage-leaves soaking up all the butter they can handle (which is a lot).

If you knew me at all as a child you’d know that I was ridiculously picky; the closest I’d get to voluntarily eating vegetables was poking at a few leaves of lettuce in a salad or dipping a carrot stick in miso (try it sometime!). And perhaps because no one in my family liked brussels sprouts except my dad, they appeared on the dinner table only once – maybe twice – a year, at Thanksgiving* and sometimes Christmas dinner, when we’d clear the dining room of all the boxes and junk that had accumulated from non-use (we were a family of kitchen-table eaters), set the table with a hardly-used tablecloth and the special plates we wouldn’t see for the rest of the year, and my dad would repeat his annual campaign to get us all to help him eat the brussels sprouts. We wouldn’t.

Until one year not so long ago, when I returned home for the holidays and my dad did something we brussels-sprouts haters had never heard of: he cooked the brussels sprouts with bacon and almost-caramelised onions. I secretly think he would’ve done this ages ago if he had actually wanted to share the brussels sprouts with the rest of us, because between my brothers and me, they flew off the table. (It might’ve had something to do with bacon’s magical ability to make everything taste Damn Good, but I like to think that’s where my brussels sprout appreciation started…)

Now I can’t wait for brussels sprouts to appear each year and I’ve been eating plenty while they’re in season and cheap. I love them braised or sauteed but I’m just as likely to make a simple snack of them by quickly boiling or steaming them just til fork-tender and eating them with butter, sea salt and cracked pepper.  This time I’ve sauteed them with pancetta and shallots, sort of a throwback to that first eye-opening brussels sprouts experience. Thanks Dad.

Funny how we turn into our parents, how we start doing the things we swore we’d never do.** But when I have kids, I won’t be relegating brussels sprouts to a once-yearly cameo.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH TOASTED WALNUTS & PANCETTA (serves 2-3 as a side dish, depending on how much everyone likes brussels sprouts)

Take 10-12 brussels sprouts, trim off the bases and the outer leaves, slice in half vertically. If you’re using particularly big brussels sprouts it may pay to parboil these for a couple of minutes, but I try to pick smaller ones

Dice 1 good-sized shallot (or 2 smallish ones) and saute in butter over medium-low heat until it starts to get soft. Cut up 1-2 slices of pancetta (or bacon) into little pieces and add those to the pan, saute until they start to firm up, then add the brussels sprouts. At this stage I like to add more butter, plenty of it, the more the better. Saute until they’re just starting to brown, but don’t overcook them: when you can just stick a fork through them with little to no resistance, they’re done.

Meanwhile, toast a handful of walnuts (you could just as easily use pine nuts): you can do this in a skillet, or chuck them in a tray under the grill in your oven. Just don’t burn them: keep your nose on alert for that awesome nutty smell. Toss with the brussels sprouts and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Grate some parmesan over the top to serve. Eat immediately.

*Yep, I grew up in North America.

**It’s not just my dad I’m turning into (food-wise, anyway). Last month I was in Tokyo searching for this steamed-bun cafe, had forgotten to make myself a little map in my notebook (Tokyo streets are notoriously difficult to navigate if you’re looking for something down a little alleyway – the address alone usually is of no help), and, half-determined to find it and half-enjoying wandering around, spent a couple of hours walking up and down the main street in Kagurazaka. I never found the cafe, though I did find an eerily cosy coffee bar straight out of 1980s Japan, serving drip coffee to rival the likes of Customs or Lamason, and I found a little shop selling the most delicious taiyaki (this one filled with sweet purple yam paste:

But it was my last day in Tokyo, I had only hours left to do all the things I had planned on doing, I hadn’t had breakfast (!! I know), it was raining, my feet were soaking wet, I was tired and hungry and still hadn’t found the cafe I came all the way to Kagurazaka for. And then I found something far better: an unassuming Japanese restaurant serving a few different kinds of teishoku – set meals with rice and miso soup – and something pulled me in, some weird instinct which told me to forget about the steamed-bun cafe. This was what I needed. Before I even sat down I ordered the yakizakana teishoku almost without thinking.

It’s not something I would’ve gotten excited about five or ten years ago when visiting Japan. In fact, I wasn’t even that excited about it this time, except for this gut feeling that I knew I was doing the right thing. And I couldn’t quite pinpoint why, until I thought about what I was eating. Grilled fish with grated daikon, rice and miso soup, some pickled vegetables – exactly the meal my mum would cook for herself when we’d eat Japanese at home (pretty frequently, since Mum grew up in Japan). As a kid I’d stick with the rice and miso soup, turning my nose up at everything else.

I’ve long since started eating fish and tsukemono but I never gave much thought to how much I was turning into my mother until the moment last month when I finished this meal and thought the thought I never thought I’d think: whether I’m hungry, tired or frustrated, there’s nothing that puts me more at ease than a simple meal of rice and miso soup, salted grilled fish, pickled daikon.

I’m sure I’ve heard that exact sentiment from my mum so many times while growing up, and always thought she was nuts: there’s so much food (Japanese or otherwise) that’s way more exciting and comforting (what about the mac and cheese, mum?!). But somehow, in some way, she was totally right all along, and that simple, humdrum meal was the most special of my trip. Thanks Mum.

basil ice cream

In desserts, gluten free, summer, year-round on 28 June, 2011 at 11:18 pm

It’s been so cold lately. I don’t know if it’s because I just got back from a holiday in the Northern Hemisphere* and I’ve gotten acclimatised to shorts-and-sandals weather, and too-hot-to-breathe humidity (thankfully only for a couple days), but I’ve really been feeling the cold these last few days. Maybe all that holidaying has turned me weak.

But maybe it isn’t just me. According to Metservice yesterday’s low got down to 3.6 degrees, and I believe it. I can’t remember the last time my fingers and toes went numb on my walk to work. It might have been some years ago when I spent a winter in Chicago (now that was cold!), but certainly not in Wellington.

3.6 degrees (that’s Celsius for you Americans reading this). That got me thinking: that’s not too far from freezing. And then all that thinking about freezing got me thinking about ice cream. Specifically, this basil ice cream I made before going away.

Okay, so maybe ice cream isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you’re thinking of comforting winter desserts. Maybe you want to curl up with a hot steamy pudding, sticky date perhaps, gooey sauce melting all over the place, or a cinnamony crumble perhaps, with thick, creamy custard poured over the top. (I totally do, now that I’ve typed that sentence!!)

But hear me out.

There’s a place for ice cream in winter. Sure, the easiest way to incorporate it into your winter dessert routine is scooped onto one of those aforementioned hot, comforting desserts, where it will melt and mingle with the aforementioned gooey sauce and make everything taste that much creamier and more amazing. But there’s a place for ice cream on its own, too.

Like when you’re so full of the richest, darkest, meatiest beef stew, or roast chicken and vegetables**, when you’ve eaten so much bread slathered with butter and dipped into gravy, when you’ve taken a second (third!) helping when you know there’s no room left but you’ve gone and done it anyway because good lord it’s cold and dark outside and the wind’s threatening to blow your house down. And then you get a craving for something sweet, but you’ll burst if you eat a big heavy pudding: that’s when you need that scoop of ice cream.

The other times I can think of when ice cream’s okay in the dead of winter include: if you’ve just come out of oral surgery or a long-term relationship, or if you’re at the movies (specifically at the Paramount and you’re sitting in one of the smaller theatres with the plush comfy chairs and you’re still rugged up from the cold outside, and you’ve got a chocolate-dipped cone of Kapiti apple crumble ice cream). Also if it’s a particularly warm, sunny winter day*** and you’re feeling really optimistic about the days getting longer and summer eventually coming back around again.

Anyway, if it’s sunny this weekend and you want to forget about the season, this ice cream is about as summery as you can get: the hint of fresh basil, a bit of zing from the lemon zest, cool and creamy on your tongue. If you’re thinking basil ice cream sounds weird, yes, it’s a bit different, but not that far off mint. And the heady herbaceousness of the basil kind of fades into a mellower aromatic hint as it freezes, so it’s really like eating a creamy, custardy ice cream with a touch of something a little bit different. It’s perfect on its own (after a rich, heavy winter meal) or would be perfect with a slice of lemon cake.

*it was a crazy, totally illogical whirlwind trip through four countries (and four times as many flights) in 18 days and despite all the transit time I loved every minute of it. More soon.

**not so much if you’ve just eaten a big comforting bowl of soup. Then you’re probably fine sticking with pudding.

***I know, I know, I live in Wellington. But look at the forecast for the weekend! A girl can dream.

BASIL ICE CREAM:
(adapted from this David Lebovitz recipe for lemon verbena ice cream, which, by the way, sounds incredible)

Put 2 cups milk* in a saucepan with 1 cup basil leaves**, warm over medium-low heat until steaming hot. Cover, remove from heat and let it steep for a while – the original recipe says 1 hour but I wasn’t that patient and may have only left it for 20-30 minutes or so. Strain out the basil leaves using a fine-meshed sieve, smushing the leaves down at the bottom of the sieve to get as much moisture out as you can. Reheat the mixture (now a pleasant mint-green colour) so that it’s nice and warm again.

In a bowl, whisk together 4 egg yolks, a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup sugar. Pour in the reheated greenish milk mixture, but do it slowly, whisking as you go, so the mixture stays nice and silky smooth.

Pour this all back into the saucepan and cook it over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. If you have issues with the custard separating, do as Laura says in this Hungry and Frozen post and have a sink full of cold (ice?) water on the ready to plunge the pan into. And stir like crazy.

At this point you can optionally add another handful of basil leaves, cut into chiffonade, into the custard. (I wasn’t sure how much extra flavour this added, but there was something I loved about those little flecks of green in each scoop.)

Let cool, then refrigerate until completely cold, then freeze. If you have an ice cream maker, great! If you don’t (like me), make sure you stir it every so often to keep the texture nice and creamy.

*Feel free to use cream in place of (some or more) of the milk – I just used what I had at the time.

**I used most of the leaves off one of those basil plants you can buy at the supermarket.

P.S. That spoon? Part Two of my series of old, cast-off airline cutlery. For Part One, see this post.

P.P.S. I actually was meaning to write about my recent adventures in Sydney, the States, Mexico and Tokyo but instead I’ve just talked heaps about ice cream in winter. Which is fine. But maybe in a future post: what I’ve been up to for the past month!

creamy jerusalem artichoke & miso soup

In autumn, gluten free, soup on 22 May, 2011 at 11:47 pm

On Thursday afternoon my workmate approached me: “I’m so sorry I never brought you those quinces*, but to make it up I’m going to bring you a surprise tomorrow…” Turns out she’s just as bad as keeping secrets as I am at waiting to find out, and so I quickly discovered that the surprise was freshly dug Jerusalem artichokes from her garden. I’ve been looking forward to Jerusalem artichokes ever since summer, so this was heart-stoppingly exciting stuff. Also it may have been a slow day at work.

So on Friday morning I arrived at work to find, sitting on my chair, a plastic bag tied shut, full of what looked like moist, brown lumps. I did a double take and then remembered: the Jerusalem artichokes, so fresh out of the ground the dirt hadn’t quite dried. Best Friday morning ever.**

These knobbly, alienlike*** tubers aren’t from Jerusalem and they aren’t artichokes either; this combination of ugly looks and peculiar misnomer gives them sort of an oddball charm that I can’t help but love. I found out from Sasa (of Sasasunakku) they’re called topinambur in Austria, which is even more endearing, reminiscent of some awkward imaginary creature (we thought perhaps a round, brown, snuffly marsupial).

But enough about loving these things simply because they’re weird: they’re actually delicious. I only discovered this last autumn, when I had one for the first time as part of a tray of roast veggies at a friend’s potluck dinner. I haven’t looked back since. As long as I could get my hands on them last year, Jerusalem artichokes appeared on my plate. When cooked, they’re almost creamy in texture, nutty-sweet in flavour. You almost expect them to taste like potatoes and then you bite in, and your eyes pop open in a moment of “whoa”: expectations exceeded. Here is a short list of things you can do with these delightful nuggets:

  • roast them, either on their own or tossed into your usual roast veg mix
  • peel, cook & purée them in place of pureed potato or parsnip (also very good mixed in with pureed potato)
  • sauté them with herbs and butter
  • make soup

I love Jerusalem artichoke soup; it’s up there with roasting as one of my favourite ways of eating them. This time, though, I felt I had to do something a bit special, seeing as these Jerusalem artichokes were a bit special themselves, having been hand-dug and delivered to my desk and all. I saw this recipe for a creamy bamboo shoot & miso soup on Just Hungry**** and had this hunch that Jerusalem artichokes would go perfectly in place of the bamboo shoot.

And I was right: the nutty sweetness of the Jerusalem artichokes combined with the deep, salty-earthy miso flavour made every bite of this soup eye-poppingly good. I guess you have to like miso, though; my flatmate didn’t seem too impressed after one bite: “hmm, I can really taste the miso!”

I changed a couple of things from Maki’s recipe – because I wanted the flavour of the Jerusalem artichokes to stand out (and because the leek I had was massive) I upped the Jerusalem artichoke to 2 cups (chopped) and cut the leek by half. I also used Maki’s instructions for making this using uncooked rice, since I didn’t have any leftover cooked rice.

If, like my flatmate, you’re miso-averse, you may want to consider cutting the miso down to 1 tablespoon. Don’t omit it altogether, though – it really makes this soup something else.

*Girl lives in Featherston, has an ancient quince tree and evidently lots more exciting things growing in her garden. She promised to bring me quinces but we both seem to have forgotten… I’m so glad she remembered and felt she had to make it up to me, though!

**well, until morning tea time, when we had an amazing pineapple & brazil nut cake from Pandoro

***though not as alienlike as celeriac

****I may have mentioned it before, but it’s a great blog, with mostly Japanese recipes, written by a Japanese expat

CREAMY JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE & MISO SOUP:
(adapted from this recipe on Just Hungry)

8-10 Jerusalem artichokes (2 cups peeled & chopped)
1 tbsp butter
1/2 the white part of a leek, finely sliced
1 tbsp uncooked white rice
2 cups milk
2 tbsp miso 

Start with the most time-consuming and annoying part: peel the Jerusalem artichokes. Yes, it’s infuriating, because they’re so small and knobbly (I find a sharp paring knife works better than a peeler here, but up to you). Once that’s done, cut them up into fairly even-sized chunks; set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the leek. Sauté over medium to medium-low heat. Don’t let it burn. Once the leek reaches that soft-translucent stage, add the Jerusalem artichokes and give everything a good stir; let it sauté for a couple minutes and add the rice along with 2 cups water. 

Turn up the heat to high until the water boils, then lower heat to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes until the water’s mostly evaporated and the Jerusalem artichokes are soft when stabbed with a fork. Transfer to a blender (or save use a stick blender – I couldn’t get mine to work, boo hoo!) and purée until smooth.

Return the purée to the pot and add the milk. Heat gently; patience and stirring are key. Once it’s heated through, add the miso: the easiest way to do this is to make a slurry with the miso and a ladleful of soup, and add this back to the pot. Stir and season with salt and white pepper to taste.

I ate this on its own, garnished with a bit of parsley and some sesame oil.

Makes 2-3 servings, depending on how hungry you are. It’s also gluten-free, for those who are so inclined.

persimmon & cinnamon syrup

In autumn, desserts, drinks, gluten free on 19 May, 2011 at 5:39 pm


When I was younger I travelled a lot but ate very little (in terms of variety, not volume). I was one of those awfully picky eaters as a kid, and consequentially I have hardly any food memories of places I visited growing up. Imagine a France with no cheese, Japan with no sushi*, Germany where the only thing I remember eating is peanut butter sandwiches, a trip through the Welsh countryside without… I don’t even know what food there is to eat in Wales, because as far as I was concerned all that mattered was tinned spaghetti.

Clearly times have changed, judging by my trip to Singapore the other weekend, which I mainly spent wiping sweat off my brow in steamy hawker centres eating The Best chicken rice, trekking far from the nearest air-conditioning (this is bravery in 34 degrees and 100% humidity) to find my old favourite nasi lemak stall, taking a 2am stroll to eat some mighty fine bak chor mee before heading to the Arab Quarter to watch election results roll in over coconut shakes and shawarmas.

I started thinking about how much my food/travel relationship has changed because I’ve got this trip coming up where I have a daytime stopover in Honolulu. Besides the exciting possibility of a midday swim, my thoughts turned to what I should eat**… and… came up with nothing besides shaved ice and spam musubi. I’ve been to Hawaii before; surely this shouldn’t be so hard, I thought. Until I realised I was thirteen when I was last in Hawaii and I probably just ate pineapples and peanut butter sandwiches (always the peanut butter sandwich) the whole time. I don’t know, I can’t actually remember.

And basically this has been a very long-winded way of me getting back to the point of this blog post: persimmons. Back to Japan again for a moment: when I was sixteen I spent a year in Japan eating foods I would never have touched before, half out of politeness and half out of stubborn I’ll-show-you-ness (“bet you can’t eat natto/sashimi/basashi!” “I’ll show you!”). Somehow it turned out I actually liked most*** of what I was eating, and the most vivid memories from that year all relate to food.

Japanese culture, at least as I know it, places a big emphasis on the seasons.**** And in autumn, you celebrate the harvest moon by eating tsukimi udon and, among other fruits, you eat a lot of persimmons. One of my (many) favourite memories of autumn in Japan was coming home from school to a plate of exquisitely honey-sweet persimmons, cut up, stuck with toothpicks. So every time autumn rolls around and persimmons show up on supermarket shelves I get really excited and a little bit wistful for that time in my life when I couldn’t shake that wide-eyed feeling of just having discovered The Most Delicious Food In The World.

Usually I just eat persimmons plain. But I’ve been dabbling in making syrups and sauces lately, and for months now (yup, I was excited) I’ve had this post-it note stuck to my computer at work with two words scrawled across it: Persimmons. Cinnamon. I think the combination sprung to mind because I liked the way the words sounded together. (Clearly the best method of combining foods. Oh, and they’re also on that same brown-orange colour continuum.) But actually, they’re both autumn-y flavours, and sort of soft and warming, so the combination works.

You could make the syrup the long way (making juice from the fruit and then combining it with water and sugar to make a syrup and then straining it a couple of times through a cheesecloth so that it’s nice and clear) but if you’re short on time/energy this shortcut method (just simmering the fruit until it starts to break down a bit and the flavours permeate the syrup) works too. It’s so good in cold drinks and on ice cream and desserts and if you save the leftover stewed persimmon, it’s positively swoonworthy.

 

*Actually, Japan without sushi would be fine. There’s so much other good food there, too, but still. I can’t believe how much I missed out on during those early trips.

**If anyone knows of any must-eat foods or must-visit lunch spots in Honolulu, please share!!!

***Not so much the raw horse, it tasted fine (rather meaty) but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it again.

****Come to think of it, this might be the root of my near-obsession with seasonal fruits and vegetables. And seasons in general.



PERSIMMON & CINNAMON SYRUP: (the cheat’s version, anyway)

Cut about 300g persimmons (2-3, depending on size) into cubes and place in a saucepan with 130g sugar and a couple of broken-up cinnamon sticks.* Add 2/3 cup water and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until it reaches, well, a syrupy consistency. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl or jug and pour into a sterilised bottle. Done!

Now, what to do with this syrup? For starters, you can mix it with sparkling water for a refreshing drink. I can imagine it’d be good mixed into a rum-based cocktail too, something about those warming cinnamony undertones. Or you can pour it on ice cream, mix it into yoghurt, just about anything really.

Oh, and keep the strained, stewed fruit: it’s incredibly soft, sweet and infused with a cinnamony tingle. Perfect on porridge, or with yoghurt or custard. Definitely don’t throw it out (you’ll have to pick out the bits of cinnamon stick, though).

*It’s well worth using cinnamon sticks for this rather than powdered cinnamon. The flavour is more intense and you’ll retain that sunset-orange persimmon hue: they won’t turn the liquid brown like the powdered stuff might.

PERSIMMON & CINNAMON COULIS:

Here is a bonus recipe, because the first time I tried making this I accidentally pushed the fruit through the sieve and ended up with something that was more of a coulis than a syrup.

It’s hardly a recipe: basically, do as for the syrup, but use a bit less water (or simmer longer), remove the cinnamon sticks at the end of cooking, then purée (a stick blender works great here) and strain through a sieve. It’ll be a bit thicker than the syrup. And it’s awesome on French toast.

baked vanilla custard with peaches

In desserts, gluten free, late summer, puddings on 15 March, 2011 at 1:49 am

I keep coming back to write this blog post I started on Friday afternoon, then finding myself immobilised in front of the computer screen by the incomprehensibly-scaled disaster unfolding in Japan.

Although I’m fortunate not to know anyone living in the worst-affected areas in northern Japan, this past weekend was another one of jitters, of waiting to hear news of friends and family (luckily I haven’t had any bad news), of watching NHK* and flicking through news sites until my eyes were so sore they were about to pop out of my head. Sleeping poorly. Checking Twitter constantly on my phone (so rude! sorry everyone) for updates.**

I keep thinking of the destruction in Christchurch, and how I can’t even comprehend that, let alone what has happened to the Tohoku region. I keep remembering a family holiday in Iwate Prefecture, in particular a side trip we took to Miyako***, a sleepy little coastal town west of Morioka. The 2-hour winding train ride on this clackety 2-car train that took us through steep hills, high above a winding gorge that widened into a majestic, flat river flowing to sea. The hills blanketed in green, and then, later, the stunning limestone cliffs and rock formations rising out of the clear blue.

It’s funny because I can’t remember much about the town itself, and now it’s too late to go back and remember what it was. And other place-names that keep coming up in the news carry with them faint hues of sitting on trains with my brothers, and I can’t remember much else. I find myself mourning the irretrievability of faded memories. Insignificant, selfish really, in the face of everything else.

The good things have come in waves this weekend, too. First in the form of confirmation from friends and family in Japan (mostly in the Kanto/Tokyo region), that they were safe, even if they did have to walk several hours to reach their homes. Then in the form of a very delicious brunch**** I had at Monterey in Newtown. Later, in a couple hours spent following a pod of orcas around the Miramar Peninsula, one of the most joyous experiences of my life. And throughout the weekend, in this bowl of blackboy peaches (the name! but hey) that ripened one by one.

The first time I heard of these peaches was actually not until last year, when I stayed at a little backpacker’s hostel in Picton on the way to a couple days out in the Marlborough Sounds. Part of the appeal of this place was its gorgeous old-house feel, the other part the freshly baked bread and assorted homemade jams that were set out for breakfast each morning. I ended up buying a jar of blackboy peach jam to take home, enthralled by the somewhat-un-PC name and because, well, I was so excited to discover this as-yet-unheard of (by me) variety of fruit. I had no clue what they actually looked like, though, until Vanille blogged about them the other week, and I was dying to find some.

Then, on Wednesday, success. Spotted a couple of boxes at Moore Wilson’s (there were some at New World as well). Picked up a bagful. And on Thursday, this custard.

I wanted to keep things relatively simple to keep the spotlight (rightly) on the peach. What sprung to mind were the to-die-for cherry custard tarts my friend Rob made for a picnic earlier this summer: a sturdy pastry crust, a vanilla-bean-flecked custard filling, macerated cherries on top. But then I ate a big lunch and was a bit too full for pastry (or maybe just not in the mood), and I started thinking about this baked vanilla custard I’d had at Logan Brown some time ago. And then I saw the perfect recipe in one of my old Cuisine magazines.

The peaches need no explanation; they’re exquisite in themselves. Adding a bit of sugar and leaving them to macerate gives them a bit more sweetness and juice if yours are still pretty tart, as mine were at that stage, and the peachy syrup that forms is wonderful spooned over the custard.

This is one of those custards that makes you want to gasp with joy when you put a spoonful in your mouth, except you’d probably choke. It has the most beautiful wobbly texture, at once delicate and luxurious. When baked custard, whether it’s unadorned or served as crème brulee or flan, reaches that just-set stage (and no more) it’s one of my favourite things in the world.

Now that I think of it, this love of custard probably stems from that trip to Japan, when we spent hours on northward trains and we’d go to convenience stores beforehand to stock up with onigiri and other snacks for lunch, and the thing I ate probably more than anything else on that trip? Prepackaged purin (Japanese crème caramel). Highly processed? Probably. But so good, with that wobbly-creamy texture I adore. And because I was a kid and had the metabolism of a horse, I devoured them, train ride after train ride. There. My memories aren’t lost, after all. Though there’s so much else that is, I’m hopeful that Japan can recover some slices of normal life in the coming days.

*Japan’s public broadcast station, which people have been streaming live through various Ustream channels.

**Maki of the fantastic blog Just Hungry (Japanese food and recipes) has been tirelessly translating and tweeting Japanese news broadcasts for days now. Her Twitter username is @makiwi.

***I’m not posting the video of the tsunami hitting Miyako, but it’s out there, and as heart-crushing as the rest of it all.

****and a to-die-for peach iced tea!

BAKED VANILLA CUSTARD WITH PEACHES (serves 6):
(just barely adapted from Cuisine 127, July 2008. Recipe here)

You will need:
2-3 peaches
caster sugar
vanilla bean
600ml cream
6 egg yolks

Thinly slice 2-3 peaches and set aside in a bowl. If your peaches are still quite firm and tart, you may want to macerate them by spooning over a couple tablespoons of sugar and giving it a stir before letting the bowl sit while you prepare the custard.

Meanwhile, split and scrape out seeds of 1 vanilla bean (alternatively you could use a teaspoon or 2 of vanilla paste but there’s something special about this dessert that deserves a vanilla bean, if you have one). Add the scraped-out bean and the seeds to a smallish saucepan with 600ml cream*, bring this to the boil, remove from heat and let it sit for about 20 minutes.

While you’re waiting for the vanilla to infuse the cream with the most vanilla-y vanilla-ness (oh boy, it’s late, I’m tired), preheat the oven to 160C and separate 6 eggs. Keep only the yolks** and whisk them gently with 2 tablespoons caster sugar. Slowly pour in the vanilla-infused cream while continuing to whisk gently. Pour into a jug through a sieve to catch any eggy bits that may have curdled/cooked (and the vanilla bean if you haven’t already plucked it out). Try not to drink too much of this mixture directly as you’ll need it if you plan on serving the finished product. Then pour into 6 individual 125-ml ramekins.***

Place the ramekins in a baking dish lined with a tea towel and fill halfway up the sides of the ramekins with boiling water. Carefully (do not spill boiling water on yourself!) transfer to oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes; you’ll want them slightly jiggly. Remove the dish from the oven and then the ramekins from the dish; cool a little and top with peach slices. Add some of the syrup/juices from the bottom of the peach bowl if you like. It’s extra good!

*I used a combination of 450ml cream and made up the rest with milk because I failed to check how much cream I had before starting to make this. It still tasted fine.

**Don’t throw out the whites – you can use them for meringues, or angel food cake, or macarons, to fold into waffle batter, etc. They will keep in the freezer.

***As you can see, I used a variety of receptacles because most of my ramekins are greater in volume than 125ml.

passionfruit, lemon + saffron sorbet

In desserts, gluten free, late summer on 8 March, 2011 at 7:31 pm

On Saturday afternoon it was still rather warm and muggy so I mixed up a sorbet. Things got a little busy and I didn’t get a chance to try it till Sunday afternoon. By which time, it was painfully, bitterly cold.* After being lashed by icy southerlies and sideways rain at the Newtown Festival, I had no desire whatsoever to eat this, craving instead a blanket, a book and a hot cup of tea. But, refusing to accept that summer was over, and out of sheer determination to eat what I’d created (or stubbornness or perhaps stupidity), I kept on my hat and scarf and four layers of wool and scooped out a cupful of ice. It was good, there’s no denying that, but by the time I reached the bottom of the cup I had a mad case of the shivers, and crept into bed (still cocooned in four layers of wool), slept for a good couple hours, and woke up to a sniffly nose and dull headache. Great…

And now I’m writing this in bed, propped up by a million pillows and making pathetic whimpering noises and generally wallowing in self-pity (it’s not just men who get the man flu!): I have all this spare time but no desire to cook, no appetite even (!!) and the slightest bit of activity leaves me exhausted. No fun! Plus the “w” key on my keyboard has decided it’s no longer going to work, which makes things rather annoying (though I’m getting faster at CTRL+V-ing a “w” after my original plan of avoiding all words containing “w” failed). But enough moaning.

I won’t go so far as to say this sorbet made me sick. I mean, that’s not fair at all, because it’s delicious and refreshing and perfect for a hot sunny day (or if you haven’t spent most of the day in a spitting southerly) and I’m sure I would have gotten sick anyway. This cold has been threatening to flatten me for the greater part of a month. But maybe, just maybe, it was the final straw, and while writing this post I’ve been eyeing these photos up warily.

It feels a bit strange to be posting a recipe for sorbet after that wintry blast we had over the weekend, but the sun’s back now and (fingers crossed, please, PLEASE) here to stay hopefully at least for the next few days or however long it takes for me to recover and eat the rest. Plus there’s not much sunnier and cheerful than this combination of yellow, yellow, and more yellow.*

I’d wanted to use up the passionfruit I’d bought in a fit of excitement that were going wrinkly a bit too fast for me to eat (though generally wrinkliness is a sign of goodness). And then I remembered the saffron that the lovely Mel of treehousekitchen had given me, a souvenir from her travels in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.** And, well, after two yellow ingredients came to mind I spotted a lemon and couldn’t not include it.

PASSIONFRUIT, LEMON + SAFFRON SORBET:
(method + quantities loosely adapted from Cuisine, Issue 126)

First you will need to prepare some simple syrup. Heat equal quantities of sugar and water (I made a bit more than necessary and used 200g sugar and 200ml water, which made roughly 300ml of syrup) just until the boiling point, and remove from heat – the sugar should dissolve nicely into the water.

Take 75ml simple syrup and, while it’s still hot, add a decent pinch of saffron threads. Let steep for about 20 minutes until the syrup is golden in colour. Optionally, stick your nose down by the cup containing the syrup and inhale the heady, earthy saffron aroma… that stuff’s more precious than gold.

Then mix together 250g passionfruit pulp (about 12-14 passionfruit depending on size), the juice of 1 lemon and gradually add 75ml of the saffron-infused syrup, tasting as you go for sweetness/acidity – you may not need the full amount.  Pour into a resealable container (preferably wide and shallow) and chuck it in the freezer. Every 20-30 minutes, give it a good stir/mash with a fork to break up the crystals.* Keep doing this until it’s sufficiently frozen and of a good consistency, and serve.**

*I didn’t do this as often as I should have so the consistency, as you can see, turned out more like a granita than a sorbet, but who’s counting?

**If you’re more onto it than me you could serve these with some tuiles or shortbreads or something awesome like that.

*Hello winter! Not ready to see you yet!

**Lately for some reason I’ve been describing the foods I eat by colour rather than name. No idea where this came from, but for example, the other night I was eating scrambled eggs, avocado and hot sauce on toast (my favourite lazy snack/meal) and had sprinkled some sweetcorn on top, and when asked later what I had for dinner my reply was “yellow, yellow, green and red on brown”. Miraculously this wasn’t met with confusion and the answer was “oh… eggs, avocado, toast, …tomato or hot sauce, and what’s the other yellow?”. Weird. I know.

**I am determined to get to all of these places and will probably make it happen in the next year or so even if I absolutely can’t afford it, out of sheer stubbornness. It’s going to be my downfall…

grilled peaches with lemongrass & ginger syrup

In desserts, gluten free, late summer, syrups and cordials on 5 March, 2011 at 12:48 am

Feels like summer came and went in the blink of an eye. A weird, wet, muggy blink of an eye. I was going to say it still feels like summer (it’s plenty warm enough), but there’s no denying the gradual arrival of crisp mornings and cool nights, new season apples and pears slowly creeping their way onto supermarket shelves.

And in this last gasp of (technically not-) summer it feels like a race to do everything you won’t be able to do for another year. Like wearing shorts, even if you have to wear a jumper on top. Going for that last, end-of-summer swim before the water gets too cold (though in Wellington it’s pretty much too cold even in summer!). Shooting hoops at Waitangi Park. Drinking Pimm’s in the afternoon sun, taking walks after dinner, eating as many berries as possible and gorging yourself on stonefruit. Each day is tinged with this subtle sense of urgency: get in while you can.

And while yes, it’s true, the juicy and succulent fruits of summer are slowly making way for the crisp and autumnal, there’s still plenty of peaches left to devour. For the next couple weeks, at least.

I think peaches (and, I suppose, nectarines) are by far my favourite fruit, though of course this thinking is clouded by the fact that I get really excited about whatever fruit’s in season and I’m sure this will change as soon as I take my first bite of a sweet, meltingly ripe pear, or a crisp apple (I’ve resisted thus far in a sort of denial that summer’s over).

But I think that claim of favourite fruit has a little more basis than just the ohmygod-it’s-in-season-and-there’s-nothing-more-delicious mania I’m sometimes prone to. One of my favourite childhood memories is of a trip to Michigan in late August when I was maybe seven or eight, and I don’t remember much except the showers at the place we stayed smelled like rust, the beach was full of flies and – and – we visited peach orchards, eating perfect peach after perfect peach and taking more home in brown paper bags (to help them ripen). Our kitchen for the week or so afterwards had the faint, alluring aroma of ripening peaches.

I always have such good intentions when I buy peaches, planning to make this or that recipe, but usually I can only get so far as rinsing them off before I find myself eating them, standing over the kitchen sink, juices running down my chin, hand, dripping off my elbow. Messy, but there’s really nothing that tastes more magnificent.

Maybe the reason I never make it past the sink is because I sometimes find when peaches are cooked they lose some of that shockingly juicy-sweet quality I can’t get enough of.

Recently, though,  I’ve made an exception for grilled peaches. Somehow they manage to keep that juicy, sweet, meltingly soft quality, with the added bonus of getting all caramelised and intensely good. I served them with the lemongrass & ginger syrup I’ve been making, which I highly recommend – it adds a bit of freshness and tang to cut through the sticky sweetness.

This is probably too obvious to even be a recipe (seems to be a theme in some of my recent posts, but I guess that’s what you want when it’s summer and you’d rather be outside than in the kitchen) but I wanted to post it before summer slips out of reach until the end of the year. I encourage you to try it with the lemongrass & ginger syrup if you can.

GRILLED PEACHES WITH LEMONGRASS + GINGER SYRUP (serves 2):

Halve 2 peaches*; remove the stones.** Place on a hot BBQ, grill pan or place under the grill in the oven**, cut side facing the heat source. Grill for 5-10 minutes (depending on your grilling implement) until the surface is caramelised and the peach halves are tender and warmed all the way through. Top with vanilla ice cream and a liberal pour of lemongrass + ginger syrup (recipe here).**** If you garnish it with a mint sprig it’ll be extra pretty (and it goes well with the other flavours). Watch as the ice cream melts into the grooves of the hot peach and drips down the sides and forms molten pools of amazing with the syrup. Or just eat.

*For this I used both white-fleshed peaches and Golden Taturas. Both were delicious. Use any peaches you like. Nectarines will also do.

**If your peaches are super ripe, you shouldn’t need to do this, but if they’re a bit firm or you’re keen for more caramelisation (OK, who isn’t) you could sprinkle the cut side with a bit of demerara sugar before grilling. I didn’t do this, and found it sweet and caramelly enough.

***I used a panini grill flipped upside down and kept open, because at that stage I couldn’t be bothered going downstairs to turn on the BBQ or look for the grill pan… lazy, or innovative? Your call…

****I suppose you could also make some other sort of glaze, or use another syrup, or even scoop a fresh passionfruit over the top. Which reminds me, passionfruit…!


avocado smoothie, two ways

In drinks, gluten free, summer on 21 February, 2011 at 1:24 am

Just a quick, hastily-composed post tonight to share with you one of my favourite things. I’ve just had a magnificent weekend in Auckland filled with dear friends and music and good food and sunshine and this is incredibly cheesy but I couldn’t stop smiling even when I returned to Wellington today because the sun was out, the water was still and  it was one of those afternoons where you’re deliriously, achingly glad to exist; I made tacos for dinner and watched the free circus and saw the moon rise over the harbour and now it’s somehow Monday morning (just) and I’m sitting in bed, shell-shocked, bleary-eyed,  cheeks sore from the perpetual grin I’ve had plastered on my face since finishing up work Friday afternoon.

So there it is: I love summer. Who doesn’t? And I love avocados, which – conveniently enough – are plentiful right now. And one of my favourite ways of having them is not in the usual guacamole or mashed up on toast (both obviously awesome uses though), but blended into a cold, sweet smoothie.

I know what you might be thinking: Really? Sweet? Avocado? But it’s perfectly legitimate – avocados are bland enough to go either way, and creamy and decadent enough to carry a bit of sweetness through without being too over-the-top.

I think the first time I had avocado in sweet form was in Indonesia a few years ago where it was served as a shake drizzled with chocolate sauce. And then, while living in Singapore there was a little shop selling the creamiest avocado smoothies just around the corner from my apartment. I’ve been hooked ever since. In Wellington aside from making my own I’ve also had good versions at a couple of Vietnamese restaurants.

They’re incredibly simple to make, so these are hardly recipes, but I’ll share them just the same. Be warned that you’ll need to add plenty of sugar (or other sweetener), otherwise these will taste like a weird, bland, drinkable guacamole. Not nice. But get it right, and oh boy. These are thick and creamy, rich yet refreshing, so addictive.

AVOCADO SMOOTHIE:

Scoop out the flesh of 1 avocado and put in a blender together with a handful of ice cubes, a generous splash of milk* and plenty of brown sugar** (at least a couple of tablespoons, if not more – depends on how big your avocado is, how sweet you like it, but as I mentioned before, these require more added sugar than your usual fruit smoothie). Blend until smooth and creamy. Give it a stir and taste for sweetness/consistency; you may need to add more milk or sugar.

*Feel free to substitute other things here: I like using rice milk if I have it around (which is admittedly not often) because it’s already kind of sweet. Like I said: sweetness is key. This is not health food.

**I’ve also sweetened these with honey, maple syrup, agave nectar and white sugar; I’m pretty sure sweetened condensed milk is the norm in certain parts of Southeast Asia. All seem to work pretty well; brown sugar is just what I usually have on hand.

Somewhat channeling that very first chocolate-syrup-drizzled Indonesian shake is this chocolate version. Nothing much more to it except the addition of cocoa powder. Still, it’s a whole different experience – chocolate and avocado go surprisingly well together.

CHOCOLATE AVOCADO SMOOTHIE:

Follow the instructions above, but add a generous shake of cocoa powder (at least 3 or so tablespoons) in the mix. Taste for chocolatiness/sweetness and adjust as necessary.

I can imagine other variations working well, like maybe banana, or chocolate-banana, or maybe even blueberries? So far I haven’t tried anything other than these two basic versions I have on standby for hot, sunny afternoons. Tomorrow (today!!!) looks to be another good one – I may just have to branch out and try something new. In the meantime, so should you. Make these.

lemongrass + ginger syrup

In drinks, gluten free, summer, syrups and cordials, year-round on 12 February, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Last Sunday I picked up a couple stalks of lemongrass from the market. If you’re reading this from Wellington (or, I suspect, anywhere in the North Island based on all the weather-related tweets and Facebook statuses I’d been seeing) you’ll certainly know that this summer has been wetter and muggier than usual.  And when the air hangs thick with moisture and I’m finding myself breaking into a sweat just from walking (so unusual in Wellington!) all I’m after is something clean and fresh-tasting, sharp enough to cut through the oppressive humidity.

Which is how I arrived home with a few stalks of lemongrass. I had this vague idea that I was going to make some sort of syrup with it, and when I got home remembered this ginger syrup I’d made a few months ago from one of my favourite Japanese cooking magazines. And you can’t get much more of a clean-fresh combination than lemongrass and ginger.

This syrup filled my house with the most incredible aroma while simmering away – almost like I’d been cleaning my house (with high-end, natural cleaning products) without any of the scrubbing or mopping.

LEMONGRASS & GINGER SYRUP:

Wash & cut up 2 stalks lemongrass and 1 knob ginger (it’s fine to leave it unpeeled, since you’ll be discarding it anyway). Place in a little saucepan with 250-300g sugar and 2 cups water and bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down and let it simmer for a while until the liquid is golden and syrupy (I think mine took about 45 minutes but I was haphazardly checking on it). Tell your flatmates/mum/visiting friends that you’ve been cleaning the house with this new luxury organic lemongrass all-purpose cleaning spray (this will only work if your house actually looks clean). Once the syrup’s done, strain into a bottle/jar/other airtight container and let cool. It will probably stay good in the fridge for a couple weeks, if you don’t use it all by then.

All that simmering wasn’t doing much to cool down my house (probably the only downside of making this syrup on a steamy day), and syrup by itself isn’t very refreshing.  So I pulled some ice cubes out of the freezer, sliced up some cucumber, and made a couple of cold drinks. I guzzled mine down in one go (hello, brainfreeze!).

LEMONGRASS & GINGER SODA WITH CUCUMBER & MINT:

Put some ice cubes in a glass. The more, the better (though I do realise not all freezers have awesome ice-making capabilities and you may need to ration them, as I did). Pour a generous glug of lemongrass & ginger syrup (recipe above) over the ice; top up with sparkling or soda water. Garnish with a couple slices of cucumber and a sprig of fresh mint. Stir it up and get it down.

These would probably also be awesome with gin. Though I haven’t tried yet.

I’ve been drinking these all week, even though the humidity started to subside over the last few days (though it feels like it’s back somewhat today) and we’ve been having gorgeously crisp mornings and cooler nights.   They’re the perfect drink to carry you through the summer heat into early autumn.