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Archive for the ‘summer’ Category

Nectarine & blackberry cobbler

In desserts, late summer, summer, vegetarian on 16 March, 2013 at 12:55 pm

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(I first wrote this recipe for Urban Harvest – if you live in Wellington I recommend you check them out!)

Summer’s fast drawing to a close, but I wanted to share this recipe with you anyway in the off-chance you have the opportunity to get to the last of this season’s stonefruit. What a summer for stonefruit it’s been, too – I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel like I’ve been eating my way through a mountain of perfectly ripe, incredibly juicy, sweet, dreamlike fruit. Peaches, nectarines, plums, yellow, purple and white, I’ve eaten them all. And with hardly any duds, either – you know how you sometimes get those peaches or nectarines that you bite into and immediately throw out because they’re just mushy, or mealy, or kind of dry and not-sweet? Yeah, hardly any of those. It’s been a really good summer.

It’s been a really good summer in other ways, too – lots of hot sunny days, more sea swimming (in frigid Cook Strait, no less!) than I’ve done in all 8 previous Wellington summers combined, learning to surf*, lots of general lazing about. I can’t even remember the last time it rained.** And I know, it’s officially autumn now, but the sun’s still shining and I’m still going for swims after work; I’m trapped in this glorious time-bubble thinking it’s still late January.

So it’s surprising to go to the supermarket and see that the berries have mostly disappeared, stonefruit is dwindling (or, at least, going up in price – a sign of diminishing supply), new season apples and pears have taken over the fruit section. So: before it’s too late, before I have to wait a whole 10 months to post this recipe again, here is this cobbler recipe I put together for the good folks at Urban Harvest.

Cobbler is great because it’s easy, it’s pretty (just look at those bright-coloured juices bubbling their way through the gaps in the scone-like topping), and it’s just different enough from the usual (in New Zealand) fruit crumble that it feels kind of special. And if you wait too long to make this and you’ve missed the stonefruit season, fear not: you can make this with pretty much any fruit, just as you would a crumble.

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NECTARINE & BLACKBERRY COBBLER
For the filling:
8 nectarines (approximately 800g whole)
250g blackberries
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
For the topping:
150g flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
75g butter, cut into small chunks
2/3 cup unsweetened yoghurt
demerara sugar, for sprinkling on top
Preheat oven to 190C.
First prepare the filling: peel the nectarines (to peel easily, blanch in boiling water for about 45 seconds then plunge in cold water before peeling) and slice into wedges. Combine nectarine wedges with blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and zest, and set aside.
For the topping, sift together all dry ingredients, then rub the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers, until you reach a crumbly, sand-like consistency. Mix in the yoghurt until you get a soft dough.
Put the fruit into an ovenproof baking dish. Tear off bite-sized chunks of dough and place on top of the filling. Sprinkle demerara sugar over the top.
Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling is bubbling up at the sides. Serve with ice cream, cream or yoghurt.
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*really poorly, but still!
**and, yes, now we’re in the middle of a pretty rough drought, and I know I shouldn’t be boasting about so much consecutive sun, but it’s so rare for Wellington that it still feels novel and exciting to me. Not so great for farms and vegetable gardens though.

spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and tarragon

In autumn, Italian, late summer, pasta, summer on 11 March, 2013 at 10:38 pm

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I’ve taken to drinking a lot of coffee on the weekends.

This leads, predictably, to the two o’clock jitters and empty stomach panic: I want to eat anything! everything! right this instant! I start flipping through cookbooks in a haze of craving and indecision, passing over recipes that take fifteen or twenty minutes or more, because I want something now, fifteen minutes is too long, I don’t have this or that ingredient, this looks like too much work and oh I might faint I’m too hungry now. (Fifteen or twenty minutes passes in this manner.)

The lifesaver comes in the form of Nigel Slater’s really handy book Real Fast Food and a recipe in it called “tomatoes fried in butter and sugar” or something like that, which immediately appeals to me for two reasons: 1) I have all the ingredients, having just bought a punnet of cherry tomatoes at the vege market, and 2) it’s called “tomatoes fried in butter and sugar”. Oh, also it takes just two minutes to make, according to the recipe. Excellent.

The problem is, I’ve got the empty-stomach caffeine shakes and I feel like I need to eat with these tomatoes some kind of substantial carb to settle me down, and I’ve got no bread (I’m kicking myself for not buying a loaf earlier, but what can you do). I do, however, have spaghetti and with that realisation I put down the book and get to work.

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Nigel’s recipe is really simple – to paraphrase: fry some tomatoes in butter and sprinkle a bit of sugar over at the end – but I feel like adding a little tarragon and parsley from the garden because I can. I add a little anchovy paste too, mostly because I’m excited about the lovely old-fashioned tube it comes in, but also to add a bit of extra oomph, because I can. I add the spaghetti to the skillet with the semi-saucy tomatoes and eat most of it out of the pan before changing my mind and transferring the rest to a plate (I really have no idea why. It tasted great either way).

My cherry tomatoes were mostly really big so I cut them in half, but if you can leave at least some of yours whole I recommend you do it: the whole ones sort of burst as you pierce them with your fork and spill their juices all over the mouthful of spaghetti you’re about to take. It’s glorious. The sugar gives it this sort of gentle sweetness reminiscent of slow-roasted tomatoes, and the softly sweet tarragon brings this out even more. And if you cook your pasta just a little past al dente then it almost becomes like a grown-ups’ version of tinned spaghetti. This is something I totally can get behind.

The best part about this meal? It was ready in the time it took to boil the jug and cook some pasta, and that’s really great when you’re shaky and hungry and must-eat-something-now. It’s super easy but I’ve posted some instructions below, for those who’d like a bit of guidance.

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SPAGHETTI WITH CHERRY TOMATOES & TARRAGON

Bring a pot of water to the boil (make sure you use plenty of salt) and chuck some spaghetti in there. In a skillet or heavy-bottomed frying pan, melt two or three tablespoons butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add some chopped tarragon (I used about a teaspoon worth but you could easily use a bit more) and about half a teaspoon (or more) anchovy paste*, fry for a few seconds, then add 250g cherry tomatoes. Cook for a couple minutes or until the spaghetti’s done. Reserve some of the pasta cooking water in case you need it to loosen up the sauce; drain pasta, add to the pan with the tomatoes, toss to coat. Add a bit of parsley before serving.

Serves 1 but can easily be doubled or tripled as needed. 

*You can easily omit the anchovy paste and make this dish vegetarian, if you’re so inclined.

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Tomato party

In autumn, pasta, salads, summer on 30 April, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Now, I realise tomato season’s pretty much drawing to a close for most of us in the Southern Hemisphere, but I’ve been hearing reports of some late-season harvests in gardens around here; helped, no doubt, by the Indian summer days we’ve been having this autumn. And I’ve spotted some nice-looking heirloom varieties at the organic store – surely a sign that it’s still seasonally appropriate to be posting this recipe this late?

And if there’s one last thing you make with fresh tomatoes before winter sets in, let it be this: Yotam Ottolenghi’s aptly named Tomato Party from his most excellent cookbook Plenty. Apt, because, really, a party is what this is: as many different kinds of tomato you can get your hands on, cooked to varying degrees, every mouthful is full of different incarnations of the tomato. Juicy roast tomatoes? Check. Savoury-sweet balsamic-glazed tomatoes? Check. Raw, tangy and sweet tomatoes? Yep. And you could keep going, too, adding different varieties of tomato or changing up the cooking method. It’s a fitting farewell for this summer fruit that frankly, I wouldn’t bother buying all winter.

I was lucky enough to be given a paper bag full of beautiful tomatoes* from the very generous Sue of Five Course Garden, who has what is possibly the most productive compact garden of anyone I know. It’s tiny and huge all at once, and is truly a joy to poke your nose around (and I’m not just saying this because both times I’ve been to see Sue I’ve left laden with fresh produce!) – it seems like every nook and cranny has got something edible growing in it.

And these tomatoes – just look at them! They’re the exact opposite of the bland supermarket tomatoes that get especially blander and more average as autumn fades into winter. They were stripey and purple and green and juicy and sweet, with so much more flavour than anything you could buy. And what better way to celebrate them than this tomato-rich couscous salad?

I pretty much followed the recipe straight from the book, adapted to the ingredients I had on hand: I used an assortment of Sue’s tomatoes, supplemented with a handful of orange cherry tomatoes I had lying around the kitchen and some vine tomatoes that were fast-approaching their use-by point. I used whole wheat Palestinian couscous (the stuff I used here) instead of fregola or mograbieh, because it’s what I had, and let’s face it – mograbieh is expensive. (I still got the delightful textural contrast of different-sized couscous, though in a pinch you could just as easily use one type of couscous, I mean, the recipe isn’t called “couscous party”, is it?)

The recipe that follows, though, is going to be more of an imprecise method than Ottolenghi’s instructions, because yesterday something really happened: Kate and Jason came over and we swapped cookbooks, SO, now I have (temporarily) parted ways with Plenty and my other current favourite, Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, and have got my hands on Ottolenghi: The Cookbook and Thomas Keller’s Bouchonboth of which have been on my cookbook wishlist for what feels like forever. Hooray!

So anyway, I don’t have the book to refer to for this recipe, so I’ve cobbled together bits and pieces from memory and also from the ever-helpful internet (especially this earlier version of the recipe, which appeared in the Guardian in 2007 – actually, that might be pretty much the same as the version in Plenty. But I can’t know for sure). It’s more of  a rough method, anyway – cook some tomatoes a few different ways, mix with a couple different kinds of couscous, enjoy.

*Actually, the purpose of my visit was to pick up some tomatillos Sue had set aside for me – after sampling her harvest last year and making the best salsa verde and chilaquiles I’d had in a long time there was no way I was going to be able to refuse her offer. This year’s crop was great too – more on that later, though!

OTTOLENGHI’S TOMATO PARTY
(adapted from Plenty,and from this earlier version of the recipe)

Preheat the oven to 175C/350F. 

Cook 125g couscous according to the instructions on the packet; fluff with a fork and set aside. Do the same with 150g Palestinian couscous, or mograbieh if you’re lucky enough to have some, or some fregola or Israeli couscous. 

Meanwhile, halve or quarter (depending on size – you want them to be bite-sized when they’re cooked) a good bunch of vine tomatoes, around 300g or so. Put on a baking tray lined with baking paper or tinfoil, season with a bit of salt and pepper, some brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, give it a good drizzle of olive oil. Put in the oven for about 30 minutes until they’re shrivelled but still juicy. The balsamic vinegar, sugar and oil should have melded with the tomato juice and be a little bubbly but not too sticky. Remove from the oven and set aside in a bowl, adding all the juices from the pan.

Next, increase the oven temperature to 200C/400F. Halve about 200g cherry tomatoes and place on a clean piece of baking paper or foil on your baking sheet, season them with salt and pepper and olive oil and stick them in the oven for about 12 minutes.

Cut up some more tomatoes – about 100 to 150g – hopefully you’ve got an assortment of colours and sizes but if not, don’t worry too much.

Once you have all your tomatoes, mix the two types of couscous together and add a whole bunch of chopped herbs – I used tarragon, parsley, oregano & basil – and some crushed garlic, all of the tomatoes and all of their juices.*  Season to taste. Eat at once.**

*Other things you could add at this point that would be very delicious: crumbled feta, torn buffalo mozzarella, shelled & chopped pistachios, bits of streaky bacon. Or nothing else at all. This is, after all, all about the tomatoes.

**I can report this also tastes very, very good served at room temperature the next day, when the flavours have had a chance to mingle overnight.

spiced peach pie

In baking, desserts, eating in, fruit, late summer, summer on 21 March, 2012 at 11:08 am

As a person who lives in an upstairs flat where the only outdoor space is a balcony just big enough for a couple pots of herbs (and maybe a tomato plant or two), I often find myself getting uncontrollably envious of people who have fruit trees in their gardens. 

It’s a heartbreaking feeling. Like the kid who really wants a puppy but whose brother is allergic: it just ain’t gonna happen. And while feeling this way might be a little irrational – there’s nothing really stopping me from moving to a place with, you know, maybe a lemon tree or feijoas or even nectarines or figs (I can dream!) – there is just no way, in the foreseeable future, that I’ll be able to stroll outside and pick a bagful of plums, or apples or whatever.*

A couple weeks ago, I visited my friend Harriet’s flat in Auckland, and though I didn’t get a chance to stroll around her garden – a combination of terrible weather and an incredibly full stomach after stuffing my face at Barilla Dumpling on Dominion Rd meant that all I wanted to do was stay inside and sit very, very still – I did get a chance to stroll into her kitchen and get smacked in the face by the sweet, heady aroma of vanilla and peach coming from a big pan of vanilla-flecked stewed peaches on the stove. Not just any peaches, mind you: peaches from the peach tree. In the garden. Just outside the window.

 

I couldn’t turn down the chance to sample some, despite the protestations of my full-to-bursting stomach (too many dumplings!). Jealousy sometimes makes you do funny things… or perhaps it was just a fear of missing out: how many of my friends have peach trees in their gardens, after all? In any case, I’m glad I gave in: they were meltingly tender, with that soft, mellow, vanilla-y sweetness that was faintly reminiscent (though a hundred times better) than the canned peach memories of my childhood.

 

And when I returned to Wellington, I couldn’t get those peaches off my mind. What also came to mind was the addition of some spices – Harriet and her flatmate had been talking about adding cloves to the mix, though they didn’t in the end – and in the end, I dreamed up this somewhat-rustic pie, with a sugar-studded golden crust and filled with sweet, cardamom- and clove-spiced stewed peaches.

It’s a little bit more complex than standing over the kitchen sink eating a summer peach (juices dripping down your chin, arm, elbow, of course), a bit more grounded and earthier than, say, this or this. This is a peach pie for autumn.

So, before the peach window closes for the season I’d recommend you go and pick up some of the last of the early-autumn harvest and make this pie. And if you’re getting your peaches off a tree in your garden, please, don’t tell me about it. I’ll be too jealous!

 —

*Though thanks to my happy little herb garden I have lots and lots of sage, and mint, and thyme, and I have a couple pots of vegetables here and there which means I never have to buy spring onions, for instance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty pleased about that.

 

SPICED PEACH PIE

First, prepare the pastry*:

280g flour
2 Tbsp sugar
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
225g butter, very cold and cut into little pieces
4 – 8 Tbsp ice cold water, as needed

Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour using your fingers until the mixture is a grainy, pebbly consistency.

Sprinkle the cold water over the mixture, a couple tablespoons at a time, until the dough comes together but is not too sticky (you probably won’t need to use all 8 tablespoons). If you’ve added too much water, just add more flour. Divide the dough in half, roll into balls and cover with plastic wrap.

Chill for about 30 minutes to 1 hour in the fridge.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling:

Cut up 8 peaches and put in a biggish pan with about 3/4 cup sugar (more or less to taste), a few cloves and cardamom pods (if you’re fussy about removing these you could to tie them up in a muslin cloth or something so you can take them out before filling the pie) and about a teaspoon of vanilla paste (a vanilla pod would also work well here, or even real vanilla extract, but if you only have the artificial stuff please leave it out – it’ll still be fine, I promise). Add a little bit of water – 1/2 cup or so should do – and bring to a simmer. Cook over a gentle heat until the fruit is soft and tender and your kitchen smells amazing.

Preheat the oven to 350C.

Roll out the two balls of pastry on a floured surface so that they’re big enough to fit into a pie dish. Line the pie dish with one of the pastry rounds and prick some holes in it with a fork. Bake for 10-15 minutes or so until it’s set a little and turns a pale golden colour.

Fill the pie with the stewed peaches (I added a couple teaspoons of cornflour/cornstarch to hold the fruit mixture together, as it was quite juicy) and top with the other rolled-out bit of pastry. Cut some holes in the top so the steam can escape. If you like, you can glaze the top with a bit of beaten egg and sprinkle some demerara sugar on top.

Bake 35-45 minutes or until the top is nice and golden brown. Let cool before serving.

*this is the same recipe I’ve used for the pear & feijoa crostata I made last year, and pretty much my go-to pie crust recipe – it’s adapted from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book via this Serious Eats post.

grilled corn with miso butter

In eating in, sides, snacks, summer, vegetarian on 13 February, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Tonight I was actually going to get back to the next instalment of the pancake project (Parts 1 and 2 are here and here), and I’m sorry if you think it’s a bit repetitive of me to feature miso in two consecutive blog posts (sesame-miso cookies here!), but I couldn’t not share this, the most delicious of ways to eat corn on the cob.

The last couple days have been brilliantly sunny and for once I haven’t been moaning about the weather (er, sorry about that) but have been revelling in its gloriousness, running around outside at night bare-legged and bare-shouldered*, drinking cold beer and cider and eating salads and tacos and all the sweetcorn I can get my hands on. Doesn’t take much to make me ridiculously happy, apparently.

You know when corn is so fresh and sweet you can just bite into it raw, straight from the cob, each kernel bursting milky-sweet, slightly starchy juices into your mouth as you bite? The kind where you nearly eat the whole ear without bothering to cook it, only popping it in a pot of boiling water as an afterthought, “oh I bet this would taste pretty good cooked too”? This was that kind of corn.

Growing up I loved corn in the summertime. I mean, who doesn’t? But I never had it anything other than cooked until a few years ago, when I was back home in the States, and there was this guy at the local farmers’ market handing out raw sweetcorn for free. It’s so fresh and sweet, he was saying, just picked yesterday in Michigan, drove down this morning. I wasn’t sure whether the picked-yesterday bit was just a sales pitch but it worked; I was drawn in.** I didn’t know what was about to hit me but that first bite was a revelatory moment: cool, sweet, refreshing. If I could have drunk a glass of that juice, I would have; instead, I did the second-best thing I could think of and bought a half dozen ears of corn. I think I may have eaten one on the way home, peeling the husks off like a banana skin, though that could just be my imagination.

Ever since then, when summertime rolls around and sweetcorn starts getting cheaper and cheaper I’m always tempted to take a couple bites out of each ear, just in case it’s as sweet as that first bite. This summer, they’ve been pretty close. But I’m happy to cook corn, too.

In Japan in the summertime you often get 焼きとうもろこし (yaki-toumorokoshi) or just simply 焼きもろこし (yaki-morokoshi), sweetcorn usually flavoured with soy sauce and sometimes butter. The flavour’s so distinct that you can find chips, pretzels, even Kit Kats with yaki-morokoshi flavour. It’s got that addictive combination of saltiness and butteriness and the sweet, almost-caramelised crunch of the corn, the kernels just starting to crisp up at the edges. At summertime festivals when others would be headed for the takoyaki or shaved ice stalls I’d be on the lookout for some grilled corn. And in my own kitchen more recently, when I just need a snack, I’ll melt some butter on an ear of corn, drizzle some soy sauce over it, and savour that memory.

But I’ve discovered a new thing. Something even more glorious than soy sauce and butter: miso butter. I’d seen it mentioned in a couple forms in some Japanese cooking magazines (good old Lettuce Club and Orange Page again). I first tried it out a couple weeks ago on some corn I’d just boiled. I didn’t get the miso:butter ratio quite right, and I didn’t bother grilling the corn, but it was pretty damn good, an umami party on my tongue. I was sold on miso butter.***

This time I got it right. One part miso to two parts butter. Make sure the butter’s soft so the miso blends in nicely, but not melted, or it won’t blend in at all. Grill the corn, brushing miso butter over it from time to time so it melts right into the cracks and the surface gets all blistered and almost-charred and then, when you’re ready to serve, melt some more miso butter over the top and bite in and holy crap, YES.

*Who would’ve thought? In summer? My goodness.

**Actually, never mind, I’m drawn in by most samples, regardless of whether they’re accompanied by a tempting sales pitch…

***And, the next morning when I spread some on toast with a bit of honey? That was the reminder for me to make those miso cookies I’d been dreaming of. With great success.

MISO BUTTER

Mix 1 tbsp miso into 2 tbsp softened* butter, stirring well until all the miso is blended in and it’s a nice smooth consistency. You can make the quantity greater or less; just use the 1:2 miso:butter ratio – easy enough to remember! Keep stored in the fridge where it will firm up a bit.

This is great on sweetcorn, but also anywhere you might want something buttery and rather salty. I can think of a few:

  • on toast, with honey
  • on French toast, with maple syrup**
  • to brush over some fish before baking/grilling
  • with green beans, or asparagus when it’s in season, or brussels sprouts
  • tossed through hot pasta or some boiled new potatoes

*room-temperature or slightly softer, but not melted

**I actually think I’m going to try this tomorrow morning. Will update with the results…

GRILLED CORN WITH MISO BUTTER

Grill your corn how you like, but slather some miso butter all over it before you do so it gets in the crevices and makes everything all salty and buttery. Here’s my lazy/non-BBQ-owning method:

First, slice up the cob into halves or thirds (or just leave it whole). Bring some water to the boil and add the corn, cook for a minute or two until it’s an eyepopping sunflower yellow. Remove from the pot.

Preheat the grill/broiler in your oven. Heat a ridged grill pan* until nice and hot, almost smoking. Coat the corn with miso butter (a pastry brush works great here) and place on the grill pan. Let it start to sear a bit on the bottom, then rotate it a bit, brush with more miso butter, and stick under the hot grill in the oven. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn, giving it a turn every now and then and brushing with a bit more miso butter. When it’s nice and golden brown, almost-burnt in places and the miso stuck between the kernels is beginning to caramelise, pull the pan out from the oven.

Brush with more miso butter if you like. Go on, do it.

*a cast-iron one that can go in the oven is ideal. If you don’t have one, just heat the grill in your oven, skip this step and chuck your corn in there on a baking tray, making sure to rotate and brush with extra butter.

ginger & sesame chicken salad

In salads, summer on 10 January, 2012 at 1:03 am

I’m one of those people who doesn’t do a big weekly shop but rather picks up bits and pieces almost every day. I like it because I’m indecisive; I like to plan what I’m eating based on my mood that day, the weather outside, that sort of thing. Granted, sometimes I’ll get all ambitious and plan out a week’s worth of meals. but I change my mind. All the time. So for the most part I’m the person who can’t go from work to home without stopping along the way to pick up some tomatoes, or meat, or fresh fruit or greens.

But living like this has its downsides: I don’t always eat everything I buy. And then, because I haven’t had the foresight to think about what I’ll do with that other head of baby cos languishing in the fridge, or the other half of the cucumber I didn’t eat the night before, I forget about them. They sink to the bottom of the vegetable crisper in the fridge. And they stay there.

In light of the fact that my flightiness is responsible for some serious wastage of food (not to mention money) I’ve been challenging myself to use up what I’ve got and buy only what I really need. I know, I know, it’s common sense for most people, right?

Back to that poor forgotten head of baby cos. I had actually bought a couple right before going away for Christmas. Rather predictably, I didn’t end up using it before I went away. By the time I rediscovered it (several days into 2012) it looked like it was beyond saving, all wilted and limp on the outside. But I peeled back a few outer layers of leaves, and underneath? Crisp-as-new, vibrant-green baby cos leaves. Magic!

So there was one thing to use up. Among the others? One of about six or seven pieces of ginger I had hanging around (I honestly don’t know why I keep buying them, I mean really, is ginger-hoarding normal? No.), half a cucumber, some scraps of red onion, other assorted greens. Everything was pointing towards salad, perhaps something with gingery Asian flavours. I cheated a little bit and bought a couple of chicken thighs, but aside from that I was pretty proud of the fact that I was using up stuff that would’ve otherwise gone to waste.

For this salad I wanted something light yet substantial, with the sort of fresh, clean flavours you get in Asian food. This was perfect: light and crunchy greens, silky-soft steamed chicken. It’s perfect for a hot summer day but would work just as equally well for a winter lunch, served with a piping hot bowl of miso soup. And you could change up the green bit depending on what you have wilting in your vegetable crisper.

So. Next time you have a languishing head of lettuce in the fridge, take a look inside before throwing the whole thing out – you might be missing the best part. The inside bit, anyway – as the leaves get smaller and smaller until you reach the heart – is the best part, I reckon: all tender-sweet crunch, juicy and fresh and earnest, untainted by its tired exterior. Treat it kindly. Don’t let it go to waste.

GINGER & SESAME CHICKEN SALAD
(makes enough for 2 people as a side dish)

200g(ish) chicken breast or thigh
30g piece of ginger
1 or 2 spring onions
25g kaiware sprouts
25g mizuna
50g baby cos (romaine) leaves, torn into small pieces
50g cucumber, sliced on the diagonal
1/4 of a red onion, sliced thinly 

First, prepare the chicken: trim off any excess fat, then season on both sides with salt. Place on a plate or small bowl inside a steamer. Peel the ginger and cut off the green tops of the spring onions; add these to the chicken like this:

Steam, with the lid on, over a pot of boiling water until the chicken is cooked through (I used some smallish thighs and they cooked in about 20-25 minutes). Let cool, and shred by pulling the meat apart with your fingers (or a couple of forks if you prefer).

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the salad: slice up the cucumber and onion (I like to let the red onion soak in a bit of water so it doesn’t overpower the rest of the salad) and rinse the greens. Slice the bottom bits of the spring onions on the diagonal:

Place all the salad ingredients in a bowl and prepare the dressing.

for the dressing:
1 tbsp grated ginger (this will be approximately what’s left of the piece you peeled earlier)
1 clove crushed garlic
2 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp peanut oil
2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp palm sugar
1 tbsp toasted, coarsely ground sesame seeds*

Mix the ingredients together so that the sugar dissolves completely. Taste and adjust amount of vinegar, sugar or soy sauce if needed.

Set aside a tablespoon or so of the dressing to pour over the chicken.

Once everything’s ready, toss the salad ingredients in the dressing. Top with the shredded chicken and pour the rest of the reserved dressing over the top.

*toast the sesame seeds in a hot, dry frying pan or skillet, then loosely crush in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.

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.

roast summer vegetables with feta & couscous

In summer, vegetarian on 31 December, 2011 at 1:42 am

Funny we’re less than 24 hours away from 2012, in what should be the middle of summer (here in the Southern Hemisphere, at least), and I’m sitting wrapped in a blanket, drinking cups of tea, listening to the rain and wind beating against the side of my house. Really, what is this?! Bring back the sun!

I’m back now from Christchurch, where I’ve been sitting around at my grandma’s house, exploring what’s new and/or relocated (using Neat Places as my guide), eating turkey and leftover turkey and puddings and ramen and catching up with family, hearing funny stories for the first time about my grandpa mailing his beard to my grandma before they got married (she wasn’t going to marry him with a beard, she said), breaking into fits of giggles over the cheap plastic toys that come inside Christmas crackers.

And of course when my plane landed in Wellington this morning it was raining, and not the fitful blustery stuff that spits and blows but doesn’t get you too wet and miserable, but the full-on pouring-down rain that’ll hit you in big splotchy raindrops even if you’re just crossing the road or running out to your car.

So I wanted to eat something for an unseasonably cold summer’s day, something vegetable-based (and thus close enough to almost count as a salad) but hearty at the same time. I was thinking about summer vegetables (in particular, courgettes and tomatoes) and then I remembered that, somewhere in between daydreaming and looking at old family photos at my grandma’s house, I had written a little list of memorable meals I wanted to recreate at home.

Near the top of that list were these baked eggs I had about a month ago at Birdman Eating in Melbourne. The eggs were baked in a skillet with roast capsicum, tomato, red onion, courgette and big, chewy, pearl-like mograbieh. The whole thing was flecked with bits of rosemary and served sizzling hot with sourdough toast and the best bloody mary I’ve had in a long time.

That morning was the first time I’d tried mograbieh, and it was one of those wide-eyed revelatory moments where you want to tell everyone around how absolutely delicious the thing you’ve just eaten is, except in my case I was eating alone, feeling slightly less than 100 percent after a night out, trying to regain some semblance of vitality before meeting up with my mum who was flying in later that day.*

But anyway, the mograbieh was incredible, especially with those roast vegetables. And it was something I vowed I’d try recreating at home. So today, having returned from Christchurch and family Christmas and not having cooked anything for the better part of a week, I headed to the shop to pick up some mograbieh.

I found it all right, but after seeing the price (twelve dollars for a bag, sigh) and doing some mental calculations (and giving myself an internal lecture: you cannot buy a twelve dollar bag of oversized couscous after overspending at Christmas, no matter how good it’s going to taste) I was about to give up, when I remembered the bag of Palestinian couscous I had picked up at a Trade Aid event a while back.

It’s no mograbieh, but I enjoyed it just as much, maybe even more: it’s wholegrain rather than refined like most couscous, which makes it a darker tan colour, a bit nuttier, more textured, somewhere in between pearl barley, bulghur and Israeli couscous. Definitely worth trying if you can find it (I think it’s also called maftoul).

This is one of those immensely satisfying dishes which has so many different flavours and textures going on: the sweet-melty roast capsicum, acidic tomatoes, smoky charred courgettes, deeply earthy mushrooms, near-caramelised onions and garlic. It’s multifaceted enough that you almost don’t notice it’s totally vegetarian (and can be easily made vegan by omitting the feta and butter) but if you want meat it’d also be great with pieces of chicken or sausage mixed in with the vegetables.

*By the way, if you’re planning on a night out in Melbourne I can wholeheartedly recommend a trip down Gertrude St in Fitzroy the next morning, either for the baked-eggs-and-bloody-mary breakfast at Birdman Eating (only $20!), or for limeade and arepas from Sonido. Yes.

ROAST SUMMER VEGETABLES WITH FETA & COUSCOUS

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.

Slice 1 capsicum* and 2 portobello mushrooms into strips, 2-3 cm wide. Cut a smallish red onion into vertical wedges and 6-8 cherry tomatoes into halves. Peel a few cloves of garlic (if you can get fresh, new season garlic, use it by all means!). Place on a baking tray (with the capsicums skin side up, tomatoes cut side up), drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter rosemary leaves on top. Roast for 35-45 minutes, or until all the vegetables are cooked and the skin on the capsicum’s wrinkled and starting to blister.

Meanwhile, cook 1 cup couscous. Follow the instructions on the package**, but use chicken or vegetable stock instead of water, and stir in a handful of chopped parsley and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin while the couscous is soaking. Once it’s done, drizzle with olive oil and stir in a chunk of butter; fluff with a fork before serving.

Towards the end of the cooking time, slice 1-2 smallish courgettes on the diagonal and grill until cooked through and a bit charred on both sides.

Peel the skin off the capsicum (it should come off easily) and place in a bowl, along with the other vegetables. Add a bit of olive oil to the vegetables if they look a bit dry. Add some torn mint and parsley and as much or as little chilli powder and crumbled feta as you like; toss to combine. Taste and season with more flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed.

Serve the vegetables on top of the couscous. This is one of those dishes that’s great both hot and at room temperature.

*Any colour is fine, though you may prefer to use the sweeter red, yellow or orange.

**I used this one, which is whole wheat and needed a bit more cooking time than usual.

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.

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!

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.