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Archive for the ‘year-round’ Category

miso soup with clams

In soup, year-round on 17 October, 2012 at 8:56 am

If you like clams, and you like miso soup, I urge you to make this as soon as possible.

In fact, even if you think you don’t like clams, but you like miso soup, I reckon you should at least give this a try.

(If you don’t like clams or miso soup, this might not be for you. But maybe you’d like to rethink your stance. Unless, of course, you have a shellfish allergy, in which case, please don’t rethink your stance.)

When I lived in Japan ten years ago (! showing my age) I was, at first, the pickiest teenager alive. I didn’t eat fish, eggs, potatoes, pretty much any vegetable except carrots and lettuce. But slowly, things changed, and by the end of my year there I ate nearly everything. And what brought me around to clams was the time, one morning, my host mother served a bowl of clam miso soup with breakfast. I was at first wary, then delighted: an instant convert. Now it’s one of my favourite ways to have miso soup.

It’ s a very basic recipe – just three or four ingredients – but the result is both light and rich, deeply savoury and complex. It makes sense: clams (packed with umami) plus miso (also packed with umami). Umami plus umami equals very delicious. Incredibly satisfying. Salty, meaty, but not too intense.

When I’ve had clam miso soup (あさりのみそ汁) in Japan, the clams have always been a small, littleneck variety. They’re lovely and delicate, their thin shells clinking together as you sip from the bowl, the little meaty morsels providing miniature flavour bursts with each mouthful. I’m not sure if this species of clam is commercially available in New Zealand, but nevermind that – just use what you can get. (For me, it was the much larger, but still very tasty, Cloudy Bay clams I picked up from Rachel at the City Market a couple Sundays ago.)

Normally, the key to a good miso soup is a good dashi base, made from dried fish and/or kombu. But because the clams are so packed with flavour, you can get away without making a dashi for this one. (I prefer to make a light, kombu-based dashi beforehand, but it’s entirely optional).

CLAM MISO SOUP
(translated and adapted from this recipe – serves 2)

1 10 x 10cm piece kombu (optional)
2.5 cups water
200g clams (in shell)
1.5 – 2 tbsp miso, depending on how strong you want it
chopped spring onions

Slowly bring kombu and water to a boil over medium heat, let simmer a few minutes, remove kombu (this step is optional if you don’t have kombu).

Add clams and simmer until they all open up. Remove from heat and stir in miso. Add spring onions.

That’s about it. I like to leave it on a low heat for a little while for the flavours to meld, but don’t let it boil again once you add the miso.

ps. somewhat but not entirely coincidentally, in a few days I’m off to Japan for a month or so and will hopefully eat plenty of clam miso soup while I’m over there. If you’d like to follow my adventures I’ll be writing a travel blog of sorts at strangersandnoodles.wordpress.com.

chicken & barley soup

In autumn, soup, winter, year-round on 23 April, 2012 at 7:10 pm

It’s hard to believe we’re already almost at the end of April, the days are getting shorter and darker, I’ve finally re-embraced wearing tights. It seems like just yesterday that we were all complaining about the lack of a summer, and now here we are, thigh-deep in autumn, whether we like it or not. I like it. Despite the deliriously frantic pace of the last few weeks, this autumn has been nice – that sort of settling-in feeling has set in, I’ve been making soups and curries and braised meats and bringing out the woolly jumpers and savouring every bit of it.

This time last year was much the same: April sped by at a breakneck pace, just shy of overwhelming. But this time, though it’s crept up on me, I’m in a bit more control. If last April started with a bang and a headlong descent into a chaotic busy-girl frenzy, this year’s April started with a whimper and a steady crescendo to a controlled pandemonium. Which is better, I guess.

At the beginning of the month (and I can’t believe it’s already three weeks ago) I found myself huddled under the duvet in a friend’s* bed in Auckland, that horrible alternating between shivery cold and feverish sweat, dreaming weird feverish dreams in which I didn’t make it back to Wellington alive. Of all the times I could possibly get sick, of course it had to be on a weekend away.

So that was awful. But despite my fever-induced delusions to the contrary, I did live to see the morning (and an excellent breakfast at Kokako in Grey Lynn, and the Degas to Dali exhibition at the art gallery, and some amazing turbot sliders at Depot), and I managed to make it back to Wellington alive.

And when I got home, I made this soup. It’s a simple chicken soup, simple enough to make when you’ve got nothing in the fridge, just as long as you get some bone-in chicken pieces and a carrot or two. It was super delicious, and it saw out the rest of my cold, and the rest of that crazy-busy week when the only thing I wanted was the thing I didn’t have time for: rest.

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You see, chicken soup is the best thing for when you’re sick, tired, hungry, stressed, overwhelmed, all those things that happen to people all the time but to me especially when the seasons are changing and it’s getting colder and darker and things are getting busy. It’s down-to-earth, pure, simple comfort food, and it’s kept my feet firmly planted on the ground during what was an incredibly busy couple of weeks.

This recipe is really more of a loose method than anything else. You might have your own favourite chicken soup recipe; for those who don’t I’m sharing mine. It’s simple enough that you can make it even when you’re too feeble to do much else, which is an important thing for this kind of food.

Feel free to get creative and add or subtract ingredients – the key thing you’re looking for is a deeply soothing broth with chunks of meat and vegetables. Things like barley, noodles, rice, little alphabet pasta, etc are an added bonus – I really, really like the almost-chewy, wholesome quality of barley though.

*so many thank-yous to Sophie for looking after me! x


CHICKEN & BARLEY SOUP

Get a bone-in chicken leg quarter, or 3 or 4 drumsticks, or any combination of bone-in chicken pieces. Put in a big pot and cover with plenty of water. Add some things like: an onion, sliced in half, a carrot, maybe some celery tops, herbs from the garden, peppercorns, bay leaves, that sort of thing. Bring to the boil, skim off the scum that rises, cover and let simmer on a low heat until the chicken’s cooked and comes off the bone easily – about an hour.

Take the chicken out of the pot, pull the meat from the bones, return the bones to the pot and let simmer as long as you can manage – an hour more, perhaps, or longer if you’ve got time to kill, like if you’ve taken the day off work.

Meanwhile, chop up the chicken (or pull apart with your fingers, depending on how you like it) and set aside. Roughly chop a carrot or two, an onion, celery if you’ve got it, plenty of garlic. 

In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat up some butter or olive oil (or both) over a medium heat and saute the carrot, onion and celery until they start to soften a bit. Add the garlic and some sprigs of thyme* and let cook a little bit more until fragrant, then add some pearl barley (I used about 3/4 cup, but you could use less or more depending on how thick you want it – just adjust the liquid if need be). Season with a bit of salt and pepper.

Using a sieve, strain the chicken stock from the other pot into the pot with the vegetables and barley. If it needs more liquid, add a bit of water and adjust the seasoning. Bring to the boil and then let simmer for 30 minutes or until the barley’s nice and tender. Add the chopped chicken, heat through, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Serve on its own or with hot buttered toast.

 —

*or whatever herbs you’ve got on hand that you think might go nicely: oregano, chopped up rosemary, tarragon, etc.

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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!

 

sesame-miso cookies and a year of this thing

In baking, cookies, sweets, year-round on 7 February, 2012 at 10:40 pm

A year ago today, probably to the hour, I was writing the first-ever post on this blog, about a fig I’d carried home so carefully in the palm of my hand. How long ago that all now seems.  

Last summer I was all anticipation, all breathless excitement for what was ahead. This summer? Defeat. I really don’t want to complain about the weather on this blog but I will say this: if I wanted to spend my summer wearing woolly cardigans and thick socks I’d have chosen to live in Iceland.* This summer I haven’t been nearly as excited about the glut of berries, the juiciest peach, the ripest tomatoes. This summer I’ve mostly wanted to throw on a blanket and curl up with a bowl of soup and maybe, you know, have a wee cry at the thought of actually being on a beach.

Okay, I may be being a bit dramatic. I mean, we have had little snippets of sunshine and I haven’t been wearing thick socks ALL summer (though I am wearing a big woolly cardigan as I type this). But it hasn’t felt like summer. So I guess I was hit with the realisation that, whoa, this time last year I was all excited about late summer and this year I’m still hanging on to this hope that we’re going to have this nice long languorous summer with jugs of Pimm’s in the late-afternoon sun and jandals. Figs? No, no, I’m not ready yet.

Every time I look out the window and see people walking by wearing boots and puffy jackets (for real!! it’s supposed to be February, for goodness’ sake!) I get a little bit sad, a little bit droopy-hearted. But maybe I’ve been looking at this all the wrong way. It’s not like we can do anything about what the weather’s going to do tomorrow. And maybe the best way is not necessarily declaring defeat or resignation, but instead accepting things for what they are. Moving forward. Getting on with it. If that means I have to wear tights in the summer months** then so be it.

So this year, on the first anniversary of the very first post on this blog, I don’t have an amazing birthday cake full of seasonal fruits and flavours for you. I don’t even have anything that says it should be summer, no plums or peaches, no boysenberries or cherries or nectarines. But you know what I do have? Miso cookies.

Yes! Miso cookies! Now here is something I’m excited about, and that you can get excited about too, no matter what the season. I’d been mulling the idea over for a while, actually since I got my hands on the second issue of Lucky Peach, which had this fantastically illustrated feature on miso (all of the types!) and also Christina Tosi’s recipe for the corn cookies served at Momofuku Milk Bar. I haven’t spent enough time in New York City to have ever visited any of the Momofuku restaurants, let alone Milk Bar,*** but their stuff is pretty legendary, and anyway I was intrigued by the “10-minute creaming process” involved in making the corn cookies.

So I started thinking about a cookie, with miso, kind of like a peanut butter cookie in crossing the savoury-sweet bridge. Something that’s both chewy and crisp. Something that would involve creaming butter and sugar together for ten whole minutes and begging forgiveness of the tired old electric mixer afterwards.

The result was this: exactly what I had envisioned, with the added touch of a tablespoonful of black sesame seeds sprinkled through. Straight out of the oven, they were a dream – hot, buttery, almost-gooey – that only got better as they cooled to crispy-edged, chewy-centred, salty-sweet cookies with an extra nutty hint of sesame. Like peanut butter cookies. But better.

*Er, does anyone who reads this blog actually live in Iceland? I’m only going by summer photos of Reykjavik I’ve seen on street style blogs… I mean, it would be pretty cool to be in Iceland, but, also… cool.

**It’s something I generally refuse to do, no matter how cold it gets. I’ll wear pants, yes, but tights? Not in summer, not on my life. (Or maybe not anymore.)

***Though clearly I need to. Look at their menu!

SESAME-MISO COOKIES
(adapted from Christina Tosi’s corn cookie recipe in Lucky Peach. Awesome.)

200g butter, room temperature or a bit softer, though not melted
300g sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp miso*
275g flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sesame seeds**

Cream butter and sugar using a mixer (stand or handheld) for a couple minutes, until the mixture starts to fluff up. Add the egg and beat on a medium-high speed for 8 or so minutes, until the sugar’s pretty much dissolved and it looks a bit like this. Now mix in the miso until it’s all blended together.

In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients and add to the butter mixture. Stir it well (I abandoned the mixer and used a wooden spoon at this point) until it all comes together. If it seems a bit dry at first, don’t worry. It will come together.

If you haven’t already, stir in the sesame seeds. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for about an hour. I actually popped the whole bowl, covered, into the freezer while I cleaned up the mess I’d made and that seemed to work just fine.

Heat the oven to 180C. Drop walnut-sized balls of dough on a cookie sheet (lined with baking paper, if you’re so inclined) and bake for 12-15 minutes. Rotate halfway through and start checking after 12 minutes if your oven’s temperamental like mine. When they’re done, they’ll be a golden-brown colour, a bit more so at the edges, just a bit paler in the middle.

Cool on a wire rack. Share with those you love, and watch the look of puzzlement on their faces when they ask “Yum, what kind of cookies are they?” and you say, grinning, “Miso!”

Makes about two dozen. 

*I used 2 tbsp and the dough tasted quite miso-y, but after baking the miso flavour really mellows out quite a bit. Don’t worry, it’s nothing like miso soup. Next time I may try adding half a tablespoon more, though not too much more than that – otherwise it’d probably start to get too salty.

**You can add more if you like – I was just running low. 1 tablespoon makes cookies that are daintily flecked with sesame seeds. Not bad.

fig, walnut and oatmeal pancakes

In breakfast, sweets, year-round on 17 January, 2012 at 8:15 am

Just a quick little post today – I was trying to write this last night but my heavy eyelids claimed victory and I sunk into bed before 11 for the first time in 2012 (hooray!). And now it’s morning and I’m battling the clock to get to work on time. And I have plenty more pancakes to write about (!!) so I thought I’d better get on with this one. So, without further ado, I present Pancake #2.

If you recall, I started the year off with a little pancake project. On the first day, I made these crispy-edged little cornmeal griddlecakes, inspired by a Mark Bittman recipe in the New York Times. I didn’t really plan on making pancakes the next day, but I was intrigued by the idea of making pancakes with all kinds of different (non-flour) ingredients. So on the second day, I went back to that New York Times article and found this recipe for oatmeal pancakes. So began the Pancake Project – because if I’m eating the same thing (more or less) two or more days in a row and experimenting with ingredients and methods it’s more than just laziness or falling into a routine, right? It’s a project.

I’ve based these pancakes on Mark Bittman’s method of first cooking the oats before using them to make the pancake batter. The result is wholly different from the kind of oatmeal pancakes I’m used to – normal flour pancakes with some oats mixed in – and results in a pancake that’s far more dense and moist than you’d normally expect. They’re pretty much the opposite of the pretty stack of golden pancakes I’d made the day before, and the antithesis of anything you’d find in, say, an American diner.

I almost never order pancakes in restaurants because I often find myself underwhelmed – they’re so often too big, too floury or stodgy, or just plain boring. But these I could get used to. And okay, I’m not saying these don’t have a bit of stodge to them, but it’s good stodge – good, hearty, (dare I say it?) healthy stodge: plenty of fibre and protein (the more nuts, the better) and interesting texture and so much more flavour than the big, flabby flour-fests* that so often leave me disappointed.

So. I really encourage you to make these pancakes. They’re nowhere near fluffy, but they’re awesome. Also, because they’ve got cooked oats in them, they’re a bit porridgelike in consistency – but in a good, fried-in-a-skillet way. Perhaps it’d be a good way for porridge haters to get their oats? Let me know if you give it a try.

*er, okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh. There are plenty of really delicious traditional flour pancakes out there. But I have had my share of decidedly average ones. Don’t tell me you haven’t.

FIG, WALNUT & OATMEAL PANCAKES
(adapted from this recipe by Mark Bittman in the New York Times) 

1/2 cup rye flour*
1/4 rolled oats
(here, I used the “quick cook” type – the smaller flakes)
1  tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
2 cups cooked whole rolled oats
1 tbsp honey
1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1/3 cup chopped dried figs

First, cook some oats – just in water is fine – I used about a cup of oats to get more or less two cups of cooked oatmeal. Let it cool a bit.

Meanwhile, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, oats, baking powder, salt) in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg and milk, then stir in the cooked oatmeal and the honey. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir gently to combine. The mixture will be thicker than you might be used to for pancake batter, but you should be able to get thick, gloopy ladlefuls of it pretty easily – if it seems too thick, just add more water; if it seems too thin, add more flour. Fold in the walnuts and the fig pieces.

Cook in an oiled skillet (cast-iron is great) over medium heat, making sure the skillet’s nice and hot before you add the batter. Flip when they’re golden-brown on the underside and little bubbles appear on top (this may be less noticeable than with normal pancakes because of all the stuff that’s in the batter, so if in doubt, check the underside). I found 3-4 minutes on one side and then about 2-3 on the other worked well.

Serve with butter and honey.

*(or any flour, really, I just had rye and wanted to give them a bit more depth. I imagine buckwheat’d also be great)

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.

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

pappardelle with hot smoked salmon & chives

In pasta, quick, spring, year-round on 22 November, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Last week, when I made this pasta, I had just returned from a busy weekend in Auckland: time spent with new friends, a full-on and utterly fantastic Saturday at the (first ever!) New Zealand Food Bloggers’ Conference, a prolonged boozy Sunday brunch (complete with bubbles and strawberries and peonies and asparagus!) in the big, rambling Ponsonby villa of one dear friend, a catch-up with another over some quick oysters at Depot, subsequently nearly missing my flight and then actually nearly missing my flight after I bumped into another friend outside the airport terminal.

It was a whirlwind weekend, one that reminded me that people* (both new to me and old) are generally wonderful. That there’s nothing that unites us quite like sharing good food. That I love Auckland.

There. I said it. Near-blasphemy coming from someone as stubbornly in love with Wellington as I am, I know. Words I never thought I’d utter but that I’ve slowly been warming to over the last year or so, forming the words silently with my mouth while no one is looking: I actually really love Auckland.

I don’t really know quite how this came about. I mean, I never really was into that whole Auckland-hating business but I did have the occasional sneer: at the traffic jams, at how self-absorbed all those Aucklanders are (well, all the stereotypical ones I’ve never met), at the soulless city centre (it’s getting better). But you know what? It’s actually tiring hating on Auckland when you don’t really hate it, when every time you’re there you can’t wipe that stupid grin off your face, despite the congested roads and the North Shore.**

Because for me, having grown up in a city where bumper-to-bumper traffic is a fact of daily life, where getting across town to meet up with friends is more than a 10-minute walk, where you plan nights out around taxi rides or sober drivers, the suburban sprawl of Auckland feels perversely comfortable. Maybe even relaxing, in a strange way.

When I’m in Auckland I almost think I could live there. I’ll walk through Mt Eden or Ponsonby or Grey Lynn in a little fantasy world – if I lived here, that’d be my favourite cafe, this would be the little shop I’d always pop my nose into on the way home, I’d get all my cookbooks from Cook the Books (if you were at the post-conference dinner last weekend you would too), I’d be friends with this greengrocer and I’d live in this house or that one or one just like it, and it’d be nice, and I’d be happy.

I feel a bit unfaithful to Wellington when I’m thinking these thoughts. But deep down I know if I ever leave Wellington it won’t be for Auckland but for somewhere a little less familiar, something that’s as yet unknown. And so I come home.

The downside of a weekend fling with Auckland is the exhaustion that follows. Wellington’s so familiar and comfortable; it’s a place I love dearly, but sometimes it feels like I know it just a bit too well. And so coming home feels a bit like waking up from a really good dream, the kind where you want to shut your eyes as hard as possible and will yourself to fall back asleep in the hopes that maybe you’ll fall back into it again. The kind where your head’s in the clouds for a good couple hours in the morning, maybe even until lunchtime, and you need something good to ease yourself out of it.

So that’s how I came to make this pasta last week. I was on my way down from that familiar old Auckland high, filled with a vague sense of longing for sunshine and Queenie’s and Ponsonby Road and friends and that amazing braised and rolled pig’s head at the Tasting Shed. So instead of the salads that have filled my life in recent days*** I was craving something a bit more substantial, something to get me settled back into my normal routine.****

I was also craving something really specific: the karengo hot smoked salmon from Plentifull Deli on Majoribanks St. So on the Monday after Auckland I popped into Plentifull – no salmon. I made do with buying myself some other little treat, and on Tuesday afternoon, I phoned ahead: “hey, do you have any hot smoked salmon today?” “let me check… oh, we’re just smoking some now; it’ll be ready in a couple hours”.

And if there’s anything that can pull you out of a dream-like post-holiday daze, it’s the satisfaction of getting exactly what you want. So I practically skipped home after work, a little parcel of fragrant, smoky fish in my handbag (yes, my bag smelled great – albeit fishy – for the next day or so), cooked up a big batch of noodles, and this dish was born.

*including, but not limited to, all the wonderful people I met for the first/second/third time at the conference:

AlessandraAlliAndreaBronCarmellaChristinaChristyEmmaJacoJemmaJulieKristinaIngrid & VanessaLesleyLouiseMairiMoiraRosaRowanSasaShirleenSueVivian

(Special thanks, of course, goes to Alli for organising the conference, Sasa for being such a lovely lovely host, Andrea, Jaco, Alessandra, Emma, Louise and Bron for the fantastic presentations and all of the conference sponsors:

Annies – Bell Tea – Cook the Books – Coopers Creek – Cuisine – Gravity Coffee – Gu Puds – Hubbards – I Love Pies – Kohu Road – Kokako – Loaf – Mad Millie – New Holland Publishers – Pacific Harvest – Photo & Video International – Teza – The Tasting Shed – Whittaker’s)

**not really picking on the North Shore here particularly. It was just the first thing I could think of that I had some form of perceived contempt for. I don’t, actually… also, I really think my opinion of Auckland has improved a lot now that there are people there who are lovely to me and drive me places. And thus talk to me during traffic jams in a much better way than, say, a taxi driver/fellow bus passengers could. Thanks, friends!

***from the simplest of leaves dressed only with sea salt and olive oil to more complex combinations of grain and legume and all sorts of good stuff!

****not for long, though – I’m off to Melbourne tomorrow!

PAPPARDELLE WITH HOT SMOKED SALMON & CHIVES
(serves approximately two – quantities are rough so adjust as you see fit!)

Cook some pappardelle (I used about 100g of this stuff) in well-salted boiling water. Drain, reserving a bit of the pasta water.

Once the pasta is almost ready, heat up about 1/3 cup creme fraiche and 1/3 cup cream in a wide, shallow pan. Add about a tablespoon each of grainy mustard and lemon zest and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

To the sauce, add some flaked hot smoked salmon (I used about 100g, which was perfect) and a tablespoonful of chopped chives. Add the cooked pasta and toss gently until all the noodles are coated in the creamy sauce (use some of the pasta water to thin the sauce if the it’s too thick).

Serve, topped with a little extra salmon and chives to garnish (if you care about things like that).

peanut butter cheesecake (and a facebook page!)

In baking, year-round on 15 September, 2011 at 7:55 pm

So if you’re anything like me you’re probably all “oh my god cheesecake” right now, but before we get to the cheesecake I have a little announcement to make: after a heck of a lot of dithering on the subject (will anyone “like” it besides my mum? How many social media outlets do I really need to be on?) I’ve finally gone and created a Facebook page for this blog. You can find it, rather predictably, at www.facebook.com/milliemirepoix.

On the Facebook page there will not only be links to the latest blog posts, but also other little tidbits: recipes, interesting links, what I’m cooking that day. I’m also hoping it’ll be a place where other people share ideas and suggestions, comments and feedback – perfect if you’ve been shy to comment on the blog but have some thoughts to share. It would be really, really awesome if (after reading about cheesecake of course) you, person reading this right now, stop by and say hello. Who knows, I may even do a giveaway at some stage.

So! Now that that’s out of the way: cheesecake. It had been on my mind ever since that lunch with Chef Wan when the conversation somehow turned to the subject and all I could think of for the next week or so was cream cheese and biscuit-crumb bases and different flavour combinations.

That, combined with the birthday of a dear friend (who never requests I make anything except the occasional “Mika, can you make cheesecake? Please?” to which the answer is usually “but I have no cream cheese, how about pie/cookies/cake/etc”) led me to the shop, finally, armed with a shopping list including cream cheese and mascarpone and malt biscuits: all of the good things.

While I usually prefer a plain cheesecake topped with a bit of fruit, this cheesecake wasn’t for me, but for my peanut butter-loving friend. I found a recipe for peanut butter cheesecake on (who else?) Nigella Lawson’s website, and changed it a bit: I used a combination of mascarpone and cream cheese in the filling and left out the sour cream topping which is baked on at the end. Instead of the topping, I drizzled salted caramel sauce and chocolate ganache over the top. And it was over the top. But in the best possible way.

There’s no denying it: this cheesecake is rich. So rich, in fact, that it conquered my sweet tooth – I couldn’t eat more than a tiny sliver at a time, when usually I don’t (can’t?) show any restraint around desserts. But if you like peanut butter, it’s So Good – dense and creamy and almost stickily peanut-buttery, and with the chocolate and caramel topping it’s almost like eating a Snickers bar in cheesecake form.

It’s incredibly easy to make, too – especially if you have a food processor, but even if you don’t, I imagine it would be pretty straightforward. The fiddliest bit is getting the base (which includes ground up chocolate and peanuts as well as the usual malt biscuit) into the cake tin. Nigella says you don’t even need a water bath for this, because it’s meant to be dense, though I suppose you could use one if you felt like it. I didn’t, and the results were spectacular.

PEANUT BUTTER CHEESECAKE
(adapted from this Nigella Lawson recipe)

Preheat oven to 170C.

For the base, you will need:

200g digestive biscuits
50g salted peanuts
100g chocolate (I used part of a block of 72% dark chocolate, broken into bits, but you could use chocolate chips or buttons or anything you prefer)
50g softened butter

Blitz everything in a food processor* until it resembles fine crumbs and clumps together when you grab it. Press evenly into the bottom and sides of a springform tin and refrigerate to firm it up a bit while you clean out the food processor and make the filling.

For the filling, you will need:

250g cream cheese
250g mascarpone
3 eggs, plus 3 egg yolks
200g caster sugar
125ml sour cream
250g smooth peanut butter 

It helps if all of these ingredients are at room temperature before you start: this helps the cream cheese mix in better and avoids troublesome clumps in the end product. If you have enough foresight, take the cream cheese, mascarpone and sour cream out of the fridge a couple hours beforehand.

Again, put everything in a food processor** and blitz until smooth and creamy. Don’t avoid the temptation to eat this mixture with a spoon: it is heavenly; you will fail. Just don’t eat all the mixture before it goes into the tin.

Pour this into the chilled base in the springform tin and bake for about an hour and a bit or until just set (it’s okay if it’s still a tiny bit jiggly). Start checking around 45 minutes depending on your oven strength – mine took just over an hour.

Let cool until the cheesecake reaches room temperature and then chill in the fridge, preferably overnight.

Once it’s ready to serve, remove the cheesecake from the cake tin and make the chocolate ganache and salted caramel toppings.

Chocolate ganache:

Finely chop 50-60g good-quality dark chocolate. Put in a metal bowl. Bring 1/4 cup cream to the boil. Pour this into the bowl with the chocolate, whisking as you do, until the chocolate is all melted and it’s nice and smooth. Drizzle over the cheesecake using a spoon or fork.

Salted caramel sauce:*** 

Melt 1/3 cup brown sugar with 1/3 cup cream and 20g (about 1.5 tbsp) butter in a small saucepan over low-ish heat. Turn the heat up, bring to the boil and cook for a few minutes until it starts to get thick and saucy. Mix in a generous pinch of flaky sea salt until it tastes so incredibly sweet-salty-rich that you can hardly stand it. Transfer to a bowl and let it cool until it thickens a bit more (but not so much that you can’t drizzle it – if it gets too gooey as it cools, just pop it in the microwave or on the stove to soften it up). Drizzle over the cheesecake.

Let the toppings set a little before slicing into the cake and serving up to whoever’s lucky enough to be around. The smaller the slice, the better – it’s very rich, and you can always go back for more if your slice was too small.

*if you don’t have a food processor, I would suggest chopping up the peanuts and chocolate as finely as possible, putting the biscuits in a plastic bag and rolling with a rolling pin until they’re all broken up into crumbs, mixing everything together (maybe putting it all in the plastic bag and smashing it up some more), then rubbing the butter into everything so that it more or less sticks together when you smush it into the tin.

**again, if you don’t have a food processor, you’ll be okay – and this part will be easier than the base. All you need is some sort of mixing implement, be it stand mixer, electric hand mixer, a whisk sturdy enough to beat cream cheese, a fork, a wooden spoon, and so on. Beat everything together until it’s nice and smooth and creamy.

***okay, so it’s not a true caramel because you’re not really caramelising the sugar in the way you normally would: slowly, carefully. But it still tastes damn good. For a great post on proper caramel, see David Lebovitz’s one here.

chipotle penne all’arrabbiata

In pasta, year-round on 8 September, 2011 at 8:30 am

Here’s a quick post for a quick dinner: for when you’re too tired and hungry to do anything other than throw some pasta in some boiling salted water, open up a can or two, grate a bit of cheese and sink into the couch with a bowl full of noodles and a sigh.

It’s how I’ve been feeling lately, which I suppose is better than being bored, but it’s also not conducive to cooking elaborate meals or doing imaginative baking. Luckily I have some handy resources around like Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food, and while this recipe isn’t from that book, reading it has definitely reinforced the idea that whipping something up quickly from storecupboard ingredients doesn’t mean you have to have the same old boring thing or resort to prepackaged meals.

So, this pasta: it’s easy, you probably have most of the ingredients at hand (well, maybe not the chipotle peppers but they’re worth picking up), the sauce cooks in practically the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. Normal arrabbiata sauce is good enough – simple but fiery from the addition of chillies – but one day I tried adding chipotle peppers instead of regular chilli, and I’ve been hooked on this Mexican-Italian (Mexi-talian?) twist ever since.

I’m sure someone else has invented this dish before, but for me it was born on the Fourth of July this year, which happened to fall on a Monday and a particularly busy work day at that. But I had promised an American friend I’d meet her for a beer after work, and by the time I got home it was 9 pm, I was exhausted and all I’d ingested since lunchtime was a couple of American craft beers and a handful of edamame (at the wonderful Hashigo Zake).

Now I’m definitely not advocating drinking and frying but some of my best kitchen breakthroughs (like mastering the art of the perfectly-poached egg) have come in that too-sober-for-takeaways, tipsy-enough-to-be-ravenous state we get into at one stage or other. This was no exception: I needed something substantial and satisfying – and fast. So I turned to pasta, looked in the cupboards with a stumped look on my face, spotted a can of tomatoes. My mind turned to arrabbiata.

I started chopping and frying the onions and garlic and then remembered the can of chipotle peppers I had emptied into a jar in the fridge. So instead of the traditional fiery hot arrabbiata sauce, I ended up making something smoky-spicy and utterly delicious.

Since then this has been my go-to recipe for a pasta dish that takes little to no effort but tastes like something special. It’s really not too far a stretch from the traditional arrabbiata sauce but the addition of chipotle adds an extra bit of dimension, a welcome surprise.

CHIPOTLE PENNE ALL’ARRABBIATA
(serves 2 or 3)

Heat a decent glug (a couple tablespoons at least) of olive oil in a skillet. Add 1/2 chopped onion and start to fry over medium heat. Mince 1 clove garlic and add to the onion along with 1-2 chopped canned chipotle peppers* and fry gently for a few minutes until the onion softens and starts to turn brown. Pour a bit of red wine into the pan and deglaze. Add a can of chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer until it reduces – 15 or 20 minutes is ideal, but if you’re in a hurry, until the pasta’s ready is fine.

Bring a pot of well-salted water to the boil and add about 200-250g penne. Cook until al dente, reserve a bit of the pasta water, drain.

Add the pasta to the sauce and give it a good stir so that everything’s nicely coated. Add some of the pasta water to thin out the sauce if needed. Serve topped with a bit of chopped parsley** and grated parmesan or pecorino.

*In Wellington, I get chipotle peppers from Moore Wilson’s – they come in those La Morena cans with the sultry lady on the front. A well-stocked supermarket is also likely to have them, or you could order online.

**Now that I think of it, this could be good with chopped coriander substituted for the parsley… hmm!

leaves and broth

In soup, year-round on 27 August, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Just a very quick post today: it’s the most beautiful day outside, I’ve been sitting in the sun eating kedgeree at Nikau and gelato on the waterfront, riding my bike around after three months of a flat tyre, just popped home to do some chores* before going back out for a walk in the town belt. I’m happy to say I’m embracing the advent of spring now, in contrast to last week.

Speaking of last week: it was intense. It culminated in me consuming a Wellington on a Plate burger at Bisque on Bolton, a three-course set dinner at Fratelli and an incredible Malaysian lunch at Kayu Manis (with the sensational Chef Wan, no less) within 24 hours. If you add a pizza on Saturday night and a massive Sunday brunch you’ll start to understand why I needed this soup.

It’s the perfect thing for coming down off an eating marathon, for trying to restore some sense of balance. It’s also all I want to eat when I’ve got a cold or when I’m so exhausted I can barely stand at the kitchen counter without my eyelids falling shut. It’s soothing in a non-guilt-inducing way and when you’ve had a long day or an overwhelming month it just barely whispers: “settle down now, everything’s fine”.

At its very simplest this soup is so incredibly easy to make: some garlic, some good-quality chicken stock, some herbs and seasonings, a handful of fresh greens. This time I added a fried egg and some toasted bread for a little more substance: had to ease myself off all those enormous meals I’d been eating.

Because there’s not much more to it than leaves and broth (especially if you leave out the egg and bread), you want to make sure you use the best stock possible. Homemade, if you can. If you haven’t roasted a chicken lately you may be able to buy chicken frames for stock-making (in Wellington, I get mine from Moore Wilson’s for about a dollar apiece). I usually toss one of these in a big stockpot along with the end bits and pieces of vegetables I’ve chopped and stashed in the freezer in a ziploc bag labelled “friends of stock”, some peppercorns, herbs, a few cloves of garlic, bay leaves, whatever else I have that might be happy to be tossed in a stockpot. Celery, carrots, onions, the lot. Bring it to the boil and let it simmer for a few hours. Your house will smell amazing.

*(and what better way to procrastinate from doing chores than writing a quick blog post?)

CHICKEN BROTH WITH GARLIC, SPINACH & A FRIED EGG

The most important part of this soup is the chicken stock, so try to use a good one, or even better, homemade.

Take a few cloves of garlic, peel them and either slice or leave them whole. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic. Fry gently over a medium-low heat until they go all golden but not so much that they start to turn brown (this will take a lot longer if you’re using whole garlic cloves, and you want to almost caramelise them, so don’t get impatient and turn up the heat. Or you could roast them).

Take the garlic out of the frying pan and add to a saucepan along with some chicken stock (about 1.5-2 cups per person should do – less if you’re not adding bread, since it soaks up plenty of liquid). Turn the heat to high; bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 10 or 15 minutes. Season to taste with sea salt & black pepper.

Meanwhile, toast some sliced crusty bread (day-old is fine: another way to use up all that stale bread in the pantry!). Once the broth is ready, ladle into bowls and float some baby spinach on top. Fry an egg. Float the toast on the soup and top with the fried egg. Sprinkle chopped herbs over everything – here I used parsley and dill but you could just as easily use sage, thyme, anything really.

scrambled eggs with smoked mackerel & chives

In breakfast, year-round on 5 August, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I have a confession: I’ve had this for dinner at least six of the last nine or ten nights. It started one night when I bought some smoked mackerel to make fish pie but got preoccupied doing other things, and bam! It was nine o’clock, I was ravenous, no fish pie anywhere in sight. So I did what I often do when I get into that night-time so-hungry-so-tired state: popped some bread in the toaster and cooked up some scrambled eggs. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, I found myself flaking a bit of smoked mackerel into the eggs.

I have no idea what was going through my head in that brief moment between sitting down and digging in, but I don’t think I was prepared for the overwhelming, eye-widening oh-my-god-why-haven’t-I-done-this before feeling that hit me with the first bite. You know, that stunned, amazed feeling you get when you’re at a restaurant or a friend’s house and have something cooked just a little differently to how you normally do it at home, and you kind of half-squeal with delight. Except I was eating this at home, alone, and is there really a point of squealing if you’re just doing it for yourself, for something you’ve cooked? It’s kind of smug, if you think about it. (I did go and have a bit of a squeal to my flatmates, excitedly offering them forkfuls of eggs. They were less than enthusiastic, something about having just-brushed teeth. Pshh, weak.)

I’m not going to get all spring-is-upon-us yet, because it’s still August and there’s till plenty of time for soups and stews and braises and warm puddings and hot drinks, but there’s no denying the days are getting longer and maybe, just maybe, this is a dish that starts to creep into spring territory. Okay, scrambled eggs can be enjoyed year-round. As can smoked fish and chives. But there’s something just so cheerful about pillows of bright yellow, flecked with grass-green chives.

 

Like porridge, scrambled eggs are one of those things people get pretty particular about: everyone I’ve talked to has their own method. So, like with the porridge, I’ll share my method in the hopes of winning one or two people over – but really, cook your scrambled eggs how you like. Just try adding smoked fish and chives. It may blow your mind. It did mine.

SCRAMBLED EGGS WITH SMOKED MACKEREL & CHIVES:

Crack an egg or two into a small saucepan, add a splash of cream and a little knob of butter. Heat gently over low to medium-low heat, using a heatproof spatula or flat-bottomed wooden spoon to stir it together, but not too much, scraping the bottom of the pan as you go. If it starts to cook too quickly, take it off the heat and give it a stir. Keep repeating this until it’s almost-but-not-quite set. Remove from the heat – the eggs should continue to cook from the residual heat in the pan. If they don’t firm up as much as you’d like, heat gently a little bit more. But be careful! Nobody likes rubbery scrambled eggs.* Once they’re at your desired consistency, stir in a spoonful of sour cream or crème fraiche, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, a tablespoonful or so of chopped chives (to taste), a couple of tablespoonsful of smoked fish (use whatever you like – for me, it was mackerel), flaked or shredded with a fork. 

Last night, nine-o’clock again and hungry and tired from packing for a weekend away** I had this with a pungent spoonful of homemade sauerkraut on the side, and a tall glass of stout. Aside from the fact that I felt a little like I was eating a breakfast fit for a North Sea fisherman*** it took the whole thing to a completely new level. Of  “oh-my-god-this-works-perfectly” triumph, and a little bit of anguish and insecurity that no one else was there to share this revelation. Which is why I’m sharing this little tidbit with you.

*I had some the other week at a cafe I usually like very much. I was so sad, kept thinking longingly of my home-cooked eggs. But that’s another story.

**I’m off to the mountain (yippee!) so this was more involved packing than my usual throw-some-underwear-in-a-bag-and-hope-for-the-best routine: climbing on chairs, pulling boxes out of storage, looking for snowboarding gear, etc.

***and here you discover my complete ignorance ofNorth Seafisherman and their typical breakfast choices. But, if I was some swarthy European fisherman in the cold, bleak sea (again, this is totally theNorth Seaof my imagination), this is what I’d be having for breakfast.  

chocolate earl grey thumbprint cookies with honey ganache

In baking, cookies, sweets, year-round on 21 July, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Two nights ago found me at the kitchen sink, elbow-deep in post-midnight dishes. It’s not often these days I find myself doing a full-on batch of washing-up, since I haven’t lived in a flat without a dishwasher since 2008. But the other night the dishwasher was already going and the kitchen was still full of the detritus from dinner and some serious baking (including a trial run – but more on that later).

I wasn’t very happy about doing the dishes when I had plans to get up five hours later to go to the gym before work (needless to say I didn’t make it), but I figured it was better to do a bit then rather than leave it til morning. And ‘a bit’ turned into a full-on kitchen clean, despite my protesting eyelids, and I realised I somehow enjoyed that fog-like haze of scrubbing and bubbles.

And for the last couple nights since then, I’ve broken out of my usual dishes routine in that I’ve actually been doing the dishes. Properly, with a sink full of suds and scalding hot water. I’m not the first person to discover that doing dishes is strangely cathartic (and it’s not the first time I’ve discovered that), but there’s just something about the combination of that hot water, the scrubbing, the so-tired-you-could-collapse feeling you so often have when you’ve had a long day and a big meal. It’s good. And it keeps you warm when you live in a rather cold house in a Wellington winter.

But going back to what got me to that kitchen sink in the first place: the mess I made baking these cookies. Actually the recipe itself is pretty straightforward and doesn’t involve too many dishes, but I somehow managed to use every single measuring cup and spoon and different-sized bowls and whisks and spoons for tasting (and being careful not to double dip, as I had been home sick that day). And I made this twice, and made dinner in between batches. So: a big mess.


The cookies were for the Wellington on a Plate Bake Club challenge we’re doing at work (how could we not?), hence the test batch: I was up against some stiff competition. Somehow, though our work has nothing to do with food, it seems as though nearly everyone in the office was born with a whisk attachment instead of a hand (er, debating the usefulness of that as I type). So these had to be good.

They also had to contain some Wellington ingredients – to that end I used Whittaker’s chocolate and Tea Leaf T Earl Grey as well as my usual Wairarapa eggs – and, because I hadn’t left the house for two days due to a major cold, they had to consist only of ingredients found in my cupboard.


I used this recipe from the Martha Stewart website – not a site I normally visit but it’s full of enticing cookie recipes – and didn’t really change much except for the addition of Earl Grey tea leaves in the mix. I’d had this idea in my head of Earl Grey shortbread for ages and wasn’t too sure how well it’d pair with chocolate (another reason to do a test batch).

It worked: the cookie was chocolatey, with a hint of bergamot that would grow more pronounced as you chewed and swallowed. The first time around I used a couple of teabags of Twinings ripped open and added to the dry mix. The second time I used looseleaf tea, and blitzed it with the sugar to make it a little finer. I didn’t really notice a difference in terms of flavour when using the looseleaf as opposed to teabags, so use whatever you’ve got.

And I was intrigued by Martha’s addition of honey and butter to the ganache (original recipe here). I used manuka honey (again, what I had in the cupboard) and the flavour was just pronounced enough to make it a little out of the ordinary. The second time around I made it without the butter (post-midnight baking, totally forgot) and I didn’t really notice a difference.

Try these cookies. And then try doing the dishes afterwards. Even if it’s after midnight. It’s not all that bad, I promise (and you’ll have a clean kitchen too!).

CHOCOLATE-EARL GREY THUMBPRINT COOKIES WITH HONEY GANACHE
(based on these recipes from the Martha Stewart website)

For the cookies:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
a pinch of salt
Earl Grey tea (teabags or looseleaf)
2/3 cup sugar
110g butter
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp cream
1 tsp vanilla 

Preheat the oven to 175C. Sift together flour and cocoa powder and a pinch of salt. Rip open a couple of teabags of earl grey and mix that in.* Set aside.

In another bowl, cream together butter and sugar and then add the egg yolk, cream and vanilla. 

Mix in the dry ingredients. It will be pretty crumbly; don’t worry about this. It will come together when you form the dough into balls (roughly 1 tablespoon). Roll the balls in some sugar and place on a baking tray. Use your pinky to poke an indentation into each one and bake for 10-12 minutes, until just set (careful not to burn, or cook too long, they’ll get dry).

For the ganache:

1/6 cup cream
1/6 cup honey***
55 or so grams dark chocolate, chopped

Put the chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Melt the honey into the cream over low heat. Once it’s simmering nicely, pour over And let cool a minute or so. Spoon a bit of ganache into the indentation in each cookie. Let cool until completely set.

Makes about 25.**

*If you’re using looseleaf tea, I recommend blitzing it in the food processor with the sugar beforehand, so it’s not as big and grainy. In that case, don’t add it here.

**I halved the original recipe, because it said it makes about 90, which I thought a little excessive. I made mine a little bigger, though, so only came out with about 25 per batch. I also used salted butter (it’s what I had) so left out the salt called for in the recipe. Here I’ve kept a pinch in, just in case.

***Awkward measurements, I know. I found the easiest way of doing this was half-filling a 1/3 cup measure with honey, topping that up with cream, and then dumping the whole thing into the saucepan.

spaghetti with leeks & cream

In pasta, travel, winter, year-round on 6 July, 2011 at 6:36 pm

I’ve been in a cooking rut recently. Call it post-holiday funk, or cooking-for-one blues or whatever, but I’ve been finding myself coming home and wanting to curl up with the cat or a hot water bottle (both would be too warm!) instead of hanging out in the kitchen all night.  So for the last couple weeks since I’ve been back from holiday I’ve been eating mostly the same thing over and over again.*

I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I get in a cooking rut I find I need to ease out of it. Gently, slowly, making things that are simple and delicious. Things you could cook in an unfamiliar kitchen, things you could cook when you’re in mourning, but things that taste good enough to get you excited about cooking again. This is one of those things.

 This is one of those alarmingly simple dishes you can make with your eyes closed.  All you need is butter, cream, a leek, some spaghetti and white wine. And some nice hard cheese like parmesan or pecorino, and a bit of black pepper. If you’re like me, you’ll have these things on hand even if you haven’t been organised enough to do proper grocery shopping on the weekend. And if you’re missing one or two things like cream or spaghetti they’re things that are easy enough to get at the dairy.

And because it’s so simple you really don’t need any particular skill to make this dish – though a bit of timing** will help it all come together snappily at the end.

And delicious: it needs to be. When I first came upon this recipe, from the fairly great Serious Eats column French in a Flash – I made it one night… and then for lunch the next day… and then at least two or three more times that week for dinner. Something about the melty onion-ness of the leeks, the familiar slippery texture of the pasta, the cream and white wine and cheese all coming together – it’s not out of the ordinary, but it feels a little bit more special than, say, two-minute noodles or macaroni and cheese (though I am in no way dissing mac and cheese!).

Over time I’ve made a few very minor changes to the recipe, like using spaghetti instead of angel hair (purely because it’s what I usually have lying around), and slicing the leeks crosswise instead of julienning them (because to be honest, when I’m cooking this I’m usually looking for the quickest option possible) but other than that this is pretty close to the original.

SPAGHETTI WITH LEEKS & CREAM: (serves 2-3)
adapted only very slightly from this recipe from French In a Flash/Serious Eats

the white and light green part of 1 decent-sized leek 
– butter
– half a bottle of white wine, 1/4 – 1/3 cup reserved
– 1/4 – 1/3 cup cream
– roughly 150-200g spaghetti
– parmesan, pecorino, or a similar hard cheese

Thinly slice the leek and separate out the pieces. Melt a decent-sized chunk of butter in a wide saute pan (ideally one you can cover with a lid) along with 2 tbsp water, then add the leeks, turn the heat all the way down to low, cover, cook gently for around 20 minutes until they’re soft and melty. Add more butter/water if the pan gets too dry; take the lid off if it’s getting too watery.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti, making sure the water’s really salty. Add the wine at the same time you add the spaghetti. Once it’s cooked, reserve a cupful of pasta water and drain.

In the last couple of minutes before the pasta’s done, add the reserved wine to the leeks, reduce a bit, then add the cream and cook just until the sauce is nice and hot. Add the drained spaghetti to the leeks, adding enough pasta water so the leeks, cream and wine create a nice silky sauce. Season with salt (if your pasta water was really salty you probably won’t need to add much, or any) and freshly ground black pepper. Top with plenty of grated parmesan and a touch of parsley.

Eat immediately. Make again for lunch the next day if you don’t have leftovers. And maybe make some for dinner later on in the week, but be careful. If you’re using this as a step up out of a cooking rut, you may find yourself stuck in a new one.

*Though it’s not all bad: when I get in a rut I revert to easy stuff and childhood comfort food (not too unusual, I guess). In my case that’s Japanese. So I’ve been eating a lot of rice and miso soup, and  ochazuke, and udon noodles with enoki mushrooms and spinach and shoyu tamago (though that’s more of a ramen thing.. I love them). Pretty good.  

**Nothing like the amazing coordination of the one-woman taco stand my mum and I visited on a side street in Puebla (couple hours outside of Mexico City).  It was late on a Monday night, we were in search of a feed, most of the restaurants we’d been recommended had closed, and we approached this lady cooking something over a big round flat metal plate, a few people milling about eating or waiting for their food. She was working fast, all abrupt movements, and it was hard to tell if she’d noticed us, or if we were simply gawking. She seemed angry almost, and then, finally, there was a brief, split second reprieve and she looked up and smiled, briefly but genuinely enough.

And from then on her movements seemed not brusque, but calculated and efficient: grabbing handfuls of masa and flattening it between two sheets of plastic in a wooden tortilla press, slapping thinly sliced meat on the hottest part of the grill, rapidly slicing with two knives as it cooked, while keeping an eye on the tortillas so that they didn’t burn. Turning the nopales (cactus!), slathering beans on tortillas, spooning out salsa with one hand while taking payment with the other (and I noticed in all the hustle she still wiped her hands on a wet rag each time she handled money, though admittedly who knows how clean that rag was. But hey. You don’t eat street food for the food hygiene). Every component of every person’s order all came together at the right time; nothing burned. This was a woman who knew what she was doing.


And it was damn good. Fresh corn tortilla, refried beans, bits of (I want to say) pork, cactus, salsa verde, avocado. Hot off the grill, and ready to eat, with a squeeze of lime. The cactus was tart and crisp yet slimy, but in a good, okra-y way. So good. I only wish I could recreate it at home (you see why I’m in such a cooking rut?).

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!

lemon olive oil cake

In baking, year-round on 20 April, 2011 at 10:15 pm

This lemon cake is, like porridge and a calm cloudy day, not one of those things that people would go out of their way to consider beautiful, or stunning. Lovely? Yes. Maybe even pretty. But gorgeous? Not really. Is the lemon cake stung? Probably not.* It does what it has to do. Understated, unobtrusive, but always reliable (as long as you have lemons and olive oil): this cake doesn’t scream for attention, but it’s patient and delicate, sort of like a character in a Jane Austen novel. And it’s perfect for those occasions where you need a little something that fills the gap nicely but doesn’t steal the spotlight – afternoon teatime, a little post-work snack, even breakfast, perhaps?

I’ve had little time for spotlight-stealing treats lately. April started on a high with a bang and the luxurious glow of an extra hour of sleep and it’s been sort of downhill from there, run ragged with early starts and late nights and chock-full days and now all of a sudden it’s almost Easter and I haven’t even baked hot cross buns yet or tried my hand at making these marshmallow chicks and holy crap, I need to slow down. Not sure what has happened but the darkening evenings feel like they’re closing in on me and I just need to take a breather.

So I could do with a little something, a little bit of lovely, nothing too loud or attention-grabbing, just something plain and simple and good. I could do with a few minutes in the morning with a hot bowl of porridge, I could do with a glass of bubbles in the afternoon, I could do with inhaling the smell of bookstores and the small joy of finding what I’m looking for. And I could do with a bit of this cake and a pot of tea, maybe that scoop of ice cream, a bit of passionfruit scooped over the top. When everything’s tiresome and there’s no end in sight you need to rely on little pleasures to keep you going.

This is one of those things that’s so plain and simple, you hardly need to think about it at all. Despite that, it’s good, so reliably there-for-you that you might take it for granted, but when you do turn to it you don’t know what you’d do without it, like a best friend, a sister, a mother.

And the citrusy zing and grassy hint of olive oil carry it above an everyday cake, just ever so slightly, only just reminiscent of spring picnics and lying in the grass, in the sun, carefree, just for a few bites until you have to go back to the ever-shortening days. But hey, if it helps to lift the mood just a little bit, it’s doing something, right?

Olive oil isn’t really the cheapest to be baking with, but it doesn’t feel like such a luxury to be using it by the cupful what with the price of butter these days. And it really does change the flavour profile of the cake beyond a standard lemon cake, though it’s inconspicuous enough that you wouldn’t guess it if you didn’t know it was there. I’ve made this a couple different ways, both with a syrup that seeps into the still-warm cake, and a crunchy lemony sugar topping. I can’t decide which I like better**, so I’ve posted both variations. Try one, try the other, try both. Take some time. This cake is a little treasure for a busy life, and it won’t ask anything of you except to bake it. Which is another little pleasure in itself. Go on, now.

*cakes don’t have feelings, silly!

** the crunchy sugar made for better photos, in case you’re wondering why you’re seeing more of it


LEMON OLIVE OIL CAKE

(adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts via this post on Serious Eats)

150g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
175g sugar
zest of 3-4 lemons*
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
(I used vanilla paste, but anything non-artificial will work!)
1/4 tsp lemon oil
**
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

You’ll want your oven at 175°C.

Prepare a cake tin (the recipe says 9-inch by 2-inch round tin; I’ve used both my round springform tin and a loaf tin for this) by smearing it with olive oil*** and sprinkling it with sugar.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt twice into a medium-sized bowl. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and lemon zest until slightly thickened and pale in colour.  (It’ll take a few minutes, so be patient, but all that air results in a lighter, more delicate cake, I think! I hope!) Mix in the vanilla and, if your kitchen is better-stocked than mine, lemon oil. 

If you’re using an electric beater, turn it down to medium-low (otherwise just keep stirring) and slowly drizzle the olive oil around the edge of the bowl. Incorporate slowly. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Stop sneaking spoonfuls of the batter: it’s lemony and bright and so cheerful that you’re allowed a couple tastes, but no more lest the cake disappear before it’s baked and you get a stomachache!****

Pour the batter into the tin and bake 25-30 minutes until golden and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out relatively clean. Then top with one of the following:

LEMON SYRUP 

Dissolve 1/4 cup icing sugar in 1/4 cup lemon juice. You can heat it in a little saucepan if you like. Pour over the cake pretty much as soon as it comes out of the oven – you want it nice and hot so the syrup will melt into the cake – and give the cake a few stabs with a toothpick to help the syrup settle into the cake. Allow to cool before cutting and serving.

CRUNCHY CITRUS SUGAR TOPPING

Combine granulated sugar with lemon juice (don’t dissolve).  (From memory, I used about 1/3 cup of sugar and about 1/4 cup lemon juice, but quantities will really depend on personal preference: I like mine thick and crunchy; others might prefer a more glaze-like topping.)

Pour and/or spread on top of still-warm cake.

Let cool before cutting and serving. This cake will stay moist and delicious for a couple days, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap.

*depending on size, and how lemon-y you want it.

**I didn’t have any, and it still turns out fine, but if you have lemon oil definitely throw it in!

***a paper towel works great for this.

****er, this never happens to me…

PS. I didn’t steal that spoon from Air New Zealand. When I moved into my new flat and suddenly found myself sans cutlery, my mum (who’s been working in the airlines for as long as I can remember and has a whole pile of airline memorabilia going back to the 80s) came to the rescue and sent a whole bunch of old airline knives, forks and spoons, from back in the day when plastic cutlery on planes was unheard of. They’re mostly tiny, though, which makes them perfect for dessert.

white bean, tuna & pine nut bruschetta

In snacks, year-round on 5 April, 2011 at 9:34 pm

I’ve eaten my way through the emergency kit I so painstakingly assembled after the Christchurch earthquake. Er, well, at least the edible components of it. It started on Sunday when I had this insatiable chocolate craving and broke into the chocolate macadamia block nestled beneath spare undies, torch, deodorant, canned food, toothpaste.* And then yesterday happened and I came home to the sudden unmistakable reality of having no food in the house. For the second week in a row I hadn’t gone to the Sunday market (when did I become such a creature of routine?!) and the closest thing to fresh produce I had was a half-wilted bag of spinach and the potted herbs on my balcony.

And it was sort of an emergency: I was hungry, tired, things were starting to grate on me in the same way as that guy flailing (dancing?) in front of me at the last gig I went to, all shoulders arms elbows, throwing flecks of sweat my way. Rage.  It’s not often an empty stomach brings forth memories of bad crowds and other small annoyances, but there you go. I’d been struck by the dreaded hangrrr Sasa so often warns about.

So the need to Eat Something Now coupled with the lack of fresh food in my pantry led me to that same trusty emergency kit that had so conveniently been there for me with chocolate the night before, where I found cans of beans and tuna, and toiletries (ooh, I was running low on soap!). Score. And since I always have half-eaten loaves of stale bread in the cupboard this bruschetta quickly took shape. In under 10 minutes I had depleted my emergency kit** and was sitting down to this. Crisis averted, bad-crowd memories dissipated.

This is simple stuff, and you could easily play around with the components to make it fancier, but in a pinch it’s about as good as it gets. Soft, almost-creamy beans, meaty tuna, flecks of parsley and nutty parmesan, coated in this spicy-lemony-garlicky dressing that’s just as much revitalising as it is comforting.

*yeah, I didn’t say my emergency kit was the best-organised. It’s basically a bag full of random stuff I hope might be useful in an emergency. Now minus most of the food.

**and I realise now that 1 can of tuna, 1 can of beans and a block of chocolate is probably woefully inadequate for an emergency kit. However, it does make for a pretty satisfying meal.

WHITE BEAN, TUNA & PINE NUT BRUSCHETTA

Heat a knob of butter and a generous swirl of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Thinly slice 1-2 cloves of garlic and gently fry in the butter and olive oil along with a pinch of red pepper flakes and a generous sprinkle of pine nuts. Add 1 can of white beans* (drained and rinsed), a can of tuna (drained) and a handful of chopped parsley. Squeeze the juice of 1 or 2 lemons over everything, season with salt and pepper to taste, give it a good stir so that the beans and tuna are coated with the garlicky oil.

Meanwhile, toast some sliced, day-old** baguette (another way to use up stale bread in the pantry!).*** When it’s nice and crisp, top with the tuna & bean mixture and grate a bit of parmesan over the top. Easy!

*cannellini, for example

**Ha! Feel free to take a liberal reading of this. The bread I used was way more than a day old… I wanted it nice and crispy, so stale was fine.

***I’m forever burning stale slices of baguette in the toaster so I usually do this in the oven, with a drizzle of butter on top.

cherry, vanilla + walnut sticky buns

In baking, breakfast, sweets, year-round on 15 February, 2011 at 8:31 pm

I’ve been trying to think of ways to use up this dud cherry-vanilla jam* I made a couple weeks ago.  I had this vague idea of making sticky buns inspired by the cranberry and pistachio ones at Queen Sally’s Diamond Deli out in Lyall Bay (holy crap they’re amazing) and THEN the ever-so-awesome Laura from Hungry and Frozen made these Norwegian cinnamon buns out of Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess and that’s all it took – I was sold. Sticky buns it was.

Sticky buns and walnuts are natural friends, as are cherries and vanilla and walnuts (if I attempt to make cherry jam again I’ll include walnuts à la this recipe from Curious Kai). And thanks to some onto-it family members (box stuffed with assorted food = best Christmas gift ever) I had plenty of walnuts lying about.

I love the ceremony involved in making sticky buns: clearing off a big space to roll the dough into a big, flat sheet, spreading the filling over the top, adding way more butter than you think any rational person should ingest (maybe laughing maniacally as you do), coiling up the whole thing into a neat cylindrical roll, slicing and arranging the buns-to-be. There’s a lot of anticipation involved, and it comes to a head when they’re sitting in the oven releasing that fresh-bread-plus-so-much-sugar-and-butter fragrance.

Although making cinnamon rolls has long been on my list of favourite weekend activities, for some reason I couldn’t find my trusty dough recipe. Luckily I had been looking through How to Be a Domestic Goddess after reading the aforementioned Hungry and Frozen blog post and settled on using the dough from Nigella’s recipe for schnecken. Not that I’d made it before. But it sounded like it might work.

CHERRY, VANILLA + WALNUT STICKY BUNS: (makes roughly a trayful)

For the dough (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Schnecken from How to Be a Domestic Goddess):

Mix together 500g flour, 50g sugar, 1/2tsp salt, and 15g fresh yeast (get this! it’s amazing and cheap. or if not, you can use half that amount of regular active dried yeast). Combine 75g unsalted butter and 150ml milk – Nigella says to melt them together in the microwave, which worked just fine – and beat in 2 eggs. Add this liquid mixture to the dry stuff, mix it up, make some dough. Then knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and pliable, and form into a big doughy ball. Butter (or oil) a large bowl and roll the dough in it (so that it’s coated in butter), then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean, moist tea towel. Let it sit for a while in a warm place (hot water cupboard? in the oven on the very lowest setting? or maybe your house is naturally warm?) for about an hour, until doubled in size.

Go do something else for a bit and when you come back the dough should be gloriously proud and puffy and smooshy; knock it around a bit and give it a knead or two to bring it back down to size.  Roll out on a floured surface into a flat, long rectangular shape (Nigella says 60x30cm, but I didn’t measure) and slather the filling mixture all over the dough.

Filling mixture?

Here’s where things get a bit tricky. Since I was using dud cherry-vanilla jam that was too sticky to spread, I softened about 250g jam in about 100g melted butter and spooned this concoction over the top.  Since I don’t recommend going to the effort of making homemade dud-jam (I mean, you can…), you could do one of a couple things:

1. You could mix non-dud jam with a little less butter (maybe 50-75g depending on the consistency of your jam) and 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract and spread this over the dough.

2. Or you could skip the jam altogether and pour over 50-75g melted butter mixed with 1 tsp vanilla paste/extract and sprinkle about 1/2 cup sugar over the whole thing, and scatter dried cherries all over the surface. It’ll turn out a bit different, but still good – think raisin-studded cinnamon roll.

Whatever you end up doing, eventually you”ll sprinkle more or less 1 cup roughly chopped walnuts over the whole thing, and carefully roll it up lengthwise so you end up with a long, python-like hunk of dough (okay, maybe not that big, but sort of thick and snaky). Be sure to keep things tight but not too squashed together.

Cut into slices like you’re making sushi (and, if you’re anything like me when I make sushi, eat the raggedy end bits before anyone sees). I cut mine about 1 – 1 1/2 inches thick. Place into a buttered baking tray – it’s okay if they’re pretty close together – and let prove for 20-30 minutes.  This is a good time to preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

When the buns have proved, and are nice and puffy and cosily tucked in together in their tray, pop this into the oven for 20-25 minutes and wait for your house to start smelling incredible.

When they’re done, you can eat them plain, or you can drizzle with a simple white icing – I usually start with 1 tbsp milk for every 1 cup icing sugar and add more milk and/or sugar as needed to make a gooey, not-too-runny icing.

Give these to everyone you know; they will love you for it.

*dud cherry jam: it all started out with good intentions, inspired by a tweet by @summerfieldsfds, I semi-ruined it -added twice as much sugar as I should have (forgot to adjust for quantity), and simmered it for far too long (absent-mindedness may have played a part in this). What I got was a very solid, un-spreadable, overly sweet, sticky mass. With chewy cherry bits. Not so nice for toast. However, it was perfect for filling these sticky buns. Not that I’m suggesting you go out and make your own homemade dud-jam for this, but…

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.