Friday, November 20, 2015

The one secret sauce you'll use all summer

Want a simple sauce you can use on just about anything? Look no further. This stir-together sauce takes about two minutes to make and enlivens all kinds of dishes. It's good with cold chicken, as a side sauce for fish or prawns. You can also try it with very cold soft tofu or soft-hard boiled eggs. There's just one piece of advice: don't share this sauce recipe with anyone, or you'll be drowning in it by the time summer ends. It's THAT good.

Secret spicy sauce
The trick to this is using good quality curry powder. Other than that, there's not much to it.

1 Tbsp hot curry powder
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper

Put the curry powder and lemon juice in a bowl and mix to a paste. Beat in the yoghurt and mayonnaise, then taste for seasoning - it may need a little salt, or a little more lemon juice. Store, covered, in the fridge for up to a week.

Have a great weekend everyone x

Friday, November 13, 2015

Good Things: November 2015

"Guess what, Mum?" says the six-year-old, standing beside the bed at 6.30am with a book, a frisbee and a teddy. "It's only six weeks until Christmas!"

I'm afraid she's right, but I'm trying not to think about it. Instead, I'm going to focus on the nice things about November. If I concentrate hard, time will go slower, right?

I wanted to hate this book, I really did. I mean, it's hard to love a cookbook - or indeed, any book - when the first pages are filled with young, bronzed people in their swimmers. But, all bias aside, it's actually fantastic.

On the face of it, Bondi Harvest sounds like a PR dream. It's the brainchild of two Bondi-based surfing mates, one of whom is a chef, the other a photographer and film maker, who decided to collaborate on some Youtube cooking videos, then a book. What makes you forgive the surfing palaver and the shots of people in bikinis is that the recipes are lovely, with a focus on fresh ingredients and gutsy flavours. I'm probably never going to frolic on the sands of Bondi while wearing a tiny bikini and drinking a green smoothie, but I am looking forward to making some of Guy Turland's recipes.

Lots of people I know are still being struck down by unseasonal colds and other miseries - which makes Mother Earth's new UMF Manuka Honey seem like a gift from the gods. Not all manuka honeys are created equal (and some are about as manuka'd as I am), but this one has been certified by the industry-supported Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association. The Mother Earth honeys come in two UMF strengths, UMF 5+ and UMF 10+, with the higher number indicating a higher degree of purity and quality. Importantly, they taste amazing, with those rich, earthy flavours associated with manuka honeys. Mother Earth's UMF Manuka Honeys start from $17.99 for 250g. 

As a proud Good Bitch (and baker), I'm very excited to reveal the gorgeous products the Head Bitches have created to raise funds. There's a pair of teatowels (one of which features a top-secret ginger crunch recipe) and a gorgeous calendar, plus you can still get your hands on one of the exclusive 'Baking Bad' t-shirts from earlier in the year. All these things have got Christmas giving written all over them. Go on, buy a set!

Speaking of charity, if you're wanting to do your bit for Movember but can't find it in you to grow a mo' you can always grab my neighbour's balls. Go on, he'd love you to grab a pair.

These salted caramel balls are insanely addictive, all-natural, and a not-for-profit fundraising venture dreamed up by my neighbour (of Wellington-based food company Go Native) to raise funds for Movember. They're $2.99 a pack, and a dollar from each one sold goes to men's health initiatives.

Last but by no means least, I'm very flattered to be in the running for Best Kids' Food Blog in the 2015 Munch Food Awards. You can vote in this category - as well as name and shame the worst kids' foods - here.

Have a great weekend everyone x

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Summer berry porridge

The one thing that people who achieve stuff seem to have in common is that they get up and do things, rather than sitting and waiting for the right moment to strike. I admire this, I really do, but I can't seem to make it happen. Take bircher muesli, for example. I love eating it, but I've never been a great one for making it, all that grating and soaking and being a step ahead. Many's the spring or summer morning when I've thought, 'if only I had stayed up last night, grating apple and squeezing orange juice so I could be eating bircher muesli, then I wouldn't be scarfing down a peanut butter-laden crumpet as I run for the bus'.

Then, one night, quite by chance, I just happened to stir a few things together and in the morning, without realising it, I had made a kind of bircher muesli. I didn't even have to grate anything! Maybe I can achieve greatness after all. 

Summer berry porridge
This is hardly a recipe, more a set of guidelines. But hopefully they'll help your mornings flow a little more smoothly and make you feel like less of a hopeless failure at life in general. This amount makes enough for four to six breakfasts - because I'm the only one that eats it in my household I make half this quantity so it's not sitting in the fridge all week. If you forget to make it the night before, just stir it together as soon as you get up. By the time you've had a cup of tea and a shower, it will be completely edible.

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups almond milk (coconut milk is also good)
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup seeds - pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, chia
2 cups frozen berries

Mix all the ingredients together (I put them in an ice cream container), then cover and store in the fridge overnight. To serve, scoop out a portion into a waiting bowl, then top with a few more berries and a dollop of yoghurt. 

Have a great week, everyone!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to cook salmon in a plastic bag

Last week a very clever former vegetarian friend confessed she was terrified of cooking fish. After years of avoiding it, she felt completely in the dark about where - and how - to start. I rattled off a few easy methods and then decided she needed to know this one. If you can boil a kettle, you can master this stress-free, mess-free method of cooking salmon. Here's how to do it.

No-stress salmon
I think this is the easiest way to cook salmon tail fillets, which are often on the skinny side. Plus, it’s a great method for first-time cooks, because you can peep through the plastic to see how the salmon changes colour.

2 x 120g salmon tail fillets
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt and cracked black pepper

Set the kettle to boil. Drizzle the olive oil over the salmon fillets and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Insert the salmon into a zip lock sandwich bag and smooth out as much of the air as you can before sealing tightly.

Half fill a heatproof bowl with the just-boiled water, then add the bag of salmon. You may need to weight it down with a spoon to keep it under the water level.
The salmon will take between two and five minutes to cook, depending on its thickness. When it’s done to your liking, take it out of the plastic and serve. I like it straight out of the bag with a dollop of horseradish mixed with Greek yoghurt and snipped chives.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Nutty tropical cluster fudge

Do you know how good it is to go nuts? In fact, we should all go nuts more often. Nuts are full of health benefits, with some recent studies claiming that eating them regularly may help improve heart health and lower cholesterol.

Of course, if you'd rather chew your own arm off than do anything perceived to be good for your health, you could always make this nut-packed chocolate slab. Ignore the nutty goodness, disregard chocolate's antioxidant properties and shrug off the mental health benefits of treating yourself if you like, but there's no way to avoid the fact that this is 100 per cent delicious.

Nutty tropical cluster fudge
If you can get your hands on a tin of condensed coconut milk, now's the time to use it. Condensed coconut milk has all the same 'eat-out-of-the-tin-with-a-spoon' properties as the ordinary sort, but with the added richness of coconut. It also seems less sweet. I've used a mixture of macadamias and cashew nuts here, but hazelnuts and almonds would also be good. 

1 x tin coconut condensed milk
350g dark chocolate (I use Whittaker's Dark Ghana 72 per cent)
150g roasted, salted macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
150g roasted, salted cashew nuts
100g dried fruit - crystallised ginger, dried mango, dried pineapple - roughly chopped if large
pinch sea salt flakes

Line a tin measuring about 10cm x 25cm (I use a large loaf tin) with baking paper. You can use a larger tin, but this makes a good, solid slab.
Put the chocolate and condensed milk into a large pot and set over very, very low heat, until melted (or, put it in a large heatproof bowl in a low oven for about 10 minutes). 
When the chocolate mixture has melted, tip in the macadamia nuts, half the cashew nuts and the dried fruit. Stir well, then pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Press the remaining nuts on top and scatter over the salt.
Put in the fridge to set (this will take an hour or so), then cut into small squares. A little goes a long way! Store in a covered container in the fridge.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Five ways with cheese

Smile, it's National Cheese Month! I know these things (National Donut Day, anyone?) are spurious at best, but if the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association wants us to dedicate October to the noble activity of eating cheese, I'm not about to argue.

Instead, I humbly offer you five of my favourite cheesy recipes...

 Secret cheese and onion bread - soft, white, pillowy dough, with a molten cheese middle. Blissful.

Roasted cauliflower cheese - exactly what it says, but with spices (and optional potatoes, or greens, or both).

Jenny's cheesy potatoes - an absolute Corry family classic (no one can make them like Jenny can, but with practice, you can nearly reach cheese and potato nirvana).

Bermuda salad - a Moosewood Cookbook number, in which cheese plays an important but not overpowering role. I was dubious too, but it's very good.

Sara Lee cheesecake - looks just like a bought one, tastes a million times better (and is about as easy to make as pulling one out of a packet).

What's your favourite thing to do with cheese?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Good things: September 2015

Like a lot of food bloggers, I get asked to spruik a lot of stuff. Mostly, I don't do it, not least because I often have no interest in the products they're flogging. I'd also like to think I have more respect for my readers than expect them to read posts that say 'look, here's something I got for free and you didn't'.

But every now and then I find something that I think really DOES warrant being written about. Here are a few of these things that have crossed my path recently.

I'm ashamed to admit it, because in theory I have a herb garden at my disposal, but this new range of lightly dried herbs from Australian company Gourmet Garden is really, really good.
If fresh herbs go to your fridge to die, half-used (or, like me, you can't be bothered trekking to the bottom of your garden in the dark to pick your own), then these will be a god-send. Like the name suggests, they're very lightly dried, so they last up to a month once opened but they're still 'live' enough to taste fresh and perky. There are three herbs - basil, parsley and coriander, plus ginger and chilli. I'd love it if they did hard-to-find herbs like tarragon and dill too, but maybe I should just hurry up and grow my own.

According to conventional wisdom, eating ginger biscuits is a guaranteed remedy for morning sickness. In my limited experience, this is an outright lie. All it did for me was a) get crumbs in the bed and b) make me feel sick whenever I saw a packet of ginger biscuits. It's taken me a long time to get over that Pavlovian response, but I've finally cracked it. Just in time, too, for the arrival of Nairn's Stem Ginger Oat Biscuits in New Zealand. These are seriously good, with little nuggets of proper stem ginger inside, and a crunchy texture. They're also not too sweet, and good with cheese. Speaking of which...

...this isn't new, but our amazing neighbours brought it over last weekend. It's Ngawi Brie, made over the hill in the Wairarapa by Miles and Janet King of Kingsmeade Cheese. I interviewed the Kings a few years ago and I've made a conscious effort to support them by buying their cheese ever since (such a sacrifice).

Last of all, I've made a surprising discovery at the other end of the scale. It's this - Pam's Cocoa.

Believe it or not, this is the best supermarket cocoa you can buy. It knocks spots off the Cadbury Bournville stuff, which is like light brown dust in comparison. True, it's not Valrhona, but it's also much more wallet-friendly. And that always leaves a good taste in my mouth!

What new discoveries have you made this month?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Pork osso bucco with apples and silverbeet

Whenever I go to the supermarket I take great delight in trying to circumvent all those tricks they use to try to make you buy things you didn't know you needed. I'm not very successful though, which is how I ended up with two packets of pork osso bucco and a huge bunch of silverbeet when I nipped into Moore Wilson's on Sunday morning to buy some fish.

Here's what I did with it...

Pork osso bucco with apples and chard
This requires a maximum of 15 minutes of concentration and chopping at the start, then you can wander away to do its thing unattended in the oven for a couple of hours. Obviously that means it's not the sort of thing you start making after work, but if you make it on a Sunday it can then wait patiently in the fridge for you to eat on Monday. And I don't know about you, but coming home on Monday night knowing that dinner is already cooked is the most wonderful feeling in the world.

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 cup celery (leaves and ribs), finely chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
1.2kg pork osso bucco
1 cup white wine
1 cup water
2 large apples, cored and sliced
1 bunch Swiss chard, finely chopped (including stems)
salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 150C.
Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy, ovenproof pot. Add the onions, garlic and celery along with a pinch of salt and the fennel seeds. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown.
Remove the vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon, then return it to the heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Brown the pieces of pork on all sides (you may have to do this in batches), then return the vegetables to the pot. Pour in the wine and water - careful, it will spit - then layer the apples and silverbeet on top. Season well, then cover and put in the preheated oven.
Cook for two to two and a half hours, or until the meat has falling off the bones. Taste for seasoning and serve with some crusty bread.

Have a great week, everyone.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Spicy pumpkin, tomato and coconut soup

Earlier this year a Google soup recipe search habits survey found pumpkin soup was the top of the list in New Zealand, for the third year in a row. Are Kiwis creatures of habit, huge consumers of pumpkin, or just really boring? Perhaps it's a combination of all three. While you ponder that, here's my latest pumpkin soup variation (which uses a respectable amount of pumpkin, but isn't remotely boring. I hope.)

Spicy pumpkin, tomato and coconut soup
This is quick, easy and very warming, which means it meets all the criteria for a simple Sunday lunch (with enough leftover for a lucky person to take to work on Monday). Serves 3-4.

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
a good pinch of salt
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 kg pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 2cm chunks
1 x 440g can chopped tomatoes
1 x 440ml can coconut milk

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes, then add the spices and salt. Let cook for another couple of minutes, then tip in the pumpkin. Cover and cook for five minutes, then add the tomatoes. Half-fill the tomato can with water and add to the pot, then cover and cook for another 15 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft.
Remove from the heat and mash roughly with a potato masher (or use a stick blender, if you like soup to be very smooth) then add the coconut milk. Stir well and return to the heat. Bring to a simmer, then serve immediately.

If this one doesn't take your fancy, try this hands-free pumpkin and chipotle soup.

Have a great week, everyone x

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The fast, easy way to get a sticky label off a jar

Have you ever struggled to get the label off a jar? Me too. In fact, I think there is some inverse relationship between the attractiveness of a jar and the stickiness of its label. That's to say, the more likely you are to want to keep a jar for repurposing, the harder the label will be to remove.

Not any more. In this absolutely no-budget video below, I show you how to remove a sticky label, with no tears and no fuss. It will change your life!


Can't be bothered to watch the video? Then all you need to know is that the trick is filling the jar with extremely hot water (not boiling, you don't want to break it), then peeling off the label. So easy. No soaking required, no sticky bits of label ruining the aesthetics of your kitchen cupboards (or your recycling bin).

Now, what housewifely tip can you share with me?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Creme fraiche and chocolate nut truffles

Last Sunday my sister-in-law turned up on my doorstep with a huge chocolate cake, a tub of Zany Zeus creme fraiche and a jar of Fix and Fogg chocolate peanut butter.

We anointed the cake with dollops of both - such a good activity on a winter Sunday afternoon, sitting around, eating cake with chocolate peanut butter on top - and then they left. "I expect you to do something creative with that peanut butter," she called over her shoulder as they left. "No chance," I said. "I'm just going to eat it out of the jar."

But it turns out there's only so many spoonfuls of chocolate peanut butter and creme fraiche you can eat in a week. Here's what you should do with the rest.

Easy Chocolate Peanut Butter And Creme Fraiche Truffles

Creme fraiche and chocolate nut truffles
If you're not in the habit of having either of the main ingredients lying around, you could always make your own creme fraiche AND make your own salted chocolate nut butter. Then you can whip these up whenever you like, rather than for the rare occasions when you have some going spare.

1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/3 cup chocolate peanut butter
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 tsp pure vanilla
1/3 cup finely chopped dark chocolate (about 10 squares of Whittaker's Dark Ghana)
a good pinch of sea salt

For rolling:
2 Tbsp ground almonds
1 Tbsp cocoa, sifted

To make the truffles, put all ingredients in a bowl and beat until well combined.
Mix the second measure of ground almonds and cocoa together in a shallow bowl.
Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into small balls, then roll them in the almonds and cocoa. Leave in the fridge to set for 30 minutes before eating. Store, covered, in the fridge. Makes about 22 balls, depending on how much you eat in the process.

Have a great week, everyone!

Monday, June 29, 2015

How to knit an egg cosy (and make fork pompoms)

One of the happiest winters of my life was spent in Whanganui, where my lovely friend Anna and I amused ourselves with sewing, cooking, art projects and soaking in the fire bath in our garden. If it sounds all a bit Little House On The Prairie, that's because it was. The house we rented felt very much like an idyll from the rest of the world, kept warm by the hum of sewing machines and a constantly-boiling kettle.

Life seems to have become a lot less idyllic of late, but I've decided there is still room in my life for little projects.  Especially slightly ridiculous ones as soothing as knitting an egg cosy.

Very Easy Egg Cosy Knitting Pattern For Beginners

Lucy's Easy Egg Cosy
I devised this pattern after knitting my daughter a woolly hat - essentially a rectangle that you draw up at the end. This lacks the absolute charm of a more complicated pattern but it's an excellent confidence booster for amateur knitters. The one in the picture is a little bigger than it's supposed to be - or perhaps I bought shorter than average eggs - but this pattern should make one that's just the right size.

You will need:
8mm knitting needles
Double knitting wool - use up any scraps you have, as long as they're the same ply
Wool needle

Cast on 28 stitches. Knit one row, then purl the next. Continue in this fashion until the work measures 6.5cm, changing colour as your wool supplies allow.
Thread a wool needle (as in, a sewing needle, not a knitting needle) with wool and slip it through the stitches as you slip them off the knitting needle. Gather both ends of this wool together and pull tightly - the knitted work will come together like the opening of a drawstring bag. Knot together tightly.
Carefully turn the egg cosy inside out and stitch the open side together. Trim any loose threads and hey presto, your eggs will never grow cold again. For added style at breakfast time, add a tiny fork pompom on top. Instructions follow below...

How To Make Fork Pompoms

How to make a fork pompom
When I made my daughter's hat, making the fist-sized pompom for the top seemed to take nearly as long as the knitting did (and it used nearly as much wool!)
These tiny pompoms are much faster than the traditional cardboard donut method. All you need to do is to wind the wool around the tines of a fork - I've used a cake fork in the image above - until you have a fat wodge of wool. Slip another piece of wool between the tines and the wrapped bundle, then tie tightly in the middle (I've used a different colour here for display purposes). Slip the tied bundle off the tines, then snip the ends of the pompom as usual. Be careful not to trim it too agressively if it's a very little pompom as it may fall apart.

Have you got a winter project on the go?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Spiced Apple Granola

I don't mean to sound like one of those smug types who do everything but knit their own organic toilet paper,  but I am morally opposed to buying muesli or granola. Not only are they eyewateringly expensive, they're always packed with sugar and somehow you end up with a nasty sort of dust in the bottom of the packet that looks suspiciously like sweepings from the factory floor.
Here's my latest version, invented to use up some leftover apple juice. I've become addicted to sprinkling allspice on my porridge and so it has found its way into this as well.

Spiced Apple Granola
You'll have to excuse my slightly vague measurements here - I make this by eye, judging on how much will fit in a roasting dish (which is conveniently about the same amount as will fit in the former gherkin jar that I store it in). Feel free to vary the nuts, seeds and fruit to suit your pantry and personal taste, but make sure you have a good proportion of these additions to oats or this granola will seem more like a punishment than a delicious breakfast. And don't add poppy seeds - you'll spend the whole day wondering if you've got one stuck in your teeth.

6 cups whole oats
3/4 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup linseeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup almonds, roughly chopped (peanuts are a good standby for those weeks when money is too tight to mention)
1Tbsp ground allspice
1Tbsp ground cinnamon
4Tbsp honey (or golden syrup, or date syrup, or brown sugar)
3/4 - 1 cup apple juice
4Tbsp sunflower oil
Dried fruit - chopped dates, sultanas, raisins, chopped apricots - about 2 cups

Preheat the oven to 170C. Tip all the dry ingredients (except the fruit) into a large bowl and mix well. Mix the honey, apple juice and oil together and pour over the dry ingredients. Mix well with your hands. Add a little more apple juice (or a splash of water) if it seems very dry. You want it to be glossy, not wet. Tip into a large roasting dish (use two dishes if necessary). Put in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes, until golden. Don't wander away - you need to stir it every 10 minutes or so. I frequently forget about mine and burn it, which is horribly frustrating. When it's an even golden brown, remove from the oven and tip back into the original bowl. Stir through the fruit. Pour into an airtight container - like an empty gherkin jar - when cold.

Have a sweet weekend, everyone!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Chocolate cakes with citrus cheesecake centres

Cupcakes - so 2007, right? Depends who you ask. Personally, I've made about 50 in the last month, so I think they're quite 2015 too. They're brilliant if you're doing any kind of baking for charity because they're so easy to portion and transport. And children, who are less affected by trends, love them.

Cupcakes are also the flavour of the month for June's We Should Cocoa and Tea Time Treats blogging events, so perhaps they're not quite out of fashion yet.

Secret citrus and cream cupcakes
This is my go-to, all-time, never-fail chocolate cake recipe, upcycled with a touch of cream cheese and marmalade to make chocolate cupcakes with a secret gooey middle. Imagine something like a dark sticky chocolate cake wrapped around a citrus cheesecake filling and you've got the idea.

1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp salt
100g butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup cream cheese
2/3 cup thin-cut marmalade

Preheat the oven to 180C and put cupcake cases in 18 muffin tin holes.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Add the butter, milk and eggs and beat furiously with a wooden spoon until well mixed (you can also do this in the processor or in a mixer).
Fill each cupcake case until it is about a third full, then put a teaspoon of cream cheese and a teaspoon of marmalade on top. Top with more cupcake batter, until each case is about two-thirds full. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cakes are springy and a skewer plunged into them comes out clean.
Remove to a rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Monday, June 08, 2015

Five essential kitchen gadgets for less than $5

Have you seen Rhik Samadder's hilarious food gadgets testing series in The Guardian? It's very good, not least because it confirms my prejudices that these fancy bits of kit are mostly bought by people who are afraid of cooking.

I like ogling fancy kitchen tools as much as the next person, but it occurred to me recently that the things I use most often (with the exception of knives, my father's cast iron frying pan and my food processor) are actually the smallest and cheapest members of my kitchen army.

Here, in no particular order, are five of my most useful kitchen tools - and they all cost less than $5.

1. Rolling pin: Have you always sighed over those beautiful French rolling pins? Me too. But this cheap and cheerful version - a length of dowelling from a hardware store - is just as good. It's also the perfect length for my kitchen bench and at 50cm it's long enough that two pairs of hands (one little, one big) can use it at the same time.

2. Pot(ato) scrubber: A few years ago I gave my beloved a nifty brush that amusingly resembles a potato (he comes from a family of rampant spud eaters). But I've since traded it in for one of these - a pot scrubber. Nothing beats it for cleaning dirt-encrusted potatoes, both for efficiency and speed. A pack of two costs about $5, so you can use one for your pots and the other for your potatoes.

3. Dough scraper: Even if you don't make bread, one of these is a boon to any cook. They cost about $1.50 and you can use them for all sorts of kitchen tricks aside from breadmaking. Just don't make the mistake of putting them anywhere near a hot frying pan - I speak from foolish experience.

4. Scissors: I use these for cutting pizza, snipping herbs, slicing chicken thighs, scoring dough, chopping spring onions - all sorts of tasks. They are in such hot demand from other members of my household too (I must ask 'where are my blue scissors?' about 20 times a day) that I'm thinking of investing in a secret second pair. At about $4.50 from the supermarket, I think we can afford it.

5. Silicone pastry brush: It's not always smart to do things on the cheap. For the last five years I have struggled with a repurposed paintbrush whenever I've needed a pastry brush and cursed every time I've had to pluck a sharp bristle from a fluffy brioche or out of a pie. A month ago I splashed out on this pink beauty - a princely $2 - and it has changed my life. The bristles are soft but strong. It's a gamechanger.

What are your favourite kitchen tools? Do you like to spend up large on shiny things or keep it simple?

Friday, June 05, 2015

The art of writing - workshops at Tea Pea

It's cold, and grey and the news everywhere is bleak. But before you rip open a chocolate bar and sob into your screen, there is a ray of light on the horizon. And you can get involved!

This month sees the start of a series of fun workshops, demonstrations and talks at the lovely Tea Pea School in Khandallah. You can sign up to learn about loads of things, including floral artistry, interior design tricks, cake icing and writing. Yes, writing. I'm particularly excited about that one, because I'll be teaching it.

So, if you long to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) but don’t know where to start, come and join us. The Art Of Writing workshop will help you unearth your inner writer, with tips on connecting with your audience and finding your voice, advice on grammar and construction, how to craft the perfect social media post and more. We might even talk about how to write a recipe, if the need arises.

There will be lots of fun to be had, along with food, drinks and goodie bags. You can find out more about The Art Of Writing workshop and the Tea Pea School here.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Friday, May 29, 2015

Miso-roasted pumpkin

It's funny the things that stick in your head. For example, the sole thing I remember from the Queen's last visit to New Zealand (don't ask me when it was, I'm not that much of a royalist) is that she requested pumpkin to be served at a dinner at Huka Lodge.

This always struck me as weird, a bit like when Kate Winslet was found shopping in Pagani in Masterton. Because as much as I love pumpkin, it's not particularly fancy. Maybe that's what Queenie likes about it - perhaps she tires of foie gras and roasted grouse and longs to eat roast pumpkin in front of Coronation St. (There's still no explanation for Kate and Pagani. None.)

In any case, with the long weekend in the Queen's honour approaching, here's a recipe for pumpkin that's fit for royals and commoners alike.

Miso-Roasted-Pumpkin The Kitchenmaid/Lucy Corry

Miso-Roasted Pumpkin
This is a very easy way to make pumpkin more exciting. If you don't like pumpkin, try stirring this miso butter through hot rice - instant comfort food.

1 kg crown pumpkin, cut into six wedges (leave the skin on)
50g unsalted butter
4 Tbsp white miso paste
cracked pepper

Heat the oven to 200C and line a small roasting dish with foil.
Put the pumpkin on the tray.
Beat the butter and miso together until soft and spreadable, then pat onto the pumpkin. Grind over lots of black pepper and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the pumpkin is cooked and the miso butter has browned.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Friday, May 22, 2015

Coconut, chocolate and vanilla cake

When I rule the world, I'm going to introduce a law banning vanilla-flavoured perfumes and all forms of fake vanilla extract.
Real vanilla has such a beautiful, delicate scent, but it's been ruined by the synthetic variants wafting through a home near you.
Vanilla soap, vanilla perfume, vanilla moisturiser, vanilla candles, they'll all be banned. Fake vanilla extracts will be outlawed, too. Instead, we'll feast on real vanilla-scented cakes, like this tropical number.

Coconut, chocolate and vanilla cake
This has a triple dose of vanilla, but it's not overpowering. Just make sure you use the real deal. The combination of chocolate and vanilla - a powerful duo - makes this just right for this month's We Should Cocoa, hosted by the ever-lovely Karen of Lavender and Lovage.

125g butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla
2 cups desiccated coconut
1 cup flour
'1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
3/4 cup roughly chopped dark chocolate

For the syrup:
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla

For the icing:
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tsp butter
2 tsp pure vanilla
2 tsp boiling water

Heat the oven to 170C and grease and line a 23cm ring tin (or similar).
Cream the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating furiously. If it looks in danger of curdling, add a little of the desiccated coconut. When the eggs are all in, add the coconut and vanilla. Beat to combine, then fold in the sifted flour, baking powder and salt. Scraipe into the prepared tin and bake for 30 mins, until a skewer comes out cleanly. Leave in the tin for five minutes, then stab with a skewer (very satisfying!) and pour over the syrup (just stir together the boiling water, sugar and vanilla to make it).
When the cake has cooled, carefully remove from the tin and set on a plate.
Make the icing by beating together all the ingredients - you may need more boiling water to make it the right consistency - and drizzle it over the cake.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Old-fashioned vegetable soup

Did you know that in some places they're not making journalism interns learn shorthand any more? I know, I'm shocked too. Instead of giving them a good grounding in Teeline, they're giving them magic recording pens that download interviews straight to a computer.

I knew the world would pass me by one day but I didn't think it would happen so soon. I hate to think what Mary, my shorthand teacher, would think of this. Mary, a saintly sort, reckoned shorthand was crucial for getting you out of a tight spot. Mary warned against relying on dictaphones for fear they would break down and advised us to always carry a pencil because it would enable us to write in wet conditions. I hate to think what she'd make of a magic pen.

My shorthand isn't what it used to be (ahem, I could do 120 wpm in my heyday), but I still use it all the time. I have recipe notes full of part shorthand, part longhand scrawl and I can still write a shopping list in seconds. Bet fancy youngsters can't do that with magic pens.

To seal my reputation as a past-it hack of no use to anyone, here's a vegetable soup recipe so old-fashioned it's probably due a hipster revival.

Easy Old-Fashioned Vegetable Soup

Old-fashioned vegetable soup
This is so simple you don't need a magic pen or shorthand skills to memorise the recipe. It's very comforting, hearty and cheap to make. Be careful when buying soup mix as some are packed with unnecessary flavourings and salt. If you can't find a decent one (Wellingtonians: Moore Wilson has 500g bags of soup mix that are ideal), then just use a mix of split peas, red lentils and pearl barley.

1 cup (250g) soup mix
4 cups chopped vegetables - eg onion, carrot, celery, sweet potato, pumpkin
8 cups good quality vegetable or chicken stock
fresh herbs - parsley, chervil, coriander

Put the soup mix, vegetables and stock in a large pot. Bring to a simmer, skim off any scum and let cook, uncovered, for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours, until the vegetables are tender. Stir through some fresh herbs before serving. Makes about 10 cups and freezes well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to fake a wedding cake

This is the wedding cake that nearly wasn't.

Pandoro Black Doris Plum And Mediterranean Orange Wedding Cake

When one of my oldest and dearest friends announced she was getting married, I immediately offered to make the wedding cake. She accepted the offer and that was that.

When their wedding was delayed to May, I breathed a sigh of relief and put the cake on the back burner.

Then all of a sudden it was April, the bride was talking multiple layers, chocolate ganache, and the merits of chocolate mud versus chocolate and fig, I had a million other things on my mind and I was lying awake at night, panicking about The Cake.

It was then I remembered that I'd been in this situation before. Five years ago, with a small baby and ideas above my station, I offered to make the wedding cake for some dear friends who'd blown into New Zealand from London to get married.

"Oh yes please," they said. "Don't go to any trouble, but we'd like it to have three layers and have licorice allsorts exploding out the top."

Making the cakes - one chocolate and fig, one chocolate mud and one banana (the groom's favourite flavour) - was easy. Doing the decorating was not. Not for the first time, I recalled a school report in which my teacher said I was often frustrated when my grand plans for artworks didn't come to fruition. I handed the baby to my mother-in-law and spent 24 hours wrestling with kilos of white fondant icing, alternating between wanting to cry and wanting to cheer.

On the afternoon of the wedding, my beloved and I balanced the cake on our knees while my father-in-law drove as slowly as he could around corners. We screamed every time the cake lurched towards my silk dress, more for the sake of the cake than my outfit. By the time we got to the venue the cake had several dents in it and I needed a strong drink to settle my nerves.

It nearly killed me, but the lovely bride and groom were happy and lots of guests said nice things about the cake. Still, I swore that it was the last time I would ever do it.

With those memories flooding back, I rang the bride. "I can't do it," I told her. "I'm too afraid it will be a disaster and you'll be even more disappointed in me than you feel right now."

Like the good friend she is, she took this news on the chin. Instead of making the cake, I decided to redefine my role as chief cake wrangler. I set about getting cake quotes and set up a wedding cake Pinterest board to gather ideas. When they baulked at the quotes - a two or three tier wedding cake is in the region of $400-$500 - I came up with plan B.

Instead of requesting a wedding cake, I asked Pandoro Bakery to make us two large cakes - one a 14" Black Doris Plum Chocolate, the other a 10" Mediterranean Orange, which they present on gold foil cake boards. I got them to ice them identically with chocolate ganache, with the sides rolled in white chocolate shavings.

The day before the wedding, my fellow bridesmaid and I picked them up and took them on a two-hour car ride (mercifully, on very straight roads).

Later that night, the groom helped me engineer the two together, inserting dowel rods to keep the top layer from collapsing into the bottom. With no storage option, we carefully manoeuvred the cake into a beer fridge and prayed it would survive the night.

The next morning, I returned to the venue, rescued the cake from the fridge and plopped some white roses on top. Just like that, the job was done.

The cake looked beautiful, my 22-year friendship with the bride is still intact and my mental health is sound. I may never make a special occasion cake again.

Are you prone to making special occasion cake promises? Do you have any secret tips?
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