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!

video

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?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Peaches, pistachio and chocolate

This is the inverse of Three Ways With - instead of being three ways with one ingredient, it's one way with three. Confused? Don't be. This photo explains everything.

Peaches With Pistachio And Chocolate

Peaches with pistachio and chocolate
This is such a simple idea I'm reluctant to call it a recipe. But it's worth sharing - not least because the the April edition of We Should Cocoa is all about no-bake things to do with chocolate. If you've got these ingredients close at hand, this is a five-minute job.

12 dried peach halves (I use the Alison's Pantry ones)
150g dark chocolate (I use Whittaker's Dark Ghana)
1/2 cup shelled pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

Lay the peach halves on a tray, cut side up.
Melt the chocolate - in a bowl over simmering water, or in a low oven - and spoon a little on top of each peach. Sprinkle each one with chopped pistachios and leave to set (about five minutes).
Serve immediately or store in an airtight tin.

Have a great week, everyone x

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Chocolate brioche buns

It has become very fashionable for recipes to appear in the post-Easter sugar haze exhorting ways to use up excess chocolate eggs. But because I usually give up chocolate before Easter - or at least try to - and I'm a bit fussy about the chocolate I eat, any nice Easter eggs are usually cracked and dispatched pretty quickly. This year, with a 5am wake-up call from the youngest member of our household, I spent the day eating any chocolate I could get my hands on in a bid to stay upright. By Easter Monday, I couldn't bear the sight of it.


I got fairly sick of hot cross buns this year too - spending a day making endless batches will do that to a person - and so by the time the weekend was over I wanted something light and non-fruity, but with a hint of real chocolate (not the Easter egg kind).

These fluffy brioche buns were the result. They're most excellent with a generous splodge of cream cheese and a dollop of marmalade - and with a long weekend coming up, you should think about adding them to your repertoire.


Chocolate Brioche Buns
The instructions below detail how to make these with a stand mixer - it can be done by hand, but it's a bit more labour intensive.  I've designed this recipe so the buns are ready for breakfastIf you don't want the buns for breakfast, the dough will rise in about an hour at room temperature.

275ml milk (I use Zany Zeus 'blue')
500g high grade flour
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
50g unsalted butter, soft but not melted, diced
80g good quality dark chocolate, melted (I use Whittaker's 60 per cent cacao)
100g good quality dark chocolate, smashed into little bits (I use Whittaker's 60 per cent cacao)

Egg wash: 1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp milk

Sugar glaze: 1/4 cup boiling water mixed with 1/4 cup brown sugar

Scald the milk and set aside to cool to lukewarm. Add the eggs and stir to mix.
Put the flour, yeast, salt and sugar into the bowl of a freestanding mixer and stir until combined, then pour in the egg and milk mixture and mix well.
Using the dough hook, mix on low-medium speed (about 3 or 4) until the dough is shiny and elastic, about 5-8 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary (turn the mixer off first!).
Keeping the mixer on medium speed, drizzle in the melted chocolate. When it has all absorbed, start add the butter, one piece at a time, until it is all mixed in.
Cover the bowl with plastic and put in the fridge overnight, during which time it will double in size.
In the morning, tip the dough out on to a lightly floured worktop. knead in more choco
Cover with a cloth for 15 minutes, while you make a cup of tea and heat the oven to 180C.
Shape the dough into 10-12 balls and place on a lined baking tray. Brush each one with egg wash and bake for 15-20 minutes, until risen and cooked through. Brush with the hot sugar glaze and remove to a rack to cool (though they will probably all be eaten before that happens).

The chocolate and egg component make this the perfect opportunity to link up with two of my favourite bloggers, Karen of Lavender and Lovage and Dom of Belleau Kitchen. This month both Karen's Tea Time Treats and Dom's latest invention, Simply Eggcellent, have a chocolate theme. Click the links to find more chocolatey, eggy goodness.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Five fab ways with beetroot

I have one plan for my winter vegetable garden. When - or if - the wind drops and the rain stops - I'm going to plan beetroot by the dozen. Their beautiful green and crimson leaves will look quite fetching on grey winter days and the roots will be protected from the wild weather, packed in cacao husks and zoo compost. At least, that's the plan. In the meantime, I've made a list of my five favourite ways with beetroot, including a truly addictive dip. If I don't get my own harvest sorted, I'll be doing my bit to support local beetroot growers.


1. Beetroot, Feta And Wasabi Dip
This dip is super easy to make if you use vacuum-packed ready-cooked beetroot (now finally widely available in New Zealand supermarkets - look for the LeaderBrand packs near the salad vegetables in your supermarket). I dollop it on crostini or crackers with a bit of cream cheese or strained Greek yoghurt, then sprinkle something green on top. The only other thing you have to do is not tip it down your front, especially when wearing anything white.

250g cooked beetroot
1 clove garlic, squashed to a paste with 1/4 tsp salt
100g feta, diced
2 Tbsp Greek yoghurt
1/2 tsp wasabi (or horseradish)
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put all ingredients in a food processor and whizz until a smooth puree forms (stop to scrape down the sides of the processor as necessary). Taste for seasoning, then scrape into a bowl and serve. Makes about two cups - store any leftovers in the fridge for up to three days.

2. Shocking Pink Beetroot Bread
This is a true 'do not adjust your set' representation of what this Beetroot Bread looks like in real life - it really IS that pink. It doesn't have any discernable beet-y flavour, but the pinkness is pretty fun.


3. Raw Beetroot With Caraway, Fennel And Feta
One day I sent my beloved to the shops to buy caraway seeds - and he helpfully came back with a 500g bag. I've resisted the urge to make endless seed cakes, but I have found a use for them in this salad, which combines caraway with raw grated beetroot, fennel and feta.


4. Raw Beetroot Bliss Balls
These Raw Beetroot Bliss Balls are another pretty-in-pink flight of fancy - the colour is all-natural. Think of the anti-oxidants! If you're trying to get your children (or other friends and family) to eat more vegetables, this is a very easy way to do it.


5. Big Bold Beetroot Soup
Beetroot is a key ingredient in this hearty winter soup for people who don't like following recipes (particularly husbands, I have found). It's big, bold, red - and delicious.


What's your favourite thing to do with beetroot?

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Kombucha 101: Fermented drinks for beginners

Kombucha - a kind of slightly fizzy fermented tea - is having a moment. 

The drink, which is made from sugar, tea, bacteria and yeast, has been around for centuries, but a resurgence in all things fermented means it's especially hot right now. There are Facebook groups devoted to sharing 'scobies' (the culture needed to make the drink), commercially made versions that sell for up to NZ$20 for a 750ml bottle and loads of forums where devoteees discuss the best kinds of tea and sugar to use. A kombucha bar, with six different kinds of kombucha available on tap, even opened in the hip Sydney neighbourhood of Leichhardt last week. 

Devotees believe kombucha has all sorts of health benefits thanks to its probiotic properties. I'm not in a position to make any claims as to kombucha's efficacy - it hasn't cured me of anything or driven me to Instagram my abs on a daily basis - but I do think it's good for digestion. More importantly, I like the way it tastes, which is my main consideration.

Berry kombucha, brewed in November 2014
I've been making my own kombucha since late last year, after receiving a scoby from someone I met via the 'Fermenting Freaks Forever' Facebook group. I know it might sound strange to invite a perfect stranger to send you a gelatinous-looking yeast culture in the post, but it's worked out well. So far I've shared the scobies I've grown with lots of other strangers - as well as any advice I can give them about brewing the perfect batch. 

If you're in New Zealand and you'd like a scoby, don't buy one. Look on Freecycle or Facebook - there is bound to be someone in your community who has some to give away. If you're in Wellington, feel free to contact me - I have more than I know what to do with.

There's loads of information available online about how to get started, but a lot of people find it extremely confusing to navigate. Here's the advice I give to my kombucha recipients - and they've all been successful so far.

Continuous brew kombucha (that's the scoby floating in the tea). Image:Catherine Adam
Kombucha 101
As well as a scoby (which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast), you'll need a large glass vessel. I recommend scouring your local op shop for a large jar - like a two-litre gherkin jar, or similar - to see if you like it, before rushing off to invest in a big vessel with a spigot. The latter can be found in most homewares stores - the one in the picture came from The Warehouse. Make sure the spigot is plastic (most of them are). You'll also need a supply of glass bottles with lids in which to bottle the brew. I use clean screwtop wine bottles - for some reason we always have plenty of those to hand.

This is how you make what they call 'continuous brew' kombucha - because it's always on the go. If you want to have a rest from it at any stage, then put it in the fridge and bring it back to life on your return.

What you need:

13 cups boiling water
2/3 cup sugar
8 plain black or green teabags (or 2 Tbsp looseleaf tea)
1 scoby and 1 cup kombucha (this is often referred to as 'starter tea' - anyone who gives you a scoby will give you some starter tea as well)

What you need to do:

1. Put the boiling water and sugar in a large pot and stir well. Let cool for a bit, then add the teabags and let them steep for 10-15 minutes. Carefully pull them out and let the hot tea cool to room temperature.

2. Carefully pour the cooled tea into your nice, clean glass vessel (strain it through a fine sieve if you have used teabags). Gently pour in the kombucha liquid and scoby. 

3. Cover the top of the glass vessel with a piece of muslin or fabric and secure with a rubber band or piece of string. This allows the kombucha to breathe, but keeps out flies and other bugs. Leave in an open spot, out of direct sunlight. 

4. After a week, taste the kombucha - it should be 'dry', but not too vinegar-y, with that distinctive flavour. If you think it's ready, then drain it into bottles and add flavouring to them, eg fruit, ginger, lemon or orange zest and 1 tsp sugar. The kombucha will eat up all the sugar, so don't worry about adding it. 

5. Seal the bottles tightly and set aside until you are ready to drink them. They will keep fermenting - if you want to stop the process, put them in the fridge. 

Important things to remember:

1. Make sure you leave at least one cup of kombucha with your scoby at all times or it will find it hard to make more. As it grows, it will form new layers in your jar. This is perfectly normal and a good sign. If, however, it looks like it is growing furry mould, then this is NOT good and you may have to start again. 

2. Make sure you keep everything super clean - clean the bottles and lids with hot soapy water and rinse well with boiling water.

3. Plain white sugar is best - do NOT use honey as it can affect how the scoby grows. Avoid brown sugar too - it makes the kombucha quite yeasty and seems quite sweet.

4. Save any flavouring to the 'second ferment' eg when the kombucha is bottled. The scoby doesn't like any flavoured or herbal teas - just ordinary gumboot tea is perfectly fine. It's like a tradesman - it likes hot, sweet, ordinary tea and regular praise!

5. However, if you want to be fancy, green tea or white tea is also good. You can use decaffeinated black tea, but I'd advise throwing in a normal teabag or two for flavour reasons. Decaff' tea by itself is a bit tasteless. White tea gives the kombucha a delicate, floral flavour.

6. When it comes to flavouring the second ferment, anything goes. I most often use frozen berries (say, six frozen blueberries and a teaspoon of sugar to 750ml kombucha), or slices of fresh ginger. Elderflower and ginger is another gorgeous combination. My all-time favourite is using my sister's homemade crystallised orange peel and a few slices of fresh ginger for a kind of Cointreau-ish kombucha.

7. The kombucha will ferment a lot faster in warmer weather - you may need to check it earlier. If you have left it too long for it to be pleasant to drink, you can always bottle it as vinegar. I've successfully made fridge pickles using kombucha vinegar and my sister-in-law has made raspberry kombucha vinegar. 

Are you a kombucha fan?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Pretend hot cross buns

Long-time readers will know that I'm a traditionalist when it comes to Easter - no hot cross buns before Good Friday; no Easter eggs before Easter Sunday. That's not to say that it doesn't get extremely hard to resist these things sometimes, especially when a packet of hot cross buns turns up in  your kitchen at breakfast time on a Saturday morning.
My resolve to give up chocolate for Lent has wobbled a bit in recent weeks - chocolate icecream doesn't really count, does it? - but I'm staying strong on the HCBs. Mainly that's because I've invented some you can eat at any time, guilt-free. Here's how.



'Pretend' Hot Cross Buns
These lookalike 'buns' - really bliss balls with the flavours of hot cross buns and white chocolate crosses - have many things going for them. My favourite, though, is that you can eat them while you're waiting for the real ones to cook (or toast). What are you waiting for?

1 cup sultanas
1 cup ground almonds
1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
2 Tbsp coconut oil (or olive oil)
1 Tbsp honey
finely grated zest of one orange
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup roughly chopped white chocolate

Put all ingredients except the chocolate into a food processor and whiz until you can pinch together small amounts. Take dessertspoon-sized heaps of the mixture and form into square-ish 'buns' and place on a tray lined with baking paper.
Gently melt the white chocolate - put it in a small bowl, then set this over a bowl of freshly boiled water from the kettle - and put into a small ziplock bag or piping bag. Pipe crosses over the buns and leave to set. Store in the fridge - makes about 18 'buns'.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Baby octopus with lemon and herbs

Whenever visitors to Wellington ask about Te Papa, there's only ever one thing we tell them to see - the colossal squid. This creature of the deep has become such a feature in our lives that I fear the day that it disintegrates altogether and we are allowed to look at other exhibits. But it has also engendered a great interest in squid of all sizes - including the ones you can eat.
To capitalise on a sudden resurgence in interest (prompted by some recent sea adventures), I came up with this almost-instant tapas-style octopus, which takes five minutes and looks a lot more complicated than it is. It's certainly a lot less complex than catching a colossal squid - but you'll have to go to Te Papa to see how they did that.


Baby octopus with lemon and herbs
It might seem a bit of a fiddly task, but I recommend cutting off the hood (which contains what is known in our household as 'the poo-ey bit') of the octopus before you start. It'll only take a minute and makes them much more pleasant to eat.

500g baby octopus, hoods removed and discarded
100ml freshly squeezed lemon juice (about two lemons' worth)
zest of two lemons
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2cm piece of fresh ginger, grated
a handful of fresh herbs - coriander, dill, parsley, chervil

Fill a small bowl with cold water and ice cubes, and set aside.
Bring a pot of water to the boil. When it's boiling, add a good pinch of salt and the baby octopi. They will curl up and blanch pretty much immediately - as soon as they do, remove them with tongs and drop them into the iced water.
Mix all the other ingredients together in a bowl and add the drained octopi. Stir well and season with salt and pepper, then serve. Serves four as a tapas-style appetiser.

Do you have a favourite food-related exhibit at your local museum?

Monday, March 09, 2015

Five great bakes for Good Bitches Baking

Are you a Good Bitch? I am. In fact, I'm one of many.

I'm not telling you this to show off, but to get you to join us in a kind of sweet revolutionary movement. Good Bitches Baking is an attempt to make the world a better place via the medium of cake and biscuits. It's been set up by two amazing women, Marie Fitzpatrick and Nicole Murray, who recognised the value of the little things (and cake) in tough times.


Since September, they've harnessed a miniature army of around 80 keen cooks in Wellington alone who bake for people in times of strife. Recipients here so far include hospices, refuges, City Missions, a soup kitchen, boarding houses and the Neo-Natal Trust.

If you're not a Good Bitch but you'd like to help, then you can find out more about Good Bitches Baking or visit the Good Bitches Baking GiveALittle page.

If you are a Good Bitch and you need ideas for easily made, easily transported, easily consumed home-style baking, then this list is designed to help. Here goes...

1. Big Fat Ginger Crunch
This is an excellent GBB bake, because the not-so-pretty edge pieces can find their ways into lunchboxes the next day. I use this Spicy Ginger Crunch recipe  most of the time, though Chelsea Winter's Oaty Ginger Crunch is pretty great too.


2. Wholesome Fruity Muffins
These super-popular muffins are a not as heavy as those bran bullets of old, but they're not pretend cakes, either. This recipe is vegan, but I've been making them recently with regular milk and two eggs instead of the banana.


3. Double Chocolate Beetroot Cakes
Having said all that, these are definitely cakes in muffin form - a big hit of antioxidant-rich beetroot, chocolate and a fluffy hat of cream cheese frosting. This recipe makes a big batch so there may be some left over for your at-home testers...


4. White Chocolate And Lemon Bars
I can only ever make this if I know I am giving it away immediately - otherwise I'd probably eat the tray in an afternoon, all by myself. I use this Lime And White Chocolate Bars recipe, but often switch out the lime for lemon, and add dried cranberries or apricots. SO good! This recipe is also great for steamy summer/autumn days, when slaving over a hot oven makes you feel bitchy (not in a good way).


5. Old-Fashioned Fruit Loaf
Alice Arndell has a fantastic old-fashioned fruit loaf recipe in her book 'Alice In Bakingland' - it makes two big loaves, freezes well and tastes great. I can't find a link to it online anywhere (you should buy her book, it's really useful for GBB weekends - the melt 'n mix banana cake is also a lifesaver) but this Juicy Fruit Loaf is always a winner.


Happy baking, everyone. In this case, charity really does begin at home!
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