Monday, December 19, 2011

a few of our favourite things...

Becs: I know Whittakers has featured here before but they do make great quality, affordable chocolate. My current favourite is their new Berry and Biscuit (love the name!) Basically like black forest but not as sickly sweet as the Cadbury version. If you live in the South Island Whittakers is on special this week at New World for 2 for $6, I for one will be stocking up on their Dark Ghana for last-minute Christmas baking.

Libby: I tried this Paneton sweet short pastry at a Julie Buiso class in Auckland a few months ago. Yes, even the professionals use the bought stuff sometimes and why not when it's this good? It has a lovely biscuity texture and comes pre-rolled so it's very easy to use. After finding it wasn't available in anywhere in Wellington I asked Moore Wilson (several times!) if they could please find room in their freezer to stock it. I also emailed Paneton to ask if they could get Moore Wilson to stock it. And a few weeks later I heard back to from Paneton to say Moore Wilson had come round! Wellingtonians, you've got me to thank for this one!

I used some to make these delicious wee frangipane-topped fruit mince tarts... cut pastry into circles, press into the base of muffin tins (or shallow patty tins if you have them), spoon in a tablespoon of fruit mince (I used Ruth Pretty's recipe here), top with a dollop of frangipane (cream 50g butter and 50g sugar, add an egg and 50g ground almonds) and slivered almonds and bake at 180 degrees C for 15 minutes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

We have a winner...

Thanks for all the comments on the birthday post. There were some hilarious birthday cake stories! The lucky winner of the AWW Children's Birthday Cake Book is....

If you send us an email: lovelyweedays (at) gmail (dot) com and let us know your address we'll get it in the post ASAP!

Monday, December 12, 2011

a few of our favourite things

Miriam: Whenever I go home to my parents place I have a wee chuckle as I see bottles of wine labeled with post-it-notes saying 'expensive'. This is Mum's strategy to ensure that family members with less refined tastes (i.e. Dad) select the appropriate bottle to match the occasion. For my birthday this year, my family gave me two knives, one a bread knife, and one the Scanpan knife picture above. Mum (rightly so) felt I wasn't very educated on knives, so informed me that the bread knife was in the 'expensive' category and the yellow one was not. Well, both knives have proved to be dreams to cut with. But I was astounded to hear that this yellow knife cost around $10. What a bargain! It's become my go-to all purpose knife. I wonder if the wines minus the post-it-notes are also as good?!

Becs: Now that the weather is warmer it has been goodbye to porridge and hello to more summery breakfasts. Here is todays - bircher muesli. I just soak rolled oats, linseed and chopped dates in milk overnight with a little honey and cinnamon. In the morning I add a grated apple, spoonful of yoghurt and any other toppings lurking around. Today it was accompanied with a dollop of lemon curd, some strawberries foraged from the garden pre-breakfast, and some toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds. It was so good I may just have more for lunch!

Monday, December 5, 2011

a few of our favourite things

Miriam: Mum recently introduced me to Watties tinned baby beetroot. I'd normally always go for the fresh variety, but I must say, these beetroot are pretty good and so low maintenance. I've taken to roasting them for about 10 mins (not that it's really required) and turning them into a salad with feta, mint and toasted almonds. And, if you don't let on, no one would be any the wiser that the beetroot's from a can.

Becs: Like Libby, I am a regular customer of Book Depository. I was happy to pick up a copy of Bill Granger's latest book, Bill's Everyday Asian in their recent 24 hour sale; however not having seen it in the shops I did a little online research first, as it can at times be disappointing buying books unseen. In the process of my research I stumbled across the blog A Cookbook a Month, where three friends test out and report back on recipes from a different cookbook each month. They seem to be on my wavelength when it comes to cookbooks (eg. Donna Hay = style over substance) so I took note of their high praise for BEA. It arrived the other day and looks delicious; I think it will provide a perfect source of inspiration for summer eating. So if you are making an online cookbook purchase and are keen for some real-life feedback check out their archives, in any case it makes for interesting reading.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy birthday to us!

It's two years since our first post! And to mark the occasion we have a little something for you... a copy of The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book.

Weeks before our birthdays we'd start choosing a cake from the book for mum to spend hours making the night before our birthday. Flicking through this copy there are so many familiar cakes but the highlight for me is the train from the cover which Mum made at least twice, even going so far as to make the candy popcorn herself on one of those occasions.

There were only two cakes we were steered away from: the "Candy Castle" probably because of the vast quantities of sugary egg white icing it involved and the "Swimming Pool" possibly because of the practicalities of slicing and serving a cake filled with jelly.

This is the "vintage edition" of the book - printed this year but almost unchanged from the original we grew up with in the 1980s. Four cakes have been swapped for more politically correct masterpieces but the font, layout and copious use of "butter cake mix" remain.

If you'd like to win this copy of the book just leave us a comment telling us about the best birthday cake you've ever had - from the AWW book or not, it doesn't matter.

a few of our favourite things

Miriam: I love this cake stand from Texan Art Schools that Mike gave me for my birthday. On Saturday friends brought around some treats from Pandoro, so I was able to supplement my Sticky Lemon Slice on the bottom and fill the cake stand up with a selection of other treats for dessert.

Libby: I spent the weekend in Hawke's Bay so made a quick visit to the Hawkes Bay Farmers Market on Sunday morning. The market is held at the Hastings A &P showgrounds and attracts a huge crowd. But the stalls are well laid out so even though there are hundreds of people at the market it doesn't feel crowded. There was so much variety - produce, cured meats, fresh and smoked fish, breads, sauces, jams & chutneys - and all so beautifully fresh. I picked up a huge bunch of asparagus for only $4 and some lovely Hohepa cumin gouda. Unfortunately I put the asparagus in the fridge and forgot about it until well on the way back to Wellington - hopefully it travelled back to Christchurch with the rest of the family later in the day.

It was only the briefest of visits to the farmers' market - just enough time for one lap but you could easily spend an hour or two wandering around. We had lots more to fit in including a visiting a favourite place from childhood... Waimarama beach.

Becs: I feel like a born-again gardener at the moment, but Spring does that to you so please forgive the horticultural enthusiasm! Check out my rocket patch above; I was a little heavy-handed with the seed scattering a few weeks ago and now have an enormous supply to cut when needed, so no more bags in the fridge turning to mulch. Even if you aren't into gardening, I recommend getting a pack of rocket to sow, it will grow so easily in a pot or seed tray (I love these beautiful cedar ones from Mapua Country Trading). I sowed a mix of Kings Organic Rocket and their Arugula Wild Italian Rustic. The store bought variety doesn't come close to the taste of homegrown stuff that has a proper peppery bite to it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

a few of our favourite things

Miriam: I came across this wee rhubarb stall on Kensington Ave in Mt Eden. I rummaged through my handbag and managed to scrounge together $2 so as to pluck off one of the bags hooked to the tree (leaving the sole bag pictured here). I roasted my rhubarb with some brown sugar and the juice of an orange. The plan was to have it as a topping for my morning cereal, however it was just so delicious I kept sneaking pieces from the fridge, so it didn't last long!

Libby: For the last couple of months we've been buying "homemade" eggs from someone we know in Featherston whose chickens have been laying like mad. The eggs have been a real treat - beautifully fresh and with the brightest yellow yolks I've ever seen - but our supply may be coming to an end. It seems the chickens are slowing down and it's taking longer to put together a dozen eggs so there was a marked difference in freshness between eggs in the last carton. The difference became very apparent when I poached a few eggs on Sunday and found some held together firmly and others, disappointingly, disintegrated into wispy threads.

Becs: I have just returned from a visit to Southland, where my dear friend Rachel was married. What a perfect time of year for a wedding, coinciding with when paeonies pay their short seasonal visit.  They featured abundantly in the table settings tucked into candelabra, in the bridal  party flowers, and vasefuls of lush bunches like those above.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Spiced eggplant & peanut salad

I was lucky enough to be given the Ripe cookbook from Becky recently. Having tried this eggplant and peanut salad at a friends place, I was keen to give it a go myself. I love eggplant and I think the combination of spice, eggplant, yoghurt, coriander and peanuts works really well. It was lovely served with lamb and slow roasted tomatoes, or as the recipe recommend a BBQ. It just as nice for lunch the next day too. Be warned though, the process of making this does permeate a curry smell throughout the house... I forgot to close the bedroom doors when making it, so then spent some time airing the house in an attempt to dissipate the smell!

Spiced eggplant & peanut salad
1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp dried chili flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium sized eggplants, cut in cubes
salt & pepper
2 handfuls of baby spinach
1 cup fresh coriander leaves
3/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lemon

Yoghurt dressing
1 1/2 cups plain yoghurt
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp sweet chili sauce
1/2 cup fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200C. With a mortar and pestle, crust together the toasted seeds, smoked paprika, curry powder, chili flakes, ground cumin and salt. Tip into a large bowl. Add the crushed garlic, oil and eggplant pieces. Mix well to coat.

Place the seasoned eggplant on an oven tray lined with baking paper and roast for approx 30 mins, until tender. Allow to cool. Season with salt and pepper.

For the yoghurt dressing combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix and season to taste.

To assemble the salad: On a large platter layer half the spiced eggplant, spinach leaves, a drizzle of yoghurt dressing, fresh coriander leaves and some peanuts. Repeat the sequence with the remaining ingredients and finish with coriander leaves. Finally add a good squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of the remaining dressing.

Monday, November 14, 2011

a few of our favourite things

Becs: I planted a $4 punnet of poppy seedlings into a pot during winter and then did absolutely nothing; over the last month they have rewarded me with a constant supply of cheerful blooms. Everyday a few more poppies open up their buds, ready to be picked. Such a good return on investment!

Miriam: On Sunday, Mike and I went to The Auckland Retro Fair. The quantity of both goods and people was slightly overwhelming. However it was a great treasure-trove of blast-from-the-past bric-a-brac. We came away with this retro coffee table, which matches Mike's 70's lounge suite perfectly.

Libby: Food-wise (and otherwise) it was a very good weekend for me. I'll just give you the highlights. On Friday I scored a free whole blue cod at work. On Saturday I had a lovely lunch at Nikau - terakihi with beetroot and skordalia - which just got better when I managed to snaffle the last rhubarb and rosewater doughnut for afterwards. Yes, it was every bit as delicious as it sounds. SO delicious it disappeared before having its picture taken. And on Sunday I had a lovely morning learning all about eggs from someone who knows a lot about cooking them. You can read more about that here. The picture above is my attempt at recreating the beetroot from Saturday's lunch. I gently simmered the beetroot whole until tender, peeled and sliced it, poured over a little olive oil and red wine vinegar and sprinkled with chopped capers and Italian parsley.

Daisy just loves her Dorothy the Dinosour costume, which arrived in a parcel from Wiggles Corporation in Australia, courtesy of Aunty Sarah. Dorothy/Daisy can be seen above enjoying suitably green coloured food on an (unintentionally) Dorothy coordinated plate.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The perfect egg

I spent this morning at a cooking class Wellington's City Market learning about "The Perfect Egg" with Kelda from Nikau Cafe. It truly was a fabulous way to spend a Sunday morning.

Kelda started off by discussing the importance of fresh eggs and demonstrating the difference between fresh and older eggs comparing an egg she'd had in her fridge for a couple of weeks and one laid two hours earlier (!) by Nikau co-owner Paul's chickens. The egg from Paul's chicken had a firm jelly-like white that held together beautifully.

For me, this confirmed that I want my own chickens! I would feed them up on all sorts of delicious scraps so they would lay me amazing fresh eggs. But until I have a backyard (rather than a handkerchief-sized courtyard) this will remain a dream.

Anyway, more about the class... Kelda talked about the temperature different parts of the egg firm up at - nothing too scientific and all stuff that made good sense - but it made me realise I have done some terrible things to eggs in the past.

First up was scrambled eggs: gently-cooked and custard-y. It might seem incredibly basic to start by demonstrating scrambled eggs but I doubt there would have been a single person in the class who didn't learn a thing or two. From now on, my scrambled eggs are going to be gently-cooked and custard-y too. We were each served a spoonful of the eggs in a little pastry tart case topped with broad beans and smoked salmon... up was Nikau's famed sage eggs. Sage was gently fried in a generous amount of butter, then a couple of eggs were slid into the pan to "poached" in the butter. After a little oven time to firm up they were served on one of Spring's greatest pleasures... asparagus and a little shaving of pecorino. This was one of those dishes that make you want to lick the plate... of course you don't because you're in the company of a dozen or so strangers. Luckily, there were generous slices of Moulin Bakery's delicious baguette to soak up the last of the egg and butter in a slightly more lady-like manner.

The last dish of the morning was floating islands: softly poached meringue in creme anglaise with the most amazing strawberry, rhubarb and rosewater compote. Beautiful and delicious.

The City Market classes have been popular and there are still a few to run before Christmas though most have sold out. You can read more about what you're missing out on here. After this morning's class, I can completely understand why they're so popular.

The "tastes" of each dish were generous as was Kelda in the knowledge she imparted throughout the 90 minute class. Extras touches like Supreme Chemex-extracted coffee at the start of the class, and sparkling water and lovely Mahi gewurztraminer on the tables (nevermind it was only 10am) made it feel like excellent value. The best $50 I've spent in a long time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

a few of our favourite things...

Becs: The perfect Spring meal? Dinner one night last week consisted of 2 slices of buttered white bread, a fat whitebait fritter made with West Coast whitebait simply mixed through a couple of beaten free range eggs from a friend's chickens, and steamed asparagus with plenty of salt and pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice.

 Miriam: While in Tauranga for Nat and Rowan's wedding in the weekend I had a trip to the Tauranga Farmers Market. We brought some of this apple and feijoa juice. It was delicious; so fresh with perfectly balanced flavours, and not too sweet. I was grateful to have some of this on Sunday to quench my thirst after a night of celebrating, drinking bubbles and dancing.

Libby: I've been eating strawberries by the punnet over the last week and the ratio of sweet little berries to insipid, watery ones is improving with each punnet! A sure sign that Summer is well and truly on it's way. They're good straight from the punnet but I also I love them mixed through bircher muesli, with a little softly-whipped cream with lemon curd folded through, or in this case... piled atop a beautiful strawberry tart.

Monday, October 31, 2011

a few of our favourite things

Libby: Last week was a good week for me and fruit tarts. I managed to visit two of my favourite bakeries: Central Baking Depot in Sydney (little sister of Bourke Street Bakery and Silo in Canberra thanks to a work trip. The tart from Central Baking Depot was a barberry & fig frangipane creation with beautifully flaky pastry. It was my first experience of barberries and I found they tasted like sharp blackcurrants. The tart from Silo was a classic custard & passionfruit tart with short pastry. If you ever find yourself in Canberra, seek out the Silo bakery in Kingston (near the government part of town) this delightful bakery will change your opinion of Canberra and make you think of the city in a more favourable light.

Miriam: There's a particularly overgrown area of Jasmine just near my house. Having recently been informed that Jasmine is in fact a weed, I feel no guilt when I help myself to a few sprigs. They look so pretty in a jar on the windowsill and their a lovely scent fills the house. It's nice to know I'm doing my bit to help control this weed!

Becs:  They are not the most glamourous ingredient but inned beans are such a useful pantry staple. I continue to make this delicious cannellini bean dip, and hummus a fair bit as Daisy enjoys them both. Chickpeas are going  into summer salads too and I just love a tasty Mexican-style bean dip. We get through a fair few, so to save constant restocking at the supermarket a visit was paid to Med Foods to bulk buy trays of chickpeas, cannellini and red kidney beans.  I know it is much cheaper to soak and cook dried ones but the convenience of the tinned ones does it for me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

chocolate cake for Daisy

It was Daisy's birthday party on the weekend.  I had briefly contemplated the construction of a Dorothy the Dinosaur cake, but decided against it in favour of the angst-free option combining three of her favourite foods - chocolate, strawberries and marshmallows (mamos). The cake was Nigella's Chocolate Guinness cake - over the past few months this cake has cemented itself as my new favourite. Nigella describes it as damp and delicious,which covers it perfectly.

I paired it with Alice Medrich's fast fudge frosting -  this was the first time I had tried this unusual  method of making icing and I loved it.  The cocoa-based frosting can double as a chocolate sauce if melted down,and it had a beautifully glossy,  gooey texture, just as chocolaty as ganache but without the richness. The frosting recipe below makes enough to generously sandwich and ice this cake.

We ate the cake with the fresh strawberries and mamos, a spoonful of berry compote and a dollop of cream. So delicious. Served this way the cake will feed around 20ish people.  Next year = no doubt Dorothy or her 2012 equivalent as requested by a more knowing Miss D will grace the brithday table.

Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake

250ml Guinness

250g unsalted butter
75g cocoa
400g caster sugar
140ml sour cream  or yoghurt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2.5 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C, and butter and line a 23cm springform tin.

Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter - in spoons or slices - and heat until the butter's melted, at which time you should whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery, beery pan and finally whisk in the flour and bicarb.

Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Leave to cool completely in the tin on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.  

Fast fudge frosting

120g unsalted butter

1.5 c sugar
1.5 c cocoa
1.5 c cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a saucepan,melt butter. Stir in the sugar and cocoa. Gradually stir in the cream. Heat over medium heat, stirring till everything is mixed well and is smooth and hot but not boiling. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and a pinch or two of salt, to taste.Set aside to cool. (I left it overnight, after which it was the perfect consistency to spread.)

Daisy made the most of her proximity to the abundance of marshmallows...

Happy Birthday Daisy x

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

a few of our favourite things...

Becs: Judging by the number of flowers in my strawberry patch it should be a bumper crop of berries this Christmas. I spent Labour Day happily pottering in the garden. The strawberries were tidied up and tomatoes, beans, potatoes, snow and sweetpeas were planted. Not such good news is that this summer Christchurch has a water ban due to EQ damage -here's hoping for a Spring shower or two...

Miriam: I love summer salads. I made this one with baby spinach, chicken, red pepper and fresh mango. And then, the extra treat was cashew nuts that I dry fried in a pan and added some sugar to till it went all gooey and caramelised. Yum!

Monday, October 17, 2011

a few of our favourite things...

Libby: Becs picked up three of these cast aluminium gem irons at a local church garage sale for an amazing $1 each! She had first pick at some incredible bargains as she was invited to the sale "preview"!

One tray travelled up to Wellington with Mum and Dad over the weekend and I tried them out on Sunday afternoon. Those sturdy little logs in the background are my first attempt at ginger gems - I was working from an old Edmond's cookbook recipe and instructions were scant so I wasn't quite as light-handed with the mixture as I should have been. My gems were a little on the tough side. Gems are quick and reasonably economical to whip up so I'll give it another go soon to work on my technique.

Miriam: I've been a bit remiss with my favourite things lately. But that's not because I don't have favourite things. In fact, most nights before going to sleep I try to reflect on my 3 favourite things of the day (I exempt food from this activity, as otherwise breakfast, lunch and dinner would have it covered). Research shows doing this exercise every day increases happiness. Click here if you want some instructions, then give it a go and see if you notice a difference.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lamb, tomato & feta pies

I was intrigued when I saw these pies in Ray McVinnies food section in the Sunday magazine. I have never been a fan of Ray's recipes, but lately his dishes in Sunday have looked more attractive. On that basis (and the fact that we had lamb mince to use up) I thought I'd give this one a go. I actually didn't use his dough recipe as I didn't have semolina, so instead used my go-to basic bread dough, which I think worked just fine for this recipe.

Although the tarts look quite impressive, I'm not sure they had quite the depth of flavour I would have liked. As my flatmate Jane said, they kind-of tasted exactly how you would expect lamb mince to taste. As the lamb mince is cooked in the dough, there was no opportunity to pour off the was somewhat disconcerting the see the tarts filled with fat as they were cooking. Although the fat seemed to be absorbed during the cooking, I could definitely taste it when I ate them. I think if I was to make them again, I'd serve them with a mint & yoghurt mixture on top which may help to cut through the fat. Or perhaps I you could cook the lamb mince first, drain off some of the fat then cook it inside the dough?

Here's the recipe as per the Sunday magazine:
Lamb, tomato & feta pies

250ml lukewarm water
1 Tbsp dried yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
400g high-grade flour
100g fine Italian semolina
olive oil for the bowl

800g lamb mince
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbst dried oregano
3 Tbsp chopped parsley, plus extra for serving
salt and pepper
200g creamy feta, crumbled
250 cheery tomatoes, halved

Put the water into mixing bowl, add yeast and sugar. Let stand in warm place until the yeast has dissolved and mixture is frothy. Mix well. Add flour and semolina. Mix well, then knead for 10 mins until smooth and elastic. Place dough in an olive-oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise until it has doubled in bulk. Preheat oven to 220C. Put lamb, garlic, oregano and parsley into a bowl, Season well with 1tsp salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Divide dough into 6 portions and roll each into an oval shape about 20cm long and 12cm wide.

Place 1 portion of lamb mixture, broken into small lumps, down the middle of each dough oval. Sprinkle each with feta and tomatoes. Brush edges of each oval with watter and pull them up, pinching the ends to make a canoe shape. Place pies on a baking tray and leave to rise for 10 minutes then bake for 20 mins or until the pies are well cooked.

Monday, October 10, 2011

a few of our favourite things...

Libby: I don't like having the same thing for lunch or dinner two days in a row but I will quite happily eat oats for breakfast day-in, day-out. In cool weather I eat them cooked as porridge and in warmer weather I like them soaked overnight to make bircher muesli. Now that we've had a glimpse of spring I've made the switch to bircher. My "recipe" is a simple, cheap mix of oats, a few raisins and a small handful of whatever seeds I have - sesame, sunflower, pumpkin - soaked overnight in milk. In the morning I stir in yoghurt and as long as I'm not about to miss the bus, grate in 1/2 an apple. It's very portable. More often than not, it comes to work with me to be eaten a little later on.

Becs: I have several of these spice tins and they are so handy. Much tidier than having loads of little jars and bags cluttering up the pantry, and easy to use when cooking as there is only one lid to take off. I bought mine at various Asian food stores, they do vary in quality it seems, so go for the heavier stainless steel and ensure the lid fits on snugly. I group my spices how I would usually cook with them, so keep sweeter ones separate. I was inspired to make a chicken curry for dinner after seeing Al Brown's version on Get Fresh; yesterday was quite a spice filled day with lunch enjoyed at the Vegetarian Expo - we ate the most delicious samosas with cumin seed-flecked pastry and a date and tamarind chutney, I love a good samosa.

Monday, October 3, 2011

a few of our favourite things

Miriam: I love this dinner for a slightly more healthy version of unhealthy corn chip based nachos. These ones have homemade tortillas chips, a spicy bean and mince mixture, avocado, sour cream and lots of cheese. Lewi, Jane and I sat round the coffee table and ate this for dinner straight from the pizza stone. For a more precise recipe for this, see Sarah's vegetarian version here.

Becs: I am a big fan of Kings Seeds in Katikati. They sell an impressive array of fruit and vege seeds, lots of them being heirloom or organic, as well as flora and fauna. You order your selection via their website (they also send out thick catalogues that are great to browse through, the variety of weird and wonderful vegetables will amaze you) and a courier drops them off a couple of days later. I can never get through a full pack of seeds before they reach their expiry date, so if you want to share some of mine just leave a comment on this post and I will send out one reader a seed selection!

Libby: Cookbooks are about the only books I buy these days. I think of them as "reference books" and to me, they hold so much more value than novels that I'd read once and pass on. My Abuela's Table by Daniella Germain is the latest addition to my cookbook collection and it's easily the most beautifully illustrated cookbook on my shelf. It's a collection of recipes from the author's Mexican grandmother all accompanied by the cutest hand drawn illustrations. This book makes me want to have my own little Mexican fiesta, complete with home made corn tortillas and tamales (if I can figure out where to get banana leaves in Wellington!)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

a few of our favourite things

Miriam: When living in Scotland several years ago, I discovered the delights of Tunnock's Tea Cakes. They're a bit like mellowpuffs, but soooo much better as the marshmallow resembles raw meringue mixture. I have seen these occasionally in New Zealand, and the other day couldn't go past buying some when I spotted them in New World. They are good as they ever were, and the packet of six didn't last long at all!

Becs: I go through a fair bit of vanilla, as I make up 2L of custard each week for Posh Porridge. Lately I have been buying my vanilla off Trademe - for around $13 incl postage you get 10 lovely fat vanilla beans. I have bought Tahitian beans from Willyow and Tongan from Kaukovi and enjoyed both their products. A couple of months ago I decided to start brewing up my own vanilla extract which is now ready to use. It's very easy to make, into a large glass bottle I placed 12 vanilla beans (split in half lengthways) and poured in 3 cups of vodka (use a decent high-proof one, I used Stil). After sitting in a dark cupboard for 8 weeks my vanilla is now a beautiful amber colour and smells divine. Apparently you can keep topping up the bottle with vodka for a while as the beans have so much flavour; I made nearly a litre so it should keep me going for a while...

Libby: Little & Friday has already featured among our favourite things but I feel every visit is worth a mention. I spent the weekend in Auckland with Miriam and Little & Friday was on my priority list. This time we visited the Little & Friday within Martha's Fabrics in Newmarket and it's every bit as lovely as the original on the North Shore. The cakes and tarts are freshly made and beautifully, simply presented. This gorgeous pear tart tasted just as delicious as it looked.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

microwave muesli

I know the title is tragic but this is my go-to muesli recipe, thank you Dame Alison. In the eighties when the microwave was all set to take over from the conventional oven, Alison Holst was at the forefront of microwave cuisine. Our family embraced Alison's microwave muesli and microwave brownie recipes - she was so ahead of her time, in the eighties hardly anyone in NZ had heard of a brownie, nowadays we'd probably prefer it wasn't microwaved...

I started making this muesli when I was nine or ten and it made page 5 in my handwritten recipe book (oh and check out that handwriting, I marvel at it now and if you saw my current illegible script you would too...) While these days I think most of us accept the limitations of the microwave (melting butter, reheating leftovers yes but scrambled egg, roast chicken, brownies no) it still does a great job of a quick batch of muesli. If the oven is on for something else or I am making a big batch I will bake it, but otherwise it is remarkable what the microwave can achieve in around 10 minutes.

I make it in a large pyrex casserole, and melt the wet ingredients in this first before adding the dry, so it is a one-bowl job. This batch was for the market so is just oats and seeds, but I would normally add nuts to it too. It's amazing how crunchy it gets, it crisps up on cooling, much like a biscuit does.

Alison Holst's Muesli (microwave)

1/4 c honey
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c plain oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
3 c rolled oats (I use a mix of jumbo and regular)
1/2 c oat bran (sub for extra oats if none in your pantry)
1/2 c wheatgerm (ditto)
1/2 c nuts
1/2 c dried fruit

Mix the first 6 ingredients in your large microwave proof dish and cook for a minute or two until melted and bubbly. Add the dry ingredients (excluding the fruit) and mix thoroughly to coat evenly. Cook for 3 minutes, then in blasts of 2 minutes, stirring well after each to avoid burning in hot spots where the honey mix has settled. I find it takes about 10 minutes or so, as my pyrex is large so the mix is quite shallow in it. Mix in fruit after it has cooked.
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