Monday, February 28, 2011

A few of our favourite things...

Miriam: I love corn on the cob, with salt, pepper and loads of butter. For slightly more elegant eating, I've been making this salad for lunch (I think Libby first introduced me to this) with corn kernels, avocado and tomatoes, topped with fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil. A great combination of flavours and textures.

Becs: Daisy and I were glad to pack our bags on Friday and head to Wellington for the weekend, a trip (fortuitously) planned some months ago. We are loving our cosy room at Libby's house with blackout curtains, super-thick duvets and best of all no aftershocks. Sleep is a wonderful thing.

Libby: With Becs staying for a few days I was treated to some of her delicious porridge for breakfast. She uses special oats that haven't been rolled so the porridge has a consistency something like risotto. Sunday morning's porridge was served with pears, a sprinkle of dark muscavado sugar, lightly toasted walnuts and a wee drizzle of cream. It's the best porridge you'll ever eat and I'm not the only one who thinks so... see E23 of yesterday's Sunday Star Times to read more about our very own Unsung Food Hero!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


It has been a terribly surreal day.

This morning I started a new job tutoring students at an inner-city cooking school in Christchurch. I had just stepped outside the front door of the 3-storey building when it felt as though a bomb exploded. Smashed glass, cracking and crumbling buildings, dust clouds, gushing water surrounded us.

Thanks to 'Tania' whose car I randomly hopped into and who delivered me closer to home and my precious Daisy. Thankfully our family is all safe.

Love and tears to those who were not so lucky today. I am painfully aware that your life can change forever in an instant, and I hate that we have been so harshly reminded of that today. Kia kaha Christchurch xx

dinner date - chicken ragu with pappardelle

On Friday I bought a new cookbook: Manna from Heaven by Rachel Grisewood. I'd almost bought this book on a couple of other occasions but had never quite got round to parting with my money. This time, I was spurred into action by the prospect of my Borders book voucher becoming worthless currency given the company's current financial state. It was slim pickings among the cookbook section of Borders Lambton Quay. There were plenty of Gordon Ramsey titles and generic 1001 baking recipe books but little that appealed. When I spotted the bright pink and orange cover of Manna from Heaven on the shelves it was an easy decision.

Wanting to make the most of my new purchase, I adapted the recipe for duck ragu with pappardelle for dinner on Sunday night. It was a wintery choice given the uncharacteristically good weather Wellington's experienced of late, but I like making slow cooked meals on Sundays when I'm not in a hurry. Not this was a difficult or time-consuming meal to make. It needs an hour and a half in the oven but while in there, it needs only minimal supervision.

This recipe lends itself to all sorts of adaptations. Like chicken instead of duck - so much cheaper and more accessible. In fact, it's a fantastic way to turn dirt-cheap drumsticks into a luxurious meal. I added a couple of boneless thighs too but drumsticks alone would do just fine. A little bacon or pancetta thrown in with the celery would make a delicious addition, as would a few sliced field mushrooms.

1tbsp olive oil
4-6 chicken pieces (I used 5 drumsticks and 2 thighs)
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
200ml chicken stock
1 canned Italian tomatoes
3 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (I used basil, sage, oregano and thyme)
3 bay leaves
200ml red wine
1 tbsp fresh cream
sea salt & cracked pepper
400g pappardelle pasta
parmesan cheese & fresh herbs, to serve

Heat the oil in an ovenproof & stovetop safe casserole dish over a medium heat. Add the chicken and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside. Drain all but 1 tbsp of fat from the pan and add the celery and red onion. Cook for a few minutes to soften. Add the garlic and cook a further few minutes. Add the chicken, stock, tomatoes (plus half a tinful of water), herbs, bay leaves and wine.

Bring to a gentle simmer, cover with a lid and place into an oven heated to 180 degrees Celsius. Cook for 1.5 hours, or until the meat falls from the bones. Remove from the oven and leave to cool a little.

Remove the skin from the chicken (with tongs if too hot to handle) and cut the meat from the bones. Discard the bones and skin and set aside the meat. Simmer the sauce over a medium heat on the stovetop, adding extra water if too thick or reducing if too thin. Skim off any fat that comes to the surface.

Once it's at the consistency you like, return the chicken meat to the pan along with the cream and lots of salt & pepper and cook until warmed through.

Meanwhile cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. Drain well once al dente and stir some of the ragu through the pasta. Distribute into bowls and top with more ragu. Serve with parmesan and more fresh herbs.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A few of our favourite things...

Apples from the tree to the table....
Miriam: I spent the weekend at a friends beach house at Papamoa. Their apple tree needed harvesting, and so we put in a team effort of peeling and slicing, and I whipped up a crumble topping. I didn't have a recipe, so just freestyled it, with approx 1 cup of rolled oats, 1 cup flour, 1tsp cinnamon, 1tsp baking powder, 3/4 cup brown sugar and 150g butter. I melt the butter and add it to the dry ingredients, so no need to get my hands dirty rubbing the butter into the flour. Normally I'd add nuts to the topping too, but we were in a nut free zone. I think of crumbles as autumnal treats, but this was delicious as a summer desert too. It seems extra special (and delicious) when you can see the tree the apples come from!

Becs: I love coffee and love the Rocket espresso machine Mike and I received as a wedding gift. I just have one coffee a day and it needs to be good. This pink mug is another of my favourite things; I collect Crown Lynn colour glaze china and a recent acquisition was a set of 5 dainty mugs like that pictured above. They are lovely to hold and drink out of.

Libby: Lately I've been helping myself to these huge blue hydrangeas growing alongside the steps down to our flat. You don't need many stems to fill a vase, some are so enormous that just one will do! It's lovely to have fresh flowers on the table and even better that they're free!

Monday, February 14, 2011

dinner date - smoked fish pie

This smoked fish pie is loosely based on a recipe from the Ripe cookbook and it's the best fish pie I've ever made! I usually make a very basic fish pie with a simple white sauce but this recipe, with a few additions to the sauce - cream, lemon zest and capers - takes it to a new level of deliciousness. The Ripe recipe uses a mix of white fish and smoked fish which would also be good. I'll try that combination next time.

The cream in the white sauce, along with the eggs makes this very rich meal but you could use all milk and leave out the eggs. Mum often made fish pie when we were little and never put eggs in it and it was always lovely. Make it how you like it! The only thing I would suggest not changing is the agria potatoes: they really are the best potatoes for mashing.

Mashed potato topping
4 medium sized agria potatoes, peeled
butter, milk or cream, salt & pepper for mashing

Filling & sauce
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
400g smoked fish fillets (I used terakihi)
1/2 cup cream
1 cup milk
2 bay leaves
30g butter
30g flour
1 TBSP capers
zest of 1 lemon
Handful of fresh herbs - chives, dill or parsely
Salt & pepper

Start by peeling and chopping the potatoes. Place in a medium sized saucepan and fill with cold water, add a little salt and bring to the boil, simmer for 20 minutes or until tender.

While the potatoes are boiling, place the fish, cream, milk and bay leaves in a pan and bring to a simmer, simmer for five minutes over a medium heat then set aside to cool (I didn't wait long). Strain the liquid from the fish and reserve the liquid. Discard the bay leaves and place the fish into a ovenproof dish along with the chopped boiled eggs.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Now prepare the sauce. Melt the butter over a medium heat and stir in the flour. Cook for a minute taking care not to burn the mixture. Now add the reserved milk/cream and stir continuously to avoid lumps. Cook for a few minutes over a medium heat, stirring all the time. Add the capers, herbs, lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Pour over the fish & eggs.

Now mash the potatoes with some butter and milk or cream. Season with salt and pepper then spread it over the fish. Rough up the top with a fork then place into the hot oven for half an hour or until it's heated through and the top is crispy.

Enjoy with a simple green salad.

A few of our favourite things...

Becs: It has been incredibly hot in Christchurch this past week, the sort of weather where cooking or indeed sometimes even eating, feels too hard. Our local Vietnamese Myhanh came to the rescue last week with their fresh spring rolls, stuffed full of prawns, crunchy lettuce and beansprouts and fresh mint leaves.

Libby: Inside this unassuming-looking bottle is the most delicious "home made" vinaigrette. It's not hard to mix up a vinaigrette yourself but this stuff is great to have in the fridge for when you can't be bothered. It's particularly good squirted over a crispy iceberg lettuce salad. Mum's an even bigger Chez Nijel fan than I am: she likes to have at least one full bottle in reserve at all times. But it isn't stocked anywhere in Christchurch so I pack a bottle or two every time I head down from Wellington. It's made in Lower Hutt and I'm not sure how far and wide they distribute it. I've found it at Moore Wilson and New World supermarkets around Wellington.

Miriam: The photo I tried to load for my favourite thing kept on turning upside down....(blogspot, why do you make things so difficult sometimes?). So it shall have to wait for next week. And sadly, no, the photo was not of all the flowers I have been inundated with for valentines day.... I guess it's early in the day though, so there's still time!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

thursday baking - rhubarb and custard

We seem to be going through a muffin renaissance at our place at the moment. I know the muffin is not cool. They had their day in the nineties, where too-big, too-tough and too-stale mega muffins dominated cafe counters and muffin cookbooks (Mmmmmmuffins...) dominated the bestseller list. But I think a well executed muffin has a lot going for it. Provided they are not the size of a small child's head (ie. less is more), are freshly made (ie. that day) and are generously flavoured (ie.don't be stingy with the blueberries), muffins are quick to make and bake and lovely to eat for morning or afternoon tea.

Today's muffins are jam donut muffins we saw over at Pod and Three Peas. Ours have a filling of rhubarb compote and vanilla bean custard, which I had leftover from the market last weekend and needed to use up. Any good jam would be delicious though. This little pocket of filling tucked in the middle, combined with the crunchy topping made by brushing the cooked tops with a little butter, before dunking them into cinnamon sugar makes for a seriously good muffin. Definitely best warm from the oven, and perfect wet weather baking.

Check out the recipe here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

dinner date - chicken marbella

Chicken Marbella, a braised chicken dish with prunes and olives, is one of those classic recipes that has seemed to have done the rounds for years, albeit different versions of it. It originated (I think) at The Silver Palate, a culinary-ground-breaking-at-the-time New York deli that opened in the eighties and released several cookbooks thereafter. Chicken Marbella is the perfect dish for entertaining - most of the prep can be done beforehand, and it looks and tastes much more impressive than the effort taken to make it. Most importantly everyone seems to love it.

Thighs are the nicest cut to use - bone in or out as you prefer. The sauce is a delicious mix of sweet and sour and salty. I like to serve it with little roast potatoes or potatoes dauphinoise and a lightly dressed green salad - the sauce from the chicken on your plate coats the salad greens nicely.

Chicken Marbella

8-10 chicken thighs
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/4c dried oregano
1/2 c red wine vinegar
1/2 c olive oil
1 c prunes
1 c olives
1/2 c capers, and a little of their juice
6 bay leaves
1/2 c brown sugar
1 c white wine
1/4 c chopped Italian parsley

Marinate chicken overnight in the first 8 ingredients. Arrange in a single layer in a roasting dish and sprinkle with brown sugar. Pour wine around the chicken and bake for 50 minutes or so, basting with the juices every now and then. Once cooked, strain off liquid into a small saucepan and cover the chicken etc with foil. Remove extra fat from the liquid with a ladle or mop it up with strips of paper towel gently laid over the surface of the sauce. Boil it hard for a few minutes to reduce down and thicken with a little arrowroot. Pour over chicken and sprinkle over parsley.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A few of our favourite things...

Miriam: I am loving the sweet 100's we planted in the garden back in November. They're perfect for salads or just snacking on. I was pretty happy with this harvest I got on Saturday.

Becs: To me nothing smells more like summer than fresh basil. While our basil patch hasn't taken off this year, our neighbour Jenny's has, and luckily she is happy to share. So our freezer has been restocked with ziplock bags of pesto.

Libby: The packaging of these Go Nutz corn chips makes them sound like a healthy snack... unfortunately they're not but are a tasty accompaniment to guacamole. And they actually taste like corn, not fake cheese!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

thursday baking - sultana, apple + bran muffins

When Dame Alison Holst prefixes a recipe with the statement 'don't worry about the appearance of these muffins' you know they aren't going to be pretty. True, they don't rise much and look a bit boring, but as she encourages don't let that put you off, as poshed up with the sultanas, apple and walnuts they are really delicious as well as a healthier baking option. (Which despite the cliche is I think appreciated at this time of year?!)

Having said that the glob of butter is by no means necessary as they are very moist anyway, but is rather nice melting into the warm muffin...I love a good bran muffin for morning or afternoon tea. Nice and filling and a healthy hit of fibre. I put the sugar down from 3/4 to 1/2c as find with the apple and sultanas they are sweet enough. They freeze well, so a freezer stash is super handy for weekday work/school lunches.

Sultana, apple and bran muffins - Alison Holst

1 c sultanas
1 egg
1/2 c yoghurt
1/2 c canola oil
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp salt
1 large apple, grated

1/2 c brown sugar
1 c bran
1 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 c walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

Heat oven to 200c. Measure sultanas into a small bowl cover with boiling water and leave to stand. Put the egg and the next 5 ingredients into a large bowl, beat with a fork to mix, then add the apple.

Drain sultanas, then add to the apple mix. Add the dry ingredients, making sure there are no lumps in the baking soda. Combine gently until the dry ingredients are just dampened. Spoon into sprayed muffin tins (I use cupcake cases too) and bake 12-15 minutes or until tops spring back when pressed lightly.
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