Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Maple-roasted oats & spiced prunes

Perhaps I am far too motivated by food but I find it much easier to get out of bed if I know there is something nice waiting to be eaten for breakfast. Make these roasted oats and spiced prunes over the weekend and you'll have the makings of a beautiful breakfast you'll want to get our of bed for on Monday!

The oats are based on a recipe from the beautiful Modern Pantry cookbook for "Honey-roasted oats, seeds and nuts"with a few minor tweaks. "Honey-roasted oats, seeds and nuts" is really just a pretentious name for muesli but whatever you want to call it, it makes a delicious start to the day. I came very close to eating at the Modern Pantry on almost exactly this day last year. I made it as far as the front door... just as they were closing early for a bank holiday. Disappointing but a good reason to make another trip to London one day.

The recipe below is as I made it - with maple syrup instead of honey and rice bran oil instead of extra virgin olive oil. I did intend to make honey-roasted oats, seeds and nuts as per the recipe but after scraping together 75 grams of honey from various sources I proceeded turn it into a toffee-ish mass by heating it for too long with the oil and sugar. I started again using real maple syrup and it was lovely.

Feel free to use EVOO if you prefer, I just thought it odd to use a distinctive flavoured (and expensive) oil in a muesli so I used the more neutral-flavoured (and cheaper) rice bran. And change the mix of nuts and seeds to suit what you have in the cupboard and like to eat.

Maple-roasted oats, nuts and seeds
Adapted from Anna Hansen's The Modern Pantry

75g maple syrup
60mls rice bran oil
40g brown sugar
250g rolled oats
250g jumbo oats
50g coconut threads
75g hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and lightly crushed
140g pumpkin seeds
140g sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds
1 Tbsp white sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius.

Gently heat maple syrup, sugar and oil in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool. Mix the oats, seeds and nuts together in a bowl and pour over the syrup mixture. Stir thoroughly.

Divide the mixture between two baking-paper lined trays and spread evenly. Bake for 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture is golden, remove from the oven and leave to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Now for the best part... the tea-soaked spiced prunes!

Becs starting making these prunes after we enjoyed Nikau's gorgeous tea-soaked prunes a few weeks ago. They're not quite the same but we think they're equally good. And we're not the only ones who think so. Becs has been serving these up to lots of fellow prune-lovers on Saturday mornings at her Posh Porridge stall the Christchurch Farmers Market.

This method of preparing prunes comes from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat (she called them "muskily spiced prunes"). It's such a delicious treatment for prunes - the prunes become more tender and the liquid more syrupy with each day. After three or four days of steeping in the sweet, spicy syrup the prunes absolutely explode with deliciousness as you eat them. When I was at high school I worked in a kitchen at a rest home on a Saturday morning. One of my jobs was to "mouli" up prunes in an industrial food processor and divide it into little silver dishes for residents. If I ever reach a stage in life where I need my prunes "mouli-ed" I would like them to receive this treatment first please.

You could change the tea you use for a subtle variation. I use English breakfast because that's all I have but the original recipe calls for Earl Grey which would lend a floral, fragrant flavour. I might try a mix of English breakfast and lapsang souchong sometimes for a little smokiness.

Marsala is the perfect addition to the syrup - sweet and lightly spiced but not so alcoholic it burns your throat on the way down. Important if you're going to be consuming these prunes for breakfast! But in saying that, don't feel limited to eating these prunes at breakfast time - they'd also be lovely for dessert with something like rice pudding or homemade custard.

Spiced prunes
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat

500ml tea (I use English breakfast)
150ml Marsala
100g brown sugar
Zest of one orange
1 clove
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
250g prunes

Put the tea, Marsala, sugar and spices into a saucepan. Peel the zest from the orange with a potato peeler in one long piece and add. Bring to a boil and add the prunes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow the prunes to poach for 20 minutes.

Once cooled remove the orange zest and spices and store in the fridge.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A few of our favourite things

A couple of favourite my things this week actually... with Becs in Australia & Miriam in South America it's just me here and I have two new (to me) food discoveries to share with you.

The first is Bliss Banana Caramel yoghurt made by Cyclops. I thought I was really onto something when I found this in the chiller at Thorndon New World. I love Cyclops banana yoghurt (the one with the yoghurt on the bottom and fruit on the top) but it's really hard to find. This takes it one step further and adds caramel to the banana-fruity part for extra deliciousness. The label says it contains "7 serves of happiness" and I completely agree. It is so SO good. With great excitement after my first mouthful, I called my sisters to tell share this amazing discovery... only to find they'd already tried it. Perhaps you have too? If not, get some but don't share it - it's too delicious!

With the beautiful weather we had in Wellington over the weekend it feels like spring is well and truly on its way. This Aroha tart rhubarb cordial is the perfect, refreshing drink for this time of year. I like a dash in soda water, just enough to blush it pink, with lots of mint and ice. Also good with a splash of gin. Bring on summer!

Monday, August 22, 2011

a few of our favourite things

Miriam: Sometimes I am slow to jump on bandwagons. One such example is the puffer vest. Perhaps it was vanity that previously saw me resist purchasing something that instantly adds two dress sizes to ones silhouete. But having had Becs preach the wonders of them to me for years, I caved this winter and purchased a Macpac puffer vest. And there´s been no looking back. From the moment of purchase, it became a wardrobe staple. When an item of clothing can be so snug and warm, who cares what one looks like. The puffer has proved invaluable in South America. Folding up into a little bag (like the kind sleeping bags come with) it takes up next to no room; not that it´s often packed away. Instead, it´s been worn nearly every day, and was particularly useful while trekking in the Andes where the temperatures were often below zero. Here´s a photo of Lewi and me in our puffer glory. Although at this stage I only own a vest, I am contemplating adding the sleeved variety to my wardrobe also.

Libby: I've often bought these beautiful Bohemien chocolates as gifts for work-related purposes - you can go to one of their stores (Hataitai or CBD) and choose them one-by-one or look online and email your request. Such a lovely product and so elegantly presented they are always well received. A perfect little gift to give... or just keep and eat yourself! On Saturday I chose a little selection to bring home and share. These chocolates are delicious! So fresh, with gorgeous fillings and that perfect "snap" when you bite into them. You don't have to buy a full box - you can just buy a single chocolate if that's all you feel like. But trust me you won't want to stop at one!

Becs: I spent yesterday reorganising some of the stacks of books and magazines that seem to pile up on my desk, with the help of this new pine cube shelf from Target. I have purchased some plywood beer crates from Trademe to put in the bottom cubes to contain more of the messier 'stuff'. Never could I be called a minimalist...I will enjoy my serene workspace while it lasts!

Monday, August 15, 2011

a few of our favourite things...

Miriam: I've been in Peru for a couple of weeks now and I must say that in general the food has been very disappointing, often bland starch accompanied by miscellaneous meat and far too much salt. However, we're slowly discovering some wee gems, like these empanadas, fresh from a pizza oven in a wee back alley operation in the town of Pisac. Filled with cheese, tomato and olives they were just perfectly fresh and well balanced. We went back for seconds.

Sadly, the coffee in Peru is a world away from the flat whites i'm used to in NZ. It's pretty standard to order cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and be presented with some hot water, a sachet of Nescafe and a jug of milk. I think I'm better sticking with coca tea (used to help with altitude sickness) or this delicious 'happiness tea' at one of my now favourite cafes, Grande Heidi in Cusco.

Becs: I missed Downton Abbey when it screened on TV earlier this year, but after hearing so much raving about it I decided to buy the DVD and have a Downton marathon. I loved it! Pretty dresses, scenery, intriguing storylines and scheming galore, I can't wait for series two to be released.

Libby: The Meyer lemons in the shops at the moment are just lovely - bright yellow and so juicy. I had a go at preserving some this weekend. I packed sterilised jars with coarse salt and lemons (quartered nearly all the way through) and topped up with lemon juice and a little boiling water. I was amazed at how many lemons I could squeeze into a jar! Now they have to sit for a month - fingers crossed they work. {Lurking in the background is my LEAST favourite thing for the week - failed one-bowl-banana-bread that's missing one vital ingredient: sugar! I halved the recipe, but somehow managed to delete the sugar altogether...}

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A very delicious day in Wellington

Becs came up to Wellington for a quick mid-week visit and no opportunity to eat was wasted. We had a carefully itinerary planned which included some of our old favourites and a couple of new places Becs had yet to try.

We started the day at Nikau at the City Art Gallery. We love this place. The food is always outstanding - simple but delicious, and the service so welcoming. On this occasion we both ordered the porridge with tea-soaked prunes and toasted hazelnuts. How could we not?! I adore prunes and Becs always orders porridge in the name of "research" for her Posh Porridge stall at the Christchurch Farmers Market.

Some may scoff at ordering porridge when out for breakfast but Nikau's porridge is nothing like the porridge you eat at home (unless you're Becs). The porridge was perfect in every way. The oats were lovely and creamy, and the prunes plump and delicious from soaking in tea. We enjoyed our porridge with the lightest drizzle of cream. I also added a spoonful of brown sugar from the sweet little jar you help yourself to, though I probably didn't need to as the prunes offered enough sweetness. I just couldn't help myself as I just love the way brown sugar turns into instant caramel sauce on hot porridge.

We went to Nikau hoping to take away one of their delicious bombolone and we weren't the only ones: while we were at Nikau two other customers had asked after them. We must have let our disappointment show as we were kindly given a coconut bun by co-owner Paul when we paid the bill. Such a nice touch. And such a delicious wee bun! A light brioche-like dough rolled with orange zest and coconut milk. Highly recommended for days when bombolone aren't available.

After doing a round of Moore Wilsons we headed out to Cafe Polo in Miramar for lunch. Cafe Polo is participating in Wellington on a Plate and offering both a set menu and an entry in the Burger Wellington competition. I went with the burger and Becs the set menu. The burger was enormous filled with hummus, beetroot, toasted walnuts, two delicious Zany Zeus goats cheese patties and salad. It was served with the most amazing truffled fries - these fries alone are worth the trip out to Miramar.

For more on Cafe Polo's burger, keep an eye on Delaney's 17 days 17 dates: we spotted her dining with the charming James Nesbitt. Lucky girl!

Becs went with the fork tender beef shin from the Wellington on a plate set menu...

... followed by the apple tart - a beautiful tart tartin with translucent caramelised apples atop flaky pastry. The tart was served with a delicious pohutukawa honey ice cream. Such a lovely finish to our meal - it worked out at three perfect mouthfuls each.

We popped back into town for a look in the shops and while up the Cuba Street end we stopped off at Floriditas for coffee and shared this delightful Portuguese custard tart... don't you love how the plate matches the tart?!

Last stop for the day was La Boca Loca in Miramar. The place was just bustling - we arrived early at around 6.30pm to secure a spot as we hadn't booked and shortly after it was packed. Fantastic to see places so busy on a Tuesday night in winter. La Boca Loca take bookings for tables but leave the bar and window spots free for walk-ins. Such a great strategy. Should you arrive and there's no space they'll kindly take your number so you can pop down to the lovely bar at the Roxy cinema a few doors down and call you when a space becomes available. Love that kind of service.

We ordered corn chips with housemade salsa ranchera, guacamole and chipotle mayo; refired beans with chorizo, enchiladas de pollo and tacos de puerco. Our favourite was the taco de puerco - soft corn tacos filled with pulled pork shoulder with a pineapple and salsa.

A pre-airport glass of wine at Coco at the Roxy was also on the list but we had to reconsider this dinner as we simply didn't have room! Instead we admired the beautifully refurbished cinema and perused Coco's menu for future visits.

A lovely wee day indeed.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A few of our favourite things

Libby: My favourite baguettes in Wellington come from Le Moulin Bakery. Le Moulin is located in an awkward one-way part of Willis Street and I don't often find myself walking past these days so I was delighted to find their baguettes can be bought from Dunshea's Deli (a delight in itself) only 20 minutes walk away. These baguettes have a deliciously crispy, almost flaky crust and a soft, slightly chewy crumb. Most importantly, these baguettes are easy to eat. Perhaps a little too easy... this one was enjoyed for breakfast with butter and raspberry jam.

Becs: I am currently addicted to this amazing cannellini bean dip and have made it several times in the last week alone.  I found the original recipe a little heavy on the evoo and garlic so added another tin of beans to 'dilute' it which was perfect as it also made more for me to eat! So I suggest you play around to suit yourself. I have also successfully added a dollop of greek yoghurt which adds a nice tang to it.  It is SO delicous on crisp little crackers or sliced carrots, and incredibly moreish.

Daisy has recently been introduced to the joys of homemade playdough,  an activity she took very seriously indeed!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A winter salad

This salad is for anyone who wants feels like a mid-winter raw vege hit but doesn't want to pay $8 for a squidgy red capsicum and its out-of-season friends. (Yes, capsicums are roughly $8 a piece at the moment, I don't know this because I bought one myself but because I know someone who actually paid $8 for a single capsicum last week.)

I was inspired to make mayonnaise after reading this post here on the Kitchenmaid blog which has lots of fabulous DIY recipes for the kind of things you'd usually buy - bread, tahini, mayo etc. Once I had my mayonnaise made I needed a use for it so added a little smoked paprika and thinned it down with the juice of half a lemon and used it as a dressing for this red cabbage, carrot & spinach salad.

This salad is a lot like one we make with red cabbage, apple & celery with smokey mayo (from Dunedin-based cook/food writer/tour guide Judith Cullen) but with spinach and carrot instead of celery and apple. You could add a julienned green apple to my version below if you want a little sweetness.

I guess it's more a "coleslaw" that a salad but I'm calling it a salad as I can't stand the word coleslaw. Especially when it's mispronounced "coldslaw"! Either way, it just doesn't sound like something I want to eat. But salad, especially this salad, I do want to eat. And have done so for the last two nights.

The quantity below would make a big bowlful - enough for 6-8 servings - and use the entire amount of mayonnaise. Adjust as necessary to feed the number of people at your table.

Red cabbage, carrot & spinach salad with smokey mayo
1/2 red cabbage, very finely shredded
1 bag baby spinach
2 large carrots, julienned (or grated)
2-4 tablespoons finely chopped mint and/or flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

1 quantity of mayonnaise with 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika & juice of 1/2 a lemon whisked in.

Toss the finely shredded cabbage, spinach & cabbage in a large bowl. Mix though the smokey mayo, just half at first and then add a spoonful at a time until the vegetables are lightly coated. Save a little to dollop on top if you like. Sprinkle over the walnuts and serve.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A few of our favourite things...

Becs: I have long enjoyed Moutere Gold's preserves - they truly seem homemade. Theirs are contemporary but delicious fruit combinations, rather than the wacky flavours that some preserve makers seem set on. Until recently I have only seen their products in specialty stores, but was pleasantly surprised to see this divine blackcurrant and vanilla bean jam at Merivale Fresh Choice supermarket for around $7. The only occasion I eat jam is when it is on a freshly baked scone with cream, and this one did an admirable job - I just loved it.

Libby: Mum came up to Wellington for a short visit last week so I took an afternoon off work and we went to one of my favourite cafes for lunch: Nikau. It has a short, simple menu and everything on it sounds delicious. A lady at the next table had the sage eggs I'd watched the chef Kelda make with Julie Le Clerc on Cafe Secrets. They looked ever better than on television so I went with those. I always like to have a good nosy at what other diners have in front of them to help me decide what to order!
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