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.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

meatloaf with lamb, mint and honey

I can't resist a second-hand bookshop, and when in Melbourne recently I happily picked up a copy of Belinda Jeffery's book Tried and True. Her books are hard to find in NZ, and always full of reliably delicious recipes.  These Middle Eastern-style meatloaves have been post-it marked from the first browse, and were rather fantastic. 

The sweet/sour topping of lemon juice, honey and crunchy almonds added at the final stages of cooking is inspired. It also goes without saying that it performs the miraculous task of aesthetically enhancing the finished meatloaf! I definitely suggest you make two as they are a bit of a fiddle prep-wise, so a double yield makes it thoroughly worth it. I can't wait to have leftovers tomorrow in a sandwich, and they would be a perfect addition to a picnic lunch. 

We ate the loaf with a hot mezze hummus recipe I have also been wanting to try (interesting and worth a try, but the high yoghurt content meant the texture cooked out a bit like an over-baked custard, I think I prefer hummus more sloppy...) The base hummus recipe was excellent though - I love yoghurt in hummus - and the crunchy, buttery topping of sesame seeds, sumac and almonds was delicious, so next time I make hummus I will make this to pour over.  We also ate an eggplant, feta and walnut tabbouleh, and a broad bean, asparagus and pea salad with herbs from the fabulous Black Dog Cottage book.

middle eastern lamb loaves with mint and honey - makes 2 large loaves

50 ml olive oil
3 large onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1/2 tin diced tomatoes
3 tsp seasalt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 c diced dates
1/2 c tomato paste
1/2 c honey
1/3 c white wine vinegar
1/2 c parsley, finely chopped
1/2 c mint, finely shredded
1 kg lamb mince
2 c fresh breadcrumbs, lightly packed
2 eggs, lightly beaten


2 tbsp honey
2 tsp lemon juice
1/3 c chopped almonds
roughly chopped parsley  

Heat oil in a large heavy pan and cook onion, garlic and ginger until soft and pale gold.  Add tomatoes, salt, spices, dates, tom paste, honey and vinegar and increase heat; let the mix bubble away until it thickens.  Cool thoroughly.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Press into 2 x paper-lined loaf tins, and bake loaves at 180c for an hour.  Heat the topping ingredient together and pour over the meatloaves, bake a further 10-15 minutes until the nuts are golden.  Cool for at least 20 minutes,scatter with the chopped parsley before serving.

hot mezze hummus -  adapted from Scent of the Monsoon Winds by Michal Haines

1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 c olive oil
finely grated zest and juiceof 2 lemons
2 tbsp tahinin
200ml thick greek-style yoghurt
1 clove garlic, finely chopped*
2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c chopped almonds or pinenuts
2 tsp sesame seeds
20g butter
1 tbsp ground sumac
evoo and lemon juice to serve

In a food processor puree the chickpeas with the yoghurt, garlic, spices, salt and pepper.  Spread into a shallow oven-proof dish.  Toast the nuts and seeds in a dry pan, add the butter to melt.  Add the sumac, then pour over the hummus.  Bale at 200c for 15 minutes.  Drizzle with evoo and squeeze over lemon juice to serve.

* I just noticed while typing that the original recipe had 4 cloves of roasted garlic, I will definitely try this next time

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

West Coast connection

Today is two years since Becs' husband Mike 'The Culinary Master' tragically died.

Becs and Mike used to live is Hokitika on the West Coast. Before they moved we thought there was nowhere worse in the world to live than Hokitika. However Becs managed to embrace The Coast and the culinary delights on offer. One such delight was whitebait. Here's a photo of Mike whipping up a batch of whitebait fritters.

I decided to make whitebait fritters when I had some friends round for dinner on Saturday night. Unlike when Becs could buy fresh whitebait at the Hokitika dairy, I went to four different shops before finding some in the frozen section at New World. I tried to turn a blind eye to the fact that my whitebait came from Indonesia and made them as described by Becs here on her old blog West Coast Kitchen.

I'm sure my fritters paled in comparison to the ones Becs and Mike used to make, but they were all gobbled up none the less. The men were particularly thrilled that they were permitted to eat them while drinking beer in front of the rugby. I think Mike would have approved.

Monday, September 19, 2011

a few of our favourite things

(Photo from

Becs: It has been a week of top-notch, old-fashioned home baking for me. Daisy and I attended a new music group at a local church, where the lovely ladies of the parish baked up a storm for the morning tea that followed. We were waited on hand and foot - my cup of tea was accompanied by the most delicious scones I have ever eaten, citrus slice and hokey poky biscuits. Old-school baking at its best.

On Friday as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival we went to listen to racontuer Richard Till at 'Filling the Tins' - a reflection on the tradition and importance of home baking in NZ. Entry was by bringing a plate of your own baking to be shared afterwards, and what an array it was - including the best afghans I have tasted. Richard shared lots of amusing tales as well as a sample of his apparently immense vintage teatowel and recipe book collection. I took along some of Nigel Slater's gingerbread.

Miriam: I've never been one for crosswords (I think due to lack of success), but I have a new favourite game in the puzzle section of the Sunday Star-Times. My BF Mike and I have spent more time that I care to quantify trying to create as many words as we can with the given letters. I don't know how anyone could get more that 60+ words... I consider success as reaching the 'OK' category.

Libby: I am very loyal to the Agria potato and I rarely buy any other variety as it usually results in disappointment. Agrias are best known for being good for baking and roasting but they're also incredible when "new" - all little and knobbly with creamy, flavoursome flesh. Anyway, the spuds pictured above are actually of the Ilam Hardy variety. Being so loyal to the Agria I nearly passed these little dirt-encrusted beauties by but I'm pleased I gave them a go... boiled until tender then buttered, salted and peppered these were a delicious taste of spring! If you see them in the shops pick the smallest ones so you can boil them whole, more work to scrub but so worth the effort.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Little chocolate, orange & hazelnut cakes

There's a lot to like about these little cakes. Most importantly they're chocolately and delicious. They're also very simple to make as all the ingredients are whizzed together in the food processor. And they're lovely to look at with their pretty sprinkle of candied orange zest.

This recipe also just happens to be gluten-free so it's perfect if entertaining gluten-free guests as everyone can enjoy these little cakes together. I love recipes that fit particular dietary requirements without having to be adapted.

The candied orange peel isn't essential but is simple to make and looks so pretty. It also adds a nice little crunch. The method for the candied zest makes more than you'll need for these cakes but keeps well in the pantry for a few months, ready for when the urge to make these delightful little cakes strikes again.

For eight little cakes...
1 thin-skinned navel orange
2 eggs
125g caster sugar
100g ground hazelnuts
25g cocoa
1/2 generous tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda

Place the orange in a pot of water and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for one until (until tender). Drain and leave to cool. (I try and do this the night before.)

Once the orange is cool, slice into quarters, remove any large pips and the "navel" and place in the food processor bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and run until just combined. You want the mixture to be flecked with pureed orange.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease 8 cups of a muffin tray. Place a small circle of baking paper in the base of each muffin cup (it's worth taking the time to do this to avoid the inevitable heartache when it's time to remove the little cakes from the tin).

Fill each muffin cup, just to the top and place the tray in the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes. A skewer should come out almost clean when inserted into the centre of a little cake.

Leave to cool completely in the tins then carefully remove and place, inverted, on a cooling rack.

If you'd like to make you cakes extra-special make candied orange zest while the cakes are baking. A citrus zester makes life easy but if you don't have a zester, peel the skin finely leaving the white pith on the orange and slice into very thin strips.

For candied orange zest...

Zest of one orange
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 caster sugar (extra)

Place the orange zest in a small sauce pan, cover with boiling water, bring back to the boil then drain. Place the zest back in the pan and repeat twice.

Return the zest to the pan and add the water and the first measure of sugar. Bring up to a gently simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain the zest and discard the syrup. Place the second measure of syrup into a shallow bowl and tip in the zest. Shake to coat and then discard the excess sugar. Any unused candied zest will keep for a couple of months in the pantry in an airtight container.

Now make the ganache.

Chocolate ganache...
100g good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped (I love Whittakers Ghana dark 72%)
100ml cream

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until almost boiling. Remove from heat and add the finely chopped chocolate. Leave to sit for two to three minutes. Stir gently until the cream and chocolate are just combined. Don't overmix or your ganache may split, leaving you with an oily mess that can't be saved. Leave to cool for 20-30 minutes to thicken.

Once the ganache is cool, spoon over a generous amount of ganache - you want it to run down the side a little. Decorate with a few sprinkle of candied orange zest.

Serve with a spoonful of softly whipped cream.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

South American food highlights

One of my favourite things about travelling is the food. During my 5 week holiday in South America there certainly were some food highlights (there were also some low-lights, including a few that came back to haunt me hours later). I was surprised to find a strong Italian and Mexican influence on the food. Below are some of my favourite foods...

'Pumpkins with something from the vegetables garden and cow-cheese' at our favourite Buenos Aires restaurant, Mott. This salad was so delicious we went back the next day for a second helping.

Lovely delicate pumpkin and sage ravioli at Cluny in Buenos Aires. A three course meal here, including breads, bottled water and wine cost us the equivalent of about $25 New Zealand.

Lemon meringue pie seemed to be the most common desert in South America; this one was particularly good, with the base and curd just melting into each other.

Of course the South Americans are big on steak... we often struggled to get through the massive servings of meat.

We stayed at a great place La Loge in La Paz, Bolivia. After befriending the French chef Frank we were looked after very well, treating us to their famous chocolate mousse. We were pretty impressed that Frank took us out to the discotech till 2am, and then was back at work making us pancakes for breakfast at 8am.

We enjoyed local cheeses with quinoa crackers along with a duck carpaccio and orange salad at El Consulado in La Paz.

Also at El Consulado, I had this pink drink, which from my interpretation was made with Frangipanis. Rather than floral flavours, it was more grape-like, but whatever it was, it was delicious!

We were served this tofu fried rice on a boat ride in Peru's Amazon Basin. There's something pretty special about food coming wrapped in a banana leaf, and even better, when your done you can just throw the packaging overboard.

I've already written about our 'base' in Cusco Granja Heidi. But it deserved another mention as everything we ate there was perfect. We especially enjoyed this mulled wine. There's nothing quite like mulled wine when your body's tired from trekking and it's cold outside!

After eating out for every meal for several weeks one starts to crave a home cooked meal (probably for me it's not just the taste, but also the process of cooking). We had a lovely couple of days at an eco lodge in Coroico in Bolivia. And with our own outdoor kitchen we were able to whip up a pasta dish with local market produce.

And perhaps one of my fondest food memories was from the supermarket in La Paz. I have always had a fondness for foreign supermarkets and we were lucky enough to visit this one on their 24th birthday. It was all go with party tables all over the shop (check out the swan sculpture near the back of the table) and entertainment with singers, dancers and a 7 person mariachi band. I don't quite know how they will top it for their 25th birthday!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

blueberry and custard scones

Ever since seeing these berry and custard-filled scones on Lesley's blog eat, etc they have been on my hit-list.  We have had builders in completing some renovations, and this was one of the baked goods that was served up for their morning tea (don't you love an excuse to bake excessively...)  I changed the original recipe from dried cranberries to blueberries, as we didn't have any craisins, plus I just love the combination of blueberry and custard.  I used frozen berries that I heated with a squeeze of lemon juice and then thickened with a little custard powder so it wouldn't be too wet a filling.

These scones are beautiful.  A sweet take on my favourite potato scone recipe, where the scone dough is richer than normal and bordering on pastry, so they have a lovely flakily crisp crust. I was unsure if I needed to ice them but it really does make them - so I suggest you do.

Next time I will try Lesley's cranberry version - I also think they would be superb with custard's best friend rhubarb.

blueberry and custard scones - makes 12

1 c blueberries
squeeze lemon
1 tsp custard powder mixed to a slurry with a little water
3 cups standard flour
3 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 pinch salt
200g butter, diced or grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups custard (make custard following packet directions)

Preheat oven to 220°C.

Place blueberries in a saucepan, if frozen cook til defrosted, add custard powder and cook til thick. Make custard following packet directions  and leave to cool.
Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl. Rub in the butter until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add enough milk to form a soft, but not sticky, dough – use a palette knife to bring the mixture together. Roll dough into a large rectangle and cut in half. Brush both halves with the beaten egg.

Spread the custard over one half of the dough and dollop over the berry mix. Place the other half of the dough on top. Brush the top with beaten egg. Cut into 12 pieces, place on a lined baking tray and bake for 20-30 minutes.

When cooled slightly but still warm, drizzle the scones with a thin icing -  I spiked mine with a squeeze of lemon.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A few of our favourite things...

Becs: Is there a more perfectly fragrant flower than daphne? (Although freesias come a close second). My husband Mike loved it too, and used to pick sprigs of it to dot around the house, so now I love that it reminds me of him. I have both pink and white daphne plants, both in pots. They are easy enough to look after - keep them somewhere with a bit of shade - so if your home is daphneless I suggest a visit to the nursery.

Libby: Wellingtonians might have seen the Wellington book in local bookstores - it's a book of beautiful illustrations of all things Wellington by two very talented young artists. I bought a couple of prints from the website - this cute Mt Vic tunnel one and the other an "aerial view" of Wellington. I had them framed by Framing Online which is based in Kumeu. They offer such great service - really prompt and so accommodating of special requests. You just order the frame you want online, post off your prints and it arrives back (beautifully framed and carefully wrapped) a week later. Like a great big present to yourself!

Miriam: I'm really enjoying these blue peas from the Wright Sprouts. They're a good way to add a healthy crunch to salads, especially at this time of year when one starts to feel like salads but the fresh produce often isn't that good yet. They are also delicious when used as a base for pesto; you can find the recipe here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Noosa 2011

Daisy and I are just back from a trip to Noosa with family and friends. We had a lovely week of sunshine and swimming, and here are a few of the food-related highlights...

The crate of strawberries above was a bargain buy at the incredible Noosa Farmers Market, which is held every Sunday morning. Such is my enthusiasm that I paid two visits, the second top-up trip being just prior to closing time at 12pm - hence the huge strawberry box being purchased for just $10.

Other market favourites include the Suncoast Limes stall below - they make the loveliest lime cordial - topped up with sparkling water (and a dash of gin or vodka if that's your thing) this is deliciously refreshing.

Also worth hunting out is the Slow-rise Wood-fired Bakery stall who make beautiful bread, great value paper bags of muesli packed full of local fruits and nuts, as well as an array of spelt-based baking. Their chocolate macadamia cookies are divine, as are the flourless chocolate, orange and hazelnut cakes.

(image via)
Noosa isn't overly endowed with high quality dining establishments, but I had heard mentions of Wasabi from various sources, and we had a great meal there. Top-end contemporary Japanese, and a world away from your usual cheap and cheerful sushi joint. We loved the tempura crumbed inside-out sushi with tiger prawns, mango and coriander. Other highlights included the sashimi style hiramasa kingfish with toasted sesame, ginger chips and ponzu (pictured below) and the almost too beautiful to eat tempura zucchini flowers with ocean trout and scallop stuffing. Interestingly no wasabi appeared anywhere on our meals?! Recommended for a special dinner.

At the other end of the dining spectrum we enjoyed lunch on the sunny deck of the perfectly positioned Noosa Surf Club. Anna and I shared a bowl of calamari and 'diamond' chips (very good!) accompanied by an ice-cold Buderim ginger beer brewed just thirty minutes away.

Daisy was introduced to the 'babycinno' (known in NZ as a fluffy) and by the end of the week proved herself a pro with an espresso cup. We sifted out the best baby cap location at Amo Gelato Caffe in Noosaville, where not only the obligatory marshmallow but also a pair of tiny teddies are provided as baby beverage accompaniments. Luckily Amo also served some of the best coffee we had in Noosa, using the locally roasted Costa Noosa beans. Excellent coffee was also to be had at Hard Coffee on Hastings St in the unlikely location of the foodcourt.

For more of our favourite things in Noosa check out Miriam's write-up from last year's visit. To update - Lamington design store is still full of lovely things, but sadly they currently don't offer their amazing gift-wrapped lamingtons as the bakery supplying them has changed hands, however they are on the lookout for a new supplier. Nutworks is still worth a visit - I bought 1kg of macadamia chips for $17 - perfect for porridge topping and baking. Claude's Food at the Eumundi Market still makes delicious rice pudding!

Monday, September 5, 2011

a few of our favourite things...

Miriam: HOME! On Saturday I returned home after a great 5 weeks spent in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. I'll write about some of the culinary highlights in the next few days, but for now, my favourite thing is home. With the sun shining, lovely friends, family and a boyfriend happy to get out of bed at 4am to greet me off the plane, life in New Zealand is pretty good. Our friends organised this a delicious 'welcome home' lunch for Lewi and me, with many of the ingredients coming from my favourite food shop Nosh. Oh it's good to be back!

Libby: Aunty Von's lemon honey taste so close to homemade you could transfer it into a little dish and serve it up alongside freshly baked scones and pass it off as your own. The ingredients list is surprisingly brief for a commercial product: eggs, butter, sugar, lemon sugar and a little pectin. I love it on pikelets, scones and crumpets, folded through whipped cream and used to sandwich meringues (in which case I would make actual homemade lemon curd with the leftover egg yolks) or as I did on Sunday.... baked inside a crunchy lemon muffin.
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