Thursday, 22 November 2012

Kumara with Fish, Coconut & Curry Leaves

Although I prefer vegetarian, I'll happily eat small amounts of meat at times, particularly fish and seafood; the curry below is one where the fish takes a back seat in the dish but interesting textures and flavours shine through. I really wanted to create something using curry leaves, which I've used before, in a tamarind and prune chutney I developed (puliyini); I thought it would be interesting to use them more now that they're available fresh and cheaply from Indian food stockists. Not to be confused with the spice, or the herb of the same name of course. 
Because curry leaves have quite a soft texture they don't have to be discarded from the dish when cooked - apparently they're good for digestion as well as a few other ailments, and the texture isn't at all unpleasant (see note below for more information).

 Kumara with Fish, Coconut & Curry Leaves

The star of this dish is the kumara (sweet potato) and the curry leaves, not the relatively small quantity of fish. It does add to the balance of the dish however, without taking over.
Serves  4, or 6 if served with other curries.
*Curry leaves don’t taste anything like the spice of the same name; in fact they are from a tree belonging to the citrus family and have a mildly citrus, nutty flavour when fried in oil. There is no need to discard them when cooked as they contain medicinal properties and are not at all unpleasant in texture. As you would expect, fresh leaves are much more flavourful than dried.

500g red kumara
¾ cup loosely packed curry leaves*
¼ cup oil
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
 ½ - ¾ tsp chilli powder
  or 1 x 5cm long red chilli, seeded and chopped finely
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garum masala
1 ½ cups vegetable, fish or chicken stock (or water)
¼ cup tamarind paste
1 x 400g tin coconut cream
1 ½ tsp salt or to taste, & coarsely ground black pepper
1 red capsicum, seeded and diced
1 firm but ripe banana, peeled and diced 2cm
200 - 300g firm white fish fillet, diced 3cm
fresh coriander for garnish

Peel the kumara, cut into 2cm dice, and set aside. Strip the curry leaves from their stalks and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large frypan over medium-high heat, and stir in the mustard seeds. Cook until the seeds start to ‘pop’, then reduce heat immediately and stir in the curry leaves, cumin seeds, ginger, chilli powder or chilli, turmeric and garum masala.
Stir in the diced kumara then the water, and cook for five minutes, stirring.  Stir in the tamarind paste, coconut cream, salt, pepper and prepared red capsicum and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Stir in the banana and simmer another 15 minutes or until the kumara is tender but not mushy.
Stir in the prepared fish and cook through, three – four minutes.
Serve the curry with plain or brown steamed rice, chutneys, plain yoghurt, and warm chapatis if wished. Garnish with finely chopped coriander. 

Rhubarb and Strawberries

Okay, this is a bit of a cheat because the recipe's already been published in my 'Vegetarian Kitchen" cookbook, but it's just the right time of year for rhubarb and strawberries and it's such a favourite with all my family and friends. 
Not only does it taste so good, I really like that there is no precooking of either the fruit or the pastry required (basically, I'm a bit lazy  - unless there's a really compelling reason for doing something like pre-cooking pastry bases, like it'll be soggy, I don't do it).
Plum Kitchen's blog gave me a timely nudge - she's just made rhubarb and strawberry jam, which I must try! 

This pie is a star! Strawberries and rhubarb make great partners; that’s really all there is to be said. Guaranteed to win compliments, it’s especially quick to prepare if you use pre-rolled (frozen) pastry in the interests of convenience*.
 No pre-cooking of either fruit or pastry is required.
Serves 6-8. Suitable to freeze.
Most of us don’t want to do anything more with the first strawberry crops than eat them raw, perhaps with a little icing sugar and cream; it’s only when they’re at their cheapest and most plentiful that we cast around for sorbets, fools, coulis and pies.

2 sheets sweet shortcrust pastry
300g hulled strawberries
300g prepared rhubarb stalks
½ cup caster sugar
2 Tbsp cornflour
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp sugar

Pre heat oven to 220 C.
Lightly spray or grease a 25cm pie or quiche tin.
Use one of the thawed pastry sheets to line the prepared tin – you will probably need to trim a 5 cm strip of pastry off the second sheet and use to extend this so it covers the bottom and sides of the tin (wet one edge and press together).
Hull the strawberries and slice large berries into quarters, and medium sized into halves. Weigh both the berries and the rhubarb after preparation, as there is often some wastage that should be accounted for.
Using a sharp knife, slice the rhubarb thinly, discarding any stringy pieces as you go.
Place the prepared berries and rhubarb in a bowl and combine with the caster sugar, cornflour, nutmeg and zest.
Transfer the filling evenly into the prepared base, then cut the remaining pastry sheet into 7 strips. Use the strips to design a lattice top over the filling, then brush the strips with the milk, using a pastry brush, and sprinkle with the ordinary granulated sugar.
Place the pie in the pre- heated oven and bake at 220 C for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 200 C.
Cover the pie with a sheet of tin foil at this point to stop it browning too fast. Bake for a further 40-45 minutes, uncovering the pie for the last 10 minutes of cooking to ensure the top is an even golden brown.
Serve at room temperature or slightly warm, accompanied by vanilla ice cream or lightly whipped cream.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Good Time Xmas Meringues & Rhubarb Champagne

Each year I do a Xmas menu, but this year it's going to be shot at an interior designer's house instead of mine (yay!). My brief is different, too - simple but classy, and not too expensive. I've been planning and preparing some ideas to fit; obviously there aren't any hard and fast rules, but I do like the idea that Christmas dinner doesn't have to break the bank and that it doesn't have to be an enormous effort on the day.

First up, rhubarb champagne; something that oldies and even tots can enjoy, and if something stronger is needed, it's easy to add a dash of imagination to individual glasses.It's pink, fizzy, and looks expensive if served in an appropriate glass.

 Rhubarb is in season at the moment, so it's a great opportunity to make some ahead of time. I was just a wee bit worried that it's still a bit cool for the fermentation to happen within my time frame, but I needn't have worried - I just helped it along a little by putting it the linen cupboard with the hot water cylinder, and sure enough - 3 days fermenting with natural yeasts from the rhubarb and lemon, then strained and bottled, back for another 3 days and voila!

The photo hasn't come out quite as pink and gorgeous as it is in reality, but the 'champagne' does taste quite exotic. This recipe will be in my new book, but I have posted the recipe already - click here to go directly to the post titled  Rhubarb Champagne and Chocolate Beetroot Cake.

I've also been working on a very simple but great tasting entree of stuffed mushrooms en croute, then the main course will be a marinated sliced salmon dish and a spreadeagled chicken, both with a nod to Asian flavours, and some lovely salads and veg, of course. The dessert will be really, really simple; two different 'good time meringues' served with lots of fresh berries (all reds, black, purples and pink from watermelon balls) and softly whipped cream or creme fraiche.

A friend made some meringues with melted chococlate swirled through last summer, and I always meant to ask her for the recipe. However, I figured they can't be too difficult and they weren't; I just used my faithful old meringue recipe from 25 years ago, melted some chocolate and swirled it through at the last minute, then baked the meringues a bit longer than usual. They were scrumptious; I'm always a sucker for meringues, especially when they're crisp outside and marshmallow inside.

My lovely editor came up with the idea of teaming them with pink meringues, flavoured with a little rosewater and dried strawberries. I have to say, they were nice too, although the photo shows them before cooking. I wasn't too keen on using pink food colouring so on my first try I used freeze dried plum powder. Unfortunately the colour faded with cooking, though, so food colouring it will have to be. . .

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Pumpkin Ravioli with Rocket Sauce, Apple, Cranberry and Almond Cake and Baklava Twists

In Italy (Prato) last year I tasted a pumpkin ravioli with rocket sauce at one of the best restaurants we found; this restaurant happened to be famous for its barbecued beef fillet, but in the end I was convinced I'd chosen the best meal; delicious! I've made three attempts recently to get the rocket sauce just right, but wasn't totally happy with the first two. On the third try, though, I nailed it (subjective assessment of course).
It's always exciting to get where you want with flavours/textures, but of course I forgot to photograph the dish, didn't I ? Too much excitement . ..
I did photograph the Apple, Cranberry and Almond Cake  I came up with, though. I am rather pleased with it too (recipe below).

Apple, Cranberry and Almond Cake

                                                          Apple, Cranberry and Almond Cake 

A mix and stir cake, this one is moist and completely delicious in the dense, fruit- packed style that makes for a great dessert or coffee cake.  
Although the results will be slightly different, it really doesn’t seem to matter whether tart apples are used, like Granny Smiths or sweet, like Pacific Rose; this cake is a celebration of simplicity.
It isn’t necessary to peel the apples as they are sliced very thinly.

750g apples, cored and quartered
Finely grated zest & juice of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
1& 1/3 cups caster sugar
120g butter, melted and cooled
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ cup ground almonds
½ cup coconut cream or milk
¾ cup dried cranberries or raisins
1 cup flaked almonds
3 Tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Pre heat the oven to 170 C.
Grease or lightly spray a 24cm spring form cake tin.
Slice the cored and quartered apples thinly, into 6-8 slim wedges. Toss with the lemon juice and zest and set aside.
Whisk the eggs, vanilla paste and sugar together until pale and creamy.
Fold in the melted butter, sifted flour and baking powder, the ground almonds and the coconut cream.
Pour half the batter into the prepared caked tin. Evenly distribute all the cranberries over the batter, followed by half the apple slices and half the flaked almonds.
Repeat the batter, apple and almond layers.
Sprinkle the combined caster sugar and cinnamon evenly over the top of the cake and bake at 170 C for 60- 75 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake exits cleanly. Times may vary as the cooking times of apples differ.
Remove from the oven but cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out and cooling on a cake rack.
Serve with softly whipped cream, passionfruit yoghurt or crème fraiche.

Just to continue with the sweet theme, I also tried a slightly different take on baklava, making the flavours less sweet and buttery, more fruity (orange) as well as nutty (pistachio and walnut)  and had fun making individual baklava 'twists', which were very simple.

Gather one sheet of filo like a folded fan,
using both hands to slide it across your bench,
then roll up like a pinwheel

Got to get back to savoury things, but sweets are fun too, especially when I can offer what we can't eat to the neighbours - there's got to be some brownie points in that!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Queen of Comfort Rice (not that I'm competitive. . .)

Husband has always been a wee bit precious about his expertise in Asian cooking, but it is true, he's good. He also loves rice and would happily eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In fact, when he lived in Thailand a long time ago now, Thai people simply couldn't believe that any Westerner could eat as much rice as he can.

He particularly likes jasmine rice (apparently the best of it from Thailand is exported here and to other western countries) and he has more than a working knowledge of Asian condiments, sauces and herbs. So he has taught me a lot about the genre, there's no denying that.

As you might expect, I do most of the cooking but he has his special 'one pot' meals that almost always have as their base rice or noodles, Asian condiments and anything that needs using up in the 'frig. These dishes are always good, sometimes inspired, and believe me, I'm always grateful.

Truly I didn't mean to steal his thunder, but he was late home one night last week and I decided that fried rice was just what I felt like. So, armed with secret ingredient 'X' (he always uses it in fried rice) I set to.

Secret ingredient 'X'

The photo doesn't do it justice - it really was delicious, and even Russ said it was the best he'd tasted - rather grudgingly, of course, but actually I do think he was quite impressed.
The satay paste really is great in something like this; I'd love to hear from anyone else who knows it (or tries it) and find out what they think - see the introduction to the recipe

   Satay Fried Rice

Fried rice is the Asian version of bubble and squeak in terms of being a one-pot dish, using up left overs, and quick to cook. It’s also very much an Asian version of comfort food, with all that conjures up, and delicious.
Satay fried rice has been a staple in our family for thirty years or so, and everyone puts their own personal stamp on the dish. It always, however, contains what we regard as our secret weapon – satay paste (though it will still be delicious if you just add more of the other flavours). This paste is made from sesame seeds, peanuts, a little sugar and chilli, fish gravy, shallots and garlic, but none of these ingredients are identifiable*. It’s not hot, it’s readily available in 200g jars from any Asian food outlet, it’s very affordable, and it breathes magic into dishes such as fried rice.
Edamame beans are young soya beans, look and taste very similar to shelled broad beans and, again, are readily available frozen from any Asian food outlet.
Any cooked fish or meat can be used, or raw, peeled prawn tails, and although fried rice is a one-dish meal, it’s also very good served with shallow fried Chinese dumplings from the freezer. The rice for this dish is better cooked the previous day, or at least some hours before needed so it can be chilled and dry out a little.
*I use the Han River Bridge brand

2 cups jasmine rice, rinsed and drained several times in cold water
3 eggs, lightly beaten with a little salt and pepper
Neutral oil
3 Tbsp satay paste
4 portobello mushrooms
1 ½ cups frozen edamame beans or frozen peas, or a mix
3 Tbsp fish sauce
3-4 Tbsp soy sauce
½ - 1 cup leftover vegetables such as steamed broccoli florets
1 cup sliced cooked fish or meat
½ -2/3 cup mung bean sprouts
2 spring onions, sliced on a diagonal

Pre heat the oven to 190 C.
Place the well- rinsed and drained rice in a straight sided dish and add enough water to come 1.5cm above the level of the rice. Microwave, uncovered, for 20 minutes on high then fluff with a fork and cool or place in a saucepan and add water to come 1.5cm above the level of the rice. Bring to the boil, turn the heat to the lowest setting, cover and cook without lifting the lid, for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork and cool.
When the rice is cold, cover and refrigerate until needed.
Heat 3 Tbsp oil in a frypan, pour in the eggs and swirl into a flat omelette. Turn out and roll up, then cut on a diagonal into 1cm slices. Set aside.
Brush the mushrooms both sides with oil, season with salt and pepper to taste, then bake in the oven at 190 C for 12 – 15 minutes. Slice and set aside.
Heat 4 Tbsp oil (include any left from cooking the omelette) , and stir in the satay paste. Sauté until fragrant then stir in the rice and the frozen edamame beans and/or the peas, the fish sauce and the soy sauce.
Mix well and fry until hot. Stir in the leftover vegetables, the omelette, mushrooms and the fish or meat.
Heat thoroughly then sprinkle the mung bean sprouts on top and remove from the heat.  
Garnish with the spring onions.
Serve immediately in heated bowls or plates.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Saffron and Fish Chowder (recipe)

I offered to do a brief fact sheet on saffron for 'Stuff' through the NZ Food Writer's Guild, and decided to blog one of my recipes for using saffron here.
Saffron must be one of the more intriguing spices, and not only because it costs more than gold - it's like squid ink, a flavour and aroma that's as close to indescribable as you can get. The colour, of course, is intense and what I really love is that when you cook with it, your kitchen is filled with sunshine - sounds a bit wet, I know, but it's true.
It's great in rice and rice/lentil dishes, fish dishes, paella, couscous and tagines.
I've been spoilt with access to saffron, as a friend has been living in Qatar for several years and knows he could bring no better gift. I did try growing some autumn crocus bulbs myself, and the first year I collected the stamens from about 30 flowers, carefully dried them and then measured the yield, only to find I had less than a teaspoonful. Hmmmm. The next year, the crocuses came up but didn't flower at all. . .it seems that  the North Island is too warm for them, or at least doesn't have a cold enough winter; it's quite clear by now that I'm not going to have anywhere near the success that Central Otago has with growing this glorious spice.

                                                     Fish Chowder

Almost any fish can be used, but it is preferable to use a firm fleshed variety. If I have time I make my own fish stock  - otherwise I use a tetra pack of supermarket stock, or dashi. Dashi is made from dried bonito flakes and is a cheap alternative to the liquid stocks; it is also an excellent, quality instant stock.
Saffron is the must- have ingredient in this soup, and is not negotiable as far as I'm concerned–even a small pinch of this gorgeous spice will give any dish that distinctive sun colour, and elevate the flavour from the passable to the sublime. 
Sumac as a garnish for the chowder is optional, but this is an interesting spice that has a pleasantly tart, salty, lemon flavour and is typically used in Middle Eastern cuisines such as in Turkey, Syria and Iran. It’s often used as a seasoning on the table, as we would ordinary salt, but it is also used in cooking and in salads. It’s especially good with any fish or chicken dishes, but delicious too with beef or lamb and in salads. It is made from dried and ground sumac berries and is a deep red/brown colour.
Serves 4-6

3 Tbsp oil
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 large stick celery, diced
1 yellow or red capsicum, seeded and diced
large pinch (about ¾ tsp, loose packed) saffron threads, crushed
500g waxy potato (unpeeled weight)
2 Tbsp flour
2 ½ cups of unsalted fish stock  or 2 ½ cups water and 3 tsp dashi
1 cup coconut cream  - whole or lite
400-500g fresh fish fillet
1 ½ tsp salt or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
finely chopped fresh coriander for garnish
2 tsp sumac powder for garnish

 Slice the fish fillet into large dice.
Peel and cut the potato into small dice, about the size of your small fingernail.
Saute the garlic, onion, celery and capsicum over a low heat with the crushed saffron threads until the onion softens. Stir in the prepared potato and sprinkle the flour over, stirring, and cook for two or three minutes.
Stir in the fish stock.
Simmer, covered, until the potato is cooked, about 15 minutes.
Stir in the coconut cream, the salt and the pepper. When almost at simmer point, stir in the prepared fish fillets and allow the soup to come back to a simmer point.
Ladle into heated soup bowls. Garnish with coriander and the sumac and serve.
Hot crusty ciabatta rolls are a perfect accompaniment.


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Quick Preserved Lemons and Limoncello

Our citrus trees are so laden the branches are threatening to break, so I've been making preserved lemons and limes, some to give as gifts but most to have in my second pantry (how many people have two large pantries? My excuse is that I buy in bulk. .) in the garage so I always have them on hand. Increasingly I've been using them to flavour rice and lentil dishes, couscous, quinoa and other grain dishes - also fish, vegetable stews, casseroles and chopping them into quick dips or even soups.
Traditional preserved lemons (lots of rock salt, water, juice and a bit of olive oil) are good, but  I find that adding some sugar makes them more versatile and it's my favourite method, at least at the moment. I've also found that having to wait about 3 months before my efforts lose that 'raw' taste can be a bit frustrating when you haven't got any left from last year. The longer you can leave them the better, of course.
So - what to do? Well, I started wondering if I could short-cut the process. I made some incisions through the rind, from top to bottom, just to the flesh but no more. Then I boiled them with quite a lot of fine table salt for about 30 minutes, or until very soft. When they were cool I scooped the flesh from the rind and discarded it - then packed the rind into clean sterilised jars and covered them with a hot sugar/vinegar/salt mixture, with 1cm olive oil on top and left them for three days.. Already they taste very good, hardly distinguishable from the ones I've been waiting 3 months for! I might have something here. . .

The other thing of course is limoncello - I had 2 full bottles of duty free vodka ready to go but unfortunately the burglars got away with that, so had to re-stock. It's brewing away nicely now, always a talking point and of course a delicious aperitif. I don't like liqueurs that are syrupy sweet, so I've cut the sugar right back and am pleased with the results I've had for a few years now. You only need the rind (zest) of the lemons for this, but the juice can always be frozen or used to make other things like lemon 'curd' etc.
Looking forward to tasting the Kumquats, have made yet another double batch of Life's Too Short Marmalade and have promised myself I won't give any more away. . .

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Lime, Pumpkin & Ginger Cheesecake story, Cumquats and a great hot chutney/sauce

There are a couple of reasons I've been lying low for a few weeks; first one is that we were burgled six weeks ago, while we slept; although I suppose that's the one good thing about it all, really. At least no one was hurt.
The repercussions, however, have of course been rather painful, especially with the loss of my computer and with it a month's work on my 'Chutneys Pickles and More' book ( the deadline is end of August) and all the photos of our 6 months in France and Italy last year. Plus family photos and of course my mobile phone and with it my contact numbers. All very frustrating and upsetting, as other stuff can be replaced but not the work and photos.

There is some good news, though - 20 proofs from the new book are going to the Frankfurt Book Fair in September with the publisher, so that's great news and I've pretty much got those proofs covered. Carolyn Robertson has shot some wonderful photos for the book that are nearly all done now so we will get there!

The other reason is that cousin Erin was travelling this way to be a personal chef when he had a horrible road accident, ended up in Waikato hospital for 10 weeks and is now in rehab here. So there have been family staying with us for extended times and that will continue for a while as the limbs will take a long time to repair. So glad that we can help out by providing beds, meals and fill in some visiting gaps.

Erin and I talk quite a bit about food of course, and he mentioned a pumpkin cheesecake a couple of weeks ago, made in a restaurant he used to work for. He never made it himself, couldn't remember proportions or flavours, only that it contained pumpkin and eggs; and that the topping was toasted chopped pecan nuts mixed with pure maple syrup. Well. . .

Lime, Pumpkin and Ginger Cheesecake
with pure maple syrup
No sooner said than . . .
I love the challenge of creating something from just a description, a taste, a sight, or simply from imagining a combination of flavours or textures.

Not wanting a 'pumpkin pie' taste, an injection of other flavours appealed, although I liked the idea of using the pumpkin texture as a vehicle. What I've ended up with is a gingernut (or ginger flavoured biscuit) crust, a very nicely textured filling with lime juice and zest and glace ginger, and a nut topping drizzled with pure maple syrup. The pumpkin has to be either roasted or microwaved to avoid too much liquid, and the photo shows toasted flaked almonds rather than pecans, simply 'cos I didn't have pecans. Extra maple syrup is a nice treat, drizzled over the top.

I don't think my effort is much like the one Erin remembers, but we both liked the result - and it worked first time! It'll be published in the Waikato Times 'Lifestyle' mag sometime (I asked for a photographer after the first taste), but email me if you want the recipe.

Other news is that I've been in contact with an enterprising couple from Hawke's Bay, Diana and John, who own Mantell's orchard in Hastings. They are very particular about how and what they grow, and I can certainly vouch for the flavour of their produce - it's stunningly good. I was so impressed to hear they have undertaken to grow the entire national heritage apple collection, which would otherwise be lost (although they also grow commercial varieties). They have many varieties of French pears (including Seckle, a sweet 'baby' pear I've wanted to get my hands on for years) and apples, favourite as well as unusual citrus fruits, lots of different plums including greengages and lots lots more. The potager they're developing will showcase heirloom vegetables too.

The kaffir limes they sent me as part of a sample box taste good and have a respectable amount of juice - unlike mine, I've only ever used the leaves for cooking as my fruit are always dry and really not worth bothering with.
As for cumquats, I confess I've never grown or cooked them but when you're given something out of the ordinary. . .

Whole cumquats in ginger syrup


Preserved Sweet/Sour Cumquats 
Those are kaffir limes in front, mainly because of their gorgeous colour

I can't wait to try the sweet and the sweet/sour cumquats, but I'll have to wait a few weeks  . . .
Meanwhile, here is a recipe from the new book and one you can make now if you're happy to use tinned tomatoes instead of fresh - the citrus flavour in this really gives it an interesting twist and it's certainly a hit with all our friends.

 Hot ‘Top Shelf’ Tomato Chutney/Sauce

Not quite chutney or sauce but something in between, this is arguably one of the best tomato condiments ever.
Orange zest and lime add zing without being identifiable, and warm spices balance out the flavours. It is hot, but not excessively so - reduce the chilli content only if you’re concerned; this chutney/sauce is a winner as it is.
Processed garlic and ginger are fine to use here.
Makes 8 jars.
2 ½ kg tinned tomatoes, diced *or equivalent fresh, peeled and diced
100g ginger, peeled & chopped finely
100g garlic, peeled & crushed
2 Tbsp (15g) chilli powder or to taste
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
Juice of 5 limes, preferably, or 4 lemons
2 Tbsp salt
3 cups malt vinegar
1 kg sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1½ tsp ground cloves
300g dates, chopped small

Place all the ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan and combine thoroughly.
Simmer uncovered, stirring regularly, until reduced almost by half and thickened to the consistency you want. This should take about one – one and a half hours.
Transfer to hot, sterilized jars and screw on hot, sterilized metal lids.
*Include juice.
The idea of combining citrus and tomato came from ‘Rachel’s Hot Tomato Chutney’ in ‘Chutneys, Relishes and Sauces’ by Margaret O Sullivan.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Mid winter Xmas and looming deadline

The midwinter xmas menu for House & Lifestyle was really very successful - roast capsicum soup, a  winter salad followed by duck breasts with orange sauce (not as traditional as it sounds), potato and leek mash, sauteed spinach and caramelised fennel and yams. Then a coffee and chocolate 'trifle'  with roasted tamarillos. .
I plan to cook the same menu for Russ's birthday this month, for some old friends. Although I prefer to eat vegetarian, I'm fine with catering for meat eating guests and occassionally I can appreciate small amounts of meat  - mainly fish or seafood, but I did have a little of the duck breast to check the combination with the sauce and was pleased. This is the dessert (below) - I love tamarillos and our tree is producing well, even tho it's now covered with frost cloth just in case!

I've also made tamarillo and raspberry jam, which is a great success - that'll be added to the new cookbook for sure, but deadlines are looming for this book and I still don't have a title! It's mainly chutneys and pickles, but also relishes, liqueur, a couple of jams, marmalades, vinegar, sauces, and also things like preserved limes and lemons and some sambals/tapenade/fresh chutneys as well.

Tamarillo and raspberry jam

The birds were beaten to the persimmons this year, mainly because while we pruned the tree and re-shaped it last year, so it didn't produce nearly as well. Obviously we must have pruned a lot of last year's new growth off, but hey - it'll fruit well next season, I'm sure.  Lucky I have persimmon, tamarind and date chutney to see me through quite a bit of this year. . .as for our figs, well, I had to buy some to make my pickled figs in brandy as so many of mine didn't ripen. I really do think I may have planted in too shady a place, although other fig growers say this has been a bad year. I'll know next year, just hope we get more sun.
I've been so focused on trials for the book that my garden has been terribly neglected - but over this last (Queen's birthday) weekend I got out there and it's starting to look as if someone cares once more. Fortunately it doesn't take too long to have it looking good again. It was hard to cull so many self-sown flat leaf parsley and rocket seedlings, but they were far too congested to grow well, in any case, and I pricked out and planted as many as I will need.
Winter is starting to sharpen its teeth now, the trees are dumping their leaves so that the ground is a patchwork of gold, burnt orange and reds - lovely, but we've had three summers in a row so this could be quite hard for us softies.
Preserving limes and lemons has been another bit of inside work to do when I'm not teaching, they're so good in lentil dishes, casseroles, fish dishes and also for adding to dips and spreads.

making mustard and a good antipasto mix with roasted red peppers (you can use tinned or bottled as well as fresh), black olives, rosemary and garlic.

Talking about garlic, I have several heads roasting in the oven right now, and will cool them, squeeze out the flesh, mash and season, then cover with extra virgin olive oil to keep in the 'frig. Great in mashed potatoes, or just to spread onto ciabatta or foccaccia drizzled with extra oil - mmmm, so good.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Tomatillos and salsa heaven

It's been a slow year in my garden; I still have green figs on the tree, so I'm hoping for more sun over the next week or so. Not that it's looking too promising, autumn is really breathing down our necks at the moment but it is still quite mild.
In any case, the persimmons and tamarillos are colouring up and the tomatillos have been ripening over the last two or three weeks, thank goodness. They still aren't well known in New Zealand, which surprises me as they are so worthwhile to grow, providing the base for my favourite salsa and they also make delicious chutney in their own right. And they can be substituted for green tomatoes in green tomato chutney. I have tried them sliced, egg and breadcrumbed and shallow fried, but wasn't overly impressed.

They're related to the Cape gooseberry, as you can see. (I love to have these in the garden, too; the bright orange marble-sized fruit make such a treat-in-a-parcel for little kids). Tomatillos are much bigger than Cape gooseberries, about the size of an egg.
Once you've grown them they just self seed then next year, and you can cull as you want.
They're quite pretty, too, kind of like paper chinese lanterns in the garden.
As I was washing the sticky coating off the other day, I realised they must be quite top heavy, as they float top down - but that was just an inconsequential thought with no significance whatsoever.

Much more important is kicking back with a bowl of the salsa. . .not forgetting that it's also really good in wraps, and absolutely delicious on top of chunks/large diced barbecued fish fillets - cook on the hot plate and top with some tomatillo salsa just before you serve.


Combined with chilli, fresh coriander, cumin, garlic and lime or lemon, tomatillos make a Mexican salsa so good it could be addictive. Serve with corn chips as a dip, or as a sauce to include in wraps or to serve with almost anything from tacos to frittatas.
Freeze or bottle the base salsa as detailed below.
Tomatillos are easy to grow, and self-seeding.
Unhusked tomatillos can be stored in a paper bag in a refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

 1 kg tomatillos
2 onions, peeled and chopped
water if poaching
1 tsp ground cumin
4-5 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 ½ tsp salt
3/4 tsp sugar
2-3 red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
1 ½ - 2 Tbsp lime juice or equivalent lemon juice for each cup of base mixture
¼ cup finely chopped coriander for each cup of base mixture

 Remove the husks from the tomatillos and wash in warm water to remove the sticky coating.
Prepare the onion and stir into the tomatillos in a microwave -safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 5-6 minutes with no added water. Gently stir in the cumin, then microwave again for another 5 minutes. Drain off at least half a cup of liquid at this point and discard. 
OR place in a large shallow frypan with 1 cup water and the cumin and simmer, turning constantly over a low heat until the tomatillos turn ochre in colour and are soft to the touch without actually splitting. Drain most of the water off.
Stir the prepared garlic, salt and sugar into the cooked tomatillos.
Place the microwaved or  poached and drained tomatillo mixture in a processor and pulse to roughly chop. 
Stir in the seeded and finely chopped red chillies. At this point the base mixture can either be frozen as is, or transferred to a pot and brought to simmer point before being bottled in the normal way.
When required, ensure the base mixture is at room temperature. Stir in the lime juice (or lemon) along with the finely chopped coriander, taste, then adjust the seasonings to taste  - salt, sugar, chilli, lime/lemon juice.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Red capsicum & lime marmalata, and grilled ricotta.

Even though the price of red capsicums hasn't gone dow to their usual late summer levels this year, there's one preserve I have to make - roasted red capsium and lime marmalata (marmellata).  Only trouble is that it's also a favourite of husband Russ, so before I knew it he'd consumed (almost single handedly) a whole jar over two days; marmelata on bacon, with cheese on biscuits, with creme fraiche and hot smoked salmon and..and. It is delicious, though I'm going to have to get smarter, obviously, and secrete some away.

The recipe is in my 'Vegetarian Kitchen' anyway, but here it is below as well.

This ‘marmalade’ is such a gorgeous, eye - catching red that it’s almost a surprise to find it tastes as good as it looks. It’s a hit as a topping for crackers spread with cream cheese, but use it as you please – there won’t be a shortage of ideas once it’s tasted.
*If kaffir lime leaves are not available, use young lime leaves or the pared and finely julienned zest from an extra lime or lemon. 

8 large red capsicums
1 cup orange juice, no preservatives or added sugar
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp peeled and minced ginger (prepared)
3 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
½ - ¾ tsp chilli powder
5 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1 branch tip of kaffir lime leaves, 12-14 whole leaves*
Thinly pared rind of 2 lemons, finely julienned or use a zester
Juice of two lemons

Preheat oven to 225 C.
Place the capsicums on a baking tray and roast for about 25 minutes or until the skins are blistered and blackening. Remove from the oven and cool until they can be handled (place in plastic bag if you wish, but this is not necessary). Peel, and discard the core and seeds. Chop finely.
Place all the ingredients into a heavy based saucepan, bring to simmer point and cook for 30-40 minutes or until the mixture has thickened and is the consistency of jam.
Discard the kaffir lime and bay leaves using tongs.
Spoon into hot, sterilized jars and screw on hot sterilized metal screw- on lids.

The marmalata is also great with home-made ricotta on rye, which reminds me that I stumbled upon a really easy nibble this week. I'd made some ricotta and have had so many guests and visitors lately that I haven't had a lot of time to cook anything other than main meals - but I just mixed some ricotta with crushed garlic, fresh pizza thyme leaves, sea salt and coarsely ground pepper, transferred it to a ramekin, drizzled virgin olive oil over the top and grilled it so it was soft and squishy and spread deliciously  - soooo good. Then I trialled it again, but this time lightly sauteed finely chopped garlic in the virgin oil before mixing it in the ricotta with the thyme, (oregano is nice too) salt and pepper before grilling. Really don't know which I prefer, so hopefully someone out there will try and let me know what they think!

I've been trialling for a mid-winter Xmas shoot next Monday, too - a full menu, so time is a little pressured. Today, however, I am definitely setting aside for making my Life's Too Short Marmalade - just because I can't live without it, that's all there is to be said, really. Just email me if you want the recipe. . .

Monday, 9 April 2012

Rhubarb Sparkle and chocolate beetroot cake mmmmm

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Wanaka is gorgeous, of course; but Hawea is only 10 minutes away and its charms have grown on me, especially as it's quiter and with such stunning weather late March and April. . .

Leaves are just turning, there's not a breath of wind, only day after day of sun and clear skies.
It wasn't just a holiday, I gave a talk to about 100 Probus members in Wanaka while I was there; you'd think it would be easy to talk about yourself and what you do but it never is, it's nerve wracking and sleep depriving. I ran out of time so never got to the anecdotes  of life in France and Tuscany and culinary adventures there, which was a shame, but I did refer anyone interested to the blog.

In addition, I'm now on a first-name basis with the 'girls', my son and his partner's four chooks. They're happy free rangers, produce four delicious eggs per day and seem to enjoy a bit of cluck cluck conversation and attention down the back of the garden. The garden, incidentally, is endowed with beautiful, mature fruit trees  - apples, an apricot, a nashi pear, a quince tree so laden the branches have to be propped up so they don't break off;

Large golden quinces

a loquat, crab apples and two!! very large almond trees.

Not the clearest photo, but here the two halves of the shell are opening to reveal the nut inside
So, we made quince paste for Hannah to take to family over Easter, and I raided the garden to make rhubarb champagne for when they get back. I made sure I snuck a few quinces into my luggage, too, because I love their perfume in the house - I have enough of the paste to last for a while.
Rhubarb champagne has been a great success here over Easter,  everyone loves it - someone even called it 'summer in a glass' which is a good description.
Here's my recipe. . . how easy is this?

                  RHUBARB SPARKLE

 A vigorous clump or two of rhubarb is always an asset in a garden, and not least of all for making this delicious summer thirst quencher. Refreshing but not sweet, it has such a lovely colour that it seems to epitomize fun, fizz and summer.
Makes three 1.25 litre bottles.

1 kg red rhubarb stalks
3 lemons, rind and juice
700g sugar
4 litres water

Wash the rhubarb, slice into 2cm lengths, and if the lemons are thick skinned, you may need to peel them with a floating blade peeler. Slice off the white pith and discard, then chop the lemon flesh roughly. If the lemons are thin skinned, this step is not necessary – just chop the whole lemons roughly.
Dissolve the sugar in hot tap water.
Place the prepared rhubarb and the lemon rind and flesh in a non-metallic bowl or bucket, pour the dissolved sugar mixture over, cover with a clean cloth and set aside for two – three days, depending on how warm the temperature is. The mixture should have a light fizz when ready to bottle.
Strain very thoroughly through muslin and transfer to extra clean plastic 1.25 litre bottles with screw on tops. Fizzy drink bottles are ideal. Don’t fill right to the top, leave a gap of five – eight centimeters, to allow the natural gases to rise.
Keep the bottles in a cool, dark place if possible for three days or until the neck of the bottle swells and becomes quite hard, indicating the bottles should then be refrigerated. This could take up to two or even three weeks, depending on the weather.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 three
Serve chilled. 

The other Easter success has been a chocolate beetroot cake with a chocolate glaze - moist, light and delicious (actually, it's more accurately a chocolate mocha & beetroot cake).  Well, it wasn't a total success story because I made two quite different versions and only one cut the mustard, the other will be for family only consumption - but the successful one was something of a triumph. Also, in the frig was the prefect accompaniment - my passionfruit curd. This partnership worked brilliantly, and was also great on hot cross buns instead of butter and marmalade.

Just email me if you want the recipe. . .

I'm off to make tomatillo salsa base and check the figs (I know, I must make and photograph the mole!).

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

France bound - why not come with me?!

It's shaping up to be quite a busy year for me; I've been commissioned to write two more cookbooks, and a trip to France is planned for this September accompanying a tour arranged by VIP Travel, Dunedin. I say 'accompany' because there will be bi-lingual French hosts on the tour. How lucky is that? The itinerary shadows places I know and love, and includes new ones as well. We start in Paris and end up in Provence three weeks later.

It's not all about food (and wine), though of course that is a focus; there will be visits to a truffle farm, a Ferme Auberge (farm restaurant), meals that showcase the best of French food as well as regional specialties, vineyards and even lunch at a farm run by 15 women farmers situated in the gorgeous village of  Flavigny (where the film Chocolat was set). We won't just be following the well-worn tracks, we'll be exploring some of rural France as well, finding and sampling exquisite food and wine on the way.
The ferme auberge  below is near Velleron; there is a wonderful fresh produce market here, where all the local farmers park their trucks / cars and put up a table or simply sell from their vehicles, something like a 'boot' sale.

Lunch here was six courses and took a memorable two hours - it'll be great not to have to worry about driving! All the food was grown on the farm, plus the copious quantities of wine served with each course.

Black gold!

Street food in Paris

The tour will also visit places of artistic and historical interest, most of which I've visited before but am only too happy to return to - I 'm a big fan of Monet and Cezanne, Renoir, Sisley and Van Gogh, among many others, and it's fascinating to visit the places they actually lived and worked.

Monet's garden at Giverny

The house at Giverny

No, not Colorado - Apt, in Provence, where Cezanne, Van Gogh and Monet et al sourced their paints from.

You probably know that France is full of Roman sites such as at Alecia, where Julius Caesar defeated the Gauls in 50 BC - walking on that ground and visiting the ruins of the Roman settlements that followed is a moving experience.

There are a few places left and it'll be a wonderful trip!  

Click HERE for more information OR for a detailed itinerary and further information contact

Russell Duff at VIP Tours - 63 Hanover St, Dunedin

phone   (03) 471 6616 or 0274 346069 

Monday, 26 March 2012


I was reading about a wonderful mole on the Easy Food Hacks blog which sounded fantastic but, as it was cooked using traditional methods, very time consuming. Being lazier but a trier, I've dabbled in moles for some years and finally came up with this one for my 'Vegetarian Kitchen' . I do like this kind of meal, inexpensive but lots of lovely flavours and textures.
I don't have a photo at the moment (this was an impulse post) but will make it over Easter and post a photo then.

                                               MEXICAN MOLE

Mexican cuisine is vibrant, showy, and full of contrasts; think hot chilli salsa with cool guacamole, or avocado, tomato and fresh coriander spiked with lime. A meal is rarely about one dish in isolation, but more about an anchor main accompanied by side dishes.
 Mole (pronounced mole-ay) is quintessentially Mexican, a traditional sauce where chilli is tempered by chocolate, and infused with notes of spice and smoke to create real character. It’s different, delicious and, as with most Mexican food, inexpensive. 
Mole is even better served the next day, when the flavours have found their rightful place in the scheme of things. Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts with this mole – it’s quick to assemble and well worth the cooking time.
Serves 4-6. Suitable to freeze.

Mole is especially good served simply with a dollop of sour cream, fresh coriander and nachos – but a fresh salsa*( made from fresh tomatoes seeded and chopped small, peeled chopped garlic, finely diced red onion,  minced seeded fresh chilli (optional), a squeeze of lime or lemon, chopped fresh coriander, salt and pepper) enhances it even further. Add diced avocado if you like, and partner it all with a spoonful or two of sour cream.
Mole is equally as good with tacos or tortillas, rice, baked potatoes or cornbread.

¾ cup black turtle beans, soaked for 5 hours or overnight 
1 x 400g eggplant
4 Tbsp oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
5-6 red chillies, about 6cm long, seeded and finely chopped
2 large red capsicums, diced 
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sweet (dulce) Spanish smoked paprika
2 x 400g tins peeled, chopped tomatoes
                         or 1 kg fresh, peeled and chopped
1 ½ cups water
30g dark, 70% chocolate
salt and pepper to taste
fresh tomato salsa,* sour cream, finely chopped coriander, lime or lemon

Preheat the oven to 190 C.
Slice the eggplant into 2cm dice, toss with enough oil to lightly coat, (about ¼ cup), and salt lightly. Transfer to an oven tray and roast for 25 minutes or until golden, turning once. Remove from the oven and set aside. Turn the oven down to 170 c.
Meanwhile, heat the 4 Tbsp oil over a medium heat in a large, heavy based oven to table casserole dish. Sauté the onion and chillies, garlic and capsicums until well softened, adding a little more oil if necessary.
Stir in the cinnamon, ground coriander, paprika and smoked paprika and sauté for a few minutes more.
Add the tomatoes with their juice, and the water.
Stir in the soaked beans and the roasted eggplant. Heat to simmer point and stir in the finely chopped chocolate.  Cover the casserole dish and transfer to the oven. Bake at 170 c for two hours, stirring occasionally.
Taste, then add salt and pepper to your liking.
Serve with sour cream and/or fresh salsa as outlined above*, and try it with nachos or baked potatoes, tortillas, or any of the other suggestions.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Summer fruit and preserved grape leaves

I love the idea of preserving grape leaves to make dolmas, or simply using them as an edible doylie or 'plate'. So easy, and so delicious.

There are so many grape vines in New Zealand now, it seems crazy not to make use of the leaves. I stuffed mine with cooked rice, toasted walnuts and dried cranberries, herbs and a few spices - yum!
It's been busy around here, so much produce and so little time! Also, the first photoshoot for the new book was last weekend - exhausting! Fascinating, but exhausting. Photographers are so meticulous, their gear weighs a ton and they can't be hurried (thank goodness, I wouldn't have it any other way, but it was a long weekend. . .). I hasten to add that the photographs here are mine, and not professional in any way.
I've been so busy making pickles, chutneys and relish that I forgot to post photos of Central Otago fruit from when we were there over summer; so before it's just a distant memory. . .

Aren't they gorgeous? My friends David and Jeni grow stunning organic produce off what used to be pretty much bare land in the Kawerau gorge, and sell to top retaurants in the area - and you can see why

They work way too hard, but their commitment shows and can be tasted in every bite of the produce.

Amazing people. And it hardly needs to be said that using quality produce yields the best tasting preserves every time, there's simply no question about it.
So, summer revisited and autumn is on its way - passionfruit, pears, red capsicums and chillies, figs, feijoas in April, limes and other citrus soon, and persimmons. Not to mention saffron crocus - true! I have some in the garden,and my yield was almost a tablespoon of saffron threads from about twenty bulbs last year. At this rate it'll never make me rich, though, and I still have to buy some each year - luckily, it does go a long way.