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.