Monday, July 26

Supperclub deux.....and hardly a wobble.

I am certainly no expert.........but my second supperclub did seem a lot easier than my first. Confidence (however misguided....!) helps, as does great people assisting, so bar the odd slip up I was really happy with how the evening went. I'm not sure I filled my guests with confidence, opening the oven door to a massive plume of acrid smoke (note to self, tray UNDER the potato gratin for when it inevitably bubbles over......) but swiftly closing the doors to the kitchen with a chirpy 'its fine, nothing burning'! had them fooled...........ya think? The oven required some serious elbow grease on Sunday.....

Mr PK and his sidekick Dominica had the waiting covered, Dette had the tables looking beautiful, all I needed was people. They were a great group, a supperclub to a certain extent relies on guests to literally come to the party, so it was lovely to have people who really got into the experience.

The hosts with the most....why are they drinking??

Gruyere & Apple Gougeres

Goat cheese twice baked souffl├ęs

Boeuf Bourguignon
Mushroom & Herb Pithivier (V)
Potato Celeriac Gratin
Homemade bread
Simple Green Salad

Vanilla pannacotta with poached tamarillo and Madelines

Cheeses,homemade walnut bread, crackers & guava jelly

I had a slightly hairy moment when I was not completely sure the panacotta had set, it is such a fine line between a wobble and a melt (and a wobbly being thrown....) but it was fine. I use 2/3 cream and 1/3 yogurt, so it is a little lighter than a full cream version. Very pretty with the tamarillo and wee Madeline's

Get your wobble on!
Sadly my ginger beer was not quite ready, so my Moscow mules turned into Kir Royals instead.....I will persevere, ginger beer wont beat me....The beef I cooked the day before, using Julia Child's recipe. Onions are browned in butter, then braised in beef stock for an hour, and added with browned mushrooms to the beef..........oh my, so soft and sweet, good onions! The beef was lovely and tender, and despite the wee oven tragedy the potato was creamy and savoury.

 Sweet onion goodness.....

A gift from a guest, lovely

Lights will guide you home.....
I really enjoyed the evening, and I hope everyone that came had a positive experience of supperclubs...........who knows, they may start one of their own! My next stop is Spain, already planning now......

A gift from my friends Matt & Briar, beautiful!

Wednesday, July 21

How great the gratin....

I am still undecided over the success of last nights dinner . I was back in the kitchen with my friend Yotam Ottolenghi, making a Winter Saffron Gratin.

As you might have noticed I am a big fan of the gratin. You could take pretty much anything (and I mean anything, spuds, cardboard, last weeks leftovers..), chuck some sauce over, grill the top till crunchy and I'll be first in line with a spoon. So I was pretty excited about this, even when I got to the shops and realised a) I wasn't entirely sure what kohlrabi looked like and b) they didn't have any anyway. Ditto tarragon, which was annoying as I knew my little pot of aniseed heaven in the garden had succumbed to the cold weather. I would have to improvise. I hope non of my cooking class students are reading this. I always encourage them to stick to the recipe the first time around, then fiddle at will as I say, not as I do people!

Anyway, I sliced up a kilo of vege, roughly equal quantities of Jerusalem Artichoke (VERY roughly peeled, is there any other way with the darn things??), swede, parsnip, and my substitute kohlrabi, turnip. I was tempted to chuck a few sliced spuds in as well, which in hindsight I  wish I had. I blanched the vege for a minute in boiling water and drained, then stirred through my sauce. This was a bechemel made with 30 grams each of butter & flour, and 100ml each of water and milk, in which a 1/2 tsp of saffron strands had soaked. I find saffron very hard to measure as the strands are to long for spoons, so I eyeballed it, if anything I was a bit mean (it is expensive stuff!) yet the sauce still ended up very strong. I stirred in 150ml of cream which loosened it up, and a big handful of parsley. There should also have been 2 tbsp tarragon and 60 grams of basil joining the parsley, and I think in retrospect more herb flavour was required. 30 grams of grana padano (the recipe called for Parmesan) completed the sauce, with plenty of seasoning. The whole lot was put into a greased gratin dish (ok, it was a  casserole, but doesn't gratin dish sound nicer?) and covered with foil for a supposed 40 mins at 160C...........that would be dandy if you like crunchy root vege, I don't so it took another 35 mins at 175 and we were nearly there. The foil came off and another 30 grams of cheese was mixed with 3 tbsp of panko breadcrumbs and sprinkled over the top for cheesy crunchy goodness. 10 mins later we ate.
 It was good, creamy and comforting, but I think it was a little too strongly saffron, and a little sweet. The inclusion of a potato or two may have tempered this, my husband loved it and he has a very sweet tooth, so this could just me my taste buds. Next time I will infuse my milk with bay and onion as well as the saffron, for a more savoury note, up the herb quota but give the turnips a miss, and include some potato. I will also use a bit more cheese, maybe some Gruyere as well..........a bit like grandads hammer, its kinda the same recipe.........but not really!

I didn't do nearly as much cooking this weekend as I hoped. I intended to make these delish crackers from over at pod and three peas but instead made the mistake of hanging a picture. We have been in our house six months, but have resisted hanging many of our pictures as we intend repainting. When? Exactly, hang some pics and make the house look lived in. I am especially pleased with this one, as it is a cheap Ikea frame, with a picture that has started to warp. I replaced it with a beautiful piece of wrapping paper from Passion for Paper, pretty,  although my home handy boy is starting to wonder how much more pink he will have to live with......Anyway one picture turned into about six, then I realised just how dusty everything was & thought I had better tackle that as well..............six hours later I was done, and too knackered to do another more taxing the sit at the Civic with my girlfriend watching Certified Copy with the lovely Juliette Binoche. In the best tradition of European films it involved relentless talking and an ambiguous ending, the jury is still out with us but do see for yourself.

On Friday Mr PK and I saw Cooking History which was an unusual documentary charting the history of cooking through European field kitchens. Mr PK has a long standing love affair with all things military (he is very useful to have at pub quiz), combined with my love of all things food (and documentaries) we had a perfect date night movie............

PS My friend Tiff wanted all my readers who are skeptical to know Lardy Cake is the best and should be brought back into fashion......

'That’s fab, I used to love lardy cake at school, we used have afternoon tea at 4pm everyday after school, a cup of tea and cake, some days lardy cake, others sticky willies (iced buns) or donuts, all sorts!!! Lardy cake was my fav though. Can’t seem to buy it in cake shops these days though.'

Tuesday, July 20

August Fiesta supperclub now fully booked

Please keep checking back, I will post dates for September soon!

Plum x

Wednesday, July 14

New Supperclub Date-August Fiesta!

The next Plum Kitchen supperclub will be held on Saturday 21 August at 7pm, in celebration of many August trips to Sedella for Fiesta, I will be having my own Spanish fiesta here in Auckland! Please join me for an evening of delicious Andalusian cuisine, music and fun (and you can celebrate the football victory too if you like!)

There are still places available, so please email to book.

Location: A dining room in Auckland, you will find out exactly where after you book......

Suggested donation $50 to cover costs

BYO beverage of choice- I will email/post the menu a couple of days prior to help with wine matching...

Places are limited. I will confirm your booking a couple of days prior to the event, and provide you with details of where you will be dining. Please let me know when booking if you are vegetarian.

Looking forward to meeting you!

Senora Plum x

PS New to the supperclub idea? Please read here

Sunday, July 11

Lardy, I'm not kidding.

Lardy cake. Yes, as the name suggests this is indeed a cake made with lard. Are you putting your apron on yet?
I read cookbooks all the time.....even in bed (I feel like I should say my name first and be holding my hand up making that admission....) One of my bedtime favs is Nigel Slater. In his wonderful Eating for England he mentions lardy cake.
"The thin layer of grease that forms on your fingers, and more to the point licking it off, is all part of the attraction".
Now I dont have a sweet tooth, so a cake that involves finger licking fat is strangely attractive.....when I found a recipe in my vintage Delia Smith Book of Cakes circa 1977, I knew I had to get baking. I was sent this by my dear friend Tiffany, on holiday in Devon she saw this in a vintage shop and thought of me, aren't  pals great? I am especially pleased as Lardy Cake hails from Wiltshire (according to Jane Grigson in her fabulous English Food, buy this book. Soon please.) We spent many Christian festivals at Tiff's mum Estelle and step-father Dave's very welcoming house. I love how food and recipes make those personal connections.....

Yes, blah blah, happy memories, it's still a lard cake!? Actually it is a yeasted dough, which is also a highlight for me, as I LOVE working with yeast. The smell, the feel of the dough, the amazing way it rises, as if magic is at work........and this from someone who does not eat a huge amount of bread. I tried to convince myself I was essentially creating a brioche type dough, but instead of beating in butter, my fat of choice is lard..........hmmm, brioche does sound slightly more palatable than pig fat buns.........! But everything sounds better in French, non?

In reality it is more like making pastry, in that the dough is dotted with the fat & sugar/fruit mix, rolled up and rolled out, then the process is repeated. You are cramming as much fruit and fat as the dough can cannot be mean and make lardy cake, it is a fat generous creation in every sense of the word.

So is it like eating a bacon bun? No,  it is delicious. Seriously. Rich, fruity, spicy, the crust oh my, crispy, with bits of current & sticky sultana, the real finger licking tasted great. Old fashioned and substantial. I ate a warm slice and felt I should go and plow a field immediately. Actually I was doing my tax return, so did need a bit of fortifying....... No doubt the low-fat food police would have my guts for haggis, but  I dont eat a lot of cake, and when I do I want it to taste of something other than sugar. I took half over to my parents for afternoon tea, they enjoyed it to.

Go on, try something different. I dare you to turn up at the school cake stall with lard cake. Cupcakes are so last year.........

Old Fashioned Lardy Cake-Delia Smith's Book of Cakes


450 grams plain flour
2 tsp salt
10 grams of lard (I use Havoc, from happy pigs.........well, they were until someone made them into lard...)
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp dried yeast
275 mls hand hot water


150 grams of lard

Mix together:
110 grams brown sugar
1/2 tsp mixed spice
75 grams currents
75 grams sultanas

Mix the sugar & yeast into the water and leave in a warm spot for 10 minutes until it is frothy. Meanwhile rub the lard into the sifted flour and salt. Mix the liquid into the flour, either in a machine, or with a knife, turning out onto a floured bench and kneading for 7-10 minutes if you are doing it by hand (I use about 8 minutes with the dough hook in my kitchen-aid) Put in a covered bowl, and leave to rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size ( I put the bowl next to the heater)
When the dough is ready, take out of the bowl, and knead again for about 30 seconds on a floured bench. Roll out to a long rectangle, about 3 times longer than it is wide, then sprinkle a third of your sugar fruit mix and a third of your lard over it. Roll up like a jam roll, then press your rolling pin down on either end to seal in the filling, and roll out to approx the same size you originally had. Repeat the process twice more, rolling out for the final time to about the size of your cooking tin. I use a non stick 24cm square brownie pan. Place the dough into the tin, and score the top (as you would for crackling, of course!)
Leave covered back by the heater for another 45 mins or so, then pop into the oven, pre heated to 200C for 30 minutes until risen and golden. Leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, brushing with a tablespoon of sugar dissolved in a tablespoon of water, then turn out onto a rack. The cake cools upside down, to allow the fat to run through (yes, sounds a bit grim, but tastes fabulous....) Slice and serve, no butter required...... and you dont hear me say that very often......

Thursday, July 8

Supperclub 24th July-Fully Booked

I am fully booked for the Midwinter celebration on 24th July, please keep checking back as I will have new dates for August available shortly........
Plum x

An excess of choice.....

I sometimes think the hardest part of cooking is deciding WHAT to cook. Is there such a thing as too much choice? That moment standing in the supermarket, deli or whatever , surrounded by a variety of foods (and funny food-like substances, lets be honest....) our grandparents could would not even recognise....paralysed by indecision.
Tonight I took the alternative route. Tired, and with cold feet (I have the circulation of an inert sloth......) the idea of getting out of the car (heater blasting at a skin sloughing 24 C) didn't appeal much anyway, so I decided to head straight home. Dinner would be whatever was lurking in the pantry. Be afraid? Happily, it was pretty darn good.

Patient reader, I give you Sausage and Pea risotto

OK, it does not look like the most exciting supper on earth, but it actually tasted really good. Savoury and satisfying, not easy when you are feeding two people with two sausages.......which you have not bothered to label properly before freezing (why do I always think I will remember, why??)  I was fairly certain from the colour one was Venison and red wine, the other turned out to be lamb. Skinned and broken into chunks, they were fried up until crusty and sizzling. I have banged this drum before I know, but a good meaty butchers sausage is so much more substantial than a cheap one,  it goes further and adds  much more flavour......

In the meantime I fried half an onion in about 20 grams of butter and a splash of olive oil, then added one cup of Vialone Nano risotto rice. No it isn't cheap (about $17 for an approx 5 cup bag, which lasts ages), yes I think it does the best risotto, and given the rice is the main event for this particular dish, it is worth using a good one. I get mine at New World, but Farro also stock it, as do Sabato (available to purchase online).

After toasting the rice in the fat for a minute, I poured in about 1/3 cup of red wine, I cannot tell you what variety as it came out of another unlabelled container in the freezer. Before you scoff, according to Bob Campbell MW, freezing if perfectly fine, and the wine should suffer no ill effects..........if he cant tell the diff, I surely wont, especially not when it is about to be biffed into a saucepan and boiled.
Stirring the wine in, I then stirred in ladlefuls of hot chicken stock (from little LABELLED glad bags , I learnt my lesson here after defrosting egg whites thinking they were liquid stock, hmmmm), it was 2.5 cups in all. A little of the stock was poured over a few saffron strands, these were then added to the pan with the fried sausage chunks. When the rice was cooked, without that chalky centre (probably overcooked for an Italian, but there were none dining with us so no worries......) I added 1/2 cup of frozen peas, plenty of seasoning, another knob of butter and about 1/3 cup of Grana Padano (cheaper than Parmigiana, and totally fine for this), stirred again, and served.
Not bad for a cupboard rummage, I would totally have it again, maybe with a spicier sausage, and some garlic.......

Saturday, July 3

Supperclub-Midwinter Celebration

Plum Kitchen is hosting a celebration of winter! I will bring a delicious 4 course meal, a roaring fire, relaxed atmosphere and a beautiful table to the party, you need only bring yourself, some interesting conversation, and a bottle of something delicious to enjoy with dinner.

Date: Saturday 24th July 7pm
Location: A dining room in Auckland, you will find out exactly where after you book......

Suggested donation $50 to cover costs

To book email

Places are limited. I will confirm your booking a couple of days prior to the event, and provide you with details of where you will be dining. Please let me know when booking if you are vegetarian.

Looking forward to meeting you!

Plum x

P.S If you want to find out more about supperclubs, please read here

PPS If you would like to read about The French House (a Wellington supperclub) and Plum Kitchen in the Sunday Star Times, please read here

Thursday, July 1

Ottolenghi………the name on everyone’s lips

Well, if it isn’t it should be. Yotom Ottolenghi is an inspired chef, and the owner of 4 eponymous restaurants in London. Check them out here His second cookbook Plenty has just been released, and is a beauty. The food is fresh, interesting, and makes you want to go into the kitchen and start throwing ingredients around immediately. The July issue of Cuisine magazine has several recipes from the book, and you can also check them out on the Guardian website here

I cooked this particular dish (recipe downloaded from the Ottolenghi website) as it reminded me of a meal Mr D and I ate in Egypt a few years ago. Well, Mr Cast Iron Stomach and the rest of our group ate a plateful, I only ate about two mouthfuls, then ran off to be sick, which isn’t normally a good omen for a dish. This episode had been repeated in reverse a few nights prior except we were on our own.  We ordered dinner in a quiet neighbourhood restaurant, then about five minutes later Mr CIS turned an unusual colour (Resene Beryl Green I think it was....) stated he could not possibly stay, and left me sitting on my tod in a Cairo restaurant, where I was literally the only chick in the house. The lovely proprietor saw what had happened and dragged the TV in the corner over to my table, this made me feel worse as I was depriving everyone else of Knight Rider, but he insisted. I ate dinner and tried to concentrate on the Hoff as best I could with an entire room staring at me, and thanked him profusely when he carefully packaged up the rest of dinner so I could take it back for my missing companion. He insisted his son walk me the five minutes back to the hotel, so I was obliged to take the remains of my fragrant dinner right back to our room, where the patient strangely enough did not thank me.
I think my case of Ramses revenge was percolating well before the kushari made an appearance however, but despite this I could not even think about cooking anything remotely similar for a very long time (ie years!). Kushari is something like an Egyptian national dish, and consists of layers of macaroni, rice, lentils and sometimes chickpeas, with a vinegar tomato sauce poured over, and fried onion to garnish. Along with hummus, fried onions were also off my radar for some fact my highlight meal of that trip was a jacket potato with coleslaw and cheese I managed to locate in Luxor, and which I ate for three meals in a row. I actually managed to keep it down for a while. When we flew back to London I literally begged the BA stewardess for a second breakfast, some kind of blah"egg" type thing, it's very blandness  being a saving grace for me. You know your starving when you beg for airline food..........(despite this I adored Egypt, and would go back in a flash)

Mejadarah consists of rice and lentils, delicately spiced with cumin, turmeric & coriander, and garnished with fried onions. The original recipe actually deep fries the onions, but I simply shallow fried until crispy and golden, they were a delicious caramel accompaniment to the lentils and rice. According to the website, it is an Arabian dish, served in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. I served it with cubes of lamb I had rubbed with a little oil,  cumin and sumac, then simply fried until crusty and golden, but still pink and juicy within. A side of chopped tomato and avocado with lime juice may seem odd, but I had to use the avocado, and despite looking a bit incongruous, actually tasted great, a creamy counterpoint to the spice. A drizzle of tahini and yogurt, beaten with a little more lime finished things off nicely.

Lucky me there was enough left over for lunch, a crumble of feta would have been perfect but I didn't have any so I supplied my protein with a boiled egg, it worked surprisingly well....

Mejadarah-from the Ottolenghi website

120g basmati rice
120g lentils- I used Puy lentils
1lt water
½ Tbsp cumin seeds
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 large onion
Vegetable oil for frying
Slice the onion, lightly salt and place in a colander to get rid of some of the liquids.

In a saucepan, place the lentils and 750ml of cold water. Cook for 20 minutes or until the lentils have softened but still have a bite.

In a separate large saucepan, toast the cumin seeds until they are fragrant. Add the rice, olive oil, cinnamon and turmeric. Make sure the rice is coated evenly with the oil. Add the cooked lentils with their liquid and the remaining water. Add salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer on a very low heat for 20mins. Leave covered for another 10 minutes.

While the rice in simmering fry the onion till golden brown. Place on kitchen paper. Mix half the onion through and taste for seasoning. Plate the rice and garnish with the rest of the onion.