Monday, August 30 wont see this at Magnolia kids

I had to share these beauties. Today is cupcake day, raising money for the SPCA, and in celebration of this my colleague Rebecca brought these delish vanilla cupcakes in to work..........inspired by her own beloved Labradors Mollie & Wilson. Isnt she clever? I had them sitting on my desk today, making my office smell like a chocolate shop, lovely.
Wilson modelled for the fondant pooch you can see to the left. He had a wee accident in the car, so looks a tad more confused than he did this morning, but maybe it was a long day......I am especially impressed with the coconut grass, and the wee pink tongue, cute!

The model for the other, well, could have been either really, it's the fly that finishes it off nicely.....tasteful, no?
One each for pud tonight, lucky us. Even the diet diva will make an exception for a good cause.......yes, I know, very noble of me....:)

Monday, August 23

Supperclubs, suppers and slightly grubby rice

Busy week! I had meant to post this the other day, then the weekend, and another supperclub caught up with me. It went very well, each one gets a bit smoother and easier, or maybe I get a bit more confident and worry slightly less, who knows. Still knackered on Sunday mind you! The menu, a celebration of all things Spanish, consisted of:

Cava Cocktail
Garlic chili prawns with homemade saffron bread
Tortilla, smoky tomato sauce and sizzling chorizo
Pork & Lima Bean hotpot with green picada, salad and bread
Almond Citrus cake with caramel oranges and Pedro Ximenez sherry
Coffee and turron

I love Spain, and Spanish food, so I really enjoyed putting this menu together. of course I didn't quite think through the fact that of course my visits to fiesta in Sedella, a wee village about an hour into the mountains outside Malaga, occurred in the height of summer. Sangria and Gazpacho are a little incongruous in Auckland on a damp August evening. But it seemed to go down very well anyway, with every single plate bar one coming back wiped clean. I would love to show you lots of lovely pics of the delicious meal, but after taking the shots above before everyone arrived, the battery went flat. I popped it aside to charge.........and promptly forgot about it. I know, I am so not the person you want around to capture life's little moments. Or any moments in fact. I could kick myself, the dessert especially looked beautiful, a damp golden cake, with brilliant oranges, and a wee shot glass of the most delish Spanish sherry, tasting of musky just not the same in the telling is it?

So I'm afraid you will have to make do with pics of last weeks dinners instead. I am doing quite well on my challenge, another 800 grams lost this week (I know, sounds pathetic, but I keep looking at a block of butter and reminding myself how that isn't sitting on my backside anymore.....) and we did eat some pretty yummy suppers

First up was dainty Lamb Cutlets with Couscous. The cutlets were left in a marinade of lemon thyme, lemon juice, olive oil and pepper for about 20 minutes while I made the couscous. If you have no other herb in your garden, at least have lemon thyme, it is amazing how often you will use it. It is a Mediterranean herb, and is used to growing in a hot climate, with limited moisture, and poor soil. Perfect for the beginner/negligent gardener. You can grow this, trust me. Chicken, lamb, fish all benefit from this herb, and most garden centres have it in stock.
The couscous (a cup was loads for two of us) was mixed in a bowl with seasoning, a couple of chopped spring onions, a handful of pistachios, a handful of sultanas and a small knob of butter. I then covered the whole lot with about 1 1/2 cups hot chicken stock , and left to sit for 10 mins or so covered in a warmed oven. The lamb cutlets were griddled until pink and juicy (Mr PK likes his incinerated, but I wont let those little lambs die in vain.......) with a few mushrooms I found lurking in the crisper, then plonked on a plate with the couscous, more spring onions, chopped cherry tomato, fresh mint and coriander, and some natural yogurt mixed with a dollop of tahini. It has almost taken me longer to type than to prepare, and it was really tasty.

 Next up on the Plum Kitchen "dinners that don't make you feel depressed parade of champions" is a new creation I had to call Slightly Grubby Rice. Tempting no? I was sitting at work, doing something tedious like PAYE, and trying to decide what to have for dinner. Sadly this was probably 10.30 in the morning, but anyway..........I wanted  to use the prawns I had in the freezer, part of my eat more seafood campaign. I know prawns are not exactly pushing the boat out, but this also dovetailed nicely (actually I could use the word synergy here, but I don't want to sound like a tosser, so I wont......) with my sister Liz's suggestion I try using all the meat I have in my freezer before I purchase anymore. I think she was trying to ram a glass in to chill and having some difficultly. Quite frankly I'm not sure how many more challenges I can take on board right now, but this did seem entirely sensible, given I live five minutes walk from an awesome butcher. I have no need to stock up, and am rubbish at labelling my hoard, so a clean out is in order.

 I fancied Mexican, but didn't want to eat corn chips, or fatty nachos or such like. Then I remembered an amazing rice dish I had in London, Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas. I know, Mexico by way of Jamaica.......stick with me. I lived in London for seven years, and for the majority of that worked for a fantastic law firm in Docklands, in the east of the city. My boss Osa was originally from Nigeria, and occasionally him and his friend Tony from IT would head into the east end and get Jerk Chicken or Pork, with Rice & Peas. Osa made the mistake one day of offering me some to try, and I think I had hoovered up half his lunch before I even knew what I was doing. Temporary insanity by way of mind blowing food, it would stand up in any court I can think of. The peas referred to are actually black eyed beans, and even for a non rice aficionado like me, it is a top meal. Another classic rice dish is the Cajun Dirty Rice, which contains chicken livers or giblets, and turns the rice a brown colour. I didn't fancy chicken livers, but the spices I used did turn my rice a slightly murky colour..hence the catchy name.

This recipe was made up with what I had to hand, it is neither Mexican, Jamaican or Cajun.....but it is good.

Slightly Grubby Rice with prawns

Sprinkle your fresh or defrosted prawns with either a couple of teaspoons of  this Tio Pablo Mayan Gold Mexican seasoning mix, (no weird additives, tastes yummy) or a good pinch each of paprika, dried thyme, chili, ground cumin and ground coriander. You could also use chicken, pork, or even firm fish.

Chuck your rice (I used a cup, which made enough for four) in your rice cooker or pan with a tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 2 bay leaves and a few coriander pods. Cook until slightly underdone. I used a bit less water than normal in the rice cooker which left the rice slightly hard. Take out & leave to cool a little while you prepare your pan mix

Fry a diced onion in oil until soft, then add three chopped garlic cloves, and a tsp each of chili power and Tio Pablo mix OR the following

1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground coriander

Don't stress if you don't have every spice, what I was going for was a mixture of hot but sweet spicy, hence the inclusion of cinnamon, and you can adjust the amount of chili to suit, if you are cooking for kids or the heat intolerant.

After about a minute or so add half a chopped red pepper, and a drained tin of black eye peas, and 3/4 cup of canned or frozen sweetcorn kernels.Stir in a cup of water (or use stock if you have it). Add your rice, cover and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes or so till all the liquid is absorbed. Your rice will finish cooking and become fluffy, and imbued with the flavor of the spicy seasoning.
Fry the prawns on a griddle or in a pan until sizzling and cooked through

Put the rice in a bowl and top with the prawns, some fresh tomato, chopped avocado, coriander and a big squeeze of lime. Sour cream is lovely on top, or some yogurt, especially if you have need generous with the chili. To be honest the prawns were not really necessary, the rice was really satisfying on it's own. I believe when you combine carbs like rice, with a legume, you get a much better quality of protein (like having wholemeal toast with baked beans), which is handy for vegetarians. All I know is this was a really tasty dinner, and I will be making again.....

Last up is the one pasta meal I am allowing myself a week. Fresh gnocchi which cooked in all of a minute, cover in a simple tomato sauce and baked with a breadcrumb topping. Yum

Tomato Sauce

Fry a couple of chopped rashers of streaky bacon (the Freedom Farms one is good) until crispy and put on a papertowel to drain. Wipe out most of the fat, and fry a diced onion until soft. Add a crushed garlic clove, and fry for another minute. Add a splash of white wine to the pan, then tip in a tin of crushed tomatoes (Farro Fresh do tins of Italian tomatoes, 3 for $5 it is worth stocking up. They also do a similar deal on tinned legumes) Add a pinch of sugar, which I always add when cooking with tomatoes, seasoning, a pinch of chili flakes and about 1/2 tomato tin of water. Add the bacon back to the pan, stir and let bubble way on medium for about 10 mins until thickened . Stir through a couple of handfuls of baby spinach until wilted, then add a splash of cream. I know,, what is a diet diva doing adding cream? It really gives richness, disproportionate to the amount added, and cuts the acidity of the tomatoes. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Tip the sauce over your boiled gnocchi, which you have drained and placed in a baking dish. Top with fresh breadcrumbs and a wee bit of Parmesan (for flavour!) and grill for a minute or two until crispy on top. Super yummy and satisfying.

Changing tack entirely I went to the cinema recently and saw a lovely film Cairo Time, if you have every been to Cairo, or wanted to, see this film. It is a lovely bittersweet romance, and an ode to the city, I loved it. Be warned , it is a chick flick...........Mr PK was slightly less than effusive, but that may have been the lack of guns.......

If you are reading this I applaud your tenacity! I suspect I do this the wrong way around, many of the blogs I enjoy have plenty of beautiful pictures and short snappy prose..........I am entirely the other way around, a few pictures, and A LOT of words. I like words, always have. But I promise to make a better effort with the pics, so please hang in there.......

Monday, August 16

Plum Kitchen gets lean(ish).......

There is only one thing worse than listening to someone tell you about their diet (sorry "healthy eating plan"...) and that's listening to a description of their latest dream. On reflection the two probably have a lot in common. Often neither have any relationship with reality, but are none the less related with zealous enthusiasm, usually oblivious to glazed expressions, stifled yawns, or outright scepticism.
So in the spirit of diet bores everywhere, secure in the knowledge I can neither hear your yawns nor see your eyes clouding over, I will quietly stage whisper.............12 week challenge. No, I couldn't hear that groan either thanks.
Winter has taken its toll (how many winters I wont divulge, suffice to say my all over duvet is rather thicker than it should be, and my fav trousers no longer do up, not if I simultaneously want like to breath anyway...)  I am concerned come Spring I will either have to seriously embrace the kaftan or never take my PJ's off. Sorry, lounge wear. Neither of these options appeal, so with visions of skinny jeans and floaty tops I am committed to a loss of 12kg. Its a nice round figure to achieve a slightly less round figure, one which will slap me squarely in the size 12-14 category. Yes Mrs Average, I hear your name and it sounds good.

So how does a confirmed glutton, exercise dodger and all round lard lover achieve this? Firstly I have signed up my best pal and one of my sisters. Misery loves company, and we have also introduced an element of competition, 5 kg must be lost by Sept 13 or a pair of shoes is forfeited. There is no way I am losing my shoes! This is the pair I have selected Leopard-Pumps

Next, I am introducing some exercise, nothing silly (I mean, if I actually liked exercise I probably wouldn't be in this predicament would I?) , just walking 4 times a week, sit ups (that's Pru in the picture doing her sit ups with me....) and arm exercises with some weights I found in the packing...........goodbye bingo wings, hello Michelle Obama arms. OK, Michelle arms may be a bit much, but a little less wobble would be good.

Then of course there is the food. And before you say "hey chubby, didn't you just post about Mac n Cheese? And LARDY cake"? yes I know. I know. I know.
Its my long standing love affair with cream, cheese, bacon, butter, fat in general and lets not forget potatoes..........I should have been born about 100 years ago, I would no doubt have been very working class, and a day heaving huge loads of washing about, scrubbing floors, lighting fires and chasing after multiple children would at least have meant I might have worked off my consumption. The irony being of course I probably would not have had anything like that much to eat. I am a classic example of far to much food, choice and time to sit on my backside.
So instead of looking on this as an exercise in deprivation I am trying to see it as a challenge (sorry, I know how hideous that sounds), cooking the best tasting dishes I can, while keeping a reasonable though not ridiculous eye on fat content. Weirdly, not only is it working (1kg down this week) but I am rather enjoying it. Like many things a blanket approach to weight loss is a bit counter productive, my friend is using the Weight Watchers point system, and having great results. I cant even think about pointing everything I eat, but having three sensible (yet delicious!) meals a day, plus a bit of fruit and maybe a couple of crackers at morning tea seems to work for me. A glass of wine with dinner is a lovely treat for me, for her it is a sweet biscuit or bit of chocolate (I have no sweet tooth so can easily give the chocolate a miss, still struggling with cheese...)
So anyway, we shall see how it goes, but here are a few of the yummy things I have been making. I cant vouch for any calorie or nutritional content, but they tasted good.

Supper the other night was steaks, marinated in loads of black pepper, a smidge of oil, salt and a squeeze of lemon. I cooked it on my griddle pan, then topped with a lovely zingy salsa, tasty but simple, using herbs I managed to find alive in the garden.

Handful of coriander
Handful of mint
Handful of parsley
One garlic clove, chopped
One red chili, chopped
Two Spring Onions, chopped
A small splash of olive oil

It was delish, served with potato wedges made with agria potatoes sprinkled with paprika, pepper, chili powder and salt, then baked and topped with low-fat sour cream (which tastes a lot like full fat sour cream), and some frozen corn. Like peas, corn, while being a shadow of the fresh version, is still handy to have, for days when I cant face another root vege, and the rain is pouring, making a salad feel just odd.

Another fav was lean pork steaks (no crackle, alas) briefly marinated in lemon thyme and lemon juice, grilled and served with a very simple salad made of steamed salad potatoes, crunchy Braeburn apple and celery and spring onions straight from the garden, bound with a tiny bit of mayo I loosened with extra lime juice, and a green salad with sweet little cherry tomatoes. Ok, not the most exciting dinners, but I am easing into it...

Tonight I am making a roasted vege salad sprinkled with feta cheese, which will be perfect for lunch tomorrow also. It is inspired by  Sophie Dahl's book, which I really rather like. Simple recipes, lovely styling, and plenty of chat, which I for one like in a cookbook. Her TV show started last week on Food TV, it was slated quite badly in the UK, but I thought she was rather lovely, and that kitchen, to die for!

Planning on making this coconut-beef-noodles from over at Pod & Three Peas this week, I have never used lite coconut milk, but I love curry, and cant possible contemplate giving it up for twelve weeks. I will give the fried noodles a miss, although they look tempting, but egg noodles will be fine. Actually I lost half a stone when I spent a month in India, not Delhi belly, just lovely fresh vege at every meal, and not to many snacks, go figure?
Book update, Brewed, Crude & Tattooed from my last post was actually quite good. Light but funny, I enjoyed the heroine Maggy and the description of a snow bound mall with a killer at large....very excited waiting for my next Amazon purchase to arrive, the delightful Thomasina Miers, UK Masterchef winner back in 2005, and owner of several Mexican restaurants in London has written a Mexican cookbook, cant wait to get cooking. Mexican food is much lighter than you would imagine, I think  alot of what is served here as Mexican is in fact Tex Mex, heavy on the cheese and meat. Mexican cooking is lighter and more exciting that that, watch this space for a bit of Mexico here in my kitchen.
Off for dinner, the fabulous Wallander series two starts tonight on UKTV, this show is really worth watching if you get the chance , Kenneth Branagh is the best. My Mum has read these books, and commented how amazingly similar to the character in the books he is, really bringing him to life. Hopefully I will get the remote back, the Premiership started at the weekend, it isn't enough to watch the games, one must watch all the highlight/preview/review shows also...and you thought diets were tedious......

Saturday, August 7

Pimp my Mac N Cheese

No doubt I shall regret that title, I can only imagine what google search is throwing up. If this was not quite the site you were looking for, please do stick around, pasta can be very exciting too......

Ok that is probably pushing it slightly, but Friday night is sometimes solo dinner night in our house, and last night it was just me and my mac n cheese. I always feel rather sad when I hear people say “its just me for dinner, so why bother” ? Maybe I am simply stonkingly selfish, but my dinner is at least as important as anyone else's surely? I don’t mean it has to be complicated, or fancy, or even strictly a meal. But it does have to be good, and surely the solo supper is a chance to indulge, with no ones whims to accommodate save your own? Often my supper-for-one may be a steak, cooked juicy and rare, smeared all over with a walnut blue cheese butter from the freezer (blue cheese being one of the few things Mr PK wont eat......) and maybe a salad, decadent, but not especially time consuming to prepare, and easy to portion for one.

However I fancied pasta. Ina Garten made Lobster Mac n Cheese on the fabulous barefootcontessa TV show a few weeks back, it really caught my eye. Could comfort food get more decadent? A real treat when I was a kid staying with my relations in Waiuku was being allowed to have one of those Macaroni Cheese boxes to make up for my supper, cheese powder that you added to milk and butter and stirred through the cooked pasta. I loved it! I tried one a couple of years ago, for old times sake (actually I was trying to remember what the attraction was) and was amazing how bland it was.......disappointing, but what was I expecting?

As the car was being serviced, I caught the train home, which goes no where near a supermarket or food shop anyway, so lobster was out (as if it was ever in .....?!), but bacon I always have. Rummaging around the cheese box I found a little piece of Gruyere, another of Havarti, and another of indeterminate cheddar. I am making a real effort not to throw away food, so little bits of this and that do end up in the fridge, here was a perfect opportunity to use them, a lovely cheesy sauce. Fresh breadcrumbs in the freezer and pasta in my now super organised pantry. Sadly I suffered a weevil attack a few weeks ago, these glass jars are wonderfully weevil proof, plus I can see what I have, no more three different packets of the same thing lurking in different parts of the pantry........I got my jars from arthur holmes, great prices and speedy delivery from Wellington. I'm so sad sometimes I just stand with the doors open and look at how wonderfully orderly it is........should I talk to someone about this?

Anyway, I made my cheese sauce, adding Dijon mustard and using milk which was heated with a bay leaf, seasoning and a slice of onion. It may seem an unnecessary step, but it gives a lovely savoury flavour to your sauce, and after all this was a pimped up version of a classic. Crispy bacon was stirred through the pasta and cheese sauce, and a chopped spring onion added for extra flavour. On top breadcrumbs mixed with cheese, and for a final touch? A drizzle of truffle oil, I thought that was very Ina. Baked for 25 minutes or so, and then served with chopped cherry tomatoes seasoned and drizzled with olive oil, it was utterly delish, comforting, but not bland at all. The Gruyere gives a lovely nutty flavour, and a pleasing stringy melt.The tomatoes were a nice contrast, I don't approve of tomato in Mac N Cheese (sorry Jamie...), but alongside is fine. I had anticipated having the leftovers for lunch today, but Mr Lager came home and hoovered them up, topped with a chipotle sauce and a couple of pickled onions ...........sadly I kid you not.

As I type this I am munching homemade hummus, with some corn tortillas I found in the freezer and fried up. They are from Mexican Specialities and are delish, smelling of corn, so much better than brought corn chips, with all that weird flavour powder stuff on them (don't even get me started on Doritos!). Hummus is so easy to make, and so satisfying, it is worth the fact my breath would down Bill Compton at 50 paces......


Simply take a drained tin of chickpeas and blitz in your blender or food processor with the following:

Two Garlic cloves
Juice of a lemon
2-3 tablespoons of tahini
1/2 cup olive oil

Adjust to suit your tastes, I like plenty of garlic, but feel free to just use one clove. My sister Liz adds a couple of teaspoons of toasted and ground coriander and cumin seeds, which adds a lovely warmth. Another sister Woo puts her hummus on a platter and tops with caramelised onions which have cumin seeds, fresh thyme, pinenuts and olive oil added.......

Dinner tonight is a steak sandwich, made with homemade potato focaccia (see previous post for recipe) which I have added thyme to, will take some pics tonight and post tomorrow.

In the meantime, if you are still awake (thanks!) I have a little thought. I went to the library the other day, the big one in Auckland, and as I was queuing to self serve an Inspector Morse Omnibus (I may be the only person currently reading crime novels that by aren't Stigg Larrson....) my eye was drawn to the new titles shelf. I picked up a book called Brewed, Crude and Tattooed and  brought it home to read (how could you not with a title like that?), and guess what? I am the very first person to get this book out. And I cant tell you how pleased I was when I realized that. Silly I know, but it is like having a present of a new book, except it's free. Don't you love when something really tickles your fancy, and makes you happy, those hidden treats in the day? In the spirit of the small gem, I shall finish with a couple more, how lovely is that blue tin?

Sunday, August 1

Potato and bread, the path to happiness...

Flicking through The Best of Annabel Langbein (what a great go-to book, packed with recipes, and they work) I came across a Potato Focaccia Dough recipe. Potato and Bread. Combined. What's not to love?

Potato and Focaccia Dough- from The Best of Annabel Langbein

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tsp dry yeast
1 cup packed cooked mashed potato ( I didn't have any leftovers, so  I boiled two Agra potatoes and mashed with butter, seasoning and a splash of cream as usual, there was enough for breakfast the next day with a poached egg, joy)
1/4 cup EV Olive Oil
4 1/2 cups strong bread flour (plus a bit extra for mixing)
2 tsp salt
More oil & sea salt for topping

Put the water in a jug with the yeast, I also added a 1/2 tsp sugar, stir, and put in a warm spot next to the heater for 10 minutes or so. Meanwhile put your mashed potato, flour, salt & olive oil into a bowl and either add the water yeast mix and stir with a wooden spoon or your fingers, or do as I do & use the dough hook attachment on your much loved Kitchen Aid. If you are doing it by hand tip the mix out onto a floured bench and knead for about 10 mins by hand (for a description of kneading see here ) It will take 5-8 minutes in the Kitchen Aid. When the dough feels smooth and silky, and bounces back when pressed you are good to go. It may be slightly sticky from the inclusion of the potato, so you may need to add a little more flour, this is quite normal. Rub the inside of the bowl you have used with a little oil, put the dough back in and leave to rest in a warm place until it has pretty much doubled in size, this will take 1-1.5 hours. Yes it takes time, but it isn't time you are actually required to do anything.

When the dough is ready split it into two. I took one portion and popped it into the freezer, the other I rolled out to about 3 cm thick on an oven tray, and placed a tea towel over it, then left it back by the heater to rise a little again for about 30 mins. Pre heat your oven at this point to 220C. Put fingertip dimples all over the dough (just like a brought one!), brush it with EV Olive oil, and sprinkle with Maldon sea salt. I know I sound very precise with the salt, but unlike rock salt which is meant for grinders, a sprinkle of this stuff wont break your teeth, rather just flake into ozone saltiness on your tongue. Pop into the oven for about 20 minutes, then leave to cool on a rack.............if you can resist the smell, in which case you are a better girl than I.
This is simply the best loaf I have ever made. I know I should not wax lyrical such about my own cooking, but quite frankly modesty would be misplaced here, it might make you believe this loaf was something less than utterly delicious and not bother making it. That would be a disaster.........

We ate almost the whole loaf, no butter or oil, just dunked into bowls of vege soup (I admit, Kings soup mix, a few added vege and a bacon bone from the butcher, good stuff for a cold afternoon). I did save a tiny sliver for my lunch the next day, which I spread with butter, and it still tasted good.
If you have never made bread before, can I urge you to do so, it is so rewarding. The house smells yeasty and wholesome, the dough feels gloriously soft and smooth, yet alive in your hands, and the lucky person you break bread with will look at you like you may, just ever so slightly, in a very non-smug NZ sort of way, actually be touched by genius.............just smile serenely and keep eating.

I am covering breadmaking at my next cooking class on Wednesday 4th August, this session is full, but if you are interested in attending another class covering bread, please let me know as I would be happy to do a repeat class if there is enough interest. The more people who can bake their own bread and pizza, the happier I will be........