Sunday, November 28

Salad days, crafty ways............and a big hole in the ground

I have not posted for over a week, and now I have so much to share I shall have to do it in episodes, I don't want you feeling overwhelmed............or bored to tears. I had a great cooking class the other night, Salads for Supper, and want to share some of the recipes.

After a gray start the sun is shining today and I cant see a cloud out the window. If I listen carefully I can actually hear my zucchini growing, chuckling quietly to themselves "she loves us now, but wait a few weeks when we have grown like a triffid and worn her down....." to which of course I chuckle to myself and utter the immortal words "stuffed zucchini flowers". But we are not quite there yet.

Back to the salads, first up is a variation on quinoa and rice (remember, "keen-wa", not key-no-ah") I came up with last week and am rather pleased with. It uses two of my fav things, Pomegranate Molasses and eggplant (for another recipe using both of these see here ). It is really delicious, easy to make, and given how cheap eggplant are at the moment, really economical. If you live somewhere where eggplant are juts  dream right now, can I suggest pumpkin or sweet potato (kumara in this neck of the woods) as an alternative?

Quinoa and brown rice salad with eggplant, cucumber and walnuts

Ok I know it sounds a bit worthy, but it does taste yummy, honest. And it is super good for you. The hint of chilli on the eggplant, and the pomegranate molasses spark everything up nicely, and it looks pretty on the plate. This is lovely with the feta cheese, and also works really well with lamb fillet, dusted with cumin and salt then blasted on the grill or BBQ until crusty outside and pink within...

This makes enough for 4-6

1 cup quinoa (either red or white is fine)
1 cup brown rice
1 onion, sliced into crescents
1 large eggplant
½ tsp each of ground cumin, salt and chilli powder
Splash of olive oil
1 Lebanese cucumber sliced
Handful of cherry tomatoes
½ cup walnuts, toasted
Handful of chopped mint
Handful of chopped parsley
100 grams crumbled feta cheese


½ cup EV olive oil
2 tsp pomegranate molasses (or use honey and a squeeze of lemon)
1 tsp white vinegar (cider vinegar is nice here)
Salt and fresh black pepper

Bring two saucepans of salted water to the boil, and add the rice to one and the quinoa to the other. Boil until cooked but not mushy, the rice will take about 20 mins, the quinoa about 15 mins.

Drain both (no need to rinse) and spread out on a tray to cool. While they are cooking fry your onion in a little bit of oil until golden but not burnt. Set aside.
Add the oil to the cumin, salt and chilli and stir to combine. Chop the eggplant into bite size chunks, then mix with the spice and oil. Fry or grill the aubergine over a medium heat until cooked and golden, this will take about 10 mins.
Make your dressing by whisking all your ingredients together. Taste for seasoning. It should be sharp but with a hint of sweetness.

Tip your cooled rice and quinoa into a large bowl and add the cooked onion. Stir though the eggplant, cucumber, tomatoes, walnuts and herbs. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Check again for seasoning.
Tip onto a platter and sprinkle with the crumbled feta and more mint leaves.

This is just a base recipe, feel free to add or subtract ingredients as you wish. Some dried fruits such as apricots or figs could be added, maybe substituting the walnuts for pistachios.

This is a great salad to take to make in advance and take to a BBQ as it is robust and actually improves with sitting. If you do refrigerate make sure you take it out and bring to room temp before serving. Nothing tastes of much ice cold...........ok, except maybe champagne

The next salad I would like you to run immediately to the kitchen and make is courtesy of Nigella, and it is a fav in our house. Watermelon, feta, olives, lime..............what is not to love, and it can be thrown together in about 5 minutes. This is my go to salad when it gets really warm. With apologies to those of you ready somewhere chilly. If it is any consolation I already have a red nose (how festive!) and the bits of me that are not opaque white are turning pink or freckled .Thanks Dad, that red hair white freckled skin combo you shared with us is such a winner in the NZ sunshine.........

Watermelon and feta salad

1 red onion, peeled and cut into crescents (half moons)
2-4 limes, depending on juiciness
1 watermelon
100 grams Feta cheese
Handful of flat-leaf parsley
Handful of mint
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Handful of pitted black olives
Black pepper

Put the onion into a small bowl, and squeeze over the juice of the limes.
Remove the rind from the watermelon, and cut into bite sized chunks. Don’t be too precious about this, it is fine a bit rough. Tear the feta into smaller sized pieces and put them both into a large, wide shallow platter.
Tear off sprigs of parsley so that it is used like a salad leaf, rather than a garnish, and add to the bowl along with the mint.

Pour onions, along with their juices over the salad in a bowl, add the oil and olives, then using your hands toss the salad so that the feta and melon don’t fall apart. Add a grinding of black pepper and taste to see whether the dressing needs more lime.

I have also made this sprinkled with fresh red chilli, also very yummy if you like a little heat

In between cooking adventures I have also got my crafty hat on. I got up this morning to watch the All Blacks, I don't normally surface on a Sunday at 6am ( with apologies again, I am guessing those of you with kids reading this are used to getting up at 6am EVERY morning.......?) Anyway it is amazing how much more a girl can get done with extra hours in her weekend. I made an advent calender for two of my nephews while the footie was on, I think it is kind of cute

I got the idea from the December issue of Your Home and Garden, it is a goodie.

The little sandwich bags are filled with treats for the family . It started off with just the two boys, then I felt so bad about the sweets and chocolates (more accurately the EFFECT of the sweets and chocolate) that I included little bits & bobs for the whole whaneau.........the little pegs and ribbon are from Kikki-K , also a great spot for diaries and pens. Its like the first day of the new school year every time I walk in, stationery heaven....

If any of you were wondering how the garden/pizza oven/deck/massive hole in the ground is getting on (don't worry, I don't actually expect you have been pondering this...) here is an update. Pru is wondering what on earth we are doing to her outdoor WC, the neighbours are wondering if we are secretly putting in a pool, the kids down the back are desperately HOPING we are putting in a pool............and I am wondering how much of our hard earned dosh is disappearing into that hole. Will keep you posted.

In the meantime this is the evil eye I got this morning. How inscrutable are cats?

Thursday, November 18

Lighten up nachos.........the opposite of the truth

I lied. I am being honest with you when I say I fibbed. I told you I would lay off the Mexican thing......well, not quite. In my defence this is probably about as Mexican as I am, but there are tortillas, spice, lime and more than a passing resemblance to nachos. Only much much better....

Lighten up Nachos (from that well known suburb of Mexico City, Ellerslie, 11,500 miles to the south)

Firstly bake off some fresh corn tortillas to make your nacho chips. You can use packet ones of course, but I buy big packs of fresh corn tortillas and keep them in the freezer. Simpy defrost if needed, brush very lightly with vegetable oil, and cut into triangles (no protractor required, an approximation is fine). Bake on an oven tray for 10 mins or so at 170C until crispy.

I use lean sirloin steaks for my nachos rather than mince, which I brush lightly with oil, and sprinkle  with some of the following spice mix

2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
Pinch cinnamon

Mix together, and store in an airtight tin or jar. I use this in place of the brought Mexican spice mixtures, which tend to contain a lot of salt (and sometimes strange unpronouncable things and numbers....) You can add more or less of any of the spices to taste, so if you like more chilli go for it.

Griddle the steaks, then leave to rest for five minutes or so while you assemble your supper. Spread the corn chips on a plate or in a shallow bowl, sprinkle on some lettuce and/or rocket leaves, sliced spring onion (soak in a squeeze of lime juice for 10 minutes to soften up if you like) , cherry tomatoes and spring onions.
Slice you steaks thinly on the diagonal and scatter on top. Over that drizzle some sour cream or cream fraiche into which you have beaten a couple of tiny drops of sesame oil and soya sauce, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. You can also add some sesame seeds if you have them . I know it sounds weird but it tastes good. If you cant be bothered plain sour cream would be just fine also.
A scatter of Parmesan cheese flakes (I know, Mexico city by way of Asia with a quick trip to Italy, don't say I don't take you places with food.......) and a wedge or two of lime  finishes things off nicely.

This is filling yet light, and really full of flavour. Plus it looks pretty, which is always a bonus.

After all that savoury can I tempt you with sweet?  Clever wee Pease Pudding (a great blog full of fabbo recipes) is starting up The Afternoon Tea Club, her first event, a beautiful high tea,  is on Sunday 12 December, check out the link. If her strawberry donuts are anything to go by it will be rather divine indeed!
I thought I would share a photo of my biggest fan, Pru. Actually she treats me mostly with disdain, saving her affections for the man of the house. But when I am in the kitchen she knows there may be a tidbit or four coming her way (I vainly try to bribe my way into her affections, with little success thus far) so she stands patiently behind me. A couple of time I have actually stepped back and fallen over her (this could explain the disdain?) but for the most part she manages to avoid my tootsies.
As you can see, no one in my house is underfed......

Monday, November 15

Refried beans and burrito folding 101...

Ok, let me get the burrito off my chest & I will give the Mexican thing a rest for a little while. But you have to try the burrito. It is just so far away from greasy heavy stodge-o-rama burritos you may have had in the past (unless your Mexican in which case this wont taste like your Mama's but try it anyway......) it would be a tragedy if you didn't try it. Not that I am given to hyperbole or anything..........

The beans do take a couple of hours to cook, but it is a very low maintenance couple of hours, just check the pot and top up with water if needs be, nothing too stressful. And the result is just so much better than canned beans you wont go back. They freeze beautifully, so make a batch & stock up. I warn you, nothing makes refried beans look good, but the taste more than compensates.

Refried Beans (frijoles refritos)-adapted from a Tale of 12 Kitchens by Jake Tilson (GREAT BOOK!)

 I use black turtle beans, they don’t need soaking, which I am never organised enough to remember, and cook in about 1 ½ -2 hours. The beans are also delish just cooked and thickened, without refrying, topped with sour cream and some grated cheese.
This makes enough for 6 burritos

1 cup dried black turtle beans
4 cloves of garlic
½ tsp oregano
½-1 dried chipotle chilli (or use a canned chipotle in adobe sauce)
1 onion finely chopped
1 tbsp oil (in Mexico they would use lard!)
2 tomatoes chopped

In a large pot simmer the beans, garlic, oregano, half the onion, and the chipotle chilli in plenty of water (I used about 4 cups) for 30 minutes.

Add the oil, and continue cooking for about another hour, until the beans are soft. Top up with hot water when they are getting low. Add salt once the beans are soft (not before, or the skins toughen)
In a small pan fry the remaining half an onion with the chopped tomato, until the onion is soft. Add a ladle of the beans and some liquid to the frying pan, then mash using a potato masher. Add this mix back into the pot of beans and stir it in, the bean mixture will thicken up

At this point you can serve the beans with sour cream, salsa and cheese, or remove the chilli, add a splash of oil to a larger frying pan and tip all the beans into it. Add chilli flakes if you want it hotter. Mash with your potato masher, and cook gently until all the liquid has evaporated and you have a thick bean mix.

Use in burritos, tostada or serve with rice and salsa.

Burrito with corn and courgette

A few years ago I started adding corn fried up with chilli and spring onions to my tacos. Then I came across a recipe in Thomasina Miers fantastic Mexican Food cookbook, which adds courgette to the mix. This is really lovely and fresh, and the refried beans and feta cheese add substance

For 6 burritos

1 Tbsp oil
1 can of whole kernel corn, drained (or fresh cut from the cob in season)
2 courgettes, diced into 1 cm cubes (or thereabouts!)
1 fresh red chilli
3 spring onions
Salt & fresh ground black pepper
Handful of chopped mint
Handful of chopped coriander
Squeeze of lime juice

Refried beans
Chopped tomato
Feta cheese
Avocado (optional)
Fresh flour tortillas of flatbreads
Sour cream to serve

Heat the oil over medium heat in a fry pan and add the corn, courgette, chilli and spring onions, with salt and pepper to taste. Fry for 5-10 mins until the corn is starting to colour, and the courgette is cooked. Take off the heat and stir in the mint and coriander, along with the lime juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning to suit , I like plenty of lime and chilli.

To assemble the burrito, take your tortilla, and spread a couple of tablespoons of the bean mix in the middle. Top with the corn mixture, chopped tomato, a crumble of feta cheese and chopped avocado if you like it cooked (I don’t!)

Fold the two edges together, then bring the bottom flap up to form a pocket. Fold forward to encase your filling completely.

Place in a dry non stick pan over medium heat, and cook each side until golden brown. You can also do this in a sandwich/Panini grill, which makes these a great lunch option for work. You will make everyone in the lunch room very envious, and the food police will leave you alone as they don't really smell very strongly

Take off the heat, slice in half diagonally and serve with sour cream, and salsa and guacamole if you like.

You can also add chopped cooked chicken, beef, pork or prawns to this, if you want more protein, but the beans do make it quite substantial.

The Iroquois call corn, beans and squash the Three Sisters, believing they only grow really well when planted together. The beans, which need support, grow up the corn, in turn stabilising it, and fix nitrogen in the soil for the following year’s crop. The squash provides mulch coverage, retaining moisture in the soil, and also spiny protection for the corn and beans. When eaten together the corn provides carbs, while the amino acids in the beans, which corn lacks, form protein, which when combined with the squash create a balanced diet without the need for meat. This is my attempt, peas instead of beans, and no squash, as my half barrel isn't big enough......

What amazes me is how they figured that out, thousands of years before chemistry sets and NZ Gardener? Is there anything more fascinating than food, I think not.......

Wednesday, November 10

Baja fish taco, gringo style..........

Lets lighten things up shall we? Summer is coming, and this recipe is a great option for those days when you want something full of flavour, but still light, and quick to prepare. I can whip these up in about 15 mins. This is also a top option for the BBQ, as the fish can be cooked and the tortillas warmed really easily on  a grill. If you are like me and cant eat anything handheld without wearing a portion of it, this taco, made from a soft tortilla rather than a crunchy corn shell, is also a lot easier to manage (or wear a bib?)

I have adapted the recipe from an episode of a great Australian show I saw a while ago called Food Safari. It was actually talking about Californian food, even though confusingly Baja California is the northern most state of Mexico. I tried to take notes as I watched, shorthand not being my forte I'm not sure how close this is to the original but we like it. The cabbage salad may seem odd, but it provides a great crunch to contrast with the soft fish, creamy sauce and zingy chilli. Try it and see.

Baja Fish Taco (adapted from Food Safari-American episode)

A small piece of snapper per person (or any white firm fleshed fish you like)

2 Tsp oil
Squeeze of lime juice
½ tsp cayenne pepper
Sprinkle of salt
Sprinkle of chilli (fresh or flakes)

Place your snapper on a plate and sprinkle over all the rest of the ingredients

Grill, BBQ or fry your fish until just cooked, then serve in a soft warm flour tortilla with the cabbage salad, some chopped tomato (or salsa) and the Baja cream, yum!

Cabbage Salad

Simply mix together finely chopped cabbage, sliced red onion, soaked in lime juice for 5-10 minutes to soften, and chopped coriander with a good sprinkle of salt. I also add fennel and radish when I have them for extra crunch.

Baja Cream

Mix together the following to taste (enough for 4 fish taco)

3 tbsp sour cream
2 tbsp thick plain yogurt
½-1 chopped fresh chilli to taste (or use chilli flakes)
Good pinch cayenne pepper
Squeeze of lime juice

Fresh tomato salsa

Simply mix together the following, tasting until you are happy with the zip factor

4-6 tomatoes, cut in half and scoop the seeds out, then chop roughly
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ -1 red onion, skinned and finely chopped (I don’t like huge chunks of onion) If you don’t have red onions, use spring onions
Big squeeze of lime juice
Chopped fresh chilli, red or green
Pinch of sugar
Chopped coriander
Salt & pepper

I made these at my Mexican cooking class last week, where they were a hit. Mexican food can have a bit of a reputation for being heavy, meaty and cheese rich, however that is more Tex Mex food, real Mexican is lighter and spicier, very lovely friend Mairi over at  Toast , who was kind enough to take these pictures, made Watermelon-Raspberry ice for her Mexican fiesta at the weekend, which I was lucky enough to be invited to. Supper yummy, and would make a great finale to a summer meal, Mexican inspired or not.

I thought I would share my radishes with you............real, live, not yet consumed by snail ones, very exciting!

No that isn't my attempt at flower gardening, or quarrying. It is our soon to be constructed (by professionals  so will hopefully be done without mortal injury or divorce) decked entertaining area complete with pizza/smoking oven. I am so excited, it is worth the look I get from the back neighbours everytime they drive up our shared driveway and wonder what I have against rock gardens. Alot actually. For one thing they don't seem to produce anything I can eat, and for another I cant sit in one on a sun lounger sipping a cocktail while cooking a pizza. Nuff said.

Finally in the spirit of blogging honesty I will share with you entry number 7566 on the Plum Kitchen Roll Call of Honour-Making A Tit of Herself Again.
I drove into Ellerslie this afternoon (yes, I should have walked but I can never remember what time the Post Office closes) to return some clothes and visit the butcher. I was walking back to the car I'd unlocked remotely,  mentally ticking off jobs done and wondering if Feline Fusspot would eat the only cat biks I could find at Four Square when I noticed a scratch and small dent on the drivers side door. I was cursing as I jumped in, chucking my shopping onto a packet of cigarettes on the passenger seat and breathing in a massive wiff of fag smoke..........I dont smoke? Confusion for a nano second until I realised I was in someone elses car........
I nearly rammed the door into a passing bus in my hurry to grab my bags and exit the vehicle. From the way he nearly wet himself laughing I'd say the guy at the bus stop opposite realised what I had done, as I threw the shopping and remaining dignity into (my) car, and drove away as quickly as possible, thank goodness for tinted windows.......
Save an idiot and lock your car doors people!

Saturday, November 6

Snowballs in Spring.....

How cute is a cupcake? I know, every man & his canine are doing them, but they are a lovely alternative to a birthday cake, and provide a higher icing to cake ratio than a normal slice (ok, I am not sure this has actually been scientifically proven, but should NASA ever take on the job I am sure that would be the finding...)

I recently catered a friends parents joint 80th birthday party, and thought snowball cupcakes would be the perfect sweet finale. They look fab, and are easy to make with a hand held beater. A vanilla cupcake laced with lemon zest, containing a teaspoonful of tangy lemon curd, topped with sweet marshmallow frosting and coconut, I want one of these on my 80th birthday please.......with champagne thanks.

Snowballs (recipe adapted from "Cupcakes!" by Elinor Klivans)

Vanilla Lemon Cupcakes (makes 24 normal sized cupcakes)

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 cups sugar (yep, these are sweet little cakes!)
1 cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
grated zest of a lemon
1 cup sour cream

Pre heat the oven to 180C
Sift the flour, baking powder, soda & salt together into a bowl.
In a large bowl eggs and sugar together until pale & thick (I use my Kitchen Aid but a hand held beater would be fine) With the beater on low add the oil, vanilla and lemon zest, beating until well mixed. Add the sour cream and mix in. Add the flour mixture and beat gently again until all the flour is combined. Pour into 24 lined cupcake cases, filling about 3/4 full, then bake for about 20 mins, until they are pale golden and a skewer poked into the middle of a cake comes out clean.

Cool, then scoop out a tsp of the cake crumb, and fill with a tsp of lemon curd (passionfruit or lime curd is also perfect here, you need something with a tang to counter all that sweet) and top with the following frosting, and a sprinkle of coconut.

Marshmallow frosting

3/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup water
2 egg whites
pinch of cream of tarter
1/2 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)

Put the sugar, water, egg white and cream of tarter in a heatproof bowl over  a saucepan of barely simmering water. Don't let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Using an electric beater, beat the mixture together until it forms a fluffy thick white frosting, this takes about 5-7 minutes. Remove from over the water, add the vanilla and beat for another couple of minutes, where it will further thicken and cool. Swirl all over your cupcakes in generous swirls (cupcake icing is no time for restraint......) and top with the coconut. Hose down yourself and the kitchen, which will somehow have managed to acquire sticky frosting and coconut all over it..........or maybe that's just me?

I also made sticky honey soy chicken wings, zucchini muffins with smoked salmon (recipe here), chicken and walnut mayo sandwiches, ham and brie sandwiches and hummus...........

oh and of course, sausage rolls! I make mine using my butchers best pork bangers, skinned and mixed with onion, seasoning and fresh parsley. So simple, so retro, so good.

All of the pics above were taken by my lovely friend Briar. Not only can she operate a camera with more confusing buttons and knobs than a space shuttle, she fits in photography around being a clever clogs lawyer and mum to a gorgeous little girl, cooking and  having a better garden than mine. Oh and she is great fun too.
I know, overachieving tart.....

Speaking of gardens, I thought I would share with you my latest garden disaster, in case you are having a rough day and would like to feel superior. Please admire my sad little courgette plant, after a dawn raid by the local snail community............I tried in vain to cox it back to health but the little buggers had eaten all the fresh revenge was a liberal does of Quash, firmly shutting the gate as the horse gallops down the road..........

I was chatting to one of my sisters this morning, she lives in Kerikeri, far north of Auckland, where they get more sun and hence an earlier start on Spring crops. She had been talking on the phone to our Mother (whose garden at the moment is quite spectacular, Ma's fingers are green to the bone, what happened to me is still a mystery) and commented her radishes had grown really well. Mum paused for a second then responded "well anyone who cant grow radishes cant grow anything". They get sun in Northland, but also the odd shower of rain on parades...........

You might have noticed I have had a wee break from my blog. It has been a funny few weeks, I have changed jobs, had some rather worrying news and attempted a "staycation", a holiday at home. This was not exactly a success, instead of coming back from a beach in Fiji relaxed and slightly pink (my version of a holiday tan....),  I have a very clean house (even the windows!), and a desire to book a beach break imminently...........actually we are off to Sydney to visit another sister in January so I can look forward to that.
In the meantime I will sit in the sun with my book, finished Vanda Symon's Overkill, great book, am now attempting a Lee Child thriller, not usually my scene but he seems very popular so will give it a go........