Tuesday, December 28

New Year in Italy.......

No, Santa didn't leave a plane ticket to Rome in my Christmas stocking, which wasn't a complete surprise (I'm an optimist, but not delusional...) He did however, leave a pasta making attachment for my Kitchanaid, bellisimo!
After spending a couple of hours wrestling with my magazine mountain, and boxing up about a decade worth of Cuisines for the Hospice shop I was knackered and decided pasta making had to be easier. Unfortunately despite the pouring rain (serves me right for being moaning Mary about the heat) the humidity in still in the 90's, which I think may have affected my pasta. Still, I was pretty happy with a first attempt. I am doing my spring holiday clean room by room, so after tackling the kitchen (wish me luck!) I will need fortifying with a glass of bubbles and fresh pasta and pesto, yum!

The pumpkin and walnut sauce came about after seeing an open pumpkin ravioli on Trish's Paris Kitchen. She used wild mushrooms, but I could only find fresh buttons at the grocer. I added walnuts and sage, my sage plant has made a miraculous recovery from being near dead, so I wanted to use some..... The pumpkin I over-brought for Christmas day, it was a really yummy sauce for my fresh pasta, but would work just was well over dried fettuccine or even penne.

Fresh Pasta with Pumpkin, Mushroom and Walnut sauce

First make your pasta. I used the proportions from Jamie's Italy, that is six eggs to 600 grams of flour. This makes a lot of dough, I still have half in the fridge, it made about 950 grams of dough, I used 450 grams and made more than enough pasta for four people.

I used Tipo 00 flour, as I got some in my Xmas box, it felt lovely and fine in my fingers. I put all the flour on my table, broke the eggs into the middle, and started working it all together with my fingers, imagining I was sitting in a pretty frock in sunny Umbria, while my cherubic olive skinned children played outside in the grapevines, watching their impossibly handsome father chop wood or do something manly and Italian.........in reality Mr PK was beating the crap out of the wall trying to hang a picture while my pretty frock was actually badly creased linen pants covered in flour and a very sweaty T shirt..as for cherubic children, does a pissy cat suffering in the heat and collapsing under my feet count?

I read somewhere once the dough should be as smooth as a baby's bottom........my baby has a touch of cellulite, but after about eight minutes of kneading I was sweaty Betty and out of energy. It was pretty smooth, and bounced back when pressed the dough with my finger......

I cut the dough into smaller portions, and ran them through the pasta machine roller, getting gradually thinner with each roll. I look like I have made stockings.......!

 Changing attachments, I made fettuccine noodles , tossing them in flour to prevent sticking. In reality my kitchen was probably a little to humid, but they were ok, only a few sticking together in the cooking water.

While the water came to the boil, I made the sauce.

Pumpkin mushroom and walnut sauce

1/2 Pumpkin-peeled and diced into small cubes
Splash of oil and a knob of butter
Handful of mushrooms - any kind you like, sliced
Tbsp chopped sage
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped fine
1/4 cup of chopped walnuts
Splash white wine
1/2 cup of cream
Pasta cooking water
Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top

Heat the oil over med heat and add the pumpkin. Fry for about 10 minutes until soft and beginning to colour. Take out of the pan and leave to one side. Add a splash more oil to the pan and a small knob of butter. Toss in the mushrooms and fry until browned. Stir the sage and garlic in, and cook for another minute or so.
Add the wine, picking up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, then add the pumpkin back to the pan, with the walnuts and cream. Stir the whole thing together until bubbling, check the seasoning then thin as necessary with some of the water you cooked the pasta in.
Pour over your cooked pasta, and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese, yummo.

I am looking forward to more fun with my pasta machine, and my other Christmas goodies. A vintage fondue maker will make an appearance when the weather cools down, and I have the wonderful Tender Vol 2 by Nigel Slater to read. Each year my younger sister and her partner make me up a box of food goodies, this year I have a few of may favs such as Chardonnay vinegar and goose fat, and some new treats including squid ink, truffle pasta, and a rather divine concoction made from Vincotto and cocoa, so many things to play with....!

I hope you had a lovely holiday, and are looking forward to a new year with anticipation. I am not sure what mine holds, happily Dad was out of hospital and home for Christmas day, and we hope things will improve in the coming weeks. I have decided to just be thankful for every good thing that comes my way, big or small. Sometimes we get so caught up in the big picture we forget the small stuff that makes up a life actually lived.
 As John Lennon famously said, "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans".......

Off to have another shower, than a My Skied episode of Midsomer Murders, ( Joy, I think it is one I have not seen!) and a cheeky glass of wine, now that sounds like a fun plan.........

Wednesday, December 15

Festive Cranberry & White Chocolate Brownie of fabulousness....

Mr PK has many wonderful qualities, indeed there have been occasions when I'm convinced his saintliness deserves a big up from Rome at least. But every so often he drops clangers like "maybe you could whip me up some mince pies for work morning tea?" This uttered to his much less saintly wife as she wrestled a newly free of cat vomit king sized duvet cover back onto the bed in 30 degrees with ambient humidity of about 98 percent. Every Aucklander will be nodding as they read this, not too vigorously lest they get sweaty drops on the keyboard........
The reply "pastry in this heat, are you freakin kidding me?????" was perhaps a tad harsh, but it did get me thinking. It is nice to acknowledge work colleagues, friends etc with something homemade, but not everyone finds baking easy, and even I find jam and preserve making in this weather a bit of a challenge.

The answer? A brownie, full of festive tangy cranberries, rich dark chocolate , and white chocolate bits. These require no fancy baking equipment bar a wooden spoon and small sauce whisk . At a push you could use a fork. Melt, whisk, stir, pour, bake. ANYONE can make these, and they are divine.
I know that sounds ott, but believe me. We attended Christmas drinks recently at our old neighbours house. One of the guests commented he remembered me bringing the most amazing brownies to Marc and Anna's old place (and had I brought some this time??). I could tell it was a while as he had an additional child since the last time I saw him. I chose to be flattered he enjoyed my baking....even if my conversation isn't that memorable.......

Festive Brownies of Fabulousness

200 grams dark chocolate - I use Whittaker's 70% dark
200 grams unsalted butter
pinch salt
3 eggs
250 grams sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
125 grams plain flour
1 tbsp dark cocoa powder
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180C
Melt together the butter and chocolate over a very gentle heat, and add the pinch of salt. Often recipes call for a double boiler to melt chocolate, I don't bother, instead using a heavy cast iron saucepan and low heat. But if you prefer to use a double boiler go ahead.
When the chocolate and butter are melted together take off the heat. Let cool for a couple of minutes while you beat together the eggs & sugar with the vanilla paste. You are simply beating to combine, so a small whisk or even a fork is fine, just make sure all the egg and sugar are well mixed together.

Pour the whole lot into the chocolate butter mix and stir with a wooden spoon. Add the flour and cocoa, I do this by holding a whisk over the saucepan and tipping in the flour & cocoa, then shaking it into the pan. Mix with your spoon until no bits of flour can be seen, and there are no lumps.

Stir in your cranberries & white chocolate chips, the pour the whole lot into a greased cake/brownie tin, lined with parchment paper. I have doubled this mix before and cooked it in a roasting tin also if you are feeding a crowd.

Bake for about 30 mins, depending on your oven. What you are aiming for is a slightly dry cracked top, but still a bit wet in the middle, so if you put your knife into the centre you will have a wee bit of wet mix on it. This will set up as the brownie cools, but still stay slightly moist. This is a good brownie.

Add variations at will, walnuts are fab, as are fresh raspberries, but be careful with nuts if you are sending a batch off to eaters unknown. Making an allergic colleague violently ill probably isn't conducive to good workplace relations, and it certainly isn't in the spirit of Christmas........

The icing sugar sprinkled on top isn't essential, but along with fresh berries it makes the whole plate look really pretty, and takes all of two minutes to achieve. No icing, rolling, piping or anything else, easy.

Monday, December 13

Afternoon Tea, and a bit of a pickle......

What a lovely weekend! Fab weather, and a great time catching up with friends, and meeting new ones. Mairi from over at toast and I ventured to West Auckland to meet up with pease pudding and enjoy a delish Afternoon Tea at her kitchen on the amazing west coast. Do I have kitchen envy? Yes I do.
Did I scoff cakes, sandwiches (including cucumber, yum) tarts (both sweet and savoury) and scones with homemade jam? Oh yes I did.

If you want to enjoy a beautiful spread, with some unusual teas (the Valentine, scented with chocolate and rosebud was my fav), keep checking her blog for dates, don't miss out.....
Aside from the spread, it was also a treat to meet fellow bloggers, also attending was Sasa from sasasunakku, this is a beautiful blog, so it was cool to meet the clever bean behind it. Allison also had a couple of charming local friends along, so we had a great time talking (I know, a bunch of clever girls in a room and we talked a bit, who knew?) eating and supping, a very civilised way to spend the afternoon.

Lets bring back afternoon tea! It is such a brilliant relaxed way to entertain. One of my sisters is particularly crafty, and I love the idea of having "craft soirees" (or stitch 'n bitch if you prefer...) , sitting knitting, sewing or whatever, while enjoying cakes, sandwiches and tea (and a crafty bubbly?).......obviously I would be on food and beverage duty, me crafting usually ends in tears, sometimes of frustration, sometimes because I have sewn over my finger, either way I am better in the kitchen.......

So I wont be crocheting my own bikini this summer, and now it is warm the hottie cover I have been knitting (for five years) isn't likely to make a Xmas stocking. I can however, create my own edible gifts. A fav of the men in my family , and me, is gherkins. Also known as dill pickles, these are a fairly polarising item, but we love them.
The gherkins themselves are ridiculously easy to grow , and the actual pickling process takes about 15 minutes of very low stress labour. I have four plants I picked up at the garden centre growing in recycling bins. They require little more than good soil and plenty of water. The great thing about gherkins is you can make jars as the fruit ripens, rather than having to do it all in one hit. I did a jar the other day, and will do another in about a week when the little fruits ripen up.....

Pickled Gherkins - recipe from Homegrown 2 by NZ Gardener magazine

6-10 Gherkins
a clove of garlic per jar
fresh dill (if you don't have fresh use 1 tsp dill seeds)
1 tbsp pickling spice
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp salt
1 1/4 cups white vinegar
1 1/4 cups water

Put the garlic clove and dill into a clean jar, then squash in as many gherkins as you can. The liquid will
 be enough for one jar, so multiply accordingly. Put the spices into a muslin bag (or use a piece of cloth or an old undyed hankie and tie the top with string). In a small sauce pan put the spice bag, with the sugar, salt, vinegar and water. Simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes, then bring to the boil and pour over the pickles. Seal the jars, your pickles will be ready in 4 weeks.

Heaven with cold meat, on a burger, chopped into potato salad.........or eaten standing in front of the fridge, right from the jar.

Thursday, December 9

Charitable thoughts of leftover roast chicken

I popped into New World at the weekend for something boring but useful like loo rolls, and came out with a lovely organic chicken, on special no less. A whole chook is quite a lot for two people, but I knew after roasting I would have left overs for lunch, and bones for stock. At this purse emptying time of year these kind of economies , especially after an ear numbing lecture from the Minister of Finance about a recession, expensive Xmas pressies and the hole in the ground, can make me feel quite virtuous. But after hot chicken roasted with herbs and lemon, then cold chicken with salad for lunch, I still seemed to have quite a bit of meat left. I also needed to use a zucchini who wanted to be a marrow and tried to hide from me under a leaf. Nabbed him just in time.

The answer presented itself when I came across some flatbreads in the freezer. Leftover Chicken Enchiladas (or my version of anyway), super tasty, quick and satisfying. And if you don't have leftover chicken, they would work equally well with those cooked birds you can get at the supermarket or food store.
These were on the table in about 15 minutes, so great when you just want food.Now.Please.

Chicken and Corn Enchilada type flatbread things

Splash of oil
1 zucchini
1 cob of corn (or use 1/2 cup of canned of frozen corn kernels)
2 spring onion, chopped
Pinch of chilli flakes (or use chopped fresh chilli if you have some)
Lime juice
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
4 flatbreads/flour tortillas
Leftover chicken
Grated cheese (I use good old Tasty Cheddar, but whatever you like)

Sour cream
Chopped avocado
Lime juice

Firstly take your corn off the cob by running a knife down the edge of the cob, under the kernels. The corn will shoot around a bit but persevere. Chop your zucchini in half down the middle then into half again. Slice each quarter so you are left with small chunks. Put a splash of oil into a non stick frying pan and place over medium heat.

Add the corn, zucchini, spring onions, chilli flakes and salt & pepper, and fry for a couple of minutes, to cook the vegetables, and give them a little colour. When they are done add a big squeeze of lime juice, and tip into a bowl.
Wipe the pan out with a paper towel, then put one of your flatbread on the bottom. Cover with half your corn mix, then as much shredded chicken as you want/have. Sprinkle a good handful of cheese over the top, and a bit of coriander if you like it, parsley if you don't.

Cover with the second flatbread, and put a small plate of top, with a couple of cans to weigh it down. This will encourage your filling to meld together, with the cheese acting as a sort of "glue".

After a couple of minutes, flip it onto a plate (you will think it is going to fall apart, but it wont, trust me) then slide back into the pan to cook the other side. When golden and crispy, tip onto a board or plate, slice into wedges and top with the sour cream, avocado and lime.

You can really play around with these, some chopped capsicum, chopped tomato and salsa would be great, just steer clear of anything to wet, you want that lovely crispy crunch, not soggy bottoms...........

Now I don't want for a second to compare me saving  few bucks on a posh chicken (could I sound anymore wanky middle class? Um, no not really........) with people who are really struggling with putting any meal on the table , especially at this time of year. I was thinking about this on my spin through the aisles , as the Remuera Rotary club had joined forces with the Auckland City Mission to get more food for the foodbank by handing out flyer's as you went into the supermarket. You were encouraged to buy an extra item or two with your shop (they provided examples such as cereal, coffee, tinned food etc), to deposit in their trolley by the doors as your left after checkout.
I thought this was a really clever idea, people could do something useful, but not actually have to DO a great deal, I mean you are shopping anyway, whats the hassle in throwing an extra can or jar in the trolley? Sometimes the best intentions get lost in the business of the season, so after my super chicken deal I figured I should add a few more items to my Mission basket, so along with Special K cereal I picked up a big jar of coffee and some Squiggle Tops, my personal fav choccie biscuit.
A friend commented she would get cheaper brands (and not biscuits), to get better value, but I suspect she didnt grow up with jumbo boxes of Weetbix (blah!) and bags of farmbake biscuits.

If you would like to donate to the Mission they really appreciate any assistance at this time of year (or anytime!) , check out http://www.aucklandcitymission.org.nz/

Great Hole of Calcutta Ellerslie update..................we have a wall , kinda.........

Monday, December 6

Winning potato salad, and a festive jam of the non traffic variety......

Ok, I must confess this potato hasn't ACTUALLY won anything, but I feel like I have thrashed tasty, lovely, delish and beautiful lately, and if it did enter X Factor who knows..........judging by what I have seen on reality TV recently anything is possible. At any rate it is really gorgeous, smokey, creamy but not to heavy for summer, yum.

Potato and salmon salad with asparagus and creamy herb dressing.

This salad was born out on a discussion (aka argument) I had with one of my sisters about the correct dressing for a potato salad (yes, we should both probably get out more....) She likes tangy vinaigrette; I like something a bit creamier. This is a mix of both. The warm potato is dressed with vinegar and a splash of oil, then cooled and mixed with a sour cream dressing, less rich than a full mayo version. The salmon gives a smokey depth of flavour, and is a great way to make hot smoked salmon, which can be expensive, go a long way without feeling in any way mean.........

1 kg waxy new potatoes (Jersey Benne are perfect for this)
A bunch of asparagus, chopped into 2cm lengths (approx)
Splash of vinegar
Splash of olive oil
Salt & pepper
A bunch of spring onions, sliced
Handful of chopped parsley
Flaked hot smoked salmon-as much or as little as you like


2 tbsp of chives, chopped
2 tbsp dill, chopped
Handful fresh sorrel chopped (if you have it)
1 tsp capers, drained or rinsed if in salt
½ cup mayo (homemade or from a jar)
3/4 cup sour cream or cream fraiche, or yogurt if you want to lighten it up further
Squeeze of lemon juice

Begin by steaming or boiling your potatoes with a sprig of mint until tender. When the potatoes are nearly ready add the asparagus to cook for a couple of minutes until just tender (not mushy!). Drain and tip into a bowl. Splash over your vinegar and oil, about a couple of teaspoons of each. You are not drenching the vegetables, just adding a wee bit of liquid for them to soak up as they cool

While they cool, make your dressing by whisking all the ingredients together in a small bowl. If it is very thick you can thin the dressing out with water. Taste for seasoning, then fold gently through your cooled potato and asparagus with the spring onions, parsley, gherkins if using and your smoked salmon.
You don’t want mush so go easy with the mixing!

You can add other bits and pieces to this, preserved lemon is fabulous, and celery. I have also made it with prawns rather than salmon, which was also really satisfying.

If you want something lighter, or are making this to accompany another protein you can actually leave the fish out all together
When asparagus isn’t in season, you could use french beans, broad beans (peeled please!) or sugar snap peas, something with a bit of crunch is nice I think.

I wanted to make something to give to two of our neighbours who have been particularly "neighbourly" recently, and with an abundance of strawberries about at the moment, jam seemed the perfect choice. I tried strawberry jam last summer, ending up with astonishingly sweet ice-cream sauce.........it didn't set. A common problem with strawberries, which have a low pectic count, the thing which makes jam "jammy". But never one to give up (I'm a Taurus, I have heard the word stubborn mentioned.....as if) I came across a product called Jam Sugar, which contains added pectin. It makes jam making so easy anyone (i.e me) can do it........

Strawberry and Vanilla Jam

Add a pack of the jam sugar to a kg of fruit in a large saucepan (I used my preserving pan) , the instructions on the pack said to mash the fruit up but I like whole strawberries in my jam so I didn't. I also added 1 tbsp of vanilla bean paste.
Stir over a low heat until the sugar melts, then crank the heat up and boil rapidly for about 5-7 minutes, until a drop of jam on a cold saucer will set when you run you finger through it. Take of the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes (this is supposed to stop all the fruit floating to the top)
Pour into sterilised jars, I do this by placing my clean jars & lids in a oven set at 120C for 10 minutes. Pop the lids on when cold, not before or the moisture can create mould under the lid.

For more detailed instructions check out the Chelsea site here

This looked so pretty, and after having a big dollop on my crumpets this morning I can confirm it tastes really great, full of big chunks of fruit, with a faint hint of vanilla..............your neighbours will love you.

P.S the cute labels are courtesy of NZ Gardener magazine!

Wednesday, December 1

Flying solo, can you dig it?

Sorry, but I heard Isaac Hayes on the radio, "Shaft, ..........can ya dig it?" I suspect it sounds slightly less groovy from a slipper wearing trackie clad white chick in her thirties than Mr Hayes, but Pru thought I was pretty funky.....

Anyway, I am also digging my latest library find, a great book called Alone in The Kitchen with an Eggplant. It is a collection of essays by various food writers on the subject of dining alone, and it is fascinating.

I rather enjoy eating by myself, but being married for the best part of twelve years has limited my opportunities a bit. While I am not complaining ( we still quite like each other, and can spend many happy hours discussing the cat, the hole in the ground and why I spend so much money on food) I occasionally like to eat with just myself for company. Perhaps if this wasn't a choice I would feel differently, but as it stands a solo supper is quite a treat.
It was interesting comparing my attitude to some of the authors, but I did disagree with Laura Calder (which surprised me as I love her show French Food at Home) about dining alone as something to avoid at all costs? I love cooking, and really enjoying expressing how I care about people through food (sorry, I know that sounds corny, but there you go) but surely you can only do that if you also care about yourself? So how better to be nice to yourself than with something yummy to eat? I would hardly call that tragic......
  I was home alone the other night, and harvested the mighty crop of veges pictured. Actually that is one benefit of the single supper, not trying to make two zucchini, a couple of radishes and a some peas feed a crowd. I picked up two lovely lamb cutlets from the butcher I my way home, the rest was garden or pantry staples, and it was really good.  
Herb Lamb Cutlets with Spring Couscous, Griddled Zucchini and Lemon
Firstly rub your lamb with a mixture of the following
A crushed garlic clove, chopped finely
A splash of olive oil
a pinch of ground cumin
a pinch of chilli powder
Couple of springs of lemon thyme, chopped
A sprig of rosemary, chopped
Salt & pepper
While it marinates for a few minutes, pour boiling water over a 1/2 cup of couscous. I pour enough water to come about a cm over the top of the grains, this seems to leave it cooked but not gluggy.
Add salt generously, a chopped spring onion, a couple of chopped radishes, as many peas as you can squeeze out of their pods, and a few pine nuts if you have them. Cover with a plate, and leave to cook for about 10 mins.
Heat up the griddle pan (or grill) and slice a couple of zucchini thinly. Brush with some olive oil and place on your griddle pan until charred and soft. Put on a plate and squeeze over some lemon.
Now cook your lamb on the same pan (I love reusing pans, makes me feel so clever and organised,plus less washing up for the solo diner...) until it is charred, but still pink inside. My cutlets took about 3-4 minutes per side.
While they rest, fluff your couscous with a fork and add a knob of butter or a glug of really good EV olive oil, pepper and chopped parsley, then spoon onto your plate. Put the zucchini on top, and the lamb, with a sprinkle of mint and a spoonful of plain yoghurt. Serve with a glass of something delish and a proper napkin. YUM.
I followed this with a bowl of strawberries sprinkled with a spoon of icing sugar and a couple of tiny drops if balsamic vinegar. Tell me that isn't better than a bowl of cereal , Mr PK's solo dinner of choice............?
I first experienced restaurant solo dining on my first ever trip abroad on my own. We were living in London at the time, and for my thirtieth birthday the whaneau clubbed together and sent me to Ballymaloe Cooking School for a week, what an adventure! I had to fly to Cork airport (my fear of flying was much worse then, so this was a big step in itself...) pick up my rental car and find Ballymaloe House where I was staying. The school is a couple of miles away, so then I had to find that as well. I was off to a flyer when I drove completely the wrong way out of the airport and was halfway back to Cork before I realised........nuptials were not just a way of avoiding solo eating, they were a way of not spending my entire life hopelessly lost.

Anyway, Ballymaloe House is amazing, but on my first night I realised I would have to go down to the restaurant and eat..........by myself. My friend Tiff happened to ring just as I was contemplating this, when I voiced my concerns (will I look like a total saddo?) she advised me to take a book and imagine everyone else in the room had no clothes on. To this day I cant quite figure out how this was supposed to help, but she travelled for work on her own, and I deferred to her expertise. Armed with Harry Potter and wearing all my jewelery because I couldn't figure out the safe I descended to dinner.
It was just lovely. The staff seemed to take extra care, Myrtle Allen, the owner, and a star of Irish cooking actually came and sat down for a chat and the lovely Scottish couple at the next table asked me to join them for coffee after dinner. And I could watch everyone else in the room, without having to try and appear to be listening to what the person sitting opposite was saying. Every night I enjoyed six courses of glorious food (imagine if I did the 12 week course, I'd have to get an extra seat home....) , then at the end of the week joined Tiff for a couple of days in Cork, she was most impressed with my adventures.....
Would I dine alone at a restaurant in my home town? I have been thinking about it recently and have decided I would like to give it a go. Have you ever eaten in a restaurant on your own? What about solo dining, any special treats you enjoy?

My other solo treats, in no particular order...

A steak, cooked rare and slathered with blue cheese (Mr PK loathes the stuff) with salad
Stuffed potato, often with a blue cheese involvement.......
Mussels cooked with white wine (or cider), cream , parsley and garlic
A Ponsonby Pie-Chicken & Vege (even though it gives me indigestion, sigh...)
A bowl of steamed  Jersey Bennes, with salt, pepper, loads of butter and mint......
Fresh corn on the cob, slathered in butter, salt, pepper and a little bit of chilli (I have to eat this solo as I make such a mess of myself it puts other people off their supper....)

I still have two more fab salads to post, and Mexican corn...yep, back to Mexico , just briefly.