Sunday, December 4

A perfect salad for a party, and some Xmas ideas...

In a moment of weakness I ended up treasurer of the Social Club at work, my duties seem to mainly involve hassling people for money, but I am also required to produce something edible for the annual children's Christmas Party. The sweet selection was already well covered, so I thought this salad would be ideal. It comes from River Cottage Everyday Veg, which I can highly recommend as a brilliant Xmas gift for anyone interested in good food. Hugh F-W is perhaps more known for his use of meat but this book is packed with excellent recipes. We have at least a night or two a week of meatless dinners, so it is great to get new ideas.....

The original recipe used beans, but as asparagus is in season at the moment I substituted those. Grilled eggplant would also be perfect instead of the courgettes and some roasted beetroot would also be a delicious addition.

Courgette & Asparagus salad with Tahini dressing

2 tbsp olive oil
3 courgettes (zucchini) sliced into rounds about 2mm thick
Juice 1/2 lemon
1/2 red chilli chopped (or use chilli flakes)
1 bunch asparagus (about 150gr)
3-4 handfuls salad leaves
Handful semi-dried tomatoes
Handful of fresh mint

Tahini dressing
1 garlic clove, peeled & crushed (I peel & grate mine on a microplane)
2 tbsp tahini paste
Grated zest & juice of 1/2 a lemon
Juice 1/2 orange
1/2 tsp honey
2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salad & fresh ground pepper

For the dressing mix the crushed garlic, tahini, lemon zest & juice, orange juice & honey together in a small bowl. Add salt & pepper, and the olive oil. The dressing will be very thick, so add enough water to this to dressing consistency. I pop everything into a jar and keep in the fridge while I make the salad.

For the salad heat the olive oil in a medium frying pan, and fry the courgette rounds in one layer until tender & golden on both side. You might need to do this in two batches depending on the size of your pan. Pop onto a plate when cooked, and sprinkle with the lemon juice & chopped chilli.

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add the asparagus, boiling for just 2 minutes. Drain & immediately dunk in cold water to stop them cooking. Drain really well, then slice into spear into 3 pieces.
On a platter spread out your salad leaves. Sprinkle on the courgette slices, asparagus & tomatoes, then the top with mind, chopped if the leaves are very large. Drizzle over your dressing if serving immediately, otherwise cover with clingfilm & take to your party, not forgetting the dressing in the fridge.......

The dressing is also delish for dunking raw veg into, or maybe asparagus that has been blanched as above, then grilled for a couple of minutes on the BBQ , yum!

Every year I bang on about being organised for Christmas, I have added incentive this year as I am hosting my family for the day at our place. So I have already sent off my UK presents (Tiffany actually asked if everything was ok, I mean, my Xmas presents normally arrive in time for New Year....if I'm lucky) and I am well into the family gift list.
One site I particularly love is Mapua Country Trading  Even if your family are not big gardeners, there is something for everyone, all NZ made & all really rather lovely ( I brought my Mum the Apple House Bird Feeder last year)

Homemade gifts are always a treat, this Strawberry & Vanilla Jam would be perfect with so many strawberries around at the moment. I will be whipping up some Apple & Walnut Chutney in the next week or so & will share the recipe, also a perfect stocking filler....

It is raining in Auckland today, Mr PK is very pleased, he wants the lawn perfect for Christmas day, what is it with men & lawns??

Thursday, December 1

A lazy girl goes on her hols.......

I cant quite decide if the best bit of going on holiday is waiting to go , or actually going? I love the anticipation of a trip, and given my propensity for over packing, getting lost & stressing out about having to fly.........maybe I should just plan lots of trips. Wouldn't the Minister of Finance love that? In my imaginary world I would arrive at my destination cool, calm & glam, trotting off business class with a toss of my frizzless hair, carrying my tiny suitcase (I pack a whole fabulous wardrobe in one teeny carry on) jumping into the back of a scooter driven by a hunky Italian to be whisked off to an amazing restaurant......yes please!
In reality of course I stagger off economy, hair in electric shock mode, covered in whatever meal was served (how do you eat with your neighbours elbow in your supper & not spill anything? After a long haul flight I practically need hosing down...) Hauling far to much luggage I crawl into a taxi, only to discover, inevitably, the address for the hotel is buried somewhere at the bottom of a bag, which bag.......

Actually Fiji was fun, after a wobbly start it was a great week. I even came back with a tiny bit of a tan. I say tiny as the only bit of me brown is the back of my neck. The rest of me is slightly more freckled, with an arresting assortment of red mozzie bites covering both lilly white legs, quite festive really...

We stayed at the Hilton on Denerau. It was a good deal and included breakfast, one of Mr PK's stipulations. There are other resorts on the Island, the price between them was pretty similar, so I based my choice on a few friends recommendations. We stayed in a beachfront studio, it was a reasonable size, with a great bathroom, and a patio with a another lounger & chair & table. 

We arrived to pouring rain, were sent to the wrong room initially, when we did find the right room, there was no Playstation, and only four TV channels, of which three were essentially snow. This may sound minor, but given the state of the weather, unsure how long it would continue my two books started to look desperately inadequate. At this rate Mr PK & I may have had to TALK!? To top things off, dinner that night was cold. To be fair the Hilton didn't charge us for dinner, installed the promised Playstation and fixed the resort wide TV issue, and we really did have a pretty fabulous week.

I thought I would put together a few tips, the things I wish I knew before we went on our hols....

1) Food is expensive at the resorts. I had been pre warned, but I don't think I realised HOW expensive!
We had breakfast included, which was great, loads of choice including plenty of wonderful tropical fruit. But the coffees are made with UHT milk, which always tastes a bit funny to me. We didnt eat breakfast until around 10-10.30am (I know, but no kids ok!) so around 3-30-4pm we liked to have something, maybe some cheese & crackers, or wedges by the pool, and a bigger meal later in the evening. An average main at most of the main restaurants on Denerau Island is around NZ$35-40, we had a delicious meal at Moo Moo at The Westin which came in at FJ$320 (approx NZ$240), that was a starter & main each, two beers and two glasses of wine........ouch! We paid a similar amount at the Raddisson, to be fair both meals were excellent, but if you want beef expect to pay at least another $20-40
But there are other options. One night we had room service pizza and garlic bread, which was really excellent for around NZ$30. We don't have a TV in our bedroom at home, so sitting in bed eating pizza & watching a movie is quite luxurious.
Another evening we walked down to the Golf Club opposite the Sheraton and had a beer each, a simple Chicken dinner and perfectly drinkable wine for around NZD$50. It is a lovely spot to sit , looking out onto the course, and the night we went they had a musician playing guitar and singing, he was fantastic.
Another option for reasonable dining, especially if you have kids, is Denerau Wharf. We didn't eat there, but stopped off one lunchtime for a beer & to sit in the sun. I can recommend Vonu beer, much nice than Fiji Premium (in my opinion anyway!) There is a Hardrock Cafe & three or four other options, including Indian & Italian

2) Alcohol is expensive, and the choice can be patchy. Watch the labels, one shop had a 2009 Chardonnay, with an identical bottle behind from 2005. A local beer will be FJ$3-5, an imported beer such as Heineken anything up to FJ$16 (at the bar at the resort). A glass of wine sitting on the patio at sundown is just lovely, so I am glad I chucked a few little bottles of bubbly in the suitcase.

Danerau Port. There is a supermarket & wine shop, which was much more reasonable than similar outlets at our resort.

Having a beer in the sun by Denerau Wharf. Off to my left a queue of tourists were waiting to board a cruise ship, it was delayed so they were slowly cooking in the sun.........

3) There is a "bula bus" that does a circuit of all the resorts on Denerau & down to the Port for FJ$7, this is a hop on hop off fare for the whole day, the last bus is 11.30pm.
There is also a yellow local bus we caught from outside the Hilton which stopped at the Port, and took us to Nadi for the morning. Mr PK got a very nice haircut for FJ$20, I had a wander around the shops. There is a bit of hassle factor, but nothing to onerous. The bus is FJ$1 each way, you pay when you get off, not when you board

I couldn't resist a pic of this retro beauty, I had an oven like this at my last house, except it was about 40 years old, this is much nicer!

The produce market at Nadi. We were fairly limited as there was no kitchen in our studio, but it was interesting to wander around.....

Kava root, there was a lot of this for sale!

The root ground up, ready to be made into the famous beverage

I would like to show you a picture of Mr PK supping his Kava, but he was clearly a thirsty chap as it disappeared before I had a chance.....I didn't partake, after my tummy upsets of a few weeks ago I didn't fancy taking my chances, very annoying!

4) We were chatting to a waitress down at the wharf, she told us Fiji has something like 200 regional dialeacts, bula vinarka, or just "bula" is the universal greeting. It is considered rude not to greet someone this way, get used to it, you will hear it in your sleep.........

5) Dont be a moran like me, remeber the bug spray........

When good feet go bad........bug spray, use it! And a pedicure perhaps...

All in all it was a great week, and I would go again. Taking a few supplies of my own......I would not say it is an "eating" holiday, but it was fine, enough choice and with a bit of thought you can do pretty well....the avearge temp was around 29C, we had a oit of rain but it cleared up very quickly, and the pools were magic. After a few days I was very relaxed, which after a looong year was the point really......

Peace & quiet........take plenty of books and relax..........bliss.

Sunday, November 20

Kedgeree for a holiday......

As usual I left my packing for our holiday to the last minute (despite a staggering amount of list making the week prior), so supper this Friday needed to be quick, tasty & use up the vacuum pack of hot smoked salmon I brought for my sister’s birthday party & didn’t use. The solution proved delicious, a version of Kedgeree that was as good to eat as it was easy to prepare. It is also a fantastic way to make not very much salmon go a long way....

Kedgeree was created by the English in India during the Raj. It is a mildly spiced mixture of rice, eggs & poached smoked fish, usually smoked haddock. Generally served as a breakfast dish, it would have been prepared & served by servants into a lovely silver chafing dish, sitting on a Victorian sideboard already groaning with food, just the ticket to sustain a thrusting young East India Company man before he trekked off to an exhausting couple of hours at the office.
I have a distinct lack of servants, sideboards or chafing dishes, so my not terribly authentic recipe ( I was making it up as I went along, never having actually eaten Kedgeree before!) was instead served up to my husband & sister for supper. Hot smoked salmon is my favourite smoked fish, and eliminates the poaching, making this a very quick supper, even if your kitchen staff are on their hols & you have to cook yourself.....

Kedgeree              Serves 3-4

1 onion
Splash oil
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
Pinch cayenne pepper or chilli powder
Good grind of black pepper
200 grams basmati rice
500 ml chicken or vegetable stock, heated ( I just bung a jug in the microwave)
3 eggs
4 chopped spring onions
1 cup frozen peas
250 gram hot smoked salmon (or used any smoked fish you like
Handful chopped coriander or parsley

In a large frying pan melt the butter and oil together over a medium-low heat. Peel & finely chop the onion, and add to the pan with the salt. Stir and cook for 5 minutes until the onion is soft. Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric and chilli, stir and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the rice, stirring to coat with the onion oil spice mixture, then pour in your stock, stirring to combine. Cover with a lid (or foil if your frying pan has no lid) and leave to cook on low for 10 minutes

Meanwhile put your eggs into a saucepan of water & bring to the boil. Boil for 7 minutes then drain & pour over cold water. Peel the eggs and slice into quarters.

After your rice has been cooking for 10 minutes, add the chopped spring onions, peas and half the coriander, stir through the rice, which will still be quite wet, cover again & cook another 10-15 minutes. When the rice is tender but not mushy, add the eggs & smoked salmon, gently folding through the rice mixture with two forks. Cover with a teatowel, then a lid (or foil) & leave to sit for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining coriander and serve

It is actually quite a light meal, but sustaining at the same time, with a lovely smoky gentle spice. Very elegant with a glass of bubbly for brunch, and a whole lot easier to prepare then eggs Benedict!

I am writing this from our hotel in Fiji. We arrived to gray skies and pouring rain, which thankfully have stopped, I have already finished one book, and am about to start number two. This is the view from the patio, I can hear palm trees swaying in the breeze and behind me, the insistant,  profoundly irritaing twang of a games machine .......

But the best bit of the trip so far? Besides the in room Playstation? Mr PK just discovered the Sky channel in our room is playing Chelsea v Liverpool at 5am tomorrow morning. We can watch football on holiday without even getting out of bed. Wish you were here??

Thursday, November 17

The Conference you REALLY want to attend......!

A conference on a topic I am actually really interested in, at a great venue with fabulous food and lots of lovely attendees? Now that’s a novel idea......... The last conference I attended was years ago in London, about finance. Well I think it was finance, I was slipping into a boredom induced coma by morning tea so cant be sure.......

No such danger on Saturday, at the First New Zealand Food Bloggers Conference,  aptly named     
For the Love of Food. Doesn’t that sound just so much more appealing? Organised brilliantly by Alli over at Pease Pudding, it was fun, informative, and for me, inspiring. And what a corker of a goodie bag (don’t fib, you would dive in like a kid in a candy shop too!)

With visitors, work & illness inspiration has been in short supply in Plum Kitchen of late, so it was great to talk to other bloggers and get some new ideas from the presenters. After a welcome intro from Alli, Andrea at d'lish talked about website design, which particularly interested me as PK is in the process of getting a makeover.

This was followed by Jaco Swart talking social media. I find all the different forms of SM a bit overwhelming to be honest so it was refreshing to hear murmurs in the room telling me I wasn’t alone…!

After morning tea we listen to Alessandra talk food writing . This is the talk I was most looking forward to, as it the part of blogging I enjoy the most, and what I look out for in other blogs. Alessandra is a great presenter, honest & informative, she knows what she is talking about and is happy to share.

Next up was Emma from Fisher & Paykel. I suspect Emma may have the best job in New Zealand, not only does she & her colleagues produce a fantastic blog, they do it during working hours. Needless to say there were plenty of volunteers to fill her shoes should she ever decide to hit the road…….

Lunch was fabulous, no boring buffet here. The Tasting Shed is a beautiful spot in Kumeu, and the food was just delish. My top pic would be the Pork Head fritters, like eating crispy crumb Pork Belly, and the Beef, which was tender with a moreish onion jam on top, mmmmmmm.

The afternoon session can always be a tough sell, when everyone has a full tum, but a Q&A panel discussion was the perfect choice. It is fascinating to hear different views on why we blog, for the most part it is financially a thankless task, but rewarding in many other ways. For me personally the buzz is when someone cooks a recipe I have shared, or learns a new technique. Or just has a chuckle. Everyone has their own inspirations, hearing so many different approaches reiterated to me there is no one fit, as the song says “you cant please everybody so you’ve got to please yourself”….or something along those lines!

Louise Fawcett from Pacific Harvest gave us a really interesting round up on sea vegetables, of which I can say my prior knowledge was nil. I have found some of the Kelp which I am looking forward to experimenting with on my return from holiday

A wine tasting at Coopers Creek was next on the agenda, but nursing a wee headache I stayed behind, by all accounts it was delicious.

Last up was Bron Marshall who gave us all some great tips for food photography and styling. I must admit this is the area of food blogging I struggle with the most, so any/all help is greatly appreciated. Bron had a slide show presentation, and had props set up for those with cameras to have a play. As you can see from the spectacular lack of pics for this post I only had my iPhone, and I am no great shakes driving that. But avoidance cures nothing, so more practice required , hopefully my pics will look half as good as Bron’s!

There was a dinner kindly sponsored by Cook the Books that evening, I was unable to attend, and was very envious as it did sound like a lot of fun, and a perfect end to the day.

For MUCH better pictures of the whole day, here are the blogs of all the attendees, who will have there own top picks from the event:)

Alessandra Zecchini
Alli Pirrie-Mawer
Andrea Wong -
Bron Marshall -
Carmella Lee -
Christina Hoey
Christy Harcourt
Jaco Swart
Jemma Adams
Julie Treanor 
Lesley MacMichael 
Mairi Herbert
Mika Reilly
Moira Clunie
Rosa Wakefield
Rowan Bishop -
Saya Hashimoto
Shirleen Oh –
Sue Busch 
Vanessa and Ingrid Opera
Viviane Perenyi
Emma Boyd
Louise Fawcett

Thanks again to Alli for making it all happen, all the great speakers, and the following list of sponsors, what a generous bunch!

Cook the Books
Kohu Road
GU Puds
I Love Pies
Mad Millie
Pacific Harvest
Gravity Coffee
Bell Tea
Coopers Creek
New Holland Publishers

Wednesday, October 5

Fridge raid supper........

Or how to make one small chicken breast feed two hungry people. There were TWO pieces of chicken originally, but a lightening raid by one small, extremely naughty cat resulted, after a blast of the water pistol (the "Tommy" gun) and a few cross words , in a slight change of plan. To the rescue came the most unlikely of ingredients, pumpkin.
I had a small piece sitting in the fridge , which roasted with the addition of chilli & salt, I figured would work well with the chicken in a tortilla. Some red pepper, a simple salsa of red onion, tomato & lime, and dinner is on the way.

Chilli pumpkin & chicken quesadilla (NOT enchilada)
1 chicken breast
1 Tbsp Tio Pablo Spice Mix or make your own (see below)
1 small piece of pumpkin or squash (creates about a 1-1/2 cups cubed)
Salt & pepper
2 x Splash olive oil
Pinch chilli flakes
1/2 red pepper, sliced
2 spring onions, sliced
Handful grated cheese
Fresh chilli (optional)
4 flour tortillas

Spice Mix
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. And if you really cant be bothered just toss the chicken with some spalt, pepper, chilli flakes & a squeeze of lime, it will be delish......

Now, for dinner.........

Preheat your oven to 190C
On a baking tray mix your cubes of pumpkin with salt, pepper, a splash of oil & a sprinkle of chilli flakes, then bake for approx 20 mins until soft & slightly charred

Chop your chicken breast into chunks, and mix together with another small splash of olive oil, and your spice mix. At this point your can put the chicken in the fridge until you are ready to cook, or fry immediately.

Heat a non stick fry pan to medium, and add your chicken , frying for approx 8-10 minutes until almost cooked through. Add the peppers & spring onions, and fry again for another couple of minutes until the peppers are cooked and starting to brown on the edges. Add your pumpkin chunks to this mixture & set aside onto a plate. Wipe out your fry pan with kitchen towel, and place back on the heat.

Lay your tortilla directly onto the pan, then put half the chicken mix on top. Sprinkle with cheese, and chilli if you want more spice, then pop the other tortilla on top, pressing down firmly.

After about 4-5 mins, carefully slide a fish slice or similar wide tool under the tortilla, and using your hand for guidance, flip over. You will think it is going to fall apart, but the cheese acts as a sort of glue, holding everything together, so don't stress. Give it another couple of minutes on the other side, then slide onto a board, and chop into quarters.

Great served with sour cream and the following salsa
Fresh tomato salsa

Simply mix together the following, tasting until you are happy with the zip factor
4-6 tomatoes, I used cherry tomatoes, but whatever you have
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
Salt & pepper

Perfect for eating while watching a game of rugby don't you think? Especially if you can get someone else to make them, very easy!

Pumpkin naturally should work with Mexican flavours. Pumpkin seeds have been found in Mexico dating back to between 7000-5500 BC, they have been cooking it for quite some time. I love the sweetness when it is combined with chilli and salt. In fact I use pumpkin roasted this way as a base for soup, and tossed through salads for colour and substance.

To finish, a shot of Spring colour, I love the combination of yellow & aqua blue, so pretty. Hope you are having a great week.

If you liked this, why not try Light Speedy Nacho's? Or maybe a Burrito for dinner? Or my favorite, Oaxacan Pizza, perfect for eating outside.......

Thursday, September 29

Sweet NZ....a Chocolate Biscuit by any other name.....

Let me start by saying I don’t know why this biscuit is called an Afghan. Extensive research (i.e. me surfing numerous websites when I should have been working) has proved fruitless, except that maybe Afghan rolls off the tongue a little easier than Yummy Chocolate Cornflake Biscuit with a Walnut on Top? Whatever you want to call them they are simply a great sweet treat.
Easy to whip up (I made these while cooking dinner), universally adored , they are like the sweet version of a sausage roll,you wont win prizes for originality, but sometimes originality is over rated. I'll have another biscuit while I think about it........

The homemade version is a million time better than brought, even the fancy ones. Such a simple recipe, but it does require a couple of things. Use real butter. Use good dark cocoa. Don’t use sweetened cornflakes.

Ok, enough of my bossiness, on with the show…..

This recipe is courtesy of the Edmonds Cookbook, I have tried others, but I like this one best

Afghan Biscuits
200gr butter, softened (I use unsalted, and add a pinch of salt)
75gr sugar
175gr plain flour
25 gr cocoa
50 gr cornflakes

Pre heat the oven to 180C/350F

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter & sugar until light & fluffy. I do this in my Kitchen Aid but a hand held beater also works fine..

With the beater speed on slow add the sifted flour & cocoa, and beat until combined.

Lastly add the cornflakes, beating in until they are just combined, but not crushed to nothing
Put teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto a greased baking tray & cook for 12-15 minutes. They will still be soft when you take them out of the oven, but crisp up on cooling.
Ice with the following mixture, and top with a walnut (obviously optional, but traditional) You may notice I have used Pecans instead, I still have no idea what I did with the bag of walnuts I thought I had in the freezer....

1 ½ cups icing sugar
2 tbsp cocoa
½ tsp butter
Boiling water

Mix together the icing sugar & cocoa. Pour approx ¼ cup of boiling water over your knob of butter & let melt. Add the water to the icing sugar cocoa mixture, stirring until you have a thick spreadable icing. The butter adds a slight sheen to the icing.

The result is quite short, with a slightly crumbly texture. The actual biscuit is not overly sweet, but the icing more than compensates. Two of my sisters also make Afghans, one makes a biscuity version, another a slightly more cake type variation, they actually had an “afghan off” to decide which was best. Really. Obviously I was Geneva in these proceedings, I actually think my version is the best, but we won’t tell them that……

This is my entry into Sweet NZ this month, which I am really happy with, cant wait to see what everyone else has entered:) Check out Alli over at Pease Pudding who is hosting this months event.

Monday, September 26

A weekend project........

Just a quick post, I thought I would share with you the fruits of Saturdays labour, the Kitty cushion!

I have never really got my head (or fingers) around sewing, in fact I was banned by my Intermediate School sewing teaching from using the sewing machines after I broke five needles in a row. I suspect it was a faulty batch, but I was relegated to hand sewing table (all boys). This would not have been quite so bad but I had muddled up cm and inches when cutting out my pin cushion. It was supposed to fit snuggling around your wrist; mine was enormous and could have doubled as a chair cushion , it took flipping ages to sew.

Anyway, after 20 odd years I felt ready to face my sewing demons, and here is my first project. The pattern came from the brilliant Amy Butler, and is free to download. The instructions are clear and a quick trip to Spotlight furnished me with everything required.

There is nothing to encourage confidence like finishing something; I think it is a very cute cushion, and only took about four hours (at beginner snail pace) from start to finish.Tommy & Tuppence are not so sure, they do however like the look of the button eyes (my own addition, not on the original pattern) for potential chewing, so I sewed them on double tight………

Back to food, I have made Afghan biscuits for this months Sweet NZ challenge, which I will post tonight, another playlunch favourite……..

How was your weekend?

PS: While I was in Spotlight, staring at a massive wall of fabric with that glazed look of the truly overwhelmed, a woman trotted over looking equally perplexed and asked me “if I was a quilter”? I quietly informed her if there was a person in the store less qualified to ask for assistance they would be riding in a baby buggy, but I was about to ring my Mum for help so could I pass on a question? She declined & wandered off to find someone else more worthy………I suspect she is wandering still

Monday, September 19

New bits & bobs........and a Supperclub

After a traumatic few days technology wise (something boring to do with a modem thingi, resulting in no Internet, grrrr) I am back online, and wanted to share a few new things with you.

I have added a new page On My Cookbook Shelf, sharing the food & cookery books I love, and why. It was a tweet from the lovely Millie Mirepoix asking about cookbook recommendations that got me thinking. All day, when I should have been thinking about spreadsheets & Trust accounts..........mmmmmm.
I am well into triple figures now, and thought instead of continuing to purchase, I would take another look at the books I have. Which lasted all of three days until the new River Cottage Everyday Vege arrived....anyway, if you are thinking about another purchase, have a read, you may come accross something new. Or completly disagree with me! I have added three so far, and will continue to update until I run out of books.............which is unlikely

Also take a look at my Lovely Things page, for some rather fabulous girls in snappy outfits........

And finally, the super talented Alli over at Pease Pudding is having a Supperclub on Saturday 24 September, email her for more info! I have been lucky enough to eat Chez Allison, oh my goodness you are in for a treat at her Secret Supperclub, just dont say I told you ok?

Sunday, September 11

Favourite biscuits and a rugby treat.........

After a glorious mild Spring day, we are back to rain & wind, perfect baking weather. So I thought I would make an old favourite of mine. Not the most glam treat for sure, these don't have the classic appeal of a macaron , or the flash of a whoopie pie, but they can be whipped up in no time, and with no nervous breakdown involved....
Great tin fillers, sweet, spicy & full of fruit,  I have used cranberries & sultanas in this version, but raisins, current or mixed fruit would also be fine. Mum used to make these for our "playlunch" (morning tea) when we were kids, they are super easy to make, sturdy, stay fresh for days & one batch makes approx 25 biscuits, an important consideration in a family of seven!
I think the recipe may have come from the NZ Woman's Weekly, it was written on a bit of paper, then years ago transferred into my recipe book, so became Mum's Fruit Drop Biscuits.

Mum's Fruit Drop Biscuits

2 cups/300 gr plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
175 gr butter, at room temperature
1 cup/200 gr brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sultanas/mixed fruit/cranberries or raisins

Pre heat the oven to 180C/350F

Sift together the flour, salt, soda & spices. Meanwhile beat together your butter & brown sugar, until pale & fluffy. I use a Kitchen Aid, but a handheld beater or a wooden spoon would also work. Add the eggs one at a time until they are well mixed in, then add the vanilla.
Stir in the flour mixture, then the dried fruit, I use a wooden spoon for this.
Cover and put into the fridge for 20-30 minutes so the mixture firms up.
Put teaspoonfuls onto a greased baking tray and cook for 12-15 minutes, they will spread slightly, and should be pale gold. The kitchen will smell wonderful. Cool on wire racks then fill your tins (sorry, but I just love that phrase, makes me feel so competant....)

For those of you reading this outside of New Zealand, the Rugby World Cup is currently being held here, and the country has gone Rugby Obsessive (even more so than usual). In a spectacular piece of blagging we managed to get tickets to a Corporate Box for the Opening Ceremony on Friday at Eden Park, and what a show it was! Completely fabulous, I am now ruined for the cheap seats forever. This is very unfortunate as we have brought tickets for the Semi-finals (the cheapest ones possible. They are so high up in the stands I fully expect to be given an oxygen mask & parachute on arrival) Oh well, it was nice to see how the other half lives for once, and I got to meet Tana Umaga, who is totally charming and didn't seem to mind watching the first half of the game sitting next to me instead of someone knowledgeable.....

I stopped scoffing the free food & booze long enough to take a picture, what a view!

I went to the cinema last night for my friend Yummy Mummy's birthday, sadly I was allowed to select the film, and boy did I get it WRONG!  The Priest in 3D, I am praying you don't make the same mistake & fork out $20 for this load of tripe.
I was seduced by the thought of the delicious Paul Bettany in 3D, but even a gratuitous naked ab shot was not enough to make it worthwhile. The highlight was probably me jumping two foot in my seat & spraying popcorn all over myself. It  really itches when it goes down your top. The guy next to me was at least trying not to laugh too loudly, unlike madam next to me.....

Saturday, August 20

Pumpkin & ginger cupcakes for Sweet New Zealand & a chilly afternoon......

Pumpkins are cheap as chips at the moment, but their really is only so much soup a girl can eat, even in this current freezing weather (snow in Auckland, can you believe it?). Here is another, altogether sweeter way to use this versatile vegetable. A perky moist orange cake, with the spice of ginger, and the warmth of cinnamon and nutmeg, slathered in cream cheese frosting. Even if, like me, you don't have a major sweet tooth, I think you will love these little cakes. I choose simple gold cases for my cupcakes, but Millys where I picked them up also have an amazing range of printed ones for every conceivable occasion. If you can get Halloween cases, these cupcakes would be perfect!

This is my contribution to Sweet New Zealand, a nifty new monthly blogging event, from Alessandra. At the end of the month she is going to summarise all the submissions, cant wait to see what everyone else has come up with

I have adapted the recipe ever so slightly from Cupcakes, by Elinor Klivans. I added nutmeg, and folded in the dry ingredients rather than beating as I think this gives a more tender cake. I have also used steamed mashed pumpkin as I cannot get tinned pumpkin puree, but if you have tinned at your store go right ahead.

Pumpkin & Ginger Cupcakes

Makes 12 regular cupcakes

1 1/2 cups plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
Pinch salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
100 gr unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 cup mashed pumpkin (this was 375gr raw peeled pumpkin steamed for 15 mins then mashed)
3 eggs
Handful crystallized ginger, chopped into fine bits

Preheat your oven to 175C (375F) and line a 12 hole muffin pan with paper cases of your choice

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger into a large mixing bowl.
In another bowl beat together your sugar, melted butter & pumpkin puree. You could use a Kitchen Aid or a held held beater, or even a wooden spoon, just give it a really good beat together. Beat in the eggs & crystallized ginger.
Gently fold in the flour mixture with a metal spoon, until no bits of white flour are showing. You want to make sure everything is mixed together, but no more, or your cakes will be a bit tough and rise with peaks in the middle.
Fill your cases with the mixture, to about 1/2 cm from the top. This is a pretty thick batter, so I use a large tablespoon to fill the cases. An ice cream scoop would also work.
Pop into the oven for 20-25 minutes, until risen and golden. Check with a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cake in the centre of the pan, it should not have any wet batter clinging to it, if it does cook for a few more minutes and check again.

Cool on a wire rack, and when cold top with the following topping.

Cream cheese icing

1 250gr tub normal cream cheese (not spreadable)
Approx 2 cups of icing sugar (I know, but it is icing, your not eating the whole bowl!)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Put the cream cheese in a bowl, and beat until it is smooth. Gradually add the icing sugar, a few spoons at a time. Try not to cover yourself & the kitchen with icing sugar by keeping the speed of the beater reasonably low. Keep incorporating the sugar until you have an icing that is thick and will hold its shape on top of a cupcake. Add the vanilla & beat in. You can use a piping bag with a nozzle or simply a knife to slather on as much as you dare, it is pretty rich......

I decorated with little pieces of more crystallized ginger, but really wanted to make little mini pumpkins with would take hours and no doubt end in tears so I eventually decided to stick with the ginger, you however may be much more creative than I......

My Mum brought these over from her garden the other day, I love looking at them & reminding myself Spring is just around the corner, I for one cant wait......

Lastly, I had to show you these fabulous earrings I picked up at Swonderful in Wellington last weekend, I always find some little treat there, pop in if you can, or check out their online goodies. These were a bargain, and the colour is great against dark hair. Kinda 50's don't you think?

Thursday, August 11

Hello Wellington......I'll stop talking long enough to eat

I've just spent a great weekend in Wellington with my friend Yummy Mummy. She was having a wee holiday from being mega-mum to two young kids, I was leaving Mr PK to have some quality time with Tommy & Tuppence......ok, any excuse for a trip to Wellington.
We have been friends since we were 5, but have never actually travelled together, so it was a bit of an adventure. Being friends with someone does not guarantee you can share a room, a lesson I learnt the hard way on one particularly fraught trip to New York. I was in charge of booking flights (thanks Grabaseat!) , YM booked the accommodation, and here is one secret to convivial travel, your own bathroom and hairdryer! We stayed at the Boulcott Suites, booked through wotif. It was fab, a bedroom/bathroom each, proper coffee and nice & central, what more could you need? A camera actually, I managed to leave mine at home, so all pics are from the iPhone....

Our home for the weekend.....

We did what friends do, talked, ate , talked, shopped, talked, drank, then talked & ate a bit more, bliss....and jaw ache

Ernesto was a great spot for brunch pre shopping. We both had the  Free-range eggs on  hash browns with  bacon and hollandaise (I know, but we both really wanted the same thing ok?) which was excellent ballast for the morning. Who can resist a crunchy hash brown, I mean really, who? It was also lovely to say hi to Laura over at Hungry & Frozen, who happened to also be at Ernesto ( I spent ages myopically trying to decide it was actually her, before crossing the room & potentially being shot down by someone else not called Laura wondering who the hell I was...)

Dinner at Floriditas was a treat, even if we did eat at 6.15 (people with kids do eat a little earlier....) I went for the Wellington on a Plate menu, which was great value, and delish, YM ordered a la carte.

My meal, from a small set menu selection was

Rocket & walnut pesto, smashed green olives & pea tendrils & parmesan linguine
Verdict: delish, the pesto was really flavoursome, the pea tendrils added a wonderful freshness, and the pasta was well cooked, my only teeny gripe, it could have been slightly hotter
Wine match Nga Waka Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

Char grilled aged black angus sirloin, cavelo nero & rosemary roast potatoes
Verdict: Tender well cooked beef, slightly chewy tasty cavelo nero & crunchy rosemary potatoes. Not reinventing the wheel, but a great meal.
Wine Nga Waka Vineyards 2007 Chardonnay (not the suggest match, that was a Pinot Noir, but once a Chard Hag, always a Chard Hag I'm afraid....)

No, this isn't my beef, but YM Chorizo Risotto balls, served with a white port (cue more giggles, we had already had a bubbly....)

Baked vanilla ricotta, caramel pears & gingerbread crumbs
Oh yummy, I don't normally go large on pudding, but this was delish, not to sweet or heavy, prefect after a rich meal....

Confession, we had already started eating when I remembered the camera....

I must confess I didn't get as many pictures as I planned, natural greed overcoming any pretensions to artistic photography (ie I was halfway through my beef before I remembered I forgot to take a pic....dang),so apologies for that.

The set menu with the two glasses of vino was $70, which I think represents great value. The other options, a Pork terrine, pork chop & chocolate mousse also looked fab, get along if you can & try it out:)

As usual I had a great time in Wellington, and would be back in a flash. Check out all the other great events going on for Wellington on a Plate and get along, I'm jealous!

Sunday, July 24

Oaxacan Pizza......and tractor films

Before I begin Mr PK would like it noted he is putting the washing out while I post on my blog. He will then clean the cat litter tray, and the trap in the shower. Your a marvel darling, noted.
Now onto much more exciting things , a Mexican pizza. From Oaxaca to be precise. That's pronounced Wha-ha-ka. you may well already know this, I didn't the first time I saw it...apparently in Oaxaca these are a night time street snack called Tlayudas, that's clae-yoo-das..........I think I'll stick with pizza.

These are truly fantastic, cheap, quick and delicious. I had two flat bread left over from Burritos the other night, and various bits & bobs in the fridge. With not too much effort they produced a great Saturday night dinner, with a bottle of this new NZ ginger beer

The inspiration for this came from one of my favourite cookbooks, Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers. Her version uses chicken, guacamole and rocket. Instead I have used grilled fennel, mushrooms, chopped avocado & grilled prawns. As you will see this is a very flexible dish, go with what you like, and more importantly, have on hand.......

Oaxacan Pizzas ( from Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasine Miers)

I bag/bunch of normal or baby spinach
Knob of butter/splash of oil
Salt & black pepper
2 flat bread (I use fresh ones from my local Mexican, but any flatbread would be fine)
1 fennel bulb, sliced
Handful of Mushrooms
4 spring onions
1 avocado, peeled, chopped into chunks & splashed with lemon/lime juice
Handful of grated cheese (Mozzarella would be lovely, but anything that melts would be fine)
6 kings prawns (or you could use leftover cooked chicken)
Handful of semi dried tomatoes (in summer I would use fresh chopped tomato)
Handful of chopped coriander & parsley

Wash the spinach & shake off in a colander. Heat a medium frypan and add a the butter or oil. Add your spinach, and let it wilt for a couple of minutes. Take out and put back into the colander to cool off, then grab a handful of squeeze out the liquid (spinach has a lot of water!) . Put into a bowl & season with salt & pepper.

Using a griddle pan or the same frying pan, heat up again over a medium heat, then brush the vegetables roughly with oil, and griddle or fry your fennel, spring onions & mushrooms until charred & tender.

Sprinkle your prawns with salt & pepper, or use this spice mix recipe, I like to have in a jar in the pantry. You could also use a shop brought spice mix of course. Chuck your prawns onto the griddle pan/frying pan and cook for a minute or two until charred and pink. Take out and pop onto a plate.

To assemble your pizza use a medium sized frying pan (you can use the same pan for everything in the recipe, just give it a wipe with paper towel before your cook your flatbread) and pop your flatbread into it.
A sprinkle of water helps the flat bread heat up. When it is browned on the bottom, flip over & sprinkle with half your cheese. After a minute or two the cheese will start to melt, top with half of your spinach, then lay half of your grilled vegetables on top. Sprinkle over the chopped avocado, 3 of your prawns, some semi-dried tomatoes and a sprinkle of herbs.

Allow to heat for a minute of two, then fold one half over onto the other and slide onto a plate. Slice and serve with a ginger beer, chilli beer, beer beer............whatever.

There are lots of variations to this, if you don't have spring onions, some red onion finely sliced and doused in lime juice would be ideal. If you wanted to make this vegetarian simply omit the prawns and use a salty feta sprinkled over just before you fold. Griddled fish or Chorizo would also be fantastic. For an extra kick some chopped chilli sprinkled on just before serving is great too.........

My nephew is making this for his cooking night this week, if he can make it anyone can.......:)

Tractor films? About six years ago Mr PK and I went to see a movie at the film festival, I cant recall the name, but it was a Finnish film about a paraplegic who is travelling to the firm who made the tractors involved in his accident. I wont say it was terrible, ............well actually yes I will say that, what a dog.
The lead character was thoroughly unlikeable, the subtitles were in white, which on a snowy background is near impossible to read, and it went on.............and on.
Obviously there were Finnish people in the audience, they laughed away like drains while we struggled to decipher the make matters even worse the Springboks were playing the All Blacks that night, needless to say Mr PK was not impressed. So whenever we see a dodge film, it's a tractor movie. Luckily we have avoided any at this years festival, instead we have so far enjoyed.........

Very funny, 80's Wales never looked so bleak. Cringe in parts, but a clever script, and great casting. Noah Taylor rocking the Jewish carpenter look, yikes........tractor recommends 7.5/10

Taxi Driver
I had not seen this before, so it was a treat to see it on the big screen. Robert De Niro is hotter than ever, the soundtrack is pure 70's funk, and it wasn't nearly as violent as I imagined. Cybil Shepherd, now I get what all the fuss was about, she is luminous in this film. Gritty is such a cliche, I'll get back to you when I have something better.........tractor recommends 7/10

Mysterious of Lisbon
At nearly five hours this would be the longest movie I have ever seen, but I think it is worth the length. The story is captivating, it looks beautiful, and has the time to fill in all the gaps. Just a shame the Civic, while a beautiful theatre, is a bit of a trial for a 6 foot 3 inch husband.....for this it loses a point Tractor recommends 6/10

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
I love documentaries, especially low key ones like this, Jiro has been making sushi for 75 years (the best in Japan according to many), in his 10 seat restaurant in the Ginza subway station, and his passion is captivating. Also an interesting look at father son relationships in Japanese culture. Tractor recommendation 8/10

The Trip
I laughed my head off, witty, funny, the impressions for both leads are beyond clever, see this film! Just a shame I saw the 9.15pm show, again at the Civic, again a bit cramped. Tractor recommends 8.5/10

Still a few more to see this week, plus of course Happy Potter, am I the only person who has not seen it yet??? Any one else been along to the film fest, let me know if you can recommend any more films......?

Tuesday, July 19

Chorizo and lentil salad, now that is lunch......

I dont win things very often (hardly ever actually) so when I had a lovely tweet from Sabato telling me I has won a bottle of their delish Mas Portell Merlot Vinegar I said oh yes please. This recipe is inspired by my trip on Saturday to pick up my prize. As the Minister of Finance predicted I did come away having spent some dosh, but in my defence I defy anyone to wander that showroom & not haul the wallet out.......I was actually pretty restrained.......really. Really.

I attended a cooking demo at Sabato a few weeks ago, tapas & cazuela cooking, during which this vinegar was sloshed over some frizzled chorizo. It was completely moreish, and got me thinking how I could incorporate this into something more substantial. While I COULD eat my body weight in chorizo I do realise it probably isn't the lunch of champions. So in came lentils, providing a nutty substance to the hot spicy sausage. Lentils are a great foil to fatty meat, they pick up other flavours and provide a gentle background taste of their own.
Adding some crunch with nuts seemed a good plan, especially as I cant think od Spain without thinking of Almonds (I'll elaborate later....) The dressing is super easy, and uses another Spanish ingredient, Membrillo, or Quince Paste. I love this stuff, we eat a lot of cheese (I don't really have a sweet tooth, but love some cheese at the end of a meal) and this is a gorgeous accompaniment. I should have made some during Quince season (I made Quince and Apple sauce instead....) but the brought stuff is great, and lasts for yonks in the fridge. Anything sweet with a hit of tartness would work of course, redcurrant jelly, guava jelly, fig paste,  even a tangy marmalade? It is melted in the pan you cook the chorizo in, with your red wine vinegar, mustard and some water, simple but tasty.....

Chorizo & lentil salad with membrillo vinaigrette

Serves 2 with enough for lunch the next day (this is a TOP packed lunch)

100 grams lentils (Puy lentils would be great here, or I use these Montebello lentils from Italy)
1 clove of garlic, peeled
3 spicy chorizo sausages ( I love L'Authentiquie Chorizo, nice & spicy)
Handful of Almonds ( preferably raw to toast them yourself, but don't stress if they are already toasted)
One red pepper (capsicum)
1/2 red onion
Parsley (or rocket if you prefer)
Salt & pepper


Splash olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar (obviously I can recommend the Mas Portell, but use what you have)
2 tbsp water
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp Quince paste (or alternative, see above)

Bring a medium sized saucepan of water to the boil, and add your lentils and garlic. Set the timer for 25 minutes.
Turn the grill to high, and put your pepper, sliced into four pieces and cored, onto a tray. I cover mine with foil, to save washing up. Pop under the grill and burn baby burn. You want black charred bits, so be brave.

When you have reached a sufficiently worrying burntness, take out and pop straight into a plastic bag, sealing the top. The peppers will steam, and the skin will peel off easily after a few minutes.

Sice your onion into thin crescents, and pop in a small bowl. Splash over a tbsp of the red wine vinegar. This will take the acrid taste out of the onion, and make it much more palatable to eat raw. I always do this with raw onion, sometimes using lemon, or lime, anything acid will do the trick. Your friends will thank you....

In a small frying pan toast your almonds. This is done over a medium heat, in a dry pan. Just keep your eye on them, they will burn in a heartbeat. Mine took about 4-5 minutes, when they are done tip into a small bowl, so you can reuse the pan

Pop you pan back on the heat, and add a splash of oil. Chop your chorizo into small chunks, or if you prefer, squeeze out small nuggets of meat from the casing. Add to the pan, and fry for 5-8 minutes until cooked and starting to crisp up. Pop onto a warm plate and get on with your dressing!

Into the same pan add a splash of oil, your water, vinegar, quince paste and mustard. Whisk together and bring to the boil. You will think oh my goodness what a mess, but trust me, it will come together.

Once your peppers have had 10 minutes or so, take them out of the bag & peel the skin off, it will come away easily. Slice into strips, and douse with Olive oil, salt & pepper

Now drain off your lentils, and add your dressing, onions, nuts, and some of the parsley leaves. I use the parsley more as a salad leaf than a herb in this, if you prefer rocket would be great, or mixed leaves. Spoon out onto a plate and top with your peppers, and chorizo. Check the seasoning, and sprinkle over more parsley. Tuck in and enjoy

I have probably made this sound far more complicated than necessary, but I do urge you to try it, even non lentil fans would be convinced. A great vegetarian version would use helloumi cheese and a chopped chili, salty & hot, yummo........

I spent a lot of time in Spain when Mr PK & I lived in London, mainly in Sedella  with my great friend Tiffany & her mum Estelle & much missed step father Dave. Isn't it beautiful?

They grow lots of beautiful produce in the area, including Olives and Almonds. On our very first trip to Sedella, lacking even basic Spanish and flying solo, we stayed in Estelle and Dave's little house, down a narrow lane near the square. We had been invited by Tiff's friend Jose to his parents for lunch after church on Sunday (this is Victoria's tortilla here) so I didn't have any breakfast.
Leaving the house we were waylayed by Antonio Almonds (most males in the village are called Antonio or Paco, so they get extra identifiers....) who had vast bags of nuts in his front room. He spoke no English, so we did lots of smiling while he insisted on pouring a glass of Village wine (at 10am!). Unfortunately some of gesticulating indicated the grapes had been crushed by his very own feet. If this ever happens to you can I offer a kernel of advice?
Don't look at the feet!!!!!!!!

A little disclaimer.....
I am happy to recommend the vinegar as despite winning it, I had already actually brought a bottle myself (before you say greedy trollop I am giving my extra bottle to my sister!) after tasting it,  so I feel happy to recommend. But as a rule I never mention/recommend a product I have not purchased and used myself. :)