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.