Thursday, January 27

Comfort food.....

What food do you turn to on a bad day? Are you a chocolate lover, or like me, a carb freak?
We have been having supper with Mum most nights, but it was my first day back at work today so I was back at home for dinner. I managed to avoid eye leakage for most of the day, but by the time I got home energy and motivation levels were low. The answer for me, a stuffed potato.
I can appreciate this would not be everyone's recipe of choice, but I have eaten industrial quantities of potato since birth, and I love it. This is probably a cultural choice also, growing up, just like my parents would have, we ate potato pretty much every day. A friend of mine prefers toast, preferably smothered in peanut butter, my younger sister will make Mac n Cheese in times of trouble. The other night Mum had to have two boiled eggs and toast soldiers, nothing else would do.
So I am going to share my very precise instructions for my stuffed baked potato, you might think this entirely inappropriate in the middle of summer, but times of crisis seem utterly oblivious to seasonal timetables.......

Stuffed baked potato for a grim week

First scrub your potato, I prefer Agria for a fluffy inside. To get a crispy result dry, then rub a little butter or oil over the skin, prick a few times with a fork and bake at 200C for about 60 minutes.
Meanwhile finely chop a spring onion, and place in a bowl, with a knob of butter. Grate a handful of your favorite cheese, I tend to use cheddar, with maybe a little Parmesan. Pour yourself a glass of wine and sit on the porch for a while.
When your spud is cooked take out of the oven and immediately cut away the top. This lets the steam escape, preventing the skin going soggy, and also allows you to scoop out the flesh into your onion and butter bowl.
When all the potato flesh is scooped out mash with a fork, adding a splash of milk or cream, plenty of salt and pepper, some shopped chives and the cheese. When this is nice and creamy, spoon back into the potato shell and pop back into the oven for 5 minutes or so until heated through and slightly brown on top. The top will puff up, sadly by the time I grabbed my camera it had settled down....
Eat with a salad that has a nice sharp dressing to cut through all that cheese.

You could gussy this up with crispy bacon or prosciutto, or maybe some lovely sharp blue cheese, but it really is good as is. Yes I know it is deeply uncool (even the name stuffed potato sounds so 70's) , and I promise I will do something clever with lemongrass and pomegranate next week, but I doubt a meal at Noma could have made me feel any better after a really crapola week than that spud....
A word of warning, cooked potato is one of the hottest substances known to man, after many years I can eat this without peeling a layer off the roof of my mouth, but a novice should approach with extreme caution.

Continuing my hydrangea theme, I got a lovely little bunch of flowers from a work colleague today, my favorite flower so it did make me smile. Go old fashioned flowers, we love you.

I also wanted to share a wee link for a new vintage store which has opened up in Auckland, Bread and Butter Letter, which I discovered via the very cool Extracurricular Magazine site. This is a great little mag (zine?) about crafting, even for the craft challenged like myself........

Now if you can, ring your Dad and say hi. If you cant, I'm sorry.

Sunday, January 23

Grey January days......

It has been a long gray week for us, and more rain to come. My darling dad passed away on Thursday. The horrible cancer that started on his lip in three short months found it's way to his lymph nodes and then his liver. While part of me knows it is the natural order of things for a child to bury a parent, it all feels very unnatural indeed.
So we will have a wee dram for you on Tuesday Dad from all those Christmas bottles you never got a chance to drink, and I will make little Yorkshire puds and roast beef, your most fav meal (even in January). There will be Charlie Pride and Tom T Hall on the stereo, and lots of talk. You liked to tell a story, and you told one well. You were funny and wise and gentle, and right to the end were thanking the lovely Oncology staff for helping you . They appreciated it.
I wish you had lived to enjoy the cricket world cup, you did so love your cricket. We will think of you when we watch.
I loved you for being my Dad, but you know what, I really liked you too. I will miss you every day

Wednesday, January 19

Pesto pasta with potatos...........and green beans too

I thought after showing off a picture of my Basil plants like a proud Mama the other day it would be sensible to actually make something with them. I have pondered this dish for a while, always thinking it seemed slightly odd to combine pasta and potato in one meal. But having beans, potato, basil and pasta to hand on an evening when I was more hungry than energetic it was an obvious choice. An given how completely smitten I am with potato pizza I cant believe I thought I might not like this. Completely delish, please make again was the verdict. So I shall, and you should too....

Pesto pasta with potato and green beans

First put a large pot of water on to boil, then make your pesto. Now I know you can buy this everywhere, but seriously, you really have not got four minutes to spare? That's how long it takes, I timed it. And that is the hand version, I refuse to use a blender as I hate trying to clean them, a mortar and pestle I can just swish under the tap....

Into a mortar and pestle put a pinch of salt and half a clove of garlic. Pound the garlic a couple of times and it will disintegrate into the salt. Throw in your basil, I use two-three good handfuls for two people.

Pound away until the juices start to run from the basil's leaves and they start to turn into mush, it really only takes a couple of minutes at most. Throw in nuts, I use pinenuts or walnuts, but try what you like and see. I figure on about 40-50 grams of nuts for this amount of basil, which for me is a small handful, but more or less will not hurt.
Pound the nuts into the basil until they come together into a green thick mass, then stir in a couple of tbsp of good olive oil and a grind of pepper. Lastly add a small handful of Parmesan cheese, taste the seasoning and check the thickness, you want a slightly sloppy paste. Add more oil if necessary. Use straight away or store in a jar with a little oil on top to keep the green colour.

For the pasta you need

6-8 new potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
A handful of green beans, sliced into chunks about the same size as your potato
150 grams spaghetti or linguine pasta
Extra Parmesan cheese

Add plenty of salt to your boiling water, and add the potatoes. Cook for 7 minutes, then add the beans. Cook a further 5 minutes until the potato is cooked through, and the beans are cooked but not mushy. Take out of the water and set aside.
Now add your pasta to the water, and cook for about 10-12 minutes, until cooked to your liking. I like my pasta cooked slightly more than any Italian ever would, but I also put cheese with fish so am probably beyond redemption........
When the pasta is done, add the beans & potatoes back to the water to just heat up again for a couple of seconds, then drain the whole lot and add a couple of tablespoons of pesto to the pot. Stir and add some of the water the pasta was cooked in to slacken the sauce until you are happy with the consistency.
Dish up as tidily as you can onto serving plates and add a good sprinkle of Parmesan and a grind of pepper.

This sounds like a carbo loaders stodgy dream, but it is much lighter than it sounds. Fragrant with basil, you also have textural interest with the crunch of beans, creamy potato (hence the use of waxy new potatoes) and slightly chewy pasta. Have I convinced you?

A word of warning however, this is not sexy date food. You may cover yourself with sauce as I always do eating spaghetti, or worse. As Mr PK so solemnly pointed out, "the leggings and green stained t-shirt combo is already a winner, but it's that stonking bit of basil in your front tooth really does it for me......." Steady tiger......

Finally got Freedom by Jonathan Franzen from the library at lunch, my first grown up book of the year. Check out My Villa Life for a great 2011 reading list. I don't think I will aspire to quite those dizzy heights, I am so tired at the mo I fall asleep after a few pages, but it is good to have ideas for new books to read.

Sunday, January 16

Easy banana bread

It isn't easy to gussy up brown food. Even on the prettiest Grindley plates my banana bread still looks very, well , brown.
If I tell you it is utterly delish, moist and packed with glorious juicy sultanas and crunchy walnut pieces will that sell it to you? This is so easy to make it is almost cheating. Completely divine with a nice cup of tea sitting on the porch watching your husband heave blocks of stone around, so nice to watch a bit of manual labour now and again.......

Easy Banana Bread (recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess")

100 grams sultanas (you could use raisins if you prefer)
75 mls bourbon (or use orange juice if you don't fancy using booze)
175 gr plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Good pinch of nutmeg
125 gr unsalted butter, melted
150 gr sugar
2 eggs
3 medium bananas, ripe and spotty, probably starting to whiff a bit
70 gr chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla paste

Preheat your oven to 170C/340F
Heat the bourbon up in a small saucepan and when it is boiling take off the heat and add the sultanas. Set aside while you sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt into a decent sized bowl.
In another bowl pour the melted butter and sugar and using a wooden spoon stir together. Add the eggs, and stir again to combine.
Add the bananas, (which I mashed with a fork in the dirty butter saucepan, why use another bowl?) walnuts and vanilla, stirring again until everything is mixed in.
Pour the whole lot into your flour mix, and stir with your wooden spoon until you have a thickish batter.
Pour into a greased loaf tin and bake for 1-11/4 hours. It will be golden and make you house smell amazing. I like it warm with butter, but it is also great cold. I slice it and freeze the slices to pop into my sandwich bag for work, worth getting to morning tea for.

Some people toast banana bread, its never been my scene, but toast away if you wish, it's your kitchen. Maybe with a slather of ricotta cheese and a drizzle of honey, now that would be a fine breakfast.

You may have noticed a new look at Plum Kitchen, for an atecho type like me this is quite an achievement. I am working on a recipe index, to make it easier to navigate around the site, and am toying with the idea of adding music. Do you find music on websites/blogs annoying or enjoyable?

The hole in the ground has progressed nicely ,and the end is in sight. Hopefully with some planting it will less like a would-be home cinema and more like a garden/ you can see we have not quite come to an agreement re the colour of the fench, much discussion on this most emotive of topics, no consensus has been reached thus far, a negotiator may yet be called in, watch this space...........

Thursday, January 13

Ratatouille and goat cheese crumble


 As everyone except me seems to have a glut of both tomatoes and zucchini right now I figured it must be ratatouille time. Watching Trish Deseine on Trish's Paris Kitchen the other day make a Ratatouille crumble I knew the universe must be talking to me so I listened. Of course I could not help fiddling a bit, and I think the following adaptation is really delicious. The goat cheese melts slightly under the crispy topping, and blends with the juices of the vege, so you get a wee bit of creaminess, slightly sour cheese and a crisp buttery topping with the crunch of pine nuts.........try it and see what you think. If you don't like goat cheese just substitute it for a cheese you do like. Or leave it out.

Ratatouille Goat Cheese Crumble (adapted from Trish Deseine)

For the Ratatouille

4 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 eggplant, cut into chunks about 2cm thick
1 red pepper, cut into chunks
1 green pepper, cut into chunks
3 zucchini,  cut into chunks (can you see a theme?)
1 kg tomatoes, (that's about 6-7 decent size tomatoes) skinned and deseeded (it's easy, I will tell you how)Handful of fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat. Add the aubergine and the red and green peppers, stirring to combine.
Meanwhile skin your tomatoes. Just chuck them in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Wait about 30 seconds, then fish them out with a spoon and dunk straight away into ice cold water. After a minute or so take out and the skin will peel away in no time.

Cut across the middle, and squeeze out the seeds as if you were squeezing a lemon. All the juice and seeds would water down your ratatouille so it pays to get rid of them. The whole process only takes a couple of minutes, and is strangely satisfying. If you can coral some child labour in to squeeze the seeds all the better...

When the vege have softened, add the zucchini, tomatoes and herbs, some salt and pepper.

I got some lovely purple and green basil in my vege box, but if you don't have any use another herb you like, thyme would be great, or rosemary, and maybe some parsley and cook for a further 15-20 minutes until cooked and soft. While the vegetables are cooking, preheat the oven to 180C/350F and prepare the topping

Goat cheese crumble topping

100g very cold butter cubed
150g plain flour
Handful parmesan cheese, grated
Handful pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan for a couple of minutes until golden
Freshly ground black pepper
Soft goat cheese, or if you prefer a melting Gruyere, or a soft blue....actually whatever cheese you like/have

In a food-processor, or with your fingers, rub the butter into the flour and parmesan. I use a food processor as a) I'm lazy and b) I can use really cold butter, but it is your call. When you have a mixture resembling breadcrumbs, mix in the toasted pine nuts and some pepper.

When the ratatouille is really nice and soft and cooked, spoon it into a dish, and dot over your cheese of choice.

Cover with the crumble mixture and cook in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden and crispy. The cheese and filling will bubble up into the crumble, this is all to the good so don't worry. Serve hot or warm.

I made a small one for my lunch, and a larger dish for supper, it reheats well. The addition of the cheese and crumble makes this more substantial than traditional ratatouille, and needs nothing more than a salad to make a filling summer meal. And a glass of vino perhaps........

Sunday, January 9

Herby chicken salad........and more pearls of wisdom

It's been a busy wee day, and after an early start (more on that later!) I was feeling a bit jaded at dinner time. Chicken thighs in the fridge, and lettuce in the garden said chicken salad, but how to zush it up? Herbs, mustard and lemon creates a tangy chicken and dressing all in one, easy. This started life as a Donna Hay recipe, Mr PK made it for supper a few months back with mash, but for these warm days a salad seemed much more tempting........yes I know it looks a bit flat in the pic, but I didn't want to kill my lettuce plants by stripping them bare!

Herby mustard chicken salad (inspired by Donna Hay)

1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tsp mustard (I use one of wholegrain and one of Dijon)
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp chopped herbs, I like rosemary, thyme & a little tarragon, but whatever you have is fine
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
plenty of salt & black pepper
4 chicken thighs, skinned and boned
Big squeeze of lemon juice

Combine everything in a bowl and leave to marinate for 1/2 an hour or so.

 Heat a non stick pan over med heat, and cook the chicken for about 5 minutes per side.
Assemble your salad ingredients, and when the chicken is ready, drain off any of the fat that may have come out of the chicken. There will be lots of lovely gummy brown bits on the bottom of the pan, add a big squeeze of lemon juice and let it sizzle for a couple of seconds,  this is the dressing for the salad.

Pop your chicken onto your greens, and pour over your dressing. A good grind of pepper, and maybe a little more lemon if you think it needs it and it is good to go....

This is so simple, but really zippy with flavour. I didn't bother with cheese, but a little sprinkle of feta would not go amiss. In cooler weather the chicken is divine over buttery mash with some steamed spinach on the side.

 I used my own baby cos lettuce, these grow like the wind, even with my slightly erratic watering....

Basil growing well, I smell pesto and homemade pasta, heaven.......!

I was a little tired today, but after an eventful start to the day can I offer a couple of pearls of wisdom?

If something crawls across your foot in bed at 5.45am, and your husband is away, assume it is the cat, and under no circumstances turn on the light to investigate. Ignorance really is bliss.
If you choose to ignore the above, don't look too hard.
If you do happen to see the huge Weta (for my overseas readers, think of the most terrifying scaly "grasshopper on steroids" type insect you can imagine and you are halfway there....) scurrying under the bed, try to avoid kicking the cat as you leap across the room. Also try not to grab the can of furniture polish living next to the can of insect spray in the kitchen cupboard....
If again you ignore the above, try not to spray the WHOLE room before you realise it is Pledge and not Raid....
Make sure you come back with the Raid, and spray so much under the bed the air in the room becomes toxic and you have to go and rest in the spare room to recover from the shock......
Make sure you have a brave sister who does not mind insects to check under the bed for you...

My Uncle Terry told me years ago not to be afraid of insects (I was being viciously attacked by a small ladybird at the time I think....) , that they are much more afraid of you than you are of them.
Utter crap.

Thursday, January 6

Super easy Laksa.....

I cant say I fully understand the logic behind hot food cooling a person down, the same is supposed to be true of hot tea. But I do know even in the middle of summer I sometimes crave hot and spicy. What I don't want to do is turn the oven on, like most NZ homes we don't have air conditioning (actually the Minister of Finance says we do, the poor mans version also known as Open A Window.....) and the oven makes the current humidity even more unpleasant. So a quick spicy stove top supper is called for. I wont vouch for authenticity, not having ever been to Malaysia, but I can vouch for the taste, yummo.

Quick Laksa - with thanks to the Malaysian episode of Food Safari

4 shallots peeled (or use a small onion)
2 cloves garlic
thumb size knob of peeled ginger
1 green or red chilli (or use chilli flakes, or chilli paste)

Blitz together all of the above ingredients in a blender with a 1/4 cup of water, then pour into a medium saucepan containing a splash of vegetable oil. Fry for a couple of minutes, then add

1/2 jar Laksa paste (I picked mine up at the supermarket, or try an Asian grocer)
750 mls water
small can coconut cream
couple splashes of fish sauce
juice of half a lime
tsp of sugar (I used palm sugar, but brown or white would be fine)

The oil from the laksa paste will spilt out, this is perfectly normal, so don't worry!

Stir and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 10 mins, then add Tofu puffs .My green grocer has these already fried, as would any Asian grocer. You can also make your own by deep frying firm tofu in vege oil for a couple of minutes until golden. Cool, and cut in half. I know it seems a faf, but I love the way these soak up the spicy coconut soup, mmmmm! You can also use the oil to fry off some shallots. These are also available to buy at an grocer, but it takes minutes to make your own.

Pour the soup mix over rice noodles which have been soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes then divided between two bowls. Garnish with any/all of the following......

Bean sprouts
Spring onions chopped
Fried shallots
Chopped chilli
Lime wedges

You could easily add chicken, beef or prawns to the mix if you like, and vege such as mushrooms or beans, but this was plenty for us on a warm night. I made extra shallots and tofu, which will be used along with the bean sprouts (why such big bags??) and coriander for a lovely pad thai noodle dish for tonight's dinner.......

Sunday, January 2

An old fav for a New Year.....hello dough balls

Happy 2011! When I was a kid I remember my Aunt telling me the older she got the faster the years seemed to go, at the time I think I was waiting for Christmas and the days seemed interminable. I figured she was so old she was a bit confused (she would have been all of 50 at the time..), but I think I get it now.
Each new year brings that very slight feeling of well concealed panic. Did I achieve anything last year? Am I a better person? What was on my list to do? As per I cant actually find my 2010 resolutions, I think they were in the back of the diary that was in my handbag when it got nicked , but in line with the 15 years before that they probably ran something along the lines of losing 15 kg, drinking less, exercising more (probably with something like the Auckland 1/2 marathon pencilled hopefully in), learn a new language (non non non!)......Actually I did start a supperclub, and my cooking classes, so I am chuffed with that, but they probably were not even ON the list....

A new approach for 2011, as clearly the old one isn't working, and committed to cyberspace so I cant actually lose them.......

Take my lunch to work in my nifty new sandwich bag, so I always have something yummy, instead of spending a fortune I food I can do better myself.....

Appreciate all the good things that come my way. It will be a challenging year I think, so it will be good to remember all the good stuff (I am so lucky, there is so much good stuff)

Drink more red wine..and maybe a little less Chardonnay.

Be bold. Especially when I don't feel like it.

Stick to my food budget, eat well,  and save the rest for a lovely holiday in Europe at the end of they year. Even if it means visiting WWI battlefields with people old enough to be my father........

Remind Mr PK what a star he is, even on days when he watches WWII marathons on the History channel, or Quintin Tarantino box sets.

Go for a walk every day.

OK, that's me. Enough of the navel gazing, how about some food?
I had some goat cheese left over from Christmas, and lovely salad greens. In my London days we would sometimes go to Pizza Express at Canary Wharf for work lunches, people leaving etc. I always had the Goat Cheese salad with Dough Balls. Little balls of bread with garlic butter to dip, yum. I am not sure these are exactly right, to be honest I cant really remember , but they were tasty, and a nice change from croutons.

Goat cheese and bacon salad with "dough balls" - with apologies to Pizza Express

For the salad I used baby salad greens with some pea shoots, then added some sweet little baby tomato's (needless to say not grown by me), crispy fried bacon and a crumble of fresh sweet goat cheese. If you don't like goat cheese then use a soft blue, or even a crumble of cheddar. The dressing was made in seconds, shake the following in a small jar

3 tbsp really good olive oil
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp of Dijon mustard
1 tsp of runny honey
salt and pepper

For the dough balls I use my go to pizza base recipe, which is based on one from Dish mag, the Italian issue
Pizza Dough
1 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp rosemary, finely chopped (optional)
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp olive oil (use the good stuff, it adds flavour here)

Put your water in a jug and stir in the sugar & yeast. Leave in a warm place to froth for 10 minutes or so. If it does not froth your yeast is dead (RIP yeast) and is no good, get a new jar.

Put your flour, salt, and rosemary in a bowl, and add the olive oil and about ¾ of your water yeast mix. Stir by hand, or use the dough hook on your food mixer. If working by hand, add as much water as necessary for most of the flour to come together, but don’t over wet it. Turn the whole mess onto a floured bench, bring it together with your hands and begin kneading. This is simply the action of pushing the dough outward with one hand, turning it with the other hand and repeating the process. The whole manoeuvre, besides being a great workout for your bingo wings, is designed to stretch the gluten in the flour, making it springy and elastic. You can feel the dough changing as you knead, it will feel ‘short’ and tight when you begin, but gradually become more elastic, you will know it is done when you can press your finger lightly on the dough and it will spring back.

Wipe the inside of your bowl lightly with oil, and put the dough back in to rise, again in a warm spot covered with some cling film. It will double in size in about 1-1 ½ hours. Punch the dough with your fist (deeply satisfying) and turn out again onto a lightly floured bench. You can now roll out into one large pizza or several smaller ones, and either freeze, or cook.

For the dough balls I shaped half the dough into little walnut sized balls (the rest I popped in the freezer, ready to whip out for potato pizza.) Cover the balls with a tea towel and let them rest for 20 minutes or so, then brush with milk, sprinkle on some sea salt and pop into a 200C oven for 15 minutes.
Serve with garlic butter, made by mixing softened butter with chopped fresh garlic. OK, not the healthiest of dips, and you could use any dip you liked, but I wanted my little taste of London, so garlic butter it had to be. These are moreish, tasty, cheap and cute to look at, next time I will add some grated cheese to the dough, for even more savoury yumminess.
Off to the garden centre now, I shall add one more thing to my goals for 2011. To grow a decent tomato. I wont be making a lot of sauce with this years crop..........