Thursday, March 31

Tortilla Soup, ole....

Forgive the title, I did at least restrain myself on the ! front.
This is a great supper if you feel like a Mexican hit, but without any heaviness or cheese. It is essentially a tomato based soup with chilli and cumin, topped with tortilla chips, avocado and lots of lovely coriander. Light but packed with flavour, I added chicken, but it would be just as good without. Or with some fresh prawns, or even firm white fish.
The recipe it self is based on ones I found in Mexican Food Made Simple, by Tomasina Miers, and Lighten Up by Jill Depleix, with some tweaking to fit what I actually had in the pantry.

Tortilla Soup

makes three generous portions

1 red onion
Splash oil
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
Squeeze of tomato paste if you have it
1 small tin crushed tomatoes
4 small ripe tomatoes, chopped (or another small can if you don't have any fresh)
Half a chopped fresh red or green chilli, or a large pinch of chilli flakes
2-3tsp sauce from a tin of chipotle chillies (optional but adds wonderful flavour)
1.2 litres chicken or vegetable stock
1 skinless chicken breast if using, finely sliced, or fresh prawns

Put the oil into a medium saucepan, and add the onions. Cook over a medium-low heat until the onions are soft, then add the chopped garlic. Cook for a further two minutes, then stir in the cumin, tomato paste, oregano, tomatoes and chilli . Pour over the stock and stir it all together. Bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the chicken if you are using it and cook a further 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. If you are using prawns only cook for 4-5 minutes or they will become tough. Check the seasoning and spoon into bowls. Add plenty of the following toppings to taste


Handful corn chips or baked fresh corn tortillas
Fresh red chilli, finely sliced
Avocado, peeled and diced
Squeeze of lime
Slivers of red onion
Lots of fresh coriander

This is such a great supper, filling but not heavy or greasy, even my nephew was satisfied, and he can eat like only a sporty 20 year old can....Who am I kidding, I can eat like a sporty 20 year old too, just seems I have forgotten the sporty bit...I do have it on good authority I was 20 once at least.

The chipotle chillis (actually jalapenos which have been smoked) are spicy and smokey and well worth including. I always find far to many in a can, so I fresh them in little ice cubes, and use them as needed. They defrost perfectly, just don't plop one into your drink by mistake.....

I also freeze fresh corn tortillas, these I defrost as needed, brush lightly with oil and pop into a 170C oven for about 5 minutes to crisp up. This is a great alternative to frying, and unlike a lot of brought corn chips has no weird flavourings.

For more Mexican ideas go here

Thursday, March 24

Exciting Supperclub news!

To celebrate the publication of "Supperclub" , the rather gorgeous new cookbook available here by Ms Marmitelover Kerstin Rogers  I am having an Autumn Book Celebration Supperclub , a rather wordy title (how apt) for what will be a rather wonderful evening. I am doubly excited as there is a very delicious Pork Belly recipe in the book which was provided by me! So no prizes for guessing what the main course for dinner will be......

For those of you who are new to the concept, you basically come along to my house where I will feed you a delicious 4 courses (and a cheeky little welcome drink) and not ask you to do the dishes.
You bring your tipple of choice ( I cant sell booze so please BYO), and some cash to make a donation towards the evening.....
I suggest $65 but if you have just won lotto by all means pay more. You can come alone or with friends, seating is communal so you will never feel like Billy no Mates.
Cocktails will be served at 7pm on Saturday 16th April, please email me if you would like further info or to make a booking . Seating is strictly limited (to the size of my lounge) so be in quick....

Supperclubs have become increasingly popular in the UK, especially London, and the US. The book provides loads of info on setting up a supperclub, as well as plenty of great recipes. .....for NZ & Australian readers Amazon are doing free shipping out here until Mid May so get in now.

If you are in New Zealand and keen to start your own supperclub please do get in touch! For more info also check out which is a directory of all things supperclub around the world.

Plum Kx

PS Please forgive the use of two exclamation marks in this post, but I'm excited ok.......

Tuesday, March 22

Special request savoury mince...

Savoury Mince was Mr PK's special request for dinner this week. I'm not sure how many people would actually request mince, but since I do the cooking, and we usually eat what I choose (democracy is alive and well in this marriage....) it would be a bit churlish to refuse.
To be frank mince was a bit of a nightmare dish of my childhood, and to this day one of my sisters pretty much refuses to eat it. Mum never really got the hang of browning the meat, so mince in gravy was gray and pallid, despite her valiant attempts to bronze it up with soya sauce, or God forbid, Vegemite.
But I am a girl who likes a challenge, so this is my first attempt at savoury mince, and it is really rather fabulously good actually ..........yep,  modest as well as democratic.
P.S If you are going to make this you must first swear on your wooden spoon to BROWN your meat, if not for you, then think of your kids.

Savoury Mince
(enough for two with plenty for lunch the next day)

1 onion, peeled and chopped
Splash of oil
Sprinkle sea salt
500 gr good topside mince
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 1/2 cups beef stock
Splash of worster sauce
1 tbsp tomato sauce (I used homemade but store brought would be fine, or use tomato paste)
Lots of ground black pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas
Couple of dried porcini mushrooms if you have them
2 eggs - optional, but rather lovely
Splash of vinegar
Bread for toasting

In a medium frying pan put your oil and over med-low heat fry your onions until soft and translucent. Now crank the heat up to high. I mean UP, this is where you need to brown your mince, and nothing but hot will get a nice colour to the meat. Be bold. Fry stirring and breaking up the meat for about 10 minutes, until any liquid that comes out had evaporated, and you can smell rich meat, not that ickky smell you get from stewing beef.........

While this is happening pour 1/4 cup of boiling water over the porcini and leave to soak.

Now turn the heat down to med low again, and add your garlic & carrot to the pan, stirring for another minute. Pour in the beef stock, then the worster sauce and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the porcini soaking liquid, and the porcini, which I chop up roughly.

Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the carrot is soft, the mince cooked and there is about 1 cup of liquid left in the pan. If it looks dry add a little more stock. Thicken by stirring in a slurry made with the cornflour into which you have mixed 1/4 cup of cold water. Add it gradually, stirring until you have reached a thickness you are happy with.

Spoon onto your toasted bread and top with a poached egg. The egg isn't essential, but it is quite delish when the yolk breaks and dribbles all over the mince, mmmmm

To poach an egg

You may already do this quite happily, in which case please read on. If poaching makes you a little nervous, fear not, just follow these instructions (I eat an egg most days for breakfast, often poached, if I can do it pre coffee, you can do it anytime......)

Have a pan of water just below simmering (with a few bubbles ALMOST breaking the surface) , into which add a splash of vinegar, any sort will do.
Take a spoon and stir it around a couple of time, like you are stirring your tea. This creates a whirlpool effect, break a fresh egg into a cup, then pour it gently into the middle of the whirlpool. The action of the water stops the egg spreading into a mess.
Pop the lid on and wait for 3-4 minutes, the white will be set, the yolk wobbly.
Use a slotted spoon to lift the egg onto a piece of folded paper towel to drain.
Viola, perfect poached egg.

The porcini may sound a bit odd, but in effect it is my version of Mum's infamous Vegemite. Mushroom is a very savoury flavour, which I think is essential in this. If you don't have porcini, I would add a splash of soya sauce, again a very savoury taste.
I personally don't like much tomato flavour, I think it turns the mince into something more similar to bolognaise. I want rich brown gravy instead , not the most attractive dish perhaps, but so good. Perfect for supper, but also popping up once again on cafe menus for brunch.
I may even convert my sister.........

Sunday, March 20

Quince & apple sauce for the whole year....

What's in a name? If the knobbly, unyielding Quince was called something warm & fuzzy would it be more popular? Honey berry perhaps, for it's amazing fragrance, or Rose Fruit, after the pretty colour the flesh turns on cooking? Quince is hardly a head turner, but then in the raw, neither is the fruit. Cook it up however, and you have a wonderfully perfumed flesh, which also combines well with other fruit. Boring old apple sauce becomes something else altogether.
And the best bit? I will show you how to bottle it, so after the all too brief  quince season is over, you can have a delicious reminder with your pork or duck. Or how about dolloped onto rice pud , stirred through apple crumble, or with your morning muesli and yoghurt. Bottling is easy, even I can do it, and it makes you feel just so darn competent, you will want to preserve everything you can lay your hands on

Before we crack on a quick word on jars. I find the easiest for a beginner (ie me!) is the Bormioli Rocco Quattro brand, available in NZ at Mitre 10 or for about half the price at Arthur Holmes, but you will have to buy a box of 12. They have a rubber seal inside the lid, and a pop up closure, which once treated in water sucks in and lets you know your seal is good. They also look pretty....

Quince and Apple Sauce (from Preserves, the River Cottage Handbook 2, by Pam Corbin)

Enough for 3-4 250ml jars

500 gr Quince (2 large ones)
Juice 1/2 lemon
500 gr Cooking apples -I used Granny Smith
125 gr sugar

First peel and core your quince. I used a small sharp knife, cutting off the skin and chopping the fruit into four and cutting out the core, the same as you would an apple. Chop the flesh into chunks and put in a large saucepan with the lemon juice & 500 mls water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 8 minutes.
Peel and core your apples, cut into chunks and add to the saucepan with the sugar. Boil for another 10-15 minutes until the fruit is completely soft and can be pushed through a sieve.
While this is happening, wash your jars in hot soapy water, then put into an oven at 140C for about 10 minutes, this will sterilise them.

When you have pushed your fruit through a sieve (or if you cant be bothered, just give it a good beat with a wooden spoon) put it back on the heat & bring up to the boil. At this stage it is ready to use, and can be stored in a jar in the fridge for a week or so. If you want to store it for longer (and lets face it, how much sauce can you eat in a week?) then you can preserve it by following these simple instructions.

Take your jars out of the oven and fill with your sauce. Put on the lids  ( I sit mine in a sauce pan of simmering water to keep them germ free) and tighten. Then pop them into a saucepan with a folded tea towel on the bottom, large enough to hold the jars without touching, and cover with warm water. I use the same pan I cooked the sauce in, giving it a quick wash.

Bring the water up to simmering point. This is 88C, but if you don't have a thermometer don't worry, just look for gentle bubbling, it wont hurt if the temp is a little over 88C, but you don't need a full rolling boil. Simmer for 5 mins, fish the jars out of the water (I use Mr PK's BBQ tongs, but you can get special ones in cookware shops) and pop onto a wooden board or another tea towel.

Leave to get cold. As the jars are cooling you will hear a popping sound , this is the top sucking in, your sign the jar has sealed and is airtight. If you don't get this, and to be honest I didn't with one jar the first time simply repeat the 5 minute simmer step. I realised after the first fail it was because I had not twisted the cap on tightly, simmering to get an airtight seal on a jar you have not closed properly is an exercise in futility....

If this sounds horribly long winded trust me it isn't, the whole thing took about 45 minutes, and required nothing more complex than the right jars, a saucepan, a few tea towels and a wooden spoon. Preserving this way means you don't need to use loads of sugar or salt, the whole four jars took just over 1/2 cup of sugar, so the sauce isn't sickly sweet. And if you are like me, it is lovely to have a step in the roast "process" already done, I have forgotten the sauce on more than one occasion..........and I come from a family where there will ALWAYS be someone who asks, "but where is the apple/mint/horseradish/plum sauce"........

For further tips and tricks on bottling, preserves and general domestic fabulousness, I can totally reccomend this book, I love River Cottage anyway, but this book especially has me ready to bottle and preserve anything and everything.

Forgive the rambling nomenclature lecture at the start of this post, but I was reminded of a funny story the other day, a lesson in the whims of fashion I suppose.
My sister was walking my nephew home from school, when he turned to her and said "oh Mum, this boy started in my class today & he's got a really funny name"
Now to give you some context my nephews name is Otis, and he attended a rather trendy city primary school, chock full of Oliver's, Mika's, India's, and I believe at least one Tarquin. As you can imagine my sister was intrigued to know what an Otis would possibly think of as a "funny" name.....
The response?
"His name's Ken"

This ones for you Ken.

Monday, March 14

Visiting the Farmers Market...

I was up in Kerikeri seeing my sister over the weekend, so had the chance to visit the Bay of Islands Farmers Market.
This is a fantastic market, I always find something good to buy, it is well set out and easy to navigate. I love visiting Farmers Markets, it is the best way to find out what is fresh, seasonal and local, often at a fantastic price. You can often also pick up things that are a little more unusual, which may be uneconomic for supermarkets to stock.
In Auckland I visit the Saturday Parnell Farmers Market, (for a post about that see here) or the Sunday Clevedon Village Farmers Market. Both are worth visiting for fresh seasonal goodies, and of course a great coffee

On this trip I picked up fantastic Mahoe Cheese, fresh quinces and glorious fresh figs, what a treat!

This stall, Fifteen Acre Figs was beautifully presented, with an array of fresh figs, and dried fig products. I restrained myself from buying one of everything, and brought home a gorgeous box of purple juicy fruit. This is the beauty of the market, produce that may not travel well, such as figs, is grown locally, and has to get not much further to your kitchen. I was tempted to make a simple salad, but cleaning out the freezer (what a job!) turned up a tub of Kapati Vanilla Ice cream. This made me think of warm juicy figs over cold ice cream, I don't make lots of puddings, but this was too tempting.

Roasted Marsala Honey Figs

This is so easy, but the result is utterly delicious, no one will believe how easy it is...

12 ripe figs
1/4 cup sweet Marsala (or sherry, port or even sweet wine would be perfect)
Big dollop of runny honey (my boss brought in a jar of her Dad's own honey, score!)
a pinch of cinnamon
Small knob of unsalted butter

Take your figs & slice each one through the top, leaving the base intact. Put into a small ovenproof dish , you want a reasonably snug fit. In a small bowl whisk together the Marsala, honey & Cinnamon.

 Pour over your figs, then put a small know of butter into each fig. Put into a hot 200C oven for 12-15 mins until bubbling & fragrant. Pour over good ice cream...or bad ice cream, or any ice cream you want. It will be divine either way.

This is such an elegant but easy dessert I cant recommend it enough. If you have never tried figs before give it a bash, you wont be disappointed
View FarmersMa...png in slide show

 If you have a favourite producer and /or Farmers Market, make sure you vote at the Taste Farmers Market New Zealand Awards . Check here for a list of Farmers Markets in your area and get along. 
And if you see fresh figs, go for it!

Wednesday, March 9

Mock Paella.....

Please excuse the terrible title, but it made me laugh so I went with it. I wanted a new way to use my Cheats Chorizo, and had an idea of a quick easy "paella" type dish that could be whipped up after work and would appeal to both kids and adults alike.
I was explaining all this to Mr PK and he commented it sounded like Mock Paella. A few years back, after reading Julie & Julia I decided I too needed a project (this!) and for a brief ill advised nano-second considered cooking my way through the Edmond's Cookbook . I know, terrible idea. For overseas readers, editions of this cookbook have been around in NZ since 1908, and many households would have a version, Mum had a fab 70's edition, everything was garnished with orange slices! Mine hails from the mid 90's, and was sent specially from NZ to London so I could make pavlova and pikelets even in foreign climes.......

One look at the fish and offal sections convinced me I could never cook (or indeed eat) Luncheon Salmon Mould or Tongue Mould, but the recipes that really caught my eye were the "mock" items. Mock whitebait I can almost get, whitebait is seasonal, and expensive even then, mock hollandaise, I guess it can be a tricky sauce, but mock chicken? When is chicken ever so difficult to get nowadays? And how onion and tomato mixed with herbs and plonked on a cracker is supposed to taste like chicken anyway is a mystery known only to that particular recipe writer ....I wont even mention mock pizza.....
Anyway, this is great, tasty little chorizo meatballs, peppers, smoky paprika and rice all bound in a chilli saffron tomato sauce. Takes about 20 mins and tastes fabulous. I mock you not.

Mock Paella

Makes 2 generous servings

200 gr cheats chorizo (or use ordinary chorizo)
Splash olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 red pepper chopped into small chunks
1/2 green pepper chopped into small chunks
3/4 cup of rice (I use Jasmine rice)
1 1/2 cups chicken or vege stock
Small tin of crushed tomatoes
1/4 tsp each of sweet & hot smoked paprika
Pinch of saffron (optional)
Chopped red chilli to taste
Salt & pepper
Parsley and lemon to garnish

If you are using cheats chorizo take small amounts of your mince and make into little meatballs, about the size of a walnut. If using chorizo, chop into chunks about 1cm thick. Heat a splash of oil in a med frying pan over medium heat and add your meat. Cook until browned, about 4-5 minutes. The meat will release a small amount of oil, which is wonderful to then fry your onions in.

Take the meat out of the pan onto a plate, leaving the oil in the pan, and add the onion and garlic, Fry for 5 mins until soft, then add your peppers and stir in. Cook for another 5 mins or so until softened , then add the rice. Stir to coat in the veges and oil, and pour over your stock and tomatoes. Next add your paprika, and saffron & chilli if using.

Stir everything together and let it cook for at a gentle simmer for 12-15 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender but not mushy. Check the seasoning and add salt & pepper as nessesary. You will think there is too much liquid but don't stress, it will all get soaked up. If all the liquid is soaked in and the rice still has to much bite for you just add a tiny bit more stock or water.

Spoon into pretty bowls and top with parsley and a squeeze of lemon.

If you happen to have saffron in the pantry, a pinch crumbled into the pan when you add the stock and tomatoes is lovely, but the dish is great without it. I use plain old jasmine rice, if you happen to have Calasparra paella rice by all means use it, but any long grain rice will be fine.

Since the first time I made this I have come across a wonderful New Zealand smoked paprika, from Orcona, based in Napier. I was lucky enough to attend the Monteiths Cheesefest last week, showcasing all the delicious cheeses we are lucky enough to enjoy in this country. More on that in my next posts. Also at the event were all the winners of the Cuisine Artisan Awards for 2011. Among some really fantastic products I tasted was the Orcona Harissa Paste, stirred through yogurt as a dip. Completely delsih, with a wonderful kick, I was pleased to find their smoked paprika also. It is perfect in your paella, so if you see some buy it!

Monday, March 7

Hot stuff from the garden......

After my last post, and that picture of all my chilli's I was recommended a recipe for Chilli Jam by Paula over at Pod & Three Peas. It sounded intriguing, and here is the result. This stuff is hotter than Hades, but also has great additional flavour from the tamarind and fish sauce. I am trying it in a stir fry first up, and mixed with some yogurt as a dip.....

I am reading a really entertaining book at the moment, called The Fragrant Chilli by Micheal Bailes, an Australian "Chillihead" (his term) He talks about various varieties of chilli, their discovery and uses. They were discovered about the same time as tomatoes, but while tomatoes were initially thought poisonous, chilli's were adopted almost immediately as edible, and spread like wild fire (sorry) through the world. Quite why that first someone thought , lips burning and throat on fire, "oh lovely, that will go nicely with dinner" I cant imagine......but I am glad they did.

Visiting friends in Spain a couple of years ago Mr PK mistook a chilli in the garden for a sweet pepper, he grabbed it straight off the plant and took a mighty bite. Once his face actually started to change colour I suspected it was a hot one, but the sweating, coughing and general disagreeable moaning sounds confirmed it. Once I stopped laughing I did go and get him a glass of milk. Capsacin, the compound that makes chilli hot is soluble in dairy or alcohol, but not water, so don't swig a glass thinking it will cool you down, it wont...

To prove I am not a completely awful wife I picked up these delightful goodies at Delish Cupcakes on Saturday. These lovely ladies organised the Get Your Bake On fundraiser for the Christchurch Earthquake appeal, to which I was delivering Brownies. The event raised a whopping $6600, which is wonderful. Mr Sweettooth made a special request as I was leaving (still in bed) to "please bring home a cupcake". Red Velvet & Pinkie bar, who could resist really?

Tuesday, March 1

Cheats chorizo spaghetti....

I actually made this last week, but with all the sad news coming from Christchurch, and a wee virus I have not really felt like blogging, or indeed doing too much of anything. It is so terribly sad seeing the devastation and hearing the sad stories of lives completely turned on their head. I am really not sure I would cope in such trying circumstances, but sadly people don't have a lot of choice. Like many of you we have donated to the Red Cross, and on Pru's behalf to the SPCA and Paw Justice, it feels like very little, but I hope every little will help......

This is a comfort food meal, which seems very appropriate right now. It's a recipe from River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that caught my eye as soon as I got the book, and I have finally got around to making.
It is basically a pork mince mixture spiced with the same spices contained in chorizo sausage, which can be stored in a container in the fridge for a week (don't be alarmed, the small amount of alcohol and spice preserve the meat) and used in a variety of ways. I love this sort of recipe. It is delicious, and I love the feeling when I get home dinner is already on the way. But please be aware it would take a better photographer than I to make mince look terribly attractive, you will just have to trust me it tastes way better than it looks.......

Cheats Chorizo

500 gr Pork mince
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
1 clove garlic, grated
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
35 ml red or white wine
fresh ground black pepper

Put everything into a bowl and mix together, I find it easiest to do this with my hands. Pack into a Tupperware container and store in the fridge for up to a week. This is especially good if you let it sit for at least 24 hours before using, so all the flavours have a chance to develop.

I first used this to make the following spaghetti dish that was particularly delish.....yep, I will say so myself. But the previous caveat applies, we cant all be gorgeous in photos.

Chorizo and tomato spaghetti

This serves 2, but can easily be doubled

1/2 quantity cheats chorizo
Splash of olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 red chilli, finely chopped (to taste)
420 gr tin of tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Splash of wine
Splash of cream
Fresh coriander or parsley, chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a medium frying pan heat the oil, then add your chorizo and brown for about 5 minutes, breaking up with a wooden spoon. Add the chopped onion and continue frying until the onion is soft and the mince has no pink bits showing. Tip in your tin of tomatoes and chilli, stirring and breaking up the tomatoes to create a sauce.Sprinkle in the oregano and add the wine, stir again and bubble until the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly, this will take 5-10 minutes. Finally add the cream, check your seasoning and serve over cooked spaghetti , or any pasta you like actually. I like a sprinkle of parsley on top, and grated Parmesan if you have no problem confusing Italy and Spain....

I used the remaining pork mixture to make a rice dish that was also rather lovely, I will post that later in the week.

If you are wondering if it is worth buying sweet and hot paprika, can I encourage you to go ahead. Not only are the tins lovely, but the flavours lend themselves to so many different dishes.
If you look at the top of the page I have added a new tab, to bring together recipes which use more "specialized" ingredients. If I buy something new, which perhaps costs a little more or I am unfamiliar with, I like to know I will be using it in more than just one recipe, so it does not sit on my shelf until I biff the container out almost full in six months time.

If you feel the same, keep checking back, I will be cataloguing recipes so that new spice, or bottle of pomegranate molasses or whatever will get used....!

Finally, a completely gratuitous chilli photo, just to prove my garden isn't a complete waste land. Now I just have to figure out what to do with them all......