Thursday, 21 February 2013

Reinventing the wheel: Slow cooked Pork sandwiches

As part of my new food business, I have a stall at one of the Wellington markets.  This means early starts on Saturday mornings.  Not so much of an issue to early-bird me; very much an issue to my night owl husband who, for logistical reasons too dull to go into, takes me down to the market and drops me off with all my stuff, returning later in the day to collect me.  And as much as, when I was signing up for this, I tried to convince him with breezy renditions of "it'll be fiiiiiiiiine", I know that early starts on a Saturday are, for him, in the same level of hell as, say, if I suggested we take one of those free salsa dancing lessons they're offering at the waterfront.  The fact that he never whinges, not once, about all of this just proves what a good'un he really is. 

One of the ways I try to bribe him to stay in his non-complaining state is to treat him to the leftovers of my toils.  I know, right, doesn't sound like much of a treat.  You could be right, up to a point.  One of the products I sell is slow-cooked pork sandwiches with apple sauce.  The pork is cooked slowly overnight, with no other ingredients than water and salt, and it is moreish, melt-in-your mouth delicious.  I can't resell any pork that is left, so I bag it up and freeze it, for use on a day other than Saturday when I can't even look at any more slow-cooked pork.

One of the most successful dishes I've found is a pork chilli.  Converting even sceptic Andy, who is the Chilli Con Carne boss of me, he now prefers pork chilli to the beef he's used to.  I promise to put the recipe up here soon because, truly, it is wonderful.  We've had a run of chilli though, so I was looking for something different to do.  My mind returned to the sandwiches - what if I made them for us but just changed up the additional ingredients, to make it altogether more Italian in flavour?  

And listen, as much as I know that leftover recipes are somewhat limiting for the regular reader, it might help someone out there - I know the words "leftover slow cooked pork" must be one of my top Google searches, so I'm sending this out there because for all I know, you too have bags of pork sitting in your freezer.  And you know what?  These sandwiches are so good, you might want to consider cooking some pork just so you can turn the leftovers into this.  They're that tasty.

Italian Slow Cooked Pork Sandwiches

300g leftover slow cooked pork
1 clove garlic
2 spring onions
Handful of flat leaf parsley, choppe
1 sprig rosemary, chopped
2 sprigs thyme, chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
Olive Oil
Blue Cheese
2 bread rolls
1 red chilli, chopped
Salad leaves

Preheat the grill.

In a small pan, heat the olive oil and gently fry the garlic and spring onions.  Add the pork, herbs, and a good squeeze of lemon juice.  Cook gently with the lid on until completely heated through, about 10 minutes.

Split the rolls, put one kind of cheese on each side of the rolls.  Pop under the grill to melt the cheese and warm the bread.  

Pile on the salad leaves, top with the pork and finally the chilli.

Keep a napkin to hand for this one folks, it's juicy!

Serves 2

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


Playing favourites can be a strange and confusing game.  Ask me what my favourite way to do potatoes, and that's fairly easy.  "Mash.  No, Dauphinoise.  No, wait, definitely mash.  If I could marry a food, it would be mash".  But ask me, for instance, what my favourite vegetable is and it gets tricky. " Spinach.  No, broccoli.  No, wait, mushrooms.  Mushrooms were my first love.  Or was that Brussel Sprouts?  ALL THE VEGETABLES."  Meat follows the same path. "Beef.  Lamb.  Pork.  Too hard.  TOO HARD".

Eggs I find similarly tricky.

That rare beast, perfectly cooked scrambled eggs.  Silky, plumptuous, buttery.  Poached eggs.  As I am missing the poached egg gene (Andy has it and can poach an egg perfectly, much to my annoyance slash delight) so appreciate a poached egg so much.  Omelettes.  The fried egg, an absolute necessity on a bacon butty.  Crisp around the edges, yielding and dripping within.  Spicy Huevos Rancheros.  I think I would refuse to choose.  Eggs are very much a mood food, and if you can find the perfect egg to suit your mood, you are in ovoid heaven.

I do, however, have a particular affinity with coddled eggs and its sister dish, baked eggs.  Same results, different methods - both cooked in vessels, in a water bath, one on the hob, the other in the oven.  My kitchen didn't feel complete (who am I kidding? It still doesn't.  Never will) until I had an egg coddler, spotted in one of the antique shops on Tinakori Road and clutched in my mitts.  Today I wanted something luxurious and creamy, and so turned to the delights of the baked egg.  Both coddled and baked are incredibly versatile dishes - try mixing up the herbs used, add some chilli, use different cheese or other protein (ham and smoked salmon work particularly well), add your favourite veg, if you can decide what that is.

Baked Egg

2 tablespoons cream
1 egg
1 tablespoon tarragon, chopped
1 tablespoon Emmental, grated
Salt, pepper and nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 180c / 350f

Season the cream with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Be generous.  Put one tablespoon in the bottom of an oven-proof dish.  Sprinkle over half the tarragon.

Break the egg on top.  Pour over the remaining cream, remaining tarragon and cheese.

Put the dish inside a larger oven-proof dish.  Pour lukewarm water in the larger dish to come half way up the side of the small dish.

Bake for 15 minutes.  This will give you a runny yolk, so bake for longer if you prefer.

Serves 1

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Messy Eaters

Eton Mess has a somewhat hazy history.  The only thing that is agreed on is that the name comes from Eton College, the posh school in England beloved by incredibly well-to-do people and royals.  I always thought the name came from their traditional Fourth of June celebrations, involved an accident with a pavlova en route, and somehow resulted in a delicious mix of strawberries, cream, and meringue.  Apparently not so  - Wikipedia tells me that the word Mess comes from their canteen (what? That's what we called it at my northern Comprehensive), and would originally have been bananas and cream, with the strawberries and meringues being a much later addition.  I'm not sure whether I dreamed up my versions, or whether there is any element of truth in it.  One thing there is truth in, though, is that this is one of the most delightfully simple-yet-indulgent desserts, and also, a curious amount of people have neither tried it nor heard of it (based on my sample research of 7 people). (What?)

The only point at which mine would differ from the standard would be to include Greek Yoghurt mixed in with the whipped cream.  Not only for health reasons, in fact not even for health reasons, but simply because I like the way it cuts the richness, and the ensuing slight tang sets off the juciness of the berries and the sweet crunch of the meringue just delightfully.  Also, while I would normally be an advocate of Making Your Own Meringue, I can't bring myself to stipulate that so strictly when it's going to get crushed up.  Use the ready-made meringue nests, and your sanity will thank you.

Feel free to go crazy and experiment with different berries and coulis; strawberries macerated in balsamic and sugar is a nice progression; Nigella recommends the use of pomegranate syrup to drizzle over.  I have made a more exotic version using mango and toasted coconut.  But really, you can't go wrong with this.  I could eat this all day, every day.  Messily.

Eton Mess

125g strawberries, halved or quartered
3 mini meringue nests
100ml double cream
100ml greek yoghurt

Whip the cream until cloudily soft but not stiff.  Gently fold in the greek yoghurt.  Holding them over the bowl, crumble each meringue into the bowl, making sure all the crumbs go in too.  Fold in the strawberries.

Spoon into serving dishes.

That's it.  If you want to get REALLY fancy you can put a whole strawberry on top.  But really, that's it.

Serves 2

Monday, 18 February 2013

Salmon with Green Herb and Mustard Sauce

Our house, a week ago:
"It's Valentine's Day on Thursday.  What shall I cook?  How about your favourite?"
"A roast dinner?  But it's 25 degrees outside.  Um - I fancy steak.  Always.  Or lamb.  Or fish.  Not noodles.  Never noodles.  How about you?  Do your favourite."
"Roast chicken?  But it's 25 degrees outside.  Um - I fancy steak.  Always.  Or lamb.  Or fish.  Or noodles".

Somehow, the world's two most indecisive people managed to decide on salmon.  I did some research and left a laptop full of tabs linking to salmon recipes for Andy to look at and - this was the cunning part - decide which to cook.  I'd already made a shortlist, see?  But no.  As he crawled into bed after the night shift, he declared, "they all look good.  Pick which one you like the best".  Damnit!

Andy was working the late shift on Valentine's Day so I didn't want to make something too heavy before he went in - rather something light, and so this recipe from BBC Good Food was calling to me.  The sauce isn't cooked but served fresh - and I loved the addition of tarragon instead of the more obvious dill.  On its own before serving, I was mildly concerned that it tasted too vinegary, but once put with the oil-rich salmon, it was the perfect foil to the flavour.  I added capers to the sauce also, because I have a jar perma-opened, and it seemed like a good idea.  And it was.

Poached Salmon with Green Herb and Mustard Sauce
From BBC Good Food

2 salmon fillets, each about 200g
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, stalks reserved
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons Dijon Mustard
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, sliced
Watercress salad, to serve

In a pan large enough to fit both salmon fillets, put in enough water to cover them along with the sliced lemon and parsley stalks.  Bring to a simmer.  Add the salmon, put a lid on the pan, cook for 6 minutes.

While the salmon is poaching, put all the other ingredients in a food processor and blitz to a sauce.

Drain the salmon, serve on top of a Watercress salad, and drizzle the sauce over.

Serves 2 indecisive Valentines who at least had the sense to choose each other.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Building up Mussels

"What's that?" I hear you ask, "another mussel recipe? So soon?" Well, yes, another mussel recipe.  Another spicy mussel recipe, to boot.  But I'm going to let you into a little secret.  While I am a veritable human dustbin, Andy is a little more, shall we say, selective, in what he eats.  That's right - the girl who happily chowed down on centipede kebabs and tofu brains is married to someone who would fall on the more particular end of the spectrum than non-particular.  That's probably one of the many reasons he's so lovely and slim and I'm not, but that's a discussion for another time.  I adore him and love cooking for him, especially when he grows to enjoy something that had previously been written off.  

Now mussels weren't a "never" dish, but they'd be a "once a year dish".  The spicy mussels we ate on our road trip were a bit of a turning point - like me, Andy is a full-on spice addict, and realising then how well mussels took to our beloved chillis was an eye-opener.  And so it now conspires that we've eaten mussels three times in four weeks.  We use the huge NZ Green lip mussels now, but this would work just as well with the smaller European mussels.   

I don't seem to have a great survival rate on mussels though (good job they're so cheap) - anyone have any tips on keeping them alive?  I do as directed and keep them drained but not dry, out of the plastic bag.  I wonder is my fridge too cold?  There is a big block of ice growing daily like an aggressive cell in the corner, which could be the culprit.  

These Thai mussels were a great spicy wake-up call for the taste buds.  I might half the amount of coconut milk next time though; Moules Mariniere have no close competitors when it comes to dipping a hunk of bread in the leftover juices, and so too much of this for my liking went to waste.  A small price to pay, though, for enjoying a huge bowl of these bad boys with a newly adventurous eater.

Thai Style Mussels

1kg Greenlip mussels, cleaned 
3 spring onions, chopped
2 sticks of lemongrass, chopped
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 green chillis, chopped
Handful coriander leaves and stalks
Sunflower oil
400ml tin coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 red chilli, finely sliced

Discard any mussels that don't close immediately when tapped.  

In a food processor, blitz the spring onions, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, green chillis and coriander roots.  With the motor running, add a splash of water to bring it all together.

In a large pan with a lid, heat the oil.  Add the paste from the food processor and fry for 3 minutes.  Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar.  Stir to combine, check for balance and add more of these flavourings as needed until the sauce tastes harmonious.  Bring to a boil, add the mussels, reduce the heat.

Put the lid on and cook for 4 minutes, until most of the mussels are open.

Discard any mussels that haven't opened after cooking.

Scatter the red chilli and coriander leaves on top as a garnish, and serve immediately.

Serves 2

Friday, 15 February 2013

Vegetable Sort-Of Jalfrezi

I have been yearning for India.  A few years ago, in another life, I spent a long, happy time there.  It is not an easy country to love; it is a slow-burner.  But let me tell you this:  when it gets you, it really gets you.  Gets you to the extent where, when the time comes to leave, you sob at the airport, on the flight, and in a taxi in Sri Lanka.  If home is where the heart is, then I will always find myself at home in this crazy, frustrating, astonishing country.  Amongst its many charms, the ones that sneak up on you and catch you unawares, the ones that take your feelings for a country from "ok well maybe this isn't so bad after all" to "I adore this place" for me were twofold.  Firstly, the people.  Obviously in a country of 1.2 billion people not all of them are adorable.  But so, so many of them are. Charming and funny and kind - oh, so kind.  Possibly one of the reasons I felt such an affinity with the people of India is the main way kindness and hospitality are demonstrated is through food.  I was lucky enough to visit some private homes while I was there - I was invariably given food, from chai and biscuits to a brand new fruit, Sapodilla (7 years on and the taste and the texture still haunt my dreams), to celebratory biryani.  I love this way of going on because that is what I do.  Food is my way of saying to people "I like you.  Please like me".  And the food in India - oh my word, the food.  I picked up a couple of recipes that I will replicate here soon, but my travels there sparked an interest in not only eating Indian food and all its many variations, but cooking it.  I worship at the altars of Madhur Jaffrey and Atul Kochhar.

So here I go with a totally in-authentic recipe.  Why this and not one from one of my Indian Cooking Heroes?  Ach, as already established, I'm quite lazy.  My most recent book acquisition is the Hairy Dieters and, just in case I haven't banged on quite enough about it, I'm trying to keep an eye on what I'm eating at the moment.  And to be fair to those cheeky chappies, I have had nothing but successes from their recipes - I can thoroughly recommend their Cawl, which gets the thumbs up from my husband (a genu-ine Welshman), and the Nut Roast from their Christmas book is a million miles away from the cliché it could have been.  In this book is a section on Fakeaways, re-creating takeaway favourites at a lower cost to the waistline.  I was lazily flicking through it, fancied some Indian food, and hit on the Chicken Jalfrezi.  I had no chicken in, but a quick inventory of the fridge revealed it was overflowing with lovely late-summer vegetables, so that's what I went with.

This is a sort-of Jalfrezi as it doesn't contain that mix of fried onion slices, peppers and fresh tomatoes that are usually associated with it.  But the sauce base is the same.  Big thumbs up from us - we had it with the leftover Green Rice that I am now happy to report freezes and reheats really well.  Nice kick to it without being blow-your-head-off hot.  Totally authentic?  Not a chance.  Good enough under the circumstances?  Absolutely.

And until the time comes when I can travel once more to my beloved India, I will get as close to it in any way I can.  This will do just fine for now.

Vegetable Sort-Of Jalfrezi
Adapted from The Hairy Dieters

2 green chillis, chopped
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 onion, sliced
3 medium potatoes, diced into 2cm pieces
1 small aubergine, diced into 2 cm pieces
1 bundle silverbeet (chard), shredded
1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets
100g flat beans or runner beans
1 can tomatoes
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
200ml cold water plus one tablespoon
2 tablespoons buttermilk or natural yoghurt
2 teaspoons cornflour

In a large pan, over a medium heat, add the oil then fry the onion, garlic and chilli for a few minutes.  Add the spices and fry, stirring, for a couple more minutes.  Don't let the garlic or spices burn.

Add the potatoes and aubergine, cook for a couple of minutes until they start to absorb the flavours.  Add the tomatoes, sugar, and salt.  Add the water, stir in the buttermilk or yoghurt, and bring the sauce to a simmer.  Cook for about 9 minutes until the potatoes are just tender - the sauce should be reduced by about a third.  Add the silverbeet, broccoli and runner beans, cook for another couple of minutes until just cooked.

Mix the cornflour with the tablespoon of water to form a smooth paste.  Stir this into the sauce and simmer for a few seconds until the sauce thickens, stirring constantly.

Serve immediately.

Serves 5, generously.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Enchiladas Suizas with Green Rice

One of my good friends here in Wellington is a lovely lady from Texas, Elaine.  Once when all of us were gathered at my house, over a cocktail or seven and copious amounts of cake, we got to reminiscing about school food and canteen food.  Us Brits fondly remembered Fish & Chip Friday, whereas Elaine got instant exotic status by telling us about Tex Mex Friday at her school.  This seemed so other-worldly to us raised in the cold climes of North-West Europe.  Tex-Mex is generally a cuisine I'm not altogether familiar with, apart from suffering through a few badly-cooked fajitas - in my limited experience it seems an easy food for restaurants to do badly, although I'm sure travelling to Texas would cure me of that perception.

So I was delighted, if not a tad apprehensive, when I got a Tex Mex recipe for this month's Random Recipe Challenge, hosted by Dom over at Belleau Kitchen.  The theme for February is 'the choice is yours'.  My choice was already somewhat limited; ahead of our impending move, I've already made a start on packing up all but my most-used cookbooks.  I did have a newcomer to the fold though - a Christmas present from Andy, as yet unused, and so an obvious contender for this challenge.  My Year In Meals by Rachael Ray takes the successful format used by, amongst others, Nigel Slater, and tracks a year's worth of food eaten.  I know that Rachael Ray isn't the most popular figure in the food world, but I stand unashamed of my admiration for her - anyone who can write recipes for balanced 30 minute meals and encourage more people to head into the kitchen is A Good Thing in my book, which this sort of is.  I've found her food tasty and I've never had a duff recipe, so was delighted to get this present.

The recipe I picked, eyes-closed-no-peeking, was Enchiladas Suizas with Green Rice.  I assume the name comes from the Swiss Cheese used, though would be happy to be corrected on this one.  I had some difficulty tracking down a couple of ingredients (I guess Tex Mex has reached NZ to about the same point as the UK) - fresh large poblano chillis were a no-go, so I subbed with a couple of regular capsicums.  I thought tomatillos would also be impossible, but was pleasantly surprised to find a tinned version at Moore Wilson's.  I'm delighted I did, as I could really taste them in the finished dish.  Texture-wise similar to a tomato, but with a much tangier taste, they resulted in a sauce that tasted almost a Tex Mex sweet and sour.

Both of us absolutely loved this dish.  Filling, super-tasty, comfort food with a slight kick: the richness of the Enchiladas was counter-balanced by the fresh, punchy flavours of the green rice - which I would do again in a heartbeat, but possibly stick some garlic in there too, just because, and leave the butter out, as I couldn't see that it added anything to the finished dish.  The green rice would go fantastically well with Asian dishes, too.  Also, I know nothing about feeding children, but it occurred to me that the bright, luminous green colour might appeal to them.

Final point - don't do what I did and use Low-Fat Sour Cream.  It curdled, and I'm pretty sure it's because of the low fat-ness.  I generally don't get on board with Low-Fat ingredients - I'd rather just eat less of the real deal - but as I'm trying to follow a Healthy Eating Plan *sob* right now, I was a bit shocked that one portion of this dish would take out a massive chunk of my entire day's calories, so tried to bring that down anywhere I could.  Not a smart move, as it turns out.

Thanks for hosting another great Random Recipe Challenge, Dom, and congratulations on making it to number 25!

Enchiladas Suizas with Green Rice
From Rachael Ray, My Year In Meals

2 capsicums/peppers
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 green chilli, seeded and chopped
1 can tomatillos
Handful of coriander
Juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons honey
Salt and pepper
8 (6 inch) flour tortillas
1 cup creme fraiche, Mexican crema, or sour cream
1 cup grated Emmental
1 cup grated Cheddar
Red onion, sliced, and coriander, for garnish

Put the capsicums under a hot grill, turning them every few minutes, until blackened - this will take about 10 minutes.  When charred all over, put them in a bowl and cover tightly with cling film.  Leave to one side.
Switch the oven to 190c/375f.

Place the chicken in a pan and add enough water to just come up to the top of the meat.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook for about 12 minutes, until they're cooked through.

While the chicken is poaching, heat the oil in a frying pan, add the olive oil and fry the onion, garlic and chilli over a medium-high heat until soft.

Put this mixture in a food processor along with the tomatillos, coriander, and lime juice.  Peel and seed the capsicums and roughly chop them.  Add these to the processor.  Blitz until pretty much smooth.  Pour this sauce back into the frying pan, stir in the honey, salt and pepper, and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Shred the cooked, poached chicken with 2 forks.  Warm the tortillas (RR suggests in a dry skillet; I followed the manufacturers instructions and zapped them in the microwave for 30 seconds).

Place a little sauce in the bottom of a baking dish.  Fill the tortillas with chicken, roll them up, and arrange them side by side in the baking dish - they should fit snugly.  Top with the remaining sauce, them the sour cream and the two cheeses.  Bake for about 25 minutes, until browned and bubbling.

Garnish with red onion and coriander.  Serve with Green Rice.

Green Rice
1.75 cups chicken stock*
1 bunch spinach leaves
Handful coriander leaves
1 green chilli, seeded and chopped
4 spring onions, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup long grain rice

In a food processor, blitz 0.25 cup of the stock, the spinach, coriander, chilli and spring onions until it is a thick paste and everything is very finely chopped.

In a pan, bring the remaining stock and the butter to the boil.  Stir in the rice, reduce to simmer, cover and cook for about 15 minutes, until tender.  Stir in the spinach mixture, cook for a further 2 minutes, turn off the heat and leave for about 5 minutes.

*I used the reserved water from poaching the chicken with a stock cube dissolved in it - can't get the liquid stock concentrate here and I didn't want to defrost some chicken stock and end up wasting the poaching water

Serves 4

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Chickpea Salad with Summer Vegetables

Living upside down doesn't always sit easily with me.  When it comes to the subject of Christmas, I feel my fate is to be forever a whingeing Pom.  Christmas deserves frost, snow, hot chocolate and dark nights.  However, a short, lazy week after Christmas, I am just delighted to celebrate New Year in summer.  New Year was made for the summer. Outside parties, the can't-get-a-taxi walk home, having to stay up till midnight (did I mention I'm apparently an old lady?) - all of these things are made infinitely better by happening when it's warm and sunny outside.

Also into this category falls the inevitable January 'Healthy Eating Plan' (I smell a euphemism).  Having an overhaul of lazy eating habits, of vowing to not just lie on the sofa and eat pasta every night that Andy is at work - so, so much better in the sunshine.  Cold food with bright flavours, fresh salad vegetables at their best, ripe and full of late-season sweetness, makes it much easier to kick-start the year into being better than its predecessor.

I wrote last year about a new-found love of Ottolenghi, and this is based on another recipe of his.  At the market stall I now run, I have recently started selling salads, and have been pleasantly surprised with how well they sell - turns out I'm not the only one craving food that makes you feel virtuous as well as happy to eat it.  My salads tend to be pulse and grain based - I definitely find these more filling and interesting, texture-wise, than leaf-based salads.

Typically of Ottolenghi, it looks like a fairly standard list of ingredients until you get to the spices, then BAM. I didn't follow all the steps in his, as I wanted to serve this cold and wanted to make it quickly.  It still tasted fresh and filling and wonderful.

Chickpea Salad with Summer Vegetables
Based on Ottolenghi

2 cans chickpeas (I usually use dried but forgot to soak them and time ran away)
1 cucumber
1 large tomato
1 small red onion
120g radishes
1 red pepper, deseeded
1 handful coriander leaves and stems, chopped
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
30ml olive oil
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
0.5 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
0.5 teaspoon ground cardamom
0.75 teaspoon ground allspice
0.5 teaspoon ground cumin

Dice the cucumber, tomato, onion, radish and pepper into pieces roughly the size of chickpeas.  Mix with the coriander and parsley.  Mix together the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, sugar, cardamom, allspice, and cumin.  Season to taste.

Serves 4

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Breakfast Pancakes

"Why on earth don't we eat this more often" is often heard in our house.  The answer usually is quite simple - I'm either following my ADD cooking instinct, flitting from one craving to another, ticking off new ideas, new ingredients, new trends, new recipes, new combinations: finding one, perfecting it, loving it, then moving on to the next like a ruthless serial monogamist.  When I'm not doing that, I fall back on the old favourites, those 10 or so recipes that most people have up their sleeve, with familiar, soothing flavours.

When it comes to breakfast though, I really have no excuses other than laziness.  I am one of those annoying morning people.  My brain is at its most sharpest around dawn, and no doubt declines rapidly over the next few hours.  I am my own boss, so have the luxury of being able to take a little more time rather than joining the morning rush hour. My appetite is even quite keen first thing.  So why on earth do I default to toast 99% of the time?

These little beauties take about the same time as a slice of toast to make, and are a perfect vehicle for getting a portion of fruit in early doors.  The recipe is so easy to remember - loosely based on a Jamie Oliver recipe I saw him do on tv, and it stuck.  The ingredients are so basic that it's a storecupboard staple, and it keeps for a day in the fridge so tomorrow's breakfast will be even quicker.

It's Pancake Tuesday today so this seems like an apt recipe to share.

Breakfast Pancakes

1 cup Self-Raising Flour
1 cup Milk
1 egg
Fruit (optional) - whatever you have in.  Examples that work particularly well are a grated apple or pear, a sliced banana, or a handful of blueberries.
Butter for frying

Mix all the ingredients for the pancakes together.  Melt about a teaspoon of butter in a non-stick pan.  When it foams, put about a ladleful of batter per pancake in the pan.  When small bubbles appear on the top, flip them over and cook for another minute or so, until golden brown on each side.

Today, I grated an apple into the batter, and added a sliced banana to the pan to caramelise while my pancake was cooking.  I served it with a dollop of Greek Yoghurt and a squeeze of honey.

Makes about 8 pancakes.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Nacho Cheese and other jokes

Q: What do you call cheese that isn't yours?
A: Nacho Cheese

Hold on to your hats folks, there are more quality jokes where that one came from.

I am a big fan of most things USA-related.  For while, for some people, USA bashing seems to be a hobby, I was raised by a mother who had spent time working for the US Army, and was a big fan, a trait she has passed down to me.  It isn't a big surprise, then, that I'm a big fan of the celebration of America The Beautiful that is Superbowl Sunday.  The anthems!  The incomprehensible rules!  The adverts!  The half time spectacular!  (I try to kid myself but truly, Beyonce was the biggest draw for me this year.  Please can I be her when I grow up?)  I love the idea of having people over for Superbowl Sunday, to the point where last year I tweeted this:
whereas in reality here, it's shown on a Monday when most people I know with regular jobs are at work.  Neither me nor Andy are burdened with a regular job though, so this year, I decided to go full on Americana with the menu.  Pancakes for breakfast, Nacho Cheese for lunch, Burgers for tea.

I remember the first time I tasted Nacho Cheese.  It took me until my twenties to finally realise that if I had the money, it was perfectly ok to buy cinema food, rather than taking my own pre-prepared snacks.  Sort of like the moment when you realise you could buy a box of After Eights not as a gift and eat them yourself any time you want to.

Nacho Cheese had me hooked from the start.  The salty nachos, the tangy pickled jalapenos, the luminous, wondrous thing that was liquid cheese sauce.  One of those things I always assumed I couldn't recreate at home without recourse to a vat of chemicals and some industrial-strength food colouring.  I was over the moon to read this Food 52 article which described how to make it yourself at home, with the brilliant addition of turmeric for colour.  It was tangy, it was spicy, it was cheesy.  I actually found myself adding more cheese than recommended surprisingly, as I used a mature cheddar as opposed to the milder Monterey Jack that is in the original.  We went full on cheesy overload on this, to the point where we couldn't face the burgers later on.  No matter, we had them the next day and I used the leftover Nacho Cheese sauce as a topping for them.

Oh, and those other cheese jokes:

Q: What cheese would you use to disguise a small horse?
A; Marscapone

Q: What cheese would you use to lure a bear out of the woods?
A: Camembert

Q: What does the cheese say when it looks in the mirror?
A: Halloumi

Right, on with something I'm actually good at: the food.

Nacho Cheese Sauce

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Half an onion, finely chopped
2 green chillis, chopped
1 tomato, seeded and finely chopped
0.25 teaspoon ground turmeric
0.25 teaspoon paprika
0.25 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons plain flour
0.25 cup cream
1 cup buttermilk
80g mature, strong cheddar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a frying pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter.  Add the onion, chilli, tomato, turmeric, paprika and cayenne.  Cook over a low heat for 10 minutes, until the onion softens.

Add the rest of the butter and flour, cook for another 2 minutes to 'cook out' the flour.  Add the cream, half the buttermilk, and the cheese, and stir until the cheese is melted.   Add the remaining buttermilk gradually until the sauce is smooth, rich and velvety.

Blend until completely smooth.  With the motor running, add the olive oil.  Taste and season as you like.

This can be made a day in advance, kept in a sealed container in the fridge and reheated for a minute or so in the microwave.

Serve with nachos and pickled jalapenos, while watching a game you don't understand in a country on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Prawns to use up

Ah, the perils of renting.  Just when you think you have found the perfect house - located close to the sea in chilled-out Lyall Bay, three bedrooms, enough space for two hoarders to spread all their stuff around, good size kitchen, no pesky hills to go up and down, garden for barbecue and herbs and off road parking, your landlords decide to sell up and you are back on the househunting trail.  This isn't another whinge about the soul-destroying process of finding a rental in Wellington (although it truly is the stuff of nightmares), but putting a resolution down in writing. This will be our fourth move in 3 years in NZ; we never seem to learn and just accumulate more stuff each time, including food.  I do not want to move the contents of our freezer, succinctly described by Andy as "bones and juice", so I am on a mission to use up as much as possible before the day is here.

Having exhausted, for now, the possibilities of leftover slow-cooker pork (I sell it on my market stall every week; leftovers get bagged up for our own use), I spied a bag of prawns lurking in there.  My last experiment with prawns was a take on Delia's Prawns with Chilli and Cheese that my dear heart described as "interesting" - yes, that is a euphemism - so I suggested spicy prawn noodles this time.  However, doing some more tidying and packing, I came across a years-old supplement from Sainsbury's magazine, from back in the UK.  Spying an opportunity for procrastination, I was flicking through it when I spotted a recipe for Prawn and Potato Chermoula.  Not a traditional Chermoula, a spicy Moroccan sauce with a thick, pesto-like texture, this was closer to a soup.  I had most of the ingredients except tomatoes of any kind (how on earth did that happen? Kitchen Fail), so I improvised with tomato puree - this was fine, but proper tomatoes would have been better.  Likewise I had used up the last of my fresh ginger, so used 1/4 teaspoon ground.  I had a lonely half a bulb of fennel lurking in the fridge too, so threw that in.

It was absolutely delicious.  Spicy, easy, quick, the perfect weeknight tea.  Both of us wolfed it down, and I wouldn't hesitate to make it again.  It was substantial enough to be filling but not overwhelmingly so on a hot summer night.  Possibly the only addition I would make next time would be a green vegetable; spinach might be a good one to stir through, accompanied by a good spritz of lemon to freshen it up.

In a poignant footnote, the recipe in the supplement comes from the prolific and influential Katie Stewart, who died on January 13.  RIP Katie, I hope this recipe honours your memory.

Oh, and if anyone knows a fabulous, warm, 3 bedroom place by the sea renting for $200 a week, give me a shout.

Prawn and Potato Chermoula
From Fabulous Fish, Sainsburys Magazine, by Katie Stewart

200g peeled and cooked prawns
350g waxy potatoes, scrubbed and sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2.5cm fresh ginger, grated, or 0.25 teaspoon ground ginger
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 bunch spring onions, finely sliced
0.5 fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon tomato puree, or 4 ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 1 can tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
150ml chicken stock
Handful parsley, chopped
Small bunch chives, chopped
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan.  Add the garlic, ginger, chilli, onions and fennel and cook over a low heat for one minute, then stir in the paprika.  Add the sliced potato, stirring them to absorb the flavours.

Add the tomatoes, sugar, stock and a good seasoning of salt and pepper.  Cover with the lid and simmer gently for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.  Stir in the prawns and herbs and cook, uncovered, for a couple of minutes to heat the prawns.  Serve immediately.

Serves 2

Monday, 4 February 2013

Bolognese, my way

I'm not exactly sure why but whenever I've been away from my kitchen for a while, bolognese is the meal I start craving to make.  There's a distinct difference between meals I yearn to eat and meals I yearn to cook, and with bolognese possibly more than any other it's about the rituals.  Possibly because it is the antithesis of cooking on the road; there, by necessity, food is fast - either cooked on a barbecue, campsite kitchen, or on the hob in the van.  Also, bolognese is one of the meals of my childhood - born in 1976, growing up in north-west England the Mediterranean diet hadn't quite swept through our industrial town, but my Mum fully embraced this dish.  She is a wonderful cook, truly my first teacher, but the bolognese I make today is a different entity to the one we used to eat.  

I also like to think this played its part in Andy's and my burgeoning relationship, back when it was still in its infancy - it formed part of the first meal I cooked for Andy in a kitchen of our own, in our lovely flat with parquet floors in Bario Norte, Buenos Aries.

And listen, I know, I know, there are a million and one recipes for bolognese out there.  Everyone I know makes it slightly differently.  Every Italian Mama makes it differently.  This is how I make it, and this works for me -   I just wanted to send it out there.  This is my culinary home, and home can be beautiful place to be.

Bolognese Sauce

The one thing that you can't skimp on with this recipe is time.  It's the perfect recipe for a rainy day, when you have lots of pottering to do.  I also think it's a great recipe for sneaking veggies into vegetable-averse people - the vegetables are about equal to the volume of meat.  And about that meat - I vary between doing 50/50 beef mince to pork mince, and just beef mince.  This time round, beef mince was what I had in the freezer, so beef mince it was.  Final point - I rely quite heavily on my food processor for this, but I'm sure there is nothing that couldn't be done with a knife and a bit more time.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
1 carrot, peeled
1 stick celery
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 rashers streaky bacon
200g mushrooms
500g best quality beef mince (see note above)
1 glass red wine
1 glass full fat milk
1 can tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato puree
Beef stock cube
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried thyme
Pinch of sugar

In a food processor, blitz the onion, carrot and celery until they are in small pieces (think the size of mince).  Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan over a medium heat, and fry the blitzed vegetables in this. This will take some time until they fully soften; be patient.

Blitz the bacon, then the mushrooms.

Add the garlic to the pan, cook for a few minutes.  Add the bacon and cook until its colour changes and it starts to release its fat.  Add the mushrooms (it will look like loads).  Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are cooked and some of the water has evaporated from them.

Add the mince and cook until browned.

Add the glass of red wine - stir until most has been absorbed by the other ingredients.
Add the milk and do the same. Do not be freaked out by how horrible it looks right now - the milk acts as a tenderiser for the mince and results in a velvety texture.  I promise, you will not taste it at the end.

Chop the tomatoes in the can (or, if you are impatient like me, get the kitchen scissors in there and chop them that way) and add to the pan along with the tablespoon of tomato puree.

Put the beef stock cube in the tomato can and fill it to the top with hot water.  Add this to the pan.

Add the herbs, sugar, salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to the boil, then reduce to a low simmer - it should bubble and gloop at you occasionally, but nowhere near a rolling boil.  Then LEAVE IT.

Seriously, it needs about 4 hours to become a beautiful bol.

Taste it every so often - it might need upping on the herbs and the s&p.

After about 4 hours it will miraculously come together into the beautiful sauce that we all know and love.

Eat with the pasta of your choice - I'm too much of a realist to be a pasta nazi - I prefer spaghetti whereas Andy prefers penne, but any port in a storm.  It serves, what, about 8? Maybe more, maybe less, all depends.  It freezes beautifully, if you can stop eating it straight from the pan long enough to portion it up.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Roadtrip with added Spicy Mussels

When we first moved to New Zealand, high on our to do list was to buy a Campervan. When we first met, in Australia in 2006, we took a trip in a Camper up the East Coast. Three years later, en route to NZ, we repeated the same trip in reverse. We are head-over-heels in love with the Campervanning lifestyle - it's as close to camping as I can be comfortable with.  And so a couple of years ago, we welcomed the newest member of our little family. Nicknamed Wilson for reasons long forgotten, he's a 1991 Toyota Hiace and has given us sterling service. Sadly, a subsequent move close to the sea has meant a significant rust problem, and he ain't getting any younger, so we are determined to make the most of owning the van while he's still ours. Last year we did a big trip round the South Island but this year, having just done three winters back-to-back, we were sun-starved and longing for the subtropical North.

And wowzers, we had such a lovely time.  11 days of sunny, warm bliss, a thousand miles figuratively away from the city and its stresses. It's been an ambition of mine for some time to make it right up to the very top, to Cape Reinga, so that's what we did. We nearly got blown away - and we thought Wellington was windy!

We ate really, spectacularly well in our 11 days away, including some notable meals out.  At Mangonui Fish Shop we ate Fish and Chips with the most perfectly designed view. If Carlsberg did Fish and Chip Shops...

Another biggie for me was getting to Leigh. The name of my hometown in England is Leigh and, well, let's just say that the differences between NZ warm, seaside, charming Leigh and English northern, industrial Leigh are considerable. Leigh is famous for its Sawmill, which in turn is famous for music and food. I ate more fish there - it seems to be my default option whenever I'm by the sea. The only let down with this meal were the crushed potatoes, which were quite dry. Nevertheless it's a great place to eat if you're in Leigh (never thought I'd type that sentence).

By a long shot though, the best food that we ate was the food we cooked ourselves. I often think that, and by no means are either of us the best cooks in the world (no, honestly!). Just cooking what you feel like, when you feel like it, using fresh ingredients, and eaten in the open air next to your beloved Campervan with a glass of wine - well, there are no words. So I won't even attempt it.  Who knows how long we will have our van for? I certainly don't, possibly only the mechanic and the bank manager know for sure. But whatever the future holds, I will be able to recreate these meals again, and pretend we're right back there, in the sun.

This was my favourite dish, cooked by Andy.

Mussels in tomato and chilli sauce
From The Great Bloke's BBQ Cookbook, Kim Terakes

Use your own palate and preferences to dictate the amount of chilli you use. The original recipe calls for the sauce to be blended until smooth, but a blender isn't a tool we carry with us, so he left it chunky. I wouldn't change this next time I make it.

1 clove garlic, chopped
1 onion, sliced
1.5 tablespoons olive oil
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 chillies, chopped
1kg Greenlip mussels, cleaned and any open shells discarded
6 basil leaves, finely sliced
6 parsley leaves, finely sliced
Black pepper

In a large pan with a lid, heat the oil over a high heat and fry the garlic and onion until soft. Add the tomatoes and chillies, reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are mushy. 

Turn the heat back up to high, and add the mussels, putting the lid on immediately.  Cook for 3 minutes, shaking the pot from time to time.  Check that the mussels have opened - cook for a minute or so longer if most haven't. Add the fresh herbs, black pepper, and serve immediately with crusty bread.

Serves two blissed out campers.