Category Archives: Recipes included

Caramelised onions, rapid ragù and a diary you should buy

Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.
~ Anne Lamott

Today has been one fantastic day.

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For a while now, I have felt a soul and body sensation somewhat akin to constant choking. There have been many moments where my mind kept saying “dooooon’t wooooorrryyy” or “sloooooow down!” while my body and heart fluttered with anxiety and insomnia.

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I really, really don’t want to see another night-to-day transition happen outside the window while the rest of New Zealand (except fellow insomniacs or night-shift workers) get to play in Dreamland.

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I guess the year’s been a little crazy. It’s been unspeakably wonderful in a thousand different ways, and it’s also driven me completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for seven months, and I’ve been in 12 cities in three countries this year. That’s not much for people on an OE or for people who love ongoing plan-less spontaneity, but I’m not either of those things.

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Right, first world problems.

Got it.

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They’re still a little tough :-o

(The First World Problem Lady Whines)

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Recently, in the midst of a dark passage of stress and insomnia, I came to a very important realisation. That now is the BEST time to learn contentment, resilience, calm and all those quality things.

Today, I woke up, peered into the mirror and said, “I like your life. I don’t want ANY OTHER.” After I said it, I was surprised to realise that I really meant it. I really wouldn’t want to be anyone else. I’m really happy being me, with my personality, strengths, flaws, relationships, circumstances and all.

And then a few really, really good things happened. I’m still smiling as I type this.

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One of those things is that I *finally* got my hands on a Kiwi Diary! My friend Cathy told me about them a few years ago, and for some reason they stayed elusive… until today! At Commonsense Organics they sat on the counter like they had been waiting for me all along (okay, slight exaggeration, but only a slight one)!

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It’s every bit as beautiful, compact and spacious as I wanted my 2013 diary to be. Don’t you want one too?

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Another good thing that happened today was that I felt in the mood to Cook Properly. Dinner was started and finished in an hour and turned out nicely, and my lovely flatmate Jono helped me to eat it AND booted me out of the kitchen afterwards to tackle the dishes :-)

Here’s the approximate recipe, if you’d like it. As always, I recommend cooking by sight, smell, taste and instinct.

    Pappardelle with rapid ragù and caramelised onions
    Ingredients:
    Caramelised onions:
    Olive oil
    2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
    pinch of cinnamon
    1 tbsp demerara sugar (or use normal)
    1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
    The rest of the dish:
    225g dried pappardelle (packet said 2 servings)
    1 tbsp butter
    3 cloves garlic
    450g mince
    1 sprig rosemary*
    1 sprig thyme*
    1 carrot, peeled and diced
    1 zucchini, diced
    400g canned diced tomatoes
    3 tbsp tomato paste or passata
    1/2 cup red wine
    Salt
    Black pepper
    3/4 tbsp demerara sugar (or use normal)
    Method:
    Over medium-high heat, glaze the bottom of a skillet with approximately 3 tbsp of olive oil. Once it’s warm, fling open the windows and throw in the onions. Cook for 15-20 minutes, adjusting the heat as required and stirring occasionally to avoid it burning. It should be smelling pretty great and turning slowly golden-brown. Add in a pinch of cinnamon, breathe in deeply. Stir well. After 5 minutes, add in the sugar and balsamic vinegar and cook for a further 5 minutes till it’s all rich, brown and soft. Pour them into a bowl.
    Turn the heat up again. Reusing the skillet, melt the butter, then add in the garlic and mince. Stir well, and add in the herbs. When the mince is partially cooked, add in the carrot and zucchini, and cook till the mince is just cooked. Then pour in the wine, tomatoes and tomato paste, lower the heat and let it all simmer for around 20-30 minutes. More time won’t kill it – just make sure it’s simmering and not splattering. At some point, stir in half of the caramelised onions (refrigerate the rest for another meal!), sugar and salt and pepper to taste.
    10 minutes before the sauce is due to be ready, bring water in a deep saucepan to a rolling boil. Throw in some salt, then add in the pappardelle and cook according to packet instructions or till al dente.
    Dish it up – pappardelle on plate. Ragù on top. Serve immediately.
    Yields 3 servings.

* I just used these because they were leftovers I had in the freezer – feel free to substitute with fresh / dried herbs you have on hand.

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Easy chicken drumsticks

A mist of rain began, but we danced on…
~ Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter

Sometimes, I don’t want a full meal – just something really easy to prepare and just as effortless to eat. I call those my tapas moments (though that hardly does justice to the real thing, I know). Do you get those days? Where you just want something like a peach. Or a jacket potato. Or a handful of red cabbage, simmered with thinly sliced apple, butter and fennel seeds…

Today, I had chicken drumsticks for lunch. Bonus points of chicken drumsticks: easy to eat and so many ways to flavour them (I went for a spiced up version today). Plus points of the oven: no standing by the stove required, so I could work on while lunch cooked itself.

Hope you are all having a great Wednesday :-)

    Easy chicken drumsticks
    Ingredients:
    5 chicken drumsticks
    a small knob of ginger, minced
    2 cloves of garlic, minced
    a sprinkle of Chinese five spice powder
    a smaller sprinkle of ground chilli
    a dribble of oil
    4 tbsp soy sauce
    1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 180°C.
    Place everything in a bowl. Mix it well with your hands, then cover the bowl with cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
    Line a baking dish with foil, then arrange the chicken drumsticks in a single layer inside. Pour on remaining sauce and garlic / ginger bits. Bake, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes until they are golden brown on the outside, and a fork / skewer inserted into the thickest part of a drumstick finds clear juices and the chicken cooked.
    If desired, serve with bread, rice, or a side of your choice.
    Yields 1-2 servings.

Honey and oil bread

Yeah we all shine on, like the moon, and the stars, and the sun.
~ John Lennon

Loaf by loaf, life’s riddles are slowly unravelled…

    Ingredients:
    2 cups all purpose flour
    1 tsp salt
    1 tbsp honey
    ¾ cups warm water
    1.5 tbsp yeast
    4 tbsp rice bran oil (the original recipe calls for olive oil)
    extra flour for kneading
    extra oil to brush bowl and bread
    Method:
    In a small bowl combine honey, water, and yeast, stir to combine a bit. Put aside to proof yeast for about 5 minutes, or until yeast begins to foam. In a separate bowl combine the flour and salt. Once the yeast has foamed you can proceed to step 2.
    Make a well in the center of flour bowl. Pour the olive oil, then the water-yeast mixture into the center of flour bowl. Using a wooden spoon stir until a wet dough forms, then switch to your hands for kneading. Depending on how wet the dough is, and the humidity in your kitchen, you will need to add a little bit of flour at a time to form an elastic dough that does not stick to your hands. Continue kneading until a smooth dough is formed, about 10 minutes.
    Remove the dough and set aside, brush or rub a little bit of olive oil inside the bowl. Place the dough back into the bowl, brush with a little oil, cover and leave to rise in a warm place. Leave to rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
    Once doubled, preheat oven to 180°C. and prepare a baking sheet or bread mould. Remove the risen dough from the bowl, gently knead into desired shape or place inside bread mould.
    Leave to rise another 10 minutes. Place bread in center of oven and bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before slicing (we ate a few slices whilst they were very warm anyway).

Beatty’s chocolate cake

Chemically speaking, chocolate really is the world’s perfect food.
~ Michael Levine

It’s been one of those weeks where things go a little crazy and your body brings something akin to OOS to the party. And all there is to do is say NO to eating toast one night, and instead roast a free range chook with lemon, herbs and potatoes till golden, crisp and juicy.

And bake a cake, even if your hands cry and tingle while you whisk on… and on… and even if you tip the cake out of the tin before it’s completely cooled and ruin its otherwise flawless bottom.

Luckily, frosting provides excellent coverage for facial imperfections of the cakey sort.

Happily, the cake has been reasonably well-received by visitors and flatmates :-) If you make it, expect a moist, easy-to-eat cake and frosting which provides an immediate sense of luxury… and don’t expect the cake to last long if you have people in your house!

    Ingredients:
    Butter for greasing the pans
    1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
    2 cups sugar
    ¾ cups good cocoa powder
    2 teaspoons baking soda
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1 cup buttermilk, shaken
    ½ cup vegetable oil
    2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
    Chocolate frosting:
    6 ounces good semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
    ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1¼ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
    1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180°C). Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
    Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
    Place one layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.
    Chocolate frosting:
    Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
    In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.
    Modifications: I used a mixture of demerara sugar and caster sugar – and just over a cup of sugar all up (and it was sweet enough for me). Skipped the parchment paper. Substituted vanilla essence with kahlua. Made it without an electric mixer – possible, but I’d go with an electric whisk if I had one!

I’m also taking the chance to enter this for this month’s Sweet New Zealand, hosted by the lovely Sue of Couscous & Consciousness.

Instant gratification pizza

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
~ Leonardo da Vinci

One of the quickest and easiest dinners to make, especially when you have a bunch of seemingly mismatched ingredients left in your fridge… they might just get along on a pizza base :-)

    Instant gratification pizza
    Recipe for pizza base adapted from KiwiWise
    Ingredients:
    For the base:
    1/2 cup lukewarm water
    1/2 teaspoon sugar
    1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
    1 cup flour
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon oil
    Toppings:
    Whatever you like – I used:
    Olive oil
    1/2 onion, diced
    3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    1 red potato, thinly sliced then diced
    2 button mushrooms, sliced
    3 slices salami, quartered
    1/3 tomato, thinly sliced
    Loose handful of baby spinach leaves
    Feta cheese, diced
    Black pepper
    Dried oregano
    Tomato paste
    Method:
    For the base:
    Combine the water and sugar in a small bowl, then sprinkle the yeast on top. Cover the bowl loosely with a tea towel and leave for 15 minutes until frothy.
    Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle, add the oil and yeast mixture. Mix and combine.
    Place the dough on a floured surface and knead it until it is smooth and elastic (if sticky, add a little extra flour). Shape it into a ball and place it into a greased bowl. Leave covered in a warm place until the ball doubles in size (approximately 40 minutes). Punch down the dough and knead it lightly. Set it aside.
    Cooking:
    Preheat oven to 200°C. Lightly grease a baking tray.
    In a skillet, heat approximately 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat, then throw in the onions. Sauté for 1-2 minutes before adding in the potato and garlic. Fry the mixture for around 3 minutes, till partially cooked and the potato edges start to go a tiny bit brown. Add in the mushrooms and cook for a further minute. Do not overcook anything – it will cook further in the oven. Remove from the heat.
    Roll out the pizza base with a rolling pin or suitable substitute (I used a drinking glass), then spread it with a thin, even layer of tomato paste.
    Add the spinach leaves, potato mix, salami, tomatoes and feta (or toppings of your choice). Sprinkle with dried oregano and a generous amount of black pepper.
    Bake pizza for 15 minutes, or until the base is golden brown and your pizza looks ripe for eating! Serve immediately.
    Yields 2-3 servings.

Mini apple crumble

With an apple I will astonish Paris.
~ Paul Cezanne

It was pretty in the early cooking stages; less so as it neared completion. No creative turn of my camera could make it look good; I gave up after a few tries. Certainly it did not look promising by the time I removed it, cooked, from the oven. It also clung a little heavily to the pan, meaning it did not look cohesive or inviting on the plate. Only its very delicious smell gave me the courage to serve it (gulp) to my flatmate…

So why am I posting this? Keep it real, right? There are days on which everything goes swimmingly in the kitchen, and days on which everything is ugly and your hands feel cursed. But I’m not just posting this to show I’m human…

See, once we bit into it, I decided this deserves a second try sometime in the near future (perhaps with a lightly greased pan and a higher baking temperature – incorporated below). I like having a recipe for a small dessert around (most dessert recipes always feed more!). And, more importantly, we were both surprised by its golden crunchy crumble crust (dare I say, perfect!) and tender caramelised apple filling… mmm.

    Mini apple crumble
    Recipe adapted, with a few modifications, from Sew Happy Geek
    Ingredients:
    2 apples (I used Granny Smith)
    1 tbsp caster sugar
    1/2 cup plain flour
    45g butter, cubed
    1/3 cup sugar (I used a mixture of 2 parts caster sugar, 1 part muscovado sugar – just under 1/3 cup)
    1/2 cup rolled oats
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1/2 tsp ground ginger
    2 tbsp kahlua
    Cream or ice cream, to serve (optional)
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 190°C*. Lightly grease an oven-proof baking dish.
    Peel and cube the apples, and place them in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water and a tablespoon of sugar. Cook on low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, till they soften and are partially cooked.
    Meanwhile, rub the butter cubes into the flour with your fingers till it takes on the texture and look of breadcrumbs. Add in the cinnamon, ground ginger, sugar and oats, and mix well with a whisk or fork.
    Add the apples, any liquid in the saucepan and the kahlua to the bottom of the baking dish. Stir gently before spreading the apples out in an even layer.
    Sprinkle the oat mixture evenly over the apples, then place the dish in the oven to bake for approximately 40 minutes*, or until the top is cooked/golden and it all smells delicious! Let it cool for a few minutes, then serve with cream or ice cream, if desired.
    Yields 2-3 servings.

* The original recipe says to cook it at 180°C for 20 minutes. It emerged with a way undercooked crust for me after 20 minutes, so I increased the temperature to 190°C for a further 15 minutes, then 200°C for yet a further 10 minutes. I suspect 190°C is optimum crumble-baking temperature (based on a few quick Google comparisons too), and that a crumble takes more than 20 minutes to cook. Obviously you should also factor in your oven’s size and personality!

Mid-Autumn in Spring

The moon’s an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun.
~ William Shakespeare

Spring is whizzing by in a blur of tulips, work and windy sunshine… and I nearly forgot all about Mid-Autumn / Mooncake Festival! Luckily, Jeremy didn’t – and him and Char prepared a delicious celebratory feast for us lucky folk last weekend :-)

It was a blustery blustery busy busy Saturday for me, so walking through the doors to see and smell ALL THIS was especially amazing!

Tofu with a sweet chilli marinade, deftly stacked into an inviting tower…

Mussels with melting cheese and bacon bits… mmmm!

Prawns, corn and greens tossed in a pretty stir-fry:

Jeremy’s version of san choy bau (生菜包) – traditionally made with chicken / pork mince and water chestnuts, with the cooked mince rolled up in fresh lettuce leaves immediately before consumption. Classy finger food :-) This (addictive!) version incorporated lamb mince, bamboo shoots, tinned baby corn, carrots, oyster sauce, and a host of other ingredients.

Roast duck – bought, but made to look homemade ;-)

Of course – the necessary mooncake. I’ve heard that each one carries approximately 1,000 calories, but the truth is I am clueless about calories so I eat them even though 1,000 sounds like a lot. Growing up, I tried mooncakes with all sorts of crusts and fillings – yam, red bean, lotus paste, snow skin… they are different in each region of Asia and even now the sight of mooncakes makes me smile and intrigued to know what is inside.

This one hid within itself pandan and salted egg yolks. Pandan is a happy scent for me, don’t often get to inhale it now – and I loved this!

Mooncake on its own would have been sufficient for dessert, but out popped a second surprise – mango pudding, made from scratch! Creamy, rich and so mangoey, for lack of a better adjective! I asked Char for the recipe she used, which she kindly sent to me – see below :-)

    Ingredients:
    3 cups Alphonso mango pulp
    3 tbsp plain gelatin
    2/3 cup cold water plus 2/3 cup boiling water
    1 cup evaporated milk
    1 cup superfine sugar
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    Method:
    Place the gelatin into a bowl and stir in the cold water. Add in the boiling water and stir until the gelatin is thoroughly dissolved. Set aside to cool a few minutes.
    In a bowl, add sugar to the evaporated milk and stir until sugar is completely dissolved.
    Place the mango pulp into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the gelatin mixture, then add the sweetened evaporated milk and vanilla extract. Give everything a good stir, then pour into 8-9 custard cups or bowls (we used plastic cups, as shown in the picture above).
    Chill for at least 3 hours, or until set. Serve with a garnish of fresh fruit and evaporated milk poured gently over the top.
    Yields 8-9 servings.

Thank you Jeremy and Char, and happy Mid-Autumn Festival, everyone :-)

P.S. Somehow I’ve missed eight rounds of Sweet New Zealand! Grazie mille Alessandra for reminding me (incidentally, she is also the gracious host of this month’s Sweet NZ!). Don’t forget to send in your entry if you are a NZ food blogger and haven’t already…