Category Archives: Winter

Spicy turnaround couscous

Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.
~ Erma Bombeck

I owe a few things to my friend Matt: a heightened appreciation for crazy music, my big spice and herb library, and a moderate dislike of bright orange jackets, amongst other things. It is the spice and herb thing I am thinking of tonight as I write this post.

See, I grew up experiencing all sorts of food and flavours – one of the perks of growing up with a kitchen-whiz Grandma and travel-loving parents in Asia. Somehow, though, fresh herbs, dried herbs and all these wonderful things like cinnamon, nutmeg and paprika escaped my attention until 2008/9 (thanks Matt). Thereafter, I couldn’t get enough of them… well, most of them…

There was this one pretty spice, cayenne pepper, that I didn’t fancy quite so much. Probably because it set my head on fire a few times. While Matt continued to sprinkle it into a few dishes, I stayed clear of it and moved it to the back of the cupboard whenever I saw it hovering hopefully near the door. When I moved to Auckland last year, I gladly left it off the shopping list for the whole year.

Then this week happened: an army of germs descended on me like gnomes on gold – and I was in the mood only for unsexy vegetable soup and lemon + honey drinks. It hurt to blink and sleep eluded me… and one evening, in a fit of desperation, I threw open the pantry door and searched for something that would send the germs away. For some reason, there was cayenne pepper in there, and for a more bizarre reason, I reached for the red dust I had avoided for so long. I chopped up a few bits and pieces (spinach leaves, ham, garlic, onion, capsicum), threw it all into a skillet with 1/2 a can of tomatoes and shook in some cayenne pepper in a mad frenzy.

And do you know, my sore throat disappeared shortly afterwards.

    Spicy turnaround couscous
    Recommended for remedying sore throats and related cold symptoms
    1/4 cup couscous
    Olive oil
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 tbsp butter
    1/2 onion, chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 capsicum
    Handful of baby spinach leaves
    100g ham, chopped
    1/2 can chopped tomatoes in juice
    Cayenne pepper – a very generous pinch, though be prepared to explode if you are not used to it
    Salt and pepper to taste
    In a skillet, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the onion and fry till fragrant, then add in the garlic, cayenne pepper and capsicum and fry for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and throw in the spinach leaves, then lower the heat and leave to simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
    In the meantime, place 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil. Add in the salt and 1 tbsp of oil. Remove from the heat, add in the couscous, then cover and leave for 2 minutes. Uncover the saucepan, place it over very low heat, and add in a little more boiling water if the bottom of the pan looks too dry or if the couscous is sticking together. Stir in the butter, then remove from the heat again.
    Place the couscous in a bowl and spoon the cayenne-flavoured mixture on top of it. Mix well and serve immediately.
    Yields one serving.

Winter + oven =

It is, in my view, the duty of an apple to be crisp and crunchable, but a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption.
~ Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert

I chanced upon this delightful post by Chef Millie and it sounded too delicious not to make.

So last night I made a slightly modified (to suit what I had in my pantry) version of this roasted pear, leek and chicken salad – and… tonight, I made it again (admittedly again modified to suit what I had in my fridge). I don’t think I have ever cooked the same thing twice in a row when cooking for others – but try it and you may just decide to make this for dinner every day for the rest of the week. Or month? ;-)

I actually felt a little guilty when John, Fran and Heather complimented me on this dish because it was really so easy. There is no real need to measure anything, and ingredients can be substituted. Everything goes into a baking tray, which goes into an oven – and you can read a book or take a shower then sit down for dinner and have just one tray to wash afterwards. Magic!

Last night, I roasted leeks, pear wedges and chicken breasts and plated it individually atop a bed of baby cos/romaine lettuce with toasted Turkish bread on the side.

Tonight, I baked yellow capsicum pieces, pear wedges, half a leek and chicken thighs and placed the tray on the table for everyone to help themselves. Along with this I toasted ciabatta with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper on each slice, and served up bowls of Nigel Slater’s pumpkin, tomato and cannellini bean soup for us all. I still had a bottle of sparkling Sauvignon Blanc from Mindfood magazine so that found its way to the table too…

Main modifications with this recipe: I used different parts of the chicken; smeared wholegrain mustard on the chicken and left out mustard seeds; added in rosemary last night, thyme tonight; changed the goats’ cheese to feta; used more garlic. I also left out the step at the end to heat the fat on the stove and deglaze with red wine vinegar, even though it sounded divine – purely to save time, will have to try it next time!

So I already knew that chicken + mustard + herbs + salt + pepper + oven is often bound to please, but baked leeks and pears together? – a revelation for me. The leeks went slightly pink and so sweet and melting; and pears – they are a total pleasure to eat raw, but when cooked – they are like a golden crown, a fancy something. I really like cooked pears – they make a meal special, somehow. Oh, and fennel seeds – I wish I had discovered them sooner. Now I have to actively restrain myself from this wild urge to spray them liberally on everything…

Auckland: Winter Day #5

Sometimes I forget that I live in one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen, in books or in real life.

Guess it’s those Auckland CBD buildings that make me suffer temporary memory loss in this regard ;-)

Anyway, Mr Golden Sun made an extended guest appearance this past Sunday (no complaints from me!) – and Gudrun and I joined a group of other lucky ducks on a harbour cruise. Such an irresistible combination is strong sun + big breeze + sparkling water.

We got to stop at Rangitoto Island (pictured above) for a few minutes… it was lovely to watch the different shades of blue flickering like mermaids’ tails in the moving waters, the sunlight shining through the impromptu tree stencils, the cute cabin houses… oh, and don’t you think Rangitoto looks like a thin pancake man stretching out to take a nap while an imp stealthily rises up in the middle of his belly?

We also got to watch a brave boy do a bungy jump – don’t think I’ll ever convince my brain to let me do it.

Great afternoon getting to know Gudrun better, seeing a previously unexplored part of Auckland and just having a time of total relaxation.

I don’t think we could ever hope to be bored if we just kept exploring. There are always so many things to see and hear and listen and touch and feel and think about!

Shéhérazade, Fès, Morocco

I went travelling from 18 Nov – 18 Dec. I’m now blogging about some of the places I went to… posts are not written in chronological order.

To be honest, I didn’t immediately like Morocco. When we got off the ferry, I missed Spain immediately, and a public toilet we used made my heart beat so fast I thought it might fall out. So it is that by nightfall on 23 November, I had started to prepare myself for a less than splendid dinner. I know this is totally rude and unfair, but it’s the truth. This was especially the case because the tour bus let us off a short distance away from the restaurant, and the alleyways we walked past were deserted and appetite-killing (to a pessimistic me, anyway)…

So it is that I was completely shocked and delighted by the dinner we did have at the end of our little walk. Actually, I felt a little teary-eyed.

It was, in short, magical.

This place was beautiful. I remember standing in one spot and rotating, slowly, drinking in the details – willowy trees, soft music, dim lights, pretty tables and chairs. The owner of the place and the waiters stood attentively, smilingly, ready to offer us either the room upstairs or the patio… of course we chose the patio. The weather and sky were perfect. All of us were gasping and exclaiming. I think they must get this a lot, for they just beamed patiently.

We started with some herb-infused bread and a spiced, flavourful harira (squeezed tomato soup). Few of us could resist a double helping of this… it tasted of herbs, spices and something less tangible – something I could only describe as carefully crafted to coat the tongue with pleasure.

For the main – a tagine of saffron chicken with tangy lemon and olives. The chicken was gently tender, nicely complemented by the olives and lemon – at once sweet and sour, but in subtle amounts. Again, my tongue could only smile without knowing how to describe what it was tasting. The whole time, we enjoyed glasses of good red wine.

Finally, we had something akin to crispy thin pancakes with milk, nutmeg, honey and cinnamon, topped with what I have just realised was pomegranate. Really, really nice. Freshly made, with a great texture and combination of sweetness and spice.

At the end of our meal, we were offered mint tea avec ou sans sucre… I love this refreshing minty drink without sugar. It slips down your throat like a warm sherbet of ice!

It hardly needs to be said, but this was what I needed to change my mind about Morocco – and glad I am that we had this dinner, for I was in superb spirits the next day – enough to really enjoy the Medina in Fes. :-)

Shéhérazade – 23, Arsat Bennis Douh Fès Médina, Maroc – Phone: +212 535 74 16 42

The wonderful world of rain

Short post tonight, since it’s really way way past my bedtime.

1. Thunderstorms, rain and wacky hail are so fantastic (when you are watching them crash and pour from within a warm room)… I LOVED watching it this evening and was much excited about it… poor Jono had to sit through my excitement :-)

2. Caramelised leek rings, fried flour-dipped monkfish, grainy bread, salt, pepper, lemon zest and juice make for a pretty good 4pm lunch.


Recipe for calm

Be kind to yourself.

When my nose decides that it’s actually a dribbly fountain or when my brain goes on holiday, I know what they are hinting at to me: that it’s time for a hot lemon, honey & ginger drink.

    Lemon, honey & ginger drink
    1 tsp honey
    a squeeze of lemon
    a pinch of chopped ginger
    1 mug hot water
    Stir the ingredients into the hot water till the honey melts. Sit down and drink slowly, over conversation with a good friend or while reading a good book.
    Note: this drink also aids concentration at work.
    Yields 1 serving – adjust quantities to taste and as desired.


Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.
~ Pietro Aretino

Did you think I’d given up cooking through “Falling Cloudberries”? I was afraid I had too. However, it isn’t December yet, so I guess I’m not allowed to give up!

Tonight, I decided to try my hand at making this Greek dish from Tessa Kiros’ “Falling Cloudberries” to warm us up…
#56 Avgolemono (Chicken Soup with Egg & Lemon) – Page 82

I tripled the amount of carrot and celery used in this broth, and absolutely loved inhaling the aroma of this while it simmered slowly on the stove. No butter, no oil, just sweet veges, flavourful parsley, piquant peppercorns and – of course – a grand free range chicken.

Tessa Kiros’s recipe for this yielded 4 generous servings of sweet, comforting broth with a refreshing twist of lemon, creaminess from the egg and a smattering of rice to provide texture. We had the chicken (tender and still sweet) and vegetables on the side. I am so pleased with the result of this!

In other news, we visited La Cigale yesterday where I picked up some yummy turkish delight, and Mandy and I introduced ourselves to the whimsical world of macaroons…. oh, and I also had a lovely chicken liver parfait brioche, which made for a tasty breakfast. I kicked myself for not having my camera with me as we watched a man sifting almond sugar on to his tray of croissants, people surveying the spread of fresh organic vegetables, a grumpy woman selling jam…