Saturday, June 4, 2016

etcetera ... road trip


After what must have been five months of summer - best summer I can remember here -  we have gone slap bang into winter with single digit temperatures overnight, extra heaters under the desk in the office and a quick rethink of the summer duvet chill experience. There must be a name for someone who always feel the cold? Every time I voice this feeling of real, not laid-back, chill, I am told I should be used to it coming from Scotland. Hmm....

It's not particularly cold inside the house today but I am sitting here with one thermal layer, one hooded sweatshirt and, topping it all off, a fleece jacket (I took the gloves off when I came inside!). Hard to believe that just six weeks ago Bill and I were basking in the sun in T-shirts on our mini road trip to the aptly-named Bay of Plenty - an area of New Zealand I had yet to discover.

It was a bit scary setting off without pre-arranged accommodation (school holidays, anyone?) but I wanted to cast my eye over the place before deciding.  So, it felt like a bit of an adventure as we headed off towards the Hauraki Plains through Ngatea and stopped in Paeroa for a coffee and a browse around the many antique and second-hand shops. Then it was a quick "we have to do this" photo op at the L&P bottle (which was strangely hard to find) and a short walk through the Karangahake gorge where I attempted to traverse a swingy bridge purely, it seemed, for the amusement of two bored youths jumping up and down on it to make it swing more. Thanks, guys ... now I'm dizzy.

As usual with me, it is always going to be all about the coffee and the food and I was not disappointed. There were a couple of recommended options for dinner at Waihi Beach and I generously let Bill decide. He chose the Waihi Beach Hotel which I was secretly hoping he would. It is strange to have a Hip Group owned restaurant (which honestly would look more in place at one of Auckland's beaches but hey I am not complaining). There were very few diners that Monday night, but the service was friendly and the food was locally sourced, fresh and flavoursome and doesn't leave you feeling too full. That means you get to try one of their gorgeous desserts. Plus, it was just along from where we were staying.




Beach walks, a visit to Waihi township and, of course, Martha's Mine - a vast gold mine pit right alongside, but almost hidden from, the main street.  And apparently there were some award-winning pies in the main street so Bill just had to have one of these.

Moving on, we drove south stopping at Bowentown, climbing a hill to admire the views and murmur about how beautiful New Zealand is. The traffic increased as we headed for Tauranga (and there were lots of roadworks to slow the pace right down) but we were in no hurry.  We hit Tauranga just as the office workers broke for lunch and joined some of them at Alimento for lunch. Good coffee (all I ask for) and so many good-looking salads it took us a while to order.

Tauranga's city centre looked pretty busy. In a store I overheard an assistant wonder why there was such an increase in the town's population. I crept out rather than explain it was Aucklanders evacuating their expensive city.

I was expecting not to like Mount Maunganui and on first experience, driving rather erratically around trying to find the visitor info centre or a place for the night, I was certain of it. Once we'd settled on a place close to the centre, we had a wander. Bill was a perhaps reluctant partner to my shopping but in the end it was he who made the first purchase. What was so delightful about the shopping experience was the many young retail staff who were happy to chat to us, recommend places to eat (Flour & Water - great!) and generally be so charming it really made our trip. So my impressions were wrong. It's a lovely mix of beautiful beaches, good eateries and really good shops. Let's not forget not the Mount itself. I can't.

Mount Maunganui. Something happened to me on that peak. We started our ascent early (but not sunrise early) in the morning. For those of you who don't know me, I have a very sedentary job and have had for most of my life. I am also a bit sloth-like and not keen on exercise. Going up the Mount was a challenge then. Two (possibly three?) times, I stopped and told Bill I didn't think I could continue (in my defence, I wasn't feeling 100% okay either). Each time, we stopped and waited...

A group of tourists had started the climb at the same time as us. One of them was a little man, possibly in his seventies, with a walking stick. Standing on the track taking long, slow breaths, I would see that this little man was catching up with me. My pride would not let him overtake, so each time this happened, I would continue the climb with renewed vigour.  I made it to the top. I'm not sure about the man. He was not at the summit at the same time but I hope he did and I hope he felt the same sense of accomplishment that I did.

A couple of days later we were in Tairua in the Coromandel and I did not hesitate to include myself in a walk up the summit of Paku - something I had not attempted in a number of years. And yes, I got the top there too!

It's funny to think back on that climb up the Mount. It kind of changed everything and I can't explain it. All I know is I feel better since I did it and that is it. That is enough.




Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Spicy Mince on Aubergine Slices



This spin on the ubiquitous "mince on toast" has become a favourite of mine ever since I tried something similar in a local cafe. A slice of aubergine (or eggplant if you must) replaces the carbs, making it a delicious but light dish.

I did my own take on it back home and it's now a regular, simple supper, even winning over the "not too fond of aubergine" person (too bad if he's just being polite!).

Use your favourite bolognese or savoury mince sauce. For two people, one large aubergine should be enough and there may even be sauce left over for another mince dish - just depends on your appetite.

Here's my simple (but very adaptable) bolognese sauce.

Bolognese Sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
500g premium beef mince
1 tin (400g) crushed Italian tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup water
1 beef stock cube, crumbled
a few drops of Lea & Perrins worcestershire sauce (optional)
1/2 tsp each of dried basil, oregano & sugar
salt & pepper

Optional but recommended: add fresh chopped herbs e.g. basil, oregano, thyme once cooked. Coriander is nice if you are using the sauce for spicy dishes.

Heat oil in a medium-large saucepan. Add onion and garlic and cook gently, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes until onion is translucent and soft.

Turn heat up, add mince, stir constantly over high heat, breaking it up as you go. Cook until browned.

Add tin of tomatoes, tomato paste, water, stock cube (crumble into sauce), dried herbs, sugar, salt and pepper and simmer over a low heat for 20-30 minutes (add a little water if it begins to dry).

Turn off the heat and stir in fresh herbs, if using.

Sauce can be chilled in fridge or frozen.

To make the Spicy Mince on Aubergine Slices (use a ridged grill pan or outdoor barbecue).

This isn't so much a recipe, more a few ideas on how to put together.

One large aubergine (for two serves)
Olive oil
pre-made bolognese sauce (see above)
fresh chilli or hot chilli or harissa paste
grated cheddar cheese or mozzarella
fresh, chopped coriander leaves
sour cream

Spice up the bolognese sauce by adding a finely diced fresh chilli pepper or hot chilli sauce or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of harissa paste or any other little wonder sauce (check the heat is to your taste).

Preheat the grill and the barbecue (if you are using a barbecue for aubergines).

Place the ridged grill pan on a medium heat whilst you prepare the aubergine. Rinse the aubergine and dry. Remove top and bottom. Cut into 1cm thick long slices (see photo above). If you leave the curvy bits on it makes it difficult to cook evenly so trim to make both sides flat.

Brush some olive oil on one side of aubergine slices and place oil side down on pre-heated ridged grill pan. Cook until brown on underside. Brush more oil on top side then turn over slices and cook until browned and tender. Transfer to a warm plate. If aubergine slices are too oily, place them on paper towels.

Put cooked aubergine slices on a baking tray. Spoon spicy mince evenly over top.  Grate some cheddar cheese (or mozzarella) on top.  Place under the baking tray under the grill until the cheese has melted.

Transfer to warm serving plates and top with a spoonful of sour cream, a drizzle of hot chilli sauce and a sprinkle of freshly chopped coriander leaves.

Serve on its own or with a salad.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Etcetera - 5th Anniversary & Rejuvenation


Normal service has resumed, hasn't it? I think so. Well, while it may have resumed on the calendar, on the fifth year anniversary of this blog I feel I need to refocus and rejuvenate - get back to the original idea of having a food blog and blogging about other things, whatever they may be.

This comes after some time spent pondering as to whether or not to continue blogging. But in January I was inspired by other blogs (some food, some non-food) and it hit me that I did want to continue. From now I will be moving in the direction I first envisaged. Bear with me - I'd love that.

With that in mind, I'm leaving you with my favourite books of 2015. There were many good ones to choose from, as well as some re-reads, but these two held a special place in my bookworm heart. Both use the landscape around them in such an evocative way as to immerse the reader completely in the storytelling.

Mr Mac & Me   -   Esther Freud
As a long-time admirer of Scottish architect, designer & artist, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, it was with some trepidation I opened this book. I need not have feared, this gently unfolding story, based on an episode in CRM's life, held me captive throughout its gentle pace. Set at the outbreak of War World 1 in a Suffolk coastal village (a place where Mackintosh and his artist wife, Margaret McDonald, spent some time and which is also the author's home), the narrator, a 12-year old local boy, Thomas, is both suspicious and interested in the artists' lives. Thomas's talent in drawing draws the boy and couple together. The only part which felt out of place was the ending.

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent
In an accomplished first novel, Burial Rites takes the reader to 19th century rural Iceland. As an exchange student in Iceland, the author was fascinated by the real life story of a young woman accused of murder which gave her the inspiration to write her own fictional account. A superb, moving evocation of landscape, isolation, injustice and hardship and the people who inhabit the land.

I found this photo essay very beneficial as a companion to the book.




Sunday, January 24, 2016

Panna Cotta with baked orange blossom rhubarb



I'm not ashamed to admit I am hooked on Masterchef Australia's current season showing here in New Zealand. It does appear to be a bit "kinder" than most of these types of shows. Granted it's still a competition, but the focus is less on "who did/said what to who" and more on the food.

Well there's been a few panna cottas whipped up in the Masterchef  kitchen which has got me in the mood to revisit, even though I've made a similar one a few years back. It's such a simple, prepare-ahead dessert perfect for a balmy, summer evening  - something else which we've been having a few of recently.

This latest is topped with some exquisitely fragrant orange blossom rhubarb (recipe from Sweet Treats from Little & Friday cookbook). I cut back heavily on the sugar stated in the book (1 to 2 cups - either that's a typo or someone has a very sweet tooth!) as a 1/2 cup was plenty.

Bake the rhubarb in advance and leave it to cool in the fridge. It will keep for a few days in a sealed container in the fridge and you can use the rest in your breakfast cereal.

A small biscuit such as shortbread (whole or crumbed) or tuile is a nice touch and adds some extra texture.

For a superior vanilla flavour, I urge you to use either the seeds scraped from a vanilla pod or vanilla extract or even vanilla essence in preference to imitation vanilla which has an artificial flavour and will really do nothing for the taste.

I like that you can see the vanilla seeds in the final result but if you don't want the seeds showing in your panna cotta, strain the final mix through a very fine sieve or muslin cloth.

Lastly, I admit to being a bit of a coward. I didn't go the whole Masterchef way and upend the panna cotta onto a plate from a mould fearing a disaster! One day I must give it a try...


For the Baked Orange Blossom Rhubarb

5 stalks rhubarb, washed & trimmed*
juice and zest of 3-5 oranges
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/8 to 1/4 cup orange blossom water

*I had more stalks but there was a mix of thick and thin so I cut the thick stalks horizontally to ensure they were all of a similar thickness to cook evenly.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.

Cut rhubarb into 4cm-5cm slices and place in a large bowl. Add the orange juice and zest, sugar and orange blossom water and toss to coat evenly.  Transfer to a baking tray and cook in oven for approximately 20 minutes or until rhubarb is tender.

Cool and store in the fridge in a sealed container.



For the Panna Cotta (makes approximately 6-8 serves)

3 level tsp gelatine powder
2 tbsp cold water
2 cups single cream
1 cup whole milk
1/4 tsp vanilla paste concentrate (or substitute with scraped seeds from vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract or essence)
1/3 cup caster sugar

Have 6-8 ramekins or glasses ready.

Whisk the gelatine powder into the cold water until it is fully mixed and set aside while you make panna cotta.

In a heavy based saucepan, slowly bring the cream, milk, vanilla and sugar to the boil and just as it bubbles, remove from heat.

Give the gelatine mix a final whisk, then whisk it into the panna cotta mix in the saucepan until it has all dissolved.  Leave to cool slightly.

Pour the mixture evenly amongst the ramekins or glasses.  Transfer to the fridge to chill until set.

To serve: Top panna cottas with about 3 pieces of baked rhubarb (choose the pink ones!) or other fruit of your choice and shortbread or tuiles if desired.

Panna cottas will keep in the fridge for about 2 days.




Monday, November 9, 2015

Banana, walnut & sultana cake


I don't make banana cakes too often as I don't particularly like them. There's too many large, bland (and often dry) ones. Or else they have that slight stickiness and a none too pleasant banana smell about them. Instead I've been happier to freeze my ultra ripe bananas for smoothies instead for their luscious creaminess.

But there is one banana cake recipe I've always kept. Many moons ago one of the playgroup mothers made this cake and it's about the only one I've ever loved.  

It's not a deep, high-rise cake but sits low in the tin, is wonderfully moist, slightly spicy and has the crunchiness of the walnuts and chewy sultanas.  

Serve it as a cake but it's just as good straight from the oven as a dessert with some whipped cream or vanilla mascarpone. I like to serve it with Greek yoghurt.


Banana, walnut & sultana cake


2 bananas, peeled and chopped
1 cup walnuts, quartered
1 cup sultanas
2/3 cup soft brown sugar
100g butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup self-raising flour 
2 teaspoons mixed spice

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin.

Mix the bananas, walnuts, sultanas and sugar in a mixing bowl. 

Beat the egg and melted butter together and stir in to the banana mixture. 

Sift the flour and spices together then add them to the mix, stirring gently just to incorporate.

Bake for approximately 35-40 minutes or until the top springs back when pressed and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.





Saturday, October 24, 2015

Lemon & yoghurt cake with lemon curd


I’m all for celebrations but that makes me the minority in our small family. I go ahead anyway and hope that people come to the party - literally!  It helps that whilst I may want to jump up and down for the occasion I am definitely not one for large, full blown parties. Intimate gatherings with family and close friends are preferred - something you can look back on with fondness in years to come. A gentle marking of the occasion. This is what I did for my daughter's 21st.  

The cake is from The Best of Annabel Langbein. I added the lemon curd filling as I had reduced the tin size and made a taller cake (the original version is noted below). 

I was pretty pleased with how the cake decoration turned out. My inspiration came from the stunningly pretty cakes from The Caker in Auckland.


Lemon & yoghurt cake with lemon curd


3 cups caster sugar
4 eggs
juice and finely grated rind of 4 lemons
2 cups rice bran oil (or any mild flavoured oil)
1 3/4 cups unsweetened Greek yoghurt
4 cups self-raising flour
a pinch of salt


Lemon Curd filling
about 1/4 cup lemon curd or enough for a 0.4cm layer

Icing

75g butter, softened but not melted
250g cream cheese
juice & finely grated rind of 1 lemon
4 cups icing sugar


Topping (optional - feel free to decorate as you wish). I used the following.

Fresh As freeze dried raspberry powder
Fresh As freeze dried blueberry slices
2 small packets of edible flowers (or pick your own but ensure they are clean and spray/insect free before placing on cake)

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C. Grease and line the base and sides of a 28-30cm cake tin. 

In a large food processor or cake mixer, blend together the sugar, eggs, lemon juice and zest, oil and yoghurt.  Add flour and salt and blend briefly until just combined. Pour the mix into the prepared tin and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool for 10-20 minutes in the tin before transferring to a wire rack.  Once completely cold, use a large serrated knife to split the cake horizontally through the centre. Spread the lemon curd about 0.4cm thick and replace the top of the cake. 


Icing


Mix icing ingredients until smooth in a large food processor or cake mixer (you may have to split this if your food processing bowl is small). Spread the icing over the entire cake and decorate as desired. I used a palette knife to smooth the top and make angled swoops on the side.









Thursday, September 17, 2015

Salted Caramel Slice




I gave up lunch for these. Not because I was too busy baking to eat lunch. No, I was too busy snaffling a bite here and there that I figured the best thing in the world to do would be to call it lunch and move on. So I did. Sometimes you've just got to make those sacrifices.

This slice differs slightly from most caramel slices I've baked in that it uses polenta. This is clever as it gives a good crunchiness to the base.  The topping is fairly typical in its mouth-sticking caramel toffee but there's salvation to all that sweetness with the odd salty flake on top. No chocolate layer on this one but I didn't miss it.

The recipe came from the New Zealand Herald's website but wasn't attributed to anyone. Scroll down a bit and there's a jacket photo of The Cook & Baker cookbook (authors Cherie Bevan & Tass Tauroa) so I guess it belongs there and a quick look at the cookbook's reviews online seems to confirm this. The Cook & Baker is a Sydney based cafe and bakery with a Kiwi connection.

Even though I tried dipping my knife in boiling water before slicing I still ended up with rugged edges! Not quite the impeccably smooth look in their photo but they sure taste good. I went for smaller slices than stated and ended up with about eighteen pieces.

Trust me, this is a really good and easy to make slice. Here's the link to the recipe