Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cranachan – and a Happy New Year

As a nod to my Scottish heritage and because it is Hogmanay (Scottish for New Year’s Eve) I’m giving you Cranachan as my last dish for 2011.  Whilst it’s known as a traditional Scottish dessert, it is not something our family ever ate.  I suppose the addition of alcohol prevented it from being served as family pudding, although that didn’t stop the huge glug of sherry soaking up the sponge in grannie’s trifle.  I have noticed the recipe more as an adult – perhaps it has just increased in popularity? 

As I don’t like whisky (shameful for a Scot to admit, I must say!), I have given the recipe a bit of a twist and used Limoncello.  The one pictured was made with frozen raspberries but I have also made it with fresh raspberries.  If you were feeling in the mood to indulge or celebrate New Year, you could also eat it as a celebratory special breakfast. Yes, well…..

2011 has been the first year of my food blog (anniversary coming up in January) and I can honestly say it has been the best thing for me, giving me a creative outlet I never knew I needed.  I have encountered so many like-minded people through their inspiring, innovative and sometimes humbling blogs and websites and at the first New Zealand Food Bloggers' Conference.  To all of you, bloggers and followers, I thank you.  You have each truly given me something to take forward into 2012.

I am including this post in Sweet New Zealand created originally by Alessandra here and hosted this month by Bron Marshall here.  Go there now for the kind of creativity I am talking about.

Happy Hogmanay and every best wish for 2012.


Makes about 4 serves

This is the recipe I used after looking at many variations so feel free to adapt.

60g of medium oatmeal
2 tbsp brown sugar
150g of raspberries (if using frozen raspberries, add enough sugar to sweeten)
250mls cream
2 tablespoons of malt whisky (I used Limoncello instead of whisky)
2 tablespoons of runny honey

Heat a heavy based fry pan until hot. Add the oats and brown sugar stirring constantly until the oats have a light, nutty smell and are beginning to change colour. Keep an eye on the pan as the oats can burn quickly. Remove from pan and leave to cool. 

If you’re using frozen raspberries, heat them gently with enough sugar to sweeten to your taste (I used vanilla sugar) in a saucepan or in the microwave. Leave to cool. For fresh or frozen raspberries: Keep half the raspberries aside. With the other half, either blitz them briefly in a blender or mash them with a potato masher, not too finely. 

In a bowl whisk the cream to form firm peaks. Stir in 1 tbsp whisky (or, in my case, Limoncello) and 1 tbsp honey. 

Gently layer the components in individual serving glasses starting with the cream, followed by raspberries, then the crunchy oatmeal. Repeat with remainder and finish with a layer of thick cream and a sprinkling of oatmeal. 

Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for an hour or two. 

To serve, drizzle over a little extra honey and whisky or Limoncello, if desired. Serve with little shortbread biscuits.

Variations to try:
  • Make a light version with Greek yogurt instead of cream.
  • Use double cream (my preference but not available in New Zealand) instead of whipped cream.
  • Add chopped nuts to the oats.
  • Substitute blueberries, strawberries or mixed berries for raspberries.
  • Use fine crumbs of crushed biscotti instead of oats.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Time to reflect.  I love going for walks in the bush (forest) and leaving work behind at the end of the day. While it may not have the incline of the road walk, it is therapeutic, full of peace and quiet except for the birds and the movement of wind and trees (and the odd tractor noise from adjoining fields, but that’s fine). 

Good food craving.  I’ve been enjoying the moments in between Christmas lunches, dinners and treats, when I return to more wholesome food.  Porridge for breakfast. I am not perfect so it is sprinkled with brown sugar, but less than normal.  And no craving at mid-morning coffee break for anything other than two chocolate covered coffee beans. I told you I wasn’t perfect.

At last, a movie. One wet Sunday after meeting my sister at Teed St Larder in Newmarket, Auckland (and bumping into the lovely Mairi from Toast), a stroll along the shops wasn’t on the cards.  Sister had to go to Smith & Caughey (department store) to purchase both a Christmas and a birthday present for me.  I used this as the perfect opportunity to escape Christmas shopping and indulge myself – so I headed off to the Rialto for Midnight in Paris. 

Not from the film, but our own night shot of Paris
Normally I avoid films with Owen Wilson but a Paris location and Woody Allen directing were the drawcards.  I’d not long finished reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway’s relationship with his first wife, set in Paris.  The book and film shared some of the same characters – Hemingway (although his “Paris wife” was absent in the film), Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, to name a few.  It was a nice segue from one form of media to another and a really pleasant way to spend a wet Sunday afternoon, although it did make me laugh that it was raining in onscreen Paris too.

December’s book club featured The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. I have not yet read this but I really want to after listening to everyone’s comments.  Julie said she wished every book she read made her feel the way she did when she closed the pages.  How lovely is that?

Book club treats this time around – mini Christmas puddings; the yummiest, softest rocky road I’ve ever had (I have failed to understand rocky road but now I do!); white dusted, crescent-shaped Christmas biscuits and muscatels draped alongside blue brie served on caraway seed bread (the sole savoury bite).  

Vistas - I’m looking at a white horse in a field in the distance, reminiscent of the White Horse whisky advert.  No cars, no people just the horse and the wind unsettling everything as it passes through.  I like having little vistas – whether it’s looking out the window and framing a scene in your mind or creating little areas in your home.  Taking pleasure in beauty.  Do you have little areas of your home or garden that you like to linger on?

Wishing you a peaceful and happy Christmas.

I have given up with Blogger - it keeps adding spaces where there are none, hmmm.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

semifreddo with strawberries and Italian Nougat

Looking for inspiration for dishes for a family Christmas in Taranaki, I came across this recipe by Ray McVinnie from a 2003 issue of Cuisine magazine.  I think it would make an easy but memorable special occasion dessert for summer.

If you, like me, have a family member who is allergic to nuts, simply prepare the mix and fold in the strawberries then set a portion aside without the nougat.  The remainder lucky people will now have more nougat in their dishes!

Semifreddo with strawberries and Italian Nougat

3 eggs
100g caster sugar
200g Italian soft nougat*
300g strawberries
350mls cream, whipped
extra strawberries to serve

* I used Torrone Siciliano Classico, (pictured below) which contains almonds, green pistachio and Sicilian honey.

Chop the nougat into small pieces.  If you can get past this stage without eating all the lovely nougat, well done!  If not, well strawberry semifreddo is the name of the dish now.  De-hull, chop and then mash the strawberries.  Don’t overmash as they get too juicy.

Using a hand beater or cake mixer with a beater attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until very pale.  The mixture should be tripled in size.

Carefully fold in the nougat and strawberries until well combined.

Pour the semifreddo mix into a plastic-wrap lined small loaf tin or silicone mould (if you want a nice shape) or into a container (I used an ice cream container) and chill for several hours.  Slice with a knife into slabs or use an ice cream scoop to serve (depending on what container you've used).

And that’s it!  Simply serve with fresh strawberries. I like mine with a little extra whipped cream!

If you make it a few hours before serving, it will be at its best.  Best made in small amounts and eaten within a couple of days.  Remove from freezer and allow it to soften before serving. 

Serves 6

Monday, November 28, 2011

raspberry, pear and chocolate loaf

Raspberries seldom last long in our house or, to rephrase, my daughter eats punnets of raspberries in one sitting so I don’t often get the chance to eat them, let alone bake with them.  So when I saw the small punnet in the greengrocer’s, as expensive as they were, I knew I had to have the first, fresh raspberries of the season all to myself.  Not the whole loaf, just the chance to do something with the entire punnet.  But they were tempting to eat all by themselves – pretty, sweet raspberries with no juice leakage or mouldy specimens tucked in the bottom of the pack. I do admit to popping one or two into my mouth.  Just a taste test you see?

The flavour combination of this loaf works well - cool pieces of pear, warm dark chocolate and buds of sweet raspberries.  I had my first taste not long after the cake was removed from the oven.  The chocolate was warm and delivered far more flavour as it melted around my taste buds. So it’s best served warm, but it still tastes good when cool.

Bill thought there was an overbalance of chocolate.  I have to say this had not crossed my mind but I am a chocolate lover so why would it?

Although I’ve called it a “loaf”, I actually poured the mix into small round tins that were once inhabited by 450g smoked fish.  I’m sorry to bring up the subject of smoked fish whilst we’re talking about sweet things but let me assure you the tins were washed well.  I greased and lined them with baking paper for ease of exit.  I find the tins good to use as individual cake gifts but this time, mine never left the house.

I’ve given the recipe and instructions for a loaf.  If you want to use smaller tins, or make muffins adjust the baking time accordingly.  

I’m submitting this for Sweet New Zealand hosted this month by Mairi at Toast. Sweet New Zealand was started by Alessandra Zecchini and you can read more about it here.

raspberry, pear and chocolate loaf

200g butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
4 large eggs
1¾ cup standard (plain) flour
1½ tsp baking powder
200g dark chocolate, chopped into small chunks
3 pears, peeled, cored and diced
1 small punnet raspberries, de-hulled.

Preheat oven to 180°C.  Lightly grease a 19x9x7cm loaf pan and line with baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Sift the flour and baking powder into the mix and stir until well combined.

Stir in the chocolate, and gently fold in the pears and raspberries.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake for about an hour or until golden brown on top and cooked through.  Leave for 10 minutes in the loaf pan, and then place on a wire rack to cool.

Tip: Don’t peel and core pears too far in advance as they’ll go brown.

Monday, November 21, 2011

for the love of food

A week later and I am still running on high over last week’s inaugural NZ Food Bloggers’ Conference, so a favourable review of The Tasting Shed in Kumeu in this week’s Canvas magazine rekindled the excitement of the event.  The Tasting Shed was the venue for the conference and it deserved the great write-up it received. Good coffee and yummy chocolate brownies for break and lots of tasting platters with intriguing flavours for lunch - all served up by friendly and helpful staff who didn’t seem to mind the onslaught of cameras and iPhones clicking away at the food.  Over-eager to indulge, I haven’t always managed the knack of photographing the food before eating, but I did manage to capture some of the dishes. 

Roasted beetroot, red onion, green beans, radicchio, feta and walnuts

Romesco marinated chicken thigh, Israeli couscous, parsley and harissa

Braised and rolled pigs head, kohlrabi remoulade and sweet & sour carrot 

Prawns, cider, pickled shallots and garlic puree

After a wee drive from the south of Auckland to the west of Auckland, I admit to some trepidation as I stepped amongst the newly arrived.  But there was no need for apprehension.  Everyone was absolutely lovely and friendly and soon there was the chitter chatter of a bunch of people who had the love of food in common.

There was a lot to take in – not just food! – and I was so impressed at how much I learnt on the day. Here’s what I took home.

Workshops & Presentations

Make the most of…
Andrea Wong -  Web Design and Search Engine Optimization
Make the most of your web layout, use key words in blog name and title; use an easily readable font.  Your “About” is not just an afterthought, so what's yours about?  The last point hit home – I really need to work on mine. 

Use what you’re comfortable with
Jaco Swart - Social Media
Wow, why do I sometimes feel like such a dinosaur?!   As the well-worn saying goes,  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”  Readers, I went home and “reactivated” my Twitter account.  (My daughter remarked that you couldn’t really reactivate something you hadn’t used!).  Spent a little time getting basic help tutorials and I was off.   I’ve added a few words to my lexicon - hashtag anyone? – but maybe I’ll eventually get the hang of it.  So far, so good and I’ve read some really interesting articles I might otherwise not have seen. I’m also keeping in touch with fellow attendees from the conference.

Know who you are writing for…
Alessandra ZecchiniWriting for Different Media Types
An honest, direct and sometimes funny account of Alessandra’s experiences on what to expect if you want to write professionally.  Alessandra summed it all up very well and gave great tips on approaching people in publishing. 

Keeping it organic
Emma Boyd - Our Kitchen: Fisher & Paykel
Emma was much envied, being one of the contributors to a food blog where two working days per month are given over to photography and contribution to their blog.  The organic part doesn’t so much refer to the produce as to keeping the blog organic in a way that the contributors want it to be and I very much liked that concept.  There’s already a list of foodies looking at F&P’s job vacancies but as I’m not that good at designing appliances I’ll just keep visting their blog – it’s well worth a look.

Who would have thought - so many uses for seaweed and sea vegetables..?
Louise Fawcett - Pacific Harvest Food Product & Demo
As a child we lived upstairs from neighbours from the Isle of Islay who cooked seaweed – at the time it was a very foreign concept to us city Scots! Who would have thought that years later I’d be nibbling on seaweed, nuts and seeds and other food treats from the sea?

Afternoon Tea – with a difference...
Coopers Creek - Vineyard Wine Tasting
I can’t speak for myself about the wine tasting (drinking and driving don’t mix and I’m too much in love with wine to spit it out) but I believe the Coopers Creek Vineyard wine tasting was a great session too.

Where’s the light coming from..? 
Bron Marshall - Food Photography Tips Workshop
When we should have all been waning after a packed schedule, we found renewed energy and enthusiasm for the last session.  Everyone was excited about this one.  I found that concentrating on one or two points and practising with our own cameras was way better than covering a whole lot of things in a short time (and far easier to understand than my “at home” photographer – sorry, Bill, if you are reading this, he, he!).

We really didn’t want to leave, but leave we did, clutching a huge goody-bag of wonderful treats.  But we weren’t finished yet!

Moving into Auckland central, our next host venue for dinner was Cook the Books in Grey Lynn where they efficiently furnished us with drinks on arrival – a tasty non-alcoholic punch for me - and produced tray after tray of fine tasting nibbles.  Zingy Asian flavours in little wonton baskets, miso and corn mini fritters with a to-die-for herb pesto (I could have licked the bowl), mince and mozzarella mini pies (courtesy of I Love Pies).  They were all so good and I wanted to stay longer but for me it was time to head home as I had a long drive. I will definitely be back to Cook The Books for a book browse and maybe a cooking class or two.

On the journey home, I reflected on the wonderful day I had, sated with both food and the meeting of kindred spirits.  It had been a super day and I look forward to meeting these bloggers again and to the next conference!

My thanks to the lovely Allison Pirrie-Mawer of Gourmet Gannet who organized the conference, and to all other helpers, presenters and the sponsors.  Such an amazingly, successful day!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

cheese straws for book club

Just to prove I’m not averse to a savoury bite, here’s some cheese straws I made for book club last Thursday.

I needed something not too fiddly to handle.  You know that moment when you’re sitting with a glass of wine in hand, along with your book, and a plate, when someone offers you food and it’s a complicated juggling and balancing act with no table nearby to spill onto?  And your frightened you’re going to drop everything on to your host’s pale carpet?  Yes, that one.

So, something easy to have with wine, something a little different from crackers and cheese.  That’s not to say the crackers and cheese weren’t lovely.  In fact, savoury crackers and ripe blue cheese partnered with the most perfect pears were so worthy of a second helping – or was it a third? – someone was possibly counting.

I thought of these. Finger shaped finger food!  Perfect.

They were so quick to whizz up in the food processor.  Okay, you’ve got to clean up the mess you made after.  But you can be like me and swan out the door, cheese straws, wine and book (or should it be book, cheese straws and wine?) in hand, leaving someone else to clean up after me.

For the cheese, I used Mainland’s Vintage – a rich, aged cheddar with a sharp bite and crumbly texture.  Description came from the packaging, but really it does taste like that with an additional nutty flavour (or maybe that’s just me?).  Added to the rich, buttery pastry, you have a savoury biscuit that’s pretty hard to resist. If you don’t have said cheese, any mature, sharp cheddar or Parmesan can be used. 

Cut the biscuits into any old shape you want using knives, biscuit cutters, whatever.  You can even cut long strips and then twist them.  I cut mine into long strips and left them plain.  I patiently measured the pastry into 1cm across by 10cm in length to get a uniform size.  But don’t look too closely as I was getting a bit slapdash by the end of this process.

I thought of serving them upstanding in a jar or glass but didn’t have one with a wide enough mouth, so I bundled them up in string-tied parcels and you could just pull one out at a time leaving the rest intact in their little package.  

Back home, the dishes had been done and the leftover cheese straws eaten.  Job done, time for bed!

Next up:  I don’t usually do a preview – mainly because I never know what I’ll be doing next – but next post I’ll be commenting on the inaugural New Zealand Bloggers’ Food Conference which was fantastic and I am still all buzz about it!

cheese straws
Recipe makes approximately 24

125g standard flour
125g mature cheddar cheese, grated
125g very cold butter, grated
½ tsp salt
a small pinch of paprika (or cayenne)

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until mixture just forms a ball.  On a lightly floured board, roll out the pastry to about 1cm thick.  Cut into desired shapes or strips.  Place on a baking tray then chill in the fridge for 10 minutes before baking.

Bake at 200°C for approximately 15-20 minutes until golden-brown.  Watch carefully to ensure the biscuits do not burn.

Leave on tray for a few minutes, then carefully remove to a wire tray to cool.

Hint:  Keep pastry cool and handle as little as possible.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

vanilla, orange & lemon tea cake

Sarah made us a cake.  After too long (for us), Sarah and her darling family arrived back in New Zealand from living in London.  Still loving food – and with a particular current affection for all things Nigel Slater, it is good to have her back and talk food. 

Sarah made a tea cake.  I like tea cake.  It makes no pretensions to be anything other than it is – a simple cake to have with tea.  Having said that I have jazzed mine up somewhat with lemon, orange and vanilla flavours.  If you prefer a more traditional topping, spread the cake with butter and sprinkle with 2 tbsp caster sugar and ½ tsp of cinnamon instead.

Simple cakes require simple posts so, bearing in mind that I haven’t posted for over two weeks, I’ll just say this.  Here’s the recipe

vanilla, orange & lemon tea cake
¾ cup caster sugar
50g butter, softened
1 egg beaten*
1½ cups standard flour
2 tsp baking powder
¾ cup milk*

* Have the egg and milk at room temperature instead of fridge-cold.

1 tbsp butter, softened
1 tbsp vanilla sugar**
1 tbsp caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange

** If you don't have vanilla sugar, substitute with caster sugar.

Preheat oven to 180°C .  Grease and flour a 20cm cake tin.

Beat the sugar and butter together with a wooden spoon until well combined.  Beat in the egg.

Sift flour and baking powder together and fold into the sugar and butter mixture, alternately with the milk.

Place the mix into the cake tin and bake for approximately 40 minutes or until well risen and golden.  Leave the cake in the tin for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool. 

While still hot, spread the butter from the topping over the cake and then sprinkle over the combined vanilla and caster sugars.  Scatter over the lemon and orange zest. 

Especially good served lovely and warm (not hot) from the oven. 

Have with butter and a cup of tea!

Thanks, Sarah, for the inspiration.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

sticky gingerbread

I hadn’t tried gingerbread in a long time.  I love it when it is sticky, moist, dark and spicy.  No wishy-washy gingerbread for me, please.  And I prefer it baked as a loaf rather than cut in squares.  I am fussy, I know.

What brought this to mind was a conversation with my sister.  She had been to Smith & Caughey and had gingerbread and tea in their cafĂ©.  We then reminisced about the dark Jamaican gingerbread with the thick white icing, purchased from Jenner’s department store in Edinburgh, which we had eaten as children.  I imagined my teeth softly piercing the cool, white icing to reach the contrasting warmth of the cake below and knew I had to have it again.

So, when my sister and her partner came round last weekend it seemed the perfect time to bake my version of this one – Dark Sticky Gingerbread from Rachel Allan – to see if we could muster up some old childhood memories.

I used chopped candied kumquats to add a certain stickiness to the cake. They're kind of marmalade-y.  As they're not something you would normally have to hand, I've just put marmalade as the ingredient.  You can leave this out altogether if you prefer.  I omitted (no, I didn’t forget, it was deliberate!) Ms Allan’s ginger syrup, which she poured over the "hot from the oven" cake.

I was intrigued that she used 1tsp freshly ground black pepper but I chickened out and only used ½ tsp – so much for liking hot and spicy but it did look like a lot of pepper as I ground it onto a sheet (makes for easy measuring).

One cookbook recommended leaving gingerbread for a week before eating.  Oh, for the patience and resolve to wait so long.  So no, this cake did not get seven days to mature and mellow.  It was lovely and flavourful as it was and just how I imagined it to be.  My icing could have been thicker though to achieve the remembrance of things past. 

sticky gingerbread

60g butter
75g (1/4 cup) golden syrup
50g black treacle (or molasses)
50g marmalade 
110g flour
25g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp freshly ground pepper (grind onto a Teflon sheet or baking paper for ease of measuring)
100g caster sugar
1 pinch salt
120ml milk
1 egg lightly beaten

icing (optional)
200g icing sugar, sifted
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 170°C (Gas 3).  Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter, golden syrup, treacle (or molasses) and marmalade (if using) over a low heat.  Set aside.

Sift the flours, bicarbonate of soda, spices and ground black pepper into a large bowl.  Stir in the sugar and salt.  Add milk and egg and mix until smooth.  Gradually add the melted butter mixture, stirring until well incorporated. The mixture will be fairly runny.

Pour mixture into the loaf tin and bake for approximately 50-55 minutes, or until the gingerbread is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. 

Remove cake from oven and leave it in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Mix the sifted sugar with enough lemon juice to get the required consistency.  Spread over the top of the cooled cake and allow to run slightly down the sides. The icing will set slightly.

I've decided to make this my entry into this month's Sweet New Zealand as I've not had time to post anything recently.   This month's Sweet New Zealand is hosted by Couscous & Consciousness.  Sue not only has a lovely blog but kindly gave me some advice on things technical.  Thanks Sue, I hope you enjoy the gingerbread.