Friday, August 26, 2011

Signs of spring!

It is hard to believe after last week's weather that we are experiencing signs of spring. Few things make me happier than daffodils - a great sign that winter is on its way out.

Being able to eat out for lunch is another late-year pleasure. Here is the view from the place we ate at yesterday. The food was forgettable, but eating outside was a great mood tonic.

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Cheese making link round up

I've been on a bit of a cheese making break recently.  Some of the cheese making madness has settled, but I've also just been very busy outside the home and haven't had the same blocks of time to make cheese.  I am though really pleased to learn that the Mad Millie Cheese Press comes out next week (you need these to make hard cheeses) and I'm really keen to have a go.  I might just have to search out someone with a beer fridge/ spare fridge at a suitable temperature for cheese making - it is getting a bit too warm around here!

I've come across all kinds of cheese making links recently.  For myself, and for anyone interested, here are some:

Some of the above links take you to recipes that look simple, until you get to the bit about buying the culture.  You can quite easily buy these cultures by mail order through Mad Millie (or other local suppliers).  And to make ricotta or marscapone you need nothing except milk, citric acid, salt and heat.  There are dozens of online recipes to make these yourself at home.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

World cup lame sponsorship tie ins

It is almost too easy but I can't resist. Lamest random sponsorship is a tie today. Dole pineapple (I can't even fathom the connection between rugby and pineapple) and Kodak photo reprints. For twenty bucks you too can have this attractive picture! Or, choose to have it on canvas!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, August 22, 2011

Gingerbread dessert

Most of the best desserts are hybrids, added to over time until the best possible version is finally produced - and then someone else takes the same, perfect recipe and adapts it to their own tastes. It is one of the things that I love best about cooking.

It occurred to me yesterday that I had developed what I thought was the perfect dessert last year. At the time I was eight months pregnant, and prepping for a dinner party. So my criteria at the time was probably something simple that was food safe in pregnancy! Little did I know that I was actually in labour, and two hours after I had stopes our guests off my waters broke. So this was also a last meal of sorts, as I spent the next week living off hospital food!

Gingernut dessert

One crushed pack of gingernut biscuits.
One tub gingerbread ice cream.
Poached fruit/ stewed fruit. I used apple and rhubarb stewed with ginger and vanilla.

I layered these ingredients in clear glass cups. Fruit, then ice cream and finally crumbs. The potential for variation is great - I picked up some amaretti biscuits today and am considering complimentary flavors...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, August 20, 2011

'Sushi' sandwiches

I was randomly clicking from link to link today and found this sandwich idea.  It reminded me of cheese rolls.  I guess rolling sandwiches works best when the filling is very sticky - like the mixture in cheese rolls or peanut butter.  A jam (cranberry sauce)/cream cheese mixture might also work, as well as cream cheese and savoury flavours.  Marmite should also work nicely, but the great Kiwi flavour of 'Marmite and chip sandwiches' might just take things a bit too far from the orignial bento concept!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gym class

There are squeals from the children, instructions from the coach and orders from the parents. Bored younger siblings cry and crawl around on the mats.

Gym class is awesome. The skills that my daughter gains are measurable each week. Best of all they have heaps of fun.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, August 18, 2011


The snow is falling at sea level here in Wellington.  According to the news reports (when the internet is working) this is either a completely unique event or a once in thirty years kind of thing.  Lovely.  Here is my favourite video: Snow in Cuba Mall.  The electricity flickered in and out on Monday night and we had no internet so it felt as though we were trifling with disaster (the excitement anyway) without any actual discomfit.  We put a battery powered nightlight in our daughter's room (she isn't fond of the dark) and pulled out the torches.  We have heaps of candles and matches - I remember my parents telling me that you need more candles than you think!  We also realised that we had sold the gas heater - so had no heating source if the power went out.  Poo.

It got me thinking about managing through a power cut with children.  Now, those in the South Island and particularly those in Christchurch are used to this, and I in no way wish to belittle their experiences.  Great snows happen quite regularly down south, and I tend to find that everyone just gets on with it and copes.  After all, this is what happens in winter!  A legacy of living in Dunedin is taking a proper jacket everywhere!  You always assume that it will be horribly cold!

I've checked the emergency supplies, and I'll be looking into a battery powered heater later on. But I did check my emergency entertainment bag hidden away upstairs.  This is the bag that I pull out on rainy days/ toxic days or for emergency presents.  We are well stocked with spare books, bubbles and activities at the moment.

For the little one the main thing is nappies and wipes.  We have one spare pack of nappies in the emergency kit, and a couple of packs of wipes.  We tend not to let supplies get too low of these things!

But getting trapped in the car while still in my neighbourhood the other day really threw me.  There was a very sudden hailstorm as we left Junglerama, the local indoor playland.  As we left the building it started to rain, it then started hailing, and by the time we got to the car the hail was as big as peas.  I told my four year old to get in quickly, ran around to put the baby in her seat, then ran back around to belt in the four year old.

About two minutes after the hail started the ground was completely covered.  I really wondered if I should wait a minute to leave, but then decided that we were close to home so it should be OK.  Also, in hindsight, I'd never known hail to last more than a few minutes - so figured it would melt quickly.

It didn't melt quickly.  It hailed a bit more then eased to just 'light hail.'  As I gingerly went through the intersection nearest Junglerama I realised that the tyres were not responding.  I managed to get through the corner and make it along the next street when I got to what is usually a very busy intersection.  I stopped and noticed that a van was drifting back down the hill towards our car.  Fortunately for both of us a built up bit of footpath stopped him from sliding into us.  I got across the intersection, up a hill and then realised that there was a steep drop ahead of me.  I saw cars slipping as they approached the hill, so put on my hazard lights and pulled over.  I figured that the ice would soon disappear and that I should just wait until I felt better driving down.

A car braves the hill

I could see cars skating a bit on the hill and it was mainly four wheel drives trying it.  A taxi pulled up, and the driver, with some kind of foreign accent reminding me of sunnier climates wound down his window and told me that he was nervous to go down.  Given the shape and size of his taxi I advised against it.  There was a couple of centimetres of ice on the road and I just didn't know how you were supposed to drive in ice - snow I kind of get but the road was like an ice rink.  I sent out a text letting my husband know what was happening - he was on a bus and said that he would come to us.  People in the street were slipping over so I have no idea how he was going to make it up to us.  It occurred to me that we might need to leave the car and walk home.  I had the pram and my oldest daughter was fairly warmly dressed.  I was warmly dressed but not in waterproof clothes or shoes.  The girls and I had a cuddle in the front seat to keep warm, and I rifled through the boot for a blanket and extra coat. 

Quite a decision - set out on foot - knowing that the footpath was covered in ice and it would be very slippery and cold - or stay with the car and hope that it would get better?  It was starting to get dark, and the ice showed no sign of melting.  Another twenty minutes passed and I got a text from a friend who had left Junglerama at the same time, in a different direction.  She said that it was raining and the ice wasn't so much of a problem where she was.  I waited another ten minutes and some more rain arrived.  There was a tiny bit more hail, but mainly rain.  It was getting fairly dark.  I texted

Ordinarily I would not have had a blanket or the pram in the car - they were there from teaching earlier in the day.  Save a couple of bottles of water, I had no emergency supplies in the car.  The idea of getting trapped in the car so close to home still seems laughable.  But it was a timely reminder that the elaborate emergency kit that I have at home is only of use if you are at home.  A car emergency kit is in production as we speak.

Friday, August 12, 2011


The present pile is slowly emptying.  To the best of my knowledge we have only two to go.

July is birthday month in my family.  It is chaotic.  When my daughter was born three weeks early and therefore went from being a potential August baby to an actual July baby I was almost not surprised.  Along the way we have managed to pick up a number of close friends with July birthdays, and what with our July baby and her July baby friends, and our eldest daughter we have attended birthdays/ held birthdays every weekend this month.  And this weekend two birthdays.

The first weekend celebrated my birthday - a last minute general yum cha invite.  It was well attended, chatty and a great catch up.  A perfect birthday!  The following weekend, coffee and cake to celebrate the first birthday of one of the Poppet's friends.  Before I knew it it was the Poppet's first birthday and that weekend passed in a blur of preparation, celebration and illness.  This weekend - two birthdays - a joint first and third yesterday and a four year old's party today.  We are spilling over into August as well - a seventh birthday party of a friend, as well as my niece's birthday down South.  Busy times.  In between the weekends there have been the midwweek birthdays with catch ups and phone calls.  I think we know nearly twenty people now with July birthdays!

As I look back from July's last day I'm not sure how I've managed to make it through.  Both children have been sick (the Poppet is on to her third consecutive cold) and I spent ten days being very ill.  Moore Wilsons was a completely lifesaver present wise - their toy department has a superb range of children's toys and books, there is onsite free parking, and you can pop into their 'Fresh' section for a freeshly squeezed orange juice as a reward for the hour of toy shopping (yes - one hour -  I did it all at once for six children)!!!

While in Moore Wilson's I had a quick browse through their cookbook section and came across the re-issued original Australian Women's Weekly Birthday Cake Book.  I'd provide a link to it, but I know that anyone born in Aussie or NZ knows this one.  It is the one that our Mums had.  My Mum baked many of the cakes for my sister and I.  I remember vividly my sister's mushroom cake (which from memory she didn't like, but I must have because I remember it so well), the jelly cake and my Mum reminded me that she made the famous typewriter cake.  Respect.  I doubt my children would know what a typewriter cake is but I do have visions of making an ipad cake - so simple.

Apple butter and more delicious pastry

I had a lot of pastry to use up as I wanted to compare butter-made and margarine-made pastry.  I made a lot of Kransky rolls for a working bee at my daughter's creche, as well as a bacon and egg pie for dinner.  But I had a couple of pieces left over, and I wanted to try a technique I'd seen in an old kid's party book and then at a mid-winter Christmas party.  My friend has written out the technique in her blog (check out the choc-pot recipe as well). I felt like making a sweet version, so thought that it was a good opportunity to use the Apple Butter I made earlier in the year.

These were really nice - kind of a lollipop apple pie!

I first heard about apple butter on a friend's facebook page.  There was a lot of jam making at the start of the year and I was fortunate to be given two delicious jams from my friend - a rhubarb and ginger (perfect with pork) and a rose petal jam.  I saw her and a friend have a conversation about apple butter, and while I was initially focused on crabapple jam from my garden, I really wanted to make some apple butter.  One rainy day I went to Moore Wilson's and bought a whole heap of Granny Smith Apples and Apple Cider.

This is the kind of recipe that you want when you have lots of little bits of time throughout the day.  In my case, the baby was asleep and I needed to clean the kitchen so I was able to keep giving this the small amounts of attention required.  This is the recipe that I was recommended: Apple Butter  There is no actual butter in the recipe, just a very delicious, concentrated apple flavour.  The person who passed it on to me recommended omitting the lemon.  I tried it with lemon since it was my first batch.  There is a lemon after taste - I like it, but could equally do without it.  I think the lemon may help to make it better for both savoury and sweet recipes.  I have put little dollops of this in when cooking pork - it helps give a rich apple flavour and glazes the sauce beautifully.


Dumplings may actually be the world's best food.  Prior to my first trip to Japan I'd had wontons - friend pastry with a dot or two of mince on the inside smothered in violently pink sauce, but not proper dumplings.  I tried to find gyoza here in NZ on my return, but it would be a number of years before I would live in a city that could meet my dumpling needs.  Proper Chinese dumplings, (can be called wontons) are so yummy.  My husband introduced me to wonton noodle soup and my life changed.  There are few better meals than homemade wontons with homemade stock, some spring onions and your favourite noodle of the day.

Before having children it was a regular sight for visitors to our home to happen on wonton days.  My husband would get a nice piece of pork, dice it using the cleaver, add some spring onion, marinade then start a wonton procession line.  We would freeze them in groups of six.  We liked to joke about calling them fast food - once you defrosted the stock, got it boiling then cooked the dumplings, noodles and veges it would be at least half an hour before your dinner was ready - but what a dinner.

So there are boiled wontons.  Easy enough to make - get some wonton sheets from the freezer at an Asian grocer, dice up pork (better texture than mince) add some spring onions and maybe some Chinese cabbage then marinate: light soy, sesame oil and oyster sauce is a pretty standard marinade used by my husband.
It is fairly easy to find folding instructions on the internet.  My daughter found it easiest to fold into triangles, then fold in each side to the middle.  Whatever works.  You will need some glue (cornflour mixed with a little water) to help the edges to stick.  Boil up fresh (don't keep in the fridge - they quickly dry out) or cook from frozen (do not defrost).

My favourite way to have dumplings is gyoza.  This is almost a mythical form of cooking, and one that I lose faith in every time.  Still it works, it is just that in my head it shouldn't!  You can steam and shallow fry the dumplings at the same time.  Lightly coat a fry pan in oil.  I tend to use an oil spray, then a couple of teaspoons of peanut oil.  Heat (just before high), then put in the dumplings.  Immediately add half a cup (no more) of water and put the lid on.  keep the temperature quite high - say 7/8-10 on your stovetop.  You will be convinced that the dumplings will burn and stick.  Keep boiling away until the water has disappeared.  Remove lid and turn down to half/ average heat.  Test a dumpling.  If it easily flips over, it is ready to flip.  If it doesn't, then they are not ready.  Cook for another couple of minutes and test again.  I always think that they are going to burn and scrape one off only to notice that they are not cooked.  The dumplings need to dry out after the steaming/ boiling and let the oil and heat mix to put a nice colour on the bottom of the dumplings.  Flip over, cook for a couple of minutes (will be heaps faster than the first side) and serve with a dipping sauce.  Yum.  Leftover dumplings cooked this way are a favourite in my daughter's lunchbox.

You can of course just shallow fry, or even deep fry.  If your dumplings are very thick, ensure that the filling is well cooked.

Finally, you can do a lot of other things with wonton pastry.  I'd recently seen a canape idea where wonton skins were oven baked and then filled with salad ingredients.  I tried it and yes, they do make good cups.  Just be careful to space them out (so that they don't touch the other ones) and to spread them out prior to cooking - if the edges are to close together it will be impossible to stuff them.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Food books.

Books are probably the collective item that have made me happiest in my life.  I've been an avid reader since I was little.  In recent years I have tried to branch out a bit and try and balance my favourite kind of reading (trash crime novels) with good quality writing.  Food writers now take up some space on my shelves; Ruth Reichl and Jeffrey Steingarten are two favourites.  Ruth writes beautifully and frankly, drawing mainly on her own life and Jeffrey writes with the kind of compelling intensity best demonstrated by his food experiments: creating a meat aging locker out of his refrigerator, with an electric fan jammed inside to maintain humidity and air flow.

In New Zealand I get my food writing pleasure by reading either Cuisine Magazine, or Ray McVinnie's weekly offering in the Sunday Star-Times.  I've been so pleased to see him on Masterchef.  Now I can imagine his voice when reading his work!

I was particularly pleased to come across the Penguin 'Great Food' series at Moore Wilsons the other day.
They are collections of food essays, mainly American writers who have published in the New Yorker or New York Times.  Titles I purchased:

Calvin Trillin 'Eating with the Pilgrims'
Dr A W Chase 'Buffalo Cake and Indian Pudding.'
Hannah Glasse 'Everlasting Syllabub and the Art of Carving' (English book for housewives in the eighteenth century)
Pellegrino Artusi 'Exciting Food for Southern Types.' (Italian cooking from the nineteenth century)

Like all Penguin books, the titles are very reasonably priced - these were $12 each.

I keep rediscovering how awesome our local library is too.   I've been downloading ebooks from their site, and instead of going to online bookstores to purchase books that I just have to read, I've been reserving them online.  Each week when I go to the library there is another reserve waiting for me.  It is great.  This week I've reserved 'Charcuterie' as I'm keen to find out more about meat preserving.  My very short online researching tells me that this is the definitive guide.  Since it costs $80 to buy I think I'll keep the peace and just borrow this one!