Sweetcorn now in stock

One of the most endearing scenes in the movie Big (where Tom Hanks plays a little boy magicked into a man’s body) is when he picks up an ear of baby corn and eats it, typewriter-style, at a fancy event. Of course, baby corn usually tastes of nothing but tin, but at least you don’t have the problem of what to do with the cobs afterwards.

If you’re getting through a heap of sweetcorn this summier, let me introduce you to an excellent kitchen hack: you can turn those nibbled cobs into the sweetest, most flavoursome stock ever. It doesn’t make them fit into your worm farm any easier, but at least you’re extracting maximum value first.

SWEETCORN STOCK

Gather as many cobs as you have – ideally 4-6 – and put them in a large pot with half an onion, a well-washed carrot and a stick of celery. Cover with cold water. Cover the pot and set over medium heat. Let it come to the boil, then simmer gently for 40 minutes. Cool and strain into suitable containers with lids. Refrigerate and use within five days, or freeze for up to three months. And if you’re wondering what to do with sweetcorn stock, the following recipe should do the trick nicely.

SWEETCORN AND KUMARA CHOWDER

Save this for a rainy day (there’s bound to be one along soon!)

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely diced
½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo sauce (roughly 1 chipotle, with a bit of sauce around it)
3 ears sweetcorn, kernels shaved
1 medium kumara, peeled, diced
2½ cups sweetcorn or other vegetable stock
⅓ cup creme fraiche, plus a little more for garnishing if desired

Melt the butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is beginning to soften. Add the salt, turmeric and chipotle. Add the corn kernels and kumara. Stir well, then add the stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the kumara is soft.

Remove from the heat and puree, either using a stick blender, a food mill or a food processor. Return to the saucepan and taste for seasoning – add more salt if needed. If the soup seems very thick, add a little boiling water. Stir through the creme fraiche and reheat gently. Serve hot, garnished with a little extra creme fraiche and a drizzle of chipotle sauce.

Prison Bake Brownies & Good Bitches’ Truffles

I did a lot of cool food-related things in 2018. I wrote a book about burgers, I helped judge the second Outstanding Food Producer Awards and I ate in some of London’s most celebrated restaurants. But the very best thing I did was join a group of volunteers teaching baking at one of New Zealand’s largest prisons.

That might not sound very interesting in and of itself (though I can tell you, being behind the wire at a prison is a huge learning experience) until you realise that baking was a bit of a Trojan horse. What we were really trying to teach – along with a few tips and tricks about successfully making biscuits and cakes – was the redemptive power of kindness. The Prison Bake programme, which ran as a short pilot in August and then a three-week stint before Christmas, was the brainchild of Good Bitches Baking. This charity, set up by Marie Fitzgerald and Nic Murray in 2014, now has about 1600 volunteers baking for 135 different recipient organisations every week. Prison Bake is another way of reaching out to the community and spreading what Fitzgerald and Murray call ‘moments of sweetness’.

You might take a dim view of prison rehab, preferring to think of jail being a place where they lock you and and lose the key. You might not think baking a cake is much of a help to someone having a tough time. But it’s hard to argue with the feedback from the prisoners themselves. When asked what they’d learned during the pilot programme, one of them said he’d learned that he could be a kind person – and he didn’t think that was possible. You don’t have to be behind bars to have that kind of learning experience (but it’s even more remarkable if you are).

PRISON BAKE BROWNIES

These brownies were part of the pre-Christmas Prison Bake programme. They’re very simple to mix and make, and you can change it up by using different chocolate or fruit. I think dark chocolate chips and brandy-soaked prunes might be a good combo (though perhaps not quite so prison-friendly).

125g butter

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup caster sugar

2 eggs

1 cup plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup frozen raspberries

1/2 cup roughly chopped dark chocolate

Heat the oven to 180C. Line a brownie pan (about 20x30cm) with baking paper.

Set a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter and cocoa, stirring until it melts. Cook for a minute or two, then remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Let it cool until it’s no longer hot to the touch (about 10 minutes).

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Sift in the flour and baking powder. Fold together gently, then fold in the chocolate. Pour into the prepared pan and dot the raspberries on top (press them in lightly).

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the brownies are set in the middle. Cool in the pan before slicing.

Of course, if going to prison isn’t your thing there are plenty of other ways to support Good Bitches Baking. They’ve got a whole bunch of cool things you can buy to support their fundraising efforts, including the most beautiful cake sprinkles I’ve ever seen. If you wanted to be a very kind person you could buy some sprinkles, make these truffles and then give them away to a person in need of cheering up. (It’s ok if that person is you – self-care takes many forms.)

GOOD BITCHES TRUFFLES

This is more-or-less a Julie Le Clerc recipe from issue 100 of Cuisine magazine (a deeply precious issue that sparks much joy).

250g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I use Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana)
50g butter
125ml cream
3 Tbsp dark rum (or brandy, or whisky, or a liqueur of your choice)
1 egg yolk
1 packet Good Bitches Baking Kindness Sprinkles

Put the chocolate, butter, cream and rum into a heatproof bowl and put into a low oven – or over a saucepan of simmering water, or in a microwave – and melt, stirring occasionally. The oven method is really easy, as long as you don’t forget it’s there. 
Let cool for a minute or two, then stir in the egg yolk until well mixed. Let cool for 10 minutes, then chill in the fridge until set (about an hour).
Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls – this is a sticky job, don’t even think about answering the phone etc while you’re doing it – then roll in the sprinkles. Store in the fridge, eat at room temperature. Makes about 22 truffles if you don’t accidentally eat the mixture.

To learn more about Good Bitches Baking, visit www.gbb.org.nz

Five great NZ cookbooks

Less than two weeks to go until Christmas and I haven’t bought a single present. After spending a couple of months in Europe earlier this year with just a backpack I’ve been aspiring to have less stuff in my life, but I do realise that other people might quite fancy a gift or two.

If you’re in a similar position on the shopping front, here’s a quick-fire list of Kiwi-authored cookbooks published this year that I wholeheartedly recommend. If you don’t know anyone who’d like a cookbook for Christmas then you can either a) give them to yourself or b) get new friends.

World Table: Recipes from around the world made in New Zealand ($45, available from worldtable.co.nz)

Nicola Martin and photographer Donna Walsh spent a year gathering stories and recipes from people of 22 different countries now living in the Waikato. World Table has a truly global menu, with recipes from places as diverse as Afghanistan and Columbia, Hungary and the Pacific Islands. The recipes are authentic and the stories are told with great tenderness. The icing on the cake – $5 from each book goes to The Settlement Centre Waikato. I wish I’d thought of this brilliant idea.

Meat & Three ($49.99, available nationwide or from Cook The Books)

This is another great concept, executed with great elegance and warmth. Kathy Paterson’s gorgeous recipes celebrate the best of homegrown beef and lamb while maintaining a keen awareness of modern eating habits. There’s lots of useful advice on choosing the right cuts and cooking meat properly, and all the vegetable dishes are delicious enough to eat on their own. Lovely farmer profiles by Denise Irvine and evocative photos by Tam West make this a complete meal.


Ripe Recipes: A Third Helping ($60, available nationwide or at Ripe Deli)

I’ve never been to Auckland’s Ripe Deli but I know their first two books inside out. The third book  is just as great as I’d hoped – full of clever salads, delicious dinners and lots of heavenly sweet things, cleverly and logically arranged by the seasons. After 15 years of running Ripe Angela Redfern knows what her customers come back for and she’s put that knowledge to good use. Her recipes look gorgeous, taste amazing and – most importantly – always work.

Always Delicious ($49.99, available nationwide)

No one knows New Zealand food like Lauraine Jacobs and she’s much loved by the country’s artisan producers for her persistent efforts to promote Kiwi cuisine. This collection of more than 100 favourites from her Listener columns is both beautiful and useful, with lots of inspiring and achievable dishes. Now you can stop buying The Listener for the recipes…


Burger Wellington ($29.99, available from Wellington On A Plate

Shameless I know, but I couldn’t leave it out. Where else will you find all the secrets of the culinary capital’s best burgers? This is a must for burger fans, with nearly 50 recipes for burgers, buns and condiments, plus beer match suggestions. You’ll never look at a quarter-pounder in the same way again.

Aunty Pat’s never-fail pavlova

Having just outed myself as a pavlova-denier, I should probably head into witness protection for a while. To prove that I’m not a complete monster, here’s my wonderful Aunty Pat’s peerless recipe. It’s unbeatable!

Aunty’s Pat’s never-fail pavlova

At the risk of offending everyone else I know, no one makes a pavlova quite like Aunty Pat’s. She’s got no time for fussy recipes with fancy ingredients or complicated instructions – her pavlova (which may have originally sprung from a Plunket cookbook) is a ‘bung it all in the bowl and beat like hell’ number (my words, not hers). 

3 egg whites

2 cups sugar

1 tsp vanilla essence

1 tsp cornflour

1 tsp vinegar

Pinch of salt

3 Tbsp boiling water

Heat the oven to 160C. Line an oven tray with baking paper.

Put all the ingredients, except the boiling water, in a bowl. Start beating, then add the boiling water. Beat on high for 15 minutes, then scrape the mixture onto the baking paper in a rounded shape. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven to 100C and bake for another hour. Turn off the oven and let cool as long as possible (Aunty Pat suggests leaving it in overnight). Serve topped with whipped cream and seasonal fruit.

ROASTED GNOCCHI WITH SAUSAGE, TOMATOES AND CHEESE

In recent weeks I’ve developed a somewhat shameful addiction to vacuum-packed gnocchi. You know the stuff I mean – little huhu grubs of potato and god-only-knows-what-else stuffed into flat packets that stack so easily in the cupboard. This gnocchi, which bares only a passing resemblance to the real deal, is the Italian cousin to the mighty two-minute noodle. It’s fast, convenient and – despite negligible nutritional value – can be just what you need in times of trouble.

The trick, of course, is knowing how to pimp them up. Here’s what I did the other night, cleverly combining the contents of the fridge with a packet of gnocchi for a dinner that practically cooked itself and cheered us all up.

Roasted Gnocchi With Sausage And Cherry Tomatoes

Roasted gnocchi with sausage, cherry tomatoes and cheese

Feel free to add any suitable vegetables here – eggplant or zucchini would be excellent when they’re in season. Tucking extra cheese in (feta or halloumi, perhaps?) is a good idea if you’re not fond of sausage.

Extra virgin olive oil

2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped

1 bulb fennel, trimmed and sliced

1-2 red peppers, cut into chunks

6-8 good quality pork sausages, cut into small pieces (use scissors)

2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed

500g vacuum-packed potato gnocchi

2-3 handfuls finely grated Parmesan cheese

A handful of finely chopped parsley

Heat the oven to 200C. Set a large pot of water to boil over high heat.

Pour a splash (about 1 1/2 Tablespoons) of olive oil in a heavy roasting dish. Add the onions, fennel, peppers and sausage chunks. Toss together, season well with salt and pepper and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

When the water is boiling, add a handful of salt and the gnocchi. Cook for two minutes (the gnocchi should float to the top), then drain immediately. Tip the gnocchi into the roasting dish of vegetables and sausage. Add the cherry tomatoes and stir together. Drizzle with more olive oil and scatter over the grated cheese. Return the dish to the oven and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until the sausages are cooked, the cheese is crispy and everything smells delicious. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve immediately with a green salad on the side. Serves 3-4.