Kim and Kirsty’s chocolate slab

I’ve had this recipe for more than 20 years. That’s not the same thing as saying I knew where it was – or even that I knew I had it – but I remember exactly when it appeared in my life. It came from my flatmate Kim’s half-sister Kirsty, but where she found it is anyone’s guess. Kirsty came to stay in our tumbledown flat in Mt Cook in about 1996. Kim was doing criminology Masters, Sally was working in a CD store, I was dying of boredom as an admin assistant and Steve was combining his Masters study with driving the cable car. We had no money and lots of good times.

I can’t remember why Kirsty turned up, but she was a curly-haired bundle of energy and a great guest. The flat, a creaky wooden two-up, two-down with a dodgy extension out the back, was the sort of place that felt like it would blow over in a strong wind. Now it’s probably worth a million dollars, but at the time it was pretty rough around the edges (and in the middle).

At some point during her stay, Kirsty produced this recipe, or Kim had it dictated to her on the phone by someone. It’s written on a coffee-stained piece of A4 that contains other, more cryptic, messages such as ‘optometrist, Tuesday’, an address in Howick and a note from Kirsty to Kim about borrowing clothes for tomorrow. Ah, they were simpler times.

Anyway, I still recall how incredible this was to eat – a big, fat slab of chocolate deliciousness. It turns out that it’s just as good as I remember. I thought I better record it here in case the piece of paper disappears (it’s taken me a major clean-out to find it and I’d rather not go through that again).

Kim and Kirsty’s chocolate slab

I know this contains huge amounts of butter, sugar and chocolate (the blessed trinity), but it makes a lot of servings and no one’s forcing you to eat the whole thing in one go, are they?

250g unsalted butter

1 Tbsp espresso coffee powder

1 ½ cups hot water

200g dark chocolate, chopped

2 cups caster sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups self-raising flour

¼ cup cocoa

Heat the oven to 160C and grease and line a brownie tin.

Melt the butter, water and coffee in a large pot set over medium heat. Remove from the heat, then add the chocolate and sugar. Stir until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Add the vanilla. Sift over the dry ingredients and fold together until combined.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 60-80 minutes, until the middle is set. Allow to cool before removing from the tin and cutting into generous slabs. Dust with top with a mixture of cocoa and icing sugar before serving. Makes about 25 large pieces.

Instant gin and lemon fools

Goodness knows the world could use a few laughs right now, but this recipe is no joke. It’s what you make when you suddenly realise you have people coming for dinner and you need to whip up some sort of small, elegant pudding that will round out the night nicely. These almost-instant fools are the answer.

Having spent a somewhat gin-soaked summer – I got three bottles of the good stuff for Christmas (one of them was a miniature, before you plan an intervention) – I’ve been enjoying finding different ways to use them. Mostly we’ve drunk them neat or with a little ice, especially the Little Biddy West Coast Botanical Gin from Reefton Distilling Co and Bloody Shiraz Gin from Four Pillars Gin in the Yarra Valley. The latter is also really good to sip while you’re nibbling squares of very dark chocolate (sensitive souls will need to brace themselves for the resulting headache the next morning).

These little fools, however, I made with the contents of the miniature – Malfy Lemon Gin from Italy. You could use any gin, really, but once you’ve tasted the craft variety the standard gins seem a little rough around the edges. If you’ve got lemon curd stashed away (here’s a super-easy recipe), this takes minutes to make.

Instant gin and lemon fools

Serves 4

1 cup Greek yoghurt

1/2 cup lemon curd

4 Tbsp gin

50g white chocolate, finely chopped (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and stir until combined. Divide between four small glasses. Chill for at least 20 minutes before serving with little crisp biscuits (this shortbread would be excellent). Cheers!

Like finding creative ways to use gin? These gin recipes might tickle your fancy…

Barbecued chicken with honey, mustard and miso

A couple of years ago we bought a fancy barbecue. We didn’t mean to, in fact we had said to each other that after spending money we didn’t really have on building a deck we weren’t going to be those people who then went and spent even more on things to put on it. Oops.

If you like chicken in a basket you’ll love chicken in a bikini!

As it turned out, the barbecue-buying experience was so hilarious that it felt like we got our money’s worth even before we left the shop. Second-hand car sales people could learn a thing or two from these barbecue merchants – they were all but doing cartwheels in order to show us everything this barbecue could do. It could cook steak! It could cook whole chickens! Buy these attachments and it could smoke fish, fry eggs and steam a hangi! After we’d succumbed to their wiles (fools and their money are soon parted), I joked to the Mr that we had better leave before they showed us that it could make cakes. Sure enough, as we waited to pay at the counter an attendant danced past with a tray of brownies – also made in the barbecue.

Anyway, to cut a long story short we have got loads of use out of the wonder barbecue all year ’round, even if I’ve never fried an egg or cooked brownies in it. Surprisingly, the thing we do the most is use it to cook a chicken (occasionally ‘chicken in a bikini’, as pictured above). Here’s another of our favourites as summer turns to autumn.

BUTTERFLIED BARBECUE CHICKEN WITH HONEY, MUSTARD AND MISO

Serves 4-6

1 x large free-range chicken

2 cloves garlic, smashed to a paste with 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons white miso paste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Put the chicken in a large, shallow dish, breast side down. Using a sharp knife or poultry shears, cut down each side of the backbone and discard it. Stab the chicken all over with the shears or a sharp knife, making small incisions about 1cm deep.

Put all the other ingredients in a small bowl and mix well, then pour it all over the chicken, including under the skin (loosen it with your fingers). Cover the dish with plastic wrap and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least two hours (and no longer than 12).

When you’re ready to cook, heat the barbecue to 200C. Put the chicken on the barbecue grill or hot plate, shut the lid and cook for 25 minutes. Turn it over and baste it, then cook for another 20-25 minutes, until the skin is crisp and golden and the juices run clear when you pierce the flesh.

Remove from the barbecue and let it rest, under a tent of foil, for 10 minutes, then carve and serve.

You say tomato, I say to-MAH-to…

Do you want to know a secret? Last night, while watering the garden, I spotted some red orbs glowing under a tangled sorrel plant. Turns out my neglected vege patch had been harbouring a couple of rogue tomato plants that had self-seeded from last year. The plants are small, but sturdy, and my laissez-faire attitude to their care and nourishment doesn’t seem to have hurt at all. I briefly thought about showing off this bounty, but that would involved turning off the hose and no small amount of running up and down stairs. So I stood in the garden and ate them as a post-dinner snack. I’m not going to tell anyone else that the plant’s there just in case they volunteer to do the late-night watering and steal the rest.

ROASTED TOMATOES AND WALNUTS WITH ROCKET AND BALSAMIC DRESSING

You don’t have to harvest your own tomatoes to make this simple and delicious dish (but you get extra points if you can). I could happily eat a big bowlful and call it dinner, but you may prefer it as a side salad, an entrée or a light lunch. You could even try it with a poached (or fried – oh, the decadence!) egg on top.

Serves 2 as an entrée or 4 as a side salad

3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

6 vine tomatoes, halved

¾ cup walnut halves

Salt and pepper

4 handfuls baby rocket leaves

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Heat the oven to 200C. Line a small baking dish with foil, then arrange the tomatoes and walnuts on top. Drizzle with two tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 10-15 minutes (take the walnuts out if they are darkening) and set aside.

While you’re waiting, arrange the rocket leaves on a serving platter and mix the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil with the balsamic vinegar.

Just before serving, arrange the tomatoes and walnuts on the rocket, then drizzle over the balsamic vinegar and oil mix. Serve immediately.

Plum, pomegranate and pumpkin seed salad

In Summer Cooking, Elizabeth David says that ‘cold stewed plums must be one of the dullest dishes on earth. Accompanied by custard it is one of the most depressing’.

I don’t mind a cold stewed plum myself (and cold proper custard is heavenly). What I find depressing is biting into a purple-skinned plum and discovering that its flesh is golden and mushy. In my opinion, a good plum – stewed or not – is a confounding blend of sweet and sour, with firm, juicy flesh in shades of pale pink, bright crimson or cardinal red.

If you’re a plum-lover – or have a tree and can’t keep up with eating them – here’s a salad we’ve been enjoying a lot in the last couple of weeks.

Plum, pomegranate and pumpkin seed salad

This is the sort of thing you can throw together very easily and people think you’re some kind of salad savant. You can add and subtract ingredients as suits your palate and pantry: some soft cheese might be good, or olives, or even some cooked quinoa (yes, really, though you might want to add a bit more dressing).

1 red onion, finely sliced

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp caster sugar

3 Tbsp red wine vinegar

3 large handfuls baby spinach leaves, washed and dried

2-3 red-fleshed plums, cut into slim wedges

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted in a dry pan until golden

For the dressing:

1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste with a pinch of flaky sea salt

1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses

3 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Put the onions, salt, sugar and red wine vinegar in a small bowl. Stir to combine, then cover and set aside for at least 15 minutes (longer is fine, though put in the fridge if it’s going to be more than an hour).

When the onions have steeped and you’re nearly ready to eat, put the spinach leaves and plums in a salad bowl. Drain the vinegar from the onions into a small jar. Add the crushed garlic and pomegranate molasses. Shake to mix, then add the olive oil. Shake again until emulsified.

Add the onions to the bowl and drizzle over 3-4 tablespoons of the dressing. Toss gently, then scatter over the pumpkin seeds. Toss again and serve. Serves 3-4.

Fancy more plum recipes? You could try this roasted black doris plum and coconut ice cream, these mulled plums or this blast from the past – a Black Forest plum sandwich!