Spring detox

Lovely Joan at Sempiterna Me has been musing about spring and what it means to us in New Zealand. I’ve just read that it’s rained for 35 of the last 40 days, which makes it very good weather for considering such matters. The seasons are less marked here and sometimes it’s difficult to really feel the change; there’s not the same bursting into life after the dark days of winter, the same sense of rebirth.

As her post points out, this should be the time of Lenten fasting, a kind of detox season after the hearty meals of winter. I think she’s right, but it’s too chilly for salad when there’s driving rain outside.
The upside of this warm, wet weather is that creamy-fleshed cauliflowers are currently in abundance, stacked high at the grocer’s and incredibly cheap. It’s never been the most fashionable of vegetables thanks to years of being overcooked or drowned in gluggy cheese sauce, but I think the humble cauliflower deserves a bit of recognition.

Here’s a simple soup just perfect for the season, based on a Stephanie Alexander recipe. The original includes a spoonful of Vegemite (!) but I’ve omitted it and added a squeeze of lemon juice instead. I’ve also topped it with an improvised gremolata of flatleaf parsley, lemon zest and Parmesan but it’s delicious on its own.

Easy Spring Cauliflower Soup

Spring Soup

1 litre chicken stock (homemade for preference, carton for convenience)
1 cauliflower, chopped (include the stalk)
salt and pepper
handfuls of parsley
zest and juice of a lemon
handfuls of grated Parmesan

Heat the stock to a gentle boil and throw in the cauliflower. Simmer until tender, then puree in a food processor or with a stick blender. Season to taste and squirt in the lemon juice. Reheat gently and decant into warm bowls, then sprinkle generously with the parsley and Parmesan. Serves four.

Musical Monday: Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us

A busy weekend – Ottolenghi’s apple and olive oil cake, a sort-of braised venison with red wine and mushrooms, lots of Volare bread, a family reunion of sorts, a long drive and a new tooth for the Small Girl. This is what I listened to to keep sane(ish). A storm of busy-ness is coming our way and it’s nice to have some distraction…

Treat me: Banana Oaties

Strange I know, but sometimes there is such a thing as too much sugar. These little cookies, on the other hand, are so virtuous that they’re practically candidates for canonisation. There’s no sugar, no dairy and no wheat – but plenty of flavour thanks to sweet, ripe bananas and sticky, chewy dates.

Sugar Free Banana Oaty Cookies

They’re an excellent snack for little people and make a good breakfast substitute for big people on the go. Actually, if you overcook them you could crumble them into a bowl and call it muesli. Otherwise, eat with a glass of cold milk.

Banana Oaties

3 very ripe bananas

2 cups rolled oats

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup dates, chopped

3 dsp peanut butter/tahini

4 dsp canola oil

Turn the oven to 170C fan bake.

Mash the bananas to a slurry, then stir in all the remaining ingredients until well combined. Leave to sit for 15 minutes (the mixture, not you – though this is the perfect opportunity for a cup of tea and the crossword). Drop tablespoon-sized heaps onto a lined baking tray (you’ll need two trays). These cookies don’t spread in the oven so nestle them up nice and close. Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool, then store in an airtight container. Makes about 25.

Have a sweet weekend, everyone x

Hot stuff

Do you remember Space Dust? It was a sherbet-y, crackly sort of powder that fizzled on your tongue and made your lips tingle. Last night we had the same experience thanks to an amazing takeaway feast (even KitchenMaids need a break from cooking occasionally).

We’ve become addicted to the food at a new Szechuan place in town. We’re usually the only non-Chinese in there and the sweet lady behind the counter always looks a bit concerned when we order, asking if “hot is ok?”

Their Szechuan dumplings, silky little envelopes of minced pork drizzled with a sweet, gingery sauce, are a must, but last night we branched out and ordered ‘chicken with Szechuan pepper’.

When we unpacked it I thought there had been a mistake. There were two enormous boxes, filled to the brim with glistening dried chillies and chunks of spice-coated chicken. We tucked into one, searching out nuggets of chicken buried beneath the chillies. It was hot, but not chilli-hot. Instead, there was this weird sensation, a kind of tingling that started on your tongue and spread to the rest of your mouth.

I’d read about Szechuan pepper before, in Fuschia Dunlop’s amazing memoir, Sharks Fin And Sichuan Pepper, but never tasted it. She describes it in the book:

That incomparable tongue-numbing sensation of Sichuan pepper, a fizzing that starts stealthily and rises to a mouth-streaming, breathtaking crescendo that can last for twenty minutes before it slowly, gradually dies away.

During her time in China Fuschia even searched out fresh Sichuan pepper and ate it straight from the tree. In China, it is venerated not only as a condiment and flavouring but also as a medicinal herb and a symbol of fertility. In remote parts of the Szechuan province the peppercorns are thrown over newlyweds as a sort of confetti. Let’s hope no one gets it in their eyes.

Anyway, it’s the most amazing taste sensation. Needless to say, we devoured every last bit.

My secret crush…

I have a secret crush. He’s tall and fair-haired and I can’t stop thinking about him. I think about him when I’m supposed to be working and I think about him when I’m pushing the pram and I even think about him when I’m curled up on the sofa with the Boy Wonder.

The new man of my dreams is Dean Brettschneider, a New Zealand baker who counts Rick Stein, Peter Gordon and Anton Mosiman among his fans thanks to his amazing ways with bread and patisserie. You should see his buns, not to mention his fig and aniseed scone twist or apricot and pistachio tart! But the path of true love never runs smooth and we are going to be parted by the cruel forces of the public library.

I found his book, Global Baker, wedged between tomes on wedding cakes and muffins in the part of the library usually frequented by derelicts in search of a cosy place to snooze. It’s a brilliant collection of advice and recipes for everything from pain au levain to spun sugar cages. Dean (we’re on first-name terms) now works in Shanghai, where he has introduced the Chinese to the delights of chocolate hot cross buns, baked cheesecakes and lamingtons made with red bean paste. I love him. I told the Boy Wonder that I was going to run away to learn the secrets of amazing baking from a man I’d never met. He said, “Great. Have you seen my cellphone?”

I haven’t actually made anything out of his book. Yet. But when I get my own copy I’m going to start at the almond croissants and work all the way through to the xiang cong hua juan bao (Chinese flower steam buns). It’s all about spreading the love.