If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been around much lately, I can now reveal the reason. I’ve been neck-deep in the secrets of Wellington’s best burgers for the Burger Wellington cookbook – a collection of more than 50 recipes from the culinary capital’s decade-long Visa Wellington On a Plate festival. And now, it’s available to pre-order!

Making a book is a bit like raising a child – it takes a village. This one wouldn’t have happened without the amazing generosity of the restaurants, cafes and bars who generously gave up their recipes for me to translate into quantities and instructions for home cooks (one recipe initially had a recipe for cucumber pickle that started with, ‘take 50 telegraph cucumbers’, so that gives you an idea of the scale adjustments needed). The brilliant Jeff McEwan took the photos and the incredible Wellington Culinary Events Trust made the rest happen, along with the amazing assistance of Mary Egan Publishing and Garage Project (beers and burgers are a natural fit, after all).

You can pre-order a copy of Burger Wellington – or wait to get your hands on one in early August. I can’t wait to see it!

I’ve just been at my excellent public library, where I was thoroughly depressed by the vast numbers of diet books pushed into prominent positions on the shelves. I don’t want to make life hard for the lovely librarians, but I cheered myself up by swapping some of them for better, more interesting cookbooks by people who genuinely love food and eating. I can’t be the only one who wants to dive into a cronut at the sight of some of those preachy titles, all ‘written’ by strange robots with rictus grins and perfect hair. But I digress. I was in the cookbook section because I was wondering what to make when we have some friends over in the weekend. It’s a bit like going shopping for something to wear because you can’t stand your clothes – sometimes you just need a bit of perspective.

Anyway, I got so cross at all the diet/dreamy lifestyle bollocks books that I forgot about looking for dinner inspiration and so we’re going to have my never-fail feeding a crowd of people of various shapes and sizes option – this easy barbecued, butterflied lamb, with various accompaniments. One of those accompaniments is going to be this lovely radish tzatziki, which I invented a week or so ago. Oh, and we’re going to have lots of wine and a great big pudding!

 

Radish tzatziki

All the gardening books (and no doubt the lifestyle book writers) will tell you that radishes are easy and fast to grow. This is true, unless they are pecked out by birds or you have a drought. My first top tip, as a former lifestyle writer (albeit without perfect teeth and great hair), is to buy a packet from the shops. So quick! So easy! And there’s no sugar! My second top tip is to use the grating attachment on your food processor to shred the radishes. This will save time, energy and your expensive manicure.

1 clove garlic, smashed to a paste with 1/2 tsp salt

1 cup thick, full-fat Greek yoghurt

1 1/2 cups shredded radishes, plus a few more for garnishing purposes

2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint

Put everything in a bowl and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with barbecued lamb and pita breads, or pork chops, or anything you like really. Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to two days.

Happy weekend!

 

“Angela lifted the toast on to the table. “I got Antoinette to make anchovy toast for us,” she said. “It looks good, doesn’t it? Take a slice, Anne-Marie.”

Anne-Marie took the top slice. It seemed to have rather a peculiar smell. Anne-Marie looked rather doubtfully at it.

“It’s all right,” said Alison, seeing her look. “Anchovy always smells a bit funny I think.”

She and Anne-Marie took a good bite out of their toast at the same second. The shoe cream tasted abominable.”

This is one of my favourite-ever scenes in Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s boarding school series, which comes after “fun-loving French girl” Antoinette pays out the mean fifth-formers by spreading their toast with shoe polish instead of anchovy paste. To add insult to injury, she then tells Matron of her ‘mistake’ so the three girls end up getting a dose of Matron’s nasty medicine while Antoinette gets cosseted with chocolate by Mam’selle.

I’ve been thinking about this scene a lot recently after discovering what might be one of the loveliest cookbooks I’ve ever come across. It’s The Little Library Cookbook by Australian/Londoner Kate Young and it is utterly perfect. 

 

As the name suggests, Kate’s book is a collection of recipes inspired by books old and new – from roasted pheasant inspired by Danny, Champion of the World, to spaghetti and meatballs inspired by The Godfather. There are lots of recipes from books I know and love (I Capture The Castle, The Goldfinch, Americanah, The Pursuit of Love) and lots from books I’m now desperate to read (How I Live Now, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, The End of the Affair). Each recipe deftly weaves together a little about the book, a little about Kate’s relationship to it, and a lot about the food. It’s such a good idea – and so beautifully executed – that part of me wants to force-feed Kate shoe polish on toast because I’m so jealous of her cleverness. But mostly, I just want this book to be a roaring success so she writes another one.

In the meantime, here’s my homage to Antoinette’s anchovy paste (a rather more palatable version that won’t send you running to Matron).

Anchovy and black garlic paste

Black garlic gives this its rich, shoe polish-y colour, but you can omit it if you don’t have any.

1 x 50g tin (or 80g jar) anchovies, drained of their oil and chopped

50g softened unsalted butter

2-3 cloves black garlic

2 tsp capers

2 tsp pink peppercorns

Put everything in a small bowl (or, the bowl of a blender, if you’re lazy) and mix together to form a smooth-ish paste. Scrape into a jar (add optional ‘shoe polish’ label for kicks) and store in the fridge. Best served on very thin and crisp hot toast.

If anchovy paste isn’t to your taste, you might like to watch Kate making ‘An Enormous Round Chocolate Cake’, inspired by the one the Trunchbull forces hapless Bruce Bogtrotter to eat in Matilda. I think this is in my future these school holidays…

The scene: A suburban charity shop in Wellington, New Zealand. Two elderly women (let’s call them Beryl and Meryl) preside over the counter, keeping an eye on the shoppers on a cold Saturday morning. A much younger woman (let’s call her Lucy) approaches them, clutching a water-stained and battered paperback.

Beryl (looking at the book, then at Lucy): “Are you one of those Elizabeth David junkies?”

Lucy (somewhat taken aback at her aggressive tone): “Err, umm, well, yes, I suppose I am. And I like saving old books.”

Beryl (picking up the book gingerly): “Hmm. Yes, we get people in here like you. There’s another Elizabeth David down the back you know, called ‘Cooking in Summer’ or something.”

Lucy (smiling): “Yes, I saw that one but I’ve got that already and I thought I’d leave it for someone else.”

Meryl (suddenly taking an interest): “What’s this book? French Country Cooking? Who’s Elizabeth David?

[Lucy begins to speak but Beryl overrides her]

Beryl: “Some sort of cookery writer. Normally we sell her books on Trade Me because (sniffs imperiously) there are these junkies who want to buy them.”

Meryl (looks at Lucy to assess junkie-ness, then at the book): “Oh. Isn’t that funny? I’ve never heard of Elizabeth whats-her-name. I thought all the great chefs were men.”

Beryl: “Well, yes. $3 please.”

 

“Once upon a time, you learned from watching your mother and you cooked because you had to. But children aren’t doing that anymore. It’s common now to hear of people who can’t cook at all.” – Tui Flower, 2010

Tui Flower, one of the most influential figures in New Zealand food, died last week aged 92. Tui never ran a restaurant and never shouted at anyone on a TV food show, but she determined what was served up for dinner in many households for several decades. As food editor of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly from 1965 to 1984, Tui introduced ‘exotic’ ingredients to families who previously existed on a dull diet of meat and three veg.

Her magnum opus, The New Zealand Woman’s Weekly Cookbook, contains a buffet of recipes that range from the classic to the (now) unpalatable – ham-wrapped bananas in cheese sauce, or swan casserole, anyone? – but every single one is meticulously written with a clear understanding of its audience. If you can find one in an op shop, snap it up at once.

My own copy gets dragged out at least once a week, usually for a Saturday morning pikelet session. I never met Tui but in a phone conversation we once had – I now can’t remember why, I must have been interviewing her about something with no small amount of trepidation – I thanked her for teaching my husband how to make pikelets. She was tickled pink (though probably shocked that he didn’t know already). Thank you, Tui, for passing on your wisdom. You will be missed.

Pikelets a la Tui Flower

I’ve written about pikelets before, in homage to my great-aunt Makiri, who would make cat pikelets (and choux pastry swans, though not at the same time). Tui’s recipe, from the aforementioned New Zealand Woman’s Weekly Cookbook, is a never-fail classic. Extensive testing in our household has proven that you need to use ordinary cow’s milk (most emphatically NOT almond) and plain white flour for best results. This is not the time to go all alt-ingredient-y, ok? I’ve doubled the quantities specified by Tui, because one batch is not quite enough for our small but greedy family. Leftovers can be frozen and reheated in the toaster, but there are very seldom any left hanging around.

 

2 eggs

4 Tbsp caster sugar

1 cup milk

1 1/2 cups plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cream of tartar

butter

Whisk the eggs and sugar together, then add the milk. Sift over the dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth. The batter should slide off the spoon with ease, but not be too runny.

Grease a large, heavy pan with butter and set over medium heat. Cook spoonfuls of the batter until bubbles form and pop on top, then flip over carefully and cook for another minute or two (they will puff up as they cook). Transfer to a rack or a plate covered with a folded teatowel and keep warm until the rest are done (warning: you will need to fend off all-comers). Regrease the pan as necessary, but don’t overdo it.

Serve the pikelets with lashings of whatever you fancy. Tui suggested “grilled bacon or sausage or marmalade”, I favour cream and jam. This makes about 20.