Tahini, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: there were three in yesterday’s Three Ways With… column, these tahini bars are so good I could probably eat the whole tray by myself, and Ottolenghi’s green tahini sauce is one of the most delicious things you could ever make. Then there’s my breakfast standby – sliced fruit, Greek yoghurt and tahini – and my rescue for those ‘oh-no-we’ve-got-no-peanut-butter’ moments, aka tahini on toast. Are you a tahini lover? Here’s another way to use it.

Tahini, banana and almond bites

If you’re an early-morning exerciser, one of these is just the ticket before you head out the door. Extensive research by my sample group (which is to say, me), found that eating one of these prior to a pre-dawn 10k run produced excellent results. They’re also good if your idea of exercise is limited to putting the kettle on.

1 ripe banana

2 Tbsp tahini

2 Tbsp date syrup (or honey)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup rolled oats

a good pinch of salt

2 Tbsp sesame seeds

12 whole almonds

Heat the oven to 180C. Mash the banana to a puree with the tahini and date syrup. Add the cinnamon, rolled oats, salt and sesame seeds and mix well.

Press the mixture into the cups of a 12-hole muffin pan (I use a silicone one for easy removal; you may like to grease the cups of a conventional tin) and press an almond on top of each one.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the mixture feels set when pressed with a finger. Remove to a rack to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Makes 12.

“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.

I’m sorry, the recent cold snap is all my fault. I was the one who said winter was over; I was the one who ignored the merino tights sale and who figured my daughter’s ever-shrinking raincoat would last out the year. Rest assured I have been paying for my folly. Last weekend, while running in four layers (vest, long-sleeved running top, Icebreaker, rain jacket) plus hat, plus beanie, plus husband’s gloves, all I could do was think about the steaming bowl of porridge I was going to have when I got home and my hands defrosted enough to stir the pot. The temperatures have since returned to double figures (just), but I’m not going to take any chances.

Apple and almond porridge
I find the easiest way to do this on busy mornings is to get it going over low heat and let it bubble away while I get ready for work/chivvy child out of bed/make lunches. If you’re not a morning person, you can start this the night before – just put all the ingredients in a pot and leave it somewhere cold until the morning. In the summer, you can do this and call it bircher muesli. But those days are still a bit too far away to think about, I reckon.

2/3 cup rolled oats
1 apple, grated (include the skin)
2 Tbsp ground almonds
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp (a small pinch) ground cloves
a good pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 – 2 1/2 cups almond milk

Put all ingredients in a small pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring often, and cook until thick and ‘ploppy’ (ie, bubbling lazily like a mud pool). Add more almond milk or water if it gets too thick. Serve with the porridge topping of your choice – here it’s Zany Zeus Greek yoghurt, a drizzle of vanilla syrup and a scattering of chopped almonds. Cream and golden syrup are also good options. If it’s a really cold day you can justify cream and Greek yoghurt…

Hope you are keeping at exactly the right temperature, wherever you are in the world.

I’m not normally given to wandering down the cereals aisle of the supermarket, but I did feel a pang of nostalgia when homegrown brand Hubbards turned 25 about six weeks ago. A quarter of a century! Where did the time go?

I remember my mother being very fond of ‘Mr Hubbard’, who did then-unthinkable things like include a chatty newsletter in each box of muesli and engage with his customers. That was a pretty big deal in the pre-internet age, as was their attitude to social responsibility. Of course, the mueslis were pretty good too, not least because they featured utterly addictive YCRs (otherwise known as yoghurt-covered raisins). In later years I remember a friend saying he thought Hubbards should just make boxes of YCRs rather than families and flatmates fall out over who ate the last ones. 

On a recent supermarket sweep I discovered that Hubbards now make all manner of new cereals over and above the old favourites (including a special 25th birthday one that contains chocolate and raspberries). It’s great to see them in such good health. Happy birthday, Hubbards. See you at 50. 

Fast oven-baked fish with a crunchy crust
The youngest member of our household is mad for what she calls ‘crumbled fish’ – that is, fish in a panko breadcrumb crust, fried in a pan. That’s all very well, but this is a faster, slightly healthier way to get the same crunchy kick. I used Hubbards’ Simply Toasted Muesli with nuts and seeds – I’d suggest opting for something similarly plain. This is one occasion where yoghurt-covered raisins are not the answer.

4 fillets tarakihi or similar
1 Tbsp cornflour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups muesli
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 200C and line a baking dish with foil. Put the beaten egg in a shallow bowl and put the muesli in another shallow dish.
Dust the fish with cornflour, then dip each fillet into the egg mixture before coating it with the muesli. Repeat until all the fillets are coated.
Grease the foil with one tablespoon of the olive oil, and lay the fillets on top. Grind over some salt and pepper, then drizzle over the remaining oil.
Bake in the preheated oven for 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remember it will keep cooking a little after you take it out of the oven.
Serve immediately with lemons and fresh herbs. Serves four.

Have a great week, everyone x

The one thing that people who achieve stuff seem to have in common is that they get up and do things, rather than sitting and waiting for the right moment to strike. I admire this, I really do, but I can’t seem to make it happen. Take bircher muesli, for example. I love eating it, but I’ve never been a great one for making it, all that grating and soaking and being a step ahead. Many’s the spring or summer morning when I’ve thought, ‘if only I had stayed up last night, grating apple and squeezing orange juice so I could be eating bircher muesli, then I wouldn’t be scarfing down a peanut butter-laden crumpet as I run for the bus’.

Then, one night, quite by chance, I just happened to stir a few things together and in the morning, without realising it, I had made a kind of bircher muesli. I didn’t even have to grate anything! Maybe I can achieve greatness after all. 

Summer berry porridge

This is hardly a recipe, more a set of guidelines. But hopefully they’ll help your mornings flow a little more smoothly and make you feel like less of a hopeless failure at life in general. This amount makes enough for four to six breakfasts – because I’m the only one that eats it in my household I make half this quantity so it’s not sitting in the fridge all week. If you forget to make it the night before, just stir it together as soon as you get up. By the time you’ve had a cup of tea and a shower, it will be completely edible.

2 cups rolled oats

2 cups almond milk (coconut milk is also good)

1/2 cup ground almonds

1/2 cup seeds – pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, chia

2 cups frozen berries

Mix all the ingredients together (I put them in an ice cream container), then cover and store in the fridge overnight. To serve, scoop out a portion into a waiting bowl, then top with a few more berries and a dollop of yoghurt. 

Have a great week, everyone!