Treat me: Rhubarb Coconut Fool

They say there’s no fool like an old fool – but in this case, they’re wrong. Because this new too cool for school fool is something else. I’d planned to make a classic rhubarb fool with the first stalks I’d harvested from my garden, but didn’t feel like ordinary cream and Greek yoghurt seemed too tart. Then I remembered this coconut cream ice cream and a new plan was born…

Rhubarb Coconut Fool

Rhubarb Coconut Fool
The hype over coconut water and coconut oil drives me to distraction, but I am a bit of a sucker for coconut cream. Here it’s chilled and whipped into fluffy clouds before being folded though honey-sweetened rhubarb for a new take on the classic fool. If you’ve got a dairy-free diner coming for dinner, this is what you should make them for pudding. It’s also a sumptuous breakfast, whether you’re dairy-free or not. The rhubarb can be made well in advance and kept, covered, in the fridge
One tip: Make sure you buy coconut cream rather than coconut milk (in New Zealand, the Samoan brand Fia Fia is good) and remember to chill it thoroughly by leaving it in the fridge for at least five hours before you whip it. Longer doesn’t hurt.

400g rhubarb, washed, trimmed and cut into 2.5cm pieces
1 generous tablespoon of honey
2 tablespoons water
1 400ml can of coconut cream, well chilled
more honey, to taste
toasted nuts – hazelnuts, almonds – to sprinkle on top

Put the rhubarb, tablespoon of honey and water in a small saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft but still holds its shape. Scrape into a bowl and let cool before covering and putting in the fridge.
Open the coconut cream and scoop out the thick, almost solid material from the tin (if you’ve got good coconut cream, this will be nearly all of it). Put into a bowl, add a teaspoon or two of honey and beat until fluffy with electric beaters (or rotary beaters and a lot of muscle).
To serve, put a dollop of coconut cream and a scoop of rhubarb in each bowl. Either leave as is, in a yin and yang sort of style, or gently stir through to get a marbled effect. Some chopped, toasted nuts on the top are good for crunch. Serves four, with leftovers for breakfast.

Because the rhubarb came from my own garden – and was grown from a cutting donated from a garden three streets away – and you can’t get much more local than that, I think it’s a good fit for Shop Local – a blogging event run by the lovely Elizabeth of Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary. Even if you’re not into shopping
(or growing) local, you should check out her lovely blog header.

Have a great weekend, everyone! x

Last-minute chocolate fudge

If you are an organised person, you are probably sitting around shelling peas, roasting chesnuts on an open fire or performing some other seasonally appropriate cliched Christmas task. If you are not an organised person, you might be still at work, still asleep or still stuck in a line of traffic or angry shoppers.

If you fall somewhere in the middle, this post is for you. I thought I was an organised person, but then last week I was struck down by an evil virus (I’ll spare you the details) that made juggling parenting, work and the onset of Christmas near impossible. If it wasn’t for the miracle of online shopping and the fact that we are not hosting a Christmas feast (though I am cooking most of it), I think I would have cancelled the whole thing.

Now mostly recovered – and most importantly, with a mostly recovered child and a husband who is being force-fed vitamin tablets so he doesn’t succumb to whatever we had – I am actually looking forward to The Big Day. Sure, I have to cook a turkey and a chocolate roulade and a panettone and introduce some salads to a family who looks suspiciously at any vegetable that isn’t a deep-fried potato, but that’s all doable. Even more doable is this incredibly easy fudge, which doesn’t require any boiling or beating and can be made in an instant. If you are leaving all your Christmas shopping until the lastest of last minutes, don’t put yourself through it. Just make a double batch of this stuff and you’ll be regarded as a bona fide Christmas miracle.

Chocolate Almond Fudge
This recipe came to me from Tiny Happy, a blog so beautiful and serene that setting aside five minutes to read it is like giving yourself a little Christmas present every day. You can see Melissa’s most recent post about the fudge here. Here’s how I made it – with my time-honoured trick of using the oven as a chocolate melting device, because everyone’s oven is on at this time of year, isn’t it?

400g good quality dark chocolate (eg 200g Whittaker’s 50 per cent and 200g Whittaker’s 72 per cent chocolate, broken into pieces
1 400g tin of condensed milk
150g roasted salted almonds (or other nuts of your choice, or tangy dried fruit)

Melt the chocolate and condensed milk together – my favourite way to do this is to put it in a large heatproof bowl in a low oven (about 150C) for about 10 minutes. You could also do this in a double-boiler, or in a microwave, but the oven method is low stress and energy-efficient (if the oven has been on for something else, obviously). While this is happening, line a brownie pan or similar (about 30 x 20cm) with baking paper. Scatter half the nuts on the bottom of the tin.
As soon as the chocolate has melted, or nearly melted, take it out of the oven/double boiler and stir well until it’s well mixed. Pour this mixture into the prepared tin and press the remaining nuts on top.
Put it in the fridge to set – this will happen very quickly – then slice into small squares or bars. If you’re giving it away, make sure to tell the recipients to store it in the fridge. If you’re keeping it for yourself, retire to the sofa with the tin and a copy of Love, Actually or another Christmas weepie. You deserve it.

Merry Christmas! x

Treat me: Secret pumpkin muffins

There is a reasonably famous New Zealand journalist who takes himself extremely seriously, yet every time I see him on TV I want to laugh. You see, although he is all sharp suits and pancake makeup now, I remember when he was at journalism school with a bad mullet hairdo and a collection of dreadful acrylic jerseys that could have belonged to David Bain. I used to see this guy three times a week, not because I was at journalism school but because I’d stupidly got myself a job delivering muffins there and he was one of my best customers.

Three mornings a week, before I ran up the hill to sit through French grammar classes, I donned my ‘Muffinstuff – We Deliver’ t-shirt and trudged around the central city delivering muffins made by a pair of madwomen who paid me barely anything AND made me pay for any muffins that broke on the way.

While I walked I spent a lot of the time imagining the things I could say to the horrible office workers on my route instead of just smiling sweetly and encouraging them to spend up. It was a huge relief when I got a job washing dishes somewhere else instead, not least because I had become two-thirds muffin top by the end of it. And now, well, Mullet Man is on billboards and here I am, making muffins. But at least I don’t have to deliver them.

Secret pumpkin muffins
Most baking recipes involving pumpkin or carrot or zucchini often make gleeful reference to how you can fool your children/spouse/co-workers into eating these dreaded vegetables. This time I’ve turned that around completely by hiding something else inside a light, tender pumpkin batter.

300g peeled, seeded pumpkin (about 450g, with the skin on and seeds in)
125g unsalted butter
4 Tbsp brown sugar
3 Tbsp golden syrup
220g white spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp chilli powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
100ml plain yoghurt
12 squares of good quality dark chocolate (I use Whittakers Dark Ghana)

Heat oven to 175C and grease a 12-hole muffin pan.
Prepare the pumpkin first – cut it into chunks and put it in a small pot. Cover with water and bring to the boil over medium heat. Cook until soft – around 10 minutes – then drain well and mash to a smooth puree. Add the butter to the pot. The heat from the pumpkin will make it begin to melt, which is exactly what you want.

When the butter is melted, add the sugar and golden syrup. Stir well, then set the mixture aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices into a large bowl. Add the egg and yoghurt to the pumpkin mixture and stir to combine, then pour into the dry ingredients. Fold together until just combined.

Put a generous spoonful of this batter into each of the prepared muffin cups, then put a square of chocolate on top. Top with the remaining mixture.

Bake for about 18-20 minutes, until the muffins are risen and springy. Leave in the tin for five minutes, then gently turn out onto a rack to cool. Be careful if you bite into one straight out of the oven – the chocolate middle will be very hot.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

A date with a German breakfast

Do you want to get a little fatter? Move to Germany. Seriously. I’ve never known a country for super-sized meals, at least one that’s not America. Last month I sat in a cafe in Koln and watched as a huge platter of spaghetti was served to a woman sitting with her partner and three children. ‘How nice,’ I thought to myself, ‘what a convivial way to eat’. Then I realised the pasta platter was just for her – the dad got a steak as big as a placemat and the kids gobbled a pizza each.

We are a reasonably greedy trio but we quickly learned that we needn’t order very much while eating out. Since my German is limited, to say the least, this certainly made things easy on the language front. But my it also meant that I had no hope of asking about the little dish of cream cheese and something that came with the enormous ‘Bio Breakfast’ at a cafe in Berlin, pictured above. (Not pictured: the accompanying basket of bread and tumbling pile of walnuts that were taken by a small hand.) I took this photo to help jog my taste memory when we got home and now, a month later, I think I’ve got it.

Spiced cream cheese and date spread
I am such a glutton when it comes to cream cheese I could eat this neat, but it’s also good on all manner of baked goods, from simple toast to slices of fruit loaf. Or you could use it as a dip for green apples, if you are an alternative eater (Catherine, are you reading this?). It’s not quite the same, eating it in my kitchen as it was sitting on a cafe terrace in Prenzlauer Berg, but it’s not a bad substitute.

125g good, full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
100g dates, roughly chopped

To make this the lazy way, put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it is a chunky mixture. To make by hand, chop the dates finely (scissors is easiest) and stir into the cream cheese, along with the spices and honey. Store, covered, in the fridge, for a week.

Have a good week, everyone.

Spring berry smoothie

Something a bit embarrassing happens when we have people round. It’s not a problem when the sun is over the yardarm, so to speak, but when they look meaningfully at the kettle and the cupboard where the mugs are, I feel a bit uncomfortable.
It’s not that I am ashamed of the tin of instant coffee (it’s for my mother-in-law – she doesn’t drink the other stuff) or our ugly mug selection, but that I’m never sure when to break it to them that we don’t have any milk.
Apart from my great milk-drinking, bechamel-sauce guzzling period (September 2008 until about May 2009), we don’t drink it. I buy some occasionally if a cooking project warrants it, of course, but it does seem rather wasteful to buy milk, keep it in the fridge on the off-chance that we might have a milky tea-drinker crossing the threshold, then end up throwing it away. Perhaps I should invest in those little sachets of milk that you get in hotels. But I think I’d rather look like a bad hostess than one with no taste. What do you think?

Vegan Berry Smoothie

Spring berry smoothie
One of the best things about living a milk-free existence is that you get to make virtuous and vibrant smoothies like this one. One of the best things about coming back to New Zealand after our holiday was drinking water from the tap without gagging – if you live somewhere with disgusting tap water then I’d suggest making these with the bottle sort. Or I suppose you could go all out and use milk, but rest assured, it’s nicer without. If you’re not a fan of berries, try fresh pineapple.

For two large smoothies:

1 1/2 cups frozen berries
1 large banana, cut into chunks (this is a good way to use up frozen bananas, if you have a freezer full)
3 Tbsp ground almonds
1 Tbsp chia seeds
250ml cold water

Put everything in a blender, or in a large glass jar in which you can fit a stick blender, and whizz until smooth. Add a little more water if it seems very thick. Pour into two glasses and serve.