Four years ago, not long after my mother died, someone I didn’t know very well left a lemon verbena tree on our doorstep. I found this gesture incredibly touching and kind, not least because my parents’ garden had a huge lemon verbena tree and Mum often made tea from the leaves. I’m not sure if I ever properly thanked her – but Kate, if you’re reading this, I often think of that kindness when I walk past the tree.

The tree has thrived, despite my neglect, but I seldom do anything with the leaves except for the occasional cup of tea. Then, while pottering around in the kitchen a week or so ago, I made this syrup and the whole house smelled like lemon verbena. It was gorgeous.

If you’ve got a lemon verbena tree, make this syrup now to get a dose of that intense lemony sherbet flavour in the depths of winter (or scent your house with it in summer). You can use it in drinks (nice with soda, or with very cold vodka as a kind of martini-ish number), or pour it over vanilla ice cream, or use it in this simple and elegant fruit salad (recipe follows). I’m thinking a lemon verbena sorbet could be next…

Lemon Verbena Syrup

1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 packed cup lemon verbena leaves

Put the water and sugar in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then lower the heat and add the lemon verbena. Let bubble gently for five minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
When the syrup has cooled completely, strain it through a fine sieve into a sterilised bottle or jar. Discard the lemon verbena leaves or use them as a garnish (they will be almost candied). Makes about 1/2 cup.

Simple fruit salad with lemon verbena syrup
2 white-flesh peaches
2 apricots
2 dark-fleshed plums
1 1/2 cups blueberries (or boysenberries)
1/4 cup lemon verbena syrup

Cut all the stonefruit into slim wedges – about eight slices – and put in a bowl. Pour over the syrup and stir gently, then add the berries. This can be done in advance, but I think it’s nicest at room temperature rather than fridge-cold. Serves 4-6.

Want a simple sauce you can use on just about anything? Look no further. This stir-together sauce takes about two minutes to make and enlivens all kinds of dishes. It’s good with cold chicken, as a side sauce for fish or prawns. You can also try it with very cold soft tofu or soft-hard boiled eggs. There’s just one piece of advice: don’t share this sauce recipe with anyone, or you’ll be drowning in it by the time summer ends. It’s THAT good.

Secret spicy sauce

The trick to this is using good quality curry powder. Other than that, there’s not much to it.

1 Tbsp hot curry powder

1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup Greek yoghurt

1/4 cup mayonnaise

salt and pepper

Put the curry powder and lemon juice in a bowl and mix to a paste. Beat in the yoghurt and mayonnaise, then taste for seasoning – it may need a little salt, or a little more lemon juice. Store, covered, in the fridge for up to a week.

Have a great weekend everyone x

It’s funny the things that stick in your head. For example, the sole thing I remember from the Queen’s last visit to New Zealand (don’t ask me when it was, I’m not that much of a royalist) is that she requested pumpkin to be served at a dinner at Huka Lodge.

This always struck me as weird, a bit like when Kate Winslet was found shopping in Pagani in Masterton. Because as much as I love pumpkin, it’s not particularly fancy. Maybe that’s what Queenie likes about it – perhaps she tires of foie gras and roasted grouse and longs to eat roast pumpkin in front of Coronation St. (There’s still no explanation for Kate and Pagani. None.)

In any case, with the long weekend in the Queen’s honour approaching, here’s a recipe for pumpkin that’s fit for royals and commoners alike.

Miso-Roasted-Pumpkin The Kitchenmaid/Lucy Corry

Miso-Roasted Pumpkin
This is a very easy way to make pumpkin more exciting. If you don’t like pumpkin, try stirring this miso butter through hot rice – instant comfort food.

1 kg crown pumpkin, cut into six wedges (leave the skin on)
50g unsalted butter
4 Tbsp white miso paste
cracked pepper

Heat the oven to 200C and line a small roasting dish with foil.
Put the pumpkin on the tray.
Beat the butter and miso together until soft and spreadable, then pat onto the pumpkin. Grind over lots of black pepper and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the pumpkin is cooked and the miso butter has browned.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

You know what gets me about fancy houses in interiors magazines? They never, ever, have anything stuck to their fridges. Oh, sure, there might be some artful magnetic chalkboard,  or a designer decal, but there are never any library book notices, or ‘art’ or torn-out recipes. They are neat, tidy – and soulless.

By contrast, the outside of my fridge is extremely busy (and a direct reflection of the chaos inside). Magnetic newspaper headlines, school notices, drawings, business cards for builders and a motley collection of recipes ripped from newspapers or magazines. I was just about to add another one to the pile last week when I remembered this month’s Random Recipes, which celebrates those torn-out clippings. So instead of consigning the recipe to the fridge door, where it would probably be lost forever, I made it that night instead. I should really do this more often.

Easy Vegan Tofu Mayo Recipe

Tofu Mayonnaise
I knew Aaron Brunet would win Masterchef in 2013 – right from the start he had that look about him. This mayonnaise recipe was from a recent newspaper column he wrote about the pleasures of eating with your hands – in which he endorsed plate-licking. Now, I had a flatmate once who licked her plate after eating and I don’t ever want to see that again, but his recipes are definitely finger-lickin’ good. Aaron uses this mayo in a chicken caesar-ish wrap – I used in our Friday night fishburgers and to lie beneath some hot smoked salmon on crackers. I’ve now lost the clipping somewhere, but this is the recipe from memory (ish). It’s dead easy, good for you and adding some fresh herbs gets rid of any tofu flavour. You should try it.

300g block silken tofu
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Kikkoman soy sauce
salt and pepper
½ tsp pepper
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Fresh herbs – finely chopped parsley, chives, basil (optional)

Put all ingredients, except the herbs, in a blender and blitz until smooth (I use a stick blender and a jar). Taste for seasoning and sharpness – add more salt or lemon juice as desired. If you’re planning to use it all immediately, add the herbs and blitz again. Otherwise, this keeps in the fridge for a week.

I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing Oprah writes in her gratitude journals, but every day I thank my stars that no one in my household has a nut allergy. Quite apart from the threat of anaphylaxis, I can’t imagine life without peanut butter. Actually, I can barely imagine a day without it. 

Peanut butter – especially proper peanut butter, like the excellent varieties springing up everywhere in New Zealand now – is a major food group in my house. Peanut butter and banana on toast is my hurried breakfast (and sometimes, lunch) of choice. It’s a handy tahini replacement in homemade hummus, works well in a marinade and is a major baking ingredient. It’s also a nifty addition to a salad dressing to perk up broccolini and other assorted bits and pieces. Add this to your weeknight repertoire for those nights when peanut butter and crackers seem like the only viable dinner option.

 

Really good peanut salad dressing

This is child’s play to make and it’s really useful. I think it’s good with steamed broccolini, but you could add all sorts of crunchy greens and some cooked chicken or tofu for a very family-friendly dinner. 

1 clove garlic, crushed with 1/2 tsp flaky salt

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 Tbsp good quality peanut butter

1/2 cup good quality peanut oil

Put all ingredients in a screwtop jar, attach the lid and shake well until emulsified. Makes about 1 cup – easily enough for a substantial salad for 4-6 people – and stores well in the fridge.

If you prefer your peanut butter treats to be a little more decadent, then this peanut butter pie should fit the bill (though you won’t be fitting much after eating it). 

*My clever friends at Kiwi Mummy Blogs have teamed up with the nice people at Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter to collate some Really Good peanut butter recipes. You can get more peanut butter inspo here.*