Last week I wrote a ‘best of times, worst of times’ kind of essay on Christmas food (and much more besides) for Your Weekend magazine. I ran out of room to include this section, which looks back at last Christmas. How can it be a year ago?

Coconut Eton Mess with berries and pomegranate molasses

Christmas Day 2016, Wellington

My brother stands in the kitchen, taking the cork out of a bottle of champagne. My sister puts on her glasses to read a recipe on her phone. My husband rinses grit off a pound of West Coast whitebait while my nephew patiently teaches my daughter how to play Old Maid. My brother-in-law explains a complex psychological theory to me while I wrangle two kilos of pork loin into a roasting dish. I have been looking forward to this for months – Christmas under my own roof, with visitors from far away. Not even the discovery that our ancient car was stolen overnight bothers me. I have taken the advice of the kind woman on the insurance helpline who told me at 8am that “there’s nothing we can do about it today, just enjoy Christmas”.

Weeks earlier, I had not felt so good. I had just started a new job and was more unsettled by the Kaikoura earthquake than I wanted to admit. I needed a distraction and the Christmas menu fitted the bill perfectly.  I send emails to my siblings; my brother responds with a link to a Fanny Craddock clip on YouTube. My sister directs me to a Nigella Lawson recipe. I show my husband a photo. “Excellent choice,” he says. “But we’re having a ham too, right? And whitebait?”

In the end we have all of these things, plus new potatoes dug out of the garden on Christmas Eve. My brother makes a kind of Eton Mess with coconut yoghurt, cranberry-studded meringues and swirls of pomegranate molasses. My daughter makes us pose for family portraits with the hideous robotic toys she has been sent for Christmas. We laugh so much the neighbours must think we are mad. We want for nothing.

Later that night I crawl into bed, thinking about the person who stole our car. They broke into our neighbour’s car too, stealing his five-year-old’s brand new bike. I don’t care so much about our car, but I hope the bike has made someone happy.


Wherever you are this Christmas, I hope you have a happy and safe one with people you love.

“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


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.

They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts. I’ve never really believed that until recently when I acquired three new colleagues at my day job. They’re all clever and interesting people, but one in particular has some very enviable connections and she knows how to work them. She sidled up to me on her first day and said, ‘so, I hear you know about food. Want some smoked fish?’

It turns out that she has a keen angler father who keeps her in ample stocks of beautifully smoked and meticulously boned Taupo trout. Even better for me is that she doesn’t like to eat it. The rest of us keep telling her she’s missing out, but she won’t be swayed. I think this is what’s known in the trade as a win-win. In the meantime, I’m making the most of the catch while I can.

Smoked Trout Pasta

Tagliatelle with smoked trout and mascarpone

This is one of those dishes you can put together while the water boils for the pasta. The hardest bit is not eating all the trout while you wait.

Serves two.

½ cup mascarpone

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Finely grated zest and juice of a lemon

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

4 handfuls rocket

150g smoked trout

150g tagliatelle

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the tagliatelle. While you’re waiting, put the mascarpone, mustard, lemon zest and juice and olive oil in a small bowl. Season well with salt and pepper, then whisk to combine and set aside. Flake the trout and stir half of it into the mascarpone mix.

When the water is boiling, add a large spoonful of salt, followed by the pasta. Cook for five minutes (or according to packet directions), then drain, reserving a tablespoon or so of the water. Return to the pot, then toss through most of the rocket and all of the mascarpone. Divide the pasta between two plates and scatter the rest of the rocket and the trout on top. Serve – and eat – immediately.

Got an angler in the family? Here are three more ways with smoked fish to help use up the catch. Failing that, I’m sure I can hook you up with some willing takers!

There’s a long weekend on the horizon and – though the weather is unlikely to be playing ball – I’m still hopeful that there will be enough sunshine for a picnic.

Photo: Ross Giblin/Fairfax Media

This week’s Three Ways With… has a trio of picnic-friendly recipes for you to try. If all else fails, eat them while sitting on a picnic blanket in the lounge. Add lashings of ginger beer and some spy-catching for a frisson of Famous Five-style fun.

Happy weekend!

I read something last week about how ‘invisible prisons’ – jobs, societal pressures, parenting, caring for older relatives – meant that modern women are shackled with more responsibilities than their mothers and grandmothers. I don’t know if that’s true. Personally, if that’s the price I have to pay for being able to vote, drive, own property and be generally free to do what I like, I’m fine with it. But last week I did find myself wishing I did a bit less. There’s nothing like racing home after work on the night of the school production and remembering en route that you were supposed to bake something for the cake stall to give you conniptions, is there?

Now, I know I could have ignored the cake stall request, or I could have been more organised and done it a few days in advance. But I didn’t do either of those things. Instead, I whipped up this slab of deliciousness in 20 minutes, while concurrently making boiled eggs for dinner and getting the child in and out of the bath. We then made it to the show on time, and all the lovely mothers (it’s always mothers, isn’t it?) who are so good they even RUN THE CAKESTALL cooed over the slice and wanted the recipe. In that moment, I felt a little bit less like a failure and more like a contributing member of society, even if my child was appearing in the show with a whopper of a black eye. But that’s another story.

Chunky white choc, orange and cranberry slice
There are a zillion versions of this slice and the world probably doesn’t need another one, but if you have weeks where the wheels are coming off and yet you still need to ‘bake’, this will save your bacon. Or bakin’. Or something.
Anyway, this version is better than all the others because it’s big and chunky, and therefore more satisfying to eat. It’s also slightly less sweet than some versions. If you’re very, very short of time, you may like to know that it’s possible to pre-crush the packet of biscuits with the full tin of condensed milk while you’re stopped at the lights. Also, if you don’t have quite enough biscuits, add a little more coconut. Or use less butter. If you’re reading this while running to the shops, a 200g packet of dried cranberries will give you enough for the base and the topping, while a 250g block of Whittaker’s white chocolate will fulfill all your chocolate needs.

100g butter
1/2 a tin (about 3/4 cup) condensed milk
300g plain sweet biscuits, bashed to large crumbs (keep a few big pieces in there for texture)
1 cup desiccated coconut
125g white chocolate, roughly chopped
zest of an orange
1 cup dried cranberries

For the icing:
125g white chocolate
50g butter
1 cup icing sugar
juice of an orange (use the one you zested above)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Line a 20 x 25cm tin (or thereabouts) with baking paper, leaving enough overhanging the sides that you can use to pull it out later.
Melt the butter and condensed milk together over low heat in a large pot. Let cool briefly, then tip in the biscuits, coconut, most of the orange zest, cranberries and chocolate. Stir to mix, then tip into the prepared tin. Press down (the overhanging paper will help here) to smooth the top. Put in the freezer.
Use the same pot to make the icing. Melt the butter and white chocolate over very, very low heat. Sift in the icing sugar and stir well, then squeeze in a little orange juice at a time until it forms a thick, spreadable mixture. Pour over the biscuit base, then sprinkle the cranberries and reserved orange zest on top. Return to the freezer for 5-10 minutes before slicing and racing out the door.
If your life is more leisurely, let the icing set in the fridge before slicing. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.