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!
As if we needed another sign that everything that is old is new again (see also, the return of 90s fashion, sexual harrassment, the gender pay gap), learning the ‘secret’ meanings of flowers is apparently in vogue. Yes, just like our Victorian forebears (and generations before them), we are all supposed to be fascinated by the symbolism of floral tributes. This could be for real, or it could be a spurious story cooked up to promote Valentine’s Day flower sales. I’m not convinced either way. That said, I do have to share a floral fact I’ve recently learned: fuchsia flowers and berries are edible. True story.
I’ve long admired fuschias – there was a large, lovely fuschia overhanging the front door at the house I grew up in, and the house I live in now has a dainty miniature bush at the front gate. But it wasn’t until I read this post about foraging by the always-excellent Jane Wrigglesworth that I realised they were edible. While Jane suggests dipping them in tempura batter, I prefer dipping them in something far more refreshing.
Fuchsia fairy cocktails
You can make this with any kind of edible flower, but it’s hard to go past the elegance of a fuchsia. Tiny rosebuds would also be sweet.
The base syrup is useful to have in the fridge and can be used in any kind of drink – use prosecco or sparkling wine, or soda water.
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup hot water
3 tsp rosewater
Gin or vodka
Prosecco or sparkling water
Put the sugar and water in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then let bubble away for a couple of minutes until thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Transfer to a glass jar and stir in the rosewater (add more if you like, but it’s best to start with a light hand). Store in the fridge until ready to use.
To make a proper fairy cocktail, put three tiny fuchsia flowers in a champagne glass. Add a tablespoon of syrup and one to two tablespoons gin/vodka. Stir well, then top up with very chilled prosecco, sparkling wine or soda water. Stir gently and serve immediately.
Happy Valentine’s Day x
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!
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.
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?
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.
Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that you “can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”. However, one thing that old Abe didn’t know (and possibly didn’t even consider due to other things on his mind) is that you can feed a fool to all of the people, all of the time and they won’t mind a bit.
A fool is a classic English pudding, usually made by folding poached fruit through whipped cream or custard. Here I’ve used perfectly ripe strawberries with a tiny sprinkle of orange zest, with a mixture of yoghurt and cream. The yoghurt adds a refreshing tartness (and also means you can justify eating it for breakfast). It’s also very cool with a crisp, thin biscuit on the side for dipping. When you make this it’s best to allow two punnets of strawberries because some will inevitably disappear in the preparation process. The almonds listed in the ingredients also disappeared in the photographing of these examples. Small helpers are so useful, aren’t they?
Strawberry and almond fools
1-2 punnets strawberries, hulled and diced
1 Tbsp icing sugar
finely grated zest of one orange
1/3 cup cream
1/2 cup yoghurt (I like The Collective Straight Up Culinary Yoghurt)
1/3 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped
Put most of the strawberries, icing sugar and orange zest in a bowl. Mash together until the strawberries are pulpy but not completely smooth. Whip the cream until it just reaches soft peaks and add to the strawberries with the yoghurt. Fold together gently – the mixture will be streaky – and divide between four small bowls or glasses. Top with the remaining strawberries and the roasted almonds. Serve immediately.