A cure for the dreaded lurgy

The lurgy is upon us all, again. I thought we’d kicked it to the kerb, but it’s back in a slightly morphed form. Everyone I know is sick in some form or other – one of my colleagues told me yesterday that she felt like “little demons were sticking red-hot pokers into me”, which made me feel glad that I haven’t had that symptom yet. I think we all need holidays in the sun, but they seem a bit thin on the ground this year.

Obviously, I am not going to pretend I have the ultimate panacea in my kitchen cupboards, but I can share instructions for a ‘cure’ that mitigates the more common winter virus symptoms (particularly the ones that involve feeling very sorry for oneself).
Cold cure soup
Relax, this doesn’t require a major kitchen assault, just a bit of heating up. You can do this, trust me.

Step 1: When you’ve stumbled to the shops for another box of tissues, toss a tin of chicken soup in your basket too. It doesn’t have to be fancy and it shouldn’t be creamy – simple chicken and vegetable or chicken noodle soups are best. Add a lemon, some chilli flakes and some garlic (of course, if you had these things in your cupboards you might not have gotten sick in the first place, but now’s not the time for a lecture on pantry management). Stumble home again and lie on the sofa to regain your equilibrium.

Step 2: When you’re ready to stand up again, heat the soup to nearly boiling point. Remove it from the heat and add two cloves chopped garlic, the grated zest and juice of the lemon and a good sprinkle of chilli flakes (or chopped fresh chilli). A little chopped parsley boosts the vitamin C content, too. Stir gently and pour into a bowl.

Step 3: Return to the sofa with your healing bowl of soup. Sip slowly, then lie down to rest while it works its magic. Repeat as necessary.

If you’ve passed this stage of the lurgy but still have a nagging cough/sore throat, this thyme tea might help. Anything’s worth a try, right?

The perfect tuna sandwich

No blog posts for ages and then, what? A sandwich? I’m afraid so. Truth is, I feel like I’ve lost my food mojo in the last couple of weeks. Life seems to have overtaken me; there seems to be too much going on and not enough time to do it in. I’ve been doing a lot of running, so I’m perpetually hungry (and tired), and spending hours in the kitchen is a luxury I don’t seem to have. 

Anyway, I’m hoping normal(ish) service will resume soon. In the meantime, here’s a sandwich I perfected earlier in the year, when I was on holiday, combining lots of running with lots of gardening, lots of reading and lots of sitting on our newly finished deck, thinking how life was pretty sweet.

The perfect tuna sandwich

Not surprisingly, good tuna and good bread are essential to the success of this sandwich. The absolute best baguettes I’ve found in Wellington are the Acme sourdough baguettes from Prefab, the best tuna is the Sirena brand (the one with the mermaid on the tin).

1 x 185g tin good quality tuna in oil, drained (reserve the oil)

2 tsp green peppercorns in brine, drained

2 tsp capers, rinsed and roughly chopped

zest and juice of a lemon

2 tbsp mayonnaise

salt and pepper

Put everything in a small bowl and mix well. Add a little more oil if necessary. Pile into a halved baguette with some crunchy lettuce. Eat immediately.

What have you been up to while I’ve been away?

A miso quinoa bowl for Graham Norton

One of my favourite all-time moments on The Graham Norton Show involved Graham teasing Gwyneth Paltrow about her love of quinoa. I know it’s all scripted and much of that spontaneity has been manufactured by a team of writers, but watching GP squirm as Graham mocked her for including recipes for leftover quinoa (“who doesn’t finish their quinoa? There’s nothing left over, surely!’) was a moment of TV brilliance.

Easy-Miso-Quinoa-Salad-Bowl

In some ways, I’m with Graham – there’s not much call for recipes that use up leftover quinoa in our house either. When I cook it, I have a definite purpose in mind – either this superfood salad, which I used to eat so often that I could recreate it purely from taste memory, or this fast miso quinoa bowl, which I occasionally make myself for lunch as a treat.

Miso Quinoa Bowl
This makes a substantial lunch for one quinoa lover. If you have leftover quinoa, by all means use it!

1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
2 Tbsp white miso paste
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
a large handful of shredded spinach
1 egg

Rinse the quinoa well in running water then put in a small saucepan with the water. Bring to the boil, then let simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes. Let stand for five minutes. In the meantime, stir the miso, oil and vinegar or lemon juice together until well mixed. Stir this through the quinoa, along with the spinach. Remove to a bowl and keep warm while you poach the egg. Serve the egg on top of the quinoa-greens mixture, letting the yolk trickle through the grains. A squirt of sriracha sauce is not a bad idea, either. Serves one.

Are you a quinoa fan or do you agree with Graham’s description of it as cross between couscous and cat litter?

Easy-Miso-Quinoa-Salad-Bowl-Recipe

How to make sunflower seed butter

The advent of school lunches means that we’re now going through our favourite peanut butter at an alarming rate. We already ate it a lot – anyone who tells you they don’t eat it by the spoonful occasionally is either a person of no consequence or a liar – but now it’s disappearing like there’s no tomorrow.

We are lucky in that nuts are not a banned substance at ‘our’ school (dogs are also banned, but they’re not as good in sandwiches so it’s not such a big deal), but I do feel the need to diversify our reliance on the humble peanut. And so, while scrabbling around in the pantry last weekend I found a small sack of sunflower seeds and decided to have a bit of an experiment, based on my 2011 adventures in making my own tahini.
Half an hour later and I’d made two jars of fragrant sunflower seed butter for the princely sum of $2.50. Here’s how you can make it too.

How To Make Sunflower Seed Butter At Home Image/Recipe: Lucy Corry/TheKitchenmaid

How to make your own sunflower seed butter
This is really easy – all you need is a bag of sunflower seeds, a splash of neutral-flavoured oil, a pinch of salt and a food processor or blender. A fancy high speed blender would do the trick in seconds, but a regular food processor does a pretty good job in about five minutes.

500g sunflower seeds
3-4 Tbsp neutral flavoured oil (sunflower oil, if you really want to be cute about it)
a good pinch of salt (optional)

Line a large oven tray with baking paper and heat the oven to 180C. Scatter the seeds over the prepared tray in an even layer.
Toast them in the oven, watching carefully and stirring every 5-10 minutes, until they are turning golden. Don’t wander off, they burn easily.
Remove them from the oven and let cool for five minutes, then tip into your food processor (carefully, so you don’t lose the lot on the floor).
Add the salt, 2 Tbsp oil and whiz – it will be very noisy but will settle down and form a paste. Add the remaining oil until the paste slackens to a peanut butter-style consistency.
Scrape into jars and store in a cool, dark place. Makes about 500g.

What’s in your kids’ lunchboxes?

Less than two weeks in and I think I’ve cracked why parents get weepy about their child going to school. It’s not the thought of their little darling growing up, it’s the realisation that it signals the start of more than a decade of making school lunches.

As much as I know I should aspire to be the kind of ‘perfect mother who turns her kid’s lunchboxes into art’, it’s not going to happen. Especially because I am determined that lunchbox duty is a job to be shared by other members of this household who are old enough to handle a knife and go to the shops unaccompanied.

Here we have peanut butter, cream cheese and broccoli sprouts in a flatbread, some carrot sticks, a little parcel of Brazil nuts, a homemade chocolate muffin that’s much more nutritious than it looks (recipe coming soon!) and an apple.

But, crumbs, it’s hard to get my head around. I remember from my own childhood that all I wanted for a long period was luncheon sausage and tomato sauce in my sandwiches (the tomato sauce was Mum’s homemade one, in my defence). I recall my mother inserting all manner of ‘interesting’ things in my lunchbox: a pork pie (unsuccessful), nut-flavoured yoghurt (a disappointment) and – very occasionally, those triangles of plastic cheese (then, my idea of heaven). Nearly 35 years later, I still remember the shame at finding two used teabags in my teal-coloured lunchbox. My little friends Bernie and Jean-Anne ran to the staffroom for help – where the kind Mrs Wilson pointed out that, in fact, they were dried figs. Such things were rare at Atiamuri Primary, where other kids got little packets of crisps and shop-bought biscuits, or sandwiches wrapped up in the blue and white paper that the Sunday bread came in. Some even went home for lunch, returning with slabs of freshly baked Maori bread slathered with butter. There were probably others who had little for lunch and even less for breakfast.

Of course, that’s a far cry from what kids eat today – at least, if you believe everything you read. Pinterest is full of weird charts, which seem mostly designed for dieting adults (‘this snack is only 100 calories’ etc) and I feel thoroughly depressed at my culinary and parenting skills whenever I read Amanda Hesser’s Food 52 blog on what she puts in her twins’ school lunches.

Obviously I spend more time worrying about the contents of their lunches than I do about the weeds in my garden…

So I’m very grateful for Nicola Galloway’s advice on healthy school lunches, which is just about the most useful thing I’ve come across in the last couple of weeks is (and there’s a great cracker recipe in the post too). The basic message is not rocket science – kids need a balance of ‘good’ carbohydrates, protein and fibre to keep them sustained and alert, just like adults do.

I’m not sure what the magic ingredient is that makes them actually eat all their lunch at lunchtime (“I didn’t eat it Mum, I was too busy”) but it is getting eaten (and then some) for afternoon tea so I must be doing something right.

So tell me, please, what do you put in your kids’ lunchboxes? There are only so many more peanut butter and sprout sandwiches I can make this week…

UPDATE: I’ve just created this Easy Tasty Lunchbox Ideas Pinterest board to collate some ideas. Check it out – and let me know if you’d like to contribute!