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

Fuchsia flowers
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

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.

As much as I love a good kitchen-based project, there some things that I would rarely, if ever, bother to make myself. I’d put pastry pretty high on that list, especially when you can buy such fantastic stuff ready-made by companies like Auckland-based French bakery Paneton*. I’ve loved their products for years and the buttery, super-flaky puff pastry has saved me on many a desperate dinner occasion.  In exciting news for chocolate lovers, their chocolate pastry is brilliant too.

My go-to showstopper dessert for a big crowd of people is the Pecan Praline Tart in Dean Brettschneider’s Pie book – essentially, chocolate pastry filled with praline-studded milk chocolate ganache, topped with dark chocolate ganache and a scattering of praline crumbs. But on a long run recently (which is when I do my best thinking about food), I started thinking about something lighter that would have more of a contrast with the pastry. Here’s the result…

Easy Raspberry Ripple Tart

Raspberry ripple tart

I used the Paneton brand discussed above for this tart – it’s very dark, rich and buttery – but if you want to make your own I’d recommend the Dean Brettschneider recipe above. It will be delicious either way. This serves 8-10 depending on greed.

For the raspberry curd:

2 cups frozen raspberries

1 Tbsp water

juice of 1 lemon

6 egg yolks

1 cup caster sugar

80g unsalted butter

For the tart:

About 300g chocolate pastry

1 cup cream

Extra raspberries, for garnishing

Start by preparing the tart shell. Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 30 x 10cm tart tin. Ease the pastry into the tin, leaving plenty of overhang. Chill for 20 minutes.

Bake blind for 10 minutes, then remove the weights and paper and bake for another 10 minutes until the pastry is dry to touch and crisp. Remove to a rack to cool. Trim any overhang (the resulting pieces are a good cook’s perk, though you will struggle to get any if there are little helpers around) and set aside.

To make the raspberry curd, put the raspberries and the water in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook for three to five minutes, until the fruit collapses, then remove from the heat. Push the raspberries through a fine sieve, discarding any seeds. This should make about 120ml (just under half a cup) of puree. Squeeze in enough lemon juice to make it up to 150ml. Set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together, then pour into the saucepan you used earlier. Add the butter and raspberry-lemon juice. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly (this will take about five minutes). When the mixture is bubbling, remove from the heat. Stir well and transfer to a bowl to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the tart.

About an hour before serving, whip the cream to soft peaks. Fold in the curd to create a ripple effect, then pour this mixture into the pastry shell. Carefully put the tart in the fridge until ready to serve. Decorate with more raspberries before serving. A shower of grated chocolate – white or dark – wouldn’t go amiss on top, either. This serves 8-10 depending on greed.

But wait, there’s more…

It’s highly likely that you’ll end up with some leftover pastry when making this tart. If you can stop yourself from eating it raw, I recommend turning it into easy ice cream sandwiches. All you need to do is cut the pastry into rounds, bake for about 10 mins at 180C and let cool. While you’re waiting, cut the ice cream into the same shapes and freeze. Sandwich the biscuits together with ice cream, dust with icing sugar and serve. This makes about 10 tiny ice cream sandwiches, which is just enough to leave them all wanting more.

*Please note, this is NOT a ‘sponsored’ post. In other words, I have not received any payment to say nice things about Paneton. In the interests of full disclosure, Paneton did send me a packet of their chocolate pastry to try recently. I was so impressed by it that I’ve since bought it twice more with my own hard-earned money (and I’ll definitely buy it again). I don’t think you can get a better recommendation than that!

Remember when coconut oil was going to save us all? I’m not sure it’s happened yet, given that the world needs saving more now than ever before. If you’ve doubted that coconut oil is a miracle product, this podcast will be music to your ears. If you’re like me, and love coconut purely for reasons of greed and culinary usefulness, you might be interested in this week’s Three Ways With… column, which features three delectable recipes for coconut in various forms (including oil, though it is most definitely not a recipe with any health claims).

I make no health claims for the following recipe either, except to say that making – and eating – it makes me extremely happy. Since happiness is closely related to wellness, I think I can justifiably say that a slice of this is very good for you.

Spicy Persian Love Cake
This recipe is an adaptation of Sam Mannering’s Persian Love Cake, which seems itself to be adapted from an internet-famous recipe by Australian chef Gerard Yaxley. I was inspired to make this version after Karen Dennison of Coyo sent me some of her wares to try. While Coyo’s chocolate coconut yoghurt is outrageously good (rich, yet with a tangy finish) and the passionfruit one is lovely, I was most taken with the chai version, which is made with Hakanoa ginger syrup. To stop myself from eating through a tub in one go, I turned the rest into this just-as-addictive cake.

1/2 cup dried dates
1/2 cup walnut halves (about 40g)
1 1/2 cups whole almonds (about 200g)
1 scant cup lightly packed brown sugar
80g soft unsalted butter
1 egg
3/4 cup Coyo Chai coconut yoghurt
finely grated zest of two oranges

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20cm tart tin (or springform cake tin).
Soak the dates in boiling water for five minutes, then drain.
Put the nuts in a food processor and whiz to fine crumbs. Add the dates, sugar and butter and whiz again until well combined. Press half of this mixture evenly into the prepared tin, creating a 1cm-ish rim at the sides.
Add the egg, yoghurt and orange zest to the remaining mixture in the food processor and whiz again until smooth. Carefully pour this mixture into the tin.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until the top is dark golden and the middle is just set (it will continue to firm up as it cools). Cool on a rack, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Cut into thin wedges – a little goes a long way – and serve with more yoghurt or whipped cream. Any leftovers keep well in the fridge.

How do you feel about the so-called healing powers of coconut?

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.