Treat me: Chocolate Cornflake Roughs

Some things are made for each other. Salt and caramel. Champagne and oysters. Walnuts and blue cheese. Chocolate and coconut. Then there’s Random Recipes and We Should Cocoa – a match so perfect I can’t believe they haven’t joined forces before.

For this month’s Random-Recipes-Meets-We-Should-Cocoa mash-up I had a very limited selection of books to choose from thanks to our ongoing renovations (it’s hard to access the main part of one’s cookbook collection when it’s hidden behind a king-sized bed, two radiators and a mirror, don’t you think?). Anyway, one of the few books I could reach was this handsome tome: a 1971 edition of The New Zealand Woman’s Weekly Cookbook, edited by the incomparable Tui Flower.

The New Zealand Woman's Weekly Cookbook, 1971 Hardback

Like Random Recipes maestro Dominic, and We Should Cocoa founder Choclette, Tui Flower is a force to be reckoned with. She ruled New Zealand food writing from her test kitchen at the NZ Woman’s Weekly for more than 20 years. At the NZ Guild of Food Writers‘ Conference last November she was spoken of with the utmost awe, if not a slight touch of fear.

This book, though a little dated in parts, is a brilliant snapshot of New Zealand households in the 70s (and beyond). I rescued my copy from an charity shop and – while I’m unlikely to make Tui’s recipe for ‘Picnic Loaf’ using a tin of spaghetti and sausages, among other things – I think it’s a fine piece of culinary heritage. The recipe I ended up with here is another local icon. Chocolate Cornflake Roughs, or their close cousins, made with rice bubbles, were THE party food of choice when I was a child. They are very sweet, crunchy and best served very cold (ideally, without any children to share them with).

Chocolate Cornflake Roughs In Cupcake Cases

Chocolate Cornflake Roughs
As much as I respect and admire the work of Tui Flower, I’ve updated her 1971 recipe to reflect the contents of a slightly more modern pantry. The original recipe specifies ‘crushed coconut biscuits’ – in New Zealand that can only mean the delectable Krispies (which now even come in a chocolate-dipped form). If you don’t have a similar biscuit, I suggest something like a digestive or chocolate wheaten. Hey, you could even use these. If you’re not a fan of coconut oil, any light, neutral oil will work. Don’t forget to use the best cocoa you can for an especially rich flavour. For that birthday party touch, use cupcake cases instead of a lined tray.

1/2 cup icing sugar
3 Tbsp cocoa
90ml coconut oil, melted
a drop or two of almond essence
1 cup cornflakes
9 coconut biscuits (as described above), crushed to make about 1 cup of crumbs.

Line a tray or a large platter with baking paper and set aside.
Sift the icing sugar and cocoa together into a bowl. Beat in the coconut oil and almond essence, then add the cornflakes and biscuit crumbs and stir until well combined. Drop spooonfuls of the mixture on the lined tray and leave in a cool place to set. Makes about 12.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Random recipe: Russian Salad

It’s not often that I reach for the vodka bottle on a Sunday lunchtime, but when you’re making an iconic Soviet salad in a half-functioning kitchen, needs must. When that salad is a melange of cooked vegetables and hard-boiled egg bound with a sour cream-enriched mayonnaise – and you’re making it while your daughter clamours for her lunch and your husband is attacking the counter-top with a hack-saw – you’re more than justified to pour yourself a large glass. At least, that was my excuse.

Actually, I blame Dom of Belleau Kitchen for driving me to drink. This month’s Random Recipe challenge asked us to cook something from a Christmas present cookbook – and since I didn’t get any cookbooks for Christmas (sob!) I chose the Salat Olivier described in Anya von Bremzen’s memoir, Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking.

Salat Olivier Russian Salad

If you have even a slight interest in food, family, social history and the absolute craziness involved in growing up in Soviet Moscow, this is a must-read. Von Bremzen’s own story of growing up in a communal apartment in Moscow (she and her mother fled to the US in 1974, when she was 10) is swept up in the epic history of 20th century Russia. It’s the sort of book that you want to read out loud to other people – like Heston Blumenthal’s quote on the front of my copy says, it’s ‘heartbreakingly poignant and laugh-out-loud funny’.

He forgot to add that it also has recipes – and the Soviet party classic, Salat Olivier, is one of them. First invented by a French chef ‘who wowed 1860s Moscow’ with an over-the-top platter of grouse, tongue and crayfish tails with potatoes, cornichons and a secret Provencal sauce, it morphed over the years into a rather more proletarian combination of vegetables and chicken bound together with mass-produced mayonnaise. Now can you see why I was reaching for the vodka?

Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking By Anya von Bremzen

Salat Olivier
I took some liberties with Anya’s recipe, leaving out the suggested white crabmeat or crabsticks that her mother usually used in place of the traditional poached chicken or beef. I also used homemade mayonnaise rather than Hellmann’s and lightly cooked frozen peas rather than the tinned variety. Anya’s mother Larisa, who plays a key role in the book, insists that the key to success is chopping everything into very fine dice.
Truth be told, I don’t think I’ll make it again – that diced potato, carrot and pea mixture reminded me too much of boarding school mixed frozen vegetables – but the tangy, creamy dressing was eat-out-of-the-bowl gorgeous.

3 large waxy potatoes, cooked, peeled and diced
2 medium carrots, peeled, cooked and diced
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced
3 large gherkins, diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
4 spring onions, finely sliced (white parts and some green)
1 1/2 cups peas, blanched and drained
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
4 Tbsp dill, finely chopped
salt and pepper

250 ml mayonnaise
80 ml sour cream
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp white vinegar
salt and pepper

Put all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and stir together gently. Season well with salt and pepper.
To make the dressing, put all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together until well blended. Taste and adjust the seasoning – you want it to be quite tangy and zesty.
Fold about two-thirds of the dressing through the salad – add more if necessary – and transfer to a cut-crystal bowl to serve. Serves six as a side dish. Vodka optional, but advised.

The cupboard of doom

I distinctly remember methodically dusting my bedroom bookshelves and my set of Little Golden Books – including inside the front covers – when I was five or six, in a bid to impress Father Christmas. I’m sad to say the habit has left me (we do have a duster, but it is most often used as a makeshift cricket bat) and Santa would be passing me by if dust-free shelves were part of the criteria.

The part of my house I am most ashamed of is my pantry. In my defence, it’s not really a pantry at all. We think it was our house’s hot water cupboard, long since repurposed. I need to stand on a chair to access the top shelf and even then I can’t reach to the back. Every now and then I would diligently go through it and tidy things up, but in the last month or so it has turned feral.

Don’t believe me? Check this out….

On the top shelf – at least, as far as I can reach – there are things that will really hurt if they fall down in an earthquake and hit an unsuspecting bystander on the head. I’m talking bottles of wine, about a third of a bottle of Pimms, a large bag of baking soda (for cleaning) and a box of knock-down Spiegelau wine glasses I bought at the Guild of Food Writers’ conference. Don’t ask me what’s behind them, I can’t bear to look.

The middle shelf is devoted to moderately heavy and breakable items – things like tinned tomatoes (surely one of the best inventions of the modern world), golden syrup – plus pasta, about four different sorts of rice and sundry blocks of chocolate that I have bought for some specific reason, then forgotten about.

Everything else goes on the lowest shelf. Here lie bags of dried fruit, nuts, oats and flour, a box of oils and vinegars and all sorts of spices except the one I am looking for at any one time. And more chocolate. A rack on the inside of the door currently holds all the things I use least often, such as an unopened packet of gelatine, various food colourings (for play dough experiments) and some homeopathic remedies. I should really move them, I know.

There are two reasons for me coming clean about this. One is that delightful Dom of Belleau Kitchen has asked me to reveal my pantry for his December Random Recipes challenge (it’s not called random for nothing) and two, I have just signed on the dotted line for our new pantry, which will take shape in early January.

As previously mentioned, we are having a sort of Clayton’s kitchen makeover – the new kitchen you get when you’re not getting a new kitchen. This involves new doors for the 1980s joinery, the total destruction of the current pantry and the rebuilding of a new one. I’d like to say it also included a new oven and an induction hob, but we’d like to be able to afford food in 2014, so we’re stopping there.

Anyway, my new pantry will have six (six!) shelves, with room at the bottom for a 20kg sack of flour and a box of wine. I was quite keen on getting some of those fancy pull-out shelf things, but for now we’re keeping it simple. That’s a fancy way of saying it’s much cheaper to have ordinary shelves. And after coping with two shelves that I can’t even reach the back of, six ordinary shelves sounds like pure luxury. Best of all, it’s being made by a man called Mr Darling. I am really looking forward to him coming to deliver the pantry and being able to say, ‘Oh Darling, I love it!’

Do you have a gorgeous, Pinterest-worthy pantry – or is it more like my cupboard of doom?

Treat me: Yoghurt Banana Fool

It’s not exactly on the scale of Grand Designs, but we’re currently planning a few changes here at chez Kitchenmaid and as a result, my office (aka the room of doom) is piled high with cookbooks destined for new homes. At least, I think they’re destined for new homes. I’m so horribly sentimental about some of them that I can’t bear to think of them languishing in op shops, unloved or (worse) discovered by the people that gave them to me to start with.

In the meantime, I negotiate my way past a pile of them every time I go to my desk. When ‘100 Dishes For Two’ fell on my toe yesterday, I decided it was fate. I was going to choose a recipe from it for this month’s Random Recipe challenge, then find it a new home. I think it was a joke present when we got married, along with ‘Cosmopolitan’s Guide For Living Together (Married Or Not)’, which I have recently regifted to a newly shacked-up friend. I was thinking I could regift ‘100 Dishes’ to her two, but on reflection I think this is the only decent recipe in it. Love may be blind, but it still has a sense of taste.

Yoghurt Banana Fool
This is very simple and surprisingly delicious. It also makes an excellent treat for breakfast, not least because you can pull it out of the fridge with a ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ flourish. Quantities below serve two – well, what would you expect from a book called ‘100 Dishes For Two’? – but can be easily multiplied.

2 small bananas
2 Tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
25g roasted almonds, finely chopped
4 pieces of crystallised ginger, finely chopped
150g Greek yoghurt
3 squares of dark chocolate, finely chopped

Mash the bananas, caster sugar and lemon juice together in a small pot. Bring to the boil over gentle heat, then simmer, stirring often, for 10 minutes, until the bananas are caramelised. Set aside to cool. Fold in the nuts, ginger and yoghurt, then divide between two stemmed glasses. Sprinkle the chocolate over the top and chill for at least 30 minutes, until ready to serve.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Treat me: Lemon poppy seed biscuits

Remember our neighbours with the amazing lemon tree? They have gone on holiday and their lemon tree is taunting me with its golden globes shining through the fence. It’s been so windy lately I’ve been expecting the lemons to blow over to our side of the fence, but so far it hasn’t happened. In the meantime, I’ve been accepting gifts of lemons from friends on the other side of the harbour and using them with reckless abandon.

So when Dom’s Random Recipe challenge for October asked us to use a local ingredient I figured lemons would be it. Then I stumbled – actually, properly stumbled – over local cookbook Alice In Bakingland on the dining room floor and the perfect lemony recipe leapt up at me.

Lemon and poppy seed biscuits
Alice In Bakingland is the first book from one-time New Zealand’s Hottest Home Baker finalist and self-taught baking whiz Alice Arndell. It’s such a sweet book – I’ve described it to friends as a Pinterest cookbook because everything is so pretty (that’s also to do with the great photos by Murray Lloyd). But it’s also extremely useful, with lots of useful, everyday sorts of recipes alongside the glamour ones and a whole batch of handy hints. I’m forever indebted to Alice for sharing the information that one cup of plain flour equals one cup of high grade less two tablespoons. I’m also very grateful for her allowing me to reproduce this lovely recipe here.

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
finely grated zest of two lemons (I actually double this to make it super lemony)
2 Tbsp poppy seeds
180g cold butter, cubed
1 egg
1 egg yolk

Put the flour, salt, sugars, lemon zest and poppy seeds into a food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg and egg yolk, and process until the mixture clumps.
Tip the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and squeeze together. Form into a log that’s about 5cm diameter, wrap well and chill for at least two hours, until the dough is very firm.
When ready to bake, heat the oven to 180C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Slice the dough into 1/2 cm rounds and put on the prepared trays. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges just start to brown. Cool on a wire rack. Makes about 36.

Have a great weekend, everyone x