Pretend hot cross buns

Long-time readers will know that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Easter – no hot cross buns before Good Friday; no Easter eggs before Easter Sunday. That’s not to say that it doesn’t get extremely hard to resist these things sometimes, especially when a packet of hot cross buns turns up in  your kitchen at breakfast time on a Saturday morning.
My resolve to give up chocolate for Lent has wobbled a bit in recent weeks – chocolate icecream doesn’t really count, does it? – but I’m staying strong on the HCBs. Mainly that’s because I’ve invented some you can eat at any time, guilt-free. Here’s how.

‘Pretend’ Hot Cross Buns
These lookalike ‘buns’ – really bliss balls with the flavours of hot cross buns and white chocolate crosses – have many things going for them. My favourite, though, is that you can eat them while you’re waiting for the real ones to cook (or toast). What are you waiting for?

1 cup sultanas
1 cup ground almonds
1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
2 Tbsp coconut oil (or olive oil)
1 Tbsp honey
finely grated zest of one orange
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup roughly chopped white chocolate

Put all ingredients except the chocolate into a food processor and whiz until you can pinch together small amounts. Take dessertspoon-sized heaps of the mixture and form into square-ish ‘buns’ and place on a tray lined with baking paper.
Gently melt the white chocolate – put it in a small bowl, then set this over a bowl of freshly boiled water from the kettle – and put into a small ziplock bag or piping bag. Pipe crosses over the buns and leave to set. Store in the fridge – makes about 18 ‘buns’.

Raw beetroot bliss balls

A dear friend of mine calls herself an alternative eater – wholefoods, no meat, no refined sugar, the whole kit and kaboodle. While that makes her a rather challenging dinner guest, she’s also one of the most appreciative people a cook could hope to create for. After I got over feeling daunted by her request for a birthday cake last weekend – especially one that could withstand a car journey and an afternoon in the sun – I had a burst of inspiration and these pretty-in-pink bliss balls were the result. 

Raw beetroot bliss balls – for Catherine

You don’t have to be an alternative eater to love these. In fact, you don’t even have to like beetroot. Soaking the almonds makes them easier to whizz up.

1 cup loosely packed grated beetroot
1 cup dates

1 /2 cup whole almonds

1/2 cup roughly chopped best quality dark chocolate or cacao nibs, optional

1/2 cup desiccated coconut, plus about 3/4 cup for rolling

Put the dates and almonds in a small heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 15 minutes, then drain.

Tip the beetroot into a food processor and whiz until finely chopped. Add the drained dates and almonds, the chocolate (if using) and the 1/2 cup measure of coconut. Whizz until it clumps together.

Put the second measure of coconut into a shallow bowl. Form teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls, then roll in the coconut. Store in the fridge. Makes around 36 small balls.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Iceberg lettuce with spicy buttermilk dressing

It’s hot. Not to hot to eat, but definitely too hot to cook. Last night I made the mistake of turning the oven on and nearly had a heat-related meltdown while cooking dinner, despite being fresh from a swim in the school pool and still being in my togs. If you’re basking in similar temperatures at the moment (as I write, it’s 6am and already 18C), then I suggest you forgo the oven and the stove for a dish that requires a bit of standing in front of the open fridge.

Iceberg Lettuce With Spicy Buttermilk Dressing Photo/Recipe: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

Iceberg lettuce with spicy buttermilk dressing and pickled onions
This is a homage to something on the menu at Wellington restaurant Charley Noble – I’ve become slightly obsessed with it and when I first worked out how to copy it we ate a different version for four nights in a row. If you can’t get hold of iceberg lettuce, try Little Gems.

1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 iceberg lettuce (or two Little Gems), washed and kept whole,
For the dressing:
1 clove garlic, crushed to a pulp with 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup mayonnaise (preferably home made, otherwise, try Best Foods’)
1/4 cup plain yoghurt
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tsp Sriracha or other hot sauce

Put the onion and red wine vinegar in a small bowl, cover and set aside while you get everything else ready (this can be done in advance).

To make the dressing, put all the ingredients in a screwtop jar with a lid and shake well. Taste – add more hot sauce, lemon juice or salt as necessary. This can also be done in advance and stored in the fridge.

To serve, put the whole lettuce on a serving platter. Cut out the hard central stem, then cut through the middle into eight wedges – like you’re cutting a cake. Drain the onions and scatter over the middle, then drizzle about half the dressing over the lettuce. Any remainder dressing can be stored successfully in the fridge for up to three days.

What’s your go-to hot weather dish?

Five last-minute festive fixes

At this stage in proceedings – with less than 36 hours to go until C-Day – there’s not much point in sharing complicated Christmas recipes that involve harried phone calls to the butcher, baker or chocolate candlestick maker. If you’re the sort of person who likes adding culinary stress to your festive preparations, I figure you will have planned it out already.

Instead, here are five fast and easy fixes for the person who has everything except ideas for last-minute things to eat and to give over Christmas, using some of the excellent products available via Alison’s Pantry.

1. The emergency present

I’ve already tried this one out and it went down an absolute treat. Scoop a handful of Alison’s Pantry Mega Mix – macadamias, hazelnuts, dried cherries, jumbo raisins, fudge pieces, cranberries and almonds covered in yoghurt, milk or dark chocolate – into a cellophane bag. Add a sprinkle of edible glitter, tie on a ribbon and label ‘Reindeer Poo’. Kids love it, adults look mildly appalled (until they hit a choc-covered macadamia).

2.The spruced-up salad

This is for everyone who has to turn up with a salad on Christmas Day – or at any festive gathering – especially those who are low on energy, inspiration, aptitude or all three.

For six servings: Take one and a half bags of baby salad greens – baby spinach, rocket, mesclun – and sprinkle over two-thirds of a cup of Alison’s Pantry Savoury Sprinkle (a blend of roasted chickpeas, karengo, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds and goji berries. Drizzle with three tablespoons of vinaigrette and serve. Everyone will think you’re a genius.

3. The tropical breakfast

In lieu of any other suggestions (or requests dressed as suggestions), this is what we are having as part of our breakfast spread on Christmas Day, along with some fizz (elderflower kombucha and some champagne) and some kind of yet-to-be-determined baked good. Someone will have brought me a cup of tea in bed first, of course. Or, they will have if they know what’s good for them. Anyway – this easy fruit salad is a good fallback if you miss out on berries and cherries.

For four-six servings: Take one cup of Alison’s Pantry Tropical Fruits mix (dried star fruit, coconut chunks, papaya, mango, peach and cantaloupe) and put in a large bowl. Add 1/3 cup boiling water and squeeze over an orange. Leave to stand for four hours (or overnight), then add a tin of drained lychees, half a fresh pineapple (diced) and a few finely shredded mint leaves. Stir gently and serve with some good Greek yoghurt or whipped coconut cream

4. The Santa snack

I have heard that Santa wants a Garage Project beer and some crisps on Wednesday night but I’m planning to leave him a pile of Alison’s Pantry Raspberry and Cacao Nougat and a glass of icy cold dessert wine. This nougat is soft, chewy and not too sweet – just the right pick-me-up after a night wrapping presents.

5. The cook’s perk

The thing about cooking at Christmas is that the house is often full of food, but there’s nothing to eat Right Now. Let me introduce you to my new addiction – Alison’s Pantry Horopito Cashews. I’m not a savoury snack person as a rule; crisps don’t thrill me and I’m not a fan of those orange-dusted polystyrene things either, but these nuts are something else. Horopito, also called bush pepper, is a native New Zealand herb with a fiery kick. It has all sorts of health-giving properties, which must explain why I can’t get enough of these nuts. Buy yourself a secret stash of these to help keep you going in the days ahead.

* Disclosure: Alison’s Pantry sent me a selection of products to use in this blog post – I am happy to recommend the ones mentioned here.

Random recipe: Tofu mayonnaise

You know what gets me about fancy houses in interiors magazines? They never, ever, have anything stuck to their fridges. Oh, sure, there might be some artful magnetic chalkboard,  or a designer decal, but there are never any library book notices, or ‘art’ or torn-out recipes. They are neat, tidy – and soulless.

By contrast, the outside of my fridge is extremely busy (and a direct reflection of the chaos inside). Magnetic newspaper headlines, school notices, drawings, business cards for builders and a motley collection of recipes ripped from newspapers or magazines. I was just about to add another one to the pile last week when I remembered this month’s Random Recipes, which celebrates those torn-out clippings. So instead of consigning the recipe to the fridge door, where it would probably be lost forever, I made it that night instead. I should really do this more often.

Easy Vegan Tofu Mayo Recipe

Tofu Mayonnaise
I knew Aaron Brunet would win Masterchef in 2013 – right from the start he had that look about him. This mayonnaise recipe was from a recent newspaper column he wrote about the pleasures of eating with your hands – in which he endorsed plate-licking. Now, I had a flatmate once who licked her plate after eating and I don’t ever want to see that again, but his recipes are definitely finger-lickin’ good. Aaron uses this mayo in a chicken caesar-ish wrap – I used in our Friday night fishburgers and to lie beneath some hot smoked salmon on crackers. I’ve now lost the clipping somewhere, but this is the recipe from memory (ish). It’s dead easy, good for you and adding some fresh herbs gets rid of any tofu flavour. You should try it.

300g block silken tofu
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Kikkoman soy sauce
salt and pepper
½ tsp pepper
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Fresh herbs – finely chopped parsley, chives, basil (optional)

Put all ingredients, except the herbs, in a blender and blitz until smooth (I use a stick blender and a jar). Taste for seasoning and sharpness – add more salt or lemon juice as desired. If you’re planning to use it all immediately, add the herbs and blitz again. Otherwise, this keeps in the fridge for a week.