The scene: A suburban charity shop in Wellington, New Zealand. Two elderly women (let’s call them Beryl and Meryl) preside over the counter, keeping an eye on the shoppers on a cold Saturday morning. A much younger woman (let’s call her Lucy) approaches them, clutching a water-stained and battered paperback.

Beryl (looking at the book, then at Lucy): “Are you one of those Elizabeth David junkies?”

Lucy (somewhat taken aback at her aggressive tone): “Err, umm, well, yes, I suppose I am. And I like saving old books.”

Beryl (picking up the book gingerly): “Hmm. Yes, we get people in here like you. There’s another Elizabeth David down the back you know, called ‘Cooking in Summer’ or something.”

Lucy (smiling): “Yes, I saw that one but I’ve got that already and I thought I’d leave it for someone else.”

Meryl (suddenly taking an interest): “What’s this book? French Country Cooking? Who’s Elizabeth David?

[Lucy begins to speak but Beryl overrides her]

Beryl: “Some sort of cookery writer. Normally we sell her books on Trade Me because (sniffs imperiously) there are these junkies who want to buy them.”

Meryl (looks at Lucy to assess junkie-ness, then at the book): “Oh. Isn’t that funny? I’ve never heard of Elizabeth whats-her-name. I thought all the great chefs were men.”

Beryl: “Well, yes. $3 please.”

 

Tahini, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: there were three in yesterday’s Three Ways With… column, these tahini bars are so good I could probably eat the whole tray by myself, and Ottolenghi’s green tahini sauce is one of the most delicious things you could ever make. Then there’s my breakfast standby – sliced fruit, Greek yoghurt and tahini – and my rescue for those ‘oh-no-we’ve-got-no-peanut-butter’ moments, aka tahini on toast. Are you a tahini lover? Here’s another way to use it.

Tahini, banana and almond bites

If you’re an early-morning exerciser, one of these is just the ticket before you head out the door. Extensive research by my sample group (which is to say, me), found that eating one of these prior to a pre-dawn 10k run produced excellent results. They’re also good if your idea of exercise is limited to putting the kettle on.

1 ripe banana

2 Tbsp tahini

2 Tbsp date syrup (or honey)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup rolled oats

a good pinch of salt

2 Tbsp sesame seeds

12 whole almonds

Heat the oven to 180C. Mash the banana to a puree with the tahini and date syrup. Add the cinnamon, rolled oats, salt and sesame seeds and mix well.

Press the mixture into the cups of a 12-hole muffin pan (I use a silicone one for easy removal; you may like to grease the cups of a conventional tin) and press an almond on top of each one.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the mixture feels set when pressed with a finger. Remove to a rack to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Makes 12.

“Once upon a time, you learned from watching your mother and you cooked because you had to. But children aren’t doing that anymore. It’s common now to hear of people who can’t cook at all.” – Tui Flower, 2010

Tui Flower, one of the most influential figures in New Zealand food, died last week aged 92. Tui never ran a restaurant and never shouted at anyone on a TV food show, but she determined what was served up for dinner in many households for several decades. As food editor of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly from 1965 to 1984, Tui introduced ‘exotic’ ingredients to families who previously existed on a dull diet of meat and three veg.

Her magnum opus, The New Zealand Woman’s Weekly Cookbook, contains a buffet of recipes that range from the classic to the (now) unpalatable – ham-wrapped bananas in cheese sauce, or swan casserole, anyone? – but every single one is meticulously written with a clear understanding of its audience. If you can find one in an op shop, snap it up at once.

My own copy gets dragged out at least once a week, usually for a Saturday morning pikelet session. I never met Tui but in a phone conversation we once had – I now can’t remember why, I must have been interviewing her about something with no small amount of trepidation – I thanked her for teaching my husband how to make pikelets. She was tickled pink (though probably shocked that he didn’t know already). Thank you, Tui, for passing on your wisdom. You will be missed.

Pikelets a la Tui Flower

I’ve written about pikelets before, in homage to my great-aunt Makiri, who would make cat pikelets (and choux pastry swans, though not at the same time). Tui’s recipe, from the aforementioned New Zealand Woman’s Weekly Cookbook, is a never-fail classic. Extensive testing in our household has proven that you need to use ordinary cow’s milk (most emphatically NOT almond) and plain white flour for best results. This is not the time to go all alt-ingredient-y, ok? I’ve doubled the quantities specified by Tui, because one batch is not quite enough for our small but greedy family. Leftovers can be frozen and reheated in the toaster, but there are very seldom any left hanging around.

 

2 eggs

4 Tbsp caster sugar

1 cup milk

1 1/2 cups plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cream of tartar

butter

Whisk the eggs and sugar together, then add the milk. Sift over the dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth. The batter should slide off the spoon with ease, but not be too runny.

Grease a large, heavy pan with butter and set over medium heat. Cook spoonfuls of the batter until bubbles form and pop on top, then flip over carefully and cook for another minute or two (they will puff up as they cook). Transfer to a rack or a plate covered with a folded teatowel and keep warm until the rest are done (warning: you will need to fend off all-comers). Regrease the pan as necessary, but don’t overdo it.

Serve the pikelets with lashings of whatever you fancy. Tui suggested “grilled bacon or sausage or marmalade”, I favour cream and jam. This makes about 20.

They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts. I’ve never really believed that until recently when I acquired three new colleagues at my day job. They’re all clever and interesting people, but one in particular has some very enviable connections and she knows how to work them. She sidled up to me on her first day and said, ‘so, I hear you know about food. Want some smoked fish?’

It turns out that she has a keen angler father who keeps her in ample stocks of beautifully smoked and meticulously boned Taupo trout. Even better for me is that she doesn’t like to eat it. The rest of us keep telling her she’s missing out, but she won’t be swayed. I think this is what’s known in the trade as a win-win. In the meantime, I’m making the most of the catch while I can.

Smoked Trout Pasta

Tagliatelle with smoked trout and mascarpone

This is one of those dishes you can put together while the water boils for the pasta. The hardest bit is not eating all the trout while you wait.

Serves two.

½ cup mascarpone

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Finely grated zest and juice of a lemon

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

4 handfuls rocket

150g smoked trout

150g tagliatelle

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the tagliatelle. While you’re waiting, put the mascarpone, mustard, lemon zest and juice and olive oil in a small bowl. Season well with salt and pepper, then whisk to combine and set aside. Flake the trout and stir half of it into the mascarpone mix.

When the water is boiling, add a large spoonful of salt, followed by the pasta. Cook for five minutes (or according to packet directions), then drain, reserving a tablespoon or so of the water. Return to the pot, then toss through most of the rocket and all of the mascarpone. Divide the pasta between two plates and scatter the rest of the rocket and the trout on top. Serve – and eat – immediately.

Got an angler in the family? Here are three more ways with smoked fish to help use up the catch. Failing that, I’m sure I can hook you up with some willing takers!

T.S Eliot may have claimed that April was the cruelest month, but he hadn’t experienced Wellington in early August. By now, the gloss of wearing one’s winter coat and boots has well worn off (especially if you’ve been wearing them since March) and the grimness of rain, wind and more rain is starting to eat away at any joie de vivre you have left. Or maybe that’s just me. I can cope with June (a long weekend, a half-marathon) and July (my birthday, school holidays), but August is rough. Thank goodness for books, binge-watching and bowls of soup accompanied by lavishly buttered baguettes.

Sweetcorn And Kumara Soup

Sweetcorn and kumara soup

After a recent Three Ways With column extolling the virtues of frozen vegetables I had a large bag of frozen sweetcorn taking up valuable room in our tiny freezer. I am emotionally scarred by the frozen vegetables we had to eat at boarding school and the other members of my household are fervently anti-corn campaigners, but I was determined to use it up. This sunshine-y soup is the result.

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely diced

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

600g (1 large) golden or orange kumara, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

3 cups good chicken (or vegetable) stock

3 cups frozen corn kernels

Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 large lemon

A splash of cream

A handful finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot. Add the onion, garlic and celery, plus a large pinch of sea salt. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to colour.

Raise the heat slightly, then add the spices and kumara. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to coat the kumara in the onion and spice mixture, then pour in the stock. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the kumara is nearly tender. Add the corn and cook for three minutes.

Remove from the heat and puree (with a stick blender, ordinary blender, or food processor. Don’t try pushing this one through a sieve, you’ll hate yourself – and me.) Return to the pot and add the lemon juice and zest, then taste and season appropriately. Reheat gently until piping hot, then serve in warmed bowls topped with a swirl of cream and a scattering of parsley. Makes about 1.5 litres, freezes well.

What are your tactics for surviving the bleakest month of winter?