Settling in

A KitchenMaid’s home is her castle (at least, the top half of one is!)

We are – at last – unpacked and our new house is beginning to feel more like home. We’ve lived in this city before, but never in this particular area, and it feels like an exotic new country. The nice thing though, is that there are old friends here. One even turned up last night, brandishing a bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine. Then she spotted a friend of hers walking up the street and it turns out that she’s our downstairs neighbour. So dearest Sally and Jen-from-downstairs sat at the island in the kitchen (I have a kitchen with an island!) and we gossiped and laughed and drank rose while I rustled up a little something to eat.

I did mean to take some shots of the finished product but wine and cameras and old friends don’t mix.

Nigella’s linguine with lemon, garlic and thyme mushrooms has been a staple in our house ever since I bought Nigella Express a few months ago. Actually, it was the main reason I bought the book. It’s dead easy – marinate mushrooms in lemon, garlic, olive oil and thyme, then toss through cooked pasta – and delicious. You can find the full recipe text here – though I usually add some chopped black olives for an extra hit of saltiness. I also boost the mushroom-to-pasta content, otherwise you end up with a lot of pasta and not many mushrooms. Our new house has a tiny clump of thyme growing in the back graden, but you can leave it out or substitute lots of parsley.

Tomorrow we are off on the second leg of our road trip – the one to recover from moving in. More posts from the road to follow!

A lovely bunch of coconuts

Some things get lost in translation, especially in recipes. After a year in New Zealand it appears I have assimilated a little too much and am now causing a wee bit of confusion by referring to ‘coconut’ in recipes and expecting you to know what I’m talking about. So – a quick tutorial.

Desiccated coconut

The coconut referred to in the Best Ever Vegan Friendly Chocolate Cupcakes is supposed to be desiccated coconut (or ‘desecrated’ as an old flatmate once called it).

Long thread or shredded coconut

The coconut used in the super-decadent Raspberry Choc Nut Bars is what I call long thread coconut, but you may know it as shredded coconut. It’s just a longer, thinner version of ordinary desiccated coconut, kind of like its supermodel cousin, with better hair. Desiccated coconut is better in the cupcakes, but I think the long thread or shredded version works best when you need a bit more texture. Hope this helps. Happy baking!

Pea Souper

I’m sorry to be a weather bore, but really, there is little else in my life at present. (Well, apart from writing and packing and trying to see people and remember errands and wrangling wet washing and convincing the Small Girl that she doesn’t need Hop On Pop read to her for the tenth time in 20 minutes. But I digress.)

I know it’s very Anglo-Saxon to discuss atmospheric conditions but I just can’t help it. The wind! The rain! The brief bursts of sunshine that make me think it might be ok to hang the washing out or go for a walk, only to get drenched or tossed about like an autumn leaf.

On the upside, it’s perfect weather for soup – and I have just the thing. It might look a bit sludgy in the photo but it’s full of robust, earthy flavours thanks to some good old-fashioned ingredients – bacon bones, split peas, a handful of parsley and some (frozen) pea puree stirred in at the end to make it a little less khaki. It’s almost worth the weather. Almost.

PEA SOUPER
This recipe can be adapted to suit your fridge or garden, but the split peas and bacon bones are essential.
Take your biggest pot (or borrow one from next door) and set it on the stove. Add 2 cups split peas, 2 large onions, finely chopped, a stick or two of celery, de-strung and finely chopped, 2 carrots, peeled and diced, 500g bacon bones (or a small ham hock), 3 litres of cold water and a bay leaf.
Bring to a simmer, skim off any scum that floats to the top, and simmer gently for about one and a half hours until the peas are soft. Add a cup or two of frozen peas and cook for five minutes more. Let it cool a little, then remove the bones and bay leaf (pouring it through a coarse sieve is the easiest way to do this and will protect you from the terrible fate of putting a bacon bone through the blender).
Puree, then return to the pot and reheat to serve.
Makes lots – freeze some for your next rainy day.

Sweet sweet Friday: We Should Cocoa – Raspberry Choc Nut Bars

Warning: this post may be dangerous to your health. But don’t blame me, blame Choclette and Chele of the Chocolate Teapot. They’ve started up We Should Cocoa, a monthly challenge to food bloggers (floggers?) involving chocolate and a special guest ingredient.

September’s guest star is raspberries, which was a bit tricky given that it’s wild, wet spring outside here and fresh raspberries are a distant dream. But then I remembered an Ottolenghi recipe that I’d lovingly lingered over but never made. Could it be adapted to include chocolate?

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. And, believe me, this little baby will knock your socks off. It’s got nuts, chocolate, raspberry jam and rather a lot of unsalted New Zealand butter. But there are whole oats in there too, plus some milk. It’s practically healthy!
Here’s the recipe, taken from the first Ottolenghi cookbook and tampered with here and there. Wishing you a sweet, sweet Friday and a joyous weekend.

Raspberry Chocolate Nut Bars
A crunchy nut topping, a soft berry middle and a crisp, buttery bottom. Delish!

Base:
120g plain flour
1/3 tsp baking powder
60g caster sugar
pinch of salt
100g unsalted butter, diced
80g whole rolled oats (often called ‘jumbo’ oats)

Filling:
250g good quality raspberry jam
80g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Topping:
70g flaked almonds
70g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
50g long thread coconut
100g unsalted butter
50g caster sugar
40ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence (I actually used brandy – because that’s the sort of woman I am, the sort that has plenty of brandy in the house but no vanilla)

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and line a 20cm square tin.
Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into a large bowl, then rub in the butter with your fingertips until it forms crumbs. Stir in the oats to combine, then tip into the prepared tin. Don’t press down too much, so the base stays light. Bake for 20 minutes or until light brown.
While the base is cooking, place the nuts and coconut in a large bowl. Put the butter, sugar, milk and vanilla into a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour this mixture over the nuts and stir well.
When the base has had its 20 minute sojourn, remove it from the oven and spread with the jam – be gentle or the base will break up everywhere. Sprinkle on the chocolate chunks, then pack the nut mixture evenly over the top. Return to the oven for another 25-30 minutes, until it’s golden brown.
Leave until cold to cut into bars. A little of this goes a long way…

Parsley, sage and running out of time

My quest to use up everything in the house before we move (in 12 days, argh!) is continuing apace. In some ways I feel incredibly organised because I know that we’ll be having a risotto, two pasta dishes, something with venison and something involving cannellini beans, baby beetroot and a bag of frozen corn kernels in the days to come. Hmmm. And definitely some Szechuan takeaways.

But last night was all about parsley and Parmesan. For my birthday two months ago my sister sent me a mysterious courier package with a note saying that her new philosopy was to only give “useful” presents. Inside was a kilo of proper Parmesan, a rare treat in this little corner of the world. I never thought we’d get through it in time but it’s amazing how cavalier you get when you’ve got a lot of a luxury ingredient and a short time in which to use it. The Small Girl must be the only toddler in town to get Parmesan on toast for lunch.

Anyway. The other things we have in abundance at the moment are lemons and parsley. The tiny seedling I planted a year ago has blossomed into a huge, regenerating bush obliterating everything I planted around it. With a packet of spaghetti in the pantry, we were set.

Spring Spaghetti

This is fresh, zingy and can be made in the time it takes for the pasta to cook. (Well, in theory. It took me ages last night but that’s because other affairs of state took me away from my rightful place at the kitchen counter.) Bon appetit!

For two very hungry people:

220g spaghetti
2-3 juicy lemons, zested and juiced
about 1/4 cup olive oil
a few tablespoons of capers
a few handfuls of grated Parmesan
a few handfuls of finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Cook the pasta according to packet directions until al dente. While it’s cooking, mix all other ingredients in a large serving bowl. Taste for seasoning and to adjust lemon/oil proportions if necessary. Drain the pasta and toss it through the lemon/parsley mix, then pile into warmed bowls. Eat with gusto.