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.

Really good peanut salad dressing

I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing Oprah writes in her gratitude journals, but every day I thank my stars that no one in my household has a nut allergy. Quite apart from the threat of anaphylaxis, I can’t imagine life without peanut butter. Actually, I can barely imagine a day without it. 

Peanut butter – especially proper peanut butter, like the excellent varieties springing up everywhere in New Zealand now – is a major food group in my house. Peanut butter and banana on toast is my hurried breakfast (and sometimes, lunch) of choice. It’s a handy tahini replacement in homemade hummus, works well in a marinade and is a major baking ingredient. It’s also a nifty addition to a salad dressing to perk up broccolini and other assorted bits and pieces. Add this to your weeknight repertoire for those nights when peanut butter and crackers seem like the only viable dinner option.

 

Really good peanut salad dressing

This is child’s play to make and it’s really useful. I think it’s good with steamed broccolini, but you could add all sorts of crunchy greens and some cooked chicken or tofu for a very family-friendly dinner. 

1 clove garlic, crushed with 1/2 tsp flaky salt

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 Tbsp good quality peanut butter

1/2 cup good quality peanut oil

Put all ingredients in a screwtop jar, attach the lid and shake well until emulsified. Makes about 1 cup – easily enough for a substantial salad for 4-6 people – and stores well in the fridge.

If you prefer your peanut butter treats to be a little more decadent, then this peanut butter pie should fit the bill (though you won’t be fitting much after eating it). 

*My clever friends at Kiwi Mummy Blogs have teamed up with the nice people at Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter to collate some Really Good peanut butter recipes. You can get more peanut butter inspo here.*

Five easy spring meals

It’s spring! Proper spring – with balmy temperatures, early rising birds and new buds appearing in the garden. Well, it was like that a few days ago. Now we’re back to tempestuous winds, lashing rain and that horrible greyness, but I’ve got high hopes.

Spring Daffodil Photo: Lucy Corry

It’s too soon for asparagus and the little lambs arriving in paddocks near you are too small for the cooking pot, but there are lots of other spring-y things to eat. Here are five easy spring dinners to add to your repertoire…

1. Superfood Salad: It’s got quinoa, broccoli and other spring-y, crunchy things to make you feel like frolicking in the sun. What more do you need?

Leon-Style Superfood Salad

2. Tray-baked Lamb and Potatoes: This is really good for those ‘I can’t think what to have for dinner’ evenings, which occur in our house at least once a week. Everything goes in the oven in one dish and there’s minimal cleaning up (even the non-cooks can make this one).

Easy Greek Lamb And Potatoes

3. Spring Cauliflower Soup: Cauliflower has had a bit of a renaissance of late, thanks to the craze for turning it into a pizza crust, but I think it’s unbeatable in this simple and healthy cauliflower soup.

Detox Cauliflower Soup

4. Simple Smoked Fish And Rice: This is another one-pot wonder, handy when you’ve been out in the garden tackling six months’ worth of weeding.

Easy Smoky Fish And Rice

5. Little lamb burgers: If you’re blessed with a beautiful spring day, cook these outside on your (long-neglected) barbecue. If it’s ‘sit inside by the heater weather’, they can be baked or pan-fried indoors.

Little Lamb Mince Burgers

What are your plans for this spring? 

How to make the perfect viniagrette

Q: Why did the tomato blush?
A: Because it saw the salad dressing.

I’ve always loved that joke, partly because it’s about the only punchline that I can remember. But all jokes aside, some people should blush with embarrassment at their salad dressings. Paul Newman, I’m looking at you. Whoever makes the salad dressings at several Wellington restaurants that I’ve visited recently should also take a good look at themselves.

How To Make Vinaigrette

The thing is, you don’t need to be a super chef to make a good salad dressing, but plenty of people do a great job of making bad ones. If in doubt, remember that condensed milk is best saved for baking and that no amount of secret herbs and spices will disguise cheap oil and nasty vinegar. A lot of people ask me how to make a basic vinaigrette (that’s vin-AY-gret, not vinegar-ette – which sounds like the sort of perfume worn by sour little French women) so I’ve devised this handy guide. Here’s how…

Vinaigrette Easy Recipe

How To Make Vinaigrette
Jamie Oliver once put out a special sort of gadget for making salad dressings but all you need  is a clean and empty jam jar, or a small bowl and a fork.
You can vary the acid and the oil to suit your preferences, your pantry supplies and what you’re going to use the vinaigrette for. I most often use lemon juice and apple cider or red wine vinegar with extra virgin olive oil. A good pinch of cumin seeds can be a good addition, or finely fresh herbs. If you’re using herbs, the vinaigrette is best used that day. Otherwise it will happily keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
Having a jar of vinaigrette in the fridge makes that after-work dinner dash much easier. Even though it only takes minutes to make, knowing you can pull some salad leaves out of a bag (or the garden) and dress them with something you’ve prepared earlier makes dinner time seem less daunting. I also use vinaigrette on steamed beans and carrots, shredded beetroot and new potatoes.

First, peel a clove of plump, juicy garlic and put it on a chopping board with a good pinch of salt. Using the blade of a knife, crush the clove with the salt to form a smooth paste. Scrape this off the chopping board and put it in a clean, dry jam jar (or a small bowl).
Add a teaspoon of honey (or brown sugar) and a teaspoon of mustard (Dijon for preference, English for wow factor).
Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of vinegar/lemon juice and six tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, then screw the lid on the jar and give it a good shake. Taste it for seasoning and sharpness – does it need more salt? more oil? more vinegar? a pinch of sugar to balance the flavours? – before using.

What’s your favourite salad dressing?