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?

If I was the sort of person who did things by the book, I’d be planting my garlic today. But after the failure of last year’s crop – I’ll never know if it was too much rain at the wrong time, the wrong sort of compost, or just bad luck – I’m a bit reluctant. Serves me right for being so smug and getting it in on time last year, I suppose. Traditional garden lore says it should be planted on the Shortest Day, but apparently it can be planted any time from May until the end of July. That’s especially useful information for people like me, who don’t fancy going out in the dark tonight to get the job done.

In the meantime, I’m indulging in some extremely moreish black garlic grown and cured in Marlborough. Black garlic, or ‘garlic noir’ as it’s sometimes called, is fermented for a month to create a kind of super garlic that has double the antioxidants of the ordinary stuff. The fermentation process also changes the texture and flavour profile – black garlic is soft and almost chewy, with a sweet and smoky flavour that reminds me of molasses or fresh dates. It’s extremely moreish and I often find I have eaten a couple of cloves while slicing it up for something else.

 

The clever people who make it at Marlborough Garlic suggest using it as part of an antipasto platter, but I’ve also been adding it to vinaigrettes, or as a last-minute flavour boost to risotto, as it doesn’t need to be cooked. They also suggest dipping it in dark chocolate, which I was unsure about until a recent lunch at the sublime Wharekauhau Lodge where pastry chef Yannick Beaurienne devised a gorgeous black garlic chocolate mousse with kumara and pear brunoise, kumara ice cream and garlic caramel, as seen below.

Yannick’s version was beautiful, elegant (and extremely labour-intensive). Here’s my much-simplified version for the home cook.

Black garlic chocolate mousse with black garlic toffee
Don’t be afraid – the black garlic just deepens and enriches the chocolate flavours. This was a huge hit in my household, to the point that there was barely any left to photograph.

For the mousse:
200g dark chocolate
2 cloves black garlic (about 8g)
400ml cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the black garlic toffee:
3-4 cloves black garlic, finely sliced
4 Tbsp caster sugar
20ml (4 tsp) water

A little extra cream, for drizzling

Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a heatproof bowl. Put half the cream into a small pot and heat to nearly boiling point. Pour over the chocolate and set aside for five minutes.
Mash the garlic to a paste and stir through the chocolate and cream until the mixture is smooth.
Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Fold through the cooled chocolate mixture,  then pour into a large bowl or divide between six small serving dishes (I use Great Aunt Shirley’s whisky glasses). Cover and put in the fridge to set for at least two hours.

For the toffee, spread the sliced garlic on a piece of non-stick foil or baking paper. Put the sugar and water in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then let it bubble away for five to 10 minutes, until it turns a dark golden colour (don’t wander off, this will happen sooner than you think!) Pour the toffee over the garlic and leave to set.

To serve, remove the mousses from the fridge at least 20 minutes before serving. Break the toffee into pieces and use to decorate each one. Drizzle a little cream over the top and serve.

Are you planting garlic this winter? Do you have any top tips for failed growers?

Four years ago, not long after my mother died, someone I didn’t know very well left a lemon verbena tree on our doorstep. I found this gesture incredibly touching and kind, not least because my parents’ garden had a huge lemon verbena tree and Mum often made tea from the leaves. I’m not sure if I ever properly thanked her – but Kate, if you’re reading this, I often think of that kindness when I walk past the tree.

The tree has thrived, despite my neglect, but I seldom do anything with the leaves except for the occasional cup of tea. Then, while pottering around in the kitchen a week or so ago, I made this syrup and the whole house smelled like lemon verbena. It was gorgeous.

If you’ve got a lemon verbena tree, make this syrup now to get a dose of that intense lemony sherbet flavour in the depths of winter (or scent your house with it in summer). You can use it in drinks (nice with soda, or with very cold vodka as a kind of martini-ish number), or pour it over vanilla ice cream, or use it in this simple and elegant fruit salad (recipe follows). I’m thinking a lemon verbena sorbet could be next…

Lemon Verbena Syrup

1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 packed cup lemon verbena leaves

Put the water and sugar in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then lower the heat and add the lemon verbena. Let bubble gently for five minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
When the syrup has cooled completely, strain it through a fine sieve into a sterilised bottle or jar. Discard the lemon verbena leaves or use them as a garnish (they will be almost candied). Makes about 1/2 cup.

Simple fruit salad with lemon verbena syrup
2 white-flesh peaches
2 apricots
2 dark-fleshed plums
1 1/2 cups blueberries (or boysenberries)
1/4 cup lemon verbena syrup

Cut all the stonefruit into slim wedges – about eight slices – and put in a bowl. Pour over the syrup and stir gently, then add the berries. This can be done in advance, but I think it’s nicest at room temperature rather than fridge-cold. Serves 4-6.

Someone asked me the other day what has been my greatest achievement of 2014. In the absence of anything else, I’ve finally decided that keeping going this year has been achievement enough.  Thank you dear readers for your continued support. May 2015 be full of ‘great achievements’ (whatever you think they are) for all of us.

In the meantime, here’s a small, recent achievement – summer in a glass. Think of this as the Kiwi Pimm’s…

Easy Recipe For Berry Brandy Champagne Cocktails Recipe And Photo By Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid 2014

Sparkling berry brandy cocktails
This is a good way to turn a bottle of Lindauer into something more special. The first person I served it to commented that ‘the strawberries hide the taste of the alcohol’. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the brandy…

2 Tbsp brandy
1 Tbsp icing sugar
2/3 cup sliced strawberries
1 bottle of your best sparkling wine

Put the brandy and icing sugar in a small bowl and mix well. Add the strawberries and stir. Set aside (this can be done several hours in advance if you like). To serve, divide this mixture between six champagne flutes and top with sparkling wine.

Happy New Year, everyone. See you in 2015.

It takes a special sort of person to make chocolate and chickpeas sound like natural partners. Nicola Galloway – chef, author, gardener, mother and general all-round good egg – is that person.

Nicola’s lovely blog, Homegrown Kitchen, has just turned two. Here’s how – and why – she manages to fit writing it into a very full life.

What’s Homegrown Kitchen about?
Seasonal & wholesome recipes and the occasional homemade craft. I think the word ‘homegrown’ encompasses many things, partly it is about cooking with food we grow in our garden, but it is also about keeping things simple, eating local where possible, making food from scratch, getting back to the basics.

When did you start it? Why?
Almost exactly two years ago. I already had a website with recipes from my cookbook, Feeding Little Tummies, and other seasonal recipes but it didn’t have much energy or rhythm to it. I was wondering how to make it more interactive and around the same time was introduced to food blogging. It was quite a new thing in New Zealand at the time and it has taken a while for people to catch on. However, I really like the interaction and regularity blogging adds to my week and my writing and photography skills have improved immensely.

What’s your day job? What else do you do?
I am a food writer for several magazines, and author, and I run cooking workshops in Nelson and around New Zealand. I am also a Mum to two young children so most days I am juggling work and family life.

30-minute pad thai (photo: Nicola Galloway/Homegrown Kitchen)

Do you have any culinary training or professional experience?
I am a trained chef [dip, professional cookery 1999]. I travelled and worked as a chef for about five years before changing direction into food writing and running cooking workshops.

Who’s your food hero?
My Nana taught me to cook and will always be my no.1 food hero. I also love Nigel Slater’s rustic cooking style, and Sandor Elli Katz and Sally Fallon give me regular inspiration from their exceptionally researched and thorough cookbooks.

Describe your kitchen in three words.
Rustic, wooden, the heart of our home.

Salted caramel coconut flan (Photo: Nicola Galloway/Homegrown Kitchen)

Who do you cook for? 
My family of four (husband and two young children) and anyone who visits, there is always food going on around here. As I said, our kitchen is the heart of our home, it is a large open plan kitchen / dining room that spills out into a sunny conservatory. I am often recipe testing and have extra food that needs to be eaten if friends drop around.


Masterchef and TV food shows – hot or not?
Not for me, I don’t have a lot of spare time to watch TV. But if they increase the interest of home cooking it has to be a good thing for those who do watch them.

What’s the last cookbook you bought?
The Unbakery Cookbook by Megan May – absolutely brilliant if you want to learn more about raw food.

Cauliflower crust pizza (Photo: Nicola Galloway)

What has been the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
Oh gosh that is a hard one… let me think. We had some pretty memorable meals on our trip to Cuba last year. I remember one cooked by ‘the Aunties’ – my Mum is married to a Cuban and lives in Havana – it was very simple, beans and rice with a special goat curry [although not spicy], and large platter of the creamiest avocados I have ever eaten dressed with lime and olive oil.

What are your three favourite posts on your blog?
Of course just talking about Cuba one of them would have to be from our trip – Salted Caramel Coconut Flan, also 30-Minute Pad Thai + Behind the Scenes and Yogurt & Honey Panna Cotta w/ Roasted Strawberries.

Tell us about another blog you love.
My Darling Lemon Thyme by Emma Galloway – one of the first food blogs I started reading. I am asked often if we are related and recently found out we are distant cousins but have never met (yet!)

Roasted strawberries with yoghurt and honey panna cotta (Photo: Nicola Galloway)

What’s for dinner tonight?
Lentil dahl with yogurt sesame flatbreads – I learned the recipe from a Pakistani woman about 12 years ago and it is still my favourite dahl recipe. I must share it on the blog one day.

Would you like to be my guest? Drop me a line…