Treat me: Lemon poppy seed biscuits

Remember our neighbours with the amazing lemon tree? They have gone on holiday and their lemon tree is taunting me with its golden globes shining through the fence. It’s been so windy lately I’ve been expecting the lemons to blow over to our side of the fence, but so far it hasn’t happened. In the meantime, I’ve been accepting gifts of lemons from friends on the other side of the harbour and using them with reckless abandon.

So when Dom’s Random Recipe challenge for October asked us to use a local ingredient I figured lemons would be it. Then I stumbled – actually, properly stumbled – over local cookbook Alice In Bakingland on the dining room floor and the perfect lemony recipe leapt up at me.

Lemon and poppy seed biscuits
Alice In Bakingland is the first book from one-time New Zealand’s Hottest Home Baker finalist and self-taught baking whiz Alice Arndell. It’s such a sweet book – I’ve described it to friends as a Pinterest cookbook because everything is so pretty (that’s also to do with the great photos by Murray Lloyd). But it’s also extremely useful, with lots of useful, everyday sorts of recipes alongside the glamour ones and a whole batch of handy hints. I’m forever indebted to Alice for sharing the information that one cup of plain flour equals one cup of high grade less two tablespoons. I’m also very grateful for her allowing me to reproduce this lovely recipe here.

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
finely grated zest of two lemons (I actually double this to make it super lemony)
2 Tbsp poppy seeds
180g cold butter, cubed
1 egg
1 egg yolk

Put the flour, salt, sugars, lemon zest and poppy seeds into a food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg and egg yolk, and process until the mixture clumps.
Tip the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and squeeze together. Form into a log that’s about 5cm diameter, wrap well and chill for at least two hours, until the dough is very firm.
When ready to bake, heat the oven to 180C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Slice the dough into 1/2 cm rounds and put on the prepared trays. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges just start to brown. Cool on a wire rack. Makes about 36.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Middle class coleslaw

I am a terrible snob. I’m not proud of this shortcoming but since there’s no point in denying it so I may as well be bold. I know I am a terrible snob because I once told someone that his mother made white trash coleslaw. In my defence, he said (and did) much, much worse to me. And that coleslaw was disgusting – tinned pineapple, cabbage, carrot and condensed milk dressing – so I don’t think I was completely out of line. Plus, his mother used to look at me like I was something she’d trodden on. Harrumph.

Anyway, that’s all ancient history and I’m over it, truly. But earlier this evening, when rustling up an impromptu salad to go with the remainder of Monday night’s roast chicken, I realised I was essentially making coleslaw too. Not posh coleslaw, not even an exotic Asian-ish one. Is there such a thing as a middle class coleslaw? I think I’ve just made it. But in good news, this is a coleslaw that transcends all barriers. Young, old, rich, poor, we can all eat and enjoy with impunity. But if you even think of putting tinned pineapple in it you deserve to choke on each mouthful.

So good to eat, so hard to make look good to eat!

Middle class coleslaw
This is the sort of thing you whip up in 10 minutes while wearing your running kit and making increasingly firm requests to your daughter to get out of the bath so you can get into it. Quantities are approximate – this much makes enough for four. Any leftovers are good in a lunchbox the next day.

1/4 of a cabbage – Savoy if you’re posh, ordinary if not, shredded
2 carrots, peeled, then grated
2 ribs of celery, destringed, then finely chopped
100g tasty cheddar, grated
1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)

For the dressing:
1 clove garlic, mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt
2 tsp Dijon mustard
a good pinch of sugar
4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
8 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Make the dressing first. Put the smashed garlic, mustard, sugar and vinegar in a screw top jar. Screw on the lid and shake well. Add the oil, reattach the lid and shake again until emulsified. Taste – add a little more oil or vinegar to suit. It should be slightly on the sharp side to balance out the cheese.
Put the cabbage, carrot, celery and cheese in a salad bowl and toss together to mix. Sprinkle over the caraway seeds, if using, then pour over two-thirds of the dressing. Toss well, adding more dressing if necessary. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until needed.

Are you a food snob? Does it get you into trouble?

Treat me: Mega muesli bars

On Wednesday night, mindful of the fact that we had a crack team coming to cut down trees and generally sort out the horror of the path to our house, I thought I should make them something for morning tea. I thought some muesli bars would do it, something they could eat in between swinging axes and chainsaws.
I merrily tipped some rice bubbles into a bowl and turned around to find a spoon. When I turned back, there was something crawling out of the bowl.
Now, I know these people are not scared of creepy crawlies, but this was surely a bridge too far. I tipped the lot into the bin and wondered if they did cleanups of pantries as well.
After a cup of tea and a sit down, I conducted a thorough clean/search and destroy mission and gathered all the safe ingredients on the bench. Then I conducted a thorough search of the internet until I found something that I could use them in. When that didn’t work I adapted this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I bet Deb never has mysterious crawling things in her cupboards.

Mega muesli bars
These are big, thick, chewy slabs of nutritious deliciousness, filled with lots of good things and not too sweet. If you don’t have coconut oil, try another neutral oil or – gasp! – butter. Mix and match the nuts, seeds and fruit to suit your (clean, ordered) pantry too.

100g coconut oil
6 Tbsp honey
80ml (1/3 cup) tahini
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup whole oats
1/2 cup oatmeal (if you can’t find oatmeal, whizz 1/2 cup rolled oats in a food processor until fine)
 cups quick rolled oats
a good pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 cup linseeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Heat the oven to 175C and line a brownie pan with baking paper, leaving enough to overhang the tin.
Put the coconut oil, tahini and honey in a small saucepan and heat gently until the oil and honey have melted. Stir well and set aside.
Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir well, then pour in the oil mixture and stir until everything is well combined. Press into the prepared tin, smoothing the top with a spatula, then bake for 35 minutes, until golden.
Let cool completely before cutting into bars. If it seems very crumbly, put the tin in the fridge for an hour or so before cutting. If there are lots of crumbs, gather them up and sprinkle them on your yoghurt tomorrow morning.

Have a great weekend everyone x

Spinach and garlic hummus

On Friday a master gardener is coming to visit. I have asked her not to be shocked and horrified by the state of my garden, but I’ve since realised that I am constantly shocked and horrified by it, so it’s unfair to expect her not to be. At least the landslide in the back garden is a talking point; the less said about the neglected state of what we call ‘the allotment’ the better. But, as I discovered in the weekend, there are things growing down there where the wild things are. I have terraces of parsley, proud rows of rainbow chard and a transplanted bay tree (which would not have survived the slip if it hadn’t been moved). But before I discovered these things I found a big bag of baby spinach in the fridge that needed to be used before I could harvest our greens in good conscience. This is what I did with it.

Spinach and garlic hummus
If your children – or other members of your household – are resistant to eating their greens, this may convert them. If it doesn’t, then there’s all the more for you. I ended up throwing in some parsley, because we have it in such abundance at the moment we could start selling it at the market. Actually, there’s an idea…

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
7-8 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
100g baby spinach (most of one of those bags you get from the supermarket)
salt and pepper
a couple of juicy lemons
a couple of handfuls of fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Put two tablespoons of the olive oil in a high-sided frying pan and place it over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until just beginning to turn golden. Tip in the chilli flakes, the spinach and the chickpeas and saute for a couple of minutes, until the spinach wilts and the chickpeas colour slightly. Transfer the mixture to a food processor, along with the juice of one lemon, five tablespoons of olive oil, a good pinch of salt, some black pepper and the parsley. Whiz, stopping to scrape down the sides of the processor as necessary. Taste and add more oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper if needed. Scrape into a bowl and drizzle with oil before serving. Store any leftover in the fridge, well covered, for a couple of days.

Throwing in the parsley also means this hummus makes the cut for Lavender and Lovage’s Cooking With Herbs challenge (you can read more about that here). If your garden is looking a little bare and you need any encouragement to get out in it, watch this. I can’t wait to see it.

Cooking with Herbs

Spring berry smoothie

Something a bit embarrassing happens when we have people round. It’s not a problem when the sun is over the yardarm, so to speak, but when they look meaningfully at the kettle and the cupboard where the mugs are, I feel a bit uncomfortable.
It’s not that I am ashamed of the tin of instant coffee (it’s for my mother-in-law – she doesn’t drink the other stuff) or our ugly mug selection, but that I’m never sure when to break it to them that we don’t have any milk.
Apart from my great milk-drinking, bechamel-sauce guzzling period (September 2008 until about May 2009), we don’t drink it. I buy some occasionally if a cooking project warrants it, of course, but it does seem rather wasteful to buy milk, keep it in the fridge on the off-chance that we might have a milky tea-drinker crossing the threshold, then end up throwing it away. Perhaps I should invest in those little sachets of milk that you get in hotels. But I think I’d rather look like a bad hostess than one with no taste. What do you think?

Vegan Berry Smoothie

Spring berry smoothie
One of the best things about living a milk-free existence is that you get to make virtuous and vibrant smoothies like this one. One of the best things about coming back to New Zealand after our holiday was drinking water from the tap without gagging – if you live somewhere with disgusting tap water then I’d suggest making these with the bottle sort. Or I suppose you could go all out and use milk, but rest assured, it’s nicer without. If you’re not a fan of berries, try fresh pineapple.

For two large smoothies:

1 1/2 cups frozen berries
1 large banana, cut into chunks (this is a good way to use up frozen bananas, if you have a freezer full)
3 Tbsp ground almonds
1 Tbsp chia seeds
250ml cold water

Put everything in a blender, or in a large glass jar in which you can fit a stick blender, and whizz until smooth. Add a little more water if it seems very thick. Pour into two glasses and serve.