“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.

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?

The lurgy is upon us all, again. I thought we’d kicked it to the kerb, but it’s back in a slightly morphed form. Everyone I know is sick in some form or other – one of my colleagues told me yesterday that she felt like “little demons were sticking red-hot pokers into me”, which made me feel glad that I haven’t had that symptom yet. I think we all need holidays in the sun, but they seem a bit thin on the ground this year.

Obviously, I am not going to pretend I have the ultimate panacea in my kitchen cupboards, but I can share instructions for a ‘cure’ that mitigates the more common winter virus symptoms (particularly the ones that involve feeling very sorry for oneself).
Cold cure soup
Relax, this doesn’t require a major kitchen assault, just a bit of heating up. You can do this, trust me.

Step 1: When you’ve stumbled to the shops for another box of tissues, toss a tin of chicken soup in your basket too. It doesn’t have to be fancy and it shouldn’t be creamy – simple chicken and vegetable or chicken noodle soups are best. Add a lemon, some chilli flakes and some garlic (of course, if you had these things in your cupboards you might not have gotten sick in the first place, but now’s not the time for a lecture on pantry management). Stumble home again and lie on the sofa to regain your equilibrium.

Step 2: When you’re ready to stand up again, heat the soup to nearly boiling point. Remove it from the heat and add two cloves chopped garlic, the grated zest and juice of the lemon and a good sprinkle of chilli flakes (or chopped fresh chilli). A little chopped parsley boosts the vitamin C content, too. Stir gently and pour into a bowl.

Step 3: Return to the sofa with your healing bowl of soup. Sip slowly, then lie down to rest while it works its magic. Repeat as necessary.

If you’ve passed this stage of the lurgy but still have a nagging cough/sore throat, this thyme tea might help. Anything’s worth a try, right?

I’m sorry, the recent cold snap is all my fault. I was the one who said winter was over; I was the one who ignored the merino tights sale and who figured my daughter’s ever-shrinking raincoat would last out the year. Rest assured I have been paying for my folly. Last weekend, while running in four layers (vest, long-sleeved running top, Icebreaker, rain jacket) plus hat, plus beanie, plus husband’s gloves, all I could do was think about the steaming bowl of porridge I was going to have when I got home and my hands defrosted enough to stir the pot. The temperatures have since returned to double figures (just), but I’m not going to take any chances.

Apple and almond porridge
I find the easiest way to do this on busy mornings is to get it going over low heat and let it bubble away while I get ready for work/chivvy child out of bed/make lunches. If you’re not a morning person, you can start this the night before – just put all the ingredients in a pot and leave it somewhere cold until the morning. In the summer, you can do this and call it bircher muesli. But those days are still a bit too far away to think about, I reckon.

2/3 cup rolled oats
1 apple, grated (include the skin)
2 Tbsp ground almonds
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp (a small pinch) ground cloves
a good pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 – 2 1/2 cups almond milk

Put all ingredients in a small pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring often, and cook until thick and ‘ploppy’ (ie, bubbling lazily like a mud pool). Add more almond milk or water if it gets too thick. Serve with the porridge topping of your choice – here it’s Zany Zeus Greek yoghurt, a drizzle of vanilla syrup and a scattering of chopped almonds. Cream and golden syrup are also good options. If it’s a really cold day you can justify cream and Greek yoghurt…

Hope you are keeping at exactly the right temperature, wherever you are in the world.

Today’s Three Ways With… column is all about food waste – using up the stuff you’d normally throw away. While I was thinking about it, I realised I do a lot of food ‘saving’ that’s unconscious. Things aren’t so desperate that I reuse teabags (I remember seeing a posh and terrifying friend of my mother’s doing this and being thoroughly shocked), but I do like to extract maximum value from things.

Leftovers get taken for work lunches, baguette ends are turned into breadcrumbs or crostini, spotty bananas are frozen for smoothies or baking – it’s stuff that seems basic household common sense. But I fear that the very existence of campaigns like Love Food Hate Waste (which I’m proud to support) means that people have lost their way.

I guess if you don’t cook often, or see cooking as a difficult chore, then you’re less likely to think about using up your leftovers. Or, you may be like someone I know who cooks a lot, but over-caters massively and then just chucks stuff in the bin (a long-lost Presbytarian gene means I am morally outraged by this). But it’s not that hard.

If you want to waste less, you need to be mindful right from the start. You need to plan meals to a certain extent, you need to shop with purpose and cook with efficiency. That means, when you get excited by seeing huge bunches of cavolo nero at the shops for $2.50, you need to think on your feet about what you’re going to do with it. In this case, I let it sit in the fridge for a few days, waiting for inspiration to strike. We have a small, ill-designed fridge and it’s fundamentally unsuited to having lots of stuff in it. So, when I realised the cavolo nero was balanced on Sunday night’s leftover roast chicken, something stirred in my brain.

The chicken, stripped of fat and skin, went in the pot, with an onion, a carrot and some limp celery. I covered it with water and an hour or so later, I had a vat of delicious stock. I sauted the rest of the celery, another onion and some garlic in a bit of oil leftover from a jar of sundried tomatoes, added a bowl of cooked quinoa from the fridge, a kumara from the cupboard and the cavolo nero. The stock went in, along with some herbs from the garden and before long ‘nothing’ had turned into soup. We ate half of it on the spot, and the rest went in the freezer. Not complicated, not costly, not wasteful. Why is this stuff dressed up to be difficult?

What’s your favourite way to combat food waste?