Old-fashioned vegetable soup

Did you know that in some places they’re not making journalism interns learn shorthand any more? I know, I’m shocked too. Instead of giving them a good grounding in Teeline, they’re giving them magic recording pens that download interviews straight to a computer.

I knew the world would pass me by one day but I didn’t think it would happen so soon. I hate to think what Mary, my shorthand teacher, would think of this. Mary, a saintly sort, reckoned shorthand was crucial for getting you out of a tight spot. Mary warned against relying on dictaphones for fear they would break down and advised us to always carry a pencil because it would enable us to write in wet conditions. I hate to think what she’d make of a magic pen.

My shorthand isn’t what it used to be (ahem, I could do 120 wpm in my heyday), but I still use it all the time. I have recipe notes full of part shorthand, part longhand scrawl and I can still write a shopping list in seconds. Bet fancy youngsters can’t do that with magic pens.

To seal my reputation as a past-it hack of no use to anyone, here’s a vegetable soup recipe so old-fashioned it’s probably due a hipster revival.

Easy Old-Fashioned Vegetable Soup

Old-fashioned vegetable soup
This is so simple you don’t need a magic pen or shorthand skills to memorise the recipe. It’s very comforting, hearty and cheap to make. Be careful when buying soup mix as some are packed with unnecessary flavourings and salt. If you can’t find a decent one (Wellingtonians: Moore Wilson has 500g bags of soup mix that are ideal), then just use a mix of split peas, red lentils and pearl barley.

1 cup (250g) soup mix
4 cups chopped vegetables – eg onion, carrot, celery, sweet potato, pumpkin
8 cups good quality vegetable or chicken stock
fresh herbs – parsley, chervil, coriander

Put the soup mix, vegetables and stock in a large pot. Bring to a simmer, skim off any scum and let cook, uncovered, for about 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until the vegetables are tender. Stir through some fresh herbs before serving. Makes about 10 cups and freezes well.

How to fake a wedding cake

This is the wedding cake that nearly wasn’t.

Pandoro Black Doris Plum And Mediterranean Orange Wedding Cake

When one of my oldest and dearest friends announced she was getting married, I immediately offered to make the wedding cake. She accepted the offer and that was that.

When their wedding was delayed to May, I breathed a sigh of relief and put the cake on the back burner.

Then all of a sudden it was April, the bride was talking multiple layers, chocolate ganache, and the merits of chocolate mud versus chocolate and fig, I had a million other things on my mind and I was lying awake at night, panicking about The Cake.

It was then I remembered that I’d been in this situation before. Five years ago, with a small baby and ideas above my station, I offered to make the wedding cake for some dear friends who’d blown into New Zealand from London to get married.

“Oh yes please,” they said. “Don’t go to any trouble, but we’d like it to have three layers and have licorice allsorts exploding out the top.”

Making the cakes – one chocolate and fig, one chocolate mud and one banana (the groom’s favourite flavour) – was easy. Doing the decorating was not. Not for the first time, I recalled a school report in which my teacher said I was often frustrated when my grand plans for artworks didn’t come to fruition. I handed the baby to my mother-in-law and spent 24 hours wrestling with kilos of white fondant icing, alternating between wanting to cry and wanting to cheer.

On the afternoon of the wedding, my beloved and I balanced the cake on our knees while my father-in-law drove as slowly as he could around corners. We screamed every time the cake lurched towards my silk dress, more for the sake of the cake than my outfit. By the time we got to the venue the cake had several dents in it and I needed a strong drink to settle my nerves.

It nearly killed me, but the lovely bride and groom were happy and lots of guests said nice things about the cake. Still, I swore that it was the last time I would ever do it.

With those memories flooding back, I rang the bride. “I can’t do it,” I told her. “I’m too afraid it will be a disaster and you’ll be even more disappointed in me than you feel right now.”

Like the good friend she is, she took this news on the chin. Instead of making the cake, I decided to redefine my role as chief cake wrangler. I set about getting cake quotes and set up a wedding cake Pinterest board to gather ideas. When they baulked at the quotes – a two or three tier wedding cake is in the region of $400-$500 – I came up with plan B.

Instead of requesting a wedding cake, I asked Pandoro Bakery to make us two large cakes – one a 14″ Black Doris Plum Chocolate, the other a 10″ Mediterranean Orange, which they present on gold foil cake boards. I got them to ice them identically with chocolate ganache, with the sides rolled in white chocolate shavings.

The day before the wedding, my fellow bridesmaid and I picked them up and took them on a two-hour car ride (mercifully, on very straight roads).

Later that night, the groom helped me engineer the two together, inserting dowel rods to keep the top layer from collapsing into the bottom. With no storage option, we carefully manoeuvred the cake into a beer fridge and prayed it would survive the night.

The next morning, I returned to the venue, rescued the cake from the fridge and plopped some white roses on top. Just like that, the job was done.

The cake looked beautiful, my 22-year friendship with the bride is still intact and my mental health is sound. I may never make a special occasion cake again.

Are you prone to making special occasion cake promises? Do you have any secret tips?

Easy frypan frittata

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they get that sinking feeling. In fact, particularly unlucky people may get it several times a week. It usually strikes on their way home from work, when they realise that they have forgotten to arrange anything for dinner.

Some people shake this off and simply order takeaways, go out to eat or become a sudden devotee of fasting. Others turn to their fridges, brush the cares of the day aside and get busy with whatever they can find.

Making a meal out of ‘nothing’ (a relative term, I know) is one of my greatest strengths. It should be on my CV. Instead, here’s an example to inspire you the next time you’re in the dreaded position of Not Knowing What To Have For Dinner.

Easy All In One Vegetarian Frittata Recipe And Image By Lucy Corry

Easy Frypan Frittata
This can be customised to suit your requirements and ingredients. It fits my criteria for an ’emergency’ style dinner – we always have eggs, cheese and potatoes hanging around – AND it involves very little attention or washing up afterwards. It’s also a good way to rehome leftovers.

6 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 peppers, cored and sliced
2 cups diced cooked potato (leftover roast potatoes are good here)
3/4 cup diced feta
two handfuls grated cheddar or Parmesan cheese
8 eggs
salt and pepper
fresh herbs, if available

Turn the oven to 200C. Heat three tablespoons of the oil in a heavy cast iron frying pan (that can go in the oven later). Add the onion and peppers and cook for five minutes, until beginning to soften. Add the potato and cook for another five minutes. Add any suitable fresh herbs if you have them.
Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the feta, stir lightly to mix. Add the remaining three tablespoons of oil to the pan, then tip in the egg and cheese mixture. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top and season well with salt and pepper. Put in the waiting oven and cook for 20 minutes, until golden, puffy and set. Let sit for five minutes before slicing. Hey presto – dinner for four – with leftovers for lunch the next day if you’re lucky. Bon appetit!

What’s your current favourite emergency dinner?

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.

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.*