The great kitchen makeover

For the first time in 10 weeks, our house is a tradesperson-free zone. There is no need to scramble out of bed before they arrive, no need to skirt around ladders and buckets of plaster and dropsheets. It’s lovely.

There’s more chaos to come in a week or two (flooring) and we are still missing a bedroom door (among other things), but at least the kitchen is done. The best part is that the kitchen has one of those those sleek bespoke kitchen doors. And now I can show you!

Here’s ‘the journey’ as Kevin McCloud would say….

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It wasn’t a majorly fancy makeover – we – or rather, the nice builder – knocked out the old pantry, then we got a new one installed on the other side of the kitchen. It might take a village to raise a child, but it took five men more than two weeks to get the pantry sorted. Well, actually, in the end it took one man who knew what he was doing about half an hour to sort it. He was a top bloke.

Major credit also has to go to my beloved, who replaced all the horrible 80s melamine joinery with nicely painted plywood facings, which ended up costing about $200 rather than the $2000+ we’d been quoted elsewhere. He also ripped out the grotty cabinet above the bench by the sink and got rid of the grimy shelf on the other side. Oh, and he carefully crafted a wooden benchtop wotsit to cover the hole where the old extraction unit was. Even the builder was impressed by that.

The only task left is to sort out the cake tins and that cupboard where plastic containers and empty jars go to breed. If you have any tips on dealing with those issues, I’d love to hear them.

Five fast family dinner ideas

The thing about having a food blog is that people always think you are having something exciting for dinner. People often ask me what I’m planning to eat and until very recently I would admit that I had no idea because my beloved was in charge of dinner. Sure, I was mostly in charge of shopping and thinking ahead, but he did the leg work on the nights I was working. It was great.

Things have changed and now I’m home first and it’s not the cushy number I thought it was. Among other things it means – oh no! – that I’m now in charge of dinner all the time.

If you have a similar role at your place, here are five fast family dinner ideas to make your after-work life more balanced. Don’t forget to pour yourself a G&T when you get in, you deserve it.

Chicken Salad And Crunchy Noodles Photo Credit: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

1. Chicken and crunchy noodle salad
This was our favourite fast dinner this summer. The noodles – I pretend to myself that they aren’t deep-fried – turn a salad and some protein into something exciting and fun. You can do it with any kind of protein you like – I do it most often with chicken thighs or pork schnitzel, but fish or even pan-fried tofu are good too.
To make this when you get home from work, marinate about 600g sliced chicken thighs in a splash of soy sauce, a spoonful of marmalade or apricot jam, a clove or two of smashed garlic and a teaspoon of sesame oil (if you are really organised you can do this before you go to work). Turn the oven on to 180C and line a small baking tray with foil, then baking paper. The foil keeps the tray clean (less washing-up) and the baking paper stops the chicken sticking to the foil. I favour using the oven, rather than the stove-top, because it offers more hands-free time. However, if your oven is slow to heat up, or you get home very late, then by all means shelve my oven-cooking instructions below for your own stovetop methods.
So – stick the chicken in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until cooked. Meanwhile, assemble a collection of salad fixings (leaves, shredded seasonal vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, whatever) on a large platter. Toss through a little vinaigrette. When the chicken is cooked, scatter it on top, then sprinkle over the crunchy noodles. Serves four.

2. Rhi’s sausages: This is an idea that the lovely Rhi left in a comment once. Throw some roughly chopped good sausages, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, garlic, rosemary and onions into a roasting dish and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 200C for 30 minutes, then toss in some chunks of oil-drizzled baguette and bake for another 10 minutes until the bread is golden and crusty. You can extend or shrink this to suit however many mouths you have to feed – though be warned, they will all eat more of it than you think.

3. Homemade fish and chips:  Turn the oven to 200C. Scrub some potatoes and cut into thin wedges. Put in a plastic bag with a couple of tablespoons of oil and smoosh about until the wedges are coated. Tip onto a lined baking tray, sprinkle over some salt and pepper. Bake for 35 minutes, shaking occasionally. Meanwhile, line a small baking tray with foil. Lay some fresh fish fillets on top, then drizzle over some olive oil, a bit of lemon juice and grind over some salt and pepper. Switch the oven to grill and put the fish in to cook for about five minutes (leave the potatoes in the bottom of the oven, they will be fine). Serve with steamed beans, cherry tomatoes and lots of lemon wedges.

4. Bacon and egg pie: This easy bacon and egg pie takes five minutes to make and – if you use really good bought pastry, like this one – it feels like a real treat. If you’re really lucky, there will be some leftover for lunchboxes the next day.

Fish And Flatbreads Or Wraps Photo Credit Lucy Corry

5. Fish ‘n flats: Not to be confused with style for harried mothers website Fox in Flats, fish ‘n flats is another insta-dinner. Grill or fry fish as above (I prefer oven grilling, as it saves on smell and washing a frying pan; my beloved says frying gives you more crunchy bits, which is also true). Serve with flatbreads (homemade or bought), hummus (ditto), crunchy salad stuff. In my experience small children will eat all sorts of things if they can wrap them up in a flatbread.

What do you eat on busy days?

Treat me: Coconut Crumble

I’ve never understood why people get cross when recipe writers in magazines or newspapers advocate the use of new or ‘fancy’ ingredients. Why? Surely, if you love food, then shouldn’t you love hearing about new things, and figuring out things you can do with them? Maybe I’m strange like that.

Coconut Sugar, Coconut Flour, Coconut Oil And Desiccated Coconut Image

Anyway, ever since I discovered coconut sugar I’ve been going a bit mad with it. Partly this is to stop myself eating it out of the jar or sprinkled on my yoghurt, but mostly because it’s fun. And delicious! And even if all that stuff about it being super-good for you isn’t wholly true, we can’t be saints all the time, can we?

Fruit Crumble Vegan Gluten-Free Photo Credit: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

Coconut Crumble
I could tell you that I love this for its so-hot-right-now coconutty-ness, but the reason I am really hooked on it is that it takes less than 20 minutes to make – and cook. That means you can even make it for breakfast and still not be late for work. Do you need any more encouragement? Ok then, it’s also vegan and gluten-free. Happy now?

1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 – 1/2 cup coconut sugar
about 2 cups fruit – I favour frozen berries for the speed factor, but you could use any cooked fruit. Poached pears would be nice…

Heat the oven to 200C. Grease a shallow sided pie dish or similar with a bit of coconut oil, then tip in the fruit. Stir the coconut flour, sugar and desiccated coconut together, then mash in the coconut oil until it is reasonably evenly distributed. Taste – if you have a very sweet tooth you may want to up the sugar to 1/2 a cup. Tip this mixture evenly on top of the fruit, then put the dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, until the fruit is hot and the crumble is golden brown. Serve with a generous dollop of whipped coconut cream or Greek yoghurt. Serves four.

Have a great weekend everyone x

Treat me: Frozen yoghurt iceblocks

This recipe – if you can call it that – is direct from the ‘I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier’ files. If you’ve ever wondered how to make your own nutritionally sound, outrageously simple and utterly delicious popsicles/ice blocks/ice lollies/freezer pops/icy poles, I have the answer.

But first, here’s a beach scene to put you in the mood…

Worser Bay, Looking Towards Cook Strait And Seatoun, Wellington

This photo, taken last night, is meant to distract you from the fact that while my amazing homemade frozen yoghurt popsicles are genius in icy form, I have been unable to take a decent photo of them. Try as I might, they just turn out looking wrong. So if you really want to see what they look like, you’ll need to make them yourself. And, as I’m about to show you, it’s probably the easiest thing you’ll do all weekend. Here’s how.

Frozen yoghurt iceblocks
You need four things to make these frozen treats: Greek yoghurt, good jam (or a variation thereof), iceblock moulds and about two hours. My iceblock moulds are Tupperware ones and, to be frank, they are weird. The shape is good, but the supposedly clever handle thing makes them hard to hold. I’d say that was a design flaw, wouldn’t you? I’ve seen some much simpler looking ones at the supermarket for about $5 – I’m thinking of trading up.
My first attempt was made with the last spoonful of some gorgeous apricot and vanilla jam made by my lovely sister. Since then I’ve made them with some not-homemade but still good blackcurrant jelly, lemon curd, and a sprinkle of chopped nuts and chocolate. There are no limits – just stick to the quantities I’ve outlined below.
My iceblock moulds take about 60ml (roughly 1/4 of a cup) each – so these quantities are to suit. But you can scale them to fit your needs (and any leftover mixture can be frozen in a little plastic container or eaten on the spot).

1 cup/250ml full-fat Greek yoghurt
1/4 cup/60ml high quality jam (or lemon curd, or chocolate/nuts as detailed above)

Stir the yoghurt and jam together until well combined. Taste – remember that some of the sweetness will be lost in the freezing process – and swirl through a little more jam if desired. Pour into iceblock molds (this amount will fill five or six) and freeze for one to two hours.
Unmould – dipping them in just-boiled water usually helps – and enjoy.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

The food of love

If you believe everything you read, St Valentine’s Day is all about candle-lit dinners in restaurants full of couples gazing lovingly at each other while the singletons sit at home, weeping into boxes of chocolates.

Well, not in our house it’s not. The last time we went out for dinner on Valentine’s Day it was because I needed to review a restaurant and that was the only night they could get us in. That in itself should have been a sign. The food was absolutely appalling and the service was bizarre, but we had a hysterically good time laughing at how bad it was and how desperately unhappy all our fellow diners looked.

I’m not a Valentine’s Day denier by any means, but I do think there are better ways to show someone your undying love and devotion than a slightly desperate night out.

If cooking is an act of love – among other things – then surely the greatest thing you can do on Valentine’s Day is cook something that the recipient will really love. But what if that happens to be something that you can’t stand?

After more than a decade of eating together, my beloved and I still don’t see eye to eye on some things. When I think about it, the list of foods we agree on is small: Chardonnay, strongly-flavoured hard cheeses, scallops, free-range chicken and eggs, good bread, olives, sriracha sauce, dark chocolate, champagne. Of course, we still debate the various merits of these things – and what he thinks is good bread might not match my criteria – but these are not insurmountable differences. It’s not like he likes his steak well-done. That would be a deal-breaker for sure.

I love quinoa and barley and other so-ancient-they’re-modern grains; he thinks brown rice is fit for animals. I love carrot cake and inch-thick cream cheese frosting; he’d rather go hungry than eat a slice. He doesn’t like watermelon or cucumbers, claiming they taste ‘like dirt’. He eschews butter (butter!) for olive-oil spread on his toast. He says Marmite is the answer to life’s woes; I say I haven’t met a piece of bread that can’t be improved by peanut butter. He loves ice cream cones and the way they taste of communion wafers; I think he needs counselling. 

He doesn’t like chicken livers, lentils or salmon; I just eat them when he goes out. He is happy to spend a lot of time (and money) searching for his favourite craft beer, good olives, the freshest fish and whatever strange ingredient I might have asked him to look for. This is a quality that cannot be underrated.

And so I’ve learned to live with the fact that he doesn’t believe walnuts belong on the top of afghans. It’s fine that he doesn’t share my love of soft, stinky cheeses. I wear my ‘I told you so’ face when he feels guilty for binge-eating disgusting chicken-flavoured crisps, but that’s as far as it goes.

But the thing I can’t get over, the thing that really makes me wonder if we belong together, is his love of white pepper. The smell of white pepper makes me feel ill. To me, it smells of boarding school, and hospitals, and rest homes. White pepper smells like old people. It is the smell of death, ground into tiny, sneeze-inducing particles.

To my beloved, the scent of white peppercorns takes him back to his childhood, to Saturday lunches of sausages and chips at his grandparents’ place. To him, that slightly medicinal smell recalls a time when there was nothing to do but ride his bike, play backyard cricket and catch whitebait. Even talking about it makes his face light up. Last week, when we were out of black peppercorns, I found a box of white ones at the back of the cupboard. When he realised I’d put them in the pepper grinder he looked like he’d won the lottery. 

I love that he loves to eat. I get frustrated by the fact that he doesn’t like some of the things that I love to eat, but I would rather we ate together and had a robust discussion about whether the steak was rare enough than not. If he has to put white pepper on it, then I guess that’s the price of love.

I wish you all a very happy Valentines Day x