The perfect tuna sandwich

No blog posts for ages and then, what? A sandwich? I’m afraid so. Truth is, I feel like I’ve lost my food mojo in the last couple of weeks. Life seems to have overtaken me; there seems to be too much going on and not enough time to do it in. I’ve been doing a lot of running, so I’m perpetually hungry (and tired), and spending hours in the kitchen is a luxury I don’t seem to have. 

Anyway, I’m hoping normal(ish) service will resume soon. In the meantime, here’s a sandwich I perfected earlier in the year, when I was on holiday, combining lots of running with lots of gardening, lots of reading and lots of sitting on our newly finished deck, thinking how life was pretty sweet.

The perfect tuna sandwich

Not surprisingly, good tuna and good bread are essential to the success of this sandwich. The absolute best baguettes I’ve found in Wellington are the Acme sourdough baguettes from Prefab, the best tuna is the Sirena brand (the one with the mermaid on the tin).

1 x 185g tin good quality tuna in oil, drained (reserve the oil)

2 tsp green peppercorns in brine, drained

2 tsp capers, rinsed and roughly chopped

zest and juice of a lemon

2 tbsp mayonnaise

salt and pepper

Put everything in a small bowl and mix well. Add a little more oil if necessary. Pile into a halved baguette with some crunchy lettuce. Eat immediately.

What have you been up to while I’ve been away?

Black Doris Coconut Ice Cream

The hand-chalked blackboard sign loomed in front of us like a vision. It was a hot, windy day in the Wairarapa and the promise of ‘REAL FRUIT ICE CREAM’ was the perfect cure for three crochety travellers after two hours’ in the car.

We drove into the orchard and parked outside the tin shed shop. Inside, in 40-degree temperatures, a sulky queue waited while one sweating woman operated the till and another worked the ice cream counter. I began to realise that we had made a wrong turn. The fruit and vegetables, which I’d first assumed to be grown on-site, looked like they’d travelled as far as we had. The fridge was full of dog meat. None of the staff looked like they’d eaten a vegetable that wasn’t a deep-fried chip for a very long time.

The ‘real fruit ice cream’ sealed the deal. This was no artisan orchard operation, more like a factory production line. The ‘real fruit’ was pre-bagged frozen stuff, fed into a tube with cheap blocks of ‘vanilla’ ice cream. The resulting concoction spewed in a swirl out the other end of the machine, caught by a cone that tasted of stale communion wafers.

But by then it was too late. We paid handsomely for our ice creams and sat outside in the shade, wishing we’d stopped at a dairy for three of Tip Top’s finest instead.

Nothing beats a good ice cream, nothing quite disappoints like a bad one. The good stuff is easy to make at home – here’s how.

Black Doris Coconut Ice Cream

Black Doris Coconut Ice Cream
Last weekend my sister brought me a bag of tiny Black Doris plums from Hawkes Bay. They were slightly too soft for eating, so I decided to have a bit of an experiment with them instead. This incredibly good ice cream was the result. I based the coconut custard on this chocolate and cinnamon ice cream recipe by Emma Galloway (an ice cream so good it inspired me to acquire an ice cream attachment for my KitchenAid). It’s very easy – the only hard bit is waiting for the custard to chill.
If you don’t have an ice cream maker, then you should probably try making this just as a custard – set it in small bowls and top with a lid of melted dark chocolate.

10 small Black Doris plums
2 Tbsp sugar
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 x 400ml tin coconut cream (I used Kara brand)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster sugar

Heat the oven to 200C and line a small baking dish with foil. Halve and stone the plums, then place, cut side up, in the dish. Sprinkle over the 2Tbsp of sugar and bake for 25 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly, then mash into a puree. You should end up with about 1 cup of fruit.

To make the custard, put the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and beat until white and fluffy (an electric mixer is the easiest way to do this).
While that’s happening, put the coconut cream, vanilla and plum puree in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to near boiling point, then pour onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time.
Pour this mixture back into the saucepan and return to the heat, stirring constantly for about five minutes or until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Transfer to a bowl and cool completely before refrigerating, stirring occasionally to stop a skin from forming on the top.
When the custard has chilled thoroughly, churn in an ice cream machine according to instructions.

Have a great week, everyone x

Lemon verbena syrup + an elegant fruit salad

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.

Paua with garlic, chilli, coriander and lime

We are blessed with the best neighbours in the world. They are great neighbours for all sorts of reasons, but for the purposes of a food blog, they are the best neighbours because they do things like turn up with freshly caught crayfish, or duck, or smoked trout. Now they’ve just set the bar even higher by bringing us three massive paua. It’s going to take a lot of reciprocal bottles of wine and cakes to beat that one.

Paua With Garlic, Chilli, Coriander And Lime

I can’t remember the last time I had fresh paua – it appears in dishes on restaurant menus sometimes but my sources tell me it’s usually squid, so I never order it. When I was 13 I remember a magical holiday with cousins in the Far North of New Zealand, where the crayfish and paua were in such abundance we begged to have sausages as a treat. If you happen to have excellent neighbours, or a source of paua, here’s a way to cook it.

Fast And Easy Paua With Asian Flavours

Paua with garlic, chilli, coriander and lime
Paua is notoriously tough – I remember my cousin beating it with a wine bottle to tenderise it – but my neighbour passed on the ‘boil it first’ method, which works well (and requires a lot less effort). Quantities here are very approximate – adjust to suit the amount of paua you have. If all else fails, do what the restaurants do and use squid instead.

Half-fill a pot with water and bring to the boil. Drop in the paua and cover the pot. Let the water come to the boil and simmer for three minutes. Drain immediately and slice the paua into thin strips.
Heat a couple of sloshes of olive oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Add a couple of cloves of garlic, sliced, some fresh chilli and a bunch of spring onions. Add the paua and cook, stirring frequently, for another couple of minutes.
Scoop onto a warm waiting plate, then squeeze over some fresh lime juice and strew with coriander. Eat immediately.

Hello 2016

I’m writing this in the room we grandly call ‘the office’. There is just enough room for the laptop on this huge old wooden desk, jammed between a pile of notebooks on one side and a stack of what looks to be school ‘art’ projects, plus the recently deceased cover of the ironing board, on the other. I have a cup of tea balanced precariously on a pile of papers that includes a recipe for ‘pancetta’ cured kingfish and a cookbook idea I wrote down in a hurry last week. It is a mess and I really should do something about it.

The dishwasher is purring upstairs, but not so loudly that I won’t be able to hear my best beloved cutting into the loaves of bread I’ve just taken out of the oven, despite knowing this is a terrible crime. So far, 2016, so good.

We ended 2015 with vintage champagne, whitebait fritters and lamb racks cooked to a recipe from the first Ottolenghi book, plus chocolate fondants from The Cook’s Companion. The fondants were a disaster (I was so desperate not to overcook them that I erred too far in the direction of undercookedness), but no one seemed to mind. The champagne may have had something to do with that, or perhaps it’s because molten chocolate is better than no chocolate. Anyway, I’m going to get them right eventually.

Apart from that, I have no pressing food goals for 2016. I’m not going to drink less wine or eat less cheese. I’d like to grow more vegetables and see if I can nurture a new sourdough starter. If that sounds all a bit too virtuous, I’m also going to master the new ice cream attachment I have for my KitchenAid.

The latter goal reminds me of a clipping I have pinned to the wall above my desk. It’s a fragment of an interview with Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian politician who was held hostage in the Colombian jungle by FARC guerillas for more than six years. At the end of the story, Betancourt says the experience made her decide that she would learn to cook when she got out and that she would “always have flowers in my room and wear perfume; that I would no longer forbid myself to eat ice-cream or cakes. I understood that in my life I had abandoned too many little pleasures, taking them for granted.”

Ingrid Betancourt had to suffer unspeakable horrors to reach that realisation, the rest of us should learn from it. Like she says at the end of the story, “I never say no to an ice-cream.”

What are your ice cream dreams for 2016?