If you grew up in New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s, there’s a good chance this pudding will be instantly recognisable. If not, it’s high time you got acquainted.

Ambrosia-Recipe-Dessert

This is ambrosia, food of the gods. I remember it sweeping through parties and social occasions of my childhood like a tidal wave of cream, fruit and pineapple lumps. My mother never made it, which gave it extra cachet. To my 10-year-old self, ambrosia was just about the most glamorous pudding ever invented. 

Recipe-For-Ambrosia-Berry-Cream-Dessert

Thirty years later, I can vouch for many of its attributes. The mixture of cream and yoghurt is still tangy and rich, and it’s great fun anticipating the surprise in each mouthful – will it be a marshmallow or a juicy berry? I doubt it’s the food of the modern gods, given its extremely calorific ingredients, but it still makes a great pudding (or a very illicit breakfast).

Whipped-Cream-Berries-Marshmallows

Ambrosia

The great thing about ambrosia is that it doesn’t require any fancy ingredients, can be made for an intimate dinner for two or a feeding frenzy for 20 and it appeals to just about everyone. Children adore it and adults, though they pretend they are too grown up to eat marshmallows, will dig into the bowl as soon as your back is turned. It’s sort of an Antipodean Eton Mess, which makes it the perfect entry for this month’s Sweet New Zealand blogging challenge. This month my lovely friends Michelle and Anna of Munch Cooking are playing host and they’ve given it a Wellington theme to celebrate Wellington On a Plate. It’s also a fitting entry for the August edition of We Should Cocoa, in which guest host Rebecca of BakeNQuilt has chosen marshmallows as the special guest ingredient.

180ml (3/4 cup) cream

2 cups natural yoghurt (I particularly like The Collective’s Straight Up yoghurt in this)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 cups frozen berries – blueberries, raspberries, boysenberries, blackberries

2 cups mini marshmallows

100g chocolate, roughly chopped

Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Stir through the yoghurt and vanilla, then fold through the berries, marshmallows and chocolate (reserve a little of the chocolate to sprinkle on top). Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes before serving. I think it’s best the day it’s made, unless you’re eating it sneakily for breakfast the morning after. Serves 4-6.

Have a great week, everyone x

Once upon a time I used to scour charity shops and school fairs for cookbook gems, hoping to find a first edition Mrs Beeton tucked among the multiple copies of Alison Holst’s Microwave Menus. While that never happened, I did come across plenty of great finds – The Silver Palate cookbooks, pristine paperback Elizabeth Davids, a Jill Dupleix that I’d always wanted and once – a brand new copy of How To Eat for 50p – among others.

But a year or so ago I realised I was in danger of being swamped by these dusty finds; that I didn’t really need to pick up every half-decent cookbook I found and that it would be perfectly safe for someone else to buy. Then I met a woman who told me that one of the largest charity shops in Wellington gets so many books donated to it that twice a year they load up a container and take it to the tip. No, not the recycling depot, the tip. The charity can’t afford to send them overseas, so they dump them. Now – there are all sorts of issues here, not least being – why don’t they give them away – but it made me reconsider what I do with my own collection. I’ve recently decided that there are lots of books that, while I don’t use them anymore, deserve better homes than being stuck in a damp charity shop while waiting to be bulldozed into landfill. I’ve selected both the books and their recipients carefully and it was such fun watching their reactions that I’m planning to do it again in a few months’ time.

The thing is though, that all this largesse has meant that I had very few books to choose from for this month’s Random Recipe challenge. The instructions from Dom at Belleau Kitchen were to select a book from the throw-out pile you’re supposed to compile when spring/autumn cleaning – and in truth, I had only one. But the results were so convincing that I’m going to have to keep it!

A few years ago you couldn’t move for being offered something made out of Jo Seagar’s ‘You Shouldn’t Have Gone To So Much Trouble, Darling’. This book, which features the author up to her pearl-strewn neck in a bubble bath, was first published in 1997, then a reprinted and updated version came out 10 years later. I have the original version, which I picked up from a charity shop for $2. I bought it out of nostalgia, more than anything. It was badly waterstained and I didn’t expect to ever use it, but the thing that swung it for me was the inscription on the front to the previous owner, ‘Anna’ – ‘ with much love from Momma and Poppa’. Gulp.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Lamb and Orange Tagine
Anna obviously used it her copy of ‘You Shouldn’t Have…’ a lot – the book fell open at the recipe for lamb tagine, which has ‘Excellent!’ scrawled across the top in blue biro. It turns out Anna was right – though I played around a bit with Jo’s original recipe to make it even more ‘excellent’ – or at least, a little lighter and not as sweet. I’ve annotated the book accordingly, all ready for its next owner.

500g lamb shoulder, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2cm ginger, grated
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 medium carrots, washed, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 cup vegetable stock
3 large mandarins or 2 oranges, washed and roughly chopped, (including the skin)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup prunes, cut in half
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
Handful of coriander leaves, roughy chopped

Heat the oven to 160C.
Put the olive oil in a large, cast iron casserole and set over medium heat. Tip in the lamb, onion, garlic and ginger and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently, then add the carrots and spices. Cook for another minute, then add the mandarins or oranges and the vegetable stock. Stir well, then cover tightly and bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the lamb is very tender. Check it a couple of times to make sure it isn’t drying out – add a little water if it seems dry.
Add the prunes and stir well. At this point you can let the tagine cool completely, then refrigerate and reheat the next day. If you’re planning to eat it now, return it to the oven after adding the prunes and let cook for another 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds and coriander just before serving with rice, couscous or flatbreads. Serves four.

Are you a charity shop cookbook buyer?

Have you ever heard the expression, ‘an army marches on its stomach’? Whoever was in charge of provisioning the Antipodean soldiers in World War One certainly hadn’t. Researchers now believe poor diet was one of the contributing factors to the doomed Gallipoli campaign due to be commemorated in Australia and New Zealand tomorrow.

Not only were the hapless Anzacs on a hiding to nothing in terms of their strategic position and lack of equipment, they were given the most basic of rations and suffered greatly as a result. Like the song says, war – what is it good for?

I’m not sure that modern Anzac biscuits are that nutritionally sound either, but they surely rate highly in terms of improving – even in the short-term – one’s psychological state, especially when consumed with a good cup of tea. Ending (or even starting) the day with a bowl of Anzac Biscuit Ice cream offers a similar emotional health benefits. But if you’re looking for something a little more wholesome, then this easy Anzac-inspired bread could be just the ticket.

Anzac Bread
This is bread for beginners – there’s no kneading and very little hands-on effort required at all. Mix the dough before you go to the dawn service and it will just about be ready to stick in the oven when you get back.

350g strong or high grade flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
50g rolled oats
50g desiccated coconut
1 tsp dried yeast
20g butter, cold
1 Tbsp golden syrup
325ml warm water

Put the flour, oats, coconut and yeast into a large bowl. Grate in the butter and then stir vigorously to mix it in.
Add the golden syrup to the water and pour into the bowl. Mix well until a wet, sticky dough forms.
Cover with a damp tea towel or plastic bag and leave in a warm place for three to four hours, until the dough has risen and nearly doubled in size.
Turn the oven to 210C. Grease a standard loaf tin (about 21 x11 cm) and line with baking paper.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and deflate it by pressing with your fingers until it forms a rectangular shape that’s slightly narrower than the length of the loaf tin. With the short side closest to you, carefully fold the bottom third of the dough into the middle, then over again. You should have a loaf shape sitting in front of you. Carefully transfer this to the prepared loaf tin.
Let rise for 30 minutes, until it is puffy and an indent stays when you press it with a finger. Slash the top with a sharp knife, dust with a little flour and put in the oven.
Bake for 35 minutes, until risen and golden brown. Let cool for five minutes before you turn it out of the tin. Leave it on a rack to cool completely.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

I’m not sure how it happened, but someone has stolen my January. I can’t believe the first month of 2014 has disappeared so fast. This afternoon, as I rushed to the hardware store to buy window hinges (don’t ask), I tried to recall what we have done and drew a complete blank.

From looking at my diary I can work out there was one bout of tonsilitis, 10 flights up and down the country and one funeral. I have met approximately a dozen tradesmen, one of whom I have seen more of in the last two weeks than my husband. In fact, one of the other tradies thought he WAS my husband. I have spent more time in hardware stores than I have in food shops. I’ve only read two books (this one and this one) and become hooked on this show. I have worried about paint and carpet and too many other things to mention.

It is mid-summer and I have still not eaten an ice cream.

Miso Caramel Sauce

But I have become absolutely addicted to this insanely good and easy to make miso caramel sauce, which goes with absolutely everything.

I loved listening to this podcast with Colonel Chris Hadfield about eating in space. Surely he must be a contender for Person Of The Year?

I have made quite a few things from this book, aided by vegetables I’ve been growing in my own garden (please note high levels of SPF – Smug Person Factor – in that statement).

Yellow Zucchini With Blossoms Picture Credit: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

And I was utterly transfixed by this video – though I can see the point in this argument against it (it’s still mesmerising though, don’t you think?

So maybe January wasn’t all bad after all. What have you been up to?

A mystery visitor changed my life last Friday. I went out for a few hours and returned home to find crumbs all over the kitchen floor and a tea towel draped artistically over the stovetop. Now, neither of these things are that unusual – our floors are usually so covered in crumbs it looks like Hansel and Gretel have been passing through and tea towels are often appropriated by a pair of small hands to make doll beds or princess dresses. But the strange formation of these crumbs, and the teatowel’s odd positioning, spoke of something else. All at once it dawned on me – the oven man had come! I jumped up and down on the spot beside the oven, both in utter joy and to test whether or not the door was going to fall open. It didn’t budge. I pulled on the door handle and it reluctantly opened, eager to spring back into position. I was so excited I took a video of myself opening the oven door and sent it to my beloved. “This is one of the nicest things you’ve ever done for me,” I wrote.

You may think this indicates that a) I need to get out more and b) that my relationship is in serious trouble, but if you’d spent the last 18 months grappling with an oven that didn’t close properly, you’d be excited too. I’ve spent all weekend marvelling at how easy it is to cook things when the oven door doesn’t fall open at whim and how quickly the oven heats up now that half the heat isn’t escaping. One of the first things I made was a spelt version of my ye olde DIY Vogels bread. Here’s how I did it.

Slices Of No-Knead Spelt Bread

No-knead spelt bread
I’m on a bit of a spelt kick at the moment, not least because I can buy organic spelt flour from a great shop just minutes away – but most supermarkets stock it now too. If you can boil a kettle and stir (not simultaneously), then you can make this bread. I use my own toasted muesli – like this one or this one – when making this but any decent bought one will suffice. If you leave it out, consider throwing in some seeds instead.

300g white spelt flour
300g wholemeal spelt flour
120g toasted muesli
2 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp honey
300ml milk
350ml boiling water

Put everything into a large bowl and mix well – it will be like porridge. Scrape into a very-well oiled and lined large loaf tin (internal measurements roughly 20cm x 10cm x 8cm).
Put into a cold oven and turn the dial to 50C. Leave for about 25 minutes, until the dough has risen to the top of the tin. Turn the heat to 200C and bake for another 40 minutes, until crusty on top and hollow when you tap it on the bottom.
Turn out to a rack to cool. This makes excellent toast, or you can cut it into canape-sized bits and have it with cream cheese and pickled ginger or smoked salmon.

What was the best thing that happened to your kitchen last week?