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.

Roadtest: The Zoku Quick Pop Maker

“Mu-umm,” she says, bedraggled and worn-out at the end of a busy day at school. “I’m very hot and bothered. Do you think it’s a good day to have an iceblock?”

This is what’s known as parental roulette. Say yes, and you’ve got a 10-minute walk to the village, followed by a five-minute high, which will not be enough to get you all the way home again.  Say no, and you get a stompy six-year-old who is less than impressed with your suggestion that a nice glass of cold water when you get home will help her cool down.

After roadtesting the Zoku Quick Pop Maker, I may have found the solution.

Zoku’s Quick Pop Makers are benchtop instant freezing units. You keep them in your freezer (the three-pop maker takes up about the same amount of space as a two-litre ice cream container), then whip them out to make DIY ice ‘pops’ (that’s ice blocks to Kiwis and ice lollies to the British) in less than 10 minutes. You can make them as simple or as fancy as you like (Zoku even have a dazzling recipe book full of inspiring ideas) and – best of all – you get to control exactly what goes into them. We made the Mint Choc Chip Pops from the recipe book, using organic whole milk, agave nectar, peppermint essence and Whittaker’s 72 per cent cacao chocolate – and they were fabulous.

Sound too good to be true? After some spectacular failures when trying to make homemade pops the normal way (I find they never, ever come out of the molds cleanly enough), I was very skeptical. But the Zoku worked an absolute charm. You release the pops with the aid of the ‘Quick Tool’ (included in each kit) and it’s a mostly angst-free process. The pops are ready to eat then and there, but you can carefully wrap them in plastic and return them to the freezer to eat another day.

On the downside, they’re not completely instant. The unit has to be frozen for 24 hours before you use it, and it’s only good for two or three batches in a sitting. I found the second and third batches took a lot longer to freeze – and for the third, I actually returned the whole unit to the freezer for half an hour to make sure they set properly. You also need to wait for it to defrost before you clean it.

All things considered though, it’s a pretty fun addition to the kitchen. A Quick Pop Maker would also make a fantastic family Christmas present for the people with everything. If you’re going to buy your children a device of some kind, at least get them one that encourages real-time social interaction!

THE DETAILS
Zoku Quick Pop Makers come in three sizes – single (RRP $49.99), duo and triple (RRP $110). Each comes with a Quick Tool, sticks and drip guards, plus instructions. Find New Zealand stockists here.

GIVEAWAY
Want to win a Quick Pop Maker? Check out The Kitchenmaid on Facebook for your chance to win one!

Nutty tropical cluster fudge

Do you know how good it is to go nuts? In fact, we should all go nuts more often. Nuts are full of health benefits, with some recent studies claiming that eating them regularly may help improve heart health and lower cholesterol.

Of course, if you’d rather chew your own arm off than do anything perceived to be good for your health, you could always make this nut-packed chocolate slab. Ignore the nutty goodness, disregard chocolate’s antioxidant properties and shrug off the mental health benefits of treating yourself if you like, but there’s no way to avoid the fact that this is 100 per cent delicious.

Nutty tropical cluster fudge

If you can get your hands on a tin of condensed coconut milk, now’s the time to use it. Condensed coconut milk has all the same ‘eat-out-of-the-tin-with-a-spoon’ properties as the ordinary sort, but with the added richness of coconut. It also seems less sweet. I’ve used a mixture of macadamias and cashew nuts here, but hazelnuts and almonds would also be good. 

1 x tin coconut condensed milk

350g dark chocolate (I use Whittaker’s Dark Ghana 72 per cent)

150g roasted, salted macadamia nuts, roughly chopped

150g roasted, salted cashew nuts

100g dried fruit – crystallised ginger, dried mango, dried pineapple – roughly chopped if large

pinch sea salt flakes

Line a tin measuring about 10cm x 25cm (I use a large loaf tin) with baking paper. You can use a larger tin, but this makes a good, solid slab.

Put the chocolate and condensed milk into a large pot and set over very, very low heat, until melted (or, put it in a large heatproof bowl in a low oven for about 10 minutes). 

When the chocolate mixture has melted, tip in the macadamia nuts, half the cashew nuts and the dried fruit. Stir well, then pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Press the remaining nuts on top and scatter over the salt.

Put in the fridge to set (this will take an hour or so), then cut into small squares. A little goes a long way! Store in a covered container in the fridge.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Creme fraiche and chocolate nut truffles

Last Sunday my sister-in-law turned up on my doorstep with a huge chocolate cake, a tub of Zany Zeus creme fraiche and a jar of Fix and Fogg chocolate peanut butter.

We anointed the cake with dollops of both – such a good activity on a winter Sunday afternoon, sitting around, eating cake with chocolate peanut butter on top – and then they left. “I expect you to do something creative with that peanut butter,” she called over her shoulder as they left. “No chance,” I said. “I’m just going to eat it out of the jar.”

But it turns out there’s only so many spoonfuls of chocolate peanut butter and creme fraiche you can eat in a week. Here’s what you should do with the rest.

Easy Chocolate Peanut Butter And Creme Fraiche Truffles

Creme fraiche and chocolate nut truffles
If you’re not in the habit of having either of the main ingredients lying around, you could always make your own creme fraiche AND make your own salted chocolate nut butter. Then you can whip these up whenever you like, rather than for the rare occasions when you have some going spare.

1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/3 cup chocolate peanut butter
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 tsp pure vanilla
1/3 cup finely chopped dark chocolate (about 10 squares of Whittaker’s Dark Ghana)
a good pinch of sea salt

For rolling:
2 Tbsp ground almonds
1 Tbsp cocoa, sifted

To make the truffles, put all ingredients in a bowl and beat until well combined.
Mix the second measure of ground almonds and cocoa together in a shallow bowl.
Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into small balls, then roll them in the almonds and cocoa. Leave in the fridge to set for 30 minutes before eating. Store, covered, in the fridge. Makes about 22 balls, depending on how much you eat in the process.

Have a great week, everyone!