Do you want to know a secret? Last night, while watering the garden, I spotted some red orbs glowing under a tangled sorrel plant. Turns out my neglected vege patch had been harbouring a couple of rogue tomato plants that had self-seeded from last year. The plants are small, but sturdy, and my laissez-faire attitude to their care and nourishment doesn’t seem to have hurt at all. I briefly thought about showing off this bounty, but that would involved turning off the hose and no small amount of running up and down stairs. So I stood in the garden and ate them as a post-dinner snack. I’m not going to tell anyone else that the plant’s there just in case they volunteer to do the late-night watering and steal the rest.
ROASTED TOMATOES AND WALNUTS WITH ROCKET AND BALSAMIC DRESSING
You don’t have to harvest your own tomatoes to make this simple and delicious dish (but you get extra points if you can). I could happily eat a big bowlful and call it dinner, but you may prefer it as a side salad, an entrée or a light lunch. You could even try it with a poached (or fried – oh, the decadence!) egg on top.
Serves 2 as an entrée or 4 as a side salad
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 vine tomatoes, halved
¾ cup walnut halves
Salt and pepper
4 handfuls baby rocket leaves
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Heat the oven to 200C. Line a small baking dish with foil, then arrange the tomatoes and walnuts on top. Drizzle with two tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 10-15 minutes (take the walnuts out if they are darkening) and set aside.
While you’re waiting, arrange the rocket leaves on a serving platter and mix the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil with the balsamic vinegar.
Just before serving, arrange the tomatoes and walnuts on the rocket, then drizzle over the balsamic vinegar and oil mix. Serve immediately.
In Summer Cooking, Elizabeth David says that ‘cold stewedplums must be one of the dullest dishes on earth. Accompanied by custard it is one of the most depressing’.
I don’t mind a cold stewed plum myself (and cold proper custard is heavenly). What I find depressing is biting into a purple-skinned plum and discovering that its flesh is golden and mushy. In my opinion, a good plum – stewed or not – is a confounding blend of sweet and sour, with firm, juicy flesh in shades of pale pink, bright crimson or cardinal red.
If you’re a plum-lover – or have a tree and can’t keep up with eating them – here’s a salad we’ve been enjoying a lot in the last couple of weeks.
Plum, pomegranate and pumpkin seed salad
This is the sort of thing you can throw together very easily and people think you’re some kind of salad savant. You can add and subtract ingredients as suits your palate and pantry: some soft cheese might be good, or olives, or even some cooked quinoa (yes, really, though you might want to add a bit more dressing).
1 red onion, finely sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp caster sugar
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 large handfuls baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
2-3 red-fleshed plums, cut into slim wedges
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted in a dry pan until golden
For the dressing:
1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste with a pinch of flaky sea salt
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
3 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Put the onions, salt, sugar and red wine vinegar in a small bowl. Stir to combine, then cover and set aside for at least 15 minutes (longer is fine, though put in the fridge if it’s going to be more than an hour).
When the onions have steeped and you’re nearly ready to eat, put the spinach leaves and plums in a salad bowl. Drain the vinegar from the onions into a small jar. Add the crushed garlic and pomegranate molasses. Shake to mix, then add the olive oil. Shake again until emulsified.
Add the onions to the bowl and drizzle over 3-4 tablespoons of the dressing. Toss gently, then scatter over the pumpkin seeds. Toss again and serve. Serves 3-4.
I did a lot of cool food-related things in 2018. I wrote a book about burgers, I helped judge the second Outstanding Food Producer Awards and I ate in some of London’s most celebrated restaurants. But the very best thing I did was join a group of volunteers teaching baking at one of New Zealand’s largest prisons.
That might not sound very interesting in and of itself (though I can tell you, being behind the wire at a prison is a huge learning experience) until you realise that baking was a bit of a Trojan horse. What we were really trying to teach – along with a few tips and tricks about successfully making biscuits and cakes – was the redemptive power of kindness. The Prison Bake programme, which ran as a short pilot in August and then a three-week stint before Christmas, was the brainchild of Good Bitches Baking. This charity, set up by Marie Fitzgerald and Nic Murray in 2014, now has about 1600 volunteers baking for 135 different recipient organisations every week. Prison Bake is another way of reaching out to the community and spreading what Fitzgerald and Murray call ‘moments of sweetness’.
You might take a dim view of prison rehab, preferring to think of jail being a place where they lock you and and lose the key. You might not think baking a cake is much of a help to someone having a tough time. But it’s hard to argue with the feedback from the prisoners themselves. When asked what they’d learned during the pilot programme, one of them said he’d learned that he could be a kind person – and he didn’t think that was possible. You don’t have to be behind bars to have that kind of learning experience (but it’s even more remarkable if you are).
PRISON BAKE BROWNIES
These brownies were part of the pre-Christmas Prison Bake programme. They’re very simple to mix and make, and you can change it up by using different chocolate or fruit. I think dark chocolate chips and brandy-soaked prunes might be a good combo (though perhaps not quite so prison-friendly).
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup frozen raspberries
1/2 cup roughly chopped dark chocolate
Heat the oven to 180C. Line a brownie pan (about 20x30cm) with baking paper.
Set a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter and cocoa, stirring until it melts. Cook for a minute or two, then remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Let it cool until it’s no longer hot to the touch (about 10 minutes).
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Sift in the flour and baking powder. Fold together gently, then fold in the chocolate. Pour into the prepared pan and dot the raspberries on top (press them in lightly).
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the brownies are set in the middle. Cool in the pan before slicing.
Of course, if going to prison isn’t your thing there are plenty of other ways to support Good Bitches Baking. They’ve got a whole bunch of cool things you can buy to support their fundraising efforts, including the most beautiful cake sprinkles I’ve ever seen. If you wanted to be a very kind person you could buy some sprinkles, make these truffles and then give them away to a person in need of cheering up. (It’s ok if that person is you – self-care takes many forms.)
GOOD BITCHES TRUFFLES
This is more-or-less a Julie Le Clerc recipe from issue 100 of Cuisine magazine (a deeply precious issue that sparks much joy).
250g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I use Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana) 50g butter 125ml cream 3 Tbsp dark rum (or brandy, or whisky, or a liqueur of your choice) 1 egg yolk 1 packet Good Bitches Baking Kindness Sprinkles
Put the chocolate, butter, cream and rum into a heatproof bowl and put into a low oven – or over a saucepan of simmering water, or in a microwave – and melt, stirring occasionally. The oven method is really easy, as long as you don’t forget it’s there. Let cool for a minute or two, then stir in the egg yolk until well mixed. Let cool for 10 minutes, then chill in the fridge until set (about an hour). Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls – this is a sticky job, don’t even think about answering the phone etc while you’re doing it – then roll in the sprinkles. Store in the fridge, eat at room temperature. Makes about 22 truffles if you don’t accidentally eat the mixture.
Less than two weeks to go until Christmas and I haven’t bought a single present. After spending a couple of months in Europe earlier this year with just a backpack I’ve been aspiring to have less stuff in my life, but I do realise that other people might quite fancy a gift or two.
If you’re in a similar position on the shopping front, here’s a quick-fire list of Kiwi-authored cookbooks published this year that I wholeheartedly recommend. If you don’t know anyone who’d like a cookbook for Christmas then you can either a) give them to yourself or b) get new friends.
World Table: Recipes from around the world made in New Zealand ($45, available from worldtable.co.nz)
Nicola Martin and photographer Donna Walsh spent a year gathering stories and recipes from people of 22 different countries now living in the Waikato. World Table has a truly global menu, with recipes from places as diverse as Afghanistan and Columbia, Hungary and the Pacific Islands. The recipes are authentic and the stories are told with great tenderness. The icing on the cake – $5 from each book goes to The Settlement Centre Waikato. I wish I’d thought of this brilliant idea.
This is another great concept, executed with great elegance and warmth. Kathy Paterson’s gorgeous recipes celebrate the best of homegrown beef and lamb while maintaining a keen awareness of modern eating habits. There’s lots of useful advice on choosing the right cuts and cooking meat properly, and all the vegetable dishes are delicious enough to eat on their own. Lovely farmer profiles by Denise Irvine and evocative photos by Tam West make this a complete meal.
Ripe Recipes: A Third Helping ($60, available nationwide or at Ripe Deli)
I’ve never been to Auckland’s Ripe Deli but I know their first two books inside out. The third book is just as great as I’d hoped – full of clever salads, delicious dinners and lots of heavenly sweet things, cleverly and logically arranged by the seasons. After 15 years of running Ripe Angela Redfern knows what her customers come back for and she’s put that knowledge to good use. Her recipes look gorgeous, taste amazing and – most importantly – always work.
Always Delicious ($49.99, available nationwide)
No one knows New Zealand food like Lauraine Jacobs and she’s much loved by the country’s artisan producers for her persistent efforts to promote Kiwi cuisine. This collection of more than 100 favourites from her Listener columns is both beautiful and useful, with lots of inspiring and achievable dishes. Now you can stop buying The Listener for the recipes…
Shameless I know, but I couldn’t leave it out. Where else will you find all the secrets of the culinary capital’s best burgers? This is a must for burger fans, with nearly 50 recipes for burgers, buns and condiments, plus beer match suggestions. You’ll never look at a quarter-pounder in the same way again.
Having just outed myself as a pavlova-denier, I should probably head into witness protection for a while. To prove that I’m not a complete monster, here’s my wonderful Aunty Pat’s peerless recipe. It’s unbeatable!
Aunty’s Pat’s never-fail pavlova
At the risk of offending everyone else I know, no one makes a pavlova quite like Aunty Pat’s. She’s got no time for fussy recipes with fancy ingredients or complicated instructions – her pavlova (which may have originally sprung from a Plunket cookbook) is a ‘bung it all in the bowl and beat like hell’ number (my words, not hers).
3 egg whites
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp vinegar
Pinch of salt
3 Tbsp boiling water
Heat the oven to 160C. Line an oven tray with baking paper.
Put all the ingredients, except the boiling water, in a bowl. Start beating, then add the boiling water. Beat on high for 15 minutes, then scrape the mixture onto the baking paper in a rounded shape. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven to 100C and bake for another hour. Turn off the oven and let cool as long as possible (Aunty Pat suggests leaving it in overnight). Serve topped with whipped cream and seasonal fruit.