Kim and Kirsty’s chocolate slab

I’ve had this recipe for more than 20 years. That’s not the same thing as saying I knew where it was – or even that I knew I had it – but I remember exactly when it appeared in my life. It came from my flatmate Kim’s half-sister Kirsty, but where she found it is anyone’s guess. Kirsty came to stay in our tumbledown flat in Mt Cook in about 1996. Kim was doing criminology Masters, Sally was working in a CD store, I was dying of boredom as an admin assistant and Steve was combining his Masters study with driving the cable car. We had no money and lots of good times.

I can’t remember why Kirsty turned up, but she was a curly-haired bundle of energy and a great guest. The flat, a creaky wooden two-up, two-down with a dodgy extension out the back, was the sort of place that felt like it would blow over in a strong wind. Now it’s probably worth a million dollars, but at the time it was pretty rough around the edges (and in the middle).

At some point during her stay, Kirsty produced this recipe, or Kim had it dictated to her on the phone by someone. It’s written on a coffee-stained piece of A4 that contains other, more cryptic, messages such as ‘optometrist, Tuesday’, an address in Howick and a note from Kirsty to Kim about borrowing clothes for tomorrow. Ah, they were simpler times.

Anyway, I still recall how incredible this was to eat – a big, fat slab of chocolate deliciousness. It turns out that it’s just as good as I remember. I thought I better record it here in case the piece of paper disappears (it’s taken me a major clean-out to find it and I’d rather not go through that again).

Kim and Kirsty’s chocolate slab

I know this contains huge amounts of butter, sugar and chocolate (the blessed trinity), but it makes a lot of servings and no one’s forcing you to eat the whole thing in one go, are they?

250g unsalted butter

1 Tbsp espresso coffee powder

1 ½ cups hot water

200g dark chocolate, chopped

2 cups caster sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups self-raising flour

¼ cup cocoa

Heat the oven to 160C and grease and line a brownie tin.

Melt the butter, water and coffee in a large pot set over medium heat. Remove from the heat, then add the chocolate and sugar. Stir until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Add the vanilla. Sift over the dry ingredients and fold together until combined.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 60-80 minutes, until the middle is set. Allow to cool before removing from the tin and cutting into generous slabs. Dust with top with a mixture of cocoa and icing sugar before serving. Makes about 25 large pieces.

Instant gin and lemon fools

Goodness knows the world could use a few laughs right now, but this recipe is no joke. It’s what you make when you suddenly realise you have people coming for dinner and you need to whip up some sort of small, elegant pudding that will round out the night nicely. These almost-instant fools are the answer.

Having spent a somewhat gin-soaked summer – I got three bottles of the good stuff for Christmas (one of them was a miniature, before you plan an intervention) – I’ve been enjoying finding different ways to use them. Mostly we’ve drunk them neat or with a little ice, especially the Little Biddy West Coast Botanical Gin from Reefton Distilling Co and Bloody Shiraz Gin from Four Pillars Gin in the Yarra Valley. The latter is also really good to sip while you’re nibbling squares of very dark chocolate (sensitive souls will need to brace themselves for the resulting headache the next morning).

These little fools, however, I made with the contents of the miniature – Malfy Lemon Gin from Italy. You could use any gin, really, but once you’ve tasted the craft variety the standard gins seem a little rough around the edges. If you’ve got lemon curd stashed away (here’s a super-easy recipe), this takes minutes to make.

Instant gin and lemon fools

Serves 4

1 cup Greek yoghurt

1/2 cup lemon curd

4 Tbsp gin

50g white chocolate, finely chopped (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and stir until combined. Divide between four small glasses. Chill for at least 20 minutes before serving with little crisp biscuits (this shortbread would be excellent). Cheers!

Like finding creative ways to use gin? These gin recipes might tickle your fancy…

You say tomato, I say to-MAH-to…

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.

Plum, pomegranate and pumpkin seed salad

In Summer Cooking, Elizabeth David says that ‘cold stewed plums 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.

Fancy more plum recipes? You could try this roasted black doris plum and coconut ice cream, these mulled plums or this blast from the past – a Black Forest plum sandwich!

Prison Bake Brownies & Good Bitches’ Truffles

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).

125g butter

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup caster sugar

2 eggs

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.

To learn more about Good Bitches Baking, visit www.gbb.org.nz