T.S Eliot may have claimed that April was the cruelest month, but he hadn’t experienced Wellington in early August. By now, the gloss of wearing one’s winter coat and boots has well worn off (especially if you’ve been wearing them since March) and the grimness of rain, wind and more rain is starting to eat away at any joie de vivre you have left. Or maybe that’s just me. I can cope with June (a long weekend, a half-marathon) and July (my birthday, school holidays), but August is rough. Thank goodness for books, binge-watching and bowls of soup accompanied by lavishly buttered baguettes.

Sweetcorn And Kumara Soup

Sweetcorn and kumara soup

After a recent Three Ways With column extolling the virtues of frozen vegetables I had a large bag of frozen sweetcorn taking up valuable room in our tiny freezer. I am emotionally scarred by the frozen vegetables we had to eat at boarding school and the other members of my household are fervently anti-corn campaigners, but I was determined to use it up. This sunshine-y soup is the result.

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely diced

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

600g (1 large) golden or orange kumara, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

3 cups good chicken (or vegetable) stock

3 cups frozen corn kernels

Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 large lemon

A splash of cream

A handful finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot. Add the onion, garlic and celery, plus a large pinch of sea salt. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to colour.

Raise the heat slightly, then add the spices and kumara. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to coat the kumara in the onion and spice mixture, then pour in the stock. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the kumara is nearly tender. Add the corn and cook for three minutes.

Remove from the heat and puree (with a stick blender, ordinary blender, or food processor. Don’t try pushing this one through a sieve, you’ll hate yourself – and me.) Return to the pot and add the lemon juice and zest, then taste and season appropriately. Reheat gently until piping hot, then serve in warmed bowls topped with a swirl of cream and a scattering of parsley. Makes about 1.5 litres, freezes well.

What are your tactics for surviving the bleakest month of winter?

If I was the sort of person who did things by the book, I’d be planting my garlic today. But after the failure of last year’s crop – I’ll never know if it was too much rain at the wrong time, the wrong sort of compost, or just bad luck – I’m a bit reluctant. Serves me right for being so smug and getting it in on time last year, I suppose. Traditional garden lore says it should be planted on the Shortest Day, but apparently it can be planted any time from May until the end of July. That’s especially useful information for people like me, who don’t fancy going out in the dark tonight to get the job done.

In the meantime, I’m indulging in some extremely moreish black garlic grown and cured in Marlborough. Black garlic, or ‘garlic noir’ as it’s sometimes called, is fermented for a month to create a kind of super garlic that has double the antioxidants of the ordinary stuff. The fermentation process also changes the texture and flavour profile – black garlic is soft and almost chewy, with a sweet and smoky flavour that reminds me of molasses or fresh dates. It’s extremely moreish and I often find I have eaten a couple of cloves while slicing it up for something else.

 

The clever people who make it at Marlborough Garlic suggest using it as part of an antipasto platter, but I’ve also been adding it to vinaigrettes, or as a last-minute flavour boost to risotto, as it doesn’t need to be cooked. They also suggest dipping it in dark chocolate, which I was unsure about until a recent lunch at the sublime Wharekauhau Lodge where pastry chef Yannick Beaurienne devised a gorgeous black garlic chocolate mousse with kumara and pear brunoise, kumara ice cream and garlic caramel, as seen below.

Yannick’s version was beautiful, elegant (and extremely labour-intensive). Here’s my much-simplified version for the home cook.

Black garlic chocolate mousse with black garlic toffee
Don’t be afraid – the black garlic just deepens and enriches the chocolate flavours. This was a huge hit in my household, to the point that there was barely any left to photograph.

For the mousse:
200g dark chocolate
2 cloves black garlic (about 8g)
400ml cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the black garlic toffee:
3-4 cloves black garlic, finely sliced
4 Tbsp caster sugar
20ml (4 tsp) water

A little extra cream, for drizzling

Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a heatproof bowl. Put half the cream into a small pot and heat to nearly boiling point. Pour over the chocolate and set aside for five minutes.
Mash the garlic to a paste and stir through the chocolate and cream until the mixture is smooth.
Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Fold through the cooled chocolate mixture,  then pour into a large bowl or divide between six small serving dishes (I use Great Aunt Shirley’s whisky glasses). Cover and put in the fridge to set for at least two hours.

For the toffee, spread the sliced garlic on a piece of non-stick foil or baking paper. Put the sugar and water in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then let it bubble away for five to 10 minutes, until it turns a dark golden colour (don’t wander off, this will happen sooner than you think!) Pour the toffee over the garlic and leave to set.

To serve, remove the mousses from the fridge at least 20 minutes before serving. Break the toffee into pieces and use to decorate each one. Drizzle a little cream over the top and serve.

Are you planting garlic this winter? Do you have any top tips for failed growers?

Valentines Day might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think there can never be too many days to celebrate the people you love. If that sounds too Hallmark for words, rest assured that I’ll cheerfully stab anyone who claims that ‘every day is Valentines Day for us’. It’s precisely because every day ISN’T full of hearts and flowers that we need to be grateful for the ones that are.

Anyway, if you’re stuck for ideas for ways to celebrate, here are some particularly good tomato recipes to make for your beloved(s). If that seems like a weird thing to do, rest assured that the French once thought tomatoes had aphrodisiac powers. Oh la la and all that, you know?

Today’s Three Ways With… column is all about food waste – using up the stuff you’d normally throw away. While I was thinking about it, I realised I do a lot of food ‘saving’ that’s unconscious. Things aren’t so desperate that I reuse teabags (I remember seeing a posh and terrifying friend of my mother’s doing this and being thoroughly shocked), but I do like to extract maximum value from things.

Leftovers get taken for work lunches, baguette ends are turned into breadcrumbs or crostini, spotty bananas are frozen for smoothies or baking – it’s stuff that seems basic household common sense. But I fear that the very existence of campaigns like Love Food Hate Waste (which I’m proud to support) means that people have lost their way.

I guess if you don’t cook often, or see cooking as a difficult chore, then you’re less likely to think about using up your leftovers. Or, you may be like someone I know who cooks a lot, but over-caters massively and then just chucks stuff in the bin (a long-lost Presbytarian gene means I am morally outraged by this). But it’s not that hard.

If you want to waste less, you need to be mindful right from the start. You need to plan meals to a certain extent, you need to shop with purpose and cook with efficiency. That means, when you get excited by seeing huge bunches of cavolo nero at the shops for $2.50, you need to think on your feet about what you’re going to do with it. In this case, I let it sit in the fridge for a few days, waiting for inspiration to strike. We have a small, ill-designed fridge and it’s fundamentally unsuited to having lots of stuff in it. So, when I realised the cavolo nero was balanced on Sunday night’s leftover roast chicken, something stirred in my brain.

The chicken, stripped of fat and skin, went in the pot, with an onion, a carrot and some limp celery. I covered it with water and an hour or so later, I had a vat of delicious stock. I sauted the rest of the celery, another onion and some garlic in a bit of oil leftover from a jar of sundried tomatoes, added a bowl of cooked quinoa from the fridge, a kumara from the cupboard and the cavolo nero. The stock went in, along with some herbs from the garden and before long ‘nothing’ had turned into soup. We ate half of it on the spot, and the rest went in the freezer. Not complicated, not costly, not wasteful. Why is this stuff dressed up to be difficult?

What’s your favourite way to combat food waste?

Smile, it’s National Cheese Month! I know these things (National Donut Day, anyone?) are spurious at best, but if the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association wants us to dedicate October to the noble activity of eating cheese, I’m not about to argue.

Instead, I humbly offer you five of my favourite cheesy recipes…

 Secret cheese and onion bread – soft, white, pillowy dough, with a molten cheese middle. Blissful.

Roasted cauliflower cheese – exactly what it says, but with spices (and optional potatoes, or greens, or both).

Jenny’s cheesy potatoes – an absolute Corry family classic (no one can make them like Jenny can, but with practice, you can nearly reach cheese and potato nirvana).

Bermuda salad – a Moosewood Cookbook number, in which cheese plays an important but not overpowering role. I was dubious too, but it’s very good.

Sara Lee cheesecake – looks just like a bought one, tastes a million times better (and is about as easy to make as pulling one out of a packet).

What’s your favourite thing to do with cheese?