Some people see the end of the financial year as a time to reflect upon their achievements and set their goals for the next six months. I’m not one of them.

It’s not that I’ve been sitting around doing nothing (so far this year I’ve made a book, written a lot of stories, held down a day job and managed to maintain most of my obligations to society), but it’s gone by so fast that I’ve barely had time to blink, let alone plan.

However, there is something I’ve been doing that I have every intention of continuing and that’s eating chocolate in large amounts (especially late at night while doing all the things listed previously). Reader, I have become seriously addicted to Whittaker’s Dark Salted Caramel Chocolate. Seriously addicted. I have to forcibly stop buying the stuff because once the packet is in my hand I come over all Augustus Gloop-ish and can think of nothing else but ripping open the golden packet and shovelling it in. This chocolate, which the Whittaker’s Oompa Loompas spent THREE YEARS perfecting, came out in May and I reckon we’ve probably averaged a bar a week ever since. I felt a bit ashamed of this statistic at first but now I’m owning it proudly. If you’re going to comfort-eat, you may as well do it with the good stuff, right?

In between eating it out of the packet I’ve been experimenting with using this chocolate in baking (beyond chopping it up and sprinkling it over French toast). This recipe is the result.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cookies

If you can’t get Whittaker’s (another reason to love living in New Zealand at the moment), try these with another caramel-filled chocolate. If you like cookies to be thinner and crisper, reduce the amount of flour a tiny bit (say, by a couple of tablespoons). They’re good either way!

125g softened butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup caster sugar

1 Tbsp golden syrup

1 small (size 6) egg

1 3/4 cups self-raising flour

18 squares Whittaker’s Dark Salted Caramel Chocolate (or alternative)

Heat the oven to 180C and lightly grease or line two baking trays.

Cream the butter and sugars until very light and fluffy. Add the golden syrup and egg and beat again until well combined. Sift in the flour and stir to mix. Take generous tablespoons of the mixture and stick a square of chocolate in the middle of each one. Roll into a ball (to enclose the chocolate) and place on the prepared tray. Repeat until all the mixture is used up. Leave lots of space between them as they will spread while cooking. Press each ball lightly with a floured fork and sprinkle with flaky sea salt before putting the trays in the preheated oven.

Bake for 15 minutes, until golden. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight tin.

 

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been around much lately, I can now reveal the reason. I’ve been neck-deep in the secrets of Wellington’s best burgers for the Burger Wellington cookbook – a collection of more than 50 recipes from the culinary capital’s decade-long Visa Wellington On a Plate festival. And now, it’s available to pre-order!

Making a book is a bit like raising a child – it takes a village. This one wouldn’t have happened without the amazing generosity of the restaurants, cafes and bars who generously gave up their recipes for me to translate into quantities and instructions for home cooks (one recipe initially had a recipe for cucumber pickle that started with, ‘take 50 telegraph cucumbers’, so that gives you an idea of the scale adjustments needed). The brilliant Jeff McEwan took the photos and the incredible Wellington Culinary Events Trust made the rest happen, along with the amazing assistance of Mary Egan Publishing and Garage Project (beers and burgers are a natural fit, after all).

You can pre-order a copy of Burger Wellington – or wait to get your hands on one in early August. I can’t wait to see it!

If you are lucky enough to live in a hot climate, or at least one where hot summers are guaranteed, you can’t begin to imagine how incredible it is to suddenly be blessed with blazing sunshine and balmy temperatures. After Wellington’s dismal effort last summer (grey skies, rain, wind, occasional flooding), which was so miserable I started seriously considering moving to Auckland or even Hamilton, everything has changed. It’s seriously hot (I’m writing this in a bikini, while eating an ice cream sundae) and I love it all over again. I don’t think I’m the only one. Just before Christmas I bumped into a former Wellingtonian who now lives in Sydney. He was laughing at how relaxed the city and its inhabitants were as a result of the better weather. “Everyone is so happy,” he said, “it’s like we’ve come somewhere completely different!”

There are downsides to this weather – there’s a water ban, so my garden is slowly dying (while my naughty neighbours keep their lawns lush with irrigation systems in a flagrant display of privilege), it’s been too hot to sleep at night and my sourdough making is taking a hit – but I’m not complaining. Instead, I’m off to the beach with a bottle of my icy-cold homemade ginger beer. Here’s how to make it (it will ferment and be ready in super-quick time if you’re similarly blessed with good weather). Happy holidays!

Homemade ginger beer

Makes 1.5 litres

For the syrup:

2/3 cup caster sugar

3cm fresh ginger, finely grated

1 tbsp ground ginger

Finely grated zest and juice of two lemons

1 cup boiling water

For the yeast:

¼ tsp dried yeast

½ tsp sugar

2 tbsp lukewarm water

Make the syrup first by putting the caster sugar, fresh and ground ginger and lemon zest in a bowl. Stir in the boiling water and leave to steep for 10 minutes.

Put the yeast, ½ tsp sugar and warm water in a cup and set aside until it is bubbly.

Set a sieve over a funnel into a clean 1.5 litre plastic soft drink bottle. Pour in the syrup, followed by the lemon juice, pressing down to extract all the syrup from the grated zest and ginger. Fill the bottle with cold tap water until about 5cm from the top. Shake to mix, then add the yeast mixture. Cover tightly with the lid. Leave in a warm place (the kitchen will be warm enough in summer) until the bottle feels hard when you squeeze it. This will take about 24-36 hours. Chill in the fridge before opening.

Once you’ve got the ginger beer made, you can either drink it straight, add it to gin or vodka-based cocktails or use it in this classy shandy…

Ginger panaché

Ginger beer + crisp lager = instantly refreshing pick-me-up. If you’re too cool to be seen drinking a shandy, tell everyone it’s a panaché (that’s what you call a shandy in France).

1 x 375ml bottle lager, very chilled

1 ½ cups (375ml) homemade ginger beer, very chilled

1 lemon, sliced

Ice

Half-fill two tall glasses with ice. Half-fill each one with ginger beer, then top with an equal amount of lager. Stir to mix, garnish with lemon slices and serve immediately. Repeat as necessary with remaining lager and ginger beer. Santé!

Last week I wrote a ‘best of times, worst of times’ kind of essay on Christmas food (and much more besides) for Your Weekend magazine. I ran out of room to include this section, which looks back at last Christmas. How can it be a year ago?

Coconut Eton Mess with berries and pomegranate molasses

Christmas Day 2016, Wellington

My brother stands in the kitchen, taking the cork out of a bottle of champagne. My sister puts on her glasses to read a recipe on her phone. My husband rinses grit off a pound of West Coast whitebait while my nephew patiently teaches my daughter how to play Old Maid. My brother-in-law explains a complex psychological theory to me while I wrangle two kilos of pork loin into a roasting dish. I have been looking forward to this for months – Christmas under my own roof, with visitors from far away. Not even the discovery that our ancient car was stolen overnight bothers me. I have taken the advice of the kind woman on the insurance helpline who told me at 8am that “there’s nothing we can do about it today, just enjoy Christmas”.

Weeks earlier, I had not felt so good. I had just started a new job and was more unsettled by the Kaikoura earthquake than I wanted to admit. I needed a distraction and the Christmas menu fitted the bill perfectly.  I send emails to my siblings; my brother responds with a link to a Fanny Craddock clip on YouTube. My sister directs me to a Nigella Lawson recipe. I show my husband a photo. “Excellent choice,” he says. “But we’re having a ham too, right? And whitebait?”

In the end we have all of these things, plus new potatoes dug out of the garden on Christmas Eve. My brother makes a kind of Eton Mess with coconut yoghurt, cranberry-studded meringues and swirls of pomegranate molasses. My daughter makes us pose for family portraits with the hideous robotic toys she has been sent for Christmas. We laugh so much the neighbours must think we are mad. We want for nothing.

Later that night I crawl into bed, thinking about the person who stole our car. They broke into our neighbour’s car too, stealing his five-year-old’s brand new bike. I don’t care so much about our car, but I hope the bike has made someone happy.

 

Wherever you are this Christmas, I hope you have a happy and safe one with people you love.

The scene: A suburban charity shop in Wellington, New Zealand. Two elderly women (let’s call them Beryl and Meryl) preside over the counter, keeping an eye on the shoppers on a cold Saturday morning. A much younger woman (let’s call her Lucy) approaches them, clutching a water-stained and battered paperback.

Beryl (looking at the book, then at Lucy): “Are you one of those Elizabeth David junkies?”

Lucy (somewhat taken aback at her aggressive tone): “Err, umm, well, yes, I suppose I am. And I like saving old books.”

Beryl (picking up the book gingerly): “Hmm. Yes, we get people in here like you. There’s another Elizabeth David down the back you know, called ‘Cooking in Summer’ or something.”

Lucy (smiling): “Yes, I saw that one but I’ve got that already and I thought I’d leave it for someone else.”

Meryl (suddenly taking an interest): “What’s this book? French Country Cooking? Who’s Elizabeth David?

[Lucy begins to speak but Beryl overrides her]

Beryl: “Some sort of cookery writer. Normally we sell her books on Trade Me because (sniffs imperiously) there are these junkies who want to buy them.”

Meryl (looks at Lucy to assess junkie-ness, then at the book): “Oh. Isn’t that funny? I’ve never heard of Elizabeth whats-her-name. I thought all the great chefs were men.”

Beryl: “Well, yes. $3 please.”