Homecooked – seasonal recipes for everyday

Hungry? Here’s something I prepared earlier – now fully cooked and ready to share. Ta-dah!

If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been pretty absent from this blog for the last year, this is the reason (it turns out juggling writing a book with a family and a full-time job is quite time-consuming). Homecooked is a collection of seriously cookable recipes for every New Zealand season and every occasion.

Obviously I can’t talk about it with any objectivity, but the press release says it’s “beautiful, honest and useful”, which is exactly what I want a cookbook with my name on the front to be. It’s been an absolute labour of love (plus many, many late nights, early mornings, and copious amounts of Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana Chocolate).

Roasted nectarines and beetroot with watercress and burrata

I wrote all 65,000 words of Homecooked, but I had a lot of help in making it happen. Enormous thanks to Claire Murdoch at Penguin NZ for understanding my love for honest, useful home cooking and encouraging me to bring it to life with the aid of her incredible team. Heartfelt thanks too to Evie Kemp for the stunning cover and illustrations.

Homecooked would be nothing without the work of Carolyn Robertson, who did the gorgeous photographs and styling. I basically moved in with Caro and her family over the summer, completely upending their kitchen renovation plans and forcing her to spend a lot of time at tip shops looking for props. Not only is she massively talented, she is also a saint with a great taste in bad 90s music. When we first worked together at the Waikato Times nearly 20 years ago we often dreamed up mad schemes and plans. I think this exceeds all of them!

Double peanut brownie cheesecake

Homecooked is a book about food but to me it’s also a book about whānau near and far. I couldn’t have written it without mine – and I hope it encourages you to cook for yours. It’s available now from all good booksellers in Aotearoa (or try Book Depository if you’re further afield).

Broken biscuit slab with easy chocolate ganache

On Friday, in an attempt to be an engaged and entertaining home schooling parent, I brightly asked my daughter if she’d like to do some baking. Actually, I asked her twice (never mind Covid-19, my research has shown that there is a pandemic of selective deafness occurring among tweens). Eventually she looked up from her book and said disinterestedly, ‘no, I just want to eat some baking’. I couldn’t argue with that logic.

If you feel a bit the same, here’s a no-bake slice that you can put together with all the broken biscuits at the bottom of the tin. I made this one with some kindly gifted Lotus Biscoff biscuits, but you could just as easily use Superwines, Krispies, Malt biscuits or anything in that genre. If you don’t have quite enough biscuits, add a little more coconut. Or use a little bit less butter. 

If you’ve got a food processor, bung the biscuits in there and pulse to biggish crumbs. Alternatively, put the biscuits in a solid plastic bag and bash them with a can, a rolling pin or a bottle of wine. This can be quite therapeutic, as long as the bag doesn’t come undone…

SPICED BROKEN BISCUIT SLAB WITH CHOCOLATE GANACHE ICING

  • 100g butter
  • 1/2 a tin (about 3/4 cup) condensed milk
  • 325g plain sweet biscuits, bashed to large crumbs (keep a few big pieces in there for texture)
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1 tsp ground ginger 
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • Finely grated zest of an orange
  • 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
  • For the ganache
  • ½ cup cream
  • 125g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Line a 20 x 25cm tin (or thereabouts) with baking paper, leaving enough overhanging the sides that you can use to pull it out later.

Melt the butter and condensed milk together over low heat in a large pot. Let cool briefly, then tip in the biscuits, coconut, spices, most of the orange zest and the orange juice. Stir to mix, then tip into the prepared tin. Press down (the overhanging paper will help here) to smooth the top. Put in the fridge.

Wipe out the pot and pour in the cream. Set over very low heat. As soon as it bubbles, remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Stir until smooth, then pour over the chilled base. Sprinkle over the remaining orange zest. Leave to set in the fridge (to speed things up) for about 20 minutes before slicing into small bars. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Be warned, it will disappear quickly!

Easy mulled apple tea with honey and bay

About a month ago we went mad and had a Matariki party. ‘Bring your kids,’ we told our friends, then winced as we realised there were going to be nearly as many people under 15 in our house as there were adults. This is why I spent the next day cleaning children’s muddy footprints off my bedroom walls, though how they got there I’m still not sure. At least the adults were well-behaved.

To get everyone into the winter party spirit I made mulled wine for the first time in about two decades, mixing together apple juice, red wine, spices and a large amount of sugar. It was certainly a party-starter, but it also felt like a headache waiting to happen. This less-sweet, no-alcohol version is much gentler. Use a really good apple juice (I am a big fan of Mela Juice, made from 100 per cent New Zealand apples) for best results.

Easy mulled apple tea with honey and bay

It’s easy to increase or decrease the quantities for this as needed. If you’re planning a party and want to get ahead, make the mulled apple tea as described below and store in the fridge for up to a week. Reheat to simmering point to serve.

2 cups apple juice

2 cups water

2 rooibos tea bags (or ordinary black tea)

1 cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves

1-2 whole star anise (an aniseed-like star-shaped spice)

1 Tbsp honey (add more to taste)

Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and let stand for five minutes. Remove the teabags and decant into a jug. Pour into heatproof glasses to serve. Makes 1 litre.

A taste of autumn: simple plum and chipotle sauce

If you’re lucky, you’ll have memories of your parents or grandparents pickling and preserving up a storm at this time of year. My mother wasn’t a great jam-maker, but she made a killer tomato sauce that we all remember fondly, probably more so because the recipe has been lost to history. Modern food culture makes preserving summer’s bounty less necessary than it used to be, but it’s still a fun thing to do. Making smaller batches – and using a few convenient shortcuts – means you can pickle or preserve after work rather than having to set aside a whole weekend. Put in a little time and energy now and your investment will pay off in the cold, damp months ahead.

LIFE-PRESERVING TIPS
Follow these golden rules if you want your preserving efforts to be successful: 

  1. Measure everything carefully, especially the weight of fruit and vegetables, sugar and vinegar.
  2. Make sure all utensils, equipment and jars or bottles are scrupulously clean. Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water (or run them through a dishwasher), then heat jars in a 120C oven for 20 minutes. Put lids in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water, then dry thoroughly and use while still hot.
  3. Store the finished product carefully: if you’re not confident that you’ve sealed a jar or bottle properly, store the preserve in the fridge and eat within two weeks. Don’t chance a bubbling brew!

TANGY PLUM AND CHIPOTLE SAUCE
Makes about 1 litre ‌

Is a barbecue sausage really a barbecue sausage without a splash of homemade plum sauce on the side? This one uses pre-prepared chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (look for them in the ‘Mexican’ section at the supermarket) to give it a little more kick. While it’s magic with a traditional pork sausage, this tangy sauce also goes well with deep-fried tofu or in a cheese toasted sandwich. It can be used immediately, but the flavours will deepen over time.

  • 500g plums (about 4-5 large Fortune plums), stoned and roughly chopped
  • 750g onions, peeled and sliced
  • 5cm piece fresh ginger, roughly‌ ‌chopped‌ ‌
  • 4‌ ‌cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup sultanas
  • 2 cups vinegar (white wine or malt)
  • 6 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (about ½ a 200g tin)
  • 1 packed cup brown sugar
  • 2 ½ Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp turmeric
  • 1 Tbsp five-spice powder
  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika

Put the plums, onions, ginger, garlic and sultanas in a large, heavy pot with 1 cup of the vinegar. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until the plums and onions are very soft. Transfer to a food processor (or use a stick blender in the pot) and add the chipotle peppers. Puree until smooth. Return to the pot and add the sugar, salt, spices and remaining 1 cup vinegar. Simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes, until thickened (remember it will thicken further as it cools). Leave to cool, then pour into sterilised sauce bottles. Cap tightly and store in a cool, dark place.  ‌‌

Asparagus with mustard crème fraîche

Do you snap or cut? Peel or shave? The start of the asparagus season often ignites debate between cooks about whether it’s better to cut off the woody ends (gives a neat finish) or snap them (feels satisfying, but has high potential for wastage). Others claim using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife to shave off any tough, stringy bits is a better option.

Personally, I think it depends on the asparagus; spears as fat as your fingers are likely to have woodier ends, while the very slender ones will need the tiniest of trims. Any ends you do trim off can be used in vegetable stock or – according to Love Food Hate Waste, because I haven’t tried this one myself – turned into asparagus stalk pesto.  

If you’re challenged in the kitchen equipment stakes and don’t have a deep pot (or steamer insert) to cook the asparagus standing up, try cooking them in one layer in a deep frying pan instead. 

ASPARAGUS WITH MUSTARD CREME FRAICHE

Serves 2-4

This is a fast way to dress up asparagus, whether you’re serving it as a side dish for four or a main course for two. The sauce can be made in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge for up to three days. 

  • 500g fresh asparagus, ends trimmed
  • For the creme fraiche sauce:
  • 1 small clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a paste with ½ tsp salt
  • 1 generous tsp Dijon mustard
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 tsp freshly squeezed juice
  • ½ cup creme fraiche
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook the asparagus in lightly salted boiling water until al dente – about 5-6 minutes for spears of medium thickness (skinny ones will be done in 3-4 minutes and their thicker compatriots will need 6-7 minutes). 

While the asparagus is cooking, put the crushed garlic, mustard, lemon zest and juice in a small bowl. Mix well, then fold in the creme fraiche. Season to taste with black pepper.

Drain the asparagus and divide between two (or four) plates. Serve with a generous spoonful of the sauce.

TIP: This also works if you want to eat the asparagus cold: just cook the asparagus until al dente, then drain immediately under cold running water. When the asparagus is cold, wrap it loosely in a clean, dry tea towel and store in the fridge until ready to serve.