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.

Hiakai – Modern Māori Cuisine

In my line of work, the things you do are often invisible (and meant to be that way). It used to be that the worst thing you could do as a journalist was insert yourself into the story. Editing is a bit the same, because the trick is to make the work sound more like the person who wrote it than it did before.

Still, it’s always good to have tangible proof of a project… and this one is exceptionally beautiful!

It was an honour and a privilege to to work with Monique Fiso and Penguin Random House on this groundbreaking book. Take a little tour around any bookstore or library (even the venerable National Library, where I spent quite a lot of January 2020), and you’ll soon discover that books on Māori food are few and far between. Books like this one, that combine the history of Māori food gathering, cultivation and preparation with modern cooking methods are even rarer.

I know this isn’t about me, but I learned so much while working on this book – about much more than food. I really recommend reading it! (In the meantime, here’s a story I wrote about Monique last month.

Nau te rourou, naku te rourou, ka ora te manuhiri – with your food basket and my food basket, the people will thrive.

Smashed peas on toast

Got smashed recently? Nah, me neither. It’s not so good for us in these already anxious times (and it is Dry July, after all). Personally, I got really tired of all the ‘wine mum’ memes on social media during lockdown. There’s nothing like being encouraged to join a tribe to make me want to run screaming in the other direction. I also interviewed a couple of experts who had some sobering things to say about using alcohol as a lockdown coping mechanism. It’s more common sense than rocket science, but both seem to be in short supply.

A much cheaper, healthier and family-friendly way to get smashed is to try these peas on toast. You can be fancy, and serve them on little crackers or crostini when you have a few people over for dinner, or you can turn them into dinner if you eat them with a poached or fried egg on top. As it is, this amount serves two generously – and makes a good working from home lunch. Cheers! 

Smashed peas on toast

I prefer baby peas (sweeter and cuter) to ordinary ones for this dish, because the big ones can be a bit mealy. But use whatever you have. 

  • 4 tsp butter or olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled and sliced
  • Finely chopped red chilli, to taste (optional)
  • A handful of fresh parsley and mint, finely chopped
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • A handful of fresh parsley and mint, finely chopped
  • 4 slices bread – preferably baguette, pita, or wholegrain toast

Melt half the butter or olive oil in a small pot set over medium heat. Add the garlic, followed by the peas and the water. Crush the peas with a potato masher or a fork as they cook, until you have a rough puree (this will take about three minutes). Stir in the chopped herbs. While the peas are cooking, toast the bread and spread with the remaining butter or olive oil. Arrange the toast on a plate and pile the crushed peas on top, allowing for a bit of artistic scattering. Season well with salt and pepper and serve.