Cupboard love

Some days, when I am being Mrs Super Organised, I start thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner as soon as I get up. I take something out of the freezer, or do bits of prep throughout the day, and dinner magically appears.

Just like opening a tin…

Other days, it’s a bit more of a challenge. This kitchen is blessed with a big old-fashioned pantry, but there’s nothing more depressing than opening the door to find the shelves are nearly bare (or filled with things that don’t work together, like Valhrona chocolate, basmati rice and two jars of star anise. Actually, that might be quite a combination. But I digress.) But then I found a can of cannellini beans behind a jar of molasses and something clicked. Of course! Posh baked beans – a kind of vegetarian chilli with enough sweetness and heat to chase away the Monday blues and stave off the cold winds whistling in the back door.
Even better, this is easy to make and requires little attention (so you can do it while dancing the toddler two-step – the dance you do when there’s a small person clinging to your legs).


Posh Baked Beans

This is how I did this last night – but feel free to substitute as fits your own bare pantry.

2tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 heaped tsp ground cumin
1 dried chilli or 1/2-1tsp chilli powder (or harissa, or Tabasco)
2tbsp soy sauce
1/2 a tin tomatoes in puree or passata (or even tomato sauce)
1/2 cup water
2tsp molasses (or brown sugar)
1 tin (400g) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
half a lemon
salt and pepper

Saute the onions and garlic in the oil until soft (or while you feed a small person). Add the cumin and chilli and saute for a minute or two more. Add the soy sauce, tomatoes, water and molasses. Stir well and let bubble for a minute or two. Add the drained beans, a squeeze of lemon juice and season to taste. Let bubble away gently for five minutes. At this point you can turn off the heat and wander away to do something else, like make a phone call, have a cup of tea, put a small person in the bath or all of the above.
When you’re ready to eat, cook some rice and greens, or whip up a salad and slice some crunchy bread. This serves two starving, greedy, stressed adults (so there’s enough for three or four more moderate eaters). Now, what are we going to have tonight?

Musical Monday: Coeur de Pirate

Bills to pay, wet washing to wrangle, work to do… time for a burst of French sunshine via Coeur de Pirate.

Sweet sweet Friday: Pretty in pink

There’s a lot of angst in the developed (read: affluent) world about healthy eating; a lot of handwringing and deep thought and worry when we all know we have nothing to complain about when so many are going hungry.

But every once in a while it’s good to lighten up and treat yourself – or be treated. I think the definition of the perfect present is something that you’d love but never buy. So it is with these beauties,brought over by a good fairy. I wish they’d invent scratch ‘n sniff computer screens so you could try them too.

All this and a cherry on the top!

They might look like ordinary fairy cakes but once you bite in there’s a whole lot of crazy stuff going on. That Barbie-pink carapace of glace icing hides a thin layer of sponge, a thick, creamy dollop of blueberry buttercream and a crisp shortcrust base.

If I could figure out how to make these I’d make a mint (which I’d then have to spend on elasticated waistbands, new teeth and a sugar-proof liver). Perhaps it’s better to leave some things to the professionals.

Wishing you all a sweet, sweet Friday and a happy weekend. We’re off to hunt for a new kitchen (and a house!)

Something fishy

Great excitement in the kitchen today, for the KitchenMaid has received a VIP invitation to the opening of a new fish restaurant. It didn’t come on gilt-edged card, but it is exciting all the same. In my old life I went to the openings of envelopes, but my new life is rather less glamorous. Still, it will be nice to take off my apron, leave the house without a small companion, drink pretend champagne and make chit-chat.

Anyway, back to fish. Despite being a small island nation it’s ridiculously expensive to buy fish in New Zealand and even the tinned stuff is pretty cheap and nasty. But the Boy Wonder hails from the wild West Coast and whenever his parents come to visit they bring newspaper-wrapped packages of whitebait; tiny translucent fish frozen in perfect rectangular packages.

Orowaiti Estuary, Westport, New Zealand

On the coast, whitebaiting is serious business. Prime spots along the rivers are guarded fiercely and woe betide an out-of-towner who stakes their claim on a local’s patch. For while Coasters are passionate about whitebait’s delicate flavour, it’s also a lucrative source of blackmarket income. Buying whitebait on the sly is not unlike making a drug deal – cash only, thanks, and don’t tell anyone who you got it from. It’s probably not the most ethically sound or sustainable way to eat fish, but you won’t make many friends by suggesting that.

Buller River, Westport, New Zealand

The traditional way to eat it is in fritters, or patties, as they call them on the Coast. The Boy Wonder’s mother makes them to a recipe that her mother made – 3 eggs to a pound of whitebait (Coasters only talk of pounds of whitebait, as if it’s immune to metric measurements), enough flour to thicken the mixture (about 1/2 cup) and a pinch of baking powder. She fries them in LOTS of butter, then serves them up with oven-cooked chips and buttered white bread. Salt, tomato sauce, and lemon halves are the only accompaniments. Whitebait cooked this way is delicious, but not the sort of thing you want to eat too often.

On our travels we ate lots of tiny fish that had been dipped in flour and flash fried in olive oil. The Boy Wonder has started giving our precious packages of whitebait this treatment and we’ve decided we much prefer it to the eggy stodge of fritters. If you manage to get some this season, here’s what to do with it.

Tiny fish, olive oil, what’s not to like?

Spanish Whitebait
This feeds two very hungry people as a main course but would make a lovely starter or canape treat for more.

1 lb (about 560g) whitebait
salt and pepper
olive oil

Defrost the whitebait and rinse under the tap to get rid of any grit. Drain well.
Heat a thin pool of oil in a heavy pan until hot. Take a handful of whitebait at a time and shake in a coarse sieve with a handful of seasoned flour until lightly coated. Fry in the hot oil until opaque, then remove to a plate lined with kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven. Serve with crisp salad greens and hunks of good bread. Lemon halves are a must; tomato sauce is optional.


The birds have known it for weeks. Spring is coming, the earth is warming up and everything is getting ready for the long, lush days ahead.

There’s not the same incredible feeling of rebirth as in the northern hemisphere – particularly not in this corner of the world, where evergreen trees light up the dull winter landscape – but it’s exciting all the same.

This will be another big time of change for us and the lengthening days make me feel like I might just have enough energy. In the meantime, there’s always tea and cake. I really wanted to post the recipe for Great Aunty Shirley’s Madeira Cake (as pictured above, made into butterfly cakes), but I’m not confident that I’ve got it right. Yet. But I’ll let you know when I have!