Treat me: Frozen yoghurt iceblocks

This recipe – if you can call it that – is direct from the ‘I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier’ files. If you’ve ever wondered how to make your own nutritionally sound, outrageously simple and utterly delicious popsicles/ice blocks/ice lollies/freezer pops/icy poles, I have the answer.

But first, here’s a beach scene to put you in the mood…

Worser Bay, Looking Towards Cook Strait And Seatoun, Wellington

This photo, taken last night, is meant to distract you from the fact that while my amazing homemade frozen yoghurt popsicles are genius in icy form, I have been unable to take a decent photo of them. Try as I might, they just turn out looking wrong. So if you really want to see what they look like, you’ll need to make them yourself. And, as I’m about to show you, it’s probably the easiest thing you’ll do all weekend. Here’s how.

Frozen yoghurt iceblocks
You need four things to make these frozen treats: Greek yoghurt, good jam (or a variation thereof), iceblock moulds and about two hours. My iceblock moulds are Tupperware ones and, to be frank, they are weird. The shape is good, but the supposedly clever handle thing makes them hard to hold. I’d say that was a design flaw, wouldn’t you? I’ve seen some much simpler looking ones at the supermarket for about $5 – I’m thinking of trading up.
My first attempt was made with the last spoonful of some gorgeous apricot and vanilla jam made by my lovely sister. Since then I’ve made them with some not-homemade but still good blackcurrant jelly, lemon curd, and a sprinkle of chopped nuts and chocolate. There are no limits – just stick to the quantities I’ve outlined below.
My iceblock moulds take about 60ml (roughly 1/4 of a cup) each – so these quantities are to suit. But you can scale them to fit your needs (and any leftover mixture can be frozen in a little plastic container or eaten on the spot).

1 cup/250ml full-fat Greek yoghurt
1/4 cup/60ml high quality jam (or lemon curd, or chocolate/nuts as detailed above)

Stir the yoghurt and jam together until well combined. Taste – remember that some of the sweetness will be lost in the freezing process – and swirl through a little more jam if desired. Pour into iceblock molds (this amount will fill five or six) and freeze for one to two hours.
Unmould – dipping them in just-boiled water usually helps – and enjoy.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

How to turn your blog into a book

Scratch a blogger, any blogger, and most of them will admit a yearning to write a book.
I’m not sure why the thought of writing captures so many people’s imaginations, especially when many published writers complain about how tortuous the process is. Unless you’re Jamie or Nigella, it’s no way to get rich, either.

I started my blog even though I wrote for a living because I wanted to be the boss of something, to have complete editorial control. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that to be a heavier responsibility than I thought it would be. It’s a bit like expressing a desire to build your own house and then realising you don’t know how to wield a hammer. I recently read about this blog and felt very amateur-ish, not least because it is put together by a chef, a photographer, a stylist and an art director. (Yes, an art director. Don’t you have one for your blog?)

In the meantime, I’ve already ticked something crucial off the list. I’ve turned my blog into a book. No, I haven’t enticed a publisher to throw lots of money in my direction (though, you know, if there are any out there, don’t be shy…). Instead, I’ve done it myself, in a matter of minutes.
I used this service – which turns your blog into a downloadable PDF in about five minutes. It’s really simple and it’s free, though for the sake of good karma and helping the internet keep working, it’s only kind to make a donation for their trouble.

Quite apart from having a ‘book’ under your belt, the best thing about doing this is that you have a handy copy of all your work – text, images and even comments from readers. Because I might not lie awake at night worrying about whether or not I’ll ever get a book deal, but I do occasionally panic that my blog will vanish, never to be seen again.

Now that’s sorted, I’m going to direct my thoughts to a bit of homepage improvement for The Kitchenmaid. No, I’m not about to ask my HR department to start advertising for an art director, but it’s time for a refresh. Any advice on that front (or indeed, any art directors looking for work experience), do let me know…

Kitchen DIY: Homemade capers

Do you want your neighbours to think you have gone mad? Here’s how.

1. Venture out to the council-managed garden areas (that is to say, those that are overgrown with weeds) on your street, preferably while wearing your gardening hat, gumboots and various other items of misshapen, mismatching clothing.

2. For best results, do this when your neighbours are walking up the street, preferably with their most glamorous friends and perfectly behaved children, in their best clothes.

3. Climb into one of the gardens and start pinching off nasturtium buds and flowers, putting them in the small bowl you have brought with you for this purpose.

4. Wave cheerily as the neighbours pass by. Tell them, when they enquire as to what you are doing, that you are picking the nasturtium buds to make into homemade capers and the flowers are going in tonight’s salad. Watch as the smiles become a bit more fixed and the stares become more glassy.

5. Scramble out of the garden and go to your house, while the net curtains across the street twitch frantically.

Well, that’s not completely accurate – our neighbours are all lovely and very few of them have net curtains. Actually, only the really weird ones have net curtains and we think it’s because they are Up To No Good In There. I do feel a bit of a dork to be sprung essentially harvesting weeds in front of them, but they should be used to it by now. In any case, I love nasturtiums and a bit of embarrassment is worth it.

Homemade Capers

Pickled Nasturtium Buds – aka Homemade Capers
Nasturtium flowers are great in salads and the leaves add a peppery bite to cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches – just pick the smaller ones as the big ones are really fiery. When the flowers have wilted (or been picked by someone like me), pick the little brain-like growths at the base of the flowers and use them in this homegrown version of capers.

At least 1/2 a cup of nasturtium buds, washed and dried
250ml rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
10 peppercorns

Put the vinegar, salt, garlic and peppercorns into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat and let cool. Pour into a small sterilised jar, then add the nasturtium buds. Put a lid on the jar and leave for a couple of weeks in a cool place. The buds will be ready to eat when they have sunk to the bottom of the jar. You can keep adding new buds to the liquid.

Are you a forager? What’s your best tip?

Five food goals for 2014

While we farewelled 2013 in the style to which we have become accustomed, (lots of champagne, whitebait fritters, lamb stuffed with cherries, goats cheese and cherries, Nigella’s chocolate truffle cake, a huge slab of panforte and an incredibly tangy cheese called ‘Sea Breeze’), I spent the first week of 2014 with a nasty bout of tonsillitis and a vast supply of drugs.

Before that happened, I thought I was going to spring into the new year with all manner of new plans and schemes, not to mention a gleaming clean kitchen and freshly weeded vegetable garden. Instead, I have developed an addiction to Breaking Bad and a fondness for lying down after meals, neither of which are conducive to returning to work this week or achieving much at all at home. In a bid to shake off this inertia, I’ve turned my mind instead to my food-related goals for this year (I just have to get off the sofa to start achieving them). As nice as it is, we can’t live on wine, cheese and olives all year….

1. Eat more: By which I mean, eat a more diverse range of foods. I hate those depressing statistics that claim most people only have five or 10 dishes in their repertoire, but they do reflect a sorry truth. It takes work to stop from falling into the same old routine every night, but it’s so worth it. Why else do I have so many bookmarked recipes and folders of torn-out magazine supplements?

2. Grow more: No, not in a Gwyneth Paltrow sense, but grow more of what we eat. In in my dream life this would include chickens, but for the sake of my marriage, my sanity and continued good relations with our neighbours, I’m going to stick to flora rather than fauna. I figure that since we have this massive garden, we may as well use it to its full potential. New crops underway for 2014 include cucumbers, kale, pears, feijoas, cranberries and currants, not to mention an as-yet unidentified curcubit currently colonising the wildflower meadow we planted in a nondescript bit of lawn in late spring. I’m particularly inspired by Julie and her amazing garden – and Sue’s little city garden – and hope to harness a bit of family muscle in the coming months (Jenny, Goff, are you reading this?)

3. Learn more. In 2013 I conquered doughnuts, cronuts and puff pastry (at least this version). I’m yet to decide on my tasks for this year, but I’d like dumpling making to be among them. What else shall I tackle?

4. Read more: It’s just occurred to me that I didn’t get any new cookbooks for Christmas – unless you count the excellent Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking by Anya von Bremzen. Obviously I need to take steps to remedy this (even if via my excellent local library), though I should probably undertake a strict audit of my existing collection first.

5. Be more organised: The arrival of our much-awaited new pantry later this month will play a key part in this, or at least I hope it will. I have a secret fear that even with the new pantry, I will discover that I am really a slatternly housekeeper and that’s the real reason for the disarray in my cupboards (not to mention the rest of my life) Oh well. Worse things happen at sea. Being more organised is a key part in another little project I have planned for this year, but I’ll share more on that when it’s underway.

What are your foodie goals for 2014?

The start of a new kitchen…

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… a set of brand new kitchen cupboards and a thumping headache.

On the second day of Christmas he came home and said, ‘have you been admiring my handiwork?’ and, ‘the fumes are not nearly so bad today’.

If we were on a DIY makeover show, this would not be big news. But in our kitchen, which until 24 hours ago was an unholy mash-up of original 1930s rimu and 1980s peach-toned MDF, this is very exciting.

Here’s how it looked (on a good day)…

To the left, we have some quite lovely 1930s rimu cupboards, which continue overhead by the doorway to the dining room. To the right, the 1987 handiwork of a Lower Hutt joiner. You can’t tell from this softly-lit photo, but this was all swollen and scuffed and generally quite vile. Also missing from this shot are some other additions to the kitchen assets made in this period, namely a useless down-draft extraction fan (which takes up vital under-counter cupboard space) and a defunct benchtop grill (which is now my dedicated cooling rack. Just peeking into shot on the upper right-hand corner is the current overhead extraction fan, which our house’s previous owners thoughtfully ducted into the ceiling. That means that if we use it, our bedroom smells like onions, or fish, or whatever other scents you don’t find in the Diptique candles range.

Here’s a more warts and all shot of those cupboards. It’s a bit blurry because they were so ugly you actually started to shake if you looked at them for too long…

We got several people in to quote for new ones, because standard cupboard sizes seem to have changed over the years (a bit like standard cupboard sizes) and we couldn’t just buy off the shelf. When the quotes came back we nearly passed out from the shock. They were so expensive I thought they must have included Limoges china and tins of Beluga caviar. We’d originally thought we might be able to get rimu (a native New Zealand timber) to match the other side, but it would have been cheaper to paper the fronts with $100 bills. If we were doing up the whole kitchen, maybe this would seem worth it. But given that we’re looking for a bit of kitchen Botox, not a complete facelift, it was just too much.

Faced with either a) financial ruin or b) living with peach MDF for the next five years, we asked our neighbours (who have a beautifully renovated house and must rue living next door to us) over for a drink. A bottle of rose later, we had the solution: high-grade plywood, cut to fit and painted up. A few days later, in which my beloved devoted himself to studying the pros and cons of plywood vs MDF, then finding a man to cut it, we had a breakthrough.

I’ll spare you the details of what happened next, suffice to say it involved a lot of painting and sealing (and more than a few heated conversations about the right sort of handles), we had new cupboards. Total cost: about $300 – about 10 per cent of getting them made professionally.

Here’s another bad photo, this time slightly shaky because the paint fumes were getting to me…

Now, I know this doesn’t look like much, but it represents the beginning of a new era for my 83-year-old kitchen. Later this week I’m talking to a man called Mr Darling (really!) about a new pantry, then early in the new year a bit of a wall is getting knocked out, the whole room is getting a fresh paint job and – most importantly – the builder is going to re-route the extraction fan so it ducts outside. If I’m a very good girl we might even get an electrician to take out the old fan thing and I’ll get a proper pot cupboard in return. I can hardly wait.

Does your kitchen need a makeover? What would you replace first?