Merry Christmas from Fat Weka Farm. Christmas is full of family food traditions, whether that tradition is 30 years old like our family’s cheese rolls on Christmas morning or centuries old like Springerle biscuits. We all love ritual and its now the second year that my friend Lea and I have done Christmas baking.
This year she got from the US a special patterned rolling pin to make biscuits her Mom used to make every Christmas.
Springerle (SPRING-uhr-lee) biscuit moulds have been found in Switzerland dating back to the 14th Century and the word translates to”jumping horse”. Historians trace these cookies back to Julfest, a midwinter celebration of Germanic tribes when animals were sacrificed to the gods in the hope of a mild winter and early spring. Poor people who could not afford to kill any of their animals, instead gave token sacrifices in the form of animal-shaped breads and biscuits. Today many varieties of shaped biscuits remain a Christmas tradition.
(makes 50-60 aniseed flavoured biscuits that are the perfect dunking biscuit).
2 cups of sugar (beaten together for 15 minuites!)
Add ¼ cup of anise seeds
Add approx 4 cups of plain flour
Bake for 20 minutes at 160ºC or 325ºF
You really need a beater for the first part of the job. Beat the eggs, adding the sugar slowly and beat for 15 minutes . It’s this beating that makes the biscuit set like a very hard meringue.
Next add the anise seed. Anise you will need to source from a gourmet store. Ground aniseed is more easily found but there is something really good about that zing of seed (takes me back to aniseed balls from my childhood). If you don’t like the flavour of aniseed you can replace it with lemon zest and vanilla – or indeed any Christmas spice combination.
Now mix in the flour – keeping one cup aside to add if required to make a dough that will easily roll out.
Gently knead the dough to create a rough rectangle to then roll out to about 2cm ideally wide enough to fit the rolling pin width.
You can make these with cutters or just cut into squares if you don’t have this special rolling pin but roll them out to 1cm if not using the roller.
To avoid the dough sticking into the indentations rub over a combination of 1 Tbsp of icing sugar with ¼ cup of flour.
Lea hadn’t made these cookies herself before so the first roll was a little tentative. You need to put as much pressure as you can onto the rolling pin to flatten out the dough and imprint the image. We found that it better to apply pressure on the rolling pin itself rather than just the handles as Lea did first time round.
After rolling cut away any of the biscuits that didn’t come out well from the rolling mould. Shape and roll this dough ready for another run.
Cut in between the biscuit lines to create the small square biscuits. Place on a tray with baking paper. Ideally leave covered with a tea towel to set for 12-24 hours before baking. We left one tray to sit for an hour before baking. The second tray I waited until the next day as per her Mom’s instructions before baking but the outcome was not a lot different from the ones we baked after one hour’s setting.
If you can get your hands on a Springerle rolling pin then also try with gingerbread and shortbread.
The Springerle biscuits will easily keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight jar and they tend to continue to harden over the next couple of days.
Today Peter and I decided to walk the circuit around Fat Weka Farm with Lexie our dog…and because it was Christmas Day we took a flask of coffee and a slice of Christmas cake. It was such a lovely way to start the day I think this too will become a tradition in a day already full of established traditions.
Red currants are usually a Christmas time treat with their most appropriate Santa Claus colour but they will be all over by Christmas this year. I love to pick one or two as I pass to get their pop of tart sweetness.
Unfortunately so do the local birds! You need to net the bushes because one day you look at them and say harvest day tomorrow, but when tomorrow comes there is not a currant left. I accidentally discovered in my previous garden a way to trick the birds. I planted them rather too close to an area where I had planted native shrubs. I thought I would have to move them because they would not ripen out of full sun, but I discovered hidden behind a Corokia hedge ladden boughs of untouched red currants ready to eat.
I decided my first harvest of 2017 would be used for a special pancake breakfast that included red currants and my total harvest of gooseberries! I have posted about pancakes before but I wanted to try a Stephanie Alexander’s recipe to see if I could perfect my pancakes..and the result – incredibly light pancakes. The addition of red currants made them even better. ( I have made as per usual some changes but you have the option below of following Stephanie’s recipe without my suggested changes).
Fluffy Buttermilk/Milk Kefir Pancakes with Red Currants
(makes about 12)
3-4 eggs at room temperature, separated
60 g of melted butter (I use a cold pressed local rapeseed or avocado oil)
2 cups of buttermilk or milk kefir (I always replace buttermilk in recipes for kefir – it works just the same)
2 cups plain flour (1 soaked half a cup of rolled oats overnight and used 1½+ cups of flour)
1 tsp salt*
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup of red currants – (you can use black currants but I would macerate them in 2 Tbsp of caster sugar because they are more tart)
*We found these pancakes just a smidge too salty, although the salt and no added sugar in the pancake batter works really well with summer berries. Next time I would use ½-¾ tsp of salt. *
Have your oven on at 100ºC with your oven proof serving dish warming ready for the pancakes.
Put separated egg yolks into a large mixing bowl.
Add buttermilk/kefir and whisk well. Add the soaked oats (optional).
Sift flour, salt and baking soda over the egg yolk mixture and fold in with a large metal spoon.
The batter should be of a thick, dropping consistency. (I did have to add a little more flour in mine because the soaked oats made the mix thinner.) I always add the butter or oil last before folding in the egg whites because pancakes can become tough if the butter is overworked.
When ready to start cooking fold in the egg whites. I start this process with a little of the whisked egg whites folded in first – to pave the way and lighten the batter mix before adding the rest of the egg whites that have been whisked to form soft peaks.
Stephanie adds the fruit she used (400g hulled and sliced strawberries and 300g of blueberries) and she mixed them in at the batter stage. I wanted to make sure my ripe red currants were kept as whole as possible so added them by folding into the aerated mix after the whites have been added.
The best way to cook pancakes is in a cast iron pan because the heat is not patchy. This traditional skillet with no edges usually used for making piklets is ideal. If you are lucky enough to own one of these or a cast iron crepe pan then that is ideal, just because it makes it easier to flip the pancakes. But any cast iron pan is great. The trickiest part of the pancake operation is getting the pan to just the right temperature. It’s especially tricky on a gas hob. Test with a baby pancake. Smear butter or oil on the surface and once to the right heat pour spoonfuls of batter onto your pan to make the size of pancake you like. Once bubbles start bursting on top, it’s time to flip them over.
Once cooked stack onto the plate in the oven.
The sauce I made came from my rather small gooseberry harvest. Into a pot I melted about 1 tbsp of butter, added the gooseberries and sugar to taste (about ¼ cup from memory). To make the gooseberries really hum I added about a tbsp of my last year’s Elderflower cordial because gooseberries and elderflowers are a perfect match. You really fry the fruit until it becomes juicy as it cooks with the sugar. I used the potato masher to crush the cooked berries to create a thick sauce. Stephanie made a sauce the same way using 1 cup of mixed berries, 20g butter and 1 tbsp of maple syrup.
We shared our pancake breakfast with our friends Jan and Wal from Christchurch. Jan did the busy job of cooking the pancakes and Wal sliced a chilled mango to enjoy with our breakfast. The mangos come in every year before Christmas from Queensland and are the best we are likely to find in the shops all year, so I am passing on this information and thanks to Wal will be hunting out the Queensland mangos for Christmas.
Red currant summer jewels are here for such a short time but they do freeze well and I have saved some to share with the family over the holidays with a pancake breakfast.
At the Auckland Farro Fresh Food store tasting sessions of Augustines of Central preserved apricot and quince products I told customers good fresh Central Otago apricots won’t be available until after Christmas. But for the first time in 103 years apricots were picked in Central at the end of November.
At the tastings I am often asked of ways to serve Gus’s delicious apricots. I spied another Otago product Cowell’s Pavlova stacks alongside the apricots on the Christmas display and this gave me an idea.
It’s a dessert construction idea really for when you haven’t the time to cook but will have a wow factor. That evening I tried it out with the help of my daughter Tansy.
To really celebrate Gus’s apricot preserves I generously topped the pavlovas with Augustine’s apricot jam. It adds colour and extra sweetness. For a tarter flavour you cold puree some of the apricots instead.
Next I whisked some excellent local mascarpone cream made by Il Casaro cheesemakers that’s stocked by Farro Fresh and the cheesemakers can be found at the Grey Lynn market each Sunday.
Alternatively use a double cream or 50/50 combination. I chose the mascarpone cream to be firm enough to hold the fruit topping and add a richness.
Grate any good dark chocolate over the top. I used a Trade Aid almond dark chocolate.
Just before putting together drain the apricots reserving the juice to return the unused apricots to it. They need to be drained because if too wet will make the cream topping run.
I placed the apricot cut side down that looked a little like an egg. Tansy suggested turning them up the other way so we could create an apricot basket and add a strawberry.
Tansy sliced strawberries from her garden and added a mint tip to each stack creating the red and green for Christmas.
Back home in Portobello and I made these again for our friends Jan and Wal from Christchurch as part of an early Christmas celebration. We used whole strawberries from Butlers of South Canterbury and the cream was 50/50 mascarpone and Holy Cow Jersey double cream from Port Chalmers that we picked up at the Otago Farmers Market.
The apricot is a diverse fruit and has different flavours when fresh, dried or preserved. Preserving intensifies the flavour and the tartness of the fruit comes through. We describe Gus’s preserved apricots as “summer in a jar” because he captures the sun ripened fruit when they are perfect. The addition of a Central Otago Reisling wine in the syrup gives another dimension to the preserves.
Whether fresh or preserved apricots are truly a fruit that celebrates a great summer.
Lexie came with Fat Weka Farm and we just wouldn’t be without her. We are not sure what breed her parents were but she has a superb nose and is a great garden companion. She especially likes it when I work up the valley where we have planted an orchard and when I dig and uncover a grass grub…a Lexie lolly! It’s not only Lexie who finds forgotten buried treasures up the valley. When planting a black currant bush I discovered a nest of potatoes planted last summer.
Labour weekend is traditionally the time to plant potatoes not to harvest. They are starting to sprout but these are traditional Maori potatoes that do seem to like more time in the ground than the modern garden shop varieties. These potatoes have been cultivated and treasured by Maori gardeners since European settlers first came to New Zealand.
This old variety of potato may be knobbly and inconsistent sizes but the flavour is divine. When cooked they are waxy just like new potatoes. They make a delicious warm potato salad when paired with watercress and egg.
First year at Fat Weka Farm there were patches of watercress in damp spots up the valley but now there are masses of it along the flanks of the raised beds.
After my potato discovery I picked a handful of watercress. Potato also loves mint and we have that growing wild as well as a clump of onion weed – a perfect collection of plants for a delicious lunch.
I add a sprig of mint to the salted cooking water of the scrubbed potatoes and cut the bigger potatoes to make them a regular size. Then I put on a couple of eggs to hard boil.
I wash a good handful of watercress and spin in the salad maker and set aside.
Next, the mustard dressing…
Crush a small clove of garlic in salt then add 3 tablespoons of a good vegetable oil (my favourite oil at the moment is a cold pressed rape seed oil from Canterbury – Zeaola Oil). Add a teaspoon of mustard and juice of half a lemon (or to taste). Mix together to make a thick dressing that sinks into the potatoes when hot.
Once the potatoes are tender drain off the water but leave them in the pot to keep warm. Add the dressing and keep the lid on the pot. Just before serving toss through the watercress and pile into a warm plate. Finely chop a sprig of mint and sprinkle over the top with the hard boiled eggs that have been removed from their shells and quartered. The final touch is some chopped wild garlic/onion stalks and a sprinkling of the flowers.
This potato salad is best served warm but can also be served cold. If serving cold don’t wilt the watercress but lay out the rinsed leaves in the serving plate. Still add the dressing to the potatoes while hot but allow to cool before arranging on top of the watercress with egg and onion weed topping.
This salad is ideal for new potatoes. I wonder if I’ll find some grass grubs for Lexie when I plant my potatoes soon for harvest in 2018.
Spring is almost here at Fat Weka Farm…but not quite. The daffodils are starting to make an appearance but this flowering cherry taken last year on 1 October is my true sign of spring. Perhaps it will flower earlier this year. It’s still holding out with it’s tightly wrapped buds. In the meantime I won’t be saying goodbye to the nightly warmth and handy cooking space of our wood burner.
Throughout winter I’ve utilised this radiant warmth to also cook our dinner most nights. One quick favourite has been savoury French toast with a winter slaw.
French toast for breakfast is generally sweet and is a great way to use up sourdough bread. Sourdough tends to get hard rather than go mouldy. Sometimes it’s so hard you can work up a sweat just slicing it. But it magically revives as does any stale bread with the french toast treatment.
Simply mix one egg with half a cup of milk, salt, pepper and about 1 Tbsp of parmesan cheese grated. If you want a herby punch then add a little sage or thyme. One egg should be enough for four slices of bread and 2-4 people depending on what you choose to add as toppings. It needs to be thin enough to soak in and coat the bread with the eggy milk liquid.
I tend to soak the bread in a flat bottomed plate – a pasta dish is ideal. Give it a minute to soak in.
Heat a heavy pan (ideally cast iron) and add a knob of butter or your favourite oil. Once it begins to sizzle add the soaked bread to the pan. Cook each side until it browns.
Once you have turned over one side you can add a slice of cheese on top.
I like to add slaw on top but you can top with anything you like. In this case I added some smoked mackerel along with the slaw.
Another option for breakfast is a topping of bacon. When I do this I first begin cooking the bacon and then the french toast in the same pan.
In summer it’s delicious with tomatoes, basil, black pepper and a drizzle of your favourite oil. It’s a year round easy breakfast, lunch or dinner depending what you have in the fridge or garden to top it off and an option when the bread is no longer fresh and needs reviving.
A weekend treat is to have a classic sweet French toast. Just replace 1 tbsp of parmesan and the salt and pepper for 1 tbsp of caster sugar and either a dash of vanilla essence or a grinding of nutmeg. I like to make this sweet version using a raisin bread or sweet bread. Our local bakery Gilbert’s Fine Food’s Date and Walnut sourdough or their delicious and rich Brioche works a treat but when I use a sweet bread like these I just add 1 tsp of sugar.
Top with sliced banana or cooked apple, kefir or yoghurt and a little maple syrup. Our grandson Beau’s favourite is just with maple syrup. My favourite of course is with my son’s preserved apricots – Augustines of Central.
When spring gets here with longer days of daylight, I will want to spend more time outdoors so time saving dishes like this are useful. One real time saver I have discovered this winter on a trip to Melbourne has been three little hand peelers….more on that next posting.
I started the shortest day with a walk on the loop track that Peter has created on our land. In 45 minutes to an hour we can now climb up from the valley and take in the stunning views of our Otago Peninsula from many aspects. I mention the shortest day because it was very close to the longest day when I last posted. I have been a busy person over the summer and autumn with setting up our Fat Weka Farm AirBnB and as co-ordinator of the Wild Dunedin Festival of Nature. Now it is time to get back on the blogging horse, and do a midwinter post.
With my Bed and Breakfast and cooking at the local Penguin Cafe I have become an expert scone maker. “Practice makes perfect” is certainly true when it comes to scone making. My Cheese and Parsley scones have proved very popular and are perfect comfort food and great to serve with a soup as a midwinter warmer. The recipe makes 9 large cafe sized scones but at home I can make 12 scones from this mix.
Cheese & Parsley Scones
Preheat oven to 220ºC or 200ºC fan bake – hot oven and they take approx 12 minutes to cook.
3 cups of Self Raising Flour
½ cup of chopped parsley (large stalks not included)
1 cup of grated or chopped parmesan shavings
1 cup of grated tasty cheddar cheese and extra for topping of scones
½ tsp of salt
approx 1-1½ cup of milk to mix (at home I use kefir to get an even lighter scone mix)
Sieve the flour to add air through the flour, add salt, and work the butter into the flour.
At home I chop the butter into cubes and use the pastry cutter to further cut and press into the flour finishing off with squishing the butter pieces into the flour by hand.
This is important for adding air into the scones as the butter pieces melt leaving space that creates lightness (as it does for flaky and puff pastry).
However in the cafe I need to shortcut this process and grate the butter into the mix and then smeer the butter through the flour by hand. You can use a food processor but this can easily make the butter too fine for scones.
Now add the grated cheeses and chopped parsley.
Whisk an egg into the milk. The egg helps to add a richness to the dough and they keep for longer.
Use a kitchen knife to mix in the milk and egg to make a wettish very soft dough finishing off using your hands to create a ball. Make every knife action count and avoid over mixing. I use a folding action to mix rather than stirring. Over mixing at this point will make your scones tough and chewy.
Sprinkle flour onto a board or your bench and with flour on your hands gently shape the dough to approximately 3cm height. Cut into 9 or 12 pieces and place on baking paper on an oven tray. If you like the edges soft just place them closer to each other on the tray.
With a little milk brush the top of the scones, top with grated cheese and a parsley leaf if desired.
Bake for approx 12 minutes. To check if they are cooked look underneath and see that their bases are cooked and just like bread has a hollow sound when tapped.
Add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper to give a little heat either in the mix or very sparsely sprinkle over the cheese topping
Replace ½ cup of the flour with ½ cup of rolled oats soaked overnight to add a nutty taste to scones (this will reduce the quantity of milk for the mix)
Use this recipe as the base for savoury scrolls…but these I should cover in another post…
Parsley is a year round herb. I am still picking bunches for the cafe at mid winter. To have it available year round means you need to let it self sow. It will be left alone wherever it wants to grow in my garden and encouraged because I wouldn’t want to ever run out of parsley for the picking.
These biscuits/cookies are a nutty shortbread rolled in icing sugar and are a divine texture and flavour – perfect to enjoy over Christmas or to give as a gift.
My friend Lea used to live in the United States and every Christmas makes her Mom’s Christmas crescent cookies. As a child Lea’s job was shaping the dough into the crescent shape so as with a lot of Christmas baking, these crescent cookies bring back fond childhood memories for Lea. She is being generous and is sharing the recipe with us. They are so delicious!
With such a traditional recipe I thought Lea wouldn’t be keen to experiment but she was excited at the idea of trying different nuts in the recipe and making our baking day a bit of an experiment. Nuts play a major part in the flavour and texture of the cookie and the original recipe had pecan nuts because they are plentiful in the US.
Here in NZ they are both difficult to find and expensive. Lea suggested walnuts as a substitute and I have found a great source of fresh hazelnuts…so we conducted an experiment trying all three nuts; pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts. We also experimented with the shape.
Mom’s crescent Christmas cookies
Makes approx 50 to share
Cook at 200°C for 15-20 mins (180°C for fan forced ovens)
2 Cups Pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts (ground fairly finely but a few little larger bits are okay)
4 cups Flour
350 grams Butter (softened)
¾ cup Sugar
We dry roasted the hazelnuts for a few minutes to remove the skins and keep the biscuits a light colour. Remove the skins by rubbing the nuts between two pieces of kitchen paper. It’s okay if there are some bits of skin left.
Grind the nuts in a food processor so that they become finely ground but still have some crunchy pieces in the mix.
These biscuits are not a low calorie option lots of butter and nuts but this is also why they taste so good.
Work butter into the flour (using mixer or hands).
Add sugar and combine.
Add the ground nuts. Work into a soft dough. It doesn’t all come together like a pastry dough or shortbread – it’s quite crumbly.
The mixing part of the process is really easy and quick. The time consuming part is shaping the cookies. Just like Lea’s Mom, you could encourage either your child or grandchild to help with this task.
Take one heaped dessert spoon full of mix and put into the cup of your hand.
Squeeze and the warmth of your hand will allow the butter to soften further and shaping can begin.
Shape into small horseshoes or half moons.
We found the pecan and hazelnuts were the same to mould into the crescent shape but the walnuts must have a higher oil content so were very easy to shape.
Bake at 200o C until very light brown (about 15-20 min.) Check the undersides to make sure they are slightly browned.
Cool on a wire rack.
When cool toss them gently in a small plastic bag filled with icing sugar.
Coat 2-3 at a time so they don’t break.
Gently shake with your hand under them, lifting and tipping the bag so that they are all coated with icing sugar.
Store in an airtight container and Lea lines her Christmas tin with plastic wrap because they aren’t as airtight as plastic…but they look so much better presented in a tin.
They last a week or two (if you can resist them!) They also freeze well
After the tasting …we both agreed that the hazelnuts were the winner. Perhaps this is because I sourced nuts that had just been cracked from a local South Otago orchard. Hazelnuts and walnuts both grow well in the south and I suggest for these biscuits choose the nut variety that is the freshest (not long out of its shell) and the most cost effective.
It has been a first for me to do Christmas baking with a friend and it was so much fun that Lea and I have decided to do so again next year.
I wish everyone who reads my blog a very merry and delicious Christmas. x Jeannie
Christmas came in the first week of November at our house when my son Gus asked that I cook a ham and try out a glaze using his Augustines of Central quince paste. We produced recipe cards to hand out to customers at tastings in Auckland last weekend.
I could have simply purchased a cooked ham off the supermarket shelves to glaze, but I decided I would use this as an excuse for a pre-Christmas family get together and chose a locally produced free range ham. Havoc Farm pork give cooking instructions with their hams and I had two options, cooking the ham wrapped in foil or bake it in a flour casing.
I remembered Mum used to cook her hams in a flour casing before foil became the easier option. She would also soak the ham overnight to get rid of excess salt but this is not necessary for the Havoc cured ham.
They do suggest after removing it from the vacuum pack to wipe it down and hang in a cool place protected from flies for an hour or two.
I chose to try the dough casing method. In the recipe it was suggested 6-10 cups of flour made into a dough with water. I used 7 cups of flour. Divide the dough into two pieces and roll out as you would pastry.
Place your ham on the first rolled piece of dough and cover half the leg. It does have some stretch.
Now use the second piece to completely seal the ham. The aim of the casing is to keep the ham moist and avoid drying out over the long cooking time.
I cooked it at 150°C for 45 minutes per kilo plus an extra 30 minutes for luck. Leave plenty of time for cooking the ham – the process will take most the day and cannot be rushed. As a ham rather dominates your oven space an easier option for Christmas is to cook the day before and glaze on the day or indeed glaze on the day of cooking and enjoy the ham cold. I cooked and glazed the ham in one step and prepared the glaze towards the end of the ham cooking time.
It’s an easy job to crack and peel off the flour casing. Removing the skin does take longer and wait until the ham is cool enough to handle. Don’t rush this step as you want to make sure a layer of flat remains on the ham for the glaze to sizzle on.
I have attached a copy of the Augustines of Central recipe card for the recipe and method.
Place the ham covered with half the glaze on a rack over an oven dish that has a 2cm of boiling water added. This moisture helps the ham not to dry out while being glazed. Cook for 45-50 minutes basting with extra glaze as required until the glaze darkens to create a ruby red skin. Be careful not to burn.
I presented the ham on a bed of watercress as the green contrasted well with the red.
The glaze certainly adds to the appeal of a Christmas ham but probably the most important choice is the ham itself. My brother announced it was the best ham ever! I think the casing helped to keep the ham moist during the baking but the way the pig was raised and the curing is perhaps the biggest flavour factor. Ham is a once a year treat for us so I wanted to make sure it would be the best looking and tasting ham it could be. While it costs more to buy a local free range ham, I was pleased with my choice.
Ironically, we got the cards produced and then discovered that both of Gus’s new products, quince paste and apricot jam, had nearly sold out at the Farro Fresh stores in Auckland. There are still a few jars at Grey Lynn Butchery to be had but unfortunately Gus’s ruby quince paste is now sold out. The recipe cards will be handy for next Christmas as Gus is looking to quadruple his production in 2017.
This recipe can use any quince paste, and you may make your own quince paste. This glaze will certainly make your ham a feast to look at this Christmas.
Asparagus is a truly seasonal treat and this year we got the opportunity to feast on asparagus when my friend Kate called by with a bag of spears from Ardross farm. As it was so fresh it needed nothing more than cooking quickly in a pan of salted boiling water.
My only addition was to serve it with a herb and garlic butter.
You could say mint is asparagus’s bestie from the herb garden. Making a herb butter is so easy. I simply added a finely chopped sprig of mint to softened butter and a chopped and squashed clove of garlic. I used about 100 grams of butter so that I would have a reserve for the next meal of asparagus.
Asparagus has been available from other areas of New Zealand in the shops for a while now but I have held out until the local Palmerston asparagus became available as I wanted my first taste to be as fresh as possible. Well I was spoilt last asparagus season when I sampled some asparagus spears from our Auckland Sanctuary Community garden. I had heard that in the time it takes to walk from the garden to the kitchen the flavour of asparagus changes. I cut and ate a raw spear and it was a completely different vegetable with an almost pea like flavour.
My friend Lea who has limited vegetable garden space decided to grow asparagus in a devoted raised bed. She chose this aristocratic vegetable over others because it delivers both intrigue and unbeatable flavour when grown organically in a home garden. The hard work has been done building up a good rich soil and patiently waiting a couple of years before harvesting. Now she is reaping the benefits of asparagus popping up regularly over the season. We too were rewarded as her dinner guests when she prepared the asparagus in another simple and delicious way. Lea sauteed her freshly harvested asparagus in olive oil, with garlic and finished it off with a squeeze of lemon juice.
When I was studying organic horticulture I was shocked to find out that asparagus is one of the most frequently sprayed vegetables when commercially grown. If you are lucky enough to live near Napier you can buy organically grown asparagus from JJ Organics at Onekawa. Judy and Jane also sell their organic produce at the Napier Urban Food Market in the city centre every Saturday morning.
Lea is thrilled with her special plot of asparagus and puts down her success to the seaweed she has added to the bed. Asparagus is naturally a coastal plant so seaweed is the best fertiliser with it’s rich supply of vitamins, amino acids and trace elements.
I have been encouraged from what I have seen and tasted at the community garden and closer to home in Lea’s garden … so much so that next year I plan to plant a permanent asparagus plot myself in my own raised bed under construction called a Hugelkultur.
Asparagus is a seasonal vegetable so my son Gus, who has the preserving label Augustines of Central, has been busy this season pickling local Palmerston asparagus in organic apple cider vinegar with Central Otago wild thyme and fennel seeds. Gus wants to offer asparagus that can be enjoyed out of season in a different form and perfect for an antipasto platter. Watch out for this product next year and a progress report on my asparagus plot at Portobello.
Watercress and eggs are natural partners on the plate and with spring comes lots of fresh watercress and the first eggs from our hens. Vitamins make watercress a super food. A watercress omelette makes a super quick and easy meal.
Our hen advisor, my sister Kerry, told me to grab free pullets on offer in late summer as a start to our hen apprenticeship. They lay petite eggs – a number 5 size at the supermarket.
I’ve always been a fan of eggs more than hens but I have to admit I’m rather fond of our girls …except for when they get into my vegetable garden and uproot freshly planted things after that illusive bug.
I’m so lucky to have an abundant supply of watercress Nasturtium officinale that I can forage to add a mustardy tang to a salad. It’s from the mustard or Brassicaceae family of plants and is closely related to rocket, garden cress and radishes.
The pungency or the mustard punch of watercress is best complemented by the addition of something sweet like oranges, apple and pear or something creamy or bland like avocado or potato.
One of my favourite sandwiches is egg and watercress.
This easy watercress omelette is simply delicious.
The ingredients are 2 of my smaller eggs per person with chopped parsley and 2 tbsp of water per egg, salt and pepper. Grate some cheddar cheese or any cheese of your choice.
The watercress is washed and I couldn’t resist using some stems of wild onion weed, keeping the flower-heads aside for later….but this is not necessary.
Cast iron pans are the best for making good omelettes and while you can make one omelette at a time, I find it’s best to make two at once if cooking for two. Melt butter and then divide the egg mix between the two pans.
Once it starts to bubble push with a fork to assist all the egg to disperse and cook evenly. Once it sets on top pile on the greens and cheese on one half.
Then run a spatula or fish slice around the outside edge of the omelette lifting and sliding under the omelette to gently flip over to cover the filling.
Sometimes it won’t look as perfect as this but it will still taste great. Once you see the cheese melting and the watercress wilting it’s ready to serve. I used whole stems so it was a little chewy. If you have the time just strip the leaves from the stems to avoid this. Sprinkle the wild garlic flowers over the top or garnish as you will.
Watercress is an aquatic or semi aquatic plant so needs plenty of water and can be found near streams or in boggy places. Be careful when collecting watercress as it will pick up contaminates very easily. As we do not run animals anywhere near our watercress and the water source has been filtered through natural bush I know our cress is clean and safe to eat raw. If you come across it on land where you don’t know its history or land use, do not collect and eat raw – you could use it if you cook it well first.
Watercress is a very healthy vegetable and gram for gram contains more vitamin C than oranges, four times more beta-carotene and vitamin A than apples, tomatoes and broccoli, more vitamin E than broccoli, more calcium than whole milk and more iron than spinach. It’s this combination and chain reaction of vitamins that makes watercress a super food. If you cook it then the vitamin C will reduce but the other vitamins will remain.
I’m not sure I want to consume a bag of watercress daily, but it’s a good food to eat plenty of when in season – spring and autumn. Once it flowers it becomes too strong or bitter to enjoy. Most of the watercress you buy is hydroponically grown and as an aquatic plant is well suited to this method of cultivation. But for me half the pleasure of watercress is putting on my gumboots and harvesting it myself from the wet spots in our valleys.
Impress your friends with a nettle and parsley salsa verde or pesto. It’s a thick green sauce or paste that you can use in a number of ways. Harvesting nettles can be a stinging business but it’s worth putting on rubber gloves to gather them for a highly nutritious spring hit after winter. I’ve learnt from a foraging friend that you can get rid of the prickles by simply running the nettles under hot water.
We are well into spring at Portobello. Spring started in September with drifts of daffodils, followed a couple of weeks later by masses of pink and white blossom and now in October most of the deciduous trees are greening up.
Spring is my favourite season as there are visual changes on the property everyday.
Early spring is the best time to gather nettles. For eating purposes you need to gather them before they start to go to seed. If you have missed out on the spring nettles you can look out for them again in autumn.
Salsa verde is usually made up of green herbs in oil and vinegar or lemon juice with some good quality bread added to make a thick green sauce. Alternatively if you want to avoid gluten replace the bread for nuts. If you add parmesan cheese, you now officially have a pesto. My version here is a gluten free salsa verde replacing the bread with nuts.
You can make this sauce/paste with whatever greens you have on hand and a mix of fresh spring herbs will deliver you lots of nutrients as well. My rule is that the bulk should be something with a mild enough flavour like parsley, chickweed or watercress as some of the other culinary herbs are strongly flavoured so are best used sparingly.
I tend to add garlic by making a paste – one small clove (or to taste) finely cut and then squashed with flaked or ordinary salt to dissolve the garlic into a paste.
Cashews are particularly delicious with the parsley and nettles adding a sweet nuttiness but you can use any nuts.
Supposedly the nettles lose their sting with the crushing and cutting action of the food processor, but to be safe I run them under the hot tap and the stinging hairs become harmless.
Add enough oil to create a puree, then lemon juice to taste. The lemon juice helps keep the bright green colour. It’s as simple as that.
You can use salsa verde as you would pesto with cheese and crackers, or mix through pasta with parmesan. I like to use it as a base for an open sandwich for lunch. Our grandson Beau lapped this up when he was staying with us over the school holidays.
I pan roasted spring broccolini straight from the garden with a little tamari and sprinkling of sesame seeds at the end of cooking. You can hasten the process by blanching the broccolini first and then frying. A boiled egg from the henhouse that Beau gathered himself was popped on top of the bread,salsa and broccolini. The finishing touch is some wild garlic onion flowers. Great nutrition for a growing 6 year old.
Nettle Urtica urens grows in phosphorus and nitrogen rich soil often near where animals are housed. I’ve discovered on our property they are under the macrocarpa trees. It may be that the sheep and horses shelter under the macrocarpas so there is plenty of manure to enrich the soil, but there is also a dense layer of humus from the tree. This spring green weed is therefore rich in vitamins and minerals including silica which is important for nail and hair condition.
First Aid if you do get a nettle burn or sting….
This really works, grab a dock leaf and rub the affected area.
Its rich ruby colour, tartness and strength of flavour makes tamarillo an ideal winter fruit. Its peak production is over the winter months of June/July/August. But did you know that the tamarillo was a New Zealand invention?
This fruit originated from South America but red tamarillos were developed and named here in New Zealand. I clearly remember them as tree tomatoes and kiwi fruit were called Chinese gooseberries. Both fruits were renamed to be more attractive for marketing overseas. In 1967 Mr Thompson from the Tree Tomato Promotions Council came up with ‘tamarillo’, claiming it sounded both Māori and Spanish.
Tamarillos can be tricky to grow as their large subtropical leaves are easily burnt by frost. Young trees can be set back and even killed by a surprise frost, and this perhaps is the reason why we pay a high price for the fruit.
You can sometimes find a bargain from a roadside stall and if you are lucky a home gardener will share some with you, but mostly you have to pay around $14 a kilo for these precious egg shaped fruits.
I always want to make the most of them and have recently been introduced to the idea of using them in a salad.
Raw tamarillo is high in vitamin C so is a great addition to a winter slaw. Like beetroot it does colour everything red. Red is such a good salad colour in winter so I decided to select all the vegetables and fruit in the salad based on the colour red and made my version of tamarillo slaw.
The quantities of vegetables and fruit you use will depend on how many people you are feeding. I made enough for 4 as a side serving or 2 with this salad as the main event.
I used about 1/4 red cabbage, with core removed and really finely chopped or shredded in a food processor.
1 tamarillo peeled and chopped finely
1/2 red onion also finely chopped
1/2 medium sized beetroot grated
1 red-skinned apple finely sliced and then diced. The apple adds sweetness and another texture. To keep it from turning an unsightly brown give a good squeeze of lemon juice over the apple and mix.
This is the texture and colour of the slaw before I added the apple.
To add a little sweetness and bite I mix 1 heaped teaspoon of quince paste to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. If you don’t have quince paste you can use another fruit jelly or honey. Mix until the paste dissolves and add and mix through to the slaw.
I added a few cranberries to follow the red theme, then toasted a handful of hazelnuts rubbing off their brown papery skin before sprinkling over the slaw. You can use whatever nuts or seeds you have in the pantry.
The final touch of green are some sprigs of herb Salad Burnet, but parsley or mint could be used instead.
I found this Jan Bilton recipe that I couldnt resist trying.
Jan suggested just one tamarillo but I found in the large processor I had I couldn’t get it to puree so I ended up making the mix with 2 tamarillos.
Two skinned tamarillos cut in half and pureed in food processor, slowly add half a cup of your favourite salad oil. Best not to use highly flavoured oils like olive oil as you want the tamarillo flavour to dominate.
This dressing would work well with a simple green salad as well or drizzled over avocado. It’s the kind of dressing that makes a bold statement on the plate.
Like tomatoes tamarillos are easily peeled if dunked into boiling water for about 20 seconds. Run a knife around it’s middle and the skin comes off easily leaving you with all the precious fruit.
Spring is an energising season and I’m having a preview of spring here in Auckland with daffodils and freesias blooming showing little memory of winter’s cold. In the south the garden is still in hibernation, but the days are getting longer and there is a promise of spring in the air…it could be just around the corner.
August has delivered winter to the south, and I’m discovering treasures that weren’t obvious in the summer when we moved to this property. Winter flowers are a precious occupant of any garden and what a pleasure it is to look from my kitchen window and see a glorious patch of Hellebores.
It’s often called theWinter Rose because the blooms look similar to a small single rose. But it’s not at all related and definitely has no culinary uses, unlike the rose. Its genus name Helleborus comes from Greek meaning harm and food and as the name suggests every part of the plant is poisonous.It’s even suggested, after working with it, to wash your hands.
Hellebores are sometimes described as shy bloomers but really it’s clever plant design. Head down it protects its blooms and pollinators from the blast of winter winds, rain and snow. After all, when we face a southerly we tend to put our heads down to counter the cold blast, but unlike the hellebore, we can head indoors to a warming fire.
On these winter evenings I like to stay close to our wood burner so have been experimenting with one pot meals cooked on its cast iron surface. One of my favourites is this simple and tasty dish called Green Shakshuka. All you need are eggs, seasonal vegetables, your favourite spice or herbs and anything else you find in your fridge or pantry that you think would go well with greens and eggs.
The original recipe came from Alison Lambert at the Otago Farmers Market kitchen. It’s an adaptation of a traditional North African/Middle Eastern breakfast dish that has eggs cooked in a red pepper and tomato stew. Swapping the tomatoes for greens makes it a perfect fit for winter seasonal greens such as kale, silverbeet or collard greens.
Alison makes a rough paste in a food processor with 8 green tomatoes or tomatillos, 1 green pepper, 1 fresh green chilli, handful of coriander leaves and 100g each of spinach and kale leaves with stalks removed.
My adaptation has taken out the step of making a paste in a food processor and simply cutting up the greens. I think the paste would be closer to the consistency of the original tomato stew but I decided to make the meal as easy as possible. It tastes just as good.
Cut up 1 onion and fry in a splash of oil until translucent and then add in 1-2 cloves of garlic that have been smashed with the blade of your knife and finely cut into small pieces. If I want to add bacon or a chorizo sausage I add it at this stage, before the greens.
Now add sliced up greens – a choice or mix of perpetual spinach, silverbeet, collard greens, cabbage or celery. In summer I like to add beans and courgettes. Mix and gently saute until half cooked.
Next add extras like stoned olives or pre-cooked strips of carrot or swede. You could add fish or cooked chicken at this stage …your imagination is your only limitation with this dish.
In the summer version I like to add corn and tomatoes.
Alison added 1/2 tsp of cumin and 1/2 tsp coriander and finished off with a grating of nutmeg.
I have used these spices too, but other times have used the sour citrus flavour of Sumac and a sprinkling of the hot spice mix, Ras El Hanout – both spices popular in Middle Eastern cooking. Alternatively, I’ve just used fresh herbs like thyme or oregano from the garden.
Now that you have all the flavours you want on board, it’s time to cook the eggs. Make 4 divots in the mixture (or two if cooking in a smaller pan for one) and break in the eggs. Cover with a lid and cook until the eggs are just cooked (approx 5 minutes).
I sprinkle over the eggs just before serving some parmesan cheese and parsley or add another sprinkle of sumac.
This is not so much a recipe but a licence to create your own dish. It’s got everything you need for a balanced meal with protein from the eggs, plenty of vegetables, and herbs and spices to add flavour and fragrance. And even better …there are very few dishes to do after the meal. It’s the sort of comfort food best eaten close to a roaring fire.
Fire lighting has been made easier with parcels of cabbage tree leaves. Over the summer I would gather the leaves into bundles to dry out. Over the winter I fold a small bunch of them in half and half again and tie up with either another cabbage tree leaf or some twine.
And I have the best fire starters ever. It’s great to find a use for these tough stringy leaves and makes the job of gathering them easier knowing that they help keep us warm over winter.
The berries or haws on the Hawthorn trees were a cherry red in March. I kept a close eye on the trees while waiting for the first frost before harvesting, but this year I began to think we would never get a frost in the south. I love Hawthorn jelly but not enough to wish an end to our frost free run.
So on a cold and wet weekend in May when our friends Wal and Jan from came to stay and the hawthorn trees had lost their leaves, I thought we could make a batch of frost free Hawthorn jelly. Not only was this a good inside task on a wet weekend but would be most fitting as Jan and Wal were present when I first discovered this delicious jelly. One Easter visit long ago in the 1980’s, when our children were just toddlers, Wal and Peter tackled a giant overgrown Hawthorn tree in our garden.
I’ve always been interested in foraging and had read that Hawthorn berries with apples make a great jelly. So Jan and I harvested the berries carefully from the thorny branches and I made my first delicious ruby red Hawthorn and Apple jelly.
Three decades later, here we are again harvesting haws. On our land we have many Hawthorns to choose from but I had my eye on a young tree on the exposed hilltop overlooking our house (as pictured above). Wal volunteered to do the harvesting braving the mean southerly.
The most time consuming part is removing the stalks but with three of us doing the work in a short time we had enough haws to fill two large bowls to make two batches of jelly. In April when the leaves were still on the tree, I did a small test batch of jelly but it didn’t have the intensity of flavour or colour. It’s best to pick the haws once they turn a dark red but are still glossy. A good test of ripeness is when they are easily separated from the tree. Haws are high in pectin when just ripe but once they get older the level of pectin reduces. So its always a toss up between colour and flavour and setting quality.
I discovered one of the best fruit partners for haws are Japonica apples. I was given these misshaped sour apples from a friend. They were a perfumed mix of two varieties, one smooth and the other deeply wrinkled fruits. Japonica is a scruffy shrub primarily grown for its decorative flowers rather than its fruit. The fruit isn’t edible raw but adds a wonderful citrusy flavour to a jelly. Japonica reminds me of quince with it’s tough flesh, a large cluster of seeds and the sweet perfume they emit. I filled my stock pot with a mix of rinsed haws and quartered japonicas adding just enough water to cover and cook until soft enough to be mashed with a potato masher.
The news is spreading that I am a keen jelly maker and our neighbour dropped off a bag of perfect crabapples for my next jelly experiment. I decided to use crabapples as the fruit partner to the haws. To add a citrus zing I cut up a couple of lemons to boil with the fruit.
For the next batch of crabapples and haws I added some spice with cardamon pods, kaffir lime leaves and cinnamon.
After the fruit has softened it’s time to strain the juice. The Hawthorn tree has edible flowers, young leaves and the fleshy part of the berries but the seeds are poisonous if digested in any quantity. The variety that is growing on our farm is Crataegus monogyna also known as common Hawthorn or single-seeded Hawthorn and belongs to the rose family. The haws have a similar mealy consistency of a rosehip. It’s perfectly safe to cook the seeds but they have to be sieved or strained to avoid digesting the seeds.
I use either a jelly bag or just a length of muslin like above – drape it into a large bowl and gently pour in the contents from the pot. Gather the edges of the cloth together and tie to a broomstick or stick between two chairs to slowly filter the juice into the bowl.
I have perfected this process by tying a loop in the material and using a meat hook to secure the draining bag of fruit to a broomstick. I’ve found this easier than tying the bag to the stick. You need to leave the bag to drain overnight but don’t be tempted to squeeze it or your jelly will be clouded.
This gorgeous coloured juice is the result. For every cup of juice I add 3/4 cup of sugar heating the liquid before adding the sugar and stirring until dissolved. Boil the syrup at a rapid boil until it has reached setting point.
The trickiest part is knowing when the jelly is going to be perfectly set and ready to be poured into glass jars. You can use a candy thermometer to take some of the guess work out it. Make sure you have heated the jars in the oven for at least half an hour to ensure they are sterile. Place the hot jars on a wooden board to avoid cracking. For more information on making jellies take a look at my previous August 2015 post “Foraging for Jelly” .
Not all of my batches set perfectly. One lot that was a little too sticky and stiff I put into a large jar that I use for cooking as you would quince paste. The Hawthorn works well with meat and Hawthorn is supposed to aid the digestion of meat so it’s a perfect addition. A teaspoon full adds a little sweetness and richness to a meat gravy or sauce.
The first frost arrived on May 25th, three days after Jan and Wals visit.
I did a number of batches of jelly using different combinations of fruit but my favourite definitely was the japonica hawthorn partnership. The addition of spices was good so will continue to experiment with spices as well as venture into other Hawthorn products like vinegar, sauce and teas.
Now that it’s past the shortest day, the gnarly branches of the Hawthorn hedgerow are bare so my next haw experimentation will have to wait until autumn 2017.
But what a wonderful tree the Hawthorn is! It’s thorny habit keeps stock inside the paddock, provides shelter and medicine for the animals (horses especially will self-medicate). Its heavy coverage of blossom in spring makes it a good insectary plant and its long held berries or haws give birds much needed food in early winter.
But it does appear on the invasive weed list in New Zealand. Where it has gone astray we have decided in true permaculture style to utilise it for firewood – it is an amazing burning wood.
For centuries Hawthorn has been considered a safe tonic for strengthening an ageing heart, aiding digestion and sleep, as well as mending an emotional heart. When I first saw this very old Hawthorn hedgerow my heart was glad as I knew it would be a useful and decorative asset to our property.
While visiting Auckland to spend time with my grandson Beau, I took the opportunity to promote my son’s preserved apricots by carrying out tastings at the Farro Fresh stores around the city. Farros is to a foodie what a sweet shop is to a child.
With so many tempting products to choose from it is essential that Gus has regular tastings to get customers to remember Augustines of Central preserved apricots.
I got lots of positive feedback about the fresh and delicious flavour of the apricots.
A tasting lasts for 3 hours so when a spicy aroma drifted over from another area of the store I had to see what was being offered. I discovered a warming curry paste simply cooked up with potatoes and a little tomato.
Naaz authentic Indian curry paste came about when one partner was out of work. This product was born by creating the paste in a friend’s commercial kitchen and selling at a local market as many New Zealand food producers have done. Naaz now offers other pastes and are stocked in a number of North Island stores. I like that this product has no preservatives and because of once opened it has to be used within 3 weeks. No problem – it’s so delicious and tastes real and I found it easy to use up in that timeframe.
It takes a lot of time and spices to make such curry pastes and this instant option I decided would be excellent to take home south to create quick and warming meals from the masses of potatoes I had harvested from my garden. It’s always good to have something easy when you first arrive home from a trip away. Going to a supermarket after getting off a plane is no fun when you just want to get home and most of us have one or two potatoes, kumera or a pumpkin in the pantry that could be used as the vegetable base for this curry.
Naaz Potato Curry
Cut up 3 or 4 potatoes diced into 2cm cubes
1 finely chopped onion (optional)
2-3 Tbsp of Naaz curry paste (to taste)
1-2 chopped tomatoes (use canned when out of season)
1 small can coconut cream or yoghurt
Chopped coriander, mint or parsley
Gently fry onion in a little oil. I used coconut oil but would have used ghee if I had it. Once transparent, add 2-3 Tbsp of Naaz authentic Indian paste and fry a little to release the oils from the spices before adding the potatoes.
Stir to cover the potatoes with the paste and then add enough water to just cover potatoes and simmer. Chop up one or two tomatoes and add to the mix. The tomatoes thicken up and add flavour to the sauce.
Just before serving add one of those small tins of coconut cream. Alternatively add a couple of dollops of yoghurt.
At this stage check to see if you need to add a little more curry paste. If it’s at the right level of spiciness, and the vegetables are cooked then its ready to go. Serve with Indian flatbread, dosas, or poppadoms. I had none of these options in the pantry but I did have some Lebanese flatbreads that I fried in a cast iron pan with a little oil, both sides and that worked perfectly well.
As a side dish I sauted coloured silver beet or chard from the garden to add colour and another texture to the meal. I sliced the stems and sauted them first with garlic in a little oil as they take longer to soften, then added wet sliced green tops and cooked until wilted down and soft. The stalks add colour although it is said the plain silver beet white stems are tastier than the coloured ones.
Peter told me he could eat vegetarian every night if it was like this curry which is very encouraging so I will need to order another jar or two of Naaz curry paste. But it needn’t just be used in a vegetarian curry, it works well with chicken, lamb or fish.
At the Epsom store I met the sister of Wild Wheat baker Andrew and heard how their sourdough loaves take over 48 hours to create from start to finish and do not have additives or preservatives.Their bread was really good and quickly disappeared at our house.
The charming Massimiliano from Il Casaro cheese (Italian for cheese maker) I knew from the Sunday Grey Lynn market. He was tasting a new product line next to my table – truffle cream made from butter cream. I tried his recipe handout for a mushroom pasta made with the truffle cream. It was a delightfully delicious way to taste the exotic flavour of truffle.
The other tasters I met were sampling fermented black garlic, cocoa pops and muesli, and cold pressed organic juices. Look into their stories and like Gus these producers have taken years of trial and error to produce the products that now sit on the Farro Fresh shelves. Often those people serving up the tastings, like me, are family or the producer themselves.
Chickweed Stellaria media is a highly nutritious plant popular in Victorian times with the leisure class for use in salads and sandwiches. Today it is called a weed.
I discovered this luscious patch of chickweed when searching for hen greens down our valley near the pond. A windrow of soil from the sediment was made when we reconstructed the pond in January.
Never curse the arrival of chickweed. It indicates that your soil has a balanced pH and is fertile. Apart from the sediment being rich in organic matter the chickweed has grown larger in the windrow because its location is moist and has some shade.
Not only will the hens benefit from this terrific patch of chickweed, so will I.
My first thought is to use it in a salad but unlike the previous salad posting it won’t just be an extra it will be the green star …because of it’s size and lushness. I added some freshly shelled walnuts I purchased from Valda at the Otago Farmers Market, a few olives, and my favourite for lunchtime salads – fried Halloumi cheese. Dressing is just a squirt of lemon juice and a splash of avocado oil.
A warning though – chickweed doesn’t do well under refrigeration, you need to plan to use it on the day it is picked. So after my lunch I decided to use the rest with some Italian parsley that also needed to be harvested before being trampled to death by builders boots.
I filled my food processor with around 50/50 chickweed and parsley – removing the long stems off both, so it was mainly leaf.
This really reduces down when chopped. I crushed a small clove of garlic in salt and added it to the chopped greens.
Then the freshly shelled walnuts (you can use any nuts you like). Pour in extra virgin olive oil to make a puree.
Mix in a little parmesan if you want a more creamy texture and finish off with a squeeze of lemon juice. The lemon juice prevents the pesto from losing it’s bright green colour and also adds an acid flavour balance. Squeeze, then taste, then add more. You are better to be conservative and add to taste when it comes to lemon juice or vinegar.
Finally drizzle over some oil to give the pesto some real gloss.
This pesto can be kept for at least a week in the fridge and there are lots of ways you can use this nutritious spread in a sandwich, pizza, added to pasta or as a flavour boost to any number of dishes.
Chickweed is recognised for its medicinal qualities and a tissane or tea is used to reduce water retention in the body. It can be made into vinegar or an ointment and used as a poultice. It has been called a gardeners first aid plant because it is said to draw out splinters in a much gentler way than a pair of tweezers will. You can use a poultice or dip your finger into a strong tea solution…and it is also good for relieving nettle stings.
Raw it has a good helping of vitamin C and even has vitamin B, assorted minerals, and potassium and all for free in your garden. It is most abundant late winter early spring and is best harvested before it produces it’s tiny star like white flowers and equally tiny seedpods. Give it a go!
Since daylight saving has finished, suddenly the nights in the south seem to be colder and the leaves of the trees are thinking about changing colour. My lettuce plants are under threat with a frosty night just around the corner. Best use them while I can. The sun is shining and that’s always the best time to eat a salad.
I gather my autumn salad from the garden. I have two varieties growing an iceberg in the green house and a cos type lettuce with speckles in my garden where nearby the Florence fennel is about to bolt. Remarkably my slow tomatoes are still ripening in the greenhouse along with the basil that is just holding on and is probably protected a little by the chickweed growing over it.
When I make a salad I try to always add herbs, flowers, weeds and a protein of some kind.
First I tore the Iceberg leaves (while other lettuce types add colour and different textures I really enjoy the crunch of the Iceberg and next year will grow more.)
The speckled lettuce with its long leaves I put around the edge of the bowl whole.
I shaved the Florence Fennel bulb with a mandolin because the thinner you slice it the better it tastes and adds a crunch as well as a natural aniseed sweetness.
Now I pluck off the leaves of the thready chickweed. I try not to include too much of the stringy stems that can be a bit chewy. Chickweed was once used like we use lettuce and contains many nutrients. If you are interested in learning about other weeds click on this link:
The easiest and best dressing for me is a squeeze of lemon juice and avocado oil. I decide to squeeze the lemon juice on now before I place the final toppings. I also add a little salt and pepper. The oil I put on last.
I slice up a tomato into 8 and this adds colour to the green.
Now I cut up a sprig of basil and a little of the fennel fronds.
I used violas and petals from a dandelion as the flower element for this salad.
The protein I chose is one of my favourites the salty and soft hulomi cheese that when fried in a pan for a few minutes in avocado oil becomes crunchy on the outside. Over this I sprinkled a little avocado oil and I had a delicious salad to enjoy while I sat in the sun.
You can choose other options and combinations like replace the fennel for thinly sliced courgette, replace the tomatoes for sliced pears with lemon juice to stop them turning brown and match the pears with cumin roasted walnuts. All these ingredients are autumnal produce.
Autumn Salad: lettuce, fennel bulb, tomatoes and Halloumi cheese.
When making a salad I think of sweet and tart, crunchy and soft, and colour combinations. It never ceases to amaze me how many things you can actually find in the garden to put into a salad, especially when you are confident on what weeds and flowers you can safely add to your salad.
My sister Kerry is my Little Red Riding Hood often arriving with a basket of produce from her garden and hens.
Included in Kerry’s basket were some tomatoes. In our family I’m credited as the one who is the creative cook and my sister as a creative artist. Kerry is reluctant to spend much time in the kitchen. Her rule is use fresh produce and make it easy and simple. Perhaps her signature dish that’s a real family favourite is her slow cooked tomatoes with pasta.
It’s an ideal recipe for the start of autumn when tomatoes are more appetising cooked than fresh as the nights become cooler. The secret to this recipe is to cook long and slow to caramelise and intensify the tomato flavours.
Slow Roasted Tomato Pasta Sauce
There are no measurements for this sauce, make as little or as much as you want. Red Peppers are certainly a great addition to this sauce when they are available at a good price.
Larger tomatoes cut into fat slices, smaller tomatoes in half or tiny cherry tomatoes just prick with a knife and cook whole. I love garlic so I would add one bulb of garlic by peeling off the cloves. No need to skin the garlic. Once the sauce is cooked, I simply squeeze out the garlic puree into the tomato and discard the skins. If you cook the garlic without their skin they could burn.
Season well with salt and pepper and generously add olive oil. You can use virgin olive oil because you are cooking these tomatoes at a low temperature. Cook at 140ºC for about an hour until the tomatoes have collapsed and have begun to caramelise.
To make it more sauce like but not like a puree smash the tomatoes with a potato masher.
The two final ingredients are olives and sweet basil.
I tend to add the olives into the mix to heat through in the sauce while the pasta is cooking and only add the basil when served.
A delicious and warming dinner when added to pasta and topped with a grating of parmesan cheese.
Thanks to the generosity of Gemma who previously owned this property we have been enjoying produce from the garden all summer.
It is a true sign of a generous gardener to plant potatoes, peas courgette and tomatoes knowing you will not reap the harvest, especially when time is at a premium packing up and moving.
My tomatoes had a slow start with a cool beginning to summer and without a watering system in the glasshouse plus a few missing glass panes, I haven’t had the harvest I should have. But they are still producing and the basil has grown well. There is nothing quite the smell of basil and the sense of satisfaction to pick a fresh tomato off its vine.
Thank you Gemma.
Kerry has just opened ‘Seven’ a cute retro apartment in her cottage garden in MacAndrew Bay, Dunedin, and is listed on Airbnb. A great place to stay if you are ever visiting Dunedin. You too will experience the Red Riding Hood delivery of a basket of produce.
It’s been months since I last wrote a posting…I’ve been just too busy with our change of lifestyle. In December we left Ponsonby for Portobello. Not only did we move from one end of New Zealand to the other, we moved from inner city living to 50 acres (20 hectares). Now I’m back online …with a spicy sauce recipe.
It’s always good to look into your pantry and come up with a meal without having to go shopping. While packing up in Auckland a timely Radio NZ National interview with Grace Rameriz allowed me to utilise the cans of beans and rice I had squirrelled away in my pantry in an interesting way.
The Chimichurri herby salsa especially sparked my interest. This sauce is linked to the gauchos (cowboys) of Argentina.
Gauchos would cook over a wood fire with little more than salt and a few herbs to season their meat. There are many variations to this recipe in Argentina so it’s a sauce you can treat as a base and add to or use however you like.
Traditionally Chimichurri Salsa was used to add flavour and freshness to proteins (chicken, beef, fish, pork) without overpowering them but I’ve also used it to add an extra zing to simple flavoured vegetables like boiled new potatoes or aubergine and zucchini.
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped and smashed with rock salt
1⁄2 tsp red chilli flakes
1⁄4 cup white vinegar (I prefer apple cider vinegar)
First of all I crush the garlic cloves in a little rock salt.
You can use whatever combination of herbs you like. With lamb I tend to use a mix of parsley and mint instead of the marjoram. Finely chop the herbs and then crush a little to extract the oils. Often dried oregano is used but I tend to use fresh.
You can also add ground cumin if you want an added earthy flavour which works well with vegetables like carrot or beetroot. Dried or fresh chilli adds a punch.
Then simply stir in the oil and vinegar (twice the measure to the vinegar). Ideally let it sit for at least 30 minutes before using so that flavours will develop.
I call it Gaucho Sauce (correct name Chimichurri Salsa) because its memorable and evokes working and living outdoors. It’s more of a sauce consistency than the chunky salsas we recognise in New Zealand, but then salsa in Spanish does mean sauce. Add some chopped tomatoes or peppers and it will be more chunky.
Peter and I have been spending long days working outside and having Gaucho Sauce on hand that can keep in the fridge for up to 5 days makes a simple meal a little bit special.
“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”
― Julia Child
When I offered to take cooking lessons for Beau’s classmates in year zero (new entrants) at Ponsonby Primary, I was a little unsure just how it would go. I have been surprised to see how the children have loved the experience.
The hour long classes with groups of two or three have been my first go at teaching cooking. You could say I was diving into the deep end by starting with five year olds. But it has been such a delight. How gratifying it is to see young cooks in the making take such pleasure in making pikelets.
I chose pikelets because they are quick, easy to make and it’s hard to fail. Most children know of or have helped make pancakes before. Pikelets belong to the world wide Pancake family and are Welsh by origin. In England they are called Drop Scones.
1 heaped cup of flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp creme of tartar
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp sugar
Milk to mix into a batter*
*Milk Kefir or buttermilk used instead of milk makes an even lighter pikelets.
Next the flour, salt and raising agents (baking soda and creme of tartar) are sifted for two reasons: to mix thoroughly and to add air to make the pikelets light.
Add the sugar and mix through the sifted flour. Make an indentation or well in the flour and break in egg and about half a cup of milk and mix to a batter.
One child would hold the bowl and the other would have a go at stirring. This was to avoid disaster if the bowl and mix hit the floor. Then I would show how to beat holding the bowl in one arm and quickly whipping the batter using a wooden spoon to make a smooth silky batter telling them that this is how to mix once they get bigger.
Add more milk if necessary to make a consistency that is not too thick as to stay on the spoon or too thin to spread too much in the pan.
The mix needs to sit for about 10 minutes until bubbles appear in the batter. While we wait for the mix to double I heat up pans. Getting the heat right is the most difficult part of the process.
It’s best to make pikelets on a cast iron griddle or girdle because its flat plate surface makes flipping a lot easier. Next best is a cast iron pan. Cast iron takes longer to reach heat than a steel pain but will produce a more even heat. The pan needs to be sprayed with oil or do it the old fashioned way of a little butter on butter paper and wiping around the pan.
The first pickles we make is a tiny version to test whether the temperature is right.
You can cook a number of pikelets at once but I felt for our class we should concentrate on one at a time.
We wait until some of the bubbles begin to pop indicating that the mix is cooking and the bottom is browning. Time to flip….
I show them first time how to do it, help them flip the next, and then they get to flip on their own.
I found I was fast running out of time. It was decided that on the final Friday I would have six children and make scones for the whole class so they can enjoy sharing food with their classmates. I wanted them to experience that sharing is the most rewarding part of cooking. Scones are great for a large crowd and we made 36 scones with every child making 6 scones each.
Thankfully Susie offered to help and teaching assistant Miss Stevenson made the gluten free scones with Holly and Remy who have gluten allergies.
I had previously discounted making scones with the children because scones can too easily be overworked resulting in a tough, dry result. I would need to supervise the mixing closely but the rubbing in butter into flour would be fun for the children to experience.
First of all we did the grand hand wash and told them that if they touched their faces they would need to wash again especially because they were using their hands in the mix. Isn’t it always the way, if told not touch your face you suddenly get an itch? The more Jack and Luca thought about it the itchier their noses became. Suzie patiently would go through the washing hands process again and again but they all now know the importance of clean hands when preparing food.
(Makes 12 – preheat oven to 200ºC)
2 cups of flour (or a mix of 1½ white and ½ wholemeal)
4 levelled off teaspoons of Baking Powder
100 grams of butter
Pinch of salt
*Milk to mix to soft dough – approx 1 cup
Extra flour for patting out and cutting
*Milk Kefir makes fantastic scones as would buttermilk. As kefir is like yoghurt with a tart flavour I usually add 1 tsp of sugar to the flour if using kefir.
Once the flour, baking powder and salt has been sifted, its time to rub in the butter. This can be done in a food processor but I find the end result is better if done by hand.
Always use cold butter and dice the butter into 1-2 cm cubes.
I tend to smear the cubes into the flour and then rub mix between fingers to reduce the butter to a breadcrumbs consistency. The children worked their bowls of butter and flour beautifully.
The messy part over, they all washed their hands ready for making the dough.
I showed them how to use a table knife to mix in the milk by cutting through the flour rather than stirring. I just pour the milk rather than measure it out. We mixed until all the flour could form a ball easily.
With scones the mix should be wet rather than dry (wetter than you would for pastry). A light covering of flour on the work surface will ensure they don’t stick.
No need to roll just lightly pat down the ball to about 2.5 cm in height and cut into 12 and place on a cold tray either sprinkled with flour or on a sheet of baking paper.
Bake for 10-12 minutes – the smell test is the best timer you can use. Once you smell them cooking they are usually cooked.
Out of the oven, the next job was to put butter and jam on the scones to share with the class.
One thing these classes have taught me is not to underestimate what children can do on their own. My final group of six certainly made great scones and we wrapped up one of their own scones for home.
Children introduced to the enjoyment of cooking something for themselves and their friends will create good food memories that hopefully will inspire them to be creative in their future kitchens.
Chocolate peanut biscuits from the Edmonds cookbook were the first biscuits I ever made. We used to call them “Peanut Brownies” but that was before the American Brownie was introduced – and the cake-like rich Brownie is a not at all like the crisp peanut biscuits I used to make.
My friend Sandra gave me a lovely gift of Valrhona – Poudre de cacao (cocoa powder) from France. I was eager to try it out, and chocolate peanut biscuits immediately came to mind, especially as they would be good to pop into Beau’s school lunchbox.
I improved the original biscuit by using this beautiful rich cocoa powder – they were delicious. But Beau reminded me that peanuts were not allowed at school because one of his classmates is allergic to nuts.
I needed to find an alternative and discovered another chocolate biscuit recipe that looked intriguing because it used Spanish paprika and a salty sprinkle on top. I know salted caramel works, so salted chocolate biscuits might too.
The chocolate biscuit base of my old favourite looked a better recipe so I decided to just change the extra flavourings, and of course use the rich cocoa powder.
Salted chocolate, raisin and pumpkin seed biscuits
(Preheat the oven to 180ºC and this mix makes two trays)
125 g of butter
1 cup of sugar
1½ cups of flour
2 Tbsp of cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp Spanish smoked paprika (original recipe suggested hot but I used what I had)
Pinch of salt
¾ cup of pumpkin seeds
½ cup of raisins (you could also use Craisins or currants)
½ cup of chocolate chips, chopped pieces, chocolate chunks – (use whatever you have in the pantry)
Flaked Sea Salt – I like to use Maldon sea salt because the flakes crush easily
I remember the thrill of using the Kenwood mixer when making those first biscuits and a cake mixer does speed up the process but everything can be made in a bowl with a wooden spoon and a little human energy.
Soften the butter and sugar and beat until its light and creamy, then beat in the egg.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, pinch of salt, and Spanish paprika and add to the mixer.
I usually add the pumpkin seeds, raisins and chocolate chunks by hand, but you can use a mixer.
Take a teaspoon full of mix and form into a ball with your hands and place on a tray covered with baking paper.
This mix makes two trays and approximately 32 biscuits. Now with a fork dip into a glass of water and gently flatten the balls. The water helps to prevent the fork from sticking to the mix.
Finally before putting into the oven, pinch flaked sea salt and crush a little over each flattened biscuit – just a little – too much salt and it will spoil the biscuit.
Place into the oven, first tray slightly above the half way line of the oven and the second tray as close to half way as possible and bake for 15 minutes or until cooked. The time will depend on your oven and if using a fan oven reduce the temperature down to 170ºC. In a non-fan oven half way through cooking swap the trays to get even cooking. I generally do one tray and pop it into the oven and then do the other so that the first batch can have room to cool on a rack while the others finish cooking. It’s important to use a cooling rack so that they have plenty of air circulation allowing them to cool quickly and stay crisp.
Alternatively use Spelt flour instead of plain white flour as it produces a better biscuit crunch outcome and some who cannot have wheat products can eat spelt flour products with no side affects. But it is an expensive choice and I keep my spelt flour for my favourite Wanaka Gingernut biscuits.
I couldn’t pick out the paprika flavour but I think it added to the richness. If you used a hot paprika there would be a little heat…perhaps not advisable for five year old lunch boxes.
Upcycle is a popular word of the moment and usually pertains to art, furniture and building projects where the old fashioned or unwanted materials of are re-used or reworked to gain new value.
I think it’s a word that can also be used in the world of cooking as there are many recipes either forgotten or thought not to be exciting enough that with a little rethinking can become an up to date delight.
Not that the classic peanut chocolate biscuit has passed its use by date, but, in these days of higher incidence of food allergies it sometimes pays to upcycle the classic so that everyone can enjoy them. If you want to make the old favourite just add peanuts and nothing else to the chocolate biscuit base.
Whangarei Heads is always a delight to visit, so much so that we usually don’t want to leave. But on our last visit our friend Heather Hunt insisted we be on the road by 7am to experience the Whangarei Growers Market held early every Saturday morning.
Heather is right, the growers market is excellent. Of course, coming from the South, my eyes focused first on the large $5 bags of Keri Keri oranges and then a bag of Ben Yen lemons for $2. How I will miss citrus when we move back to Dunedin.
I spoke to a stall holder selling “duck-egg blue” duck eggs. Half a dozen duck eggs went into my bag as I’m curious to see if using duck eggs rather than hen eggs, will result in a better cake.
Then I spied first of the season golden Butter Beans grown outside by a Keri Keri grower. They were a bit of a treat at $5 a small bag but then to my reckoning growers producing the first for the bean season deserve that extra reward.
My best contribution to the evening meal would be a salad so I made for the organic veggie stall that also sells ready made salads. Kaleslaw instead of Coleslaw…this made me smile. How smart to incorporate the vegetable of the moment, kale, into a coleslaw mix. It was a vibrant and plentiful stall and a good place to browse while listening to a great version of Leonard Cohen’s “Allelujah” performed by young local musicians.
It was here I spied the bag of New Zealand Spinach. I’ve never seen this vegetable for sale before although I have foraged for it in it’s natural habitat on sandy dunes and coastal places. The horticulturally grown plants in the bag had larger and lush leaves compared to those in the wild.
New Zealand spinach is not a real spinach but has that similar triangular leaf shape and can be used as a spinach replacement. Its succulent spongy texture will allow it to survive hot and dry conditions, making it an ideal spinach alternative when it’s too hot for real spinach to thrive.
Purple-green Rambo radish micro-greens caught my eye. This is the first time I have purchased micro-greens. I’m curious about growing them myself so I quizzed the grower.
Finally meeting up again with Heather and Peter, we calculated if we would have the ingredients between us to make a quick and easy dinner as we had a big day exploring the Bay of Islands ahead. Heather had in her bag a side of smoked gem fish and freshly dug potatoes.
Peter sourced our entree with a camembert from Grinning Gecko cheesemakers, James and Catherine McNamara. The name of their cheese was inspired by the green geckos that live in the manuka and kanuka on their property at Whangarei Heads.
I had more than enough ingredients for a salad and I was keen to try the New Zealand Spinach as the green salad base.
New Zealand spinach is high in oxalic acid, like sorrel, so best to avoid eating it raw in large quantities because it can inhibit your body from absorbing other nutrients. Cooking it will greatly reduce the oxalic acid but will destroy the high vitamin C content.
Whangarei Salad: NZ Spinach, Orange & Fennel
Half of the large fennel bulb I sliced very carefully and thinly with a mandolin and used half of the bag of New Zealand spinach leaves, discarding the larger stems and tearing it into bite sized pieces.
Next I mixed the spinach, sliced fennel, chopped onions and some greenery from the fennel with an orange dressing to be absorbed and softened… as you would with a coleslaw. Normally with softer leaves or crisp greens I would add the dressing just before serving.
The sweet orange dressing was made from the juice of a Keri Keri orange, a little orange zest, a garlic clove crushed in sea salt, a dash of cider vinegar, a teaspoon of honey and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. I haven’t given exact measurements as the amount of vinegar and honey you add is up to personal taste and relies on how sweet the orange is. I found when experimenting with this dressing it was best to dip in a leaf of the spinach to check if the dressing was just right for the salad.
I used two oranges, cutting up the second into pieces to add to the salad along with some chopped almonds. Try to remove all the white pith from the oranges as the pith is bitter.
I added to the marinating salad a sliced up Lebanese cucumber, the Rambo radish sprouts, diced orange and chopped almonds just before serving.
My Whangarei Salad worked really well with the potatoes, beans and smoked fish.
Captain Cook’s crew found that New Zealand spinach was effective at fighting the symptoms of scurvy and harvested, cooked and preserved the leafy plant for the crew of the “Endeavor” (hence the name “Cook’s Cabbage”). But it was another explorer and botanist, Joseph Banks, who took it back to England to grow in 1772 and it became very popular.
From one explorer to another…
Our trip to the Bay of Islands followed the footsteps of another early explorer and naturalist, Charles Darwin. As a young man in his 20’s he made a brief nine day visit to the Bay of Islands in 1835. After the sunshine and friendliness of Tahiti, he was not impressed with a drizzly Christmas in the lawless town of Kororāreka (Russell) and the missionary settlement of Paihia. The highlight of his visit was to the white- washed English settlement and Te Waimate Mission Station.
I wonder if Darwin was served New Zealand spinach during his stay at the mission?
It’s a plant I’m keen to grow under garden conditions as it’s robust, grows well in drought or in coastal saline-rich soils, and is unaffected by bugs or pests. It can also be utilised as a good ground cover to keep moisture in the ground so I am also keen to plant it under fruit trees.
It was greatly appreciated 200+ years ago – I reckon its high time we revived interest in New Zealand spinach.
I’ve been experimenting with my favourite pudding cake recipe to showcase Augustines of Central preserved apricots.
Our son Gus is the producer of these perfect preserves and he gave me a challenge recently. Could I find a good cake recipe for his apricots? Gus is an excellent chef but really cakes are not his specialty. He was never the one hovering around the cake mixer as a child. First up I tried a rustic cake recipe from Nigel Slater that Gus suggested.
It was good sized cake but I felt the apricots were a little lost in the cakeyness.
A pudding cake can be served warm as a pudding or dessert with cream, custard or yoghurt, or cut up cold with a tea or coffee.
The original recipe uses sweet dessert apples that keep their shape. (Cooking apples or tart apples have too much malac acid to keep their shape). I have used pears and they work really well so try some of those sweet Winter Nelis pears featured in my previous post.
My first experimentation with the Almond Pudding Cake recipe was to use Gus’s suggested combination of blueberries and his apricots. I liked this idea for three reasons. First, using two summer fruits preserved in time, one quick frozen and the other in a preserving jar. Second, using fruits from two ends of New Zealand – north of Auckland for the blueberries and Central Otago for the apricots. Thirdly, the colour combination is gorgeous.
I decided to make this cake again to take to our community garden‘s work day shared lunch to get some feedback.
This time I cut up the apricots to ensure everyone would get some apricot and to make it more like a cake than a pudding.
I got a great response from my fellow gardeners but I felt it didn’t really need the blueberries. The apricots could stand on their own. So too could the blueberries work solo as a feature fruit in this Almond Pudding Cake.
Apricot and Almond Pudding Cake
This cake recipe is for a 20 cm springform cake tin, but as I only have a 22 cm tin so used that. It still works but the cake doesn’t reach quite the height it would in a 20cm tin. It comes out a little more like a flan which is fine for a dessert.
Grease your tin and line the base with baking paper and preheat the oven to 170°C.
150g butter softened
125g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1 tsp almond essence (optional – if you like extra almond flavour – I prefer not to add this)
75g self-raising flour
75g ground almonds (or blanched almonds whizzed in a food processor – and I have used whole almonds ground into a meal as well)
Pinch of salt
For caramelizing of the fruit:
8-9 Augustines of Central apricot halves
25 g butter
1 heaped tbsp of brown sugar
To save time and effort just place the apricots on top without the caramelising as unlike the apples the apricots are already cooked. But I enjoyed the extra sweetness as the apricots are lovely and tart and the caramel does create a rich coloured crust.
If using other fruits than the apricots like the original apples you will need 3-4 apples or pears, or around 1½ cups of frozen berries.
It’s also an option to add a little cinnamon when caramelising the fruit.
Sift the self raising flour, keeping aside 1 Tbsp of flour and then mix in the ground almond or almond meal. The almond meal is made from whole almonds not blanched ground almonds.
It’s important to beat really well the butter and sugar until the sugar almost melts. The secret is to just soften the butter so that it will cream or fluff up. If too melted it will become a sugar slurry. Many a time I have left the bowl in the oven too long. You can fix this by quickly taking out the butter and sugar from the hot bowl and throw into the freezer for around 10 minutes and then repeat the beating process.
It’s much easier to use a cake mixer, but you can opt for a bit of a workout and beat with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time. To prevent curdling add 1 Tbsp of the flour measurement with the second egg.
This creaming process will ensure your cake is light, as will sifting the flour.
The final step is to fold in the dry ingredients. It’s important you fold rather than stir or beat to keep the mix light and airy. My little kitchen helper, Beau, filmed me demonstrating this action.
Spoon the cake evenly into the prepared tin. It’s best to start the caramelising while making the cake to ensure the cake goes into the oven quickly.
Melt the brown sugar and butter in a heavy pan and let it sizzle to caramelise a little. Then add your fruit. I put the apricots cut side down and only for a minute or two. The apples and pears need to partly cook for about 5 minutes. Keep the pan moving so that they don’t stick.
Now it’s time to place the fruit on top of the cake mix.
The apple and pears I would do as Hugh suggests and slightly dig them into the cake mix so that they are in the middle of the cake. I prefer to just place the apricots on top. The cake will rise around them but it’s nicer to see a glimpse of their colour on top of the cake.
Pour over the caramelised juices and bake for around 50 minutes at 170°C. Be guided by the smell – if you can smell it, the cake is probably getting ready – but to make sure test with a skewer into the centre to see if it comes out clean. Another indication that it’s cooked is when it begins to shrink from the edge of the pan.
Preserved apricots contain as much vitamin A, antioxidants and minerals as a fresh apricot Unripe fruit will only have half the vitamin A compared to a ripe apricot. All of Gus’s apricots are tree ripened so by staying on the tree longer Augustines of Central preserves will have maximum vitamin A content.
There is nothing more delicious than a tree ripened apricot and as a fresh fruit it’s a low calorie fruit with loads of nutrients including vitamin C and soluble fibre. But it’s not easy sourcing sweet fresh apricots. The best apricots in New Zealand come from Central Otago and Hawkes Bay and to get the best, you need to buy from roadside stalls or the excellent Hawkes Bay Farmers Market in Hastings every Sunday or Otago Farmers Market in Dunedin every Saturday morning over the summer.
Not that most of us have to be persuaded to eat an apricot as they are delicious. But it’s interesting that apricots, raw, cooked or dried, are particularly good for improving eyesight especially for those of us with ageing eyes who spend a lot of time in front of screens being exposed to harmful blue light.
I’ve succeeded in my small challenge to find a cake recipe to complement Gus’s preserved apricots. It’s also a recipe that will work with any seasonal fruit.
Gus has a much bigger challenge ahead. He has to source more Central Otago spray free orchards because his 2015 stock has already sold out and more stockists are lining up to stock Augustines of Central in 2016.
What is it with pears? Bite into a pear from the tree and its like a rock. But, take it inside, keep it warm, and in time it transforms into a luscious, soft, juicy eating experience. Not too much time, mind, or it will turn into a brown mushy mess.
Pears are lovely cooked. I discovered some sweet Winter Nelis pears at the Otago Farmers Market. This late season variety of pear is the perfect shape and size for my proposed poached pear recipe, a deliciously simple dessert.
Winter Nelis…she may be an ugly sister in the pear family with her russet skin and dumpy appearance, but her sweet buttery flesh and reputation as an excellent cooker made me choose her over the more elegant pears on show.
One of the treasurers of the Otago Farmers Market are the orchardists that get up absurdly early on a Saturday morning to travel 2-3 hours to offer market goers in the city of Dunedin the sweet fruits produced by their Central Otago sunshine.
One vendor I make a point of visiting up on the railway platform is Stan Randle from Harwarden orchard. Stan runs a 12 hectare orchard at Earnscleugh Road, near Alexandra, and offers spray free fruit.
He often has other produce for sale from his 12 hectare property and I spied a selection of honey for sale.
Chatting to Stan, he proudly told me that his “Three Maidens” clover honey is named after his three grand daughters, Tyla, Brie and Shelby. How lucky they are, not only to have the honey named after them, but to be given the experience and benefits of their grand parents growing food in a natural way.
Honey Poached Pears
2 cups water
1 cup white dry wine
8 Tbsp of honey
4 Tbsp quince jelly
piece of lemon peel shaved with vegetable peeler
Juice of a lemon – first to cover freshly peeled pears to stop browning and then remainder added to poaching liquid
Optional: you can add a cinnamon stick or a piece of ginger as an additional flavouring. As I used quince jelly along with the honey I wanted the quince flavour to shine through so didn’t add other flavourings, but you can be brave and experiment.
If using a stronger flavoured honey than the clover honey, I suggest perhaps using less honey and add a little sugar. Brown sugar helps to make a rich colour to your poaching liquid. I have used Creme de Cassis (black currant liqueur) to create a darker red liquid.
Choose a pot that will fit the number of pears you want to poach. It’s best to create a snug fit in the pot, as the more pears the less poaching liquid you’ll need. I managed to cook ten small Winter Nelis pears.
Assemble the poaching liquid of water, wine, honey/jelly, and the lemon zest.
Place the poaching liquid on the stove and heat to a simmer. Put the peeled pears into a bowl that has the juice of a lemon and make sure the skinned pear is coated with lemon juice.
Now gently place the whole pears into the pot of poaching liquid with the aid of a slotted spoon. The liquid should cover the pears – add extra water if required. I usually drain in any remaining lemon juice into the liquid as well.
To keep the pears submerged cover the pot with a sheet of baking paper and weigh down with a smaller sized pot lid or plate. I find the pot lid is easier to get out than a plate because of the lid handle.
If you don’t weigh down the pears they will naturally bob up to the top and their tops could discolour.
Use a fork or skewer to test if cooked. If easily pierced then they are cooked. With a slotted spoon take out the pears leaving the poaching liquid in the pot.
Turn up the heat to make the syrup thicker by reducing the water content with a rolling boil. The liquid doesn’t have to be that thick but try to reduce to a syrup consistency.
These pears can simply be enjoyed with a good ice cream or cream.
One of my favourite winter desserts are poached pears served with a warm slice of rich gingerbread.
I served Stan’s Winter Nelis pears with almond biscuits and a dollop of organic Mascarpone cheese. Made by Italian artisan cheese makers from Auckland, Il Casaro, the mascarpone and their fresh Mozzarella were two treats I brought to share with our friends from the South.
When I asked if I could take his photo for my blog posting, Stan told me about his favourite blog, Stone Soup from Australia. I checked it out and I agree blogger Jules Clancy has created a great read. There are lots of quick and healthy cooking ideas and it’s worth checking out.
With Christmas just a couple of months away its time for me to think about what edible gift I could make for family and friends. A simple recipe I discovered transforms ordinary olives in brine into big flavoured olives by roasting in oil and other flavours.
Roasted Olives with Rosemary, Garlic and Orange
Makes enough to fill a 6 cup jar.
1 kg olives in brine (don’t use pitted olives but you can use any variety you like)
1 bulb of garlic – broken into cloves, with the skins left on
3 stalks of rosemary
Generous pinch of ground black pepper
about 500ml or 2 cups of extra virgin olive oil
Peel and juice of 2 oranges, peel cut into strips
First step is to rinse the brine off the olives and put into a large saucepan. I used a large wok shaped pot.
Next add the garlic, orange peel cut into strips, and rosemary.
Add the olive oil, pepper and bring up to a very gentle simmer and simmer for about ten minutes.
Now add the freshly squeezed orange juice.
Simmer again and continue to cook until the garlic is soft. The olives are supposed to be done when they start to wrinkle – about another 20 minutes.
As I chose larger kalamata olives it took about an hour and they still weren’t wrinkled, but the orange and garlic was certainly soft so it was time for bottling.
The jars need to be sterilised. The olives made a smaller jar to give away as a gift and a large preserving jar with the olives that I put in the fridge to bring out over the Christmas period. They will keep for a couple of months.
It could be the perfect value added gift to make this Christmas because after enjoying the olives the remaining flavoured oil can be used in salad dressings or drizzled over bruschetta.
Traditional English muffins are small yeast breads; flattish circles with a gritty surface, torn apart rather than cut and usually toasted. But perhaps they should be Traditional American muffins – not English muffins.
It’s true muffins were adapted from the United Kingdom griddle-baked breads like the crumpet and bannock, but the English muffin we recognise today was first made in the USA and exported back to Britain.
In my August posting Moofins – Nana’s Bran Muffins, I revealed today’s cake-like muffins were adapted from the original yeasted muffin cooked on the stove top. This sparked my interest to make a home made version of the Traditional English muffin and coincided with finding”The Bread Bible” by American bread baker Beth Hensperger in a second hand bookshop. I now had a good recipe to follow…
Traditional English Muffins
(Makes 12 -15, 9-10 cm or 3-4 inch muffins)
¼ cup warm water
1 tbsp active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
4-4½ cups of high grade flour
2 tsp salt
1 large egg at room temperature
1¼ cups warm milk*
2 tbsp butter melted
½ cup currants (optional)
¼ cup of semolina or cornmeal for sprinkling when rolling out
*for those of you who are fermenters producing milk kefir, I replaced 1 cup of the milk with kefir but didn’t heat it as it can easily separate. I did heat ¼ cup of milk with the melted butter to ensure the mix was warm. The idea of heating is to ensure the environment is warm for the yeast to activate quickly. I did take the kefir out of the fridge to come up to room temperature before using.
Pour the warm water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top with a pinch of sugar, stir and leave in a warm place until bubbles appear – about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl place 2 cups of the flour and 2 tsp of salt and form a well in the centre of the flour. Break in the egg, add milk (or kefir), butter and yeast mixture and beat until creamy, for about 2 minutes.
Beth used a whisk for this first process but I used a wooden spoon. (This part can be processed with a cake mixer).
Add the remaining flour, half a cup at a time along with the currants (if using) and mix with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms that just clears the side of the bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and springy – at least 3 minutes. (If using a cake mixer switch to a dough attachment to knead for 2-3 minutes making sure the dough springs back when pressed – you may wish to do the final kneading by hand.)
Wash clean the bowl and add some olive oil in the base. Turn the dough once over to cover with oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for the dough to double in size. This may take 1½ hours.
Once the dough has risen, first step is to preheat an electric frypan or the oven with a pizza stone to 180°C. If you want to be authentic then heat a griddle or cast iron pan on the stove top to a medium heat. The pan will be hot enough when you land a drop of water in the pan and it sizzles and dances across the surface.
Lightly sprinkle the work surface with the semolina or cornmeal. This will prevent the soft dough from sticking and will give that distinctive grainy coating to the muffin. Gently deflate the dough and roll out to about 1.5 cm or ½ inch depth. Sprinkle the top as well to prevent the rolling pin sticking to the dough.
I experimented with a couple of biscuit cutters and a preserving jar lid to cut out the muffins. I quite like the scalloped edges of the larger biscuit cutter.
All the trimmings put together and roll out again. Cover the made muffins with a cloth or if its really warm in the kitchen put them in the fridge until ready to go on the skillet or oven to avoid them getting too puffy. Beth didn’t suggest the pizza stone – it was something I thought may work as the griddle or girdle in Wales was originally stone.
In a cast iron pan on the stove top you need to cook them for about 10 minutes each side but keep an eagle eye on them to avoid too much browning. I wanted to avoid the muffins being doughy on the inside so after the first couple on the stove top I put the rest into the oven on the pizza stone.
I didn’t spray the stone with oil but I did the pan where I finished them off to give them that brown crust. It may be a cheats way but I did ensure the interior of the muffin was cooked without the exterior being too crusty.
The early American settlers didn’t have the luxury of using an oven when they began making this bread. I’m sure they got very good at ensuring the griddle was not too hot so that the muffins cooked through without burning on the outside. Today we are so often time poor, so baking that takes too long doesn’t get made. Using a pizza stone in the oven and finishing off on the top I think is the best compromise.
The muffins once cooked should be cooled on a wire rack before pulling apart and eating fresh or toasting.
It takes a little effort to make these muffins but I was very pleased with the final outcome. They are easy and are far better than the shop bought versions. I have enough muffins to freeze for another time or to give away as an edible gift.
I now call them Traditional Muffins not English Muffins, plus I have a feeling making these delightful breads will be an ongoing tradition in the Hayden household.
On a warm spring day, there is nothing better than a simple salad for lunch that you have just picked and put together in the garden. Eating outside somehow makes everything taste better.
I did this recently with my friend Sinead at our community garden as a practical way of helping her identify weeds and flowers she could add to her salads. Using weeds and flowers will make salad greens go further, will produce a salad with more eye appeal, and will deliver plant diversity to your table. Even if you need to buy the basic salad green, additional vital minerals and micro-nutrients (as well as flavours and textures) can be added by collecting weeds and garden flowers to add to your salad.
I selected curly endive as my base salad green but you can also use lettuce or baby spinach. In Auckland we can have lettuce ready at this time of the year but in the south, in early spring, I would rely on other not so well known salad greens that can take cooler growing conditions like curly endive, miner’s lettuce or corn salad.
Miner’s lettuce Claytonia perfoliata is also called winter purslane as the leaves have the same slightly succulent texture as purslane. Miners lettuce got it’s name because early gold miners would plant it wherever they set up camp. Mineers lettuce would provide them with much needed vitamin C at a time of year when there were little other fresh greens available. It’s a plant that’s wild at heart, grows quickly and will easily self sow. While not a perennial, as such, it is a good addition to a perennial kitchen garden because if allowed to seed, it will pop up every winter.
Corn salad Valerianella locusta (also called lambs lettuce or Mâche) is another winter early spring salad green that is mild flavoured like lettuce. It forms a small rosette, and you can harvest the whole plant or simply pick off leaves allowing more to grow. This year I have grown them really well in a pot, doing better than those in the garden, probably because they don’t have to compete with larger plants so it’s a good option for apartment dwellers.
Once the green salad base of curly endive and corn salad has been gathered, we collect and identify weed additions for the salad; chickweed, creeping speedwell, nipplewort and dead nettle. These spring weeds I have identified in my previous posting Mahuru Goddess of Spring Weed Saladsin September.
I then collected a number of spring flowers to add colour and extra flavour to our salad. Where to start when considering what flowers to use?
It’s important to correctly identify anything you eat, but you are pretty safe to use any vegetable plant that has gone to flower. Rocket goes to flower very quickly and the peppery flowers are good to eat. Broccoli, kale, mustards and mizuna all produce little four leaved yellow flowers that can add colour and a mustardy flavour of varying degrees. In my garden plot I have pretty pink blooms of a radish that hadn’t been harvested so we added these to our salad mix.
The other group that are usually pretty safe are herbs. The flowers often have a more intense flavour than the herb foliage.
Calendula officinalis is a herb I use in both salads and cooked dishes nearly year round. It’s a great little flower to have growing in your garden. It’s a perennial but is often treated as an annual and if let to seed will self sow readily. The flowers can be bright yellow or orange and have a yellow centre or a black centre. I pull off the petals to add a rich yellow to the green salad. Using Calendula petals does more than just add colour, there are nutritional and medicinal benefits for the digestive tract, liver and gall bladder.
Blue is an intense colour that is noticeable in a salad of green. The blue herb Borage, Borago officinalis , with its bright blue star shaped flowers is a real favourite of mine, as well as with the bees in the garden. It’s supposed to be a good companion plant for legumes, strawberries and tomatoes although don’t interplant as borage does get quite large and gangly as it gets older. It’s best planted at the end of a row or in a corner near the plants you want it to companion. If transplanting get the seedlings into the ground when small as they don’t easily move due to their taproot. Best to scatter some seeds in the area you want them to grow and if you let them seed then there will always be borage.
Borage is often used in ice blocks to decorate summer drinks. Borage has medicinal qualities and has been used since ancient times to dispel melancholy and to induce euphoria…and we can all do with that from time to time.
I noticed a rosemary flowering so picked a few of the blue blooms to add to our salad.
We collected from the herb garden a few sprigs of my favourite salad herb, chervil. This delicate herb is a good one to get growing in your garden. It’s in the same family as parsley but has a more delicate flavour with a faint taste of liquorice or aniseed. It has good digestive properties but its not always easy to grow. Chervil quickly runs to seed, especially if transplanted because of its tap root so it’s best to sow seeds directly. Once it’s found it’s happy place, it will self sow.
When young the poisonous plant hemlock could be confused with chervil, but hemlock has purple spots on its stems and the best check is to crush the leaves and smell before picking – chervil smells of aniseed balls and hemlock of mouse pee.
Heartsease Viola tricolour is a wild flower herb that has been bred to create the pansies and violas in flower gardens. Heartsease is the bearer of a host of other common names: heart’s delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, three faces in a hood, love-in-idleness and kiss-her-in-the-buttery, to name a few. All these old names indicate what this plant was traditionally used for – to ease complaints of the heart and as a love potion. The flowers were also made into a cordial to help children with coughs and to repair skin conditions.
I did find it difficult to establish from seed but it’s growing really well scrambling over rocks at the front of my garden plot. It’s really an annual but it’s now in its second year and blooming it’s heart out. I have noticed ants around these rocks so I’m hoping they will help to establish new heartsease.
The flowers are soft and of little flavour but they are a show stopper on the plate…and then there’s that intriguing notion of it’s love potion power.
Abutilon is in the mallow family with common names velvet leaf or Indian mallow and needs a subtropical or tropical climate. In southern regions an alternative could be day lilies Hemerocallis as they are also edible and have a similar taste to abutilon. Abutilon tastes even sweeter than a courgette or pumpkin flower. It’s velvet soft texture makes this flower easy to eat.
Violet Viola odorata’s sweet flower matches it’s sweet perfume. They are particularly lovely placed on desserts but I also like them included in a salad. You can eat the leaves with two leaves having as much vitamin C as an orange. The flowers heated in sugar and water will extract a floral scented syrup to use in desserts.
Back at our garden table I processed my collection cutting up plant leaves into bite sized pieces, and discarding tough stems. I then tossed through the dressing I had brought in a container made from orange juice, lemon, oil and seasoning and cut up an orange to add a little sweetness to the salad. Last touch is to mix through the calendula petals and place the other flowers on top to create a pretty salad.
I came to the gardens with a good bread from a bakery made from spelt flour and Sinead contributed some cheese. We had enough food to share our lunch with three other community gardeners.
To make it a total garden experience I made a pot of fresh herbal tea with rosemary and lemon balm.
At lunch I was asked if forget-me-nots Myosotis scorpioides were edible. I didn’t have the answer then but have since discovered they too are in the borage family, and yes the little blue flowers are edible.
You may not yet have borage growing, but I bet there will some forget-me-nots popping up in your garden this spring.
The flowers above are the early arrivals in spring. I will follow up with a summer posting when there will be a another new line up of flowers ready for your pick and mix garden salad.
“Spring’s here” announced the plum trees, the borage and the daffodils.
“Not so fast” screamed the Southerly on the Dunedin Railway platform of the Otago Farmers Market last Saturday. I’ve found a particularly good recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts. This southern market should have plenty of sprout photo opportunities as Otago (especially North Otago) is renowned for the large sweet Brussels sprouts it produces.
The Otago Farmers Market stall holders all joined in the spirit of National Bee Awareness Month by wearing a variety of bee headwear and costumes.
New boutique beer brewers Paul and Karen from Steamer Basin Brewing went a step further by creating a Honey Bee beer for the occasion. I caught up with my husband Peter who said, “This platform must be the coldest place in the South Island”… but he did manage to stay for a taste of the beer and to chat with Paul and Karen who confirmed it was 1° Celsius.
Brussels sprouts Brassica oleraceae, variety gemmifera are only grown commercially in two regions of New Zealand.
The first is Ohakune, in the Central North Island with it’s cool mountain climate. Ohakune sprouts tend to be the smaller hybrid variety with compact heads and are available early in the season. They have a higher mustard oil content than the larger, looser leaved, and sweeter sprouts produced in the South Island around Oamaru in North Otago.
Brussels sprouts are a curious looking plant with mini cabbages growing up long tough stalks. Just like broad beans, the formed sprouts are picked from the bottom of the stems up, leaving the plant to continue growing. Brussels sprouts will not grow good “sprouts” in warm areas – they remain open and floppy and most likely will be infested with aphids.
Spicy Roasted Brussels Sprouts
This simple recipe makes the sometimes “dreaded” Brussels Sprouts moreish with the addition of honey, chilli sauce ( a mild sweet chilli sauce if encouraging children to eat them) and rice wine vinegar.
Consider doing what I do. make more than what is needed for one meal, as they are delicious the next day when part of a salad, like a warm lentil salad.
This recipe uses approx 750 g of sprouts and preheat the oven to 180°C.
750g Brussels sprouts, ½ cup olive oil (or a mix of olive and rice bran oil), ¼ cup of brown rice vinegar (you can replace this with apple cider vinegar), 1 tbsp of honey, 2 tsp of chilli sauce (or to taste).
Mix the marinade in a bowl, add the sprouts that have been cut in half and mix to cover the sprouts with the marinade. Lay the sprouts cut side down onto a large oven dish – big enough for every sprout to fit cut side down.
Tip any remaining marinade over the top of the sprouts and cook for around 20 minutes until the tops begin to crunch (even slightly char if you like that) and the underside has begun to caramelize.
One stop I like to make at the market is Origin Meats. With Stuart I get to talk to the farmer and he’s passionate about the product he produces and sells here every Saturday morning. He told me that by talking to his customers he’s gained a better understanding of what they are looking for and is now making decisions on cattle breeds based on feedback.
Green Lentil, Brussels Sprouts and Walnut Warm Salad
French green Puy lentils are the main ingredient for this ideal winter come spring salad and if you have leftover sprouts make sure you slightly warm them or at least have them at room temperature. You can slice up the sprouts or keep them in halves. Make a robust dressing with lemon juice, oil, mustard and a touch of honey to flavour the lentils. I like to add a little crushed preserved lemon to salt the lentils after they are cooked. Alternatively keep aside a little of the marinade to put through the lentils as a dressing. I also like to add some colour like roast carrots or preserved red pepper. Walnuts are in season now and add a delicious crunch. If you have time baking the nuts for a few minutes in the oven with a little oil and a sprinkling of ground cumin will really add to the salad’s flavour.
Valda is a seasonal visitor to the market and I was so pleased she braved the cold so I could chat to her about their walnuts. One of my favourites is the variety called Vina.
With my hand luggage allowance I couldn’t take the beer or the beef back to Auckland but I did take a pack of Vina walnut pieces to enjoy in salads over spring. It’s best to keep shelled walnuts in the fridge if not using all at once.
You don’t need to miss out on these walnuts if you live in Auckland as Valda said she will be having a stall at La Cigale French Market in Parnell. She promised to let me know when so I can alert you on Jeannieskitchen Facebook page.
The Brussels sprout season will soon be coming to an end, or may be hard to come by where you live, but kale seems to be everywhere. I experimented a little by using this marinade with thinly sliced Cavolo Nero kale (thick stems removed) and roasting it in the oven.
I ended up with kale chips only with more flavour. It looked better before cooking than after but I enjoyed the crispy chips on top and the slightly more chewy bits underneath. I also sprinkled in a little seaweed seasoning and this taste of the sea would be great with fish.
In early spring it’s delightful seeing the flowers start to bloom, but there is still not the number and variety that occurs in summer for the bees. Spring is also the time when we want to start working the garden – getting rid of those winter brassicas that are starting to flower. Think about the bees before you clear fell. Bumble and honey bees ♥love brassica flowers. That cabbage, Brussels sprout, rocket, brocoli, kale or mizuna can continue to provide food for the bees after we have finished harvesting them. I see plenty of evidence of brassica pollen collection by bees at our community garden. In a warm spring day the place is literally buzzing.
I was so busy talking with the brewers, the beef farmer and the walnut grower that I missed out on photographing Brussels sprouts…they had all gone. We decided the bees were right to hide away from the last hurrah of winter in Dunedin – it was time for us to go and warm up by the fire.
When I bite into a warm Augustines of Central apricot cradled in a sweet almond shortcrust pastry it transports me back to long hot summers in Central Otago. This apricot has been suspended in time, tree ripened in the summer sun of 2015, protected by a syrup flavoured with Central Otago Riesling. It’s preserved perfection.
I recently saw an episode of Twin Peaks. You too may remember this off beat American series that made an impact on our TV screens in the early 1990’s. I remember well that FBI agent Dale Cooper had an obsession for cherry pie.
But as Twin Peaks was airing in the 1990’s, another more sombre memory was happening in New Zealand. The beautiful Cromwell Gorge in Central Otago was to be flooded to make way for the Clyde hydro dam. We were about to lose 86 hectares of prime apricot orchards.
Apricots are still grown in Central Otago but the loss of many orchards contributed to the local Roxdale cannery closing in early 2000’s, so now we no longer have access to New Zealand grown apricots in cans on the grocery shelves. (Any current canned apricots you buy are made from imported fruit.)
I’m very proud to say, our son Gus is the preserving artisan behind Augustines of Central. His passion for preserving, and apricots, will bring back memories of the preserved fruit once made by our mothers or grandmothers.
My mother preserved apricots when I was young, but my generation tended to use the convenience of commercially canned fruit or the home freezer. Now that the preserving skills have been lost to many and there isn’t an option of good quality canned apricots like Roxdale, Gus has created an opportunity to join a growing number of artisan food producers. His apricots not only look good on the shelf, they taste like apricots used to.
If you cannot access preserved apricots the following almond shortcrust pastry will work well for cherries, gooseberries, or blackcurrant tarts.
Shortcrust pastry is one of the easiest and quickest pastries to make, but like anything, there are some useful rules that if followed will ensure good shortcrust everytime.
Home made shortcrust uses simple ingredients, just flour and butter (in this recipe we are also using ground almonds, sugar and an egg) to make a rich sweet shortcrust. There are no added chemicals or butter replacements like palm oil or margarine. Next time look to see how many extra ingredients there are on a packet of pastry. The one I bought had additional fats, acidity regulators flavourings and emulsifiers.
By simply omitting the sugar you will have savoury shortcrust pastry. I only sweeten the shortcrust if the fruit is tart to create a contrast between the sweet and the tart.
Sweet Almond Shortcrust Pastry – with pastry techniques sprinkled through
(Makes 1 x 25cm tart or up to 20 individual tarts – depending on the size of your tins)
Heat oven to 180 Celsius
Ingredients: 150g plain flour or spelt flour, 100g cold butter, 50g ground almonds, 50g caster sugar, 1 large egg yolk, 1-2 Tbsp of ice cold water with a squirt of lemon juice (if needed)
#1 rule: keep it cool. If the butter begins to melt it will fail to do its job in coating the flour molecules to prevent the gluten doing it’s job of helping the proteins in the flour stretching. We want short protein strands to obtain the short crumbly texture.
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, then mix in the ground almonds and caster sugar. Add to this the butter and use a pastry cutter or a food processor to create a texture that looks like fine breadcrumbs. This takes time with a cutter but less than 20 seconds with a food processor.
The flour I used this time for the recipe is a wholemeal spelt flour. I wanted to see if spelt would create lighter pastry cases than if I had used standard flour. (Always use a low gluten flour for short pastry – avoid high grade.)
#2 rule: Avoid using your hands to work the butter into the flour. The heat from your hands will soften the butter. The finer the butter is cut up to produce a fine crumb, then the more rise and lightness you’ll make the pastry.
Now add the egg yolk and mix everything with your finger tips – do not squeeze dough, just gently bring together to form a soft ball of dough. If more liquid is required add a tablespoon of ice cold water at a time. This step can be done in a food processor using the pulse button.
#3 rule: Do not overwork the dough. To obtain the short texture – crumbly and light – it’s important to keep the protein strands short and that means minimum handling. ( It’s the opposite for bread – you want the gluten to help the protein strand be stretched to create a strong texture with stretch.)
Gently with your hands roll the dough into a short, thick sausage, This recipe is from Nigel Slater and he suggests this techmique rather than rolling out into one big piece because rolling out can be difficult and this simple method limits the handling time.
Cut thicker slices than you need if the sausage round is not quite big enough for your patty pan. I use medium sized muffin tins.Gently roll in one direction turning each time to flatten out to the desired size for your individual tins.
#4 rule: Only roll in one direction. Roll from the bottom to the top, then turn the dough a quarter turn and roll again from bottom to the top. shape the edges of the dough with your hands to get the shape you want if putting into a large flan dish.
Mould the pastry into the base of the patty pans and place in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
#5 rule: Give the dough a rest. It’s important to rest the dough as this will stop shrinkage once it gets into the oven.
Now the next stage I did a little bit of experimenting. Do I blindbake or not? The rule of thumb is it’s best to blind bake if the fruit takes a shorter time to be ready than the pastry. If your filling will take around 40 minutes there is no need to blind bake.
Gus makes hundreds of these little pies for the Wanaka Vintage Fair each summer and he doesn’t blind bake.
I have experimented cooking the tarts both blind bake and not and I’m not sure the extra work of blind baking the individual tartlets was worth it. I definitely would blind bake for one large flan. On the taste tests, the tarts that weren’t blind baked were softer and my grandson Beau preferred the blind baked ones. Either way works because the stars of the show are the apricots.
Cook the apricots for 20 minutes or until cooked at 180 Celcius.
While the tarts cooked, I reduced some of the syrup from the apricots down to a thick glaze to paint over the apricots as they come out of the oven.
These are the wholemeal spelt cases and the pastry was indeed short and crumbly with no fatty after taste.
Cool in the tin, then carefully remove and put on a cooling rack.
As I was doing so many trials I had a lot of apricot tarts on my hands. I tried freezing them to see how they would come out. They freeze perfectly. I just pre-heated the oven to 180 and put them in frozen – you may need to cover the tops with foil as the extra sugar glaze can easily burn. Or if you intend to freeze them avoid the glaze step until reheating them.
I like to serve them warm and simply with a little pour of runny cream. Anything creamy is a wonderful companion to apricots. If you want to be truly decadent serve with a dollop of mascarpone cheese.
There are many ways of serving or using preserved apricots – both sweet and savoury, so over the next few weeks and months I am aiming to post more about apricots.
For fans of Twin Peaks, the good news is that there will be a returning series of 9 episodes in 2017.
You’ll have to wait to see Twin Peaks but Augustines of Central apricots are available right now at Smith & Caugheys (Auckland), Moore Wilsons (Wellington) and Florences (Wanaka).
A paving stone in an innovative playground was a springboard for me to think about spring salads and some of the edible weeds available early spring. Why not let weeds contribute to your salads?
Mahuru is the Goddess of Spring here in Aotearoa. Spring’s longer hours of daylight and warming of temperatures signals tough pioneer weeds to burst forth in abundance. Weeds are not only tough guy survivors, they usually contain more nutrients than your average well bred garden vegetable and some taste pretty good too. So until the lettuces come on through in numbers I suggest eating some of these uninvited guests.
But first, I have a few rules about making a well balanced salad:
Contrast flavours of mild leaves with astringent herbs, fruits or vegetables and contrast (as above) bitter or strong flavoured leaves with sweet or creamy additions
Include for a stand alone salad a carbohydrate element, e.g. lentils, chickpeas, couscous, bread
Try to include one protein element – egg, cheese, beans, tuna, bacon, salmon, lentils or chickpeas
Contrast textures – soft with crisp e.g. soft avocado or cheese with crisp leaves, nuts, radishes or celery or croutons
Leaves of weeds that have a hairy surface make chewing tough work, so cut thinly, make sure you cover well with a dressing and minimise the quantity used
Addition of flowers makes an attractive finish to salads, eg. calendula petals, heartsease violas, violets and borage
Think plant diversity and include as many different green leaves as possible into a salad
But avoid adding too many different flavours with the additions you make of fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices
Always include a herb – soft herbs like parsley, mint, coriander or basil
If the salad is part of a larger meal try to complement the main
Be bold – try different combinations.
For a quick lunchtime salad I like to utilise leftovers with additions from plants ideally gathered fresh from the garden minutes before.
Spring Salad 1: Couscous, mandarin and avocado salad
This salad was made with a base of leftover couscous and weeds included in the green salad are chickweed, red dead nettle, and scrambling speedwell. Each layer of the salad has squeezed lemon juice and some avocado oil. The avocado and the onion weed I mixed together in a separate bowl before adding to the green layer. Next the segmented mandarin and walnuts are added with a final dressing of avocado oil. The finishing touch are the flowers, violets and onion weed blossoms.
Chickweed Stellaria media
In the past, before lettuce was developed, chickweed was used in the same way as lettuce is today. The soft green leaves are fairly bland and are a soft texture that is easy to chew.
Chickweed contains mucilage and saponins which assist in the absorption of nutrients, especially minerals, and is a rich source of vitamin C.
It’s nutritional values make Chickweed sought out by those with hens or caged birds and indicates a high nitrogen level in the soil. It prefers cool, rich and moist conditions. It’s a temporary weed as It won’t live through summer.
Consider chickweed as an easily obtained, nourishing and strengthening food. You can just grab a handful to add to a green smoothie, but for salads I tend to use just pieces of the thin stems where there are a cluster of leaves or pick off the leaves from the stem. It takes a little more time but avoids your salad being too stringy.
Spring Salad 2: Lentils and feta salad
Best practice is to collect and eat the plants soon after, but I’ve found that I often don’t have time to go foraging in the garden just before dinner and at this time of the year the weather can be most off putting. Once or twice a week I go to our organic community garden and do a harvest of weeds. I wash them, give them a spin in the salad spinner, and then sort into bags and store in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. This harvesting and sorting allows me to access prepared weeds as quickly as opening a bag of supermarket salad greens through the week. Always harvest where you know the ground hasn’t been sprayed with herbicides and avoid collecting near roadsides.
The base of this lunchtime salad is warmed green lentils with added preserved lemon, crushed garlic and olive oil. On top of this is some leftover grated carrot, a little orange, endive and parsley (from the taco meal the previous night). Now I add a good handful of harvested weeds, followed by slices of feta cheese and finished off with a scattering of calendula petals and heartsease violas. This salad took only a couple of minutes to prepare.
Scrambling Speedwell Veronica persica
Speedwell is easily identified by its pretty blue flower. You can see why it’s also known as birds-eye speedwell with it’s distinctive white centre. It can be found scrambling around most gardens over winter and spring.
As it has soft hairy leaves it can be included in a salad with other greens but is best used added to a smoothie. If including in a salad I run my hand down the rough stem and the leaves easily peel off. It has an astringent quality to it and in the past was used as an black tea substitute in France (called Europa tea) because of that astringency , plus it’s smell is reminiscent of tea.
It’s used as a medicinal tea to clear excess mucous, calm sore throats and eyes and assist with bad skin. Who would have thought that this small and abundant weed could do all that.
Spring Salad 3: Lettuce, apple, walnut and onion weed salad
A salad is greatly improved if dressed by the addition of oil, vinegar or lemon juice. Save your best oils for your salads. I usually make the dressing in the salad bowl by simply squeezing lemon juice over the salad, season it and then drizzle over a good oil. If there is a delay between making and eating then you should prepare a dressing separately and toss in just before serving. Sometimes too a salad might need a little sweetness with the addition of honey, a little more spice with mustard or a creaminess and in those cases I make up the dressing separately.
The green leaf base is constructed first and a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of oil ensures the greens are easily digested and flavourful.