A very berry Christmassy jam

Here in New Zealand Christmas is all about strawberries! To my Southern hemisphere mind, Christmas would just not be Christmas without a great big helping of strawberries on Christmas morning (some chocolate dipped, of course) and a strawberry-related dessert of some description. Now I understand this may seem like a very foreign concept to Northern hemisphere readers, whose minds must be about as far away from strawberries as possible, but please… let your mind wander.

We are a little bit spoiled here in New Zealand, we get to pilfer all the lovely wintery Christmas traditions of our English forebears, while making our own new summery traditions to enjoy at the very same time – the best of both worlds! But with enjoying fleeting traditions that come to an end all too soon, comes the need to stretch those enjoyable things out for just a little bit longer, if at all possible. This is when my mind turns to jam: strawberry, apricot and plum, they are all a jar of summer, sitting there on the shelf just waiting for the time they are taken down in winter, opened and enjoyed. For a moment, it’s like summer all over again.

Each December I make this much loved recipe for Strawberry and Vanilla Jam. It’s one from my Victoria Room cookbook. For those not familiar with Sydney’s astoundingly fabulous Victoria Room… let me just say, if you’re a fan of Victoriana like me, this is a must visit!! And strawberry jam with scones really doesn’t have a rival…

Strawberry and vanilla jam

For the jam:

2 kg strawberries, washed, hulled and chopped
650gm caster sugar
1 vanilla bean pod, split
Juice of 4 lemons

Strawberry jam
All chopped up and ready to go!

Add all the ingredients to a pot with a heavy base, and gently begin to heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has all dissolved. Then turn the heat up until the mixture is boiling. You want the jam to be on a ‘gentle boil’ if such a thing exists… still boiling, but not quite so fiercely that the bottom burns. Stir regularly while you prepare your jars (you’ll need to sterilise them). The mixture takes around 30-40 minutes to reach setting point (because strawberries are not particularly high in pectin you won’t get a super strong set with this jam – but the lemons do help to add to the pectin content), keep checking until you reach your desired consistency. While the jam is still hot divide it up between your jars (this recipe makes about 5 standard jars). If you get a good seal it will last for months!

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Chinese roasted pork belly with quick-pickled cucumber

I recently picked up a bargain basement-priced copy of The Great New Zealand Cookbook (cracked spine – their loss, my stomach’s gain!). This little gem of a book has recipes from well known NZ cooks, chefs and bakers, and it’s pretty damn cool. Lovely photography, and a really great range of recipes.

This meal is the second time I’ve used the book, so it’s probably already paid for itself in intellectual property – or however it is that cookbooks pay for themselves.

So… onto the important part. This easy and tasty recipe is from Anthony Hoy Fong, and is essentially Chinese in origin, with a little NZ twist. The pork belly would be lovely on its own, but being a little bit greasy (as pork belly tends to be) the vinegary, fresh cucumber is the perfect accompaniment! And is often the case with a really good accompaniment, the flavors and textures all balance each other out perfectly.

Chinese pork belly

For the pork:

1.5kg boneless pork belly
1 tsp Manuka honey
1 tsp sugar
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp salt, and more for rubbing
1/2 tsp five-spice powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Fresh coriander and spring onions for garnishing

Score the pork flesh (to allow the marinade to penetrate the meat), then place on a rack in a clean sink and pour boiling water over both sides of the meat 2-3 times to tighten the skin. Pat dry with paper towels and place in a roasting pan.

Combine marinade ingredients and rub all over meat side, getting it deep into the scores. If you get any on the skin wipe it off with a paper towel (or it will stop the skin from crackling).

With skin side up, rub salt and oil over the skin and place in the fridge to marinate for at least 2-3 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 240c, place pork in the centre and cook for 20 minutes. Turn oven down to 160c, and place 2 cups of water in the pan. Cook for one and a half hours. Finish under the grill for 3-4 minutes until skin is dark and crackly. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 15 minutes.

Roasted pork belly

For cucumber:

1 large cucumber
2 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp salt
1 medium red chilli, finely sliced

Peel the cucumber, remove seeds, then roughly dice. Combine the pickling ingredients in a bowl, then pour over the cucumber and toss. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving with the pork.

To serve

Cut the pork into strips, or bite sized pieces. Garnish with coriander and sliced spring onion. Serve with the cucumber, and some steamed rice.

The 80’s called… it wants its entree back!

Last night was a special occasion here in our house, so to celebrate I stuffed eggs! Yes, that’s right. We really know how to party.

My husband has a particular (peculiar) love of very retro food. Custard squares, asparagus rolls, club sandwiches… all the sort of stuff you’d find in what I call an ‘old lady tea room’. You know the kind of place – sausage rolls, shabby decor with plenty of crocheted doilies, tea by the gallon.

But there’s something quite comforting about food that’s gone out of fashion. It’s the kind of food you ate growing up, seeing it again takes you back in time to when you were young and carefree… who wouldn’t want to feel like that? Stuffed eggs just scream fancy 80’s dinner party to me – I’m not entirely sure if that’s what smart and cultured people were eating back then, but if my old cookbooks are anything to go by, it was probably on menus everywhere.

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To make my eggs, I hard boiled them then ever so carefully shelled them. I didn’t know this for a very long time, but ever since we’ve had chickens (and fresh eggs) and I hard boil their eggs I’ve noticed it’s particularly hard to peel fresh eggs, the whites just don’t hold together. The older the eggs are, the easier they are to peel – the shells just come right off. Which is kind of funny… because for many years I’ve discarded eggs that were really hard to peel, thinking they were old! PRO TIP

I halved the eggs, scooped out the middle and mashed the cooked yolk with diced cornichons, capers, some chopped parsley and chives, and a few tablespoons of good mayonnaise, a dash of white wine vinegar, and a half teaspoon of mustard. And a pinch of salt, and plenty of fresh black ground pepper.

I would have piped the egg mix back into the whites with a fancy nozzle (just like they would have in the 80s) but I hadn’t chopped the cornichons up quite as finely as I should have – they would have blocked the nozzle. So I just stuck it all into a small zip lock plastic bag, with a corner cut off, and piped it back in that way. Not quite as pretty, but still good!

P1020485A little dust of sumac on the top, and they were ready to eat! And as an endorsement of just how good they tasted… my daughter, who normally runs away at the sight and smell of egg, happily polished off three of them.

 

That awkward moment when someone asks you for your recipe…

Today a friend asked me outright for my recipe for chocolate brownies. No big deal, right?

WRONG!!

That awkward moment when...
You want my WHAT???

I can’t help but feel a little protective of my recipes. Afterall, I’ve put in the hard yards, making them time after time, tweaking them ever so slightly with each baking to eventually reach near total perfection. So of course I’m going to be a little resentful if you want to come along and claim all my hard work as your own.

Does that sound mean? Spiteful even? Or worse… petty! Whatever happened to the collaborative community approach to baking… where everyone willingly swaps and shares recipes for the greater good of bakers everywhere. Oh HANG ON – maybe that’s what the sticking point is. I was asked for a recipe, but I wasn’t given one in return. If I was receiving some real gem of a recipe I wouldn’t feel quite so bad about giving up my own baking intellectual property for you pass off as your own.

So, now I’m really interested to know – do you share recipes willingly, or keep them just for yourself? Are you one of those audacious people that ask others for THEIR own recipes? If so, do people give those precious recipes to you, or do you think they give you a slightly different version (not the carefully tweaked one that took years to perfect) so when you make it, it just isn’t quite the same? Now, that really would be petty!

 

My dream Coffee Walnut Slice perfection

I went to a very cute little cafe/delicatessen the other day and had a big piece of Coffee Walnut slice. It was really good… but, as is often the case when I eat out, I get to thinking…

‘I’d like mine with more [insert ingredient]’… or

‘If they hadn’t baked it so long it would be better’… or

‘If it had more base and less icing it would be SO much better!’

Anyway, you get what I mean right? Sometimes, as nice as something is, you just know it would be even nicer if you could make it to your exact taste.

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So today, that’s what I did.

I don’t like a ‘dry’ base – I like it slightly sticky, gooey even. And I like a good thick base, with a little bit of icing – but the icing has to pack a real coffee punch. And I like lots of walnuts… preferable fresh walnuts, not the rancid moldy old things you buy in a pack (thankfully I bought some fresh walnuts at the market last weekend, so I was able to be picky!).

My dream Coffee Walnut Slice

For the base:

400gm plain sweet biscuits (crushed so you have a mix of crumbs and chunks)
180gm butter
1 tin sweetened condensed milk (around 375ml)
100ml boiling water
3 heaped tsp coffee powder (or as much or as little as you like)

Gently melt the butter and condensed milk. Dissolve the coffee in the boiling water then add to the butter mixture, and combine. In a large bowl add the crushed biscuits, then pour in the coffee mixture. Gently fold through till all the biscuit is coated, then press into a tin lined with baking paper (my tin was 20cm by 25cm but anything around that size will do). Put in the fridge to chill completely.

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For the icing:

50gm softened butter
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
2 tbsp boiling water
2 tsp coffee powder (or as much or as little as you like)

Dissolve the coffee in the hot water. Beat the softened butter and icing sugar together. Add a little of the coffee at a time until you get a nice smooth spreading consistency, and a light brown colour.

Spread the top of the cold slice with icing, and sprinkle with chopped walnuts then refrigerate again to set the icing. Once it’s all cool, take the slice out and cut it into generous pieces.

Enjoy with a cup of tea (is that weird…? – or coffee!).

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Replenishing my elderflower cordial supplies

Spring is the time for delicate, fragrant elderflowers to begin springing up around the countryside – amongst many other things.

Since we moved out of the city three years ago to a very small town in a rural area, I wouldn’t say we have become more ‘in tune’ with the countryside, but we are certainly more observant and aware of what is growing and when.

So I have now learned to be on the look out for elderflower around the end of October, and in my little rolodex of a brain, I catalog Elderflower trees when we are out and about, remembering them for when I need to go and raid them (like just now for flowers, and around February for berries).

We have an Elderflower tree in our garden, but we cut it right back last year because it was growing in a rather strange, untidy way. This year it has had the grand total sum of four flower heads on it, so… not exactly going to make a year’s worth of cordial with that measly amount!

I made Elderflower cordial and Elderflower champagne last year – but the cordial was the real hit! I serve a dash of cordial in sparkling wine, and it’s refreshing, perfumed and oh-so-sophisticated! (WARNING: grand visions of playing croquet on the lawn, dressed to the nines Downton Abbey-style, being served by suited wait staff come to mind when drinking this). Not to mention the vaguely smug feeling I always get from using something I have made from something I have grown…

So, for Elderflower Cordial you will need:

20 Elderflower heads (if you can pick them when they have just opened, they will be at their best)
4 cups caster sugar
1.5 litres of boiling water
2 lemons (sliced)
1 orange (sliced)
50gm citric acid

1) Gently wash the Elderflower heads to remove any dirt and bugs.

2) Place the sugar in a pot and pour the boiling water on top. Give it a good stir, and leave to cool down a bit.

3) Add the fruit, flowers, and citric acid, and give a gentle stir. (If you are a little hasty, as I was, and add the flower to the water before it cools, it turns the flowers brown – which apparently effects the flavor of the syrup… but I can’t taste it!)

4) Leave it for 24 hours in a cool spot – give it a gentle stir when you remember.

Elderflower cordial
Elderflower flowers steeping in water, sugar and citric acid

5) After 24 hours strain the cordial through fine muslin cloth (this will get the remaining bugs out), and then bottle in sterilized bottles with a tight fitting lid (I used bottles my husband has for making homebrew, which are absolutely perfect – except for being brown glass, so you can’t really see what’s inside).

Straining Elderflower Cordial
Straining the flowers (and bugs) out of the cordial

I doubled the recipe this time and ended up with five 750ml bottles with a bit left over – just perfect for sampling with glass of good New Zealand sparkling wine, out on the deck on a warm spring afternoon.

Once you open a bottle of cordial it pays to keep it in the fridge. I’m not really sure how long the unopened bottles would last for, as in our house they don’t have much of a chance to stay unopened!!

Elderflower cordial
Cordial made – it’s time to celebrate!

Broad bean bonanza – broad bean and dill pilaf

With yet more broad beans in the garden to use up, I decided to try a pilaf and did a bit of looking around for a suitable recipe. I think the flavours of broad bean and dill go so well together, so when I found a recipe for a Broad Bean and Dill Pilaf on the BBC Goodfood website I was keen to try it keen to eat it! Delicious hot buttery pilaf dotted through with the delicate crunch of fresh sweet broad beans… it’s a winner.

Broad bean and dill pilaf
Broad bean and dill pilaf – served with herby chicken meatballs

During my scouting around for a suitable pilaf recipe, I came across one from Martha Stewart where she served meatballs with the broad bean pilaf. Meatballs are such comfort food, and I thought they’d be a nice accompaniment to the pilaf… I can’t find her recipe now (and didn’t use it anyway), so you’ll just have to take my word for it – the meal was delicious!