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November 30, 2012

he's a man, he's a guru | endings and beginnings

Endings and beginnings are bittersweet. Tonight we farewelled our lovely lounge-dwellers T and L - we will miss their humour, stories, cooking ... and their lovely faces around the place. L made a soup (a Hugh recipe, of course, recipe to follow), and they gifted J and I a copy of our dream cookbook: veg everyday by none other than our favourite Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. We have had a long term loan of another copy and the question was often raised: "what will happen when Hugh has to go back home?" But now, our very own annotated Hugh remains in our kitchen, propped up at the end of the kitchen table .. 

Do you write in cookbooks? I never used to but ever since T said "It's a way to make the cookbook your own," I think I will be writing my thoughts and experiences in the margins of veg everyday - the pages are perfectly laid out with just the right amount of white space for a comment or two. 

We often make vegetable stock from leftover, slightly wilted, forgotten about vegetables. I've mentioned it before, and usually I just put bits and pieces in a pot and boil it for a while. I did learn the hard way that garlic roots are very strongly garlic-flavoured, but apart from that one failure, most of the times stock was made it turned out well. However, why continue making stock that's perfectly fine when you could make excellent stock if you just take a few notes from ... Hugh, of course! He has a recipe for stock in his book and L followed it for the soup. The main difference is that his recipe involves lightly sautéeing the stock ingredients, then boiling them with fresh herbs (from the garden). Hugh's stock recipe resulted in a stock which was darker in colour and more robust in flavour than previous versions. 

If stock is one beginning, breakfast is another. The muesli pictured was made and toasted by L a few weeks ago and was completely delicious. It contained chopped dates, seeds, almonds, oats, a little puffed millet .. all the good things. We enjoyed it with "Merrell's milk" (raw milk from Merrell's farm). If you're an Australian reader, Nikki over at the wholefood mama is giving away some delicious looking muesli..

I've been thinking a little bit about "this time last year" in the lead up to Christmas. The sunset shown above is the sunset of my 2011 Christmas day, spent under the stars in the desert. And the view from the camel is what I saw for much of Christmas morning and afternoon, pleasantly wandering atop a camel through the desert, with "We Three Kings" in my head. Being atop a camel reminded me of yoga - you had to completely relax and surrender to the camel's movements, and then you'd be naturally balanced. 

And here we are - a seemingly random collection of pictures tied together somewhat by my words. Tomorrow morning J and I are off up the country to Auckland for PowerShift - but we're taking the trains and the ferry, including a two-day stop in my hometown and an overnight visit with more extended family in Christchurch. It's the beginning of a journey. 

Happy weekend and happy beginning of summer (or winter for you Northern-hemisphere folk)!


day 4/365
I'm grateful for house-dwellers, who add doses of humour, stories, music into the fabric of your life at home, and teach you the difference between good spoons and not so good spoons.. T & L xo

title from nick cave & the bad seeds - red right hand

November 27, 2012

keeps me searching for a heart of gold | pumpkin fruit cake

There is something familiar about traditions. Comforting in their reassuring sameness; while everything else might be different, you can guarantee that the one thing, that one tradition, will be as it always was.  I first realised I was a creature of habit when I worked Sundays at a supermarket when I was younger. The Sunday paper used to contain an excellent small magazine "Sunday"*, which had short but interesting features, a little piece on home interiors, a "going up, going down" get the idea. I loved it. Every Sunday, I would run a bath when I got home from work, find the Sunday magazine, and read it while I soaked my tired body. Until one Sunday when I couldn't find the magazine anywhere around the house. "Oh," said Dad casually, "we didn't get around to buying the paper today." And, just like that, my Sunday evening was ruined. In retrospect, it seems a little dramatic, but little rituals are calming amongst the chaos - all the other unexpected events the day can bring.

There are a number of traditions in my family that revolve around food. There is always pink lady cake on Dad's birthday, at Christmas there are fresh berries, and whenever I visit Wellington Dad makes espresso at home. Pumpkin cake is another tradition. Whenever my Grandma Gwen would fly up to Wellington to visit us, she would carry two pumpkin cakes in her suitcases for us. Most often, these were never iced, and were enjoyed for afternoon tea, or in school lunches. We always tried to get a piece with the strange, circular, green or red cherry-jelly. Sometimes these were picked out in advance. Pumpkin cake was usually cut in squares, like fruit cake is at Christmas, and for special occasions, it was iced with butter icing flavoured with port wine; with the same circular pattern knifed into the icing. That's just how it always was.

Like any good recipe, the pumpkin cake has a story. My grandfather was a minister, and in the 1960's, being a minister meant making regular visits to the parishioners, keeping up with their lives. On one particular visit to an elderly lady called Mrs. Hunter, my grandad was served this cake. He liked it so much, he wrote the recipe down on the back of a visiting card** and brought it home to my grandmother. Grandma was intrigued by the use of mashed pumpkin in the mixture - something "quite radical in cakes in New Zealand at the time." It has now been a family favourite for about fifty years! 

*the Sunday magazine still exists, however I can no longer attest to its quality.
**visiting cards were used by ministers, left when they had visited but nobody was home.

mrs. hunter's pumpkin fruit cake

courtesy of my Grandma Gwen

250g butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup cooked mashed pumpkin
1/2 tsp almond essence
1/2 tsp lemon essence
1 tsp vanilla
2 large cups flour
2 full tsp baking powder
500g mixed dried fruit

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, and beat again until soft and creamy. Add the cooked pumpkin and beat again. Stir in the three essences. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and mixed fruit. Stir the flour over and through the fruit until it is thoroughly coated. Mix together the separate mixtures and stir well.

Spoon into a greased lined 22cm round/square cake tin and bake for 1 3/4 - 2 hours in a moderate (150ºC) oven.

Notes from my grandmother -
This cake keeps well and is best left for a few days before cutting. "Large" and "full" refer to non-level measurements. In terms of the baking, a "moderate" oven is not specific, but grandma says it's better to cook it cooler and longer. The cake is perfectly delicious un-iced but a simple butter icing flavoured with port wine (or a little ginger beer) makes it more of a special-occasion cake. 


What family traditions do you have that revolve around food? Any recipes that have been in your family for generations? I'd love to know ...


day 3/365
Again, it goes without saying, today I'm grateful for traditions: those strange, endearing rituals that identify us and our families.


title from neil young - heart of gold

November 25, 2012

in the shadow of your family tree | 80 years of G.M.C.

The weekend was a busy one - my grandad turned 80 and our extended family gathered to celebrate with him. There was a delicious lunch, a little wine, cake, laughs, a few tears (the sentimental good kind), some wood carvings, some poetry, some piano playing by A, lots of catch ups and lots of memories shared. I realised the importance of family, those people who weather life's storms with you, cheer you on, and hold you up when you need it. It was a weekend of love and it was just so good. 

I flew back to Dunedin, and as we drove back from the airport, the sun was setting over the hills. Sure enough, when we reached the top of the hill that overlooks Dunedin, soft rain started falling - the typical welcome of Dunedin. It is always raining when you return home. We drove up to Maitland where beans and polenta and conversation awaited. After such a fulfilling weekend, I'll sleep well tonight I think. 

1. Delicious food at the birthday lunch in a rural Canterbury vineyard.
2. Mum and I
3. Mum and my Uncle M
4. Extremely decadent pannacotta at lunchtime.
5. Boy talk - my grandad, uncle and brother A.
6. The sun setting over the mountains.
7. A clipping from the Palmerston North Evening Standard when my Mum and her Dad both graduated with their degrees at the same time. 
8. My parents on their wedding day nearly 30 years ago - a favourite photo.


day 2/365
I think it goes without saying - today I am grateful for family. With whom I share memories and experiences, good times and bad .. and throughout it all, we support each other always and love unconditionally. I'm grateful for my Grandma G and Grandad G - who are an example of a successful, loving partnership and marriage; now and always. xx


linking here
title from tv on the radio - family tree

November 22, 2012

so tomorrow there will be another number | meat and three veg

After this lovely lady's post, I've been thinking about food choices a lot more this week: thinking about my own personal journey to the way I eat now, and how those habits developed over time. My food journey began last year - six months into my first "proper" job since finishing my degree, I found myself with a little extra money each week and the ability to be a little more flexible in what I ate. After four years as a student surviving off a very minimal weekly income it was a luxury to be able to afford to experiment a little more in what I cooked and what I ate. 

Prior to this, my food choices had been based around affordability: sometimes this meant two baked potatoes or two minute noodles for dinner in those weeks where there were bills to pay and shampoo to buy. At the end of my fourth year, busy with writing a dissertation, this changed a little to include time as a factor. Could I cook and eat in less than 20 minutes? If not, I didn't buy it. In those last two weeks of 18 hour writing days, I survived off plain pasta, canned tuna, apples, and a whole lot of caffeine. On the last night before my dissertation was due, I was writing all night in my office at university. A friend called me at 7pm: "I'm outside," he said, "come down, I've got dinner for you." And he handed me a warm plastic container full of pesto pasta, before skating back off into the night. I've never forgotten that gesture. 

Most of my friends and family know me to be a vegetarian. And that's mainly true - I only rarely eat meat, and when I do, it's important to me that it is local, free range, and organic; and that I feel like my body needs it for nutrients. This year, I've eaten meat on two occasions. The first was when there was no other option for dinner, out in the wilderness with family. The second was last night.

J returned from four days tramping (hiking for US readers) with plenty of stories of interesting people they'd shared a hut with. They had met some hunters who cooked freshly caught chamois (also known as "shammy" to locals), and also gave them some to bring back home to us. It ticked all my personal "boxes" when it comes to meat-eating and when J told me she planned to cook it for dinner on Tuesday night, I told her I'd love to try some. I'd never eaten chamois before. I made this sauce to go with it - I think it would make a great accompaniment to lamb or beef as well.

mushroom & black pepper meat sauce

This meat sauce would also be great served with pasta for a vegetarian dish. The quantities used here make enough for four people.

Slice two red onions into half rings, and soften them over a medium heat with a little olive oil. Turn the heat up a little and add some apple cider vinegar and honey or balsamic vinegar. Cook for around 30 minutes until caramelised. Add about 1 glass of red cooking wine to the pan - it should bubble a lot, if it doesn't turn the heat up. Chop 8 flat mushrooms (I used portobello) into quarters and add to the pan, letting them cook in the wine. Stir in as much freshly cracked black pepper as you'd like. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Add 1 tbsp flour - either white or wholemeal and stir. This will thicken the sauce up - add milk to thin it back and keep warm until ready to serve.

Last night I cheated a little - we had some french onion soup to use up, so I used that instead of caramelising onions. 

So it came to be - a traditional "meat and three veg" meal was served at Maitland St. The cooking was very much a team effort, with much discussion and consulting the internet as to how to cook the meat. The piece we were given looked like a beef fillet would, so we sliced it into medallions and cooked it, as T would describe "pshhhh....pshhhh..." - translates to one minute each side in a very hot pan. We ate it with the mushroom sauce, potato and kumara (known outside of Aotearoa as sweet potato), mashed together, and lightly fried cabbage and red onion. It was delicious.

I think the biggest mistake we can make is to be inflexible in our diets. I realised that it's important to me to eat mainly vegetarian, but that it's also okay for me to eat free-range, organic, local meat now and then too. After all, isn't it all about moderation?


I've decided that each day I write a post I'm going to include a word or two about something I'm grateful for that day. I used to reflect once a week and take the time to be grateful, and I think that it's helpful for me to look back over my day with gratitude now and then.

day 1/365 
Today I'm grateful for clear and cloudless skies, and that I work in a place where I can take twenty minutes in the afternoon and sit underneath a weeping willow tree, looking at water and the old fashioned clock tower buildings of the university I work at, enjoying the fresh air in my lungs and sun on my skin.


title from stars - celebration guns

November 21, 2012

l'espoir fleurit au ciel de Paris | french onion soup

More so than perhaps any other year, I'm feeling the year race away from me. In the coming weeks I'm travelling to the other end of the country and back, twice, as well as a flying visit to my grandparents this weekend to celebrate a significant birthday. There are end of year dinners, work social occasions, a youth conference/festival on climate change, a brief stop in my home town, two more weeks of work down South, Christmas with the family, and I'll end up at the northernmost tip of the North Island to say goodbye to 2012. Phew!

While it is nice to have plenty of social occasions and dinners out, it's also nice to make the most of a simple dinner at home, cooked in the light and eaten in the light. Evenings stretch out at this time of year, when it's still light at 9pm, and I love waking up early to the sun coming in my open window. I almost always sleep with my window open, only closing it for the iciest winter nights. Mum tells me this is something I inherited from my dad.

Come Monday afternoon, I had a strong craving for french onion soup. As a meal, it seems to be a compromise between seasons - light but hearty, warming and delicious but not too heavy either. I left work and purchased onions on my way home. As I cooked in the late afternoon light, the grey shower clouds parted briefly and sunlight came streaming through our kitchen windows. Soup was cooking and the sun was shining and all was right with the world. 

french onion soup | soupe à l'oignon

The French have a certain culinary class like no other. It takes a certain je ne sais quoi to make a soup consisting almost solely of one of the most common vegetables, and legitimately call it cuisine. But it is deliciously good, even when you replace the traditionally used beef consommé with a homemade vegetable stock. Don't let that put you off: you will hardly even notice the extra effort to make vegetable stock from scratch!

for the soup:
10 medium sized white onions
50 grams butter (or oil to make this recipe vegan)
a good cup of dry white wine
a sprig of flat leaf parsley
a sprig of aromatic fennel
a sprig of sage
2 bay leaves
brown miso paste
sea salt
cracked pepper

for the stock:
a variety of left-over vegetable pieces: cabbage hearts, the thick cauliflower stems, broccoli stalks if you don't eat them, the green leafy part of a leek.. We keep these left overs in the fridge for stock purposes!
3 garlic cloves
sprig of parsley
bay leaves
1 medium onion
4-5 mushrooms, preferably a flat, dark type such as portobello.

to serve
two pieces of good, solid bread per person
a little olive oil
3 garlic cloves
cheddar cheese

Begin by making the stock. Add all the vegetables to a big pot, cover with water and gently simmer. If I'm making stock for other purposes I sometimes add a little sea salt, but it's not necessary for this soup. I don't always make stock with mushrooms either, but for french onion soup the hearty taste they add is a delicious addition - although it's still pretty delicious without mushrooms. Keep this heated on low while you caramelise the onions.

Slice the onions en lyonnaise - which is, as shown below, sliced in half and then north to south slicing down the axis, so you end up with little onion crescent moons. It doesn't take long once you get in the rhythm of it, promise! 

Melt the butter in a heavy frypan - I used a cast iron one - over a medium heat. Let it sizzle a little. I used some raw butter we had and it smelled delicious - when it begins to smell nutty, it's time to add the onions. Add the onions in layers and sprinkle a little salt on between each layer. We don't add any salt later: salt at this point draws the moisture out of the onions so they caramelise in their own juices. 

Let the onions bubble away for a good 20 minutes before stirring them. They will release a lot of liquid - this is a good thing! This cooking process is "sweating" the onions, not sautéeing them. If they are sizzling too much, turn the heat down until they just bubble. They will most likely catch on the bottom of the pan, but this is ok. Cook for a further 40 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until the onions are a golden brown colour. Don't be tempted to cut this step short - the flavours that are developing here are integral to the soup, and you'll regret it if you end up with a light onion-y broth.

Strain the vegetable stock and return it to the pot. Turn up the heat on the onions and add the dry white wine. It will sizzle and steam a lot, and probably turn a dark brown colour. This is excellent! Stir for about five minutes, then add all the onions to the stock and heat. At this stage, add the fresh herbs. If you like, you can tie them together with some string to make a bouquet garni, which means it is easier to remove before serving. This is when you also add the brown miso paste. If you don't have miso paste to hand, you could use vegemite/marmite instead.

While the soup bubbles away on the stove, slice up some good solid bread. I've used our bought homemade bread - it's a wholemeal/rye blend made by a local who stone grinds his own flour. It's delicious but good and substantial too. Smush the garlic cloves to a paste in a mortar and pestle - add a little olive oil to them. Mix the ground coriander in too. Rub this paste over both sides of the bread, then toast under a hot grill for 2 minutes. Turn over, add sliced cheddar to the top, and return to the oven for another 2 minutes.

To serve, fill a bowl with the soup, avoiding the herbs, then float the toasted bread and cheese on top. The bread should be crunchy enough to withstand soaking up some of the soup. Eat immediately. It's amazing how filling this is - a friend told me that the best french onion soups have enough bread so that there is a bit of bread for every mouthful of soup. It's warming, filling and amazingly delicious considering it's just made with onions, wine, and herbs.


title from Édith Piaf (who else?) - sous le ciel de Paris. The translation of the lyrics used in the title is "Hope springs again under the Paris sky."

November 18, 2012

we will go far into the blue | an interview with yours truly

This morning I woke before six a.m. to the sun beginning to light a blue and cloudless sky. It was beautiful, too beautiful to stay in bed even though I felt a little weary. The bus driver was playing a Mozart string quartet to the almost-empty bus and I got to work a full hour before I usually do. A good start to the week! 

I also wanted to let you know the lovely Kate has featured an interview with me over at her beautiful blog - head on over if you'd like to take a look.  


title from yellow ostrich - whale

November 17, 2012

sleep a little more if you want to | peonies and peppermint

There's something special about flowers and tea and extra special when your weekend combines them both. I cut short my Saturday morning sleep in to get to the farmers market early enough, I hoped, to purchase some peonies. When I got there, the woman had just sold her last bunch of closed up tight ones, and had run out of wrapping for them. "You're too late! They've gone!" she said, looking down at the bucket that was still full with already opened ones. "How much for this one...and this one?" I asked, pointing out a couple that were still closed and would probably last out the week in a vase. "They're just so beautiful," I said. She reached down, scooping up the entire bucket of greenery and petals, and said "Take the lot! They're my gift to you." And that was how my empty canvas bag to be filled with vegetables was instead filled with flowers, a huge bunch of peonies hanging out in all directions. 

Weekend lunches are such a flexible meal. They can be brunch things, like pancakes or toast, to more substantial things. I had a craving for mushrooms, so I sliced up bread from the farmers market, cooked some mushrooms in a little butter, added some feta on top and at the last minute, wanting something green, chopped up a little mint. I don't think I've had feta and mint together before - it was delicious.

Continuing with the mint theme, I've been having a quiet day today, putting on loads of washing, sorting, writing, and sipping cups of fresh mint tea. On a whim, I added some chopped fresh ginger - minty, spicy, delicious.

The weekend also involved a delicious vietnamese dinner out, at a place special to me, with friends, where discussions ranged from diving and lung capacities to an intense debate about the inner anatomy of a centaur; and a ride in a refurbished red mini. It's dark and a bit windy here, so I think this evening will involve clean sheets and an early night. Hope your weekend has been lovely too.


title from belle & sebastian - asleep on a sunbeam

November 13, 2012

they are only pearls | november 12 playlist

"I hope your hair isn't all mad-scientist-y," my mum says down the phone to me, amongst other things. "No, no," I say, "of course not," partly out of the habit of assuring her and providing the answer she will want to hear, and partly believing it to be true. It isn't until later, brushing my teeth before bed, that I notice my hair in the bathroom mirror and realise just how well Mum knows me, despite living in different cities. I make an appointment for a haircut next week.

November is a bit of a mixed-up month - not summer, not spring; where the weather can drop 10ºC in an afternoon, where heavy showers come out of nowhere. Even today, a solar eclipse and the resulting strange mid-morning faux-twilight that could've simply been imagined, all mixed up. I ate black beans, fennel salad and homemade hummus for lunch and felt better. It makes sense, then, that this is a bit of a mixed-up playlist, a little of everything, some old, some newer, some soft, some slow. Hope you enjoy some if not all! 

1. kno - dying nation
facing a dying nation..listen to the retold lies

2. édith piaf - sous le ciel de paris
sous le ciel de paris s'envole une chanson
elle est née d'aujourd'hui
dans le coeur d'un garçon

3. the lumineers - ho hey
i don't know where i belong
i don't know where i went wrong
but i can write a song

4. rilo kiley - it's a hit
the camera pans back to reveal your true identity
a wolf in sheep's clothing
a smoking gun holding ape

5. cat power - the greatest
and then came
the rush of the flood

6. macklemore & ryan lewis - thrift shop
i wear your grandad's clothes .. i look incredible

7. hanggai - togur jin shan

8. phoenix - rome
could he be waving from a tropical sunset?

9. atmosphere - pour me another
two for the fool trying to pull apart the puzzle

10. iron & wine - each coming night
cause light strikes a deal with each coming night

11. iva lamkum - daggers
born to lead not to follow
I'm warming it up turning in loose

12. i love you but i've chosen darkness - the ghost
the building is virtually black now

13. interpol - obstacle 1
we can find new ways of living

14. irma thomas - time is on my side
you always say
that you want to be free

15. ben howard - keep your head up
I try my best to embrace the darkness
in which I swim

16. johnny cash - hurt
what have I become, my sweetest friend?

17. dub fx - the rain is gone
I could see the all the colours of the trees
they were smiling at me

18. the pixies - where is my mind?
your head will collapse
but there's nothing in it

19. wilco - on and on and on
please don't cry
we're designed to die

20. the rolling stones - fool to cry
and it makes me wonder why?

21. simon & garfunkel - comfort & joy
let nothing you dismay

November 11, 2012

we both dove and rose | orange kumara & cumin spread

On Thursday evening, it was warm and sunny. The kitchen was full at 6pm, but half an hour later, there were missions to go slacklining, to go surfing, to walk a dog on the beach, and the kitchen was empty once more. It was a beautiful evening so I took my film camera with me, a slightly dusty Ricoh KR-5 with a beautiful 50mm lens and slightly unreliable light meter, and finished a roll of film.

A friend once said "there's something magical about film", and I've come to agree. In our technologically advanced society, where information is always immediate, it's nice to have to wait and wonder whether your shots will turn out. I dropped in two rolls of film this past week, and when I went to pick them up the guy at the camera store complimented me on my photos, saying it was nice to see some nice captures coming through on film as he usually only sees mediocre shots. He then gifted me some rare film, a roll of fugichrome provia 1600; which has to be cross processed but has excellent low light capabilities. I am excited to try it out sometime soon!

Later that evening, the kitchen was full as dinner was made by J and a visiting Australian S, and we sat down around 9pm for salad from the garden, lentils cooked in coconut milk, mashed potatoes with olives, and mashed orange kumara with caramelised onions; and the carnivorous folk also had some havoc sausages (free range, organic, and local!). As you can see above it looked beautiful and I can tell you it certainly tasted delicious. Recipes to follow! 

The good weather did not last, and as I write on Sunday evening, the skies outside the kitchen window are grey and rain is falling in front of the kōwhai whose blooms are mostly wilted now. It really is November weather, unexpected rain and cooler temperatures punctuated by balmy spring days. "Wild Sage" is playing, a favourite gentle song. On the stove, chickpeas and beetroot are boiling for hummus and I find myself almost sick of the kitchen and ready to escape under the covers to watch a movie. It's been that kind of Sunday, slow and special.

The reason for my kitchen weariness lies in the story of yesterday. Three of us, J and L and I, volunteered to bake morning and afternoon tea for a summit/symposium on local food. We were told that 50 people would be attending. It was a challenge to come up with recipes to make that would showcase local, organic food and still be achievable - but we got lots of compliments and provided plenty of food so it was a successful venture in the end. It was the first time I'd made food for an event, and sometime around 8.30pm last night, after a solid nine hours in the kitchen, L and I expressed our new-found appreciation for caterers!

We made homemade crackers and three different dips for morning tea, to be supplemented with fruit, and then apple cakes, lemon cakes, and Hugh's (of course!) peanut butter muesli bars. It took a surprising amount of time, especially as we just had our one oven and had to coordinate baking times and temperatures. At 11.30pm last night I whizzed the last dip, a pesto, together and then fell into bed, exhausted.

I'm going to share with you one of the recipes - for a hummus-like spread made from orange kumara.

orange kumara & cumin spread

one large lemon
3 golden kumara
olive oil, about 4 tbsp and some for roasting
2 garlic cloves, peeled
sea salt
cracked pepper

Kumara is the Māori name for sweet potato. When I was younger, they only came in one type, which is a creamy colour with purple skins. These days, you can get golden kumara and orange ones too. If you can't find sweet potato, I think that a mixture of pumpkin and parsnip would be nice instead of kumara.

Peel and chop the kumara, and roast them in a little olive oil, until they are nice and soft but haven't started to dry out. This will probably take around 30 minutes.

Take a fork and mush the kumara up a little, then whizz in a blender until they're smooth. Add the olive oil, garlic cloves and lemon juice and whizz again. We had the use of a stick blender and managed perfectly fine with that, so you could too. The olive oil should make a very smooth (and quite addictive) consistency. Add sea salt and cracked pepper to taste. We made a large bowl of this, but the quantities I've given here would make about two cups. I can guarantee it won't last long though - you can spread it on toast, eat it with crackers, or just by itself. It's a little spicy from the raw garlic, but sweet from the kumara, and just so smooth. It is also ridiculously easy to make! 


title from iron & wine - each coming night

Next time - you can expect some more recipes from our marathon in the kitchen, including one for a delicious bedouin lentil soup. Hope your weekend was restful and relaxing! 

November 3, 2012

don't deny what's inside | barley stuffed cabbage leaves

You've got to spare a thought for plain, green cabbage. The shy underachiever of the cabbage family, but one of the easiest vegetables to grow (just ask my grandad), and perhaps, one of the most versatile. Sliced raw into winter slaws, fermented in sauerkraut or kimchi, or simply fried in sesame oil with a little garlic, poor cabbage forms the basis of many recipes. I say "poor" because you really have to feel sorry for the vegetable named cabbage. Not a lovely name that rolls off the tongue like aubergine, arugula, or cavolo nero; not one that sounds crisp and brisk like radish or asparagus, but cabbage. Sounds like garage said with a New Zealand accent (gar-ridge).

I like to think of it as winter's summer vegetable - when it's too cold and frosty for lettuces you can guarantee there'll always be cabbage. In the middle of winter, when you're a little tired of soups and stews, I like to make a red winter slaw with chopped purple cabbage, raw beetroot and carrot shavings, walnuts, parsley, and a simple dressing of sesame oil, lemon juice and a little fresh ginger. Deep red, purple, green and orange, with a dressing to keep the winter colds away... who said the vegetable named the un-pretty name of cabbage couldn't be attractive?

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the ever-present in our kitchen (not really) genius, doesn't let a name like cabbage put him off such a versatile vegetable: instead he uses them to wrap up parcels of grains and bakes them. What comes out of the oven, nutty and tomato-y and smelling like a vegetarian lasagne, is nothing short of amazing.

Fun fact - I'd turned past this page of his cookbook veg everyday numerous times, each time thinking the picture was of some kind of mexican dish with beans and no less than 10 poached eggs on top. J had independently thought the same thing. It turns out that it's a good idea to properly read these recipes that you flick by - the poached eggs were actually dollops of sour cream. Upon realising this, my eagerness to attempt the recipe at least quadrupled - I should've known Hugh would never overdose on the poached eggs in such a way!

hugh's baked barley stuffed cabbage leaves

This one takes a bit of time to prepare - not one for the busy weeknight. I made this on a Sunday afternoon and even with the loveliest L as my sous-chef (which really meant washer of dishes and tidier of the benches, sorry!) it still took a good couple of hours to prepare. Although some of that time was spent making and drinking tea, and generally pottering. It would be easier if you cooked the grains in advance - for example, we used a mixture of barley, and rice that was already cooked from the night before's dinner.

12 cabbage leaves
plain unsweetened yoghurt or sour cream
cumin seeds/ground cumin
cheese (optional)

for the filling:
3 cups grains; cooked. We used a mixture of pearled barley and rice.
2 eggs
1 white onion, diced
1/4 cup of hazelnuts, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic
a few sprigs of thyme
a few sprigs of aromatic fennel (or follow Hugh and use dill)
2 tsp tamari (or dark soy sauce)
2 dried chili peppers, chopped
1 good spoonful spicy fruit chutney (preferably one that's not too sweet - this is optional)

for the sauce:
1 white onion, diced
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 bay leaves
a little thyme
canned tomatoes - whole & peeled or chopped

Firstly, cook your grains if they are not cooked. I used a mixture of pearled barley and spelt, which took about 40 minutes of boiling to cook - I think it might have been less if I had soaked them! I mixed this with some short grain white rice which had been cooked the night before. Alternatively, you could use use bulghur wheat, quinoa or even couscous. When the grains are cooked, drain and set aside in a bowl.

Gently cook the onion and garlic in a pan. They will only need five minutes at a low heat. When they are done, add them to the cooked grains. Add the egg, tamari, chili, and herbs. Aromatic fennel is much darker than its counterpart and you don't eat the bulb of this type. Hugh's recipe says dill, so if you've got dill you could use that instead. Season with a little sea salt and cracked pepper. At this stage I felt like it needed a little more spice so I added a spoonful of spicy apple chutney, homemade earlier in the year by J.

Prepare the tomato sauce. Gently sweat the onions with the cumin in a little butter or oil. Add the garlic, tomatoes and herbs, bruising the bay leaves and chopping the thyme. Reduce over a medium-low heat while you make the rest of the meal, until you have a thick sauce.

Prepare the cabbage leaves by shaving any thick centre stems with a vegetable peeler. Blanche the leaves a few at a time in a big pot of boiling water. After a couple of minutes, fish them out and refresh them under cold water. Pat dry with a clean tea towel. 

To assemble, place a couple of spoonfuls of grains on the cabbage leaf. Fold the sides in and then roll up. Place in a single layer in an oven-proof dish with the seam down. They will look like pretty, green filo packages. You will probably get quite a variety of sizes as the leaves decrease in size towards the centre of the cabbage, but I found that the majority of the mixture fit easily into the 12 leaves I used. 

Take the thickened tomato sauce and spoon over the cabbage leaves. Judging from the picture in Hugh's book, you were meant to have quite a lot more tomato sauce than I did, but it was just fine as it was. Mix the ground cumin (or cumin seeds ground in a mortar and pestle) with the plain yoghurt, add a little salt, and spoon that over too. Bake for half an hour at 200ºC. At this stage they're ready to serve, or if you like you can sprinkle a little grated cheese over the top and bake for a further 10 minutes.

These are warming, a little spicy and quite delicious. The cabbage is transformed by the flavours around it. You could leave out the yoghurt and replace the egg with oil if you wanted to make this recipe vegan, but the creamy tartness of the yoghurt is quite delicious. This recipe made enough to feed five hungry people, with enough left over for lunches the next day. 

Hope your weekend has been lovely - here it has involved catching up with visiting friends, a little bit of dancing, a funny but almost absurd italian film, late night hot chocolates, lemon and honey drinks and quiet mornings at home. There's been sunshine and also a little hail - all around a typically good spring weekend.


title from wilco - on and on and on