Monday 31 December 2012

The 'leaving' celebration dinner

A leaving celebration dinner? I suppose it could be misconstrued our friends were pleased to see us (and our dog) leave after 2 weeks staying with them. Our dowager dog was a little unfriendly and ungrateful towards their hospitable young playful dog and she stayed in her room and out of his way where possible!  Anyway, they announced they were holding a leaving dinner for us. I love cooking but I especially love having food cooked for me. And any excuse to enjoy D's fine cooking is fine with me. She said it was to be a little retro and a little of the 'different, unusual, nice' -  still fine with me I said, really, really looking forward to it I said!  We were not disappointed.
First course was a classic crayfish and prawn cocktail, SO YUM!
The crayfish reminded me of happy summer camping holidays at south Beach in Kaikoura - a place well known for its scenic beauty where the mountains meet the sea and of course for the plethora of seafood available. In those days crayfish was not the price of a small car and if you were lucky enough to know someone who dived, you could cook them really fresh straight from the sea. As we passed through Kaikoura on our way home, I planned to grab a photo for this blog but unfortunately the weather was cloudy and overcast. In spite of that I was pleasantly surprised when I got home, unaware of it at the time the shot of the bay in the 'milky' sun included a seagull in flight, I  really like it.
Second course was a middle eastern flavoured dish D had experienced at a restaurant, she worked out the ingredients and made it for us. I just love pomegranates, such a beautiful colour and I am so pleased they seem easier to get nowadays.
This dish is so surprisingly simple and delicious.
Smear dessertspoon of hummus onto dinner plate
Add lamb mince well cooked with seasoning, cumin, garlic and pomegranate molasses
Sprinkle chopped parsley and coriander on top
Add pomegranate seeds as a garnish
Serve with flat bread
Finally dessert, vanilla ice-cream softened and blended with rose water with Turkish Delight ( D included a few maltesers) stirred through, frozen in a mould and served decorated with a gorgeous garnish of pomegranate seeds - in season right now -  just wonderful!
All washed down with a number of perfectly matched wines.
The chewy Turkish delight was heaven in the ice-cream
I want to give this recipe my twist as my daughter gave me a box of chocolate coated Turkish Delight at Christmas. She knows it is my favourite and has given me a box at Christmas  for as long as I can remember. I think pistachios would look and taste good too so I think I might try that option.
I need to buy a jelly mould, the only one I have is a antique glass one in the shape of a rabbit, which is perfectly appropriate for children's parties but not so for grownup dinner parties, I don't think it would look quite right!
Watch this space and in the meantime, thank you again D and M for your wonderful hospitality and friendship over the holidays. 

Friday 28 December 2012

Tis the season for berries

I adore blackcurrant jam so when I visited my son last week and spotted a bush laden with them, the first thing I asked him was 'do you want these, can I pick them?' His dear wife said 'go for it - we feed them to the chooks!' She professed to be, not a lover of blackcurrant jam but my son is.......!
It took me about 30 minutes (with some help from one little grandson) to pick 650 grams of the gorgeous little black beads, they were perfectly ripe so they showed great promise of great jam. And I hate to see a good thing (sorry little chooks) go to waste, it is definitely my mother in me.
The afternoon turned out to be very hot (not ideal jam making weather) so I decided to 'top and tail' them and freeze them to wait for a cooler jam making day.
Blackcurrants evoke strong child hood memories for me. I lived in the same house throughout my childhood, in fact I got married from said house, not a common occurrence these days. I remember our home had many bushes of raspberries, red currants, black currants and gooseberries. My Mother being the great homemaker she was, made jam and jellies throughout the summer season. And to earn money during the school holidays we used to go raspberry picking, more like slave labour but you certainly had your fill of delicious sun ripened fruit while picking.
With this in mind, a month or so ago I made the decision to see what I can grow in our garden here in Welly, one man with rolling eyes, one gooseberry bush purchased and planted. I will have to read up on how best to look after it and hopefully by next summer it will be laden with fruit for gooseberry pie!
I am not sure about berry growing here in Welly, my feeling is our section is too prone to wind and planting spots with full all day sun are not great. I've only had some smallish success with blueberries planted in a pot, placed in a sheltered position.
From small beginnings greatness comes
Anyway, back to my jam. The day came...
Blackcurrant Jam
650 grams of blackcurrants
650 grams of Jam Setting Sugar
(just use equal grams/amounts of fruit and sugar)
1 knob of butter ( takes any scum off the top)

Place blackcurrants in a heavy based pot, gently bring to a simmer, cook 5 minutes. Add the sugar and simmer gently for another 5-10 minutes until sugar is dissolved. Add a knob of butter, stir until melted. Test on a cold saucer for setting. When ready pour into hot sterlised jars. Seal with jam covers.
It is that simple!
This amount made three small jars. I delivered a jar to each household and kept one for myself of course - feedback from daughter was 'this jam is dangerously good', fabulous on Vogels toast. Nice.....

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Christmas goings on

Christmas day in Christchurch was a winner.
I love the tradition of my Christmas, usually a church service in the morning (with lots of carol singing) then the main meal of the day to look forward to.
This year we all sat outside at long tables and in spite of the cloud overhead I ended up with a very bad dose of sunburn, I forgot about the intensity of the sun here. 
Fourteen adults and eight children from a number of families shared a typical kiwi Christmas mid-day meal. The tables looked lovely, beautiful Christmas paper used as runner on a white table cloth, simply decorated with candy canes and silver and red strings of beads. Our meal really traditional and delicious, our entertainment, typical - watching the children open their presents, squealing, tearing about, enjoying their new toys.

Due to the wind it was a little difficult to keep everything on the table but my dear daughter who just loves Christmas put her creativity to the max by decorating and creating a lovely Christmas table of treats for the children. The ice-cream trees were the final magic touch for dessert, I just loved them - so clever. To find out how to make the trees check out her wonderful blog
Unfortunately there were no icecream trees for the adults, but it reminded me how much I love 'goody goody gum drop' icecream, it is actually my favourite icecream, mental note to self - have two scoops in a cone sometime over the summer, whilst relaxing in the sun, gazing out to a blue Wellington harbour!
I kept my little dish of nibbles for drinks simple, the traditional almonds, raisins, cashew nuts and crystallised ginger. We have the same treats every year and I wouldn't have it any other way. My new addition of homemade Christmas truffles went down well,  they will become a regular from this year onwards.

Monday 24 December 2012

Akaroa Salmon at Wainui

In between birthday parties and Christmas we decided to spend a few days at a lovely spot in Banks Peninsula, Wainui. In these parts you call it a bach, further south it may be called a crib or a holiday home. It is a special place renovated and owned by dear friends P and T, sadly T passed away at the beginning of 2011 so the place has extra meaning when we visit. There, mornings begin with fabulous deafening native bird song, which continues quietly through the day and into the twilight. I just love it, we always find it the perfect place to relax, or read, or chat about the year gone and the one ahead.  We also love the walks along the valley road and the Wainui waterfront. Thank you P, we will book again for next year.
The bay had a visit from a huge cruise ship, providing an interesting thing to gaze upon (and dream) from the bach balcony.
Time for a chat
And of course it is also a great place to sample some new recipes and wines to match. This visit we decided a simple BBQ was in order for the first night and cold smoked Akaroa salmon for the next night. Both dishes accompanied by fabulous seasonal vegetables. It was a classic 'coals to Newcastle' moment as the salmon farm is very near where we were staying, a good thing -  as I also knew you could purchase Akaroa Salmon from the wharf at Wainui. So, one early morning visit scored a beautiful fish (about 5kg) that I knew would be perfect for the Christmas Eve party we were to attend that night (where we were staying).
We stuffed it with 1/2 cup chopped fennel, two spring onions, two sliced lemons, salt and pepper and rubbed the outside with olive oil. Baked at 200 degrees (wrapped in tinfoil) for about 40 minutes, we let it rest for about 1/2 hour before removing the tinfoil and serving with a crusty bread and aioli. Armed with their forks 17 very happy party goers devoured it. So simple, so absolutely fabulous!  

Thursday 20 December 2012

Christmas truffles - as promised

This year we are celebrating Christmas with my family in Christchurch. It is the first time in years I will not have to cook or organise the day, a job my daughter and her hubby have taken on which is so nice. Our family has grown substantially over the last few years, so Christmas is a fun, busy, noisy time, tinged with a little sadness now that my dear mother is no longer with us..... she loved Christmas.
In true kiwi tradition everyone has been assigned a dish to bring on the day (we were told in October, good planning skills B) for the table, a great way of sharing the load and expense. My task is to make a fruit salad and little nibbles for drinks, tick.
I am so looking forward to the day, predictions are it will be a scorcher! 
It seems a bit of an overload to make truffles but this is a particularly nice and cute little recipe given to me by my friend Deb. Rich - yes, delicious - yes, lots of calories - yes - but who cares at this time of the the year. Take one Christmas pudding add a cake of melted dark chocolate and voila, little things of yumminess! They are really nice to have with coffee at the end of a meal (somehow you always find room) or to give as a gift to the host at a gathering.
I went on line to check the recipe's original creator and discovered many variations of the same recipe. I understand Nigella Lawson and Allison Holst have similar recipes but using different ingredients so my feeling is the recipe is not exclusive and we are free to play around with the flavours and call it our own. Some truffle recipes use fruit cake, with a little apricot jam or orange zest added and brandy instead of sherry.
Christmas Truffles 
1 biggish Plum Duff (just a supermarket one or you can use your left over pud from Christmas) – break up and soak in…
70ml sweet sherry ( use less liquid if it is a smaller Plum Duff) and mash mixture with a fork.
Add 150g dark chocolate – melted and 2tbsp of golden syrup. Mix all together in a large bowl and let it cool down a little in the fridge. When firm'ish, roll into balls and place on a tray lined with baking paper. 
Don't do what I did and try and make them in a hurry and roll them when the mixture was not firm enough. I had to redo them as they were not nice little balls, more like a blob!
Let's try that again shall we
Topping - gently melt 100g white chocolate buttons in a bowl in the microwave for about 40 seconds in 10 second bursts ( or melt using the double boiler method).
Using a teaspoon -drizzle the top, letting the white chocolate drip down the sides a little - decorate with bits of green and red glace cherries. 
Christmas truffle -  not a bad first effort after a poor start
To make them look even more special - place in Christmas themed mini cup cases
Makes about 25
Copied off the web to show what they should look like

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Hometown party

I have spent the last week in my 'hometown' staying with a dear friend and her family- complete with cat, dog and man of the house, all providing heaps of entertainment. I have spent my time catching up with 'old' friends, my family and my sleep. In spite of the recent searing heat in Canterbury (I am really not used to it now that I live in temperate Welly!) and while I miss the man (a lot), this last week has been bliss in so many ways, I am now officially relaxed and stress free, the warmth of the weather and friendship has rejuvenated my spirit. No climbing around dusty furniture (from renovations), no early starts to go to work, no watching the clock and no worries. And I have my man arriving on Thursday to complete the bliss.
The main reason for my early arrival in Christchurch was to help with my oldest grandchild's 5th birthday party. Her actual birthday is the 23rd December, her brothers is 28th December and with Christmas it has always been a very busy time for mother and father organising parties, Christmas celebrations and holidays! Sensibly my daughter decided to celebrate said 5th birthday - early. My task for the Fairy themed party was to create a plate of edible 'birds nests' made with chocolate crackles and a few little speckled jelly beans. Mission accomplished with much excitement and help from the two grandies.
Party in a lovely old hall unaffected by earthquakes!

Every item is colour themed!

Chocolate crackle birds nests
It was a wonderful day, for a very special little girl. I also had the joy of taking her (this week) to her second school visit, she starts in the first term 2013. A bit of a milestone for her parents and her Nana!
The party table

Saturday 8 December 2012

More Christmas fare

It is a truism that Christmas time is a very busy time, we all rush around like mad things to get everything ready in time for the BIG DAY ....using lists galore, dashing about doing all those little jobs which of course brings on a little more stress! I am feeling a little more stressed than usual as I have been working pretty much full time in the last five weeks, oh how it reminds me of my corporate days... the good bits and the not so good bits, consequently I have had very little spare time to enjoy some of my favourite pastimes like this blog and my time in the kitchen cooking and mulling over recipes. I miss it and while I have loved my little 'job contract' I really know now why I do not want a full time job anymore.
Last week I made a batch of my famous Pecan Pies for a Christmas Soiree. Famous because for many years in my corporate life I used to make them as Christmas thank you gifts for my clients - I would bake about 5-6 dozen at a time ( I would look a bit like a Mum gone mad in Merivale as I would bake well into the night) to deliver to my lovely customers the next day. Not everyone loves Christmas Mince Pies but I found most people loved the Pecan ones.
The recipe I use comes from Food magazine (Published in 1994 by Deb Crosby) and is as follows.
400 gram packet of Sweet Short Pastry
75 grams butter
1 cup of lightly packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 lightly beaten egg
1 cup pecan nuts
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add sugar & vanilla essence, add the egg.
Roll out sweet short crust pastry ( I use the ‘ready to use’  flat sheets) and cut small shapes to fit into mini muffin tins. It is a bit of trial and error to find the right sized pastry cutter!
Break up about 2-3 pecan halves into each pie, add about 1tsp of the sugar mix into each.
Bake at 180 degrees C (170 degrees C for fan oven) for about 15-20 minutes.
I use a fan oven so they cook in about 13-15 minutes
You need to watch them as they can overcook easily!
Cool for about 5 minutes before you attempt to put them on a cake rack.

Awake really early one morning I also had a moment to make these lovely muffins for the builders. I do love making these cute little cakes as they are so quick and easy and the flavours you can make are just endless. I call these my Christmas muffins because the mixture includes Mincemeat and you can go to town on the icing and decorations to make them look even more Christmassy which is the real fun part. The recipe came from my Just Muffins book that I have mentioned before on this blog. While at the time I didn't have any paper cases on hand it is nice to use some of the  many lovely Christmas muffin cases available now - it is a makes them look even more grand!

The sun was just coming up!
Mincemeat Muffins – Just Muffins Pub. 1989
1 cup wholemeal flour
¾ cup flour
3 ½ tsp baking powder
3 tbsp sugar
¾ cup milk
¾ cup drained mincemeat
¼ tsp salt
1 egg
¼ cup oil (not olive)
Stir dry ingredients together. Combine liquid ingredients and mincemeat and add all at once to dry mixture. Stir gently until just blended.
Bake at 200°C for 15-20 minutes. Makes about 12. To decorate I iced with butter icing and added a little cut out of white royal icing topped off with a little silver cachous.

They are yummy!