ode to the pomegranate

I had never really come across pomegranates before I relocated to Europe and was astounded by everyone’s obsession with them. Round and regal, with skin a strong, matte red, filled with tiny pellets; tart in flavour and vibrant in colour, pomegranate was this week’s pick from the market.

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The form of pomegranate that people are most familiar with is grenadine syrup. Dark pink and sickly sweet, to say the French are obsessed with it is an understatement! A guzzle of syrup topped with anything from water, lemonade or even beer is many people’s idea of a thirst-quenching treat.

Me, I prefer my pomegranates the natural way; popping a handful of the little red raindrops in my mouth – a million little explosions with every crunch. All it takes is a bit of a whack on the shell with the back of a wooden spoon!

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What I have also found interesting about Europe’s love of this interesting fruit, is how much it has been absorbed into architecture – in particularly in the south of Spain.

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The word pomegranate is derived from a bunch of Latin words essentially translating into apple of Granada, and oh, how Granada has taken that name and ran with it!

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Patterns painted on buildings and printed along tiles, buildings and fences topped with crowned bronze orbs – an elegant yet quirky touch to theming an entire region.

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fennel, potato and aubergine anna

After turning my fennel fronds into a fresh and fragrant salad the other day, I had to come up with a way of using the actual bulb… shouldn’t that be the other way around?

What I love about fennel, and similar  vegetables like garlic and leek, is that they jam pack any dish with so much flavour but it’s never too overpowering which makes it perfect for fennel, potato and aubergine anna.

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This receipe is my fancified version of potatoes anna; a light French dish of potatoes baked in butter – similar to a potato bake, but I decided to jazz mine up with some fennel and eggplant.

Begin by thinly slicing some potatoes, I used about six large ones, as well as one eggplant. Salt the eggplant slices and set aside to draw out the moisture and bitterness.

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Roughly chop a bulb of fennel, similar to how you would an onion or leek and evenly spread it along the bottom of a large baking dish.

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Rinse off the eggplant and combine them in a large bowl with the discs of potato. Now is your chance to add any extra flavours – I added the chopped leaves of one sprig of mint and a handful of fresh parsley leaves, along with a good crack of salt and pepper.

Layer this mixture on top of the bed of fennel in as much chaos or order as you see fit, it works better if the discs are all laid flat.

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Now for the pièce-de-résistance; melt ½ a cup of butter (or any combination of butter and olive oil) and drizzle it over top of the heaped vegetables. Place the dish into a hot oven and cook for 30 minutes.

The beauty of this dish is the variation in textures you will end with; a bed of soft and steamy fennel, a layer of crisp potato slices on top of a firm bed of juicy potatoes and soft, creamy eggplant, a smattering of herbs throughout and a rich buttery sauce. The flavours meld together perfectly and the excess butter absorbs the aniseed bite of the fennel and the minty freshness.

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Serve hot on a winter’s night or cold with a fresh salad as a summertime lunch. The flavours are full enough to act as a standalone dish, but subtle enough to work aside fish, chicken or even beef.

spiced, sweet stuffed eggplants

I originally had planned to write a post on eggplant steaks but then I found this recipe and it seemed like a way better idea.

I recently bought myself a copy of Ghillie Başan’s book, Flavours of the Middle East – two-for-one deals always get the better of me – and it is filled with beautiful dishes, vibrant colours and interesting stories. Stuffed eggplants was my first dish, in a long list that I wanted to experiment with. They are a great combination of savoury aubergines, sweet dried fruit and a good kick of subtle spice.

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To begin, I mixed a diced onion with 150grams of minced beef – Ghillie’s recipe uses lamb but I wanted something a little leaner. I also added a tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon each of cumin and nutmeg and a few teaspoons of brown sugar. I also added two tablespoons of dried cranberries for sweetness, two chopped dates for a caramel undertone and two tablespoons of pine nuts for a little crunch. I mixed it all together with half a can of diced tomatoes, a big grind of pepper and a pinch of dried thyme, and set it aside so the flavours could meld together.

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After bathing three partially peel aubergines in salt water for 15 minutes, I gently pan fried them in equal parts oil and butter until the skin was glossy and the flesh changed to a pale shade of yellow.

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I slit each aubergine down the middle lengthways, through as much of the flesh as possible, without puncturing the skin on the other side. With a tremendous balance of delicacy and might, I prised the eggplants open and compactly filled them with the meat mixture.

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I transported my eggplant boats into a bright red oven tray and doused them in the juice of a lemon, a healthy gulp of olive oil, a crack of sugar and a bit of water mixed with a teaspoon of sugar.

I baked at 200°C for 50 minutes – the first 25 minutes with a layer of foil overtop, the rest of the time uncovered. I basted each of them with the juices once I removed the foil just to insure they were nice and moist.

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Perfect hot or cold, this dish doesn’t require any sides or special garnishes – they are delicious (both visually and to the tastebuds) just as they are!

 

how to be a kiwi

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed from my barrage of sunny, beach-time photos that I spent the weekend at a friend’s wedding.

The setting was idyllic; sunshine and sand, a driftwood alter and rustic décor, a warm breeze carrying the salty air, and a beautiful bride to boot.

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It was a real international affair; visitors from all over the globe settling into this sleepy little beach town. And with some many of the guests having recently returned from their lives abroad, it was a perfect occasion for an overload of Kiwiana.

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Here are some of the things we did that sum up what it’s like to be a Kiwi.

Hokey pokey ice cream

I think it’s safe to say that New Zealanders class hokey pokey as its own food group. These tiny, amber coloured droplets of golden syrup are worth their weight in (actual) gold in my eyes. Not only are they excellent in keeping my constant sugar cravings at bay, but they offer a satisfying crunch to accompany the smooth velvetiness of almost-melting vanilla ice cream. As kids, we would pick the little sugary globes out of our ice cream as we went and save them till last, the winner was the person whose ice cream had the most hokey pokey balls. The prize was never more than bragging rights, but that’s the best part of winning anyway.

Steak and cheese pies

I can understand how the idea of a mince pie sitting in a warming oven could sound all kinds of horrible. And I partially agree. It’s not something that I have often; less than once in a blue moon, but when I do indulge, it’s one of the most nostalgic experiences that exist – it just tastes like home. Gooey cheese on top of a mountain of steak chunks, drowned in an ocean of thick, rich gravy, all encased in a petite parcel of warm pastry. It is by no means gourmet, but it is definitely an ideal meal for enjoying as you walk along the boardwalk, cradled between two icy cold hands to help warm up after a dip in the not-quite-warm-enough ocean.

Beach cricket

Speaking of activities that are well complemented by swims in the “refreshing” surf; beach cricket. I wasn’t much of a sporty child; I wasn’t blessed with much in the form of hand-eye coordination, so I’m not well versed in the rules of actual cricket but that’s never stopped me from enjoying a round of beach cricket where the rules are far simpler. Someone bowls the ball (underarm of course), you thwack it as hard as you can and run to a stick poked in the ground and back as many times as you can. If someone catches the ball, you’re out, if not, the cycle continues until they do, or until someone gets mad and hurls the bat at someone else or into the ocean. But that only happens if you’re playing with my family.

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Don’t even get me started on fish and chips, that’s a story for a whole other post!

a taste of south america – tamarillo salsa

I can’t sit still for long, I try to stay in one place for an extended period of time and it just makes me feel anxious. I am always thinking of future holiday destinations and daydreaming about where I want to go next.

My current obsession is South America, in particularly, Argentina. I went to an incredible Argentinian barbeque recently and while I was being rolled out the front door, my mind started swirling around ideas of how I could recreate many of the brightly coloured, punchy dishes in my own kitchen.

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As you can imagine, a barbeque joint is going to be packed to them brim with meat so I wanted to dream up something a little lighter but still with that South American kick. Taking inspiration from the vibrant buildings and streets of downtown Buenos Aires, the tropical flavours that come with year round sunshine, and what I could find scrounging around the kitchen cupboards, I whipped up a quick tamarillo salsa.

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Tamarillos are such a wonderful fruit; tart and oozing with dark orange blood, hands stained purple from scraping the soft flesh out of its casing is a sensation that fills me with childhood nostalgia. Their flavour is also a perfect contrast to the sweetness of salsa’s primary ingredient; tomatoes.

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Dice three small tomatoes, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, if the seeds are quite watery then discard them. Dice the flesh of one tamarillo, and ¼ of a red onion for a sharp flavour and an added pop of colour. Add them to the tomatoes. Dice one red chilli or ¼ of a red bell pepper; which you choose depends on how spicy you want it – if you’re not a spice fiend then use the bell pepper as it possessed a similar flavour to the chilli without the fieriness.

Add the juice of ½ a lemon or lime, a drizzle of olive oil, a tablespoon of rock salt and another of raw sugar, add a teaspoon of smoked paprika for an optional extra kick if you so desire.

Combine well and leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour – the longer you leave it, the more time the flavours have to combine and meld together – after a day you can hardly distinguish between the tiny cubes of pepper, tamarillo and tomato.

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This is a wonderful accompaniment to steak, lamb or chicken, or even heaped onto a piece of toasted ciabatta for a tropical bruschetta fusion.

les différences entre nous

There are many aspects of life that we all take for granted, and I’m not talking about the usual things; having a roof over our heads, running water and food on the table. I’m looking at this from a more day-to-day level, like knowing what shop to go to when you need to buy blu-tac. Moving to a new country, even when you’re not faced with the language barrier (even if there isn’t a direct colloquial understanding – a topic for another post, on another day), you will always find yourself earning for the familiarities of the way things work back home.

France may take the cake when it comes to sweets and pastries, but trying to get your banking done is far from a breeze – no matter how buttery and soft that pain au chocolat is, stepping into a bank branch will have you dreaming of home. Like much of France, from supermarkets to boulangeries, banks are never open on Sundays, and often closed Mondays too, they are usually closed for Saturday afternoons and sometimes even after lunch on Wednesdays. If you do manage to get into the branch while it’s open, you better hope that it’s the branch you’re registered with. With today’s technology, I was used to walking into any branch, anywhere in the country and being able to open a new savings account or set up my internet banking – sadly that’s not the case. Speaking of internet banking, I had to register my phone number, get sent two different codes by post and register my overseas account (also by post) just to transfer anything in or out of the account. Le sigh.

Brigitte Bardot in “Vie privée”
Brigitte Bardot in “Vie privée”

 Once you have found a way of accessing your money, you might want to go and do something fun with it. You may even want to do it with some friends. If you do manage to find someone who can leap over the language barrier, you may still find yourself sitting alone at the bar. Don’t worry, it’s not that you’re boring, its jus that everyone is outside taking a cigarette break. New Zealand isn’t a nation teeming with smokers, quite the opposite in that many smokers find themselves looking through the window of the bar, stamping their feet to ward off the cold as their friends all sit inside having fun and enjoying the warmth. France is the opposite; there have been many a time that I have found myself alone at a table of six, or even lounging over four barstools as all of my friends stand in the cold, smoking and enjoying each other’s company.

The differences are not all bad, European bars and restaurants always seem to have somewhere to hang your coat. I have often found in New Zealand, much to my infuriation, that the only place to leave your coat is hanging off the back of your chair, or in a crumpled mess next to the dance floor. In Europe, it’s different. Bars, restaurants and nightclubs all have hooks under bar benches and free coat checks at the door. It’s the ideal student job – working as a vestiare at a nightclub; all of the hustle and bustle of a bartender without ever spilling beer all over your feet.

You win some you lose some, the grass is always greener somewhere else and all the rest of those sayings. No one said it was easy; settling into a new way of life always takes time but it always works out in the end.

wanted: blogging buddy

Like the task from the other day, today’s task is about growing your blogging network. On day 7 we focused on widening our horizons on who reads our blogs and today we are looking at growing that network in regards to who we are writing with, rather than writing for. Which brings me back to what I’m looking for: a blogging buddy.

I think it is important to have a network of people following your blog who know you in real life, seeing a friend and being told that they loved that post you did on chocolate, or the quote you posted was really funny, is thrilling. As much as I love the blogging community, nothing beats a little face-to-face interaction! I also find it so helpful to have friends who are contributing to the blogging world at the same time as you; being able to talk about things that you are planning on writing about and when your next post is coming out is a really great motivator.

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And then there is taking it to the next level; a blog contributor. Deciding to have someone writing on your blog, on your baby, is a big step, albeit a relatively easy one in comparison to the tasks that come next. How do you decide what kind of blogger you want to feature? How do you find them? How do you build up the courage to ask them? Memories of shy 12-year old you, too shy to ask someone out, so getting your friend to do it for you flood back. Oh, the adolescent agony and uncertainty!

What should you look for in a blog contributor? It is obvious that you need to choose someone who shares some vague common interests with you; after all, you want your readers to want to read it. But they have to be different enough to make it interesting, or what is the point of their contribution – you could have just written it yourself?

I have been pondering all morning about variations of things I like to talk about that I think my followers would still enjoy in hope of creating the draft of my idea blog contributor.

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Travel
Slightly budgeted and slightly off the beaten track à either extreme; really budgeted and off the radar, or something unimaginably luxurious!

Food
European, Middle Eastern, chocolate, experimenting on classics à Asian, South American, Health-focused or a variation on any of the current food fads

Culture
I don’t often post about culture as a whole, while I do try and integrate aspects of it into other things I do, I don’t find it particularly easy to write about on its own, I would love to include someone who has some great things to say about it!

I suppose looking for a blogging buddy isn’t going to be the worst job in the world; I can spend hour upon hour browsing interesting topics and claim its ‘research’!

writing, comma food

I have recently begun reading ‘Will Write for Food’, by Dianne Jacobs; a charming guide to all things falling under the grand canopy of food writing. Each chapter of the book ends with a series of tasks, designed as an aid to improving one’s writing and I thought it would be an interesting experiment to share my journey through each section by publishing my musings for each task encountered.

A summation of the first chapter’s tasks is to explore finding your own voice and writing style by describing a favourite food while looking at similes, metaphors and enhanced descriptions.

For integrity purposes, I have left all editing and annotation visible, as it is really about the journey and the process as opposed to the finished product.

I ate a lot of cherries while I was in Spain. I am a huge cynic of anyone who overuses the word ‘literally’, while saying I ate them by the tonne may be a slight exaggeration, but I did literally eat bucket loads of them. Breathing in the warm summer air, my mind easily floats back to a time when my mind life was filled with nothing but fluorescent, deep red orbs, when the staining, tartly sweet taste of them barely ever left my mouth.

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What draws me to eating, and cooking with cherries is their sheer versatility; plump scarlet slithers in a cherry jam, velvety sweet in a clafoutis or bursting with juice at the end of the season, melting in your mouth like a molten ball of summer.

In my opinion, half of the satisfaction of eating cherries comes from the preparation; such an awakening of the senses! The sun beating down on your shoulders and the lactic acid building up in your arms as you reach for the sweetest fruits on the highest branches, everyone worker bees in a row at the kitchen table removing stalks, removing pits and slicing fruit in half, purple-stained hands adding each crescent moon into jam pot.

There comes a point, midsummer, when a cherry tree’s output becomes exponentially greater than a human’s rate of consumption. An afternoon of jam making makes easy work of a big bucket of cherries morning’s pickings, but what are you to do with the other two buckets?

Cherry pie
Cherry juice
Cherries mixed through gooey vanilla ice cream
Cherry crumbled topped with shards of caramelised sugar
Cherry-infused vodka, gin or brandy

As the blood-red sun begins to set on the summer’s horizon, and the soft, ripe fruit is given away to anyone who will take it, you stop loving cherries; you think you can’t stand the sight of another cherry, let alone the taste.

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Until next summer.

let them eat (cup)cake

It’s Queens’ Birthday Weekend in New Zealand this weekend, I always get a slight pang of jealousy knowing that there is a public holiday happening that I don’t get to be a part of. So I decided to celebrate anyway by making these strawberry meringue cupcakes.

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I think that for the French, the concept of a day celebrating the royal family isn’t one they really comprehend, and even if they were to buy into the recently resurrected global phenomenon of ‘Royal Fever’, its still not something they can really do, seeing as the last queen they had was decapitated.

PS I know this isn't actually her..
PS I know this isn’t actually her..

With these cupcakes I decided to celebrate her a little bit too; the batter I used for these cupcakes is rather cakey and dense (yet still moist) – paying homage to Marie Antoinette’s (alleged) quote,

Let them eat cake

Quite note: The fruit used in this recipe can be whatever you want, whatever is in season or whatever you find in a can at the grocery store.

For the cupcake batter, you will need:
-1 ½ cup of flour
-1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder (optional)
-¼ teaspoon of salt
-½ cup of softened butter
-¾ cup of sugar
-½ cup of milk
– 4 egg yolks
-1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
-a handful of strawberries, I used 12 small ones

For the meringue you will need:
-2 eggs whites
-2/3 cup of sugar
-3 tablespoons of strawberry liqueur

If the fruit that you want to use is not in season, use canned fruit- the liqueur can in substituted for the syrup in the can! If you are using fresh fruit, an extra piece can be put on top of the meringue before baking for that nice little touch.

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Begin by creaming the butter and sugar together until it forms a thick paste that you would happily sit down and eat. Add the salt, vanilla and egg yolks, using just the yolks will give the cupcakes a lovely yellow colour but you can substitute two of the yolks for a whole egg if you want, that way you won’t be left with two spare whites at the end. Mix in the milk followed by the flour, dice the strawberries and mix them through too.

Fill 12 cupcake cases with the batter and bake at 180°C for 20 minutes.

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While they are baking make your meringue- whisk the egg whites with an electric beater, slowly add the sugar and liqueur until it has formed stiff peaks. I used all four egg whites and baked the left over meringue by itself in their own little cupcake cases, as a way of using them up.

Take the cupcakes out of the oven and pipe or spoon the meringue on top of each cupcake, place them back in the oven and reduce the temperature to 150°C, this will quickly begin to cook the meringue but as the temperature begins to fall they won’t burn.

Remove from the over and leave to cool before removing them from the cupcake tin. Serve warm. Or cold, or place them back in a warm oven for about five minutes before serving to crisp the meringue up a bit and let’s face it, we all love eating warm cupcakes!

If you are celebrating the queen like I am, serve with a pot of tea and club sandwiches.

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Voilà! Those lucky enough to be enjoying the long weekend, enjoy it! Those not so lucky, enjoy the two days anyway, preferably with cupcakes!

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we are the world: an international apple tart

Last week we had a work lunch where we were told to bring something that represented our heritage. Now, this was a little bit of a loaded question for me as my family have lived in New Zealand since the 1860’s so we are by all means very Kiwi, yet our actual heritage from before that time is from all over the place; Scotland, Norway, Italy and Greece, apparently the Near East a little bit too. This is a lot to try and fit into one dish but I have tried to combine as many element as possible in my apple, cheddar and rosemary tart.

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apple, cheddar and rosemary tart

This recipe calls for:
1 onion or leek
2 sprigs of rosemary
3 apples; peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or Calvados
½ a packet of filo pastry
1/3 cup of crème fraiche
200 grams of vintage cheddar
1 tablespoon of tahini
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

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As you can see, I have a French influence in the leeks and apples, English with the cheddar, a bit of the Near East with the tahini, and a Greek touch with the filo pastry. You can use whatever pastry you like; I used filo because I had some left over from the last time I made baklava. Ideally, green apples are the best for this, but I don’t really like them and had regular royal gala apples on hand and they worked well too.

Firstly, sauté the onion (in butter, as opposed to olive oil for a sweeter flavour). Once they are soft and translucent, set them aside to cool. Mix in the sliced apples, vinegar and rosemary leaves, add a dash of salt and pepper if you feel the need.

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Next whip the crème fraiche, tahini and cinnamon together. The tahini and cinnamon give the crème fraiche a nice complexity of sweet, savoury, nutty and subtly spicy, but they can be omitted if you like.

Layer the pastry into a dish, brushing each layer with a little melted butter as you do so. Spread the crème fraiche mixture over it, top with 2/3 of the grated cheese before adding the apples and the remaining cheese.

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Bake at 200°C for 30 minutes and leave to cool before removing from the dish and slicing.

It is safe to say that this dish went down a treat, maybe the story behind it was a little over everyone’s heads but it definitely was delicious. It is great served hot with a side of salad, and also makes a great hamper-filler, eaten cold at a picnic. Bon appetite!