what the fig?

The first time I tried figs I thought that they were the worst. I was at university and my mum included a packet of dried figs in a package she sent me because she knew they were disgusting and thought it would be funny. Thanks Mum, happy Mother’s Day.

Years later, when I had put this trauma behind me and built up the courage to try figs again (fresh this time), I was shocked to discover that I had been giving them a bad rap for far too long. They are really unlike anything I had ever tasted before; a perfect balance of nectary sweetness while still seeming wholesomely savoury.

SAM_3721

In this part of the world they can be a bit pricey so I have always been a little reluctant to experiment with them but went out for dinner s few weeks ago and had the most incredible baked figs that I could resist giving them a go in my own kitchen.

This is a great dish and so versatile! You can serve it as a snack, a starter or even a dessert, and it looks beautiful!

SAM_3722

Slice as many fresh figs as you like in half, I would say about two per person as a constraint against over-indulging. I’m still not a fan of measuring anything properly so this recipe is really measured in pinches and dashes. Top with a tiny dollop of butter, an equal amount of honey and a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon. Admire their beauty and take in the scent of the flavours melding together.

SAM_3727

Bake at 180°C for 15 to 20 minutes – it really depends on the ripeness of the fruit you’re using but in my opinion, this is a prime example of when the saying ‘low and slow’ applies.

SAM_3732

A couple of minutes before I took my oozing little beauties out of the oven, I topped each with a tiny ball of goats cheese – it adds a savoury element to make it not-just-a-dessert food and the chèvre compliments the honey and cinnamon oh so well.

SAM_3734

The one problem I find with these bite-sized morsels is how moreish they are – I honestly believe I could eat my bodyweight in them!

 

Advertisements

fennel-crusted aubergine salad with kale and pomegranate

As 2015 rolled to an end I was working on my pre-summer recipe repertoire and begun a bit of a love affair with fennel; the bulbs, the seeds and the fronds seemed to find their way into many a dish I created. Here, here and here are a few of them.

And now I am going to add one more to the list – fennel crusted aubergine served with a fresh and earthy kale and pomegranate salad.

SAM_3597

I must admit, this recipe was a bit of a ‘best-case scenario’ kind of thing – no one who I was cooking it for had much confidence that my idea was going to work. But it did! The eggplant came out beautifully soft and buttery sweet and the fennel fronds added a hint of smoky, liquorice crunch almost.

And it was so easy!

I sliced an eggplant into 1cm disks, salted them liberally and let them sit for about 20 minutes. I picked the fronds off a large fennel bulb and roughly chopped them, adding them to a bowl with a tablespoon of ground almonds, salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Once I had accomplished this task, I rinsed and dried the eggplant, I submerged each slice into a bowl of egg wash and coated both sides with the fennel frond mixture before placing them onto an oven tray, drizzling with olive oil and baking at 180°C for 30 minutes. I flipped them over at the halfway mark and topped each rondelle with a tiny dollop of butter – just for good measure.

SAM_3596

While the eggplant baked to delicious perfection, I shredded a bunch of kale leaves to form the base of the salad; dressed simply with extra virgin olive oil, a dash of apple cider vinegar and of course, sea salt and black pepper. I know kale is no longer the health food du jour, but I don’t care – I never ate it for its trendiness and actually like the taste; earthy leaves with a satisfying crunch and a savoury pepper favour boarding just on the edge of bitterness. Yum!

SAM_3598

The bronzed eggplant rings sat atop this deep green forest of kale, and for an added pop of colour, I added a scattering of pickled radish and some spherical sunset red pomegranate seeds. Each one bursting with sweet flavour to counterbalance the rest of the flavours.

Just a simple dish really, a feast easy to prepare that will blow any dinner guests away – and that’s even before they taste it!

have you heard of salsa verde?

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned how I was planning a trip to Argentina. I had this revelation at about the same time that I started planning my Christmas menu and thought it might be a nice opportunity to try my hand at another quintessential dish. Bringing us to Christmas condiment number 2; salsa verde.

SAM_3640

Salsa Verde is Spanish for green sauce, it is packed full of fresh herbs which give it a punchy flavour, great for enhancing any meal!

Like I said the other day; our Christmas meal was a beautiful rack of lamb, and what is a traditional, go-to side to roast lamb? Mint sauce! Salsa Verde is essentially mint, basil and parsley which makes it not only delicious, but quick and hassle-free to make, and perfect for the summertime!

SAM_3638

All you will need for this tasty accompaniment is:

2 handfuls of parsley leaves
1 handful of mint leaves
1 handful of basil leaves
2 tablespoons of capers
2 large gherkins
1 tablespoon of wholegrain mustard
3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
the juice of half a lemon
8 tablespoons of olive oil
a big crack of pepper
1 handful of cashew nuts

I know that ‘handful’ isn’t exactly a scientific way of measuring anything but I think it works here – if you’re picking the herbs from your garden you can wrap your hands around as many stems as you want for each of the three. I bought mine at the market and just made one bunch the equivalent of a handful and the ratio worked well for me!

Cashew nuts are not in any recipe I have seen online but I added them for two reasons; I thought their subtle nutty flavour would mellow the harsh zing of the herbs, and I have come left over from when I made my stollen.

SAM_3698

Give the leaves a rinse under cold water and discard the stems, whiz all of the ingredients up in the food processor and you are good to go! The herbs retain a little bit of their crunch and absorb the sweet spiciness of the golden, pale green olive oil – it’s a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds, so irresistible that I may or may not have mopped the remnants from the food processor with a piece of bread!

SAM_3706

Served alongside the lamb and a pile of new potatoes, the green smattering of sauce gave my plate a needed burst of colour and brought the flavours to a whole new level!

 

olive tapenade; christmas condiment?

Since Christmas was over a week ago, we can now begin to look back at it in a nostalgic frame of mind, reminiscing over the lovely time we had and start counting down the days until the next one. I like to spend as much of January as I can talking about what we all ate to carry the magic on for as long as possible.

In my household, we never do Christmas the ‘traditional’ way; we never have a turkey, we don’t play Christmas carols and we decorate a baby fruit tree which we later plant during my mother’s “Christmas spirit ceremony” – a little unconventional but over time I have come to accept it as our version of normal.

SAM_3702

This year was no different. My father was hell-bent on serving a lamb rack from Christmas lunch, something I was never going to object to! I put myself in charge of preparing the condiments and allocated the lamb preparation to Dad; roasted with a simple crust of panko breadcrumbs and preserved lemon, it was moreish and crisp, the tartness of the lemons nicely juxtaposed with the sweetness of all the butter used to hold the crust together like a fantastic culinary clay.

SAM_3705

I digress; the condiments, that’s what I am really talking about here, the condiments. Clinging onto the usual theme of a summer Christmas in a Southern Europe-inspired household, condiment number one was a velvety and zingy olive tapenade.

Olives are always a staple in my pantry; without a jar of olives, I get a sort of meal creation anxiety. It’s for this reason that I thought it was a must that I incorporate my favourite purple pebbles into our celebratory meal.

SAM_3699

Olive tapenade is by no means a difficult side dish to create; it doesn’t involve a large about of kitchen prowess and you only need to invest a small portion of time into it.

For my recipe, here’s what you’ll need:

SAM_3627

A jar of olives – I opted for Kalamata olives but it is completely up to your preferences
3 cloves of garlic – more or less as you see fit
2 tablespoons of capers
a small handful of fresh parsley or 2 tablespoons of dried parsley
the zest of a lemon, and half of its juice
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of wholegrain mustard
a good crack of salt and pepper

You can add anything else you like, obviously stick to ingredients with a Mediterranean feel – sundried tomatoes, anchovies, even figs. Or just keep it nice and simple and let the olives do the talking.

A few notes, too: it’s 100% okay to use extra virgin olive oil here because the tapenade isn’t cooked; the smooth, smoky flavour of the oil is not wasted.

Regardless of if you are using Kalamata olives, black Spanish or green Italian olives, I strongly suggest you buy them whole and pit them yourself. In my opinion, the flavour will be better and the texture of your tapenade will be sleek and not mushy. It’s great if you have, or can locate a cherry or olive pitter (which is extremely difficult if you don’t live in Spain), but slicing them with a paring knife and removing the pits by hand doesn’t take too long.

SAM_3636

Now onto the ‘recipe’: place all of your ingredients into a blender or food processor (or use a mortar and pestle if you’re hard-core!) and whiz until combined and smooth. It is such a beautiful shade of burgundy that you might want to paint your kitchen with it!

It’s ready to eat straight away but the flavour will deepen the longer its left – it will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

SAM_3706

I spread it liberally over the juicy lamb and used the leftovers as a colourful addition to our many Christmas cheeseboards and even spread it over pieces of crusty bread as an easy afternoon snack.

What was your culinary highlight of Christmas?

 

what i ate for christmas

Now that Christmas is done and dusted, we can all get back to blogging.  But first,  I need to get back into the habit of knowing what day of the week it is.

So before I do anything that strenuous, and before I got into any such detail of my Christmas creations, I will leave you with a little teasing taster of what’s to come..

Breakfast begun with champagne and toast; I know that you’re thinking toast doesn’t really constitute a fanciful meal. It does when the array includes walnut and date conserve, confit duck, gorgonzola, roasted tomatoes and honeyed ricotta.

SAM_3688

The afternoon meal included a lemon-crusted lamb rack beside a bundle of home-grown new potatoes. These were accompanied by a fresh, zingy salsa verde and pungent olive tapenade. Rounding out the meal with a salad of roast butternut, crunchy spiced almonds and creamy homemade feta and button mushrooms stuffed with blue cheese. Safe to say, we were all in dire need of a nap afterwards.

SAM_3702

The day ended with chocolate-coated strawberries, salted caramel chocolate tart and muffin puddings. All while sipping fresh, minty limoncello cocktails.

SAM_3709

All in all, a fun, relaxed day in the sun, lying by the pool and gorging ourselves on chocolates… all without anyone throwing a plate or any other object at another family member… this year.

christmas countdown: stollen

The meaning of Christmas varies depending on where you are in the world. I’m not just talking about the way you celebrate it, or what it means to you – spiritually or otherwise. In every corner of the world, Christmas varies on all sensory levels; the way to looks, tastes and sounds, and the way it smells.

In New Zealand, a typical Christmas is a barbeque of sizzling sausages and an ice cold beer in the evening sun. On the flipside, my Christmases in France revolved around roasted goose and mulled wine, Christmas sweaters and staring out the window at the dreary, grey gloom. I know which one I prefer but here is something about a winter Christmas that is leaps and bounds ahead of the antipodes in festivity.

And that is the Christmas smells.

20151218_143717[1]

This year I have found myself craving those warm, comforting smells; cinnamon, cloves, pine needles and ginger. Instead of brewing up a batch of mulled wine – which I didn’t think would go well with the temperature in the mid-twenties, I decided to try my hand at making stollen.

Stollen is a dense, festive bread from Germany, it is full of nuggets of sweetness and all of the flavours, textures and emotions associated with Christmas. Traditionally made with almonds, candied fruit and lemon zest, I decided to mix things up a bit by substituting in cashews, crystalized ginger and dried citrus peel.

SAM_3599

First things first, you need to get your dried fruit nice and drunk. I mixed a cup of raisins and a cup of candied ginger and fruit peel, chopped, with three tablespoons of Pimm’s – or orange juice if you’re not one for baking with booze. You could also use rum but I like the rich, fruity undertones of Pimm’s and use it in cooking often.

SAM_3601

Next up is the yeasty sponge; combine a tablespoon of yeast powder with ¼ cup of warm water, ¾ cup of warm milk, a teaspoon of clover honey and a cup of flour. Mix into a thick paste, cover with cling film and leave the yeast to do its thing. If your house isn’t too warm, then sit the bowl next to a heater for 30 minutes or until the surface of the mixture is speckled with bubbles.

In a separate bowl, whisk one egg and combine with ¼ cup of honey, ½ cup of butter and a pinch of salt. Toast ½ cup of chopped cashew nuts and add to the mixture, along with ½ teaspoon of nutmeg and 2 cups of flour.

SAM_3607

Add the yeast mixture and the boozy fruit and combine into a thick, wet dough. Slowly add another 1 ½ cup of flour until the dough isn’t so sticky. Knead for five minutes of a floured surface.

Once the dough has come together, roll it in a little vegetable oil and leave to rise. What I hate about so many bread recipes is that it always says the dough will double in size; mine never does and it makes me nervous for the end product. Nervous without cause, in fact.

SAM_3612

Divide the dough in half and roll into flat ovals. Brush the surfaces with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. I used granulated sugar, but you could use icing sugar or even a layer of marzipan. Fold the ovals over on themselves and knit the edges together, making sure no air is trapped inside and the seams are tightly secured so they don’t rip open in the oven like one of mine did!

Leave to rise for another 45minutes before baking at 190°C for 25 minutes.

SAM_3619

As soon as you take the loaves out of the oven, baste them again in melted butter and dust with a thick layer of icing sugar which will melt and be absorbed into the breads outer crust. Delicious!

SAM_3621

Serve it hot as it is, or cold next to a steaming cup of coffee. On the rare chance you have anything left past a day or two, smear each side of a thick slice in butter and pan-fry until crisp and golden. A decadent, toasty holiday treat!

fennel frond salad

We are officially in summer here in New Zealand and even though that doesn’t necessarily mean endless sunshine, it does mean that fresh, crisp salads are on my mind more and more.

Whenever I go to the market, I always try and buy something I don’t usually buy, there have been some failed new flavours but if you don’t open yourself up to new possibilities, you could miss the chance of finding a new favourite.

How philosophical.

SAM_3559

Fennel is my flavour of the month, and this week I purchased what is potentially the biggest fennel bulb known to man. Usually when people use fennel, they stick with the bulb and just throw everything else away. What a waste! The stalks can be used just like celery and I used the fronds to make a fragrant salad.

SAM_3572

Begin by slicing a carrot as thinly as possible with a grater or mandolin. Coat them with a whisper of olive oil and roast until cooked through and slightly crunchy.

SAM_3566

Next, remove the fronds from the fennel bulb, you can use it for a range of things, like this salad. I steamed the fronds for a couple of minutes to bring out the aniseed flavour, and it made the kitchen smell like liquorice!

SAM_3567

While the fronds were steaming, I sliced a couple of button mushrooms are doused them in a few teaspoons of the pickling liquid from my radishes.

After drying the fronds, I tossed them through some shredded lettuce. Add the mushrooms and pickling liquid with the frond salad, along with as many rondelles of pickled radish as you like.

SAM_3573

Add a dash of extra virgin olive oil and some fresh mint and parsley leaves, top with the carrot chips and you have yourself a colourful rainbow salad that’s bursting with so many flavours.

SAM_3575

It’s a perfect accompaniment to chicken, fish or red meat, or even by itself with a croute of crusty bread.

limoncello granita

We all know Italy as the land of pizza and pasta, beaches almost as beautiful as the people and so much sunshine it seems unfair to the rest of the world. It is one of the most widespread and well-known food localities, and we all have a favourite Italian dish which has no doubt, been bastardised by inauthentic interpretation. But there is so much more to discover than pizza and pasta; it is a nation of food just waiting to be discovered.

1014196_10151577246366305_1189782723_n

Woody smoke fills the air, competing with the noise of the restaurant crammed to the brim with patrons giddy off wine and delicious food. An evening in the Ligurian countryside is always an evening of discovery; a hearty meal of panigacci (see above; a dish that I am too timid to ever attempt to recreate!) followed by this boozy little treat: Limonita.

SAM_3243

Pale and tangy, slushy with a little crunch, limonita is essentially a limoncello granita. Icy and easy to drink, it is a great after dinner digestive on balmy summer nights – and so easy to make at home!

I have had to do a little experimentation with this recipe because nothing I have found on the internet sounds anything like the way it was explained to me – although that could just be due to a lack of a common language. You might want to adjust the quantities of each element, but this is how it got my tastebuds tingling.

Step one: fill a champagne flute with crushed ice.

SAM_3240

Step two: add a shot of cream.

Step three: add a shot of limoncello.

Step four: add a tiny dash of vodka.

Finally, give it a bit of a stir and you’re ready to go!

1003179_10151577246741305_1890365944_n

The trick is to get the balance of cream and ice just right; it is essentially a dessert drink, so fresh and creamy that you should be able to close your eyes and feel like you’re drinking ice-cream with the zesty lemon flavour lightly prinking your tongue.

If you are in the mood for a for something with a little more punch, you can make a dairy-free version; replace the cream with a shot of vodka and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and away you go.

banana almond muffin pudding

The heart wants what it wants, and so does the stomach. During winter I don’t give strawberries a second thought but I could eat them any day of the week when they are in season. But there are some foods that you can’t help but crave – regardless of the season and once your head starts asking for it, your stomach won’t stop needing it until it is satisfied. The other day, despite the humidity, I decided that I needed bread pudding.

SAM_3227

Maybe it was the little bout of rain we had last week that make we want to curl up on the couch with a nice, steaming bowl of pudding. I am not one to ever deprive my stomach of what it wants – it really is the force that drives, and controls me, so I made this little variation of a traditional bread pudding.

I am not a huge stickler for sticking too close to a traditional recipe; if you can change it to make it better – do it! While a bread pudding usually uses bread (as per the name), I have seen it made with brioche and croissants so I don’t think anyone is going to be too scandalised by the fact that I made mine with muffins.

SAM_3219

To begin, break or cut three large and slightly stale muffins into eight chunks each. You could use three croissants or pain-au-chocolat instead of muffins, or six slices of white bread. The muffins I used were banana and almond flavoured which I knew would give the pudding a lovely moreish flavour and it also meant that I wasn’t going to have to add much else to make it delicious – the work was already done for me!

Place the muffin pieces into a baking dish and set aside. In a recipe using just bread, pouring a little melted butter over top of the bread chucks is recommended, but these muffins were practically bleeding butter so I decided to skip this step for time’s sake.

For each muffin that you use (or for each two slices of bread) whisk one egg, a ¼ cup of sugar and a ½ cup of milk with a teaspoon each of vanilla and cinnamon. This is essentially going to form he custard that the bread absorbs.

SAM_3221

“Custard-soaked bread” is not a description that does this dish any justice, so we need to make it a little more exciting. Sprinkle about a ½ cup of dried fruit or chocolate drops over the bread and pour over the custard mixture. You could use raisins, pistachio nuts or even cubes of apple. As I mentioned, my muffins already had banana in them and were topped with almond slithers, but I topped mine with fresh slices of banana and a few dried cranberries for a little colour.

SAM_3223

Bake your assembled pudding at 175°C for 45minutes until crisp and golden on top.

A nice crunch on top, and an oozy warmth in the centre; folds of bread filled with bursts of custard – just what the doctor ordered! And by doctor, I mean my stomach. Enjoy piping hot while staring out the window as the rain runs down the window, like tears at the realisation that summer will eventually finish, or refrigerate overnight to enjoy as a cooling treat in the midday heat. Or eat the leftovers for breakfast. I did, and trust me, your arteries might not thank you, but your taste buds surely will!

SAM_3226

a summer stroll in the gardens of versailles

Le Chateau de Versailles; a symbol long associated with the opulence of Imperial France turned symbol of French tourism, also known as the place Kimye stayed before they got hitched. But tourism more importantly; so many tourists, all the time.

I am no rookie to tourist attractions; I have done the Disneyland thing, I have walked under the Eiffel Tower and seen both the Tower of London and the Sagrada Família yet I was still blown away by the sheer numbers that flocked Versailles. We went in mid-April, it was not school holidays and there was no guarantee that the weather was going to behave, yet we joined the multinational queue snaking its way around the outer courtyard two hours before we walked through the inner gates.

10440261_10152188716726305_8281445844158001883_n

This brings me to my first piece of advice: Book online and turn up early. I think it is safe to say that the chances of you missing the lines altogether are slim-to-none, as soon as you step off the train and into the tidal throng moving towards the palace gates, any minute saved will be a minute cherished.

Always the optimist, I used this spare time to explore another of my passions; people watching. You will be amazed at some of the odd behaviour you will witness in public if you pay a bit of attention. My favourites were a trio of ladies whose delicate skin could not handle the midmorning sun any longer; so they has wrapped scarves around their heads instead of simply applying a layer of sunscreen.

12381_10152188717366305_710270329743779703_n

The palace gardens are all you could imagine, and then a little bit more. Elegantly shaped trees and orderly hedges, a scattering of life-sized sculptures centred around on ornate fountain; meticulous order can come with a hefty maintenance fee – both in monetary terms and labour, it is barely imaginable how people worked day in and day out to uphold these gardens’ prestige. At 800 hectares and 210,000 flowers planted annually, imagine that bill!

10381992_10152188717411305_4457946509250604089_n

The palace and surrounding gardens are separated from Le Grand Trianon and Le Petit Trainon (more on them later) by extensive woodlands, miniature trains run between the two, but I much preferred walking; the wind rustling through the trees as you wander past an extravagantly sized man-made pond evokes an incredible feeling, I enjoyed imagining all of the whispered secrets shared between ladies-in-waiting along the pond’s edge and the scandalous, romantic escapades those trees would have seen!

untitled

Anyone who has seen Marie Antoinette will recognise Le Petit TrIanon as the Queen’s haven and place of solitude. By any normal standard, this little cluster of buildings is as majestic as they come; detailed carving in a stone of pale pink, filled with soft silks and luxurious furnishings on the inside. However, in comparison to the palace, it seems almost, dare I said it, quaint. We meandered around the delicate flowerbeds and gazebos, and soaked up the tranquillity of the nature well into the afternoon, and could have probably sat there, basking in the sun, for a lot longer.

10336662_10152188719186305_5387388196859852301_n

Growing up in a rural setting, I didn’t really feel the need to visit the Hameau de la reine; the queen’s farm but did so more on a whim. Extensive restoration of late has attempted to bring the farm back up the Marie Antoinette’s standard and enliven it as a working farm – much to the delight of the more sheltered (mainly American) tourists. We witnessed one gentleman go to rather extreme lengths to snap a photo of a duck. I am quite sure we would have waded into the pond if it had come to that!

After an exhausting day filled with wonder, walking and tourists, I returned to our hotel to collapse into bed before rewatching Marie Antoinette for good measure. I invite you to do the same!

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