Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bircher Muesli

Muesli is a Swiss creation, and Bircher Muesli is a variant invented in the 1900s. Growing up with Swiss parents it's not surprising then that I grew up eating the stuff. Religiously. It wasn't strictly a breakfast item for us, it was a delicious snack at any time of the day, even as a dessert. We'd even often eat it with lashings of whipped cream. Probably not such a healthy addition, but bloody delicious nonetheless. These days I skip the cream, but I have fond memories.

Over the past few years I've seen Bircher Muesli pop on cafe menus, I'm not surprised though as it's a nutritious and satisfying dish. However, it's ridiculously easy (and cost effective) to make at home.

Now that summer is basically here, and seasonal summer fruits are plentiful, I've started making my usual weekly batches of it. You think I'd be sick of eating the stuff all through my childhood, but no, it's a summer staple. You can use different fruits, and different yogurts, and different additions such as nuts or dried fruits etc. So no batch ever has to taste quite the same. But every time you'll still have a wonderfully soft and creamy Bircher Muesli.

So today I'll share the way I make it, which is pretty much how my mum would traditionally make it, only difference being I like to add nuts and no cream. There are no hard and fast rules about measurements, but I've given a basic guide. And ingredients can easily be customised to your tastes. Just never skip the grated apple, that is sacrosanct!



1 and 1/2 cups rolled oats
No more than 1 and 1/2 cups milk
juice of one lemon
splash of fruit juice (amount depends on how thin you want your muesli)
yogurt of your choice, approx 3/4 cup, mum would always use 'fruit of the forest'
one apple, grated
any other fruits of your choice, chopped
optional - chopped nuts, eg almonds or hazelnuts


To prepare the muesli you need to soak some oats in milk overnight. I like to make a decent quantity, a few days worth, so I use an old 2 litre ice cream tub as my container. I use approx 1 and 1/2 cups of rolled oats and just over one cup of milk. I never measure it though but I did on this occasion to give an example. You don't need to measure because basically you just want to slowly pour milk over your required amount of oats until you see the milk just rising above the top layer of oats, then stop. This will give you the right amount of liquid no matter your quantity. The oats will soak up that milk. No need to stir or anything, just leave the container in the fridge overnight.

Tip: you can replace the milk with fruit juice if you wish.

Next day, add the juice of a lemon and pour in a wee bit of fruit juice to loosen up the oats. Stir well. Next, stir in the yogurt. Now add the fruits:


You really can just add any of your favourite fruits. Personally I would never skip the grated apple though, it just would not be the same without it, to me it's a traditional must-have.

Finally you can add any other embellishments you like, such as chopped nuts or even a dash of cinnamon.

I find my batches keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days at most, but obviously will depend on the freshness of your ingredients. Also, some added fruits like bananas or apples will not be looking their best after a day or two. If this kind of thing bothers you then you may want to only add the fresh fruit to the batch on the day/s you plan to eat it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Smoky Chilli Beef with Bacon and Beans

I go through phases where I get addicted to using certain ingredients. A few weeks ago my addiction was citrus, in fact I'm still obsessed; a few days ago I made my first ever marmalade. It was delicious (fun and easy too) but I'll share it in a future post when I have a few more experiments under my belt.

But as for this week I thought I would share a recipe featuring my new latest obsessions: smoked paprika and Sriracha chilli sauce. These ingredients seem to find their way on to my lunch and dinner plates every day at the moment. From quiches to pizza, I can't help but sneak these ingredients in.

One place they were most suited to, not surprisingly, was in my chilli beef and beans recipe. It's a simple dish, yet still wonderfully hearty, and and has an awesome smoky flavour thanks to the paprika and bacon. It also has an adaptable hit of heat from the chilli powder and chilli sauce. Fantastic comfort food. It's great served with rice, tortillas, crusty bread, or my lazy day favourite: corn chips.

Anyone else have flavours or ingredients that they seem to be addicted to at the moment?



250g bacon, chopped (I prefer to use smoked manuka bacon)
2 onions, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, crushed (or use a couple of teaspoons of ground cumin)
3 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped
1 teaspoon chilli powder (this gives mild heat, add more if you prefer)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
ground pepper
400g minced/ground beef
330ml beer
400g tin of kidney beans
400g tinned tomatoes (with juice), chopped
140g tomato paste (optional, but creates a much richer tomato flavour)
A few generous squirts of Sriracha sauce, or other chilli sauce of your choice


In a large pan, fry bacon until cooked. Then add the onions, and fry until soft. Add cumin, garlic, chilli powder, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper to the pan. Stir, then add the beef. Fry until the beef has cooked. Now stir in the beer, beans, tomatoes, and tomato paste. Simmer on a low heat for 1 - 2 hours, depending on how reduced you want it. Longer cook = thicker and richer flavour. Finally, squirt in some chilli sauce and give it a mix. Give the mixture a taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Citrus Balsamic Marinated Strawberries

I can't believe that summer is almost here in New Zealand. It was just a couple weeks ago that I had our fire cranking and was living in thermal underwear. Now I'm wearing sleeveless tops and slathering myself in sunscreen and complaining about the heat.

One bonus about the warm weather arriving is that it makes me start craving fruit. I guess because it's refreshing? Whatever the reason, it's a welcome thing because it's bound to be better for my health; I usually ignore fruit, the neglected part of my diet.

One of my favourite summer fruits to munch on are strawberries. They are so handy and taste amazing just as they are. I actually tried growing my own this year, but some pesky animal ate them before I got a chance. I had even planned to build a little fortress for them, guess I was too late.

So I'll be munching store-bought ones this summer.

Anyways, even though strawberries are perfect just as they are, sometimes it's nice to jazz things up a bit. Marinating strawberries in balsamic vinegar is an easy way to do so. When marinated with the balsamic and sugar a delicious syrup gets created, and the flavour of the strawberries is enhanced by the sweet and tart combination. It's next level shit. Some might see it as a gimmick or a kitsch fad, but Italians have been doing it for years. Whether you're a fan or not, I think it's something everyone should at least try.

Here's how I like to make mine, but feel free to tweak it, I've added ideas for other options.
Btw they're yum served on their own or with other desserts such as vanilla ice cream, pavlova, Panna Cotta, etc.



1 punnet strawberries (250g)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons mandarin sugar (other options: plain sugar, vanilla sugar, brown sugar, etc)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
option: 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (try it before you knock it), it adds extra bite


Slice the strawberries in half, throw them in a bowl with the other ingredients but only add half of the lemon zest and omit the pepper option until serving.

Mix well then cover the bowl and set it aside for about an hour. Sir occasionally.

Stir gently before serving then garnish with the rest of the lemon zest and black pepper if desired.

Monday, November 04, 2013

QUICK: Cinnamon Chilli Chocolate Fudge

Recently we went to a dinner party and my husband informed me an hour before we were due to leave that the invite had stated that we should bring sweets. This was news to me. Now this might be fine if you happen to have sweets in your pantry or will have access to a shop. We had neither.

The only sweet I could think of making was a fudge, but wasn't sure I would want to waste a lot of time with heating the mix to the correct stage. So after a quick internet search I found a recipe for a cheats fudge. Which meant I'd be able to have a batch of fudge setting in the fridge within 5 minutes. The only times I've ever made fudge it seemed like a laborious task to create it, having to slave over a stove for ages. Could it really be made simple? Apparently so.

The base recipe is for a cinnamon chocolate fudge, but after tasting the batter I thought it could do with a bit more of a flavour hit so I added way more cinnamon and also some chilli. A bit of a risky flavour combination but hey, I like it. The good thing is that since you're not cooking a boiling hot mixture you'll be able to taste-test your batter and therefore adjust the spices to your tastes, or even omit them if you want and go for a plain chocolate fudge. Just make sure you work reasonably quickly as you don't want it to cool too much before pouring it into a tray to set. Also, while the fudge can be made in a flash, don't forget that it will take at least an hour to set, so factor that into your time-frame if you're pushed for time like I was.

The original recipe is here.

This is my version:



3 cups icing sugar (confectioners' sugar)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 cup butter (113g)
1/4 cup milk
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Grease a 20cm x 20cm (8x8inch) square tin. Can also use a 23cm (9inch) round tin.

Sift the icing sugar, cocoa, cinnamon and chilli into a bowl.

Heat the butter and milk in a saucepan until the butter has completely melted. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Remove from heat and stir in the sugar mixture until well combined.

Pour into prepared tin and refrigerate for an hour or until firm.

Cut into squares, then eat!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Banana Loaf/Cake

You know you're on to a good thing when you can stay loyal to a recipe for decades. I've been making this banana loaf for so many years that I no longer remember where it originated and I could probably make it with my eyes closed. Hmm that could be an interesting experiment.

As for other kinds of cakes, such as carrot cake, I haven't been so loyal. I've been a bit of a recipe slut, so to speak. I have tried so many versions of carrot cakes and none have satisfied me enough to become a staple recipe yet. None that I would make twice, let alone make every couple of months.

It's really handy to have a favourite staple cake recipe, one that you know is reliable and tastes great. My banana loaf recipe has been that number one go-to recipe for me. It's moist and sweet and has the texture of cake, so I'll often double the mixture and bake it in a round tin and it will double as a cake. It tastes great with or without frosting so is great if you need to whip up a quick celebration cake or just want to eat it plain with a cup of tea. I hadn't shared it on my blog earlier because I thought it was too simple and surely everyone already has a decent banana cake recipe in their repertoire. But if you don't, I really recommend you give this one a go, I hope you'll love it as much as I do.

Anyone else have a favourite go-to baking recipe? An old reliable favourite? The kind that you can whip up in no time if you suddenly are expecting guests and  really can't be arsed faffing about with a new or complicated recipe.



3 large bananas
1/3 cup melted butter (80g)
1 cup white sugar (225g)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
pinch of salt
1 and 1/2 cups flour (approx 190g)


Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius ( 350 Fahrenheit)

Mash the bananas well. Mix in the melted butter. Stir until well combined.

Add the beaten egg, sugar and vanilla. Mix.

Add the flour, baking soda and sat. Mix.

Pour into a medium-sized loaf tin (22x11cm)

Bake for approx 50 minutes.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Orange Polenta Cookies

Polenta is a versatile ingredient, I love using it in both savoury and sweet dishes. My first success in using it for sweet baking was when when I made this cake. At first I had been sceptical thinking it was just a novelty but the polenta does add a nice dimension to sweet baking. In cakes it absorbs moisture and creates a wonderful crumb and it gives cookies a wonderful short texture with a great crunch. It's definitely worth trying.

This recipe I'm sharing is a quick and easy way to try it for yourself. The cookies a reminiscent of shortbread, yet are more dense and textured. The added orange zest gives them a fresh tang and the polenta gives them a unique texture and taste. For such a simple recipe, the results are very impressive.

Orange Polenta Cookies


125g butter, softened
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
110g (2/3 cup) icing sugar
55g (1/3) cup instant polenta, or extra fine polenta
150g (1 cup) plain flour


Beat together the butter, orange rind and icing sugar until smooth.
Mix in the polenta and flour.
Knead the mixture then roll it into a log; cut it into 1cm slices.
Place the slices on a greased or lined oven tray, place them 2cm apart.
Bake them for approx 15 minutes at 180 Celsius (350 Fahrenheit).
Makes approx 20-30

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lime & Oregano Lamb Patties

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Being frugal I tend to only buy food items that are on special (reduced in price). Also, we live rurally so it's not so easy to just pop to the shops to grab needed ingredients. Sadly this means I can't always recreate all the amazing recipes I see online or in magazines. I'll either wait until the particular ingredients are cheaper, or I adapt recipes and use alternative ingredients.

However, this predicament has its upsides. It means I end up free-styling meals; creating new recipes from what we happen to have in the cupboards that week. I really do enjoy free-stying in the kitchen, it's definitely fun and satisfying creating your own unique meals from what you have at hand. An example of this is the recipe I'm sharing today, for these amazing lime and oregano lamb patties. We've just moved towns and our pantry is a mish mash of random ingredients at the moment as we slowly start to stock it up.

So last week I decided to jazz up our 'on special' lamb mince with the few items I had at hand that I thought would give it some zing. Thankfully it turned out pretty damn amazing so this recipe is now definitely a keeper. The patties are moist and the citrus, herb and chilli imparts a delicious layer of freshness and zing to the robust flavour of the lamb. They are great as burger patties or on their own or with sides. If you don't have all of the ingredients feel free to adapt it yourself, e.g try lemons instead of limes, swap the oregano for another herb like coriander, or substitute the soy sauce with any other sauce or chutney. Who knows, you might invent a new favourite too.                  

Lime & Oregano Lamb Patties (makes approx 8)


600g lamb mince
Grated zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
1 green chilli, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


Mix all of the ingredients until well combined.
Shape into 5cm patties.
Fry in a pan on medium-hot heat for just a couple of minutes each side. Can also be grilled or barbecued.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Microwave: Lemon Self Saucing Pudding

Over the last several years I've lived in a few different towns in New Zealand, both in the North and South island. This year it was time for another move. Due to my husband's line of work as an outdoor instructor we go where the work is. Not that I mind getting dragged along; I get to experience places I would never have otherwise.

I have travel anxiety so have never really been very adventurous.  But since being with my husband it has been an awesome experience to get out of my comfort zone and experience so many new locations, and it has helped me develop a real love for NZ nature and its diverse landscapes.

So for our next chapter in life, we have recently moved from Hanmer Springs in the South Island up to the Tongariro area in the North. We're now living in a small house with a view of these guys down the driveway.

Mountains! Volcanoes! Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. Ruapehu is there too but didn't fit in the photo.

Not too shabby.

But there are trade-offs when you live in such a remote location. At home there is no tv, no internet, no mobile phone coverage, but most scarily, the kitchen is tiny. And most devastatingly, there is no bench space.

But thanks to our lifestyle I've learnt to be very adaptable, so I'm still going to be cooking up a storm and will attempt to update this blog whenever possible. (edit: a few weeks later and we now have internet!)

So for my first recipe from this new location I thought I'd share a nostalgic recipe that I've been making since my childhood. It's a lemon self-saucing pudding, but I've never called it that, I've always lovingly referred to it as "Shlops". It just rolls off the tongue a little easier. I called it that because it's not an elegant looking dish, kinda shloppy, and when you dump it on your plate, there's no being delicate about it, it just shlops right off your serving spoon. Thankfully it makes up for it in taste and convenience, it's a delightful combination of a lemon sponge and thick sweet lemon sauce all cooked together in one dish. It's actually a microwave recipe (hence why I loved making it when I was a kid), cake ready in ten minutes...oooh yeah! But you can cook it in a standard oven too, which I have just done as I don't have any microwave cookware in the cupboard. Actually I didn't have a lot of things in the cupboard, like measuring cups. Speaking of being adaptable, I made my own:

Is there any problem that duct tape can't solve?

Anyway enough rambling, I hope you give this recipe a try it's just the right tartness for a lemon pudding and is extra delicious when served warm. I guess it serves four, but between the two of us we can polish it off in one sitting, it's too damn yum.

"Shlops" - Lemon Self-Saucing Lemon Pudding


125g butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon rind
3/4 cup flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon lemon rind
1/4 cup caster sugar (regular sugar is fine too)
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 and 1/2  cups boiling water
1/2 cup lemon juice


Cream together the butter and sugar.
Add the eggs one at a time, beat well after each addition.
Mix in 1 tsp lemon rind, then fold in the flour and baking powder.
Add the milk and mix.
Spoon the mixture into a microwave or oven dish. (21cm round dish is ideal)
Next mix together another tsp of lemon rind with the castor sugar and cornflour.
Sprinkle this mixture evenly onto the cake mixture.
Now mix together the boiling water and lemon juice.
Spoon this liquid over the top.
Pop the dish into the oven or microwave.
In a microwave it will cook for approx 10 min on high  (though this was on my old decrepit microwave so check yours after only a few minutes! Someone commented that theirs only took 5 minutes max!).  In a standard oven it will take approx approx 35-40min at 180 Celsius.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Roasted Cauliflower

When I was a kid the only way I would eat cauliflower was if it was drowned in cheese sauce. As an adult not much changed and I kind of avoided the stuff. It's not that I dislike it, I just never thought of it as tasty or versatile. So it never really made its way onto my plate very often. But all that changed when I finally tried roasting it. And now I can't believe I wasted so many years not knowing the wondrous flavour of roasted cauliflower.

Once roasted the cauliflower will reveal its full depth of flavour. It's so amazing I'll eat it as a snack. Quite a turn around from my cauli-hating days!

So if you're like me and late to the party, I urge you to give roasted cauliflower a chance. Even if you're an ardent cauliflower hater, you might see it in a whole new light. Feel free to use my recipe or experiment with your own mix of spices. My recipe has a subtle spice flavour and a great hit of citrus. It's an earthy and fresh flavour which works well as a versatile side dish, or a tasty healthy snack. The most important thing about this dish though is to make sure you roast them until they start to darken, right to the point where you worry they might burn. This is how you extract maximum flavour.

Roasted Cauliflower (serves 4)


One head of cauliflower, stem removed, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil (or other oil of your choice)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Juice of a large lemon


Preheat oven to 180 Celsius/ 350 Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl: whisk together the oil, paprika, turmeric, salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Add the cauliflower to the bowl and toss to coat.

Lay them out evenly on a roasting tray. Pop it in the oven.

Cook for 30- 40 minutes, give or take. For ultimate flavour cook them until they start to brown...almost to the point of getting burnt. Keep an eye on it. Don't be scared to push it to the limit though, you'll be rewarded with maximum flavour!

Serve with lemon wedges and an extra dusting of paprika.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cream Cheese Frosting

I have been trying to find a decent carrot cake recipe but haven't found one that blows my socks off yet. The one in the pictures was one I made recently. Yes it was nice, but not overly delicious. So I wont bother sharing the recipe. I love me a good moist carrot cake with the right hit of spice, but for some reason none I've found have hit the spot. So I guess I'll have to start experimenting and hopefully can eventually create my ideal carrot cake. So watch this space.

On the upside, my adventures in finding the perfect carrot cake meant that I had an abundance of cream cheese frosting. Which came in handy, as I just had my wisdom teeth out.

I can not truly describe how amazing it felt to scour the fridge for something I could attempt to eat without the need for chewing, getting discouraged and feeling sorry for myself but then spotting a whole tub of leftover frosting hiding in the corner of the fridge. I swear I could hear a chorus of angels.

So yeah I pretty much downed that whole tub. No guilt. Thankfully it has now been 8 days and I can finally chew again, it's crazy how much you can miss the mere texture of food, let alone the taste, when you've been living on baby food for a week. So ermm today's post is not exactly innovative, nor is it even a meal. However, if you ever find yourself without the ability to chew then I figure it counts. You need to have this recipe in your arsenal. You never know when a little spare pot of cream cheese can save your life. Okay I exaggerate, but getting your wisdom teeth out can be a really  horrible miserable experience, so why not have something to look forward to. For me this was the highlight of my week.

This recipe makes enough to cover a cake, which I suppose could be another practical use. If you must. (It's a decent amount though so you'll still have some leftover.)

Cream Cheese Frosting:


·    450g cream cheese, softened
·    170g unsalted butter, at room temperature
·    3 cups icing (confectioners) sugar
·    1 teaspoon vanilla essence

First make sure your cream cheese and butter are soft, and not straight out of the fridge, this helps prevents lumps. Then combine everything in a mixer, or by hand, and beat until fluffy and smooth. If you've still got pesky lump, just gently heat in microwave for a really short time to melt the lumps. Then, if you need to, chill the frosting for 15 minutes, until it has set to the consistency you need for spreading or pipping.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Spicy Panko Crumbed Fish

If you live in NZ you might want to know that Forest and Bird have recently released their updated Best Fish Guide. If you haven't heard of it, what the guide does is it ranks seafood species according to their ecological sustainability. Basically it's a tool to help us make more informed choices when buying seafood, whether from a shop or dining out.

As most of us in New Zealand live near the ocean we have a close relationship with the marine environment, it's part of our  culture and cuisine. So it's important that we protect it. However,  I realise that our choices will be influenced by other factors such as taste or economics. But it's good if we are informed about our seafood choices, and do our part when we are able. The Best Fish Guide is an easy way for us to keep informed, and lets us do our little bit to help if we so choose. There are easy options to get it as a phone app or print it out as a wallet guide. Check it out here: Best Fish Guide

So for today's recipe of spicy panko crumbed fish I chose to use red gurnard which falls in the middle of the range of sustainability, but other species would work well too.

I came up with this recipe because I'd been experimenting with different kinds of flavoured crumb combinations and this version was my favourite invention. It's spicy but not hot and is so quick and simple to make. I love the combination of the herbs and spices and the little kick of the cayenne. But you could use whatever other herbs or spices that you love. The use of panko crumbs means it has a great crunch factor. But you could even up the crunch if you chose to fry them instead of baking them. You can can also cut the fish fillets into bite sized pieces if you want to use them as a snack, or leave the fillets whole if you want to serve it as a main. The world's your oyster.

Edit: Forest and Bird ran a Best Fish Guide Home Cook Recipe Competition so I entered this recipe, and just found out I won 3rd place! I won a signed copy of 'Hunger For The Wild' and my recipe will feature on the Forest and Bird website and on the Best Fish Guide phone ap. I was told that the judge, Steve Logan, said "Nice crunchy tasty coating can really lift the most humble fish fillet as well as delicious gurnard. A healthy low fat option, and great photo.” So happy my humble recipe got a placing. Check out the amazing winning recipes here.

Spicy Panko Crumbed Fish


4 x fish fillets (I used Gurnard)
2 heaped tablespoons dijon mustard
1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp salt


Preheat your oven to 210 Celsius/ 410 Fahrenheit.

Chop the fish fillets into finger length strips. Add them to a bowl along with the mustard and stir to coat.

In another bowl add the panko, oil, dill, marjoram, paprika, cayenne and salt. Mix well with a fork.

Add the mustard coated fish to the bowl of crumb mixture, toss to coat.

Place the fish onto a tray lined with non-stick paper, pop it into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes.

Serves 4

Monday, July 22, 2013

Walnut Stuffed Figs with Mandarin Syrup

Figs walnuts and citrus, a trio of flavour combinations that bring out the best in each other. That's how I knew I couldn't go wrong when I came up with this recipe for walnut stuffed figs cooked in a mandarin syrup.

The recipe was conceived while I was experimenting with ways to use the recent batch of mandarin sugar I had made. Find out how to make it here.

The walnut stuffed figs are a simple treat that are great as a snack on their own, but they also go well with other desserts such as a chocolate torte, simple vanilla ice cream or even with a cheese platter. They're soft, sticky and delicious. You can even make this recipe if you don't want to make mandarin sugar, just add some mandarin zest into the plain sugar syrup as it cooks and the flavour will still infuse a little bit. You could even use orange or lemon zest if you prefer. Or why not add some cinnamon, cloves or other spices if you to make it festive. But I do urge you try it with the mandarin sugar if you can, as it definitely adds a rich unique flavour.

Walnut Stuffed Figs with Mandarin Syrup


12 dried figs
12 whole walnuts - or you can use chopped pieces, about 50g-100g would be good
1/4 cup of mandarin sugar
1/2 cup water


Slice off the tops of the figs to create a small hole. Use your fingers to pry the whole open to create a cavity. Stuff the cavity with the walnut or walnut pieces. Like so:

If you find the figs are too dry, just soak them in hot water to soften them.

Next, in a small saucepan, add the mandarin sugar and water. Once it is boiling, add the stuffed figs and turn the heat down to a simmer. Swirl, or baste, the syrup around and over the figs as they cook, so they get a nice coating. Simmer them for approx 15-20 minutes or until almost all of the syrup has been absorbed. Like this:

Before and after cooking

Once done, remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. They can be eaten lukewarm, but I prefer to chill them in the fridge once they are cool.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mandarin Sugar...and birds!

Mandarin trees are a pretty common sight in New Zealand gardens. It's a good thing, as they are such a delicious fruit. Problem is, you'll have to collect the fruit before all the birds get to them; they love 'em as much as us we do. But this year we kinda let the birds have free range because this years crop of mandarins was a bit of a dud. They were pretty sour and unpalatable. There was an upside though, it meant I could indulge in my new favourite hobby, bird watching. It sounds nerdy, but it's fun and interesting, just like being a detective. Okay so maybe not that cool, but still, nature is so amazing so why not take the time to appreciate the awesome flora and fauna that surrounds us. Even in our own backyards.

Silvereye, munching on a mandarin from our tree.

Even though we weren't going to eat many of this seasons mandarins I still wanted to salvage something from them. So I used the skins to make some mandarin sugar. You've probably heard of vanilla sugar, where you put a vanilla pod in a jar of sugar so that that the vanilla infuses into the sugar. Well this is a similar deal using dried mandarin peel to create a lovely citrus flavoured sugar. It can then be used for a range of things: sprinkled over your cereal, on top of poached fruit, on top of muffins or cookies before they're baked, on pancakes, french toast or just even on top of plain buttered toast...

To make the mandarin sugar you'll need about 100g of mandarin skins, about five medium sized mandarins should do it. Line a baking tray with non-stick paper and lay the mandarin skins on top. Pop them in a preheat oven at 120 Celsius (248 Fahrenheit). Bake them for approx 30-45 minutes until they have dried out completely. You might want to turn them over during this time. Let them cool down then either grind them in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Mix in 200g of granulated sugar and you're done! Store it in a dry glass jar with a tight lid for best results.

Since my actual mandarin segments were pretty damn yuck, I threw them outside to the birds. They were hesitant at first, but then they had a feast...

Mandarin Sugar recipe adapted from Micheal Daly's super-rad book 'Find It, Eat It'.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chicken Schnitzel : Parmesan Tarragon

Growing up on Swiss-German cuisine it's fair to say I've eaten a fair few schnitzels in my time. That said, adding parmesan to the crumb was not something we did in our household, but I'm glad I've now tried it. I can see it becoming a firm favourite for me.

I first spied this parmesan and tarragon coated chicken schnitzel in Laura Faire's cookbook Now Is The Season (an awesome book by the way, especially for any budding gardeners). The parmesan crumb coating looked amazing,  helped by the fact that each schnitzel gets crumb-coated twice. So you can imagine how crunchy and satisfyingly crispy they are. The tarragon flavour is subtle and mellow, so I served it with a tangy homemade mayonnaise with some added dijon mustard, lemon juice and chopped gherkins mixed in (capers would have been nice too). And don't forget the obligatory lemon wedge to squeeze on top. We also served it with a salad and plain rösti. Delicious!

Parmesan and Tarragon Coated Chicken Schnitzel
(serves 4)


  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup of flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup of Water
  • 1 cup finely grated fresh parmesan (between 80-100g is fine)
  • 1 cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 2 teaspoons dried tarragon, or 2 tablespoons French Tarragon leaves (chopped)
  • Oil for frying


Firstly you'll want to preheat your oven to 200 Celsius/392°F

Now cut each chicken breast horizontally, so you get two schnitzels out of each breast. Then place the chicken pieces on chopping board, cover with waxed paper and bash with a rolling pin to flatten so that they are even, like a thick schnitzel.

Then fill three dishes with the following ingredients: one with combined flour, salt and pepper; one with the beaten eggs and water; and one with the combined parmesan, breadcrumbs and tarragon.

Coat the chicken pieces first in the flour, then the egg, then the crumb mixture. Repeat so that each piece has been coated twice.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan, add one or two of the schnitzels (don't overcrowd your pan) and fry the chicken until golden on each side (add more oil when necessary). Place on a baking tray while cooking the remaining pieces.

When all the chicken pieces are fried until golden place the tray in the over for 10-15 minutes until cooked through.

Recipe adapted from 'Now is the Season' - Laura Faire

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Fig and Walnut Loaf

I noticed that my last few blog entries were all focused on cooking for, or with, kids. So I made sure that this next post was one for the adults. Though I'm sure there must be kids who love figs and walnuts, I don't remember ever being one or  knowing any. Luckily my tastes changed and now I'm a huge fan.

Recently we were lucky enough to be gifted a big cardboard box of walnuts. So this weekend I sat outside in the sun (a rare occurrence during this crappy winter weather we've been having), and spent about an hour just cracking them all open. I gotta say, I found it a totally Zen experience. I found it so satisfying and relaxing trying to get the walnut out in one whole piece. Yep I do realise I sound like a dorky weirdo extolling the virtues of cracking nuts, but I don't care, I'm glad I can find enjoyment in the small things in life. And surely I'm not the only freak who finds certain menial tasks hugely satisfying? I get the same feeling when stacking wood; the perfect combo of using body and mind = bliss.

Anyway before I scare everyone away with my inane ramblings, here's a yummy recipe using walnuts! Surprise surprise. A fig and walnut loaf. It's a nice moist loaf, with a great hint of citrus and spice. I came up with it just using things I had at hand, e.g the yoghurt was near expiring and I had to start to make a dent in the big pile of walnuts. It's an adaptable recipe, so you could swap figs for other dried fruits such as apricots or dates. The loaf is sweet but not overly so. So it's not quite a cake, but just as moreish. It's just perfect for afternoon tea, on its own or spread with butter. I've still got a bunch of walnuts left, so if you have any suggestions for what I could do with them, let me know.


  • 1/2 cup greek yoghurt (I use a honey variety, but plain is fine too)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange rind
  • 1/2 teaspoon of 'mixed spice' (or any combo of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice etc.)
  • 1 cup chopped dried figs (approx 260g/14 dried figs)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 1 cup high grade/all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
  • pinch of salt
  •  3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts (half goes in the loaf, half on top)


Firstly, preheat your oven to 180 Celsius (350 Fahrenheit).

Next add the yoghurt, milk, orange rind and mixed spice to a small saucepan. Heat slowly on a moderate heat until it just starts to bubble (don't let it boil though). Take it off the heat and let it stand until the figs soften a bit, about 15 minutes is fine, just let it cool.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the sugar oil and eggs. Then add the cooled yoghurt fruit mixture to it. Give it another quick mix.

In another bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda, salt and half of the walnuts. Now add the liquid mixture to flour mixture and mix it until just combined.

Pour the batter into an 21 cm loaf tin (8 x 4-inch) coated with cooking spray (or however you prefer to grease your tins). Sprinkle the rest of the walnuts evenly over the top.

Chuck it in the oven and bake for approx 40 minutes or until cooked.

Let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before taking it out and cooling it on a rack.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Kids' Cooking - Butterfly Cakes

Butterfly cakes are a classic childhood memory for me. Delicate cupcakes topped with cream (or buttercream) with wings made from the tops of the cupcake, and dusted all over with icing sugar. So cute, and so delicious. They pretty much featured at every kids' birthday party I ever went to as a child. And I'm glad they did; they were definitely one of the top treats, alongside my other favourites fairy bread and chocolate crackle. So I guess it was no surprise that they popped into my head when I was trying to think of baking ideas for my four-year-old niece.

Making them again was like a flashback to my childhood, and it was extra fun teaching a new generation how to make them. If you've never heard of them you should give them a go, they are an ideal treat to make for, and with, kids. Or if you remember them from your childhood, why not give them a go, you never know what memories will come flooding back.

Do you have any favourite kids' party treats you remember from your childhood?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kids' Birthday Cake: Dora the Explorer!

My niece just turned four and I made her this Dora the Explorer cake. I decided to put it on my blog because besides being cute and delicious, it's also very customisable and not too difficult. I made all the decorations on it except for the actual Dora figurines, and they could easily be replaced with other figurines/decorations to suit your needs. I could see it easily being adapted to become a fairy cake, or a smurf wonderland etc. Anything that would suit sitting atop a green hill. It was the first time I've used fondant on a decent scale, so I wanted to share that it can be fun and that even beginners can get decent results.

The steps involved include baking the cake, frosting it with buttercream icing, colouring/rolling out fondant, covering the cake with the fondant and creating fondant decorations. It may seem like a lot of steps, but none are particularly difficult and the cake and decorations can be made in advance, so it is not too overwhelming. I spent a couple of hours during the week playing around with making the decorations, and then two days before it was needed I completed the entire cake in another couple of hours. This way the process was not at all stressful, and the product didn't suffer from being made in advance.
The cake itself is a Madeira Cake, a simple lemon cake and serves 16.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Kid in the Kitchen - Pavlova

I'm in a bit of a transitional phase at the moment. The husband has just got a job in the North Island so we've moved out of the South Island after living there for a few years. We're still going to be living in a forest location (Tongariro) so I'm so excited to be living in a beautiful setting once again. Problem is the job doesn't start for a couple of months so I'm stuck in limbo living in the city (Hamilton) until the official move. Not that I dislike Hamilton, it's my home town and I have family  here. It's just weird to be living in a city again. But cities can be beautiful too, the diverse culture, architecture and even just noticing all the new smells has been an interesting experience. Things I had taken for granted.

Catching up with my family has been amazing. I have a niece and nephew whom I hadn't seen for a year, and wow kids grow up fast in short spaces of time. My nephew is now talking and I can interact with him so much more. My niece is almost four and has such an energetic and curious nature. I help my mum to babysit them during the week while their mum is at work. So it's been great to be getting some amazing quality time with them.

I noticed my niece started to follow me like a shadow into the kitchen, always asking what I'm making and if she can help. Whether it's my porridge for breakfast or a salad for lunch, this little girl wants to get stuck in assist. It's super cute and she's pretty capable for a 4 year old,  so I love to indulge her. There's always something a kid can help you with, whether it's just stirring a mixture, counting how many spoonfuls something needs, helping you cut things, watching reactions between ingredients, or just plain helping you lick the bowl at the end. Cooking can be educational and fun on so many levels.

So a few days ago I remembered I had egg whites leftover in the fridge from making the croquembouche. I decided to use them to make a pavlova, another dessert I have never made (shame on me!). So of course when my niece spotted me wandering to the kitchen she immediately wanted to help. She helped me collect all the ingredients, helped with measuring and mixing, and she got super excited to  see how much the egg whites grew in size as they got whipped up. And best of all, she got to help me lick the bowl! I can see we are gonna be great buddies in the kitchen.

As for the pavlova, it was delicious, can't go wrong with an 'Edmonds' recipe can you. Next time I won't make the circle as large though, as I like my pavs to be a bit higher. The pav was still as it should be though, crunchy on the outside and soft moist and marshmallowy in the middle. It was a great end to a great day.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

When bored: make a Croquembouche!

If you've ever watched any of the finals of MasterChef NZ you'll have probably seen or heard of the dreaded croquembouche. It's touted as being a rather difficult challenge, and not something you'd want to do on a whim. So against our better judgement, my sister and law and I did exactly that. One day we randomly decided we'd give it a go using the original MasterChef NZ recipe. Thankfully the dreaded croquembouche was actually achievable, and we didn't have any disasters. If you have a bit of common sense, patience, and can follow a recipe, you'll be sweet! The only problem was, it does take time and to be honest, the taste was nothing mind-blowing. I don't know why but I expected more. Sure it was yum, but if I was to do it again I'd probably want to try a different filling. The vanilla custard was nice, but it was nothing special. And I think for a dessert of this calibre, it warrants something with a bit more zing. Or perhaps I'd make a couple of different fillings, for variety. Anywho I just wanted to make this quick post to share the knowledge that if I can do it, then so can you. If you've ever been curious to make one, don't be intimidated, just do it!

Here's a link to the recipe that we used:
Masterchef NZ - Croquembouche

TIPS: we halved the recipe so it was easy to create a smaller stable tower, it will still serve a lot of people (approx 10). We also skipped making the caramel base. And of course we didn't have a cone to form it in (who has one of those lying around?) so just create free-form towered stack. It's going to be a homemade job, so don't worry about trying to make it perfect. Just play around with their positioning before you dip the balls into the caramel.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter Treats: Chicks in a Chocolate Nest

We made easter themed cupcakes, but we also attempted something new...

Chicks made with crushed cookies and covered in coconut. Nest made of popcorn and chocolate.

Too many cooks spoil the broth? Nah. Well yeah sometimes it can be annoying, but actually I’ve had plenty of fun cooking with others in the kitchen. Me and my buddy Kate have recently been baking up a storm, and we always have a laugh while doing it. So now that it’s Easter time, we thought it was a great excuse to have make some fun, and tasty, creations.

We decided on making some little chicks and cookies that we’d seen in a women’s magazine. They looked pretty basic so didn’t think they'd be too difficult for our amateur skills. They weren’t, but boy they were messy. The little chicks would be especially fun for kids to make as they don't require baking, and they are really hands-on. Your hands get covered with sticky crud that looks like vomit but acts like cement. More fun than it sounds. They ended up working out well, and they tasted good. The cookies on the other hand looked o.k. but the taste was bland and the dough was annoying to work with, so I won’t bother sharing the recipe for those. I have a much better sugar cookie recipe that I would use instead if I were to make them again. Let me know if anyone needs it.

Oh and after we’d made the little chicks we decided they needed a nest. We had some leftover popcorn from earlier in the day, and Kate had a great idea to melt some chocolate and mix it into the popcorn to make a nest. We just lined a bowl with tinfoil then pressed the chocolaty popcorn mixture into the bottom to create a nest shape. We then put it into the fridge to set. Once set, the foil then easily peeled off and we had our nest. It was a great idea and not one I’d have thought of myself. See, collaborating in the kitchen can be a great thing.

I don't have precise measurements on how to make the nest, since we were just winging it. It was basically just several handfuls of popcorn, and about a cup of chocolate chips (melted). All mixed together. But as for the little chicks, here's the recipe adapted from a 'Woman's Day' magazine:



250g plain sweet biscuits, crushed finely
395g can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup (60g) desiccated coconut, plus 1 cup (80g) extra
yellow food colouring
16 natural almonds
mini chocolate chips


In a large bowl, combine the biscuits, sweetened condensed milk and the first measurement of coconut.

Once mixed thoroughly, roll level tablespoons of mixture into 16 balls to form the bodies. Set these aside on a lined baking tray.

Use the remaining mixture to roll smaller balls to make the heads. Press a head and body piece together to create a chick. Repeat until all are complete.

To make the coloured coconut, put the extra coconut in a small plastic bag, then add several drops of yellow food colouring. Seal the bag and shake and rub the bag in your hands until the coconut is coloured.

Toss the chicks in the bag to coat. (If they have dried out too much, dip them in a shallow bowl of warm water and shake off excess water before coating in the coconut).

Place the chicks back on the lined tray and decorate them with the almonds to create beaks and chocolate chips for the eyes.

Makes 16.

"tweet tweet" happy easter!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Slow-Roasted Goat Leg

Random fact, we had the Crusaders stay here at the Forest Camp a few weeks ago. And while there was plenty of eye-candy during their visit, there was also some other big burly beasts lurking around that weren't as attractive. See, the Crusaders had gone on a hunting trip and had proudly brought back their kill. I saw some trophy heads, wild pigs I think, attached to the front of cars and other assorted beasts were strewn around. I heard they cooked some of it later at one of the local restaurants. But sources tell me that one poor animal got neglected, the humble goat.

I think hunting is all well and good if you intend to eat your kill, but why shoot a goat if you're not going to chow down on it. I'm looking at you Dan Carter. Seems rather wasteful to me.

Goat is a delicious and totally underrated meat, it should not be wasted! I guess it's most commonly used in curries, but it makes a mean roast too. If you cook it right, it wont be dry or unpalatable, in fact it's the complete opposite. So here's my recipe for a jerk-style slow roast, dedicated to the boys in red and black.


1 leg of goat with bone in
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons of oil
1 large onion
6 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon chilli powder
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt


Puree the onions, garlic, soy sauce and spices so that they form a paste.
Slash the leg of goat a wee bit and rub the paste over the meat.

Wrap it in foil and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 160 Celsius/325 Fahrenheit.
Fry the leg in a large fry pan (use cast iron if you have it) to sear the meat on all sides.
Place the leg in a roasting dish and cover loosely with foil.

Cook for 3 hours, but remove the foil for the last 20 minutes of cooking.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chocolate Brownies

Sharing a communal kitchen can be quite fun. It's especially cool that I happen to share it with a bunch of people from all nationalities. I learn lots of new tips and tricks and am always picking up new recipe ideas. There are downsides though, like learning to deal with people who don't share the same standards of cleanliness as me. Dirty kitchens just do not inspire me to cook. Luckily we have a good bunch here at the mo, which means I have been able to enjoy my kitchen space again. As a result I have been baking up a storm. Today I'll share the item that seems to be the most popular and most requested. Chocolate brownies.

I first made these for a friend who I knew was a big fan of brownies. I'd never really made brownies before as I'm personally not a big fan of chocolate cakes and the like. But wow these converted me and I  can see this becoming a personal favourite.

The reason I usually shy away from chocolate cakes and brownies is that I find they are often dry and not 'chocolatey' enough. But not these brownies, they are moist and rich and hit the spot. They got the thumbs up from my friend and I keep getting more requests from friends to make them. Last time I made them I even had someone thief my last two pieces, which I had accidentally left out on the kitchen bench. Which is another downside of sharing a communal kitchen. That said, this recipe makes a good sized batch, so you can afford to have a few pieces 'go missing'.


200g of good quality dark chocolate (one with at least 70% cocoa solids is best)

250g unsalted butter
80g cocoa powder
65g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
350g caster sugar
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line a 20 x 30 cm tin with greaseproof paper. A roasting pan is ideal.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bowl over simmering water. Alternatively you can melt the butter first in a small saucepan and then add the chocolate, it will melt gently enough over a low heat. You could possibly do it in a microwave too, but I have never tried.

Then, in a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients before pouring in the chocolate mix and mixing well.
Now add the eggs, mixing thoroughly. The mixture will turn from being grainy into a nice smooth mix.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for around 25 minutes at most. Please check it, you don't want to overcook it! It should still be a bit gooey in the middle. Don't be afraid to take them out earlier. If you leave them in the tin to cool completely, then they will set, but won't overcook.

Cut into slices and enjoy!

- Recipe adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe. Good old reliable Jamie.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Fanta Cake

Happy New Year! There's been a whole lot of celebrating lately, with Xmas and new year, not to mention the fact that New Year's Eve is also my birthday. It's been fun times all round. I've had a pretty low key holiday season, it's been nice. I had a pretty rad fishing and camping trip planned, but the weather here has been too windy so we put our plans on the back burner and just spent our holiday time exploring our local scenery instead.

Walking up our local stream, wearing a birthday hat. Just 'coz I can.

Even though I had a chilled out NYE/birthday, there was one thing I knew I knew I could not miss out on. A birthday cake. I'm not one for presents or parties but cake and desserts...hell yeah bring it on. I decided to make my own cake using a recipe that a lovely german friend gave me. She had made it when she was here in nz and had to adapt it using nz ingredients, she ended up disliking the cake as it didn't taste how she'd expected. It was a bonus for my husband and me as she gave us the whole thing in disgust. Funny thing is we think the cake is amazingly yum. 

It's called a Fanta Cake and uses Fanta in the sponge cake. It's topped with a creamy mixture with sliced peaches folded in. I think this topping is where my friend had an issue. The original recipe uses an ingredient called Schmand, but we don't have this here and the closest substitutes are things like sour cream or crème fraîche. However, my friend used cream cheese which gave it quite a different flavour, we loved it, she didn't. We loved it because the topping ends up tasting like cheesecake, and there is mountains of it. The cake gets completely buried in it, it's complete overkill. So be warned, it's not like the original. If you've had an authentic Fanta Cake, you might love it or hate it. But if you've never tried it, then I hope you fall in love with this version, just like we did.

Fanta Cake

Making the cake...

4 eggs
250g granulated sugar
20g vanilla sugar (just use plain sugar if you don't have this, and add a splash of vanilla essence)
125ml oil
160ml Fanta (or other brand of orange flavoured soft drink)
250g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius.
Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla sugar until creamy.
Stir in the oil and Fanta.
Slowly add the flour and combine gently.
Pour into a 23 cm cake tin that has been greased or lined etc.
Bake for approx 30 minutes then leave to cool.

Making the Topping...

2 tins of sliced peaches (400g tins)
600ml cream
100g vanilla sugar (if you dont have this use caster sugar instead, add a splash of vanilla essence)
500g softened cream cheese (if you want to be authentic, use Schmand or sour cream or likewise)

Drain the peaches, set aside.
Beat the cream until it just starts to stiffen.
Mix in the vanilla sugar and cream cheese. Mix until well combined, no lumps.
Spread all over the cake, bury that sucker!
Leave to cool in the fridge and serve chilled.

Optional tip:  sprinkle with cinnamon powder before serving.