Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Fan mail

I think I had my first fan mail today. Talk about exciting. I was sitting at my desk this afternoon when some internal mail landed on my desk. I opened it to find what I can only describe as fan mail. A former colleague of mine had obviously been reading my post on lentils. In the letter she had included four lentil and chickpea recipes, along with a cute note outlining some helpful tips and hints for adapting the recipes.

So, I will make these recipes in the following weeks and let you know how they go. A big thank you for my first fan mail H!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Free Range Debate

For the last year-and-a-bit, I have chosen to only use free range eggs. I decided to start using only free range as I was concerned about the way battery hens are farmed. I have seen a working egg farm, and it's not pretty. The poor hens are squashed into tiny cages, living what can only really be described as a miserable life. I believe that chickens are made to squawk around outside, scratching up everything in sight (including the lovingly-tended garden).

I'll admit, free range eggs are more expensive, but not by much more. In fact, down at my local Sunday markets in the city, free range eggs from a local grower are cheaper than battery eggs at the supermarket.

This year, I also decided that I would only buy free range pork and chicken, for the same reasons as I choose to buy free range eggs. I believe that the animals I eat deserve to have had a quality life.

Why only from this year? Price was my main consideration. Free range chicken and pork, when you can find it, is very expensive. I would estimate about double the price of standard chicken and pork. But, I decided that I was no longer in a position to use price as an excuse not to buy free range. I now buy much less pork and chicken than I used to, both because of the price, and because my local supermarket does not sell free range. It irritates me that my local supermarket does not stock free range pork, and only stocks whole free range chickens. It is one of the main supermarket brands in the country, and is one of the larger stores in the country. It services a large area, with a highly concentrated population.

In Wellington however, I can thoroughly recommend the Island Bay Butcher. The store does not have a website, but I have included a link to their yellow pages details. When I am in the area, I call in here as they have a wonderful range of free range meat. Although, sadly this is not frequently, as it's an almost half hour drive away. (They also have a huge selection of the most delicious gluten-free sausages).

I have found ways to innovate, and use the chicken and pork that I do buy wisely. As I wrote about above, I have discovered lentils, a wonderful way to bulk out a meal. I also add far more vegetables, to for example, curries and stir-fry dishes. I have also been buying a whole chicken (as it's the most cost-effective way to buy free range chicken) and either roasting it and using the leftovers in future meals (one chicken will last two of us for three meals and then I make stock with the carcass), or jointing it and freezing the different portions. Again, this will give us three meals - I use one breast per meal, and use the two thighs and legs for another (rather large) meal.

Why do I not buy free range beef and lamb? Because I think that sheep and cattle get a pretty good deal in New Zealand, and have a pretty good life. I grew up on a farm, so am aware of how our farm animals are treated. I'm just not sure why we can't treat our chickens and pigs the same way as our cows and sheep.

At the end of the day, choosing to buy free range is a personal choice, and is often dictated by price. I am in the fortunate position that I can afford to buy free range, but I know that not everyone can, and indeed, not everyone wants to.

Friday, 15 April 2011


I have been cooking with lentils this week. I have never really successfully used lentils before, except for split red lentils in soups and curries.

This week I made two recipes using puy lentils, purchased from my local Indian food store, and they were both so successful.

First I made this a delicious sausage, red wine and lentil dinner. I really recommend making it. Super easy, and so, so tasty. I used really good quality venison sausages from Lovat Venison, that I picked up from the Sunday markets. Really beautiful sausages that I thoroughly recommend.

I had way too many lentils left over that I needed to use up (next time I make that recipe, I possibly need to evaluate the quantity of lentils I cook!). So, I made a mince and lentil lasagna. It was a great success. It's fair to say, my previous experimentation with lentils have been nothing less than a debacle. However, this lasagna was so tasty!

I cooked up mince, garlic, onion and eggplant, added some tinned tomatoes, red wine and the leftover lentils and layered up the mixture with lasagna sheets and cheese sauce as per usual. The result was wonderful. Next time I am tempted to ditch the mince and just use the lentils!

The best chocolate mousse

I have the best chocolate mousse recipe. It's by Nigella Lawson, and I found it in a newspaper in the UK, such a great find. This is a perfect dinner-party dessert - it's super easy to make, but everyone thinks you have gone to such trouble. You can make it as fancy as you like by serving it in dainty glasses (you only need a very small portion as it's very rich) and dusting with grated chocolate. (In the photo, I grated over while chocolate).

I am not a fan of raw eggs, and every mousse seems to have raw eggs. Not this one. It also has the added advantage that it's so super easy to make. Bung almost everything in a pot, melt it gently, stir in some whipped cream and you're done.

If you don't watch the pot when everything is melting, you can get little bits of hardened chocolate mixture. I have learnt that this is not the end of the world, it just adds some texture and you can pretend that it was supposed to be like that all along.

One day I made this using Crunchie chocolate and it worked a treat. It had a lovely subtle hokey pokey flavour with little bits of hokey pokey mixed through. Yum. I think you could add almost any flavour you like; rum, orange, coffee etc. Just adjust the mixture a bit - add some grated orange zest, substitute the vanilla for rum, the hot water for coffee. It's such a versatile recipe.

Click here for the recipe. Enjoy!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Easy, delicious white chocolate cheesecake

Sticking with the white chocolate theme, this is simply the best cheesecake! It's so easy to make (well, relatively easy), and is certainly a favourite of mine. I found it by accident, in a newspaper or magazine one day several years ago. It's a great special occasion, or dinner party dessert. But really, you don't need an excuse!

The recipe says it will keep for up to a week in the fridge, though you would be doing well to resist for that long! However, you do need to make it the day before so it's well chilled when you want to eat it. I top with whatever I have: chopped fruit; tinned fruit; chocolate shavings; passionfruit syrup is particularly delicious.

Due to popular demand, I will start posting recipes as well, so here goes for the cheesecake:

450g cream cheese
1/4 cup caster sugar
3 t cornflour
3 eggs
1 t vanilla essence
3 t finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 T lemon juice
2 cups sour cream
1 cup cream
220g white chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease a 20cm springform cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Wrap the outside tightly in a double layer of foil.

Whiz cheese and sugar in a food processor for 30 seconds until smooth. (I don't have a food processor, so I use my hand beater and just make sure it's really well mixed). Keep the motor or beater going, and add the cornflour, then eggs one at a time, stopping every now and again to scrape down the sides. Add vanilla, zest, juice, creams and 1/4 t salt, and process until just combined scraping down the sides. Add chocolate and pulse until smooth. Pour into tin and sit in a large baking dish. Pour hot water into the dish to come halfway up the sides of the tin. Bake for 45 minutes and then leave in the switched-off oven (door closed) for 1 hour. Remove the tin from the dish, remove the foil and cool the cake in the tin on a rack. Cover and chill overnight.

To turn it out, sit the tin on a hot damp towel to loosen the base. Run a palette knife around the edge of the tin, then invert onto a serving plate. Decorate and slice with a hot knife.


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Spectacular white chocolate cake

Spectacular is not usually a word I use. But, I made this cake for my partner to take to work, and spectacular is the word he used to describe it. Now, to put this in perspective, my darling partner is not usually one for superlatives. However, to be fair, this was a mighty tasty cake.

For white chocolate lovers, I don't think you can get much better. All up, this cake (including icing), has almost 1kg of white chocolate! Yum!

The feedback I received from the other workmates was also favourable - "best so far", "very moist", "you should open a cafe". I was chuffed!

I was impressed by how deliciously moist the cake was. It was a couple of days old by the time I got around to icing it and sending it off with my partner, and it just seemed to improve with age.

I iced the cake with a white chocolate ganache and coated the edges with white chocolate shavings. I made the shavings using a potato peeler, running it along the long edge of a block of chocolate. In the centre of the cake, I mixed white chocolate ganache, whipped cream and Baileys. Yum!

Unfortunately the photos did not come out that well, but I can assure you it was pretty amazing!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Chilli Jam

Mum grew the most amazing chillis this year. They were huge, and you could barely see the plant for all the chillis on it. And they were hot! I made the mistake of chopping them and, once I was done, wiping my unwashed hand against my eye and mouth - bad mistake. I was in so much pain for at least an hour. Learnt my lesson there!

Anyway, I raided Mum's plant when I was home in February (I got a shopping bag full, and it barely looked like I had dented the plant) to make chilli jam. I used Annabel Lanbein's recipe off her TV series, The Free Range Cook. It was pretty easy to make, although because I don't have a decent blender (it's on my wishlist), I think next time I make it I will boil everything up and then blend it with my stick blender. Mum posted me some chillis yesterday (turns out that little plant is still going strong!), so I will make some more this week.

As well as being delicious, it makes a beautiful gift. My friend J Rex's partner took a jar home a couple of weeks ago. J Rex made pumpkin and lentil patties for dinner the other night with chilli jam on the side. The report-back was positive. Always good to hear. (I've also asked for the pumpkin and lentil patties recipe - sounds delicious).