Monthly Archives: June 2012

Pumpkin, caramelised onion, black olive & feta tart

I’m still a little seasonally-confused.  I thought that by now I’d have settled into the whole winter-in-June/July/August thing, but I guess not.  I think part of the problem is that for a fairly large proportion of the winter so far, we’ve actually had better weather and similar temperatures (at least during the day) to the summers that I’ve spent in Scotland.  A bit depressing for anybody in Scotland, but also not very helpful for my poor little brain.  My flat is on a street lined with deciduous trees, so seeing their bare branches helps to remind me that it’s winter, but there are also plenty of evergreen trees around, NZ species that aren’t fir trees.  I’m not familiar with them and their greenness sometimes throws me.  At least it’s pretty difficult not to notice the fairly short winter days with night falling at around 17:30, since it means that I walk home in the dark every day.  That’s my failsafe reminder that it’s winter.  That and the fact that our lab is significantly colder than it was during the tail-end of summer when I arrived, and I’m starting to seriously consider having a “lab blanket.”

Another great way of telling the season is by what fruit and vegetables are available.  Thank goodness for the Farmers’ Market because at first glance, supermarkets aren’t particularly helpful when it comes to seasonal food.  I saw cherries the other day and got all excited that cherry season had started because I temporarily forgot I’m in the Southern hemisphere and it’s most definitely not cherry season.  Then I saw that they were imported from the US.  Oh yeah, it’s winter here.  No cherries for me.  For the most part, they’re very good here at labelling where fruit and veg are from (which is great!), so I’ve been working on the assumption that if it’s from NZ, it’s most probably in season.  So if there’s an overabundance of NZ-grown apples, it must be autumn, even though it’s April.  NZ apricots?  It must be summer, even though it’s February.  NZ pumpkins?  It must be autumn or winter, even though it’s June.  You get the idea.  Obviously this only works for fruit and vegetables that I’m familiar with, but I think it works pretty well.

Since it’s winter, there are plenty of pumpkins and squashes around at the moment.  I love pumpkin and I’ve got plenty of bookmarked pumpkin recipes, but I often get put off because I don’t like to waste the seeds but separating them out and cleaning them can be a really time drain.  Plus pumpkins tend to be quite big, and as much as I love them, I try to vary my diet and not eat the same thing for a whole week.  Luckily I discovered that you can buy half pumpkins that are already de-seeded, which solves both problems.  Genius!  So I dug out a recipe that I’ve had my eye on for a while: pumpkin, caramelised onion, olive & feta tart.  It turned out to be quite a time-consuming recipe, but luckily I’d anticipated this and prepared the caramelised onions the evening before whilst I was cooking something else.  It might be time-consuming, but it’s not a work-heavy recipe (as long as you don’t have to de-seed the pumpkin) since the caramelised onions more or less do their own thing, as does the pumpkin and then you mix it all together, pop it into the pastry case (ok, so you have to make the pastry, but it’s not particularly difficult) and it bakes away by itself.  So you can get other things done whilst the oven/frying pan takes care of the rest.  And the end result is definitely worth it.  The sweetness of the roasted pumpkin and caramelised onions balances out the sharpness of the feta and the flavour of the olives.  Actually, I don’t think that this recipe really helped my seasonal-confusion because the olives and feta make me think of the Mediterranean, which I associate with warmth and sunshine and summer.  Despite that, since pumpkin is in season (and delicious), I’m submitting it to Simple and in Season, a blog event started by Ren at Fabulicious Food and guest hosted by Laura at How to Cook Good Food this month.

Pumpkin, caramelised onion, black olive & feta tart

Serves 6-8 as a starter, 3-4 as a main course
Adapted from Two Spoons

The caramelised onions take quite a while as it’s important to cook them over a low heat (resist the temptation to turn the heat up!), so if you’re a little tight on time, you can make them in advance (such as the night before) and store them in the fridge for a couple of days until required.  You could substitute sweet potato instead of pumpkin.  If you’d rather make a more quiche-like version of this, just add an extra egg and 3-4 extra tbsp of crème fraîche.  This tart is delicious both warm and cold, served with a dressed green salad on the side.

Ingredients

For the caramelised onions:
3 medium onions
Drizzle tsp rapeseed oil (canola oil)
1½ tbsp light brown sugar
1½-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp chopped dried thyme

For the rest of the tart:
Quiche/tart pastry (click for recipe or use your favourite)
400g pumpkin (weight with seeds removed)
Drizzle of rapeseed oil (canola oil)
100g pitted black olives
150g feta cheese
1 egg
3 heaped tbsp crème fraîche
½ tsp chopped dried thyme
1 tsp Dijon mustard (optional, but brings out the flavours)

Directions

For the caramelised onions:
1.  Finely slice the onions.  Add to a large lidded frying pan or saucepan, along with a drizzle of oil and the brown sugar and melt over a low heat, covered, stirring every 5 mins or so.

2.  Once the onions are golden brown (don’t worry if they’re sticking a little to the pan), add the balsamic vinegar and thyme, stir and cover, once again stirring until every 5 mins or so.  Once they are dark brown (but not burnt!), remove from the heat and let sit in their pan, uncovered.  If making in advance, allow to cool, then store in the fridge in an airtight container until required.

To assemble the tart:
3.  Butter a 24cm fluted tart tin and dust with flour.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

4.  Prepare your pastry, roll out to a 3 or 4 mm thickness and line the prepared tart tin.  Trim the edges and prick with a fork.  Refrigerate for 30 mins.

5.  Meanwhile, prepare the pumpkin.  Remove the skin, dice into about 1.5 cm cubes, and place in a roasting tin.  Drizzle with oil and toss to coat.  Bake for about 20 mins on the top rack of the oven, until softened and the edges are slightly browned.  Remove from the oven and switch the rack to the centre of the oven.

6.  Line the tart pastry with baking paper and cover with baking beans.  Blind-bake for 15 mins, remove the baking paper and beans and return to the oven for a further 5 mins.  Once removed, lower the oven’s heat to 190°C/170°C.

7.  Meanwhile, prepare the filling.  Halve the pitted olives and dice the feta into about 1cm cubes.  In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg with a fork.  Add the crème fraîche and mix together.  Add the caramelised onions, roasted pumpkin, olives, feta thyme and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Stir together.

8.  Spread the mustard over the blind-baked tart pastry (optional, but it helps to enhance the flavours in the tart) then add the filling and evenly spread around the tart.  Bake for about 30 mins until the tart is golden and the eggs and cream are cooked.  Allow to cool on a wire rack for a couple of minutes before serving (or allow to cool fully) with a dressed green salad.

Enjoy!

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Greek yoghurt & honey cake: Deliciousness guaranteed, sharing optional

A large portion of this blog wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my trusty electric whisk.  All the macarons, the seal cake, the meerkat cake and most of the cupcakes – basically anything involving whisking egg whites into peaks or creaming together butter and sugar (which I’m too lazy to do by hand – shocking, I know).  The whisk also had a stick blender attachment, which made it ideal – only one appliance to make both cakes and soups saves on storage space – and was why I commandeered it from was given it by my mum when I moved up to St Andrews for uni (maybe also because it was free).  I forget whether it was my mum’s just before or just after she was married, but either way, it was older than me.  By several years.  And yet it still worked wonderfully.  It served me well whilst I was in St Andrews, and I loved it to bits, but by the time I started packing for my move to NZ, it was nearing the end of its (long) life span.  The motor was clearly just a few icing sugar explosions away from giving up (I’d had a couple of scares towards the end of my time in St Andrews).  Rather than shipping it over, having it break and then having to get a new one, I figured I’d skip the first two steps, give the whisk/blender an early retirement and just get a new one when I arrived here.  Simple as.

Well… in theory.  Apparently electric whisks with a stick blender attachment are few and far between now, and those that do exist have pretty poor reviews.  Damn.  So I’ve had to buy an electric whisk and a stick blender separately, which is slightly frustrating in terms of storage, but I guess that now I can whisk egg whites or make buttercream icing and blend soup at the same time.  Because that would totally end well…  I’m just hoping that they last me a long time (although their predecessor has set the bar pretty high).  It’s taken me four months to actually get round to buying them.  Four months of getting excited about recipes until realising they require egg whites to be whisked into soft peaks.  Four months of no soup (I like my soups smooth).  A bit ridiculous really, but when I realised that my Random Recipe entry for this month involved whisking egg whites I finally had to get my act together (thanks Dom!).  And it turned out to be a fantastic recipe to test out my new electric whisk.

Following on from last month’s theme of “first and last,” the theme for this month’s Random Recipe challenge is “the middle.”  I randomly picked A Treasury of New Zealand Baking as my book, which has 232 pages of recipes, so I turned to page 116, which houses a recipe for… Greek yoghurt and honey cake with a raisin lemon syrup.  I’ve been rather lucky with my Random Recipe entries over the last few months, and it seems that the streak continues.  I’m not complaining!  The cake turned out rather scrumptious.  It’s wonderfully moist and full of flavour thanks to the syrup that gets poured over the top at the end.  It’s excellent for breakfast (the amount of whisky in the syrup is minimal and it gets simmered anyway), for morning tea, for afternoon tea and for dessert.  I can say that with confidence, because I’ve (enthusiastically) tested all those options out personally.  I know, I know, I totally took one for the team.  It also keeps for a good few days, and it’s almost tastier after a couple of days as the flavours in the syrup pervade the cake over time.  Confession: this cake is so tasty that it’s a little difficult to share.  I had originally planned to take it in to the lab, and well… that never really happened.  Ahem.  I’ve had great breakfasts this week though (it has raisins, thus it’s totally breakfast food…  Don’t judge).  I think next time I’ll tell them I’m bringing cake so that I have to actually follow through with it.

Greek yoghurt & honey cake, with a raisin, lemon & whisky syrup

Serves 8-10 as a snack, 5-6 for breakfast
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

The syrup would also work wonderfully with spiced rum instead of whisky, or alcohol-free if necessary.  It’s quite dense so it works wonderfully for breakfast or as a snack (in smaller portions) accompanied by tea.  The cake is kept moist by the yoghurt in it, so it’ll keep for a good few days (in fact, I think I preferred it after a couple of a days as the flavours of the syrup develop).

Ingredients

240g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
240g unsalted butter, softened
120g caster sugar
3 tbsp honey
Zest of 2 lemons
4 eggs
240g unsweetened Greek yoghurt

For the syrup:
180ml water
120g caster sugar
120g seedless raisins
Juice of 2 lemons
2-3 tbsp whisky
2 tbsp honey
1 star anise

Unsweetened Greek yoghurt, to serve (optional)

Directions

1.  Butter a 24cm round cake tin.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a medium bowl and stir together.

3.  Zest the lemons into a large bowl (keep the lemons to use the juice in the syrup later on) and add the cubed butter, sugar and honey.  Beat together until light and creamy.  Then beat in the egg yolks one at a time (put the egg whites directly into a large clean bowl for later).  Once all the egg yolks are incorporated, add about a spoonful of the flour mixture and beat in, followed by about a spoonful yoghurt, and continue alternating between the two.

4.  In a large, clean bowl whisk the egg whites into soft peaks.  Gently fold the egg whites into the cake mixture.

5.  Pour into the cake tin and bake for 1h05 until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool for 10 mins in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

Making the syrup:
6.  Whilst the cake is in the oven, start prepare the syrup.  Add all the syrup ingredients, except for the yoghurt, to a small saucepan and allow to marinate whilst the cake is baking.

7.  As the cake is cooling, heat over a low heat until the sugar dissolves.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for 10 mins until thickened and syrupy (a syrupy syrup – my descriptive abilities amaze me sometimes).  Allow to cool a little, but not completely, and fish out the star anise.  Once the cake is completely cool, slide it onto a plate and then gently pour the syrup over the top and spread the raisins out evenly.

8.  Serve warm or cold, with a large spoonful of yoghurt if desired.

Enjoy!

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Angostura bitters and venison – wait, what?

This month’s AlphaBakes challenge is being hosted by Ros over at The More Than Occasional Baker, and the random letter is “V.”  I immediately thought of vermouth and vodka, but since I probably spend enough time sounding like a borderline alcoholic, I thought it might be a good idea to go for an ingredient of a non-alcoholic variety.  Other than “vegetable” (which I think might be a little too vague), I drew a blank for a while, until I was perusing my collection of winter recipes and it hit me: venison.  Perfect!  Venison is wonderful in winter-y dishes such as stews, and since it was the winter solstice on Thursday (which means that hurrah, the days are going to start gradually getting longer), it’s definitely the right season for it!  It’s also a very lean meat, so a healthier choice than beef (though usually more expensive unfortunately).  I was initially going to make venison stew, but wasn’t sure if it would count for the challenge as it wouldn’t see the inside of an oven.  I decided that I’d go for venison pie instead, since that would definitely be baked and is still a wonderfully wintery dish.  I just had to decide on a recipe…

Sometimes I go to the library and browse through the cookbooks there for inspiration.  Particularly those that I don’t want to buy since I know that I wouldn’t realistically ever use, but are still interesting to read through.  The Exotic Meat Cookbook is one such book – the opportunity to turn a crocodile, camel or kangaroo into a meal has yet to arise for me so buying the book would be a slight waste of money at the moment, but it’s still fun to read the recipes and imagine the flavours.  And the next time I’m called upon to cook zebra, I’ll know which recipe book to add to my collection.  Actually, it also includes some meats that I wouldn’t really class as exotic, such as veal, rabbit and hare, mutton and… venison.  A recipe for Angostura venison cobbler caught my eye as I was leafing through the book.  I am, of course, familiar with Angostura bitters in cocktails, but cooking with Angostura bitters?  How intriguing…  And by that I mean: oh my gosh, must try!

I’ve never really been sure what exactly cobbler is, but it seems to be fairly similar in concept to a pie but with a topping made of scones, which may or may not cover the whole thing, and no pastry on the bottom.  So basically the main similarity with a pie is that the filling can be sweet or savoury.  I was so intrigued by the  flavours in the recipe that I scrapped the venison pie idea and decided to try this out instead.  Well, it turns out that Angostura bitters goes very well with venison.  Who knew?  (Other than the authors of the cookbook…)  It definitely adds an unexpected, but delicious, flavour to the meat – kind of pepping it up.  It’s an unusual combination, but certainly a very tasty one.  I’ll definitely be experimenting more with Angostura bitters in cooking.  I was expecting the scone topping to cover the whole dish, but the recipe only made enough for a ring around the edge of the dish.  I was initially a little disappointed by this, but the topping turned out to be rather filling so perhaps it would have been too much if the whole dish was covered.  I’ll double the amount of topping the next time I make this and then I can decide how I prefer it.

Angostura venison cobbler

Serves 4-6
Adapted from The Exotic Meat Cookbook

This dish would also work well with most other minces, such as lean beef or lamb.  If you don’t have a casserole dish or something similar that can be used on both a stovetop and in the oven, you can cook the venison in a saucepan on the stovetop and then transfer it into an ovenproof dish for the oven part.  Adjust the amount of bitters that you add to your personal taste – if you’re very sensitive to the taste of bitters or don’t enjoy it very much, use 1½ tbsp, but if you enjoy the taste, go for the full 3 tbsp, though add a little at a time and taste the sauce as you go to check the flavour isn’t too overpowering.  I found that the topping recipe only made enough for a ring of topping around the edge of the dish, so if you want to have the whole dish covered, I’d suggest doubling the topping recipe.

Ingredients

500g venison mince
2 carrots
2 parsnips
1 large onion
1 clove of garlic
8-9 fresh sage leaves
300ml beef stock
1½-3 tbsp Angostura bitters
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 tsp cornflour, if necessary

For the scone topping:
170g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
40g unsalted butter
5-6 fresh sage leaves
1 egg
2-3 tbsp milk, plus extra for brushing

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Gently brown the venison in an oven-proof casserole dish (add a few drops of rapeseed oil if necessary).  Whilst the venison is browning, peel and dice the carrots and parsnips, slice the onions and finely chop the garlic clove and sage leaves.  Add them to the venison once it’s browned and cook for a few minutes more.

3.  Pour in the beef stock, along with the bitters and tomato purée, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir. Bring to the boil.  If the sauce is too liquidy, add the cornflour to a small ramekin with a few drops of cold water and mix into a paste.  Stir into the sauce and cook until thickened.

4.  Cover the casserole and transfer to the oven for 20 mins.

5.  Meanwhile, make the cobbler topping.  Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and add the cubed butter.  Rub together until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Finely chop the sage leaves and stir into the mixture along with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add the egg and a little bit of milk and gently bring together into a soft dough.  Add more milk if necessary.  Transfer the dough to a floured surface and pat or gently roll out to a thickness of 1cm.  Cut out circles of dough with a 5cm biscuit cutter.

6.  Remove the venison from the oven and turn the oven temperature up to 190°C.  Arrange the cut-out scone circles in an overlapping ring around the edge of the venison mixture.  Brush with a little milk.  Return the casserole dish to the oven and bake uncovered for a further 20 mins, or until the topping is golden and well-risen.

Enjoy!

PS – You know what else starts with V that I’ve just thought of?  Vanilla.  Which is only one of the most commonly-used ingredients in baking.  Facepalm.

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How to accidentally feed a small child caffeine…

Coffee breaks are a big thing in my lab.  Before I elaborate, I should probably explain my work situation (work as in uni work).  As a postgrad, I have a desk.  A whole desk all to myself, which is kind of exciting.  I mean I effectively had my own space in the computer lab in the last few weeks that I was writing my dissertation (of doom) in St Andrews, but that was more because I claimed it by spending about 18h a day there and leaving my papers and files scattered around it for the 6h that I wasn’t because I was sleeping or eating, but now I have a desk that’s actually mine and doesn’t require scattered highlighters and papers to mark my territory.  I’m clearly going up in the world.

Now this desk is located in the fairly large marine lab, half of which consists of postgrad desks and the other half is the actual lab bit with lab benches and microscopes and chemicals, none of which I actually use.  Other than an invisible line there’s no separation between the desk-filled half and the proper lab half of the room, so the whole thing is classed as a lab.  Food and drink aren’t allowed in labs.  Thus, no food and drink at our desks.  Which means… no coffee.  Which is an issue.  And explains the importance of the coffee break.  The lab is also quite cold, which makes it all the more frustrating that we can’t have hot drinks at our desks.  Coffee breaks mean that we get to venture upstairs where it’s a bit warmer.  Coffee breaks are also ideal for bringing in baked goods that you don’t want to eat an entire batch of by yourself.  And baked goods are a great way of making friends with your labmates.

This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge is being guest hosted by Lucy of The Kitchen Maid and she has chosen “coffee” as the special ingredient, which is an excellent choice because I love the combination of coffee and chocolate.  In fact, they almost pair a little too well, and I actually found it rather difficult to choose what to make because there are just so many possibilities.  I think that coffee and chocolate complement each other best in something fairly rich, so after much indecision I finally settled on coffee and walnut brownies.  The walnuts were the result of some last-minute inspiration, but they go so well with both coffee and chocolate, that they just seemed like they’d make the perfect addition.  And they really did work wonderfully, adding a little bit of crunch and balance to the soft, rich chocolateyness of the brownies.  The coffee blends perfectly with the chocolate – you can definitely taste that it’s there, even if it’s not a distinct flavour and you can’t quite put your finger on it.  I think this might be my favourite brownie recipe ever.

I brought the brownies in for yesterday’s afternoon coffee break and they went down a storm.  One of the guys who works in an offshoot of the marine lab further down the corridor had his kids in with him so they joined us for our coffee break.  I think they’re about 5 and 8 years old.  Whilst their dad was making his coffee and whatever drinks they were having they were eyeing up the brownies sitting on the table, but clearly too scared of all the adults they didn’t really know to ask for some.  I didn’t want to offer them some without first checking that nuts were ok though – I hear that inducing somebody’s child into anaphylactic shock is considered rather bad form.  The fact that there’s caffeine in the brownies totally didn’t cross my mind until after they’d each had half a brownie and their dad said “these are so good, but they taste a bit different to standard chocolate brownies, what’s that extra flavour?”  “That’s probably the coffee.  Oh my gosh, coffee.  I just gave caffeine to your kids.  I am so sorry!!”  Awkward.  I don’t have any younger siblings or young cousins, so I’ve had minimal experience with small children…  Can you tell?  We concluded that there was probably less caffeine in a brownie than in several sips of coke, so they probably wouldn’t go totally crazy.  He even let them have another half each when they asked for more.  Since I’m spending this morning at the aquarium, I won’t have seen him by the time this post publishes, so I’m not sure how that worked out…

Coffee & walnut brownies

Makes 20 brownies
Adapted from Le Larousse des desserts

If you’re not a huge fan of coffee or you want a slightly more subtle flavour, you can decrease the amount of coffee down to 1tbsp dissolved in 2 tbsp of boiling water.  You can also use freshly-brewed espresso rather than instant coffee if that’s what you have at home.  These will keep for a several days in an airtight container, though they’re so moreish that I doubt they’ll last that long!  These are probably best enjoyed with a coffee.

Ingredients

140g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
125g unsalted butter
2 tbsp espresso-style instant coffee
4 tbsp boiling water
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
70g walnut pieces or halves
60g all-purpose flour

Directions

1.  Line a 20 x 25 cm baking tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to fan 170°C.

2.  Break half the chocolate into pieces and add to a medium heat-proof bowl with the cubed butter.  Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl).  In a little ramekin or glass, dissolve the instant coffee in the boiling water.  Add to the chocolate and butter mixture and melt together, stirring occasionally.  When all melted together and smooth, remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.

3.  Sift the flour into a small bowl.  Roughly chop the remaining chocolate into small chunks and stir into the flour, along with the roughly chopped walnuts.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until well mixed and a little foamy.  Stir in the chocolate and butter mixture.  Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula then pour into the prepared baking tin.  Smooth the top of the mixture if necessary and bake for 15-20 mins until a knife point comes out with a little mixture still stuck to it.

5.  Cool for about 20-30 mins in the tin until just warm, then remove and allow to cool fully on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Enjoy!  And uhm, perhaps avoid feeding them to small children…

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Watching the All Blacks!

Saturday was a day of much excitement – not only was it World Gin Day (which involved Gin & Tonic scones), but I went to an All Blacks game!  I watched the All Blacks play in real life for the first time ever!  And at Eden Park, no less – scene of their victory in the World Cup (we’ll just skip over the details of who they beat, ahem…).  I’ve wanted to see the All Blacks play in real life for as long as I can remember, so this really was a big deal for me.  It was also the perfect occasion to finally bankrupt myself buy an All Blacks shirt, which was quite an emotional undertaking, for personal reasons that I won’t go into.

The game was the first of three test matches that the All Blacks are playing against Ireland over the next few weeks, so not a particularly important game, but I wasn’t particularly bothered about that.  Since it wasn’t an important game, I don’t really think that many Ireland supporters would have flown over for the matches (since you know, it’s the other side of the world and a little expensive to do so), so I was pleasantly surprised by the number of Ireland supporters that were at the game – I had no idea that there were so many Irish here in Auckland.  The game itself wasn’t the most nail-biting rugby I’ve ever watched, and with a final score of 42-10 (to the All Blacks) it wasn’t exactly a case of not knowing who would win until the very end, but it wasn’t bad rugby and Ireland weren’t exactly pushovers.  My general excitement at just being there more than made up for it anyway.

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I really like Eden Park as a stadium.  We had seats in the terraces in one of the corners behind the try line, so we got drizzled on a bit, but we were fairly close to the pitch (which is always good), and I think the stadium itself is more or less square, which makes the pitch really wide and gives the impression that the opposite posts aren’t actually that far away.  The only thing that I found a little disappointing was the haka, the notorious Māori dance that the All Blacks do before every match to scare the crap out of welcome their opponents.  This was probably the part that I was most looking forward to.  We were conveniently placed so that the All Blacks were facing us when they did the haka, so we could see what was going on, and they transmit close-ups on the big screens around the stadium (which I imagine is what is being televised), but they don’t seem to have microphones that pick up the sound and transmit it around the stadium.  The haka is significantly less impressive if you can barely hear it.  And I know that the haka is for the “benefit” of the opposing team rather than the spectators, but it’s such an integral part of watching the All Blacks on TV that it seems a shame to lose most of the effect when watching in real life (on the other hand, perhaps having the haka booming around the PA system of the stadium would be a little too terrifying…).

More haka

If you’re a rugby fan and ever visit Auckland, I’d definitely recommend checking to see if your trip coincides with any All Blacks games – just the experience of watching the All Blacks play at Eden Park is totally worth it.  I’m afraid I can’t give you any information on acquiring tickets because somebody else organised that.  You can travel by train to Eden Park from Britomart (the train station at the bottom of Queen St) and back again for free with your match tickets.  I’m not sure if this is also the case for other train routes in Auckland since we left from Britomart.

Enjoy the rest of your day, wherever you are in the world!

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Happy World Gin Day 2012!

Today is World Gin Day!  How exciting is that?!  (If your answer was not something along the lines of “super duper exciting!” then just a heads up that this post might not be for you…)  Now, I’m a big fan of gin, in case you weren’t aware.  I was clearly spoilt in St Andrews when it came to Gin & Tonics, because every bartender in any pub or bar knows how to make a proper G&T (and if they don’t, they’re soon corrected).  Here in NZ…not so much.  I’ve run up against bartenders that think tonic and lemonade are interchangeable (they’re really not – have you ever tried Gin & Lemonade?  It’s foul.), and almost every G&T I’ve been served has a wedge of lemon rather than lime.  That might sound petty, but it really does affect the taste.  Particularly a gin such as Hendrick’s.  I know, I know – I’m still recovering from that particular experience.  I think I’ve just been going to the wrong bars here, but it’s still a little upsetting.  If anybody happens to know of a bar in Auckland that makes good G&Ts and doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for it, then do please let me know!

Just like last year, I’m obviously not going to let World Gin Day pass by without blogging something gin-themed.  I’ve had this recipe idea planned since about April, when Craig sent me a link to a post on Total Food Geeks Edinburgh about lemonade scones, which I’d never heard of before.  The most important ingredient of the recipe is fizzy lemonade.  You know what else is fizzy?  Gin & Tonic is fizzy (though perhaps not quite as much).  You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?  That’s right.  Gin & Tonic scones.  Yes, really.  Clearly the perfect way to celebrate World Gin Day.

Whilst I had the idea back in April, it’s taken me a while to actually try it out, mostly because I was a little confused by the cream situation here in NZ and couldn’t find a double cream equivalent anywhere.  I’ll save the details for another post (bet you can’t wait), but it turns out that standard pouring cream here is somewhere between UK single cream and UK double cream.  So I made do with that.  Thankfully the recipe worked wonderfully.  The scones are light, fluffy and delicious, with a subtle G&T flavour.  I must admit that I could only just taste the gin, but that’s more a reflection on my taste buds than the actual recipe.  These scones would be perfect for an afternoon snack, served with lime curd (I told you that I had something special lined up for the batch I posted about yesterday) and accompanied, of course, by a Gin & Tonic.

Gin & Tonic scones

Makes 10-12 scones
Adapted from Total Food Geeks Edinburgh

Make sure to use a gin that goes with lime, such as Gordon’s, in this recipe.  You’re baking with it, so save your best gin for drinking.  Use freshly-opened tonic if possible to get the maximum amount of bubbles.  These are best eaten fresh, but can be made the evening before and covered with a tea e until the next day.  These are utterly delicious served with lime curd (click for the recipe – it’s very easy to make), but would probably also be tasty with lime marmalade.

Ingredients

300g all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ large unwaxed lime (zest before cutting it in half)
50 ml gin (I used Gordon’s)
100 ml tonic
150ml UK double cream or NZ cream

Directions

1.  Line a large baking tray with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 220°C.

2.  Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl and stir together.

3.  Zest the ½ lime (zest the lime before cutting it in half), and juice it.  Add the juice and zest to a measuring jug, along with the gin and the tonic.  Add the cream and stir together (an ice-cream float type texture is normal).

4.  Gently fold the liquid ingredients into the flour using a large wooden spoon (be as gentle as possible so as not to destroy the air bubbles).  The mixture should come together into a dough – you may need to use your hands towards the end.  The dough should be light and soft.  If the dough is too sticky to handle, add a little more flour.

5.  Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface.  Gently roll the dough out to a 2 cm thickness.  Cut out the scones using a floured 6cm round cutter and place them on the baking tray.  Gently combine the scraps to make more scones (these ones might not come out quite as presentably – consider them quality control).

6.  Bake for 16 mins until the scones are golden and risen.  Cool on a wire rack, covered with a clean tea towel (apparently this keeps the tops soft).

7.  Serve with lime curd whilst still just warm.  They’re also delicious fully cooled.

Enjoy!  And happy World Gin Day!!!  (Also, drink responsibly, etc. etc.)

PS – Fun fact: this post contains the word “gin” or “G&T” 22 times (excluding those two)…  Definitely a successful blog post.

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From Venus to limes

Were you able to see the transit of Venus on Wednesday?  I was really quite excited about seeing it – I didn’t see the one in 2004 (I’m not sure that I was even aware of it), and the next one isn’t until 2117, so I’m working on the assumption that it’s highly unlikely that I’ll still be around in 105 years to see it.  New Zealand was one of the places where the whole transit would be visible, but sadly the weather here in Auckland was being rather uncooperative and it was cloudy or rainy for pretty much the whole afternoon.  We were restricted to watching live footage from Hawaii (one of the beauties of the internet) in between presentations at a lab group symposium during the morning.  Ya, we’re that cool.  Whilst being able to watch the transit live from 7000km away was pretty awesome, not being able to see it in real life was a little disappointing.  We had been thinking of taking a lab trip to the Auckland Stardome to go watch it (just in case you weren’t convinced of our coolness…) but that didn’t happen.

Not seeing the transit is obviously not the end of the world, but since it’s such a rare occurrence I was still a little gutted when I got home.  And also a little damp from the rain, which is not a rare occurrence.  I had a fail-safe antidote to being miserable though, in the form of lime curd.  I find that lime curd automatically makes everything better – it’s green, zingy and super tasty, so how could it not?  Citrus fruit always makes me think of summer sunshine, even though they’re usually in season through the winter, and as a result, I find that citrus-based things nearly always cheer me up.  Particularly when it’s something as easy to make as curd.  If you’ve ever had to buy a whole net of limes or lemons when you only need one, making curd is a great way to use up the surplus.  It’s also a great way to use up egg yolks.  What I also love about curd is that it can be made with any citrus fruit (I tried blood orange curd last year and it was fabulous) and in various combinations.  Lime and lemon work wonderfully together.  This curd comes out deliciously zingy, which is how I like it, and there’s no mistaking the lime flavour.  That said, it’s not sour (because that would be horrid), just full of flavour.  Curd is a brilliantly versatile ingredient as well – spread it on toast, crumpets, digestive biscuits; use it in muffins, cakes; the possibilities are endless!  Tomorrow is World Gin Day (are you excited?!), and I have something special lined up for this particular batch of lime curd – check back tomorrow to find out exactly what…  I’ll give you a clue though: it involves scones.  And gin (no kidding).

Lime curd

Makes enough to fill a small 300ml jar
Adapted from Waitrose

To sterilise the jar, wash in warm, soapy water and then dry at around 110°C in the oven.  Remove from the oven once dry and allow to cool fully before filling.  If you don’t have immediate plans for the leftover egg white, it freezes well.  If you find that the lime juice is a little pale, you can add a couple of drops of green food colouring to boost the colour (keep it minimal though).  You can use curd in plenty of different ways: on crumpets, on toast, to make dessert canapés, on a sponge cake, in cupcakes, etc.  The curd will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Ingredients

4 large unwaxed limes
55g butter
110g caster sugar
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
Green food colouring (optional)

Directions

1.  Zest and juice the limes into a small bowl.  In another small bowl, beat the two eggs and the egg yolk together well.

2.  Melt the cubed butter in a large heat-proof bowl over a simmering pan of water (make sure that the water doesn’t reach the bottom of the bowl).

3.  Add the sugar and the zest and juice from the limes, followed by the eggs.  If you’re using food colouring, add a couple of drops in, too.  Stir the mixture carefully and constantly with a spatula, making sure the mixture doesn’t boil.  Once the mixture coats the back of the spatula (turn the spatula flat and run your finger through the mixture coating it – if you can draw a line through the mixture and it doesn’t re-fill, then it’s done), remove from the heat.

4.  If using the curd straightaway, pour into a bowl, otherwise, pour into a sterilised glass jar.  Allow to cool (it will thicken further) before sealing and storing in the fridge.

Enjoy!

PS – How super smooth was my segue from the transit of Venus to limes?  Truly flawless.  Clearly not a case of remembering halfway through that “oh wait, this post is supposed to be about lime curd…” – that would never happen to me.  Never ever.

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A stressed-out postgrad’s Diamond Jubilee weekend (or lack thereof)

For the last month or so, the blogosphere has been littered with Union Jacks and blue, white and red baked goods in preparation for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  Well, the part of the blogosphere occupied by Commonwealth citizens anyway.  Sharky Oven Gloves, I’m afraid, has been bereft of any Jubilee-related baked goods and blog posts though.  Not because I don’t want to celebrate, or I’m anti-monarchy (quite the contrary), but I quite simply haven’t really had the time to do anything special.  I don’t think that the Jubilee has been that big of a deal here in NZ – the shops certainly haven’t been plastered in bunting and full of Union Jack-themed everything as they seem to have been in the UK.  I may just be out of the loop, but I don’t think anything in particular was organised for the occasion either, aside from lighting a beacon in Blenheim (at the top of the South Island).  Incidentally, it seems that every single other Commonwealth country had flaming torches to light their beacons with, whilst NZ made do with one of those standard gas lighters that you use to light the cooker (if you have a super old-school cooker).  Something tells me that the Jubilee isn’t that huge of a deal here.  Perhaps there will be more excitement when Charles and Camilla visit in November as part of the Diamond Jubilee tour.  At least it’ll be summer (and thus hopefully sunny and warm), so that’ll probably help enthusiasm levels.

The Sky Tower was lit up in blue over the long weekend – I don’t know if it was supposed to be royal blue in honour of the Jubilee or if it was just a coincidence.  Let’s go with the first option.  If they light it up in green for St Patrick’s Day, I think they can make the effort to honour the Queen’s 60 years on the throne.  Whatever your views on the monarchy, you have to admit that’s a heck of a long time to unrelentingly dedicate yourself to your country and be in the public eye, always expected to behave impeccably, not express any personal political opinions and represent not only the UK but a number of other Commonwealth countries, too, some with vastly different cultures to the UK.  And apparently not to express any emotions except when it comes to corgis and horses (I love the monarchy, but I find that a little odd – keeping a stiff upper lip is all well and good but seriously, a little genuine emotion now and then wouldn’t hurt, would it?).  Of course, it’s a role that she inherited, but over the last 60 years, I think she’s shown her aptitude for it.  Which is lucky – imagine having a monarch that clearly didn’t give a rat’s bottom for 60 years.  I don’t think anybody can fault the Queen for taking her duty very, very seriously.  And for that I congratulate her – she is truly admirable, even if I find the non-emotion thing a little disconcerting (perhaps that’s just my French side shining through…  Awkward).

I would have liked to throw a Jubilee party this weekend, but I don’t really know enough people here to do so, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have quite had the time to prepare for it.  I’d have probably organised an afternoon tea – because you can’t possibly do anything more British than that.  A proper afternoon tea, however, requires a heck of a lot of preparation, so it wasn’t really an option.  If you’re going to do something, do it properly, particularly if you’re celebrating somebody who has been the epitome of doing things properly and with great pomp and circumstance for 60 years.  Last year, despite being within days of the deadline for my dissertation (of doom), I still managed to bake up some Pimm’s cupcakes to nibble on in the computer lab during the Royal Wedding.  This year though, whilst I don’t have any impending deadlines (that I’m aware of…), I feel like I’m slowly sinking into a quagmire of physics that I don’t understand.  Physics which happens to be crucial to my thesis (despite it being a Marine Biology Masters) so it’s really stressing me out at the moment.  And impinging on my baking creativity, too, it seems, as I couldn’t come up with a straightforward recipe that I deemed suitably regal for today’s post.  Yesterday was a public holiday for the Queen’s official birthday in NZ, so I gave myself the day off and we went to see the Degas to Dalí exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery followed by a trip to the cinema, but most of the rest of my weekend was spent reading about electromagnetic fields and electroreception, rather than throwing a Jubilee party.  Usually when I say that I have my priorities right, I mean it ironically (because I usually don’t), but for once, I actually did get them right (sorry Your Majesty – I hope that doesn’t make me a traitor or something).  The most Jubilee-related thing that I did was to drink tea out of my Jubilee-themed mug (don’t judge the mug) and eat a couple of scones.  Which isn’t as sad and pathetic as it might sound – it’s just the life of a postgrad student.  Don’t worry, contrary to what the photo might suggest, I did not lose the plot and plaster my flat or desk in Union Jack tissue paper.

So even if I didn’t do anything special, I hope that you were able to and had a wonderful Jubilee weekend!  Or a wonderful normal weekend, depending on where you are in the world and whether Queen Elizabeth II is your head of state.

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Fête des Mères from afar

Today is Fête des Mères, or Mother’s Day, in France.  Since my mum is French, we always celebrate French Mother’s Day rather than the Mother’s Day of whichever country we happen to live in, which inevitably falls on a different date.  It does involve some serious organisation when it comes to Mother’s Day cards, but other than that, celebrating it on a different date doesn’t really affect proceedings much.  The last four years, when I’ve been in St Andrews and my mum in Edinburgh, my mum has come up to see me for Fête des Mères, and we’ve either gone out for lunch or I’ve cooked for her.  Actually, that’s one of the distinct advantages of celebrating Mother’s Day on a different date to of the country you live in – it’s usually much easier to book a table in your choice restaurant.  This year though, my mum happens to be located on the other side of the world – a little far for a day trip – so I can’t give her all the hugs that she deserves and cook for her or take her out, which I really wish I could.  Skype is awesome, but it has its limits.

My mum is the best mum I could ever wish for, and definitely a better mum than I deserve.  She has always been there for me, always encouraged me, always supported me, no matter what.  At the age of ten, I announced that I loved sharks and wanted to be a shark researcher.  And haven’t changed my mind since.  It can’t be easy when your only child’s dream career revolves around things with sharp teeth and a bad reputation for eating people (no matter how many times said child tells you that the reputation is unjust).  And yet, my mum has always encouraged me to follow my dreams.  Even though she jokingly tried to convince me for several years that studying sardines would be far more interesting, I always knew that she would support me, whatever I chose to do with my life.  I think that’s one of the greatest gifts you can give a child – unending support in whatever they choose to do.  When I announced that I was thinking of applying for Masters in NZ and Australia, despite the prospect of me ‘abandoning’ her and disappearing off to the other side of the world, she still fully encouraged me.  And when I was offered a place, she helped me with all the packing whilst I was busy feeling totally overwhelmed and not getting anywhere with it.  Truly the best mum ever, and I can never thank her enough.

My mum adores chocolate, so if I was cooking for her today, I’d make a chocolatey dessert – last year I made some deliciously dainty chocolate and hazelnut mousse in chocolate cups, which she adored.  If she was coming for lunch this year, I’d have made her these chocolate and chestnut fondants – they’re super rich and chocolatey, which she would love, but I think the chestnut flavour that comes through is what makes them truly special.  On top of that, they look rather impressive, but are actually really simple to put together (my favourite kind of recipe).  I wish I could serve these up to my mum today, but I don’t think they’d survive very well in the post, so I’m afraid, Maman, that if you’d like some, you’ll have to make them yourself…  Or wait until you visit me.  DIY Mother’s Day dessert isn’t much in thanks for everything that my mum does and has done for me.  My mum might be the best mother ever, but I’m really not the best daughter.

Bonne Fête des Mères, Maman – merci pour tout et je t’aime de tout mon cœur!

Chocolate & chestnut fondants

Serves 6
Slightly adapted from Cuisine, March 2012

I used non-sweetened chestnut purée.  If you’re not sure what to do with the leftover chestnut purée, I think you can just warm it up with a little milk or cream, some sugar and a little bit of vanilla and whisk together to make a sweetened version, then serve it for dessert with a little bit of cream (I’ve yet to try sweetening the purée though).  Using sweetened chestnut purée may make the fondants a little too sickly sweet.  This recipe splits really well, so if you only want to make two or three, the recipe will still work with smaller quantities.  The fondants are very rich and chocolatey, so the crème fraîche cuts through very well – I think that serving them with whipped cream would be too sweet.

Ingredients

200g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
200g unsalted butter, plus extra for the ramekins
6 egg yolks
200g caster sugar, plus extra for the ramekins
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g chestnut purée
50g all-purpose flour
Crème fraîche, to serve
Cocoa powder, to serve

Directions

1.  Liberally butter six ramekins (mine are 200ml in capacity) and sprinkle the inside with caster sugar.  Set the ramekins out on a baking tray.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.

2.  Break or chop the chocolate into pieces and place in a heat-proof bowl, along with the cubed butter.  Melt together over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally (make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl).  Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

3.  Add the egg yolks to the chocolate mixture and whisk together, followed by the sugar and vanilla extract.  Whisk together until smooth.

4.  Remove about 150ml (⅔ cup) of the mixture to a separate bowl.  Add the chestnut purée to this and whisk together (don’t worry if it’s not entirely smooth).  Fold the chestnut mixture and the flour into the original chocolate mixture.

5.  Split the chocolate mixture evenly between the six ramekins and bake for 10-15 mins (I took mine out at 10 mins and they were very slightly under-done).  The middle should still be a little wobbly or soft, but the edges of the top should be set.  Remove from the oven and rest in the ramekins for 3-4 mins.  Turn the the fondants out onto individual plates (you may need to run a knife around the edge of the ramekins) and serve immediately, accompanied by crème fraîche and dusted with cocoa powder.

Enjoy!

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