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Modern VegetarianI am not a vegetarian but we enjoy vegetarian food and usually eat vegetarian meals several times a week. I am always on the lookout for new recipes so was keen to check out The Modern Vegetarian by Maria Elia.


This is an attractive book and it is a useful size. There is one recipe per page and most are accompanied by a full page colour photo. The recipes are easy to follow and most of the ingredients are readily available in New Zealand. Maria has obviously been influenced by the cooking of a number of cultures but has then given things her own particular touch. Many of the recipes sound like dishes that would be listed on the menu of a fancy restaurant – Dukkah-Rolled Soft-Boiled Eggs with Chickpea Puree; Chilli and Rosemary Aubergine Parcels with Smokey Mash; Mushroom, Beetroot, Mozzarella with a Lentil Cartouche – but although this book would suit someone who has some cooking experience, the recipes are not particularly complicated.
With most recipe books I borrow, there are usually only a dozen or so recipes that I can be bothered copying them out, but I think I may have to ask for this book for my birthday as almost every recipe sets my tastebuds tingling. So far I have tried 2 – Sweetcorn Polenta with Asparagus and Shiitake Mushrooms and Banana Baklava Spring Roll with Greek Yoghurt. Both were delicious and I will make them again.




I thought I was done with cake decorating for a while but I had lots of fondant left over from the wedding cupcakes and I needed to make something for the Calf Club day cake stall so . . .

A selection of cupcakes

A selection of cupcakes

There were 24 originally but the dog stole one. Before it was decorated luckily.

They were priced at $1.50 each and didn’t last long. One woman bought 12 of them.

After all the preparations, the time finally came to make the final version of the cake. I picked up the tins on Thursday – a 6″ and a 10″. I made 1 batch of the recipe and divided it between the 2 tins and when those were baked I made a second batch so I ended up with two 10″ cakes and two 6″ cakes. On Friday I levelled the cakes then split each of the cakes in half. I stacked all 4 layers of each sized tier with boysenberry filling in-between.

                                 Berry Filling

   1  1/2  kg               boysenberries
   2  1/4  cup           water
   1  1/2  cup           sugar
   9      Tbs                cornflour

1. Add the berries and  water to a pot. Cook for 5 minutes
over medium-high heat.
2. Sift together the sugar and cornstarch and then stir into the berry
mixture. Cook until the mixture is thick and the berries have broken
down, about 15 minutes.
3. Let cool before using

This recipe made enough for all the layers with quite a bit left over.

Before putting the filling on I piped white chocolate ganache around the edge to stop the berry filling bleeding into the covering ganache.

Once I had both tiers individually stacked I put the first coating of ganache on.

                        White Chocolate Ganache

1.2      kg             white chocolate
 400   ml            cream

1. Melt together using a bain marie or the microwave. Let cool before using.

I warmed the ganache till it was quite runny and poured it over. This worked reasonably well but I needed to add extra on the sides. Once they were done they were put in the fridge till Saturday.

On Saturday I put a second coat of ganache on and got it as smooth as I could. Putting the cakes on a Lazy Susan made this step much easier. After a further spell in the fridge I used the 6″ tin to mark the top of the 10″ cake so I knew where to put the smaller tier. I sunk 4 sharpened dowels into the cake just inside the mark I had made – these were to support the 2nd tier. I had already inserted a longer dowel through the top tier and the foil-covered cardboard base it was sitting on. Once I had positioned the top tier correctly I pushed this dowel through the bottom cake to hold them securely together. I piped some ganache around the join and to fill the hole in the top, then it was back into the fridge till Sunday – the wedding day.

On Sunday I put the cake onto the presentation base using a liberal application of buttercream icing as glue. I then put the cake into a large box with a thin piece of foam in the bottom. The box was then put on another piece of foam in the car and I proceeded to drive very carefully the 20km to the church. I had put a sign in the rear windscreen – “Caution: Wedding cake on board!”. Once at the church the cake was put on the table and I added the flowers, leaves and tendrils. Voila!



When I got to work yesterday I discovered several large piles of new books on the counter for me to use to top up the new book display. One was Divine Cupcakes by Tamara Jane. On the front was a picture of a beautiful cupcake with a rose on top. Given my current obsession with cake and roses, I had to have a look. The book starts with the cupcake recipes (all yummy-sounding and beautifully illustrated), then moves onto toppings and frostings (a great selection) and finally decorations (easy and beautiful). It was while I was reading the ‘toppings’ section that I had a eureka moment (or should that be ‘an eureka’?). The recipe for ganache had 2 variations – one for dark chocolate ganache and one for white chocolate ganache. And, surprise, surprise – the white chocolate ganache had a much higher ratio of  chocolate to cream. No wonder I always have trouble with my white chocolate ganache being too runny. I have been using the wrong recipe!

Armed with this new information I set to work to make another trial wedding cake tier. Following the recipe in the book resulted in a ganache of just the right texture and I was very pleased with the final result.

On Saturday it will be the real thing and I am feeling much more confident now. Watch this space!

Chocolate plastic roses

Chocolate plastic roses

Having trialed the top tier of my son’s wedding cake I thought it was time to start making the roses that will decorate it. I found a site that made it sound very easy [] and with my recent experience making rose buds from fondant, I thought I was set – I even have the proper cutters.

I made my chocolate plastic and put it in the fridge as specified. After 3 hours I took it out and let it sit on the bench for an hour before trying to knead it. It was quite hard and when I tried to knead it, it just crumbled. The only departure from the recipe was the addition of some powdered colouring as the bride wanted red roses. I wondered if that had mucked things up. Or perhaps my ingredients weren’t quite right. I used corn syrup but wasn’t sure whether it was ‘light” or not.  I did a bit of googling and found a site that recommended zapping the chocolate plastic in the microwave for 10 seconds to warm it up. I did that a couple of times and was then able to knead it.

Chocolate plastic roses

Chocolate plastic roses

As I suspected the finished product was pink rather than red but the bride and groom are quite happy to have a mix of pink and white roses.  I made 5 roses before heading to bed and will make the rest tonight and tomorrow. I was quite happy with how they turned out but I think they look more like camellias than roses. The book recommends having a total of 20 roses in various sizes – I think I will make slightly more white than pink roses and will make more than 20 so I can use some on a second practice cake.

trial wedding cake

trial wedding cake

The date of the wedding is approaching much too fast but I have been working on some things.

ringbearer's cushion

ringbearer's cushion

 Having been asked to make the ringbearer’s cushion, I headed to the library (of course) and found a book with a suitable design but then had trouble finding the right laces and ribbons or even some red satin. In the end I sewed 3 strips of wide satin ribbon together and place the lace so it covered the seams.

I decided it was time for a trial run of the wedding cake – the top tier at least. The bride is now on a low-fat diet due to gall stone problems which creates a bit of a problem with the plan of using a white chocolate ganache for the icing. After a bit of lateral thinking, I suggested that I make egg-free, low-fat, beautifully decorated cupcakes for the bride and groom and the flower-girls. This would mean that I could use my tried and true chocolate cake recipe for the main cake and ice it with chocolate ganache.

I should have remembered the last time I tried to make white chocolate ganache! I followed the recipe in the wedding cake book only to find that it was far too runny – deja vue! Even refrigerating it overnight  didn’t thicken it enough. I added the rest of white chocolate and then some icing sugar until finally it was thick enough. I had used all the white chocolate so I couldn’t try making the roses. I think I need a bit more practise with the icing and you couldn’t really taste the raspberry jam I used between some of the layers. One of my Foodlover friends pointed me to a recipe for a filling using fresh (or frozen) berries so I think I will try another cake using that and see if I can do a bit better with the icing.

trial wedding cake - cut

trial wedding cake - cut

vanillaI used to think I didn’t like vanilla, but then I discovered vanilla pods. They smell divine and taste so much better than vanilla essence. But they are quite expensive. I would buy them one at a time and put them in a sugar container to make vanilla sugar. If I came across a recipe that involved simmering a pod in liquid I would pull the pod out of the sugar and use it, then dry it and return it to the tin. Not any more! Thanks to my Foodlover friends I have discovered a source of delicious plump vanilla pods at a much more reasonable price. And they are organic – an added bonus. I ordered some ‘seconds’ and was delighted with what arrived. Despite being in a sealed plastic bag I could smell them as soon as I opened the parcel. I added one to my container of vanilla sugar and put another 2 into a small bottle with some vodka to make some essence. The rest are waiting in the pantry for the right recipe to pop up and whenever I open the pantry door I can smell them.

Lemon Chilli Tofu & Noodles 001

Although I have always cooked a lot of vegetarian and semi-vegetarian meals I haven’t used tofu very much although I did actually have a go at making some many years ago – I’m not really sure why. It was a long and complicated process and the end result was a tasteless white blob!

Recently I have been trying out a few tofu recipes. The first one was a cheesecake-like dessert – Heavenly Pie. That went down well with no one guessing the mystery ingredient. A few weeks later I decided to try a recipe for a main dish. I needed to make a few changes when I discovered I didn’t have some of the ingredients but the end result was definitely worth repeating. My 10-yr-old said he didn’t like tofu but he did eat it all so it can’t have been too bad.

                                  Lemon Chilli Tofu & Noodles

3 tbsp  sweet chilli sauce
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
3 tbsp water
2  tsp grated lemon zest
1/4  cup lemon juice
1/2 packet rice vermicelli
1/3  cup flour
1 tsp Chinese five spice
300 g firm tofu, diced 2cm square
2 tbsp  oil
1  large onion, chopped
3  cloves garlic, sliced
1 yellow capsicum, sliced thinly
1 head broccoli in florets
2 carrots, peeled and julienned

Combine sauces, water, zest and juice in a small pot, bring to the boil and then remove from heat.
Place the noodles in a large bowl, cover with boiling water and stand.
Combine flour and five spice in bowl, add tofu and toss to coat. Heat 1 tbsp oil in wok, cook tofu in batches until nicely browned.
Heat remaining oil in the wok, stir-fry the onion, garlic, carrot and broccoli until the onion softens. Add half the chilli sauce and the pepper, stir fry until just tender.
Drain the noodles and top with the vegetables and tofu. Serve with the extra sauce.
Serves 4

I have always been keen to waste as little food as possible but the art of recycling leftovers has become more important than ever in these straightened economic times. Winter is an ideal time for this pursuit because a multitude of leftovers can be added to soup.

The last week I made a South East Asian style soup for dinner a la Linda’s Asoupsian Inspiration. For the stock I used some chicken bones that I had squirreled away in the freezer from various chicken meals and added the contents of the vegetable stock bag that also lives in the freezer (this contains onion ends, carrot peel and ends, herb stalks etc). When the stock was done I used about 2/3 to make the soup adding the various Asian flavours recommended by Linda. I put some udon noodles and thinly sliced pork in the boiling stock and let everyone choose their own assortment of vegetables to add to their bowl. There was some soup left over so I chopped the noodles, added the rest of the stock, a can of tomatoes, cooked kidney beans (from the freezer), a couple of left-over sausages, chopped potato and carrot, peas and chopped mizuna (no cabbage ready in the garden). Lo and behold my Asian soup was transformed into Italian Minestrone!

Later in the week I made a honey cake which I liked but no. 4 son didn’t so it went stale in the tin. It was recycled into a microwaved chocolate steam pud (an Alison Holst Microwave Cookbook recipe). I served it with custard the first night and with pears and cream the next night.

This week we started off with an Alison Holst slow-cooker barley soup which we had for dinner and then for several lunches. On Friday, I added the leftover lentils from the previous night plus some bacon stock and sauteed bacon, onion and garlic and we had it for dinner. On Sunday, I added the left over beef casserole from Saturday. Now there is enough soup for lunches this week.

Of course you need to be very careful with food hygiene when recycling food like this.  Hot foods need to be cooled as quickly as possible and then stored in the fridge. When they are reheated they need to be hot right through – I usually simmer my recycled soups for at least 5 minutes before serving.


blog 001

I love salmon but don’t buy it very often because of the price. This week it was on special so I decided to splash out. I checked my recipe database for salmon recipes and decided to try one for salmon burgers that I found in the BBC Good Food magazine. The recipe specified 550g of salmon for 4 people but when I buy meat or fish I usually only buy 100g/person – most of us eat too much meat. I got just under 500g of salmon and added some cooked rice to bulk it up. When the burger mix was made it seemed too wet so I threw in some rolled oats as well. The recipe said to cook in oil but since I was using a nonstick pan I didn’t bother. I was amazed how much oil came out of the salmon. When the burgers were cooked there was about 3 tablespoons of oil in the pan.

Here is my version of the recipe

                                             Salmon Burgers

 500      g             boneless, skinless salmon fillets
   1      Tbs           Thai red curry paste
   1                    thumb-size piece fresh root galangal, grated
   1      tsp           soy sauce
   1      tsp           coriander and garlic paste
     1/2  c             cooked rice
     1/4  c             rolled oats
                        lemon wedges, to serve
Tip the salmon into a food processor with the pastes, ginger, soy sauce and rice. Pulse until roughly minced. Tip out the mix, stir in the rolled oats  and shape into 5 burgers. Heat a non-stick frying pan, then fry the burgers for 4-5 mins on each side, turning until crisp and cooked through.

We had the burgers with rice and coleslaw – savoy cabbage, mizuna, carrot, yacon and toasted sesame seeds – and they were yummy (and a decent size). Number 4 son left a fewcrumbs on his plate and I told him that the salmon cost $20/kg so he had better eat every last crumb of it. He was horrified and

Tim's fish

Tim's fish

said that it would be cheaper to catch our own. He was remembering our trip round the top of the South Island a couple of years ago. We went to Anatoki Salmon farm in Golden Bay where you can fish free of charge and only pay for what you catch ($18/kg). The pond where you can fish is teeming with salmon and they supply fishing rods and nets. Thinking of our budget we told the boys they were only allowed to catch 1 salmon each but as soon as they cast in it was obvious catching a fish wouldn’t be hard. Reuben tried to make the experience last by not catching one too quickly but that didn’t work too well. I managed to catch one while I was showing Timothy how to cast so then Timothy had to catch his own. Reuben managed to catch another one by mistake so we ended up with 4 instead of 2. We had 2 of them hot smoked and the others filleted and they lasted for 2 dinners and 3 lunches – heaven!

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