I've been away a lot this year, as trips to Wellington have been required, and weddings have been attended. Weddings in Hobart, and Nelson, and Omaha, and Hawke's Bay. I went hunting and foraging in North Canterbury (more about that later) and I finished a book project (more about that later, too). Most recently though I was in Melbourne (a pattern is emerging, I know, but trust me when I say there will be more about that shortly) and when I got home late last week it was with both an overweight suitcase and a sense of relief. To have a weekend mostly devoid of plans was a joy, and as a result I did what I did best: caught up with people, drank beer and ranted about gender equality, and ate.
I'm a big fan of a cocktail in lieu of dessert. Sometimes the night is just heading that way, right? Like you want something a little sweet, but you don't want anything big or heavy. And you've already maybe had a few wines and a switch up to liqueur would just be the perfect end to (/continuation of) a night? You know?
Well. If you're out to impress with something that's just a wee step up from pouring straight liquor into a glass (which I fully support by the way, I'm just covering you for when you've got chocoholic mates over. Or if you're embracing the spirit of Valentine's Day from earlier this week and just simply want to #treatyoself) then I suggest you give this after dark iced chocolate a go. It features Lewis Road Creamery’s new chocolate liqueur - a creamy, sweet, Irish-cream like beverage, with the luscious addition of chocolate. It's perfect if you are craving something creamy but not caffeine-filled, and something decadent in drinkable form.
The after dark iced chocolate
Lewis Road Creamery asked me to come up with a recipe using their new liqueur, and this is it.
For the chocolate ganache sauce:
150g dark chocolate, cut into chunks
Gently melt the cream and chocolate together in a small saucepan, on a low heat. Remove before the chocolate is fully melted and stir constantly until you get a glossy sauce. Use immediately.
For one cocktail:
4 tbsp ganache sauce, plus 1 tbsp to finish
90ml LRC chocolate liqueur, chilled
Drizzle liquid cream, chilled
Drizzle 4 tbsp ganache sauce around the inside of your glass. Fill glass with ice.
Add vodka and chocolate liqueur and stir with a swizzle stick.
Drizzle in a little liquid cream, then drizzle over 1 tbsp ganache. Garnish with a flower if it takes your fancy, and enjoy!
I found myself in a heated debate about Christmas desserts the other day: team pavlova was coming in hot, amidst polarising opinions on trifle (I’m a huge fan, but if there’s jelly in there I’m out). Brandy snaps had wide-spread nostalgic appeal, and Christmas pudding - a tradition in our family, and always flamed with brandy - didn’t even get a mention.
Meringues are an underrated addition to the Christmas dessert table. They can be made in advance and can be served individually or smashed into a bowl with berries and cream to make eton mess, an always impressive dessert. When Chelsea Sugar asked me to come up with a recipe for some fun festive baking, meringues were a no brainer. Festive as.
Doing dinner parties for people, I became a big fan of an individually plated version of Eton Mess: simply serving a meringue a little smashed, with a dollop of softly whipped cream and a mixture of fresh and freeze dried berries, plus some edible flower petals for good measure. You could add berry compote or lemon curd or even chocolate sauce if you wanted too. Beautiful to look at, and even better to eat.
Dark chocolate, cherry, and almond meringues
Adapted from an Annabel Langbein recipe
5 large egg whites (at room temperature, and at least a week old)
Pinch of salt
160g Chelsea Caster Sugar
160g Chelsea Icing Sugar
1/2 tsp good quality vanilla extract
100g dark chocolate, cut into small chunks
½ cup almonds, chopped and dry toasted in a frying pan
1 cup freeze-dried cherries
Preheat oven to 180C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until quite stiff. Add the Chelsea Caster Sugar and beat on high for ten minutes, until glossy and thick. Add the Chelsea Icing Sugar and the vanilla, and fold together with a spoon. Add the chocolate, cherries, and almonds, and mix together gently until well incorporated.
Drop spoonfuls of mixture onto the tray, using either a dessert spoon or a teaspoon (depending on how big you want to make them). Note: I sprinkled a little bit of crushed up freeze-dried cherry onto mine before baking but they went black. So save this until after they’re cooked!
Reduce the oven temperature to 120C and place the trays in the oven. Bake for one hour, and then turn the oven off but leave the meringues in the oven until cool. They will keep in an airtight container for a few weeks.
This blog post was a collaboration with Chelsea Sugar.
Christmas is one time where I'll ease up on my usual cringing (complete with eye roll) at bad puns. Someone tweeted they'd seen a girl in London wearing a t-shirt "It's time to get blotto in Santa's grotto" which I appreciated, and I was similarly (ironically?) tempted by another which read "Single and ready to jingle" which you'll be pleased to know I resisted from actually paying money for. It is cherry season though, and even I couldn't resist calling this delicious cocktail Cherry Christmas. It's the silly season and it's the week before Christmas and you deserve a drink.
Fresh cherries are so good, and let me tell you it is not Christmas day in our family without freshly baked croissants, black coffee, and a mountain of cherries on Christmas morning. Similarly, pomegranates are increasingly taking a starring role on the Christmas table - scattered on desserts, scattered over slow cooked lamb, sprinkled into cocktails: they're just so damn festive!
Cocktail hour: Cherry Christmas
30ml Six Barrel Soda Co Cherry and Pomegranate syrup
To garnish: petals, ice cubes, pomegranate seeds, freeze dried cherries
Fill a glass with ice. Add the vodka, cointreau, and soda syrup. Top with soda water. Garnish and enjoy!
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and if there’s one thing the silly season is good for, apart from annoying your flatmates with christmas music and gorging on christmas mince pies, it is trying out new things. And by things I mean cocktails.
Here’s something I learned over the weekend: eggnog is served cold. I had no idea. It’s not something I’d ever tried nor made, but when Otaika Valley asked me to do a festive recipe for them using their free range eggs, I went with festive. Festive, and alcoholic.
Like a mythical thing seen only in fiction, I pictured eggnog as a comforting, warm, creamy drink. It is, in fact, quite a potent cocktail, and although definitely creamy, it’s also deliciously spicy with a decent kick. And traditionally served cold. Highly recommended for your next ugly-Christmas-sweater drinks soiree.
For the spiced rum:
250ml rum or brandy (you need 250ml for the recipe, but this amount of spice will take up to 500ml alcohol)
1 whole nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
½ vanilla bean pod
A few cloves
You can spice your rum a few days in advance before making this, but if you want to make it on the same day, give the spices about an hour to infuse.
Place the rum in a bottle or jar, and add the cinnamon stick, a generous grating of nutmeg, the vanilla pod, and a few cloves. Leave to infuse until you’re ready to make the eggnog. Strain through a tea strainer or muslin before serving.
For the eggnog:
3 Otaika Valley free range eggs (at room temperature)
250ml spiced rum (see above)
80g caster sugar
450ml cream (make sure it’s chilled cold)
1 nutmeg, freshly grated, to garnish
1.Steep your booze, as per instructions above.
2.Separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks with 40g of the sugar, until thick and pale.
3. Whisk in the strained booze and the cream. Whisk until well combined. Note: you can make this part of the mixture a few hours in advance until you’re ready to serve: just keep it in the fridge.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with the remaining 40g of sugar. Beat until soft peaks form (I used my electric mixer for this). Fold into the booze mixture, then pour into glasses or mugs. Serve immediately, with a fresh grate of nutmeg on top.
This recipe was a collaboration with Otaika Valley Free Range Eggs.
Until I live out my dream to open a 24 hour cheese toastie shop called Hot Cheese, I am getting very good at perfecting the art of the toasted sandwich at home. Bread choice is a major factor, plenty of butter for frying is also important, and there’s the eternal question of how many fillings. A crucial error is one ingredient too many; balance is key. One of the best I’ve made in recent times was on a Saturday night when a long lunch turned into a party in my kitchen, and I found myself making toasties with a rye sourdough, homemade ruby red sauerkraut, and tasty cheese, fried in butter. They were an absolute dream. Shortly afterwards, Lewis Road asked me to come up with a recipe using their new chocolate butter. Toasties were already on my mind, and so here we are.
The chocolate butter: it spreads like other chocolatey spreads you may already be familiar with, but has a definite dark chocolate flavour. I think this makes it taste a bit like ganache, but it’s spreadable, and it’s really good.
Chocolate butter sweet toastie
2 slices Lewis Road Sourdough
A tub of Lewis Road Chocolate Butter
Small handful fresh berries (I used blackberries)
A decent smear of mascarpone cheese
A knob of Lewis Road Lightly Salted Butter
Spread one slice of bread with chocolate butter. Spread the other slice with mascarpone. Gently smash the berries into the mascarpone. Close the sandwich by pressing two slices together.
Heat a frying pan to medium-high heat, and heat the knob of butter until melted. Add the sandwich, and place another frying pan on top as a weight. Cook a couple of minutes, then carefully flip and fry the other side, until golden. NB: you can use a toasted sandwich maker or press, just butter the outside of the sandwich before toasting.
I had this afternoon what I might describe as a minor meltdown, in that I nearly felt so overwhelmed I could cry. I had had a very productive day, but still had so much to do, and even though I feel like I'm nearly on top of it all, there's still always so much more to do! However. I saw one of those inspirational quotes on instagram, that said something cheesy like 'if you get tired remember to rest, not to quit' and so I took a deep breath and told myself to dig deep and ploughed on through. The funny thing is all the stuff I'm overwhelmed about is really great stuff! I just need to remember, as always, to chill the F out.
Perfect roast potatoes
My trick to perfect roast potatoes is three-fold.
- Bring to the boil before roasting.
- Preheat the oil.
- Fluff them!
Here's the method:
Heat a generous drizzle of cooking oil (or duck fat if you're feeling game?!) in an oven tray, in a 220C oven.
Scrub then chop your potatoes (into chips, or halves, or however you fancy) and put in a pot. I always use agria potatoes. Cover with cold water and a little salt.
Bring to the boil. Once boiling, remove from the element and drain out the water. Keep the potatoes in the pot and put back onto the element for a few seconds, then shake the pot, with the lid on. I use a tea towel to hold the lid on. This is something Jamie Oliver calls fluffing. It dries them out, and helps with achieving the crispy-outer-soft-inner required of a perfectly roasted potato. Do this a few times - put on the element, remove and shake. Take your hot oil tray out of the oven, and carefully pour the potatoes (and any chunks that have broken away) into the tray. Season well with salt.
Roast for a good 30 minutes, but up to 40 or 45 minutes. Keep an eye on the temperature, and make sure the potatoes go golden and crisp.
I've had many delicious trips to Sydney, and in January when I had no work on and had yet another what-am-I-doing-with-my-life lull, I spent my last $500 on a plane ticket: to sleep in my sister's lounge, hang out with her baby, cook them dinner, and gorge on Queensland mangoes like my life depended on it. It's such a great city - beautiful beaches, great restaurants and bars, warm weather, and good public transport. It makes for the perfect long weekend destination.
My email inbox swings wildly like a pendulum from the sublime to the ridiculous, but a couple of months back I was asked to do something I was genuinely excited about. Not trialling chocolate, or receiving vodka, or chasing me for a deadline, or an accounting bill, which are all exciting in their own way, I received an email from Mercury asking if I would like to trial an e.bike. Not just one e.bike, but two. Would I like to have an e.bike mini gang for a week, and blog about it? Hell yes, I said.
I am not a cyclist by any means. There was a time in my former life as a young professional that I got quite amongst spin classes at the gym, and when I lived in Wellington I had a vintage silver Mamachari bike called Sylvia, which had a cute basket and would get me to work along the waterfront in about 7 minutes flat. Late last year on an overseas trip, I loved cycling around both London and Taipei on public transport bikes you could pick up and drop off from locations all over the cities, but that’s about the extent of it. When I was in Victoria’s High Country at the start of the year I cycled along the Bright Rail Trail on what was described to me as the ‘Mercedes Benz of e.bikes’. The guy hiring it to me explained that you cycle as normal, but it feels like someone is giving you a gentle push, like a help along.