Pesto is an wonderfully useful staple to have on hand; it makes a great spread or dip (a baguette roll from La Voie Francaise with a schmear of homemade pesto is my favourite snack), an easy potato salad (boil some new potatoes, cube and toss with some pesto and a squeeze of Kewpie mayonnaise) or the traditional serving style tossed through al dente pasta (pasta alla genovese).

In spring, I purchase a bundle of Awapuni Nursery’s basil seedlings. These are readily available from Pak‘n Save supermarkets and Bunnings stores. Awapuni Nursery seedlings are remarkably hardy as they are grown outdoors in open ground, and pulled to order. Plus, I do love that they are individually rooted and that they come wrapped in newspaper. I plant these in a small, half-sun area in my tiny kitchen garden, and within weeks, the basil is ready to pick. Continue reading

Vegetarian cooking class with Chef Kevin Blakeman

Sometimes I think the universe is trying to speak to me. Case in point; I was waiting at the airport waiting for a flight back to Auckland on a Friday night, and thinking that I had no plans for the Saturday apart from a long list of chores. Cue message from my blogger friend, Chef Kevin Blakeman. He had some last-minute dropouts from his inaugural cooking class, and did I want to come? Oh heck, YES!

And when I checked what class it was, I found out it was a vegetarian class. Double oh heck, YES! I had resolved to increase my vegetable consumption this year and use meat as flavouring, rather than the main ingredient. So far, it’s been good, but I was getting lazy and cooking the same dishes (and getting slightly bored with them).

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Rojak (Malaysian fruit salad)

Rojak is a widely available hawker food in Malaysia. It is a burst of sweet, spicy and tangy flavours mixed in with fresh pineapples, cucumber, jicama and tofu. The different ingredients give the dish the range of textures and sweetness. Fruit rojak is very different from Mamak rojak (pasembur), which comes with prawn fritters, vegetables, hard-boiled egg, and topped off with thick peanut sauce. Incidentally, the word ‘rojak’ is ‘mix’ in Malay, and is used frequently as an adjective, such as ‘ They are speaking rojak, mixing languages together’, which incidentally, is how Malaysians normally speak.

Rojak paste (sambal) is made from sweet soy sauce, prawn paste, belacan (fermented shrimp paste), sugar, lime and chillies. However, there is no seafood taste at all. Luckily, there is very good rojak sambal paste available (I purchased mine from E-PACS in East Tamaki), which makes this moreish dish very easy to prepare.

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Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s potato and parsnip latkes

I have always loved fried grated potatoes; hash browns, rostis and latkes. The crispy, slightly salty shreds of potatoes must sit right up there in the list of comfort foods. But it took Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s Jerusalem cookbook to convince me to try making them. And wow. These. Are. Good. Supremely good. So good, that I made them two weekends in a row. (All the accolades you’ve heard about Jerusalem is true, it’s a stunningly beautiful cookbook with fantastic yet accessible recipes).

I will say that unless you have a food processor, the grating task might actually put you off the recipe. I took a slight liberty with the recipe, only because my chive plants will not grow, whilst my parsley plants are taking over the garden.

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Virtuous winter green soup

I love soups in winter. It’s comforting to eat and I can pretend to be a kitchen diva stirring a large pot of soup. Soups are so easy to make, and you can’t really go wrong if you leave most of the seasoning to the end of the cooking. And if like me, you can’t dredge up enough motivation to get out of the house to do your grocery shopping on a cold and wet winters day, a rummage through the fridge, freezer, pantry and garden usually unearths enough ingredients to make a very tasty soup.

Cold and wet winter days remind me of the Christmas holiday I spent in the UK several years ago. There, you have to add ‘grey’ to the miserable adjectives. But I recall Marks and Spencer’s had a wonderful green soup. I can’t remember what was in it, but it was chunky, delicious and very green. It was so good, it almost made up for the inclement weather.

This is my ode to winter weather, lazing indoors in pyjamas, while still cooking a healthy, delicious meal. I eat this with a toasted bagel half smeared with lots of butter (negating some of the healthy aspects). The virtuous green soup is creamy from the use of a floury potato, and if you don’t have kale, substitute with spinach. Kale is one of the easiest vegetables to grow though, and my punnet of seedlings has kept me in kale leaves for many months now. Continue reading

Vietnamese salads (Nộm/Gỏi)

I took my obsession with Vietnamese food on the road a couple of months ago. I spent a glorious 10 days in sweltering Vietnam, immersing myself in the fresh, aromatic herbs and heady flavors of the cuisine.

My experience with Vietnamese cuisine has been limited, and runs mainly to phở (beef noodle soup), gỏi cuốn (summer roll) and bánh xèo (rice crepe). All of which are wonderful ambassadors of the cuisine and I imagined that I would find exceptional examples of them in my journey, but I ended up discovering new flavours and taste sensations. My hunt for the perfect bowl of phở morphed into a celebration of Vietnamese salads.

Vietnamese salads are known as nộm in the North, and gỏi in Southern Vietnam. I just call them plain delicious! Vietnamese cuisine has an exhilarating range of salads focused on the use of ingredients such as banana flower, green papaya, green mango and pomelo. Wikipedia mentioned specialty salads which uses lotus stem, jackfruit, duck feet, jellyfish and eel; unfortunately, I never saw these on the English menus. The ones I did taste were spectacular; pomelo is reminiscent of grapefruit, though sweeter, and lends a juicy tartness to the salad. Continue reading

Creamy roasted cauliflower soup

Cauliflower is an amazingly versatile vegetable. You can stir-fry it, bake it, roast it and puree it. Its subtle flavour lends itself well to spices and cheeses, and even comes in a choice of colours.

Winter’s a great time to make the most of cauliflower; they are abundant and cheap (~$2 for a large head). I prefer to roast my cauliflower florets before cooking them for soup, as I find the caramelisation brings a new depth of flavour.

This is my lazy method by using stock powder, but for the more enterprising, fresh stock (vegetable or chicken) is always better. This freezes well, and I always make enough for a few lunches. Continue reading

Crunchy winter slaw with ginger miso dressing

This is a completely stunning slaw, both in looks and in taste. The recipe came from Nosh Food Market Good Food Recipe series, and I have since adapted it with other leafy vegetables. I initially made this for a BBQ, but it goes well as an accompaniment to any meal. It has always gone down well, and even my 4-year old niece loves it.

I replace one of the cups of red cabbage from the original recipe with kale, which I grow in my tiny kitchen garden, and played with the proportions of the dressing to suit my taste. Feel free to use the measurement as a guide rather than a rule.

The dressing plays a key role; it’s slightly piquant from the ginger, but is also sweet, salty and sour at the same time. This slaw is a fusion recipe which really works. Continue reading

Roasted cauliflower with garlicky breadcrumbs and parmesan

This has to be one of the most delicious ways to eat cauliflower. Soft, buttery cauliflower with the crunch of garlicky breadcrumbs and complex saltiness of parmagiano-reggiano. I have eaten a whole bowl of this for dinner and nothing else. Okay, I may have succumbed to ice-cream later….

I have seen this recipe in several cookbooks and on multiple sites, and have adapted quantities to my liking. Use coarse breadcrumbs, or if you are like me, and can never get through a ciabatta without half of it going rock hard, whiz it in a food processor and make some (expensive) breadcrumbs.

I like to use yellow or purple cauliflower (just note that lemon juice discolours purple cauliflower) to keep things interesting; they are available at most greengrocers these days. You could use a combination of different coloured caulis, or even broccoflower for a change. Continue reading

Green Bean Casserole

I attended my first ever Thanksgiving Dinner at my American friend, E’s house last year, and among the delicious array of traditional foods she served, was a green bean casserole. The fresh, still crunchy green beans and creamy mushroom sauce were a great combination. I was surprised to find out later that this Thanksgiving stalwart was invented by a staff at Campbell’s Soup Company in 1955 to market condensed mushroom soup, which apparently was a very common pantry item. (it reminds me, I haven’t had Campbell’s mushroom soup in a very, very long time). The original recipe calls for canned or frozen green beans, canned fried onions (I can’t even imagine how this would taste) and the aforementioned condensed mushroom soup.

Luckily, E was happy to share her recipe. I had wanted to use beans from my veggie garden, but Sam got to them first; I only manage to rescue 5 lonely beans from my 10 plants. I have to figure out how to fence my tiny veggie patch in a way that will keep Sam out but still allow me to maneuver around it or just grow vegetables he doesn’t like the taste of. Continue reading