Monthly Archives: November 2012

mini pork patties with veges & orange-soy sauce


So, this morning I got a packet of pork mince (about 300g) out of the freezer. And this evening I decided we were having it as little patties, seasoned with Thai spice mix (thank you, Continental!) & served with quickly stir-fried veges & an orange-soy sauce, over rice.

First, I put the rice on to cook (2 cups of rice, covered 2 inches deep with cold water, & lightly salted): I find if I bring it to the boil & then turn the element off, the residual heat cooks it through while I’m dealing with everything else. Plus it doesn’t boil over so that you have that starchy mess all over the cooktop.

For veges: brocco-flower head, separated into florets & blanched; a large red pepper, thinly sliced; and 2-3 golf-ball zucchini, thinly sliced. Just what was available from garden & market; other mixes would work too.

For the patties, I first took the crusts off 3 slices of bread, then tore each slice into smallish bits & left them to soak in a mix of an egg & a splash of soya sauce. (I find that using this, I get meat balls/patties that are really tender.) Then I mixed them together & added one red onion, very finely diced, a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped garlic chives, & about a tablespoon of Thai spice mix. Finally I dropped in the pork mince & worked the whole lot together before shaping it into walnut-sized balls. (Think, large walnuts.) This amount of meat gave me 18 little balls.

I heated 2-3 tblsp of vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan & added the meat, flattening each ball to give a little patty. You’d need to cook them in two batches. The reason I flatten them is that they cook evenly & – just as important! – I don’t have to muck about turning them all the time 🙂 Then I moved them onto a plate & used a slotted spoon to fish out all the brown crunchy bits (you knew that was coming!) onto the plate as well.

Into the oil remaining in the pan I dropped 2 tblsp of finely chopped root ginger & 5 cloves of garlic (crushed), & gave it a brisk stir for about 30 seconds before adding the zucchini & pepper strips and – a minute or so later – the broccoflower. I followed this with the zest & juice from 2 oranges & 1/4 c dark soya sauce, and thickened the sauce with 2 tsp cornflour mixed to a paste with a little water. And finally, tipped the patties back into the pan and gently mixed everything so that patties & vegetables were covered with the dark, sweetly-sticky sauce.

Apparently the daughter’s friends are keen to turn up en masse for dinner…



daleks – exterminom!


Along with a fondness for good food (talking, eating, & writing about it) my friend Annette & I share a fondness for Dr Who. Especially the later reincarnations of the Doctor 🙂 It’s been fun, too, watching how his various enemies evolve over the years – certainly, their ability to manage stairs seems to have driven the Daleks to develop anti-gravity drives quite quickly, really.

Anyway, Annette has managed to combine her fondness for food with her liking for the Dr & his foes. Edible Daleks – what could be more fun? (You’ll find other yummy things too, over at Number 8 Network.)

luscious lamb packets


Lamb’s rather cheap in the shops at the moment, so yesterday I bought a leg of lamb, then butterflied  & marinated it before cooking it on the barbie until medium rare. This time round the marinade was a paste of garlic (lots of it) & parsley, ground down in a mortar with rock salt & lemon zest & then thinned with the lemon juice, some soy sauce & (because I like the smell & taste) a little sesame oil. Our friends Annette & David came to help eat lovely tender slices of still-pink lamb, which I served with a waldorf salad (sans walnuts, because they don’t like Annette) and some rather good rosemary bread that I cooked on the grill plate.

However, because the two strapping young men who helped the last lamb leg disappear weren’t with us this time, there was quite a bit of meat left over. (Also, we were saving room for the strawberries – from our garden – & cream!) So, this is what I made for tonight’s dinner (it will serve 4 generously, & in fact the leftovers will be lunch tomorrow):

  • Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C and put 4 sheets of ready-rolled flaky-puff pastry on the bench to defrost. At this point you could also put some par-boiled potatoes, cut into chunks, into the oven in a little oil to finish cooking.
  • Cook down a couple of bunches of spinach (like the spuds, this came from our garden), squeeze dry, & chop coarsely.
  • Slice the lamb, as thickly or thinly as you like & as the amount available permits.
  • Spread about a tablespoon of sweet chilli sauce down the centre of each sheet of pastry & cover this with the spinach. Arrange slices of lamb on top of this & then fold the pasty over the top, remembering to seal the short ends of each packet.
  • Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper (or use a silicon sheet – I swear by mine), & bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

These are actually quite large & so I cut each packet into two before serving, so people could choose to suit their appetite. We ate them with the roasted spuds, a mix of new peas & sweet little baby broad beans,  & fresh-picked, steamed broccoli, with a light cheese sauce. “Those were pretty special leftovers,”, said the husband 🙂


my most favourite brunch in the world


When the daughter was quite young, in her first few years of primary school, we started going to the Hamilton Community School of Music, where we both learned to play the recorder properly. By which I mean, we ended up with a group of like-minded children & adults, playing some fairly complex music on soprano, treble, tenor & bass recorders.

Anyway, due to the blandishments of a colleague of mine, we also got into the habit of having brunch in town after class (occasionally meeting said colleague for coffee) at the Best Cafe in Town (aka Scott’s Epicurean). The food was – & continues to be! – great, & the staff quickly learn to recognise regulars & their little foibles. Which in our case meant that the daughter (for a couple of years anyway, until her tastes matured 🙂 ) had a ‘brown’ breakfast: hot or iced chocolate, depending on the season, & a slice of Scott’s delectable chocolate brownie. (Which comes with yoghurt & fruit compote, on the side.) And me? I still tend to have the ‘green’ breakfast: feijoa juice &/or green tea, & what the menu oh so correctly describes as their ‘addictive’ alio olio.

Which is truly delicious & incredibly simple: good pasta, cooked al dente, & dressed with virgin olive oil, large quantities of finely chopped parsley (you can never have enough of either), lots of crushed garlic, & just enough in the way of chilli flakes to give it a bit of a bite. And served with a generous helping of finely grated parmesan. Yum! (The husband used to cut his up with knife & fork, rather than using spoon & fork to wind up a mouthful, until this habit was noticed by the wonderful Italian waiter, who carefully explained to my significant other the error of his ways 🙂 )

And despite its simplicity, I’ve never been able to exactly recreate the Scott’s version. Which is one of the reasons we keep on going back – I think it’s about 13 years now, & still going strong!

caesar salads i have known


“You need to write about caesar salads,” said the husband. We’ve been looking at the photos of our recent holiday to Rarotonga, in which various salads had featured largely on the menu. “I’m sure there’s a blog post or something in that,” he said (he’s not really all that clear on what this blogging thing entails, but he knows I enjoy it).

I didn’t really need a lot of encouragement, for I adore caesar salads. All but the anchovies. Yes, I know they’re supposed to be there, but personally I can take or leave these fishy, salty little morsels & I have to say, I much prefer to leave them. The husband doesn’t mind – he adores fish in all its incarnations 🙂

But the rest of the dish… the lovely mouthfeel of sweet, crisp cos lettuce (buttercrunch works too, but not mesclun. Not really. Not IMHO anyway, lol). All those little treats tossed through the lettuce, along with the creamy dressing (which, I must admit, usually comes out of a bottle at our place): the crispy bacon, the crunchy croutons! ** The shavings of parmesan cheese, & atop the whole pile of deliciousness, a lovely warm lightly poached egg that spills its runny yolk over everything else when you pierce it with a fork 🙂 (And OK, if you really must – the anchovies.) Sheer bliss.

Anyway, on that holiday we encountered both the good and the bad of the caesar salad experience. A couple of times, we ordered them for lunch in the resort we stayed at.  (You might think that we would have learned from the first experience, but we were hopeful that this had represented a Bad Day in the kitchen.) Both times, well… they were salads. With all the right ingredients, even. (Including the bluddy anchovies.) But the ingredients did not sing together – probably because they were so cold that their kinetic energy was approaching zero. Well, maybe I exaggerate a little – but both times the concoctions had obviously been made a loooong time in advance & refrigerated until required. That included the eggs, which were cold, set right through, and added nothing to the dish.

But the third time! Ah, the third time, we walked down the road (a slightly risky business in the dark tropical night, given the lack of both pavements and street lights) to that wonderful establishment, the Kikau Hut. The husband, now rather wary of anything with the words ‘caesar’ & ‘salad’ in its title, chose the mahimahi (& was very very happy with it indeed). But I went with the salad & was not disappointed, even though it came – unusually – with a range of tropical fruit included: pawpaw, melon, tomato… (to the botanically-minded, tomatoes are fruit!). I ordered it in a spirit of adventure & I totally loved it: the flavours really worked well together & there were ample crunchy bits. (And the anchovies were incorporated into the dressing, so the saltiness was there but the fishiness was tempered by the other ingredients.)

And the egg was just as it should be. Sheer bliss.

** I like the brown crunchy bits out of the frying pan too. And the roasting dish. In this I am like that great Discworld character, Sam Vimes 🙂

lunch for nana’s birthday


My mother-in-law turned 85 yesterday, & tomorrow we’ll be having lunch with her & Poppa. While they’re both getting on now (Poppa is 93 & very frail), they’re still in their own home & enjoy pottering in the garden, watching sport on TV, & cooking for themselves & any visitors they might have (ell, these days Nana does most of the cooking). But tomorrow, I’m providing the birthday lunch.

I had to think carefully about what to cook, because Poppa prefers soft food these days. In the end, I decided on a smoked salmon roulade – because she loves fish, with new potatoes, steamed brocolli florets, & lemon thyme hollandaise. And a chocolate mousse to follow (they both love puddings 🙂 ).

Some salmon roulade recipes are basically a cream cheese mix rolled in strips of smoked salmon, but I knew neither of the old people would enjoy that version. So I made a thick bechamel sauce, starting by melting 50g of butter & stirring in about 1/2 c of plain flour. You need to stir this for a minute or so once the flour & butter are combined, over a gentle heat, as the flavour of the sauce is much better. Then, with the pan still on the heat, whisk in 500ml milk – I usually do this a bit at a time as it seems to minimise the lumps – & continue to stir until it’s very thick. Remove the pan from the stove, season the sauce, & let it cool for about 5 minutes before beating in 4 egg yolks. Finally, beat the egg whites until stiff & dry, & fold them into the mix before pouring it into a swiss roll tin that’s been lined with baking paper, & bake at 180 degree C until golden & set. After which, turn the sponge out onto foil or baking paper on a cake rack, & let it cool. Which is what’s happening at the moment 🙂

Then I’m going to spread the top of the sponge – leaving an inch or so at one short end – with cream cheese that’s had a cup or so of finely chopped herbs blended into it: chives, garlic chives, lemon thyme, & parsley. And on top of that will go 200g of flaked smoked salmon. Next I’ll roll it tightly, beginning from the other short end & using the baking paper to help, put it on a pretty dish, & refrigerate until an hour or so before lunch, as I think it’ll be nicer at room temperature.

The mousse? That’s already in little glass serving dishes in the fridge. I bought a 520g block of Whitakers 72% dark ghana chocolate, when I did the grocery shopping this morning, & melted about 400g in a glass bowl in the microwave. (I know the books all say this should be done over hot water, but I find the microwave works just fine – you just have to be careful to heat in short bursts & stir well each time.) Into the molten chocolate I stirred 50g of butter, a couple of tablespoons of Grand Marnier, and about 100ml of cream, before stirring in the yolks of 4 eggs. The final step was to fold the stiffly beaten egg whites through the mix, before dividing it between the serving dishes & hiding them in the fridge to set.

And warning the husband Not to Touch, or else There’ll Be Trouble!

lamb legs & bbqs


I am a happy omnivore. I do cook vegetarian meals on occasion (more occasions than the husband would like, I suspect), & those occasions will probably become more common when our French niece and her Scottish partner (hi, Mally! hi, Tony!) arrive on our doorstep next month. But I enjoy meat, as well. One of my favourites is lamb (whether or not this has anything to do with eating roasted lambs’ tails at docking time, when I was a kid on the farm & docking involved a sharp knife rather than those little rubber rings, I’m not sure). And lamb is rather cheap in the shops, at the moment.

So a couple of weekends ago I found myself early-ish on Sunday morning with a 2kg leg (bone in) of lamb in the fridge and the happy prospect of a slow, late lunch with friends. And the day was sunny – a great day for the first barbecue of the summer. First up, I needed to bone the lamb – lacking a turnspit, I can’t imagine trying to cook a leg, bone in, on the barbie. Now, I used to have a proper boning knife, but it disappeared a while ago; I suspect the husband nicked it for cutting up bait on one of his fishing trips. So these days I use a knife with a fairly narrow straight blade. Being a zoologist hath its uses as I’ve got a nice mental image of where the bones actually are.

Boning a leg is no big deal, really, although I know perfectly well that my way probably isn’t the most efficient way to do it (& one day the elder of my brothers, who is a Very Good Cook Indeed, will probably take me to task for it): basically I cut down to & along the shin at the point where the flesh is at its thinnest, & then work around the bones & deglove them as I go. Then I make a couple of slashes where the meat is thickest, so it will lie fairly flat under grill or on barbecue, & there you are. (The bones go to my little dog, Ben, & make him very happy for quite some time.)

The last time I did this, the next step was a fairly conventional marinade involving olive oil, lemon zest & juice, rosemary & garlic.  Did I mention that we have quite a bit of garlic still to use from last summer’s crop? Anyway, this time I felt like something different. So I peeled the cloves from a couple of bulbs of garlic (I’ve got one of those silicon tube-thingies that you use to skin garlic cloves & it works rather well) & put them in a mortar with a tablespoon or so of ground cumin & a couple of teaspoons of rock salt, & ground the whole lot into a coarse paste with the pestle before thinning it with some olive oil & a little sesame oil (because I thought it would taste good. Which it did). That was spread over both sides of the lamb, which I then put into a dish, covered it with gladwrap, & left it to its own devices for 3 hours.

During which time we all went to the Hamilton Farmers’ Market & bought various yummy things, & then the dog & I walked home while the rest of the family drove back with our purchases 🙂

By the time we got home it was about an hour until our guests were due, so I fired up the barbecue (gas bottle, three burners, nice semi-cylindrical hood) & when it was at around 200 degrees C I turned off one of the burners & carefully placed my butterflied lamb leg on the grill over that burner, skin side down. Then I closed the lid & turned the other burners down to medium, & left the meat to cook over that indirect heat (turning it once, about 30 minutes later) while I went in to deal to the rest of the meal.

Which was pretty straightforward: the first of our new season’s potatoes (Swifts, ready in about 60 days from planting), to be boiled & served with a littlebittabutter; a nice big head of fresh brocolli, cut into florets & steamed just before we were ready to eat, along with fresh asparagus from the market; a sweet red pepper coulis; & a lemon-thyme scented hollandaise sauce. Our guests arrived & exclaimed, drooling slightly, about the lovely smells from the barbecue. The lamb was done and, after resting it for 10 minutes while dealing with the veges, I carved it into thick luscious slices, still pink inside but brown & crisp with garlic & spice on the outside. The eight of us sat down to a veritable feast, & no-one complained that there was no dessert to follow.