Cinnamon & pear muffins

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I’m finding myself with a lot of tinned goods recently, not unlike many people in our little shaky isles in the wake of our 7.8 earthquake.  It pays to be prepared.

I’ve heard the comment more than once that tinned pears are the least exciting of the tinned fruits….pale, bland, only good when topped with ice cream.  I had a hunch that this was wrong, but how to prove it?  By coupling tinned pears with brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, that’s how.

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I’ve taken my inspiration for the muffin base from Donna Hay’s basic muffin batter.  Which is delicious if you’re on the hunt for a reliable basic muffin, by the way.  I will of course buy a replacement tin of pears for our emergency food stash, but this idea for pear-topped muffins could not wait any longer.  Sunday night requires a sweet little pick-me-up, amiright?

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For these you will need (makes 12):

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence

For the topping:

  • 1 tin of pear quarters, drained and cut into thin slices
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 knob of butter, melted

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade and grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

Place the dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir to combine.

In a smaller bowl, mix the egg, milk, oil and vanilla essence.  Add this to the dry ingredients and mix only until just combined.

Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin tray cups.  Arrange the sliced pears on the top of the batter.

Combine the topping ingredients and distribute over the top of the pears.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

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Homemade Hundreds and Thousands biscuits

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Toddlers and sugar, a match made in heaven?  Probably not for their parents, but when it’s your niece’s third birthday party and you said you’d make biscuits, it’s hardly time to skimp on the sugar.

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I was inspired to make these little numbers by one of New Zealand’s favourite cookie treats…the Hundreds and Thousands biscuit.  The name is pretty self-evident, although perhaps not if you hail from elsewhere in the world outside of New Zealand.  ‘Hundreds and Thousands’ is our antipodean name for the rainbow sprinkles on top of these cookies, but other terms include nonpareils and jimmies.

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I can’t find must history about this biscuit itself, but there are a few stories behind the origins of Hundreds and Thousands.  Some claim they were invented in a New York candy factory in the 1930s, whilst others say that they come from Parisian bakers.

Whatever the origin, it can’t be denied that a liberal sprinkling of on a pink-iced vanilla cookie is an appropriate party treat.  I used Donna Hay’s vanilla snaps recipe for the base and the rest was pretty simple.

Vanilla biscuits:

  • 250g butter
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 & 1/4 cups plain flour, sifted

Icing:

  • 1/3 cup softened butter
  • 1 & 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • Pink food colouring
  • Strawberry essence
  • Hundreds and Thousands / Sprinkles / Jimmies or whatever you call them!

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy.  And the vanilla extract and egg yolk and beat again.

Finally add the flour and beat until a dough forms.  Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

 

Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.  Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface until 3mm thick.

Cut rounds or shapes from the dough and place on baking-paper lined trays.  Bake until just golden – this took ten minutes in my oven.

Cool on racks.  Make the icing by adding the icing sugar to the butter, a drop of colouring and strawberry essence and beating well, using a little hot water to soften as needed.   When cold, ice with pink icing and sprinkle liberally with hundreds and thousands.

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Kisir, via Bromley

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Catching up is an excellent excuse for eating.

I’ve been away having numerous catch-ups and visiting some favourite old haunts. London is a favourite old haunt and feels a little like a second home, in no small part because of the many fabulous people living there who I am lucky enough to call my friends.

Some of my happiest London memories involve long afternoons with our friends Patricia and Omer, eating delicious home-cooked Mediterranean food and perfecting cidra-pouring as afternoon slipped into evening.  So of course I jumped at the chance for a catch-up over a home-cooked meal at theirs.

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Patricia, Omer and their gorgeous children live in Bromley, South London.  I have a special little spot in my heart for this part of London as my grandparents lived there with my Mum when she was small. There is a treasured 1950’s clock from Locksbottom which still hangs on their wall, albeit in their rest home unit.  So you will understand I couldn’t resist taking this photo of a Locksbottom bus as we walked back to Bromley station.

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This post is inspired by the delicious couscous salad Patricia and Omer served with lamb and slices of avocado.  I’ve based it on a Turkish kisir but I can’t promise it’s as good as Omer’s.  It’s a pretty good lunch though, and a recommend serving it with sliced avocado.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cooked couscous
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T red pepper paste
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 telegraph cucumber, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed then sliced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 chopped parsley
  • 3-4 sprigs of mint, chopped
  • 3 spring onions, sliced
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1 t chilli flakes
  • Fresh avocado slices to serve (if desired)

Place your couscous in a large salad bowl.  Pour over the olive oil and mix thoroughly; some kisir recipes even recommend mixing with your hands. Next, add the red pepper paste, again mixing in very thoroughly.

I made my own paste by whizzing up a jar of roasted peppers.  For the more dedicated, there are some amazing-sounding recipes for making red pepper paste, or biber salçası, from scratch.  I loved reading this one with its beautiful, mouth-watering photography.

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The vegetables, lemon juice, herbs and seasonings go in last.  Keep mixing until everything is evenly spread and combined.  I recommend popping this in the fridge for an hour or two before serving to let the flavours mingle.
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I was greatly assisted in making my own kisir by this and this recipe.

Edmond’s apple steamed pudding

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Steamed pudding is like a sweet, jammy hug in a bowl.  I love it.  It’s a special favourite in our little country.  I was recently introduced to a New Zealand specialty steamed pudding which is the queen of both steamed puddings and now of my heart…burnt sugar steamed pudding.  Oh wow.  Like hot, soft caramel made into a cake and served with lashings of runny cream.  My mouth waters at the mere memory.

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So, it’s not a surprise that steamed pudding features in that bastion of all that is cooking and kiwi, the Edmonds cook book.  This particular version is jazzed up with a little apple, and all the better for it, as the tart apple partners nicely with the sweet apricot jam and the fluffy sponge.

To make this you will need:

  • 50g butter
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T apricot jam
  • 1 C plain flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 2 T stewed apple

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and beat well.  Stir in the jam.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the butter mixture and fold in.

Dissolve the baking soda in the milk and add to the mixture, along with the apple.

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Grease a 2-cup pudding basin.  Spoon in the sponge mixture and cover the bowl with some greased baking paper.  Secure with string.

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Steam the pudding for half an hour, or until it is springy to the touch.  This took about 45 minutes for pudding.

Serve with cream and a cup of tea!

 

 

Beef and cabbage potstickers

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Oh, my mouth waters at the merest mention of potstickers!  Delicious, plump little morsels, steaming hot and so satisfying.  Their real name is Jiaozi, particularly popular during Chinese New Year.  In my house, we don’t wait for New Year.  They are popular year-round.

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I’ve been an enthusiastic consumer for many years now, but a recent convert to making my own.  I shied away from DIY potstickers, convinced they would be the kind of fiddly, tricky enterprise that leaves the cook hot, bothered, grumpy and worst of all, without a meal at the end of it.

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But trust me, they are quite simple and so rewarding.  I find making potstickers pleasantly meditative once I get into the swing of it, letting my thoughts wander while I shape and pinch the little parcels.

You will need:

  • Potsticker skins – any Asian grocery will have them
  • 150g cabbage, chopped finely
  • 250g minced beef
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 T fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 t brown sugar
  • 1/2 t seasame oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the dipping sauce:

  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 2 T rice wine vinegar
  • Drop of sesame oil

Lightly cook the cabbage in boiling water, just until it is softened, so that it is not too aggressive in the final product.  Drain and place in a large bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well, using your hands if you’re not too squeamish about it.

Hold a potsticker skin in your palm.  Dip your finger in water and run around the edges of the skin. Add one teaspoon of beef mixture to the top half of the skin and fold the other half over it, pressing the edges together.

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There is a special way to crimp the edges so they look pretty –  this fabulous video does a fantastic job of explaining the whole process;  if you want to skip to the crimping technique, it’s 5.05 minutes in.

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Once they are ready to cook, heat a little vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan.  And please, do use non-stick.  I have learned this the hard way.  There is nothing worse than potstickers who take their name far too literally, so well and truly stuck you can’t eat them.

Place the potstickers into the pan and leave for a minute or two, until they are just slightly browned on the bottom.  Pour 150 mls warm water into the pan, down the side.  Put a lid of the saucepan and let the potstickers steam until cooked, about six minutes.  Take the lid off and let the bottoms crisp up for about a minute.

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Combine the dipping sauce ingredients and serve with rice and steamed greens.

 

Chocolate-espresso shortbread

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I was the happy competitor in a baking competition recently.  I say ‘happy’ because how could you ever not be happy when you have a genuine excuse to make sweet delicious treats several times over?  And the competition was for a great cause too…Good Bitches Baking  and their inaugural Mystery Box Challenge.

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I was delighted to find coffee and dark chocolate in the mystery box. I would be delighted to happen upon this combination anywhere, granted, but having the opportunity to make two of my favourite things into something even better?  Yippee is all I can say.

When in need of something sweet and decadent, shortbread is never too far from my thoughts.  I’m a self-confessed butter-lover (yes, I did eat it in slabs straight from the block as a child). Shortbread  may as well be a slab of butter that has been baked in an oven.

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You might think shortbread couldn’t be any better and perhaps, even, should not be messed with.  I’m sympathetic to this. There are few pleasures in life as scrumptious as a some buttery sweet shortbread and a hot drink, or during Christmas, a nip of single malt.

But do give this a go if you enjoy dark chocolate and coffee as much as I do…shortbread provides the perfect backdrop, and this can be whipped up without much bother.  The ground coffee beans add a lovely coffee punch, but leave out or reduce if you want a hint of coffee rather than a cup.

For 10-15 pieces, you will need:

  • 150g softened butter
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornflour
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 T espresso or strong coffee
  • 60g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 2 T ground coffee beans

Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees celsius.

Beat the butter and icing sugar together until light and fluffy. Sift the flour and cornflour together into the bowl with the butter and icing sugar mix.  Stir lightly until just combined.

Add the coffee, chocolate and coffee grounds. Use a spoon to combine into the other ingredients until the mixture starts to form a dough.

Turn out onto a floured baking tray and knead lightly.  Spread out into a circle or rectangle (up to you!) – it should be a lovely tan colour, like below.  Cut into bars and prick with a fork.

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Bake until slightly golden – about twenty minutes.

 

 

Welsh rarebit

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Savoury cheesy beery sauce on toast, that is my delicious experience with Welsh Rarebit to date.  And my, this lovely little cheese-on-toast treat  is scrumptious.

Has anyone else ever read the Grimble books by Clement Freud?  Grimble was my first encounter with Welsh Rarebit. The exact details escape me but I know our young protagonist Grimble experiments with this dish when left to contend with household management while his parents vacation in Peru.

Fortunately I was in the business of making midwinter Christmas fare, not catering for myself in the absence of parental guidance.  Ever since Grimble, I have been fascinated by the notion of Welsh Rarebit, not in the least part because of its name.  History is divided on whether ‘Rarebit’ was once ‘rabbit.’  Indeed, no rabbit is involved in this dish, although if you add an egg, you can call it a buck rabbit.

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There were no eggs or buck rabbits involved in this rendition, for which we used Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall‘s Welsh Rarebit recipe with a few alterations.  This is really quite simple to make, and despite its sloppy brown appearance, it is truly tasty  I heartily recommend for warming, comforting deliciousness when you need some heating up.

Ingredients:

  • 50g flour
  • 50g butter
  • 250ml strong beer warmed
  • 250g strong cheddar grated
  • 2tsp English mustard
  • 1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • black pepper
  • 4 large slices granary

Method:

Melt the butter and whisk in the flour to make a roux sauce.  Slowly add the warmed beer, whisking and stirring as you go to make a smooth, beery sauce.  At this point, add the cheese and stir it in as it melts.  Add the mustard, Worcestershire sauce (to taste – I found one tablespoon plenty, although the recipe calls for two) and the brown sugar.  Season with black pepper.

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Toast the bread.  Top with the beer and cheese mixture and place under a hot grill until it is browned and bubbling.  Serve immediately.