a plate of cinnamon oysters
Food, Recipes

Cinnamon Oysters

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These are the most delicious, light as air little cakes that ever flew off a plate and into your mouth. Delicately spiced with cinnamon and ginger and filled with softly whipped cream, they retain that slight golden syrupy chew when they’re fresh from the oven, before melting into marvellous nothingness.

This recipe is from Lois Daish, published in her 1989 book Good Food, so it’s completely reliable.

They’re speedy to make so you could have them on the table within 30 minutes if you had to produce a last-minute dainty. If you’re organised and have cast-iron willpower you can make them the day before you need them. Fill straight away and pop in the fridge overnight. Or you can fill them and store them in the freezer ready to pull out for a future treat.

Cinnamon oysters

2 eggs
1 tablespoon golden syrup
100g castor sugar
70g flour
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch baking soda
cream, icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Lightly butter and flour 16 round bottomed patty pans (the flour helps, trust me).

Whisk the eggs, golden syrup and castor sugar together until the mixture is very high and light. Sift the dry ingredients together and fold in carefully.

Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 6-8 minutes (original recipe calls for 8-10 minutes but 7 is usually about right if you’re using a fan bake).

Remove from tins while still warm. When they are cold split the oysters halfway through using a serrated knife. Fill with lightly whipped cream and sprinkle with sifted icing sugar.

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I love how they really do look like oysters.

When you serve these, at least one person will sigh with delight and say something along the lines of, “Oh, my nana used to make these. I haven’t eaten them for years.” And then you will point them to this post for the recipe, and they will make them for someone else to sigh over. Hooray!

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Food, Recipes

Lead me into temptation

Banoffee Pie - sex on a plate

Banoffee Pie – sex on a plate

Auckland baker Jordan Rondel’s first book, The Caker, is an abandoned romp that will tempt you to indulge in the sins of the flesh.

It is, of course, a book about cakes. But oh my! What cakes.

There’s nothing prissy here. No slick and sickly icing, fake flavouring and disappointing conveyer belt perfection. Instead there are seductively simple ingredients and alluringly clever combinations. Honestly. There’s a whole chapter given over to syrups and fillings and toppings that will make you go, Ooh! Including a method for a Black Doris Plum Icing that is nothing short of revelatory.

Teetering layers, tumbled with fresh flowers, these cakes promise nothing but pleasure.

Fruit features heavily. Caramel and Apple Upside Down Cake, Double-Layer Raspberry White Chocolate Cake with Rosewater Creme Icing, Dark Chocolate, Pear and Pistachio Cake with Ganache… Why, I don’t mind if I do.

The photographs, by Babiche Martens, are fashion mag stunning. A gorgeous young woman with bedhead hair bites her lip, a raven-haired beauty runs her fingers along a seemingly bloody blade (on closer inspection, it’s the reflection from a bunch of crimson roses).

As for the food styling… these cakes are positively wanton. They ooze cream, bleed raspberries, drip caramel and chocolate… Frankly, they’re begging to be devoured.

The book itself is a slim paperback volume. Unlike cookery collections destined for the coffee table, it’s light enough to take to bed. Perhaps that’s the point?

Within the covers you’ll find lust, desire, naked greed. And a whole lot of gratification. Talk about sex on a plate.

Let yourself be lured. And, if my words can’t convince you to go out and buy the book, well, let the pie do the talking.

The Caker’s Banoffee Pie

For the caramel
100g butter
100g caster sugar
400ml condensed milk (1 tin)

For the banoffee pie
150g gingernut biscuits, blitzed in a food processor
230g pecans or walnuts, halved
75g butter, melted
3 large, not overly ripe bananas, chopped
250ml cream, softly whipped
cinnamon for dusting

To make the caramel, place the butter and sugar in a non-stick frying pan over a low heat, stirring until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves.

Add the condensed milk and slowly bring to the boil, stirring continuously, to make the caramel. As soon as the mixture thickens and begins to smell of caramel, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, place the crushed biscuits and half of the pecan or walnut halves into a bowl. Add the melted butter and stir well. Transfer the mixture to a 22cm diameter tart dish. Press the biscuit base evenly over the base of the tin, packing it down.

Add the chopped bananas to the caramel mixture and combine well. Spread the mixture over the biscuit base andchill for 30 minutes.

Remove from the fridge and spread the whipped cream evenly over the top of the banoffee layer. Place the remaining pecans or walnuts in a circular arrangement on top, and dust with cinnamon.

To store, cover well with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for up to a week.

The Caker

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Food, Recipes

Devilish dark chocolate and ginger cookies

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These chewy, American-style cookies are sweetly sinful. They’re seductively spiced, studded with fiery candied ginger and hand carved chunks of dark chocolate. Defiantly adult, they have a powerful kick. If you’d like them to be more devilish still, replace the syrup with treacle or blackstrap molasses.

Makes 24 large biscuits.

⅓ cup + 1/2 cup white sugar
21/4 cups plain white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons ground ginger
170g softened, salted butter
⅓ cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup golden syrup
2 tablespoons chopped stem ginger (or crystallised ginger)
100g dark chocolate, cut into shards (I used Whittaker’s Ghana, which is 72% cocoa)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Place half a cup of sugar for dipping in a shallow dish.

Sieve together flour, baking soda and spices.

In an electric mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar and remaining white sugar until light and fluffy – about three minutes. Beat in egg yolk, vanilla, then golden syrup.

Carefully add dry ingredients and beat on low until just mixed.

Scoop out heaped tablespoons of the dough, roll into balls and then toss in the sugar.

Place 5cm apart on two trays lined with baking paper and cook until browned, about 11 minutes. The edges will be slightly set but the centre should still be soft.

Set on trays for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool before storing in a tin.

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Food, Recipes

Parmesan-crumbed lamb chops

The best picnic food ever – if they last that long.

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 These Parmesan-crumbed lamb chops are pretty darn awesome, hot or cold.

The recipe is from Pipi: the cookbook and once you try it you won’t want to do them any other way. Adding cheese is a stroke of genius, keeping the deeply savoury, golden, crunchy crumbs firmly stuck to the chop.

6 slices fresh bread

3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

1/2 cup flour

Pinch of salt

2 eggs, beaten

2 lamb racks, cut up into 16 wee chops

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Whiz the bread and Parmesan together in a food processor until they are tiny crumbs. Then fill one bowl with the flour seasoned with the salt, a second with the beaten egg and a third with the crumbs.

First dust the chops with the flour, then dip them in the egg, and then put them in the bowl with the crumb mixture, turning them until they are completely coated. If you want to make absolutely sure you have a lot of crumb on the chops, you can repeat the egg and breadcrumb steps.

Lay the chops on a plate lined with greaseproof paper and put them in the fridge for at least half an hour to help set the crumbs.

Now you’re ready to cook the chops. Place a large frying pan on a medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Brown the chops on each side. You will have to do this in batches, using the remaining oil. Then transfer the chops to a roasting dish or baking tray, and put them in the oven for 10-15 minutes to cook through.

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Food, Recipes

Deliciously retro

Alison Steadman and some mustachioed bloke in a still from 1977 TV production of Abigail's Party

“Tone? A little cheesy-pineapple one?” – Alison Steadman and some mustachioed bloke in Abigail’s Party

A new pop-up shop is bringing a touch of splendidly hip Scandinavian style to Wellington.

Just a hop and a skip from the city in the beachy southern ‘burbs, Skandi purveys quality 50s and 60s furniture and lights that will make you swoon with their awesomeness.

You can check it out online – though if you’re in the capital of cool I strongly suggest you get yourself along to Island Bay toot sweet (and while you’re there you can do your weekly meat shop at the fabulous Island Bay Butcher, just across the road).

In keeping with the shop itself, the opening night shindig called for canapés that were a little bit Danish, and a little bit retro… cheese straws, liver pate and gherkin, smoked eel and horseradish on rye, salmon and vodka tartare, mustardy-mayo-dipped frikkadelle (that’s meatballs to you and me) and devils on horseback.

In keeping with human nature, the cheese straws were the first to be snaffled up. And why not? They’re everything you could possibly want in cocktail food and more: able to be held and eaten with one hand, keeping the other free for liquor; unlikely to ruin your party frock; AND delivering on the essential salty-crispy quotient of downright deliciousness.

Cheese straws

one-and-a half cups of rat-trap cheese, grated – in other words, whatever bits of strong cheese you’ve got lurking in the fridge, parmesan, cheddar, blue…

60g butter, diced

three-quarters of a cup of flour, plus more for dusting

half a teaspoon of Maldon salt

half a teaspoon of crushed chilli

one-and-a-half tablespoons milk or cream

Turn oven on to 180C fan bake.

Chuck everything except the milk or cream in a food processor. Mix in short bursts until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs, then add the liquid and process until the dough forms a ball.

Lightly flour the bench and rolling pin and roll out the dough into something vaguely resembling a rectangle, about 5mm thick.

Cut the dough into thin strips, as short or as long as you like, and carefully prise them up and peel them off the bench and on to a baking tray. This is one of those wonder-doughs that can be pressed back together and rerolled umpteen times without coming to too much harm, so just keep going til it’s all gone.

Bake your straws in the middle of the oven for 8 to 12 minutes, until they’re beginning to turn a burnished gold. At this point the kitchen will smell amazing and you can take them out of the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

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Food, Recipes

Bacon and egg pie

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: picnics are all about food you can pick up and eat with your fingers. And that, ladies and jellybeans, means pies. Well, not always, but you’d be mad not to. Unless you’re gluten intolerant, in which case there’s nothing for you here. LOOK AWAY NOW.

If, however, buttery crispy flaky golden deliciousness holds no fears for you, check this out.

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Pie-tastic.

The recipe is from Annabel Langbein’s Free Range Cook, in which she says her hubby proposed after she fed him this very pie. I’m not sure it’d make me drop to one knee, but it was indeed good. It even got the thumbs up from four-year-old Alice, despite her suspicion at the “green bits”.

This does all the things you want picnic food to do: it tastes good; you can ditch the plates and cutlery; and it travels well – so it still looks damned impressive when it’s been carried about a wildlife sanctuary for three hours in the bottom of your bag.

Even better, you don’t need even have to make the pastry; a packet of the frozen stuff is just fine. This gladdens my heart because I’m a crappy pastry maker. My hands are too warm. But that’s all right. Because it means they’re great for bread. And lessens the necessity for extra layers in winter, or having to carry a hot baked potato around in my pocket all day.

Bacon and Egg Pie

3 sheets (450g) ready-rolled savoury shortcrust pastry
250g streaky bacon, cut into 2cm pieces
2 medium potatoes, peeled, cooked and thinly sliced
3 tbsp soft herbs (eg parsley, basil, chives or spring onion tops), chopped
14 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp salt
ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200C. Place a flat baking tray in the oven to heat – the pie will sit on this, and the heat will help it to crisp.

Cut a piece of baking paper to fit a 40 x 30cm baking dish or roasting pan. It should cover the base and reach about 3-4cm up the sides.

Remove the baking paper from the baking dish or roasting pan and lay it flat on your bench. Dust it with a little flour and lay 2 pastry sheets on top. Join the pastry sheets by pressing them together firmly with a small overlap. Roll out the pastry to thinly cover the paper. Lift the paper with the pastry and lay into the baking dish or roasting pan, covering the base and 3-4cm up the sides.

Sprinkle the bacon over the pastry. Top with the slices of potato and sprinkle with the herbs. Break 8 whole eggs over the top.

In a mixing bowl, lightly whisk the remaining 6 eggs with the milk, salt and pepper. Pour this evenly over the whole eggs.

Roll out the remaining sheet of pastry very thinly and cut it into narrow strips. Arrange the strips in a lattice pattern on top of the pie, trimming off any excess.

Place the prepared pie on top of the heated baking tray and bake for 12-15 minutes until the pastry is starting to puff and turn golden. Reduce the heat to 180C and bake until the pastry is golden and cooked through on the base (this should take a further 35-40 minutes).

*If you like the look of this, visit the Annabel Langbein website for all sorts of yumminess, recipes and video treats.

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Food, Recipes

Adventures in cheese: paneer

Sliced paneer with honey

Paneer with honey – delicate as custard

I made delicious Indian cheese this weekend, spurred into action by the glorious national institution that is Radio New Zealand.

The wonderful Wendy Adams, she of Cultured Petone fame, was on the wireless on Saturday afternoon, talking Simon Morton and This Way Up listeners through the process of making paneer.

So simple! So quick! Dear readers, I was inspired. I was down that supermarket buying milk quicker’n a kea alighting on a hapless tourist’s backpack.

And you know what? It was even easier than it sounded, and at least ten times as scrumptious as I expected – delicate and lemony with more in common than a wobbly custard than rubbery tofu. Just… yum.

So I urge you, try it, try it today. Then use it to make saag paneer.

You won’t regret it.

I used the paneer recipe on the RNZ website, adding more lemon juice to make it extra lemony. I’ll rewrite it here, step by step. Before you start, you’ll want to gather a few things together – the ingredients, obviously, but also a double boiler, a colander and a bowl to fit inside it, a sieve, clean damp muslin – I used a ham cloth, but you could even use a (clean!) chux. That’s about it.

Paneer ingredients

2 litres milk (not trim)
4 teaspoons or more of lemon juice

Make your paneer

Heating the milk in a double boiler

And so it begins… bring the milk to a rolling boil over a double boiler (to avoid it sticking to the bottom of the pot)

juicing lemons

Easy peasy lemon squeezy – I used the juice of two lemons

separating the curds and whey

Add the lemon juice, stir and watch clumps form as the whey is expelled from the milk, leaving the hot solids to form into a mass (and try not to think about what this looks like – it will get prettier)

using a sieve to strain the whey from the curds

Drain (use the whey for bread, cooking rice, on the garden)

Cheese wrapped in muslin

Place the ‘curds’ into a sanitised cheesecloth/muslin in a colander

Pressing the cheese using a bowl of water as a weight

Place a bowl of water on top, press for an hour or so – less means fluffier paneer, more means firmer

The finished cheese

Et voila!

I was so excited I could only wait an hour. Stole the first slice to drizzle with honey and eat with my fingers.

Diced up the rest and fried it in ghee until it was golden, before adding it to a gently spiced, creamy spinach sauce. On the show they called this palak paneer, but I know it as saag. Either way, it was amazing. And I’ll be back listening to This Way Up again this coming Saturday, for more adventures in cheese!

If you missed it, you can listen to the show by downloading the audio file from RNZ to your iPod or other magical mobile listening machine).

Saag paneer with rice and naan bread

The finished dish: saag paneer

Saag paneer

250g paneer, cubed
Ghee for frying
bunch fresh spinach leaves (I had a 130g bag of leaves)
1 small cinnamon stick
1 thumb fresh ginger, peeled
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chillies (or fresh, eh, but this was what I had to hand)
2 large tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
Half a cup of sour cream
Salt to taste

Fry the cubed paneer in a tablespoon of ghee until light golden brown and set aside.

Blanch the spinach in boiling water, along with the cinnamon stick.

Remove the cinnamon stick, drain and puree the spinach, along with the fresh ginger and tomatoes.

Heat 1 tablespoon ghee in a heavy pan and fry the onions over a medium heat. When they’re a deep, burnished gold, add the chopped garlic and the spice powders and fry for another minute.

Add the pureed spinach mixture and cook for four minutes.

Add the sour cream and cubed paneer and cook for a minute longer. Taste for salt.

This did me for one dinner and two packed lunches (frozen along with half a cup of cooked basmati in each container). I guess you could easily stretch it by adding more spinach or tomato to make a saucier sauce.

Empty plate and fork, smeared with spinach

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