Monthly Archives: May 2013


IMG_2410When I first visited the Middle East I was greeted with looks of disgust when I enquired what za’atar was. Only later did I find that I was taking to a Jordanian man of Palestinian descent, to whom za’atar is a social signifier of their household. Distinct differences in flavour will denote the area it is from and the particular family. Imagine, if you will, almost an entire region of za’atar ‘sommeliers’ pinpointing the vintage and domain. Now perhaps you can understand his shock at my ignorance. Ask a Frenchman what wine is and you might receive that similar sequence of emotions from shock, then confusion, drawing into a dawning enthusiasm of enlightening this future pupil with an education.

From then on I was showered with za’atar at every meal and all I could do was encourage it. It is divine. I was so enamoured with this herb mix that I brought 7 kilos back in my bag. One might say that my return at Christmas took on a middle eastern theme. So on arrival to New Zealand, I was sorely disheartened that I couldn’t find it for love nor money in even the most obscure shops so I started making my own.

Recipe takes 5 minutes

30g Thyme
30g Marjoram
30g Oregano
20g Sumac
30g sesame seeds, roasted
1 tsp salt

Firstly, roast your sesame seeds in the over until brown. Then simply mix the ingredients together in a bowl. The more sumac you add the more citrus the flavour will be. Start with a little, and add to taste. This is really your biggest variable in the taste of the herb mix. Dip some bread into oil and then the za’atar, or top your hummus with it. I like to add it to my scrambled eggs as something a bit different.


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Machchi Kari

IMG_2354Simply fish curry. But in Hindi it sounds more attractive and authentic than fish curry. But on the other hand, maybe it’s a bit like a Wetherspoons pub calling their mash “purée de pommes de terre”…

I’m not going to lie, it took me a long time to make curries from scratch that tasted half decent. Too watery, too much chili, not enough cumin, too much turmeric. I won’t profess to get it right every time still. What I’m looking for is a balance. Too often is a decent prawn or fillet overpowered in a curry to the point that it simply becomes texture. But this recipe is delicate and smooth, with the right balance of flavours bursting through whilst still being able to actually taste the fish.

The basis of this recipe is embellished from the encyclopaedic Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon, and I’ve given it the slightest of  tweaks to give it something extra delicate. Please don’t be put off making a curry from scratch, it will taste much fresher and as you will see it’s not difficult, and if you don’t have the ingredients in your cupboard already, you should!

Serves 4

4 fillets of white fish, chopped in 1 inch cubes
(approx 500g monkfish, cod, hapuka, snapper, pollock)
2 tbsp oil
6-8 curry leaves
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 1/2 inch fresh ginger grated
1 tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
1 can coconut milk
Salt to taste

Prep you ingredients first. If you are cooking brown rice this needs to go on as you start.

Heat the oil in a wide saucepan and fry the curry leaves until brown. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and fry until soft and golden. Add all the ground spices, stirring until fragrant. Add the coconut milk and salt and bring to the boil, stirring. Simmer for 10 minutes uncovered. Only add the fish 4 minutes before you serve, simmering to cook through. The secret here is the fenugreek so don’t miss it out.

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Swashbuckler’s Stew

IMG_2374Not much beats a brisk, energetic walk through forest thicket, snatching slices of refreshing air into the lungs. So picture two explorers shaking off the lethargy of a Saturday morning, swiping their rain macs off the peg and bolting out the door to do just that.

My mind’s image of weekend walks as a child are of my dad galloping far ahead with enthusiastic strides, and as history will repeat itself, I am now in turn that fast-paced trekker and this weekend was no exception. Along the banks of the winding, mountain-lined Tongariro River, New Zealand’s best trout fishing spot, my mind started whirring with the thought of something warming and fishy at the end of the 3 hour romp. This dish did just that and got a double thumbs up from Explorer no.2.

Serves 4

4 fillets white fish (cod, hapuka) skinned and boned
2 thick chorizo sticks, sliced 1 cm thick
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tsp oregano
1 litre chicken stock
2 tins cannellini beans, drained
3 tomatoes, halved
1 bay leaf
1 tsp pepper corns
3 strips of lemon peel
4 tsp pesto (I will put up how to make from scratch soon!)
Olive oil

The stew will take 45 mins so bear this in mind.

Start by prepping your ingredients as above, and frying the chorizo in a deep saucepan with a little olive oil turning until it starts to char. Then add in the garlic and oregano for 30 seconds, before adding the stock, beans, tomatoes, bay leaf and pepper corns. Simmer for 45 minutes and reduce slightly, stirring occasionally. When cooked, remove the tomato skins, pepper corns, bay leaf and lemon rind and discard.

Drizzle oil, salt and pepper over the fish. Then 40 minutes into cooking the stew, heat up a frying pan and cook the fish, former skin side down first for 2 minutes on each side. Now they are both prepared, ladle the stew into low bowls, serve the fish on top and add a tsp of pesto on top. You can serve with a side of greens (spinach, thinly sliced green beans).

Whether it’s autumn in Aotearoa, or spring in Somerset, this should hit the spot.

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Naked Beef Wellington

IMG_2324I think making a beef wellington is something to revere as brilliantly ‘Delia territory’. It takes a good deal of effort and precision, so if you are ever served it remember to make the right noises to the chef, because those painstaking hours of work will be gone in mere moments of pleasure.

But the naked version this isn’t one of those dishes. Its a synch in comparison and it transports you into south central Europe in winter with its flavours. This all came about due to finding the most glorious fillet of beef and being totally undecided as to whether to make carpaccio of it or cook it whole. I just knew it had to be eaten well and I didn’t want pastry.

This dish is most likely to serve 4, as buying a fillet of beef for many more than that starts to make this a very expensive venture. But when you do choose your piece, make sure it a good barrel shape, with minimal marbling, preferably none at all.

Prep time 20 mins.

Serves 4

600g fillet beef
8-10 slices prosciutto
1 handful of dried porcini mushrooms
Knob of butter
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
3 handfuls of rosemary and thyme
Small glass (150ml) red wine (optional)
Cooking string/twine (not plastic or coloured, Bridget Jones)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Start by soaking the porcini in a bowl with 300ml boiled water. Next, finely chop the rosemary and thyme together on a chopping board, throwing a little salt and pepper in with them into a flat mound in the centre.

IMG_2323Take the fillet and roll it in the herb mixture so that it is entirely covered, ends included.

Add the knob of butter to a frying pan, with the garlic and add the soaked porcini on a medium heat for 1 minute, retaining the mushroom water aside. Then add half the water to the pan, simmer and reduce for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, on a clean dry surface lay out 3 lengths of sting and 1 horizontal piece like so III, placing half of your prosciutto in lengths on top, slightly overlapping. When the mushrooms are cooked, spoon half of them onto the prosciutto. Place the herbed beef on top of the mushrooms and spoon the other half of the mushrooms on top of the beef. Layer the remaining prosciutto on the top, overlapping all the pieces so the beef is parcelled, and tie the string loosely to secure it together.

Place in the oven and cook for 20 minutes (rare), 30 minutes (medium) or 40 minutes (well done). I prefer 20 mins. Half way through add the red wine to the tray. Use these juices as a sauce (you can reduce for a richer taste whilst the beef sits for 10 mins). Serve in slices on wilted spinach, with greens or even mash potatoes.


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Holy Moly Guacamole

IMG_2321New Zealand avocados have risen 89% in price over last year, due to bad crops, which makes them a crippling luxury over here. But savvy foragers will find the odd farmer on the roadside almost giving away a bounty crop.

I am increasingly finding myself screeching to a halt in the countryside at the sight of a stall laden with this most scrumptious and versatile fruit and filling as many in a bag as possible. Despite their relatively short window of ripeness, and even shorter shelf-life once opened, making a good sized batch of guacamole tends to inspire a couple of days worth of dishes around it.

As well as a stand alone dip, I like to spread this on toast with poached eggs and asparagus for brunch, or serve it alongside a chili with rice. Just as a note, I don’t add tomatoes to my recipe, or add coriander, but this is entirely optional and does give a very refreshing taste I find similar to gazpacho. Neither do I add sour cream, although they compliment each other tremendously, as I often serve them side by side. You can just as well add it to the recipe for a creamier taste.

If you can get your hands on a kaffir lime (not easy, I know), the juice of this makes a zing that will make you want to sing. A great addition. The cayenne pepper is great for circulation and absorption of nutrients into the body.


3 ripe avocados
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red chili, finely chopped
1 tsp paprika
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 red onion (or 3 spring onions) finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Start by crushing your garlic and very finely chopping your chili and onions. A big bite on either of those is going to leave you wincing for a while so go as small as you can!

Halve the avocados, remove but keep the stones, and cut the flesh lengthways and horizontally, so that when you scoop it out it is in small chunks. Place the flesh in a bowl and using the back of a fork, mash up the flesh. Add the rest of the ingredients all together and blend together with the fork. If you like it chunky, don’t be too vigorous. If you plan to keep it for later, add an avocado stone to the bowl and this will stop it from browning. So easy but effective and good for the complexion I’m told!

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Magnificent Moussaka

IMG_2281I wanted to try something a bit different from the classic mince and aubergine moussaka I make on occasion. With a glint of enthusiasm in my eye and Mrs Beaver-to-be’s obsession with the Incan “mother of all grains”, quinoa, I set out to shake it up a little. However, the glint soon became a mere flicker after a tasteless, underdone first attempt. Undeterred though, round 2 was knock-out time and it came up trumps. I was beaming once more.

Licking the spoon of the mixture was as much as I could do to restrain myself from eating the whole lot before even serving. It didn’t help that I used a little maple syrup in this one and that always makes me feel like a deserving lip-licking child in front of a pile of pancakes. The sweetness doesn’t come through in this dish but adds a terrific flavour. And what’s more, maple syrup is a natural sweetner, like honey or agave nectar, so passes the non-refined sugar test and therefore gets to stay in my cupboard.

Serves 6-8

4 small courgettes, sliced thinly lengthways
1/2 large butternut squash, cut into long thin slices (1/4 pumpkin would work)
Bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Bunch basil, chopped
3 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped
3 sprigs of thyme, finely chopped
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 tube tomato paste
2 tsp maple syrup
1 cup brown lentils
1 cup quinoa
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 chilli, finely chopped

If you time this right, you can have this ready in about 35 minutes.

Place the lentils and quinoa into their own pots and boil until cooked (20mins/15mins respectively).

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 150C. Slice the courgettes and butternut squash. Add them to a foil lined tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle the thyme and rosemary over them and roast for 15 minutes – they shouldn’t colour much.

Chop your basil, parsley, chili and spring onions and place in a mixing bowl. Drain out the water from the chopped tomatoes and add to the bowl. In goes the maple syrup and the whole tube of tomato paste. When the lentils and quinoa are cooked, drain them and add to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Mix together.

Oil your baking dish (25x25cm), and add half the mixture evenly into the bottom. Next layer your courgettes like soldiers, with a layer of butternut squash on top.


Only use half the butternut as you will need enough to cover the top. Next add the rest of the mixture, spread evenly and don’t eat it all now! Top with a layer of the remaining butternut and any herbs left in the roasting tray.

Cook for 35 mins at 180C. By the time you have finished eating, you’ll have forgotten all about mince altogether.

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Jamie’s fish pie

IMG_2269I’ve made this dish again and again, in different guises, and despite some interesting and noteworthy adaptations, I feel I need to pay hommage to the original recipe. My mum introduced this one to me about 7 years ago and I haven’t looked back since.

What I love most about this recipe is that it is a pre-prepared dish for the oven (can even be done the night before), so I can actually talk to my guests and enjoy the evening without sweating over the stove in the other room. It gets a thumbs up from the pescatarians, and it caters for those who are affronted by a meal without animal protein. Most boxes ticked then. I’m partial to making a whole extra pie just to put in the freezer for another date as it takes minimal extra effort. It does however require a spare roasting dish and freezer space!

Serves 6

500g mixed fish and seafood (a good mix of white & pink fish cubed,
prawns & mussels – most supermarket fish counters will prepare this for you)
5 large potatoes, peeled and diced into 2 . 5cm/1 inch squares
salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 free range eggs
200 g fresh spinach
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, halved and finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
600 ml cream
200 g cheddar cheese
1 lemon, juice of
1 teaspoon English mustard
100 g flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
nutmeg (optional)

Preheat the oven to 230C.

Start by grating and chopping the potatoes and placing them in a saucepan of boiling salted water. When the pan comes to the boil again add the eggs to the same pan to hard boil for 8 minutes, by which time both the eggs and potatoes will be cooked. At the same time, place the spinach in a colander over the saucepan to steam cook it for 2 minutes. Remove the spinach and squeeze the excess water out of it. Fish out the eggs and drain the potatoes.

Whilst the potatoes are on their way, you can finely chop the onions and carrots and fry them on a low heat for around 8mins until soft. Next, add the double cream until it simmers, then remove from the heat and add the cheese, lemon, mustard and parsley, mixing in so that the cheese melts.

Lightly oil the bottom and sides of your roasting dish, add the fish mix on the bottom. Chop your hard boiled eggs and add to the fish. Layer the spinach on top. Add your sauce evenly on top of that. Lastly, mash your potatoes with a good drizzle of olive oil, salt & pepper and a few gratings of nutmeg (for autumn/winter) and cover evenly on the very top using the back of a fork.

Cook for 25-30 minutes until golden. Smiles all around. Thanks Jamie. Again.

*note: if you are freezing a spare, cook it first. Then just defrost when ready and heat through to serve.


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To glute, or not to glute?

gluten-round1Like most diet changes, the hardest part is starting and the next hardest is sustaining it. For me, overcoming that first hurdle comes by understanding which foods and drinks contain certain ingredients and that takes time. Age old favourites can suddenly be cast out of my diet as they don’t conform to the new regime, but I was never previously even aware they contained this, that or the other. But learning what is going into the body is the important part of the process as then I can make informed choices regarding my diet going forward. That’s the quest, anyway.

So gluten gets a lot of press nowadays. More and more foods are positively branded as ‘gluten-free’, and often positioned in the whole/health foods section of supermarkets. It features in some discursive platform in the press daily. So why the rising trend and should we care?

The first time I came across gluten was to cater for a friend with coeliacs disease, and I felt like I was tiptoeing around the kitchen, talking in hushed whispers to myself, whilst trying not to offend my gluten-filled cupboards. Coeliacs necessarily must rigidly adhere to the gluten-free diet, but more people are taking it on voluntarily. So why do they care? Some critics say that it’s just a marketing ploy that targets the health conscious, the wool has been pulled over their eyes and we are all to think no more of this fad than pure commercialisation. Supporters think that gluten is having wide ranging negative effects on our bodies, particularly digestive issues (including IBS) and dermatological reactions (eczema, psoriasis) amongst other various issues (generally: inflammation, neurological, mental health). Those that arrive at gluten-free often find themselves there due to an elimination process, in an effort to alleviate one or more of these symptoms. The diet often provides relief. It has for me.

So what is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It gives the elasticity to dough, hence its latin name, meaning “glue”. It is ordinarily found in processed wheat products, such as bread and pastry. But gluten is also extracted into a powder form that can be added to products to create structural stability to a product. We often see it in beer, soy, pasta and sausages. It binds the product together better. For want of a different perspective, its not what the food is like naturally. And as an advocate for natural, real food, I’m afraid gluten has to go out the window.

If you are serious about taking this forward, take a look at the dietary contents or allergy section on packaging for direction on whether it goes into the trolly or back on the shelf. The light at the end of the seemingly gloomy tunnel is that most of the foods that are off the books on a gluten-free diet, are now produced without gluten in them, just look for the label. Hurrah! Sausages are back on the menu! (*Phew!)

Gluten free table

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