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Palak Paneer

Palak PaneerHalfway between two homes doesn’t sound like one or the other. If you stick a pin between my two motherlands of Aotearoa and old Albion, you are still 14 hours away from each of them. However, this doesn’t mean long pit stops lying on your hand luggage in airport transit, nor contortionist efforts to fit into terminal lounge chairs for a few winks. It means stepping out into another dimension where sights, sounds, colours and most of all smells dominate your senses. A place that has been home on a number of occasions, India.

My best memories of eating food throughout India are always a shared meal, eating with my hands. Or meals that make steam shoot from your ears, that no Kingfisher beer or yoghurt will quench. And always a colourful, divided plate of taste explosions on a thali dish. But one sure-fire dish that I can always rely on is the palak paneer. Put originally on my radar by Mr Beaver’s brother, the veggie king.

Serves 4


500g spinach

1 inch ginger

1 tsp cumin

30g butter

1 bay leaf

1  onion, finely chopped

7 cloves garlic, 4 finely chopped, 3 whole

2 tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/2 tsp turmeric

3/4 tsp chilli powder

1 cup water

1 tsp garam masala

300g paneer, chopped into 1cm cubes

1 tbsp yoghurt

 Start by preparing your ingredients. Put on your rice. Next add the spinach to a large saucepan and cover with boiling water. Put the lid in and leave for 3 minutes to wilt. Then drain in a colander, and add to a blender. Also add 3 whole cloves of garlic and the 1/2 inch of ginger. Whizz until a smooth paste.

Next heat the butter in the large saucepan you used earlier on a medium heat, and add the cumin to brown off. Next add the bay leaf and the chopped onion, until the onion browns. Now add the tomatoes and cook until they soften. Add the turmeric and chilli powder, stirring in. Then add the spinach puree. Stir well. Add the cup of water and boil gently for about 5 minutes.

As this boils, brown off the paneer cubes in a frying pan. No oil is needed. Then add the garam masala, paneer and yoghurt to the sauce. It should be quite a thick consistency. Serve and enjoy.


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Zuppa Contadina

Zuppa ContadinaIf ever asked where to eat in London my mind immediately casts straight for the amazing diversity of restaurants that line the streets of Islington. From institutions like Frederick’s which has been a tall poppy since 1969, when your mother would warn you away from the area, to Ottoleghi, the western european light into middle eastern cuisine, and Le Mercury, the stalwart of tongue-in-cheek, un-chic, ‘best of budget’ European food and atmosphere.

But one little old favourite haunt, Food Lab, has kept me inspired to do simple food really well. Tucked just round the corner from my last apartment it was the best local I could ask for. Although a late convert to the immense diversity of Italian flavours, I marvel at how far a few simple ingredients bring that sufficient complexity to a dish. Zuppa Contadina is my italian take on a ‘peasant’s soup’, with only 3 main ingredients. This dish works fantastically to shake off those cold spells and will keep for a few days gaining flavour each day.

Serves 6

2 medium onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, thiny sliced
1/2 ring of chorizo, in 4mm slices and again into half moon
30-40g dried porcini mushrooms
handful of pearl barley
1 1/2 litres vegetable stock (preferably x2 cubes of mushroom stock)
Olive oil

Start by preparing your ingredients. Add boiling water to your vegetable stock, and soak your porcini in the stock until expanded.

In a heavy based saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté your onions on a medium heat until clear, around 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and sliced chorizo and fry for a further 5 minutes. The oily paprika juices from the chorizo will give you a good orange colour to the food.

Next add your stock, porcini and pearl barley and bring to the boil. Once boiling, simmer for 30 minutes, until the pearl barley is soft and swollen. Add salt and plenty of pepper to taste.

Tip: The soup will thicken up the longer it simmers, so for a slightly more soul-warming texture keep it going for a good hour. It will also gain the full flavour of the mushrooms and chorizo in just 1/2 a day, so pre-making this dish goes a long way.


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12,000 Mile Culinary Style

Fush un mash

It’s remarkable that through 2 centuries of culture exchange between UK and New Zealand, the gift that Blighty’s Shore has most lastingly bestowed on her distant cousin is its shared nautical national dish (excluding language, legal framework, political system and other such trivial social matters). The image is the same – a newspaper package, blotted with grease and salt, serving as a plate for the undeniably scrumptious taste of “fush und chups”, or fish and chips to those who speak the Queen’s.

It conjures up romantic visions for me of people sitting on benches at the seaside overlooking the expanse of water, with red and white wind breakers below them on the beach and healthy breezes bracing them into the warmth of their dinner. On one side of the globe its tarakihi fillets warming their cockles, on the other its good old chunky flakes of cod.

But regardless of location, I take a whole new dimension on the classic dish and make it dinner party friendly, whilst keeping that hint of unpretentious cockney geezer in the mix. So, kudos to Mrs Beaver this week, who brings you 12,000 mile cod, mash and tartare sauce.

Serves 4

4 fillets cod, skin on
1 tsp fennel seeds
200g crusty bread
4 cloves of garlic
50g tin of anchovies in oil
½ a 280g jar of sundried tomatoes in oil
Small bunch of basil
1 chilli
40g parmesan cheese
2 lemons
Balsamic vinegar
4 medium baking potatoes
1 head of broccoli
500g frozen peas
Knob of butter
1-2 tbs mint sauce
3 gherkins
1 tsp capers
Small bunch of parsley
200g mayonnaise
Sweet paprika

This may look like a lot of ingredients, but preparation is pretty simple with a food processor. In fact, you can pre-prepare the tartare sauce, crust and tomato sauce the day before if you want to save time.

Start by boiling the potatoes for 10 mins in salted water. Meanwhile chop up your broccoli into small chunks and add them to the boiling water.

Turn on the grill. Foil line a baking tray, drizzle oil onto it and spread the fennel, salt and pepper. Next turn the fish over in the tray, coating it in the oil mix, and place under the grill for 4 minutes, skin side down. Meanwhile throw the bread, 2 garlic cloves, and a glug of olive oil in the food processor and whizz into breadcrumbs. Set this aside.

Now add to the food processor – the sundried tomatoes, 1/2 tin of anchovies, 2 cloves of garlic, basil, chilli and parmesan. Squeeze in juice from 1 lemon and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Whizz into a paste. Remove the fish from the grill and spread the tomato paste onto the fleshy side. Next cover with the breadcrumbs and return to the grill for 5 more minutes.

Now add the peas to the potato and broccoli for the remaining 4 minutes. For the tartare, rinse the processor and add the gherkins, capers, 1/2 tin anchovies and parsley. Squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon. Whizz until smooth. Add the mayonnaise, mix and place in a bowl.

Drain the veg, add the butter and mash roughly. Remove the fish from the grill and serve.

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imageI’m pretty sure this recipe came into my repertoire because either no one wanted to tuck into tired ol’ sprouts over Chrimbo dinner or mum went leftfield. What we ended up with was a show stopper and has been recreated every year since, and can be served throughout the year as long as you can get hold of sprouts. I even shred spare sprouts and freeze them fresh for a summer’s day.

Boiling a sprout pretty much kills it. Steaming comes a crawling second. Eating them raw-likes-thems-grows means you get all that cholesterol lowering goodness. I’m uneasy to use the word ‘bile’ whilst talking about food, but the fibre in sprouts binds really well with bile acids that carries out the cholesterol busting task. In a quest for ‘vein vanity’, that sounds pretty sweet. Cautious to take all the credit (!) I’m pretty sure this is a recipe that deserves credit to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Makes a side serving for 6

20 sprouts, outter leaves discarded and inside shredded
3 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
150ml olive oil
A bunch of flat-leafed parsley, chopped
A small bunch of tarragon, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp fresh horseradish, grated
1 rounded tsp of capers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

All the effort that is needed for this dish goes into shredding the sprouts. Do get rid of the root and the outer leaves. Then slice the sprouts as thinly or thickly as you like crunch. It takes a short while but it’s worth it. Then add the rest of the ingredients and serve fresh. I love this as a side to something hot, like a roast, or even as a stand alone for a lunch.

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La Manche’s Mediterranean Marvel

IMG_2671Given that this dish first made its way onto my cooking repertoire whilst on a long weekend break to Jersey, this dish is only as mediterranean as the sum of its ingredients. With my Nann’s old green beetle as a runabout I found the local fish shack, The Fresh Fish Company, that sits at the water’s edge and sells its wares literally as fresh as it could be, save for being sold off the back of the boat.

I had a mission to seek out one of my favourite fish and the shack delivered. Red mullett, so I’ve been told, was one of the most valued fish in ancient Rome. The mediterranean fish would be trained to come to feed at the call of a voice, and often caressed by their owners. They were often sold for their weight in silver. Perhaps the equivalent to the modern day Koi (coy) carp. I’m afraid my respect for mullet stems solely from my absolute love for the taste, and thankfully that is achieved at considerably less than the cost of silver. It has a firm texture and a sweet, nutty flavour with little oil content, so if you are going to replicate this look to find something similar with the skin left on, like red snapper or tarakihi.

The joy of this recipe is that it is put together in literally 5 minutes, but looks and tastes like it took forever. A winning combo!

Serves 6

6 fillets firm white fish, skin on, deboned
1 medium jar olives, roughly chopped
1 medium jar sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts or sunflower seeds
1 bulb of fennel, sliced (optional)
1 red onion, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped small
1 lemon, in 8 slices
Olive oil
Poppy seeds (optional)

To start, oven goes on to 180C. Line a large baking tray with foil and lightly oil. Lay the 6 fillets across the tray and season with oil, salt and pepper. Lay 6 of the lemon slices on on top of each fillet, add the ends to the tray. Next sprinkle the sun-dried tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, onion, garlic and if you feel like it, fennel slices on top of the fish. Drizzle the veg with oil, sprinkle the poppy seeds, and season. It goes into the oven for 20 minutes. That’s it. It really is that easy and you will look like a legend for your efforts. Goes nicely with steamed kale, steamed green beans with oil and garlic, new potatoes with parsley, or steamed spinach.

La Manch Mediterranean

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Ta Dah, Dukkah!

IMG_2504Egypt has been conjuring up images of revolution, of military intervention, of chanting crowds on Tahrir Square, of hope, islamic autocracy and unstable democracy. But it’s easy to forget life as normal with such imagery, of mothers chasing their little ones out of the pantry with shouts of rebuke, out the back door, down a sun crowned back alley as they dash away with a smuggled jar of mum’s finest.

Unlike za’atar’s competitive regional differences, dukkah doesn’t enjoy such incredible local distinction. But extraordinarily we can see a parallel with the palestinian pride in family recipes, in the huge variety of dukkah recipes on sale on the australasian shelves, 10,000 miles away from Egypt, and some distance away from the original recipe. All good stuff, though, and a great way to create a dry, nutty, herb flavour to your dish. On it’s discovery, I made a bumper batch and handed my additional lot out to friends as I loved it so much I thought I’d share the love. So here’s a quick recipe hint – try crusting your chicken in dukkah, and throw together a lemon, mint, parsley and quinoa salad.


1/2 cup whole coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
3/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup roasted chickpeas
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

Turn the oven on to 180C. On a baking sheet, toast the sesame seeds for 2 minutes, then give them a shake and stir and bake for another 2. Set aside your sesame seeds in a food processor, keeping the sheet and adding the hazelnuts and chickpeas for 3 minutes, stir and shake and then another 3. Add them to the food processor with the rest of the ingredients and blend. Traditionally, a pestle and mortar would be used to crush the ingredients, hence the name dukkah, which derives from the word meaning “to pound”.

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Quick-fix Corn Fritters

IMG_2605This week I’m paying hommage to the mid-week muncher, who is left bereft of time but in need of a good meal in minutes. And when you find yourself in a last minute food mood, it’s unlikely you have Jamie’s 15-minute meals to hand in the supermarket. So, this is exactly where I found myself. With a recent move 400 miles south of Auckland to Lonely Planet’s “coolest little capital in the world”, Wellington, and after a full working day’s commitment (that’s why I’ve been off the radar of late), I needed a healthy quick fix.

I love beans. They’re healthy, good fibre carbs and protein rich. So when I’m short of time I almost go default for a mixture of beans to knock up a fast salad. As a killer lunch or a cracking light salad accompaniment, you can have it up and running in 2 minutes.

Serves 4

3 cans sweetcorn
1 can lentils
100g (gluten free) flour
100ml milk
3 eggs
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1tsp cumin
Salt & Pepper

Bean Salad
1 can chickpeas
1 can butter beans
1 can borlotti beans
1 can black-eye beans
4 tomatoes
3 spring onions
Balsamic vinegar

Start by making up your salad, so you don’t have to faff around with it when you have the fritter on. Drain all your cans, add the beans in a bowl, chop your tomatoes and spring onions and add them, season with olive oil, salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

For the fritters, drain the sweetcorn and lentils well and add to a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, paprika, coriander, cumin and seasoning. In a 3rd bowl, mix the eggs and milk, then add it to the flour mix until blended. Once prepared, add it to the sweetcorn and lentils. Heat oil in a frying pan and spoon in a good serving spoon’s worth of fritter mix. Fry on high for 1 1/2 mins then flip for another 1 1/2. Quick-fix!


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San Choy Bow

San Choy BowEach traveller’s delight is generally something personal and subjective, but few can argue that the sight of a street food stall or shack manned by an entrenched local doesn’t make the knees go weak and the mouth water. Perhaps it’s a puri cart on the side of a treacherous Mumbai highway or a steaming hotplate on a strip-lit road in Bankok promising the world’s fastest pad thai. I’m endlessly compelled by their magnetism. But throw yourself over to Australia and you might receive, bizarrely, San Choy Bow.

Although it is coined a chinese dish, San Choy Bow is seemingly more likely found in Perth or Sydney. And, bully for us, this versatile dish is a fun starter or main and can be made vegetarian or with any mix of meats or seafood. I’ve opted for the vegetarian common denominator recipe, but you can jazz it with whatever protein tickles your fancy on the day. My fussy 9 year old critic had chicken on the brain, so that’s what I made. Lots of good noises from my adult crowd but, despite eagerly awaiting the verdict of my particular junior critic, she only ate the chicken…

Serves 4 as main/8 as starter

1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, chopped
2 chilies, finely chopped
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
3 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
3 tbsp tamari/soy
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 1/2 cups quinoa (a mix of colours is fun for presentation)
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup fresh coriander, chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
Iceberg lettuce cups
Raw macadamia nuts (optional garnish)

First boil your quinoa. Whilst these are on the go, heat the oil in a pan, adding the mushrooms, ginger, chili and kaffir lime leaves. Cook for 2 minutes, until it becomes fragrant, and stir in the sesame oil, maple syrup, tamari and 1/4 cup of water.

Drain your chickpeas and quinoa and add to the pan, stirring it into the mix to heat through. To finish, add the lime juice, coriander and season to taste. Serve on a cup of iceberg lettuce with the chopped macadamia for garnish.

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The Raw Brownie

The Raw BrownieI tried and tested recipe after recipe, 30 or so, for the perfect brownie for a number of years. They all had essentially the same ingredients but different quantities and ingredients. And then, one cold highland trip later I came away with a formula that I have used hundreds of times. But despite my prolific baking, I now have to pass the baton of chief cook of Beaver’s Brownies to my little sister, who has surpassed my skills in making them and they consistently turn out better than mine.

I would post the recipe here, but we’ve gone refined sugar free. So lamenting their loss on my repertoire, I hunted out a sugar free alternative (until I can work out how to make the original with maple syrup!). Cutting out all dairy, wheat, and refined sugar, I ended up with the raw brownie. It isn’t the same as the warm, crunchy and gooey brownie most will associate with, but it tastes great and you can have dessert without even feeling guilty about missing the gym.

Makes 12

2 cups whole walnuts
1 cup raw cocoa
1 cup unsalted almonds, roughly chopped
2 1/2 cups of dates
1 beetroot
1/4 tsp salt

Start by placing the beetroot in a pan of boiling water and cooking for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, add the walnuts to a food processer and blend until finely ground. Add the cocoa and salt and blend. Then add the dates one by one through the feed tube while the processor is running. You should end up with a mix a bit like cake crumbs, but sticks together when pressed. If it doesn’t stick, add more dates.

Now remove the beetroot from the pan, and remove the skin. Next, grate the beet, and then press the water out of it, so you don’t end up with runny brownies.

Add the beet and almonds to the mix in a bowl and fold in. You should end up with a rich reddy brown colour. Line a tray with baking paper, leaving enough over one edge to fold back over the top. Add your mix to the tray, cover with the remaining paper and place in the freezer. The brownie will set, but remain gooey to bite. Serve from the freezer of fridge.

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Silverbeet, Feta and Sunflower Filo

IMG_2415It was Graham Hill who coined the phrase “weekday vegetarian” in his brief but engaging TED talk. His message delivers the increasingly frequent adage that being vegetarian is better for the environment, and for animals…so if you like meat and won’t give it up, why not just eat less meat. Good point, G.

So I’m certainly conscious of the volume of meat I eat, and it has led to some interesting culinary creations. Not least, the filo roll. Each time I try it more veggies go in, but here is the solid staple recipe that will fill you up as a warm hearty meal, or serve chilled for a light lunch.

Serves 6

250g silverbeet or spinach
2 tbsp butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup ricotta
¾ cup feta, crumbled
½ cup grated parmesan
¼ cup chopped coriander
½ tsp ground nutmeg
finely grated zest of ½ lemon
1/3 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
½ tsp salt
ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
8 sheets filo pastry
melted butter or oil spray

Prep time 15mins, cooking time 40mins. Oven on at 180C.

Roast your seeds in the oven whilst it heats up, until golden and set aside.

Melt the butter in a wide saucepan, fry off the onion until golden and then add the silverbeet/spinach. This should wilt down until the moisture is cooked out of it (5 minutes), preventing the pastry from becoming too soggy later. If you are feeling adventurous, add in some chilli, or any variety of vegetables (I like roast peppers in there). Once cooked, remove the pan from the heat and add the 3 cheeses, coriander, nutmeg, lemon zest, seeds and seasoning. The cheeses should melt down into a good gloopy mix.

Now for working fast with the filo. It dries quickly in air! Melt a little more butter in a pan to brush on the pastry layers. Now lay out your first sheet on a counter top, brush with butter, add the next, brush again, and do this until you have 8 layers. Once done, add your mix onto the middle of the pastry into a long sausage and wrap it up into an cylinder, folding in the sides. Transfer this onto baking paper and brush the beaten egg over top to give it a golden crisp when cooked. Then just pop it in the oven for 40 minutes.

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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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IMG_2225If you said “let’s go out for a Turkish tonight” I would previously have had to weigh up the time span between now and my last kebab and consider if my body was ready for the next undertaking. But now I know better than to conjure up such a swift image of mayo and chilli slathered wraps. The cuisine of almost the entire Middle East take their traditional dishes from Turkey, thanks to the Ottoman Empire rule, and they don’t all eat kebabs every day in Jordan. No, sir. Mezze is king. And besides those gloriously charcoal charred lamb chunks with natural yoghurt you will find a beautiful array of light, vegetarian low-carb accompaniments.  Tabbouleh is the staple of these.

This dish will stand proudly by itself as a healthy lunch box salad, but does just as well siting alongside many main dishes. Its quick to make too.

To serve 4 as a main

2 cups of bulgar wheat
4 tomatoes chopped into small chunks
1 cucumber seeded and chopped into small chunks
4 spring onions finely chipped
Bunch of parsley, stalks removed
Bunch of mint, stalks removed
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil

Firstly soak the bulgar wheat in boiling water and set aside for 10 minutes until it is soft to bite. Next loosely chop the parsley and mint, along with your tomatoes, cucumber and spring onion. Add the vegetables, herbs together in a bowl. Drain the bulgar wheat and refresh under cold water, before adding to the mix. Toss the mixture together with the lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. Serve.

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Good ‘ol Hummus


For the last 11 years I have been making this very same hummus. It was a recipe handed to me by a dear old indian friend in West London and it has been stuck to the side of my mum’s fridge in Wiltshire ever since. I get the call up almost every time I am back with the family to get a vat-load made, which never lasts more than a few hours despite the vast quantities produced.


2 tins chickpeas (or 800g soaked chickpeas)
1 onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
2 teaspoons tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon paprika
Good glug of olive oil

Add all the ingredients into a blender and give it a good whizz. If you like your hummus runny add some more olive oil a bit at a time until you reach your desired consistency. It will store in the fridge for around 3 days.

There are all sorts of ways to give this some variety and depending on what I have in the cupboard determines what goes in. But given my recent excursion to the Middle East for a few months I saw a completely different aspect to hummus, in its original environment. Ingredients that have been put together for centuries, since the age of Saladin fighting the crusaders, have kept generations of people fit and healthy across the furthest western tip of the asian continent. To me, olives and harissa always give that something extra, but the show stoppers that take bronze, silver and gold, in that order are sesame seeds, pine nuts and olympic champion za’atar.

If you don’t have za’atar in your cupboard already, or you haven’t even heard of it, please take my word for it and buy some as soon as you can. My Jordanian friends eat a teaspoon of this for breakfast every day, which is a far cry from the porridge I have most mornings, but they swear by its health benefits. Made from predominantly oregano and thyme, it has a beautiful citrusy tang that will liven any dish into middle eastern paradise.


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Carol’s Quince Paste

IMG_2175My surrogate Kiwi mother, Carol, (who is in fact American!) has been teaching me a thing or two in the kitchen over the last few weeks. Given the antipodean seasons we experience over here, it is quince season. That funny, oversized pear, that is too often overlooked.

I still can’t get over that we are headed for winter in April. I can only conjure up images of a dewy cider on Regent’s Canal in Islington on the first surprisingly hot day that the UK experiences before summer kicks in. Instead we are destined for declining temperatures and rain. We can’t complain after the hottest summer in 60 years. But what all this musing about seasons equates to, is that we have quinces now, the UK will have them in October/November.

You will reprimand me for the volume of sugar here, but this is really just to be sampled with a lovely dry cheese (e.g. Manchego). For me, the addition of quince paste (membrillo, to give it it’s original Spanish name) is to bring a fullness of flavour to your cheesy bite that will make your eyes roll to the back of your head. And for the trivia hungry amongst you, this was the original fruit used in marmalade.

Makes 2.5kg (you’ll have to give some away!)

3kg quince – around 7 pieces of large fruit

2.5kg sugar

Zest of an orange

2 vanilla pods

You will need a couple of hours for this, so make it a labour of love for the presents you can make out of it, or the looks of pleasure you will create.

Firstly, top and tail the quince, setting the ends into a bowl. Then coarsely chop around the core, tossing the fleshy bits into a separate bowl. Now chop the core in half and if it looks healthy, throw it in bowl with the ends. If, however, it has moulded in the centre, throw it out.

Now place the ends and cores in a muslin, and tie it off. Place the quince flesh and vanilla pods in a saucepan, with the muslin in the centre, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Boil steadily for 30-40 minutes.

Without discarding the water, vanilla pods or muslin, scoop out only the flesh and place in a separate saucepan.

Now add the orange peel and whizz with a hand blender until it is an even purée with no lumps. Once blended, gently heat the purée and add the sugar.

Here’s where the real love comes in. You need to set the heat on very low and stir almost continuously for approximately 40 minutes. If you stop stirring, the mixture becomes volcanic! After 40 minutes, the mixture should be an orangy colour and part with a wooden spoon so you can see the bottom of the pan clearly.

Line a 25cmx40cm baking tray with parchment and evenly spread the paste into it. Bake at 120C for 90 minutes until maroon coloured. Then leave to cool and set. Voila.


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Energy truffles

Power truffles

I am endlessly looking for something to forage from the kitchen mid-afternoon. If I’m not careful those snacks in the cupboard that I swear I didn’t buy will get it. But, with a deep breath, and a zen-like attitude, I keep my cool and remain committed to a diet that is sugar-free.

So, I’ve found the perfect answer. Cocoa truffles that  don’t have an ounce of refined sugar, just pure goodness. They keep for an age and they keep me going that age before the evening’s meal arrives. They are a synch to make, to boot. So move over KitKat, there’s a new kid in town.

This can be done with most seeds and nuts so whatever you have to hand you can substitute in,


Makes approx. 16 balls

2/3 cup cocoa powder

1 cup desiccated coconut

16-20 fresh pitted dates, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup pumpin seeds

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup water

Pinch salt

You could throw this all in a blender together at once and whizz away, but I prefer to start with the seeds and cocoa together and whizz until they combine. Then add the coconut and salt and pulse again.Then I add the dates, pulse, then the water, and pulse until the mixture is smooth.

To make sure you have even sized balls, use a heaped teaspoon of the mixture at a time, take it in your palm and roll on a chopping board. Set aside until you have all the balls prepped. You can eat as they are, or to jazz them up, I like to chop more desiccated coconut up on the board and roll them on it to stick. You could do this with chopped pistachio, cocoa nibs, or crushed buckwheat. If you ‘bejazzle’ your truffles they make a cracking light dessert that will just top everyone off!

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