Archives for category: Dinner

leeksleeks

I am very full. I write this almost immediately after eating Sunday night dinner, a meal one shouldn’t miss. Tonight we had beef short rib, slow cooked for 9 hours with red wine, mushrooms, carrots and smoky bacon. The rib was tender and left the clean, sleek bones behind in the slow cooker. We had mashed potatoes made smooth with a hunk of butter and big scoop of chicken stock from a roast during the week. On the side, softened leeks. I watched the leeks slowly steam in butter and oil through the glass lid of a fry pan and the light green colour, like a perfectly ripe avocado, reminded me of a very good leek recipe I have been meaning to share.

cross sectionquarters, lengthwise

The leek is probably my favourite vegetable. A strong declaration perhaps when you consider the variety, the sheer abundance and colour of the vegetable world. But the sleek, white, sturdy and soil-dusted trunk with the green fan tops are my most loved. I cannot pinpoint when the leek became a crucial part of my culinary arsenal, which is likely another measure of favouritism – never a conscious decision but a slow integration until you cannot remember ever cooking without it. I realised I began most meals by dicing a piece of a leek rather than an onion or like the meal tonight, sauteed leeks became as common as steamed broccoli or green beans for the vegetable side. Then much like broccoli once made the leap from a humble side to the star of the show (think roast broccoli), leeks began to do the same.

placed in dishtomatoes

These leeks do indeed steal the show. They are acidic, bright and sweet. They are like ribbons, almost pasta in texture; wide wraps of tender noodle. With tomatoes and a robust mustard vinaigrette, they seem an entirely different vegetable to the diced and sauteed and the gently cooked leek for soup.

beforeafter

I’ll let the photos do the talking here. It’s late on a Sunday and between the title and the photography clues, I’m sure you get the idea – that there is perhaps more to the leek than we thought.

Roasted Vinaigrette Leeks

This serves as a generous accompanying dish for four people. Goes superbly with chicken, but also with pork chops.

2 leeks
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 pinches salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
minced garlic clove (I didn’t use this but just thought it might be a nice addition)
1-2 tomatoes, diced
handful sun-dried (can use no tomato or either all sun-dried or fresh)

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cut the white of the leeks in half lengthwise then each length into quarters, lengthwise. Place the leeks into a large oven dish with the chopped tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes. In a bowl or jug mix the vinaigrette ingredients together and pour over the leeks. Cover with tin foil and bake for 20 minutes until tender. Remove from the oven and remove the tinfoil then gently mix, basting the leeks with the sauce. Place back in the oven with the tinfoil removed for another 15-20 minutes until soft and floppy.

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It takes me a while sometimes to recall the good food I ate as a child. If prompted for fond food memories I probably couldn’t tell you a great deal but over time moments from the past come to mind. Sometimes I forget it’s been a fair few years since I was seven and there’s not a hope of me remembering every evening meal and lunchbox packed. Sometimes this thought saddens me, other times, I find it a relief.

salad time

But I remember our kitchen, small and pokey with heavy wooden drawers and a smooth white door frame between the kitchen a round wooden table. I can’t remember the frame ever having a door but for me it was a climbing frame as I gripped my way to the top and would perch, my back pressed against one side, my bare feet firmly planted on the other, talking to my mother in the kitchen. I never fell.

This kitchen was eventually expanded, my climbing frame busted down and the room opened out. In the new kitchen and the old one and I suppose the other kitchens in other houses that have come since, the same sort of things happened. Hundreds of sandwiches would have been made in my childhood kitchen, oranges peeled and apples chopped, cereal poured. There would have been chocolate cake and banana cake, lasagne and roast chicken, lamb chops, mashed potatoes, tomato on toast, spaghetti bolognaise or meatballs, sausages – family food.

spring rootschickpeas and coriander

I remember special occasion foods – the marmalade glaze on the Christmas ham, the time Mum butterflied and roasted lamb and we ate outside in the middle of a summer day, roasting marshmallows in the flames of the brazier on summer nights. I’ll remember for always the avocado halves with slithers of cold smoked salmon we ate for Christmas entrée several years.

seedsdiced carrots

We had a few traditions too which I remember fondly. Every Saturday morning all four of us would do the supermarket shopping together. Even now, a family trip to the supermarket seems something to be celebrated, even if it’s just to buy yoghurt and bread. But those Saturday mornings were precious, if not exactly for wandering the aisles, but for what came after – Scottish malt loaf, toasted and slathered in butter. Our supermarket’s bakery section made the loaf, my Dad’s favourite, and often on a Saturday morning the bread would still be warm, the raisins soft and plump and the malty flavour almost caramel, the just overdone sort of caramel with near-savoury tones.

Another tradition: to shyly mock my Dad when he made his long-term go-to dinner, the same dinner he made on his cooking nights when flatting – grilled lamb chops with boiled and buttered potatoes, curried carrots and a green vegetable of some sort. Mock is not the right word, I’m not sure what is really, for we never complain – you cannot go wrong with grilled lamb chops and my Dad’s curried carrots are as good as they come. Perhaps mocking, lovingly, was our way of saying thanks for cooking Dad.

But in my food life, what has been as perennial as the grass, are my mother’s salads. She makes a darn good salad. Her green salad – mixed greens + anything really (feta, red onions, fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, apple…), the house salad, as so aptly named by Food Loves Writing, continues to be good and I’ve been eating this sort of salad for most of my life. Her roast vegetable salad, potato salad, left-over-chicken salad, warm lamb salad, beetroot salad, fruit salad, rice salad, quinoa salad, any salad Mum puts her hand to is fresh and inviting, appealing and nourishing.

carrots and spicetossorange

I learned from watching and helping Mum make salads that anything, anything in your fruit bowl, pantry or fridge, can contribute to the texture and vitality of a salad. Take this roasted carrot and chickpea salad – a can of chickpeas and the bung up carrots from the market – but together with a little bit of manipulation, cajoling, becomes something else entirely, something quite wonderful.

toasted chicksprinkled with spice

The carrots, tossed in aromatic spices, were roasted until a dusky orange while chickpeas were toasted lightly in a dry pan, the pattern they formed in the pan reminding me of an open sunflower. Big handfuls of parsley and coriander were chopped up roughly with jagged edges and the kitchen smelled fresh. I drizzled oil and ground salt and pepper over pumpkin seeds and sunflowers, these toasted in the frypan so well they almost didn’t make the salad. A spring onion for crunch and oomph, then a strong, citrus dressing. Everything together, the spices, the herbs, the buttery warmth of spiced roast carrots, the ting of citrus, the salty crunch of seeds and the smooth nutty chickpeas make every bite bright.

roasted carrot and chickpea salad

This salad is for keeps, like my mother’s.

Roasted Carrot and Chickpea Salad

3 carrots, diced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons oil
1 can chickpeas (about 400 grams)
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
1 handful fresh coriander and parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 lemon, rind and juice

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Place the carrots in a bowl with the spices and oil, toss until well combined. Pour onto an oven tray and bake for roughly 25 minutes or until tender.

Heat a frying pan. Drain the chickpeas and rinse well. Place in the hot pan and toss until warmed and slightly toasty. Place the chickpeas in a bowl with the roasted carrots, sliced spring onion and the roughly chopped herbs. Stir lightly.

Mix the seeds with a little oil, salt and pepper, then toast in a hot pan until quivering with heat. Sprinkle the seeds over the chickpeas and carrots.

Zest the lemon into a jar, add the lemon juice with a glug of oil and shake well. Pour over the salad.

Enjoy.

Carrots, scrubbed and chopped lengthwiseI remember how I began 2012: in Central Otago, the peak of summer, drinking local wines and eating freshly picked stone fruit. We all sat outside on the first day of the year, in short sleeves, probably drinking rosé, rolling the number around on our tongues, 2012. It sounded good, clean, even. It was going to be a good year and, for the most part, it was. I was sorry to see 2012 roll ever so easily into 2013, with little ceremony or pomp. Thank goodness for Christmas.

Christmas always seems a far better way to say good-bye to one year and welcome in the next, and our Christmas this year, well, we let 2012 go out with a bang. On Christmas Eve, the temperature in the late 20s (celsius), Mum and I made mayonnaise, furiously whisking until perspiration glistened on our foreheads. But it was beautiful mayonnaise, the real deal, a shiny yellow and a flavour that you just want to keep in your mouth.
Hot smoked salmon platter + home made mayo
The next day was hot, fan yourself with your napkin hot – the hottest Christmas day in Wellington since 1934. We started with fresh summer fruit – melon, green and coral pink, nectarines and white flesh peaches, strawberries and plump blueberries. We stuffed a turkey breast then set a leg of lamb onto roast. I stirred a handful of finely diced dill into half of the mayonnaise and wasabi into the other half, just enough to make the back of your throat tingle. We began with a smoked salmon platter – buckwheat toasts, fried capers popped open like crunchy salty flowers, gherkins and oat crackers, and so began our afternoon, a tide like motion of ebbs and flows between the kitchen and the table.
marinade for scallops
Lamb leg ready to roastTender and moist turkey breast
There were scallops marinated with citrus, chilli and coriander – their delicate orange and cream spheres bursting with a soft sweetness and a mere whisper of heat. There was the leg of lamb, rubbed down with rosemary and garlic and roasted to a perfect medium – sweet, savoury, herbaceous – New Zealand lamb at its best. A turkey breast nearly halved, flattened and therapeutically beaten then stuffed with Big Bad Wolf sausage, char grilled capsicum and spinach from our garden. Our favourite Christmas salad, a trio of red, green and white, green beans blanched to a pleasing snap and brighter colour, crumbled feta with plum coloured smudges from the roasted beetroot. Boiled new season potatoes, the joy of summer Christmas, with curls of butter and torn herbs.
Cinnamon and cumin roasted carrotsorange rounds
Then this salad, my new favourite, roasted carrot and orange salad. It is no secret my love of roasted carrots – their tender sweetness and bright warmth pull me in every time, no matter the weather. The salad is a wonderful mess of shapes, colours and textures – long rectangles and full rounds, burnt orange and near yellow, flecked with dark spices.
Roasted carrot and orange saladA trio of saladsChristmas colours
In between courses we drank lemoncello, declared how much we all love it, and opened another bottle of Riesling. My uncle Adrian and his partner Nicola made dessert: fresh fruit of every colour, strawberries, grapes, nectarines, peaches and my first raspberries of the season. A dairy free and gluten free trifle that, had we not been told the slight nutty flavour was rice milk custard and the nubbly texture a ground almond sponge, would have fooled us for the more traditional cream and plain flour variety. We ate trifle by the bowl full. There were home made brandy snaps – thin and wafer biscuit like, holding within their lacy edges the taste of real ginger rather than a generic sweetness like the store bought sort. We filled them with cream as we ate them – fill, bite, fill, bite.
summer by the bowl full
It’s mid-January already. Christmas feels long gone and with it, 2012, but the feast we shared that day seems a good a way as any to welcome in a new year. There is not much we can do about the speed at which the years change, except to live each year wholly and fully. Perhaps that is why I loved 2012 so much and, also why I have barely realised 2013 is well under way.

Roast Carrot and Orange Salad
Taken from the Cuisine Christmas issue 2010 The salad is a cinch to make if you happen to have a bottle of orange blossom water lying around, but I’m sure it will be fine without.

600 grams carrots, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
sea salt to taste
4 oranges
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon orange water
1/4 cup finely sliced mint

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Place the scrubbed and cut carrots in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the oil, cinnamon, cumin and salt. Stir well to combine. Place on an oven tray lined with baking paper and roast for 40 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile place the juice of one orange in a large bowl with the remaining oil, sugar and orange flower water. Slice the rind and the pith off the oranges and slice into rounds. Set the orange slices to one side.

When the carrots are cooked add them to the orange vinaigrette and set aside. The salad can be served warm or cold so just before serving add the sliced orange rounds and sliced mint, toss well and place on a serving dish.

This salad goes very well with lamb.

Quinoa Everything Salad + Roasted Carrot Chilli SaladThere is a beauty in a salad that you will never find in a roasted leg of lamb, or a chicken curry, or a pasta dish no matter how good and how well made they are. There is a freedom of spirit in a salad. You can free wheel in the kitchen. Salads can be immensely satisfying – a meal in their own right.
fresh herbs - coriander, basil and mint
A roasted carrot salad has been brewing in my mind for a while now. I first fell in love with roasted carrots while living in France. Often at the local market a 2 kilogram bag of carrots would be a euro or two. I would eat raw carrots like a rabbit, only turning to other carrot recipes when, alarmingly, my finger tips began to look like I had rubbed them in tumeric. I made carrot soup sweetened with braised leeks or fresh orange juice or, alternatively bulked up with potatoes. And then, when I reached the the end of my tether for carrot and orange soup – who knew there was such a tether? roasting became the way to go.
Carrots in long wedges
Cut into long strips the carrots char slightly at the thinner edges while the thicker end near the top of the carrots maintain their soft bite. Roasted carrots, while not the prettiest roast vegetable to look at all withered and wrinkly, they are perhaps the best to eat. They are sweet and if well seasoned with good oil and salt and pepper take on a buttery, salty-sweet flavour. In France I would eat them simply straight from the roasting dish, pulling each long wedge from the soft tangle of burnt orange. Or I would pulse them into hummus with a pinch of cayenne and paprika, then slather it on fresh, crusty bread with sliced tomato.

It wasn’t until this winter with bags of carrots seeming to outnumber potatoes, pumpkin and other roastable vegetables that I rediscovered the roasted carrot. I like the shape of a roasted carrot, long and slender. A carrot roasted to tenderness and vibrant orange seems quite different and elegant lying next to round, pale golden potatoes. The inspiration for this carrot salad came from a Ruth Pretty recipe I have always been fond of. The carrots are tender, boiled perhaps as they are less caramel tasting and more mellow, but are zinged up with plenty of chilli, olives, and coriander. I love the heat of the chilli, the acidity of the olives and the freshness of the coriander.
Roasted carrot salad with chilli, olives and coriander
For my salad I roasted everything together – beginning with a whole pan laden with chopped carrots and whole garlic cloves, then twice opening the oven to toss in chopped red chilli and Kalamata olives. Next time I might toss in almonds to roast for the last few minutes to add a bit of crunch.
Asparagus and fresh herbsRed and yellow capsicumQuinoa Salad with shaved Parmesan
The quinoa salad is more of an everything salad; endlessly versatile. Start with a base of cooked quinoa – I used a red, black and white mix – and add whatever you have on hand. Sautéed asparagus with lemon, feta, sundried tomatoes, red and yellow capsicum finely diced, sunflower seeds, fresh mint, chopped tomatoes and zuchini rounds cooked until soft and floppy together with fresh basil leaves. The extra bits and pieces nestle well in the tiny fronds of the quinoa and their soft nutty flavour is the ideal vehicle for stronger tastes and textures. Go wild.

Roasted Carrot Salad

A large amount of carrots, say a kilo or so.
4 cloves garlic
2 small red chilli
a handful of black olives
salt and pepper
olive oil
a small bunch of fresh coriander

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Chop carrots in half lengthwise then into quarters lengthwise until you have long strips. Place the carrots and the peeled garlic cloves in a roasting pan with a generous slug of olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes then add the finely diced chilli. After another 10 minutes add the olives and continue to cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Garnish with chopped coriander.

So those hands you see up there peeling garlic belong to the man about the house, so to speak. He likes sushi, no avocado though, bread, potatoes any which way, and chilli, hot and fiery.

Perrin loves the movement of cooking – the chopping of onions and other vegetables – feeling the sharp knife move swiftly; or with the flick of a wrist feeling the frying pan fly through a loosened grip to toss our breakfast or dinner; a grind of salt or pepper is sometimes a whole body movement combining a stride from one side of the kitchen to the other. Perrin moves in the kitchen with a calm but deliberate force. I like to watch him in the kitchen.

Earlier this week Perrin and I had a night off. I said let’s cook dinner. He replied, how about chicken salad, stir fry or a beef tomato stew? Or prawn pasta? I snapped on the prawn pasta – yes please! We walked through the streets on our way to the supermarket in the mid afternoon sun. It was almost hot and there was a calm in the wild winds we have been having. Tell me about this prawn pasta, I said.

Well, cook your fettuccine first, he said. Toss with oil when it’s cooked and then make the buttery prawn sauce. A little bit of oil just to get started and then cook – in quite a bit of butter – a small onion or shallot, garlic and chilli. He turned to look at me with a cheeky grin, I do love butter. Oh, so do I.

Back in Perrin’s kitchen (one devoid of natural light so excuse the yellow-tinged photographs), I sat with my laptop and a glass of wine and looked on, taking notes and asking questions. The meal is quick to prepare – snappy and intense – but there are things to notice here. The sizzle and spit of the pan; an undercurrant beneath the roaring of the extractor fan. As the prawns are flicked and tossed they pink with the heat and the chilli, while the onion and garlic, soft and translucent, is a buttery yellow in comparison. Once the lemon zest and white wine have been added the smell is rich and inviting – there is the sweetness of the prawns, the zing of lemon and crisp Sauvignon Blanc, and the warm scent of onions cooking in butter.

Tossing is important, says Perrin. You must allow everything to bind with the butter – the crux and muscles of the dish, I guess. The dish needs muscle to carry the chilli because heck it’s hot. I sat there enjoying every tendril of fettuccine slicked with butter, garlic and sweet onion and each succulent prawn I picked out of the nest of noodles and ate with my fingers but throughout the whole meal my eyes watered and my nose ran with the heat of the chilli. After I placed my knife and fork together I was out of breath and fanning my burning mouth. Perrin poured me a glass of milk. Romance was high during this meal, believe you me.

Spicy Prawn Fettuccine
Adjust heat to your liking. Maybe one red chilli would suffice. Saffron or smoked paprika could add to the sunset pink colour but lend more of a mild flavour. Serves 2.

200 grams fettuccine
1 tablespoon oil (plus extra for pasta)
a decent knob of butter – 20 or so grams
1 small onion or shallot
4-6 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
red chilli
300 grams raw prawns
1 lemon – zest and juice
1 generous glass of white wine
salt and pepper
parsley

Cook the pasta until al dente. Strain and toss with a glug of oil to prevent sticking.

To a frying pan add the tablespoon of oil and butter. Once melted and slightly bubbling cook the onions and garlic and until soft. Add the chilli and cook for a further two minutes. Increase the heat then add the prawns, tossing for a couple of minutes to partially cook. Add the lemon zest and juice, the wine, salt and pepper then the cooked pasta continuing to toss for a further three or so minutes.

Once the pasta has heated through serve on to plates and scatter across finely chopped parsley, or another herb.

A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of a 50 hour working week, I went home to my parents for dinner. I walked in the front door and was immediately taken to the kitchen, being handed a glass of water and an iron pill en route. Mum pulled out of the oven her black casserole dish, lifted the lid and inside, lightly simmering, was a glossy, green lamb curry. The pieces of lamb were almost rounding out of their bite-sized cubes, the flesh becoming tender with flavour of the spices.

Mum handed me a spoon with a little bit of lamb, “Try this, though it may need more cooking time.” I was slightly dubious, to be honest. I thought the lamb might have needed more time to settle, to become more soft and tender. Mum tried a spoonful too, and we looked at each other, “yum!” was all that was said. I grabbed my camera and tried to capture in the last of the afternoon light the bright greens, the glistening oils, the specks of red chilli and the whole fennel seeds.

There is not a lot of meat dishes on this blog, partly because I don’t eat a lot of meat. I am what I call an unintentional vegetarian; I mean to eat meat, I do – medium rare steaks, baked chicken breast or thighs with herbs and lemon, pork chops with softly cooked onion and apples, lamb cooked low and slow with Mediterranean flavours – but on week nights if I have time to cook all I need is a pot of tender, flavoursome vegetables. Also, and I’m bearing all here, meat is very hard to photograph and make it appear vaguely appetising. My novice photography skills are tested at times.

A pot of tender, flavoursome vegetables, one that so easily could be puréed and called a soup, but remains thick and stew like, is what I call in not so eloquent terms, fridge raid supper. The idea of fridge raids appeal to me. Not in a Nigella-black-silk-dressing-gown-midnight-feast sort of a way, but more let’s open the fridge and see what catches my eye. This is how I like to cook, and how my mother likes to cook. In fact, I learnt this skill from her (it is most definitely a skill when there is not a lot in the fridge to work with as is usually the case). This free-style way of cooking is probably not all that conducive to great blog posts though, and on bad nights, not all that conducive to good dinners either. But it suits my life at the moment.

As my year wraps up there will hopefully be more time for cooking, slowly and carefully, enjoying the process. There will be time for eating with friends, and also treating myself to meals for one – meat, vegetarian, seafood and grains. I hope to find a bit more balance in my life through the meals I cook and eat. There will also be, God I hope so, more sleep and down time in my life. Meat alone is not going to fix the dark circles under my eyes. But in the meantime, there is my mother’s cooking.

My mother makes a good curry. They are not necessarily heavy handed on the spices; your nose won’t run and your eyes won’t water, but they hold their own in the flavour of herbs and aromatics. Anise, cumin, fresh coriander – leaves and roots, five spice, cinnamon, turmeric, fennel seeds, chilli… The spice cupboard at home is loaded and well used.

Green Curry (with lamb)

This recipe comes from possibly one of our most successful and well used cookbooks, Curry Easy by Madhur Jaffrey. This book is full of delicious curry recipes, which as the title suggests, are very easy to follow. The recipes for side dishes, especially those using vegetables, match well with so many meals.

A second note from my mother: This curry can also be made with chicken although the lamb is better matched to the longer cooking time and holds the flavours better. You need lots of coriander – a big bunch. Can be eaten with rice or flatbreads with a vegetable curry side.

2 tablespoons lemon juice
100 gram bunch of coriander (just a big bunch with roots)
2.5cm fresh ginger peeled and chopped
4 good sized cloves of garlic
3-4 hot green chillies – I use red most of the time however
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 medium onion
600 grams boneless lamb cut into 2.5cm pieces
120ml coconut milk – I have put this in once but prefer it without

Put lemon juice, 120ml of the water, the coriander, ginger, garlic, chillies, turmeric and salt into a blender in this order. Blend thoroughly pushing down with spatula until you have a fine paste.

Preheat oven to 160C. Put oil in a flame proof casserole and set over medium to high heat. When hot put in fennel seeds. A couple of seconds later, put in onions. Stir fry until they are brown at the edges. Add meat. Stir fry over high heat for 7-8 mintes or until meat is browned.

Add green sauce from the blender and bring to simmer. Cover and place in oven for 70 minutes – I have left in the oven for nearly 2 hours! Check after an hour however. If using coconut milk add now, reheat gently and then serve.

Tuesday was a miserable night, calling for slow cooked and warming food – a venison ragoût. On nights like we have had this week; where the wind shakes the windows in their frames; there are metres of freshly fallen snow in some parts of the country; we’ve had thunder and lightening and unrelenting rain, it was such a pleasure to stand at the stove and slowly put together this meal.

In the world of food blogging there appears to be a constant need to reinvent the wheel, to take old favourites then add a bit of this, a touch of that so the original recipe is almost lost. I think this is why baking recipes are held in such high regard on blogs; swap dates for currants, white sugar for brown, all-purpose flour for whole wheat and, hey, we have something new and exciting. This is how we develop new ideas and new ways of cooking, so please, don’t get me wrong, many baking blogs share some wonderful recipes. I like the sound of these, and this, and these.

But we shouldn’t forget the everyday good things: the soups, stews, salads and grains, the humble vegetable. When prepared with tenderness and thought, they too can offer something exciting. After all, most of us don’t just eat cake. This venison ragoût with the sweetness of bacon and prunes and the subtly rich flavour of the meat is a deeply satisfying dish for a cold winter’s night.

I served the ragoût with brussel sprouts, halved and sautéed with a knob of butter, a half teaspoon honey, grating of lemon zest and a splash of hot water. Once the sprouts were lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes, I added a handful of trimmed green beans and continued to toss for a further 5 minutes.

Venison Ragoût
Barely adapted from the Silver Fern Farms recipe

1 tablespoon oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
500 gram venison fillet, diced
1 teaspoon paprika
a few sprigs of thyme
pepper
2 rashers bacon
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
a handful of prunes or cranberries
1 tablespoon tomato paste
100ml red wine
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
zest of a lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
100ml stock

Heat the oilve oil in a frypan or casserole dish (suitable for stove-top use and with a lid). Add onions and garlic and sauté until soft. Put onions in a bowl and set to one side. Turn heat to medium-high and pan fry the venison with the paprika, thyme and pepper until lightly browned. Reduce heat and add chopped bacon and vegetables. Cook for a further 5 minutes. Add onions back to the pan with the prunes or cranberries. Add tomato paste, red wine, vinegar, lemon zest and mustard and stock. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for one hour or place casserole dish in a pre-heated oven to 170°C for an hour.

Serve with potatoes or rice or green vegetables.

A vegetable drawer clean out prompted this soup; a stray spring onion, a half leek, spinach just shy of becoming limp. It was late when I began cooking, nearly 9 o’clock, and the slow steaming of leek and onions sounded so appealing. My soups very rarely follow a recipe. I go by ingredients on hand and a desire for texture and consistency; thick and creamy, or more of a thin broth.

This soup is of the broth variety with sweet cubes of kumara* and thick strips of spinach. The leek, spring onion and brown onion were cooked slowly to retain their soft green colour and gentle flavour. Red and golden kumara were simmered with the onions and chicken stock until just cooked and slightly toothsome. I tossed in half a bay leaf and a few sprigs of thyme, adding a depth of flavour to the chicken stock. A final grating of ginger cut through the richness of the stock. This very subtle heat sits snugly at the back of your mouth, a reminder that there is goodness here.

For a an extra flourish I made a yoghurt sauce with a squeeze of lemon juice, ground cumin and parsley. This could add a finishing touch to so many dishes – curries and vegetable stews, baked potatoes, a dipping sauce for vegetable crudités, even other soups of the classical sort. A swirl of this fresh yoghurt through pumpkin or roasted mushroom soup would be refreshing. Feel free to change the herb, or the spice for something more mellow, or more upbeat.

Not bad for a fridge raid supper.

Sweet Onion, Kumara and Spinach Soup
Soups are such a lovely thing to make; once you have the basic formula you can change the ingredients and quantities as you please. I like a soup that seems to stradle the lines between soup and stew but you could puree it once cooked for something most definitely in the soup camp. Like I said, I don’t really follow a recipe so the words below are more of a general guide.

Oh and, * kumara is sweet potato for all non-kiwi readers.

a knob of butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium brown onion
1-2 spring onions
3 cloves garlic
1/2 to a whole leek
3-5 kumara, red, golden or brown
chicken or vegetable stock, 500-750ml, heated
thyme sprigs, bay leaf
a thumb sized piece of ginger
a large handful or two of spinach

In a large pot heat the butter and oil over low-medium heat. Slice the leek and the onions into half rounds then into thin strips. Add to butter and oil and stir to coat. Slice the spring onion into thin rounds and add to pot. Finely dice the garlic and add to onions. Cook slowly until soft.

Dice kumara into 1-2cm cubes and add to the onions. Cover the pot and cook the kumara for a few minutes. Add the stock until barely covering the vegetables. Throw in the herbs and grate half the ginger into the soup. Place the rest of the ginger whole into the pot. Bring to the boil and simmer until the kumara is just cooked. (This will depend how finely diced the kumara is so keep checking, maybe 10-15 minutes.) Roughly chop the spinach and stir through the soup until just wilted. Remove from heat.

For the yoghurt sauce mix 4 tablespoons yoghurt, a few leaves of finely chopped parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice, a couple of pinches salt and a half teaspoon of cumin. Stir well.

Dollop a generous spoonful on top of the soup and serve with crusty bread.

It is hard to keep up with Wellington weather. What to wear? What to eat? Should I take a raincoat or sunscreen? What to eat gets me the most. I never know if I should be bunkering down with the comfort foods of winter or holding on to those fresh, clean tastes of summer. Winter vegeatables are appearing at the market alongside the last of the season’s stone fruit. And yesterday I think I got sunburnt. Wellington can be a testing place to live.

But, nonetheless, it was impossible to resist this little pumpkin last week. It fit into the palm of my hand, small and green with a little button top. I wanted to coo and whisper sweet somethings to it. Instead, I roasted it, whole. I cut around the button top, pulled it out like a plug, then scooped out the seeds and pulp. I rubbed olive oil, salt and pepper around its insides. I placed three peeled cloves of garlic and some chopped up feta in the middle and replaced the lid.

In the oven the pumpkin steams and roasts within its skin. The cuteness of the pumpkin seems to disappear; the skin crisps up and weathers slightly. It almost wrinkles as the flesh within begins to pull away from the sides. Then you know it is going to be good. The pumpkin at the top is almost plain, with a hint of sweetness, while at the bottom the flesh is almost soupy. The sharpness of the feta disappears and instead there is a salty, creamy broth.

My mother used to cook pumpkins like this. The trick is lots of garlic, three or four whole cloves per pumpkin. And something salty: strips of bacon curled around the insides of the pumpkin works wonderfully, holding in the very best of the pumpkin flavour.

There is something very pleasing about cooking a whole pumpkin, whether to be carved and shared at the table or to enjoy a little one for yourself. Take great delight in pulling off the stopper and scraping the flesh off the top, as you would a soft boiled egg.

Enjoy no matter the weather; these baby pumpkins are too good to wait for colder days.

Roast Baby Pumpkin with Feta

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cut around the top of each pumpkin. You may need a spoon to lever out the top. Use the spoon to scrape out the seeds and all the stringy pulp. Pour in a tablespoon of olive oil and spread around the sides. Add ground salt and pepper and spread evenly.

Peel three cloves of garlic per pumpkin. Place inside the pumpkin along with several cubes of feta, so you can’t see the bottom of the pumpkin. Place the stopper back in its hole. Place in a tin foil lined baking tray. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the side of the pumpkin meets no resistance.

For more of a soup add a 1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable stock. Replace feta with bacon or strips of red pepper. Add ground chilli to the salt and pepper for a little bit of a kick.

My mother always says that if there is a can of tomatoes in the house, there is a meal in the house. I know this to be true. I would now like to add my own little kitchen adage, that maybe my children will remember one day. If there are a few onions in the house, there is a meal in the house.

Take a couple of onions, red or brown, cut in half and thinly slice. Caramelise these in a lot of butter, a grind of salt and pepper, with a diced garlic clove and a half teaspoon of honey. As they start to soften and become translucent move the onions together into a pile in the middle of the pan. Place the lid on, turn the heat down until it is low and soft and the onions will transform into something quite remarkable. This will take a while. They become silky and succulent, a little bit like noodles. They turn almost autumnal in colour.

Cooking with onions can be uncomfortable but eating these onions is something else entirely. They are more texture than taste; upon first bite there is no overwhelming sense of flavour, but then there is the lick of oil and a subtle sweetness. Long strands of al dente spaghetti are perfect with these onions. As you twirl your fork each thread of pasta is tied up with a streak of onion. When you finish your bowl, which you will, your lips glisten.

Pasta is my go-to meal when I cook for myself. It is comforting and quick. These onions stew, maybe nest is a better word, into a thick sauce. To these onions you could add almost anything: hunks of pancetta or other cured meats; mushrooms; small anchovy fillets; the flesh of a roasted aubergine. Or ripe chopped tomatoes cooked until they just begin to soften and lose their shape. Rocket or baby spinach swirled through just before serving so they barely wilt would add a little freshness. A diced pear or chopped dried figs cooked with the onions could add an interesting note. The torn off leaves of thyme and rosemary would lend a fragrant quality. I’m wondering if a slight splash of balsamic vinegar would make this meal taste too much like a jar of onion marmalade, or if a certain acidity would be a welcome addition. What about shredded chicken that was perhaps roasted in a harissa spice rub? Or what about garnishing the onions with lightly toasted walnuts to give the dish a bit of crunch?

I really could go on.