Sticky sweet: Blackcurrant syrup

I know lately I’ve been using the word ‘homegrown’ a lot, and probably in a very self-congratulatory way but I never realised how satisfying it was to know that you grew and hand-picked something you are eating until I started doing it. My recent preserving tangent, while starting as a way to fulfil Christmas present obligations, has grown into a way to use fruit, herbs and vegetables grown in my own garden and those of my friends and family, rather than see anything go to waste. This has led to inventiveness that even I will admit has gone off the deep end – resulting in phrases like “why throw away the skins of used lemons when I could use the peel to make flavoured salt?!” coming out of my mouth. It has also spurred my love of free food that began while digging around in supermarkets rubbish skips while at University.

Today I took a more legal route and foraged 1kg of blackcurrants (and unintentionally 2 stick insects, but don’t worry, no living creatures were harmed in the making of this meal). I hate to use the word ‘foraged’ as it sounds so lame and trendy, but what else can you call it when you find a patch of wild berries growing and pick them? Add some lemons from my grandparents place, strawberries from my parents place, some sugar and you have yourself enough team-effort blackcurrant syrup to last through till next summer!

Blackcurrant syrup (recipe from
450g blackcurrants
250g caster sugar
260ml water
1 medium sized lemon

Sterilise the bottles you will be using to store the syrup
De-stalk and wash the blackcurrants, don’t be too picky – it doesn’t matter if some still have stalks attached
Heat the blackcurrants, sugar and water in a medium saucepan over low heat until the sugar is dissolved
Once the sugar has dissolved bring the syrup to a gentle simmer
Simmer for 5 minutes then add the juice and skin of the lemon
Bring the syrup back to simmer for a further 5 minutes
Pass the cordial through a fine sieve, pressing the berries with a wooden spoon to squeeze the juice out of them, then pour the cordial into sterilised bottles
Store in the fridge or if you feel like it, freeze in ice cube trays (you could add them straight to lemonade or water!)




Tagged , ,

Tea for two (or more): Pineapple mint tea and tropical chai tea

I’m making good on my promise to give you more recipes in record time. That might have something to do with being at work. In a mall. On a Sunday. If, like a sane person, you do not go to the mall on a Sunday here is all you need to know about what you’re missing: practically the only people at the mall are all under 10 years old and all they do all day is eat McDonalds, chase each other around and scream at the top of their lungs. So in an effort to maintain my own sanity, I have written about 8 blog entries ahead of time, here’s one of them. It is inspired by the cross I bear of sitting in the mall all day, wanting to be in front of the fire at home with a cup of tea and a book while a storm rages outside but instead facing the reality of being assaulted from all sides by the smell of the foodcourt, sound of overeager Christmas songs on the PA (it’s 361 days away retailers, get over it) and hordes of people wanting to know where the toilet is.

Pineapple and mint tea
After trying and being converted by mint and pineapple tea in Australia, plain old mint tea no longer seems as good. I was disappointed to realise the company who makes it ( don’t ship to NZ, so I decided to make my own!

Pick your own mint, wash it, dry it thoroughly with paper towels then leave in your oven on the lowest temperature possible for a couple of hours until dried OR buy some dried mint
Mix mint at a 2:1 ratio with freeze-dried pineapple powder
Store in an airtight container (or else the pineapple will get damp – I keep mine inside a resealable bag which is in turn kept inside a preserving jar)

If you haven’t heard of freeze-dried fruits before, you should give them a go even if just for novelty’s sake, NZ company Fresh As has an awesome range.

Tropical chai tea
I would love to give you a recipe for this but to be totally honest I made it up as I went along based on what spices were in my cupboard. I can tell you that the ‘tropical’ part of the name comes from the fair amount of flaked coconut that I included. If I were forced to give a recipe I would probably say you can’t go much wrong with the below:

50% black tea
30% dried coconut flakes
20% of the following spices (equal amounts of each): cardamom seeds, crushed cinnamon, crushed star anise, crushed peppercorns, crushed allspice
The glory of this formula is it allows you to make as little as one cup of tea or as much as you could possibly want to give away as gifts. Once you’ve mixed everything together and it smells like it could taste alright (if you mistake 50% black tea for 50% crushed peppercorns or some equally horrible mistake your nose should tell you), the best test is to brew some up and give it a taste. Once satisfactory, store in airtight jars.



Tagged , , , , ,

Christmas time, beer and thyme (mustard): A very effortful Christmas

‘I left a something in your freezer as a thank you.’ Strange phrasing but exciting nonetheless, I love surprises! What could it be? Organic-dairy-free-fat free, exotically flavoured icecream from a similarly food-obsessed person? A pack of pies and bag of chips from someone who understands my tastes aren’t as complex as people think?Then I looked in the freezer, rechecked the text and everything suddenly clicked into place. Not a ‘something’, a ‘salmon’. I left a salmon in your freezer as a thank you. And there it was, a whole (minus the head) salmon, wrapped in newspaper.After not living in New Zealand for 2 years, it is easy to forget that in some places it would not be considered unusual to go to work for the day, leaving your house unlocked for someone you barely know to come and pick something up they left in your car, only to come home to all your personal belongings still in place and a freshly caught fish in the freezer.

After months of shuffling it round the freezer to make space for litres of vege stock, multiple ice cube trays and many frozen pies, the salmon’s time finally came on Christmas day. I would give you the recipe but like a good daughter I gave it to my Mum she cooked it up. But it doesn’t matter anyway because this post isn’t really about the salmon, it’s actually a vehicle for me to brag about my food exploits this Christmas. In the coming weeks expect recipes for some or all of the following

Christmas presents:
Vanilla essence
Candied Kumquats (
Pineapple and mint tea
Gingerbread syrup (
Honey curry mustard and Beer thyme mustard (
Tropical chai tea
Raspberry jam
Pickled beets
Vanilla bean and espresso muesli (
BBQ Sauce
Lemon and Sage Curd
Lemon, fennel and chili salt

On the day:
Coconut and white chocolate pannacotta (with Agar instead of gelatine)
Chocolate peanut butter clusters (
Coffee biscuits with pumpkin butter ( butter/#.Uq5vPyfLIf4)
Raspberry jam and cream cheese danishes (
Brie with rosemary roasted cherries (
Cheese balls (

The links above are for recipes I used without making any changes. Recipes for the others to come soon

And here’s a photo of the salmon for good measure:


Laughing Stock: Homemade Vege Stock

Saturday was a very hard day for me. I got sent home from work after 2 hours because I am sick but my boss said he’d pay me for the whole day. At the local market I bought the first gooseberries, nectarines, peaches, cherries and raspberries of the season (literally – I was the first person at the market). I also bought goats cheese, beetroot dip, fresh bagels, yams, jersey benne potatoes and other tasty things and for the first time had enough money left over to buy some awesome pastries. “What are you talking about? Sounds like a great day!” you say? NOT IF YOU ARE SO SICK YOU HAVE LOST ALL SENSE OF TASTE.

That’s right, due to some unusual flaw in my DNA or immune system or somewhere in there, every time I get a cold, no matter how minor, I lose my sense of taste for a few days. I have never met anyone else who shares this evolutionary blip and so feel safe in saying that few people could understand the misery of indefinite taste-loss.

With an unexpected day off but not able to engage in my favourite past-time (eating for pleasure), I decided to cook something that I don’t need to use right now (so therefore won’t feel like I’m missing out that I can’t eat it immediately) but will be very useful in future.

Vege Stock  (inspired by my all time favourite blog, Vegetarian Ventures
I used scraps or whole of the following:
Bok Choy
Peppers (Red and Green)
Homegrown thyme, bay, oregano, rosemary, parsley and chives
I also included some chipotle and granny smith apple

Save up vege scraps (or use fresh if you want) until you have about 4 cups worth
Put scraps in a large saucepan and cover with water
Bring to the boil then simmer for an hour
Remove from heat, let cool, then store in the fridge (for up to 5 days) or freezer (freeze in ice cube trays) for a couple of months.

If you are not making your own vege stock (as I wasn’t till last week), get on it. It is so easy and fast. There are no extra costs involved if you keep a bag in the freezer and add scraps that amount naturally while cooking (onions skins, garlic tops and tails, celery leaves etc.) or whole vegetables that you’ve left a bit long and are looking too dodgy to eat. Pretty much anything can go in, just avoid anything floury (like kumara and potato).

Most importantly, it tastes so much better than the over-priced liquid or powdered stock you find at the supermarket. I don’t know about you but I don’t trust something that claims to be made from fresh vegetables but can sit unrefrigerated on a shelf for months or years and still be within its expiry date.

UPDATE: If you live in Christchurch you will be able to buy this in the new year from Harris & Turners, Lyttelton

Tagged , , ,

Blind Pumpkin: Whole roasted pumpkin soup

Today I decided to break my blogging dry-spell by posting a recipe totally unique to me. Invented by me.

For me this is a milestone as I used to think it would never be possible for me to make food I loved without following a recipe step-by-step, 1/2 cup by 1/2 cup. Now I finally feel confident enough to try new things and know that even if they fail, I can use the lessons learned from that failure to make it go right the next time (don’t worry, I’m still talking about food here).

Today’s recipe is borne from me thinking something would be a great idea, doing a lot of research online and finding very few recipes, none of which I felt were quite right. Well, that and my wish to squeeze every moment of enjoyment out of Saturday’s not-really-that cold snap in Christchurch. You see, I’m a winter person. I am pale-skinned, have type O blood and overheat easily. This makes summer a nightmare of sunburn, mosquito bites and constant sweating. On the weekend I embraced the sort-of cold the best way I know how – doing my weekly groceries at the farmer’s market in the rain wearing a hooded knee length swanndri, lighting the fire, watching a movie in front of said fire with a cup of tea, cooking pumpkin soup for tea and chilli hot chocolate, strawberries and cream for dessert.

Whole roasted pumpkin soup
1 large pumpkin
1 onion, diced
1 granny smith apple, peeled and diced
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf (from my own garden boo…yah)
enough vege (or chicken) stock to 3/4 fill the pumpkin
dash of cream
1 Tbsp goats cheese
4 sprigs thyme (also from my garden, just try to stop me!)

Preheat oven to 190 degrees celcius
Chop the top off your pumpkin (enough that you can get your hand in but not enough for anything to spill out once it is full)
Scrape out the seeds and stringy bits inside
Fill with the onion, apple, butter, salt, garlic, bay leaf, stock and cream and rub the outside with vegetable oil
Bake for 1 hour, remove top (carefully!) and add goats cheese and thyme
Replace top and bake for another half hour or until the pumpkin is soft and roasted on the inside
Scoop out contents (again, carefully, we don’t want any steam burns here) into a pot and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. The one recipe I found said to blend it while still in the pumpkin and avoid the sides, go ahead with this if you are brave enough
Serve with whatever extras float your boat (I went with cheese, chilli, fresh basil and pepper)
If you feel like recreating my night head to toe, serve strawberries for dessert sprinkled with vanilla sugar and chopped mint, with cream poured over.

I always apologise for the lack of photos, but today I want to complain about the lack of photos. I had intentions of breaking my blogging-silence with beautiful, well thought out shots of pumpkin soup cooked inside the skin, bright red strawberries covered in vanilla sugar and cream and a copper kettle sitting on top of the fire boiling the water for my tea (best present ever). But my camera ran out of battery and I couldn’t find the charger. I am cranky about it and apologise (as usual). I urge you to use your imagination, it might even be better than the real thing. Doubt it though!

For full disclosure but at the risk of sounding like a total food snob and someone you want to immediately drag to the doctor for an artery check up, I included Fresh As freeze dried pineapple chunks in my dessert and had cream instead of milk in my hot chocolate. Judge me all you want!

Tagged , , , , ,

Love to hate you: Broccoli soup

Continuing the thread of ‘foods that most people seem to hate’ that was initiated by Brussels sprout, today we move onto a recipe I mentioned a few entries ago, a broccoli soup inspired by my friend Savannah. I’m sad to say that the back-up supply sitting in my freezer has just run out. However, that leads to happy news as it means it won’t be long till I make this soup again.

When I was a kid I would make little villages with my food before I ate it. I’m sure this wasn’t as much fun for my parents as it was for me. However, I loved it and I have been grateful to broccoli ever since not only for its great taste but also its perfect resemblance to a miniature tree. The one downfall of this recipe is that it reduces broccoli down from its amazing natural shape. But I suppose you can’t have your broccoli and eat it too!

Broccoli soup
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 fennel, chopped
3 heads and stalks broccoli, chopped
2 small potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup hard cheese (I used parmesan), grated

In a large pot, fry the garlic, carrot, celery, onion and fennel on medium-low in the oil for 5-10 mins until soft but not browned
Add the broccoli, potatoes and stock and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover for 15-20 minutes, until the broccoli and potatoes are soft
Leave to cool slightly then blend until smooth
Add cheese and serve

I bought cream to serve with this soup but it was already so creamy that I didn’t need to add it, it is great as is.

Tagged , ,

Far out Brussels sprout

Guys! I did it again! I made toasted muesli and this time it’s pink (replacing the banana with strawberry is definitely recommended if you’re feeling like a bit of a money-bags).

But that’s not even the most exciting news of my week. The reason I’m feeling like a bit of a money bags is because I’ve taken budget eating to a whole new level. The cost of each meal I make is down to about $3, and I’m no economist but I think that’s pretty good. The best part about it is that there has been no noticeable negative impact on the quality of the meals. I’m sure there’s an economics term for that.

It doesn’t get much cheaper than the good old Brussels sprout (I always thought it was ‘Brussel sprouts’! I like ‘Brussels sprout’ much more). I know for some reason there’s a rule that everyone must dislike Brussels sprout. I think it might be because the most common way of cooking them (boiling) doesn’t do them much justice. Try the below method, I challenge even the most die-hard sprout hater to hate on these.

Roasted Brussels sprout (recipe from

1 kg Brussels sprouts (2 handfuls)
3 Tbsp cooking oil (I used Canola, don’t be stingy or they’ll dry out)
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small fresh red Thai chili, finely chopped

Trim the sprouts and cut in half, toss in the oil and roast at 230 degrees celcius for 45 minutes, until dark brown. Add butter before serving
Make dressing by mixing all ingredients from the fish sauce down together until sugar dissolves
Serve the sprouts with the dressing

You’ll have heaps of dressing left over, you could do what I did and use this as an excuse to make the sprouts again, or it would go well on a noodle salad
The original recipe calls for some fancy puffed rice addition, I didn’t add this but I did sprinkle shichimi togarashi on the sprouts before roasting and it was a great addition!
Tagged , , ,

Second time around: Basil pesto

After Basil pesto take 1, I can see why anyone would be skeptical that Basil pesto take 2 would ever occur. I myself wasn’t expecting it to happen any time soon. But when you have a soup recipe that calls for 1/4 cup of basil and the supermarket will only sell you a gigantic bundle of basil, you gotta do what you gotta do.
One rainy Sunday afternoon, when I could no longer bear the thought of the herbs slowly biodegrading in my vegetable drawer, I decided it was time to get back on the horse. And you know what? I did it! Without cutting off a finger, or even breaking skin at all!

Basil pesto: Take 2
2 cups basil, roughly chopped
1/4 cup coriander, roughly chopped
1 cup grated hard cheese (I used Parmesan)
3 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
pinch of salt
pinch dried lavender (optional)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp raw pinenuts

Process basil, coriander, cheese, garlic, salt, olive oil and lavender in a food processor till they become a paste
Add pinenuts and process until mixed in, add more olive oil if it looks too dry
The addition of coriander and lavender was an invention of necessity as I had dodgy-looking coriander to use and the only salt I could find was lavender infused. These are optional, but delicious.

This took me 5 minutes. It is great. It saved me spending $5 on crappy supermarket pesto. But most importantly, this was a dish made without any blood, sweat or tears.


Tagged , , , ,

Sing a tropical song: Toasted muesli on a rainy weekend

This weekend was one of new food adventures
Yesterday I slept in till 7, ate 2 servings of porridge then spent the next 4 hours in the driving rain wheeling and dealing for bulk vegetable bargains. I was lucky that my 3rd weekend in Sydney was also the first time in years that my flat has done the shopping for their local co-op food boxes. The fun I found in spending my Saturday morning in a wholesale food warehouse followed by dividing the spoils for others to collect from our house was unexpectedly immense. See below for photos of the food boxes we put together – $12 each!

Today I stayed in, listened to the rain outside (rather than running around in it again) and spent 4 hours cooking. Dinner was broccoli soup (thanks for the inspiration Savannah), dessert will be brown sugar raspberry meringues, and below is my recipe for what I’m sure will last me for all of next week’s breakfast.
2 and a 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, chopped
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, chopped
1/4 cup hazlenuts, chopped
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1 banana, mashed
Pulp of 1 passionfruit
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp honey

1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp flaxseeds
1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped (I used raisins)

Mix together everything from the oats to the salt
Heat the fruit, oil and honey on the stove or in the microwave (about 20 seconds) till warm
Mix together the fruit pulp and oat mixture in a bowl
Spread in a thin layer on an oven tray and bake at 150 degrees celcius for half an hour or until toasted and brown, stir often to stop the outsides burning
Allow to cool completely before mixing in the remaining fruit and seeds
Store in an airtight container

As always, be inventive! You can use anything muesli-like at all for this. Also the mashed banana and passionfruit was great but any pureed fruit would work just as well.

Also as always sorry for the terrible photos but as you know I make food to eat, not photograph.




Tagged , ,

Would you string along with me: Fennel, leek and mint salad

Even though it is technically winter, I’ve just moved to a place with temperatures that at this time of year rival those of summer where I’m from. It’s no Alaska suffering their worst heatwave since 1969 (reaching temperatures as scorching as 26 degrees celcius), but for wintertime it is practically tropical. Maybe that’s why I’m craving foods not normally enjoyed in the colder months. The salad I made tonight could easily be described as summery. For me it was a way to use up a rag-tag bunch of leftover veges and I never thought I would be posting it here. But since it highlights my two great food loves (avoiding waste and getting inventive), this is where it has ended up. If you don’t have some of the below ingredients leave them out or replace them with something you feel is appropriate, I believe in your (food related) decision making skills.

Leftover summer salad

1/4 leek, finely sliced then chopped1/2 fennel, finely sliced then chopped
1/4 cup mint, chopped
small amount (about 1/8 cup) coriander, chopped
1/2 cup rocket, chopped
1 pear, finely sliced then chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Compile ingredients
Eat salad

PS I know today’s title isn’t as directly related to the food as usual but c’mon, Slim Whitman must be honoured, even if just with a salad recipe.


Tagged , , , , ,