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How summer feels

Far North New Zealand, January 2017

Summer is the season that appears universally revered. In the southern hemisphere the warming weather means that Christmas is on its way and the annual round of parties, barbecues, beaches and sunscreen. It’s no wonder that we long for summer all year round. The thought of warm nights rolling into bright mornings into long, lazy afternoons seems so good, so right and so essential as we grind our way through the long year. Summer is as summer does.

Sadly, I can only write fondly of summer because it’s on its way out. Brisbane has just experienced its hottest summer on record, which included 30 consecutive days of temperatures over 30°C. This year, summer has been about getting through and constantly making ice to chill the water that emerges warm from the tap. Even now when it is officially autumn I’m lying here on the couch, clothes askew, beer within reach, resenting the heat of the laptop on my thighs.

The saving grace of this challenging summer has been three mini-holidays away. Just before Christmas we had a weekend in Coolum Beach where we took long walks on the beach and unwound after our busy year. After Christmas we had a few days down in Stanthorpe, Queensland’s only wine region, where we sampled some excellent local wines and gleefully pulled up the duvet at night when the temperature dropped wonderfully low. In late January we had a glorious week back in New Zealand, enjoying the long twilight hours and the novel sensation of comfortably wearing jeans. Summer might have been a write-off back in Brisbane, but these three experiences reminded me of just how good summer can be. The following collection of photographs tries to capture this feeling of Summer 2016-17.

Coolum Beach, Sunshine Coast, Australia
Coolum Beach is one of our favourite spots on the busy Sunshine Coast. Unlike other beaches nearby, Coolum is relatively undeveloped which has helped to preserve its natural beauty and chilled out vibe. Things to do: hike up Mt Coolum for spectacular 360° views, shop for beachy clothes along the shopping strip, walk for hours along the white sandy beach, eat at Raw Energy for breakfast and Harvest for dinner.

Coolum Beach on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland Australia

Coolum Beach, Sunshine Coast Australia

Up Mt Coolum looking towards Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast Australia

Stanthorpe, Southern Queensland, Australia
Queensland’s mild winters and heavy summer rainfalls aren’t conducive to wine making, but Stanthorpe is located just north of the border with New South Wales in the high country area of the Granite Belt. The elevation means that Stanthorpe is hot (but not humid) in summer and cold in winter; in fact, it even snows at times. We took a great half-day winery tour with Granite Highlands Maxi Tours, learning that wine has been made in the Granite Belt for nearly 150 years. Unfortunately, Queenslanders tend to prefer beer above all else, and for years the region produced sweet, unremarkable wine to cater to the underdeveloped palate of locals. The region now boasts several award winning wineries and we were impressed by most of the wineries we visited. Highlights included the excellent Tempranillo at Moonrise Estate, Malbec at Whisky Gully, Shiraz at Ballandean Estate and the delicious Viognier at Ridgemill Estate, where we also stayed.

Other things to do in Stanthorpe: wander around town, try the famous apple cider and apple pie at Sutton’s Farm, visit local potters, and look out for the McGregor Terrace Food Project (which was sadly closed when we were there).

At Ridgemill Estate Winery, Stanthoroe, Queensland Australia

At Ridgemill Estate Winery, Stanthorpe, Queensland Australia

Golden grass in Stanthorpe, Southern Queensland, Australia

At dawn, Stanthorpe, Southern Queensland, Australia

Winery tour in Stanthorpe, Queensland Australia

Far North, New Zealand
The Far North of the North Island is a little off the beaten track. It’s a solid four hours drive north of Auckland; more if you’re unused to the narrow, winding roads, but it will always be home to me. We spent a wonderful few days visiting family, soaking up the beautiful and familiar views and eating home grown produce from Mum’s garden. The highlight was a family outing to Lake Rotopokaka on the Karikari Peninsula, which is referred to locally as Coca Cola Lake due to the deep reddish-brown water (the colour is due to leaching minerals and tannins from peat). While the thought of brown water might sound off-putting, the water is clear and sparkling and is even considered to have healing properties. After a dip in the lake we drove over the hill to nearby Tokerau Beach and enjoyed a picnic on the beach while the sun gradually went down. It was after 9pm when we finally left and it still wasn’t completely dark (love daylight savings!). Sun, fun and fresh air – we all slept well that night.

Other things to do in the Far North: hang out at Ahipara to watch local surfers in action and visit nearby winery, Okahu Estate, take a walk in the quaint village of Mangonui and eat fish and chips at the infamous Mangonui Fish Shop, travel up to Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand (where it is said that the souls of departed Maori pass on their way to their spiritual homeland, Hawaiki), book a fishing charter out of Mangonui or Houhora, or simply find a beach (you’re never far from one) and relax.

Shipwreck Bay - a popular surfing spot for locals

mesmerising-red-brown-waters-of-lake-rotopokaka-aka-coca-cola-lakes

At Coca Cola Lake - Karikari Peninsula

Coca Cola Lakes, Mum's vegetables and Loki the dog - January 2017

At Tokerau Beach, Karirkari Peninsula, Doubtless Bay New Zealand

Tokerau Beach

At Tokerau Beach on the Karikari Peninsula

Tokerau Beach on the Karikari Peninsula - Far North New Zealand

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Best brunch dish | South-East Asian Kedgeree

Freshly poached salmon for South-East Asian Kedgeree

Kedgeree is an “Anglo-Indian culinary mash up” of a dish, combining curried rice with smoked fish and hard boiled eggs, popularised in Victorian times by returning colonials who melded Indian spices with British haddock. Kedgeree doesn’t appear to be well known outside of the UK, which is a shame because it makes for a supremely comforting and restorative meal. I’m always struck by how kedgeree sticks to your ribs while remaining light, warming the stomach and reviving a sluggish morning brain. It’s a classic and favourite dish, which made it an obvious choice for our annual Christmas breakfast.

Kedgeree with poached salmon, coriander, lime and turmeric

Since moving to Australia and spending most Christmases away from our families, I have imposed a tradition of making a big deal about Christmas breakfast. Breakfast is usually the most unloved meal of Christmas Day, which makes it the perfect blank slate for a new event (the rest is down to pure laziness on my part – breakfast will always be easier to pull off than Christmas lunch or dinner). I have tended to make use of this opportunity to try a new recipe, but we all know that it’s a bad idea to make recipes for the first time when entertaining. Unsurprisingly, this practice has resulted in sub-par results, including the bland 2014 Corn & Feta Fritters and the weirdly textural 2015 Summer Celebration Breakfast Tart. I also tend to take too long photographing the freshly plated food, turning a good dish into a barely edible one (see the 2013 Poached Eggs in White Wine, which reached the table stone cold and slightly congealed). After five Christmas breakfasts of mixed success (clearly, I’m a slow learner), I have accepted the following truths:

  1. Only tried and true recipes are likely to deliver a perfect result under pressure; and,
  2. Christmas Day is not the time for a photoshoot (neither is any day really, if it means getting between hungry people and their food).

Christmas 2016 went off without a hitch partly because it starred this kedgeree, a recipe that I’ve been cooking and adapting for years. I know the recipe intimately and it does what I expect it to do. The flavours were balanced, the rice was fluffy, I didn’t take a single photo and the kedgeree was served warm(!!!).

Kedgeree with poached salmon, coriander, lime and turmeric

Kedgeree with poached salmon, coriander, lime and turmeric

While not traditional and therefore not acceptable to some, Nigella Lawson’s Kedgeree replaces the smoked fish with poached fresh salmon and takes the spice profile towards Thailand and Vietnam rather than India. Turmeric, cumin and ground coriander provide earthiness, kaffir lime leaves, lime zest and fresh coriander provide headiness, and salty, umami fish sauce brings the whole together. Kedgeree is best served warm and freshly cooked but leftovers are almost as good (which makes for sublime snacking on Christmas afternoon).

Kedgeree with poached salmon, coriander, lime and turmeric

Christmas 2016 was a small group of friends who gathered at our place for a three course breakfast. Over the course of three hours we ate our way through an abundant fruit platter, before moving to the kedgeree, then finishing with light and crispy Belgian waffles topped with fresh berry sauce and whipped cream. It was easily my most successful Christmas breakfast to date, and even if you did have to wait over two months for me to make it again, photograph it and post the recipe, at least it means that my guests might decide to show up again next year. I think I’ve just nailed my own tradition (at last!).

Kedgeree with poached salmon, coriander, lime and turmeric

South-East Asian Kedgeree

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites

500ml cold water
2 kaffir limes leaves, torn
3-4 salmon fillets, skin off (approximately 750g)
45g salted butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
225g basmati rice
1-2 tsp fish sauce (to taste)

To finish:
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
Small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
Juice and finely grated zest of 1 lime
1 more lime, cut into segments

Preheat the oven to 220°C / 430°F. Select an oven-proof dish or roasting pan into which the salmon fillets are able to fit comfortably, laid side by side. Pour over the water, add the lime leaves, and then cover the dish tightly with foil and cook in the oven for 15 minutes. Check that the salmon is cooked (barely cooked and still tender on the inside), and use a large spatula or fish slice to remove the salmon to a large plate. Cover the fish with the foil to keep warm. Reserve the poaching liquid but discard the lime leaves.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the oil. Saute the onion gently until it has become translucent, and then add the spice and cook for a few more minutes. Add the rice and stir together with the butter, spices and onion. Add 1 tsp of fish sauce to the reserved poaching liquid and taste to assess the flavour (we are after a subtle broth – not too fishy or salty) and add a little more fish sauce if it still tastes too bland. Pour the broth over the rice, stir through, cover and gently bring to a simmer over a medium-low heat. Cook for approximately 15 minutes.

While the rice cooks, wash and chop the coriander, peel and quarter the eggs and you can even zest the lime if you wish.

When the rice is cooked, turn off the heat, cover the saucepan with a clean tea towel and then replace the lid (this will help to absorb any excess moisture – a good tip for when cooking any sort of grain on the stovetop).

When ready to serve, pour off snd discard any further liquid that has collected around the salmon, then flake the fish into large chunks. Place the fish into the saucepan with the rice, most of the coriander, lime zest and juice, and eggs. If your rice still seems a little bland at this point, sprinkle over a bit more fish sauce, and then gently toss everything together using a couple of large spatulas. Transfer the mixture to a serving platter, sprinkle with the rest of the coriander, squeeze over a bit more lime and add lime wedges on the side.

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Summer sippers | Strawberry & Pineapple Shrubs

Pineapple & Chilli Shrub and Strawberry Peppercorn Shrub

If the idea of drinking vinegar makes you cringe, then you’re not alone. Many natural health practitioners tout the benefits of knocking back apple cider vinegar each morning, claiming that it cures all manner of ills. It’s hardly the way that I want to start the day, but strangely, with Brisbane in the grips of an extra-hot summer, you’ll find me happily sipping on fruit-flavoured vinegars instead of my usual gin and tonic.

Drinking vinegars, or shrubs, are the newest old thing around. Essentially a concoction of fruit, vinegar and sugar, shrubs have been prepared for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. British sailors preserved fruit as shrubs and drank it to prevent against scurvy; the same sailors brought the practice to America in the 18th century, where shrubs became regarded as a cooling treatment in the warmer months. Shrubs (and their honey-based cousin, switchels) gained peak popularity in more modern times during the American Temperance years as a fruity alternative to alcoholic drinks. But then alcohol returned with a vengeance (I suppose?) and shrubs faded out of memory.

Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub and Pineapple & Chilli Shrub

Fortunately, shrub and switchel recipes were recorded and are undergoing a renaissance. The food blogosphere seems to be exploding with them lately, used in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic preparations. I first heard about shrubs from the gorgeous cocktail blog Holly & Flora and have been joyfully experimenting ever since. They are easily one of the most exciting things I’ve cooked up for a while. Each recipe makes a portion of sweet, tart concentrated cordial that is rich with fruity flavour. Once you have a bottle in your fridge, all you need to do is dilute it with sparkling water or add a dash to your favourite cocktail. It’s seriously, ridiculously, delicious.

There are several methods for making shrubs but so far I have used just one: the cold-process method, which apparently produces a brighter, clearer flavour. Cold-process shrubs take longer to make than other methods, but it’s time rather than labour that is needed. Sugar, fruit and vinegar are introduced to each other one by one, left to macerate, then strained and stored in the fridge for at least a week to mature. This last bit is a critical step: when I made my first version, a Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub (recipe below), I couldn’t wait and had to sample the freshly strained liquid. It was so purely, intensely strawberry that all I could think of was little girls and fluffy kittens (strawberry overload), but after a week in the fridge the overwhelming sweetness was balanced with tartness and mellowed by the warmth of peppercorn.

The second recipe below (Pineapple Shrub) took some work to perfect. I tried it with orange peel and lemon, with chilli, then no orange and less chilli, then more pineapple etc etc., but just couldn’t get the pure, juicy pineapple flavour I was after. I eventually removed everything but the pineapple and used a base of Japanese rice vinegar and was finally rewarded with a shrub that makes you feel like your head has been swallowed by a pineapple. I have a million other ideas for shrub recipes – clearly, I’m going to need more storage bottles!

Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub and Pineapple & Chilli Shrub

To make Jayme’s Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub, Jayme first has you infuse the sugar with lemon oil. Peel the zest from two lemons and using a suitable tool (such as a cocktail muddler or a sturdy pestle) massage the strips of zest into the sugar for several minutes (use firm pressure, but not so much that the peels break up). You will notice the sugar becoming damp with lemon oil.

Removing lemon peel to make Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub

Cover the mixture and leave it to sit for at least one hour, then remove the peel, scraping off the excess sugar which will now be very damp (see below). This method of extracting lemon flavour is known as the oleo-saccharum technique.

Lemon infused sugar for Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub

Add your chosen fresh fruit to the lemon-infused sugar and stir together. Cover again and place the bowl into the fridge for two hours.

Making Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub

After two hours, remove the bowl and using your muddler or pestle, press the fruit gently to extract more juice. Add apple cider vinegar to the mixture, stir through and place back in the fridge for two days.

Apple cider vinegar is added to strawberries and lemon-infused sugar

After two days, strain the mixture, bottle, and leave to mellow out in the fridge for a further week before drinking. Once it’s made, shrubs should keep in the fridge for up to six months. I can barely get beyond stirring a little concentrated shrub into sparkling water, but I can confirm that the addition of vodka is also a good idea. The Pineapple Shrub below is also great mixed with coconut water. Enjoy!

Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub with Pineapple & Chilli Shrub

Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub

  • Servings: about 2 cups
  • Print
Recipe via Holly & Flora

Peel from 2 organic or spray-free lemons
1 cup sugar
2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
30 black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
1 cup naturally brewed apple cider vinegar

Remove the peel from the lemons, minimising the amount of white pith that comes with it. Place the peel in a medium bowl and cover with the sugar. Press the peel firmly into the sugar for about five minutes, using a pestle, muddling stick or large wooden spoon. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and set aside for at least one hour until the sugar looks damp and slightly yellow from the lemon oil.

Once an hour or more has passed remove the peel from the sugar to a smaller bowl, scraping off the excess sugar. Reserve the peel and place to one side in a small bowl. Add the strawberries and peppercorns to the sugar and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap again and transfer to the fridge. Allow to sit for two hours.

After two hours the mixture will have become quite juicy. Remove from the fridge and press the berries firmly into the sugar to extract more of their juice. Pour the vinegar into the bowl containing the reserved lemon peel. Swish gently to rinse off the excess sugar then remove the peel and discard. Pour the vinegar over the strawberries and stir to combine. Cover the bowl again and place back in the fridge to macerate for two days.

After two days, strain the mixture using a fine-mesh sieve lined with muslin or cheesecloth. Squeeze the fruit gently through the cloth to extract more juice and then discard the spent fruit. Transfer the liquid to a clean (sterilised), air-tight bottle and store in the fridge for one week.

When ready to serve, always shake the bottle first. Pour 2 tablespoons of shrub (or more to taste) into a glass and top with ice and sparkling mineral water, and maybe a dash of vodka. The shrub should keep in the fridge for up to six months.

Pineapple Shrub

  • Servings: about 2 1/2 cups
  • Print
Adapted from Culinaire

1 1/4 cup sugar
3 cups ripe pineapple, cut into 1cm chunks
1 cup rice vinegar

Don’t try to make this shrub unless you can get perfectly ripe and sweet pineapple. If you can get them, I would also recommend choosing a low-acid pineapple variety.

Chop the pineapple and mix it with the sugar in a medium bowl. Press the pineapple firmly into the sugar for a few minutes, using a pestle, muddling stick or large wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, transfer to the fridge and leave to macerate for three days.

After three days, strain the mixture as described in the recipe above. Transfer to a clean, air-tight bottle and store in the fridge for two weeks to allow the flavours to mellow (I found that one week wasn’t sufficient and the flavour of the vinegar was still too strong. After two weeks it had mellowed significantly, and it continued to mellow as time went on).

Shake the bottle before using. Serve the Pineapple Shrub diluted with ice and sparkling mineral water, without or without a dash of vodka. The shrub should keep in the fridge for up to six months.

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What to do with too much summer squash

Yellow button squash - two recipes for using up a bumper crop of summer squash

Those of you who are able to grow your own vegetables at home will know all about the blessing and burden of bumper crops. In summer, courgettes (zucchini) and other squash varieties are often the biggest culprits and most gardeners that I know are always looking for ways to use them up. Recently I was lucky to be given two enormous button squash by a lovely work colleague who was drowning in excess vegetables. In sympathy, I challenged myself to expand my repertoire of courgette dishes and find three new recipes to try and share.

These gorgeous golden orbs first sat in my fridge for a couple of days where the sight of them conjured memories of a garden that I once grew. At the time I had spent several years nurturing herbs in pots and dreaming about rows of vegetables growing lushly in the sun. My grandfathers were a primary influence as both of them had grown spectacular produce at home: one in his urban backyard and the other in the rural valley of my childhood. My memories of the urban garden centred on Cape Gooseberries and the novelty of peeling paper lanterns from the bright orange fruit within. The rural garden was more rustic and was associated with bucketloads of crisp green beans and enormous pumpkins with pale grey skins.

Special Spiced Courgette Loaf

When I decided to create my own garden, I read every book I could find. I planted seeds in trays and prepared the ground while they sprouted, digging horse manure and compost deep into the soil. I planted everything that I liked best – sweetcorn, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, aubergine, capsicums, carrots, lettuce, and of course, courgette (zucchini). Almost everything thrived and I began to eat the most amazing simple dinners of fresh, boiled vegetables topped with butter, salt and pepper. It was idyllic until, all of a sudden, it wasn’t.

In hindsight I had bitten off far more than I could chew. My garden was too large and I hadn’t factored in the incessant workload of weeding, watering and tying things up. In my inexperience I had planted everything too close together and many plants weakened from lack of light. Overnight, a thousand green beetles hatched and began to suck the life out of the plants that remained. I was ideologically committed to gardening organically; therefore I resisted sprays in favour of squashing the beetles by hand. Alas, after a few days away I returned to find that a thousand beetles had become a million and the whole garden was practically sucked dry.

Delicious Courgette and Ricotta Fritters

Such is the life and death drama of growing your own food! Still, it was hard to be philosophical when I had invested so much energy in the project. Life got busier, I went back to a few herbs in backyard pots, and a few years later we moved to Australia into an apartment with a tiny balcony. Urban living has huge benefits for me at this time of my life, but I’m a country girl at heart and the dream of dirt under my fingernails still has a tight grip on my soul. I know that I’ll have a garden again one day (next time I’ll start small!), but until then I’ll live vicariously through those who do.

This post is for all of you gardeners out there with too many courgettes/zucchini/squash on your hands this summer. The button squash that I used had effectively ripened into what my grandfathers would have called marrow. The seeds were large and tough but I scooped these out and the remaining flesh was perfectly tender and worked very well in these recipes. The first recipe is for the most delightfully creamy, lemony fritters. The second is for a special courgette bread, which – bizarrely – uses curry powder to add an exotic and mysterious flavour. My squash were so large that even after making these two recipes I still had half a squash left! I used it in a third recipe (see here) but it’s not quite up to sharing yet. Enjoy!

Courgette & Ricotta Fritters

Adapted from Mario Batali and Food & Wine

2 medium courgette (zucchini) (about 400grams total), coarsely shredded
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 large spring onions, sliced thinly
1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese (recipe here)
2 large eggs
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
Olive oil, for frying
To serve: Lemon wedges

In a large bowl, combine the grated courgette, garlic, spring onions, ricotta, eggs, lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Stir together and then mix in the flour just until incorporated. Check the seasonings and add a little more salt if needed.

In a large frying pan, heat a spoonful or two of olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering spoon the batter into the pan, spreading them gently to form fritters about 8-10cm in diameter. Once the bottoms have become brown and crisp, flip over gently and cook on the other side. Drain the fritters on a plate lined with paper towels. The fritters are best served hot, with lemon wedges, but they are almost as good served cold with a green salad and sliced avocado.

Special Spiced Courgette Bread

Adapted slightly from 101 Cookbooks

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
1/3 cup poppy seeds
zest of two lemons, finely grated
1/2 cup crystallised ginger, finely chopped
3 cups courgette (zucchini), skins on, shredded (about 3 medium)
3 cups flour (I used 1 1/2 plain flour and 1 1/2 wholemeal flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp curry powder or ras el hanout (optional)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F. Line two loaf tins with baking paper and butter the ends.

In a medium bowl combine the walnuts, poppy seeds, lemon zest, and chopped ginger. Set aside.

Shred the courgette. Squeeze out some of the moisture by pressing handfuls of the vegetable between your two palms. Measure the required amount and then place the courgette into a bowl, fluffing it up to separate the strands. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and optional curry powder, whisking together to combine and aerate. Set aside.

Beat the butter until fluffy using an electric cake mixer. Add the sugars and beat again to cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Using a spatula, stir in the vanilla and then the grated courgette.

Add the flour and spice mixture to the wet ingredients in two batches, stirring between each addition until just incorporated. Gently fold in the nuts, poppy seeds, lemon zest, and crystallised ginger mixture. Avoid over-mixing the batter.

Divide the batter equally between the two loaf pans and smooth out the surface of the cakes. Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for about ten minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool completely. The loaves will keep fresh in an airtight container for three or four days. Alternatively, slice the loaves and store in the freezer for up to one month.

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