Salted Peanut Caramel Tart with Banana Caramel Ice Cream and Dark Chocolate Sauce


Alrighty here we go then - this latest recipe is seriously easy to make, utterly decadent and the perfect take-to-a-dinner-party (or serve at your own) dessert. The base is a lovely crisp peanut butter pastry, filled with smooth, rich caramel and crunchy salted peanuts. On top a wodge of homemade banana caramel ice cream (or bought vanilla bean if you can't be faffed making your own), and a drizzle of dark, bitter chocolate sauce. So all in all, it's about a mullion bullion (hi Will!!!) calories, so a wee small slice is all you need.

Sooo, blergh, it's been almost four months that I have been solo, and I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be feeling all that bollocky empowerment and 'I am woman hear me roar' business, but I have to say, I still just feel like poo. (Probably not an optimal word for a food blog, but hey...). I think maybe it is enhanced by the fact that lovely Henry has just been here with gorgeous Will for his 21st, and now Stinky Bum (Schnub/Hoob/Richard) is fast asleep in his room too, on uni break. The 21st 'do' went as well as could be expected, all the rellies were on form, the house looked great (an extravaganza of pot plants, sparkles, helium balloons and orchids/palm flowers with a Henry photo wall), the food was pretty durned good (beetroot and feta whip crostini, mushroom arancini, cauliflower and chickpea fritters, spinach pastry bites and a prosciutto and buffallo mozzarella platter, a whole orange almond cake and lemon tart), drink was free-flowing (gin and tonics, champagne and wine) and even the weather was good. The rest of the week with the boys staying was lovely, (with meals at two of my favourite restaurants: Aperol and Baduzzi) and it was so good to get to know Will better, but too quick, and they are already nearing the end of their adventure in Arrowtown. Meanwhile I have (sick - that chest again) Rich for daily man-hugs for another week, so I will be making the most of it, and on a mission to send him back to Welly in good health! Anyhoo, best I get up and cracking, work to be done, (and l'il fashion week show to attend with my gorgeous niece-to-be Maddi today) and like I said, this recipe is easy - don't be scared to give it a whirl :)

French Onion Soup & Rustic Croque Monsieur


These are two of my all-time favourite French dishes that are featuring in Fairfax newspapers around the country today – so simple to prepare, pretty rustic, but packed with fantastic flavour. The onion soup is deeply rich, slightly sweet and satisfying while the croque monsieur is indulgently good with crispy bread slathered in bechamel sauce, nutty gruyere cheese, sharp Dijon and ham. You may well be cursing me during the onion preparation if your eyes are stinging – the only way I have ever found that works for me to prevent this, is to pop the whole onions in the freezer for half an hour before I start slicing, but even so by the end I was red-eye-stingy and crying. I have been a bit relaxed with the serving quantities this week, as a little bit depends on how big the bread slices are in the croque mesieurs – if you use big slices of sourdough half of one might serve for one, but if you use smaller slices of bread you will need one each. Similarly this will affect how much soup you want to go with it. Rest assured that the quantities will serve at least 4 (and 6 of me!).

So this morning I am posting this from the hairdresser (major colour and trim required) having just been to have my eyebrows fixed up. I am in that slightly hyperventilate-y state of having lots to do but trying to remain calm, as when I get to each thing I just have to stop. Any way, as usual I have brought work with me to do, so will get to that in a minute. The countdown is on to Pog and Will's arrival on Sunday, so I have one more shot to do tomorrow morning and can then start my flurry of preparation proper - house clean, fresh sheets, mow the lawn, food prep, etc. As Henry is now full vego I am opting for porcini arancini, beetroot and feta crostini, spinach parcels, cauliflower and chickpea fritters and a good cheese platter as the main components of the nibbles for his 21st - then as far as drinks go he is a gin fiend so that is pretty easy. The guys arrive from Melbourne on Sunday (hurrah!), then Rich from Welly on Tuesday with the gathering on Tuesday evening. It'll be a bit quiet from me for the next 10 days, but in the meantime, wish me luck, and please do try these recipes - they really are delicious :)

The Perfectionist - Porcini & Wild Mushroom Risotto


Hello again, and welcome to the third of my recipes designed to showcase the Fisher & Paykel Perfectionist cooking style (there are 7 more styles, find yours by completing their quiz here). This time I chose a porcini and wild mushroom risotto, as again, a risotto is one of those recipes that seems to freak people out, but seriously, if you following the steps carefully, it's actually a breeze. My criteria for a good risotto are these - it must be stirred often during cooking to encourage the starch to release from the rice giving it a creamy consistency, it should be wet, slightly sloppy even, not a solid blob - keep an eye on it and add stock regularly to ensure it doesn't dry out, and test from time to time so that you don't go past wet into gluggy. When done, serve immediately - get those guests sitting up while you're plating up so that they are not responsible for turning your perfect risotto into a mushy lump!!! Left-over risotto is also bloody brilliant, not for re-heating (well past it at that point), but to turn into arancini or risotto cakes - delicious :). The key to giving this risotto depth is the use of dark, inky black field or wild mushrooms, a good quality rich chicken stock, the addition of the porcini soaking/reconstituting water and to season well.

In other news Henry has started with a hiss and a roar at the Mercer School of Interior Design in Melbourne - hurrah - I'm so excited for him, he really needs a creative outlet to keep that busy brain occupied!  I can't wait to hear all about it. Meanwhile Rich is loving political science (yay), and busy handing out CVs around Welly - but sick with what sounds like a chest infection dammit. Will he go to the doctor...?!? Hopefully he will before he gets any worse - if he was here I would drag him there myself. Apart from that, in-between panicking about how much work I have to fit in, I am getting super excited about Henry's upcoming visit for his 21st - 2 weeks to go! (Holy sh*t balls though - I have so much to do before then). 

Right, back to it, but before I go, thanks again to F&P for kindly sponsoring my three Perfectionist recipes, and a wee note that if you are lucky enough to have the Fisher & Paykel induction cooktop you'll have no problem adjusting your temperature to the perfect settings to keep your risotto simmering away, then easily wipe clean once you're all done :)

Slow-cooked Mexican Pulled Beef & Beans on Soft Cheesy Polenta


Goood morning. I am well over due to get up and get cranking, but wanted to quickly share this before the weekend. It's looking set to be freezing, wild weather around the country, and this is the antidote - super-slow cooked Mexican spiced beef and beans on soft, cheesy polenta. The whole thing is so perfect for entertaining as the beef is made completely in advance while the polenta takes just a few minutes before serving. Serve with loads of fresh coriander, and if you like, a sprinkling of thinly sliced red onion for a little contrasting sharp crunch with that soft, spicy beef. Any left-over beef also makes a great filling for quesadillas, tacos or burritos along side fresh tomato and avocado with a little sour cream and an extra squirt of hot sauce :)

What else? Poor Henry is wrangling his flat move with an ever-changing set of circumstances, it's like trying to run on quick sand, and Rich is, in this moment, contemplating a new exercise regime which is so damned good. Pog is already a yoga fiend like me, but Rich is usually focussed on team sport rather than fitness for it's own benefits, so that is totally brilliant news. (As an ex-boot camp personal trainer I can't conceive of being happy without some form of exercise - these days for me it 's slightly dorky power walking and loads of yoga, and I bloody love it!). We shall see how that progresses but he is actually craving (I think) healthier food and the feel-good factor of moving your body. Anyhoo, lots of work to be done, have a great weekend, and if you haven't already, come and say hi at my FB or insta or leave a comment below! 

Banana Maple Oaty Walnut Muffins with Maple Butter


Goood morning from my regular blogging spot - tucked up in bed with a mug of tea. I have a real treat for you today - these banana, maple, oaty muffins are basically a loaf recipe that I have tweaked (and can still be cooked a s a loaf) for Fairfax newspapers, so will be appearing around New Zealand today. They have a slightly dense but not heavy texture - more slightly oaty-earthy if you know what I mean - with a soft maple background and pleasing little walnut nuggets. They are perfect for enjoying on a wet, cold winter afternoon (or as you can see from the pic - in my imagination, sitting by the fire in a log cabin surrounded by snowy woods...). Any way, the maple butter is the sneaky little extra surprise which can also transform waffles, banana pancakes, crumpets, anything like that, that you can imagine loading with bananas (and maybe bacon). I had never seen it made before so was intrigued with my experimenting to find the hot maple syrup being whipped and cooled with the butter into a maple cloud...obviously it is pretty sweet, but also bloody addictive! It also keeps well in the fridge for weeks.

In other news, the count down is on until Henry arrives for his 21st and I am freaking out as to how I will get both my work done and prep for his visit before he gets here - you know that anxious, sick feeling in your stomach..?! Last night I couldn't sleep and was making lists in the kitchen at about 1:30am. All my friends know that I am a compulsive organiser, but I do find that once I write stuff down and work backwards from a goal, it usually makes things seem much less over whelming, and way more achievable. So. fingers crossed! Pog is well under way with his interior design course, and hopefully about to secure flat number 3 in Melbourne. This time I am hoping it is less freaky suburban prison-cell (first one), or mouse-infested, kitchen-less fire-hazard (second one). Meanwhile Hoob is toiling away at uni - not much action on the work front, so lets hope something happens in that department soon. He is however revelling in political science and philosophy...which is awesome, I'm so thrilled he is enjoying his subjects, and hope that I haven't just done the unthinkable and put the hoodoo on it by saying that out loud...Right must get up, pulled a chest muscle (typical) so it's walks instead of yoga this week. Let me know if you give the recipe a whirl :)

The Perfectionist - Classic Lemon Tart


Helloooo - if you come here often you will already probably know these things: 1. I love tarts, 2. I particularly love lemon tarts, 3. I am something of a perfectionist (as confirmed by the Fisher & Paykel What's Your Cooking Style?' quiz). To that end, the second recipe I thought of when they asked me to participate in their challenge was this - an absolutely perfect, quintessential lemon tart. I have already posted recipes on the blog for a super-deep ultimate lemon tart and a cheesecak-ey, lemon curd twist on the traditional recipe - but this - this is pretty much the best, classic lemon tart I can think of. I have previously said that I hardly ever order lemon tart when I am out and about, because I have been served up too many disappointments - namely in the degree of lemony-ness. Seriously it is a lemon tart! So (errrp), mine is very lemony, if you prefer a more subtle lemon flavour (why?),  just swap the ratios of lemon juice and cream and you will have a milder result. (Again, why?). Actually ignore me - I don't like oysters, which makes me pretty much a heathen in the culinary world, so who am I to judge if you don't enjoy mouth-puckering lemon, if you like less, go wild! Just as with the double-baked French onion souffles, all you need do is follow the recipe and you will be guaranteed a gorgeous (I mean look at it) cafe/restaurant/French maman's style lemon tart :)

In other news, the sun is actually shining outside my window, I am in this moment up-to-date with my workload (long may it last) and I am going to a film festival movie tonight (The First Monday in May) with a couple of lovely girlfriends, so hurrah to that. Rich has ditched criminology in favour of political science at uni (he is seriously politically-minded, and currently looks like the kind of long-haired semi-radical, peace activist who will one day do good for the world), so it will be interesting to see if philosophy retains the top spot in his subject choices. Meanwhile it's Henry's turn to look after Will who now has a rotten cold - not surprising given he works such long hours and the weather in Melbourne has been outrageously bitter (get well soon Will!). Right then, if I am to keep up to date, I better get to it - next lot of Dish Magazine recipe-testing coming up...

PS - little shout out to Fisher & Paykel who have kindly (obviously) sponsored this post (thanks so much guys) and an aside to confirm that I am indeed the proud owner of an F&P fridge and dishwasher, and they are actually seriously easy to clean - I always said I would only ever partner with products I believe in, so it is a treat to be doing this little series together - one more Perfectionist recipe coming your way very soon :)

Rhubarb & Raspberry Clafoutis


I'm writing this a bit later in the day for a change, coffee in hand, weak sunlight streaming in the window and, as hoped, Dougie is snoring gently and intermittently farting in his bed at my feet. (Dougie is Henry's border terrier in case you weren't sure!). He seems to be rocketing along with his recovery, eating well (free range chicken and rice...), taking his meds (kind of), sleeping lots but generally in a pretty perky state. The next step is to have his stitches removed next Wednesday and further blood tests to see if there is an underlying disease which caused his gallbladder issues. Meanwhile - it is all go in Melbourne with Pog finally starting his interior design course on Monday, and I am (fingers crossed) assuming not-much-news is good news from Rich. I started my day with a bloody lovely yoga session, so have no excuse not to now get my act together and have a good day, testing my next lot of recipes for Dish magazine.

This clafoutis recipe is one I put together for my fortnightly Dish web contribution, and I have to say it is damned delicious. I love tart rhubarb, and when combined with the sweet raspberries then topped with soft vanilla custard it really is a great dessert. The clafoutis is super easy to make, and quick too, if you roast your rhubarb in advance. The trick is not to serve it straight away as the custard needs time to set up a little - but then don't serve it cold either, because by then the custard will have set into a slab! Just give it 5 minutes or so, then serve with a lovely big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

The Perfectionist - Double Baked French Onion Souffle


I am so grateful for good friends - it's easy to be mates when everything is jolly, but when things get tough it is amazing to have people you can rely on :) Last night I had two of my most lovely friends for dinner. As usual we started with a wee whiskey and some nibbles before sitting down to dinner with a good bottle of red. I had been really enjoying playing around with this recipe - a double baked French onion souffle, and for dinner I served it with a beautiful piece of eye fillet topped with garlic herb butter and a bitter green salad. I have always been a sucker for double-baked souffles as there is no angst involved with timing and possible souffle deflation - they do deflate as they cool, and that is just fine, because once inverted and re-heated they are 're-inflated', soft and luscious and bathed in creamy gruyere. The size of these souffles makes them ideal to serve with a salad for lunch, as a starter before a light main (such as fish), or as I did, as a one course meal with a beautiful steak. The French onion flavours would also match beautifully with lamb or chicken. We finished with another recipe of mine that I recently created for Cuisine magazine (that you will see in the future), a beautiful tart and ice cream combination that rounded the meal out perfectly. After dinner we chilled out watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower, an old favourite - a very different kind of coming-of-age movie. I think I was so keen to watch it as it always makes me think of the boys (it's one of Rich's favourites), and it does have a lot of lovely 80s references I can relate to! Hoob is now safely back at uni, settling back in for re-O week (!) and on the part-time job hunt, while Henry is about to start his Interior Design course in Melbourne any minute. It was such a treat to see Rich, he is such a darling, big ole intelligent deep-thinker, and I am hanging out to see Pog when he comes over for his 21st...can't wait! In the meantime I have tucked one of these souffles in the freezer for him...

The reason I started playing with the idea of this souffle in the first place was because I had been approached by the good people at Fisher & Paykel and invited to participate in a little experiment/challenge. They asked me to complete their What's Your Cooking Style quiz, which you can do here to see what kind of cook I am, and then to come up with three recipes which embody that cooking style. I'm always up for a challenge so got straight to it - and it will come as absolutely no surprise to my friends (and anyone who has every worked with me), that my style is The Perfectionist. The result is no fluke, back in the day when watching Friends and assigning characters, I was only ever allowed to be Monica...kind of apt given that she was a perfectionist caterer! Anyhoo, the very first recipe I thought of was this souffle, as it is the kind of recipe that can seem scary, but if you follow the instructions exactly, (and they are not difficult), you are guaranteed a perfect result. Extra good bits - you can make them completely the day before and just re-heat, so there is no last-minute panic, and it also means the kitchen stays nice and tidy during the evening when guests are hovering around, and if you're lucky enough to be preparing the souffles on a Fisher & Paykel induction cooktop, you'll know how extra handy it is to have such instant, precise temperature control, not to mention the easy clean surface - I might be a perfectionist, but that doesn't mean I'm not a bit (lot) messy sometimes!

Warm Winter Vegetable Salad with Lemony Feta & Coriander Dressing & Quick Garlic Flatbreads


Morning all - well it's been a while 'between drinks', but this is a great little vege-loaded mid-week recipe which is super healthy and pretty quick and easy to put together. During winter I often crave big hearty stews or pies (...see recent pie extravaganza), and when I need a vegetable fix I usually go for soup, (check out loads of soup recipes in the index), but sometimes I like veges that you actually need to chew! This salad is served warm - the carrots, kumara, cauliflower, red pepper, onion and chickpeas are tossed in honey, olive oil and cumin seeds before being roasted, so are sweet and fragrant, and a great contrast to the peppery watercress or rocket, then everything gets a mighty fresh lift with the creamy dressing of salty feta, a hint of pungent garlic, fresh coriander and zesty lemon. On the side 2-minute crispy garlic flatbreads act as massive, crunchy croutons. If you can't live without meat feel free to serve alongside roast lamb, or topped with seared lamb loins... but to my mind it really doesn't need it. (As you may have gathered I am probably 90% vego, but each to their own).

In other news, I have booked myself in for a ton of work, so am writing this (as usual) early in bed with my cup of tea before going into full panic/manic mode shortly. It's hard to blog honestly and not mention the recent change in my domestic situation, but basically these days it's just me at home unless the boys are visiting, so outside work, it's been a flurry of yoga, meditating (don't laugh/look at me like that), walks, writing in a journal (quite spectacularly full of swearing - how I refrain on the blog is a 'bloody' mystery), and getting emotional support from professionals and gorgeous friends. Not much more to say on that front other than blergh. Oh - and as the icing on the cake I have spent the last week driving between home and the emergency vet specialists to visit dear little-old-man Dougie (the 11 year old Border terrier), who has been very ill, actually at death's door, before having his gall bladder removed and bile ducts flushed. He was touch and go for a while post-op, but is now much improved, the only concern is that he hasn't eaten in 5 days - so cross your fingers that today is he day, so that he can regain his strength and come home, crikey it is too weird that for the first time ever it is an all-female household with just Maggie (the Westie) and me! Hopefully when I post the next recipe Dougie will be once again quietly farting and snoring in the dog bed in the corner...

Kapiti to the rescue


Things happen in mysterious ways don't they? I had, in a spur of the moment manner, invited people for dinner last night, on the same day that I had a note from the good people at Kapiti asking if I would like to sample some of their cheeses. Well, er  - yes please - that's the cheese board taken care of! So, once I had given them the correct address (long story) I was delivered their Kahikatea Camembert, Kowhai Gruyere Style cheese and Tuteremoana Cheddar with a pack of truffle oil, chestnut and raisin crostini. I served them with muscatel grapes and a glass (or three) of sherry (I'm a bit of a nanna), and the combination of flavours and textures - creamy, crunchy, sweet and nutty was bloody perfect :)

(The rest of dinner was curried lamb pies made with slow-cooked lamb shoulder, rocket and watercress salad and a massive pile of creamy mash followed by a wee recipe I'm testing for next week - keep an eye out for rhubarb and raspberry cafoutis with vanilla bean ice cream coming soon!)