Tuesday, 26 February 2013


Just when I thought I could not possibly love my breadmaker any more, I discovered the magic of its dough settings. A pizza party eventuated and was followed by making focaccia with fresh herbs, then hot cross buns. This weekend, it was time to step things up a notch. A friend and I had come across pear and chocolate flavoured brioche at a local cafe last year. It was divine! How hard could it be to make it ourselves?

Conveniently, we have had a French pâtissier staying with us for the past two months. Although we didn't manage to do a lot of baking together during her stay, I still learned some fantastic tips from her. I suggested she 'teach' me and some friends how to make brioche. She accepted the challenge!

The first issue was finding a suitable recipe. I was keen to learn from the master but, having mostly worked in bakeries throughout Europe and Ireland, she preferred that we looked for a recipe that used New Zealand ingredients. Apparently the yeast available in each country can vary and behave in different ways. We settled on the recipe that came with my Panasonic breadmaker, even though we planned to make it in my Kenwood mixer. I won't post the actual recipe, as these might vary between breadmakers, but in future I plan to make brioche using the DOUGH RAISIN setting and put the additional butter in the fruit dispenser.

Brioche makes quite a versatile dough and can be formed into many different shapes. We followed this great tutorial to roll the dough into three balls and sit them together in a muffin tray for baking. I learned how to wrap little pieces of tinned pear into a dumpling shape and press chocolate drops into the dough. I also learned how to roll the balls smoothly by holding my hand in a claw shape, but never got as far as rolling two balls at once like the guy in this video - that will take some practice!

We cooked the brioche rolls for 15-20 minutes at 180°C until they were a lovely golden brown colour. For extra colour, you could use an egg wash (one beaten egg brushed on before baking). They tasted absolutely delicious fresh out of the oven, but even better the next day heated up and served with (more) butter.

Now, it only remains to be seen whether I can repeat the feat on my own and without the expert assistance of a live-in French pâtissier!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Beer can chicken

This summer in Wellington has been a good one. We have managed to break our barbeque curse and have now graduated to having barbeques when it's windy - but not raining! We had a spontaneous barbeque today with friends who wanted to sample our legendary beer can chicken. There are plenty of recipes around and many are similar. We have had a lot of success with this one off the chicken roaster label. It would probably also work in the oven but it's a much more fun way to feed lots of people by barbequing it. We fed seven people by adding baked potatoes, garlic bread, grilled onions and boiled corn on the cob all on the barbeque and a making salad to go with it.

All you need is a chicken roaster stand. Our one came from Canada and looks like this one, although we bought another one with a slightly different design from a local hardware store for about $8.

Beer can chicken

  • 2 T garlic powder
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 1 T ground coriander
  • 1 T paprika
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 T ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 x ~2 kg chicken
  • 1 x 350 ml can of beer
  1. Mix the ingredients for the spice rub until they are well blended. Use a basting brush to rub spice rub all over the chicken, inside and out.
  2. Open the beer and remove (drink!) about 100 ml. Place can in roaster. Sit the chicken on the roaster so the legs are at the bottom and the wings are at the top. [Optional: marinade in the fridge for 1-2 hours and reapply baste 1-2 times.]
  3. Heat a gas or charcoal grill to a medium/high heat. Put a drip pan below the grates. Stand the chicken on the grill and cook over indirect heat for about 2 hours or until the juices run clear. 
Beer can chicken
with baked potatoes for company

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Round the Bays 2013

It was a big day in Wellington today as 13500+ people turned out for Round the Bays. This annual event plots a scenic ~6.6 km route from Frank Kitts Park in town to Kilbirnie Park, with every type of runner and walker imaginable joining in. I last did Round the Bays in 2009. This year, I put together a work team and actually managed some training in advance. Kind of. I went out for a number of 6-7 km walks during the past few months and built up to a pace where I was on track to complete Round the Bays in less than 1 hour.

This morning, the Twitterverse was abuzz and every third person on Facebook was heading to the start line, yet I saw very few people I actually knew at the event. After a brief splash of rain this morning, the overcast conditions during the race were a blessing and the weather remained dry. The countdown was on and the cannon announced the start; runners first and then the 'wave' of walkers and joggers.

The next hour passed remarkably quickly. (Good company certainly helped.) Outside the Chaffers markets, a woman found out first hand that trying to cross through a race course while leading a dog on a leash was not going to make her popular. Cheerleaders in all shapes and forms called out support at various points. There was a jazz band on a balcony around one of the bays and house parties blasted 'motivational' music from their lounges - all very much appreciated!

I checked the time at around the 6 km mark and realised that we wouldn't make it before the hour was up, but there was very little space in the crowd. We looked for a gap as we approached Kilbirnie Park and decided to run the rest of the way, dodging as many racing obstacles as we could. Yes, I ran ~300m. It wasn't pretty but we got over the finish line in approximately 1 hour and 4 minutes - longer than my target of less than 1 hour but still reasonably respectable for a walker. I have never been so pleased to see a banana and a bottle of water!

I underestimated how much time and effort it would take to negotiate my way around couples holding hands, baby buggies and kids on scooters stopping to do jumps over cats eyes in the middle of the road. The same applied to the bottleneck at the end - something to remember next time.

I was disappointed that there wasn't enough 3G coverage at Kilbirnie Park for MapMyWalk to do its job and had to wait until I got back into town to tweet my result. Checking later, I could see that my time was recorded but unfortunately the map wasn't created. I might see if anyone else managed to create the map and add it to my workout list, as it would be great to have it recorded on the app.

Even as a humble walker, it's an amazing feeling to be part of an event like this. I'd encourage anyone and everyone to enter next year. The course is flat and scenic, making it hugely accessible for all fitness levels. Bring on 2014!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

A day at the fair

Our extended family is growing and now there are more birthdays and occasions that require gifts than ever before. We have a shelf at the top of the wardrobe where we stock up on gifts during the year (online shopping is great!), but this week's birthday has cleared out the present cupboard. Time to go shopping!

It is a beautiful summer's day, which is perfect for the annual Petone Rotary Fair. Living a stone's throw away from Jackson Street means we don't have to tussle for parking in and out of the side streets and can be in among the action within minutes. It is tempting to pimp out our driveway for profit on days like these ... today, it was occupied by a friend who was thankful she could bypass all the commotion and drive straight into a guaranteed car park.

The fair featured the usual assortment of stalls and entertainment as well as all the Jackson Street shops open for business. There were possibly fewer this year as the street seemed less crowded and more pleasant to wander through. We went in search of the usual fair grub (coffee, fair fudge - sadly, chop suey was nowhere to be seen this time) and enjoyed fresh spring rolls, dim sum and roti with peanut sauce from various street vendors. I picked up a few gifts for family members (I'm great at shopping for others), including some gorgeous wooden toys and this adorable set of book ends for the newest reader in our family.

How could any new reader resist these book ends?
Further up the street, there was a stall I'd never seen before. I don't recall the name of the company, but couldn't miss the product they were selling: coffins. Now, I know there's no reason why we shouldn't demystify death and it's probably very practical to think of these things in advance. I just didn't expect to see coffin samples nestled in among baby clothing and colourful children's toys at an event like this. We didn't linger.

A day at the fair is a great way to celebrate and support local businesses and crafty people from all around the region. I was thrilled to start restocking our present cupboard again but will say no to a buying a coffin for now.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Banoffee pie

This post is as much for my own reference as anything else. Another family gathering equals another excuse to bake. Yay! Banoffee pie makes a yummy dessert and is easy to make. I just wasn't sure where I'd kept my recipe ... I checked my blog, then googled myself + "banoffee pie" + Twitter and found a tweet from September last year where I said I'd used a recipe off the condensed milk can. Whew! Off to the supermarket I went ... only to find that the condensed milk can now features a different recipe. Lesson for today: keep copies of your recipes where you can easily find them. For many of mine, it's this blog.

There are lots of banoffee pie recipes out there and this one works well. All I really needed to find out was the quantity of melted butter, as the rest is pretty simple. Luckily, someone had posted it on a Foodlovers forum. It's less a recipe rather than an order of assembly for the ingredients. The main thing to remember is that it needs to be refrigerated twice, so allow plenty of time in between stages. Also, I used the amazing caramel condensed milk instead of making it from plain condensed milk. I figure it's better value paying 50c extra than risking a can exploding from boiling it for 3 hours. Just be careful you don't cut your tongue on the lid. (You'll know what that means once you buy a can of caramel condensed milk to bake with.)

Banoffee pie

  • 150 g butter, melted
  • 250 g packet plain (wine) biscuits, crushed
  • 395 g can caramel condensed milk
  • 2 bananas
  • 3/4 cup whipped cream
  • 2-3 teaspoons grated chocolate or ground nutmeg to garnish
  1. Combine crushed biscuits and melted butter. Firmly press mixture into the base and sides of a 20 cm loose based flan tin. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (I usually refrigerate for longer to keep the base firmer.)
  2. Spread condensed milk over crumb base and refrigerate for 1 hour until caramel is firm.
  3. To serve, slice bananas and arrange half of the over the set caramel. Top with whipped cream and decorate with the remaining bananas. Sprinkle chocolate or nutmeg to garnish.
Banoffee pie

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Herb garden

I'm not much of a gardener. (Read: things I plant usually often die.) Except for weeds. I'm great at growing weeds. Basically, if it makes a noise (partner, cat, guests), it's pretty safe; I'm reminded to feed it. If it's silent (any type of plant), its chances of survival are marginal.

For Christmas, I was the recipient of several potted herbs. Although they were gifted with the best of intentions, I was immediately nervous for their future. Rosemary, thyme, chives, Italian parsley and golden marjoram ... all optimistically promised exotic meals in the future. Two are in terracotta pots, which I've been told to keep wet, and the others are in a planter hanging off our trellis. I had given similar gifts in the past to others who professed their desire to grow a herb garden only to have them find that it wasn't as easy as it sounded. Hmm.

I am pleased to report that it is now more than five weeks later and they are all still alive. Not only that, but my herbs are prospering and I have used almost all of them in my cooking. Except for the golden marjoram; I don't know where to begin with that one. Google hasn't been particularly helpful other than to say that it is not the same as oregano. Still, I'm watering it and keeping it alive in the hope that a) one day I'll work out how to use it and b) it will taste delicious.

@Anjuli_nz came up with some really good links with advice about cooking with herbs, including this herb directory and the WikiHow page for matching herbs with vegetables. Otherwise, the universal answer for almost any herb you can think of seems to be "with potatoes" or "add it to salads". The rosemary and thyme each worked really well with potatoes, lightly drizzled with canola oil and roasted. Homemade focaccia topped with fresh rosemary, thyme and parsley tastes amazing. However, I am most proud for thinking up chopping chives and bacon and mixing it with sour cream to fill baked potatoes cooked on the barbeque all by myself!

I still have no idea what to do with golden marjoram.

Are you blessed with a golden touch (or green thumb) for growing fresh herbs? What are your favourite fresh herb and food combinations?