Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Renovating Kitchens - 1

Right now, M and I are staying in Queensland, Australia, enjoying the almost perfect weather on the Gold Coast.  We are staying on a canal which reaches up almost to the foundations of the house in which we are living and which provides a wonderful back-drop to the chores of daily life.  At present, these consist mainly of cooking, eating, and washing up. Life is tough!

Our  hostess is an extremely accomplished cook and loves entertaining her many friends.  She and her husband have just completed renovating their beautiful home, so that they can take full advantage of the water that laps their property.  

The 'Nook', looking out over the canal
The previously rather small entertaining rooms, kitchen, lounge and dining have been expanded and, with an extensive deck, now extend almost to the water's edge.  Internal walls have disappeared and the three rooms are now one with a huge dining table in the centre, the main kitchen open-plan and with two seating areas, one with a nook-like atmosphere and one for more formal visiting.  Adjacent to the kitchen area is a butler's pantry with sink, benches, cupboards and shelves for dry goods and tools for the kitchen.

Along the way, they have also  acquired a magnificent bedroom, en-suite and dressing-room, a media room and a new office and 2 guest bedrooms and bathrooms.  It is a very sympathetic renovation and I can tell you, it is a dream to live in.

It took around two years to complete this project and involved the employment of two architects, the first of which had to be relieved of his duty as his plan put the budget  well over the top. Five different builders were involved at different times and each day, our hostess and her husband laboured on-site as builder's mates in order to keep costs under control. In fact, most of the demolition of the old house was carried out by them. They were without a roof and lived with friends for six months out of the twenty-four and their two gorgeous retrievers were also on extended holiday.

Was it all worth it?  Well, yes, but we would never do it again, was the general consensus.  Now we just need to start to enjoy living in it!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Silky Chicken Liver Pate

The Easiest Recipe in the World!  (Using my stick blender)

This  is a great recipe for Chicken Liver Pate.  I was given the original version about 40 years ago and I have gradually stream-lined it  until I reached the present formula.  I can now whack it up while I am making breakfast and serve it at lunch!

Here are five of the reasons it is so good!
  1. Children love it.
  2. You can keep the ingredients in the freezer and make it at short notice.
  3. You can cook it in the microwave or the oven - flavour is not affected if you use the  microwave properly.   
  4. Clean-up is minimum if you use a stick (immersion) blender      
  5. Children love it.

I am sure you will find more reasons to add to this list, once you have introduced the recipe to your repertoire.

                                                        Chicken Liver Pate


250gms (8ozs) chicken livers
250gms (8ozs)butter
1 medium brown onion
1-2 pinches of dried mixed herbs
salt and pepper to taste


In a bowl, place the livers and the butter chopped into cubes. Chop the onion and add along with the herbs and seasoning.

Cook in the microwave on med. low for around 15-20 mins, stirring every 5 minutes.

If you cook in the oven, set at a medium heat (350degrees) and cook until livers are as above and the onions are tender.  

Cool the mixture, then blend until smooth and pour into small bowls for serving. Chill until set.


  • Rule of thumb - always match the quantities of livers and butter.  e.g. 10ozs liver - 10ozs butter.  If you do not, the end product will not be properly balanced.  It does not matter what the quantities are, you can make little or lots.  Adjust the amount of onion, herbs and seasoning as necessary.
  • You can add extra flavours if you wish, brandy or port, for example.
  • You need to microwave at a low heat as you risk having the livers cooked before the onions if your setting is too high.  The livers should be faintly pink and moist.               
  • If you use a blender (I do not think a food processor produces the silky texture required) be prepared to blend in batches and mix the batches together in another large bowl before pouring into smaller containers. (fuss, fuss, fuss!)
  •  Because it freezes well, I always make a little extra to freeze in small pots for when we are without extra family! 

As I said - Easy, Easy, Easy!

Garnish with bay leaves and juniper berries.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Cook Books Now on Sale!

I  have added an astore selling cook books to my site .  As I have said previously, books are a large part of my life and the thought of being able to offer them for sale really pleases  me.  Mainly, I am interested in books that teach, those written by cooks and chefs who have a deep, historical understanding of their craft and of the skills required to pursue it. Their books reflect this, with lots of information about food, its origins and how it should be handled,  descriptions of cooking techniques and tools, and if one is lucky, some discussion about the world of the chef and maybe a little history. Lovely!

 Some of the best books in this genre, in the day, were dedicated to the food of  China, Japan and points East. The enthusiasm  for cooking exotic foods outside of the European tradition was  becoming evident in the sixties and the seventies and these books really forced us to re-assess many  of  our cooking ideals and techniques.  They included meticulous directions for using knives and cleavers in the Chinese style and introduced the concept of cutting small and cooking fast.  We marvelled at the fabulously sophisticated recipes - so different from the fried rice, chop suey and chow mein drowned in harsh soy sauce, that as students we had eaten in cheap cafes.

(One of the great urban myths - or not - of the time were of Health Inspectors who, upon opening cool store doors, found skinned cat carcasses swinging on the inside.)

We found it fascinating that this cuisine rarely demanded expensive  tools for the kitchen.  Just chopsticks,  a wok 'spoon', said knives and cleavers, a skimmer, a whisk, maybe a steamer or two and a wok. A far cry from the elaborate batterie de cuisine of the French kitchen. We learned of new ingredients, vegetables and flavours.  We learned that Chinese haute cuisine had been strangled by the communist regime because of its connection to the monarchy and the upper classes and so had almost been lost to the world. It was only saved because of restaurants in Hong Kong struggled to keep the tradition alive.  Here was food and history marching hand in hand.

Such stories are legion and deserve to be read and remembered.  And so we have books!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Tasting Shed

On the deck, winery behind.
With summer here, we are getting out and about more,  finding new places to go for lunch and lazy afternoons in the sun.   On the whole, I think that lunch out  is better than dinner out, now.  I guess it's an "age" thing,  but at lunch everything just seems more relaxed, more of a "sneaking out of school", occasion and, what is more, I am more likely to be awake to enjoy it!  I hasten to add that I am talking here about lunches that continue till about 5 to 5.30 after several hours of eatin g, drinking and talking at length.  Conversations  with the owner, with the people at adjacent  tables,  indeed with anyone who comes within chatting distance are part of the deal and all add to the great feeling of playing hooky.  The whole effect is enhanced if it takes place on a weekday while all the poor souls who are still tied to the wheel,  are sweating it out in a office somewhere.  Man - it just feels great!

Inside The Tasting Shed
The best find for us so far this year, is quite close by, in Kumeu, a small town in the countryside just north of Auckland.   The restaurant is named to reflect its intention - The Tasting Shed and it is situated at the gateway of Cooper'sCreek Vineyard, on Highway 16.  Needless to say, the tasting is of wine as well as food and the owners, Jo and Ganesh Raj, are dedicated to the matching of the two.  And indeed, their by-line  "Where Wine Craves Food", says it all.

This most interesting and friendly couple, are from Australia and Singapore respectively,  have now settled in NZ and have, only in the past few months, opened this very cool place. 

The Bar
From the first moment we arrived, we were made to feel like old customers, which is, of course, very flattering as anyone who is in the business knows.  Nothing false about it though.  Jo, our hostess wanted to make us understand the plan for ordering the "tasting menu" and was an enthusiastic advocate for all of the extremely interesting dishes on offer.  We were able to taste recommended wines to help in our choice, which we felt was really impressive, especially as we bowed out and  chose an old tried and true "sav" at the behest of one of our friends! Good thing too, as it was delicious.

Goats' Cheese Parmesan
We started with the most beautiful bread ever, which is the one item which is not cooked on the premises. This was accompanied by a very rounded olive oil, marinated olives,  and some paper-thin slices of goats- milk parmesan.  I have to say, I loathe goats' cheese as a rule, but this was relatively palatable and all the others raved.

Pig's head and Belly Pork

We were advised to order 6-8 dishes for the 4 of us, depending on our level of hunger.  We chose 8 because I shouted loudest!

Fabulous Duck Breast
Our selections were, pig' s head, which was braised and rolled and presented with pickled onion puree, carrot and cumin, mushrooms, 3 x times fried potatoes with garlic and rosemary, southern clams, bouillabaisse, crispy-skinned snapper, duck, and pork belly were our choices and they ranged from just OK (the clams) to fabulous (the duck and the pork belly) 

Thrice Fried Potatoes, Clams, Bouillabaise.
Both were cooked to perfection and presented beautifully.  I would be keen to have either as a full main course - sharing be damned!

Crispy-skinned Snapper
Desserts sounded fascinating, and we were 'on the town', so to speak, so we ordered one of each and  indulged in a citrus -cinnamon rice pudding brulee,  a portion of churros with chocolate sauce and brioche French toast, with fig and honey ice-cream and Bethells' honey.  The rice-pudding took away the prize here, creamy and flavourful, the tang of the citrus combining well with the sweetness of the brulee topping.  Having said that, the honey and fig ice-cream was very special and it was fun to see that ice-cream in cones was an option.  Great for children and our 34-year old son!

Fried Mushrooms with Crispy Garlic.
To sum up, the food was lovely, the wine was great, but the out-standing feature of The Tasting Shed, for me, was the ability of Jo and Ganesh to spend time chatting at each table as though they had nothing better in the world to do. Their complete attention was on the customers to whom they were talking and even better, they kept returning to chat throughout the afternoon, making each table feel as though they were 'the ones'.  Just the perfect hosts for this type of establishment. 

Thank you, Jo and Ganesh, for showing how it should be done and for one of the best afternoons ever!

Friday, 9 December 2011

I'm Being Forced to Buy New Tools for My Kitchen!

Work has rather been on the back burner, recently.  We have our house on the market and if anything is designed to destroy a routine, this is it!  We are selling because we intend to move to the UK on a permanent basis.  Of course, this decision has generated several problems, not the least of which is 'what do we take with us?'  Should we sell everything and replace it there, or should we pack everything up and take it with us? (See more on mosstravel)

Our wonderful big Electrolux fridge will never fit into the sort of kitchen we will be able to afford in the UK, so that must stay!  Washing machine and dryer also.  We actually have a brand new Magimix  food processor still boxed - never opened - that we will certainly take.  Also a Rice Cooker in the same state.  I guess M  and I will have a few 'full and frank' discussions about smaller stuff.  My wooden spurtles and my stick blender are a definite 'yes', while all his top-quality knives and frying pans will qualify too.  As to my stand mixer, blenders, pots and pans and small items like rolling pins, cook-ware and bakeware etc., they have all given great service over the years and really could do with being replaced.  Oh, the memories, though - can I bear to part with them?  My Polaris copper-bottomed,stainless steel saucepans were a wedding present 30-odd years ago. I used all my bake tins when I cooked in our cafe and what about all my Pyrex bowls and measuring jugs?   They are still fit for service, if a bit battered and could definitely  tell a story or two!   I guess the decisions will have to be made as we make progress with the packing!

Oh - almost forgot, all the cook books and magazines will go, of course, along with all the scrappy bits of paper with notes and odd recipes on.  Each is a special memory in the hand-writing of friends and family often long gone and not to be wilfully discarded, even if the recipe is rubbish!  

At this moment, we think we will sell as much as possible and just take personal stuff and few special, small pieces of furniture, but this could well change.  There is not much money in second hand furniture at the moment!  On the other hand, how exciting would it be to start afresh and Shop! Shop! Shop! in those beautiful English stores. 
And think of the revues, I will be able to read and write!