Since returning from New Zealand we’ve been spending most weekends down at the cottage, the Boyfriend inventing new and more ingenious ways to catch the rabbits (score so far – Boyfriend: nil, rabbits: merrily increasing by the day) and me pottering around in the kitchen, baking cakes and slices to fill the tins. It’s a great opportunity to try out recipes that I’ve been hoarding away from other blogs and websites (does everyone else have a word document on their desktop which they update regularly with recipes that take their eye?) as well as working my way through the piles of cookbooks currently on my desk, including Bill Granger‘s latest, Cook with Jamie, the Rose Bakery cookbook, Sophie Conran‘s Pies and Cook by Thomasina Miers. Bakingsheet is a rich source of recipes and Nic’s Mexican Chocolate Loaf Cake, albeit without the orange rind and made in a round tin, was a successful gift for our hosts in Cobh last weekend even though I felt that my cinnamon was past its freshest date. A Maya Gold-flavoured variation of Thomasina Miers’s chocolate cake, baked in a Bundt cake tin from my NZ kitchen which I manage to cram into our luggage this time, was a success with one sister – who liked its fudgyness – and a failure with the other, for being too rich! Sometimes you just can’t win.
Thanks to Marco and Marcello, my hosts at the Italian School of Cooking, where I attended a class on pasta making last night. As well as learning how easy it is to make pasta without a machine – I was dead proud of my attempts at orecchiette! – I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening, eating and drinking, meeting people and being serenaded over dinner by a very enthusiastic Marco. The school, which is centrally located in Rathmines, is definitely worth checking out. Time to pick up a bag of durum flour from the Italian shop in Ranelagh for some pasta-making experiments down at the cottage!
Although we may be back in Ireland, today we are celebrating Waitangi Day, a national holiday in New Zealand, with that ubiquitous Kiwi desert – the pavlova. After bemoaning the lack of pavlovas in Irish supermarkets, the Boyfriend went off to work this morning laden with boxes of meringue nests, tubs of cream, my hand whisk and one of the my pink bowls to assemble a selection of impromptu pavs for his workmates. Bron has an entertaining defence of the NZ claim to the pavlova here, along with many delectable pictures of her own fabulous Waitangi Day creation.
Boiled, Baked & Basted, the brilliant RTÉ Radio 1 programme that I mentioned in October, featuringchefs and cooks talking about their favourite cookbooks, sadly came to an end on 30 December. A simple but effective format – just the voice of the interviewee, interspersed by actors reading from cookbooks that they mentioned – made this essential listening for the cosy Saturday nights that we spent in the cottage. You can listen back to the whole 13-programme series on the all-new redesigned RTÉ.ie website here.
I’d be the first to admit that, despite my frequent use and consumption of the fruit of the vine, I don’t know much about wine. This is something that I’ve been meaning to remedy by doing a wine-tasting course but life, somehow, always manages to get in the way. Perhaps a resolution for 2007? I’ve already missed the first night of the La Cave Wine Tasting Programme but, should I be organised enough, there’s plenty more to savour in the coming weeks – must see if I can get there for the evening that features New Zealand Pinot Noir! These events take place in the small French wine bar on South Anne Street from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Each tasting costs €30, which includes all wines and a light meal of cheese, salami and pâté.
This is the most useful recipe to have in your repertoire. I use it – sometimes with the addition of broccoli, chorizo, bacon or chilli – with gnocchi, pasta, cannelloni and polenta, as a topping for pizza and even when baking pancakes. If you can track down some decent Italian plum tomatoes, it’s all the better for that; if you can’t, just keep tasting and adjusting the flavour with sugar if it’s too bitter, red wine or balsamic vinegar if it’s too sweet, tomato purée if it needs more body, water if it’s too thick. If you have fresh basil, add it at the end to lift the flavour of sauce. I often use thyme – fresh if I have it but sometimes dried – if I want the sauce to have a herby tinge.
New Zealand cafés still continue to surprise and delight me. A moist Spinach Risotto Cake at Reid’s Store during a break while driving to Nelson the morning after we arrived, eaten in bright sunshine outside on the decking was my re-introduction to café cooking, NZ style on this trip. There were other days of happy eating. Marinated Lamb on a Puy Lentil Salad with lemon yoghurt dressing at Nelson’s Morrison Street Café, with a glass of local sauvignon blanc; a sticky, dried fruit-packed, gluten free Ginger Slice with a long black, milk on the side (my coffee order of choice in NZ) in Muses Café, Motueka, en route to the Boyfriend’s family bach in Ngaio Bay; a last Christchurch breakfast of a fresh-baked savoury Spinach and Cream Cheese Muffin followed by an enormous date-studded sweet scone outside Veronica’s Café on New Regent Street, soaking up the last rays of sun as we watched the tourist trams going past.