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I was browsing (timewasting my day away) through pinterest the other day when I came across an impressive dinner idea.  Now can I just say that whilst I do agree with almost every line in the image above, the recipes on pinterest are the one area where I am actually productive [i.e. I will see a foodie pic and often try to recreate it, usually adapting depending on what I have in the pantry].

The following recipe was inspired by one I found (via pinterest) on the lovely butterflyfood blog - beautiful food and recipes so do check it out!  It was so easy and the flavours worked so well - so delicious to try roasted pear with pork, rather than the usual pork and apple (or applesauce) combination!  A must for your next dinner with friends or family!

Roast Pork with Pear and Rosemary

Pantry Must Haves 
1 large (3 lb) pork loin with bone in 
olive oil
1 lemon
Handful of rosemary sprigs
Handful of thyme sprigs
2 Tblsns wholegrain mustard
3 firm pears (not too ripe) cut in half 
1 head of garlic
Salt and Pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar 

Preheat oven to 350F.
Chop herbs roughly, leaving a few whole sprigs.
Zest lemon and squeeze juice.
Place pork roast in oven tray and place garlic and pears (don't worry about coring) in the tray.
Mix together chopped herbs,lemon zest, lemon juice,  mustard, salt and pepper and rub over pork.
Place in oven and roast for approximately 1 hour.
Remove from oven and pour over balsamic.  Baste with pan juices and place back in oven for a further 20 mins or until cooked through.
Serve with roast potatoes and salad leaves (eg arugula).
So it was my daughter's bithday this week which meant the usual running around, baking cakes to take to class, getting presents ...So far not so unusual.  However my daughter's birthday happens to fall on February 13.  Again not so unusual (in a country like my home one that doesn't really go crazy on the 14th) but here, where people take this Hallmark Holiday very seriously indeed, things were starting to get a little more stressful.

In addition to having to bring cake on the birthday, I had foolishly signed up to bring in treats for my son's Valentine's Party the next day.  My final 'What the Heck?' moment came when I received notes from both the kids' teachers casually requesting that they bring in a Valentine for each member of the class - ie 29 cards altogether!

 I had decided that we would make our own cards, having been inspired (and put to shame) by our lovely Martha's Valentines extravaganza and so set off for Michaels (where would I be without you?).  Well I got a bit carried away with card, glitter, stickers, markers and glue, thinking it would be a fun activity for the kids.  And it was- Up to card number nine.  And then they lost interest...and guess who took over as chief card maker??

All that creativity got me thinking a little creatively in the kitchen.  I had deliberated over the choice of 'healthy snacks' to bring in for the party, given that it had to be low in sugar and salt, nut free and allergy free.  I went for the safe and simple option of Traffic Light fruit kebabs and pretzels (click for super easy recipe).  With a little chocolate and sprinkles, after all it was a 'holiday'.  These were all of course done on the afternoon of daughter's birthday (thank God I hadn't planned a party - though a dear friend came to the rescue with a cake and candles later that night - Thanks Cath - you are an angel xx).

So, Birthday Morning, I had a baking disaster when I realised that the cases I'd poured my batter into had become surgically glued to the cakes - there would be no way the kids could remove them and they couldn't eat paper... or could they?  Desperate times call for desparate measures and I figured out a cunning plan to peel off most of the paper but the bottoms wouldn't budge...cue the old 'saw off the bottoms' trick...

Which lead me to the realisation that there is nothing that can't be solved with loads of pink icing and sprinkles! 
Oh, and those darn cards?  Still finishing them at 8.15am on Valentines morning...

Check out the finished product.  Not sure, but I think the owl may be being burned at the stake...subliminal anti-Valentine's message perhaps?


From 'Almost Bourdain' - sadly this blog is no longer running - though archives are available.
Looking for a quick and healthyish (well not sugary!) snack for my son's Valentine's party at school was proving to be quite tricky.  We had been given a mandate for school 'party treats'; no candy, no nuts, first or chief ingredient cannot be sugar...which actually ruled out about 80% of the cool ideas I saw after trawling the internet (pinterest, google etc).

I then came across this very cute, very easy and relatively quick idea - Pastry Heart Scrolls, above, and was sold.  The ones here contain Vegemite, a tar-like salty, yeast spread that all Australasians grow up with, but which probably wouldn't go down too well with my son's American classmates [shame , they don't know what they are missing!].  So I will replace this with a little smear of melted chocolate (using the great Tips for Melting Chocolate I recently picked up at a CHOC-fest). After all it is Valentine's! xx

Pantry Must Haves

Sheets of ready made pastry*
1/2 - 1 cup melted chocolate (or use a jar of Vegemite)
Small bowl of milk for brushing pastry

*or use your own home-made recipe

1.  Spread pastry with chocolate and roll inwards from each end to form heart shape (see above).
2.  Cut out rounds approx 1 inch thick and place flat on baking tray.  Shape to form' hearts'.
3.  Brush with milk.
4.  Bake at 350F for approx 10 minutes or until golden.

Melanie's Chocolate Mousse
I recently had the pleasure of attending a local cooking group which is part of a friend's church.  When the invitation came and I saw the title, it took me a mere 2 seconds to reply in the the theme of the event was chocolate!  Now there are many things I could, and have given up at various times in my life; meat, sweets, coca cola and alcohol but chocolate is perhaps the one thing I could never sacrifice.  So I was thrilled to learn that we were going to be sampling not one but six (!!) chocolately delights as well as making a seventh...heaven for a chocoholic.   I quickly volunteered to go along to Melanie's house on Tuesday - all in the name of research for the Pantry of course...the things we do to bring you all great stories and recipes...sigh!

Melanie is a wonderful cook, and she exudes an air or warmth and calm - essential qualities I feel, for success in the kitchen.  She must have been baking, whipping, spooning and painting (yes with chocolate!) all night as when we arrived, the table was laden with treats.  She gave us a great overview of each recipe along with her chocolate tips, where I learnt a lot, like why my melted chocolate turned to sludge the other night (heated too quickly) and what you can do to rescue too-thick chocolate (add a few drops of vegetable oil) - fabulous!!

Flourless Chocolate Cake, Bavarian Mints, Peanut Butter Cups

Half an hour later, and after much sampling and chat we were ready to start the 'lesson' part of the event.  We  gathered in the kitchen [a few were still working their way through their plates!!] while Melanie demonstrated Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes - so easy and perfect for when you want to impress at dinner parties.

PS.  Melanie has given us her superb 'Tips for working with Chocolate' - see Pantry FYI's

Pantry Must Haves
1 cup unsalted butter
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
5 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
4 tspns (NOT TABLESPOONS) of flour
8 extra large foil muffin cases
  • Melt butter and chocolate in medium heat-proof bowl in microwave for 30 seconds at a time.
  • Beat eggs, sugar and salt with a hand mixer in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves.  Beat egg mixture into chocolate until smooth.  Beat in flour until just combined.
  • Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 450F.  Line a standard sized muffin pan with the muffin cases.  Divide batter evenly among the cases.
  • Bake until batter puffs but center is not set (8-10 mins).  Remove from oven and carefully remove from muffin cases and transfer to a dessert plate.  [Some may break but will still taste amazing].
  • Garnish with fresh raspberries and whipped cream.
NOTE: The batter can be made a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator in the cases/muffin tins.  Just bring to room temperature for about an hour before baking.
This is not a love story.  Well not in the classic sense.  Instead, this is a story of boy meets girl, over the bunsen burners, in the school Chemistry Lab.  Well actually, boy and girl had met a few years earlier but this was probably the moment that somewhere deep down, as she was admiring his ingenuity and cheekiness, that girl was somehow hooked (though she'd never have admitted it!).  

My husband and I met in high school and while we were far from 'sweethearts', we were certainly good friends long before we were romantically linked.  We bonded, along with a couple of other friends over Science - he had vague notions of becoming a veterinarian like his Dad, me a doctor, so we ended up sharing many of the same classes.  So in 3rd Form (8th Grade) Science class, everyone does this great experiment with sugar, baking soda and golden syrup. The resulting combination of ingredients - or 'elements' if we're being purely scientific - make a delicious sweet treat, we in New Zealand call 'hokey pokey' [sometimes referred to as honeycomb]. Of course, the experiment is designed to show the chemical reaction between bicarbonate soda and refined sugar, but as 13 year olds, you're much more interested in the candy by-product!
Him - Trying for the 'Miami Vice' look. Me - Check out those shoulder pads...well it was the 80's!
Fast forward a few years to our last year of High School, again in Science class.  This time however, we were meant to be responsible-18-year-olds-about-to-leave-school and our Chemistry Teacher had to leave the room for 'a while' to run an urgent errand.  While the rest of the class were quietly reading, my husband, who had found a 3rd Form textbook, looked up and questioned, 'time to make hokey pokey?'.  And with that, we were racing off to the Home Economics teacher for sugar and golden syrup...'for a science experiment for Mr H' - we already had the bicarb in the Chemistry cupboard.  Ingredients assembled, and bunsen burners lit, we were mid-way through this unethical 'experiment' when Mr H returned to class right in the middle of the shenanigans...

A lunchtime detention resulted for the main offenders - in this case my husband, my best friend and I - but it was worth it!  And now as I look back some 20 odd years later, I am not uncertain that there is something magical about this national sweet.  In New Zealand, our leading ice cream flavour would have to be Hokey Pokey - vanilla icecream with small pieces of the sweet throughout.  A top confectioner in NZ and Britain has taken hokey pokey one step further, and covered it in milk chocolate...thus the 'Crunchie Bar' was born.

So as today is Waitangi Day, a National holiday in New Zealand, (to celebrate the signing of our founding treaty/document) a bit like 4th of July, though with not as much fanfare, or balloons, or cards, or special cakes, or printed napkins... I thought it fitting to make Hokey Pokey - and my version of The Crunchie, with a dark chocolate coating!

Chocolate Hokey Pokey

Pantry Must Haves
10 Tbspns white sugar
4 Tbspns Golden Syrup*
2 tspn baking soda
about 1 cup melted chocolate (dark or milk)

[NOTE: for the foreigners Golden Syrup is a thick, amber-colored form of inverted sugar syrup.  In the US, you can find it in the British section of good supermarkets eg Kings].   
Mix sugar and golden syrup 
Heat gently until sugar dissolves and turns golden (be careful not to burn). 
Boil for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and add baking soda.  
Stir quickly until mixture froths.
Pour into a buttered baking tin.
Break into pieces when cold.
Melt chocolate and dip each piece of hokey pokey to cover.
Place on sheet of baking paper or foil to set.