Another class 'holiday' party and another 'what to make?' dilemma...This time it was the little one's event so we decided to make up some Easter Fairy Bread together - fun for them to help with and super easy too... 

 Pantry Must Haves 
(Feeds a small classroom - adjust accordingly!)
1/2 loaf of fresh bakery bread (not packet)
Butter for spreading
Assorted sprinkles

Cookie cutters - whatever shapes you like

Cut crusts and then out shapes from bread.
Butter each shape and then sprinkle on your favourite sprinkles, pressing them in lightly to stick.
Watch these disappear quicker than you can say, 'Easter Bunny'. xx

Okay - this one was definitely a winner.  If I do say so myself...and the proof was in the husband going back for seconds (my usual food-hit/miss barometer!).  Even the kids scoffed it (another win/lose measure).  The beauty of this is you can throw everything in one dish and then into the oven and forget about it while you do more important things - like surf pinterest, flamenco dancing or ahem, REAL work!

1 whole chicken cut into sections (or a selection of chicken pieces)
4 - 6 large potatoes quartered
1 lemon cut into wedges
handful green olives
6-8 cloves garlic
1/2 tin of chopped tomatoes
Good lug of olive oil
Handful of chopped herbs eg rosemary and thyme
1/4 cup sweet Spanish sherry
1/2 tspn smoked paprika

Serves 4-6

Place chicken, potatoes, lemon, olives and garlic in a large roasting dish.
Pour over chopped tomatoes.
Pour over sherry and drizzle with olive oil.
Sprinkle over paprika and chopped herbs.
Roast in 350F oven for about an hour or until chicken is done and potatoes are crispy.

Nikki xx

Click here to link to The Pig Hotel's website
There is a disclaimer for my next post.  Do not read on if :
a. you are squeamish, 

b. you are my vegetarian sister, or  
c. you are Kate (aka 'Babe'-Lover)...

So a week or so ago, I posted a piece on our Facebook page about a fascinating new boutique hotel I'd come across online.  The hotel concept is quite a novel one; as well as being a lovely luxury   B & B,  (located in the heart of The New Forest, in Hampshire, England) the place also offers guests the chance to literally forage for their supper!  The hotel's philosophy is fantastic -  
' a commitment [to] the 25 mile menu - whereby some 80% of fresh ingredients will be sourced in the local area'...including err... local pigs - hence the name!

Now this article did generate some healthy cyber debate over the ethical nature of hunting for one's food and the innocence of pigs...I believe the word 'Babe' was also mentioned.  I would like to say I am somewhat on the fence here (being a typical Libran!) in that, while I oppose cruelty to animals as much as the next person, I could never be a vegetarian again either.  Instead I subscribe to moderation in all things (including meat!) and would love to eventually live a little more self sufficiently and off the land and I totally LOVE The Pig's '25 mile' hunter/gathering decree! 

While researching this post, a dear friend of The Pantry, Virginia reminded me of the fact that her daughter Kelly, had recently taken part in a pig hunt and would send me a few photos.  Kelly lives on a station farm in Moree, in Northern New South Wales (on the East coast of Australia) and is rather keen on pig hunting (yep they breed us women tough Down Under!) yet is gorgeous and witty and also a great mum to 2 kids.  I was intrigued by the whole  hunt Kelly and her family takes part in, so asked her how it all worked.

"...The aim of pig hunting is to catch the pigs using dogs.  The dogs find the pigs using their nose [they have an amazing sense of smell]  and then they grab the pigs on the ear, which is when we go in and toss the pigs while the dogs are still holding them. The pigs are then stabbed with a very quick blow to the neck (which travels into their heart) which then kills the pig [fairly humanely]. The dog then lets go and chases another pig if there are any. Pigs are then gutted, chilled in chillers and sold to export overseas for eating [yes that pork tenderloin you are eating could well be the fruits of Kelly's labour!]. 

The dog can only grab the pigs on the ear as in other places it damages their muscles, meat, etc. The pigs are kept at a certain temperature in chillers until they are processed in the meat works and exported.  The hunt is great fun and you rely on the dogs to do most of the work. It is a experience you will never forget and it is a very addictive sport...'

So we will leave the pig hunting for there and move on to a few delicious pork and bacon recipes...perfect for an autumn roast (Down Under) or just any time ...
Roasted Pork Belly from Edwina
Roast Pork with Pear and Rosemary
Gail's Pumpernickel & Bacon Toasts
Sarah's Revolt or Revolution


The St Paddy's Pinterest Challenge

Ok - so this one is a bit of a double whammy...part pinterest challenge and part St Patrick's celebration.  Perusing our drinks section, Kate and I realised we were definitely a little adult-heavy in the beverage department and decided the little ones shouldn't miss out on this day of green and drinking...non alcoholically of course!

I had been seeing the trend for sugar crusted glasses all over the place recently and some very sweet examples.  But how to actually make the stuff stay on the glass??  After a bit of experimentation, and online research, I had sussed it.  One site suggested light corn syrup, but failing that, I improvised with a mix of honey and warm water and it worked perfectly.

I'd love to report that my drink was a hit with the kids.  It wasn't, sadly.  Possibly as the kiwifruit was a bit tart and I didn't add enough you may want to play around with the quantities and adjust according to your kid's tastes.  But I loved it.  Does that count? 

Pantry Must Haves (makes 3 glasses)

Sugar Rim:
2 tspn honey and 1 tspn warm water
green sugar sprinkles

2 cups milk
1 banana
1/2 cup plain unsweetened yoghurt
2 kiwifruit
handful crushed ice
2 - 3 Tbspns honey (depending on taste)
1 drop green food colouring (optional)

First pour the honey and warm water mix into a saucer.
Pour sprinkles into another saucer.
Dip glasses in honey water, then into sprinkles and roll to coat the rim.
Leave to dry for a few minutes.

In blender combine smoothie ingredients, and pour into a jug.
Slowly pour into glasses, being careful not to touch the rim.
Serve to your little leprechauns with some cheer!  Sláinte!

Nikki xx

Follow Me on Pinterest
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.
How Not To Cook Chili - 101

1.  Sign up for a chili cooking competition when you have NEVER cooked chili in your life.
3.  Buy a cut of meat (brisket?) for said chili that you have never really heard of, let along cooked with before.
4.  Ignore friend's advice to get meat from a good butcher and instead buy crappy stuff from ShopShite.
5.  Attempt to cook chili with cavalier 'devil may care' attitude 2 hours before start time of event, despite recommended timing on lovely recipe suggesting closer to 4 hours (or preferably all day).
6.  Follow lovely online recipe, from very reputable chef, only to find one of the crucial liquid ingredients is mentioned once, then never again [500ml of coffee...WTF Jamie??].
7.  Realise at eleventh hour that am missing possibly key ingredients...bay leaf?...molasses? so substitute brown sugar and some dark sure that this is used in Mexican maybe in chili?
8.  Compete in competition with 'native' Chili cooks who have probably been cooking this virtually National dish for at least 20 years. 
9.  Turn up to event with no cooking 'partner in crime' (due to a stomach bug on her part) or husband (on babysitting duties) ie no moral support.
10. Feel like downing a few sneaky tequila shots before event for some 'dutch courage' but being unable to, as is a preschool affair and this would not be a good look.

A work in progress
So it was that the Great St XX's Chili Cook-Off took place at my daughter's school last night with my first ever (and possibly last) attempt at chili.  Perhaps I should have taken it as a sign, when my cooking partner bailed out on me at the last minute with a tummy bug.  Or when I saw the worried looks on friends' faces that afternoon when I blithely told them I was off home to cook chili at 4 o'clock...'you mean you haven't started it  yet?' and '...weeeeeelllll you won't win , you realise that?'.  And that, from a woman who is renowned for her ahem 'char grilling technique' on everything from bagels to bacon...

The competition

Actually it wasn't that bad.  Despite a very late start in the kitchen, I did manage to pull together something that was pretty passable, though the school Director may have just been being kind when she advised 'they were all very good, it was hard to choose a winner'... In hindsight, I have a few tips I gleaned over the course of the night, after sampling and talking to the competition.
  • Use the best cut of meat you can afford - even hours of cooking won't fix 'tough as gumboot' [rainboot] old meat.
  • Don't add too much water if it is too thick - instead use stock otherwise the taste will be diluted.
  • Use different types of chili and use fresh spices where possible for maximum flavour.
  • Cook chili the day before you plan to eat it.  This one is, I believe, crucial!
  • Purists will argue, real chili doesn't contain beans.  I have researched this extensively online (ie via wikipedia) and I say go with whatever you like in chili. 'The question of whether beans "belong" in chili has been a matter of contention among chili cooks for a long time. It is likely that in many poorer areas of San Antonio and other places associated with the origins of chili, beans were used rather than meat, or in addition to meat. Texas-style chili contains no beans and may even be made with no other vegetables whatsoever besides chili peppers'. 
  • and the recipe? Chili is a very personal dish and almost all chili cooks will have their own secret ingredients... Have fun and experiment!  BIG THANKS to Emily from The Gourmand and the Peasant and Ju from Ju's Musings for their wonderful recipes and ideas. In the end I decided to go with a combination of theirs and my friend Mr Oliver's - if in doubt, try this one out which was adapted from Jamie's 'American Road Trip'.
Click on the above image for RECIPE
'Ok, so I’m making chili, which like tomato sauce or chocolate chip cookies, there are a million variations of and everyone thinks that theirs is right. I don’t, I just think it's damn good.' Emily Peterson.
Click on the above image for RECIPE
'This recipe is based on Nigella’s ‘cornbread topped chilli’ – although I’ve never made the cornbread - combined with a few tips and tricks from Jamie Oliver.  It turns out different each time I make it but it’s always delicious'. Ju.
Chili Con Nikki
(Serves 6-8)

1.5 kg beef brisket, trimmed and sliced into 2cm thick pieces
1 cup good coffee
Good pour of olive oil
2 tspn ground cumin
2 tspn smoked paprika
2 tspn dried oregano
1 tspn coriander seed
2 red onions, peeled and diced
3 – 4 fresh chiles (small green ones are good)
2-3 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
Salt and black pepper
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 Tbspns brown sugar
75gm darkest chocolate
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, seeded and chopped
2 x 400g tins of beans (kidney, butter or pinto), drained
Sour cream
Large handful chopped parsley or coriander, chopped

Make coffee. 
Put oil in a large casserole pot (with lid) and gently heat on low.  Add cumin, paprika, oregano, coriander seed and onions. Fry for 10 minutes, until the onions soften. De seed and chop your fresh chillies and add to onions and spices.

Add the meat and stir well to coat with onion and spices, and then add cinnamon sticks, garlic, salt and pepper, coffee, tomatoes, sugar and chocolate. Cover casserole dish with lid and simmer for around 31/2 hours, stirring occasionally. 

After a few hours break up the meat and pull it apart using a fork. 
Add the sliced yellow and red peppers and the beans and leave to simmer for 30 minutes with the lid off until the meat is completely falling apart and delicious.  If mixture gets too dry, add a little beef stock, if too runny, leave to cook a bit longer til liquid reduces.

Ideally leave in fridge overnight, bring back to room temperature and heat through before serving.
Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve with rice, corn chips, corn bread and sour cream.
Beer and Tequila optional!

PS In case you were wondering, I didn't win, but serving the leftover chili to good friends the next night (who loved it) was good enough xx