I honestly thought ‘Tan Slice’ was right up there in the list of Kiwi baking classics alongside the likes of Anzac biscuits, lolly cake, Louise slice and ginger crunch. Turns out, I may have elaborated its classic-tier-status in my own head because a quick poll amongst my New Zealand friends revealed a mixed bags of results – from those with vague memory of it at best, to the worst case scenario of no recollection at all. I think the true way of solving this will be to see whether it features in the Edmond’s Cookery Book because that really is the authority on all things Kiwi baking. Friends who have a copy handy – do you mind checking for me?
In the meantime, I am undeterred and will continue to proclaim the Tan Slice as a classic… because either way, this is too delicious not to share. Yes, the name is terrible and doesn’t exactly make your mouth-water… but sometimes beige food is best! Once you get past that, you’ll soon realise that the humble Tan Slice actually has a lot going for it. A gooey caramel sandwiched between a buttery base and topping, with a hint of bitter dark chocolate – basically all butter and sugar – what’s not to love? It’s also ridiculous easy to make and keeps very well in the fridge for those much needed mid-afternoon pick-me-ups!
When I first published this cookie recipe, we were packing up our life in Wellington and getting ready to go on our first adventure – a couple of months travelling through parts of Canada, America, Cuba and Mexico, before landing in London. That was about 6.5 years ago. Wow. So much has happened since then… we settled into London life, we took a break and went off travelling again, and now we’re back in the big smoke, albeit under very different circumstances.
Lots of things might have changed over the past few years, but my sweet tooth has remained constant. As does my love for this cookie recipe. It’s dead easy and still delicious so I thought it was about time I gave this post a spruce up and introduced people to it again… after all, most of us are still staying home and baking more than ever before!
So… last year you did that spring clean in your kitchen and finally ditched the pasta machine that’s been gathering dust in the back of the cupboard. Probably patted yourself on the back then for decluttering… but this year, it’s a different story. You now realise that it’s the missing piece on your road to winning lockdown bingo. The insta-famous banana bread and choc-chip cookies have been made, the sourdough starter is alive, and you’ve participated in more Zoom quizzes than you ever thought possible… but how to tick off ‘make you own pasta’ without that sodding machine?! You will no doubt have a rolling bin or empty wine bottle which will absolutely do the job but requires a bit of hard graft and extra time… so that’s definitely an option, but I’ve got an even better one for you.
Forget about the thinly rolled sheets to be cut into fettuccine or folded in ravioli or tortellini. Stick with something altogether less faff but equally satisfying. Friends, I am going to suggest you make cavatelli. This small rustic shell-like pasta shape is made from semolina flour which is another bonus if you find yourself rationing wheat flour. I managed to easily source it in the international foods section of my Sainsbury’s or you can order it online, doesn’t appear to be in short supply. And the final reason why I think cavatelli (or are they actually called gnochetti… no amount of googling has given me a definitive answer) is worth your time, is that it actually doesn’t take that much time – from flour to finish in around an hour!
After my first attempt at making kimchi, there very almost wasn’t a second attempt. Not because the end result wasn’t tasty, or because it was particularly hard to make… it was the smell. I thought I was adequately prepared for that funky fermentation whiff when I opened it for the first time, but I was not. And neither was a certain someone… from memory, he actually left the flat, for no other reason. So as you can imagine, once that batch was finished, it took me a while longer to work up the courage and olfactory fortitude to try again…
The second, third, fourth… I’ve lost count now… times that I’ve made kimchi since then, it’s turned out a lot less messy both in the mixing and the smell factor. Which is an absolute relief because we love the stuff and have taken to eating it any which way we can. The distinct sourness and gentle blend of sweetness and spice makes it a perfect accompaniment for more than you might realise. Of course it’s an absolute necessity in Korean dishes such as kimchi-jjigae (kimchi stew which you can add pork and/or tofu to), kimchi buchimgae (pancakes), or as a side to a bibimbap. But… it’s also absolutely delightful in a crispy chicken burger or a grilled cheese toastie. That, my friends, is why you need to start making your own with this easy kimchi recipe…
I’m not great at many chores around the flat (a certain someone can confirm that) but the one thing that really brings me joy is unpacking the groceries. It’s a bit pathetic to admit but I like the comfort of having well stocked shelves, and the satisfaction of having a place for everything and everything in its place. But today it was a joyless task because I was riddled with guilt. It seemed like every second item I pulled out of our shopping bags contained some form of plastic in its packaging. I stared at it and felt like I had failed. Failed to uphold my pledge to reduce our plastic consumption, failed to make any difference at all. It’s times like this that I wonder what is the point of going out of my way to change my habits when almost every part of consumer life is literally wrapped in plastic.
This zero-waste living thing is hard. Really hard. It’s obviously possible, as evidenced by a few useful and trustworthy proponents I’ve heard of, but I think the aim of complete zero-waste zen is a bit impractical for our lifestyle right now. I’ve decided to be more pragmatic, do what I can, and not beat myself up for what I can’t. In the words of Anne-Marie Bonneau aka @zerowastechef, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” So with that sentiment in mind, I thought I would share some of the changes we have been making or attempting in order to reduce our waste and plastic consumption…
A friend recently asked if I had any recommendations for yakitori spots in Tokyo… I mean, how long is a piece of string? Alongside sushi and ramen (which he also asked about and I think is even more of a minefield), yakitori is probably one of the most recognisable Japanese foods. ‘Yakitori’ which translates to ‘grilled chicken’ might just be meat on a stick, but in Japan where everything has a certain ceremony to it, this is meticulously prepared meat on a stick. Every piece of bite-sized chicken, which could be anything from breast, liver or even skin, is carefully selected and threaded onto a skewer before being seasoned with either shio (salt) or a tare made from a base of soy sauce and other flavourings.
During our time in Japan, we chewed through a lot of yakitori. You’ll find some yakitori on most izakaya menus as they pair so perfectly with a cold beer, but we did also visit a few yakitori-ya where they were even more extensive and creative in their use of the whole bird. As offal lovers, we were in heaven… livers and hearts were particular favourites. I think the best way to do a yakitori meal is to park yourself up at the bar, order a beer and get a steady stream of sticks until you’re full. Either let the chef choose (omakase) or get a mixed plate (moriwase) and then repeat the ones you particularly enjoyed!
I squeezed this poor unsuspecting lime to within an inch of its life, trying to get as much of its sweet, zingy juice as possible. To it, I added generous squirts of pungent fish sauce and a dash of soy, a spoonful of sugar, and a sprinkle of finely sliced fresh chilli and coriander. All my memories of Vietnam came flooding back… I may have physically been standing in our London kitchen but my mind had wandered way back to those streets filled with vibrant aromas. I thought had eaten decent Vietnamese food, even managed to rustle up an adequate shaking beef, but I was wrong. Anything I had tasted or tried to recreate previous to our trip was painted in muted, pastel tones compared to the technicolour masterpieces we encountered at the source. I had long been a fan of the cuisine, and everything we tasted lived up to my expectations.
Touching down in Hanoi was a jolt to the senses. We had just come from Vientiane; although equally as smog-filled and suffocating, it was far less exciting. Hanoi oozed the kind of seductive appeal which was pointless to resist… Staying in a hotel in the thick of the old town meant that we were thrown head first into the manic cityscape. We got incredibly lost in its maze on our very first night but it was fun, we were in our element. We had very few aims for our time in the city – see a few sights, absorb the ambience, inhale as much food as possible.