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!
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…
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!
When a certain someone and I decided years ago to put Sri Lanka on our travel bucket list, it was because of the beaches. We read somewhere that this teardrop island was blessed with beautiful shores, and that just stuck in our minds. For two people who aren’t particularly skilled at swimming, we have a bizarre soft spot for beach holidays. But what really pushed us into finally booking this trip was years of living in Tooting and eating our way round the myriad of Sri Lankan curry houses in our neighbourhood. Slowly but surely, the flavours of this cuisine began to win us over… the more we became enamoured with the dals, dosas, and mutton rolls, the more we wanted to taste it all in Sri Lanka.
And then we arrived in the country and got a giant dose of reality. Our daydreams of streets lined with food carts selling delectable snacks, and days spent gorging on aromatic curries with piping hot roti breads, did not exactly come true. We did have some excellent meals, but that was more the exception than the norm and we had to dig a little deeper, and at times venture off track to find some of these gems. I came to the conclusion that perhaps the best Sri Lankan food is still found in Sri Lankan homes, and since I didn’t know any locals to impose myself on, the next best thing was to learn to cook like a local.
Does anyone else have kitchen cupboards that are too high for them to see into or too deep for them to reach? Surely, it is not just me. Even when I’m precariously tip-toeing on a chair, I struggle to see what’s made its way to the back of that top shelf… and as I discovered recently, there is a lot back there. I am completely to blame; I am a compulsive hoarder of pantry staples and I have the joy of acquiring a fascinating range of foodstuffs through this blog. The adventurous cook in me gets a jolt of excitement every time I pull something new and obscure out of a goody bag but then the practical cook in me stores that for another day as I get on with cooking something else… and so my shelves become a jumbled mess and a certain someone continuously teases me about how we could open our own corner store.
I’d like to tell you that I have turned over a new leaf but the truth is, my pantry will always be full and full of random things. What has forced my hand now is our big move, and so the great clear out has begun. In amongst the jumble, I came across an unopened packet of desiccated coconut; I have no idea why I bought it but after being inspired by a snap on Instagram stories, I decided I would make a cake. If you’ve been following a certain someone cooks, you would have noticed that he has taken up the position as our resident baker… so as my baking skills are a bit rusty, I wanted something nice and easy and this coconut and lime loaf cake fit the bill completely. It also conjured up all sorts of tropical vibes which I thought was exactly what we needed to inject some sunshine into the current cold winter days!
Last week, I got a spiralizer. I am well aware that they were all the rage last year, but I sort of dismissed them along with the so-called clean eating gurus who were flogging them. I didn’t buy into their crazy rhetoric that such a thing as courgetti could replace such a thing as spaghetti, so I sure as hell wasn’t going to buy the gadget! Yeah, the name works but the taste, texture and overall enjoyment? No thanks. I’m an inclusive eater, no one food group gets cut out in favour of another in my diet… we’re all one happy (mostly) balanced family in my tummy. However in the name of research, I’ve decided to give the courgetti or the zoodles a go, but only alongside rather than instead of their carb friends!
The good thing about jumping on a trend so late is that lots of people have already outlined the pros and cons of each of the main types of spiralizer. The one that’s like a giant pencil sharpener is as silly as it sounds and should be avoided at all costs, but the horizontal and vertical ones (depending on which way the vegetable goes through the slicing process) are much of a muchness. I’ve got a horizontal one which seems to be the most common; it was even the version of choice by two well-known spiralizing sister… mines exactly like theirs minus the branding and the huge mark up!