30 March 2014

Pear Cakes

We were meant to have afternoon tea the other weekend down in the country, but cyclone Lusi put paid to that with the rain & the wind. But hunkered down inside it was the perfect day for baking & simmering.  So bread was baked, beef bourguignon was simmering on the stove & I made these little pear cakes. It’s been a while since any sweet treats have been baked & it was the perfect afternoon to snuggle on the sofa with a good book & some catch up on TV alongside tea & cake.

These little cakes are spiked with cinnamon & topped with slices of pear for a welcome little treat on a wild & wet Sunday or actually any lazy Sunday afternoon.

Pear Cakes, courtesy of Grant Allen


1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3 pears, small to medium, cut 8 fine slices & grate the rest
3/4 cup soft brown sugar
100g butter, softened
1 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream


Preheat the oven to 190C / 375F

Sift the first four ingredients.
Place the sugar & butter in the bowl of a mixer & cream until light & fluffy. Add the spices, egg & vanilla & mix to combine.

Gradually add the flour & sour cream, beating at a low speed. Stir in the grated pear. Divide the mix between 8 cupcake cases & top each with a pear slice.

Place on a baking sheet & cook  for 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Let them cool a little & then settle in with a cuppa & a little cake.

This is also my entry for this month’s Sweet New Zealand being hosted by Frances over at Bake Club.

If you like this you might like this
Two years ago Black Bread


18 March 2014

Auckland Eats:Cafe Viet

Café Viet…there has been quite a buzz recently.  Everyone seems to be talking about & I finally made it along there last Friday night for an early dinner; they just managed to squeeze 2 of us in at 6:30pm.  With cyclone Lusi on the horizon we were very happy to be settled in inside in amongst the fairy lights & brightly coloured cushions. And then there was the menu; focusing on fresh & traditional Vietnamese dishes bursting with flavour & fresh herbs & spices. We wanted to try just about everything but that would really have been a case of eyes being bigger than the belly.  A repeat visit will be in order to continue the Vietnamese journey.

We couldn’t even really make it past the small plates, with 4 of them & 1 main we were well & truly sated & satisfied.  To start some fresh rice paper rolls with prawns & braised pork that were bright & fresh & served alongside some classic nuoc mam.  I would have like it a little spicier but each to their own when it comes to heat.  Next the Café Viet’s spring rolls.  These were a real treat; golden & crispy fried spring rolls filled with diced pork & prawn wrapped in fresh rice paper rolls & herbs for a freshness alongside the crunchy crispiness.

Mini rice cakes were topped with a prawn, spring onion & mung beans for a tasty little morsel.  These were dipped in nuoc mam & popped whole in to our hungry mouths to be devoured. Alongside these a basket of Bang Bang prawns covered in crispy batter with a coconut & lemongrass  dipping sauce that packed a wonderful punch & a good hit of chilli & is what made these more than just deep fried prawns.  Not that there is actually anything wrong with deep fried prawns!

The one dish that we sample from the mains was the grilled lemongrass chicken. The chicken was full of that wonderful lemongrass flavour & it came served with a cold rice noodle & herb salad topped with crushed peanuts & a couple of little curry puffs.  Little pockets of light pastry stuffed with curried vegetables that were quite the little treat.

There was just no room to even pursue the dessert menu, our bellies were happy & full.  Café Viet is a happy little place, food is bright & fresh & we had the loveliest service from a very sweet little lady.

However I must go back for the pho bo, that traditional savoury beef noodle soup & the crispy rice flour crepe that is stuffed with braised port, prawns, sprouts & fresh herbs.

Café Viet is one busy little place these days so be sure to book so that you don’t miss out.

Café Viet
2 Surrey Crescent
Grey Lynn

Ph:09 378 8738

11 March 2014

Vietnamese Beef & Noodle Salad

It is officially Autumn here in New Zealand now & it’s like the weather knew straight away too. The first week of March temperatures dropped & we had a few chilly southerlies to deal with too.  Thankfully this weekend we are back to sunshine & balmy temperatures.  This is the time of year when we appreciate every sunny day all the more as each day brings us closer to shorter days & cooler temperatures.

So with these still warm days it is still salad weather. This one packs a punch, it is spicy, fresh, bright & colourful & of course packed full of flavour. The dressing spiked with lime juice, lemongrass, ginger & chilli.

Vietnamese Beef & Noodle Salad

Serves 4


600g rump steak

For the marinade & dressing
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
3 tbsp lime juice
2 stalks lemongrass, chopped & smashed in mortar & pestle
1 tbsp ginger grated
2 tsp sesame oil
1 red chilli, deseeded & diced

For the salad
100g vermicelli noodles, cooked according the packet instructions
1 cup red cabbage, finely sliced
1 carrot, peeled & cut in to thin strips
1 lebanese cucumber, shaved in to ribbons
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1/2 red capsicum, deseeded & thinly sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup mint
1/4 cup basil
1/4 cup coriander
3/4 cup roasted peanuts, plus a few more to garnish
1 red chilli, sliced


Whisk together al the marinade ingredients together in a bowl to dissolve the sugar.  Taste & add more fish sauce, lime juice, chilli or sugar to suit your taste.  Place the beef in a sealable bag or container & pour over half the marinade.  Reserve the other half for the dressing.  Seal the bag or pop a lid on the container & marinade the beef for at least an hour or overnight in the fridge.

If the beef has been in the fridge overnight remove it from the fridge & let it come to room temperature before cooking it.  Heat a little oil in a frying pan over a high heat & cook the steak, turning it every 15-20 seconds for perfect, even cooking.  Cooking times will depend on the size & thickness of your steak & how you like it cooked.  Once cooked remove from the heat & let the steak rest for 10 minutes before cutting it in to thin strips.

Mix the noodles, beef & salad ingredients together in a large bowl & add the rest of the dressing & toss to combine. Season with salt & pepper & mound the salad on to plates.  Scatter over some peanuts, fresh herbs & chilli.

If you like this you might like this Asian Chilli & Lime Beef Salad
Two years ago Raw Power Salad


04 March 2014

Heston's Rich Chilli Con Carne with Spiced Butter Nachos

I’ve been watching How to Cook Like Heston. His take on cooking the perfect eggs, chocolate, roast chicken & beef.   For steak leave it uncovered in the fridge over night.  And you know how you’ve always been told to turn steak only once?  Think again, Heston turns his every 15-20 seconds for for perfectly cooked steak. The constant turning makes for even cooking & I can attest this one works a treat.

The perfect boiled egg was quite another story for me.  Heston goes low & slow.  Egg popped in to cold water, brought to boil, taken immediately off the heat & left for 6 minutes for the allegedly perfect soft boiled egg. Tried & tried again & this one just did not work for me.  Undercooked white & ever so hard to peel! You know when the egg shell comes a way in little pieces & takes little pieces of the white along with it?  Ever so annoying! So I have reverted back to my true & tested.  Room temperature eggs popped in to boiling water, reduced to a simmer & cooked for 5 minutes.  Well, for me anyway that is the perfect egg. How do you make the perfect soft boiled egg?

I digress so back to beef.  After the steak there was chilli con carne.  And what made this chilli con carne so special?  Spiced butter! Butter spiked with cumin, chilli, smoked paprika, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce & Marmite* See it get’s you right there!

*I am sure Marmite would be a most welcome addition to this butter but falling firmly on the hate side there is never any Marmite (or Vegemite for that matter) in my pantry.

It just had to be made! 

Heston's Rich Chilli Con Carne with Spiced Butter

''Adding the spiced butter to the chilli just before you serve it will make it rich and unctuous. If you like it a bit hotter, add a little more butter at the table when you add the grated cheese and sour cream. The lime juice and zest will finish it off with acidity and freshness.'' Heston

Serves 4


For the chilli:
6 tbsp olive oil
450g minced beef (10% fat)
1 large onion, diced
2 whole star anise
3 cloves garlic, peeled & crushed
1 green chilli, deseeded & diced (or leave the seeds if you like spicy)
2 tbsp tomato purée
Half a bottle red wine (37.5cl)
400g can chopped tomatoes
500ml beef stock
400g can red kidney beans, drained & rinsed
230g jar Piquillo peppers, drained & roughly chopped

For the spiced butter:
2 tbsp olive oil
1½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chilli powder
1½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp tomato ketchup
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp Marmite
125g butter, softened to room temperature

To serve:
Tortilla chips
Sour cream
Cheddar cheese, grated


Start by making the spiced butter. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan & lightly fry the cumin & chilli powder for 1-2 minutes. Pour into a bowl & add the rest of the spiced butter ingredients; mix together & once cool, place in the fridge until needed.

Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a large saucepan & heat over a high heat until smoking hot. Add the mince, in batches if necessary*, & cook until evenly browned. And don’t be frightened go for quite a bit of browning as it will add so much flavour to the chilli, just not black as in burnt! Remove and drain the meat. Add a little water to the same pan to deglaze it & tip the water & any bits in with the drained meat so none of the flavour is lost.

*Don’t overcrowd the pan or the mince will just stew, we want brown & full of flavour.

Turn the heat down to medium & add the remaining olive oil. Add the onions & star anise & cook until the onions begin to colour, then add the garlic & green chilli & cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the tomato purée, stir & cook for another 5 minutes until everything turns a deep brick red colour. Add the browned mince & juices, pour in the red wine & allow it all to reduce by two-thirds. Add the tomatoes & stock and simmer over a low heat for at least 1 hour or until the chilli has reduced to a thick sauce consistency.

Fold in the kidney beans & chopped red peppers & simmer until they are heated through. Stir in 2½ tablespoons of the spiced butter for mild-medium heat (or more if you like it hotter). Remove the star anise. Season with salt & freshly cracked black pepper and serve with rice or as I did as nachos with all the trimmings.

If have chilli put the remaining spiced butter, the lime zest and juice into three separate bowls on the table alongside the cheese and soured cream, so everyone can add their own seasonings to their chilli.

For nachos scatter tortilla chips around the edge of a plate & mound the chilli in the middle.  Sprinkle over a good amount of cheddar cheese & place under a hot grill for a few moments to melt the cheese.  Add a dollop each of sour cream, salsa & guacamole & tuck in!

This chilli is good, actually no good is a really poor way to describe it!  It is deep & rich & spicy & savoury & most definitely one I will be making again.

If you like this you might like this Yucatecan Guacamole with all the Trimmings

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