Best Dressed – Top 5 Summer Salad Dressings

classic ranch dressing recipe

best homemade mayo

Summer salad season is here and to help you make the best dressed salads on the block, we’re sharing our top 5 all time favourite salad dressings. There is one for every type of salad you might like to make – and some of them even double as dips, marinades and sauces! And lets face it, salad goes down much better with a tasty dressing.

Our star cast of salad dressings includes:

  1. Creamy Mayonnaise
  2. Thai Dressing
  3. French Vinaigrette
  4. Ranch Dressing
  5. Green Dressing

The green dressing is a wonderful new take on green goddess dressing that is like a green smoothie for your salad. We know you’ll love them as much as we do. The classic French vinaigrette is our most used dressing and we’re giving you the magic “oil to vinegar” ratio and an easy way to remember it – no one wants to look up a recipe for vinaigrette right?

And now is the perfect time of the year to be using them. A couple of these in the fridge and all you have to do is grab some fresh greens from the garden, fling something on the BBQ and you’ve got dinner.dill mayo recipe-01

We’ve also given you oodles of variations so instead of our top 5 salad dressings you’re actually getting around 10 or 12 different dressings and uses for them. And if your gardens are anything like ours, the salad greens are hoofing away right now. Heading into holiday season we’re getting dressed up at every turn so why not our salads?

green dressing

If your diary is filling up with festive holiday BBQ’s and parties, then a jar of one of these dressings also makes an easy and appreciated gift for the host. Make a double batch, one for you and one to give. Print them out the recipe to go with it!  Happy holidays and salad munching.  Here are the recipes:

Country Trading – Thai Dressing

This versatile dressing gives an Asian flavour to any salad. Use it on noodle salads with fresh coriander and chopped peanuts to serve. Add some diced fresh red chilli if you like a little heat. It also makes an excellent dipping sauce for Thai fish cakes, tempura battered veges or prawns. When the limes are ripe in late winter, make a large jar of it. It keeps in the fridge for a long time.

  • ½ teaspoon palm sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon soy sauce

Whisk together all ingredients and toss through salad before serving.  Great with grated carrot salad.

 

Country Trading – Green Dressing

This great dressing is so full of green it has to be good for you. It is like a green smoothie for your salad! And it is good for more than just salads – try it on new baby potatoes, tossed through pasta or as a dip for vege sticks. Substitute a ripe avocado for the cucumber if you want to make it creamier.

  • ½ cup roughly chopped parsley – flat leaf is best
  • ½ cup roughly chopped green herbs – chives, basil, mint, chervil are favourites.
  • ½ cup white wine or cider vinegar
  • 2 gherkins
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ cucumber
  • 4 leaves of silver beet or 1 cup of rocket
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Whizz all the herbs and veges in a food processor until blended then add the salt and oil and blend until smooth. This will keep for 1 week in the fridge.

 

Country Trading – Mayonnaise

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 cups rice bran or grape seed oil – Substitute ½ a cup of good olive oil for more flavor.

 

Whizz all the ingredients, except the oil, together. Add the oil in slowly and keep the food processor running until the mayo thickens. This will keep for 2 week in the fridge and can be used as the base for a lot different dressings.

  • Add chopped dill and a shot of wasabi or horseradish for an accompaniment to smoked fish.
  • Add chopped capers, gherkins, anchovy and parsley for a quick tartare sauce.
  • Add squished roasted garlic for a quick aioli.

 

Country Trading – Classic Vinaigrette

Sometimes all you need is a simple dressing. The classic salad dressing is a French vinaigrette and knowing how to make it is a great asset to your dressing arsenal. The ratio is 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil and whisk well. I prefer a more bitey, less oily mix and I remember it as 1 – 2 – 3 – I part vinegar, 2 parts oil and 3 minutes to make.

It is so simple that the quality of the oil and the vinegar shout out so don’t go cheap on either of them. If you’ve made some nice herb vinegars this is the dressing to show them off. I made a blueberry and basil vinegar last summer that makes a beautiful vinaigrette. Also a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a pinch of sea salt and a grind of black pepper is a nice mixture with loads of green herbs for a potato or pasta salad. But straight up, this is the dressing to use for any bowl of fresh washed salad leaves.

 

Country Trading – Ranch Dressing

Where would your Caesar salad be without a classic ranch dressing? Crumble blue cheese through this and use it on pear, walnut, fennel, apple, celery salads. Ranch is a thin dressing – use less buttermilk to make a thicker version. When you make your own butter, buttermilk is always to hand.

1 cup fresh buttermilk (culture is great for an extra tang)
2 cups thick mayonnaise
1 tablespoon cream
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons chopped fresh green herbs (tarragon, parsley, dill, chives)
½ teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard
½ clove fresh garlic, finely chopped

Whisk buttermilk, mayonnaise and cream together in a bowl until well combined. Blend in remaining ingredients and adjust seasonings to taste. Keep in the fridge in a glass jar and use within 7 days.

summer salad dressing recipes

How to Make Greek Yogurt & Best Ever Rastry Recipe How to Make

How to Make Greek Yogurt

Hands up who buys Greek yogurt at the supermarket? You’re not alone. We can’t get enough of the thick, creamy tangy stuff can we. But what if I told you that most of those pots on the supermarket shelf aren’t the real deal.

Many brands of Greek yogurt contain gums, stabilisers and sweeteners to thicken, extend shelf life and create product that tastes more like a pudding than a yogurt. True Greek yogurt is delicious and so easy to make you won’t buy it again once you’ve made your own.

Make a batch of yogurt, (if you don’t know how, buy our ridiculously cheap book called “How to Make Yogurt”), cool it completely, then strain it through a double layer of cheesecloth for an hour and voila you have Greek yogurt the way it is made in Greece. True Greek yogurt is simply strained to remove some of they whey, which is why it is thick. Check after an hour, and if it is thick enough for you, stir it into a jar and add a swirl of honey or leave it as is.

Straining out the whey like this doesn’t just make the yogurt thicker, it increases the protein and reduces the lactose. Because of this concentrated protein hit, Greek yogurt is less likely to split during cooking, (if you’re careful with it), and makes a great cream replacement. The strained whey is full of minerals and live cultures and can be used like buttermilk in baking and smoothies.

Greek yogurt also makes the best pastry in the world. Big claim I know, but my friend Rose introduced me to this recipe recently and I’m completely won over by it.

best ever pastry recipe

Best Pastry Recipe Ever (sorry flaky, filo and sweet short crust – you have been out-rolled)

  • 200 g Butter (you know any recipe that starts with that much butter is going to be good – you could probably use a little less)
  • 200 g Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sea salt
  • 375 g Self-raising flour
  1. Cut the butter into small cubes and bring up to room temperature.
  2. Beat it in a large bool with an electric egg beater until it is fluffy.
  3. Add the yogurt and salt and mix to combine.
  4. Add 3/4 of the flour and mix with your hands until it forms a dough.
  5. Add handfuls of flour until it stops sticking to your hands.
  6. Rest in the fridge for at least 40 mins before using.

Rose used the pastry to make Tiropitakia – a little Greek meze dish of Feta cheese parcels. The pastry has a lovely soft consistency from the yogurt and it keeps for at least a week in the fridge.  I’ve used it for topping pies, empanadas and flat discs for pastry pizza pie creations. It is very tasty and forgiving.

I’ve also made it with wholemeal flour and a batch with 50/50 sr flour and buckwheat flour which was nice.

Enjoy.

Are you worried about lactose? Do you know why?

Lactose in Cheese

I’ve noticed a fashionable trend to regard dairy and lactose as something of a food nasty, a bit like gluten is regarded these days. And if you’re unfortunate enough to have an allergic reaction to it I’d imagine you would agree. But is it really as bad as the food marketers are making it out to be?

Are all these dairy and lactose free products that are popping up better for us? Or just more processed food being foisted onto unsuspecting consumers by marketers looking for a new angle? Lactose free ice-cream, cheese, even milk. After 6 years of having this conversation with customers who want to make dairy free yogurt and cheeses I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt about the issue.

Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk, just like fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit. Some people have trouble digesting it and some people don’t. Lactose intolerance is different than having an allergy to dairy – being lactose intolerant means you have trouble digesting lactose – you don’t have an allergic reaction. If you have an allergic reaction to dairy you’ll know about it.

The folks that say we shouldn’t be eating dairy foods claim they’re only intended for infant mammals. But a lot of the adult population have the ability to digest dairy – we have the lactase enzyme in our intestines which is the same enzyme calves and lambs have to help them digest milk. If you are lactose intolerant your body doesn’t produce enough of this lactase enzyme to digest the lactose and you get stomach cramps, gas and diarrhea after eating lactose. Many people who are lactose intolerant can have small amounts of lactose without these severe effects.

The scientists seem divided on whether lactose intolerance is genetic or cultural. For a while they thought populations from certain geographies that historically ate a lot of dairy, such as Europe and India, had lower rates of lactose intolerance and cultures without a history of high dairy consumption, had higher rates of intolerance.

Now they’ve got our DNA nutted out, some of them think it’s more about genetics than geography. It also seems to be something that can change in an individual over time. Some folks say that drinking raw milk is the solution for the lactose intolerant but recent research by Stanford University Med School doesn’t back up this claim.

lactose free cheese

Aside from digestion, which is valid, the other reasons recently cited for not eating dairy range from cancer and cholesterol to fat and calcium absorption and try as I might I honestly can’t make head nor tail of any of them. Dairy is a natural food that a lot of us are designed to eat. It has a lot of vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins that our bodies can make good use of. I do have more sympathy for an objection to dairy goods on the basis of the environmental damage and animal welfare of modern dairy farming practices rather than on any health related basis. Dairy products from well managed, organic grass fed herds are infinitely better for the animals, the planet and you than dairy from factory farmed, grain fed animals.

So how should you approach dairy in your diet?  Well if you think you are lactose intolerant there are tests available – get yourself properly diagnosed. Don’t just jump straight to coconut yogurt and soy milk at the first sign of a tummy upset. And here is the actual lactose content of different dairy goods. It could help you make a more informed choice before eliminating dairy altogether from your diet.

  • Whey & Whey Powder – high levels of lactose
  • Pasteurised Whole Milk – 5%
  • Soft Cheeses, Sour Cream, Cottage Cheese, Cream Cheese – 3%
  • Natural Yogurt and Milk Keffir – 2%
  • Butter – 1%
  • Clarified Butter – 0%
  • Hard Aged Cheeses – 0%

I always giggle at the “lactose free cheese” being sold in supermarkets now. Great marketing but the reality is that most of the lactose present in milk is in the whey. Whey is largely discarded during cheese making. As the cheese dries and matures it loses more lactose – so the older and harder the cheese, the less lactose it is likely to contain.

Beware the marketers ploys and read the fine print. If you have been diagnosed as lactose intolerant, avoid whey and whey powder products, try good hard cheese, clarified butter and small amounts of natural Greek probiotic yogurt before you discard dairy from your diet altogether. Go for natural unprocessed dairy goods – processed cheeses and yogurts with “milk solids” added back in as bulking agents will have higher lactose content than the list above.

Maybe dairy and lactose aren’t the enemies they are being made out to be? Maybe we should just avoid overly processed dairy foods and eat a good balanced diet from all the food groups, in as natural a state as possible? There’s a thought.

Growing and Cooking with Elderberries

how to grow elderberry

There is nothing new under the sun and when it comes to the elder, never a truer word was spoken. Hippocrates mentioned its purgative qualities over 2000 years ago and through the centuries the flowers, leaves, bark and berries of the elder have all been used by herbalists and cooks for their varying properties.

The showy fragrant flowers of the elder are currently back in fashion, popping up as a flavouring in more artisan products than you can shake a stick at. These days you can wash down your elder flower ice-cream with an elder flower cider while sniffing wafts from your elder flower scented soy wax candle. But they are most commonly used at home for making cordials and homemade champagne; bursting forth in spring, bringing the otherwise nondescript elder trees out of hiding across the countryside.

This is when that other recently trendy pastime known as “foraging” takes place and roadside elder trees get denuded of any flower heads within arms reach. If you are lucky enough to find a tree laden to the ground with elder flowers you will probably find a very large ditch between you and it – explaining why it still has flowers. Roadside foraging is all well and good, but I’ve never been a fan because of all the exhaust fumes the poor old plant has endured and also because of the prodigious ability for local councils to drench roadside foliage with herbicide each spring. Finding a friendly farmer was always another option as elder trees can often be found around old cow bales and in hawthorn hedges.

Elderberry Growing-01

But old cow bales and hawthorn hedges are also on the endangered list and growing your own elder tree is a more straightforward option to ensure your supply of flowers and berries. The elder is a medium-sized deciduous tree that grows prodigiously. It can be pruned heavily to keep it in check if size is an issue. I probably shouldn’t tell you they’re easy to propagate from cuttings, seeing as we sell elder trees, but they are.  Take cuttings from elder trees in winter and put them closely together in a pot of damp sand. Come spring they will sprout away and you can prick them out into pots to grow on before planting out the following spring.

how to grow elderberry trees

Pick elder flowers by snipping the whole flower head from the tree. A gentle shake before putting them in your basket helps dislodge insects. I don’t wash them as I don’t want to lose the precious pollen – another reason to make sure you harvest them from a clean, spray-free tree. The flowers infuse jams with their floral fragrance. Gooseberries are ripe at the same time and make a wonderful jam combination. Nicola Galloway from Home Grown Kitchen steeped elder flowers in a jar of honey last year, which I thought a lovely idea.

I’ve also dried elder flowers by snipping the blossoms onto trays in the dehydrator and have found the dried flowers keep very well in a glass jar. They are great for flavouring fermented sodas and wine vinegar, for use in dressings. A handful of dried flowers steeped in a simple sugar syrup also makes a lovely elder flower concentrate. A bottle of this in the fridge keeps forever and makes an instant cordial with a squeeze of lemon or lime and a summery addition to a glass of bubbles.

elderflower syrup

There are several varieties of elder you can plant. Elderberry Adam is known for its fruiting qualities, producing large bracts of showy blossoms which ripen into heavy heads of berries late summer. Elderberry Purple Guincho has deep purple foliage and blossoms with a sweet purple tinge.  The Golden Elderberry has a showy yellow foliage and creamy white blossoms. These two colourful varieties are not as vigorous as the green leafed elderberry so they make a good choice for a small space. I also have a delicate lacy leafed elderberry which I haven’t formed an opinion on yet.

buy elderberry plants nz

Although the flowers often steal the show, I am more of a fan of the berries – if I can beat the birds to them. A good bit of advice is not to plant an elder near your clothes line. Let’s just say the purgative properties work as well on the birds as they do on humans and on the stain-o-meter, elder berries are off the chart. When I was a student I used to make a mean elderberry wine with berries “foraged” from Otago beaches and the carpet in one student flat bears testament to the permanence of pigment from an over-zealous fermenting bucket of elderberries.

The berries of the elder ripen in mid summer but they look ripe a lot sooner than they are, due to their intense dark colour. You know elderberries are ripe and ready to pick when the large bracts of berries droop their heads and the stalks start to lose their vigour. Even when they are ripe, elderberries still need to be cooked. Raw elderberries, stalks and leaves contain a toxin that is neutralised by cooking. The good news is that they taste terrible raw, so you are going to want to cook them anyway.

how to grow elderberry

The cooked berries have a lovely rich smokey flavour that lends itself to all sorts of culinary marriages. The sweetness of apple works beautifully with elderberry in jams and jellies and these creations are wonderful with pork or chicken dishes to flavor gravy or serve with cold meats.

Spices like cinnamon and star anise also partner really well with elderberry in a syrup that makes an excellent tonic for what ails you. In particular the treatment of colds, inflammation and those infamous purgatory qualities are all delivered by a good shot of elderberry syrup.

Preparing the berries is best done by running a sink of cold water and giving them a good wash to remove dust and bird poo, then hold the stem of each bunch and run a kitchen fork through it to strip off the berries then discard the stalks. I don’t like using the stalks as they give the cooked berries a stalky bitter flavour.

growing elderflowers

I adapted my fruit cordial recipe to make the elderberry syrup, adding whole cinnamon and cloves for spice – it has proven a bit medicinal for some palates, so adjust the sweetness to suit. A spoonful of sugar does make the medicine go down after all.

Recipe for Old Fashioned Gingerbeer Bug

homemade ginger beer bug recipe

Who remembers these? Blipping away merrily on the kitchen bench. Old fashioned ginger beer bugs are something many of us remember from our childhood. You can google any number of recipes for making ginger beer at home these days. Most of them seem to involve yeast and be ready to drink pretty much immediately but that is not the ginger beer I remember from my childhood.

Ginger beer as my folks used to make it involved a mysterious “bug” that sat on the kitchen bench and needed to be fed every day. It blipped away sending up little lava explosions of ginger every now and then that could entertain a bored child for quite some time. The liquid got drained off it once a week and mixed with sugar, water and lemon juice and then into glass bottles and capped with a cruel looking clampy thing that secured beer bottle tops to the glass bottles.

homemade ginger beer bug

The bottles went into wooden crates, then into a cool place under the house, through the trap-door in the wardrobe floor, in the bedroom that my sister and I shared. Dad would go and fish out a few bottles as required and it was the best ginger beer you ever tasted. Dry and spicy and the perfect drink to quench a summer thirst.

Except summer under the house wasn’t quite as cool as you’d think and one night the ginger beer went off like BOMBS, me and my sister were petrified and the remaining bottles were “gingerly” removed by Dad. And that was the end of my childhood memories of ginger beer. But then a few years ago – 8 to be precise – my sister and I decided to have a stall together to make use of the mass of lemons both of us had. Thinking about what to sell we hit upon the idea to sell the recipe and all the ingredients to make the lovely ginger beer of our childhood memories. And so the Old Fashioned Ginger Beer Bug Kit was born.

ginger beer bugs

We measured our ingredients, downsized the recipe to fit in a preserving jar and did some trial runs. The taste was a trip down memory lane and unsurprisingly the debut of this product at the Ngatimoti fair in early 2008 was a runaway success. Country Trading Co. was founded later the same year and the Old Fashioned Ginger Beer Bug was one of the founding products we sold.

The rest as they say is history and in the following eight years we sold literally thousands of these little jars of nostalgia. We sold that many of them that I often wondered if spice traders in NZ wondered why the demand for ground ginger suddenly spiked. But all good things come to an end and earlier this year we decided to retire the Ginger Beer Bug. We were finding it harder to get the old recycled glass jars the kit came in and even harder to get them delivered by the courier without breaking them.

But its been on my mind to liberate the recipe for everyone to enjoy for some time. We had a lot of joy from it and I hope you will too. So here it is folks – the Country Trading Co. Old Fashioned Ginger Beer Bug recipe.  Share it around, bottle it in plastic soft drink bottles – they are food safe and safer than glass – and store it somewhere cool :).

Click here for the short recipe and download the next one with step by step photos as well.

Click here for step by step recipe with photos.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

Cooking on the Wood Fire

fire baked potato

Enjoying this cold wet weekend? I am. Probably because I have a fire and a cold wet day gives me a good excuse to sit in front of it. Last winter Mum suggested I write about how I cook on the fire during the cold months. I suggested people will think I’m a hillbilly. She suggested people think that already, so here goes nothing.

We have a log burning fire whose primary job in life, after giving me somewhere to sit on cold wet days, is to heat our hot water, dry our clothes when it’s raining outside, and heat the house. But it is surprisingly useful for cooking too. The solid metal top is big enough to fit a couple of large pots on and winter will see soups, stocks, casseroles and steamed puddings bubbling away on the top while wet socks hang on the drying rail behind it. Lids stay on the pots to avoid sock soup.cooking on the log fire

Breadcrumbs are another favourite use for the gentle heat of the fire. Leftover rye bread dries to the consistency of concrete pavers on top of the fire. Ground up into breadcrumbs in the mixer and stored in a glass jar, you achieve a best by date of “until hell freezes over”.

A collection of trivets gives you low, medium and high temperatures to expand your fire cooking repertoire. Once your soup has boiled, turn it down by putting it on a high trivet and it will stay warm enough all day to dish up to those silly enough not to be in front of the fire when they arrive in from the cold.

cooking on the log burner

An old school coffee percolator or kettle is a good addition to your fire cooking kit and will boil surprisingly quickly when stoked along by a log of gum or manuka! And your options aren’t limited to the top of the wood burner. Who remembers jiffy pies? (jaffles if you’re Aussie). Those wonderful disguisers of leftover anything – mostly mince with peas in it.  A jiffy iron makes two bits of buttered bread and some mince into a mouth burningly hot and proper pie in minutes (or in a jiffy).

You will find jiffy irons, a double one if you’re lucky, in most good junk shops, cast aside by our unfathomable preference for electric toasted sandwich makers which are impossible to clean and generally seem to be an excuse to melt cheese into an oily mess. No the jiffy pie is definitely ready to make a gourmet comeback. Leftover venison and red wine casserole jiffy pie anyone?

fire toast

The final two treasures in my fire cooking collection are fire toast and baked potatoes. These two are ember cookers. Either will be charcoal in minutes if you attempt to cook them in a full fire. Hot buttered fire toast is about as good as it gets and often accompanies the soup heated on top. Use a good heavy bread, cheap white bread is full of sugar and will burn before it cooks.

Tuck a couple of spuds wrapped in tinfoil in the edge of the firebox and by the time you’ve cooked the rest of dinner they will be ready – or if you stuff them with enough toppings they are dinner. The fire also defrosts blocks of (chicken stock / plums / casseroles) from the freezer, softens butter for baking, warms honey that’s gone crystalised to make it runny again and sets a pot of yogurt left on the hearth overnight.

I wouldn’t dream of leaving something on the electric stove overnight, or while I’m out in the garden, but I’ll quite happily sit something (with plenty of liquid in it) on the top of the fire to do its thing without my presence. This nice gentle cooking is what appeals to me about the fire.

baked potato on the fire

So that is how we roll here in winter. One last thing – I’ve noticed disclosure statements recently on a few blogs so here goes – you should know dear readers that I don’t own an electric clothes dryer and I don’t own a microwave. I don’t own a banjo either but I do own a Metro fire  and although they haven’t paid me to write this article I am sure that when they read it they will. Perhaps they’d like me to write them a recipe book to give away with their fires? Perhaps you’d all like to help me by sharing your favourite fire cooking recipes?

 

Cooking with Fresh Cranberries

Recipes for fresh cranberries-01

Lessons from the food world, if you’re going to do something, do it properly – no half measures. Products like “Coke Life” which pitch themselves as “slightly” healthier are just doomed. I think consumers fall into two groups – those who care and those who don’t. Those who care aren’t going to be taken in by something “slightly” healthier and those who don’t will keep buying the full sugar, full fat version.

Why am I talking about this? Well because I’ve been cooking with fresh cranberries recently and they are a perfect illustration of a food with no half measures. With health giving properties jumping out of every pore of their festive little skins, they are a truly super food. But, like quite a few super foods, they are not half-hearted in their flavour. Cranberries are seriously tart.

So food producers drown cranberries in sugar to make them palatable. Did you know dried cranberries are 65% sugar? Surely if a product is over 50% something else it should be marketed as Sugraisins not Craisins? Don’t get me wrong, a life of pure kale and bone broth holds little appeal for me. But it’s a bit naughty to try and pass off a sweet treat as healthy by labeling it a “fat-free snack” and “source of anti-oxidants”. I’m in the “those who care” camp and I’m not fooled.homemade cranberry juice-01

I want to eat more cranberries. They’re really good for you and luckily fresh unprocessed cranberries are now within our reach thanks to Wild Ruby cranberry farm. I’ve had a box of their fresh cranberries to play with this autumn and I’ve made some delicious things from them, without 65% sugar. I was really impressed at the shelf life of the fresh fruit. They last for quite a few weeks in the fridge and they freeze very well too.

First up was real cranberry juice. Wow – talk about intense flavour. This super colourful, super tart juice is just like a cordial concentrate I remember being dared to drink neat as a kid. And I did end up treating it like a concentrate. I froze the pure juice in big silicone ice-cube trays and these frozen flavour bombs are brilliant added to a jug of juice and soda water. The cubes slice easily and just a little bit in a glass of soda water is seriously refreshing. Half a kilo of fresh cranberries yielded just under 400 mls of juice and trust me, a little goes a long way.

Frozen fresh cranberry juice-01

Next up I tried making a cranberry sauce to use with roast meats over winter. The sharp flavour of cranberry goes beautifully with most meats, but in particular anything rich like duck, pork, venison or, in our house, mutton. Cranberry sauce is one of those things you definitely don’t want to be sweet – the whole point of cranberry sauce is to bring some acidity to rich food. Most cranberry sauce recipes seem to have forgotten this and it’s hard to find one without loads of sugar.

This recipe is based on one I found on Epicurious which I’ve fiddled with a bit. It is really simple, freezes well and the orange juice and spices go beautifully with the cranberry flavour. The dates add a gooeyness to the finished sauce and a little of the sweetness that sugar would give. The original recipe has 1 1/4 cups of sugar in it but I think it’s nicer without it.

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 strips orange zest
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped dates
  • 500 g fresh cranberries

Simmer water, zest, juice, vinegar and whole spices over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the dates and half of the cranberries and cook until the cranberries start to burst. Stir in remaining cranberries and simmer until they begin to burst. Done. It thickens up a bit on cooling. Freeze it in small punnets and serve at room temperature with hot or cold meats.

Sugar Free Cranberry Sauce-01

Next I had a go at drying some cranberries in the dehydrator. Drying anything intensifies its natural flavours so dried cranberries are super super tart. They dried really well but because they are hollow it was hard to tell when they were done. Next time I’d cut them up roughly in the food processor before drying.

I’ve been using these little bullets of flavour sparingly. They’re a bit intense for a pizza topping or adding to your muesli, but sprinkle a handful on a baking tray with some flaked almonds and pour over dark chocolate and you’ve got your own big slab of yum. A few dried cranberries in the teapot with a couple of dried apple slices make a good approximation of Healtheries Cranberry and Apple tea too.How to make dried cranberries-01

I’ve got a recipe for cranberry ketchup which I’m yet to try but it looks really promising. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what you can do with fresh cranberries. Dianne Sheaf from Wild Ruby has amassed a great collection of recipes on their website that cover baking, desserts, meals and drinks – click here to take a look.

Finally I gave my Mum some fresh cranberries to have a play with too and she made this beautiful cranberry jelly, with plenty of sugar to make up for my efforts and I’ll be the first to admit, its damn fine. cranberry jelly recipe

The Pudding Club

steamed pudding recipes

I have a growing sense that a good portion of our Northern neighbours believe us to be a little bit antiquated here in the top of the South. I had this confirmed to me last week when speaking with someone arranging a business trip south. She asked me what the roads were like here. I politely informed her that they were fine and that we even have electric lighting now.

This weeks blog is not going to do much to dispel the myth of our hobbity ways. I’m talking about what passes for fun here in the winter months. After all there is only so much banjo playing you can take. A couple of winters ago the team here at Country Trading started a Pudding Club. And before you jump to conclusions, no I didn’t know that phrase has an entirely different meaning to folks of a certain era. If you don’t know, go ask your Mum, I’m not going to enlighten you here.

When I was a kid, steamed pudding made a regular appearance most Sundays with its good friends custard and cream and then again cold sliced and buttered in our lunch box and as afternoon tea. So why did they fall from favour? Because in a 2 minute noodle world they took an hour or so to cook? Because the aluminium pudding steamers we all used apparently gave us dementia? Or maybe we just stopped sitting down together for the Sunday roast.

Whatever the reason, the steamed pudding is a dish whose time has surely come again. Good food is good food and it rises above fashion, like a pudding in a basin. It feeds our comfort genes like a warm blanket and a pair of slippers. A tummy full of steamed pudding sets the world to rights.

steamed pudding basins

It is in these winter months that I fondly remember Pudding Club and pull out the steamer to make one of the recipes we tried. We all trawled old cook books and family recipe vaults, asked our Mothers and Nanas. I cooked so many different puddings that I started looking like one!

Proceedings culminated in a pudding evening at the historic Moutere Inn who kindly let us take over the kitchen. The members of Pudding Club with willing family and friends, managed to get through no less than 6 steamed puddings of all flavours during the course of a very memorable night.

I stonkered the crowd with a solid steak and kidney complete with suet crust. Other contributions included a boozy brandy Christmas pudding, date hangi pudding, dainty lemon pudding, sticky toffee apple pudding and a spicy sponge creation called Sinbad pudding. We all rolled home and didn’t eat another pudding for some time. To look at the photo album of all the puddings we made and tested in the pursuit of pudding perfection click here for the Pudding Club Facebook album.

If you fancy making a steamed pudding this winter here are a few tips and tricks and a recipe for one of the classics.  And although we stopped eating them for a while, we did compile a wee steamed pudding recipe book and hunt down some lovely stainless steel pudding basins.

pudding club

Top 5 Tips for Making the Perfect Steamed Pudding

A lot of recipe books are short on method for steamed pudding cooking as it was just something that all cooks knew how to do. Many books just give a name and a list of ingredients. To give a method would have been like describing how to butter toast. But times have changed and we’re not all pudding queens – so here are our top tips for making the perfect steamed pudding:

  1. Grease the steamed pudding bowl well with butter all over the base and up the sides of the bowl before putting the batter in. This helps the pudding come away from the basin at the end of cooking when you turn the pudding out onto a plate. Don’t use marg or oil thank you very much.
  2. Take the bowl and put it upside down on a sheet of grease proof paper and cut a circle out to fit the top of the basin. Grease the paper circle with butter and place it gently, buttered side down, on the pudding batter before putting the lid on the pudding steamer. This keeps the pudding moist and stops it sticking to the lid or escaping should it rise too much.
  3. Most steamed puddings will nearly double in size during cooking so when you put your pudding batter in your steamed pudding bowl, make sure you have enough headroom.
  4. While you are preparing your pudding, put a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to a low rolling boil or a high simmer. Put enough water in the pot to come at least half way up the pudding basin, preferably ¾ of the way up. These puddings have long cooking times so check the water level once or twice and top it up with boiling water from the kettle if it looks to be getting low. The Scottish Women’s Institute 1938 Cookbook states that it is best to keep a pudding at a crisp boil and I have found this to be correct.  If it is at a simmer or just hot, the pudding does not rise and fluff up, it ends up stodgy.
  5. In our experience, recipes aren’t that accurate with their cooking times, giving guidance like; “about an hour” when it’s closer to 2 hours.  So to avoid eating raw cake batter, poke a skewer in the center of the pudding.  If it comes out clean or with crumbs on it the pudding is ready. If it comes out with gooey mixture on it then put the lid on and put it back in the pot of water. They are quite forgiving; it’s not like taking a sponge out of the oven.  You can also tell if it’s cooked if the top of the pudding is firm and springy to touch and evenly risen with no sink hole in the middle.

steamed pudding recipe

Caroline Pudding

My dad’s favourite steamed pudding from a book Auntie Margie gave mum in 1963. The book was a fundraiser for the Ashburton Branch of the NZ Registered Nurses Assn (Inc.).  I can still see the cover with the nurse in her white cap and red cape. This is a pudding to set you on the road back to good health if ever there was one. It is particularly fine with a good dollop of Edmonds Custard and a glug of cream.

Ingredients:

  • 1 good tablespoon(15 grams) butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 grated apple
  • 1 heaped breakfast cup of flour
  • 1 cup fruit, (half dates, half raisins)
  • 1 good teaspoon baking soda
  • Mix with milk till fairly soft

Put in greased pudding steamer. Steam for 1½ hours. Mum still makes it occasionally and says any leftovers (I don’t remember there being any) butter up nicely as a loaf when cold and it also is good  made in deep muffin tins, baked at 180°C for 15-20 mins for individual puddings.

So there you have it, pudding eating is the pastime of choice in winter months here at the top of the South. And this is a good thing – we need all the padding we can get with the state of our roads!  Some of you North Islanders may even want to give Pudding Club a try.  I don’t think it is illegal to eat cream, butter and sugar in the North Island yet.

done