Saturday, October 30, 2010

Of Jack O'Lanterns and Caramel Apples

There's not much celebrating of All Hallow's Eve here in New Zealand. No tricker or treaters, only one costume big party in town tonight and at the nearby Warehouse store, the meager rack of cheap costumes is squeezed almost forgotten between the mounds of cat food on the one side and the glistening Christmas plethora on the other. We did however find two lovely little pumpkins at the Lyttleton Market to carve and some scrumptious, perfectly sized apples for dipping. And last night, despite the absence of costumes, we had a lovely spring BBQ with all the neighbours who admired the little jack o'lanterns and devoured the candy apples.

Caramel Apples
For you to enjoy on your next little Halloween (or other sugar-high holiday) party. Adapted from (

Popsicle stickes or skewers broken in half
Pot for making caramel
Larger pot for Bain Marie
Smaller bowls for other ingredients
Tray lined with parchment paper for cooling
Candy thermometer (can be done without one, but it makes life easier)
Glass of water with a brush in it
Glass of cold water beside stove

6-10 Apples (we used Granny Smith for their tartness to balance the sweetness of the caramel)

1 1/2 cups Brown sugar
6 Tbsp. Milk or cream
1 1/2 Tbsp. Butter
1/2 tsp. Vanilla

Other coating ingredients (crushed nuts, coconut, smarties, sour-o's, chocolate chips, sprinkles, gummi bears, life savers, trail mix, granola, whatever tickles your fancy)
Melted chocolate, if desired


First prep your apples.
If they are store-bought, they generally have a waxy coating on them. This can be removed by dipping them in boiling water and scrubbing the wax off.
Next, stick a popsicle stick or skewer in them and line them up in an easily accessible manner (the dipping part goes fast).

Now get your rolling ingredients ready by pouring them into a flat bowl that your apples can be rolled around in.

Place your brown sugar, butter and milk in a pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Allow mixture to bubble away until it reaches 236 degrees Farenheiht (or soft ball candy stage, where when dropped in a cup of cold water, it forms a ball but when brought out of the water the ball flattens). If crystals start to form on the inside of the pot, brush some water around the insides to stop this happening.

While your sugar is bubbling, start another pot of water boiling to be your Bain Marie. The bain marie will help to keep you caramel from cooling down too quickly while you work on coating your caramel apples.

Once your caramel has reached the right temperature/stage, quickly place it in the Bain Marie and start dipping. Take an apple by the stick and roll it around in the caramel, tipping the pot may help here. Then roll your apple in the desired coating material and place on your tray to let it set. If your caramel cools down too much and becomes too thick to work with, put it back on the heat and add a splash of cream or milk and stir until it comes back to a workable state.

If you want to coat your apples in chocolate after the caramel, you must first allow the caramel to set. Melt your chocolate (10-30 seconds at a time in the microwave at medium stirring in between until melty) and dip your set apples when ready. Alternatively, you could drizzle the chocolate over the apple in an appealing (or unappealing) manner. If you want your chocolate to harden you must temper it. Instructions can be found on this website: Although they say to use a double boiler, it can be done in the microwave if you are careful and check the temperature every time you have it out (every 30 seconds or so) - the important part is heating it up to the necessary temperature, reducing it again and finally, heating it back up.

Once all your apples are dipped and decorated they are ready to enjoy. Using a knife to cut off slices makes it easier to eat, but where's the fun in that?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mmmmm - parathas

Food is something both Stephen and I love. Cooking, eating and, most especially, trying new things. This past week, with the arriving spring, we decided to do some tasty and spicy Indian food. But having grown up with a pretty restricted Indian food repertoire (meat and veg in some type of curry sauce) I wanted to try something new and exciting - since there is much more to Indian food than curry, naan and rice biryani (the limits of my Indian food repertoire). I know this because every time I go to an Indian restaurant the menus are huge! So I picked one of my favorite Indian foods and decided to give it a try. Entre the paratha!

Parathas are an unleavened Indian flat bread. They consist of a simple dough (flour, water and salt) folded in layers with ghee (clarified butter) or oil spread between the layers to keep them apart. They are often stuffed with tasty foods like mint, or potatoes or spinach. When they come to your table and you pull them apart, they have the most wonderful characteristic of being hundreds of tiny sheets of tasty bread already slathered in butter. And like naan, they are perfect for mopping up curry. Which takes me to another reason I wanted to try this new food. When I was in Singapore visiting family, I had an egg paratha for breakfast one morning. What got me was that the whole meal constituted one big, tasty paratha stuffed with an egg and a small bowl of very soupy curry sauce. And at the end of it I was full. This was different from any North American (or Kiwi) Indian food I had ever experienced, so I wanted to try it myself at home.

Which brings me to our tasty meal. Aloo parathas (potato parathas) served with lamb curry, lime pickle, mango chutney and yogurt. The recipe for the parathas was taken from my favorite source for Indian cookery - Manjula's kitchen ( She has some great recipes with easy to follow videos. The lamb curry, essentially a side dish tonight, was found at the Asian Food Warehouse here in Christchurch and was much soupier than anything I'd made before, making it much more similar to the one I'd had in Singapore. But now, to the recipe.

Aloo Parathas (Potato parathas) - from Manjula's Kitchen

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup water
1 pinch of salf

1 1/2 cups of mashed potatoes (about 5 small or 3 large)
2 Tablespoons cilantro/coriander
1 fresh chili pepper, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1.Start by boiling the potatoes until just soft and ready for mashing. Drain, set aside and let cool to room temperature before mashing them.

2. Mix flour, water and salt until dough forms.
3. Dump out on counter and knead with oiled hands until soft (about 2 minutes).

4. Mash your now room temperature potatoes. Add all other filling ingredients and mix together.

5. Dump out onto counter and knead filling until everything is well mixed.

6. Break both the filling and the dough into 6 equal sized balls and set aside.

7. Take one dough ball and roll it out on a floured surface to the size to your palm.

8. Place a ball of filling into the middle of the disc and close the dough around the filling like you would a dumpling. Press it lightly to make a hockey puck shaped disc and set aside.

9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 for remaining 5 sets of dough and filling balls.

10. Place a cast iron pan on the stove and heat up at med-high.

11. Now take your first hockey puck dumpling, place it on a floured surface and roll out to the size of a dinner plate or whatever will fit in your pan.

12. Place your paratha into hot, dry pan and cook for about 30 seconds. Check to see if there are tiny brown spots forming on your cooking side and flip.

13. Smear the cooked side with about 1 teaspoon of oil and flip (when second side has started to brown).

14. Flip one more time to crisp up the second side and remove from pan.

15. Repeat steps 11 through 14 with the remaining hockey puck-dumplings-come-parathas.

Enjoy with a tasty curry of your choosing and any mix of pickles, chutneys and yogurt you prefer. See Manjula's recipe here ( for video instruction.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Golden Bay

After our lovely tramp in the rain and delightful soak at Maruia Springs, we hopped into our car and drove up the island to Golden Bay. One of the teachers Stephen teaches with has a house up there and had invited us to drop by and visit. We drove past flooding rivers and green, green pastures, up mountain roads and through little towns with names like Paenga and Pokororo. We drove and we drove and finally we had one more pass to go. This one was in fact a surprise. We certainly hadn't expected such a steep and winding and seemingly endless (the thick fog didn't help) mountain pass just before our final destination, but we persevered and eventually popped out on top of the hill, blue skies above us, thick soupy fog behind us and a clear view to our final destination.

We arrived a wee bit late for dinner, but our lovely hostess had waited and after a short walk on the beach, we tucked into a true British curry at 9pm. Then it was quickly off to bed and dreaming of sunshine and sand.

And that is exactly what we got the next day. Pancakes for breakfast, then off down to the beach to collect mussels for our dinner. Wainui Beach is one of the boring beaches (or so we were told), but just off-shore was a mussel farm and on one side of the beach there was a collection of boulders that provided home to the more wild mussels. So we wandered on down, picking up seashells and sand dollars along the way.

Eventually we found ourselves in amongst the rocks. The mussels however were about the size of a quarter/Kiwi dollar/British pound - they were very small. Certainly too small to eat. But we kept looking and eventually found some edible looking ones tucked deep into the crevasses of the boulders. So we picked a few of them and wandered on back to the car.

On the way back to Pohara, where our hostesses house was, we were dropped off at another beach (Tata Beach) so that we could enjoy the lovely day by walking home along the coast.

Tata Beach is another beautiful example of the large and plentiful beach found in Golden Bay. We threw the disc around - until I tossed it out into the ocean and Stephen had to go up to his waist to get it back. Eventually, we made it to the end of the sand and the start of the headland that would bring us around to the next beach. This is where our awesome rock-climbing/scrambling skills came into play.

Up - over - around - under - ooooo, cool bug - up again - hmmmm, over or under . . . under - and finally, the last wade through the sea to the beach - oh, that not the beach, there's still a lagoon in the way. . . with very sucky mud.

But finally, we made it (another one of Stephens teacher friends pointed a safe way across the mucky-bottomed lagoon where he and his daughter were fixing their boat). We wandered down Ligar Beach and up towards the road (the next head land looked somewhat more daunting than the last).

We walked back along the road, with a quick stop in at a little coffee and ice cream boat to fuel up and finally made it home. It was suggested we all head out to the nearby fish farm and catch ourselves some salmon to go with our mussels for dinner. It is more than somewhat difficult to say no to a good idea, so we hopped in the car and drove down to Anatoki Salmon.

Anatoki Salmon Farm grows Chinook Salmon for distribution to restaurants all over New Zealand. It also invites people to come by, borrow a fishing rod and net and catch their own fish. Once caught, you can take your fish to their fishmonger, who will clean them for you and if you like, hot smoke them with the flavouring of your choice. We opted for a cilantro-garlic rub for one hot smoked salmon and the other to be simply cleaned for BBQing later. Then it was back in the car and home to rustle up some dinner.

Dinner was delicious - if a little surprising. After a good clean and de-bearding, we steamed our lovely mussels in some white wine with chillis and ginger, then topped them with some beach picked fennel. Stephen, sliced and boiled some potatoes to grill up on the BBQ. And all this was served along side our yummy hot smoke salmon caught just 30 minutes prior and the only two lemons on our hostesses lemon tree. It's always a joy to be able to make up a dinner from the land around you and we thoroughly enjoyed this one - despite the unanticipated extras found in some of the mussels.

Who knew that tiny shore crabs and mussels had a symbiotic relationship, wherein the mussel provides shelter and the crab eats any unwanted rubbish that comes inside.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tramping in the Rain

Last week marked the start of Stephens' two week spring break. So we figured we should take advantage of the time and take off somewhere, see some of this great country in which we've lived for almost 2 years.

Our first destination was a little tramp just past Lewis Pass (where the St. James Walkway is that we did last year) to a little hut on the shores of Lake Daniels. This was perhaps not the best time for it as the big storm was still hammering that side of New Zealand, but now was when we had time. So we packed our rain gear and lots of chocolate.

Having left home at about 1pm we didn't arrive at the parking lot until about 4pm. But with a short 2 hour walk ahead of us and our recently saved daylight hours, we weren't too worried. We threw on our rain jackets, pulled on our packs and squelched down the track. It wasn't raining really badly, just sort of misting (which we all know is actually worse) so we were soon soaked. Fortunately, the temperature was warm and the trail was easy to follow. We heard loads of birds and even had a close encounter with the South Island Robin - a friendly little bird I hadn't yet had the chance to see. He seemed very intent on inspecting us before letting us pass.

[On the trail to Lake Daniels]

After passing our inspection, we happily rambled down the trail towards our destination. This however did not last too long, as we soon encountered some rather deep and rushing water - coming down the trail. As far as we could see. In fact, the whole last third of the trail was submerged below about a foot of water. There were the random boardwalks, appearing to float in the midst of the flooded forest, but these were more ridiculous than they were helpful. Despite our feet having been the only dry part of us before, we soon succumbed to the fact that we were to arrive completely waterlogged. And what a relief it was to arrive when we did. A lovely dry hut to strip down in and warm up . . . . or not. At least not with four noisy teenagers already there. I had a little giggle at poor Stephen's expense, thinking how we were out in the Southern Alps bush to escape the raging hormones, constant showing off and parading of teen angst and here it was right in front of us. Ah, the irony. But they had a fire going and were really very nice kids, so we just skipped the stripping down and went straight to warming up.

[Momentary dry ground]

[The view from the hut, looking across Lake Daniels]

The evening went relatively quickly, seeing as we had arrived at about 6:30pm and the sky was already dark with clouds. Some dinner and a couple games of cards and it was off to bed, where it was off to the land of dreams in a breath.

The next morning, we lay in bed listening to the kids getting all packed up and heading off back to meet their ride. Stephen brought me jumbalaya eggs (read leftovers mixed with eggs to make it breakfasty) in bed and I slowly emerged to get myself ready too. Rain pattered down on and off as we packed and had stopped as we emerged from the hut ready to start walking. Unfortuanately, with all the rain last night our trail swamp had deepened and parts of the trail came well up to my calf, so we were not to escape without getting wet. On the other hand, we did find ourselves lucky enough to see a couple of Kakariki, or yellow-crowned parakeets. We watched them pull at bark for their breakfast before moving along back to our car.

[The 90-degree tree - photo opportunity]

As we arrived at the parking lot, we were met in force by some early sandflies. Quickly stretching and unpacking we clambered into the car and drove 5 minutes up the road to Maruia Springs, a japanese bath that uses a natural hot spring (