Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fresh Tomatillos

A year ago, I had never heard of tomatillos. Then I came across some Mexican recipes using them, and started noticing tinned ones in the supermarket.

Tinned tomatillos at the supermarket.
Natually, I assumed this was a foreign produce that could not be grown in New Zealand. You can imagine my excitement when I spotted tomatillos for sale at a market in Auckland, along with some amazing-looking heirloom tomatoes.

Heirloom tomatoes and tomatillos grown in Clevedon.
While the pictures on the tins make tomatillos look like green tomatoes, it turns out they are a bit like cape gooseberries as well, with the fruit covered by a papery husk. I was surprised at how waxy the skin was underneath. If these little green balls had not had their natural wrapping, I might have assumed that the retailer had resorted to some special techniques for enhancing the appearance of their product.

Tomatillos look like a cross between green tomatoes and cape gooseberries.
In terms of texture and flavour, I found the tomatillos to be firmer and crisper than red tomatoes, and significantly more sour. Rather than trying to eat them raw (apart from a wee sliver for curiosity's sake), I thought they would be much more enjoyable cooked, as in fried green tomatoes. Since tomatillos are a Mexican ingredient though, I decided to try making salsa verde instead.

Apparently, tomatillos are more commonly boiled, but I chose the pan-roasting method for a tastier dip.

Pan-roasting the tomatillos.
 I also gave some vine tomatoes a similar treatment to make a salsa roja (roasted red salsa) for comparison.
Salsa roja and salsa verde.
Both were delicious, and not just eye-catchingly different in colour, but also in flavour (the green tomatillo one was more tart, as you would expect, with a crisper taste than the cooked tomato one). You could make this for your Christmas feast and serve with corn chips, tortillas, or grilled meats, and if you have leftovers, this would be great for the Mexican breakfast dish of huevos divorciados ("divorced eggs").

This post is part of Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event aimed at inspiring us to try new things. This month it is hosted by Becky from My Utensil Crock.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Favourite Recipes: Christmas Caramel Crunch

I know, I know, I've been sharing a lot of recipes lately, and it's really about time for a restaurant review or something. But when a workmate brought these crunchy chocolate caramel slices in, and I found out how easy these moreish mouthfuls were to make, I decided they would be perfect to include as part of the Sweet New Zealand monthly blogging event.

Caramel crunch with a variety of toppings.
The last time I wrote a post intended for the event (I was too late with the entry), I made chocolate cheese fudge. It turns out a savoury component works a treat in desserts. In the case of this caramel crunch recipe, the secret ingredient is... wait for it... Salada crackers!

Not surprisingly, I've seen this addictive invention labelled Christmas crack. I prefer to watch people's reaction to these little bites before they know what is in them, so I avoid using names that give the game away, like soda cracker chocolate candy, salty caramel and chocolate crackers, or saltine cracker brickle. Instead, I'll call them caramel crunch barschocolate toffee bark or salted toffee chocolate squares.

There are any number of variations, not just in the name, but also in the toppings. You can add nuts, dried fruit, flaky sea salt, or more sweet and/or crispy things, like broken pretzels, hundreds and thousands, chopped M&Ms or mini marshmallows. They are also great with no toppings at all, as in David Lebovitz's Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch. As it's coming up to Christmas though, a white chocolate, pistachio and cranberry version seemed most appropriate. You could also try cutting these into triangles to make them more tree-like.

Christmas Caramel Crunch
Recipe similar to another one which appeared in Dish Magazine (Dec 2010/Jan 2011).

1/2 packet of Salada crackers (1 sleeve, 9 large squares, 36 small squares, or 125g)
250g butter
1 cup brown sugar
300g white chocolate buttons
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
1/2 cup dried cranberries

  1. Line a sponge roll tin with baking paper and place a single layer of Salada crackers in the bottom of the tin.
  2. In a saucepan, heat butter and sugar over medium heat and bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Pour over crackers.
  3. Bake at 180°C for 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate over the crackers as soon as pan comes out of the oven. Allow to melt (around 5 minutes), then evenly spread the chocolate with a knife. Sprinkle the pistachios and cranberries over the melted chocolate.
  5. Allow to cool and then break into pieces.
What is a sponge roll tin?
It is a rimmed baking sheet. If you don't have one, and end up using a rectangular cake tin as I did, you'll only be able to fit two-thirds of the crackers in, so you'll need to adjust the other ingredients accordingly.

I only had a rectangular cake tin, which wasn't able to hold all the crackers.
Can I use other kinds of chocolate?
You can use compound milk chocolate instead of white chocolate, or even dark chocolate buttons, but I would advise against bittersweet chocolate with 65% cocoa or higher. You want the caramel flavour to shine in these toffee pieces, and a strong chocolate taste would overwhelm this. I also noticed that white chocolate seemed to have a lower volume than its browner counterpart, so you would need less of the milk chocolate in weight, say only 200-250g.

Caramel poured on, and baked, then chocolate buttons melted over the top.
How long do I need to cool this for after adding the toppings?
It can take 2 to 3 hours for this to cool completely at room temperature, so that the chocolate fully sets. You can also also put this into the refrigerator to make it properly brittle before chopping.

Crispy Christmas caramels.

[Added 20 December 2013: If you want to jazz it up a bit, take a look at the latest caramel chocolate crackers from Dish, which adds booze the caramel.]

This post is part of Sweet New Zealand, a monthly blogging event for New Zealand bloggers to share something sweet. This month it is hosted by Mairi from Toast.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Honey Pineapple Piña Colada Boats

This week is apparently New Zealand's first ever National Honey Week! Organised by Airborne Honey, the initiative aims to raise awareness and support for this natural resource from 25 November to 1 December, including having a "Make Something Yummy with Honey" competition. I've been making far too many desserts this month already, but with an amazing prize up for grabs (a behind-the-scenes experience with Geoff Scott at Vinnie's, in addition to a dinner for two, a cookbook and of course plenty of honey), I just had to participate.

A housewarming party in the weekend left us with an abundance of fruit, so I decided to make a glazed pineapple dessert. I based my recipe on one for pan-fried pineapple, with the boat presentation inspired by a dessert I ordered in Italy. I also had some homemade coconut ice cream  from my previous attempt at making my own coconut milk, which came together with the fruit to form a beautiful hot-and-cold tropical delight.

Honey pineapple piña colada boats.

A taster insisted there must have been alcohol in it, although I didn't use any; such was the aroma and depth of flavour this dessert had. Perhaps it was because the pineapple and coconut flavour combination reminded him of a piña colada. If I were to make this again, I would definitely add a splash of rum, and drizzle some caramel over the top (I've added this into the recipe below)!

Honey Pineapple Piña Colada Boats
Based on pan-fried pineapple and banana flambe recipes.

1 small, ripe pineapple
2 Tbsp (28g) butter
2 Tbsp (42g) honey
1/4 cup rum
coconut icecream, to serve


  1. Cut pineapple lengthwise into quarters.
  2. Peel back the woody core from the bottom up, leaving it still attached at the leafy end.
  3. Cut the pineapple wedge about 1 cm from the skin, to remove the juicy flesh.
  4. With a toothpick, pin back the core to form a "sail".
  5. Slice flesh into thick pieces.

Pineapple boats with flesh extracted.

  1. In a pan, mix butter and honey together over high heat. Cook for 2 minutes, until the mixture becomes golden.
  2. Brown the pineapple pieces, about 2 minutes on each side.
  3. Remove from heat and arrange the fruit slices onto the pineapple skin boat.
  4. Add rum to the pan and return to medium heat.
  5. Warm for a few seconds without stirring, then carefully tilt the pan so the rum ignites (if using an electric stove, hold a lit match near the sauce to ignite it).

Browning the pineapple slices.

  1. Place a scoop of ice cream next to the pan-fried fruit slices on the pineapple skin boat.
  2. Drizzle the flaming sauce over the top.
  3. Serve immediately and enjoy!
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