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After our three-month Lemons to Limoncello sojourn in Italy, I wrote that the dish I most wanted to recreate when I got home was the Pumpkin Gnocchi from Trattoria alla Cerva in Vittorio Veneto.

Maybe part of the reason I loved this dish so much was that we ate it in an amazing location (see below), sitting outside in the Piazza Flaminio, in our favourite trattoria, where the owner would come around to his guests, and sit down at your table, and explain the menu – but only if it had changed since the last time we had visited.

Piazza Flaminio - The view from our dinner table

The view from our dinner table

Our last evening in Vittorio Veneto, temperatures had just started to dip, autumn was in the air, and pumpkin was newly on the menu. Foolishly, I suggested to my husband that we share it as a primo piatto (first course), a suggestion I regretted the moment I tasted the gnocchi. A luscious pumpkin flavour, with something else bringing a richness and strength of flavour – which I know now, after testing a few different pumpkin gnocchi recipes, was parmesan cheese – and dressed either with a virgin olive oil or butter (I cannot remember), and a light dusting of finely grated parmesan.

I tested a new recipe recently – here’s the link (as requested by Lemons to Limoncello readers two years ago) – on some friends who were unwitting guinea pigs, and after one bite, knew I’d found something close to the Trattoria alla Cerva’s gnocchi. The base is simply roast pumpkin and parmesan (the more finely grated it is the better), with a tiny bit of egg and flour to bind it together, and it was delicious tossed with the burnt butter and sage sauce. I roasted too much pumpkin, so have several more servings frozen, ready for when I have an urgent need to be deliciously transported back to a northern Italian medieval piazza again.

My pumpkin gnocchi

My pumpkin gnocchi

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(#2 in the Afternoon Tea series of posts)

When I was growing up, we were always especially thrilled if my mother made pikelets for afternoon tea. We didn’t have them very often in our normal daily life, but they would make an appearance if we were having visitors. My mother would whip up a pikelet mixture, get out the old griddle, put it on the stove top to heat, and grease it well, before carefully spooning small amounts of mixture onto the hot griddle, deftly turning them before they burned. On a hot day, they were hot work, but they weren’t hard to make, and I always enjoyed making them – the key was to flip them gently as the bubbles appeared and grew, but before they burst. Like scones, they are delicious simply with butter and jam (preferably raspberry, in my opinion), and improved immeasurably with a dollop of whipped cream.

The trouble with pikelets is that they are very more-ish, and hungry children find it very easy to devour several in a sitting, so my mother would ration them. We knew we were only allowed 3 or 4 at a time (depending on how many she had cooked), and were always appalled when one particular family of cousins would visit and demolish the pile, without thought to how many of this rare treat there were to go around!

Note: Pikelets is the terminology used in New Zealand and Australia for what are essentially small pancakes, and are what the English call (according to Google) drop scones, which are not to be confused with what my mother occasionally used to make on the griddle (we called them simply griddle scones), and were the same as oven-baked scones but without butter.

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(#1 in the Afternoon Tea series of posts)

Over the last year or so, one of our local cafes has started baking scones in the morning. Their scones (date – my favourite –  or very cheesy cheese) are some of the best I’ve ever had, and they fly off the shelves, meaning that if we go in after 11 am, then we’re likely to be disappointed.

Plain scones, light and fluffy, split and spread with butter and raspberry jam, are ideal for an afternoon tea, and if you’re making them for visitors or a special occasion, then a dollop of whipped cream on top really makes them perfect. The Devonshire clotted cream – which is very hard to get here, and never quite as good – turns scones into one of the world’s great baked products, and is partly why I adore afternoon teas in England. (I confess that when we were in Devon and Cornwall, we often had a Devonshire Cream Tea for lunch!)

I learned to make scones relatively young – probably around 11 years old – but that whole “rub the butter into the flour” thing means that they can be a bit of an effort to make, and so for years I almost forgot about them. Inspired by the local café, I recently attempted some cheese scones to accompany homemade tomato soup for lunch. They’re not (yet) as good as those from the café, but that means I have a very good excuse to practise baking these some more.

Microblog_Mondays

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When I was about ten, I received a Beginner’s Cookbook as a present, but was disappointed because the recipe book was from the USA, and I couldn’t make most of the recipes. Actually, they weren’t really recipes; they were just lists of different ways to use box ingredients that we didn’t have here. Until I read that cookbook, I didn’t know that there were people who did not always cook (or bake) from basic raw ingredients. Now of course I know that Americans actually have a term for this, calling it cooking (or baking) “from scratch.”

I thought this might have changed in recent years, given the renewed enthusiasm for cupcakes and elaborate birthday cakes and baking shows, except that recently on Fb I was shocked to see a reference to cooking macaroni and cheese “from scratch.” Macaroni and cheese must be one of the easiest things in the world to make, and was certainly one of the first things I ever learned to cook  – I remember the sense of accomplishment when that roux/white sauce would form perfectly. Recently, as I was searching for a lemon cupcake recipe, I saw a recipe that required a box cake mix and a box pudding* mix. That’s not baking!

Lemon cupcakes for my mother-in-law's 92nd birthday.

Homemade (from scratch) lemon cupcakes for my mother-in-law’s 92nd birthday today.

* Pudding means something completely different here.

Note: The instigator of #MicroblogMondays, Melissa Ford, has written a book called “Life from Scratch” (and a couple of sequels). I couldn’t write this post for #MicroblogMondays without referencing it.

 Click the image to find out more about #Microblog Mondays

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I am, as I have mentioned before, a bit of a food hoarder, and so I like to have ingredients for a range of dishes in the fridge, along with – of course – the requisite vegetables, and meat. Time in Asia – when ants and other creepy crawlies were rampant – taught me to leave a lot of things safely in the fridge, that maybe other people have in their pantries.

  • Lots of condiments – tomato chutney sauce, my mother-in-law’s home made tomato chutney, chilli sauce, oyster sauce, salad dressing, mustards (whole grain, Dijon, and what we call American-style).
  • Multiple jars of Thai curry pastes – massaman (my husband’s favourite), penang, green (my favourite), and red curry pastes, and pad thai and tom yum pastes.
  • My favourite pasta sauce and fresh pasta (today it’s basil and black pepper pappardelle) pasta for the same – for a quick, emergency meal.
  • Cheese – parmesan (for the aforementioned pasta), feta, blue vein, and some brie, as well as plain old cheddar for toasted sandwiches.
  • Bacon, because … well … bacon – pumpkin, feta and bacon pasta is one of my staple dishes.
  • Pomegranate molasses, which I have recently discovered serves as a very adequate substitute for tamarind paste for all those Thai curry sauces.

 Click the image to find out more about #Microblog Mondays

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(Photo Blogging Day 13)

I’ve been a fan of good food photography for many years. I remember drooling over my first cookbooks, and then subscribing to Cuisine magazine, which always had drop dead gorgeous covers. Then of course along came smartphones, and easy food photography. It is so easy to whip out your phone and unobtrusively take a photo of a dish in front of us that many of us do it. I rarely photograph food in New Zealand, as if I started I’m not sure I’d stop! But I do when I travel. I photographed almost every course at the amazing ten-course degustation meal in South Africa for my 50th birthday. I also took lots of photos of food when I was in Italy, and probably drove my friends crazy by posting many of them on Fb.

food collage ©

About the same time as smartphones made their appearance, cooking shows seemed to dominate TV, with their impeccable presentation and inspiring shots. Suddenly we all wanted to be able to make perfect looking (as well as tasting) food that matches those in the photographs. So food photos abound. They probably don’t help me in my weight loss efforts, as pictures do seem to have a direct connection to my salivary glands, and they in turn have a direct connection to my waistline. Often I’ll just read the recipes and quietly drool in a corner, but occasionally I will be influenced and inspired to cook. Most recently, I’ve discovered the baking blog of the daughter-in-law of a friend of mine, with her beautiful photos, simply taken in her kitchen with her phone. She is definitely inspiring me to try some of her recipes.

Pictures don’t convince me to make that particular recipe, though. I need to read the recipe, to approve of the ingredients and effort required, and to read any reviews too. Then I’ll try it – or maybe something similar. For example, last weekend I was inspired by other photos to make cupcakes for Charlie, then found the recipe I wanted, and made these Lemon Diva Cupcakes. Charlie approved.

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(a continuing series)

Spring Cleaning – share a before and after photo of a room you recently tackled.  I’m still basking in the glory of my updated linen cupboard of several years ago, or the draws I rearranged (for the change of seasons) a few weekends ago. I’m laughing hysterically (whilst feeling slightly guilty) at the idea of having a room I “recently tackled.”

Share a favourite Valentine’s tradition. I don’t have any, I don’t really like the idea of Valentine’s Day, but maybe that’s because my wedding anniversary falls just before Valentine’s and so by the time the 14th arrives, we’ve already had enough compulsory romance for that month/year!

List ten favourite snacks growing up. We simply didn’t snack – we rarely had processed foods in the house, and besides there was no time. We had three meals a day, structured morning and afternoon teas, and a late supper (effectively a hot drink and a biscuit*) about 9.30 at night, and we were all slim.

* cookie

 Click the image to find out more about #Microblog Mondays

Click the image to find out more about #Microblog Mondays

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