“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” ― Julia Child
When I offered to take cooking lessons for Beau’s classmates in year zero (new entrants) at Ponsonby Primary, I was a little unsure just how it would go. I have been surprised to see how the children have loved the experience.
The hour long classes with groups of two or three have been my first go at teaching cooking. You could say I was diving into the deep end by starting with five year olds. But it has been such a delight. How gratifying it is to see young cooks in the making take such pleasure in making pikelets.
I chose pikelets because they are quick, easy to make and it’s hard to fail. Most children know of or have helped make pancakes before. Pikelets belong to the world wide Pancake family and are Welsh by origin. In England they are called Drop Scones.
1 heaped cup of flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp creme of tartar
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp sugar
Milk to mix into a batter*
*Milk Kefir or buttermilk used instead of milk makes an even lighter pikelets.
Next the flour, salt and raising agents (baking soda and creme of tartar) are sifted for two reasons: to mix thoroughly and to add air to make the pikelets light.
Add the sugar and mix through the sifted flour. Make an indentation or well in the flour and break in egg and about half a cup of milk and mix to a batter.
One child would hold the bowl and the other would have a go at stirring. This was to avoid disaster if the bowl and mix hit the floor. Then I would show how to beat holding the bowl in one arm and quickly whipping the batter using a wooden spoon to make a smooth silky batter telling them that this is how to mix once they get bigger.
Add more milk if necessary to make a consistency that is not too thick as to stay on the spoon or too thin to spread too much in the pan.
The mix needs to sit for about 10 minutes until bubbles appear in the batter. While we wait for the mix to double I heat up pans. Getting the heat right is the most difficult part of the process.
It’s best to make pikelets on a cast iron griddle or girdle because its flat plate surface makes flipping a lot easier. Next best is a cast iron pan. Cast iron takes longer to reach heat than a steel pain but will produce a more even heat. The pan needs to be sprayed with oil or do it the old fashioned way of a little butter on butter paper and wiping around the pan.
The first pickles we make is a tiny version to test whether the temperature is right.
You can cook a number of pikelets at once but I felt for our class we should concentrate on one at a time.
We wait until some of the bubbles begin to pop indicating that the mix is cooking and the bottom is browning. Time to flip….
I show them first time how to do it, help them flip the next, and then they get to flip on their own.
I found I was fast running out of time. It was decided that on the final Friday I would have six children and make scones for the whole class so they can enjoy sharing food with their classmates. I wanted them to experience that sharing is the most rewarding part of cooking. Scones are great for a large crowd and we made 36 scones with every child making 6 scones each.
Thankfully Susie offered to help and teaching assistant Miss Stevenson made the gluten free scones with Holly and Remy who have gluten allergies.
I had previously discounted making scones with the children because scones can too easily be overworked resulting in a tough, dry result. I would need to supervise the mixing closely but the rubbing in butter into flour would be fun for the children to experience.
First of all we did the grand hand wash and told them that if they touched their faces they would need to wash again especially because they were using their hands in the mix. Isn’t it always the way, if told not touch your face you suddenly get an itch? The more Jack and Luca thought about it the itchier their noses became. Suzie patiently would go through the washing hands process again and again but they all now know the importance of clean hands when preparing food.
(Makes 12 – preheat oven to 200ºC)
2 cups of flour (or a mix of 1½ white and ½ wholemeal)
4 levelled off teaspoons of Baking Powder
100 grams of butter
Pinch of salt
*Milk to mix to soft dough – approx 1 cup
Extra flour for patting out and cutting
*Milk Kefir makes fantastic scones as would buttermilk. As kefir is like yoghurt with a tart flavour I usually add 1 tsp of sugar to the flour if using kefir.
Once the flour, baking powder and salt has been sifted, its time to rub in the butter. This can be done in a food processor but I find the end result is better if done by hand.
Always use cold butter and dice the butter into 1-2 cm cubes.
I tend to smear the cubes into the flour and then rub mix between fingers to reduce the butter to a breadcrumbs consistency. The children worked their bowls of butter and flour beautifully.
The messy part over, they all washed their hands ready for making the dough.
I showed them how to use a table knife to mix in the milk by cutting through the flour rather than stirring. I just pour the milk rather than measure it out. We mixed until all the flour could form a ball easily.
With scones the mix should be wet rather than dry (wetter than you would for pastry). A light covering of flour on the work surface will ensure they don’t stick.
No need to roll just lightly pat down the ball to about 2.5 cm in height and cut into 12 and place on a cold tray either sprinkled with flour or on a sheet of baking paper.
Bake for 10-12 minutes – the smell test is the best timer you can use. Once you smell them cooking they are usually cooked.
Out of the oven, the next job was to put butter and jam on the scones to share with the class.
One thing these classes have taught me is not to underestimate what children can do on their own. My final group of six certainly made great scones and we wrapped up one of their own scones for home.
Children introduced to the enjoyment of cooking something for themselves and their friends will create good food memories that hopefully will inspire them to be creative in their future kitchens.
Chocolate peanut biscuits from the Edmonds cookbook were the first biscuits I ever made. We used to call them “Peanut Brownies” but that was before the American Brownie was introduced – and the cake-like rich Brownie is a not at all like the crisp peanut biscuits I used to make.
My friend Sandra gave me a lovely gift of Valrhona – Poudre de cacao (cocoa powder) from France. I was eager to try it out, and chocolate peanut biscuits immediately came to mind, especially as they would be good to pop into Beau’s school lunchbox.
I improved the original biscuit by using this beautiful rich cocoa powder – they were delicious. But Beau reminded me that peanuts were not allowed at school because one of his classmates is allergic to nuts.
I needed to find an alternative and discovered another chocolate biscuit recipe that looked intriguing because it used Spanish paprika and a salty sprinkle on top. I know salted caramel works, so salted chocolate biscuits might too.
The chocolate biscuit base of my old favourite looked a better recipe so I decided to just change the extra flavourings, and of course use the rich cocoa powder.
Salted chocolate, raisin and pumpkin seed biscuits
(Preheat the oven to 180ºC and this mix makes two trays)
125 g of butter
1 cup of sugar
1½ cups of flour
2 Tbsp of cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp Spanish smoked paprika (original recipe suggested hot but I used what I had)
Pinch of salt
¾ cup of pumpkin seeds
½ cup of raisins (you could also use Craisins or currants)
½ cup of chocolate chips, chopped pieces, chocolate chunks – (use whatever you have in the pantry)
Flaked Sea Salt – I like to use Maldon sea salt because the flakes crush easily
I remember the thrill of using the Kenwood mixer when making those first biscuits and a cake mixer does speed up the process but everything can be made in a bowl with a wooden spoon and a little human energy.
Soften the butter and sugar and beat until its light and creamy, then beat in the egg.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, pinch of salt, and Spanish paprika and add to the mixer.
I usually add the pumpkin seeds, raisins and chocolate chunks by hand, but you can use a mixer.
Take a teaspoon full of mix and form into a ball with your hands and place on a tray covered with baking paper.
This mix makes two trays and approximately 32 biscuits. Now with a fork dip into a glass of water and gently flatten the balls. The water helps to prevent the fork from sticking to the mix.
Finally before putting into the oven, pinch flaked sea salt and crush a little over each flattened biscuit – just a little – too much salt and it will spoil the biscuit.
Place into the oven, first tray slightly above the half way line of the oven and the second tray as close to half way as possible and bake for 15 minutes or until cooked. The time will depend on your oven and if using a fan oven reduce the temperature down to 170ºC. In a non-fan oven half way through cooking swap the trays to get even cooking. I generally do one tray and pop it into the oven and then do the other so that the first batch can have room to cool on a rack while the others finish cooking. It’s important to use a cooling rack so that they have plenty of air circulation allowing them to cool quickly and stay crisp.
Alternatively use Spelt flour instead of plain white flour as it produces a better biscuit crunch outcome and some who cannot have wheat products can eat spelt flour products with no side affects. But it is an expensive choice and I keep my spelt flour for my favourite Wanaka Gingernut biscuits.
I couldn’t pick out the paprika flavour but I think it added to the richness. If you used a hot paprika there would be a little heat…perhaps not advisable for five year old lunch boxes.
Upcycle is a popular word of the moment and usually pertains to art, furniture and building projects where the old fashioned or unwanted materials of are re-used or reworked to gain new value.
I think it’s a word that can also be used in the world of cooking as there are many recipes either forgotten or thought not to be exciting enough that with a little rethinking can become an up to date delight.
Not that the classic peanut chocolate biscuit has passed its use by date, but, in these days of higher incidence of food allergies it sometimes pays to upcycle the classic so that everyone can enjoy them. If you want to make the old favourite just add peanuts and nothing else to the chocolate biscuit base.
Whangarei Heads is always a delight to visit, so much so that we usually don’t want to leave. But on our last visit our friend Heather Hunt insisted we be on the road by 7am to experience the Whangarei Growers Market held early every Saturday morning.
Heather is right, the growers market is excellent. Of course, coming from the South, my eyes focused first on the large $5 bags of Keri Keri oranges and then a bag of Ben Yen lemons for $2. How I will miss citrus when we move back to Dunedin.
I spoke to a stall holder selling “duck-egg blue” duck eggs. Half a dozen duck eggs went into my bag as I’m curious to see if using duck eggs rather than hen eggs, will result in a better cake.
Then I spied first of the season golden Butter Beans grown outside by a Keri Keri grower. They were a bit of a treat at $5 a small bag but then to my reckoning growers producing the first for the bean season deserve that extra reward.
My best contribution to the evening meal would be a salad so I made for the organic veggie stall that also sells ready made salads. Kaleslaw instead of Coleslaw…this made me smile. How smart to incorporate the vegetable of the moment, kale, into a coleslaw mix. It was a vibrant and plentiful stall and a good place to browse while listening to a great version of Leonard Cohen’s “Allelujah” performed by young local musicians.
It was here I spied the bag of New Zealand Spinach. I’ve never seen this vegetable for sale before although I have foraged for it in it’s natural habitat on sandy dunes and coastal places. The horticulturally grown plants in the bag had larger and lush leaves compared to those in the wild.
New Zealand spinach is not a real spinach but has that similar triangular leaf shape and can be used as a spinach replacement. Its succulent spongy texture will allow it to survive hot and dry conditions, making it an ideal spinach alternative when it’s too hot for real spinach to thrive.
Purple-green Rambo radish micro-greens caught my eye. This is the first time I have purchased micro-greens. I’m curious about growing them myself so I quizzed the grower.
Finally meeting up again with Heather and Peter, we calculated if we would have the ingredients between us to make a quick and easy dinner as we had a big day exploring the Bay of Islands ahead. Heather had in her bag a side of smoked gem fish and freshly dug potatoes.
Peter sourced our entree with a camembert from Grinning Gecko cheesemakers, James and Catherine McNamara. The name of their cheese was inspired by the green geckos that live in the manuka and kanuka on their property at Whangarei Heads.
I had more than enough ingredients for a salad and I was keen to try the New Zealand Spinach as the green salad base.
New Zealand spinach is high in oxalic acid, like sorrel, so best to avoid eating it raw in large quantities because it can inhibit your body from absorbing other nutrients. Cooking it will greatly reduce the oxalic acid but will destroy the high vitamin C content.
Whangarei Salad: NZ Spinach, Orange & Fennel
Half of the large fennel bulb I sliced very carefully and thinly with a mandolin and used half of the bag of New Zealand spinach leaves, discarding the larger stems and tearing it into bite sized pieces.
Next I mixed the spinach, sliced fennel, chopped onions and some greenery from the fennel with an orange dressing to be absorbed and softened… as you would with a coleslaw. Normally with softer leaves or crisp greens I would add the dressing just before serving.
The sweet orange dressing was made from the juice of a Keri Keri orange, a little orange zest, a garlic clove crushed in sea salt, a dash of cider vinegar, a teaspoon of honey and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. I haven’t given exact measurements as the amount of vinegar and honey you add is up to personal taste and relies on how sweet the orange is. I found when experimenting with this dressing it was best to dip in a leaf of the spinach to check if the dressing was just right for the salad.
I used two oranges, cutting up the second into pieces to add to the salad along with some chopped almonds. Try to remove all the white pith from the oranges as the pith is bitter.
I added to the marinating salad a sliced up Lebanese cucumber, the Rambo radish sprouts, diced orange and chopped almonds just before serving.
My Whangarei Salad worked really well with the potatoes, beans and smoked fish.
Captain Cook’s crew found that New Zealand spinach was effective at fighting the symptoms of scurvy and harvested, cooked and preserved the leafy plant for the crew of the “Endeavor” (hence the name “Cook’s Cabbage”). But it was another explorer and botanist, Joseph Banks, who took it back to England to grow in 1772 and it became very popular.
From one explorer to another…
Our trip to the Bay of Islands followed the footsteps of another early explorer and naturalist, Charles Darwin. As a young man in his 20’s he made a brief nine day visit to the Bay of Islands in 1835. After the sunshine and friendliness of Tahiti, he was not impressed with a drizzly Christmas in the lawless town of Kororāreka (Russell) and the missionary settlement of Paihia. The highlight of his visit was to the white- washed English settlement and Te Waimate Mission Station.
I wonder if Darwin was served New Zealand spinach during his stay at the mission?
It’s a plant I’m keen to grow under garden conditions as it’s robust, grows well in drought or in coastal saline-rich soils, and is unaffected by bugs or pests. It can also be utilised as a good ground cover to keep moisture in the ground so I am also keen to plant it under fruit trees.
It was greatly appreciated 200+ years ago – I reckon its high time we revived interest in New Zealand spinach.