When our kids were little, every Queen's Birthday weekend (and any other winter weekend we could find the time) we would take a trip with some friends down to a rumpty old bach on the shores of Lake Rotoiti, near Rotorua. The beds were lumpy and the sheets were scratchy, it was always cold and drafty - but oh, how we loved it. We'd arrive late on the Friday night with our prepared casserole ready to heat up, get the kids settled into bed and stay up late playing cards. In the morning we'd throw on our parkas and head out walking in the bush or jump into the old jetboat and head over the lake, returning on occasion with buckets of glorious field mushrooms. There was watercress and pūhā to forage, and now and then our friend Willy caught a trout. Invariably it rained and when it got really wet, we'd head to the video shop into Rotorua and grab a stack of James Bond movies.
The kitchen in that tiny bach could not have been more basic. An unreliable old stove, an even more ancient rusty little fridge and about 20cm of bench space. No matter, we ate like kings. The boys were always on breakfast, big fry-ups of bacon and eggs, sausages, tomatoes and mushrooms. Sometimes Willy would make his famous devilled lamb's fry with mustard sauce. He'd thinly slice the lamb livers, removing any membranes, dust them in flour and fry them with diced bacon in butter until they were nicely browned. Then they'd come out of the pan on to a plate while he made the devilled sauce. Into the pan would go 3 or 4 spoons of tomato paste, a good dollop of Dijon mustard, the same amount of Worcestershire sauce, 3 or 4 shakes of tabasco and a cup of water. That would all simmer for a few minutes then the livers and bacon would go back in for about a minute, just to heat through. He always served it up with chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon. You could have been dining at the Ritz - it tasted that good. Maybe it was the country air. You might think you don't like offal, but you need to try this, it's so delicious and the devilled sauce works well with kidneys too.
I've been thinking about why we loved these little winter weekend breaks so much and I've come to the conclusion it was the fact that everything was so basic. No expectations, just the company of good friends. And a simple menu plan so we take what we needed to eat really well: a pre-cooked casserole or pie to reheat to take care of Friday or Saturday night; fresh vege and fruit from a roadside stall en route; wraps to fill with salad fixings or turn into quesadillas and a sweet slice to take on a hike.
Let the winter adventures begin.
Black bean and corn quesadillas
Quesadillas are toasted sandwiches made with tortillas. They make a great lunch or supper, or an accompaniment to soups or salads. Cook one at a time in a frying pan or line up a few on a barbecue hotplate.
Ready in 20 minutes
4 large flour tortillas or wraps
2 tomatoes, cored and finely chopped
1 cup grated mozzarella
½ cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup corn kernels
2 pinches ground cumin, optional
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
TO SERVE (optional)
Avocado slices, sour cream, coriander leaves and/or sliced jalapeno peppers
Lay 2 tortillas out on the bench and divide the tomatoes, mozzarella, beans and corn between them. Sprinkle with cumin if using, season to taste with salt and pepper then top with the remaining 2 wraps. If not cooking at once, cover and chill.
Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat. Lift one tortilla stack into the pan and cook until the bottom is golden and the cheese is starting to melt (about 3 minutes). Carefully flip over and cook the other side until golden. You can also use just 1 tortilla, fill it only to the halfway line and then fold it over before lifting it into the pan. Remove from heat and cut into wedges. Serve hot with avocado slices, sour cream, coriander and jalapeno slices, if desired.
Fill with bacon, scrambled eggs cooked with some diced potato, wilted spinach, grated cheese and spicy relish or chutney.
Fill with cheese and ham.
Steak and kidney pie
This is winter comfort food just like Granny used to make. If you like don't like kidneys you can leave them out. This is also nice topped with old-school dumplings, see below.
Ready in 3¼ hours + cooling
3-4 sheets puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten, to glaze
3 Tbsp butter or extra virgin olive oil
250g mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 leek, halved and thinly sliced (optional)
1.2kg blade or chuck steak, cut into 3cm chunks
4-6 lambs kidneys, quartered
2 bay leaves
2 cups beef stock
½ cup sherry or port ( or use extra ½ cup of stock)
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
¼ cup cornflour mixed with ¼ cup water
To make pie filling, heat butter or oil in a large, deep-lidded pot and cook mushrooms, onions, garlic and leek, if using, over a medium heat until softened (10 minutes). Stir in steak, kidneys, bay leaves, stock, sherry or port, salt and pepper, cover with baking paper cut to fit the pot, then the lid, and simmer gently until meat is very tender (about 2 hours).
Stir in cornflour mixture and simmer until lightly thickened. Discard bay leaves. Cool for at least 2 hours or chill for up to 4 days or freeze. Bring back to room temperature before making the pie.
Preheat oven to 180C fan bake and preheat an oven tray.
Stack 2 sheets of pastry and roll out to 5mm thickness. Use to line the base and sides of a deep 26cm pie dish or shallow casserole dish, ensuring it overlaps the rim. Add cooled filling and brush rim with egg.
Roll another sheet of pastry out to a little larger than the top of the dish. Place over the pie, press around the edges to seal and crimp with a fork or your fingers. Trim excess pastry and use to decorate the top, securing with a little beaten egg. Cut a couple of slashes in the top, then brush with egg.
Place on pre-heated oven tray and bake until golden (25-30 minutes).
If you prefer an old-school dumpling topping in place of the pastry, combine 1 cup flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp each finely chopped rosemary and thyme leaves and ¼ tsp salt.
Mix in about ¾ cup milk, or more if needed to form a soft dough. Drop spoonfuls on to your thickened simmering stew, cover tightly and cook for 20 minutes until dumplings have risen and are cooked through.
Ready in 45 mins
Makes about 20 bars
½ cup soft brown sugar
¼ cup golden syrup
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup mixed nuts, such as peanuts, almonds and cashews
1 cup mixed dried fruit, such as cranberries, chopped dried apricots, raisins and sultanas
½ cup self-raising flour
150g good-quality dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
Preheat oven to 170C fan bake and line a 20cm x 30cm slice tin with baking paper for easy clean-up.
Melt together butter, sugar and golden syrup in a medium pot. Remove from the heat, add oats, nuts, fruit and flour and mix to combine.
Press into prepared tin, then scatter chocolate over the top. Bake until golden and set (30 minutes).
Allow to cool fully in the tin before turning out and cutting into bars.
Match with these ...
by Yvonne Lorkin
Main Divide North Canterbury Chardonnay 2021 ($17)
Match the comforting creaminess of the black beans and cheese and the sweetness of the corn with a bodaciously brisk chardonnay bursting with grapefruit, nectarine and cinnamon toast tastiness like this one. Add a layer of crushed almonds, juicy melon and a splash of smoky, struck match character and you've got the perfect partner. Crammed with flavour and beautifully balanced, it's a total headscratcher as to how this wine can sell for under $20.
(Steak and kidney pie)
Leftfield The Hatchling Hawke's Bay Red Blend 2019 ($18)
Boost your core-ingredient count from two (steak + kidney) to six by serving up a gloriously spicy glass of this blend of merlot, tempranillo, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. Roaring with ripe boysenberry, plum and liquorice layers on the nose and palate alongside a dusting of dark cocoa, this cockle-warming red will have you hankering for something savoury, peppery and ribsticking. Plush, plump and smooth to sip — it's a vibrant, wallet-friendly wine for any day of your wintery week.
and New World supermarkets
Good Sh*t Ginger Pre+Probiotic Soda 300ml (4 x $13)
These sticky, nutty, oaty, raisiny, fruity fingers have 'good for your gut' written all over them. So let's skip along Zero-Alcohol Avenue and wash them down with a cool glass of Good Sh*t. Brewed as a high-fibre, non-alcoholic soda that's also extremely happy-clappy for your gut health, it features artichoke leaf, prickly pear cactus, marshmallow root, fresh ginger and buckets of bacillus. It's definitely a crisp, cleansing, super-tasty sip with scroggin of any description.