Hush Puppies Y’all

It’s funny to think that the words that we use everyday can be considered historical relics. We forget that our day-to-day vocabulary is peppered with expressions and phrases that preserve elements of our history, offering insight into the ordinary lives of our ancestors.

The ways in which we refer to different types of meat is a fascinating example of class and authority in English society during the 11th century.

Sheep, cow, ox all have an Ango-saxon root. In contrast, what we call meat once it gets to the table (boeuf, mutton, veal) has a French root. These differences emerged in the post Norman invasion of England. Those who were preparing the meat were Anglo Saxon commoners, hence why the names for livestock have retained an Anglo-Saxon origin. In contrast, the names for prepared meat have a French root because the meat would have already been prepared for and eaten by the Norman nobility and aristocracy (who spoke French).

All these musings on language are interesting segue into my bread of the month – hush puppies!

How deep fried cornmeal bread balls came to have the delightful name ‘hush puppies’ is an interesting insight into the folklore and cultural history of the southern part of the United States in the 1700s. There are several versions for how hush puppies got their name:

The one common thread is that this fried cornmeal was used to “hush the dogs.” I have heard that Confederate soldiers used it to hush their dogs when the Union troops were getting near. I also have heard a similar story in which runaway slaves would use this favourite food to hush the dogs. The characters change but the story is the same.

The link to the need to quell barking dogs is also found in this story:

Hushpuppies are also said to have gotten their name from the dredging of the catfish that would have been thrown out. Being thrifty, the cook from the house would send them down the slave quarters and the women added a little milk, egg and onion and fried it up. It is said they were tossed to the dogs to keep them quiet while the food was being transferred from the pot to the table. “Hush puppy! Hush puppy!”

There is also reason to believe that the name developed because refined southern ladies didn’t want to be known for eating fried dough which was considered lowly:

Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins cites a Southern reader’s account that in the South the aquatic reptile called the salamander was often known as a “water dog” or “water puppy.” These were deep fried with cornmeal dough and formed into sticks. They were called “hushpuppies” because eating such a lowly food was not something a Southern wife would want known to her neighbours.

If you’re interested, the second story appears to be the most accepted origin story.

My attempt

I made my hush puppies with a recipe from Joy.

I’ve never had hush puppies before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from them. The dough didn’t seem to bind together and when I put them in the deep fryer they kept on falling apart. But I did I managed to refine my spooning technique by the third batch.

Hush puppies don’t have a particularly strong flavour. There was a hint of spiciness from the cayenne pepper but not much else. If was going to make these again, I would chop up some jalapenos and add these to the dough for a fiery taste.

I served mine in true southern style – with BBQ pulled pork and coleslaw.


New project: editing the family cook book

Just another family dinnerEvery second Sunday since I have been on this earth (barring illness, travel and other engagements) my extended family get together for dinner. We eat delicious food, drink a bit of wine and catch up. We’ll celebrate each other’s achievements but also provide support in times of sadness. And we always have lots of laughs.

I always look forward to family dinners as the food is always delicious. It’s usually very rich and we always will have more than enough. There is a joke in our family that none of us are able to correctly estimate how much food to make, so we will always double the quantity, forgetting that everyone else is doing the same thing.

We’ve often talked about putting together a family cook book with a selection of our favourite recipes. My personal favourites are Grandpa’s tomato sauce, my mum’s jambalaya bread and butter pudding with bourbon whiskey sauce and the range of tarts and pies that my Grandma makes. As part of this, we would also include some history about the recipe and why we like it.

I’ve decided that this year (and probably next) will be the year in which we get this project underway.

One of the reasons why I’m interested in this idea is I think it’s a really distinctive way in which family history can be recorded. It’s a well-known fact that sensory experiences can trigger memories much more effectively than trying to directly remember past events and people. I believe that by writing through the lens of food and cooking, you can get a much richer insight into your family history and gain a better understand of the character and personality of your ancestors. It is also a valuable way of capturing the spirit and atmosphere of family occasions – bringing to life the dynamics of family life.

I’ve made an initial start on the project by beginning the process of sourcing the recipes. My next step is to start interviewing everyone and sourcing further recipes. I’m very excited about this project! I hope to share the process with you.

One pot ginger gem muffins

I ended up making these muffins about a week ago while I was suffering from a nasty cold. On the Saturday morning I did a massive clear out of my recipe books during the weekend and found a cute little book called Marvellous Muffins which seemed rather twee. I nearly threw it out, but Joe convinced me that it was worth keeping. Looking through, it does have some more unusual takes on muffin flavours – like orange crunch muffins or potato and dill muffins so it is probably worth keeping for a little while.

I made these on the Sunday morning. They were dead easy, as muffins usually are. I think people underestimate muffins as a great breakfast food – they are simple to make and don’t take that much time. In about 30 minutes you can have warm, freshly baked muffins to eat.

The only unusual aspect of this recipe was that you make it in a pot on the stove. This was great though – as a messy baker, it made clean up a breeze.

I made these in silicone muffin cups. Silicone bakeware is really useful for cleaning up but I’ve realised that it is not suitable for baking. One of the problems with using silicone bakeware is that it you don’t get the lovely caramelised crust that you get from usual bakeware. It also seems to increase the cooking time. I recently used a silicone bundt cake tin to make a chocolate mocha cake and it took double the time to bake the cake in. Annoying!

Recipe to come.

Blue Cheese, Apple, and Chicken Stuffed Crêpes

This week’s mystery ingredient was Kapiti’s Kikorangi Blue Cheese.

The Kikorangi is quite a special cheese. It’s well known for being an absolutely gorgeous blue cheese and not surprisingly, its won it’s fair share of cheese awards in New Zealand.

I changed my mind a few times with what I would make with the Kikorangi. I put something up on twitter asking what I should do, and a friend of mine suggested blue cheese and pear cupcakes. I’m not a huge fan of cupcakes (I find them more icing than cake), but I thought it could be possible to make a pear cake and a cream and blue cheese frosting.

I described this cake idea to Joe and while he was keen on it, he suggested that I have a go at a more savoury dish. He reasoned that I had already done a lot of sweet recipes and a savoury might mix things up a bit. A fair point I guess.

I’m not used to savoury crêpes. I usually make sweet crêpes with lemon and sugar. I make them less because SOMEONE (hint: it’s Joe) isn’t as partial to crêpes as I am. I don’t quite understand how someone could not like crêpes – it’s like disliking kittens.

These crêpes, however, are worth a try. They are very rich, especially the béchamel sauce and the blue cheese. If you are going to make these, I would make sure they are eaten the same day. I found that as a work lunch the next day, they were just too rich. Definitely a dinner party type food I think.

Blue Cheese, Apple, and Chicken Stuffed Crêpes

Adapted from the Joy of Cooking


1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water (not cold)
4 eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 t salt

3 cup cooked chicken
2 medium apples, peeled, quartered, cored, and cut into thin slices
2 cups béchamel sauce
50 – 100g blue cheese
100g walnuts, roasted, chopped


Mix all ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Place pan over medium heat and add small knob of butter. When the butter begins to colour, but not smoke add a small amount of batter and swirl it so it covers the pan in a thin coating. Flip the crepes over when bubbles begin to form.

Spread 2 – 3 tablespoons of the béchamel sauce in the centre of the pale side of the crêpes. Place the chicken on the lower third of the crêpes. Top with apple, blue cheese and walnuts. Roll up the crêpes and arrange seam side down in a prepared baking tray, Cover with the remaining sauce and cheese (if any left). Bake until the sauce is bubbly and lightly browned. Around 20 minutes.

Monthly round-up

I have a blog post coming soon on my next mystery ingredient challenge (hint: crepes). In the mean time, I thought I might share a couple of interesting articles that I’ve come across lately.

The first one is a short piece in the Guardian about the origin of the Lamington. As it turns out, it was an April Fool’s Joke and plays on the ongoing Australia/New Zealand rift when it comes to food.  The article argues that there is “proof” that the humble, delightful spongy cakes is ours!

The Lamington, Australia’s famed dessert, was actually invented in New Zealand and originally named a “Wellington”, according to new research published by the University of Auckland.

Fresh analysis of a collection of 19th-century watercolours by the New Zealand landscape artist JR Smythe, shows that in one portrait, “Summer Pantry” dated 1888, a partially eaten Lamington cake is clearly visible on the counter of a cottage overlooking Wellington Harbour.

One of my favourite food writers Jack Monre has been profiled in the New Yorker blogs and discusses the difficulty of living in Austerity Britain under the Conservatives:

Back in July, 2012, though, while she was posting recipes for friends and then printing them out to distribute at a local food pantry, Monroe wrote an entry called “Hunger Hurts.” The short post told of her quick decline from a middle-class working woman to a single mother on the dole, suffering the pressure of rent arrears when her check arrived mysteriously short. She turned off her heat, unscrewed her light bulbs, and sold every valuable she owned to a pawnshop. Even though she organized her cooking so as not to spend more than ten pounds ($16.65) a week for food, she wasn’t able to keep herself and her son fed: “Poverty is the sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one weetabix and says ‘more mummy, bread and jam please mummy’ as you’re wondering whether to take the TV or the guitar to the pawn shop first, and how to tell him that there is no bread or jam.”

An interesting piece by Diana Henry about the process of publishing a cookbook. Some fascinating details about the research process, recipe testing and how everything comes together at the end.

But cookbooks are not just information. At the same time as I was researching I was thinking about dishes. This is something that goes on all the time. Sometimes I can’t get to sleep because I get stuck in a groove with a certain ingredient, or food from a particular place. I write these down – I have notebooks all over the place and make long lists on the computer – and then I come back to them for pieces and for books. Ideas for dishes come out of travelling, too. In Iceland over the summer I made pages and pages of notes. The dishes I was coming up with weren’t Icelandic, of course, but they had Icelandic flavours. You get inspired by the foods that dominate; in Iceland, for example, it was cod, dill, oats, beer and, a surprise to me, liquorice. Texture was a big thing there, too. It is partly because of the landscape, which is incredibly varied (so you think about texture all the time). Countries that don’t have a great reputation for food can be the most inspiring. I have a long list of dishes that I thought up in Estonia, for example, that haven’t yet seen the light of day.

A bit of kitchen silliness here – what does the way you have your egg say about your personality? I like my eggs sunny side down, but they don’t have that option here! This quiz is strictly scientific.

If you were on a deserted island and you were given only eggs to eat and you could only choose one style of egg for all of eternity, you know exactly what you’d choose. Scrambled, folded into an omelet, steamed, baked –– there’s no wrong way to eat an egg, but your choice gives more than a little insight into your personality.

Orange Caramel Drunk Cake

I’m on a bit of a caramel buzz at the moment. It started last week when I made sticky buns with caramel sauce. As I was lavishly licking the left over caramel out of the pot I realised how much I really enjoyed its rich, buttery taste.

A fun fact about caramel – no one really knows how it got its name! In her piece ‘Comeback Caramel’ in  the food journal Gastronomica, Samira Kawash outlines:

As for the word caramel, the OED is uncharacteristically vague on the origins of the term. It is traced to France, but questions persist about its reference. Theoretical etymologies attach it to callamellus little tube or reed, or to cannamella, the Latin term for sugar cane, but these are only theories, and not very persuasive ones. OED concludes, somewhat tersely, “origin uncertain.”

The OED’s lexicographers do not mention a more promising (but likely apocryphal) derivation attributing the name to one Count Albufage Caramel of Nismes, France. Tantalizing references to Count Caramel appear (and disappear) in the 19th century, most famously in William Jeanes The Modern Confectioner (1861; also known as Gunter’s Modern Confectioner). The Count is credited with first describing the final stage of sugar boiling just before the sugar would begin to darken. Although Count Caramel sounds more like a character from Jim Henson’s workshop than a bona fide member of the French aristocracy, something in the account rings true.

On Saturday, I got an opportunity to make more caramel sauce. A work colleague of mine, Anika was hosting a pot luck dinner. I originally intended to make Stephanie Alexander’s Mediterranean orange cake but I forgot to put one its crucial ingredients (almond meal) on the supermarket list.

As an aside, forgetting things was a bit of a theme during the weekend. I managed to leave one half of my shoes in the work lobby (it fell out of my bag). Then on Saturday, when I was leaving to run errands I had to go back home four times because I had forgotten various items I needed. Sigh!

But anyway, back to my orange cake. Thankfully, The Cook’s Companion had another orange cake recipe which I had all the ingredients for. I’ve previously made this cake for a small gathering Analiese hosted once. It was a bit of a disaster. Previously, I had reduced the number of eggs from four to two thinking that it wouldn’t affect the final product too much. I was very wrong. The cake was very crumbly.

Like, crumbs everywhere

Worst of all, one of Analiese’s friends who she had invited, had been on a contestant on New Zealand’s Hottest Home Baker and I was paranoid that he might be silently judging my poor cake effort. I felt like having a small card to accompany the cake to explain why I had removed the egg (Analiese’s allergies) and hence the crumbliness of the cake.

This time when I made the cake, I used all four eggs and it turned out fine. It did crack on the top a bit which means I should have used less baking powder and lowered the temperature on the oven. Oh well.

Making the orange caramel sauce for the icing was my favourite part. I adapted the Joy of Cooking caramel sauce recipe. Instead of using water, I used orange juice and added some orange zest. It took a bit longer for it to boil but it turned out pretty good. The acidity of the oranges added a nice ‘cut through’ to the sweetness of the caramel. I drowned the cake in the sauce so it looked like a cake version of crème caramel.

I’ve called this recipe Orange and Caramel Drunk cake because I feel like the cake looks like it has over indulged on the sauce. Go home cake, you’re too drunk.

Orange and Caramel Drunk Cake

Adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion


Cake batter

250g softened butter
1 ½ cups caster sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
100ml orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
250g self-raising flour

Orange Caramel Sauce

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
8 table spoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces1
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt


Cake batter

Preheat oven to 180°C and line a 22cm cake tin

Mix sugar and orange zest in a bowl. Add butter and cream the mixture. Add eggs and orange juice. Add flour and fold mixture together until the flour is incorporated. Be careful not to over mix. Spoon into tin and bake for 50 min. Cool in pan for 5 minutes then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely before icing.

Orange Caramel Sauce

Add orange zest, orange juice and sugar to a small saucepan. Slowly heat up and stir the sugar and water until all the sugar has been dissolved. Bring it up the boil, cover and leave to bubble for 2 minutes. Keep your eye on it or else it will burn! The mixture should become a lovely amber colour. Take it off the heat, add the butter and mix until it has been dissolved. Stir in cream and mix. If sauce is lumpy, place over low heat and mix until smooth. Add vanilla and salt. On a lined baking tray, pour caramel sauce so it covers most of the tray.

Sometimes a cigar is just…delicious

Today at work we had a bit of a competition. We’re currently in the process of re-launching our brand and product (a market research and brand positioning solution) and we had to incorporate some this into a dish. It’s a bit hard to explain without giving away too much, but the gist of it was that we needed to be quite creative.

A work colleague and I decided to team up and work together and we decided to go make these wonderfully indulgent blue cheese, honey and truffle oil cigars.

Blue cheese cigar

I’ve been dying to make these for ages ever since I received a copy of Simon Gault’s Nourish cookbook. These cigars are a retake on the classic after dinner cheese board or a bit of a re-imagining of the cigar and whiskey combo. The cigars are rich, pungent and impressive. The manuka honey provides a nice sweetness that offsets the sharpness of the blue cheese and the truffle oil adds a bit of nuttiness. night she came around and we made these wonderfully indulgent blue cheese, honey and truffle oil cigars.You only need to make one per person as they are quite full-on. 

The recipe for these cigars can be found here. I used Kapiti Kikorangi cheese instead of the cheese that Gault recommends. I also bought ready grated parmesean cheese as its much easier to divide up and weigh. You will also want to play around with the microwave timings. Gault recommends 30 – 40 seconds to melt the parmesan but we only needed 17 seconds.

We won the competition and in a moment of being a bit of fan girl I cheekily decided to tweet the picture and tag Gault in the tweet. I was quite delighted when he retweeted it to his followers. Amazing! Nice to have a bit of an endorsement from a professional.