Well, I think the title about says it all.

All countries have their food specialities. But this beef dish from those commies in Russia has become famous on an international scale. It is excellent food to include in your menu if you’re giving a party: noodles or rice are usual accompaniments.

To be honest I was holding out hope for this one.

Here’s what you need:

  • 750g fillet steak (I used some weiner schnitzel)
  • 125g butter
  • 1 medium onion
  • 500g small (button) mushrooms
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 beef stock cubes (I swapped this and the water for 1/2 cup beef stock)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 300ml sour cream
  • 1tsp cornflour

And that’s all she wrote. This recipe is a doddle, so let’s get into it. (more…)

The Vanilla Slice, also known more commonly as the custard square or the “snot block” is a tuck shop classic here in good old New Zealand. A conversation with a workmate the other day revealled that her mum used to substitute the traditional puff pastry with Huntley and Palmers cream crackers. The luck coincidence of my having to partially cater a morning tea, and this being a recipe in the Cooking Class Cookbook meant I had the opportunity to share this wonderful recipe with you, dear readers.

With a delicious filling of rich vanilla custard, these are the most popular of all slices. The slices are made with packaged puff pastry and topped with passionfruit-flavoured icing.

Actually… I didn’t have and passionfruit. Also, these were indeed extremely popular, with some people coming back for a second slice. Unfortunately though the recipe is made with a boatload of starches, so half the floor had to go out for a walk at lunch to wake themselves up! I was therefore responsible for a marked decline in productivity…

For the slice you will need:

  • 1 packet of Huntley and Palmers cream crackers
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornflour
  • 1/2 cup custard powder
  • 1 litre milk
  • 60g butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

For the icing you’ll need:

  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon of jam, or, a passionfruit
  • 1 tsp of water

This is a straightforward recipe, with the only real trick being the mixing of the custard – it needs to be as stiff as possible to stop the squares from schmooshing everywhere when you try to eat it. (more…)

Well, this is an interesting one.

“Chasseur” means a sauce containing mushrooms and shallots. it can be a sauce for many meats. Here we have allied it to chicken for a dish with rich, superb flavour. Serve with hot rice or mashed potatoes, crusty bread and separate green salad. Serves four.

In French chasseur means ‘hunter’, and this makes sense when the most important ingredient in this dish is actually mushrooms. I think that means you could likely make a vegetarian version by dropping the meat and adding beans, or perhaps paneer.

Anyhow, the list!

  • 1.5kg chicken or similar
  • 30g butter
  • 2 tbsps oil
  • 250g mushrooms
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon tarragon (I had none, so substituted sage from the garden)
  • 2 large ripe tomato (I used a tin of Italian tomatoes)
  • 6 shallots (or use the pre-prepared fried Asian ones, they’re pretty good)
  • 2 tbsps chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsps tomato paste

For the brown sauce

  • 125g butter(!!)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 chicken stock cubes (I just used 3 cups of chicken stock for this and the previous ingredient)
  • salt, pepper.

We made an executive decision after the tedium of the Beggars’ Chicken to get a little creative with the ingredients. I’m trying to stay true to the recipes in the book, but we need to actually be able to eat these things! I’ll admit that this may also have been prompted by Second Chef asking, “Why are all these recipes soooo boring?”


And here in the first of the ‘How to cook from an 80s cookbook’ series is Beggar’s chicken. To be honest I’m surprised they didn’t call this something dodgy, but there you go. Apparently PC was alive an well as early as the mid-80s. And so we begin:

This is one of the renowed dishes of the Orient. The chicken was originally wrapped in lotus leaves, then in clay, then thrown into a hot fire. Supply chopsticks for four lucky people.

You’ll need:

1.5kg chicken

3 shallots (I used a small onion, which was probably a mistake)

2.5cm piece green ginger

1 tsp sugar

3 tbsps soy sauce

2 tbsps dry sherry

1 tbsp water

1/4 tsp five spice powder

2 extra tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsps oil

extra oil

1kg cooking salt (!!)

4 cups plain flour

1 1/2 cups water (approx)

The recipe itself is pretty simple, the first thing to do is to mix all the dough, then stuff the chicken with the surprisingly limited amount of spices, wrap the whole shebang in foil and dough, and cook that thing for a total of FOUR HOURS. You’ll need to pay attention to that last bit.


I thought I’d take the easier of the two options and renovate the Master Bedroom. Of course I was wrong and this was by far the more difficult room.

The problem I’m addressing is that the walls of Newlands Manor are concrete, so in Winter they soak up a lot of the heat we put into the bedrooms, and the air becomes *very* cold at night. In addition the old pasterboard on the walls was damaged after 60 years of use, and we needed to replace it. So, in comes me with my trusty hammer and chisel.

The first task was to carefully remove all of the covers off the windows and doors, and to lift off the skirting boards. These are made of very old rimu (a native timber now protected) and are very brittle, so it was quite a long and careful job. Then, I demolished the old fibreboard cornices. I’d seen a professional cabinet-maker unable to take these off cleanly, so didn’t worry about that myself, just dragged them down.


Once I’d exposed the studs and dwangs I carefully looked them over for rot or borer. They weren’t in bad order, and were pretty well-laid out. They looked to be a rough-sawn hardwood of some variety, as the house-building plans had requested, and they seem to have lasted well since construction in 1951. Once everything was exposed and cleaned, I put in some polyester/fibreglass insulation.

Our main hope is that the insulation slows the heat loss to a minimum. This will help keep these rooms drier as well.

Next, I put up the first of the new panels. I was originally planning to use pine. Someone suggested cedar, and while I was looking into it I discovered an Indonesian wood called meranti. This was a pretty expensive option though, coming in at around $NZ85 a sheet. Pine retails at around $NZ60, and I needed at least a dozen sheets. While looking for a cheaper source I had a conversation with the guys at Mitre10 Mega in Petone about a wood they have there called Okoume. I went home a googled it (to be sure it wasn’t manufactured from Panda bones or something…), and discovered that it is a popular marine ply from West Africa. And only slightly threatened. Furthermore, it has a finely-grained texture and a very light salmon colour. Even better, I think it cost around the same or less than the pine! Win.

Pretty soon I was throwing up panels.

Before you know it I had all the panels up, rimu batons cut to size and nailed up, the old rimu skirting boards put back on, and some rimu cornices I made up installed. The lighting adds nicely to the marine feel of the room. This week we’ve a sparky coming in to check the wiring, install a ceiling light etc.

The floorboards in the photo below are also rimu, and as you can see they come up a nice colour. We’re hoping the rimu I installed comes up as nicely, and we’ll likely polyurethane the floors so they can be exposed without scratching. The okoume we’re thinking we want to tint to a light gold/orange to complement the rimu.

Here’s another corner of the room along with a window stool that was a casualty of the renovation, as was the right window cover. Thankfully that was it for major stuff-ups.

We’re planning to strip the window frames back to bare wood, so the poor damaged stool will likely we swept up in it, and I might have to replace all the covers on this window because the new cover to the right and the old covers are different depths!

And here’s a shot with some furniture and the curtains.

It makes me think that the interior decorating can’t come soon enough. The walls need the depth that a decent stain will give to make them look less industrial.

All in all the whole shebang came in reasonable but not cheap, and we saved a huge amount in builder’s fees. Took me a week of getting out of bed at 7am, and working till the light failed (I will admit to pausing to watch a few sci-fi films!), but I got it done.

Oh, and in my spare time that week I built a fence.

A recent post on Public Address had someone comment that they thought I should be putting up foodie posts to the new blog Russell is setting up. Well, for reasons, I’m unlikely to be invited, but I mentioned that I might be encouraged to start posting here again in the old “How to” series of cooking.

And because serendipity is what it is, this morning at David White on Able Smith St Second Chef uncovered this:

This is the cover of a cookbook we once owned in Mount Maungaui. I remember frequently opening it and wishing we had the means to afford half the things this book said we could make. The How-To series is in point of fact modelled on the pictures contained in this book, and much of my cooking history has been an effort to learn how to make recipes I remember drooling over. And yes, this does count as Food Prn.

And so now, because I am older, wiser, and more financially able, I will proceed to cook every single recipe in this book, and post them for you right here – a la Julie and Julia.

So you’d best be prepared for exotic dishes from the mid-1980s including:

“Chinese Fish”


“Rum-Caramel Pineapple”

and “Chips”.

Strap yourself in!


Curtains open on a small flat. To stage right is a door leading to outside. To stage left is a door leading to a bedroom. Between the two runs a kitchenette with stove and oven, a sink, small cupboards. A fridge stands next to the bedroom door. Above the kitchenette is a double window with net curtains. In stage front is a couch facing towards audience. A small coffee table is positioned in front of couch.

Scene One: (more…)

I’m nine and we’re sitting at the living room table she made a year or so back. It was a full dining room table but she cut down the legs, sanded it back. I remember gouging it with a fork handle in a fit of pique, a childish anger vented at some one thing she must have been proud of.

I’m looking at the empty grooves now, and asking,

“Is this tea?”

“Be quiet and eat.”

“But it’s just weetbix.”

“The benefit isn’t till tomorrow, so eat up.”

“But it’s breakfast isn’t it?”

“Just eat up.”

It’s a story I tell for years, of the superimposition of hunger by ‘our situation’. In retrospect it’s the one thing I associate with benefit dependency, the constant hunger, not only for basic nutrition, but for the many small things others take for granted you lack. The small luxuries and the simple things you cannot afford. A hunger for invaluables like comfort, security, certainty.

You see these things among people you consider rich, and you crave them. You hoard small objects, the cast offs of the better offs, and you think yourself lucky to have snatched such prizes.

I remember being perhaps 10, or 11, and sitting on the floor of the dining room reading Australian Womens Weekly Cookbook, a glossy A4 softcover filled with large pictures of simple foods. Brandy snaps. Yorkshire pudding. The pages were something I would treasure, the details of the recipes something I would pore over, a series of simple how-to pictures I must have subconsciously replicated here on this very blog. I would look at these foods and yearn for the ingredients, the know-how. But to practice we would need more than what we had. And what we had wasn’t enough.

So where are the choices in that? We were making the right life choices. We were frugal as our station demanded. We made the most of what we had. But still we ate cereal for dinner while our neighbours’ cat ate gravy beef.

What is it about dependency that means you must suffer in silence the ire of those who consider themselves your betters?

I sit now in comfort, folded in the bounty of the middle classes, and I look back to those days as a hazy memory, and I’m thankful to be free of then. I can sit now and listen to people run down the poor to someone the feel is a social equal, and while I no longer feel myself an interloper, I sometimes feel I have abandoned my past, that I have turned my back on what it was to be both hungry and undeserving.

Until I see the ire acted out again, as if by rote, an endless script of hate and condescension.

The story wasn’t over really. That boy is still in the field, and he still has explaining to do.

Although the death of my father is a significant event, it was something I was unaware of until my early 20s. Before then was another tale of sorrow, one which was of course intimately tied to the events following that death, but which must be properly considered another chapter.

However, since completing that first chapter a great many things have come to preoccupy my time, concurrent to which has been a vastly greater ease of sleeping. I am not, it seems, compelled to sit late at night and summon forth the ghosts of the past.

Searching within for the reason for the departure of that complusion I remembered writing Solo, a work I wanted to put together as a play in the time before Chef Du Plunge. I had been living by myself in a basement flat in Mt Cook, and had made the most of the isolation to tell a tale you will of course see woven into the first chapter of this work.

I’ve extracted the play from a folder within a folder on a drive I use to store those old things, and will tidy it up over the weekend.

Perhaps we can finally give that child the piece he deserves.

But I imagine you are asleep.

I see the steel blue of your lips, but I imagine you are asleep.

I see the porcelain of your features, the waxen skin glistens, and I imagine that you are asleep.

I wish the coldness of your fingers were warmed by mine, the pallor to fade, the broken vessel to heal, here while you sleep.

I hear your breath as a laugh, a rattling sigh as you come here to lay, a resignation to the world, when it fell about you as you sleep.

But I imagine you are asleep.


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