Monday, July 29, 2013

Spicy Panko Crumbed Fish

If you live in NZ you might want to know that Forest and Bird have recently released their updated Best Fish Guide. If you haven't heard of it, what the guide does is it ranks seafood species according to their ecological sustainability. Basically it's a tool to help us make more informed choices when buying seafood, whether from a shop or dining out.

As most of us in New Zealand live near the ocean we have a close relationship with the marine environment, it's part of our  culture and cuisine. So it's important that we protect it. However,  I realise that our choices will be influenced by other factors such as taste or economics. But it's good if we are informed about our seafood choices, and do our part when we are able. The Best Fish Guide is an easy way for us to keep informed, and lets us do our little bit to help if we so choose. There are easy options to get it as a phone app or print it out as a wallet guide. Check it out here: Best Fish Guide

So for today's recipe of spicy panko crumbed fish I chose to use red gurnard which falls in the middle of the range of sustainability, but other species would work well too.

I came up with this recipe because I'd been experimenting with different kinds of flavoured crumb combinations and this version was my favourite invention. It's spicy but not hot and is so quick and simple to make. I love the combination of the herbs and spices and the little kick of the cayenne. But you could use whatever other herbs or spices that you love. The use of panko crumbs means it has a great crunch factor. But you could even up the crunch if you chose to fry them instead of baking them. You can can also cut the fish fillets into bite sized pieces if you want to use them as a snack, or leave the fillets whole if you want to serve it as a main. The world's your oyster.

Edit: Forest and Bird ran a Best Fish Guide Home Cook Recipe Competition so I entered this recipe, and just found out I won 3rd place! I won a signed copy of 'Hunger For The Wild' and my recipe will feature on the Forest and Bird website and on the Best Fish Guide phone ap. I was told that the judge, Steve Logan, said "Nice crunchy tasty coating can really lift the most humble fish fillet as well as delicious gurnard. A healthy low fat option, and great photo.” So happy my humble recipe got a placing. Check out the amazing winning recipes here.

Spicy Panko Crumbed Fish


4 x fish fillets (I used Gurnard)
2 heaped tablespoons dijon mustard
1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp salt


Preheat your oven to 210 Celsius/ 410 Fahrenheit.

Chop the fish fillets into finger length strips. Add them to a bowl along with the mustard and stir to coat.

In another bowl add the panko, oil, dill, marjoram, paprika, cayenne and salt. Mix well with a fork.

Add the mustard coated fish to the bowl of crumb mixture, toss to coat.

Place the fish onto a tray lined with non-stick paper, pop it into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes.

Serves 4

Monday, July 22, 2013

Walnut Stuffed Figs with Mandarin Syrup

Figs walnuts and citrus, a trio of flavour combinations that bring out the best in each other. That's how I knew I couldn't go wrong when I came up with this recipe for walnut stuffed figs cooked in a mandarin syrup.

The recipe was conceived while I was experimenting with ways to use the recent batch of mandarin sugar I had made. Find out how to make it here.

The walnut stuffed figs are a simple treat that are great as a snack on their own, but they also go well with other desserts such as a chocolate torte, simple vanilla ice cream or even with a cheese platter. They're soft, sticky and delicious. You can even make this recipe if you don't want to make mandarin sugar, just add some mandarin zest into the plain sugar syrup as it cooks and the flavour will still infuse a little bit. You could even use orange or lemon zest if you prefer. Or why not add some cinnamon, cloves or other spices if you to make it festive. But I do urge you try it with the mandarin sugar if you can, as it definitely adds a rich unique flavour.

Walnut Stuffed Figs with Mandarin Syrup


12 dried figs
12 whole walnuts - or you can use chopped pieces, about 50g-100g would be good
1/4 cup of mandarin sugar
1/2 cup water


Slice off the tops of the figs to create a small hole. Use your fingers to pry the whole open to create a cavity. Stuff the cavity with the walnut or walnut pieces. Like so:

If you find the figs are too dry, just soak them in hot water to soften them.

Next, in a small saucepan, add the mandarin sugar and water. Once it is boiling, add the stuffed figs and turn the heat down to a simmer. Swirl, or baste, the syrup around and over the figs as they cook, so they get a nice coating. Simmer them for approx 15-20 minutes or until almost all of the syrup has been absorbed. Like this:

Before and after cooking

Once done, remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. They can be eaten lukewarm, but I prefer to chill them in the fridge once they are cool.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mandarin Sugar...and birds!

Mandarin trees are a pretty common sight in New Zealand gardens. It's a good thing, as they are such a delicious fruit. Problem is, you'll have to collect the fruit before all the birds get to them; they love 'em as much as us we do. But this year we kinda let the birds have free range because this years crop of mandarins was a bit of a dud. They were pretty sour and unpalatable. There was an upside though, it meant I could indulge in my new favourite hobby, bird watching. It sounds nerdy, but it's fun and interesting, just like being a detective. Okay so maybe not that cool, but still, nature is so amazing so why not take the time to appreciate the awesome flora and fauna that surrounds us. Even in our own backyards.

Silvereye, munching on a mandarin from our tree.

Even though we weren't going to eat many of this seasons mandarins I still wanted to salvage something from them. So I used the skins to make some mandarin sugar. You've probably heard of vanilla sugar, where you put a vanilla pod in a jar of sugar so that that the vanilla infuses into the sugar. Well this is a similar deal using dried mandarin peel to create a lovely citrus flavoured sugar. It can then be used for a range of things: sprinkled over your cereal, on top of poached fruit, on top of muffins or cookies before they're baked, on pancakes, french toast or just even on top of plain buttered toast...

To make the mandarin sugar you'll need about 100g of mandarin skins, about five medium sized mandarins should do it. Line a baking tray with non-stick paper and lay the mandarin skins on top. Pop them in a preheat oven at 120 Celsius (248 Fahrenheit). Bake them for approx 30-45 minutes until they have dried out completely. You might want to turn them over during this time. Let them cool down then either grind them in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Mix in 200g of granulated sugar and you're done! Store it in a dry glass jar with a tight lid for best results.

Since my actual mandarin segments were pretty damn yuck, I threw them outside to the birds. They were hesitant at first, but then they had a feast...

Mandarin Sugar recipe adapted from Micheal Daly's super-rad book 'Find It, Eat It'.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chicken Schnitzel : Parmesan Tarragon

Growing up on Swiss-German cuisine it's fair to say I've eaten a fair few schnitzels in my time. That said, adding parmesan to the crumb was not something we did in our household, but I'm glad I've now tried it. I can see it becoming a firm favourite for me.

I first spied this parmesan and tarragon coated chicken schnitzel in Laura Faire's cookbook Now Is The Season (an awesome book by the way, especially for any budding gardeners). The parmesan crumb coating looked amazing,  helped by the fact that each schnitzel gets crumb-coated twice. So you can imagine how crunchy and satisfyingly crispy they are. The tarragon flavour is subtle and mellow, so I served it with a tangy homemade mayonnaise with some added dijon mustard, lemon juice and chopped gherkins mixed in (capers would have been nice too). And don't forget the obligatory lemon wedge to squeeze on top. We also served it with a salad and plain rösti. Delicious!

Parmesan and Tarragon Coated Chicken Schnitzel
(serves 4)


  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup of flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup of Water
  • 1 cup finely grated fresh parmesan (between 80-100g is fine)
  • 1 cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 2 teaspoons dried tarragon, or 2 tablespoons French Tarragon leaves (chopped)
  • Oil for frying


Firstly you'll want to preheat your oven to 200 Celsius/392°F

Now cut each chicken breast horizontally, so you get two schnitzels out of each breast. Then place the chicken pieces on chopping board, cover with waxed paper and bash with a rolling pin to flatten so that they are even, like a thick schnitzel.

Then fill three dishes with the following ingredients: one with combined flour, salt and pepper; one with the beaten eggs and water; and one with the combined parmesan, breadcrumbs and tarragon.

Coat the chicken pieces first in the flour, then the egg, then the crumb mixture. Repeat so that each piece has been coated twice.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan, add one or two of the schnitzels (don't overcrowd your pan) and fry the chicken until golden on each side (add more oil when necessary). Place on a baking tray while cooking the remaining pieces.

When all the chicken pieces are fried until golden place the tray in the over for 10-15 minutes until cooked through.

Recipe adapted from 'Now is the Season' - Laura Faire

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Fig and Walnut Loaf

I noticed that my last few blog entries were all focused on cooking for, or with, kids. So I made sure that this next post was one for the adults. Though I'm sure there must be kids who love figs and walnuts, I don't remember ever being one or  knowing any. Luckily my tastes changed and now I'm a huge fan.

Recently we were lucky enough to be gifted a big cardboard box of walnuts. So this weekend I sat outside in the sun (a rare occurrence during this crappy winter weather we've been having), and spent about an hour just cracking them all open. I gotta say, I found it a totally Zen experience. I found it so satisfying and relaxing trying to get the walnut out in one whole piece. Yep I do realise I sound like a dorky weirdo extolling the virtues of cracking nuts, but I don't care, I'm glad I can find enjoyment in the small things in life. And surely I'm not the only freak who finds certain menial tasks hugely satisfying? I get the same feeling when stacking wood; the perfect combo of using body and mind = bliss.

Anyway before I scare everyone away with my inane ramblings, here's a yummy recipe using walnuts! Surprise surprise. A fig and walnut loaf. It's a nice moist loaf, with a great hint of citrus and spice. I came up with it just using things I had at hand, e.g the yoghurt was near expiring and I had to start to make a dent in the big pile of walnuts. It's an adaptable recipe, so you could swap figs for other dried fruits such as apricots or dates. The loaf is sweet but not overly so. So it's not quite a cake, but just as moreish. It's just perfect for afternoon tea, on its own or spread with butter. I've still got a bunch of walnuts left, so if you have any suggestions for what I could do with them, let me know.


  • 1/2 cup greek yoghurt (I use a honey variety, but plain is fine too)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange rind
  • 1/2 teaspoon of 'mixed spice' (or any combo of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice etc.)
  • 1 cup chopped dried figs (approx 260g/14 dried figs)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 1 cup high grade/all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
  • pinch of salt
  •  3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts (half goes in the loaf, half on top)


Firstly, preheat your oven to 180 Celsius (350 Fahrenheit).

Next add the yoghurt, milk, orange rind and mixed spice to a small saucepan. Heat slowly on a moderate heat until it just starts to bubble (don't let it boil though). Take it off the heat and let it stand until the figs soften a bit, about 15 minutes is fine, just let it cool.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the sugar oil and eggs. Then add the cooled yoghurt fruit mixture to it. Give it another quick mix.

In another bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda, salt and half of the walnuts. Now add the liquid mixture to flour mixture and mix it until just combined.

Pour the batter into an 21 cm loaf tin (8 x 4-inch) coated with cooking spray (or however you prefer to grease your tins). Sprinkle the rest of the walnuts evenly over the top.

Chuck it in the oven and bake for approx 40 minutes or until cooked.

Let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before taking it out and cooling it on a rack.