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Cupcakes & Cherries Jubilee

Jubilee sauce:
500 grams frozen cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp water
3 tablespoons orange juice + 1 tbsp zest
1 tsp cherry or vanilla extract
2 tbsp brandy

This sauce is so delicious it can (and SHOULD) be put to a variety of uses: pour over ice cream for a classic cherries jubilee; mixed in greek yogurt for a cold breakfast treat or just consumed by the spoonful straight from the pan.  I chose to make vanilla cupcakes, blend half the sauce with vanilla frosting to make cherry frosting, and drown the cupcakes and plates with a generous helping of sauce on top.

To make the sauce, whisk together sugar and cornstarch in a large saucepan.  Stir in water and orange juice and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, until thickened.  Stir in cherries and zest and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove cherries from heat, and stir in extract.  Pour brandy over top and ignite with a long lighter.  Gently shake the pan back and forth to spread and then slowly extinguish the flame as the brandy burns off.  Use to your own aim…

(oh and in case you’re wondering about the presentation, I have a mini muffin tin that is perfect to make bite-sized nibbles out of the last of the batter and/or to place atop a full-sized cupcake for dramatic effect!)

I adapted this recipe from an Australian amateur cooking show I love, My Kitchen Rules: 1) adding meatballs for my meat-o-saurous man; 2) using organic, store-bought (gasp!) pasta and sauce instead of making them from scratch and 3) swapping fresh ricotta for mozzarella, because my delicatessen makes the most beautiful creamy fresh ricotta and it is a sin to eat buffalo mozzarella any way other than straight from brine to mouth.

birds’ nest pasta
lasagna sheets (5 were more than enough for 2 people)
bechamel sauce
thinly sliced leg ham
fresh ricotta cheese
rosemary and lamb sausages
pasta sauce

1. Prepare bechamel sauce and meatballs.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is simply no reason to make meatballs from scratch when you have a gourmet butcher in the neighborhood. Simply squeeze out of the casing, shape into balls, roll in your favorite flavoring if desired (spice rub, breadcrumbs, brown sugar, cracked peppercorns…) and voila.

2. Boil water and blanche lasagna noodles two at a time for 4 minutes until just softened.  Drain noodles and lightly cover with oil on both sides to keep from sticking.  Working quickly, layer bechamel sauce, leg ham and ricotta and roll into logs.  Place seam side down in a shallow baking dish with a small portion of sauce on the bottom to prevent sticking.  Repeat, then top with a spoonful of sauce.  Cover dish with foil, and bake at 180C (350F) for 20 minutes.

3. 15 minutes into the pasta baking time, saute meatballs over high heat until browned all over.  When browned, pop into the oven for the remainder of the time to keep warm.  After 20 minutes, remove foil from baking dish, top pasta with grated parmesan and cook for another 5 minutes uncovered.

4. To serve, slice pasta rolls into thirds, extract oh so carefully from the pan, and smoother with meatballs and warmed sauce.

On the eve of Day 4, we enjoyed ourselves some of the finer things in life.  We’d just finished a four-day 55 km hike (as you will remember), so it was only natural to celebrate with glass after glass of cold delicious cider and rounds of the Settlers of Catan.  Yes, even hiking in the middle of the woods we can find fellow Settlers players…

Day 5, we woke up to a classic Milford day: absolutely raining buckets.  The Milford Sound has been dubbed the world’s eighth wonder (by Rudyard Kipling) and one of the wettest places of the world.  Interestingly enough, the Milford Sound is not a sound at all (a valley carved and filled by running water, such as river runoff or rain) but is a fjord, a deep canyon carved by glaciers and backfilled by the sea.  No idea when or why the misnomer arose, but there’s a bit of scientific edumaction for you.

From pictures we had viewed before the trip, I can assure you Milford Sound is astoundingly beautiful. Pictures of our cruise on the sound, however, may not prove this to you. It was raining so hard that it was difficult to be outside on the ship’s decks for more than a few minutes, and even harder to get a decent picture. No sooner would I wipe the lens then another splash would land… We subsequently heard from the captain that, had he realized the extent of the rain and wind earlier, he wouldn’t have taken the boat out for safety reasons.

But looking on the bright side, where there’s water, there will be waterfalls.  And where there’s wind and water, there will be…. upward flowing waterfalls???

Yep, that’s right.  The Milford Sound had in that day of rain filled with literally dozens of temporary waterfalls from the deluge of rain, including ones so fleeting that the gale-force winds disrupted their flow and caused disappearing acts and upward flowing falls.

Once we had from our cruise disembarked, our bus ride back to Queenstown took us through the surrounding valleys.  By this time, the falls had increased in frequency and strength.  It was like the Sound was crying at the thought of us leaving.  Such a beautiful send-off.

Final pictures from the epic Milford Sound Track on the photos page.

Day 4, our last day hiking.  After summitting and descending the McKinnon Pass, all that was left was the 22-kilometer (13 mile) stroll to Sandfly Point, the end of our epic hike.  This portion of the hike was long but flat, and exposed us to a myriad of additional water features as we traipsed over swinging suspension bridges and alongside more dazzling waterfalls. It was also the day of our hike on which, we were promised, it would rain.  This fact motivated us to keep a quick pace, while the knowledge that our hike would be over at the end of Day 4 caused the occasional pause for reflection and capture of “just-one-more” beautiful sight.

After spending the morning together as a pack of 4 happy hikers, Steve & I broke off in the afternoon for the last leg to the end of the trail.  Sure enough, as had been predicted, rain started to fall at mile 31.  Normally one would think this a negative development, but personally, I appreciate a good walk in the rain.  We walked the last 2 hard miles with the refreshing splashes on our face, the sweet smell of musty earth on our noses, and a supreme sense of accomplishment pervading our psyches.

Wet and happy, we had reached the end of the Milford Track.

Full pictures of our last day of the hike.  Don’t be too sad the journey is over, there’s still Day 5 — a cruise on the Milford Sound (in torrential rain) — to come!

Day 3 was the most challenging day of the 5-day journey: 15 kms (9 miles) distance, 800 meters elevation gain up and over the McKinnon Pass, then another 1,000 meters down the other side of the peak into Arthur Valley.  We (OK, maybe just me) shouted out the turns of the 11 switchbacks as we zigged and zagged up the mountain side, compelling and propelling ourselves forward for the view at the top.  And what a view it was…

The way down, always hardest on the knees, was peppered with gorgeous sights.  Mist flowed over the backside of McKinnon Pass, weka (think brown NZ chicken) hopped through brush along the trail, and a cascading waterfall dripped and pooled for hundreds of meters. At the bottom, we dropped our packs for a side excursion to Sutherland Falls, the highest waterfall in New Zealand.  And what a view it was….

We took less photos on Day 3 (might have had something to do with all the physical exertion…) but still plenty to more to view.  Check out the full pictures.

Day 2 was our first real day of hiking: 16 kms (10 miles) through the flat plains along the meandering Clinton River.  It was a gorgeous day–so warm that our packs were weighed down holding all the heavy layers we had brought in anticipation of chilly 60ºF days.  We took full advantage of the weather and relatively easy itinerary to leisurely stroll through the woods, stopping frequently to snap photos along the way.  We couldn’t be sure we’d have another day this brilliant, so we relished our day-long meander. 

With sights like these around every turn, wouldn’t you?  More pictures of Day 2 of the trek on the photos page!

Pictures of the Milford Sound Trek are finally here!  Our 5 day walk to Milford Sound took us across a deep fiord lake, through the rainforest, along a river so clear it appeared emerald-green from the lush forest reflection and past countless waterfalls. All in all we walked approximately 55kms (just over 33 miles), and gained 1,000 meters (over 3,000 feet) in elevation change, over roughly 3 days.

We enjoyed spectacular weather for a region where it can rain nearly every day (March, average 18 days).  It was one of the most memorable moments of my life; there is simply nothing like the absolute peace of mind that comes from 10 hours days in the outdoors, with no sounds other than the rushing wind, chirping birds, flowing water, and pace of your own breath.  An absolutely amazing journey, which we were blessed to be able to share with dad and donna.

The days will unfold over a series of posts.   Day 1: bus trip from Queesntown to Te Anu, 1.5 hour boat ride on Lake Te Anu, 1km walk to the Glade House, followed by a nature walk and nighttime star-gazing.  A very short walk for the “first day of hiking”, but enough beautiful sights to leave us itching for more…

Check out the full pictures.

This recipe for baked potato (in my local grocery store circular of all places) really caught my eye. I had some leftover prosciutto from the night before, and need a suitable pair for my delicious grass-fed eye filets. These definitely hit the mark…


choice of steak cut

4 Chantilly or other small baking potato

sliced prosciutto

1/4 cup parmesan cheese and bread crumbs

sage or other herbs, chopped and added to crust topping

First, thinly slice potatoes nearly (but not all the way!) to the bottom.  I used two wooden kitchen spoons as buffers on each side of the potato, to stop the knife from going all the way through.  Season and sprinkle with olive oil, and bake for 45 minutes or until softened. Rip prosciutto into pieces and press small folded bits between the slices of the potato.  Top with crust and cook for another 20-25 minutes until tender.

After searing the fillets, I used leftover crumb as a crust, popped them into the oven to cook through, and served with the sliced baked taters and salad.  Delish!

Fall is definitely coming – the crisp undercurrent of the wind, the emergence of scarves on the streets of the CBD, the descending darkness that makes 6pm in the office feel like midnight.

And with fall comes figs, and it is definitely fig season. I picked up 5 big, plump ripe figs at the local farmer’s market for $3 because they just looked too beautiful to pass up (and were cheaper than my morning coffee). Determined to find a way to make Steve eat (and like) them, I dreamed up this little tart…which was apparently so good I forgot to take an “after” picture!

prosciutto, goat’s cheese and fig tart

puff pastry
4 ripe figs, sliced thin
6-8 slices of prosciutto
goats cheese (I used a creamy local variety stored in olive oil, which gives it such a silky texture)
4 medium-sized red onions, caramelized

Caramelize onions (takes appx 1 hour). Bake puff pastry shell in tart pan for 10 minutes or until slightly golden brown.  Layer caramelized onions, goat’s cheese and prosciutto, and top with fig slices. Season with a dash of fresh cracked pepper and drizzle of honey.  Bake another 10-15 minutes, slice and serve.

The verdict, success!  He loved it, figs and all….

After our hike on Fox Glaicer, we spent another day in Glacier Country on the beach at Okarito and visiting some of the hundreds of waterfalls in the Southern Alps.  Glacier what??  More pictures to behold