Duck with White Beans, Chorizo and Mushrooms

15 07 2010

It was our anniversary a while back and instead of going to to dinner as we normally do, we stayed in, watched a few DVDs, drank a little wine and ate this:

Duck with White Beans, Chorizo and Mushrooms

Serves 4 (we kind of halved the recipe to make it for 2)

3 tbs olive oil
4 duck legs (drumstick and thigh)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 red onions, sliced
1 cup button mushrooms
2 chorizo sausages, sliced (we used this one from Janssens which was pricey but excellent. Made the dish!)
1/2 pinot noir (we used a cheapy from the supermarket ($7!!) and saved the good one for drinking)
3 large tomatoes
10g morels (dried mushrooms) soaked in 1/2 cup warm water to soften2 cups chicken stock
2 tbs fresh oregano (we used dried – about a tsp)
1 bay leaf
1 cup white haricot or baby lima beans, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water (we cheated and used a can of white beans)
salt and pepper

  1. Heat a large ovenproof casserole, add oil and brown duck legs on both sides. Remove to one side. Add garlic, onions, mushrooms and chorizo sausage and cook for 2 minutes.
  2. Add pinot noir, tomatoes, morels and their soaking liquid, stock, oregano, drained beans, bay leaf and duck legs, bring to boil then cover and bake in oven preheated to 180C for one hour.
  3. Remove covering, season and return to cook uncovered for a further 20-30 mins to brown the duck skin (although I have to say ours didn’t brown because it was covered with all the other stuff!)

This was the first time I have ever cooked duck and it was delicious. A gorgeous meal for a cold winter night! Our feeling was that the quality of the chorizo we used was vital to the flavour of the final dish. My beloved and I are keen to try this with chicken (as a slightly more economical option.

Recipe by Julie Le Clerc from the Vineyards of New Zealand Cookbook.


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

20 06 2010

Mel hated it with a passion. I enjoyed it (but then SF and fantasy books are my genres of choice).

The Graveyard Book covers the early years of Nobody Owens (Bod), a young boy whose family is murdered in the opening chapter. As a result, he who ends up growing up in a graveyard, protected by its ghostly (and undead) inhabitants. I found the opening quite riveting but it got a little slow for while after that (I was deep into assignments so my reading time was somewhat disjointed). The structure of the book is more like a series of connected short stories than a regular novel and I found this a little hard to warm to but I found it a satisfying and moving read in the end. Bod grows and changes in a way that those he lives with (being dead) cannot. He literally outgrows childhood friends. I found this an interesting way of depicting how we all change as we grow until we, like Bod, have to make our way in the world. This being essentially a fairy tale, Bod learns some valuable lessons as he grows and eventually comes face to face with his family’s killer. Along the way, he learns a few important life lessons. Being the sentimental type, my eyes my have got a bit watery towards the end.

I suppose if you don’t like fantasy, it won’t be your sort of book but I liked it and will probably read it again at some stage.

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

10 05 2010

Bad Science is one our book circle picks for 2010. I must confess that I read it last year and so my memory of it is a bit hazy but I do recall enjoying it very much. As Mel noted, the author does get a little emotional at times but I don’t regard him as a conspiracy theorist. He is more someone increasingly cross with the utter drivel pumped out by journalists (and others) these days and some of the serious real life effects this has.  I largely agree with him (I regularly rant at the “news”) although I think he is a little harsh on arts graduates. He clearly doesn’t realise that a liberal arts major is the only one who can save the earth from impending doom. 🙂

Personally, I found this book a useful reminder that just because someone says something works and uses “sciencey” language, does not mean it really does. In fact, I questioned a practice I came across this year, based on the approach this book encouraged. A little research of my own led to the discovery that there were no scientific studies to back up the claims of the company involved. This does not mean that they are aren’t right of course, just that there is no proper evidence to back their claims. To be sceptical is not to see evil under every bush.

Anyway, I am rambling (for which I apologise – up late finishing an essay last night/this morning). I am a regular reader of Ben Goldacre’s blog and my personal favourite story there was about the cockroaches and other nasties that were reported to be infesting trains in London. The article said that:

“Research by pest controllers Rentokil shows that, on average, a single train compartment houses a staggering 1,000 cockroaches, 200 bed bugs, 200 fleas, 500 dust mites and 100 carpet beetles.”

The numbers sounded high so Mr Goldacre did some digging and found out that no actual buses or trains were studied. Instead the figures were based on a theoretical model that was based on the following assumptions:

They assumed, for example, that the railway carriage or bus was left alone, by itself, in isolation. They assumed this isolated carriage was helpfully furnished with a plentiful food supply. They assumed that the ratio of male and female bugs was perfectly optimal for breeding.

They assumed – surprisingly for anyone involved in modelling populations, surprisingly for anyone, really – that the population of bugs would be left entirely unchecked, with no external factors to control the mortality rate. They assumed that the siding or garage was controlled at a constant temperature all day and night, with no extremes, they assumed there were no trampling commuters, no cruel vaccum cleaners, no anything. In fact they assumed there was no cleaning, ever, and no passengers, ever. (from

Now I am no scientist, but aren’t those strange assumptions to use for a model trying to work out an average population? Unsurprisingly a PR company was involved. Equally unsurprisingly, Rentokil had just been awarded a huge contract with the London Underground. So I guess we no longer need to worry about nasty bugs then 🙂

Apple, Feijoa and Ginger Strudel

17 04 2010

I heard this recipe on Nine to Noon the other day and had to give it a try. I have always liked feijoas and apples together and the thought of adding ginger was intriguing. The filling was quite tart but I prefer that to a super sweet one. I probably put a touch too much ginger in but it still tasted really good. Very yummy with vanilla icecream.

The less said about the strudel aspect of the whole thing, the better. There seemed to be WAY too much filling for the pastry and it was all I could do to keep it from flowing out everywhere. The result was more like a kind of open filo pie. I am keen to make this again, but I will do it as a crumble next time. Probably not as “healthy” but who wants a healthy dessert anyway 🙂

Apple, Feijoa and Ginger Strudel

Chef: Niki Bezzant, editor, Healthy Food Guide magazine, as heard on Nine to Noon Monday, 12 April 2010

(Serves 4–6)


  • 6 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small cubes
  • 6 feijoas, flesh scooped out of the skins
  • 2 tablespoons castor sugar
  • ½ vanilla pod, split
  • 2 tablespoons golden sultanas (I left the sultanas out because I HATE them!!)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 6 sheets filo pastry
  • canola oil spray
  • milk


Combine the apple, feijoa, sugar, vanilla, sultanas, ginger and ¾  cup water into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until the apples are tender, around 10 minutes. Add the lemon zest.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Lay out the filo sheets, one on top of the other, on a board, spraying a little oil between each one. Put the apple mixture at one end of the pastry, fold in the ends and roll up to form a strudel shape.

Place the strudel on a baking tray, seam side down.

Bake for about 15 minutes, brushing the top with milk about halfway through. Slice the strudel, and serve with vanilla ice cream or yoghurt.

Access Road by Maurice Gee

13 04 2010

I must admit I have been a bit of a Gee fan since I started reading him last year (why it took me so long I have no idea). My favourite novel of his remains Blindsight, but I enjoyed Access Road. It is a typical Gee tale of family intrigue and again set in the (fictional) West Auckland township of Loomis. I enjoyed the characters immensely (especially the unworldly Roly) and the climax was really quite exciting considering the people involved were all drawing a pension. Recommended.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

8 04 2010

I have been following Donalyn Miller on Twitter for a while now (@donalynbooks). I can’t remember how I found her but I finally got a hold of her book from the library. She is a sixth grade (11-12 year olds) teacher from Texas with a passion for reading. She wants every child to be a reader and believes the best way to achieve this is to let kids choose their own books and give them time to read in the classroom. She requires her class to read 40 books in a year from a variety of genres and amazingly most of them seem to do this easily. But what about those who for whatever reason don’t meet the requirement? The least number of books a student has read in her class (according to Mrs Miller) is 22 which is still a pretty impressive score so she celebrates that and moves on.Her system seems to work for her – her pupils consistently pass their standardised tests.

Aside from her obvious passion for hooking kids into reading, a few things struck me about this approach. One was her emphasis that it was the reading that was important, rather than all of the activities teachers plan around the reading (in the US at least – not sure what happens here). In Mrs Miller’s view, reading time is something to be treasured and grabbed wherever  and whenever you can (even while lining up for the class photo). Another point was giving the children choice about what they read. As someone who rarely had my nose out of a book when I was growing up, that strikes a chord with me. There are few things worse than being forced to read a book you hate. Having to analyse it to death for weeks on end sounds like hell to me. I am not sure how much of that happens in NZ schools. I hope it is not one its way. A final point that I particularly related to was her hatred of reading logs. We have had these on and off with boy #1 and frankly they seem as pointless to me as they do to Mrs Miller. My boy loves reading but only remembered to record what he read once in a blue moon. And I, usually anal about all things homework related, found it hard to care. I knew he was reading and that was enough for me. I have to wonder if these are ever completed honestly by anyone. I personally would vote for any system that would get rid of them.

This book was an easy and interesting read (I finished it in a day). I found it quite thought provoking. I also handed the book to boy #1 so he could peruse the useful list of recommended (by Mrs Miller’s students) books listed in the back. He was delighted to see some of his faves there (Harry Potter, Children of the Lamp, Artemis Fowl) but the list is much wider than that. I hope that Mrs Miller won’t mind if I take a copy for future reference.

The Bolter by Frances Osborne

2 04 2010

The first book from our 2010 Book Circle.

The rich (and the “upper” class) are different. I suppose this explains the constant bed-hopping and general bad behaviour described in The Bolter. Although the titular character, Idina Sackville, was infamous for her affairs and the fact she married (and divorced) five times, many others seemed to be doing exactly the same thing. When I came to the end of the book, my enduring impression of Idina was of a woman who was not suited to the times she lived in. I wonder what sort of life she might have had today, when she might have found a focus for her energies in a career and without the pressure of marriage (for which she was clearly not suited).

I my interest waxed and waned a bit while I was reading this. The trivial doings of a bunch of rich toffs grew a little boring after a while to be honest and I have to say I lost track of some of the names along the way. Idina herself remained something of an enigma, mainly because most of the information about her is through the eyes of others. The author makes a stab at what she might have been thinking and feeling at various times but never really brings her to life. My view is that Osborne tended to romanticise her a little too much, perhaps as a result of her dislike of Barbie, the woman who replaced Idina as her great-grandmother (and who she knew.)

One of the hardest things to understand about Idina from a modern perspective is her abandonment of her children. She seems to have loved them immensely (in her way) yet spent very little time with them. However, put in context with the child rearing practices of other people of her class (with their nannies, governesses and boarding schools), perhaps she really wasn’t that unusual. Children seemed to be routinely ignored by the parents they lived with. It is perhaps telling that the closest familial bond her sons had were to each other. It is certainly very different today.

I wouldn’t rave about this one, but I did find it an interesting look into what really went on in the “good old days” (you know, when everyone was so very, very good and respectable). Human nature hasn’t changed much over the years as far as I can see. Perhaps we are just a little more honest these days.