Brandy snaps, sponge cake, lamb and mussels have been favourites with many generations of New Zealanders. But over the years influences from international cuisines have subtly changed their character.

Brandy snaps — also a popular sweet treat in England — do not contain brandy and the origin of the name is unclear. The recipe has been around since the 1800s and they are sometimes called fairings in Britain because they were often made and sold at fairs or markets.

Although I know several cooks who enjoy making sponge cakes, I usually opt for the supermarket varieties and dress them up. A true sponge is prepared from flour, sugar and eggs. When butter or other fat is added it becomes a ‘Victoria’ sponge named after Queen Victoria who enjoyed the same delight nearly every day at afternoon tea.

Roast leg of lamb is another English tradition but as prices soar so does our choice of cut. A rack is popular because it takes just 15 to 20 minutes to cook and is easy to carve.

Mussels which grew wild on rocks were — up until the 1960s — harvested by hand. Then dredging took over until the seabeds in the Tasman and the Hauraki Gulf were cleaned out. The first farmed mussels went on sale in the 1970s. The green lipped mussel is the most popular. They’re a relatively inexpensive source of protein, omega 3 and other nutrients.


Whipped cream flavour variations: 1/2 cup lemon curd or 3 tablespoons Kahlua.

1 3/4 cups cream
3 tablespoons icing sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla essence 
18 brandy snaps
75g dark chocolate, melted
extra icing sugar for dusting
6 strawberries, hulled and halved
mint to garnish

Whip the cream, icing sugar and vanilla essence, until thick. Pipe the cream into the brandy snaps. Spread a little on the centre of a serving plate to prevent the brandy snaps from slipping.
Top with a single layer of 6 brandy snaps alternating the wider and thinner ends to keep them as even as possible.

Place another layer on top then a final layer. Drizzle with the cooled but still liquid chocolate. Top with the strawberries, dust with the extra icing sugar and garnish with mint.
Chill for at least an hour before serving. Serves 6.


The vegetables form the dips for these roast lamb cutlets.

1 rack lamb, about 6-8 cutlets
1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
salt and pepper to taste 
1 cup frozen peas
2 sprigs mint
1 medium beetroot, cooked
2-3 tablespoons sour cream
1 avocado, mashed
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 200C. Lightly brush an oven tray with oil.

Trim the rack of fat if necessary. Score if preferred then rub with the paprika. Season.

Roast fat-side down for 5 minutes. Turn over and roast for 10 minutes. Remove, tent with foil and stand for 5 minutes before carving.

Meanwhile, microwave the peas and mint with 2-3 tablespoons of water, until cooked. Purée using a hand-held blender. Season.

Chop the beetroot then blend, until smooth. Stir in the sour cream. Season. Mash the avocado adding the lemon juice. Season.

Divide the vegetables between 6 small dishes. Carve the lamb and place on two serving plates or boards. Place a dish of each of the dips beside the lamb. The dip can also be spread on the lamb before enjoying. Serves 2.


I used a double sponge purchased from the supermarket

2 x 16cm sponge cake halves
1 cup cold strong coffee
3/4 cup cream
2 tablespoons icing sugar
200g mascarpone
3 tablespoons coffee liqueur
dark cocoa powder for dusting
shaved chocolate or chocolate curls, optional

Cut each sponge cake in half horizontally to make 4 rounds.

Line a 16-18cm springform cake pan with baking paper. Place 1 round of sponge on the base. Drizzle evenly with 4 tablespoons of coffee.

Whip the cream and icing sugar until thick. Fold into the mascarpone until smooth then add the liqueur. Spread 1/4 evenly over the sponge on the cake pan. Top with another sponge round and repeat the steps until all the sponge, coffee and cream mixture is used. Cover loosely and refrigerate overnight.

Carefully remove the cake from the pan and place on a serving dish. Dust with cocoa and garnish with chocolate, if using. Serves 8.


Peas or sliced beans could be added to the sauce.

32 mussels
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon grated root ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Sauce: 1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small onion, diced
50g packet spicepaste for Indian Butter Chicken
1 tablespoon tomato paste 
400g can coconut milk
4 sprigs coriander
8 lemon wedges

Scrub the mussels and remove the beards.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan or wok. Stir in the ginger, and garlic. Add the mussels, stir briefly then cover and cook for 4-5 minutes, until opened. Remove the mussels as they open. Discard any mussels that do not open. If they open just a little then they are still edible. Return all the opened mussels to the pan.

Meanwhile, prepare the butter sauce. Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan. Sauté the onion, until softened. Stir in the spice paste and tomato paste. Slowly stir in the coconut milk. Heat through and simmer for a few minutes

Place the mussels in individual bowls topped with the sauce and coriander. Serve accompanied by the lemon wedges. Serves 4.


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