What I’m cooking: Vicki Ravlich-Horan

Vicki Ravlich-Horan is the founder and editor of Nourish magazine. She’s a passionate advocate for the culinary delights of the Waikato region and has just stepped down as chair of Waikato Food Inc. Vicki brings more than 20 years’ experience in the hospitality industry to the table, which no doubts helps her keep cool under pressure in trying circumstances. Ever the professional, Vicki shares how she copes when life gets in the way.

One of the joys of my job is getting to play in the kitchen. Sadly, I must squeeze it in between the ‘other stuff’ that needs to be done to produce a magazine each season. Fate would have it this week is different. We have nearly completed a major renovation on our little 1940s cottage (which is also Nourish HQ) and this weekend we got to move back in after 12 weeks of living in a rental. While the boxes lay piled up everywhere my concern was, how do I turn on my new oven?
If anyone has ever renovated before you will know it never goes to plan. We are two weeks over schedule, have no heating and I have to blow in a little tube to flush the loo! On the bright side, our little cottage has been transformed and at the heart of it is my brand spanking new kitchen. Turns out the electrician stuffed up the fibre and hasn’t finished the cabling, so I have no ability to do much of that ‘other stuff’ this week. Luckily, there is always a lot for me to do in the kitchen.

The start of our spring shoots is on this Thursday so the first thing in my oven was a batch of chocolate chip cookies. These are part of a series of recipe features we have been doing on going back to the basics. The idea is we perfect a basic recipe, like the classic chocolate chip, teach our readers the steps and why these are important, then show them how, once mastered, they can create so much more; oat and raisin cookies, ice cream sandwiches, mallow puffs…  Like many good cooks I often intuitively include things when it comes to whipping up a batch of biscuits, so friends and family have been enjoying the experiments as I test the right ratio of chocolate chips per cookie, the difference baking soda vs baking powder makes and so on.

Aside from Nourish I do a variety of contract work, mainly for food-oriented businesses.  One of these is Bidfresh Hamilton and this week we have 16 chefs coming to learn more about NZ Winter Truffles.  For the last few weeks my fridge has had a very expensive aroma as I experiment, not with fancy ways to cook truffle, but simple ways, ways that make the most of the unique flavour.  Our goal is for local cafes to put dishes like truffled scrambled eggs on their menu allowing the public to experience locally produced truffles without it costing them a fortune.  Hence my role; how much truffle do you need to make truffle butter taste like truffles but also be economical?

This weekend I am in Tauranga giving a couple of cooking lessons at Vetro.  I took on the task of a class based around that secret spice and have in the process been discovering the joys of barberries and Urfa.  Tonight, the family have to struggle through gnocchi with truffle butter and chocolate mousse spiked with Tonka bean as I again perfect the recipes for the weekend! Oh well if we can’t watch the news or Netflix at least we can talk about our food.

Mum’s rice pudding spiked with tonka bean
Trust me, once you have this rice pudding you’ll never want any other kind! Below is exactly how my mother gave me the recipe when I headed off to university with handy measurements like ‘half fill a pot with milk…’ This caused some confusion when my flatmate, who fell in love with this pudding, tried to make it and had no idea what size pot Mrs Ravlich meant. So to help you out I have added in some universal measurements.

I usually add a teaspoon of vanilla paste to my milk, Mum often put in a strip or two of orange peel which imparts a nice flavour. Recently I have grated in 1 ¼ of a tonka bean along with a strip of orange peel for a delicious combination.

Put milk into saucepan to half fill it (2 cups milk). Separate 2 eggs and put yolks into the milk with ¼ cup sugar. Whisk around till yolks are mixed into milk.
Add ½ cup rice (I use arborio but Mum would have used short grain). Bring to a slow boil and simmer till thick and rice is soft. Take off the heat.
Beat the egg whites till stiff then beat in 4 Tbsp of sugar, like meringue (by this she means add the sugar slowly). Add egg whites to cooled rice mixture and fold through until mixed. Serve with a tart fruit like poached tamarillo.

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