Sunday, August 2, 2015

Home made Spain

One of the events I look forward to most in my food year is the Mid-Winter Birthdays.  My friends Ali and Lynn have their birthdays close together in July, and we always come up with a food-themed celebration.  This year, because I'm off to Spain later on and Ali had given me Claudia Roden's The Food of Spain for my birthday, we had a Spanish theme. Each of us made three tapas dishes, from various recipe books, and I made a very light dessert as well. Between us we did make rather a lot of food, of course, but that didn't matter - our families were very happy to gobble up the leftovers. And the array of different dishes, almost all of them completely new to us, was splendid (even though we could eat only a little of each one, and the helpings had to get progressively smaller towards the end).
       The way we arranged them worked very well too. We paced ourselves - including some on-the-spot cooking and a break for presents, it took us four hours. Maravillosa!

First we had a big platter of cold tapas, with Ali's home-made bread:
Champiňones marinados - marinated mushrooms
Tortillitas de camarones - prawn and chickpea flour fritters, with lemon wedges
Spanish olives, artichoke hearts, goat's cheese (La Marche Buche Ziekli) and Serrano Montenevado ham aged for 18 months (the cheese and ham came from On Trays, in Petone)

The marinated mushrooms were very easy to make, and different from the usual recipes because you cook them first.  I made them again in the weekend as a dinner starter.

Champiňones marinados
(Claudia Roden)
This needs to be made at least 5 hours before eating.

juice of 1 large lemon
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
5 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil (I used a good Australian one with "robust flavour")
salt and pepper
500g button mushrooms (evenly sized, so they will cut evenly into quarters)
2 Tbsps chopped flat-leaf parsley (But I forgot to add this!)

Make a dressing with the lemon juice, zest, oil and some salt and pepper.
Wipe the mushrooms and rinse them briefly, if necessary (it wasn't). Trim the stems and cut them into quarters (or halves if they're very small).
Cook them over medium heat in a wide, dry, non-stick frypan for 10 minutes, turning them over until they release their juices, which will evaporate. (They will shrink quite a lot.)
Put the hot mushrooms into the lemon dressing in a wide, shallow bowl, mixing them well. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate for 5 hours at least. Take out ahead of time so that they are served at room temperature. Sprinkle the parsley over to serve.

For our second helping, we served two dishes:
Empanada de hojaldre con atún - tuna pie
Habas con jamón - broad beans with garlic, mint and ham (although because we had two other things with ham, Ali left it out for this one)

The pie filling is delicious but really easy to make, and as it uses canned tuna, it isn't expensive. With salad and bread, it would make an excellent lunch or light dinner. Roden's recipe tells you how to make olive oil pastry, but because I was cooking four things in advance I was a bit short of time, so I made her suggested alternative with good butter puff pastry. The edges did get a bit thick and untidy, but I solved that by cutting them off and taking one big neat square for lunch. My son happily ate up all the edges, which had plenty of the tuna filling embedded in them. I'll try the oil pastry later, and report back.

Empanada de hojaldre con atún
(Claudia Roden)

Enough butter puff pastry to line and cover a square or oblong dish about 3 cm deep, preferably with a rim (the shape gives neater slices than a round pie dish)
1 egg, separated (for brushing and sealing later)

Thaw the pastry and set the oven to 200C bake.
Line the bottom and sides of the dish with baking paper.
Set aside enough pastry to cover the pie. Roll out the rest to cover the bottom and sides of the dish on top of the baking paper.
Place the lined dish in the fridge for 30 minutes. Roll out the rest in a shape to fit the top, and place it on bake paper on a flat sheet in the fridge.

For the filling:
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 large red pepper, deseeded and cut into small pieces
2 Tbsps olive oil
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 450g tin of tuna in oil, drained and flaked
20 black olives, pitted and cut into pieces
2 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped

Fry the onion and pepper in the oil in a large pan over low heat, stirring often, till soft.
Add the tomatoes, sugar and a little salt (the olives add salt too). Cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes until the sauce is thick and jammy.
Remove from the heat and stir in the tuna, olive pieces and chopped eggs. Set aside to cool.

Take out the lined dish, prick the base of the pastry, brush with the egg white and blind-bake in the oven for 5 minutes. (If the bottom still puffs up, just prick it slightly again to flatten it a bit.)
Beat the yolk with the rest of the white and 1 Tbsp water, and set aside to make an egg wash for the top.
Turn the oven down to 180C. Fill the pie with the tuna mixture, spreading it evenly, and cover with pastry, using some of the egg wash to seal the top on. Brush the top with egg wash.
Bake the pie in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until top is golden brown.
Cool a little before slicing into squares, or set aside and warm it through later before cutting and serving.

Next we had alubias con almejas - clams with haricot beans. The clams came from Moore Wilson, but I couldn't find a tin of haricot beans, so I used cannellini instead and that seemed to work well. It was followed by Lynn's classic tortilla de patates - potato omelette, and Ali's albóndigas en salsa tomate - pork, chicken and ham meatballs in a tomato and sherry sauce, a Rick Stein recipe; then garbanzos con chorizo, chickpeas with chorizo sausage (made by the Eastbourne butcher) and pimientos asados, grilled red peppers with garlic and sherry vinegar.
        But so as not to overdo this post, I'll put up the recipes for the clams and the meatballs next week.  Then I'll do marquesas, the light, lemony little cakes I made for dessert. We had just enough room left to eat one each with our coffee.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Birthday lunch at Orewa

We rarely went on holiday when I was little, but I do have a vivid memory of one holiday at Orewa with my mother and grandmother. We stayed in a kind of boathouse, one very large room with a wooden floor, right on the beach. I wore a pretty little sunsuit with shirred elastic, and a cotton sunbonnet. My mother would have made them both.
          I must have been about four, because I don't think my sister was there - she arrived when I was five.  A few weeks ago, she took me back to Orewa for a late birthday treat.  It's changed so much, I don't have any idea where those old beach houses would have been.
           But I was delighted to find we were going to meet the rest of the family at a rare survivor from the past that I didn't know existed: Walnut Cottage. It must have been there in my childhood, because it was built in the 1850s. It's been well designed to suit children as well as adults, with plenty of intriguing toys, room to play with them, a kids' menu and very friendly staff. My little great-nephew had a marvellous time, while his new sister slept on blissfully through it all in her pram.
           The family currently running it are German, so the adults' menu offered interesting dishes from schnitzel and knodel to pancakes and apple strudel. Our two chaps went for pork belly, my niece and niece-in-law had burgers, and my sister and I both chose what was described as "Our Famous Scallop and Bacon Salad". And very good it was too - four kinds of fresh lettuce (no manky mesclun here), crispy bacon, and a generous helping of nicely cooked scallops, with toasted foccacia on the side. So good to find a family cafe serving food that's different and delicious.

For dessert, of course we had to have apple strudel - but mine came with something extra. Thanks to my sister and her family, I couldn't have had a nicer day.

Walnut Cottage
498 Hibiscus Coast Highway (turn down the long drive - the cottage is set in a garden and overlooks the bush and the river)
Open for breakfast, morning or afternoon tea, and lunch, 9.30 am - 4 pm, Weds-Mon (closed Tuesday). I think it's also open for dinner some nights - check. For larger groups, make a booking: phone 09 427 5570.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Snow means soup

Absolutely freezing here. Oh, all right, not technically freezing - certainly nothing below zero, as it was down south last month. (At Tara Hills, near Omarama in the Mackenzie Country, it was -21C on 24 June, the coldest day in the country for twenty years.) But a top temp of 7C (for five minutes in the early afternoon) is about as cold as it gets in Wellington. There was snow on my lawn this morning, and it stayed there till lunchtime.
       I have an automatic reaction to cold weather: soup.  I haven't come up with any stunning new recipes this winter, but I've gone happily back to some old favourites, and I thought it could be handy to collect them up. So: here are four I made (and posted) earlier!

Classic pea and ham
The welcome advent of neat packs of bacon bones in Countdown sent me home to make this.
Bacon bones are better than hocks, there's less fat and they have a better flavour.

Cheap, easy, lots of variations. This Turkish one is lovely: Bulkabagi Corbasi.

But straight pumpkin with curry powder or stock is fine too. If I'm too busy (or too lazy) to start from scratch, I cook up and puree a nice piece and add it to a good commercial pumpkin soup or, if I'm feeling poor, a cheap can... not as good, of course, but a lot better than no pumpkin soup at all.

Leek and potato
(or, if you prefer, Potage Parmentier)
Simplest of them all, extremely healthy (though not if you put the recommended butter and cream in, of course, but I generally don't).

Minestrone alla Karori
The "biggest" soup of them all - with bread, and maybe a bit of salami, definitely a whole meal in itself. So that's dinner sorted.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Lunch at United Kitchen

Camille is my Auckland friend of longest standing - we were at school together, and she features in the French chapter of my memoir. She's a sister gourmande, and she also has very knowledgable foodie friends.  So I asked her to find the restaurant for my belated birthday lunch on Friday with her and Rosemary (the finest private cook I know). United Kitchen in Anglesea St, Ponsonby, came warmly recommended, and when she phoned to book she struck gold. They just happened to be holding a special five-course lunch that day with Central Otago winemaker Akarua. Irresistible!
          We began with a glass of pale, elegant brut, followed by another (well, we did get there early and I did tell them it was my birthday - only Rosemary, as the driver, was admirably restrained). It went very well with the sweet potato tortellini with truffle mascarpone, crisp sage and beurre noisette. (Please forgive me, dear Akarua, for not photographing the wine as well as the food - you can see everything we drank here.)

Then thin slices of confit hapuka, red quinoa and citrus salad and watermelon radish, served with the very pretty rose brut.

Next came pork cheek and scallops (brilliant), heirloom carrots and apple salad, with the 2014 pinot gris.

And a perfect little beef cheek and mushroom pie, looking like a miniature pithivier, and smoked potato puree (I must find out how they did that), with the 2013 Bannockburn pinot noir.

Finally - sorry, I didn't get a good photo, you'll just have to imagine it - a pear and rhubarb crumble and pistachio icecream, with Alchemy ice wine.
           Everything was beautifully served by a handsome young man from Marseille (who even complimented me kindly on my French). Couldn't get much better, I thought - but it did. There was a draw for a magnum of Akarua Brut, and I won. There it is on the windowsill. No wonder we look so relaxed and contented.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In praise of lamb - and Julia

One advantage of having my son staying with me at the moment is the good excuse it gives me to have a roast, especially a leg of lamb. They were on special this week and I was having my neighbour round for her regular dinner. She's a real carnivore, and she suffers from that living-alone problem of not having proper roasts, so I knew she'd love it - and so would my son.
          Even on special they still seemed expensive. But when the long knobbly bone finally went into the trash on Tuesday, picked very clean indeed, I worked out exactly how many meals we'd had off that leg (which weighed 2.48 kg).
           Roast dinner for three, cold meat for two twice, rissoles for two twice, and a few lamb sammies for lunch as well. I'm particularly fond of slices of pink roast lamb made into sandwiches with nice soft white bread and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper.
          So the initial layout of $27 covered, let's say, 10 servings of dinner (allowing for the fact that I added a soup and some fritters to eke out the meat here and there) - that's $2.70 per person for meat. Not bad, eh.
          And very delicious it was too. The blog has the recipe I usually use for the roast itself and for those rissoles. But this time I decided to use Julia Child's basic recipe for roast leg of lamb, because I was short of time earlier in the day and didn't want to be bothered with the mustard coating in advance.

It was an interesting exercise. I was intrigued to see that she adds salt and pepper only at the end. This seemed odd, so I did sprinkle a bit over the top of mine just before putting it in the oven. I shoved a few slivers of garlic around the bone too. But of course Julia was originally using the famous French "pré-salé" lamb, which I used to think meant "presalted", but actually means "salt-meadow", the seaside meadows where the lambs graze, absorbing the taste of salt with their grass and herbs. Harvey and I had it once for lunch in Rouen, and it was superb.
            Her recipe is for a 6 pound leg, roughly 2.75 kg, but as I've often found it takes longer in the oven for a roast than she says, even though it's on fan-forced, I thought it would be safe to use the lower times she gives for my 2.48 kg leg (starting at room temperature).  But since you do initially sear it at 230C for 15 minutes, unlike the mustard-coating recipe, that obviously makes it cook quicker for the rest of the time at 180C. An hour was plenty - in fact I would have been happy to have it a little pinker (although I think my neighbour probably preferred the way it turned out, well towards medium rather than rare, though still nice and pink in its deeper recesses). I've left her timings in their original form for the larger leg, but if you're using it for a smaller one, check with a meat thermometer after it's been in the 180C oven for 45 minutes, rather than leaving it for an hour.

Roast leg of lamb - Gigot rôti
(From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1)

This is for a leg weighing 6 pounds, approximately 2.7 - 2.8 kg bone in.
Remove the lamb from the fridge an hour before cooking. Trim off as much fat and silverskin as possible, and wipe it dry with paper towels.

Preheat the oven to 230C. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of oil in a glass jug in the microwave, Brush the lamb all over with this mixture.
Place it on a rack in a roasting tin just large enough to fit it. Place the tin in the upper third of the preheated oven. For fan-forced, turn the heat down to 220C. After 5 minutes, turn it over and baste it again with the leftover butter and oil.
Repeat after another 5 minutes, and again after another 5 minutes. Leave the roast after the final turn with its fatty top side uppermost.
Take out the lamb and turn the heat down to 180C. Strew the roughly chopped pieces of 1 large carrot and 1 large onion and a few cloves of peeled garlic in the bottom of the pan. Set lamb in middle of oven and roast till done, with teh correct temperature showing on the meat thermometer. Basting is not necessary.

Cooking times:
Rare: 15 mins searing plus 45 mins to 1 hour at 180C. Juices run rosy red.
Medium: 15 mins searing plus 1 hour to 1 hour 15 mins at 180C. Juices run pale rose.
(Julia does not deign to give any timing for well done, that would be unthinkable.)

Season the lamb with 1 tsp salt and 1/4 ts pepper, and place it on a hot platter. Leave it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before carving slices across the grain. (You can wrap it loosely in foil and leave it for longer.)

To make the sauce: Remove the rack from the tin, and spoon out the cooking fat. Pour in a cup of stock (I use miso) and boil rapidly, scraping up the juices and scraps and mashing the vegetables into the stock. Taste for seasoning. Just before serving, strain into a hot sauceboat, pressing the juices out of the vegetables. Add any juices which may have escaped from the resting roast.
(Or simply discard the veges, add red wine to the pan and boil that with the scraped up juices and scraps and a dash of  soy sauce, taste, then strain.)

Be sure to serve the lamb on hot plates to stop the fat congealing.

I found this entertaining gem online: Julia Child visits 16 master chefs in their own kitchens.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The perfect potato cake

For this weekend I wanted a new potato recipe - something different to go with the salmon fillet I planned to cook for Sunday lunch. Gratin seemed a bit too rich and heavy, mashed potato a bit ordinary. Potato cakes or fritters would be nice, but tricky to make on time for six.
           So I started hunting through my cookbooks, beginning with Lois Daish's Dinner at Home and A Good Year. And straight away, I found exactly what I was looking for: Baked Grated Potato Cake.
"This Russian recipe makes a potato cake which is lighter than most, and is crisp on the outside and moist and tender inside."
            It looked quite easy, but as the lunch was for a special occasion and I didn't want to mess it up, I thought I'd better do a test run first. Of course I forgot to take its picture before we ate it (having a very tall, hungry son waiting for dinner to appear does tend to make me forget these things). So I waited to post this until I'd made it again for lunch today, doubling the original quantities.
            It turned out extremely well (thank goodness, because Lois herself was one of the guests). It was a bit too fiddly to make on the day itself, so I made it on Saturday and it warmed up very nicely for Sunday. It's a sort of giant latke, perfect for a tableful of people; but unlike many other grated potato cakes I've eaten and sometimes made, there's no risk of the potato being a bit undercooked.

Baked grated potato cake
From Lois Daish, Dinner at Home (1993)

2 Tbsp butter
1 medium-sized onion
750g potato (Agria work very well)
1/2 cup milk or cream (I used 1/4 cup of each)
2 eggs
salt and pepper
another 1 Tbsp butter

Butter a baking tin about 20 cm in diameter. Preheat the oven to 180C.
Finely chop the onion, melt the butter in a frying pan, and gently fry the onion for at least 10 minutes until it is golden brown.
While the onion is frying, peel the potatoes and grate them coarsely in a food processor or by hand.
Tip the potatoes into a large bowl and fill with cold water. Use your hands to swoosh the potato around and wash off excess starch. Drain the potato and wring dry in a cloth.
Rinse and dry the bowl, put the potato back into it and tip in the cooked onion and butter. Mix gently.
Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the potato mixture, together with the milk and/or cream. Season well with salt and pepper and mix gently.
Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold them in.
Pile the mixture into the buttered baking tin and dot the top with the remaining 1 Tbsp butter.
Bake at 180C for about 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the potatoes are tender.

This photo is of the double-quantity version, which would easily serve eight - the original serves four.

So what else did we have? We started with crepes filled with creamed mushrooms and bacon. With the grilled salmon and potato we had a cos lettuce and avocado salad with lime dressing. For dessert, what's probably my favourite cake: Claudia Roden's orange and almond dessert cake, with pureed NZ dried apricots and cream with saffron syrup.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Birthday drinks party food

My neighbour, distinguished historian Frances Porter, turned 90 recently, so I thought we should have a few drinks with friends to celebrate - especially as my birthday is coming up as well. So on Saturday Frances supplied the bubbly and cheese, and I made the rest of the party food (except for the birthday cake, which two of her longstanding friends had insisted on bringing).
        I'm not very good at nibbles - when Ruth Pretty's DomPost column is about elegant party food, my eyes tend to glaze over.  But this time I knew I needed to Make an Effort. I wanted to come up with a good variety of finger food that was easy to make, easy to eat and had distinctive flavours that were not too strong (Frances doesn't like chili, for example).
        So down to Moore Wilson's I went. If you were so minded, you could just cruise round the frozen food shelves in their big grocery section and collect various packets of ready-made morsels, from samosas to stuffed mushrooms. But as scores of end-of-day downtown events over the years have taught me, most of them are not really very nice to eat. And Frances would definitely not be impressed - as I explained in my memoir, she has a most discerning palate. On the other hand, I didn't want to make everything from scratch, and a few judiciously chosen short-cuts can be a big help.
        What I took home worked very well: frozen blinis, pumpernickel bread, and small filo tart cases, along with an on-special tub of pesto, small-party-sized packs of salami and smoked salmon pieces, sour cream, horse-radish, small tomatoes and mushrooms.
         The day before, I made the filo case fillings: creamed mushroom (Frances loves mushrooms) and egg with parsley and chives, with a recipe from one of Lois Daish's classics, A Good Year (see below).  On Saturday all I had to do, not long before the party,  was:
- lay out the cheese and crackers;
- lay out the pumpernickel and top it with pesto, salami and sliced tomato;
- defrost the blini, mix horseradish into the sour cream, and put neat blobs of it on them, topped with the salmon (I made more of these because they're so popular);
- fill half the filo cases with the warmed mushroom mix, and the rest with the egg mix (cold, but taken out of the fridge a bit earlier). This has to be done just before people arrive, so they don't go soggy.

Doesn't sound like much, but it did all take a while. I timed it quite well - I was just finishing the egg cases when Frances arrived.  It all tasted good, nearly everything got eaten - including the deliciously retro sultana birthday cake - and we all had a very good time.

Chopped egg filling with parsley and chives
Lois Daish's recipe puts this into little cheese pastry cases, rather than filo, and I will make those properly another time. Any leftover egg makes excellent sandwiches next day. This amount fills 12 pastry tart cases or 30 small filo cases.

3 eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
squeeze of lemon juice
1/2 (half) c cream
salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste
finely chopped parsley and chives

Put the hard-boiled eggs on a board and chop into little pieces. Put the cream in a bowl, add a squeeze of lemon juice and whisk briefly until it is still soft and floppy. Add the chopped eggs and season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Stir in the parsley and chives.
This will keep, covered, in the fridge overnight - just give it a good stir next day before using.

I forgot to take a photo of my filo cases, so these are the tarts from Lois's book. And I should have cut the pumpernickel in half again, to match the size of everything else. Next time...