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...

Friday, April 24, 2015

No-waste curry: Using up veges and doing good

A while ago I visited Kaibosh, the wonderful Wellington food rescue group. It collects various kinds of leftover food and redistributes it to organisations who can use it. Currently they have 24 donors, from Countdown to People's Coffee, and the food goes out to 27 groups, from Wellington Women's Refuge to Lower Hutt Food Bank.
          They're now inviting people to "Make a Meal in May to share with the people you care about, and raise funds for Kaibosh at the same time". Find out how here.
           The main kind of food they rescue (over 60% of their collection) is fruit and vegetables. These also feature strongly on a really useful site, Love Food Hate Waste, dedicated to helping us all cut down on food waste at home.
            So this week I thought I'd update a remarkably simple, healthy recipe that I posted back in 2012, because it's a terrific way to use up as many veges as possible in a very tasty way - and it would make a great dish to serve at a May Meal for Kaibosh.

Vegetable Curry
(adapted from Doris Ady's recipe in The Sultan's Kitchen - for the full story, go here.)

Basic vegebtables:
1 large firm fresh potato (any kind)
1 large brown onion
1 large red, yellow or green pepper
To these you can add pieces of kumara, pumpkin, parsnip, carrot, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, as well as peas and sweetcorn kernels - whatever you have on hand and want to use up.  If you increase the quantity of veges, increase the spices proportionately.

Peel the potatoes (and other root vegetables) and cut them into cubes about 1.5cm square. (no need to be exact - it's jsut a matter of keeping them all roughly the same size and making sure the pieces won't take too long to cook.)
Peel and thinly slice the onion.
Deseed and slice the pepper.
Cut veges such as cauli and broccoli into flowerets. (If you're feeling really anti-waste, peel the thick main stalk and cut it into chunks too.) Slice green beans thickly..

Spices and liquid:
1 mild red chili (use a hotter one, if you like it, or dried chili flakes instead)
1 cm length of a thick piece of fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1-2 tsps turmeric
(If you want a stronger curry flavour, you can add 1-2 tsps of a good brand of mild curry powder s well. Chefs would not approve, but too bad.)
1 tsp belacan or blachan (dried shrimp paste)
(You can buy this in Asian food shops. It smells very pungent, so once you've opened it, keep it firmly wrapped up in the fridge. It seems to stay perfectly okay to use for a long time, and gives the curry a totally distinctive flavour - but you don't need much! And it will still taste okay without this - or try a dash of fish sauce instead.)

2 cups of  chicken or vegetable stock (you can use stock cubes, but miso paste plus water is better, or proper stock)

Deseed and finely chop the chili (then wash your hands).
Finely mince together the peeled garlic and ginger (or use a food processor).
Put all the veges and all the spices into a deep saucepan. Add the stock - the liquid should almost cover the veges.
Bring to the boil, cover and simmer until the vegetables (especially the potatoes) are cooked but not disintegrating.

To finish:
1 small tin or half a larger tin of coconut cream
juice of 1 large lemon
finely chopped parsley

Add the coconut cream to dissolve in the curry, and reheat gently.
Add salt and lemon juice to taste. (I like quite a lot of juice. Lime juice is even better.)
Before serving, sprinkle with chopped parsley.

To go with this:
A big bowl of rice (basmati and brown rice are both good), and quartered hard-boiled eggs. If you like them, add some of the side dishes that make curry so good - chutneys, sambals, yoghurt or raita, lime pickle, poppadums or naan bread. 
         This is so easy to make, and with no fat and lots of veges, really healthy too. Like most curries, it's even better the next day. You can also turn any leftovers into a delicious soup.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pear and ginger upside-down cake - remembering Judith Hosking

I've always been very fond of upside-down cakes, ever since I was a young mother trying to find easy things (within my still very uncertain culinary grasp) that everyone would enjoy. I made two foolproof kinds: one with drained tinned Doris plum halves, and one with pineapple rings.
         In 1975 we had our only Christmas in London, and Chris's sister Judith, her husband Len and their three children came up from Hampshire to stay. It snowed, and we all went to the pantomime - Treasure Island, with Spike Milligan.
          To feed us all, I made a giant pineapple-ring upside-down cake. It went down very well, and there was enough left for the kids the next day. But when I first served it, I had covered it with whipped cream and cheerfully scattered hundreds and thousands over it. Overnight the colours ran, spreading a blotchy layer of assorted colours all over the cream, like some weird technicolour mould.  The children did eat it, but with much less enthusiasm. Dear Judith wasn't the least bit taken aback - she just laughed. She and Len were extremely kind to us while we were in Britain.
          I've been thinking about her because she died on 27 March, aged 82. I hadn't seen her for a long time, but then I managed to visit her when I was there in 2013, soon after Len died. I'm so pleased I did. This recipe is in memory of her. I made it for two friends' potluck birthday lunch on Easter Sunday.

Pear and ginger upside-down cake

2 c firmly packed soft brown sugar
250g butter, melted, cooled
600g fresh ripe pears, peeled, cored, cut into neat eighths or into 2cm slices
(If the pears are still too hard and not ready to eat, poach them briefly in light syrup before using.)
1 c golden syrup
2 large eggs
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, sifted
2 and 1/2 c plain flour, sifted
2 rounded tsps ground ginger, sifted
1 rounded tsp mixed spice, sifted
(The original recipe has normal flat teaspoonsful, but I do like it spicy.)
200g light sour cream

Preheat oven to 160°C. (If you have a fan, don't use it - use bake setting.) 
Lightly grease an oblong or large square cake pan. (My tin was just right - 34cm long, 24cm wide and 5cm deep.) Line base and sides with baking paper.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the brown sugar over paper on base of pan. Pour 1/3 cup of butter over sugar. Arrange pear eighths (rounded side down) or slices in a single layer over butter and sugar.
Place remaining butter in a large bowl. Whisk in syrup, eggs, soda, flour, ground ginger, mixed spice and remaining sugar. Stir in sour cream. 
Pour batter evenly over pears. Bake for 1 hour and see if a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. If not, leave in for another 10 minutes and check again.

Stand for 10 minutes. Place a large platter over the tin and turn the whole thing over, so that the cake comes out neatly with the fruit on top. 
To serve, cut into neat squares. Though it's not at all necessary - this is a very moist cake - a little whipped cream or yoghurt or creme fraiche is definitely good with it. 

Here's mine just before I carried it off. Like most of my baking, it was a bit woggly, but delicious all the same.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Easter pashka

I know it's now too late to make the traditional Russian treat of pashka for this Easter - I'll have to put up a reminder for next year.  But I have visitors, so while I managed to make it in time for us to eat it on Easter Sunday, writing it up earlier didn't happen.
        It's the most fabulously rich, decadent dessert, so you need only very small portions. I was indulging in nostalgia making it, because it was Harvey's Easter specialty. He found it in a rather odd recipe book put out by the Consumer's Institute of New Zealand in 1983 (he was on their board at the time). The Complete-Menu Dinner Party Book consists of three course menus, often with alternatives, from Britain's Good Food Guide restaurants, with comments "to help antipodean cooks".
         We used only a few recipes from it, but they were all good ones. The recipe for pashka was part of an Easter Feast menu from the Royal Exchange Theatre Restaurant in Manchester. I've given quantities to serve 6 people, but it's so rich that you may well find it goes further. In any case, it pays not to eat it all up at first serving, because leftover pashka is absolutely scrumptious for the next couple of days - but keep it in the fridge.

180 g full-fat cream cheese
90 g unsalted butter, softened but not melted
30 g sultanas (I used half sultanas and half dried cranberries)
20 ml vodka (I didn't have any, so I used gin - not very Russian, but it worked)
20g crushed, blanched almonds (I prefer walnuts or pecans)
1/2 tsp vanilla essence or vanilla paste
35 g caster sugar

For the custard:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp caster sugar
45 ml cream

glace fruit to decorate

* Soak the sultanas/cranberries in the vodka/gin for an hour. Find an earthenware plant pot with a hole in the bottom, or use a small colander, or put some holes in a plastic container. Line your chosen container with butter muslin, leaving enough draped over the sides to fold over on top later. (I used an old fine net food cover minus its ribs - it worked perfectly).

* In a food processor, combine the cream cheese, butter, soaked sultanas/cranberries, nuts, vanilla and first measure of caster sugar. Pulse to mix thoroughly.  Leave it in the processor.

* For the custard, in a small bowl, beat the egg yolk and sugar together until thick and pale. In a small saucepan, bring 30 ml of the cream to the boil over moderate heat. Pour it onto the egg and sugar, whisking constantly. Put the mixture back in the saucepan and bring almost to boiling point, stirring all the time. When the sauce begins to thicken adn small bubbles appear around the edge, remove it from the heat. Allow the custard to cool, but not set, then blend it into the cream cheese mixture in the processor. Add the remaining 15 ml of cream and combine.

* Spoon the mixture into the container, fold the overhanging muslin or net over the top, and put a heavy weight onto it. Stand teh container in a curved dish to catch any drainage. Leave it all in teh fridge for at least 24 hours. (I didn't actually get any draininge, the net sopped up the small amount of whey.)

* Unwrap the pashka and turn it into a serving dish - it should be fairly firm. The traditional shape is a pyramid, but a rounded shape is fine too. Decorate with glace fruit. Serve in small portions. Refrigerate any leftovers in a covered dish.

I didn't actually decorate mine, I forgot to get the glace fruit, but I rather like how the pashka tastes without it - it's less sweet. Using cranberries gives it a beautiful pale pink colour.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wild weather, wild food, wild words! 50 Shades of Nachos.

The weather bomb hit Eastbourne just before the Wild Food Challenge got under way on Saturday. I stepped off the bus into a river. Inside the Day's Bay Pavilion they were mopping up an instant flood.
      But none of this deterred hardy locals for a moment. They turned up in droves, to deliver their entries, cheer on friends and relations or just have a great time.
       The grand prize winner was Andrew (Roo) Wilkins with Escalier de Fruits de Mer (Seafood Staircase). For photos and more, look for Local Wild Food Challenge Eastbourne on Facebook.
        Here's one of my favourites: Peacock (wild, of course) in a Paua Kawa Tree. Paua balls for the peacock tail, and breast of peacock with kawakawa rub at the base. It tasted a bit like very good smoked chicken, and it won the Best Wing award.
          I had a remarkably easy job judging the Hemingway Award for the best story to go with an entry - one stood out immediately. The winner wants to "preserve the veil of mystery", but I do have permission to share the story with you.  It covers all the essentials - the ingredients, where they came from, how they were treated, why the combination worked - and it tells a remarkable tale...

50 Shades of Nachos
By an Eastbourne Entrant

The quest for success at the 2015 Wild Food Challenge started early.  Wairarapa crayfish were too wily for the pot, rabbits bounced away from the sling shot in Taupo.
       All the while the corn in the back yard grew, waiting for a partner to complete it.
       But then the corn changed.  The journey from corn to corn chip left it hardened both in form and spirit.  Plucked in the prime of its youth, it was boiled and sliced from the cob of its birth.  After being softened by the caustic kiss of boiling baking soda, cider vinegar was added till all the fizz from that relationship was gone.  Screaming for mercy, the corn is passed through a mincer, flattened and then fried, first shallow and then oh so deeply. 
         Is it any wonder the corn, now successful and presentable, yearns for control?  And who could complete it?
         The goat.  Nubile, succulent.  Innocent.  Charmed off its bones by 8 hours soaking in tepid chicken stock, the goat is teased apart until it’s not sure what way is up.  The goat, no longer a kid from the Wairarapa hills, is ready to learn but unsure of the ways of the world.
         The corn and the goat meet in the roomy ruby redness of a banging barbeque sauce.  Smoke deceives the senses into luring shackles of flavour.  To garnish, toasted rose petals, saucy tomatoes and cheese and avocado for lubrication.
          What says romance more than corn chips and wild goat? 
          50 shades of nachos.  It’s a singular taste.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Judging the Hemingway

If you have time to spare on Saturday 7 March and can't resist the lure of tasting a fascinating array of dishes using wild local ingredients, come along to the Local Wild Food Challenge at the Day's Bay Pavilion in Eastbourne, from 3 pm onwards.

Better still, put in an entry. Registration is easy - just send an email to: 
with your intent to enter. 
You can also register on the day at the event - entry forms will be provided at the venue.

I'll be there, but not as an entrant. This is my very first food-related stint as a judge! Only I'm not actually judging the food entries - that will be done by Steve Logan and other well-known experts.

I'll be judging the best cook's story about their dish, and presenting the winner with the Hemingway Award at the end of the day.

Every entrant is asked to write a piece which tells a brief story about their dish and the wild ingredient it features. It will be my job to read each story out loud to the other judges while each dish is being sampled.  Of course I do get to taste everything too, that's essential!

And after we've had our turn at tasting, the public gets to have theirs.  There will be wine, of course, and lots of other local food. Hope to see you there.

Strangely, I couldn't find a single picture of Hemingway cooking or eating, so this one will have to do.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Palest pink taramasalata

I've just noticed that this is my 200th post for Something Else to Eat. Not quite one a week since it began in early 2010, but close! And I'm very happy that it happens to feature Claudia Roden's Book of Middle Eastern Food - in my memoir, I write about how important this book was to me.

I meant to post this sooner, as promised last week, but life got away on me. I first had it in London at Jimmy the Greek's, the huge, cheap, delicious basement restaurant in Soho where we went after work on Fridays with other teachers from our Oxford Street language school. We spent our days teaching English to everyone from Afghans to Zaireois - and a lone Tongan, who made me feel homesick for Auckland. He had originally been taught by missionaries, who seemed to have left out all the verbs.

We came back at the end of 1976, and moved to Wellington in 1977.
In the Courtenay Place fish shops I found smoked roe, and started
making my own taramasalata from the recipe in Claudia Roden's
Book of Middle Eastern Food.  It's very simple, costs no more than a good commercial dip, and is one of my top favourite fishy things to eat.


3 thick slices of good white bread
Milk for soaking bread
100g smoked roe (tarama)
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice of 1-2 lemons
4 Tbsp olive oil

Remove crusts from bread and soak slices in a little milk.
Skin the lump of roe and whizz it in a food processor until smooth. (Or you can make it the traditional way, by pounding it with a pestle and mortar.)
Squeeze the bread dry and add the bread and the garlic to the roe, and whizz again until smooth. Gradually add lemon juice and olive oil, and a little more milk if required, tasting until you get the taste and texture you want.  The mixture will be smooth and pale pink, nothing like the hectic pink commercial kind.

Serve as a first course, or part of a spread of mixed Middle Eastern dips, salads, etc., with thin triangles of lightly toasted bread (Vogel's extra thin is good, and so is pita bread) or sesame crackers - but toast is better.  Black olives go well with this.