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:
info@localwildfoodchallenge.com 
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.





Taramasalata

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.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Real-life food

Oh dear, I see it's been a while since my last post. Put it down to the holidays. Well, I was away for a couple of weeks without wifi, so I couldn't post anything, could I.
         Of course I didn't stop eating, or cooking, for that matter. I always enjoy cooking in other people's kitchens, and making dinner (or at least dinner contributions) for my hosts.  So I made vegetable curry, neatly using things up - courgettes, kumara, half a red pepper.
         Another night we had watercress soup (replace the leeks in this recipe with chopped watercress) because I got a beautiful big bunch of watercress at the Taupo riverside market; and after the soup we had salad and perfect haloumi, from the Hohepa cheese stall.


One day we found smoked roe at the fish shop, and later on this week I'll post the extremely simple recipe for the taramasalata I made with it.
          What I really loved most of all is that while I was away, we managed to eat dinner outside almost every night - looking at this sort of thing:


So now I'm back to normal life (sigh), and I've decided that this year I'll record what I really have for dinner - see the list at the top on the right.
         Reading almost any food blog, including this one, you might get the impression that the authors never eat anything ordinary, let alone ready-made. But of course, for most of us that's completely wrong. I think it's important to be truthful about real-life food, and it will also be interesting to keep a record here of exactly what I'm eating every night. Warning: at times, content may disturb....

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Loafing around with leftover ham

Because I had a ham this year for the first time ever, even though I gave some away, I needed to think up interesting things to do with the leftovers (once the first little orgy of frying up pieces for breakfast and eating slices for light salad dinner had passed).
By New Year's Day there were only scraps left, so I decided to try making ham rissoles. (My family's rissole recipe is the most popular page on this blog.)
          First I ground up the ham in the processor - it came to about two and a half cups - and put it in  a big bowl. I had leftover kumara salad (with chili dressing) as well as four little boiled Jersey Benne potatoes, so I mashed all that together with an extra slug of Ruth Pretty's chili jam (made by Ali) and mixed it with the ham. I added some salt and pepper and a tablespoon of self-raising flour. Then I beat up two small eggs and stirred them in. 
          The mixture was a bit too wet, so I added a little more flour, mixing it in thoroughly.  It still seemed too damp to make successful rissoles. I could have added breadcrumbs, but if the mix has too much flour or breadcrumbs in it, the flavour goes.  So I decided to change tack and make a ham meatloaf instead. I figured it would be a bit healthier than individually fried rissoles.  (Like all enthusiastic eaters, I'd put on a bit of Christmas weight and really didn't need any more.)
           So I looked for ham loaf recipes online. It was the baking instructions I was after, rather than ingredients.  I liked the sound of one involving a pour-over liquid, so I adapted it a bit.

Baked ham loaf

Scraps of leftover ham, minced to provide at least 1 cup (for a small loaf) or up to 3 cups (larger loaf)
Cooked potato or kumara or both
Finely chopped small onion
(I had some cooked onion confit, so I used that)
Small amounts of any other veges you fancy including, e.g. cooked peas, finely chopped red pepper, sweet corn kernels
Breadcrumbs (if needed)
Flavouring - chili sauce or jam is good, but you could also use herbs/worcester sauce/mild mustard/a bit of chutney - just don't let it get too salty.
Self-raising flour
Salt and pepper (check again for saltiness before adding)
1-2 eggs (depending on quantities)

See above and also the rissole recipe for general instructions - the quantity of ham you have determines how much of the other ingredients you need - but make the mixture a little wetter than you would for rissoles.

Set oven to 180C.
Line loaf tin with baking paper.
Fill tin with loaf mixture.
Turn oven down to 170C.
Bake loaf for 30 minutes.

While loaf is baking, make pour-over liquid.
(This amount is for a loaf with 2-3 cups of minced ham.)

½ c brown sugar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp vinegar (preferably sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar)
2-3 Tbsps lemon juice or lime juice
¼ c water (or leftover white or red wine - this recipe is all about leftovers)

Put all ingredients into a small saucepan, bring to boil, stirring, and cook gently for 10 minutes. Pour a little into a small dish, cool it carefully, taste for flavour balance and adjust as you wish. 
When loaf has baked for 30 minutes, take it out of oven and carefully pour over enough sauce to coat the top and come a little way up the sides. Don't drown it or overflow the paper.
Return loaf to oven and bake for about another 30-40 minutes, until a thin knife or skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean and the loaf is becoming firm to the touch. The glaze will be shiny and lightly browned on top and around the sides. 
Cool a little before turning out onto a rack in its paper, then carefully remove the paper when it's cool enough to handle.


Serve warm in slices, with chutney or relish, salad, and, if needed, bread and butter.
This keeps very well and is delicious for lunch next day - but if there are more than one or two of you, there won't be any left.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Hamming it up

Nine of us for early dinner this year, and a new approach (for me): a move away from Harvey's beloved roast dinner, and I didn't make a Christmas pudding.  Instead we had a half-ham from Cameron Harrison in Kelburn (their ham won best in New Zealand this year).
         My smartest move was at the butcher's the day before - they weren't busy when I got there, so I asked them to skin and score it for me. What would have taken me half an hour and lots of swearing took them two minutes.  I took lots of advice about glazing and warming the ham (it's already cooked, of course), and settled for a simple but delicious glaze of quince jelly (made by friends) with a dash of Dijon mustard. Not very good photos though - blame it on the champagne...




With it there were boiled Jersey Benne potatoes, roast kumara with chili dressing, and a trio of vegetable salads, which were partly trad and partly invented: a green one, a ruby one, and a red, orange and yellow one.

The green one had to be made mostly on the day: ribboned courgettes and spring onions (from the Hill St market) with chunks of avocado, lightly cooked skinny asparagus, finely chopped mint, and a sharp lemon and avocado oil dressing. The courgettes and mint went into the dressing a couple of hours before serving, and the rest was added just before we sat down.  The pretty lettuce serving as a frilly surround is my Drunken Woman Fringed Head.


For the ruby one, inspired by my neighbour, I roasted very small whole tinned beetroot, drained and cut in half if they were a bit bigger, with lemon zest, finely chopped garlic, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, first wrapping them in foil lined with baking paper, and cooking for 30-40 minutes at 180C. (Of course you could make this with fresh beetroot, but it would take much longer and it's hard to get very small ones.  Roasting the tinned ones this way changes their flavour.)
         On the day, I combined finely chopped red onion (soaked briefly in salted warm water to make it milder) with finely sliced radishes. I added the beetroot just before serving, with a dressing made of good olive oil and a superb blackcurrant and balsamic reduction, sent for Christmas by my sister. Then I mixed in pomegranate seeds - such beautiful, ancient things, and I hadn't used them since I lived in Albania. I topped it off with a scattering of borage flowers offered by two of my guests.



The last salad was based on the recipe for "Insalata di peperoni arrostiti" in Antonio Carluccio's Invitation to Italian Cooking. He says it "improves with standing, and is excellent eaten the next day", so I could make it on the 24th.

Roasted pepper salad
4 fleshy yellow and red peppers (I added an orange one too, and slightly increased the dressing quantities)

Halve or third the peppers, removing the seeds and white inside bits,  and grill them skin side up, spread out on a grill pan, or skin side down on a barbecue if you're having one, until the skins go wrinkly and blacken in places.  (You can also blister them individually over a gas flame, but this mass cooking is much faster - only they do need careful checking to make sure they aren't getting too charred, and you'll need to move them around a bit to get even coverage.)

Put the peppers into a plaastic bag or bags, twist the neck, and leave till cool. Then peel or scrape off the skins with a sharp knife. Slice the peppers into thin strips (no more than 1cm wide).

2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3 Tbs good virgin olive oil
1 Tbs parsley, coarsely chopped
salt

Place the pepper strips in a serving dish and toss with the garlic. Dress with the oil, parsley and salt.
Leave until needed (preferably overnight). Check seasoning before serving.


I wanted to get tomatoes in somewhere, so I added halved baby oval tomatoes at the last minute.
Two of these salads, and the kumara, were slightly sweet or sweet/sour, and the green one had lovely fresh flavours. They were all very good with the ham.
         The other four courses - starters, cheese, dessert, afters - were supplied by my guests. The black forest trifle had to have its photo taken before the spoons went in.



Sunday, December 7, 2014

Lemon and almond tart




Lois Daish once wrote in a Listener column that when she was running her Brooklyn restaurant, a dessert called a tart was chosen much more often than an identical one called a pie. Somehow pie sounds stodgier, whereas tart sounds lighter and, well, more tart - especially in the case of fruit tarts.
       Needing to take a dessert for a group lunch with our beloved friends visiting from Arizona (that's some of us in the photo), I thought a lemon tart would be a good choice, especially as I now have MY OWN LEMONS.


So I turned to Julia Child. Surprisingly, she doesn't give a recipe for the classic kind of French lemon tart, with its smooth creamy filling. (I have another recipe by Joel Robuchon which produces a magnificent result, but it is very time-consuming.) Instead she offers a somewhat more substantial tart made with lemon and ground almonds, which looks remarkably easy - and it is.
          I've changed the measures to metric where necessary - it's so annoying that the new edition of her book didn't include these as well as the old ones! I've broken up the recipe the way she does, with each set of ingredients, then the instructions for them (though hers sit alongside each other). I've always found this a really helpful way to read a recipe - but you do need to go through all the ingredients first to make sure you've got them. And for the very first time, I found a mistake in Julia's recipe - see below.

Tarte au citron et aux amandes
(from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1)

A precooked sweet pastry shell, made in a tin 23cm across and about 2cm deep
 (If I have plenty of time I make the pastry myself, if not I use bought sweet pastry. Don't let it get too brown when you precook it, as it has to cook again with the filling.)

3 lemons (She never says what size, so I assume medium - that seems to work)
a lemon zester which produces long thin strips, rather than finely grated zest

Take off the yellow skins of the lemons to produce strips. Simmer 10-12 mins in water and drain thoroughly.

(She doesn't say so, but it pays at this point to halve the skinned lemons, put them in a microwave proof bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Squeeze the juice from the lemons, straining it into a small bowl, and set aside. Briefly microwaving lemons makes it far easier to extract the maximum juice from them.)

2 cups granulated white sugar
2/3 cup of water
1 tsp vanilla extract
A small saucepan

Boil the sugar and water to the thread stage (110C). Add the drained lemon peel and vanilla and let it stand for 30 minutes.
(I don't have a candy thermometer and have never quite known how to get to the thread stage. So I just boiled it for a few minutes, stirring, until it formed a syrup, then took it off the heat and put in the lemon skin and vanilla. This seems to work perfectly well.)

Preheat oven to 160C (or use fan bake set to 150C).

2 eggs (again, she never mentions size - size 7 is fine.)
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
large mixing bowl

Beat the eggs and sugar with an electric beater for 4-5 minutes until mixture is thick, pale yellow, and falls back on itself forming a slowly dissolving ribbon. (Isn't that beautiful?)

1 more large or 2 smaller lemon/s
(I have added this as a separate stage)
Zest the skin of the lemon/s, this time producing finely grated rind, and put it in a small bowl.

1 and 1/4 cups (113 grams) ground almonds
This is where the rare mistake came in. Julia says "1/4 cup (4 ounces)". I knew that 4 ounces was much more than 1/4 cup, and assumed the actual measurement was the correct one. I weighed out the ground almonds, then put this into cups. Neatly pushed down slightly, it comes to 1 and 1/4 cups, so that must be what she meant here. But best to weigh it - it needn't be exactly 113 grams.
1/4 tsp almond extract

Beat the almonds, almond extract, finely zested lemon rind, and half the lemon juice from the first 3 lemons into the egg and sugar mixture. Taste it and add a little more juice if you want it slightly sharper. (That's me, not Julia, but it works.)

Pour this lemon and almond cream into the cooked pastry shell. Bake in the middle of the preheated oven for about 25 minutes (it may take a little longer, but check it carefully.) Tart is done when cream has puffed, browned very lightly, and a thin skewer poked into the middle comes out clean. Slide tart onto large rack to cool. (Or if it's still in the tin, as mine was, stand the tin on a rack.)

Drain the strips of lemon peel from the sugar syrup and strew them over the tart.
(I love that word "strew" - it sounds so carefree - but usually it means "very carefully distribute so they'll be more or less evenly spread.")

Julia then says to "boil the syrup down until it is a glaze (last drops are sticky when they fall from a spoon) and spoon a thin coating over the top of the tart." But I thought this would make it too sweet, so instead I kept the syrup to use with other fruit later.


As I had to transport the tart, I left the shell in the tin I had baked it in, filled it and baked it again, then took the whole thing with me. I did try to take it out of the tin, but stopped because this was making the filling shrink back a bit from the sides, which were in any case a little too brown. So I took care of all that by putting a ring of whipped cream round the top once I got there - it needs whipped cream with it anyway. And I didn't use as much lemon rind as she specifies, since the lemons had marked skins. I cunningly used the strips I had to hide the cracked bit in the middle, caused by baking it for a little too long and poking it too enthusiastically to test it.
       But apart from these real-life imperfections, it tasted really, really good, and I think it was better because it was still a little warm when we ate it - Julia does say you can serve it warm rather than cold, and I always prefer that with any kind of pastry. I'll be making this again.