Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lois's lemony beef

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for a new idea for a slow-cooked beef casserole.  I had some cross-cut blade beef in the freezer, but I didn't want to make the basic recipe, nor did I want anything using tomato, such as my go-to Italian classic, stufato alla romana - I use canned tomatoes a lot, but this time I fancied something different.
            So I turned first to Lois Daish.  There was nothing quite right in Dinner at Home, so I tried A Good Year - I remember going to the launch with Harvey in 2005.  Sure enough, I found exactly what I was after: Slow-cooked Beef, Carrots, Garlic and Lemon. It sounded both easy and different. The other thing I really liked was that it didn't use any unusual ingredients - I had everything I needed to hand. Although Lois wrote it for slow cooking in the oven at a low temperature, I thought it would work just as well in a slow cooker, and it did.
              I've reproduced Lois's recipe here as she wrote it, with my added notes for using a slow cooker instead. She always seems to include useful instructions that teach me something, such as "Brown the meat on at least two sides" - in other words, you don't need to ensure every side of each chunk is browned. And her introduction to the book's section on "Slow Beef" explains why it's important to allow a stew to cool down for a few minutes before you serve it:
            "This is because as the stew cools the pieces of meat, which always dry out as they cook, start to soak up the gravy (something like a sponge that has been squeezed dry and then put back in the water). This explains why a second helping of stew often seems more succulent than the first. To make up for the heat lost while the meat relaxes, always serve stews on very hot plates."
              Her dish was such a success that I made it again the next week for my neighbour Frances.  The fresh, lemony flavour is unusual with beef, but it worked extremely well. I served it with broccoli and mashed potato one week, and a green salad and baked potato the next.

Slow-cooked beef, carrots, garlic and lemon
(Lois Daish, A Good Year, 2005)
Serves 4

 750g beef blade or cross-cut blade steak
6 medium carrots
2 tablespoons mild oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced
fresh thyme and parsley leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups beef stock, home-made, canned [or boxed] or packaged          
grated zest of 1 large lemon
juice of 2 lemons
a little water as needed

To finish
chopped parsley
grated zest of 1 lemon

[f you are using a slow cooker, turn it to high. If using the oven, set it to 140C.]

Carefully trim all fat and silverskin from the meat, but leave in place any seams of gristle, which will soften during cooking. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and cut into large chunks.
Peel carrots and cut into chunks of similar size to the pieces of meat.

Put a little oil into a frying pan [preferably cast iron rather than non-stick] and heat until very hot. Place the meat in the pan, being careful not to crowd the pieces - you'll probably need to brown it in 2 batches. Brown the meat on at least two sides and season with salt and pepper.

While the meat is browning [or later if, like me, you're not good at managing tow things cooking at once] chose an enamelled cast iron casserole dish [or deep non-stick pan] and add the butter, diced onion and garlic. Stir over a moderate heat until the onion is translucent, then add the herbs and flour. Stir until the flour starts to colour, then add the stock, lemon zest and juice. Add the browned meat and carrots.

Add a little water to the frying pan [the one you cooked the meat in], return it to the heat and scrape up any juices in the pan. Add this to the casserole. The liquid should almost cover the meat and carrots, so add a little more water if needed. [You need a little less water for the slow cooker.] Bring to the boil, then cover and put in a low oven, about 140C, for about 2 hours until very tender.
[For the slow cooker: after you bring it to the boil, transfer it carefully to the slow cooker. Cook for about 4 hours until very tender.]

Before serving, remove the casserole dish from the oven or turn off the heat.
{For the slow cooker, turn the cooker off 20 minutes before serving.]
Check seasoning and leave to rest for 10 minutes before sprinkling with parsley and lemon zest.

Dinner-time light is always a problem, so the photo isn't great (the mash was Agria, but it wasn't that yellow!). But I hope it gives you the general idea.







Sunday, July 24, 2016

Courgette and potato fritters

High time I posted something new here! To be perfectly honest, now that I'm feeding my son as well as myself, I do tend to take a few shortcuts (such as buying trays of marinated spicy chicken nibbles) instead of doing everything from scratch. On the other hand, the "eat more vegetables" plan is going quite well - and having him here certainly makes it easier to buy a bigger variety of veges for the fridge, because we get through them much more quickly.
         Last week he bought a few courgettes when it was his turn to cook, and there were two left. They're quite expensive now, so I wanted to make the most of them. I had some bacon, and enough red cabbage, celery and pepper left for one last salad (that cabbage has done us proud). Courgette fritters would be delicious, but I needed to make these two go further. So I decided to look for a recipe for courgette and potato fritters.
          A good one came up immediately on Kidspot. This is a great site - and not only for kids! It has straightforward, easy recipes which seem to work well. This recipe certainly did - though as usual, I did change it a little bit. I didn't want to include the corn kernels, so I used slightly less flour and milk. I also used white flour rather than wholemeal, and sunflower seed oil rather than olive (I do find the lighter oil is better for frying crisp little morsels such as fritters - though perhaps that's because I use a bit more than this recipe suggests!).
           My fritters were excellent. They cooked quickly, right through, no soggy bits or uncooked potato. I've given you the original ingredients so you can make your own decisions about how closely to stick to it. The mixture looks quite wet, but it doesn't need more flour.

Courgette and potato fritters
(Recipe created by Camilla Baker for Kidspot)
Makes 10 medium fritters or 12 smaller ones

2 medium potatoes, washed, skin on (red-skinned potatoes work well)
2 medium courgettes
1 small brown onion, finely diced
1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or tinned
1 cup wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp paprika (optional)
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tbs olive oil

Turn oven to low heat (or to Warm setting).
Grate potatoes (you can do this in the food processor), then squeeze out excess starch/moisture with your hands over the sink.
Grate courgettes and squeeze out excess moisture. You should end up with about 1 cup of grated courgette.
In a large mixing bowl mix grated potatoes and courgettes together. Mix in onion, corn, flour, baking powder and paprika.
Whisk egg and milk together in a jug. Add to other ingredients and stir to combine. Season to taste.
Heat oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Drop in spoonfuls of mixture. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden. Repeat with remaining mixture.
To keep all the fritters warm, place the cooked fritters on a tray lined with paper towel in the warm oven while you cook later batches.


 No, this is not our yummy fritters, bacon and salad dinner, We ate that. This is the two leftover fritters. The recipe says they freeze really well. Wrap individually in cling wrap. When you’re ready to eat them, preheat oven to 190°C, place on a tray and heat for approximately 10 minutes from frozen.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Variations on a fishy theme

A while ago I posted a recipe for Mediterranean fish bake (best to have a look at that before you go on reading this).  I said then that the recipe was only approximate, and that the key ingredients were the fish, potatoes, peppers and olives.
         I proved to myself this week that it was indeed very flexible, and that the olives can be changed for other things. The local New World, whose fish counter has recently taken a leap forward, had very nice-looking trevally, the same fish as I used last time, for only $16 a kg. I already had some Agria potatoes (which have been turning up loose at very good prices recently) and I also had some similarly cheap kumara (yellow - I don't like the orange ones, they remind me too much of pumpkin, which I can eat only in the form of soup or pumpkin pie). I had a tin of artichokes, too, and one of sweetcorn kernels, as well as some nice little orange peppers and the usual onions and garlic.
          So I set about creating the bake again, only with variations. This time I didn't even bother to slice the potatoes thinly. Instead I cut them, and a couple of kumara, into smallish chunks, about 2 cm square, sort of. Then I put them into a wide, shallow baking tin, mixed them with the oil, miso stock and white wine (see original recipe) and cooked them for 30 minutes at 200C. The original recipe says 200C turned down to 180C, but this time I wasn't going to cook them as long overall, because I'd managed to eliminate a couple of steps.
           While the potatoes and kumara were cooking, I microwaved the onion and sliced pepper (using the "fresh veges" button) and set them aside, then cut the thick trevally into chunks, sliced up a few artichokes and drained the corn kernels. For extra greens, I cut up some broccoli and got that ready to microwave separately.
            Once the potatoes and kumara were almost done, I strewed (I like that word, it has a fine Elizabethan ring to it) the cooked peppers and onions and corn, which I'd mixed into them, over the top, then added the artichokes and fish and a little more seasoning. The colours looked really good together - trevally is a lovely deep rose-pink.


Then I put it all back in the oven for about 10 minutes. That was enough to heat all the veges through and cook the fish. So it took rather less time and fewer steps than the original recipe. I deliberately made enough to do two nights - while I really do like cooking, it's still very nice to have a tasty one-dish meal that needs only gentle heating, and in this case microwaving a bit more broccoli.


As Rosemary, who gave me this recipe, says, it's really more of a method than a recipe. I'm sure I'll be able to come up with equally delicious new variations in future.
         By the way, there was a little bit left over from the second night. I had it fried up for breakfast, with a poached egg on top - potato, fish and egg, always a brilliant breakfast combo.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Veering towards vegetables

Several things have combined lately to give me a push towards vegetables. I have no intention of becoming vegetarian - I really like well-cooked meat.
          Although I've always been a townie, I was brought up on the great Kiwi tradition that no matter what form it took, animal protein was the star of the evening meal, and quite often of breakfast and lunch as well.  Harvey grew up on a sheep farm where they often did have meat for breakfast, dinner (meaning lunch) and tea (both in his home and mine, it was never called dinner). He used to tell the story of a visiting correspondence school teacher who announced that she was a vegetarian, completely disconcerting and baffling his mother, who had no idea what to give her for lunch.
          The wonderful Gallery of Regrettable Food captures the iconic status of meat in the 1950s perfectly in the caption to this remarkably unappetising photo, from the Better Homes and Gardens Meat Cookbook.


When decorating your meal, make sure to arrange the onions in the shape of Peter Lorre's face. It's steak a la Ugarte! Garnish with small, inedible onions.
WARNING! The carrots here are not to be eaten. Your manly meat-a-rifficness will diminish if you eat the carrots. Vegetables are for commies.
For years I haven't eaten nearly as much meat as my parents did. But lately I seem to keep reading and hearing perfectly sensible, non-vegetarian people urging me to eat less of it, for a whole host of good reasons. Various kinds of damage are done by large-scale meat production, especially based on grain, and these will get exponentially worse as the newly prosperous want to eat  more of it. While eating red meat is the easiest (and tastiest) way to get iron and essential B vitamins, we don't need to eat much of it to get enough. Then there's the constantly repeated injunction to eat more vegetables, for our health's sake. Michael Pollen nailed it: "Eat food. Not too much. Mainly Plants."
          And of course there's the cost of buying it.  If we routinely ate less meat, it should be possible to ensure that it's sustainably and humanely and yes, affordably produced - and we would appreciate it more.
          For some months now I've had my son living here. The years he spent in China have inclined him to enjoy veges much more than he used to. Both of us have to be a bit more careful not to over-eat, because we just don't need large amounts of food now.  A few years ago, suddenly noticing the inevitable results of a good deal of comfort eating (and drinking) after Harvey died, I managed to lose a considerable amount of weight (which hasn't come back). It dawned on me then that for the most part (and provided they aren't slathered in butter and/or sugar), fruits and veges are generally low-calorie - so you can eat a lot of them without fretting.
           Anyway, all of this has made me think about how to shift the way I think about dinner, veering away from the meat and towards the veges, so they become, at the very least, the co-stars. But it's not easy to make this change. There's the problem, too, of keeping a good range of veges on hand for your clever creations without half of them going off.
            I'd love to hear from other people who've tackled this problem and successfully managed to cut down their meat consumption without giving it up altogether, while still producing delicious dinners that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the surreal horror of the vegetables featuring on the Gallery of Regrettable Food. Here's the fearsome Jello Creation.





Sunday, May 22, 2016

A gift of passionfruit




Growing up in Auckland, I took passionfruit for granted. My parents always had a luxuriant vine. Not so in Wellington - last time I looked, they were $34.95 a kilo. But I have a very clever and generous friend with her own four vines. Last year they produced 800 fruit, and they're doing very well this year too.
      For my birthday last week, I made Harvey's favourite: passionfruit jelly. He had discovered the recipe in Lois Daish's A Good Year, and always made it for his birthday. In his last year he asked me to make it for him. I'd seen passionfruit in Moore Wilson a few weeks earlier, but it seemed too soon to buy them. By the time I went back, there weren't any, and I've always felt guilty about disappointing him. So making it this year was a kind of expiation. It's a beautifully delicate dessert which needs no adornment at all.

Passionfruit jelly

Adapted very slightly from Lois Daish. Serves 4.

8 ripe passionfruit
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon powered gelatine

- Halve the fruit and scoop out the pulp into a small saucepan. Add the sugar and water. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and the passionfruit pulp has loosened from the seeds.
- Remove from the heat and sprinkle on the gelatine. Stir well until the gelatine has dissolved.
- Put a fine sieve over a bowl or, preferably, a small Pyrex measuring jug. Strain the mixture through the sieve to catch the seeds and any tough membranes.
- Either measure the liquid or see what it measures in the jug. If needed, add water to make the quantity up to 2 cups.
- Pour into a small crystal serving bowl, or individual small (preferably glass) bowls or parfait glasses. Leave to set overnight in a cool place. (If you're a bit pressed for time, cool it then set it in the fridge with a bit of clingwrap over it, so that no other fridge flavours intrude on it. If you do it in the fridge, remove a little before serving so it won't be too cold.) It will be a little cloudy, but that doesn't matter at all.




Sunday, May 1, 2016

Roast sirloin and Yorkshire pudding

For months my neighbour Frances has been talking nostalgically about the roast sirloin of her childhood.  So last week I finally got organised to cook her one. We ordered it at the excellent Gipps St butcher, and she came with me to pay for it and check that it was what she wanted. 
       I'd never cooked a rolled sirloin roast before, and I don't think I'd ever eaten one. As I wrote in The Colour of Food, in my childhood roast beef always meant "a round of chewy beef [probably brisket] criss-crossed with wooden skewers and tied up with string". Only in recent years did we start having roast fillet.  So I was a bit nervous about cooking this magnificent beast, aged for 18 days.


I took advice from the butcher and the internet, where I found very useful instructions from a London restaurant, and adapted them. To make sure it tasted as much as possible like Frances's childhood roast, I used salt only and seared the meat in dripping.

Rolled roast sirloin
1. Take roast out of fridge at least 2 hours before cooking, so that it's at room temperature when it goes into the oven.
2. Pre-heat oven to 180C, fan cook.
3. Season well with garlic, thyme and salt. 
4. Get a roasting pan smoking hot.
5. Sear in hot pan [with a little dripping to keep it old-school] until coloured all over. (2-3 mins approx).
6. Place on oven tray in pre-heated oven. Turn oven down to 170C fan cook for desired time (see below).
7. Rest, uncovered, on a warm plate (not too hot to touch) for at least 20 mins before serving.

Timing
The timing is always the trickiest bit. I usually like my beef rarish or medium rare, but in this case, I knew Frances would prefer medium, and of course sirloin is different from fillet. 
        Our sirloin weighed 2.1 kg. My meat thermometer gives an internal temperature of 71C for medium beef. It took about an hour and three-quarters to go a little over that, but the meat was still spurting reddish blood when I took the thermometer out. So I consulted with Frances's daughter, who came to dinner along with two other neighbours, and we agreed that it needed a little longer. I gave it 5 minutes more and that did the trick - it was about 77C by then. 


It rested for half an hour, loosely covered in foil, while I made the Yorkshire puddings (recipe below). When I carved it (so easy with a rolled roast) it was exactly what I wanted: the inner slices a very pale pink, the outer ones perfect for Frances and others who preferred it medium. 


She got the outside end, of course - as you can see, it was quite crusty and brown. When she took her first bite she said "Oh joy!" So I knew I'd got it right. 


With it, courtesy of my other neighbours, we drank two bottles of beautiful 2008 Trinity Hill syrah which they'd given me a few years ago, and I'd kept for just such a worthy occasion.
         Frances really appreciated the Yorkshire pudding, too. My first husband came from Yorkshire and his mother Marion taught me to make it properly, but I hadn't done it for years. 
          Again, I found the perfect recipe, matching everything I remembered, on the internet - and I did use dripping. (Yes, I know it's bad for you, but once a year is not going to matter.) As this requires a high oven temperature, I made it at the end, after I took out the meat and veges (all very trad - potatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli).

Yorkshire puddings

4 large eggs (200 g)
150 g all-purpose flour (about 1 cup plus 2 teaspoons)
200 ml trim milk
2 g salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)
100 ml beef dripping, lard, shortening, or vegetable oil (about 1/2 cup)


1. Combine eggs, flour, milk, water, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk until a smooth batter is formed. Let batter rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Alternatively, for best results, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate batter overnight or for up to 3 days. Remove from refrigerator while you preheat the oven.



I made the batter the day before and put it into an empty soda bottle, allowing me to pour it easily into the muffin wells. It doesn't look like much, but it did 8 puddings and would have been enough for 9 or 10 less exuberant ones.

2. Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 450°F (230°C). Divide drippings (or other fat) evenly between two 8-inch cast iron or oven-safe non-stick skillets, two 6-well popover tins, one 12-well standard muffin tin, or one 24-well mini muffin tin. Preheat tins in the oven until the fat is smoking hot, about 10 minutes.  (This is the crucial bit that I remember Marion teaching me.)

3. Transfer the pans or tins to a heat-proof surface (such as an aluminum baking sheet on your stovetop), and divide the batter evenly between every well (or between the two pans if using pans). The wells should be filled between 1/2 and 3/4 of the way up (if using large pans, they should be filled about 1/4 of the way up). 
I used a 12-well muffin tin - this amount of batter makes about 9 or 10 puddings, but I overfilled my tins a bit and made 8.

4. Immediately return tin to oven. Bake until the Yorkshire puddings have just about quadrupled in volume, are deep brown all over, crisp to the touch, and sound hollow when tapped. Smaller ones will take about 15 minutes (popover or skillet-sized ones around 20-25 minutes).

4. Serve immediately. (It says you can cool them completely, transfer to a zipper-lock freezer bag, freeze for up to 3 months, and reheat in a hot toaster oven before serving, but I really dont see the point of doing that!)

Mine came out enormous and properly brown, but they did collapse more or less straight away (in the photo some have done that already) and were a little difficult to get out of the wells. It might have helped if I'd brushed the fat up the sides as well as putting it in the bottom. But it didn't matter - they were the Real Thing, especially when covered in dark brown gravy.



Saturday, March 26, 2016

Little cakes from Toledo for Easter

I first made these little lemony almond cakes, called marquesas or marquesitas, when we had our Spanish long lunch on 2 August last year. I promised to put up the recipe - but I didn't.
      Needing a dessert contribution for a long lunch in the Wairarapa tomorrow, I decided these would do nicely. In The Food of Spain, Claudia Roden includes them in her section on "Dulces de Convento - pastries and confectionery from the hidden world of cloistered nuns", and says they are "most typical of Sonseca in the province of Toledo, where they are made at Christmas time".
       But I thought they would also be perfect for Easter. I've made them in small cupcake cases and packed them neatly into egg cartons to carry with me tomorrow on the bus (to Upper Hutt, because of line repairs) and then the train.


Almond Cupcakes (Marquesas)
Adapted slightly from The Food of Spain, Claudia Roden

5 large eggs
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
200g caster sugar
50g cornflour
300g ground almonds
small paper cases to use in a baking tray with small cakecups
(or use medium cases in a medium-cup tray)
icing sugar for dusting

- Set the oven to 180C. (I used fan bake.)
- Separate the eggs. Put 2 egg whites into a medium-sized bowl; 1 white into a small bowl; and all 5 yolks into a large bowl. Set aside the remaining 2 whites for another use.
- With an electric beater, beat the 2 whites with 1/4 tsp lemon juice and 4 Tbspns of the sugar until stiff.
- Put the 1 egg white into the large bowl with the 5 yolks. Add the remaining sugar. Beat with the electric beater to make a pale cream.
- Beat in the grated lemon zest and the cornflour.
- Mix in the ground almonds thoroughly to make a thick paste.
(Roden says you can use a little water if it's too thick, but she didn't need to. I wanted a more lemony taste, so I mixed in 1 Tbsp of the remaining lemon juice at this point.)
- Gently fold in the egg whites.


- Using a teaspoon for the small cases, fill each case three-quarters full - or for higher cakes, to just below the case rim. (I think the height of each cake depends on the mixture and the oven as well as the size of the cases, so you may need to experiment.)
- Bake for approximately 9-10 minutes for the small cases.
They should colour only very slightly on top, but a thin knife or sewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. When they come out of the oven the cakes will be very soft when you press the top with your finger.
They will harden a little as they cool but will still be very soft and moist inside.
- Let them firm and cool a little in the tray after they come out of the oven. Dust them lightly with icing sugar and transfer them gently to a rack to cool.



Roden says this recipe makes 24-30 cakes, depending on the case size. I made 24 small cakes and 12 medium ones, following her instruction to fill the cases 3/4 full.  But to get the kind of well-risen, rounded top on each cake shown in her photo, I probably should have filled them up a bit more.
       I fancy a bit more lemon flavour, so I mixed together the leftover lemon juice, about a tablespoon of the leftover icing sugar and a splash of triple sec to make a light syrup that I can drizzle very sparingly on each cake tomorrow just before we eat them. I'll tell you how it goes.