Wednesday, October 15, 2014

By Grand Central Station I sat down and - ate oyster stew

I spent a good part of the morning touring Grand Central Station with a lovely guide who sounded exactly like Garrison Keillor (of Lake Wobegon fame). In the 1970s the owners wanted to pull it down. It took 10 years to fight them through the courts, but the city won and it's now a restored marvel.

After the tour there was only one thing to be done - I had to go to the Oyster Bar for lunch. I knew it was what Harvey would have done, only he would have had the raw oysters, whereas I got the oyster stew - really a creamy soup with a modest number of oysters in it, but perfectly delicious, especially with a slightly oily, fragrant glass of Californian sauvignon blanc. Harvey would have been proud of me.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Here's one I prepared earlier...

Almost famous! Well, for a few days anyway. I talked to Kathryn Ryan about The Colour of Food last week, and you can listen to it here - with recipes, including one from Albania.

Then on Thursday we had a launch for the print edition at Unity Books. For the first time in my life, I had a queue for book signing.

This coming Wednesday morning I'll be cooking and talking about my book (at the same time!!) on TVOne's Good Morning, at 9 am.

I've been told I have precisely seven minutes, which of course isn't enough time to finish cooking hardly anything. So at the end I'll get to do something I've always wanted to do - whip out the completed dish and say, "Here's one I prepared earlier!"

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Comfort in a bowl of soup

In August my son came for three weeks, on holiday from his teaching job in China. We roamed around Wellington hunting down the best cakes and coffee - in China he can find reasonably acceptable cake, but only in limited varieties, good coffee is extremely hard to come by, and almost never can he get the two together in one place.  And the winners are:
Best Muffin: blueberry and lemon muffin at Karaka Cafe on the waterfront lagoon
Best Lemon Tart:  tarte au citron at Bordeaux.
Best Chocolate Tart: Veronique's tart at Le Marche Francais.
Best Chocolate Cake (well, almost fudge): chocolate nemesis at the Aro Street Cafe.
Runner-up: gluten-free chocolate and orange fondant at Floriditas.
Best Other Kind of Cake We Came Across: tiramisu cake at California Garden Centre cafe in Miramar. (I should have photographed the cut slice to show the wondrous layers.)

When he left, I missed him terribly, and had to quickly set about providing myself with some kind of comfort food that wasn't yet more cake. The answer seemed to be pea and ham soup. Harvey loved it and used to make it quite often, but I don't think I've made it since he died.
         I had a nice little bacon hock in the freezer, so I fished it out and went in search of split peas. I wanted the yellow ones, but couldn't find them in any supermarket. I finally tracked them down at Moore Wilson, a couple of dollars for 500g, so not expensive at all - just another one of those old-fashioned staples that has vanished from most grocery shelves.      

The recipe I used is from my original New Zealand soup bible, Digby Law's Soup Cookbook. The only new thing I did was cook it in the slow cooker. You need to add enough water to cover the contents by about 1cm, and check it after a couple of hours to see if it needs more water - those peas absorb a lot of liquid. Otherwise, this couldn't be simpler or easier to make, and it's the most comforting comfort food you could wish for.

Old Fashioned Pea and Ham Soup
(adapted from Digby Law - I think it serves 8-10, rather than the 12 he suggests)
1 bacon knuckle (hock) or bacon bones
500g yellow split peas (Digby says green, but I prefer yellow)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 sprigs mint
1 or 2 bay leaves

Heat the slow cooker on high while you chop the onion and pick the herbs. (If you haven't got one, cook it in a very large pot over a simmer mat on the lowest heat possible after bringing the water to the boil..)
Put everything into the slow cooker and add enough water to come 1cm above the ingredients.
Cook on high for 2 hours. Check level of liquid and add more water if necessary.
Cook on high for another 2 hours or until peas are mushy. (Depending on your slow cooker, you may need to reduce the heat to low for part of this second stage.)
Remove bay leaves. Remove bacon bone/s and set aside. Let soup cool and check seasoning.
If you have a soup wand, use it to puree the peas and liquid, or just mash them up as much as you can. Remove meat from bacon bones, discard fat, shred bacon into small pieces and return to soup.
Heat the quantity you require and keep the rest in the fridge or freezer for later.

The soup will be beautifully thick and smooth, and Digby Law says to serve it piping hot garnished with mint and with lots of brown bread toast. When it cools, it gets so thick you can almost eat it in chunks (so you'll need to add more water when you reheat it). Left thick, it's a very ancient staple called pease porridge, as in the old children's clapping rhyme (first recorded in 1760):
Pease porridge hot
Pease porridge cold
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old
Some like it hot
Some like it cold
Some like it in the pot
Nine days old.
You could very well eat it cold and still enjoy it very much, but I'm not at all sure about nine days old. One day I'll leave a bit out that long and see what happens to it.

By the way - the print edition of my food memoir has arrived at Unity Books in Wellington, so it should be in other shops now or very soon.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A good gratin

This time last Saturday I was feeling nervous. A friend had been given, and had passed on to me, a beautiful piece of sirloin cut into thick steaks. (Actually I wasn't quite sure if they were indeed sirloin steaks, but I took them up to the legendary Gipps St Butcher to make sure.) I was charged with cooking them for him and his partner, two more friends, and me and my son (who is visiting from China).
           I don't deal with meat like this every day. I haven't even tried to take their photo - meat is notoriously hard to show looking good. But I did make a rather good potato gratin to go with them, plus a salad.
            Gratin takes a bit of trouble to make, but it's really good for dinner parties because all the fiddly stuff can be done well in advance. It cooks quietly in the oven and sits there obediently waiting until you've dealt with the steak and salad. It also looks very nice on the table.
             The classic is gratin dauphinois, made with milk, cream and sometimes Gruyere cheese. But I thought its humbler cousin, gratin savoyard, would be better with the steaks. It's made with stock, a little butter and, in my case, a little wine as well.
Gratin savoyard 
(adapted from Richard Ehrlich's recipe in The Lazy Cook)

500g Agria potatoes, preferably even in size, oval-shaped and small enough to go, peeled, through the feed-in tube of the food processor
2 large cloves garlic
250ml good chicken stock (I've taken to using Simon Gault's squeezable plastic sachets of concentrated stock, made up with hot water.)
100ml dry white wine
30g butter

Set oven to 180C.
Peel and crush the garlic. Peel the potatoes and feed them through the slicing disc of a food processor.
(If you haven't got a processor, and don't want to spend a long time trying to get even thin slices, cut them into roughly even chunks about 1cm square.)
Butter a large round or square ceramic oven dish. Spread an even layer of overlapping slices (or a layer of chunks) into the dish. Season very lightly with salt and pepper and scatter over tiny bits of garlic. Repeat until the potatoes and garlic have all been used up and the dish is close to full. It helps to select and keep back a layer of nice even slices for the top. Dot the top with small bits of butter.
Reduce the white wine by half in a small saucepan. Prepare the stock. Mix the two together, tasting to check that it's not too salty.
Pour enough liquid over the potatoes to come a little way up the sides. Reserve any left in case the potatoes start to dry out too much during cooking.
Put a layer of foil over the potatoes, dull side uppermost. Cook for 50 minutes. 
Remove the foil. Check dryness, adding a little more liquid if necessary.

Cook for another 10-20 minutes, until the top is turning a little brown and crisp, and a thin knife or skewer slides easily down through the potatoes to the bottom of the dish.

I turned the oven down to warm and put the gratin on the bottom shelf while I made the salad and prepared the steaks (taken out of the fridge and patted dry when I first put in the potatoes) with a brush of oil, and a light sprinkle of salt. Then I lined them up under the fan grill and cooked them just until they were no longer really soft, but definitely not really firm either. (Sirloin does need a little more cooking than fillet, I think.)
            We didn't need much else - well, just a little antipasto beforehand, with some cheese, a lemon tart and a few chocolates after, courtesy of my guests, not to mention some very fine wine from the steak provider... a Saturday night feast of food and friendship.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Shortlisted for labour history award!!

I just heard today from Awa Press that my memoir was short listed for the Bert Roth Award! The winner, also published by Awa, was Rebecca Macfie's superb book on Pike River. I was so thrilled to have made the shortlist. Here's what the judges said:

"Anne Else’s food memoir The Colour of Food ... explored women’s work. More personal than the rest of our nominees, this beautifully written e-book told Else’s life history through the meals she ate and the meals she prepared. Else describes significant changes in the work of home cooking as New Zealand food culture changed.  As Else was deeply involved in the New Zealand women’s liberation movement, her memoir also explores the politics of unpaid labour, and the monumental challenge women mounted to the status quo in the 1960s and 1970s.  Else demonstrates the importance of personal stories and individual lives."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Colour of Food goes into print!

Best-selling New Zealand “eriginal” food memoir heads for a print edition
From Awa Press

With the help of some mouth-watering recipes and sage advice from the Duchess of Windsor – “If you don’t take care you may serve an entire meal pinkish mauve, from lobster bisque to sherbet” – Anne Else’s memoir of her food-entwined life rocketed to five stars and the No. 1 spot on Amazon’s food memoirs’ bestseller list within a few weeks of its release as an ebook original,  and has stayed there for months. Its publisher, Awa Press, was so impressed it decided to release a print edition. 

The Colour of Food: A memoir of life, love and dinner is due for paperback release in September. Anne Else writes of her life from childhood to marriage, motherhood and now, in her 60s, forging a community of new friends through her food blog Something Else to Eat. Along the way there’s feminism, divorce and remarriage, finding her birth mother, and the heartbreaking loss of her 18-year-old son Patrick and of her husband, poet Harvey McQueen, who died on Christmas Day 2010.

These tales of love, joy and sadness are seasoned with memories of the food that has enriched her life – from “shin meat stew with plump fleshy pieces of kidney” in her childhood, to Harvey’s “venison and sour cherries in a sauce made with cream, Dijon mustard and the cook’s own home-made crab-apple jelly”, and the “salade composĂ©e with good blue cheese, a sliced apple or pear and Waikanae friends’ walnuts strewn over my own rocket” that she eats alone. 

Wellington cook and food writer Lois Daish is one of many who have heaped praise on Else’s memoir. “I love this enchanting book,” she says. “Anne Else’s poignant story shines a light on how food is intertwined with the joys and sorrows of everyday life.” 

Sprinkled with recipes from each era of Anne Else’s life, The Colour of Food is a story that lingers long after the final – printed! – page has been turned.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Scrumptious spicy chicken

I don't always save the recipe pages from the Listener, but I was really glad I saved the one from 24 May. Lauraine Jacobs was featuring a new book by UK-based, multi-award-winning food writer Diana Henry: A Change of Appetite: Where Health Meets Delicious. I have a small problem with that title - it does make it sound as if "healthy" and "delicious" don't normally meet, when surely they very often do. But But the recipes sound very good, and recently I made one of them for myself. It was so easy and tasty and realtively inexpensive that I made it again as the main course for a visiting friend last week.
         I did tweak it a little bit. Even though iI was cooking for two instead of four, I used the same amount of flavouring ingredients - naughty, I know, but there still wasn't a lot of sauce and I like spicy food. I left out the star anise, because I don't like aniseed flavour at all, but I've left it in the recipe because most people probably would like it.
         One of the few foods I dislike is cooked pumpkin, so I used kumara instead, and I thought that worked really well. For the two of us, I cooked four large chicken thighs and two large kumara. I didn't have any spring onions, so I cooked ordinary chopped onion with the garlic.
         If you are making it with pumpkin I suggest that you first chop it into large chunks and then microwave it for just long enough to soften the skin. This makes it much easier to peel. As you can see from the photo (which is the one from the Listener - once again I forgot to photograph mine!) - the pumpkin or kumara chunks should not be too large, so that they cook through in the same time as the chicken.

Chicken and pumpkin with soy and star anise
(Diana Henry, courtesy of Lauraine Jacobs in the Listener, 24 May 2014)
Serves 4.

1 Tbsp peanut oil
8 bone-in chicken thighs
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp soft dark brown sugar
1 red chilli, deseeded and shredded (I used chilli flakes)
2.5cm piece of ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
8 spring onions, trimmed and chopped on the diagonal
900g pumpkin or squash, cut into chunks, peeled and deseeded, or kumara, peeled and cut into chunks
3 strips of orange zest
1 star anise
2 Tbsp orange juice (i used a bit more, and less water)
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C (or 170 fan-forced).
Remove the chicken skin if you prefer (I used skinless).
Heat the oil in an oven-proof casserole dish or saute pan that can go in the oven (large enough to lie all the chicken in a single layer).
Brown the chicken on both sides. Don't try to turn the thighs until they are easy to move, as pulling will tear them. Take them out of the pan and set aside.
Pour the fat out of the pan into a cup. Mix the soy sauce, vinegar and fish sauce with the sugar and stir.
Put 1 Tbsp of the reserved fat back in the pan, heat it and add the chilli, ginger and garlic. Keep some of teh greener bits of spring onion back for garnish and add the rest to the pan.
Cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, until the garlic is golden, then add the soy sauce mixture. Return the chicken to the pan, with any juices that have seeped out, plus the pumpkin, orange zest, star anise, orange juice and 3-4 Tbsp of water.
Grind on some black pepper. Cover the dish and put in the hot oven for 40 minutes in total. After 15 minutes, turn the chicken pieces over. (It helps to turn the pumpkin or kumara over too.) Cover again and cook for another 15 minutes. Then uncover the dish and return to the oven to cook for another 10 minutes. (The sauce will reduce to a lovely stickiness. But keep an eye on it to make sure it isn't hardening.)
Scatter with the reserved pieces of green spring onion and serve. Accompany with brown rice, quinoa or wheat berries tossed with lots of chopped coriander leaves and lime juice.
Recommended wine match: Chardonnay.

At my age I don't need masses of carbohydrate, so I didn't add the rice - instead I made a shredded carrot and cabbage salad with a small amount of Asian flavoured dressing, using lime juice, fish sauce , soy sauce and a little sugar. If I'd had any coriander I would have used that too.
          I thought this was a really successful dish, not too strongly spiced, so you get the full flavour of the chicken and pumpkin/kumara, but spicy enough to have you licking your lips with huge appreciation. Thank you, Lauraine and Diana.