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.

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.