Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Lunch at United Kitchen

Camille is my Auckland friend of longest standing - we were at school together, and she features in the French chapter of my memoir. She's a sister gourmande, and she also has very knowledgable foodie friends.  So I asked her to find the restaurant for my belated birthday lunch on Friday with her and Rosemary (the finest private cook I know). United Kitchen in Anglesea St, Ponsonby, came warmly recommended, and when she phoned to book she struck gold. They just happened to be holding a special five-course lunch that day with Central Otago winemaker Akarua. Irresistible!
          We began with a glass of pale, elegant brut, followed by another (well, we did get there early and I did tell them it was my birthday - only Rosemary, as the driver, was admirably restrained). It went very well with the sweet potato tortellini with truffle mascarpone, crisp sage and beurre noisette. (Please forgive me, dear Akarua, for not photographing the wine as well as the food - you can see everything we drank here.)

Then thin slices of confit hapuka, red quinoa and citrus salad and watermelon radish, served with the very pretty rose brut.

Next came pork cheek and scallops (brilliant), heirloom carrots and apple salad, with the 2014 pinot gris.

And a perfect little beef cheek and mushroom pie, looking like a miniature pithivier, and smoked potato puree (I must find out how they did that), with the 2013 Bannockburn pinot noir.

Finally - sorry, I didn't get a good photo, you'll just have to imagine it - a pear and rhubarb crumble and pistachio icecream, with Alchemy ice wine.
           Everything was beautifully served by a handsome young man from Marseille (who even complimented me kindly on my French). Couldn't get much better, I thought - but it did. There was a draw for a magnum of Akarua Brut, and I won. There it is on the windowsill. No wonder we look so relaxed and contented.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In praise of lamb - and Julia

One advantage of having my son staying with me at the moment is the good excuse it gives me to have a roast, especially a leg of lamb. They were on special this week and I was having my neighbour round for her regular dinner. She's a real carnivore, and she suffers from that living-alone problem of not having proper roasts, so I knew she'd love it - and so would my son.
          Even on special they still seemed expensive. But when the long knobbly bone finally went into the trash on Tuesday, picked very clean indeed, I worked out exactly how many meals we'd had off that leg (which weighed 2.48 kg).
           Roast dinner for three, cold meat for two twice, rissoles for two twice, and a few lamb sammies for lunch as well. I'm particularly fond of slices of pink roast lamb made into sandwiches with nice soft white bread and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper.
          So the initial layout of $27 covered, let's say, 10 servings of dinner (allowing for the fact that I added a soup and some fritters to eke out the meat here and there) - that's $2.70 per person for meat. Not bad, eh.
          And very delicious it was too. The blog has the recipe I usually use for the roast itself and for those rissoles. But this time I decided to use Julia Child's basic recipe for roast leg of lamb, because I was short of time earlier in the day and didn't want to be bothered with the mustard coating in advance.

It was an interesting exercise. I was intrigued to see that she adds salt and pepper only at the end. This seemed odd, so I did sprinkle a bit over the top of mine just before putting it in the oven. I shoved a few slivers of garlic around the bone too. But of course Julia was originally using the famous French "pré-salé" lamb, which I used to think meant "presalted", but actually means "salt-meadow", the seaside meadows where the lambs graze, absorbing the taste of salt with their grass and herbs. Harvey and I had it once for lunch in Rouen, and it was superb.
            Her recipe is for a 6 pound leg, roughly 2.75 kg, but as I've often found it takes longer in the oven for a roast than she says, even though it's on fan-forced, I thought it would be safe to use the lower times she gives for my 2.48 kg leg (starting at room temperature).  But since you do initially sear it at 230C for 15 minutes, unlike the mustard-coating recipe, that obviously makes it cook quicker for the rest of the time at 180C. An hour was plenty - in fact I would have been happy to have it a little pinker (although I think my neighbour probably preferred the way it turned out, well towards medium rather than rare, though still nice and pink in its deeper recesses). I've left her timings in their original form for the larger leg, but if you're using it for a smaller one, check with a meat thermometer after it's been in the 180C oven for 45 minutes, rather than leaving it for an hour.

Roast leg of lamb - Gigot rôti
(From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1)

This is for a leg weighing 6 pounds, approximately 2-7 - 2.8 kg bone in.
Remove the lamb from the fridge an hour before cooking. Trim off as much fat and silverskin as possible, and wipe it dry with paper towels.

Preheat the oven to 230C. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of oil in a glass jug in the microwave, Brush the lamb all over with this mixture.
Place it on a rack in a roasting tin just large enough to fit it. Place the tin in the upper third of the preheated oven. For fan-forced, turn the heat down to 220C. After 5 minutes, turn it over and baste it again with the leftover butter and oil.
Repeat after another 5 minutes, and again after another 5 minutes. Leave the roast after the final turn with its fatty top side uppermost.
Take out the lamb and turn the heat down to 180C. Strew the roughly chopped pieces of 1 large carrot and 1 large onion and a few cloves of peeled garlic in the bottom of the pan. Set lamb in middle of oven and roast till done, with teh correct temperature showing on the meat thermometer. Basting is not necessary.

Cooking times:
Rare: 15 mins searing plus 45 mins to 1 hour at 180C. Juices run rosy red.
Medium: 15 mins searing plus 1 hour to 1 hour 15 mins at 180C. Juices run pale rose.
(Julia does not deign to give any timing for well done, that would be unthinkable.)

Season the lamb with 1 tsp salt and 1/4 ts pepper, and place it on a hot platter. Leave it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before carving slices across the grain. (You can wrap it loosely in foil and leave it for longer.)

To make the sauce: Remove the rack from the tin, and spoon out the cooking fat. Pour in a cup of stock (I use miso) and boil rapidly, scraping up the juices and scraps and mashing the vegetables into the stock. Taste for seasoning. Just before serving, strain into a hot sauceboat, pressing the juices out of the vegetables. Add any juices which may have escaped from the resting roast.
(Or simply discard the veges, add red wine to the pan and boil that with the scraped up juices and scraps and a dash of  soy sauce, taste, then strain.)

Be sure to serve the lamb on hot plates to stop the fat congealing.

I found this entertaining gem online: Julia Child visits 16 master chefs in their own kitchens.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The perfect potato cake

For this weekend I wanted a new potato recipe - something different to go with the salmon fillet I planned to cook for Sunday lunch. Gratin seemed a bit too rich and heavy, mashed potato a bit ordinary. Potato cakes or fritters would be nice, but tricky to make on time for six.
           So I started hunting through my cookbooks, beginning with Lois Daish's Dinner at Home and A Good Year. And straight away, I found exactly what I was looking for: Baked Grated Potato Cake.
"This Russian recipe makes a potato cake which is lighter than most, and is crisp on the outside and moist and tender inside."
            It looked quite easy, but as the lunch was for a special occasion and I didn't want to mess it up, I thought I'd better do a test run first. Of course I forgot to take its picture before we ate it (having a very tall, hungry son waiting for dinner to appear does tend to make me forget these things). So I waited to post this until I'd made it again for lunch today, doubling the original quantities.
            It turned out extremely well (thank goodness, because Lois herself was one of the guests). It was a bit too fiddly to make on the day itself, so I made it on Saturday and it warmed up very nicely for Sunday. It's a sort of giant latke, perfect for a tableful of people; but unlike many other grated potato cakes I've eaten and sometimes made, there's no risk of the potato being a bit undercooked.

Baked grated potato cake
From Lois Daish, Dinner at Home (1993)

2 Tbsp butter
1 medium-sized onion
750g potato (Agria work very well)
1/2 cup milk or cream (I used 1/4 cup of each)
2 eggs
salt and pepper
another 1 Tbsp butter

Butter a baking tin about 20 cm in diameter. Preheat the oven to 180C.
Finely chop the onion, melt the butter in a frying pan, and gently fry the onion for at least 10 minutes until it is golden brown.
While the onion is frying, peel the potatoes and grate them coarsely in a food processor or by hand.
Tip the potatoes into a large bowl and fill with cold water. Use your hands to swoosh the potato around and wash off excess starch. Drain the potato and wring dry in a cloth.
Rinse and dry the bowl, put the potato back into it and tip in the cooked onion and butter. Mix gently.
Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the potato mixture, together with the milk and/or cream. Season well with salt and pepper and mix gently.
Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold them in.
Pile the mixture into the buttered baking tin and dot the top with the remaining 1 Tbsp butter.
Bake at 180C for about 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the potatoes are tender.

This photo is of the double-quantity version, which would easily serve eight - the original serves four.

So what else did we have? We started with crepes filled with creamed mushrooms and bacon. With the grilled salmon and potato we had a cos lettuce and avocado salad with lime dressing. For dessert, what's probably my favourite cake: Claudia Roden's orange and almond dessert cake, with pureed NZ dried apricots and cream with saffron syrup.

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.