Sunday, October 28, 2012

Christmas pudding time - soon

This is the third new post I've put up this weekend - but there won't be one this coming week, as I have visitors. Yesterday I set out to collect the ingredients for the Christmas pudding, meaning to mix it that afternoon and cook it today, but - no luck. These days the Shreddo suet doesn't appear on the supermarket shelves until a little before Christmas, and I was too early - they told me it would be arriving next week, and I won't have time to make it until the week after. (I guess I could go to the butcher, buy a lump of suet, and grate and flour it myself - but I won't.) They had no whole nutmegs, either. But I remembered that readers had asked for a Christmas Pudding Advisory when the time to make it came round again - so here it is. Here's the post with the recipe.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

For more on my food memoir - see the Listener

Thanks, Lucy, for your Meetup message to Wellington food bloggers about me being in the Listener. The lead feature is about e-book publishing and it starts with a look at my food memoir, which Awa Press is bringing out as its first original e-book next March.

The cute photo they used of me aged four was hand-coloured by my mother - she would have been thrilled to see it in a magazine.

A fine rump

When it came to steak, my father would eat nothng but rump. I didn't know any other kind existed until well after I got married.
           Musing over the meat counter last week, and feeling in need of something really red, I came across a neat little cylinder of rump, secured with butcher's netting, and thought it would be interesting to find out how to cook it. I started by chopping a hunk off one end and fan-grilling it for my dinner. It was good, not as tender as fillet of course, but with more flavour - and much cheaper. There was enough left from that piece to have it sliced the next night.
            Thinking the rest would do nicely for a baby roast to serve my neighbour, I went to the web to find out how to cook it. It always works best to look at New Zealand recipes first, especially for meat. This time I found a great site, My Butcher - they sell meat online and also post some good-looking recipes. The main thing about this recipe was that it was for a fairly small piece of meat. Mine was only about half the stated size, but I thought it would still work well - and it did.
             In the process I found out something interesting about butcher's netting. I always thought you were meant to take it off before you cooked the meat, but in this recipe you quite clearly leave it on. So I did what I was told, and it worked fine.

Herbed rump roast
  • Rump roast, approx. 1 - 1.5 kg 
  • Small bunch fresh rosemary
  • ¼ cup light olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 200°C. Put a few whole rosemary sprigs to the side and coarsely chop the remaining rosemary. Place the chopped rosemary, oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well. Massage this mixture over the beef. Thread the reserved whole sprigs of rosemary between butcher’s netting and the beef.

 Heat a fry pan over high temperature and place the rump in the pan to sear all sides to a golden brown.
Once it's browned nicely, place the beef on a rack in a roasting dish and place in the oven.

Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes for medium or until your preferred level of doneness is reached.
My roast was only about 750g, but that was fine - I just used a little bit less of everything to go on it, except for the garlic, and of course cooked it for less time, about 40 minutes on fan forced at 190C, to get it just on the rare side of medium.

Remove from the roasting dish, place on a plate and cover lightly with foil to rest for 10-15 minutes.  (I leave it for longer than this, up to 30 minutes. I reduced red wine in the roasting pan, scraping up the meat juices - only a little, because of the searing - and bits on the bottom to make a rich brown sauce - it sounds wrong to call it gravy, because that conjures up the much thicker kind my mother used to make.)

Before carving, remove the rosemary sprigs and netting from the roast. Using a sharp knife, slice across the grain.
Once the netting comes off the meat doesn't stay in a very neat roll when it's cut, so it was easier (and tasted better) to cut thicker slices than I would use for fillet. We had this with roast potatoes and kumara, and sliced leeks cooked with butter and lemon juice. We don't have roasts very often these days, so it was a treat for both of us. But I didn't even try to take a dinner plate photo - I didn't want it all to get cold, and by then I was too hungry. Harvey would definitely have approved. We both ate our fill, but there was enough left over for another dinner and a lunch for me - so that little roast provided more than five servings.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The remains of the day

A sudden rush of work (unpaid, but absorbing) has sliced into my shopping, cooking and eating time this week. I've been reduced to coming downstairs from the computer at least an hour later than usual, peering hopefully into the fridge and pantry, and seeing what I can concoct from the remains of the day, the day before, and several days before that.  The best thing I ate this week was made entirely from what Harvey and I used to call nourishing scraps - we once read an ironic account of a grande dame kindly going round the cottages on her estate with "a basket of nourishing scraps". It was a really good Caesar salad.
          For what was meant to be our last Christmas together, Harvey had bought me a book called What Caesar Did For My Salad, by Albert Jack. Of course I didn't get to unwrap it or read it until after he'd died. It's a lively account of how various foods and food terms came about. Of Caesar Salad, Jack writes:
              "The name, of course, conjures up a grumpy, toga-clad emperor tucking into a spot of lunch before perhaps throwing a  Christian or two to the lions, in the name of entertainment, to keep the people of Rome happy." (I once heard the classics professor at Victoria University explaining that keeping the people of Rome happy "was a vital  task for emperors, because for the first time in history, the empire was producing enough food to keep everyone in Rome fed - but it couldn't produce enough work to keep them occupied. So "bread and circuses" was a recipe for avoiding revolution.)
               In fact, Caesar salad "is less than a hundred years old and comes from the most unlikely of places, Mexico." It's named after Caesar Cardini, who came to America during Prohibition. He and his brother moved just across the border to Tijuana and set up a restaurant serving "strong alcohol and tasty Italian food". So many people came for the 4th of July that he ran out of food, and threw together a salad from "whatever he happened to have left in the kitchen". It wasn't so very far from what the Roman's actually ate. Our word "salad" comes from "salata  herba", salted herbs - "which shows that both Julius Caesar and Caesar Cardini had a similar taste in strongly flavoured dressings."
               After the Cardinis moved back to Hollywood, the salad became a favourite of the stars. And I'm happy to admit that I don't even try to make my own Caesar salad dressing - I use the one made by that stunningly handsome Holllywood star, Paul Newman, who managed to stay married to Joanne Woodward for a lifetime, and was always a strong supporter of liberal causes. Recently I read Harry Belafonte's autobiography, My Song (as an ebook, natch), and he says Newman was one of the most generous supporters of the civil rights movement. And all the profits from his excellent dressings go to charity. What's not to like?

My Caesar salad
The last leaves of Cos lettuce from the winter-planted box in the garden
The end of a cucumber, peeled and chunked (not trad, but I had it, so why not?)
The last of a smoked chicken breast, sliced not too thinly (I don't usually have chicken in my Caesar, but it was there, and it was good)
A few scraps of bacon from the one remaining rasher, fried and cut into pieces
The last four anchovies from an open tin in the fridge
Croutons made from a nicely dry stale wodge of white loaf, cut into neat cubes and fried in olive oil till golden brown and crunchy
An egg

Tear up the leaves and spread over a good-sized, shallow-sided dish.
Scatter over the chicken, cucumber, bacon, anchovy, and chicken.
Dress by tossing gently with Paul Newman's Caesar Salad dressing - not too much, it's strong.
Poach the egg (I do this in the microwave - break the egg into a large cup with a tablespoon of water in it, pierce the yolk with a knife (or else it will explode), cook for 30 seconds on medium high, leave for a bit (usually while I butter the toast), cook for another 20 or 30 seconds on medium high (depending on your microwave), and carefully remove the egg from the water. I have the perfect method - sliding it gently onto a round, pierced soup skimmer to drain).
Scatter the croutons over the salad. (Some people like to put them in earlier so they get some dressing on them, but I like to keep them crunchy.)
Place the poached egg on top. Add ground black pepper, break the yolk, stir it around a bit, and eat.
Fit for an empress.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Happy birthdays

Among the people I've been friends with since I first came to Wellington, thirty-five years ago, are two couples, and one partner in each has a birthday in September, close to Harvey's. For years we've all got together for a joint celebration. This year it was last Sunday, and it took the form of a long Italian lunch, minus the pasta (we can never quite fit in that extra course). My role was to provide the antipasti. Some of it, of course, simply involved nicely arranging the excellent Napoletana salami I bought at Gamboni's, with some slices of cucumber for greenery. The next easiest thing was some bright little Pepperdew peppers, stuffed with well-seasoned cream cheese. But this time, in honour of the day, I also made two proper antipasti. Both came from Antonio Carluccio's An Invitation to Italian Cooking (1991). I chose them for taste, colour and variety - and being easy to make on a Sunday morning.
            The yellow and red roast pepper salad is, says Carluccio, an example of the way in which the flavour of peppers "can change completely according to whether they are fried or roasted: the removal of the skin alters the taste totally...This is without a doubt one of my favourite recipes." Mine, too, though I've adapted it a little - Carluccio doesn't mention the indispensable plastic bag, for example. It's best to make this at least an hour in advance, preferably longer - "it improves with standing and is excellent eaten the next day".  The second thing I made was stuffed eggs with tuna - "a favourite recipe of my mother's".

Insalata di pepperoni arrostiti
Serves 6

2 red and 2 yellow peppers (choose ones with a good even, matching shape, suitable for cutting into long strips lengthwise)
3 Tbsp good olive oil
1 Tbsp freshly chopped parsley (I needed all mine for the eggs, so I left this out)
2 (fat) cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (though I crushed mine, to keep the strength down a bit)

Roast the peppers either by using a fork to turn them over a gas flame until the skin blisters and turns black, or by cutting them in half, removing all the seeds and white pith, and placing them skin side up under a hot grill. When they are done, put them into a plastic bag, close it and leave until cool. Then remove and peel off the skin - it should come off quite easily. If you have left the peppers whole, halve and remove the seeds and pith. Cut lengthwise into narrow strips and place in a dish with the garlic. Dress with oil, parsley and salt.  

Uova ripiene di tonno
Serves 6

6 fresh eggs (I used the big ones that come in boxes of 10)
150g plain canned tuna in oil (I put in a few anchovies too)
1-2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
2-3 Tbsp capers
2 Tbsp mayonnaise (either a good bought one or better, home-made, here)
freshly ground black pepper

Boil the eggs for about 15 minutes, then leave them to cool. Drain the tuna and chop it finely with the parsley and capers (but leave 12 capers whole for decoration). Mix with the mayonnaise. Shell the eggs and slice them lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks, leaving the whites as containers for the filling. Mash the yolks and mix them with the tuna mayonnaise, adding the ground black pepper. Stir well to make a thick paste. Shape into neat ovals and place back into the whites. Put a whole caper on top of each one.

So here's my antipasti platter. There were only five of us, but we ate most of it, with foccacia bread. And we drank a toast to Harvey in Ripasso. He would have enjoyed it all so much.

Then came chicken cacciatore with a salad which came mainly from the host's garden...

.. and finally a fantastic orange and chocolate cake.