Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A few festive fruit ideas for Christmas and the holidays

On Christmas Day it will be ten years since Harvey died. I've been going back through my posts for this time of year, recalling all the different Christmases and holidays I had with him, and then without him, and reminding myself what we and our friends were cooking and eating.

For Harvey, Christmas meant a roast, which he would cook, although over the years we shifted the timing from late lunch to early dinner. All we needed to decide was what kind of roast - pork, lamb, beef fillet, or ducks - and what would accompany it. 

Befores varied a lot, depending on who brought them - often seafood appeared. Afters could also vary to some extent. Usually one of our regulars would bring her always splendid choice of what we all knew as the Light Dessert, but every so often someone else stepped in, with a different repertoire.

The final course was fixed: Edmonds' Rich Christmas Pudding, made by me in November. The only problem was that it had to be steamed for another two hours before we ate it. After all the food and wine I'd had by then, I had a bit of trouble remembering to put it on in time, or making the brandy sauce without sloshing in too much brandy.

Now each year is different, depending on circumstances and how Jonathan and I feel. I unearthed a pretty good selection of ideas for delicious afters involving the season's wealth of fruit. So I thought I'd gather some of these together, as they might give you some inspiration too.

First up, strawberries - really good this year. Harriet Harcourt showed me how to make the most of their colour, shape and flavour by cutting them into little heart-shaped slices and drying them in the oven. The taste is essence of strawberry.

You can use them in lots of ways. Here they are piled up on toasted panettone for a superb breakfast.

By the way, leftover panettone, should you manage to have any, makes the best bread and butter pudding in the world.

I regularly supply my neighbour with cooked rhubarb for his breakfast, but this week he got the Christmas edition: rhubarb with strawberries. It's a brilliant combination, especially with ice cream.

Then there are cherries - again, extra good this year. I had never eaten any until Harvey bought some for us. On our first holiday together we went down to Central Otago and spent a blissful morning up in the trees, picking them ourselves, and of course eating them as we went. Except for my 10-year-old son Patrick - when he came down with his haul, he asked us tentatively if he could eat one. So we sent him back up the tree for the little treat he'd missed. 

Of course they're perfect as they are - but you can do some stunning things with them too, such as making that very simple French classic, clafoutis, or just cooking them in red wine.


That post with the cherries in red wine also shows how blueberries (I found them on a good special this week), cooked in red wine and balsamic vinegar, make a superb relish for ham (or turkey).

As a final flourish, here's a simple way to produce little fruit mince tarts with less sugar than usual - although in honour of Harvey, I always lace the mincemeat with a good dash of whisky first.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Simple Soufflé and Impossible Pie

I didn't post last weekend because the most notable things I made were two very indulgent desserts. I'll post about those later, but I thought a couple of simple, tasty dinner dishes would be more useful right now.

You can make either of these from what you've got on hand - you don't have to have exactly what's listed. No goat's cheese or parmesan? Any good tasty cheese will do. No courgettes? Use a little sauteed onion and finely cut up broccoli, or a lightly cooked mix of small frozen veges. No tinned fish? Try a can of creamed sweetcorn (but use less milk) and gently fried bits of bacon or salami.

Goat's Cheese and Courgette Soufflé

This recipe from my blog in 2012 is a variation on the classic cheese soufflé. My friend Frances taught me to make it when I was a totally ignorant, about to be married 19 year old. Now I use Julia Child's recipe. If you'd like to see how it's done, try this handy tutorial:

Soufflés have an undeserved reputation for being difficult, when in fact they're quite simple (and inexpensive): a good buttery white sauce with egg yolks stirred in, mixed carefully with well beaten egg whites and any other ingredients you are using. Just don't open the oven door for the first 20 minutes. As long as it's reasonably well risen, it doesn't matter if it isn't soaring above the rim of the dish (as this one wasn't). And make sure the people eating it are ready and waiting so you can serve it as soon as it's ready.

Impossible Pie
This is called Impossible Pie because it forms its own "crust". It's a sort of down home version of a souffle, very useful for making a main course out of tinned fish. I've always cherished the recipe because my mother in Auckland carefully cut it out of one of her magazines and posted it to me in Wellington with a chatty letter. She chose well - I copied it into my hand-written notebook of recipes acquired from friends and family, and I used to make it a lot. 

I rediscovered it thanks to the lockdown. The old notebook was disintegrating, but I had a new one lying around that I'd been meaning for ages to transfer everything into. So this week I set to work. Sorry I forgot to take a photo! It should look a bit like a wide, gently risen, shallow soufflé, with a similar though less fluffy texture inside, and a lightly browned bottom and sides, so you can easily cut it into wedges. By all means use a bit more cheese on top if you want to. It's quite filling - and the leftover part made a very nice lunch next day.

List 1:
4 eggs
2 cups milk
¾ cup plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
Good pinch of salt
3 Tbsp soft butter (about 45 grams)

List 2:
185g tin well drained tuna or salmon
1 medium onion, finely chopped
¾ cup grated tasty cheese
¼ cup finely chopped parsley and/or chives
Freshly ground black pepper

(In List 2, you can try substituting: a can of creamed sweetcorn instead of fish (but leave out 1 cup of milk) and fried bits of bacon or salami; cooked or tinned asparagus pieces; other firm cooked veges, cut into small pieces, plus some extra seasoning; thinly sliced button mushrooms.)

Grease a 20cm shallow pie dish, preferably with a flat rim to catch any escaping liquid.
Preheat oven to 190C or 180C fanbake.
In a large bowl, beat together the ingredients in List 1.
Stir in the ingredients in List 2, saving a little grated cheese.
Pour into pie dish and scatter remaining grated cheese over the top.
Bake until custard is set (test with a thin knife) and top is browned – about 35 to 45 minutes.
Serve hot or warm with bread and butter and salad or your choice of cooked vegetables (if you didn't use them in the pie - a frozen mix is fine). You might also enjoy a little relish on the side.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Rhubarb chutney!

The exclamation mark in the heading is because this is the first time I've made any kind of preserve since around 2005, when we were still in Farm Road. But both Jonathan and I are very keen on home made chutney. Usually I pick up jars of it at various fairs. One day I asked the nice lady who sold jams and chutneys at the little Karori Sunday market if she ever made kasundi, a delicious Indian chutney I'd found at the big annual Save the Children fair at Homewood. A couple of weeks later she turned up with two different kinds, tomato and eggplant. But with no fairs and no markets, we were running very low.

On the phone to Lesley, I talked about wanting to try making some chutney, but not having any handy surplus produce to make it with. She pointed out that I did: I had my magnificent set of four rhubarb crowns in a big pot. The originals were given to me by Ali some years ago. They somehow managed to survive my inconsistent, cack-handed care, and this year all four are flourishing better than ever.

I hunted around on line and found various recipes, but I wanted something I knew would work. My Auckland friend Rosemary, who regularly embarks on chutney and pickle making, passed on her recipe, so I used that. It's different from the others because you don't put the sugar in until near the end of the cooking, but I could see why: doing it this way makes the mixture less likely to catch and burn.

Rosemary’s rhubarb and ginger chutney
Slightly adapted, and with two quantities, depending on how much fruit you have. I think it would also work well using some firm pears or nashi. For the smaller quantity, I used about 10 sticks of rhubarb weighing around 700g, four small apples, and one and a half large onions. 

1 ½  (3) apples
1 ½  (3) onions
15 (30) g root ginger
1 (2) cloves garlic
750 (1.5) kg rhubarb
½ (1) tsp paprika
1 (2) tsps whole pickling spice
1½ (3) tsps salt
¾ (1½) cups white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1/4  (½) cup balsamic vinegar (I used a bit more than this – it needed a little more at the end)
juice of ½ (1) orange
1½ (3) cups sugar (I used half white and half brown)
  1. Assemble jars and lids and get them ready to use for short-term keeping. The easiest way is to put jars through a hot machine wash, and boil metal lids gently in large pan of water for 5 minutes. (Check methods here.
  2. Peel, core and chop the apples. Peel and chop the onions. Dice the ginger and garlic (easy to chop these together in the food processor).
  3. Slice the rhubarb thinly (I used the processor slicing blade).
  4. Put all the ingredients except the sugar in a large pan and simmer until thick and pulpy. 
  5. Add the sugar, turn up the heat, and cook until thick and darker in colour, stirring frequently to stop it catching (especially if it's a small quantity). Also check flavour and adjust if necessary. (This is quite a jammy chutney, but should still have a bit of texture.)
  6. Fill the jars almost to the top with no gaps, and put the lids on firmly. With any luck, the lids will go down in the middle to seal them. But to be on the safe side, keep the jars in the fridge - they will keep perfectly well for at least a few weeks. 
 Mine all cooked right down to make just 3 jars (not very large ones) plus a small bowl of chutney to have with sausages for our dinner - and it really was good.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Two satisfying soups

So here's the second of my rāhui posts: two healthy, easy, filling soups, just right for the end of daylight saving and the cooling weather (yes, I know this is affecting only those of us south of Hamilton). They're also well suited to a random range of supplies. Click on the headings to find the blog recipes.

Minestrone alla Karori 

This is a meal in itself, and very adaptable. I wrote in my original post:
As Antonio Carlucci explains, in fact there's no such thing as "the real minestrone". Instead there are many versions, each one authentic for those who make it.
In these unusual times, innovation is essential. Cabbage is the mainstay vegetable, but you can use up random bits of most other veges you may have lying around. Instead of borlotti beans, use what's available - even baked beans will do at a pinch, but don't add them until the veges and pasta are cooked. And if you don't happen to have pancetta, any kind of bacon, ham, or bits of tasty cooked sausage will work. You can use any small pasta too, or broken up bits of noodles if that's all you've got.

Pretty Fast Pumpkin Soup

The name of this soup (which I invented) describes it very well - it's both pretty, and pretty fast to make. The ingredients are a bit less flexible: you do need pumpkin, carrots, and some kind of red curry flavouring. For example, I haven't got actual red curry paste right now, but I do have Tom Yam paste, which is also red, so that would do fine. (And in any case, it seems easier right now to find more exotic ingredients such as red curry paste than it does to get some basics, such as flour!)

This soup belongs to a variety of dishes I often make, called "vaguely Asian" (David Burton, look away now). No one from any Asian country would recognise any of them, but they do rely on Westernised versions of flavours relating to a range of Asian countries, from India to Thailand.

If you like, you could add noodles to this soup too, and/or cook bits of boneless chicken in it, turning it into a meal rather than just a soup.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Loafing around

Thanks to really lucky timing, the renovation of my 24-year-old kitchen was finished the week before we all went into lockdown. And thanks to having my son and also Pauline, the very kind young mother from the flat up the drive who offered to get things for us when she does her own shopping, we're well provisioned (though I did break into the earthquake supply of baked beans this morning).

The one thing missing from the shelves for quite a while has been flour. But my neighbour, who doesn't bake, had an unopened bag she could leave on my doorstep. So I've been making good use of it with very simple recipes, and leaving a share of the results on her doorstep. But as a baker, I'm far from fantastic, so I stick to super simple, tried and true recipes. I thought I'd pass on a couple of these, just in case you do have some flour and you're looking for something different you or your kids could make, one of these rather long days...

Mandarin Muffins
The first thing I made - and I made sure Pauline got some - was mandarin muffins. They do have 200 grams of whole mandarins in them, so I reckon they're practically health food.

And they're so easy to make, your kids really can do it. Here' s the recipe from the blog:

Ryda's Fruit Loaf
Today I made my mother's incredibly easy recipe for fruit loaf.

1 cup dried fruit (one kind or a mix, whatever you're got - I added a bit of preserved ginger to my raisins)
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg
1 cup sugar
1 dessert spoon melted butter (about 18 g of butter but it doesn't have to be exact)
1 tsp vanilla
2 heaped cups plain white flour
1 tsp baking powder
a good pinch of salt

Set the oven to 180C, or 160C fan forced.
Grease a medium loaf tin, or better, line it with bake paper.
Put dried fruit in a large bowl and pour 1 cup of boiling water over it.
Add baking soda, stir well and leave it to cool.
Mix in, one at a time, stirring well after each one, the egg, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla.
Measure flour into a separate bowl and stir in baking powder. Add to wet mixture and stir gently to combine.
Spoon mixture into prepared loaf tin.
Check after about 50 minutes by sticking a skewer or thin knife into it to see how much of the inside is still uncooked. It usually needs to bake for about 1 hour or a little bit longer, depending on your oven.
Cool on a rack and eat, with or without butter. (Yours will be a little larger, as I used some of my mixture to make a separate little loaf for my neighbour - correctly transferred to her without any actual contact, of course!)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Apricot season

The apricots I've bought this year seem to be particularly good.  But nice as they are eaten fresh, the full flavour comes out best when they're cooked.
So far I've used them in two different recipes. One is Apricot Suédoise, a superbly simple dessert that tastes purely of apricot. You can see how to make it here.

The other is even simpler - roasted whole apricots. Here's the recipe.

Small apricots roasted whole

12 small rosy apricots
200 g runny honey
1 Tbsp brown sugar
Juice of ½ or 1 smallish lemon
100 ml water
1 tsp cinnamon
whipped cream and/or yoghurt, to serve

Preheat the oven to 170ºC fan forced (180C without fan).

Place the honey, sugar, lemon, water and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Cook on a medium heat, stirring, until it comes to a boil. Turn down to a simmer for 3 minutes and remove from the heat.

Place apricots into a small ceramic or glass baking dish. You want them to be sitting neatly together without too much extra space around them.

Using a sieve (to filter out the cinnamon), pour over the honey liquid.
Gently turn the apricots over in the liquid to coat them.

Put in the oven and roast for 10 minutes, then take out the dish and spoon the liquid over them again.
Put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes approximately. Remove them when they are cooked through, but not collapsing - you want them to stay whole.

Carefully take out apricots one by one with a spoon and transfer to serving dish or small individual dishes. (I made small dessert servings by putting three apricots in each of four pink glass Arcoroc teacups, with a dessert biscuit in each saucer.) 

Pour liquid back into small saucepan and gently reduce to form a syrup. Pour syrup over fruit and leave to cool. 

Serve with either whipped cream, or yoghurt, or a mixture of both (this is very nice). If you want to, you can flavour the cream with a dash of orange liqueur. Remember to warn your diners that there's a stone in each one.

I forgot to take a picture! Sorry. Here's one of the cups I used, only with an incredibly easy to make chocolate cream in it. You'll have to imagine it with apricots. Come to think of it, apricots and chocolate have a marvellous affinity, so you could try a shallow layer of this chocolate cream with apricots on top...

Monday, December 23, 2019

Gingerbread for Christmas: remembering Harvey

In the weekend I decided to make gingerbread. I think it's the first time I've made it since 2010. Unlike Christmas cake, it's really easy to make, and you can bake it as close to Christmas as you like.
       This morning I took some as a small thank-you to shopkeepers in Marsden Village who have been so kind and helpful to me this year, and indeed every year since Harvey and I first moved here in 2007. There was still plenty left over for me, my son and our visitors.
        Nine years ago, on 9 December 2010, I posted about making it for Harvey and gave the recipe, which came via our friend Beth Hill.

In The Colour of Food, I described Harvey finishing off my 2010 batch on what would later prove to be his last day at home:
By the Wednesday before Christmas we had had so many visitors that there wasn’t much gingerbread left in the tin. I cut it up carefully and put it out for that afternoon’s arrivals, then went out to finish the shopping, knowing Harvey was well looked after. When I came home there were three small pieces left – his visitors had enjoyed it, but he hadn’t had any. I sat down with him for a late cup of tea and he asked for a piece, then the second and the third. I watched him eat with astonished delight.
That evening he had a fall and was taken to hospital. At first he seemed to have recovered well, but by the next day he was much weaker. He died early in the morning of Saturday 25 December.

I'm really pleased I managed to make it again this year.