Saturday, July 31, 2010

Not fit to eat

A friend sent me this picture. She found the pack being sold in a South Auckland dairy for $2.50 as a "school lunch". This is what was inside it.

Apart from the Oreos, a US "treat" that used to be unobtainable here, the other three things are all brands I've never seen before. My friend worked out that for $2.50, children get "almost no dietary fibre, 40mg vitamin C, rather more salt than they need, 35% of their daily requirement for simple sugars, quite a lot of fat, and about 25% of their total daily energy needs. That is, they get a lot of empty calories. Of course, they’ll be hungry from the lack of fibre by mid-afternoon, as well as thirsty from all the salt and sugar, but hey! That’s what $1 bottles of fizzy drink are for."
         She asked the dairy owner if he was embarrassed about selling this stuff to school children, and he said no, because "it’s what they like". So she asked if he would give this to his own children for lunch. He eventually said no, because "they didn’t like it".
          I detested making school lunches, and by the time the boys reached secondary school, I'd given up, I'm afraid. Fortunately in those days their school canteen sold plenty of things that were fine, like filled rolls, and they were old enough to make their own lunches at home if they wanted to make money on the deal. The last government's drive to get schools to sell healthy food was having really good effects by the time this government binned it, along with Fruit in Schools (which heaps of schools had used very successfully for learning about healthy eating).
           I don't know what the answer is, but it certainly isn't this rubbish. At least it looks as if that dairy may soon not be able to sell their big brothers and sisters booze.

PS: This post, plus a Child Poverty Action Group Facebook reference to it, was picked up and criticised in a post on the Hand Mirror recently, and got many pro and con comments. It charged me with "promoting a diet mentality" and "food morality". I then put up a post about my point of view, which in turn drew many more comments. You can read these posts and comments here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Yummy yams

Winter brings few vege pleasures, but yams are one of them. Harvey introduced me to these pretty shocking pink (or yellow, but we like pink best) bundles of sweetness. He even invented his own way of cooking them. Last Saturday I made an easy dinner using two large baking dishes, with chicken legs in one and yams, carrots and parsnips in the other, bathed in Harvey's secret-until-now ingredients. Kumara would have been good too. (Mind you, I had huge trouble getting him to tell me what to do - he used to do it all by instinct, not by exact measures, temperature and timing.)

Set the oven to the temperature you need for any meat and/or potatoes you're baking or roasting with the veges - anywhere between 160C and 200C is fine. As well as yams and your other chosen veges, you need olive oil, orange juice, a lemon, marsala and salt. Peel and neatly slice the veges so the pieces are roughly the same size as the medium to large yams. Put a little olive oil into a baking dish large enough to hold them all without packing them tightly. Turn the pieces so they're lightly oiled all over.

Mix the baking liquid - half and half orange juice and marsala, with a few squeezes of lemon juice. The amount depends on how large your tray of veges is. It should form a shallow layer in the bottom, enough not to evaporate completely and burn. Pour it over the veges and bake for between 1 hour and 2 and 1/2 hours, depending on what else is in the oven, how hot the temperature needs to be for those things, and whether the vege dish is near the top or near the bottom. (I often start it at the bottom and give it a final half hour near the top.) Turn the veges once about halfway through cooking, taking care to unstick them neatly from the bottom.

You just need to experiment a bit to see what works for you. The essential thing is to get the yams thoroughly cooked, so they keep their shape but are soft when you stick a knife in. Arrange the veges on a hot serving plate. If there's any lovely sticky, orangey, marsala-ey liquid left - there should be a little - you can use it for making a sauce or gravy.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lemon bliss

In her short story "The Garden-Party", Katherine Mansfield wrote of two sisters eating cream puffs "with that absorbed inward look that comes only from whipped cream". It's even better if it's on top of a slice of lemon meringue pie.
         We never had it at home, and when I first made it, I didn't understand that you were supposed to leave it until it was cold. So I cut it too soon, and the lemon filling oozed out all over the plate.
          It's one of Harvey's favourite desserts, and soon after he came to live with me, he bravely set about making it one Saturday. He made quite a good job of it, and when his fellow bureaucrats asked him what he'd done in the weekend, he said proudly, "I made a lemon meringue pie." "Why?" they said. "Can't Anne cook?"

For years I used Nancy Spain's recipe. The only problem is that it's designed for rather a small dish. So this time I went on-line and found a recipe on NZChef that's almost exactly the same, but with one more egg and a little more of everything else, so it neatly fits a 23cm fluted tin.

Lemon Meringue Pie
550g (or two sheets) sweet shortcrust pastry (bought, I'm afraid - I'm still working on finding the perfect recipe and technique for homemade)
juice and zest of 3 large lemons
60g cornflour (the recipe says 65g but that seemed to be slightly too much)
75g caster sugar
4 large eggs, separated
another 200g caster sugar

*Preheat oven to 190C. Butter the tin very lightly but thoroughly. (Mine has a removable base, which is useful.)
*Either defrost or roll out the pastry. Line the tin carefully, making sure there are no holes or cracks. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. (if you don't, the sides shrink down when it cooks.)
*Blind bake the pastry until cooked and lightly golden, about 25 minutes. (I have those ceramic baking beads, so I use them on top of a circle of baking paper. But what I've never quite figured out is how you're supposed to remove them without doing any damage to the pie shell - especially as it's best to take them and the paper out ahead of time and put the hot shell back to finish baking. All suggestions gratefully received!)
(PS: See Grizabella's comment - she says use a square of paper with the corners sticking up, so you can easily lift it out with the beans or beads in it afterwards. Excellent, thank you!)

*Place lemon zest in a medium saucepan with 600ml water. Bring to the boil, remove pan from heat, and leave to stand for 30 minutes.
*Blend cornflour with a little lemon zest liquid in a bowl to make a smooth paste. Add to pan of zest and water, add lemon juice, and stir well. Bring mixture back to the boil, stirring continuously. Reduce heat and cook, stirring, until it's thickened.

*Remove pan from heat, leave to cool a little, and stir in the 75g sugar. Taste it to see if the balance of sweetness and lemon is what you want - if not, add either more sugar or more lemon juice. It should be quite sharp, to contrast with the sweet meringue.

*Add egg yolks and mix in thoroughly to combine. Set aside while you make the meringue.

Whisk egg whites until stiff. Gradually whisk in the 200g sugar until the meringue is very stiff and shiny.

*Set oven to 100C. This recipe says 190C, but I prefer a crisp meringue, not a soft one, and for that I think it works better to bake the whole thing at no more than 100C.

*Place tin with pastry shell onto a baking sheet (easier to handle). Carefully pour in the filling. Spread the meringue over the top so that no filling shows, and gently fork it into little peaks or ridges all over. Bake until the meringue is just very lightly coloured, about 30 minutes or more (but watch it). Leave to cool before serving.

And after that opening, I forgot to take a photo of a slice with cream! But here's the last (slightly soggy) bit, just before I ate it for breakfast next day.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The taste of home

Harvey grew up on a sheep farm and I’ve always been a townie, but for both of us roast lamb is the taste of childhood Sundays. Their leg of lamb was home-killed, hung for a while and slow-cooked in a wood-fired oven. Ours came from the sawdust-floored butcher round the corner on Friday, sat in the meat safe and went into the tiny gas oven on Sunday morning.
         My mother, like Harvey's, began by putting a chunk of dripping in the roasting pan. The glistening roast came out well-done – pink was unthinkable – but it was always tender and sweet, with that lovely nutty taste of good lamb or (more likely then) hogget. The neat slices curved gently away from Dad’s sharp knife onto the waiting plates, ready for Mum to lay a curl of butter on top.
       Until his health failed, Harvey took great pride and pleasure in being both cook and carver of our lamb roasts.  With some gentle encouragement from me, they became steadily pinker.  When I had to take over, I decided I needed a little French help. Julia Child gave me exactly what I was looking for: a simple, easy variation that’s guaranteed to produce delicious, subtly seasoned roast lamb every time.
           This recipe needs no higher-temperature searing at the beginning, but the total cooking time needs careful working out. MTAFC recommends just 15 minutes per pound for well-done, but even if you want it rare, New Zealand leg of lamb definitely takes longer, and ovens vary. In mine, it takes 30 minutes per 500g for medium rare, plus 20-30 minutes resting time - this is essential. So a 2.5 kg leg needs to go in 3 hours before serving.

Roast leg of lamb in a mustard coat 
(derived from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I)
1 small leg of lamb, about 2.5 kg, trimmed of as much fat as possible (for a bigger one, increase the coating recipe)
A few meaty bones and meat trimmings (I used a cheap shoulder chop to get these)
For the mustard coating:
120 ml Dijon mustard (about 1/2 cup)
2 Tbsp soya sauce (I use Kikkoman)
1-2 cloves mashed garlic
1 tsp finely ground rosemary (you can do this perfectly in the blender - put the leaves in and run it before adding anything else)
1/4 tsp powdered ginger
1 Tbsp good extra virgin olive oil
For the sauce:
Approx. 150 ml white wine (I used a lovely Johner Estate pinot gris this time)

* Take the lamb out of the fridge at least 3 hours before it needs to go in the oven.
* Make the mustard coating - a blender is a big help, but not essential. Grind the leaves finely first, add everything else except the olive oil, and blend by machine or by hand. Beat in the olive oil drop by drop to make a thickish mayonnaise-like cream.
* Use a soft spatula or brush (the spatula seems to work best) to paint the leg of lamb evenly all over. (There should be a little left over - save it for the gravy.)
* Place the meat trimming and bones (with a few extra sprigs of rosemary if you like) in the bottom of a roasting tin. Lay the lamb over them on a rack and set aside until ready to start cooking.

* Preheat the oven to 190C. Turn down to 180C when you put the meat in.
* Roast the lamb until just done to your liking, turning once. (A meat thermometer helps - medium rare is around 155C.)

"...the lamb becomes a beautiful brown as it roasts..." Julia Child

* Rest the leg on a warmed plate, with the bone propped up at an angle so the juices run into the meat, and cover with a folded teatowel until ready to carve.
* Before serving, make the sauce: Briefly brown the meat trimmings and bones in the pan, being careful not to burn them, then remove from pan. Add about 150 ml white wine, scrape bits off the bottom of the pan, and increase heat to reduce the wine by about half. Stir in a tablespoonful (or two) of the leftover mustard coating, plus about 150 ml of water. (I leave the coating in the blender, add water, run it briefly to combine and pour it into the pan.) Deglaze the pan and reduce again until the sauce is a good pouring consistency. Strain into a warmed sauceboat, taste for seasoning, and keep warm, ready for serving.

A roast is made to be shared, and last night we invited dear friends over to eat it with us. I made a very simple, eat-on-our-laps starter of Coromandel smoked peppered mackerel with a few leaves of rocket, parsley and endive from the garden.

The one thing I haven't mastered is carving, so I'd asked Tom to do it. He brought his grandfather's splendid carving set, in its purple-silk-lined box.
        While I steamed a few late green beans, warmed the plates, made the sauce  and checked the potatoes - small halved ones, baked in a separate tin with olive oil, rosemary and sea salt - he set to work.

I love the shape of the old "boat" the sauce goes in - we found it forgotten in a cupboard in the first house we bought together. I'm always a bit nervous about making this, but it turned out very well, not too thick or too salty, adding a slightly stronger note of the mustard and the tang of the wine.

The flavour of the lovely brown mustard coat had gone gently through the meat, and helped to keep it moist. The potatoes were crisp and golden outside and creamy inside. The beans were fine, though more and more I've come to appreciate the French habit of serving the veges as a separate course. Good food and good wine with good friends - what more could we ask?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cutting up rough

I'm very partial to venison, so I was pleased to see it appearing in the supermarket. It's a wonderful meat, fat-free, tender (providing it's gently cooked) and combining beautifully with a wide range of other great flavours, from bacon to fruit.
          So far I've tried two different cuts of Silver Fern venison, the diced and the stir-fry. In both cases, the meat has been excellent, but the cuts have been, well, rough, to say the least. The pieces of diced venison were wildly uneven in size and thickness, and had to be carefully recut to produce anything like even chunks. We had the stir-fry this week and that was the same - really uneven pieces of meat, as the picture shows. (It's just occurred to me that if I'd arranged them differently they'd look very like New Zealand...) This matters more for stir-fry because the whole point is to cook it quickly. Considering how expensive these neat-looking little packets of meat are, I don't think this is quite good enough.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Honouring Lois Daish

In my pantry (they won't fit on the bookshelf) I keep two battered folders. Their plastic sleeves hold pages torn out of the Listener – Lois Daish's food columns, which she wrote for 23 years. One is for meat and savoury dishes, the other for desserts and sweet things. I have her book A Good Year too, but many of my favourites aren't in it, so the folders are essential. It's not just the recipes, wonderful as they are – it's the context she puts them in. She always seems to manage to be both down-to-earth and inspiring.
           Last Friday, Lois was honoured by her peers, who made her a Life Member of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers (which she had helped to found in 1987). She's only the third Life Member to be elected – her predecessors were Tui Flower, former Women’s Weekly Food Editor and author, and Sue Wakelin, a past Guild President and retired food writer.
           The award was presented at a high tea at Wellington's Museum Hotel, on 25 June, by Lauraine Jacobs, who says she regards Lois as her New Zealand food hero. “Lois is an inspiration to many other food writers. She has always cooked and written with sincerity and simplicity, and empowers people to cook well every day...Her contribution to the New Zealand food scene has been outstanding." Hear hear.

From right to left: Mary Daish, Lois's daughter; Mary's husband Paul Schrader; Lois; and Kelda Hains, who runs Nikau Cafe with Paul.

To add my own small tribute to Lois, here's a stand-out recipe from my collection – a simple winter dessert with remarkably rich and complex flavours, using the beautiful tamarillos in season now. You need to make it several hours before you want to serve it. If you don’t like prunes, just make the syrup to have with ice cream. The combination of that distinctive tamarillo flavour with the port and chocolate is amazing.

Lois Daish's prunes in tamarillo and chocolate syrup
(NZ Listener, 5 July 1997)
2 tamarillos
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
splash of port or marsala (Lois kindly says this is "optional", presumably to cater for non-drinking cooks, but take no notice)
1 tbsp cocoa
12 pitted prunes

Plunge the tamarillos into a pot of boiling water, leave for a minute, drain and peel. Slice finely and put in a pot with the water, sugar and port or marsala. Simmer for 10 minutes, then strain, pressing some of the tamarillo pulp through the sieve. Put the cocoa in a small pot and graudally stir in the syrup. Bring to the boil and add the prunes. Simmer for 5 minutes, then leave to steep for several hours. Reheat and serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Serves 2-3.

PS - 6 June 2011 - Susan (see last comment below) asked for the recipe for Gina's No-Knead Bread and I've managed to get it, so here it is:

Lois Daish ((Listener Food Column 17 September 1994 - This recipe came from Gina Jelaca who worked with Lois at Brooklyn Café and Grill)

1 tablespoon dried yeast granules
2 teaspoons golden syrup
300 ml warm water

4 cups white bread flour
2 cups wholemeal flour
Half cup wheatgerm
Three-quarters cup bran
Half cup kibbled wheat
2 teaspoons salt
Half cup or more, sunflower or pumpkin seeds or mizture
600 ml warm water

Warm a small mixing bowl by rinsing with hot water and place in it the yeast ferment ingredients. Leave in a warm place until it starts to bubble. Meanwhile take a large mixing bowl and combine the dry ingredients for the dough. Mix thoroughly and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture and the water. Use your hand to combine just until all the dry ingredients are thoroughly wetted and mixed. The less mixing, the better. Lightly butter 2 large loaf tins and scoop the dough into them. Let stand in a warm place for about 40 minutes until well-risen. Bake in a preheated 180C oven for about 40 minutes until firm and hollow sounding when loaves are lifted from the tin and tapped on the bottom. Tip out and cool on a rack. Best eaten when completely cold. Even better the next day.