Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cosy casserole

It's been a foul day in Wellington - non-stop heavy rain since last night. It's days like this that I'm cravenly glad not to have to go Out to Work, managing all the paid stuff on-line instead.
         Given the weather, and following last week's surfeit of takeaways, I thought it was time for a cosy casserole. We had some rapidly-going-soft tamarillos (not as pretty as the ones in the picture) and in the freezer there was a pack of pork pieces, so I put together a recipe that Harvey invented, only with variations, of course. It's called, with stunning originality, pork and tamarillo casserole!

Pork and tamarillo casserole

Approx. 500g lean pork pieces (cut them up if necessary so they're all as much the same size as possible - the bought pieces often vary wildly in size)
6 tamarillos (fewer if very large, more if very small)
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
Some interesting liquid to cook it with - white wine, red wine, cider  - for this one I used leftover juice from cooking apples and the last of the bottle of port, plus extra lemon juice
Juice of 1-2 lemons (depending on how tart you like it)
Bay leaf
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the slow cooker:
- Heat cooker on high, with lid on, for 20 minutes while preparing the ingredients.
- Finely chop the onion and garlic and check size of pork pieces (they should be no bigger than 2 cm square).
- Put oil into cooker and add onion and garlic. Leave to sweat for a few minutes.
- Cut the tamarillos in half, scoop them out of their skins and halve again.
- Add the other ingredients, using just enough liquid to cover meat.
- Cover and cook for 5-6 hours on high.

Without a slow cooker:
- Either in a casserole dish that can go on the hob, or in a pan, heat olive oil gently and sweat onions and garlic till softened. Prepare the rest as above.
- On top of onions and garlic in casserole dish, add other ingredients and enough liquid to cover meat. (Check while it cooks - you may need to add more if it evaporates in the oven.)
- Cover and cook for 3 hours in a slow oven (170F).

Check to see meat is tender. If liquid is too thin, mix a little flour in cold liquid, add, and cook a little longer.
We had this with the everlasting mashed potato, but rice is good and so is couscous or orzo pasta. The colour is good and the flavour is deliciously fruity and tart.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wrapped Kitchen

You may be familiar with a series of artworks which are usually said to be by Christo, although in fact they're by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Their early works involved wrapping things up - starting with smaller things and going on to very large things. Here's one they did in Spoleto in 1968. It's called Wrapped Fountain.

I thought of them this week when my kitchen was wrapped. I was having part of it sprayed to give it a nice new surface, and this involved covering most of it in plastic for a few days. The effect was what I think Christo and Jeanne-Claude might be after: it turned the utterly familiar into something strange and mysterious and oddly beautiful.

Because it was wrapped, I couldn't work in it. Couldn't cook, couldn't clean, couldn't wash dishes. We ate takeaways - Chinese, Indian, cooked chook, smoked fish pie from the Gipp St deli. It felt like being on holiday.

I do like cooking. What I don't like is having to do the thinking and shopping and cooking and washing up all the time. Especially the washing up (even though we have a dishwasher). So this enforced break was remarkably refreshing. And when it ended today I had the pleasure of rearranging all the stuff I usually keep on the bench and the deep windowsill. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The ultimate comfort food

When I was young, there was only one kind of rice, short-grain, and it was mostly used for one thing - rice pudding. Made properly, it's very good. But I never much liked the skin on top, no matter how golden it was. And it takes two and a half hours in a slow oven, so it doesn't make sense unless you're cooking something else which takes that long.          
           One of the friends we had round in the weekend for corned beef doesn't eat gluten, so puddings can be a bit of a challenge. I was thinking about a lovely sticky compote of winter fruit, but what could I serve with it? It was too cold for ice cream.
           Then I had a sudden inspiration: rice pudding! Not the usual kind, though - I wanted the creamy sweet version you can cook much more quickly on top of the stove. I thought I had the recipe I wanted in my Lois Daish folder, and I was right. In fact it wasn't hers, it came from her friend Anne England, who was then (in 2000) running Two Rooms restaurant in Miramar. (I never managed to eat there, sadly, it had a great reputation.)

Two Rooms Rice Pudding
(Anne England via Lois Daish,
Listener, 1 April 2000)
(serves 4)

55g (3 tablespoons) short grain rice
(I couldn't find anything called "short" in the supermarket, so I used "medium" and that seemed to work fine. But I wonder if it would be even better made with arborio rice?)
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sugar
575ml (2 and 1/2 cups) full cream milk
4 tablespoons cream
3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk (I used 4)
pinch salt
(I added a small teaspoon of vanilla paste, a thoughtful Christmas present)

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan. Slowly bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a bare simmer and cook gently for about 30 minutes (mine took a bit longer, I don't think I got it hot enough to start with.) While the rice is cooking, use a wooden spoon to carefully stir from the bottom of the pot. Push down from the sides of the pot too, where it could stick and burn. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you make it in advance and want to reheat it, you may need to stir in a little more cream or milk to loosen the texture.

With this, we had a winter fruit compote made of Otago dried apricots and golden kiwifruit. I pre-soaked the apricots in some reduced white wine combined with a sugar syrup, then cooked them slowly for about half an hour in a small saucepan, while I briefly pre-poached the peeled and halved kiwifruit in the microwave with a little of the soaking liquid. Then I put the fruit together in a shallow oval ovenproof dish, checked for sweetness and baked it all for about an hour in the bottom of a slow oven while other things cooked there. The idea is to get both the apricots and the kiwifruit thoroughly cooked, so they're soft, but keep their shape, and the liquid reduces to a lovely sticky syrup that isn't too sweet, so it doesn't kill the wonderful sharp notes in the fruit. But watch it to make sure there is some syrup, you don't want it to disappear. You can use other kinds of dried fruit as well, or other fresh fruits, but the dried apricots are essential.

The combination of this fruit with the soft creamy slightly caramel-tasting rice pudding was blissful.
Anne England finished her pudding off with a sugar glaze, melted with a cook's blowtorch. I don't have one so I didn't even try it, and I don't think it's necessary. Here's what Lois wrote: "At home, I am content to eat this pudding still warm from the pot, without the bother of glazing the top. The flavour is so friendly that I don't even serve fruit with it." I love that word "friendly" - that's exactly how it tasted. And the leftovers made a sublime Sunday breakfast.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Corned beef and cabbage

To tell you the truth, I'm not immensely fond of corned beef, but Harvey, like most of the men we know, is, and I'll eat it quite happily now and then. And it's such an easy thing to cook, especially in a slow cooker. I had a nice lean piece of silverside (lovely name) in the freezer, so we had it for dinner with friends on Saturday.

I haven't had a slow cooker all that long. Soon after I got it I was up in Auckland seeing my sister, and she showed me her collection of slow cooker recipe books. The one I liked the look of most was Fiona Wllison's Great Ideas for Crockpots and Slow Cookers (Stylus, 2004). Others must have agreed with me - it was reprinted twice. It has good guidelines and a manageable selection of about 60 appealing recipes. And it's got something that seems to be getting rarer by the minute in recipe books - a really user-friendly format, spiral-bound and lie-flat, with sturdy board covers and clear, readable print, plus sumptuous photos. It was long out of stock in the shops, but I managed to track down a new copy on the net. Very satisfying. Fiona's recipe for corned beef works perfectly, just like my mother used to make.

Old-fashioned corned beef

1 kg corned beef (mine was a bit bigger, about 1.3 kg)
2 bay leaves
1 brown onion, peeled and studded with cloves (she says 8 but I use 12)
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped (or you can use one carrot and one parsnip)
A few sprigs of fresh parsley
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2 tablespoons malt vinegar
rind of two oranges (I popped in the last mandarin, cut into quarters)
boiling water

Turn slow cooker to High and leave to heat for 20 minutes.  (Almost all her recipes start this way).
Rinse corned beef in cold water and place in warmed cooker. (I trim almost all the fat off it first.)
Add remaining ingredients and add enough boiling water to just cover the meat.
Cover and cook on High for 5-6 hours.

We didn't eat the veges with it - I saved them for soup later. I served it with mashed potato (what else) and the same red cabbage, with apple and onion (photo shows it ready to cook), as in my post on venison, as well as a selection of mustards - English for Harvey, Dijon for me and grainy for anyone who liked that better. The next night we ate up the leftovers all mixed together and fried as corned beef hash.
            I got a new slow cooker book in Melbourne, so I'll find something out of that to make soon.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Whitebait birthday

I missed my usual Thursday post because I'd managed to leave my camera at Martha's Kitchen (of which more later) and hadn't yet got it back, so I didn't have the photos I needed. So here, a bit belatedly, is the story of Harvey's birthday whitebait. He has them every year - luckily for him, they come into season just in time for his birthday on the 13th (a number that's always been lucky for us). Every year he'd get enough to make himself one really large patty, and I would have scallops. (I like whitebait, but I like scallops better, and as they're about a third the price it always makes more sense for us to have what we each prefer.) I made my first patty for him last year and it went really well. This year we were having a dear friend to dinner, so he asked me to buy twice as much as usual.
              Buying it, from the very nice lady at Wellington Trawling Sea Market, 220 Cuba St, was the easy part (they have parking, the whitebait came in that day, and Harvey had given me his card). When it came to cooking it, I tried to get instructions.
               My mistake. I must have asked last year too, but it all worked fine for one person. For 200 grams I think the batter must have taken only one egg, milk, a little self-raising flour and a generous bit of salt. (Because whitebait come from fresh water, they aren't salty, so they need it. But Harvey reckons pepper is a no-no, it's too strong and changes the flavour.)

This year I made two lots of batter, according to Harvey's directions, thinking it would be easier than doubling the quantities. But I think Harvey got his arithmetic wrong, because we ended up with too much. I cooked the first large patty and could see it had more batter than it should. Well, probably it would have been about the right amount for most people, but Harvey likes wall-to-wall whitebait, and so does our friend - who had brought this wonderful wine to go with it. (I'm no good at describing wine, you'll jsut have to imagine it - it was sort of very slightly oily, almost like a brilliant riesling.)

The idea was to make one large patty, divide it, and give it to them to eat while I made the second one. It was lovely and light and golden, but it wouldn't flip over properly, instead it broke apart. So what they got was a roughly fair share each of unevenly sized pieces. They were polite and ate it happily enough, but I could see it wasn't right. So the next time I took out around a third of the batter before I added the whitebait. That looked much better - but it still broke apart. Never mind, it went down well - how could it not?  and I enjoyed my scallops. But next year I'll just make it up as I go along, and I reckon I'll do much better.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A bloke bakes

When a copy of Steve Joll's Baking for Blokes arrived in the mail, I thought I'd better find a bloke to try it out. In the old days Harvey would have jumped at the chance. This is the man who once fearlessly tackled Pink Pears on a Chocolate Tart for my birthday. His friend Geoff was due for a visit, so I decided to ask him - I knew he'd relish the challenge.

I'd meant to write up his report in time for Father's Day, but a few intrusive health glitches meant we couldn't see him until today. On the whole he found the book good value. "The blokey stuff was a bit over the top in places, but often it was funny and I enjoyed it. The instructions seemed pretty clear and easy to follow."
         And then he proudly presented us with the results of his baking debut - an apple tart. (In fact it was Tart 3 - taking no chances, he'd had two test runs first.)
            He's an engineer, and he didn't approve of being told to "chop the apples" - "I thought nice slices would look much better". Nor did he agree with the recommended amount of sugar - "6-8 tablespoons is far too much, I used 3." But he used more cinnamon than it said, because he likes it. He had made the pastry from scratch, mixing in the butter and egg by hand as Joll recommends. I was very impressed. "You get it all over your hands, I was hoping the phone didn't ring!"
             Everything went well until it came to putting the pastry in the dish. "It said to let it hang over all round, and then trim the overhang evenly and fold it in." At this point his wife Pam explained the problem: Geoff had thought he was making an apple pie, like his mother used to make (that's why he'd chosen this recipe) and he didn't realise that tarts are different, they don't have pastry on top.
            What he ended up with was the perfect compromise, halfway between a tart and a pie - a lovely rustic French-style galette, with the pastry overhang draped nicely around the edges of the apple slices. The four of us shared it for dessert tonight. He'd done a pretty good job, it was yummy - and he was right about the sugar.

"Did you pick up the hint of apricot jam?" Geoff asked, sounding as if he'd been baking for years. "Yes", I said, "was that in the recipe?" "Of course!"
             As a reward, I told him he could keep the book. He's already started planning what to bring us for afternoon tea on their next visit.

Baking for Blokes: DIY in the Kiwi Kitchen, Steve Joll, New Holland, $29.99
(There's a nice TV3 piece about it here )
PS: I couldn't resist this picture of How a Real Bloke Mixes a Cake (thank you, Dale!)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

World famous on NatRad!

A friend emailed me today to tell me that in her regular spot talking websites with Jim Mora on National Radio this afternoon, Ele Ludemann of homepaddock had talked very enthusiastically about this blog!  A wonderful surprise boost. Sometimes you think you're just writing away out here being read by a select few of your kind friends and rellies and sister bloggers, and suddenly you discover that someone else you don't know at all is a fan. Thank you, Ele, you made my day, week, month. Here's a watercolour of a cabbage for you! Harvey grew it, I painted it, then we ate it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Daphne Day

I don't know anyone called Daphne - unlike Poppy and Iris, it's one of those old-fashioned flower names that don't seem likely to be revived. But we have two bushes of it in full bloom and I bring their distinctive sweet/sharp scent inside for Harvey.

This is a photo of two heads of daphne. But only one is the real thing. The other is made entirely of icing. My neighbour brought it over for me to see - she'd been to a wedding, and the cake had daphne decorations. Here's a close-up.

My mother went to evening classes at the local intermediate school to learn how to do this kind of icing, and got enormous pleasure and satisfaction out of it. (That whole superb tradition of evening classes has now been attacked by having its funding cut, which is really sad. I don't care what people were learning to do in their spare time, the main thing was that they were learning, and plenty of women like Mum went on to turn their new skills into a way of earning - though that's hardly all that matters.) She made and iced the cake for my first wedding, with little clusters of apricot roses matching the bridesmaids' dresses. But I don't have a photo of it.
           It's not my thing at all - on the rare occasions when I've tried to ice a cake it's always looked more like a Cake Wreck than a clever creation. I used to manage well with the kids' birthday cakes, because I'd been given a plaster train which held up to six candles. So all I had to do was make tracks out of slices of liquorice strap, stick in a little "Happy Birthday" flag I found, and wrap it all round in a fancy cake fringe.
            But I can see and admire how much skill goes into producing something like this amazing daphne. The only trouble is, it's much too pretty to eat.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pretty good pancakes

Pancakes are one of those magic creations that use only a few simple ingredients - flour, eggs, milk, butter. But I'm a newcomer to making them. This is because Harvey used to always be the one who made them, and he was very good at it.
         When he had to stop, for ages he didn't feel like anything brunchy, but lately he's had the urge for mid-morning Saturday pancakes again, which is great. So I've been making them under his guidance. Only that sounds much tidier than what really happened the first time I had a go.
           First I asked where the recipe was. "I just use the Edmond's one", he said. So I got it out and showed it to him, because I've learnt from long experience that he doesn't often follow a recipe exactly. Sure enough, he used self-raising flour instead of flour and baking powder, he always used two eggs, and he added "a bit of melted butter". How much, I asked. "Just a bit." Gritting my teeth, I cut off a lump about the size of a walnut and showed it to him. Yes, he said, that was about right.
            I mixed it all together. "Don't mix it too much", he said. "But you said it had to be a really smooth batter." "Yes, but the lumps disappear while you leave it to stand." "It doesn't say anything about leaving it to stand." "Well, I always do." :How long for?" "Oh, about half an hour."
            I didn't say a word. I just went off and made myself some toast and peanut butter to keep me going while I waited.
            Fortunately we've now got a big Tefal non-stick pan which keeps an even heat and makes really good ones, even on a gas hob. So after the half hour was up I heated it up and got to work. I had to make two different kinds of pancake, because we've always disagreed about how they should be - Harvey likes one giant thickish one, I like two or three thin ones. We both have lemon juice on them, but he likes white sugar, whereas I prefer golden syrup or brown sugar.

            I actually managed to toss them all beautifully - even Harvey was impressed.

Harvey's pancakes (enough for 4 thin ones or 2 big thick ones)
125 grams self-raising flour (it does work better if you weigh rather than measure - this is about one cup plus a heaped tablespoon)
1/8 tsp salt
2 eggs
300 ml (half a pint) milk
Walnut-sized knob of butter, melted
Butter for cooking

Sift the flour and salt together into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop the eggs in, then add milk, and mix gently to make a thin batter. Add melted knob of butter and mix in well. Pour into a jug and leave to stand for half an hour. Meanwhile, get the toppings ready and have the plates ready to warm just before you start cooking.

Heat non-stick pan until hot. Melt a little butter in it, pushing it over the bottom with a non-stick slice. Pour in a little batter and tip the pan to let it flow evenly out to the edges. (If you want a thick one pour in more to start with.) Cook over medium heat until several little bubbles form over the surface. Loosen around the edges with the slice and flip it over - tossing is the easiest way to do this. Turn the heat down a little and cook the other side until it looks a bit brown when you lift the edges. Put on a hot plate, spread with whatever you fancy, roll it up and eat it. Repeat until the batter's all gone.