Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fit for a goddess

I've been in Auckland visiting friends and family.  I'm lucky - everywhere I stayed, we had lovely food.

I envy my sister's organisation and efficiency. We all went out Saturday morning and got home quite late.

No problem - she took a home-made pizza from the freezer, popped it in the oven, tossed together a salad, produced a fat round loaf from Farro Fresh, et voila - a great lunch.

I had my neighbour in for dinner before I flew off. Thinking about dessert, I suddenly remembered that I had two Black Boy peaches in the fridge - they'd been hard when I bought them, so I stowed them away for later. They have a very short season (probably over for this year, look out for them next March). For the last wedding anniversary dinner I had with Harvey in March 2010, I'd used them to make a dessert from the Les Mimosas cookbook he'd bought me a few years back. 

It was written by two New Zealanders who "followed their dream", buying a nineteenth century house in Languedoc and turning it into a guest house serving "good, honest cuisine". (My first reaction when I read about people like this is always pure envy - then I think of all the hard work.) It's a lovely book, arranged by seasons. 

The recipe calls for "peches de vigne" - pink-skinned, white-fleshed peaches which grow in vineyards (and are known locally as "les tétons de Vénus" - Venus's nipples). But The Eco Gardener, a blog written by my old friend Christine Dann, says that a red-fleshed form of the vineyard peach, which seems to be much the same as the Black Boy, "has been commercialised in Soucieu-en-Jarest, the self-styled capital of the Peche de Vigne". So perhaps I'm using a true vineyard peach after all. She also says that the name "Black Boy" seems to be a totally New Zealand thing, and New Zealand is the current world capital for this variety.  

Peaches poached in muscat
4 ripe but firm Black Boy peaches, washed and dried
250 ml water
200g white sugar (the recipe says 250g but I find this a bit too sweet)
1 split vanilla pod (I used vanilla paste instead)
juice of 1 lemon
1 fresh bay leaf
150ml muscat wine (or another good dessert wine)
(the original recipe also has star anise, but I intensely dislike aniseed flavour, so I leave this out)

- Combine the water and sugar in a large saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring so that all the sugar dissolves.
- Add the vanilla, lemon juice, bay leaf, and 100ml of the muscat.Then add the peaches and adjust the heat so that the liquid is gently simmering. Depending on the size of the peaches, they will take about 20 minutes to cook. (I found I had to turn the peaches so as to make sure they were evenly cooked.)
- Carefully lift the peaches out of the syrup with a slotted spoon. Put aside to cool.

- Continue to reduce the syrup, raising the heat, until the liquid has reduced by two-thirds (be careful not to reduce it too much). 
- Stir in the last 50ml of muscat. Sieve the liquid into a jug and leave it to cool.
- When the peaches are cool, carefully remove their skins - they should slide off easily.
- Either slice the peaches in half and remove the stones, or leave them whole. Place two halves or a whole peach in each shallow dessert bowl or plate and pour the syrup over. Serve with a small glass of lightly chilled muscat or dessert wine. The colour is astonshing and the flavour is - Venusian.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I had a friend coming for lunch today. We'd agreed that we'd just go down to Gamboni's (my friend ahd never been there) and buy salamis and cheeses. But I finished my work a bit early yesterday, so I decided to try out a Healthy Food Guide recipe from Sunday's paper for healthy(ish) brownies, made with apple puree instead of eggs and butter.
         I had all the ingredients, sort of. I had dark chocolate, but no white (I don't like white chocolate anyway, it has no right to be called chocolate at all), so I used milk chocolate buttons instead. And I had no pecans, but I did have a few walnuts. (When I looked it up on-line, the recipe did use walnuts, and didn't mention white chocolate.) 
         It was extremely easy to make, and it worked pretty well. I think my mixture was a trifle drier than it should have been (which is odd, because I had fewer nuts), because it didn't exactly "pour" into the tin, as instructed, and it came out with a lumpy top instead of a smooth one. But it was beautifully dark, and while it didn't have the amazing melt-in-the-mouth texture of a really good traditional brownie, it was well worth the (very slight) effort. My friend thought so too, but she suggested it really shouldn't be called "brownie". So I thought maybe "brownish" would be better. This recipe is a combination of the online version here and the one in the Sunday Star-Times, 10 April 2012, plus my own variations.

1 cup unsweetened apple purée or sauce
1/3 cup cocoa powder (I used Dutched cocoa)
3/4 cup self-raising flour (next time I might try a little less and see what happens)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I used little chopped-up bits of Whittaker's dark Ghana)
1/2 cup milk chocolate buttons
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 175°C. Line a 20x20cm baking dish with baking paper.

Place purée in a medium-sized bowl. Sift in cocoa, flour and baking soda. Add sugar and salt. Mix until just combined (do not over-mix as this will toughen the brownies). Gently fold in the two kinds of chocolate and the walnuts. 

Transfer to prepared baking dish. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the centre feels set and fudgy when a skewer is inserted. Cool in pan for 5-10 minutes before turning out. Cool completely before slicing into squares. Dust with sifted icing sugar before serving, if desired.

It looked darker and richer than this in real life. The bits of dark chocolate didn't melt much, but I liked it like that.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Getting my goat

What I eat when I'm having dinner on my own varies enormously. The one constant is that I try to work out what I fancy in time to produce it that night.
        On Tuesday I didn't have much in the fridge. There was some bacon, so I considered spaghetti carbonara, but somehow that didn't hit quite the right note. So I went down to the shops to see what spoke to me, and at Gamboni's I saw their goat's cheese, fromage de chèvre, and some tinned cherry tomatoes. A different kind of pasta, then?
         But when I got home I had another idea. How about a light, delicious goat's cheese soufflé? I had a look at the internet and found several recipes, but it was this one that appealed most - especially as I just happened to have a couple of courgettes. From Jan Gardner (who's based at Meola Kitchen in Westmere, Auckland), it was broadcast on Nine to Noon about a year ago.
          I've given the original quantities below, but I halved them. That made me one medium soufflé (I scoffed the lot) and two small ones to reheat later as an entrée for my neighbour and me (not strictly proper, I know, but who cares, they still taste wonderful).

Goat's cheese and zucchini soufflé (slightly adapted from Jan Gardner)
4 zucchini, coarsely grated
Zest of 2 lemons
125g goat cheese, cut into small dice
80g butter
350ml milk, warm
60g plain flour
1 tablespoon cream
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
salt and pepper
4 eggs, separated - you will need 3 yolks and 4 whites
Tiny pinch of cream of tartar

Set oven to 180°C and butter 6 x 150ml ramekins (or one large soufflé dish, or two medium ones).
Place 20g butter and zucchini into a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and sauté for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and place mixture in a sieve over a bowl so some of the excess liquid can drain out.
In the same pan, melt the remaining 60g butter over low heat. Off the heat, stir in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for 4-5 minutes.  Whisk in warmed milk and stir until it thickens. 
Remove from heat. Stir in zucchini, lemon zest, goat's cheese, cream and Parmesan, and cool for 5 minutes.
Add 3 yolks to mixture, one by one.  Season with salt and pepper and a few gratings of nutmeg.

Whip whites to soft peaks, adding pinch of cream of tartar halfway through. (This is the equivalent of beating the whites in a copper bowl - it helps to hold the air in.) Fold gently into mixture. 
Place in ramekins or straight-sided soufflé dishes and bake 12-15 minutes until firm and puffed, or longer for larger dishes - the soufflé should be well risen and should wobble only very slightly when nudged.
(If in doubt, I stick a very long, thin, warmed knife blade in to see if it comes out clean. It makes a few dishes, but I washed up while it was cooking, so I didn't have to face them afterwards.)
To serve, gently part the souffle into each portion with two large metal spoons.

  As you can see, my larger one didn't rise brilliantly. I think that was partly because I put in the second egg yolk (halving everything, I was using only 2 eggs), and partly because the eggs were a bit small, so there was less egg white than there should have been to raise this much mixture - especially as it was a bit weighed down with the cheese and zucchini. It tasted wonderful all the same - very light and delicate, but completely satisfying (with a bit of good bread and butter on the side). And with the veges neatly built in, I didn't need anything else - except, of course, a glass of wine.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Back from Rarotonga

Ah, Rarotonga. The part of the island we were staying in was like the nicest possible New Zealand seaside retreat, only with wonderful warmth and better sand and water. The local superette, a few minutes’ walk away, had proper cone icecreams and fresh tropical fruit, and the owner of the big house gave us more. I ate masses of it – golden pawpaw, pink guavas, pink passionfruit, pink watermelon, and little green bananas cut from the tree in the garden (forgot to photograph those). With the Palm Grove breakfast the first three days, there were home-made muffins as well...

For the three nights on my own, I had the restaurant barbecue (broadbill steak), 
then cooked a nice little ribeye steak with local veges, and a kind of pasta with tinned salmon (to buy fresh fish, you have to time it right).

After that I was with a family group, and they wanted to eat out, so I happily tagged along. Fresh local tuna, seared as part of a salad nicoise, with thin crunchy local beans. Broadbill in coconut curry. Delicious. Marinated fresh fish (I don’t know what kind) at the Friday night dinner with drums, song and dance, up the mountain. At the wedding itself, a whole roast pig, basted with seawater as it cooked. The last night we had the tuna Bruce and his mates caught, barbecued for us to eat with the usual generous Sunday night salad array at the restaurant over the road. 
By the time I got back, I really fancied some meat. So for dinner with neighbours on Friday, I splashed out on a small lamb fillet. 
         The recipe was a summer one I used to make for Harvey, from a great book his mother Betty gave us. The original has spinach leaves, but I used the new crop of lettuce from the garden - oakleaf, red cos and freckles.

Roasted lamb fillet on a young leaf salad with garlic dressing 
(Adapted from Homes and Gardens Cookbook, Brian Glover, 1996)

About 300-350g lamb fillet (the Silver Fern pack at the supermarket is 340g)
1/2 tsp whole cummin seeds (though I used ground cummin)
1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds (I had these in the garden!)
black pepper, salt
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Dry-toast the coriander and cummin in a small pan over a low heat for a few minutes, then grind coarsely (I use my cleaned-out coffee grinder to do this). 
Wash and dry the fillet and roll it in the ground spices. Grind over some black pepper. (You can do this first part a few hours in advance if you want to - the lamb will pick up more flavour.)
Preheat oven to 200C (fan forced if you have it).
Heat olive oil in a large heavy pan till hot, then brown the fillet on all sides.
Place in a small roasting tin, season with salt, and cook for - well, it depends how rare you want it. It should be beautifully rosy inside when it's cut and served. For me this took about 20 minutes.
Turn oven down to 190C and leave on for garlic (see below).
Cover with foil and leave to rest while you do everything else.

Assortment of young salad leaves
2-3 Tbsp of green herb sprigs (I used sorrel, parsley and chives)
1 plump head of garlic
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp French mustard (Dijon is good)
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar or lemon juice
1-2 Tbsp plain yoghurt
black pepper, salt

Wash and dry the leaves and herbs (a spinner is good). 
As soon as you take out the meat and turn down the oven, trim the hard top off the garlic, sit it in a piece of foil, dribble 1 Tbsp of olive oil over it, wrap it up and put it in the oven to roast (about 30 minutes).
When it's soft, carefully squeeze all the garlic out of its skin into a blender or small bowl, witht he oil.
Mash it to a puree, then beat in the other 2 Tbsp oil, the mustard, and the vinegar or lemon jiuce. Just before you're ready to serve, add the yoghurt. Taste and add salt and pepper as required.
Lay the salad out on a large shallow serving plate and drizzle over the dressing.
Slice the lamb thinly and arrange it down the centre.
We had tiny potatoes with this, but crusty bread or pilaf rice or brown rice are all good too. You can scatter toasted pine nuts over it too (but at $85 a kilo I usually leave them out). Instead I threw in a few strips of yellow pepper to look pretty. This was taken after our first serving, I get too hungry and forget. And it's a bit fuzzy, I'd had rather more pinot than usual. But believe me, it was good.