Saturday, June 30, 2012

Look Mum, no waste

Tonight, on TV7 (screening for the very last time thanks to the idiots in charge of TVNZ and its funding), I saw a documentary about the incredible amount of food wasted in the USA. And I have to admit I felt reprehensibly smug, because I'd just had a delicious dinner made almost entirely of leftovers.
        I don't quite know where I acquired my horror at wasting food. Certainly we didn't waste much at home, but I think it also came from being married so young and trynig to produce good food as cheaply as possible - which meant not throwing anything away.
         For a midwinter feast last weekend, we had a roast of pork (I'll write about that later). Although it wasn't enormous - about 2.7 kg, including a small bone - there was a lot of meat on it. Five of us ate our fill to start with, then I had a cold meat dinner, and the next night I and a friend ate slices heated up in the gravy (which was particularly good, because I made it with pork stock from the French pork and potatoes dish). Then I had to go away unexpectedly (more about this tomorrow on Elsewoman), so I cut up the rest of the meat and froze it. 
          I got back today, and thought about what to have for dinner. It's been the coldest day of winter so far,  barely getting to 9C at best, so the last thing I wanted to do was go shopping. I got out half the frozen pork slices and left them out to thaw (didn't take long, as they'd been so recently frozen). Then I put the oven on to 160C (fan forced), poked holes in a Red Jacket potato, coated it lightly with oil, and put it straight onto the oven rack about an hour and a half before I wanted to eat it. I had leftover rhubarb, too, so I made a little crumble topping and sat that in the oven, near the bottom, while the potato cooked.
           The pork, some leftover bread, and some onion got ground up separately in the food processor, along with some garden herbs - parsley, sage, thyme - that I dashed out into the cold for. I used all this, plus two eggs, a bit of flour, a dash of chili sauce and plenty of salt and pepper, to make rissoles. I had some leftover red cabbage and apple, cooked with apple juice, apple syrup and balsamic vinegar, so when everything else was ready, that got heated up in the microwave.

The rissoles were terrific (and I've got more for later), the potato was perfect and the sweet-sour cabbage was great  with it all. I had just enough cream left to go with the crumble (half of that left for later too). 
         I know the prospect of leftovers can sometimes feel dreary, but honestly, it was one of the nicest little dinners I've made myself this year.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Rich and rustic: pork and potatoes

Wellington has been absolutely, positively freezing for a week. So when I saw some nice pork chops at the butcher's, I thought it was time to revive a dinner I haven't made for years: Elizabeth David's pork chops baked with potatoes, or if you prefer, Terrine de Porc (though it isn't, of course, what we would usually think of as a terrine at all).

Her instructions (which are always a little vague - I've spelt them out a bit more) are to cook it in a ceramic dish in "a very slow oven" for three hours, so I thought it would work  even better in a slow cooker - and it does. But the oven would be fine too. It looks like a long recipe, but it takes very little time to put together.

Pork chops baked with potatoes 
(adapted from French Provincial Cooking, first published in 1960 and probably her best book from a cook's point of view)

4 pork chops
2 large cloves garlic
8 juniper berries
Olive oil or pork fat (I had some duck fat so I used that)
700g Agria potatoes
1 onion
150g thinly sliced shoulder or middle bacon
1 small glass white wine or cider (about 125g)
salt and pepper
parsley to serve

Put the slow cooker on to high, or the oven on to 150C.
Make a little slit in the meat alongside the bone of each pork chop. Push in half a clove of garlic, sliced lengthways, and two juniper berries. Brown the pork chops on each side in a little fat or oil, and set aside.
Peel the potatoes and slice them evenly and as thinly as possible (a food processor does this very well).
Peel and thinly slice the onion.

Arrange half the potatoes on the bottom of the slow cooker dish or in a large, deep ceramic oven dish with a lid.
Strew half the sliced onions on top.
Place the chops on top of the onions and potatoes.
Cover the chops with the rest of the onions, then the potatoes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Lay the bacon slices neatly over the top to cover everything. Pour over the white wine or cider.

(I was making this for two, so it looks a bit smaller - I used 2 chops, less bacon, about 2/3 of the potatoes, and the other ingredients stayed the same.)

Place a layer of kitchen paper, folded double, between the dish and the lid.
Slow cooker: either turn the temperature down to low and cook for 6 hours, or cook on high for 4 hours and on low for another 1-2 hours.
Oven: Cook for 3 to 3 and a half hours.
The cooking time depends on how thick the potato slices and pork chops are. To see if everything is cooked, gently push a thin sharp knife down through the layers. It should go in quite easily, meeting only slight resistance.
When it's cooked, grasp the dish firmly and carefully pour any remaining liquid into a bowl. This will be mainly fat from the chops.
Serve hot, on hot plates, with other veges on the side (though the French would probably eat these as a separate course). Sprinkle finely chopped parsley over the top (only I didn't go out to get any, it was too cold and wet).

That chop looks pinkish not because it's undercooked, but because the bacon seems to give it a bit of colour. "This is heavy, rustic food", says Elizabeth, "but the flavour is delicious." It is too - totally satisfying on a winter evening. Any leftover potatoes are excellent gently fried up for breakfast with an egg or a little sausage. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jelly for grown-ups

In 2005 we spent Christmas in Auckland. We were house-sitting, so we decided that we would do Christmas dinner. My family could for once enjoy not having to do anything and just be looked after. (When I suggested this, they instantly responded with, "We'll bring the wine", so I gathered that they thought it was a good idea.)
              I hunted through our friends' ample store of recipe books for a light dessert, and found one for pinot noir jelly with berries. It was a great success, and I remembered it when I was thinking about what to have for dessert for the recent birthday dinner. A quick online search threw up what looked like a pretty good recipe, and it was - both pretty and good, and really easy to make well in advance. It comes from the New Zealand Blackcurrants site, but I'm afraid I didn't use blackcurrants (but one day I will) - I used frozen raspberries and a few boysenberries instead. Blueberries and blackberries would be good too.

Berry and pinot noir jelly
(Makes 8 x 125ml servings)

350g (1 + 1/2 cups) castor sugar
500ml (2 cups) pinot noir

For fresh berries:
14g (4 tsp) gelatine
About 350g fresh berries

For frozen berries:
20g (6 tsp) gelatine
About 500-540g frozen berries

Pinot noir syrup:
Put sugar and pinot noir into a saucepan set over a gentle heat. Stir till sugar is dissolved. Increase heat and heat to just below boiling.
Put 125ml (1/2 cup) pinot noir syrup in a small bowl and sprinkle gelatine onto syrup. Stir to dissolve.
Pour into remaining pinot noir syrup and stir till combined. Leave to cool.

Divide fresh or frozen fruit between serving dishes or glasses (I used my pink glass cups and saucers). 
Add pinot noir syrup to come up to near the top. 
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, or till set.
Take out of the fridge about 1/4 of an hour before serving.

Everyone loved this - it was light and had a beautiful balance between sweetness and sharpness. I didn't serve anything with it, it would have interfered with the delicate flavour.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Life is not too short to stuff a mushroom

In fact stuffing a mushroom - at least, a large mushroom - takes very little time. For our joint birthday dinner, I wanted to make something I could prepare ahead of time and cook quickly just before it was wanted, so these worked perfectly.
            But I was really pleased I'd done the sensible thing and tried out the new recipe I found in the April NZ House and Garden, because I thought it needed a bit of adapting to work well. To my taste, the original stuffing  had too high a proportion of breadcrumbs, so it was very crumbly, making it hard to keep in place on the mushrooms, and the taste was a bit bland. Here's my version.

Stuffed mushrooms

8 medium portobello mushrooms - choose nice round ones with properly upturned, inward-curving edges, so the filling will stay in place more easily.
Extra virgin olive oil - enough to brush over each mushroom, inside and out
2 Tbsp butter
3 rashers streaky bacon, cut into small pieces, or the equivalent in good quality bacon pieces (I got these at Moore Wilson)
2 spring onions, chopped small
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
1/2-3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs (dry ciabatta bread is good)
50-75g crumbled feta cheese (more if you want to leave out the bacon)
freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Wipe mushrooms clean with a paper towel and carefully remove the stems, without making a hole in the cap. Finely chop the stems.
Melt butter in a pan and add bacon, letting fat run a little. Add spring onions, garlic and chopped stems. Fry gently until cooked, about 5 minutes.
Stir in thyme, parsley and enough breadcrumbs to give a crumbly texture, but not so much that the bread overwhelms the other ingredients. Add crumbled feta and black pepper and mix well.
Add beaten egg and mix gently to make a moist, crumbly mixture.

You can do all this several hours in advance. Cover the filling, put the mushrooms carefully into a sturdy brown paper bag, and leave both in the fridge (mushrooms in the vege drawer) until half an hour before you want to eat them.

Heat oven to 200C. Brush mushroom caps inside and out with olive oil. Arrange them, gill side up, on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
Using a small spoon, put the filling into each mushroom cap so that it makes a shallow mound. (I did a pepper as well, because one guest didn't like mushrooms.)

Bake for about 10 minutes until cooked. Serve hot.
I didn't take a good photo of the ready-to-eat mushrooms because (a) I'd had a bit to drink by then, (b) it was night time, so the light wasn't great, and (c) I was in a hurry because we wanted to eat them hot, so I only got one quick go. But you get the idea. They make a great first course, delicious and sort of substantial without being too filling. And of course you could leave out the bacon for a vegetarian version.

Ali sent me this comment about last week's post on her rillettes:
"I hope people overcome their fear of the unknown - and for their cholesterol levels - and try it. (I couldn't believe I was actually telling people to ask for more fat!) But it's not nearly as rich as some recipes, which specified large amounts of extra fat and used only the liquid fat to moisten the meat at the end, instead of the meat juices as well. I think with mine you get more of the true pork flavour."