Saturday, December 14, 2013

The afterlife of a smoked chicken

I love smoked chicken, but I tend to buy it only when I want to feed other people. Last weekend our book group had its Christmas pot-luck lunch, and smoked chicken came into my mind. A big salad, I thought, with my garden lettuce, beans, asparagus, red pepper, mango and smoked chicken, with mayonnaise on the side. Lovely colours, lovely flavours. And lo! It appeared - and was quickly devoured.
      But even though there were eight of us, and a smoked chicken looks quite small, I had enough chicken left over for my dinner that night and I still hadn't eaten it all. So the next day I pulled all the remaining flesh off the bones and cooked up the carcass with an onion, parsley and some juniper berries to make a delicious smoky flavoured stock. I left it in the fridge overnight, then transformed it into a spaghetti sauce for a quick dinner.
        It was very good, but a little too liquid. I had deliberately cooked extra spaghetti, so I put the leftover portion into the sauce, still in its pot, and put the whole thing in the fridge.
         Next night I got it out for a second dinner. The pasta seemed to have absorbed most of the sauce. I heated it up in the microwave and it was absolutely superb.

Smoked chicken and mushroom sauce for pasta

For the stock
1 smoked chicken carcass
1 onion
Parsley sprigs or one large stalk with leaves (preferably flat-leaved)
6 juniper berries
1 chicken stock cube
Bring 3 cups water to boil. Add chicken carcass, quartered onion, juniper berries and parsley. Boil gently for about 30 minutes. Watch it and if the liquid is getting low, add more boiling water. Check seasoning. Strain off stock and leave in fridge overnight. Skim off fat.

Spaghetti or fettucine
Required amount for 2-3 servings
(I find 75g is enough for one serving, but you may want more)
Cook in boiling salted water till al dente. Drain and keep warm in the hot pan while you make the sauce.

For the sauce
(Enough for 2-3 servings)
20g butter
20g plain flour
50ml dry white wine
200-250ml stock
Juice of half a lemon
4 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
About 200g leftover smoked chicken, cut into small pieces if necessary
Melt butter in small heavy based pan. Off the heat, stir in flour rapidly to avoid lumps. Cook over gentle heat for 2 minutes, storing constantly. Off the heat, stir in half the stock. If you can be bothered, heat the wine to reduce it a little then add to sauce. (I must admit, I just put it in - the sky didn't fall and it tasted fine.) Return to gentle heat and stir until it thickens. Add the lemon juice, the thinly sliced mushrooms and a little more stock and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms soften a little and it reaches the thickness you want. (If you would like to try the  overnight pasta method, it should be quite runny.)
    Stir in the leftover chicken and heat it through. Check seasoning. You probably won't need more salt as the smoked chicken is quite salty, but you can grind in some black or white pepper if you like.

You can eat the sauce over the pasta immediately, or you can try keeping the sauce quite thin, putting the cooked pasta in it and keeping it till the next night, then reheating it. Magnifico.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

La salade lyonnaise véritable

I had three salades lyonnaises in Lyon. They were all a little different. When I got back I looked for the recipe online, and found at least a dozen different versions, all claiming to be la salade lyonnaise veritable. I remember reading how Julia Child had great difficulty establishing which recipes were the correct ones for various French classic dishes. She doesn't include a recipe for salade lyonnaise. Elizabeth David does, but it's totally different from any of the versions I found, or ate, since it consists solely of a collection of little dishes of various bits of animals.
             Some basic ingredients do emerge, and these match what I ate in Lyon. First, some kind of slightly bitter salad greens - in earlier times it used to be dandelion, known in French as pissenlit or "wet-the-bed", but today it's frisée (also called curly endive or chicory endive) and/or French endive itself (also called chicory). We bought glorious great discs of frisée when we were staying in the Loire Valley. I'd already taken leaves out of the centre of this one when I remembered to take its photo.

It can have shallots and garlic, too, though opinions vary. Next come bacon, croutons, and a poached egg (though some recipes prefer soft-boiled or even hard-boiled egg). Finally, a sharp mustardy dressing.

Here's an adapted translation of a French recipe which seemed to me to be the closest to the salade lyonnaise I enjoyed most in Lyon. The French use soup spoons as a measure rather than dessert spoons or tablespoons.

La salade lyonnaise véritable
(Serves four)
1 large bowl of washed salad leaves - frisée, endive, dandelion
4 very fresh eggs
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 soup spoon of olive oil for cooking
200g bacon (this should be lardons, thin square sticks of fatty smoked bacon, but these are very hard to get in New Zealand. The best substitute is a thick piece of smoky bacon cut into small dice.)
4 dry slices of good white bread (e.g. sourdough or a French country loaf) crusts removed, cut into dice for croutons 
1 soup spoon of Dijon mustard
2 soup spoons of good quality red wine vinegar
5 soup spoons of extra virgin olive oil
black pepper
fresh bread to serve on the side

Gently heat the first measure of olive oil in a frying pan. Cook the garlic and shallots until soft. Remove from pan. Cook the bacon gently until crisp. Remove the bacon and add the bread. Toss and fry gently until golden brown on each side.
Make the dressing: whisk together the mustard and vinegar, then slowly add the second measure of oil, whisking steadily to make a creamy dressing. Add the pepper.
Some recipes recommend adding the vinegar and mustard to the pan with the garlic and shallots before adding the second measure of oil. Or you can add the garlic and shallots to the mixed dressing, or simply add them to the salad leaves.
Toss the dressing with the salad. (You may not need to use it all, so add it little by little until there is just enough to coat the leaves very lightly.) Scatter over the bacon and croutons. Divide the salad between four plates.
Quickly poach the eggs, making sure the yolks are still runny, and drain them carefully. Place one egg on top of each pile of salad. Serve with fresh bread.

I made this for an American friend using iceberg lettuce, as I knew she wouldn't like the bitter greens - and I don't think even Moore Wilson has frisée (though I'll check). I made do with ordinary bacon, and as I didn't have the right kind of fresh bread I added more croutons than usual, . As I'd made them with my friend Ali's home-made foccaccia, they were delicious.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Time to make that Christmas pudding...

Amazingly it's Christmas pudding time again. It's galloped up on me very suddenly because I was away for so long. But it looks as if I'll have a goodly gathering of friends this year, for the first proper Christmas dinner here since Harvey died, and I want everything to be as it should. (I did make a pudding last year too, but that was to take to my sister's in Auckland.)
             So today I hunted through the pantry for the ingredients and filled in the gaps with a quick trip to the brilliantly well stocked dairy over the road (I didn't need much, I like going there, and it was much quicker than walking or even driving to the supermarket). I made a daring decision to replace half the raisins with "craisins", dried cranberries, just for a change. Now it's all mixed and sitting in its bowl to stand overnight, ready for steaming tomorrow.
           The pudding featured in the terrific review by Susette Goldsmith in the Listener on 26 October, so I have to quote it: 
"Sandwiched between are tales from Auckland, Albania, London, New Caledonia, France and Wellington, as rich and complex as her Christmas pudding (one of 24 chapter-related recipes included)."
You can also find the recipe on my blog here.

I know I have posted much on here lately - it's taken me a while to get back into the swing of cooking. But next week I'll write about one of the nicest dishes I ate in France, the celebrated salade Lyonnaise.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

English cheese and New Zealand reviews

I've been in England since 12 October. Several friends have asked how I'm finding the food after France. I have to say that, as I've been staying with friends, I've been relishing home-cooked breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Bacon! Mashed potatoes!  And tonight, smoked trout and mackerel! In Cheshire my lovely hosts produced many good things, including a glorious board of entirely English cheeses - Leicester, Cheddar, English Brie, Stilton... all of them excellent.

Now I'm in London for the first time since 1995. Today my friend Sandra took me to the cafe at the top of the National Portrait Gallery for breakfast. There's a stunning view over nearby London, including the lovely wreathed dome of the National Gallery. I eschewed eggs Benedict, etc in favour of nursery food: two boiled free-range eggs with a generous pile of toast soldiers drizzled with Marmite, and a pot of proper loose-leaf tea. Bliss. On Thursday I'm going to have dinner with a friend at another venerable London institution, the Spaghetti House in Goodge Street. What will life serve up next, I wonder? Meanwhile the New Zealand Listener has published what I consider to be an excellent review of my food memoir in the 17 October issue. Very satisfying!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The joy of a flat white and Kiwi chat in Lyon

On a long trip like this, especially when you're on your own, there will inevitably be a low point where you just want to hide in your room. Mine struck  early this morning. Then I opened Facebook and found a message from Rosamund Morris James. With her French husband, she runs Cafe Mokxa - La Boîte au Cafe, a Kiwi coffee shop in Lyon with properly roasted coffee. Mary Evans had posted me about her. So here she was, inviting me to come in this morning when she'd be there. I googled her location and saw it wasn't far from the metro stop I mastered yesterday, and it was on the way to Croix Rousse, the Hill of Work - silk weaving in particular - which had seen brutally repressed revolts for a minimum wage. I wanted to go there to see the museum. So I instantly felt better, got myself organised and trotted off, looking forward hugely to a Kiwi chat and hoping desperately that they would have flat whites.
       And there she was, with a warm welcome and her perfectly trained baristas turning out the finest coffee in Lyon. It's not just me saying that - the cafe is already well known and has been getting rave reviews. Now they're planning to open their own bakery as well. I had a wonderful time talking to her - and yes, having not one but two flat whites. With ferns on top.

See for yourself at

Friday, October 4, 2013

Luscious Lyon

After two and a half weeks I'm still a little bemused by French food. I understand the conventions, and have a reasonable grasp of the complexities of what you can eat where and when. But what I hadn't reckoned on is the Lyonnaise determination to ensure that there is not just enough food, there is too much food ( well for me, anyway). Up until now I've always been confident that French restaurant " formules" worked perfectly well because the helpings were small, so you go for that appealingly affordable three- course option. Not any more. The helpings in Lyon are enormous. I am having to learn to leave some, no matter how delicious. I had resolved to have small dinners but tonight I ended up over in Old Lyon, the world heritage listed  area of largely Renaissance buildings on the further bank of the Saone - I'd just been on an excellent guided walk there. 

It's filled with restaurants all claiming to be "veritable bouchon Lyonnaise" , renowned for low-priced menus of Lyon classics. So I decided I had to stay there for dinner, as it would be my only chance - it's too far to go back to at night from the hotel. 
    But where to go? I did what the French do - wandered round reading all the menus. One caught my fancy, Les Paves de Saint Jean. It looked cheerful and well-tended ( in Lyon red checked tablecloths don't mean " tourist trap" as they do in most cities) and  offered a three-course "Menu Bouchon" for 15 euro, considerably less than I'd been paying over near my hotel in Presqu'ile. But most importantly, I could see how to put together a dinner of homely Lyonnaise classics I would really like, without going near tripe, etc. And they had fillettes of decent wine - 250 ml, two glasses - for 6 euro. 
     It was only 6 pm, too early for dinner - they don't start serving till 7 - but the patron heard me asking the waitress and called out that for me, they could manage 6.30. So I sat happily in the warm light evening with water while the staff had their dinner. Then came the food. First, a Salade Lyonnaise - very like a Caesar salad but without the anchovies or Parmesan - it has a delicious tangy dressing all its own. I had been dreaming of poached eggs, and it comes with one.

Then the local sausage, with a lovely rich sauce (i tasted cloves in it, I think) and plain steamed potatoes, exactly what I wanted. 

There was, as usual in Lyon, far too much, and I did manage to leave some, assuring the staff that it was tres bon but just un peu trop ( sorry, blogger doesn't do accents on the iPad) - especially as I wanted to leave room for dessert. They were all maison (made on the premises) and I was ushered in to look at them all, under their big glass cloche or in the fridge, and choose. The praline tart was said to be tres typique, so I had that. A luscious texture, very sweet but satisfying. 

This time I didn't mind taking photos. I told them I was a food writer from New Zealand ("Ah" said the waitress, " i thought i could hear a little accent", which i took as a compliment). Then i took two more outside. While I was having dinner, a steady stream of French customers arrived. I've made a few foolish decisions about food in France, but tonight everything was perfect.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hand to mouth in the Loire Valley

Doves cooing in the garden, sun on the pink geraniums. Ulrike and I both getting as much as we can done while we've got wifi. This is our gite...

... And this is the very kind owner's house  across the lawn.

We have to leave soon. I have so much enjoyed being able to eat 'at home' for the first time in France. We have a well- equipped kitchen, even a dishwasher. I haven't gone in for any fancy cooking, but it's been huge fun collecting bits and pieces from the local shops and occasionally a market (not often, too hard to park and we're usually out all day chateau- ing), and working out how to turn them into tasty suppers. Black pudding and couscous; omelette with potato, shallots and ham; fettuccine with cheese sauce made from three different ends of cheese; heated up little quiches from bakery; and lots of curly frisée salad and sliced tomatoes. Dessert is either cheese and white peaches or lemon tart.

We did manage two picnic lunches down by the Loire (see Elsewoman for a photo of how close it is, and my food memoir page on Facebook for the picnic), but often we went to a cafe or restaurant at the chateau of the day.. Cheverny: Orangerie setting, simple but delicious lunch of quiche and salad followed by a shared lemon tart;  Chambord: competition keeping the standard up (it works for restaurants) so we had a brilliant formule of linguine and smoked salmon, plus coffee with petit fours and chocolate mousse;  Chenonceau: lets its beautiful self down with horrible self- service caf, posh restaurant fully booked, me getting irrational the way I do when lunch is too late - rescued by croque Monsieur from kiosk at the gate, plus a lemon ice cream later; Villandry:learning from experience, we booked on the way in, advised by lovely energetic waiter, then returned at 1 for smoked duck salad, coffee and shared little cakes - expensive, but it was our last one so we didn't care, and we could have it outside. What I like is that so often, as at Villandry, the same attractive place with the same skilled professional staff serves everything from a simple and cheap sandwich to a four course gourmet lunch. 
But I think it's the dinners at home I'll remember with most pleasure. Now I'm off back to the city and then a river cruise, so I won't be eating at home again till I reach my friends in the UK. I can't afford and don't want to eat proper French lunches and dinners all the time, so I'll have to pace myself - a galette here, a sandwich there... But with a little forethought, the one thing I won't need to do is go hungry. Here's our remarkably delicious supper of black pudding, made by the local butcher in Menars.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Lisa's celebrated Raspberry Mousse

Sunday in Pankow, Berlin. Today we celebrated Matthias' birthday with a very long brunch/lunch for 13 people. We sat outside on a perfect day, warm, still, slightly cloudy, and worked our leisurely way through chicken kebabs, meatballs, prunes grilled with ham, assorted hams and salamis, humus, tomato salad with mozzarella and basil ( I made that), tiny baked potatoes (I prepared those), potato salad, smoked salmon and avocado, assorted cheeses and the usual basket of glorious bread. Then, after a decent interval, came the dessert: a splendid blackberry cake picked up this morning from the local bakery, and Lisa's raspberry mousse.
      I have a long acquaintance with this mousse. Back in the late 1990s when Ulrike, Matthias and their daughter Lisa were living in Wellington, we invited them to share our all-day Christmas dinner, and gave them the important role of providing the Light Dessert (which comes after the cheese and before the Christmas Pudding, served straight after the Queen's Message). They turned up that first time with raspberry mousse, and after that they were asked to bring it every year. Lisa was already an accomplished cook and took the lead role in making it. She's 24 now, and last night she made it again, along with the humus, the chicken and its peanut sauce.

Lisa's raspberry mousse
This serves 6 people generously - the one we had was double the size.

6 sheets gelatine (I'm not sure what the equivalent is in powdered gelatine - will try to find out later)
75 - 100g white sugar (depending on how sweet you prefer it)
300g puréed raspberries (fresh are good but frozen are fine - purée them frozen)
350g plain thick creamy yoghurt
150g cream
If you want to make it really rich: 50-100g white chocolate

Soak gelatine in a little water for 10-15 minutes until soft.
Put in pan with just enough water to coat the bottom, and heat very slowly in large pan on very low heat - about 10 minutes - until completely dissolved.
Remove from heat. Add puréed raspberries. Stir in thoroughly.
Fold in yoghurt.
Whip cream to soft peaks and fold in.
If using chocolate, melt in microwave or over hot water and stir in.
Put mixture into serving dish or mould (Lisa used a flexible mould).
Leave to set in fridge overnight.
About an hour before serving, remove from fridge and unmould if necessary, placing mould briefly in a sink of hot water to loosen mousse.
Serve with more whipped cream or just as is.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Europe, here I come

Badly neglected blog lately, sorry - and badly neglected cooking too. I've been rushing round getting organised for two months in Europe, including giving the house and especially the kitchen a long overdue spring clean because I have housesitters staying the whole time I'm away.
      Kind friends have helped to fill the culinary gap by inviting me round. (Most of my friends tend to be very good cooks, which is wonderful for me.) Last Sunday I abandoned my lists and cleaning cloths and went out for a very long lunch: seafood soup, followed by haloumi, broad bean and roast cherry tomato salad, poached chicken with watercress and avocado. Then a strikingly good NZ "Jersey camembert" made by Runaway Spoon, perfectly ripe; a peach sponge with cream; and a (small) piece of figgy stuff - I forget what it was called, sorry, but it was very good indeed - normally I don't like figs, but I liked this.
        So I am off on Friday - Berlin, then Tours, the Loire Valley and Lyon (renowned for its food). I have my iPad and all the connecting bits I need to feed it photos from my camera, and naturally a fair number of them will involve food. So watch this space, and also my Facebook food memoir page for brief updates (well, as brief as I can get - I don't tweet). In the meantime, here's the main course from that splendid lunch.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Beautiful buckwheat blinis

This week two friends came for our annual long lunch - they have birthdays close together. Last year we made ravioli. This year Ali had happened to mention she'd never made a souffle, so I did my Julia Child impersonation and made her classic cheese souffle. To start with, Lynn composed a toothsome salad with roasted pears and superbly fresh roasted walnuts. Ali had brought everything for blinis and showed us how to make them. It was not difficult at all, and I'll definitely do it again. 
Buckwheat blinis with smoked salmon 
(Adapted slightly from Cuisine magazine, September 2012)
Makes 18-24, depending on how big you make them. Can be made in advance, and gently reheated before
125 ml milk
¾ tsp active dried yeast
50 g buckwheat flour
50 g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
1 egg, separated
butter for cooking
Heat the milk to lukewarm, then sprinkle the yeast over it.
Sift the flours, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Whisk in the warm milk and yeast mixture and the egg yolk.
Set aside in a warm place until the batter has doubled in size. (This can take up to an hour, depending on the air temperature and the freshness of the yeast. I find a metal bowl standing in about 5 cm of warm water in the sink, covered with a chopping board, works very well.).
When ready to cook, beat the egg white to soft peaks, then fold it through the batter.
Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, and use kitchen paper to smear it with butter. 
Add small spoonfuls of batter to the pan and cook until bubbles break through the surface, then turn and
cook the other side until golden. 
Leave on kitchen paper to cool a little.
4 Tbsp crème fraiche or cream cheese, mixed with 2 tsp horseradish cream
150-200 g hot smoked salmon, skinned and broken into small pieces
1 Tbsp chopped chives and/or dill (Ali brought both from her garden)
Put a blob of the cream cheese mixture on each blini, top with pieces of smoked salmon, and garnish with the chives and/or dill.  

We scoffed three or four each and had to have a pause before the souffle. Then we had another pause before the lemon tarts - pastry by Ali, filling by Lynn. After all that I had a very late dinner of leftover souffle (see my Facebook page), and tonight I finished up the last bit of lemon filling by way of dessert. Waste not, want not....  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Pie time

Judging for the Bakels Supreme Pie Awards began in Auckland yesterday, and the results will be announced on Tuesday. One of the categories is chicken and vegetable. Last weekend, needing to produce a main course for four friends coming for a long lunch on Sunday, I decided to make a big chicken and vegetable pie. I'd had a really good one for dinner a while ago at my sister's place in Tauranga, so I'd asked her to photocopy the recipe for me. (Apologies - I didn't make a note of who wrote it or which book it came from - I'll check up with her later.)
          She assured me that the home-made pastry top was really easy, and it was - you make it in the food processor. But while the filling is easy too, it takes quite a while, because it's got so many neatly diced veges in it. Best to start early, I thought, so I made the pastry and the filling on Saturday, all ready to assemble and bake on Sunday.

Chicken and kumara pie with thyme pastry

For the pastry:
200g butter, diced and chilled
150g cream cheese, chopped
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2-3 Tbsps milk
For egg wash:
1 egg
Another 2 Tbsp milk

Put all the ingredients except the milk and the egg in a food processor. Process until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs.
Add just enough milk to bring the dough together. (My food processor is too good - the pastry never clumps. I add a bit of milk, gather some crumbs together with my fingers and test to see if they will stick together. I used all 3 tablespoons of milk this time to get the pastry right.)
Tip the pastry onto a board and shape it into a flat disc. Wrap in plastic film and put in fridge until firm. (I made this Saturday afternoon, put it in the fridge and took it out about an hour before I wanted to use it on Sunday morning.)

For the filling:
(I bought more chicken thighs than stated, with bones in, as it was much cheaper that way. You can use breast, but thighs have more flavour. I removed the bones and boiled them for a while in commercial chicken stock. Then I removed them and happily nibbled all the yummy bits of meat off them before discarding them.)
1 kg skinless chicken thighs, boneless, or 1.2 kg with bones in
1/2 cup plain flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
knob of butter
100g lean bacon, roughly chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 large leek, sliced
1 large carrot, diced
1 Tbsp dried or finely chopped fresh tarragon (I had just enough left in the garden)
300g kumara, peeled and diced (1 cm pieces)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
3 cups chicken stock (the recipe had 1 cup, but this isn't enough)
1/2 cup cream

Season the flour with salt and pepper and place in a plastic bag. Cut the chicken into strips about 4-5 cm long, removing the bones if necessary. If you do have bones, put them on to boil gently in the chicken stock.
Shake the chicken pieces in teh flour to coat them. Remove them and shake off the excess flour, saving 1 Tbsp to use later.
Heat oil and butter in a large saute pan and cook chicken pieces until lightly golden. Use a slotted spoon to move chicken to a shallow dish.
Add bacon, onion, leek, carrot and tarragon to pan. Cook gently until tender and starting to brown slightly.
Add garlic to corner of pan and cook briefly. Add kumara and lemon zest and cook another 5 minutes.

(If you're making the filling the day before, stop at this point, cool the veges, and put them, the stock and the dish of chicken into the fridge.)

(If making next day, take pastry out of fridge an hour before assembling pie. Take out chicken, stock and veges. Put veges back in pan.)
Stir reserved flour into chicken stock. Pour into pan with veges and cook gently to make thick sauce. Add cream and stir well. Add chicken and any juices in dish. Mix gently. Check seasoning.
Simmer for a few minutes to heat through and make sure sauce is cooked. Place in large 7-cup ceramic or glass pie dish.

Preheat oven to 200C.
Roll out pastry to make a rough circle large enough to cover top of pie dish and hang down over the sides.(see pastry tips here).

Make egg wash by beating 1 egg thoroughly with 2 tablespoons of milk.
Roll pastry loosely over the rolling pin. As you do this, use a pastry brush to lightly coat the outer side of the pastry with egg wash. (This is the side that will be in contact with the pie filling - the egg wash acts as a seal to stop the pastry going soggy.)
Carefully unroll the pastry over the pie dish, egg wash side down. Press the pastry down around the rim or the sides (my dish was rimless) and trim it to leave a border all round the filling of about 2 cm. Crimp border and seal it in place with the egg wash (brush a little more onto the dish if necessary).
Cut a cross into the top of the pastry and add a few pastry "leaves" for decoration.
Brush the top of the pastry with the remaining egg wash.

Place pie on oven shelf positioned so that the top of the pie sits a little above the middle of the oven.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is deeply golden and the filling is bubbling.

So, to the long lunch: a slow meander through Donna's broccoli soup and rye bread, then the pie with boulanger potatoes (chunks of potato baked in stock), and Dale's orange cake with lemon syrup. I didn't need any dinner... well, only the last couple of bits of rye bread with a chunk of cheese and an apple.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Flawless flourless chocolate cake

It was my turn to host my book group this week. We have informal rules about supper that we sort of stick to: cheese, crackers, maybe dip or pate, and something sweet. I know one of the members is gluten free, so there are always rice crackers - but what about that "something sweet"? So I hunted through my cake file and found a flourless chocolate cake I'd never made before, from Ray McVinnie. He says he got it from Glenn, a colleague at the School of Hospitality and Tourism at AUT. He says it's "the true chocoholic's cake, which needs nothing with it except cream...a little goes a long way." You really do need an electric whisk or beater for this - unless you've got Wonderwoman arms.

Glenn's flourless chocolate cake

300g dark chocolate, chopped 
(Annoyingly, one block of Whittaker's Dark Ghana is 250g - I reckon you could probably get away with that.)
5 eggs
90g brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
finely grated zest of 1 orange
2 Tbsp brandy
150ml creme fraiche, whipped to soft peaks (don't overwhip), then refrigerated
cocoa and whipped cream, for serving

- Preheat oven to 175C. Line the bottom of a 23cm diameter non-stick cake tin with baking paper.
- Either put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt it slowly over a saucepan of barely simmering water, then stir it until it's smooth; or put it in a large heatproof glass jug and microwave it for 2 minutes, then stir it gently with a wooden spoon until it's smooth. (If it hasn't quite got to melting, give it short bursts of time - say 30 seconds. The pieces don't look as if they have melted, but when you start to stir them, you find they have.) Set the bowl or jug of chocolate aside.

 - Get out your electric whisk. Put the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, zest and brandy in a stainless steel bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water, and beat until the mixture is very thick, pale and creamy. This takes what seems like quite a long time.

- Take off the heat and  beat with electric whisk until cold - or put into electric mixer and then whisk it. Add chocolate in a steady stream (this is where the jug comes in handy), whisking continuously. 
- Fold in the creme fraiche. Pour mixture into cake tin. Boil a jugful of water.
- Place cake tin in a large roasting pan. Fill pan with enough hot water to come 3/4 of the way up the sides of the cake tin. Let mixture settle for 10 minutes.
- Place roasting pan with cake tin in the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes, until set. Remove from oven and take cake tin out of water. 
- Cool cake completely before turning out onto a serving plate, bottom side up. Peel off paper and dust cake with cocoa through a sieve. 

Serve in wedges with whipped cream.
I didn't turn mine upside down as I should have, as the photo shows - but it still looked good and tasted sensational. Not fudgy, just very dense and dark and rich. I'll be making this again - wonderful for dessert, though I think in that case I might disobey Ray and serve it with a little fruit of some kind - maybe apricot puree - as well as the whipped cream.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Salmon and leek tart

As the dearth of new posts might suggest, things have been going to pot a bit around here lately in the food department. But today I felt like being more creative. In the fridge I had some smoked salmon and a leek, so I looked up Dean Brettschneider's excellent Pie to see what I could do with them. I settled for a simpler version of a tart with both leek and smoked salmon. It's meant to have fennel in it too, but that tastes of aniseed, one of the few flavours I don't like. It had cherry tomatoes on top as well, but I thought that would be gilding the lily. So I made a simpler version, and it turned out very well. It's probably more of a lunch dish, but with bread and a salad, it was delicious for dinner tonight.

Salmon and leek tart
plain short pastry - use the recipe here, or your own, or bought
50g sour cream
3 eggs
50 ml cream
1 nutmeg
100g smoked salmon
1 leek
1 Tbsp butter
50g cream cheese
1 tsp thyme leaves

- Heat oven to 200C. Use the pastry to line either a loose-bottomed flan tin or a rectangular tin. Chill in fridge for 30 minutes.
- Put a piece of baking paper over the base, big enough to hold blind baking beans and lift them out afterwards. Blind bake the tart case until it is lightly coloured - about 20-15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans. Turn oven down to 180C.
- Trim the leek and slice into rings. Cook gently in the butter. Add a little salt and pepper. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the sour cream until smooth. Whisk in the 3 eggs. Pour in the cream and grate in a good sprinkle of nutmeg. Whisk gently to combine.
- Cut or break up the smoked salmon into small pieces, put it in a bowl and mix it gently with the cooked leek. Arrange them in the pastry case "in a rustic fashion". (These are Dean's words - nice.)
- Carefully pour over the savoury custard. Dot half-teaspoonfuls of cream cheese over the top. Sprinkle over the thyme leaves.
- Bake at 180C for 25 minutes, until the mixture is just set.  Cool before removing from tin.

Pretty, isn't it!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Mum's little salmon sandwiches

What a week! It started with the launch of The Colour of Food and has been hectic ever since. Lois Daish launched it and Mary Varnham published it. I'm wearing the apron my friend Camille sent me, made of recycled tablecloths.
For the launch I made (with invaluable help from friends) retro food from the 1950s, the sort of thing my mother would make for family parties. Ham sandwiches, Snax biscuits with vintage cheddar and pieces of pickled pear (in Mum's day it would have been chutney but I thought there should be a nod to today's goodies too), and Mum's fudge cake (made by the lovely Sarah from Awa Press). And two large plates of Mum's little salmon sandwiches. Several people have asked me for the recipe, so here goes.
        Only it isn't exactly a recipe. The first time my sister and I made these was for the gathering following Mum's funeral in June 2001, almost exactly twelve years ago. We had to marshall our collective memories to work out how she made them. We mixed, tasted and mixed again until we thought we'd got exactly the right balance of salmon and vinegar.

This recipe makes around 80 small sandwiches.
First, you need two loaves of the thinnest sandwich-sliced bread you can find. I used light wheatmeal - I think Mum did sometimes use this too, though she usually used white bread.

Then you need butter or butter-like spread. The classic is butter mixed with a little hot water, but you can also use one of the butter/oil spreads if you prefer.

And of course, tinned pink salmon. No such thing as smoked salmon in the 1950s!
For the launch I used three of the largest (415gm) tins.

Open the tins, drain the salmon and put it in a large bowl.
Add vinegar. Now this is the tricky part.

In my mother's day the only vinegar commonly available was DYC malt vinegar. But this time I thought I could improve on that a little. I didn't want to use balsamic - it's too strong for the salmon. Instead I used Delmaine's red wine  vinegar, with a splash of DYC malt vinegar for authenticity, and also a good squeeze (half a lemon) of lemon juice and a pinch or two of salt (taste it carefully when adding this)..
         But I can't tell you exactly how much of the red wine vinegar to use, because I didn't measure it. I just kept adding it in small splashes and mixing it thoroughly into the salmon, and after a few splashes, added the DYC and the lemon juice, then a little more red wine vinegar until it tasted right. I added the salt at the end, tasting again..
         My sister and I were surprised how much vinegar it took to get the right flavour. It has to be distinctly sharp and vinegary, but not so much as to completely overwhelm the salmon or make it too wet to use as sandwich filling. You need a damp but still firm salmon mixture that you can spread thickly and reasonably smoothly on the buttered bread. Just try it yourself and see how you go. You might like less vinegar than my sister and I do (only then they won't be Mum's sandwiches).

It pays to set up an assembly line! Take two pieces of bread at a time from the packet, open them and spread them with butter. Put them lightly together and pile them up in pairs.
Open each pair and spread one reasonably thickly with the salmon, then close them firmly. Cut the crusts off.
Cut each large sandwich into four, either in triangles or in little squares. (Mum usually made triangles but I opted for squares this time, keeping the triangles for the ham and mustard ones. A sandwich plastic cutter guide like the ones they use in choose-your-own-sandwich places helps, but I didn't have one.)
Arrange them neatly on two large plates and cover them with a damp teatowel until required. (We had finished making them about an hour ahead of time - you don't want to leave them much longer than that.)

Very basic, very retro - and everyone loved them.

                                            Here's my little mother with my son in 1987.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Something else to read, with fudge cake!

To make up for my lack of posts recently, here is the big news: my new e-book food memoir, The Colour of Food: A Memoir of Life, Love and Dinner, is now available online! It gave me a huge thrill to see it there. We're having a little launch for it on Sunday, with retro 1950s food, including the fudge cake made by both my mothers. To find out why I had two, see the book - details below.
        You couldn't get a more classic New Zealand recipe than this, and you probably all have it already, but just for fun, here it is (it's in the book as well - there are 23 recipes at the back, matching each era of my life). I'll have to add the photo in the weekend, as I won't have time to make a batch before then. With a bit of supervision at the cooking stage, this is perfect for children to make.

Mothers' Fudge Cake

250g wine biscuits or arrowroot biscuits
125g soft butter
½ cup sugar
1 egg
2-3 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
crystallised ginger, nuts and/or dried fruit, chopped (to taste - mothers used to put in whatever they had to hand)

Grease or line with baking paper a shallow oblong tin and set aside.
Put biscuits into a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin into little pieces (not crumbs).
Put butter and sugar into a medium saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until butter is melted.
Beat egg and cocoa together and add to butter and sugar. Add vanilla essence. 
Bring mixture just to boiling point, but do not boil. 
Take off heat and gently stir in crushed biscuits to spread them evenly through the mixture.
Add small pieces of ginger, nuts and/or dried fruit as desired.
Spread mixture in tin and allow to set. Using a sharp knife, cut into small bars and store in an airtight container.

How to get my book
For Kindle, go to Amazon Kindle Books here.
For Kobo, go here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Three Cheeses

This is about a story, but as it's a story about cheese (among other things), I thought it would be okay to post it here. Last year I wrote The Three Cheeses for the Goethe Institute competition for a Grimm Fairy Tale for Aotearoa. It didn't win one of the three prizes, but the judge, Kate de Goldi, commended five other stories and mine was one of them.
          Yesterday it was my turn to be posted online on the Institute's fairy tale blog. To read it, go to The Three Cheeses. You can rate the story by going to the end and clicking on the last star for the rating you choose (so click on the 3rd star to give it 3/5, the 4th star to give it 4/5, and so on). The 12 best rated stories will be published in book form later this year. I've had lots of emails about it, but my favourite is this one from Lucy,  who writes the great food blog The Kitchen Maid :
"I am sitting at my laptop (which I have switched on in desperation, being unable to sleep) and tears are rolling down my face. This story is just beautiful. It has also given me an uncanny craving for cheese."

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Three weeks to go...

Hot off the publisher's desk - the cover for my e-book, to be launched in June by Awa Press.
To whet your appetite, here (made public for the very first time!) are the ingredients:
To start with
1 More than enough
At home in Mount Eden, 1945-1965
2 Colour cookery
A husband, a kitchen, children, 1965-1972
3 Revolting
Bad food and women's liberation, 1945-1972
4 Mish me kos
Two years in Albania, 1973-1974
5 Bon appétit
Seduced by French food, 1958-2000
6 On not eating
Losing my son, 1979-1987 and after
7 Another messy cook
Finding my birth mother, 1950-2012
8 Dinner for two
Sharing a kitchen and table with Harvey, 1979-2004
9 Too much
When Harvey lost his appetite, 2005-2010
10 The next best thing
Learning how to dine alone, 2011-2013
Books that have inspired me
About the author

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Magic chocolate pudding

This week I went hunting for a half-remembered recipe - the magic self-saucing pudding. You mix it all up together and while it bakes, the cakey part rises to the top, leaving gooey sauce underneath. My own favourite version of this is the lemon one, best known as lemon delicious. But this time it had to be chocolate for my houseguest, who thinks that if dessert's not chocolate, it's not really dessert. I found exactly what I wanted on page 74 of Alexa Johnston's collection of old-fashioned desserts, What's for Pudding? Just one grumble: why oh why do designers think it's a good idea to put the list of ingredients - and in this case the page numbers as well - in pale coloured type that's really hard to read?

Chocolate fudge pudding (slightly adapted from What's for Pudding)
For the pudding:
1 c (125g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp cocoa
pinch salt
3/4 c (150g) sugar ("a mixture of brown and white is a good idea")
1/2 c (125g) full-cream milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 Tbsp (30g) butter
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c chopped walnuts or chopped chocolate (I used a bar of very dark German chocolate which is too bitter to eat, but wonderful to bake with)

- Preheat oven to 180C. Butter a fairly shallow ovenproof dish that holds about 4 cups (1 litre).
(In fact the dish I used was a bit too shallow - a deeper one, about 8 cm, would let more sauce collect under the cakey top.)
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa and salt. Mix through the sugar.
- Melt the butter in a glass jug in the microwave or in a small saucepan. Stir in the milk and vanilla essence.
- Pour onto the dry ingredients, with the beaten egg, and mix until smooth.
- Stir in the walnuts or chocolate.

For the topping:
4 Tbsp cocoa
3/4 c (150g) brown sugar
1 and 1/2 c hot water

- Spread the batter evenly in the ovenproof dish. Sift the cocoa evenly over the top, followed by the brown sugar.
- Pour the hot water carefully over, completely covering the mixture. (The best way to do this is to hold a tablespoon or larger serving spoon over the mixture and pour the hot water slowly and gently into the spoon, moving the spoon around over the mixture, so that the water spreads evenly over it all without displacing it.)
- Bake for about 1 hour until the topping is firm to the touch and the pudding smells cooked. 

The magic at work - that's a macaroni cheese underneath.

As you can see, mine didn't look wonderful, as some of what should have been the sauce stayed stubbornly in the middle of the top (that too-shallow dish was the problem, I think). But there was absolutely nothing wrong with the taste. Alexa says "Serve with cream", but we ate ours with ice-cream - I love the contrast of hot and cold. My guest was ecstatic. With a bit of supervision, children could make this for Mother's Day tomorrow...


Friday, May 3, 2013

Pretty potatoes

 I've been buying bags of big fat dirt-covered Agria potatoes lately. Apparently potatoes keep better when they're still covered in dirt (and they tend to be cheaper than nicely washed ones). Usually I peel Agrias, but every so often I want to bake them with their skins on. Last year I bought a handy little book called Splendid Spuds, and in it was a recipe I've been wanting to try for a while, for Hasselback Potatoes. Named after the venerable Stockholm restaurant, Hasselbacken, that first served them in the 1940s, they're a traditional favourite in the USA. They look and taste wonderful, but they're very simple to make. Here's the Huffington Post raving about them recently:
"What emerges is a bit of a cooking miracle - LOTS of crispy edges, soft interior, toppings in every bite. Our only concern is that we haven't made more of these in our lifetime."

Hasselback potatoes (adapted from Splendid Spuds)
This serves four people with 1 potato per person - if you want more potatoes, just use more butter, and they might also take a little longer to cook..

4 smooth oval medium-size Agria potatoes, scrubbed clean but not peeled
1 Tbsp soft butter (approx. - a bit more does no harm)
salt and pepper

Set oven to 230C (or 220C fan forced).
Cut each potato in even 5cm slashes, almost through to the bottom but not quite. 
(The Huffington Post has an excellent tip: line up the handle of a long wooden spoon alongside each potato as you cut, so that the knife won't go right through. It helps to use a longer knife rather than a short vege knife.)
Pat tops of potatoes dry with paper towel and arrange them cut side up in an oiled metal baking dish.
Spread potatoes with half of the butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes, then spread with remaining butter and bake for another 15-20 minutes. 

We gobbled ours up before I remembered to take a photo, and anyway by then it was night time and my dinner photos rarely come out well. 
But for once mine looked exactly like the picture in the book.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pumpkin soup of the evening

Last time I wrote about pumpkin soup, I gave the link but not the recipe for Balkabagi Corbasi, which Harvey found for us (he loved making and eating soup). Now it's getting colder (well, here in Wellington anyway - I'm a bit tired of hearing "Auckland 25...Wellington 17") and the pumpkins are getting cheaper, this delicious recipe seemed like a good idea.
        I had two small round green pumpkins, one from the market ($1.99) and one from the supermarket (99 cents!). They looked similar from the outside, though one was a little bigger, but they were quite different inside - one was yellow and the other deep orange. Together they provided exactly the right weight of pumpkin flesh. It turned out very well, with a good colour and really rich depth of spicy flavour.
        The Soupsong site this comes from is one of my favourites. Here's what it says about this soup:
"This Turkish soup is famous in the village of Bursa, near ancient Mount Olympus. It's a lovely soup--fragrant, sweet and spicy with a tang...And be prepared to be tantalised by an elusive salaam to classic pumpkin pie."
            It's supposed to serve four, but that must be very large helpings. I find two ladlefuls are enough, so for me it serves 6-8.

Balkabagi Corbasi (Turkish pumpkin soup)

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1 leek, with the tender white and green parts cut into fine rings
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp honey (the original has 1 tsp but I find that isn't enough)
1 kg pumpkin flesh (see the instructions for the easiest way to deal with pumpkin here - you will end up with partially cooked flesh, but that's fine)
4 c vegetable stock (miso works well)
salt and pepper to taste
plain unsweetened creamy yoghurt

Heat the oil in a saucepan on a low heat. Stir in the onions, leek, and garlic and sweat, covered, until transparent.
Stir in the spices, honey, and pumpkin, cover, and let sweat together for another couple of minutes.
Pour in the stock, raise the heat, and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat, partially cover, and let simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft.
Puree in a blender, solids first.
Pour back into the pan and reheat (add a little more water if it's too thick).
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Swirl one good tablespoon of yoghurt into each bowl.

        The recipe suggests saving some slices of leek to saute and scatter on top of the soup, but I never do this - I think it tastes better without intrusive bits of green on top. Pepper is good though.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Trying to bake a chocolate cake

As I have said before, I am not a baker. But with two guests who love chocolate cake, when I found what looked like a me-proof recipe, I thought I'd have a go.
       The recipe came via a friend's food blog, Capital Living, and she got it via Annabelle White, who calls it "Lady Glenorchy's Super Simple Chocolate Cake". It really did look easy. You just put all the ingredients into the food processor in the order given, whizz for one minute, then pour into the prepared tin and bake.
        Now that's my kind of cake recipe. But I should have paid attention to the "Cook's Tip" at the bottom:
"Slice this un-iced cake in half and freeze one part and keep the other for immediate use." Because (as I should have known from the list of ingredients) this makes a pretty big cake. So big, in fact, that it only just fitted into my reasonably large processor. And when I poured it into my carefully prepared tin, it came almost up to the top. Oh dear, I thought. Not good.

By then it was too late to do anything but bake it. I knew the oven would work best for a big cake like this on "bake", no fan, but I think I should have also set the temperature slightly lower - I'm pretty sure this oven tends to be a little hotter than the dial says. When I checked, the cake was looming up alarmingly in the tin and starting to plop gently over the edge on one side and down onto the bottom of the oven. Not a pretty sight. 
          I turned the temperature down 5 degrees and left it in until it was cooked through. Once it was cool, I eased it gently out of the tin. It looked rather splendid, a great high domed creation,  a bit of a crest on top but beautifully smooth all round - except for the crumbly bit where it had plopped over and hadn't come out quite cleanly.
          Icing covers a multitude of baking sins. I was determined to do this properly, so I found a good ganache recipe I'd cut out of the paper years ago, from Clark's Cafe in Wellington's wonderful central library. I'd never actually made it before, but it looked very simple too. The recipe says "chocolate buttons", but I used Whittaker's Dark Ghana 72%, so I microwaved it first to make up for it melting less easily than the buttons would.          
          It was the best chocolate icing I've ever made. There was just one problem: after I'd covered my very tall cake thickly in a casual rustic way, filling in the little crater on one side, I had quite a bit left over. Whipping it with extra cream produced a very nice filling. I needed this, given the impressive height of the cake. It was just a pity I hadn't thought to cut the cake in half through the middle and fill it before I iced it...Still, serving the filling alongside the slice meant you got more. My guests didn't complain. 
          While the cake was good, it seemed to settle and taste even better next day. Next time, I'll get it right. I reckon that for most purposes the recipe would be better halved, and the icing would work neatly with 250ml cream (from a 300ml bottle) and 250g chocolate (the weight of one large Whittaker's block). You might still have some left over, but I'm sure you could cope creatively with that.

Lady Glenorchy's Super Simple Smaller Chocolate Cake
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup plain yoghurt
1/4 cup cocoa and 1/8 cup cocoa (halving 3/4 is a bit tricky, but this will work)
100g melted butter
1 tsp baking soda
just under 1 tsp vanilla (well, 3/4 tsp, but I don't think the tiny bit more would matter)
1/8 tsp salt
1 and 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup boiling strong coffee

Set oven to 160C.
Grease sides of a 23cm round loose-bottomed cake tin and line base with baking paper [Capital Living's useful instruction]. 
Place all the ingredients, in the order given, into food processor bowl.  Process for 1 minute.
Bake at 160C for approximately 45 minutes (it might take a little longer, depending on your oven). 
Cake is cooked when a skewer in the middle comes out clean.
Cool in tin before removing and ice with your favourite chocolate icing.

Clark's Even Better Chocolate Ganache
250 ml cream
250 ml Whittaker's Dark Ghana 72% chocolate

Break chocolate into pieces, put in large glass jug, and microwave on low until just starting to soften. 

In a small saucepan, bring the cream just to the point of boiling.
Pour it over the chocolate and stir until smooth. 
[You need to keep stirring for quite a while - at first the mixture looks pale and unappetising, but the longer you stir, the more it darkens.] 

The advice that came with this recipe was excellent. Of course if I'd read it earlier, I would have made the icing before I made the cake.

"If you serve this while it is warm, it is the best chocolate sauce. If you leave it for a few hours [2 hours seemed to be enough], it becomes spreadable and this is when you ice the cake.  When it is at the spreadable stage, if you whisk it, it becomes an airy chocolate filling. If you leave it overnight it will become hard. To soften it again, chop into pieces, slightly warm and stir to combine."