Thursday, January 30, 2014

A few of my (new) favourite things

The only thing to do with proper cooking that I can think of to write about this week has migrated over to my other blog, Elsewoman. There you'll find a post on Central Otago and wild thyme.

Some other nice little discoveries these holidays:
Elderflower cordial - made with soda, it takes me straight back to a Salisbury pub beside a millpond. And it's wonderful splashed onto summer fruits before you cook them.
A dash of pomegranate syrup with the vinaigrette - they do this at the Marche Francais, it's delicious.
Heated up slices of leftover Christmas pudding with Puhoi butterscotch custard.
Slicing tender little leeks, cooking them in the microwave with a bit of lemon juice, piling them onto thin Vogel toast, and topping them with scrambled eggs made with some scraps of smoked salmon.
Ruth Pretty's fudge - I found the recipe in the DomPost but it's online here. I'm not posting it in full because I don't think I got it quite right. I did obey her and followed the instructions exactly, except that I didn't coat it with more chocolate - I thought that was gilding the lily.
     But mine looked darker, and it didn't really set very firmly, though I could cut it into squares. However, it was beautifully rich and unctuous. When I gave a test piece to my chocoholic American visitor, she immediately told me it was horrible and she didn't think I should give it to anyone else for a present, as I'd planned, we should just keep it and eat it all up ourselves, so as not to waste it. Of course I ignored her and did give some away, with instructions to keep it in the fridge, and was rewarded later by being told it was the best fudge ever. Meanwhile I'd put the last dozen pieces (it makes a lot) into the freezer, wrapped in foil. This week I discovered I could take it out, leave it briefly to dechill, and eat it straight away, because it didn't actually freeze at all  - it just got firmer. So that was another very satisfactory discovery.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Simple apricot galette

I'm something of a heretic when it comes to apricots. Unless they come perfectly ripe to the hand from the tree, I think these gorgeous glowing globes taste better when they're cooked. Cooking seems to bring out that wonderful contrasting sharp/sweet flavour.
    We managed to bring some apricots back from Central Otago, and I wanted to use them for dessert to serve a visitor from Britain. I remembered that the friend I consider to be the finest private cook I know uses a recipe that involves sprinkling ground almonds on a round of pastry, putting the cut fruit on top and folding in the overhang to make a rough tart or galette. So I went hunting online and came up with a recipe from Alice Waters. I could have made the pastry myself, using her recipe or one from Dean Brettschneider, but I didn't have time, so I bought sweet short pastry instead.
     I also adapted the almond mixture that goes on the pastry first - Waters had more flour. The point of this mixture isn't just to add the almond flavour, which goes so well with apricots, it's to absorb the juice from the fruit so there's no soggy bottom. As the pictures show, this really is quite a "rough" tart - that's part of its charm.

Apricot galette (Adapted from Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Fruit, Harpercollins)
Serves 4

Enough home-made or bought short sweet pastry to make a circle roughly the size of a medium dinner plate
2 Tbsps ground almonds
1 tsp plain flour
1 Tbsp plus 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp white sugar
6 - 8 ripe apricots (depending on size - they should not be the very biggest ones, and small ones are fine. It doesn't matter if they're just a little soft, but they shouldn't be really hard.)
1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Apricot jam (optional)
To serve: cream, icecream or yoghurt (optional)

Preheat oven to 200C. (If using a fan oven, set it to 190C, fan bake.)
Roll out the dough to a circle about 35cm across. It's a good idea to do this on a piece of baking paper large enough to fit the oven tray you are using. Put the pastry on the paper in the fridge and chill for at least 15 minutes.
Mix the ground almonds, flour, and 1 Tbsp of the sugar together.
Cut the apricots in half and remove the stones..
Remove the prerolled pastry on the paper from the fridge, and place carefully on the oven tray.
Very gently mark out a circle on it, leaving a border at least 5cm wide all round. (Don't cut into the pastry.)
Sprinkle the almond mixture evenly over the circle.

Arrange the fruit, skin-side-down, in concentric circles on the dough, making a single layer of snugly touching pieces, leaving the border bare. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of sugar evenly over the fruit.
While rotating the tart, fold the border of exposed pastry up and over the fruit to enclose it snugly round the edges. Make sure there are no breaks in the pastry so that no juice can leak out.

Brush the folded-over border with the melted butter, and sprinkle it with the last 1 Tbsp of sugar.Bake in the lower third of the oven for about 30 minutes, until the crust is well browned and its edges are crisp and slightly caramelized.
As soon as the galette is out of the oven, slide it on its paper onto a cooling rack, to keep it from getting soggy. Let cool for 15 minutes.
If you want to glaze the tart, brush the fruit lightly with a little warmed apricot jam. Serve warm, with a little whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or yoghurt if you like.

I didn't glaze mine (actually, I forgot) but I don't think it's necessary - the apricots look so beautiful on their own, with tiny brown bits around the edges. This is a slightly lurid photo - it was dark by the time I took it - but you get the idea. As you can see, I left it a little too long in the oven so it got a bit dark around the edges, but it really didn't matter - those crunchy bits tasted great.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sweetheart cherries

I've been down in Central Otago, picking cherries for only the second time in my life - the first was with Harvey and the boys in 1980. When Patrick came down with his bucket, he asked us if he could eat one now. So we sent him back to eat as many as he wanted.

There's a recipe for cherry clafoutis here. But it would have been a crime to cook these ones.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

In praise of smoked eel

One of the most delicious things I ate over the last week or so was also one of the simplest. At Moore Wilson's I found pieces of smoked eel, and they were remarkably cheap - just under $14 a kilo. The piece I bought was about $5.
           I think the low price probably reflects the amount of work you need to do to use this delicacy - carefully pulling out all the long bones (pliers are a help), then removing all the little backbones and the skin. But once you've done that, it's plain sailing. I found this recipe online, and chose it because I had the pink peppercorns, the dill and the horseradish, and I liked the idea of combining those ingredients with the eel.

Smoked eel pate
250g smoked eel, with skin and bones removed
1 tsp pink peppercorns, crushed
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1Tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
2 Tbsp commercial horseradish cream
75g unsalted butter, softened
2 Tbsp cream cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper

Flake the eel into the bowl of a food processor. Add the peppercorns, lemon juice, dill and horseradish cream, then process to form a rough textured paste. Then add the butter and cream cheese and process again to form smooth pate.

Check seasoning and add to taste if necessary (use white pepper if you want to avoid the tiny specks of black pepper, but I don't think this matters.) Shape neatly (it will set to become very firm) and chill in fridge till set.

To serve, take out about 15 minutes ahead of time. Make thin slices of dry toast, or use crackers. (I used Vogel's very thinly sliced bread - it's a bit hard to get, but it makes lovely toast to go with the pate.)

I served the eel pate alongside guacamole as a starter. I didn't realise it was going to set so firmly, or I would have probably made it into a neat shape for slicing, rather than putting it in a bowl. But it tasted the same and it looked very pretty. The horseradish gives it a subtle kick, and the pink peppercorns add a delicate fennel-like flavour.