Thursday, December 10, 2015

Savoury bread and butter pudding

Before the onslaught of Christmas richness and excess, here's something light and distinctly un-excessive.
    I don't know whether it's my inherent parsimony or my love of making something delicious out of nothing, but I really enjoy finding a good use for a clutch of leftovers. Last week I had:
- crusts cut from a plate of little salmon sandwiches (with tiny bits of salmon and butter clinging to them), popped into the fridge in case they came in handy
- about half a cup of leftover salmon sandwich filling (tinned salmon mashed with lemon, vinegar and a scrap of creamy salad dressing)
- a third of a loaf of dry but quite good white bread
- a couple of lumps of rather dry cheddar

I considered these remnants thoughtfully, and the idea of a savoury bread and butter pudding swam into view.  So I looked this phrase up on Google, and straight away I found a very appealing recipe by Ruth Pretty.
     (I do prefer to use NZ or, at a pinch, Australian internet recipes - the ingredients and measurements are usually familiar, as are the hobs and ovens, and they always seem to work out well).
      Her recipe did not, of course, have any leftover salmon in it. But it did have cheese, and I thought it could easily be adapted to include a bit of salmon, not to mention crumbs made from crusts.
      But it called for six eggs and looked quite large, so I halved it. And because it was so much smaller, I thought it could probably stand for four hours in advance, rather than the minimum of six she specified. Anyway, I only had four hours to spare before I wanted to bake and eat it, so that would have to do.  

Cheese and salmon savoury bread and butter pudding

Butter to grease dish
3 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup cream
a dash of chili flakes
1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs (I made these from the nicely dry sandwich crusts)
a good-sized piece of stale white bread (not sliced), crusts removed
(weighing about 100g without the crusts)
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated cheddar
1/2 cup mashed tinned salmon, seasoned to taste (if liked) with lemon and/or vinegar and/or mayonnaise

NB: Mix and stand for four hours before cooking

- Grease a round ceramic or glass baking dish with butter.
· Put eggs, milk, cream if using, and chili flakes into a bowl and whisk to combine.
- Cut bread into 2.5 cm cubes.
- Sprinkle half the breadcrumbs into the base of the dish. Cover with 1/3 of the grated cheese.
- Layer half the cubes of bread on top, cover with the salmon, then sprinkle over another 1/3 of the cheese.
- Cover with remaining cubes of bread.
- Pour egg mixture evenly over bread layers in dish. Season well.
- Sprinkle remaining breadcrumbs on top. Cover with remaining 1/3 of cheese.
- Leave dish to stand in fridge for four hours.

- Preheat oven to 180C. Bake bread pudding for 25-30 minutes until puffed and golden.
(Ruth's recipe said 20-25 minutes, but even though my pudding was half the size, I preferred to cook it for a little longer so that it was nicely set,but not dried out. The dampish salmon probably meant it needed to cook a bit longer than her recipe without that.)

 This turned out remarkably well - light, tasty and delicious. It serves two generously, or three with lots of veges and/or salad. I had it with skinny asparagus - perfect.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The true Iberian ham

Spanish ham of any kind isn't easy to find in NZ, though On Trays in Petone has Serrano ham - see my earlier post,

On my bus (sorry, coach!) tour of Spain, driving the back roads from Seville to Lisbon, we stopped at a family-owned factory producing the real thing, the ham called bellota. It's made from the meat of small black Iberian pigs who feed (free range, of course) exclusively on acorns.  They deal with 30,000 pigs a year, though not all of them produce bellota - some are for Serrano ham.
        The process of making the hams is remarkably simple, but the care and control that goes into it is remarkable. Essentially, the fresh legs are first buried in salt - the picture shows this stage set up for visitors, the real thing is the same only much bigger. The salt comes from the coast and can be used several times.

They are then air dried in an ascending series of temperatures. 

Each leg is individually coded, tracked and tested, and the entire process can take up to four years, as the ham slowly dries and shrinks.  A family will buy a whole ham for Christmas and New Year for several hundred euros, depending on size - the 100g pack of bellota I bought was 10 euros, 100 euros a kilo, but they're cheaper bought whole. You can see rows of hams hanging up in good restaurants and tapas bars. They need no further cooking. Stored and cut correctly, they keep for months.
Every other part of the pig is also used - nothing is thrown away.  Here I am in front of the hams ready to be on sold to wholesalers...

...and here's the ham on sale in Barcelona's famous covered market.  It is, of course, utterly delicious - a little like prosciutto, but darker and more strongly flavoured. Perfect with a glass of pale, well chilled dry sherry.  Salud!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Chocolate and churros heaven in Avila

I can't travel without chocolate. This time I stocked up in Vienna, where every supermarket has a bank of shelves laden with a huge range of options, from very cheap (but still good) to near top of the line. Some of it was for the friends I was to stay with later, and some was to sustain me. My travelling companion there, Ulrike, had of course come provided with her own supply of neat little individually wrapped oblongs, which she not only shared generously with me but gave to me when she left, to add to my store.
      I knew all about the famous Spanish morning snack of chocolate and churros, but until yesterday I hadn't had any. I'd been put off a bit by the piled up plates of rather stodgy looking churros and the small cups of chocolate I'd seen other people having. Besides, when I was travelling alone it was too soon after breakfast to eat again, and I was busy doing things in the morning. After that I was fully occupied on my Insight coach tour.
      But yesterday, our last day, we came back from Salamanca to Madrid. When we stopped at beautiful walled Avila, Dominic, our very sweet (and incredibly efficient) tour director, told us we were all getting free chocolate and churros there for morning tea.
       We arrived just as a fresh batch of crisp, thin churros was delivered. Each table got a plateful, then the waiters came round with big jugs and poured us large cups of rich dark chocolate. I'm so glad I waited - they were perfect bliss. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Adios, mi amigo

I had my last dinner at La Sanabresa tonight. Roasted red peppers with garlic and flakes of tuna, cod in tomato sauce, and house made tiramisu. I now know the Spanish for " house made", equivalent to French "maison" - it's "casero". Very useful. It was all good, but the cod was particularly impressive. 
        Friday night is family date night, and the prices rise a little accordingly: the main courses I had been ordering in the 11 euro menu migrated tonight to the 13 euro one, which is still a great deal. The restaurant filled up with small family groups and middle aged couples. My waiter dealt with them all with his usual speed and aplomb.
      And I learnt his name: Joaquín. He proudly showed me a laminated copy of a 2003 article from the New York Times, which praised the restaurant handsomely and paid special tribute to Joaquín (and his moustache).  I rustled up enough Spanish to say it was my last night, and tell him my name (Anne/Anna/Ana works extremely well internationally). When I left we shook hands, he embraced me and I managed to say "Adios, mi amigo." I turned for home (well, the hotel) feeling quite sad. Then he came rushing out after me, saying "Sorry!" I had forgotten my scarf. Real life is never quite like the movies.


Friday, September 25, 2015

La Sanabresa 3

So tonight I remembered to take my camera. I was feeling slightly off colour, so I fancied plain food and I got exactly what I wanted. Thin crisp eggplant fritters with lemon...

Roast pork with mashed potato, always my favourite comfort food (and Harvey's too)...

And of course, the flan, which is in fact creme caramel.
At the end I splashed out and had a small decaf espresso. Then I asked my lovely waiter if I could take his photo. He took the camera, gave it to the couple at the next table, got down beside me and asked them to take us both. I managed to tell him (I think) in broken Spanish that I would come one more night and then had to go (vamos). I'm moving to a posh hotel on Saturday to join my bus tour group. But I don't expect any of the flash dinners we'll have will be quite as heartwarming as eating here.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

La Sanabresa 2

Warning: this is a very first-world problems kind of post.
       It's strange eating dinner alone while travelling. The whole thing tends to take on undue importance. Tonight I went back to La Sanabresa when it opened, in time to get the same table I had last night - for two, of course (there are no tables for one), wedged neatly between two larger tables, and allowing me to sit against the wall looking out into the room.
        The waiter seemed pleased to see me. But who knows? As a passing tourist, even a four-night one, you're just a tiny blip on the radar of his regular clients. You know this, and yet you want him to like you, to approve of your choices, to appreciate you....
        I had already worked out what I wanted: the grilled asparagus, and the grilled dorado, which came with salad (I've seen it on French menus as dorade, the menu translates it as gilthead). Both were really worth eating, and I mentally patted myself on the back as I polished off my half bottle of everyday Spanish white.
        Dessert was a dilemma. Should it be the flan again, since it was so good? Or (in the interests of research) should I try the torta de queso, cheesecake, which I envisaged as some rustic Spanish version? 
        Unfortunately I chose the cheesecake. Mistake - it was a small slice of some spongy and creamy confection, topped with raspberry glaze, and obviously bought in. I had to buy two little shortbready biscuits on the way home to have in my room with Lady Grey tea, in order to offset the disappointment.
         Because that's what happens on holiday by yourself - every small success or good decision is magnified, and so is every small mistake.  And I'll have the same dilemma tomorrow - but I think it will definitely be the flan. After the eggplant fritters and the cod in tomato sauce.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

La Sanabresa

I had some difficulty finding what I felt like eating in Barcelona. I had thought I would get the useful menu del dia at lunchtime and make do with tapas at night, but there didn't seem to be any interesting tapas places near my hotel. In any case, at lunchtime I was often in a museum and needed to make do with whatever they had to offer - which was usually not a patch on the wonderful Viennese ones. And on my own, with poor night vision, I don't like going far from the hotel for my dinner.
      So I usually resorted to the attractive, friendly theatre restaurant up the road, the wonderfully named El Glop, which gave out free olives, served delicious thin slices of duck with salad, and had good Catalan sausage with chips when something more filling was required.
      Now I'm in Madrid, in a remarkably swish hotel that wasn't at all expensive (thanks to my clever travel agent). I Googled for restaurants nearby and discovered the exceptionally well reviewed La Sanabresa, just up the road. So at 8.30 (when it opens at night) I went there. 

Just as well I was on time - within ten minutes it had filled up with a swarm of locals. It serves a range of menus del dia, menus of the day, at night, which didn't seem to happen in Barcelona. The one I chose had lots of options, and at 11 euro for three courses, bread and a half bottle of wine (for one - a couple gets a full bottle) it's an incredible bargain. I had the mushrooms with garlic (excellent), 

the meatballs (a little bland, but still good, with chips), and a superb flan, exactly like a creme caramel only with a darker reddish sauce - maybe there was wine in there somewhere? (The colour doesn't show well here.)

I've already worked out what I think I'll have tomorrow. I'm only here for four nights, so I'm going to La Sanabresa for all of them. On my last day I may even splash out on the 16 euro menu...


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Real High Tea Challenge: Tea transformed

I have a family connection with Sri Lanka's tea trade. In the 1910s, my birth mother's father was the manager of a tea estate in what was then Ceylon. After the first world war he and my grandmother Kathleen, who lived in Tewkesbury, began writing to each other. He visited her in England and they became engaged. Then she sailed out to Colombo, married him on the dockside and went up to the estate with him. My mother was born there in 1920. She used to feed buns to the working elephants from her nursery window.
         I grew up drinking the usual strong, milky New Zealand tea, but I took to drinking mine black and lightly brewed when I was living in Albania.  Back in New Zealand, I was delighted when, in 1988, the new firm of Dilmah chose New Zealand as its test market for its single origin, unblended, ethically produced teas. I've been happily drinking their range ever since.
          To raise the profile of fine tea, in 2007 they came up with the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge, involving 27 of Sri Lanka's top culinary teams. Then they broadened it out to become a Global Challenge, inviting teams around the world to reinvent the traditional high tea for the 21st century.
In 2013 Wellington’s Museum Art Hotel beat 13 other teams to win the first New Zealand round. This July they went to Sri Lanka for the grand final, involving 21 teams (with 710 people) from 15 countries.
Leading the Museum Art Hotel team were Hippopotamus Restaurant's head chef Laurent Loudeac and maitre d’ Camille Furminieux. “When we won in 2013 the final seemed a long way off”, said Camille, “and this March the chef got married – so we started working on our entry in April!” 
In Sri Lanka they had two days to prepare, and on 1 July they had half an hour to set up and just 35 minutes to serve the entire menu to the four judges (including our own Simon Gault). When I asked Laurent if there were any crises, he frowned slightly and said no, of course not. 
On the day, their execution was flawless. But watching the spectacular effects some other teams came up with, they thought they had no hope of winning.  They were wrong.
Their clearly focused theme was the meeting of the five senses, all of them involved in tea tasting. It was shown off perfectly by their elegant French degustation-inspired menu of three savoury and three sweet courses. Created from fine New Zealand ingredients with tea-derived enhancements, and paired throughout with stunning teas or tea-based drinks, it won them the supreme award.

On 18 August they recreated their winning entry for 50 lucky people at Hippopotamus, and I was there on behalf of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers. From the duck tortellini in Ceylon ginger, honey and mint tea broth to the crêpes Suzette with mulled Medda Watte tea, it was the most exquisite sequence of food and drink I’ve ever experienced. 

Here's the menu:
Silver Jubilee Ceylon Ginger, Honey and Mint tea consommé
          Confit duck leg tortellini
Palate cleanser: Silver Jubilee Aromatic Earl Grey tea
Vivid Gentle Minty Green Lady cocktail
          Clevedon buffalo milk feta espuma, macadamia nougatine and fresh cucumber
Ran Watte Single Region Ceylon tea
          Ora King Salmon sashimi "my way"
Silver Jubilee Ceylon tea
          Strawberry mille-feuille and tea syrup
Media Watte Single Region Ceylon mulled tea
          Poire Belle-Hélène
Silver Jubilee Almond-infused Ceylon Pekoe Digestive tea
          Traditional crêpe Suzette
You can see all the recipes here

If I had to choose a favourite course, it would be the beautifully airy, smooth feta espuma (created with a siphon), with its contrasting tiny shards of crunchy nougatine and cucumber curls, its richness offset by the one true cocktail they served - the Vivid Gentle Green Lady, made from Lighthouse gin, Gentle Minty Green tea, fresh mint leaves, cucumber and a dash of Ch’i water. Tea will never be the same...

Proceeds from the Wellington event went to the new culinary training school for young underprivileged Sri Lankans. Funded by Dilmah’s MTF Foundation, it was opened by Simon Gault and other chefs on 5 July. Back home, at the Hospice Vintners' Brunch, a trip for two to Wellington to stay at the hotel and attend the High Tea was put up for auction and raised $2300 for Hospice.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A tribute and a second Spanish helping

I was very sad to read an obituary for Pat Churchill in last weekend's Dominion Post.  Not only was she a pioneering woman journalist and features editor, she was also a terrific cook who made an extra career out of food writing.
       One of the most popular posts on this blog is the one featuring her recipe for mandarin muffins. I'll make them this week in memory of her.

A fortnight ago I promised to post two more tapas recipes. So here they are, only a week-and-a-bit late (trying to learn a bit more Spanish got in the way - disculpe!).

Alubias con almejas - white haricot beans with clams
(From Claudia Roden, The Food of Spain, A Celebration)

650g fresh clams  (I got mine at Moore Wilson, where they're only around $13 a kg)
3 Tbsps olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 500g tin or jar small white haricot beans, drained
125 ml fruity white wine or cava
2 Tbsps chopped flat-leaf parsley

Wash the clams and discard any that are not closed. Soak them in cold salted water for 1 hour to make sure they release any sand. (I didn't do this and no harm was done)
Heat the oil in a wide casserole or pan with a tight-fitting lid. Put in the onion and stir over a low heat until it becomes very soft and is starting to colour. Add the garlic and stir for another minute or two. 
Add the beans, white wine and a little salt. Mix gently and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Place the clams on top, put the lid on, and cook over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes until the clams open. Throw away any that stay closed.
Serve sprinkled with the parsley and a bowl for the shells. 

I couldn't find the haricot beans, so I used cannellini instead. They tasted fine. The whole dish is quite subtle and the flavour of the clams really comes through.  
        Finally, here are Ali's delicious meatballs. It's a Rick Stein recipe, but as she often finds with his recipes, she said she had to tweak it. To make the sauce work, she left out the recommended 200 ml of chicken stock and halved the amount of sherry from his 200 ml, as well as going lighter on the salt, given the salty prosciutto.

Albóndigas en salsa tomate - meatballs in a tomato and sherry sauce
(Based on a recipe by Rick Stein)

For the meatballs
50g crustless white bread
Finely grated zest and juice of one lemon
150g thinly sliced Serrano ham (or use prosciutto)
350g lean minced pork
350g minced veal or chicken (Ali used free-range)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
50g pitted green olives, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1/4 tsp smoked hot Spanish paprika
1 tsp salt
Black pepper
4 Tbsps olive oil for frying

:Break the bread into a small bowl and sprinkle with the lemon juice and 1 Tbsp water. Leave to soak for 5 minutes.
Drop the ham or prosciutto into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
Into a large bowl put the soaked bread, minced pork and minced chicken, ham, garlic, olives, parsley, lemon zest, paprika, salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Mix together well with your hands, then fry a little piece of the mixture and taste it, adjusting seasonings if needed.
Shape the mixture into about 60 small tapas-sized balls.
In a large frypan, heat the oil and fry half the meatballs for 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan to get them nicely browned all over. Repeat with the second batch.

For the sauce
3 Tbsps olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika (sweet or hot)
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
100 ml fino (dry) sherry, or 200ml dry white wine
2 fresh bay leaves
Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a frypan, add the onion, garlic and paprika, and fry gently for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sherry or wine, bay leaves and salt, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes until cooked through. Remove the bay leaves. Serve the meatballs and sauce in shallow bowls with toothpicks alongside.        

As there were only three of us, we helped ourselves form a larger bowl. The flavour was delicious, very rich and intense and satisfying. Olé!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Home made Spain

One of the events I look forward to most in my food year is the Mid-Winter Birthdays.  My friends Ali and Lynn have their birthdays close together in July, and we always come up with a food-themed celebration.  This year, because I'm off to Spain later on and Ali had given me Claudia Roden's The Food of Spain for my birthday, we had a Spanish theme. Each of us made three tapas dishes, from various recipe books, and I made a very light dessert as well. Between us we did make rather a lot of food, of course, but that didn't matter - our families were very happy to gobble up the leftovers. And the array of different dishes, almost all of them completely new to us, was splendid (even though we could eat only a little of each one, and the helpings had to get progressively smaller towards the end).
       The way we arranged them worked very well too. We paced ourselves - including some on-the-spot cooking and a break for presents, it took us four hours. Maravillosa!

First we had a big platter of cold tapas, with Ali's home-made bread:
Champiňones marinados - marinated mushrooms
Tortillitas de camarones - prawn and chickpea flour fritters, with lemon wedges
Spanish olives, artichoke hearts, goat's cheese (La Marche Buche Ziekli) and Serrano Montenevado ham aged for 18 months (the cheese and ham came from On Trays, in Petone)

The marinated mushrooms were very easy to make, and different from the usual recipes because you cook them first.  I made them again in the weekend as a dinner starter.

Champiňones marinados
(Claudia Roden)
This needs to be made at least 5 hours before eating.

juice of 1 large lemon
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
5 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil (I used a good Australian one with "robust flavour")
salt and pepper
500g button mushrooms (evenly sized, so they will cut evenly into quarters)
2 Tbsps chopped flat-leaf parsley (But I forgot to add this!)

Make a dressing with the lemon juice, zest, oil and some salt and pepper.
Wipe the mushrooms and rinse them briefly, if necessary (it wasn't). Trim the stems and cut them into quarters (or halves if they're very small).
Cook them over medium heat in a wide, dry, non-stick frypan for 10 minutes, turning them over until they release their juices, which will evaporate. (They will shrink quite a lot.)
Put the hot mushrooms into the lemon dressing in a wide, shallow bowl, mixing them well. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate for 5 hours at least. Take out ahead of time so that they are served at room temperature. Sprinkle the parsley over to serve.

For our second helping, we served two dishes:
Empanada de hojaldre con atún - tuna pie
Habas con jamón - broad beans with garlic, mint and ham (although because we had two other things with ham, Ali left it out for this one)

The pie filling is delicious but really easy to make, and as it uses canned tuna, it isn't expensive. With salad and bread, it would make an excellent lunch or light dinner. Roden's recipe tells you how to make olive oil pastry, but because I was cooking four things in advance I was a bit short of time, so I made her suggested alternative with good butter puff pastry. The edges did get a bit thick and untidy, but I solved that by cutting them off and taking one big neat square for lunch. My son happily ate up all the edges, which had plenty of the tuna filling embedded in them. I'll try the oil pastry later, and report back.

Empanada de hojaldre con atún
(Claudia Roden)

Enough butter puff pastry to line and cover a square or oblong dish about 3 cm deep, preferably with a rim (the shape gives neater slices than a round pie dish)
1 egg, separated (for brushing and sealing later)

Thaw the pastry and set the oven to 200C bake.
Line the bottom and sides of the dish with baking paper.
Set aside enough pastry to cover the pie. Roll out the rest to cover the bottom and sides of the dish on top of the baking paper.
Place the lined dish in the fridge for 30 minutes. Roll out the rest in a shape to fit the top, and place it on bake paper on a flat sheet in the fridge.

For the filling:
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 large red pepper, deseeded and cut into small pieces
2 Tbsps olive oil
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 450g tin of tuna in oil, drained and flaked
20 black olives, pitted and cut into pieces
2 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped

Fry the onion and pepper in the oil in a large pan over low heat, stirring often, till soft.
Add the tomatoes, sugar and a little salt (the olives add salt too). Cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes until the sauce is thick and jammy.
Remove from the heat and stir in the tuna, olive pieces and chopped eggs. Set aside to cool.

Take out the lined dish, prick the base of the pastry, brush with the egg white and blind-bake in the oven for 5 minutes. (If the bottom still puffs up, just prick it slightly again to flatten it a bit.)
Beat the yolk with the rest of the white and 1 Tbsp water, and set aside to make an egg wash for the top.
Turn the oven down to 180C. Fill the pie with the tuna mixture, spreading it evenly, and cover with pastry, using some of the egg wash to seal the top on. Brush the top with egg wash.
Bake the pie in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until top is golden brown.
Cool a little before slicing into squares, or set aside and warm it through later before cutting and serving.

Next we had alubias con almejas - clams with haricot beans. The clams came from Moore Wilson, but I couldn't find a tin of haricot beans, so I used cannellini instead and that seemed to work well. It was followed by Lynn's classic tortilla de patates - potato omelette, and Ali's albóndigas en salsa tomate - pork, chicken and ham meatballs in a tomato and sherry sauce, a Rick Stein recipe; then garbanzos con chorizo, chickpeas with chorizo sausage (made by the Eastbourne butcher) and pimientos asados, grilled red peppers with garlic and sherry vinegar.
        But so as not to overdo this post, I'll put up the recipes for the clams and the meatballs next week.  Then I'll do marquesas, the light, lemony little cakes I made for dessert. We had just enough room left to eat one each with our coffee.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Birthday lunch at Orewa

We rarely went on holiday when I was little, but I do have a vivid memory of one holiday at Orewa with my mother and grandmother. We stayed in a kind of boathouse, one very large room with a wooden floor, right on the beach. I wore a pretty little sunsuit with shirred elastic, and a cotton sunbonnet. My mother would have made them both.
          I must have been about four, because I don't think my sister was there - she arrived when I was five.  A few weeks ago, she took me back to Orewa for a late birthday treat.  It's changed so much, I don't have any idea where those old beach houses would have been.
           But I was delighted to find we were going to meet the rest of the family at a rare survivor from the past that I didn't know existed: Walnut Cottage. It must have been there in my childhood, because it was built in the 1850s. It's been well designed to suit children as well as adults, with plenty of intriguing toys, room to play with them, a kids' menu and very friendly staff. My little great-nephew had a marvellous time, while his new sister slept on blissfully through it all in her pram.
           The family currently running it are German, so the adults' menu offered interesting dishes from schnitzel and knodel to pancakes and apple strudel. Our two chaps went for pork belly, my niece and niece-in-law had burgers, and my sister and I both chose what was described as "Our Famous Scallop and Bacon Salad". And very good it was too - four kinds of fresh lettuce (no manky mesclun here), crispy bacon, and a generous helping of nicely cooked scallops, with toasted foccacia on the side. So good to find a family cafe serving food that's different and delicious.

For dessert, of course we had to have apple strudel - but mine came with something extra. Thanks to my sister and her family, I couldn't have had a nicer day.

Walnut Cottage
498 Hibiscus Coast Highway (turn down the long drive - the cottage is set in a garden and overlooks the bush and the river)
Open for breakfast, morning or afternoon tea, and lunch, 9.30 am - 4 pm, Weds-Mon (closed Tuesday). I think it's also open for dinner some nights - check. For larger groups, make a booking: phone 09 427 5570.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Snow means soup

Absolutely freezing here. Oh, all right, not technically freezing - certainly nothing below zero, as it was down south last month. (At Tara Hills, near Omarama in the Mackenzie Country, it was -21C on 24 June, the coldest day in the country for twenty years.) But a top temp of 7C (for five minutes in the early afternoon) is about as cold as it gets in Wellington. There was snow on my lawn this morning, and it stayed there till lunchtime.
       I have an automatic reaction to cold weather: soup.  I haven't come up with any stunning new recipes this winter, but I've gone happily back to some old favourites, and I thought it could be handy to collect them up. So: here are four I made (and posted) earlier!

Classic pea and ham
The welcome advent of neat packs of bacon bones in Countdown sent me home to make this.
Bacon bones are better than hocks, there's less fat and they have a better flavour.

Cheap, easy, lots of variations. This Turkish one is lovely: Bulkabagi Corbasi.

But straight pumpkin with curry powder or stock is fine too. If I'm too busy (or too lazy) to start from scratch, I cook up and puree a nice piece and add it to a good commercial pumpkin soup or, if I'm feeling poor, a cheap can... not as good, of course, but a lot better than no pumpkin soup at all.

Leek and potato
(or, if you prefer, Potage Parmentier)
Simplest of them all, extremely healthy (though not if you put the recommended butter and cream in, of course, but I generally don't).

Minestrone alla Karori
The "biggest" soup of them all - with bread, and maybe a bit of salami, definitely a whole meal in itself. So that's dinner sorted.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Lunch at United Kitchen

Camille is my Auckland friend of longest standing - we were at school together, and she features in the French chapter of my memoir. She's a sister gourmande, and she also has very knowledgable foodie friends.  So I asked her to find the restaurant for my belated birthday lunch on Friday with her and Rosemary (the finest private cook I know). United Kitchen in Anglesea St, Ponsonby, came warmly recommended, and when she phoned to book she struck gold. They just happened to be holding a special five-course lunch that day with Central Otago winemaker Akarua. Irresistible!
          We began with a glass of pale, elegant brut, followed by another (well, we did get there early and I did tell them it was my birthday - only Rosemary, as the driver, was admirably restrained). It went very well with the sweet potato tortellini with truffle mascarpone, crisp sage and beurre noisette. (Please forgive me, dear Akarua, for not photographing the wine as well as the food - you can see everything we drank here.)

Then thin slices of confit hapuka, red quinoa and citrus salad and watermelon radish, served with the very pretty rose brut.

Next came pork cheek and scallops (brilliant), heirloom carrots and apple salad, with the 2014 pinot gris.

And a perfect little beef cheek and mushroom pie, looking like a miniature pithivier, and smoked potato puree (I must find out how they did that), with the 2013 Bannockburn pinot noir.

Finally - sorry, I didn't get a good photo, you'll just have to imagine it - a pear and rhubarb crumble and pistachio icecream, with Alchemy ice wine.
           Everything was beautifully served by a handsome young man from Marseille (who even complimented me kindly on my French). Couldn't get much better, I thought - but it did. There was a draw for a magnum of Akarua Brut, and I won. There it is on the windowsill. No wonder we look so relaxed and contented.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In praise of lamb - and Julia

One advantage of having my son staying with me at the moment is the good excuse it gives me to have a roast, especially a leg of lamb. They were on special this week and I was having my neighbour round for her regular dinner. She's a real carnivore, and she suffers from that living-alone problem of not having proper roasts, so I knew she'd love it - and so would my son.
          Even on special they still seemed expensive. But when the long knobbly bone finally went into the trash on Tuesday, picked very clean indeed, I worked out exactly how many meals we'd had off that leg (which weighed 2.48 kg).
           Roast dinner for three, cold meat for two twice, rissoles for two twice, and a few lamb sammies for lunch as well. I'm particularly fond of slices of pink roast lamb made into sandwiches with nice soft white bread and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper.
          So the initial layout of $27 covered, let's say, 10 servings of dinner (allowing for the fact that I added a soup and some fritters to eke out the meat here and there) - that's $2.70 per person for meat. Not bad, eh.
          And very delicious it was too. The blog has the recipe I usually use for the roast itself and for those rissoles. But this time I decided to use Julia Child's basic recipe for roast leg of lamb, because I was short of time earlier in the day and didn't want to be bothered with the mustard coating in advance.

It was an interesting exercise. I was intrigued to see that she adds salt and pepper only at the end. This seemed odd, so I did sprinkle a bit over the top of mine just before putting it in the oven. I shoved a few slivers of garlic around the bone too. But of course Julia was originally using the famous French "pré-salé" lamb, which I used to think meant "presalted", but actually means "salt-meadow", the seaside meadows where the lambs graze, absorbing the taste of salt with their grass and herbs. Harvey and I had it once for lunch in Rouen, and it was superb.
            Her recipe is for a 6 pound leg, roughly 2.75 kg, but as I've often found it takes longer in the oven for a roast than she says, even though it's on fan-forced, I thought it would be safe to use the lower times she gives for my 2.48 kg leg (starting at room temperature).  But since you do initially sear it at 230C for 15 minutes, unlike the mustard-coating recipe, that obviously makes it cook quicker for the rest of the time at 180C. An hour was plenty - in fact I would have been happy to have it a little pinker (although I think my neighbour probably preferred the way it turned out, well towards medium rather than rare, though still nice and pink in its deeper recesses). I've left her timings in their original form for the larger leg, but if you're using it for a smaller one, check with a meat thermometer after it's been in the 180C oven for 45 minutes, rather than leaving it for an hour.

Roast leg of lamb - Gigot rôti
(From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1)

This is for a leg weighing 6 pounds, approximately 2.7 - 2.8 kg bone in.
Remove the lamb from the fridge an hour before cooking. Trim off as much fat and silverskin as possible, and wipe it dry with paper towels.

Preheat the oven to 230C. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of oil in a glass jug in the microwave, Brush the lamb all over with this mixture.
Place it on a rack in a roasting tin just large enough to fit it. Place the tin in the upper third of the preheated oven. For fan-forced, turn the heat down to 220C. After 5 minutes, turn it over and baste it again with the leftover butter and oil.
Repeat after another 5 minutes, and again after another 5 minutes. Leave the roast after the final turn with its fatty top side uppermost.
Take out the lamb and turn the heat down to 180C. Strew the roughly chopped pieces of 1 large carrot and 1 large onion and a few cloves of peeled garlic in the bottom of the pan. Set lamb in middle of oven and roast till done, with teh correct temperature showing on the meat thermometer. Basting is not necessary.

Cooking times:
Rare: 15 mins searing plus 45 mins to 1 hour at 180C. Juices run rosy red.
Medium: 15 mins searing plus 1 hour to 1 hour 15 mins at 180C. Juices run pale rose.
(Julia does not deign to give any timing for well done, that would be unthinkable.)

Season the lamb with 1 tsp salt and 1/4 ts pepper, and place it on a hot platter. Leave it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before carving slices across the grain. (You can wrap it loosely in foil and leave it for longer.)

To make the sauce: Remove the rack from the tin, and spoon out the cooking fat. Pour in a cup of stock (I use miso) and boil rapidly, scraping up the juices and scraps and mashing the vegetables into the stock. Taste for seasoning. Just before serving, strain into a hot sauceboat, pressing the juices out of the vegetables. Add any juices which may have escaped from the resting roast.
(Or simply discard the veges, add red wine to the pan and boil that with the scraped up juices and scraps and a dash of  soy sauce, taste, then strain.)

Be sure to serve the lamb on hot plates to stop the fat congealing.

I found this entertaining gem online: Julia Child visits 16 master chefs in their own kitchens.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The perfect potato cake

For this weekend I wanted a new potato recipe - something different to go with the salmon fillet I planned to cook for Sunday lunch. Gratin seemed a bit too rich and heavy, mashed potato a bit ordinary. Potato cakes or fritters would be nice, but tricky to make on time for six.
           So I started hunting through my cookbooks, beginning with Lois Daish's Dinner at Home and A Good Year. And straight away, I found exactly what I was looking for: Baked Grated Potato Cake.
"This Russian recipe makes a potato cake which is lighter than most, and is crisp on the outside and moist and tender inside."
            It looked quite easy, but as the lunch was for a special occasion and I didn't want to mess it up, I thought I'd better do a test run first. Of course I forgot to take its picture before we ate it (having a very tall, hungry son waiting for dinner to appear does tend to make me forget these things). So I waited to post this until I'd made it again for lunch today, doubling the original quantities.
            It turned out extremely well (thank goodness, because Lois herself was one of the guests). It was a bit too fiddly to make on the day itself, so I made it on Saturday and it warmed up very nicely for Sunday. It's a sort of giant latke, perfect for a tableful of people; but unlike many other grated potato cakes I've eaten and sometimes made, there's no risk of the potato being a bit undercooked.

Baked grated potato cake
From Lois Daish, Dinner at Home (1993)

2 Tbsp butter
1 medium-sized onion
750g potato (Agria work very well)
1/2 cup milk or cream (I used 1/4 cup of each)
2 eggs
salt and pepper
another 1 Tbsp butter

Butter a baking tin about 20 cm in diameter. Preheat the oven to 180C.
Finely chop the onion, melt the butter in a frying pan, and gently fry the onion for at least 10 minutes until it is golden brown.
While the onion is frying, peel the potatoes and grate them coarsely in a food processor or by hand.
Tip the potatoes into a large bowl and fill with cold water. Use your hands to swoosh the potato around and wash off excess starch. Drain the potato and wring dry in a cloth.
Rinse and dry the bowl, put the potato back into it and tip in the cooked onion and butter. Mix gently.
Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the potato mixture, together with the milk and/or cream. Season well with salt and pepper and mix gently.
Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold them in.
Pile the mixture into the buttered baking tin and dot the top with the remaining 1 Tbsp butter.
Bake at 180C for about 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the potatoes are tender.

This photo is of the double-quantity version, which would easily serve eight - the original serves four.

So what else did we have? We started with crepes filled with creamed mushrooms and bacon. With the grilled salmon and potato we had a cos lettuce and avocado salad with lime dressing. For dessert, what's probably my favourite cake: Claudia Roden's orange and almond dessert cake, with pureed NZ dried apricots and cream with saffron syrup.