Saturday, December 17, 2016

New York, New York - cheesecake, that is

My son had a birthday recently, and he asked me to make his favourite dessert - a plain baked New York cheesecake. The recipe was given to me by the remarkable Augusta Ford, who was on the staff of the teachers' college where my first husband was enrolled. Her husband Bob (who was director John Ford's nephew) was a lifelong socialist and had fought in the Spanish Civil War. As I explained in The Colour of Food (which has a slightly different version of this recipe):
The couple had moved to New Zealand from California in the 1950s to escape McCarthyism. Bob did all the cooking, and Augusta dealt with the cleaning by ignoring it. They were immensely kind and generous; at their spartan book-lined house in Glendowie we stowed our sleepy children in the spare room and sat long into the night over giant T-bone steaks, steadily refilled glasses of Spanish red wine, and bottomless pots of ferociously strong coffee.
Augusta didn't just give me very good recipes - she changed my life by giving me Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which had just come out as a Penguin paperback. Friedan’s brilliant phrase, “The problem that has no name”, exactly defined how I was feeling about my life at that time.

      The only slightly tricky things about making this cheesecake are getting the base properly formed so it can hold the filling - and getting the right biscuits. In New York this was made from zwieback. In NZ the Fords used Biscottes, which don't exist now.  I used to make it with plain digestives, but when I went to buy them last week, the supermarket's entire range of digestives was covered in chocolate. So instead I used a new Huntley and Palmer oat biscuit, with cranberries, coconut and honey, that's meant to be served with cheese. It worked very well indeed.

Augusta Ford's New York cheesecake

Crust (to be made at least an hour before filling and baking)
2 packets Huntley and Palmer Oat Bran 
1/4 cup white sugar
120g soft butter

Turn biscuits into coarse crumbs by putting them into a plastic bag and crushing thoroughly with a rolling pin, or whizzing in a food processor. Pick out any larger pieces. Put  crumbs in a large bowl  and mix in sugar.
- Use a spoon to work in soft butter.
- Lightly butter the base and sides of a deep, loose-bottomed round cake tin. Cut a round of baking paper to fit the base.
- Press crumb mixture carefully over the lined base and buttered sides to form a case of even thickness and height. (It won't come right to the top of the tin.) 
- Put tin in refrigerator to harden for an hour.

250g plain cottage cheese
250g cream cheese (Philadelphia works best - but get the original, not light, spreadable or flavoured)
2 size 7 eggs
1 c white sugar (I tend to use a little less)
2 Tbsps cornflour
pinch of salt
250g sour cream (not light)
200ml standard milk (not trim - or you can use 150ml trim milk mixed with 50ml cream)
1 tsp natural vanilla essence
cream to serve

- Place oven shelf a little below middle of oven. Heat oven to 180°C (or 160-170 fan forced). 
- In a large bowl, beat cottage cheese and cream cheese together. Lightly beat first egg and add it to cheeses. Beat second egg and add it.
- In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, cornflour and salt. Stir thoroughly into cheese and egg mixture.
- Stir in sour cream, milk (or milk-cream mix) and vanilla.

- Stand tin with case on oven slide. Pour loose batter carefully into case, until it comes as close as safely possible to the top edge of the case - or, if the edge is a bit uneven, to just below its lowest bit. 

- Bake for 1 hour, until filling is set. Turn oven off and leave cheesecake in it to cool for 1 hour.
- Take cheesecake out of oven and leave to cool to room temperature.
- Run a long thin sharp knife carefully around the cheesecake between the crust and the tin. 
- Remove ring of cake tin by standing base on an upside-down bowl a little smaller than the tin, undoing the ring and sliding it down from the base. 
- If you are feeling brave, gently slide entire cheesecake, with baking paper still on the bottom, off the tin base and onto a serving plate. If not, leave it on the base, but place a paper napkin or piece of paper towel on the serving plate before you put the cake on it (so that it won't slide).
- For serving next day, store cheesecake in its tin, loosely covered with a plastic bag, in refrigerator overnight. Remove in time to let it come close to room temperature.
- Serve in moderate slices (it is very rich) with a little softly whipped cream, nothing else.

As you can see, mine cracked a bit - I probably baked it slightly too long. But it didn't matter, Jonathan and his friends loved it, and so did I. It was perhaps even better the next day....

Sunday, December 4, 2016

More baking! Mastering a tart

I have an ambivalent relationship with pastry: I love eating it, but get very nervous making it. A couple of weeks ago I found a long-lost recipe for apple tart, and decided I'd use it for a dessert I was taking to dinner with friends. It was a great success, because it tasted terrific (filling recipe another time) and the texture of the pastry was very good - light, crisp and cuttable. BUT the tart case didn't look great, with the edges fallen away altogether in places and crumbly in others, plus it was a bit over-baked around the edges.

One other problem: the recipes all seem to be for a relatively small 23 cm tart tin, and that really isn't big enough for six to eight people. My tin is 28 cm. So I have to juggle the recipes a bit to fit.
     This week, wanting a lemon tart for dinner here, and determined to do better, I had another go. I consulted various authors, tweaked the recipe a bit, worked out how not to over-bake the edges, and hey presto - it worked. A bit of shrinkage (despite leaving it in the fridge before baking) and one small dip in one side, but otherwise - much better. The filling was very easy and worked well, though I reduced the original sugar a little - I like it a bit more lemony. And now you lucky people can have the benefit of all this mucking around.

Lemon tart
(After Mary Berry - she gives excellent handling tips - with tweaks from Dean Brettschneider)

A 28 cm, loose-bottomed, fluted tart tin
Baking paper, foil, ceramic baking beans or dried beans
Cream for whipping and serving with the tart

350g plain flour
200g cold butter cut into small pieces
50g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
2 free-range egg yolks
2 Tbsps cold water (ice water is good)

Put the flour, butter, icing sugar and pinch of salt into a food processor. Pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the egg yolks and 1 Tbsp water. Pulse again until the mixture comes together into one big clump, adding more water if necessary. (It never clumps in my processor. I need to gather a handful up and press it together to see if it’s ready. If not, I add a tiny bit more water and process again.)
Knead the pastry for just two or three times to make it smooth. Wrap the lump in clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Lay a piece of baking paper (I need two overlapping pieces, as it isn’t wide enough) on the work surface. Remove the base from the tart tin and lay it on the paper. Using a pencil, draw a circle onto the paper 4 cm bigger than the tin base. (Once you get used to making this you don’t really need to draw the circle, you can guess.)
Dust the base of the tin with flour. Take the pastry out of the fridge and remove the clingfilm. If it’s very firm, leave it to dechill for a few minutes.
For a 28 cm tin, take two-thirds of it, round into a new ball and place in the centre of the tin base, sitting on the paper. Flatten it out slightly. 

Roll out the pastry, still on the base and paper, so that it reaches evenly out about 4 cm all around the base (to the circle if you've drawn one). As you are rolling out, turn the pastry by turning the paper. 
Gently fold the pastry surrounding the tin base in towards the centre. Carefully lift the tin base off the work surface, drop it into the tin, then ease the pastry into the corners and up the sides of the tin, leaving a little overhang on the rim and then gathering it up to form a firm edge which rises a little all around above the top of the fluting. If the pastry cracks anywhere, press it together to seal. (If necessary you can grab a little bit more from the rest of the original ball to fill any awkward bits. Then put the leftover lump back into clingfilm and freeze for later use, such as little mince pies.)
With a sharp knife, trip off the edge all round to form a neat flat top edge. Lightly prick the base with a fork, but not quite all the way through. Place the pastry-lined tin in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170C fan bake (or 190C without the fan). Line the pastry case with a rough circle of foil, dull side up, sticking up all around the fluted sides and hanging over the top edge a little. Fill with ceramic baking beads or dried beans.
Bake blind for 12-15 minutes, until the pastry is set, then lift out the tin and remove the foil with the beans in it. Put the tin back and bake for another 5-10 minutes (watch it very carefully) until the case is pale golden and completely dry. Leave aside to cool as you make the filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 150C fan-bake (160C without fan).

5 large free-range eggs                                    
150ml cream (half a small 300ml bottle)                             
200g caster sugar
4 large lemons, zested and juiced:
     150ml of lemon juice
      2 Tbsps zest
Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)
Fruit for decoration (optional) – strawberries, raspberries, thin slices of lemon glazed in sugar syrup

Break the eggs into a large bowl and whisk together with a wire whisk. Add cream, sugar and lemon juice. Beat together well. Stir in the zest. 
Pour filling into jug and fill cooled tart case, but not quite full. Pt tart into the oven and finish filling it when it is safely inside. (This can be a bit tricky - you may well need a smaller jug to do this last bit - but it does avoid any spills getting the tart into the oven.)

Bake until filling is just set – 30-35 minutes.
Take out tart and leave to cool until pastry comes away from the sides of the tin. 
To remove the tart from the tin, place the base of the tin on an upturned bowl and let the outer ring fall to the bench. 
Place the tart on a serving plate and serve warm or cold, dusted and/or decorated as you wish – or not, plain is fine.  (In my case I always leave it on the base, it's too nerve-racking to try removing it – you may be braver. If it is still on the base, put a paper napkin or piece of paper towel under the tart on the serving plate to prevent a sudden dramatic slide as you carry it to the table.)

Well, it wouldn't win any A & P show prizes, but you must admit it was a much better effort than before. Most importantly, it tasted wonderful.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Classic treats - Mrs Cake's Afghan biscuits

I don't usually buy cornflakes, but a while ago I needed some to eat for medical purposes (don't ask). They come in an enormous box, so I had lots left over. So naturally,  my mind turned to Afghans, or as they're now known, Afghan biscuits - although I don't think there was ever anything genuinely Afghan about them...
        Edmonds does, of course, have a recipe, but when I had a look at my online stash, I found a more interesting one by Mrs Cake. I followed the biscuit part exactly, except that when I went to soften the butter in a warm oven, ready for creaming (which I lazily do in the food processor), I left it too long and it melted. I wasn't going to waste all that butter, so I went ahead anyway. The good news is that it didn't seem to make any difference at all - the texture was perfect.
        The icing had to be adapted a bit because I didn't have enough icing sugar, I don't like ti too sweet, and (IMHO) it has to contain real chocolate. So I cut the quantities back by two-thirds, and added about six little blocks of Whittaker's Dark Ghana, plus a dash of vanilla. That provided more than enough icing for the 15 smallish biscuits I made.

Afghan biscuits 
from Mrs Cake, 27 November 2011,
(makes 15 smallish ones or 12 a bit bigger)

180g butter, room temperature (but see my note about melted butter above!)
½ cup/100g brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence or extract
½ cups/180g flour
3 Tbsp cocoa
½ tsp baking powder
2 cups/60g cornflakes

2 Tbsp water
30g butter
30g caster sugar
1 cup icing sugar
2 Tbsp cocoa
6 squares Whittaker's Dark Ghana chocolate
walnut halves or coffee beans

- Preheat oven to 180 C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. 
- Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (Processing it works fine.)
- Mix in the vanilla, then sift in dry ingredients and mix together. (You can process it all again gently until mixed.)
- Use your hands to crumble the cornflakes into the mixture so they are in smaller pieces, then mix in with your hands.
- Form into balls, place on baking sheet and flatten (either with the palm of your hand or with a fork). - Bake for 12-14 minutes. (Mine took 15 minutes, on fan bake at 170C.)\ Put on a rack, on their paper, to cool.

- While the biscuits are cooking, mix together the water, extra butter and caster sugar in a small saucepan. 
- Heat until butter is melted, then simmer for a minute to form a syrup. Add vanilla.
- Melt chocolate into the syrup over a low temperature, mixing well.
- Add the icing sugar and cocoa, and whisk or stir very thoroughly to combine. 

When the biscuits have cooled, crown each one with a dollop of icing (it should sort of pool on top - if you need to warm it slightly, either heat it again very gently in its saucepan, or give it 10 seconds in the microwave). 

Press a walnut half or 2-3 coffee beans into each one.  I think these go extremely well with a cup of spicy Chai tea.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

After the earthquake: Tranquil lettuce soup

After the earthquake, we needed something calming to eat, and my thoughts turned to lettuce. It has a venerable reputation, going back at least as far as the Romans, for promoting sleep, because the milky sap which provides its distinctive taste contains a minute quantity of something known as "lettuce opium". But the concentration is only 2 to 10 parts of morphine per million, compared with the usual therapeutic morphine dose of  0.5 to 50 parts per thousand - roughly a million times as much. So some hopeful hippies' attempts to get high on lettuce products were doomed to fail.

The French continue to regard lettuce as calming, especially when it's cooked. Elizabeth David has the perfect recipe for trying this out: Potage du Père Tranquille, Soup of the Tranquil Father. She explains that he "seems to have been a somewhat mysterious Capuchin monk, but the name ... is also a reference to the supposedly soporific effects of lettuce."

It also feels very economical, because it can be made with the outside leaves of lettuce that are usually thrown away. In The Colour of Food, I tell a story about this:
Every so often Harvey would embarrass me by well-meant but misplaced praise – like the time he announced proudly to a well-to-do guest who had arrived at short notice, ‘Anne made this soup from the outside leaves of lettuce!’ Even though Potage du Père Tranquille was a good French recipe, I cringed at having my economy exposed.
I doubt that the French ever use iceberg lettuce, but it works perfectly well for this soup, and one large lettuce provides enough outer leaves for the recipe.

Potage du Père Tranquille - Tranquil Lettuce Soup 
(Adapted from Elizabeth David, French Provincial Cooking)
Makes 4 generous servings or six smaller ones

Outer leaves of one large iceberg lettuce or 2 to 3 buttercrunch ones (David says 3)
(If you have lots of lettuce to spare, use a whole one)
500 ml mild chicken stock (I use half chicken and half miso stock)
300 ml milk
salt and pepper
about 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp sugar
small lump of butter or 50 ml cream

- Wash leaves carefully, shake off water, pile them together and slice them across into long fine ribbons.

- Put the sliced lettuce in a large sauce[an with just enough stock to cover them. Simmer gently, adding a little more stock or water if necessary, until they are quite soft.

- Drain the cooked lettuce through a sieve into a bowl. Keep the bowl of stock.
- When the lettuce has cooled, puree it in a blender or food processor.
- Return the puree to the pan. Stir in the stock and enough milk to make a thin cream (check the flavour after adding some milk, as you do not want to make the soup too bland and tasteless).
- If you don't want any little bits of lettuce in it, sieve the soup at this point. (I rather like the texture and colour of the tiny green bits.)

When you're ready to serve the soup:
- Add sugar, a good grind of black pepper (or if you do not want to see black specks, white pepper) and a small grating of nutmeg. Taste for seasoning and add salt only if necessary.
- Gently reheat soup and just before serving, stir in either a small lump of butter or a little fresh cream.

French bread is good with this, but so are garlic bread or Vogel's Extra Thin.
I don't know if it did indeed make us more tranquil, but it certainly felt soothing and warm on the stormy day after the earthquake.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Just like the picture - chicken terrine

For me, the pathway to cooking something is often pretty random. Finding a well-priced pack of streaky bacon at Moore Wilson last week led to thoughts of chicken terrine. So I bought some chicken livers there, and next day at the supermarket I picked up some boneless, skinless thighs.
          I first made this terrine a couple of decades ago, as I explained in The Colour of Food, where it appears as duck terrine:
         "The first time Harvey roasted ducks for Christmas, I made this on Boxing Day, using a recipe for chicken terrine found in a timely present from friends: The World’s Finest Chicken, by Sonia Silver and Janis Metcalfe. Delicious with quince paste and toast."
          This time I didn't have any leftover duck, but the original recipe is for chicken only, so I thought it was well worth making. I know it's a bit silly, but what I've always loved about this terrine is the fact that, thanks to having the right dish to bake it in, it turns out looking exactly like the picture in the book. But I don't slice it in the dish, because the bacon lining means that it turns out so beautifully onto a plate (see below). I've slightly revised the recipe from my book here.

Chicken terrine

220g chicken livers
90g dry white bread to make crumbs 
350g cooked chicken (and duck if you have any)
If you have it: 50g leftover stuffing, preferably made with walnuts (if no stuffing is available, use a bit more chicken meat and bread)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
good pinch of salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon port
1 tablespoon fresh oreganum, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Enough rashers of bacon (skinny streaky ones are good) to line the terrine dish - drape them across it, down the side, across the bottom and up the other side, then fill in any gaps at the ends.

The order of the instructions here is a bit different from what's in my book, because this time I did
things in a different order, to make the best use of the food processor. 
No need to clean or rinse processor bowl between these steps - do it after you've chopped the livers.

-  Preheat oven to 190°C.
- Turn leftover bread to crumbs in the processor. Toast very lightly on a flat metal tray in the oven for a few minutes while it is heating up.
- Finely chop the herbs in the processor.
- Put herbs and toasted breadcrumbs into a large bowl.
- Mince the cooked meat in the processor and add to herbs and crumbs.
- Coarsely chop the livers briefly in the processor. Use a spatula to get them out and add them to the bowl. Stir into meat, herbs and crumbs.
- Add crushed garlic, seasonings, brandy, port, and  beaten egg, and mix everything together well. Taste to check seasoning.
 Use bacon rashers to line the base and sides of an oval ceramic terrine dish or non-stick loaf tin (approximately 25cm long, 15 cm wide, 6 cm deep).
 Spread mixture into dish evenly over bacon lining, and smooth the top.

-  Cover with a tightly fitting lid or aluminium foil.
-  Place terrine in a large roasting or baking dish. Boil a jugful of water. Either pour enough hot water into the tin to come about two-thirds up the sides of terrine, and transfer carefully to the oven; or (this can be easier) put tin into oven and then pour the water around the terrine dish. 
-  Bake for 1¼ hours, till a very thin knife or sewer inserted into the middle of the terrine comes out clean.
·      Remove lid or foil and carefully pour off any liquid fat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. 
(It really does need to be kept overnight to let the flavours develop.)
- Take out of refrigerator at least an hour ahead of serving. Turn out onto a serving plate and slice as required.

Those pretty yellow slices on the side in the photo are mustard fruits - you can buy them in Italian delis. Quince paste is good too. I served this for lunch with a papaya, pear, beansprout and baby spinach salad.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A new take on pasta with meatballs

This week I had an out-of-town friend coming to visit. The plan was to head into town for afternoon coffee and cake, go to see The Rehearsal at Lighthouse Cuba, then come back home for dinner. I wanted to make something I could at least partly prepare in advance, so that we could get home about 6.30, sit down for a while in a civilised fashion with a glass of wine and a snack, then move smoothly on to dinner without me having to faff around for too long in the kitchen.
       One solution was the slow cooker, but we've had quite a few slow cooker meals lately. I settled on Claudia Roden's Basilicata meatballs, served with Lois Daish's "sauceless" pasta with herbs and caramelised onions, and a pretty beetroot and red cabbage salad (I threw in some barberries as well). I could do the meatballs and onions and prepare the herbs ahead of time, along with the guacamole for starters. Then all I needed to do in the evening was cook the pasta, make the salad and warm up the meatballs and onions. It all worked very nicely.
        I thought I'd already posted the meatball recipe on this blog, but I hadn't; so here it is, along with Lois's very simple but delicious pasta.

Polpettine fritte
(Very slightly adapted from Claudia Roden, The Food of Italy)

500 g minced pork
4 tablespoons fresh white breadcrumbs
1 tomato, peeled and chopped, or 1 dessertspoon tomato paste
4 tablespoons grated parmesan if possible, grate it from a piece, don't use the ready-grated stuff)
1/2 a mild onion
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons raisins, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons pinenuts, toasted lightly in a dry frypan
olive oil for frying

Set oven to low (to keep meatballs warm as they cook).
Put the meat, breadcrumbs, tomato, and cheese into the food processor. Grate in the onion and season with salt and pepper. Pulse till well mixed. (OR work everything together well in a bowl.)
Mix in the raisins and pine nuts by hand.
With damp hands, shape into small balls (it makes about 24).
Heat oil in frypan and cook meatballs on medium-low heat with space between them (you will need 2 or 3 batches depending on the size of your pan), pressing down a little on each one, then turning when they are browned and cooking the other side.
As each batch cooks, put meatballs on an oven tray lined with paper towel and keep them warm in the oven.  (I heated them up like this for dinner, replacing the paper towel with baking paper.)

Fettucine with caramelised onions and herbs
(From Lois Daish, Dinner at Home)

The original recipe is for 1, this one is for 4.

4 medium or 3 large onions
2-3 tablespoons good olive oil
fettuccine or other ribbon pasta (Lois says fresh, but I used the very good dried Italian kind that comes in tidy little bundles of about 70g - one bundle is enough for me, but you might want more)
4 tablespoons finely chopped winter herbs, such as sage, thyme and/or rosemary
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
At least 4 tablespoons grated parmesan (Lois says this is optional, but I don't think so!)

Slice the onions finely lengthwise (I did mine using the slicing blade in the food processor).
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the onion over a moderate until it starts to colour.
Reduce the heat and cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring gently every so often, until the onion is soft and dark golden brown. This can be made well ahead and stored in the fridge.
Put a large pot of water on to boil. When it's boiling, stir in salt and then add the pasta. Stir lightly with a fork and boil for 4 minutes if fresh, 7-8 minutes if dried.
While it cooks, place a metal bowl either over the pasta or over a second smaller pot of boiling water (I didn't have one to fit the big pasta pot). Add the onion (plus a little more olive oil if it's a little dry), the herbs and the garlic. (I don't like raw garlic, so I fried mine with the onion.)
When the pasta is cooked, drain it thoroughly and tip it into the bowl of onion mixture (or if that one isn't big enough, transfer pasta and onion mixture to another warmed bowl).Toss with a fork so that each strand of pasta is lightly coated with oil.
Stir in parmesan (with extra on the side for serving) and season to taste.

If you're having the meatballs too, pile these into their own warm serving bowl, along with a simple salad. Have warmed individual bowls or pasta plates ready.

I got a good photo of the pasta (pappardelle), though the onions don't show up very well, they're lurking underneath. But the meatballs came out all blurry - blame it on too much red wine (in me, not in the meatballs).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lois's lemony beef

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for a new idea for a slow-cooked beef casserole.  I had some cross-cut blade beef in the freezer, but I didn't want to make the basic recipe, nor did I want anything using tomato, such as my go-to Italian classic, stufato alla romana - I use canned tomatoes a lot, but this time I fancied something different.
            So I turned first to Lois Daish.  There was nothing quite right in Dinner at Home, so I tried A Good Year - I remember going to the launch with Harvey in 2005.  Sure enough, I found exactly what I was after: Slow-cooked Beef, Carrots, Garlic and Lemon. It sounded both easy and different. The other thing I really liked was that it didn't use any unusual ingredients - I had everything I needed to hand. Although Lois wrote it for slow cooking in the oven at a low temperature, I thought it would work just as well in a slow cooker, and it did.
              I've reproduced Lois's recipe here as she wrote it, with my added notes for using a slow cooker instead. She always seems to include useful instructions that teach me something, such as "Brown the meat on at least two sides" - in other words, you don't need to ensure every side of each chunk is browned. And her introduction to the book's section on "Slow Beef" explains why it's important to allow a stew to cool down for a few minutes before you serve it:
            "This is because as the stew cools the pieces of meat, which always dry out as they cook, start to soak up the gravy (something like a sponge that has been squeezed dry and then put back in the water). This explains why a second helping of stew often seems more succulent than the first. To make up for the heat lost while the meat relaxes, always serve stews on very hot plates."
              Her dish was such a success that I made it again the next week for my neighbour Frances.  The fresh, lemony flavour is unusual with beef, but it worked extremely well. I served it with broccoli and mashed potato one week, and a green salad and baked potato the next.

Slow-cooked beef, carrots, garlic and lemon
(Lois Daish, A Good Year, 2005)
Serves 4

 750g beef blade or cross-cut blade steak
6 medium carrots
2 tablespoons mild oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced
fresh thyme and parsley leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups beef stock, home-made, canned [or boxed] or packaged          
grated zest of 1 large lemon
juice of 2 lemons
a little water as needed

To finish
chopped parsley
grated zest of 1 lemon

[f you are using a slow cooker, turn it to high. If using the oven, set it to 140C.]

Carefully trim all fat and silverskin from the meat, but leave in place any seams of gristle, which will soften during cooking. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and cut into large chunks.
Peel carrots and cut into chunks of similar size to the pieces of meat.

Put a little oil into a frying pan [preferably cast iron rather than non-stick] and heat until very hot. Place the meat in the pan, being careful not to crowd the pieces - you'll probably need to brown it in 2 batches. Brown the meat on at least two sides and season with salt and pepper.

While the meat is browning [or later if, like me, you're not good at managing tow things cooking at once] chose an enamelled cast iron casserole dish [or deep non-stick pan] and add the butter, diced onion and garlic. Stir over a moderate heat until the onion is translucent, then add the herbs and flour. Stir until the flour starts to colour, then add the stock, lemon zest and juice. Add the browned meat and carrots.

Add a little water to the frying pan [the one you cooked the meat in], return it to the heat and scrape up any juices in the pan. Add this to the casserole. The liquid should almost cover the meat and carrots, so add a little more water if needed. [You need a little less water for the slow cooker.] Bring to the boil, then cover and put in a low oven, about 140C, for about 2 hours until very tender.
[For the slow cooker: after you bring it to the boil, transfer it carefully to the slow cooker. Cook for about 4 hours until very tender.]

Before serving, remove the casserole dish from the oven or turn off the heat.
{For the slow cooker, turn the cooker off 20 minutes before serving.]
Check seasoning and leave to rest for 10 minutes before sprinkling with parsley and lemon zest.

Dinner-time light is always a problem, so the photo isn't great (the mash was Agria, but it wasn't that yellow!). But I hope it gives you the general idea.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Courgette and potato fritters

High time I posted something new here! To be perfectly honest, now that I'm feeding my son as well as myself, I do tend to take a few shortcuts (such as buying trays of marinated spicy chicken nibbles) instead of doing everything from scratch. On the other hand, the "eat more vegetables" plan is going quite well - and having him here certainly makes it easier to buy a bigger variety of veges for the fridge, because we get through them much more quickly.
         Last week he bought a few courgettes when it was his turn to cook, and there were two left. They're quite expensive now, so I wanted to make the most of them. I had some bacon, and enough red cabbage, celery and pepper left for one last salad (that cabbage has done us proud). Courgette fritters would be delicious, but I needed to make these two go further. So I decided to look for a recipe for courgette and potato fritters.
          A good one came up immediately on Kidspot. This is a great site - and not only for kids! It has straightforward, easy recipes which seem to work well. This recipe certainly did - though as usual, I did change it a little bit. I didn't want to include the corn kernels, so I used slightly less flour and milk. I also used white flour rather than wholemeal, and sunflower seed oil rather than olive (I do find the lighter oil is better for frying crisp little morsels such as fritters - though perhaps that's because I use a bit more than this recipe suggests!).
           My fritters were excellent. They cooked quickly, right through, no soggy bits or uncooked potato. I've given you the original ingredients so you can make your own decisions about how closely to stick to it. The mixture looks quite wet, but it doesn't need more flour.

Courgette and potato fritters
(Recipe created by Camilla Baker for Kidspot)
Makes 10 medium fritters or 12 smaller ones

2 medium potatoes, washed, skin on (red-skinned potatoes work well)
2 medium courgettes
1 small brown onion, finely diced
1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or tinned
1 cup wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp paprika (optional)
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tbs olive oil

Turn oven to low heat (or to Warm setting).
Grate potatoes (you can do this in the food processor), then squeeze out excess starch/moisture with your hands over the sink.
Grate courgettes and squeeze out excess moisture. You should end up with about 1 cup of grated courgette.
In a large mixing bowl mix grated potatoes and courgettes together. Mix in onion, corn, flour, baking powder and paprika.
Whisk egg and milk together in a jug. Add to other ingredients and stir to combine. Season to taste.
Heat oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Drop in spoonfuls of mixture. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden. Repeat with remaining mixture.
To keep all the fritters warm, place the cooked fritters on a tray lined with paper towel in the warm oven while you cook later batches.

 No, this is not our yummy fritters, bacon and salad dinner, We ate that. This is the two leftover fritters. The recipe says they freeze really well. Wrap individually in cling wrap. When you’re ready to eat them, preheat oven to 190°C, place on a tray and heat for approximately 10 minutes from frozen.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Variations on a fishy theme

A while ago I posted a recipe for Mediterranean fish bake (best to have a look at that before you go on reading this).  I said then that the recipe was only approximate, and that the key ingredients were the fish, potatoes, peppers and olives.
         I proved to myself this week that it was indeed very flexible, and that the olives can be changed for other things. The local New World, whose fish counter has recently taken a leap forward, had very nice-looking trevally, the same fish as I used last time, for only $16 a kg. I already had some Agria potatoes (which have been turning up loose at very good prices recently) and I also had some similarly cheap kumara (yellow - I don't like the orange ones, they remind me too much of pumpkin, which I can eat only in the form of soup or pumpkin pie). I had a tin of artichokes, too, and one of sweetcorn kernels, as well as some nice little orange peppers and the usual onions and garlic.
          So I set about creating the bake again, only with variations. This time I didn't even bother to slice the potatoes thinly. Instead I cut them, and a couple of kumara, into smallish chunks, about 2 cm square, sort of. Then I put them into a wide, shallow baking tin, mixed them with the oil, miso stock and white wine (see original recipe) and cooked them for 30 minutes at 200C. The original recipe says 200C turned down to 180C, but this time I wasn't going to cook them as long overall, because I'd managed to eliminate a couple of steps.
           While the potatoes and kumara were cooking, I microwaved the onion and sliced pepper (using the "fresh veges" button) and set them aside, then cut the thick trevally into chunks, sliced up a few artichokes and drained the corn kernels. For extra greens, I cut up some broccoli and got that ready to microwave separately.
            Once the potatoes and kumara were almost done, I strewed (I like that word, it has a fine Elizabethan ring to it) the cooked peppers and onions and corn, which I'd mixed into them, over the top, then added the artichokes and fish and a little more seasoning. The colours looked really good together - trevally is a lovely deep rose-pink.

Then I put it all back in the oven for about 10 minutes. That was enough to heat all the veges through and cook the fish. So it took rather less time and fewer steps than the original recipe. I deliberately made enough to do two nights - while I really do like cooking, it's still very nice to have a tasty one-dish meal that needs only gentle heating, and in this case microwaving a bit more broccoli.

As Rosemary, who gave me this recipe, says, it's really more of a method than a recipe. I'm sure I'll be able to come up with equally delicious new variations in future.
         By the way, there was a little bit left over from the second night. I had it fried up for breakfast, with a poached egg on top - potato, fish and egg, always a brilliant breakfast combo.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Veering towards vegetables

Several things have combined lately to give me a push towards vegetables. I have no intention of becoming vegetarian - I really like well-cooked meat.
          Although I've always been a townie, I was brought up on the great Kiwi tradition that no matter what form it took, animal protein was the star of the evening meal, and quite often of breakfast and lunch as well.  Harvey grew up on a sheep farm where they often did have meat for breakfast, dinner (meaning lunch) and tea (both in his home and mine, it was never called dinner). He used to tell the story of a visiting correspondence school teacher who announced that she was a vegetarian, completely disconcerting and baffling his mother, who had no idea what to give her for lunch.
          The wonderful Gallery of Regrettable Food captures the iconic status of meat in the 1950s perfectly in the caption to this remarkably unappetising photo, from the Better Homes and Gardens Meat Cookbook.

When decorating your meal, make sure to arrange the onions in the shape of Peter Lorre's face. It's steak a la Ugarte! Garnish with small, inedible onions.
WARNING! The carrots here are not to be eaten. Your manly meat-a-rifficness will diminish if you eat the carrots. Vegetables are for commies.
For years I haven't eaten nearly as much meat as my parents did. But lately I seem to keep reading and hearing perfectly sensible, non-vegetarian people urging me to eat less of it, for a whole host of good reasons. Various kinds of damage are done by large-scale meat production, especially based on grain, and these will get exponentially worse as the newly prosperous want to eat  more of it. While eating red meat is the easiest (and tastiest) way to get iron and essential B vitamins, we don't need to eat much of it to get enough. Then there's the constantly repeated injunction to eat more vegetables, for our health's sake. Michael Pollen nailed it: "Eat food. Not too much. Mainly Plants."
          And of course there's the cost of buying it.  If we routinely ate less meat, it should be possible to ensure that it's sustainably and humanely and yes, affordably produced - and we would appreciate it more.
          For some months now I've had my son living here. The years he spent in China have inclined him to enjoy veges much more than he used to. Both of us have to be a bit more careful not to over-eat, because we just don't need large amounts of food now.  A few years ago, suddenly noticing the inevitable results of a good deal of comfort eating (and drinking) after Harvey died, I managed to lose a considerable amount of weight (which hasn't come back). It dawned on me then that for the most part (and provided they aren't slathered in butter and/or sugar), fruits and veges are generally low-calorie - so you can eat a lot of them without fretting.
           Anyway, all of this has made me think about how to shift the way I think about dinner, veering away from the meat and towards the veges, so they become, at the very least, the co-stars. But it's not easy to make this change. There's the problem, too, of keeping a good range of veges on hand for your clever creations without half of them going off.
            I'd love to hear from other people who've tackled this problem and successfully managed to cut down their meat consumption without giving it up altogether, while still producing delicious dinners that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the surreal horror of the vegetables featuring on the Gallery of Regrettable Food. Here's the fearsome Jello Creation.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A gift of passionfruit

Growing up in Auckland, I took passionfruit for granted. My parents always had a luxuriant vine. Not so in Wellington - last time I looked, they were $34.95 a kilo. But I have a very clever and generous friend with her own four vines. Last year they produced 800 fruit, and they're doing very well this year too.
      For my birthday last week, I made Harvey's favourite: passionfruit jelly. He had discovered the recipe in Lois Daish's A Good Year, and always made it for his birthday. In his last year he asked me to make it for him. I'd seen passionfruit in Moore Wilson a few weeks earlier, but it seemed too soon to buy them. By the time I went back, there weren't any, and I've always felt guilty about disappointing him. So making it this year was a kind of expiation. It's a beautifully delicate dessert which needs no adornment at all.

Passionfruit jelly

Adapted very slightly from Lois Daish. Serves 4.

8 ripe passionfruit
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon powered gelatine

- Halve the fruit and scoop out the pulp into a small saucepan. Add the sugar and water. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and the passionfruit pulp has loosened from the seeds.
- Remove from the heat and sprinkle on the gelatine. Stir well until the gelatine has dissolved.
- Put a fine sieve over a bowl or, preferably, a small Pyrex measuring jug. Strain the mixture through the sieve to catch the seeds and any tough membranes.
- Either measure the liquid or see what it measures in the jug. If needed, add water to make the quantity up to 2 cups.
- Pour into a small crystal serving bowl, or individual small (preferably glass) bowls or parfait glasses. Leave to set overnight in a cool place. (If you're a bit pressed for time, cool it then set it in the fridge with a bit of clingwrap over it, so that no other fridge flavours intrude on it. If you do it in the fridge, remove a little before serving so it won't be too cold.) It will be a little cloudy, but that doesn't matter at all.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Roast sirloin and Yorkshire pudding

For months my neighbour Frances has been talking nostalgically about the roast sirloin of her childhood.  So last week I finally got organised to cook her one. We ordered it at the excellent Gipps St butcher, and she came with me to pay for it and check that it was what she wanted. 
       I'd never cooked a rolled sirloin roast before, and I don't think I'd ever eaten one. As I wrote in The Colour of Food, in my childhood roast beef always meant "a round of chewy beef [probably brisket] criss-crossed with wooden skewers and tied up with string". Only in recent years did we start having roast fillet.  So I was a bit nervous about cooking this magnificent beast, aged for 18 days.

I took advice from the butcher and the internet, where I found very useful instructions from a London restaurant, and adapted them. To make sure it tasted as much as possible like Frances's childhood roast, I used salt only and seared the meat in dripping.

Rolled roast sirloin
1. Take roast out of fridge at least 2 hours before cooking, so that it's at room temperature when it goes into the oven.
2. Pre-heat oven to 180C, fan cook.
3. Season well with garlic, thyme and salt. 
4. Get a roasting pan smoking hot.
5. Sear in hot pan [with a little dripping to keep it old-school] until coloured all over. (2-3 mins approx).
6. Place on oven tray in pre-heated oven. Turn oven down to 170C fan cook for desired time (see below).
7. Rest, uncovered, on a warm plate (not too hot to touch) for at least 20 mins before serving.

The timing is always the trickiest bit. I usually like my beef rarish or medium rare, but in this case, I knew Frances would prefer medium, and of course sirloin is different from fillet. 
        Our sirloin weighed 2.1 kg. My meat thermometer gives an internal temperature of 71C for medium beef. It took about an hour and three-quarters to go a little over that, but the meat was still spurting reddish blood when I took the thermometer out. So I consulted with Frances's daughter, who came to dinner along with two other neighbours, and we agreed that it needed a little longer. I gave it 5 minutes more and that did the trick - it was about 77C by then. 

It rested for half an hour, loosely covered in foil, while I made the Yorkshire puddings (recipe below). When I carved it (so easy with a rolled roast) it was exactly what I wanted: the inner slices a very pale pink, the outer ones perfect for Frances and others who preferred it medium. 

She got the outside end, of course - as you can see, it was quite crusty and brown. When she took her first bite she said "Oh joy!" So I knew I'd got it right. 

With it, courtesy of my other neighbours, we drank two bottles of beautiful 2008 Trinity Hill syrah which they'd given me a few years ago, and I'd kept for just such a worthy occasion.
         Frances really appreciated the Yorkshire pudding, too. My first husband came from Yorkshire and his mother Marion taught me to make it properly, but I hadn't done it for years. 
          Again, I found the perfect recipe, matching everything I remembered, on the internet - and I did use dripping. (Yes, I know it's bad for you, but once a year is not going to matter.) As this requires a high oven temperature, I made it at the end, after I took out the meat and veges (all very trad - potatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli).

Yorkshire puddings

4 large eggs (200 g)
150 g all-purpose flour (about 1 cup plus 2 teaspoons)
200 ml trim milk
2 g salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)
100 ml beef dripping, lard, shortening, or vegetable oil (about 1/2 cup)

1. Combine eggs, flour, milk, water, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk until a smooth batter is formed. Let batter rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Alternatively, for best results, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate batter overnight or for up to 3 days. Remove from refrigerator while you preheat the oven.

I made the batter the day before and put it into an empty soda bottle, allowing me to pour it easily into the muffin wells. It doesn't look like much, but it did 8 puddings and would have been enough for 9 or 10 less exuberant ones.

2. Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 450°F (230°C). Divide drippings (or other fat) evenly between two 8-inch cast iron or oven-safe non-stick skillets, two 6-well popover tins, one 12-well standard muffin tin, or one 24-well mini muffin tin. Preheat tins in the oven until the fat is smoking hot, about 10 minutes.  (This is the crucial bit that I remember Marion teaching me.)

3. Transfer the pans or tins to a heat-proof surface (such as an aluminum baking sheet on your stovetop), and divide the batter evenly between every well (or between the two pans if using pans). The wells should be filled between 1/2 and 3/4 of the way up (if using large pans, they should be filled about 1/4 of the way up). 
I used a 12-well muffin tin - this amount of batter makes about 9 or 10 puddings, but I overfilled my tins a bit and made 8.

4. Immediately return tin to oven. Bake until the Yorkshire puddings have just about quadrupled in volume, are deep brown all over, crisp to the touch, and sound hollow when tapped. Smaller ones will take about 15 minutes (popover or skillet-sized ones around 20-25 minutes).

4. Serve immediately. (It says you can cool them completely, transfer to a zipper-lock freezer bag, freeze for up to 3 months, and reheat in a hot toaster oven before serving, but I really dont see the point of doing that!)

Mine came out enormous and properly brown, but they did collapse more or less straight away (in the photo some have done that already) and were a little difficult to get out of the wells. It might have helped if I'd brushed the fat up the sides as well as putting it in the bottom. But it didn't matter - they were the Real Thing, especially when covered in dark brown gravy.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Little cakes from Toledo for Easter

I first made these little lemony almond cakes, called marquesas or marquesitas, when we had our Spanish long lunch on 2 August last year. I promised to put up the recipe - but I didn't.
      Needing a dessert contribution for a long lunch in the Wairarapa tomorrow, I decided these would do nicely. In The Food of Spain, Claudia Roden includes them in her section on "Dulces de Convento - pastries and confectionery from the hidden world of cloistered nuns", and says they are "most typical of Sonseca in the province of Toledo, where they are made at Christmas time".
       But I thought they would also be perfect for Easter. I've made them in small cupcake cases and packed them neatly into egg cartons to carry with me tomorrow on the bus (to Upper Hutt, because of line repairs) and then the train.

Almond Cupcakes (Marquesas)
Adapted slightly from The Food of Spain, Claudia Roden

5 large eggs
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
200g caster sugar
50g cornflour
300g ground almonds
small paper cases to use in a baking tray with small cakecups
(or use medium cases in a medium-cup tray)
icing sugar for dusting

- Set the oven to 180C. (I used fan bake.)
- Separate the eggs. Put 2 egg whites into a medium-sized bowl; 1 white into a small bowl; and all 5 yolks into a large bowl. Set aside the remaining 2 whites for another use.
- With an electric beater, beat the 2 whites with 1/4 tsp lemon juice and 4 Tbspns of the sugar until stiff.
- Put the 1 egg white into the large bowl with the 5 yolks. Add the remaining sugar. Beat with the electric beater to make a pale cream.
- Beat in the grated lemon zest and the cornflour.
- Mix in the ground almonds thoroughly to make a thick paste.
(Roden says you can use a little water if it's too thick, but she didn't need to. I wanted a more lemony taste, so I mixed in 1 Tbsp of the remaining lemon juice at this point.)
- Gently fold in the egg whites.

- Using a teaspoon for the small cases, fill each case three-quarters full - or for higher cakes, to just below the case rim. (I think the height of each cake depends on the mixture and the oven as well as the size of the cases, so you may need to experiment.)
- Bake for approximately 9-10 minutes for the small cases.
They should colour only very slightly on top, but a thin knife or sewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. When they come out of the oven the cakes will be very soft when you press the top with your finger.
They will harden a little as they cool but will still be very soft and moist inside.
- Let them firm and cool a little in the tray after they come out of the oven. Dust them lightly with icing sugar and transfer them gently to a rack to cool.

Roden says this recipe makes 24-30 cakes, depending on the case size. I made 24 small cakes and 12 medium ones, following her instruction to fill the cases 3/4 full.  But to get the kind of well-risen, rounded top on each cake shown in her photo, I probably should have filled them up a bit more.
       I fancy a bit more lemon flavour, so I mixed together the leftover lemon juice, about a tablespoon of the leftover icing sugar and a splash of triple sec to make a light syrup that I can drizzle very sparingly on each cake tomorrow just before we eat them. I'll tell you how it goes.