Archives for the month of: May, 2012

This coming Sunday the 3rd of June will mark a year since I returned from France. It has gone by so fast. I think about France often; the weekends away, the skiing, the people I met, the food I ate, the wonderful places I visited. This blog constantly reminds me of France and seems to hold me to these memories. I started blogging in France and came to find such enjoyment in the blogging community and the discipline of writing regularly.

It is so lovely then to be nominated for The Food Stories Award for Excellence in Storytelling. Sarah from More Than Greens kindly nominated me for this award. I like Sarah’s blog because, while duck confit and a perfectly medium rare steak are some of my favourite meals, I do agree with her that vegetarian food has so much to offer in terms of diversity, taste, colour, texture and health. More than just rabbit food, as she says.

The nomination for this award requires me to also nominate five other blogs for Excellence in Storytelling. Some of these blogs I have read for a while, and others I have only recently discovered. But either way, they each offer wonderful snapshots into other culinary lives.

  • Down Under – a fellow Wellington blogger, though originally from France, this blog is an interesting perspective of my favourite city
  • As Strong As Soup – I think the title is great, as are the many French cake recipes
  • Eat, etc – a recent discovery and I look forward to reading more
  • Vegetarian Ventures – I love the style of photography here
  • The Patterned Plate – the header first drew me in, now I love the writing too

Be sure to click on these links – they are great blogs.

A vegetable drawer clean out prompted this soup; a stray spring onion, a half leek, spinach just shy of becoming limp. It was late when I began cooking, nearly 9 o’clock, and the slow steaming of leek and onions sounded so appealing. My soups very rarely follow a recipe. I go by ingredients on hand and a desire for texture and consistency; thick and creamy, or more of a thin broth.

This soup is of the broth variety with sweet cubes of kumara* and thick strips of spinach. The leek, spring onion and brown onion were cooked slowly to retain their soft green colour and gentle flavour. Red and golden kumara were simmered with the onions and chicken stock until just cooked and slightly toothsome. I tossed in half a bay leaf and a few sprigs of thyme, adding a depth of flavour to the chicken stock. A final grating of ginger cut through the richness of the stock. This very subtle heat sits snugly at the back of your mouth, a reminder that there is goodness here.

For a an extra flourish I made a yoghurt sauce with a squeeze of lemon juice, ground cumin and parsley. This could add a finishing touch to so many dishes – curries and vegetable stews, baked potatoes, a dipping sauce for vegetable crudités, even other soups of the classical sort. A swirl of this fresh yoghurt through pumpkin or roasted mushroom soup would be refreshing. Feel free to change the herb, or the spice for something more mellow, or more upbeat.

Not bad for a fridge raid supper.

Sweet Onion, Kumara and Spinach Soup
Soups are such a lovely thing to make; once you have the basic formula you can change the ingredients and quantities as you please. I like a soup that seems to stradle the lines between soup and stew but you could puree it once cooked for something most definitely in the soup camp. Like I said, I don’t really follow a recipe so the words below are more of a general guide.

Oh and, * kumara is sweet potato for all non-kiwi readers.

a knob of butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium brown onion
1-2 spring onions
3 cloves garlic
1/2 to a whole leek
3-5 kumara, red, golden or brown
chicken or vegetable stock, 500-750ml, heated
thyme sprigs, bay leaf
a thumb sized piece of ginger
a large handful or two of spinach

In a large pot heat the butter and oil over low-medium heat. Slice the leek and the onions into half rounds then into thin strips. Add to butter and oil and stir to coat. Slice the spring onion into thin rounds and add to pot. Finely dice the garlic and add to onions. Cook slowly until soft.

Dice kumara into 1-2cm cubes and add to the onions. Cover the pot and cook the kumara for a few minutes. Add the stock until barely covering the vegetables. Throw in the herbs and grate half the ginger into the soup. Place the rest of the ginger whole into the pot. Bring to the boil and simmer until the kumara is just cooked. (This will depend how finely diced the kumara is so keep checking, maybe 10-15 minutes.) Roughly chop the spinach and stir through the soup until just wilted. Remove from heat.

For the yoghurt sauce mix 4 tablespoons yoghurt, a few leaves of finely chopped parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice, a couple of pinches salt and a half teaspoon of cumin. Stir well.

Dollop a generous spoonful on top of the soup and serve with crusty bread.

One day I hope to live in a house with a library, or the very least, a decent shelving unit. I have been buying a lot of books this year. Investment shopping, I call it. I do not have a lot of time for reading at the moment. But one day, when I have those floor to ceiling wooden shelves, I will read every day. In the meantime, an artful stack to look at will do.

The wonderful thing about investment book shopping is the anything-goes rule. One day, I will read this! Short story collections, yes; crazy whacky poetry, yes; books of essays, yes; cookbooks requiring ingredients I can’t yet afford and kitchen ware I don’t yet own, yes; food writing, yes; novels, yes. Do you see how this game works?

This week has been a stand out week for buying books. There was a Vic Books sale, a clearance sale, books for as little as $2 I has been told. It was miserable weather and Francesca and I were feeling slightly sorry for ourselves. We trudged up the hill to Victoria where there was the promise of coffee and quiet book shopping. We bought poetry books, novels, a book of plays, a book of essays. And then, almost as an after thought, I picked up a pretty pink french cookbook called Taste Le Tour.

It has a padded cover with pink stripes and looks quite uncharacteristic of french cuisine. Where are the beautiful pictures of french markets and countryside, teeming with rounds of cheese, hanging sausages and plucked poultry? Instead there is a sketch on the front cover and the motif of a lurking black cat. It could be mistaken for a children’s picture book. My collection of querky french cookbooks is growing. I’m realising I buy french cook books because the stories between the pages, rather than the list of ingredients on them, is worth more to me.

But each cook book needs testing. I made the Gateau de Savoie from Taste le Tour, mainly because I had all the ingredients, but also, I feel a certain loyalty to the Savoie-Alpes region after living there for a while. I don’t think I ever tried this sponge cake while there, but I wish I had. I imagine it would be feather light in France. The recipe calls for six eggs, separated. A little daunting really, especially as personal experience tells me the risk increases exponentially as the quantity of eggs increases. I was worried. But, lo and behold, my cake rose like a soufflé with a crisp shell, almost biscuit like. Beneath this was soft sponge, almost plain but for the slightest whisper of lemon. The author of the book says his grandmother used to serve this cake with fresh fruit and runny custard. I would have liked some berries to macerate in a little sugar, maybe a dash of rum, and wait for the ruby juices to soak through the pale sponge. Instead, we ate ours in the fading afternoon sun with whipped vanilla cream and glasses of Pimm’s, admiring our books.

Savoie Sponge Cake
From Taste Le Tour

Note the size of the cake tin; this is a large mixture. My cake rose above the sides of the tin, threatening to spill over, hence it developed a little muffin top.

90 grams plain flour
90 grams cornflour
6 eggs, separated
grated zest of 1 lemon
300 grams caster sugar
a pinch of cream of tartar
icing sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 25cm round cake tin.

Sift the two flours together and set aside.

Beat the egg yolks, lemon zest and 150 grams of the sugar in a bowl until very pale and mousse like. Wash the beaters well.

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Slowly add the remaining 150 grams of sugar and beat slowly, or whisk, until well incorporated. Gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolks, followed by the flours. Be careful not to over mix.

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Dust the cake with icing sugar and bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack. Cool completely before serving.

My mother is tightening the reigns in her house. No more treats for a while. Time to cut back, to exercise a little restraint. Less carbs, more protein, she says. That sort of thing. My father sighs and pretends to hate every minute of it.

“No sugar in my coffee,” he grumbles, “no cream, just black. No alcohol, except on weekends. No chocolate, no baking, no more cheese and crackers before dinner. Carrot sticks and hummus. Hardly any bread, and no butter on it anyway.”

I took great delight in telling them about the latest food writer and food entreprenuer I had found, Nina Planck. Her philosophy is to reclaim the traditional whole foods of our ancestors; the red meat, full fat dairy products, whole grains, vegetables, lard and butter! My father sighed again, in an if only sort of way. But then he turned to my mother and said, what was that dish you made last week, like the stir fry? What else was in the salad today? We had a great lunch yesterday, didn’t we?

The thing is, my mother could make a pack of rubber-like tofu and bean sprouts taste fantastic. So any eating regime, not matter how severe, is no struggle. Especially not when she decides she simply must do some baking. It looks like a great recipe, she justifies, and it’s gluten free. Pretty much a health food I tell her. And this is how our conversations go.

Regardless of its nutritional make up, this is one of the nicest cakes I have had in a very long time. It is so very moist and light it is similar to a citrus moose. You can feel the air escape between your teeth. It is lovely with yoghurt – full fat, cream top, I say.

Lady Dundee’s Orange Cake
Adapted from Healthy Gluten Free Eating

2 medium orange
200 grams ground almonds, plus a little extra for dusting
3 eggs
200 grams caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder

Scrub the oranges and place them, whole, in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Put a lid on the pot and simmer for 1-2 hours or until the oranges are tender. Change the simmering water up to 3 times to ensure the orange skins are not bitter.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Brush a 20cm spring form cake tin with butter and dust with ground almonds. Place a round of baking paper in the base of the tin.

Halve the cooked oranges, remove the pips and puree the flesh and the peel in a blender until smooth. Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and light. Combine the baking powder and ground almonds, then gently fold into the eggs. Fold in the orange puree. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the midddle of the cake.

Cool on a wire rack and remove the paper.

My walk to university each morning takes me through Lambton Quay, Willis street, Manners Street and Cuba Street, the trunk line of Wellington. Lambton Quay at 8am is full of dark suits and high heels clipping on the brick paving. Men and women wrap their hands around take-away coffee cups, heads down, off to work. But on Cuba Street everything looks different. The sun is beginning to hit the top of the buildings at this time of the morning and the street is a patchwork of sun and shadow. On Cuba Street people drink their coffee indoors, some might even call this brunch.

I notice the people first of all. I smiled to myself when I saw the man who looked like he had stepped off the set of a Beatles video; he was bearded and had a certain swagger about him. He was eating a cupcake with mint blue coloured frosting which was falling through his beard. There was a man twirling and waxing his dreadlocks on a park bench. There is the sad looking woman who I imagined was beautiful at a point in her life, before whatever demons she now has took hold. The colourful hippies set up shop on a blanket selling their crochet hats and knotted bracelets. There are buskers – people are literally singing and dancing in the street. You might see men drinking flat whites from beer handles, or the American card trick guy, his black top hat visible above the heads of school girls gathered around him, or the woman who is dressed every day from head to toe in army camouflage.

I pass by the bucket fountain with its splish-splosh inelegance and clunky lack of grace. I walk past Matterhorn; the black sandwich board outside with a chalk drawing of a steaming coffee and an open packet of cigarettes appears a false representation of the top notch food served inside. Further up is Olive and Midnight Espresso. Then Logan Brown with its bright red door and Floriditas with their drooping lights and swirly wall paper: beacons of the Wellington culinary scene.

I look at the buildings now too. They took a while to notice, not because they aren’t beautiful – I think these buildings are some of the most beautiful in Wellington – but because we never seem to look up while we walk. So, look up, I tell you. I see a vast array of colours, the intricate details and a mix of past and present.

Near the top of Cuba street I look for the changing spaces. The new grafitti art, the new posters and footpath stickers. I watch every day as one shop begins to close down and a new gallery is built. Day by day I have seen this gallery space become whole – last week the floor tiles were unveiled and the walls are now a clean white.

As Cuba Street ends there is the Kreuzberg summer café. Their menu is titled Good Things and they sometimes have $5 Pimm’s cup during happy hour. I like that. The road here, for a long time, was artfully decorated in white paint splatters. Shooting drops radiated from a large splodge of paint. A paint can or bucket must have dropped from the construction site above. I would have like to have seen that.

Around the corner on Hopper street is the Supreme Coffee Factory. This is where my walk gets really good, for the air is filled with the most incredible scent. If the wind is right and its suitably early, the smell of roasting coffee beans drifts around you. It smells of melting chocolate, bitter coffee, burnt toast, baking biscuits and maybe a little bit of burning rubber. It smells hot and bittersweet and slightly acrid. I love it, it’s the high point of my walk, this smell.

During these autumn days, in the morning when the sun is low, I want to sit on the concrete wall by the Supreme Factory, near the electrician’s shop, the council flats and the abandoned bathroom showroom. I would sit there, not worrying about being late for class, because in this part of town, punctuality doesn’t matter. I would unwrap those biscuits you see up there. They have the air of an ANZAC biscuit, but with the heat of ginger and the sticky sweetness of dates and sultanas. They match the smell in the air, although, they would be equally well matched with a proper coffee, in a proper cup. But, hey we are near Cuba street, things are different here.

I’ve never been much of a biscuit person. My father makes a darn tasty chocolate oat cookie. Two batches are never the same but that is part of their charm. I like the idea of a biscuit – a single entity, everything you need, and everything that is good, in one spoonful of dough. And yet, I prefer cake, something which can be eaten with a fork and yoghurt or cream. Cake feels like more of an event.

But here are those biscuits. They have a bit of chew, a bit of crisp. It may seem like a lot is going on in these biscuits. But then, like Cuba Street, they just seem to work and to win your over with their slight eccentricities. They may very well become my biscuit of choice.

Date and Ginger ANZAC Biscuits

150 grams butter, softened
200 grams soft brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1 1/4 cups flour
6-8 dates
25 grams sultanas
1 tablespoon golden syrup
4 tablespoons warm water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
sunflower seeds/pumpkin seeds/slivered almonds (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 180°. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Cream butter and sugar together until smooth. Add ground ginger and beat for 2 minutes more. Add oats, coconut and flour. Mix through – it may be easier to use your hands at this point. Roughly chop the dried fruit. Place in a small saucepan with the warm water and golden syrup. Heat, stirring occasionally until just bubbling. Remove from heat and add the baking soda. Stir. Pour the hot fluffy mixture into the biscuit dough and mix well.

Spoon dough into walnut sized balls and place a suitable distance apart. Flatten ever so slightly with a wet fork. In the grooves from the fork sprinkle a pinch of sunflower seeds/slivered almonds/pumpkin seeds or a mixture of them all. Place in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes or until nicely golden. Remove from ovena dn allow the biscuits to cool for 5 minutes on the baking tray before moving to a cooling rack. They will feel quite soft but they crisp up as they cool.

Enjoy with coffee, in whatever form you take it, or tea. Or any other beverage!