Archives for the month of: October, 2012

There was an open invitation to lunch at my flat last Sunday. The invite was worded something along these lines: “Harriet will cook. There will be food, the oven will be turned on, and Holy Crap, she will even make a trip to the market AND supermarket.” The occasion was so momentous it required me to refer to myself in the third person. I couldn’t quite believe I would enter my kitchen to do anything more than pour a bowl of cereal.

But it happened! I went to the market for fresh produce – even in the rain – enjoying the green of the spring vegetables. The people looked a little damp and and the market was quieter than usual but the vegetables looked fresh and bright. There is not a lot in the way of new season fruit at the moment – a few punnets of pale strawberries, early stone fruit yet to become juicy and fragrant and the last of the winter’s apples, their skins a little waxy from storage, but the vegetables are at their prime. Crisp asparagus spears, beautiful lettuce heads like open flowers, baby new potatoes, freshly dug, with their clear skins shining beneath the dark earth.

I wanted a simple Sunday lunch, one with easy ingredients, but one that still required actual cooking and preparation of food. I wanted to cook, to slowly put things together, to enjoy being in the kitchen. I planned my menu – a snacking sort of affair – with every recipe from Skye Gyngell’s book How I cook. This beautiful book is the latest addition to my cookbook shelf, a birthday gift from Ollie and Jason, so it is quite appropriate that Ollie was there to sample the first recipes.

Menu du jour:

Strawberries and grapes in a lemon ginger syrup
Pulled bread
Oeufs en cocotte
Lemon and poppy seed cake

I made the lemon and poppy seed cake first. Normally I avoid bagels and cakes and sandwiches with poppy seeds, preferring the stronger flavour of sea salt or herbs for savoury foods, and afraid of spending all day smiling with black dots between my teeth. But with poppy seeds on hand, I took a leap of faith, trusting Skye Gyngell’s recipe.

But a lemon cake should only be a lemon cake, I feel. The soft sweet-sharp of lemons is enough for me. It needs no crunch, or contrast in texture, no adjustment in any sense. The only crunch I like is the smallest shatter beneath teeth of a lemon juice and sugar crust.

I stand by my aversion to poppy seeds but if you enjoy this marriage then Skye’s recipe is light and moist, ideal for breakfast or afternoon tea. The cake is iced in How I Cook, but to pour a lemon sugar syrup over a cake fresh from the oven is the loveliest way to dress a cake.

Diced strawberries and halved red grapes in a ginger citrus juice were my own addition to the menu – a reminder to myself that fruit need not boring, or simply eat-in-hand. I sometimes forget that fruit, like many things, with the simplest of tinkering can be made better, can be made to sing.

The pulled bread is a recipe I am most pleased to have in my repertoire now, and to share here. Like this beer bread it comes together in a matter of minutes and is the ideal base for all sorts of extras – sweet and savoury. Cinnamon sugar woven throughout, or berry jam – sticky and concentrated in flavour – are ideas I’d like to try. Sun-dried tomatoes or black olives – strong and salty – would give this quick bread a little extra zing. Without these additions the bread is perfectly good; dense and with a good crust, it’s a mop-up-sauce, dip-in-soup, soldiers-in-eggs sort of bread.

Which brings us to our next course: oeufs en cocotte. I had been vaguely aware of this dish for a while, either known to me as oeufs en cocotte or baked eggs, I’m not too sure, but it wasn’t until I watched Rachel Khoo make oeufs en cocotte in tea cups did they jump from the periphery to the fore-front of my thoughts. Khoo used creme fraiche in her oeufs en cocotte, Gyngell, double cream. Possibly I went out on a whim, but yoghurt, strangely, was the link between each course of my Sunday lunch. I chose to use a generous dollop of thick Greek yoghurt in each teacup, atop buttered spinach, a few torn basil leaves and strips of prosciutto de parma (from Big Bad Wolf!).

The yoghurt cooked up beautifully, warm and salty and a bit like cottage cheese. Oeufs en cocotte is one of those dishes where the ingredients are so simple and so good in their natural state that it seems unlikely for anything overly wonderful to happen after 10 minutes in the oven, but that is probably why magic does indeed happen here.

Skye Gyngell’s Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

The recipe calls for a 20x11cm loaf tin – I need a bigger loaf tin so made my cake in a 20cm diameter cake tin. Apart from the lemon sugar syrup I poured over the hot cake, and the choice of tin, this recipe is unchanged from the original. Perhaps half milk, half yoghurt would be a good idea next time, and lemon juice added to the batter.

115 grams unsalted butter
175 grams caster sugar
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
35 grams poppy seeds
275 grams plain flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
230ml whole milk
4 large egg whites

Syrup

juice of 2 lemons
2 heaped tablespoons caster sugar

Preheat oven to 170°C. Line a 20cm cake or loaf tin with baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and smooth. Add lemon zest, vanilla and poppy seeds, then sift flour and baking powder together over the mixture. Stir a couple of times, then pour in the milk and briefly stir again.

Whisk the egg whites in a clean dry bowl until soft peaks form. Fold a third into the batter using a metal spoon, then slowly fold in the rest of the egg whites.

Spoon the mixture into prepared tin and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. While the cake is baking mix the syrup ingredients together until most of the sugar has dissolved. Once the cake is removed from the oven pour over the syrup while cake is still in tin. Leave to soak in for several minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

Cake best served warm.

Skye Gyngell’s Pulled Bread

This recipe was barely adapted from the original, save for an egg yolk wash and an extra scattering of rock salt on top before baking.

450 grams plain white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
375ml milk

1 egg yolk plus a dash of water (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 220°C. Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk. Using one hand scoop the flour and milk around the bowl until a dough forms – the dough should be soft but not wet or sticky.

Turn the dough onto a well floured surface and knead lightly for a couple of seconds. Shape the dough into a long sausage, bend in the middle and loosely weave together. Make the egg wash by combining the yolk with a small amount of water.

Place dough on a baking sheet and brush egg wash over the dough. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes before reducing temperature to 200°C, then bake for a further 15 minutes. The bread should be golden on the outside and when given a tap with your knuckles should sound hollow.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool, but serve slightly warm with salted butter.

Skye Gyngell’s Oeufs en cocotte

Instead of a tablespoon of double cream in each ramekin, I used a tablespoon of thick Greek yoghurt placed on top of the spinach and beneath the egg. I also reduced by half the amount of parma ham, so 4 slices instead of 8, due to the size of my ramekins/tea cups.

200 grams spinach
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
knob of butter
a few torn basil leaves
4 slices of prosciutto de parma, or similar
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons thick Greek yoghurt
freshly grated nutmeg to taste
50 grams Parmesan cheese, grated

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Thoroughly wash the spinach leaves and drain well. Place a large dry pan over a low heat and add the spinach. Cook briefly until the spinach has just wilted. Set aside until the spinach is cold enough to handle, then using kitchen towels squeeze all excess moisture from the spinach.

Place the blanched spinach in a frying pan with the knob of butter and heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Divide among the four ramekins then add the basil leaves. Place a dollop of yoghurt in each ramekin or teacup. Arrange parma ham on top of yoghurt, then a small grating of nutmeg. Crack an egg into each ramekin, and finish with a small amount of grated Parmesan cheese.

Place the ramekins in a roasting dish and pour hot water to come two-thirds up the sides of the dishes. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the egg whites have set and the yolks are to your liking.

Lift the ramekins out of the bain marie and dry off. Serve on a plate with bread cut for dipping into yolks.

Serves 4.

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So those hands you see up there peeling garlic belong to the man about the house, so to speak. He likes sushi, no avocado though, bread, potatoes any which way, and chilli, hot and fiery.

Perrin loves the movement of cooking – the chopping of onions and other vegetables – feeling the sharp knife move swiftly; or with the flick of a wrist feeling the frying pan fly through a loosened grip to toss our breakfast or dinner; a grind of salt or pepper is sometimes a whole body movement combining a stride from one side of the kitchen to the other. Perrin moves in the kitchen with a calm but deliberate force. I like to watch him in the kitchen.

Earlier this week Perrin and I had a night off. I said let’s cook dinner. He replied, how about chicken salad, stir fry or a beef tomato stew? Or prawn pasta? I snapped on the prawn pasta – yes please! We walked through the streets on our way to the supermarket in the mid afternoon sun. It was almost hot and there was a calm in the wild winds we have been having. Tell me about this prawn pasta, I said.

Well, cook your fettuccine first, he said. Toss with oil when it’s cooked and then make the buttery prawn sauce. A little bit of oil just to get started and then cook – in quite a bit of butter – a small onion or shallot, garlic and chilli. He turned to look at me with a cheeky grin, I do love butter. Oh, so do I.

Back in Perrin’s kitchen (one devoid of natural light so excuse the yellow-tinged photographs), I sat with my laptop and a glass of wine and looked on, taking notes and asking questions. The meal is quick to prepare – snappy and intense – but there are things to notice here. The sizzle and spit of the pan; an undercurrant beneath the roaring of the extractor fan. As the prawns are flicked and tossed they pink with the heat and the chilli, while the onion and garlic, soft and translucent, is a buttery yellow in comparison. Once the lemon zest and white wine have been added the smell is rich and inviting – there is the sweetness of the prawns, the zing of lemon and crisp Sauvignon Blanc, and the warm scent of onions cooking in butter.

Tossing is important, says Perrin. You must allow everything to bind with the butter – the crux and muscles of the dish, I guess. The dish needs muscle to carry the chilli because heck it’s hot. I sat there enjoying every tendril of fettuccine slicked with butter, garlic and sweet onion and each succulent prawn I picked out of the nest of noodles and ate with my fingers but throughout the whole meal my eyes watered and my nose ran with the heat of the chilli. After I placed my knife and fork together I was out of breath and fanning my burning mouth. Perrin poured me a glass of milk. Romance was high during this meal, believe you me.

Spicy Prawn Fettuccine
Adjust heat to your liking. Maybe one red chilli would suffice. Saffron or smoked paprika could add to the sunset pink colour but lend more of a mild flavour. Serves 2.

200 grams fettuccine
1 tablespoon oil (plus extra for pasta)
a decent knob of butter – 20 or so grams
1 small onion or shallot
4-6 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
red chilli
300 grams raw prawns
1 lemon – zest and juice
1 generous glass of white wine
salt and pepper
parsley

Cook the pasta until al dente. Strain and toss with a glug of oil to prevent sticking.

To a frying pan add the tablespoon of oil and butter. Once melted and slightly bubbling cook the onions and garlic and until soft. Add the chilli and cook for a further two minutes. Increase the heat then add the prawns, tossing for a couple of minutes to partially cook. Add the lemon zest and juice, the wine, salt and pepper then the cooked pasta continuing to toss for a further three or so minutes.

Once the pasta has heated through serve on to plates and scatter across finely chopped parsley, or another herb.

Whenever a new season rolls around and the fresh produce definitive of that season fills the market stalls it never feels real or true until I have cooked some of it myself. There are tulips, fresh new green leaves and blossom in the gardens; I am wearing ballet flats on my feet and I never leave home without my sunglasses; and in Wellington during spring it is wild and windy. But I had yet eat to buy and cook asparagus for myself. Only then would it really be spring.

I bought a bunch of asparagus – slender stalks with dark tips, pointed and almost feathered – and cooked them the way I like best: sautéed with a drop of oil, a knob of butter, salt and a grating of lemon zest. Cooked like this the spears are al dente, a slight crunch beneath tooth. The sweet and bitter flavour mingles with the butter and the lemon. Even with the slight charring and whithering of their skin the asparagus remains elegant – long and lean.

Accompanying the asparagus was a generous slice of pork, tarragon and ostrich egg terrine from Big Bad Wolf Gourmet Charcuterie. The terrine was herbaceous, rich and flavourful, yet a perfect light lunch with a simple salad or sautéed asparagus.

Big Bad Wolf is located on Wakefield Street next to Commonsense Organics. It is a beautiful store – painted white brick, wooden tables and hanging light shades made of fencing wire. The chairs are mismatched and above the counter, hanging from the ceiling are two pieces of old gardening equipment, a pitchfork and perhaps a hoe. Hanging from these are dried salamis, chorizo, and a bunch of lavender tied with string.

But it is the charcuterie products I love – sausages, terrines, patés, rillettes, bacon, prosciutto, chorizo, Iberico ham, preserves and chutney… Everything is made on site by the skilled and innovative chefs, except for the Spanish and Italian cured and dried meats. The variety and flavours of the sausages are endless – spicy kidney and heart; salmon and sweetcorn; pork, watercress, potato and anchovy; lamb, pork, feta and roast capsicum; beef, caramelised onion and blue cheese; beef carbonara – beef, pork, mushrooms and parmesan; snail, pork and parsley; venison and raspberry; pork, saffron and leek…..

I write this as an avid consumer, but also, I’m lucky enough to work at Big Bad Wolf. On our first day we did a tasting of the terrines and patés with one of the chefs. It was 9am but a good a time as any to try duck liver parfait, hare and mushroom terrine, duck and cranberry terrine, farmhouse terrine, salmon and white fish terrine, pork, tarragon and ostrich egg terrine, chicken and thyme paté…. I knew I was going to love working there.

I hope to write more about Big Bad Wolf as new products come into the cabinets. We introduced our own bacon this week – middle bacon, chilli middle bacon, and ginger middle bacon. It is perhaps the best bacon I have ever eaten.

A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of a 50 hour working week, I went home to my parents for dinner. I walked in the front door and was immediately taken to the kitchen, being handed a glass of water and an iron pill en route. Mum pulled out of the oven her black casserole dish, lifted the lid and inside, lightly simmering, was a glossy, green lamb curry. The pieces of lamb were almost rounding out of their bite-sized cubes, the flesh becoming tender with flavour of the spices.

Mum handed me a spoon with a little bit of lamb, “Try this, though it may need more cooking time.” I was slightly dubious, to be honest. I thought the lamb might have needed more time to settle, to become more soft and tender. Mum tried a spoonful too, and we looked at each other, “yum!” was all that was said. I grabbed my camera and tried to capture in the last of the afternoon light the bright greens, the glistening oils, the specks of red chilli and the whole fennel seeds.

There is not a lot of meat dishes on this blog, partly because I don’t eat a lot of meat. I am what I call an unintentional vegetarian; I mean to eat meat, I do – medium rare steaks, baked chicken breast or thighs with herbs and lemon, pork chops with softly cooked onion and apples, lamb cooked low and slow with Mediterranean flavours – but on week nights if I have time to cook all I need is a pot of tender, flavoursome vegetables. Also, and I’m bearing all here, meat is very hard to photograph and make it appear vaguely appetising. My novice photography skills are tested at times.

A pot of tender, flavoursome vegetables, one that so easily could be puréed and called a soup, but remains thick and stew like, is what I call in not so eloquent terms, fridge raid supper. The idea of fridge raids appeal to me. Not in a Nigella-black-silk-dressing-gown-midnight-feast sort of a way, but more let’s open the fridge and see what catches my eye. This is how I like to cook, and how my mother likes to cook. In fact, I learnt this skill from her (it is most definitely a skill when there is not a lot in the fridge to work with as is usually the case). This free-style way of cooking is probably not all that conducive to great blog posts though, and on bad nights, not all that conducive to good dinners either. But it suits my life at the moment.

As my year wraps up there will hopefully be more time for cooking, slowly and carefully, enjoying the process. There will be time for eating with friends, and also treating myself to meals for one – meat, vegetarian, seafood and grains. I hope to find a bit more balance in my life through the meals I cook and eat. There will also be, God I hope so, more sleep and down time in my life. Meat alone is not going to fix the dark circles under my eyes. But in the meantime, there is my mother’s cooking.

My mother makes a good curry. They are not necessarily heavy handed on the spices; your nose won’t run and your eyes won’t water, but they hold their own in the flavour of herbs and aromatics. Anise, cumin, fresh coriander – leaves and roots, five spice, cinnamon, turmeric, fennel seeds, chilli… The spice cupboard at home is loaded and well used.

Green Curry (with lamb)

This recipe comes from possibly one of our most successful and well used cookbooks, Curry Easy by Madhur Jaffrey. This book is full of delicious curry recipes, which as the title suggests, are very easy to follow. The recipes for side dishes, especially those using vegetables, match well with so many meals.

A second note from my mother: This curry can also be made with chicken although the lamb is better matched to the longer cooking time and holds the flavours better. You need lots of coriander – a big bunch. Can be eaten with rice or flatbreads with a vegetable curry side.

2 tablespoons lemon juice
100 gram bunch of coriander (just a big bunch with roots)
2.5cm fresh ginger peeled and chopped
4 good sized cloves of garlic
3-4 hot green chillies – I use red most of the time however
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 medium onion
600 grams boneless lamb cut into 2.5cm pieces
120ml coconut milk – I have put this in once but prefer it without

Put lemon juice, 120ml of the water, the coriander, ginger, garlic, chillies, turmeric and salt into a blender in this order. Blend thoroughly pushing down with spatula until you have a fine paste.

Preheat oven to 160C. Put oil in a flame proof casserole and set over medium to high heat. When hot put in fennel seeds. A couple of seconds later, put in onions. Stir fry until they are brown at the edges. Add meat. Stir fry over high heat for 7-8 mintes or until meat is browned.

Add green sauce from the blender and bring to simmer. Cover and place in oven for 70 minutes – I have left in the oven for nearly 2 hours! Check after an hour however. If using coconut milk add now, reheat gently and then serve.

This compote is wintery with the earthy notes of spice, but summery with the sweetness of fruit. It’s soft and luscious, it tastes of Christmas with cloves and cinnamon, sweet and faintly of brandy or port. It’s warming, in a sense, comforting perhaps. It’s fresh and clean also. In other words, it’s endlessly versatile.

Dried fruit compotes have been part of our fridge staples for a few years now. Mainly they were born out of a need for something different in the middle of winter than apples and mandarins, or trying to make a dent in a large bag of dried apricots or dried figs. We would soak them overnight in hot water sweetened with a squeeze of orange, a peeling of rind, a teaspoon of sugar and drop or two of vanilla. The next morning the fruit would be plump and almost silken while the vanilla-citrus syrup had perfumed the apricots or figs. We eat the compote atop soaked oats and yoghurt for breakfast, or vanilla ice cream for dessert. But this fruit compote is slightly more structured in its preparation. That’s not to say you can’t whip it up in 10 minutes (plus soaking time), or alter the recipe to your tastes, but the point is, there is a recipe, and it comes from quite a delightful book, La Cigale.

I was driving across town the other morning with my parents, or rather they were driving me due to such intense exhaustion that I moved back home for a day of care and comfort and good food. They began telling me the story of La Cigale, the French market and café in Auckland. The car radio was switched off and as we drove closer and closer to our destination the story was described with an increasing sense of urgency; it needed to be told.

The long story short, my father said, is a New Zealand woman whose family owned a fabric importing business. They travelled through Europe sourcing fabrics and along the way fell in love with France. Later the woman, with her husband, took over the fabric business but motivated by a changing economy and a passion for all things French, they turned the fabric warehouse in Auckland into a French bistro and market. It is now something of an institution.

I have never been to La Cigale, though I have heard plenty of wonderful things about it. If this fruit compote is anything to go by, La Cigale – the book, the market, the bistro – is a delicious little pocket of France in New Zealand. One last note, the dried fruit is soaked in black tea. We used earl grey blue flower for more perfumed, floral hints. I think weak black tea would be best – strong tannins might tarnish the softness of the fruit. In saying that, perhaps a white tea would work well too.

Dried Fruit Compote

Feel free to change the fruit to your liking, and to add more cold tea for extra moisture or desired consistency.

250 grams each of stoned dates, figs (cut in half), prunes, apricots
250 grams mixed dried fruit – pears, peaches, pineapple, apple, etc
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
juice and rind of 2 oranges
2 cups cold tea

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Leave to infuse in the pot for 3 to 4 hours.

It’s probably a terrible thing when a decision over a simple, basic, yet elegant cake or a layered, complex and indulgent cake becomes a problematic internal conflict.

For my birthday I wanted a project, something challenging, something a little spectacular. But I had to wrestle with my love and trust of simple snacking cakes, like this one and this one. They never fail, these cakes. They are all-purpose, all occasions, suit everyone sort of cakes. But for a cake that may spend an evening sitting on a pretty plate, on a clothed table, near beautiful flowers in the window of a bar, and sparkling with lit candles – well, the cake must rise to the occasion. (Pardon the pun.)

Lemon cake, I thought. Lemon is classic and timeless, a strong, fresh flavour. Perhaps lemon curd for a bit of glamour – rich, smooth, beautiful and bright, bright yellow. Genoise sponge, thought my mother. And so this cake came to be. It’s quite amazing to make: beat eggs, yolks and whites, with sugar in a bowl over simmering water. After ten minutes the mixture is smooth and pale but doubled, tripled, possibly quadrupled in volume. It could resemble risen dough – full of air, light and there is a fragility to it.

Next, just two-thirds of a cup of flour – it seems an impossible amount. Slowly sifted and ever so gently, carefully folded with a grating of lemon zest. Then 60 grams of melted butter, again folded, but with a smooth deliberate motion. Quickly, into the oven.The sponge is light, yes, but it has a flavour more rich and charismatic, if flavour can have such a quality, than other sorts of sponge (read: store-brought sponge). Between the layers the lemon curd settles in, singing its bright notes.

Oh, and the icing – whipped cream spiked with Grand Marnier. It kicks it up a notch.

Lemon Genoise Sponge

I’ll share the recipe for one sponge cake and one measure of lemon curd, about a cup and a half. We made two cakes (this is an egg intensive recipe!), then split each cake in half to create four layers. The lemon curd is lovely on so many things – a dollop in muffins before they are cooked, drizzled on ice cream, or my favourite, spread thickly on toast with a smidge of butter.

The Genoise recipe comes from an old Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook French Cooking Made Easy. The photos are terrible – over exposed and almost clinical in style as if showing a medical procedure, but the recipes, or at least this one, have proven to be quite successful.

4 eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar
2/3 cup plain flour
60 grams butter, melted

Liqueur Cream
300ml cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Grease a 20cm round cake tin, line with paper and grease again. Combine eggs and sugar in a large bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water. Do not let the water touch the bottom of the pan. Use an electric mixture to beat mixture until thick and creamy, 10 minutes. Remove bowl from water and continue to beat until mixture has returned to room temperature.

Sift half the flour over the egg mixture and carefully fold in. Fold in the remaining flour. Quickly and carefully fold in the melted butter.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake in for 20 minutes. Turn immediately onto a wire rack to cool.

For the liqueur cream simply beat ingredients together until the right consistency to spread on the cake.

Lemon Curd

This recipe comes from Jo Seagar’s You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble, darling. It’s a go-to recipe in our house.

4 large lemons
100 grams butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten

Scrub lemons then finely grate the rind and squeeze for the juice. Place the juice and grated rind in a small saucepan. Add eggs, sugar and butter cut into little cubes. Stir over a very low heat until the sugar dissolves and then stir constantly for 2-3 minutes until the mixture thickens.

Pour into a jug and then fill clean hot sterilised jars. Seal and keep refrigerated.