Archives for category: Condiments

QuinceQuick! For those of you in New Zealand/southern hemisphere find some quince before winter truly takes hold. Make quince paste, jam or jelly, scrub the furry fruit, cut, roast and boil away, stock up for a whole winter of cheese boards. If you are like me at the moment this leap into action, this leap into the kitchen will be just the thing to anchor everything in place.

QuinceQuince and avocadoIt’s been busy around here: assignments, uni club, assignments, an internship, fundraising sausage sizzle, more assignments and occasionally I have found time to work for actual money which is nice, because you know, the rent doesn’t pay itself. And amongst all the writing about historical print journalism, the political economy of modern news media, the role of a copy-editor and the rules of punctuation, I have helped on photography shoots, defrosted a 5cm wall of ice from my freezer, listened on repeat to an eclectic playlist – Bruce Springsteen, Macklemore, Angus and Julia Stone, the Beach House, Fleetwood Mac.

I’ve had a freezing weekend away in Christchurch, and have been reading up on HTML code, because now seems as good a time as any to become a code geek. I have been reading short stories and essays by and on Katherine Mansfield and I have been devouring anything written by Joan Didion, and God could these women write! I have eaten more kebabs, pizza slices and take-out sushi in the past couple of weeks than I’d like to admit and between our flat and Georgie being at home in Wellington for over a week, I have shared more bottles of wine than I’d like to admit.

quince bathscrubbed quinceWhat I’m leading up to here is that the days have been full and apart from the people and the wine and the great literature I am growing tired of this year. My parents commented the other day about how fast the year is going, can we believe we are a third through 2013 already? I said quite loudly and with a melodramatic exhale of breath, “Thank God!” I feel quite indifferent to the routines of going to class, sitting in a lecture hall, moving from one computer desk to another, moving from one essay writing assignment to another. These feelings are not new or particular to only myself – I think all students feel this as uni wraps up and new projects seem within reach.

roasted and wrinkledpulled apartUnfortunately these feelings of indifference have weedled their way into the kitchen, hence the take-out sushi, kebabs and pizza. But food – good food, real food – has an ability to make us take notice. I’ve written this before, of food’s power to redirect our attention and our priorities.

Avocado and oilavocado, fig, bookAutumn produce has been worthy of attention. Fresh figs, feijoas, quince, the most crisp, tart cooking apples and sweet, juicy eating apples. Local pears, the flesh the softest I have ever eaten and new golden kiwifruit, rich and mellow, quite different to their acidic, green cousins. The last of my summer tomatoes – green and peppery, and four of the most beautiful avocados, so oily and rich, from the tree at the olive grove. In the northern hemisphere people are heralding the arrival of spring produce in all its green glory, but I think we simply like the change in seasons, the chance to honour something new.

avocado in halfgreen tomato and avocadoThis autumn quince proved to be most interesting to cook with. It seems I haven’t learned that raw quince is very sour and shouldn’t be consumed in its raw state, no matter how fragrant it smells or buttercup yellow it is. But cooked into a thick, dark pink paste the quince becomes sweet, the fragrance intensifies, like roses and apples. My kitchen smelled wonderful. Quince paste is a relatively time consuming task but on the day I made it there seemed to be nothing more remedial than standing at the bench peeling the skins from the roasted fruit or stirring gently at the stove.

ready to setQuince pasteQuince and cheesePerrin gave me the quince, passed on to him from a kindly fruit and vegetable shop owner up the road. The figs, scavenged from my neighbour’s tree (who perhaps does not realise figs are $22/kg, never picks them and let’s them ripen for the birds) were eaten in greedy, mischievous lust, ripped open to expose their pink beaded insides. While I stood in my kitchen stirring fruit paste I began to think about scavenged fruit, free fruit and reasons why it seems to feel special, treasured, honoured. Can we appreciate the downy skins of a quince or the crispness of an apple or the spurting juicy seeds of a tomato more when they come from somewhere we know? I don’t mean the supermarket we know, but if we can put a face, a place, a time, a field or a road to food I’m sure it’s likely to be more significant to the consumer and treated with all the respect it deserves.

So these are thoughts that occupy my mind at the moment – an argument for local, community eating. These thoughts and days spent at the stove are valuable and interesting. I make room for them, prioritise them, amongst everything else.

Lois Daish’s Quince Paste (Penny Porritt’s Quince Paste)

I love my Lois Daish book. Every time I look through it I vow to make a blog project out of it – to cook my way through the year with Lois Daish. As for Penny Porritt, I believe she was a Listener columnist at some point, but anyway Daish’s recipe comes from her.

Take your quince and scrub gently to remove the down. Place the whole fruit in a casserole pot or roasting dish and pour over 1/2 cup of water. Cover with a lid or tightly wrapped tin foil and bake at 150°C for 2-3 hours (closer to 3, I would say) until the fruit is pink and tender. Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle, scrape off the skins, cut each quince in half and pull out the core.

Weigh the fruit and then purée in a blender or pass through a mouli. Place the pulp in a pot and measure out enough sugar to equal 3/4 the weight of the prepared quince. Add to the pan of purée and heat gently, stirring occasionally. Cook gently for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. The paste is ready when it is so thick that you can drag a wooden spoon through the mix and still see the bottom of the pot.

Lightly oil a shallow heatproof container – I used a similar sized dish that I would make a brownie or slice in. Cool the quince paste for a few minutes and then scrape into the dish. Smooth the top and put somewhere warm and dry for a day or two (I left it in my switched off oven). Once dried out, cut the paste into blocks, wrap in baking paper and store in a plastic container in the fridge.

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Eggplant

A few weekends ago over Easter there was a lot of food made and consumed in my kitchen, but really it wasn’t all fun and games. For most of the weekend I sat at the big dining table in my parents’ house writing a rather dry essay on 16th and 17th century news journalism. I squinted at texts written in barely discernible English where a S could have been a R or a F and stories told of malformed pigs and blood raining from the sky. No matter what you think of modern news journalism, I am thankful for the progress we have made.

Moosewood CookbookMarket shopping

My sister flew home for part of the weekend, setting up her laptop at the other end of the table, books and papers and computer cords filling the gap between us. There we sat, just like that, for most of the weekend, she plugging away on a lab report about grape disease and I trying to draw parallels between post-medieval and 21st century journalism.

Oil

And yet, in the midst of all this was food. Food seemed to transcend our immediate reality of assignments and university and settle us in an all the more ‘real’ reality – simply the need to be feed and nourished and sustained.

Cutting through dense flesh

On Friday before Georgie flew home Perrin and I hosted a dinner party. I made an Easter cake – the simplest cake if ever there was one – no need for beaters or excessive creaming, but the cake rose perfectly to a smooth, plainly flavoured, moist Madeira style cake. We made braised lamb with feta, potatoes and tomatoes; Perrin cut, oiled and spiced up pita pockets into crisps while I whizzed hummus together. We set a rice pilaf to cook later in the evening with slivered almonds and just-moist sultanas, counting out loud the (10) seconds of sizzle time of the cinnamon stick. There was a stellar quinoa salad made by Francesca and a banana cake from Catherine. My house was filled with noise – music, conversation, the scrape of chairs, the clink of eight glasses when it came time to toast – lovely really, for the rest of the weekend all we would hear is the tap-tap of a laptop keyboard. (And I confess this song played too loudly and danced to wildly when the prospect of typing another word seemed all too much.)

Eggplant halvesReady to roast

I picked Georgie up early on Easter Sunday and we drove straight to the market. We did away with the fruit bowl basics instead buying leeks – the white as long and as thick as my forearm, limes – an absolute steal at only $8/kilo, an eggplant with beautiful, high-gloss skin, and fire-truck red baby tomatoes. We bought packets of hot cross buns and returned home to eat them toasted and dripping with butter.

We had avocados smashed on toast with a runny yolk fried egg for lunch. Coffee and hot cross buns always dripping with butter continued all weekend – how else does Easter play out? In the evening we sat in the kitchen, our backs defiantly to the table covered with paper, and we drank Merlot. We picked the potatoes from the leftover lamb, reserving them to slice finely and fry the next day, but the lamb, as stews always are, was better on day two.

Roasted and wrinkled

On weekends like this one where what needs to be done is minimal – fill X amount of pages with X amount of words – yet the task is decidedly time consuming and complex, food is both a welcome distraction and a boost in productivity. I find I work best when part of my mind can freely think about lunch or dinner, when a meal plan begins to form and I can fry potatoes to golden crispy, lay on a spinach wrap spread with harissa and mayonnaise and top with spindly mesclun leaves. Or for dinner: thick, pink pork chops covered in salt and cooked on the pan and leeks braised in white wine, dijon mustard and vinegar to become tender ribbons, sharp and sweet. The creativity of cooking livens my senses and exercises my brain.

Hot roasted eggplantScoopedCrisp edge, soft within

Georgie made a lime tart – freshly squeezed limes – what a scent! And then came the eggplant, young and slender, of the most beautiful colour and weighty in my hand. I had a friend at school who loved the eggplant purely because she thought it would make a pleasing thwack when pelted at a wall, or a person, depending on her mood. (The same went for capsicums.) I strangely think about this every time I cut open a raw eggplant and hear the satisfying hiss and thud of the blade through the dense flesh. I resisted the urge to throw food at my walls and instead I made baba ganouj from the Moosewood Cookbook.

Empty skinsLemons for juicejuiced

There has already been a lot said about the Moosewood Cookbook, about the hand written recipes and hand drawn illustrations, about the beginning of a food movement and about the long reigning success of the book, so I’ll keep this brief. My mother has had a copy of the book for as long as I can remember but I never understood the significance of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook until I began to read about the cult-like following it has.

Baba GanoujLunchThe weekend view

The baba ganouj is simple and lovely as far as baba ganouj go. It’s creamy and oily, there is a richness but also a wonderful complexity of flavour: garlic and lemon, a smoky bitterness from the eggplant and a subtle nutty hint from the tahini. But roasting whole eggplants, their skins turning dark chocolate in colour and gorgeously wrinkly like that of a ripe passionfruit, and the burnt oil, smoky smell that filled my kitchen probably contributed to more words being written about early journalism and more pages being filled than any other kitchen activity all that long weekend.

Baba Ganouj from the Moosewood Cookbook
The only change I made to this recipe was the addition of a second roasted eggplant. Also, I do think this recipe benefits from resting time before serving.

2 tablespoons oil (for the baking sheet)
2 medium to large eggplants
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper or cayenne (I used a pinch of cayenne)
olive oil and freshly chopped parsley or coriander for the top

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Lightly oil a baking tray.
Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise and place face down on the baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes or until very tender. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
Scoop out the flesh of the eggplant and discard the skins. Place the pulp in a food processor with the garlic, lemon juice, tahini and salt and pepper. Purée until desired consistency – I think it’s best with a few chunks of eggplant.
Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and chill. Before serving drizzle the top with oil and scatter over your choice of herbs.

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.


I think I have mentioned our garden here before, but never in great detail. When we first moved to this flat the back garden was less of a garden and more of a twisted, tangled pile of noxious weeds. We had no idea what was underneath it, and despite the promises of our landlord, we never thought we would find out. But the weeds grew and grew at an alarming rate, perhaps a foot a day during summer. We began to fear they would pull down our already rotting balcony, wrapping their tendrils through its splintered wood until one day when it would collapse beneath us as we hung out our washing. We were worried the neighbours might call the local council complaining of the environmental hazard that lurked, and flourished, I might add, in Thorndon.

Then one day, all the weeds were gone. Just like that, the landlord came. We were not even that worried about the lack of suitable notice. Beneath the mess we discovered a little paved courtyard and four small terraced garden plots. One of the pavers is cracked and the bricks are crooked and chipped, like old teeth. One of the steps near the terrace is ruptured, as if torn in half by an earthquake. But for most of the day it is bathed in sun, perfect for a little garden.

On a beautiful day in early February we set to work tidying, pulling up the snaking roots of the convolvulus with great vigour. We scattered plenty of fertiliser; goodness knows the last time this soil had seen a spade or even sunlight. Francesca, Susan and I planted coriander, oregano, Italian parsley, thyme and mint in our herb terrace. We planted celery and beetroot: possibly a strange combination of vegetables but we had missed the boat on the early summer planting. We added lavender, marigolds, purple pansies and a hydrangea bush for a bit of colour across the terraces.

In the six weeks or so since we planted our garden it has done everything it should. Plants have flowered and grown. The beetroot leaves have deep red veins, the celery is a lovely pale green and the parsley is pratically a bush. We have kept the noxious weeds at bay, turned the soil and reaped the rewards of cooking with our home grown herbs and vegetables. Everything smells fantastic; every time I pick a sprig of thyme or parsley or rosemary I cup my hands, holding the herbs inside and inhale deeply. The sweet, thick fragrance never ceases to make me smile. We grew this!

Our coriander has fared extremely well, perhaps a little too well. It grew with great gusto, more so than we were prepared for. We must have missed the few days when coriander has the slender roots and thin stalks of the sort you find at the market. Ours became woody and tough, the thick branches falling to the ground under their weight. The best way to use it was to make coriander pesto. It is the most brillant green, with light flecks of cashew nut. We have eaten it with pasta and it makes a superb toast spread when paired with goat’s milk feta and tomato.

I’m looking forward to winter planting, and for next spring too. A garden could be just what we need to give us some bearing on Wellington’s mixed up seasons.

At the house where I grew up, behind our makeshift compost bins, was the most abundant rhubarb patch. Long, bright red stalks with forest green leaves flourished in the warm and rich soils of breaking down vegetable matter. A sink full of chopped rhubarb and water was a common sight on a Sunday night. While Mum prepared dinner, strips of ruby red bobbed about in the water, ready to be made into rhubarb crumble for dessert, or stewed rhubarb for our breakfasts, or a spiced rhubarb cake for our lunches.

The rhubarb my parents grow in their current garden is doing well. A single leaf is about the same size as a folded out newspaper and they often break under their immense weight. Most of the stalk is a pale green with small flecks of red. They smell sappy and perhaps of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

I took three stalks and they sat on my kitchen table for a day or so before I thought what to do with them. A rhubarb and ginger compote; tart and sweet all at once, and then, a soothing heat resonates around your mouth.

This compote took less than ten minutes to make and brightened little bits and pieces all week –  with lemon cupcakes, as a topping on thick Greek yoghurt, on crusty sourdough bread like a sloppy sort of jam and atop my morning porridge.

Rhubarb is one thing I can never bring myself to buy; it is a vegetable to grow.

Rhubarb and Ginger Compote
Next time I will double the quantities, three stalks doesn’t make enough to eat out of the jar with a spoon.

3 stalks rhubarb-about 250 grams when chopped
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
a small knob of butter
a thumb size (approx) piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender and compote begins to combine, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool. The colour of the compote will vary depending on the colour of the rhubarb.

It has been a while since I studied and I have forgotten how to do it. (Though, past exam results would question if I have ever known how to do it.) Instead of re-reading and re-writing notes on topics I will possibly never ever contemplate again, even in the deep, dark recesses of my brain, I find myself pondering the deeper questions of life… what to get my sister for Christmas? Why didn’t I buy that lovely biscuit tin in France? Why did my mother not have me learn French In-vitro? What would I do if I won Lotto? What to cook for dinner? Coffee or tea?

And today’s question: could I make tomato chutney from canned tomatoes, a cheater’s tomato chutney of sorts? Could I? Is this a dangerous thought to be thinking right now? I am having wondrous visions of my business communication notes splattered delightfully in a sweet, red, juicy sauce…

A tomato chutney, I feel, is one of life’s staple ingredients. If made with the right ratio of brown sugar to vinegar to spices it really is the most versatile of condiments. A good tomato chutney can liven any dish. Take the corn fritters I had for lunch: palm sized, crisp edged, buttery yellow fritters with hints of coriander and pieces of red capsicum, well seasoned and kindly re-heated in the oven, rather than the microwave which makes all the difference. They were everything a corn fritter should have been. But, I couldn’t help thinking a sweet tomato chutney with traces of spice and ginger could have made these fritters truly exceptional.

This chutney, this chutney, you will be eating from the jar with a teaspoon. It is more like a jam, but don’t let that hinder its versatility. I think I will eat this on toast with a generous spreading of butter, or in rice dishes, or stirred through cream cheese for a dip, or atop baked potatoes, or as an omelette flavouring, or in any egg dish for that matter, or with cold roast chicken in a sandwich, or simply with cheese and a cracker.

This chutney-jam is very easy to make. Just mix everything in the pot until it reaches jam-like consistency. As it shimmers and simmers away the colours begin to change to richer and darker hues, the colour of ripe chillies, or smashed berries.

Ideal for dramatic note-staining. Or eating by the spoonful.

Tomato Chutney-Jam

Adapted from this recipe and this recipe.

1 800g tin of whole peeled tomatoes in juice plus 1 400g tin.
330-ish ml of white wine vinegar (or cider vinegar, or just plain white vinegar)
1 cinnamon quill
4-5 whole cloves
1 head garlic, finely diced
1 piece of ginger about the size of your thumb, finely diced
handful raisins
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
pepper
generous pinch of chilli flakes (optional)

Pour the tins of tomatoes into a medium-large pot. Chop roughly with a knife. Using the 400g tin, fill 3/4 of the way up with vinegar, swirl to gather left over tomato juice. Pour into pot. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and leave uncovered for 90minutes, or until liquid has reduced and the consistency is thicker.

Take 2 preserving jars and sterilise in hot water or the oven. When jam has finished cooking, pour into jars and place lid tightly on top. Leave to cool. The jar lid should make a ‘pop’ sound as it seals itself.

If you plan on eating the chutney within 2-3 weeks, preserving jars are not necessary, simply place in fridge.

N.B If you would like a less sweet jam reduce the white sugar content to only half a cup.