Archives for posts with tag: cheese

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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It is hard to keep up with Wellington weather. What to wear? What to eat? Should I take a raincoat or sunscreen? What to eat gets me the most. I never know if I should be bunkering down with the comfort foods of winter or holding on to those fresh, clean tastes of summer. Winter vegeatables are appearing at the market alongside the last of the season’s stone fruit. And yesterday I think I got sunburnt. Wellington can be a testing place to live.

But, nonetheless, it was impossible to resist this little pumpkin last week. It fit into the palm of my hand, small and green with a little button top. I wanted to coo and whisper sweet somethings to it. Instead, I roasted it, whole. I cut around the button top, pulled it out like a plug, then scooped out the seeds and pulp. I rubbed olive oil, salt and pepper around its insides. I placed three peeled cloves of garlic and some chopped up feta in the middle and replaced the lid.

In the oven the pumpkin steams and roasts within its skin. The cuteness of the pumpkin seems to disappear; the skin crisps up and weathers slightly. It almost wrinkles as the flesh within begins to pull away from the sides. Then you know it is going to be good. The pumpkin at the top is almost plain, with a hint of sweetness, while at the bottom the flesh is almost soupy. The sharpness of the feta disappears and instead there is a salty, creamy broth.

My mother used to cook pumpkins like this. The trick is lots of garlic, three or four whole cloves per pumpkin. And something salty: strips of bacon curled around the insides of the pumpkin works wonderfully, holding in the very best of the pumpkin flavour.

There is something very pleasing about cooking a whole pumpkin, whether to be carved and shared at the table or to enjoy a little one for yourself. Take great delight in pulling off the stopper and scraping the flesh off the top, as you would a soft boiled egg.

Enjoy no matter the weather; these baby pumpkins are too good to wait for colder days.

Roast Baby Pumpkin with Feta

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cut around the top of each pumpkin. You may need a spoon to lever out the top. Use the spoon to scrape out the seeds and all the stringy pulp. Pour in a tablespoon of olive oil and spread around the sides. Add ground salt and pepper and spread evenly.

Peel three cloves of garlic per pumpkin. Place inside the pumpkin along with several cubes of feta, so you can’t see the bottom of the pumpkin. Place the stopper back in its hole. Place in a tin foil lined baking tray. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the side of the pumpkin meets no resistance.

For more of a soup add a 1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable stock. Replace feta with bacon or strips of red pepper. Add ground chilli to the salt and pepper for a little bit of a kick.

 My mother is not much of a sweet dessert person. She enjoys the flavour of ginger, vanilla, lemon, raspberries and blueberries. If my mother has chocolate it is dark and bitter with cocoa. She would be perfectly happy with a strong piece of cheese, a few oat crackers and maybe a handful of grapes or slices of firm pear.

When it comes to cakes, simple is best. Fruits are the stars of these cakes: pears, plums, oranges or apples. They are very rarely big cakes, never the sort with a few centimetres of icing on top. They are of the understated flat variety, like wide discs. Perhaps with a drizzle icing, a shake of icing sugar, or nothing at all.

For my mother’s birthday last week I made Nigel Slater‘s English Apple Cake from his book, The Kitchen Diaries. This is perhaps my most loved cook book. It is simple in its progression through the year. A northern hemisphere year but easily translated. In February there is slow roast lamb with chickpea mash, a treacle tart, a recipe for sausage and black pudding with baked parsnips. In May there are orange and ricotta pancakes, a white bean and tarragon soup and salmon and dill fishcakes. The book is written like a diary, each recipe has an introduction; the inspiration for the recipe, or what occasion it marked. Some entries contain no recipe at all but are titled “A feast of plums” or “An extravagant supper of rare beef, red salad and cheeses.” I love that the word supper describes nearly every dinner dish in the book. Let’s have supper.

The English Apple Cake I made for my mother was perfectly fine. It was light and reasonably moist. The cake itself had the pleasing taste of a simple butter cake while the apples on top were slightly stewed and sweet all of their own accord. But I wanted something a little bit more. There is a reason why most apple cake recipes call for cinnamon, mixed spice, or ginger, or chopped dates, broken walnuts, or rolled oats and brown sugar; apple cakes are better with these flavours.

So I made another cake. The equal parts of butter to sugar to flour is a simple cake base to work with and embellish as you please. Apple and Ginger this time, perfect for a blustery autumn day. The warming smell of ginger and the sweet scent of apples was almost overwhelming. It was maple syrupey and slightly heady with spices. This cake was for our friend Jason on his birthday. We had a wonderful birthday dinner on Monday night: a Pegasus Bay riesling with blue cheese and brie to start, then Ollie and Jason’s famous roast chicken and this little cake for dessert with sloppy whipped cream.

We lit birthday candles, Jason made a wish, and then it was gone. This cake barely touched our plates. My mother (and Mr. Slater) would enjoy it.

Apple and Ginger Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater

130 grams butter
130 grams brown sugar
2 eggs
130 grams plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger, plus 1 teaspoon for apples
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 small knob of fresh ginger, finely grated
2 medium apples, un-peeled & diced
juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons sugar, brown or white
1/2 cup roughly chopped crystallised ginger

Pre-heat oven to 180°. Line a small, shallow round or square tin of about 24 cm. Cream butter and sugar together until lighter in colour, about 4-5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat well after each addition. Sieve dry ingredients and stir through the mixture until just combined. Scrap mixture into tin. Set aside.

In a separate bowl toss together diced apples, lemon juice, sugar and the extra ground ginger. Sprinkle apples on top of the cake with the chopped crystallised ginger. Bake for 45-50 minutes until the batter is golden at the edges and the centre is no longer gooey.

Serve warm with thick yoghurt or whipped cream.


Central Otago reminds me of the south of France, near Provence and around the Marseille coast with stark cliffs and jagged arid hills. Wild rosemary and thyme grow in abundance; the thyme covering some of the barren hills in a musky purple tinge. Pity then for the colourful array of mullets and dropped Toyota Corollas taking me out of my Provençal dream….

The land is dry and crisp in various shades of pale golds and dull browns. Yet, in this parched landscape is an orchardist’s and winemaker’s paradise. Apricots, cherries, peaches and plums – beautifully ripened near roadside stalls. And like the great wine making regions of France, rows of straight green vines stretch across the land.

View from Felton Road Vineyard

We spent 10 gloriously hot days (28-30 degrees most days) sampling the very best of the region. We visited the cellar doors of some of New Zealand’s best vineyards: Felton Road, Carrick, Peregrine, Rippon, Three Miners. Rippon was beautiful on the shores over looking Lake Wanaka – a wonderful cellar door experience. Three Miners was an exciting find. At the end of a bumpy gravel drive is a modest cellar door, more of a tin shed, but their Pinot Noir and Riesling is smooth and delicious. I am going to drink more Riesling this year.

We bought kilos of cherries and apricots, but more about these in a later post. We discovered the Gibston Valley Cheesery – a wonderfully cool room on a hot day. You can buy a cheese platter matched with Gibston Valley wines to eat outside on the deck overlooking the vines, or sample the sheep, goat and cow milk cheeses at the counter. My favourite was the Balfour, a pecorino style hard cheese.

We spent Christmas Eve day in Queenstown shopping for our feast the next day. We bought a ham, fresh salads, new Jersey Benne potatoes, baby beets, oat crackers for our cheese, plum fruit paste, croissants, marscepone, and bubbles. Georgie and I made a three layered tiramisu that night, allowing plenty of time for the sherry spiked coffee to seep through the lady fingers before dessert the next day.

We roasted the baby beets, peeling their slippery skins off once cool, staining our fingers a purpley-red. The beets were for a beetroot, feta and mint salad – a rather popular addition to our Christmas table. I read not too long ago the rantings of a woman so bored of the beetroot/feta combination that she refused to buy any cookbook that featured a recipe with the two ingredients. Beetroot and feta together is a classic pairing. We added shredded fresh mint leaves to our salad, which not only produced bright Christmas colours but gave the salad a summery feel. Orange segments in place of the mint would add a touch of sweetness.

Christmas beetroot-feta-mint salad

In fact, there are several variations of the beetroot and feta salad if you too fear they are a somewhat tired duo. Add dry roasted walnuts to the salad for a bit of crunch. Slice the feta as you would haloumi and grill it with a generous grind of salt and pepper, serve with the roasted beetroot (as per recipe below) atop grilled ciabatta or other quality bread. For another interesting salad idea add roasted beetroot, cut into wedges, and crumbled feta to cooked orzo.

Beetroot, Feta and Mint Salad

We roasted the beetroot the day before and left them overnight in the fridge covered in a generous dash of salad dressing. This enhanced the earthy, rich flavour of the beetroot.

5-6 small to medium sized beetroot
125-150 grams feta, a sharp, crumbly feta is best
torn fresh mint leaves, a small handful
salad dressing, or a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon mustard

Pre heat the oven to 180°C. Place the whole and unpeeled beetroot in a roasting dish with a dash of olive oil and salt and pepper – make sure the beets are well covered in oil. Roast for 45-60 minutes, or until the beetroot is tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool until just warm. Gently remove the skins from the beetroot, taking care not to pull off too much of the flesh. Cut the beetroot into quarters and place in a bowl. Pour over a couple of tablespoons of salad dressing and leave to sit for several hours or overnight.

Just before serving crumble the feta over the salad but do not mix or the juices from the beetroot will stain the feta. Sprinkle over the torn mint leaves.

Serve as a side with hot or colds meats, or with several other salads for a light summer meal.

Last week on a quiet Sunday afternoon spent lounging in the sun, I read Stephanie Alexander’s book Cooking and Traveling in South-West France. It is a beautiful book with stories of the people she met and the meals they shared. The south-west is quite possibly my favourite region of France with its rich culinary history and wine culture. I enjoy Stephanie’s book in a somewhat bittersweet way: during my few days in Bordeaux I was as poor as a church mouse and surviving on a few yoghurts, a few apples and a pottle of couscous salad, eating a few teaspoons every few hours to tide me over.

It is these experiences of the poor starving backpacker that made me so appreciative of the meals I shared with my french friends. One particular meal with my friend Sophie and her family we had an entrée of a salad with mesclun, foie gras, magret de canard, corn and small preserved onions that were so tiny and so sweet I thought they might have been a berry. It is a surprisingly light salad, and a reminder that salad is so much more than torn lettuce with a chopped tomato or cucumber.

It was not until I read the page titled La Salade Composée in Stephanie Alexander’s book that I remembered this meal and this salad, the delicate flavours of the duck enhanced by the simple preparation. Stephanie writes that a ‘composed salad’ can be made with any number of ingredient combinations, though it pays not to overcrowd the flavours too much. La salade composée reminded me of another salad, our Saturday lunch sort of salad, in winter or summer: chicken, pear, walnut and blue cheese.

Slices of fragrant, slightly firm pear, crumbles of blue cheese, lightly toasted walnuts and pan-grilled chicken is a classic combination, and, like the duck and foie gras salad, the marriage of flavours is perfectly balanced by the freshness of mesclun, or baby rocket, or cos lettuce. Serve with grilled bread, drizzled in olive oil.

Saturday night, before a friend’s birthday, our friend Megan came over for a quick supper. The pressure was on for this birthday to look our very best. I cannot offer a particularly lush wardrobe to my friends, but I can feed them. Saturday night I wanted something warming, homely (and with stomach lining qualities…)

I was given a few bottles of beer which I thought would make for better cooking projects than for drinking. I made a beef, tomato and beer casserole in the crockpot which simmered away all afternoon. I used another bottle of beer to make beer bread to eat with the stew.

The recipe comes from Jo Seagar’s book You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble, darling. It is a wonderful quick bread with a lovely soft mealy flavour. The yeast in the beer acts as a rising agent, eliminating the kneading and time spent waiting for the dough to rise. The mixture can be in the pan, in the oven in less than 10 minutes. You could probably wipe the bench in this time too.

The bread can be made with a variety of flours, or jazzed up slightly with a stuffing: fill the tin half with the dough then add a layer of onion jam, or spinach, or pitted olives, or roasted capsicums then top with the remaining mixture.

On Sunday evening, after a long day working at Toast Martinborough, I made a toasted sandwich with sliced beer bread, some leftover beef from the casserole which I shredded with a fork and grated cheese. Perfect end to a busy weekend.

Beer Bread

3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 can/bottle of beer, made up to 500ml with water
1 handful grated cheese

Heat oven to 200°C. Quickly mix all ingredients together until just combined. Sprinkle extra grated cheese on top and paprika. Or sea salt, or rosemary, or sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Place in a greased 10x20cm loaf tin for 1 hour. (If you use a 8x15cm tin bake for 35-40 minutes.

Sometimes, often in the most ordinary of places, or doing the most ordinary of tasks, a food idea pops into my head. While cleaning my teeth, or sitting on a bus, I will quite suddenly be day dreaming of chai syrup cake, or cinnamon raisin muffins, or chilli caramel corn. Maybe they are prompted by a memory, maybe a forgotten item in the pantry, maybe my sub-conscious is simply a melting pot of culinary thoughts.

Last week’s idea was oat cakes. I envisaged quite a substantial cracker, with a slightly flaky crumb held together by the creamy taste and texture of oats. Maybe with a mug of weak black tea and a chopped up apple or piece of dried fruit after dinner. Or paired with a sharp cheddar, a tangy blue and a glass of red wine.

I’ve made oat cakes once before, in year 7. We were studying Scotland and I chose to look at Scottish food. When it came to sharing day, the floury, dry, tasteless oat cakes sat untouched next to the infinitely more popular Kiwi onion dip, Mexican tortilla chips, French baguette and German spice cookies. Eleven year olds were more willing to try sushi over my oat cakes.

I haven’t made oat cakes since but the slightly romantic notion of a rustic cheese platter and a desire for home made crackers has only grown. After my foodie thought of last week, I felt sure I had a recipe for oat cakes in one of my favourite, but somehow forgotten, cook books, A Good Year by Lois Daish. This is a wonderful cookbook. It is a tiny book with a simple cover of a small bowl of cherries. There is no slightly padded coffee table cover with a self promotional picture of a celebrity chef. This book is simple and elegant. Each time I open it I feel I could quite happily work my way through the book, recipe after recipe.

Daish is a New Zealand food writer and the recipes are a compilation from her food column in the Listener magazine. This book follows a calendar year with a lovely introduction for each month focusing on one ingredient. For July, “Intensely sweet, sour and spicy, dark red tamarillos are a perfect tonic for a New Zealand winter.” And for November, “Strawberries, which are the first berries to ripen, are a sweet harbinger of all the berries to come – gooseberries, raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries, blueberries, blackberries, and currents – black and red.” The writing is beautiful.

A Good Year does indeed include a recipe for oat cakes. Daish credits this recipe for oat cakes to Roy Duncan, which he gave to her after she complained her oat cakes tasted a bit like mine from year 7, dried porridge cardboard.

These oat cakes were just as I imagined. Eaten with a crumbly, sharp blue and the last little bit of plum jam, they had a pleasant crunch and a mellow taste.

Roy’s Oatcakes

from Lois Daish, A Good Year

1 cup standard flour
1 cup oatmeal or rolled oats pulsed in a processor
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
50g butter melted in 1/2 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Mix the dry ingredients together and pour in the butter and hot water. Knead in the bowl until the mixture holds together. Tip onto a lightly floured bench and knead a little more before rolling out thinly. Cut into large squares and use a spatula to transfer to a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 10-15 minutes until light brown and crisp.