Archives for posts with tag: lemon

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.

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Goodness, that last post was a bit heavy going.

My intention is never to sound political or preachy about food; those conversations can be had via different mediums. This space is simply for the pleasure of good food. So, today let’s talk about cream – beautiful, luxurious, voluptuous cream.
Roasted rhubarb, strawberry punnet, lemon brandy cream
Cream is effortlessly elegant, I think. I love the mouth feel of cream, the softness of the dairy and the savoury richness as it coats my lips. Even when poured onto a dessert or into coffee straight from the bottle with barely a shake, the cream seems to say, “forgive me, dear, for my casual attire.” The jeans and t-shirt of the cream wardrobe.

Cream is so easily transformed from a basic accompaniment to a dessert in itself like rhubarb fool or a frozen parfait. We made syllabub this summer, a light, brandy-spiked cream dessert when strawberries, cream and brandy were a near permanent fixture of our kitchen.
Diced strawberriesSummer redStrawberries and cream
My mother has a forest green ring-bound folder for her recipes. My sister and I have added a few over the years, our handwriting changing with each entry but most of the recipes are written in my mother’s fat, round teacher hand with a little indicator at the top of the page as to the origins of the recipe. We don’t consult this folder much these days; it has become habit to first look through the glossy, well authored cookbooks when seraching for a recipe. So this book, this understated green folder, feels like a memoir of my favourite childhood foods: chocolate caramel slice, weet-bix slice, Jill’s zucchini cake, best ever cheese scones and chocolate oat cookies. Somewhere between chocolate caramel slice and Gaye’s chocolate cake is a recipe for lemon syllabub.
Roasted rhubarb, poached strawberries
I’ve always liked the word, syllabub. Silly bub. Sybil, the silly bub, eats syllabub. It rolls and plays off the tongue in a child-like way. Although for most of my younger years, perhaps even before this summer, I only had the vaguest idea of what syllabub really is. I knew my mother had served it for dinner parties; it sounded exotic and sophisticated, as things are prone to sound when you’re only 8 or 9. Had I tried it, brandy and all, I’m sure I would have loved it.
folded and whippedbest-dressed dessert
But this summer, this best-dressed cream dessert is a new favourite. Cream, like yoghurt and butter, holds other flavours so well, folding them together and nurturing their finest qualities – the warmth of the brandy, the sweet of the strawberries, the tart of the lemon, the sour of the yoghurt. Good enough to eat with a teaspoon from the mixing bowl, but cream so glammed up benefits from a bit of ceremony.

Strawberry Yoghurt Syllabub

We served this syllabub with roasted rhubarb and strawberries, but could also be eaten by itself, perhaps with a dessert biscuit or as dressing for a cake.

250 millilitres cream
1 heaped teaspoon icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 teaspoons brandy
grated zest of half a lemon
8-10 strawberries, finely diced
1 cup yoghurt

In a medium bowl place the cream, icing sugar and vanilla essence. Beat until very softly whipped. Add the lemon zest and brandy and continue to beat until just soft. Fold in the strawberries and the yoghurt.

Enjoy.

Dried lavender and oregano
About a year ago we planted our first garden at the flat. Previously our garden had looked like an ecological war zone, but to plant vegetables, herbs and flowers was doing something good – a small give back to the land. We grew beetroot, celery, spinach and picked stems of oregano, parsley, coriander, thyme and rosemary for our cooking. Then the winter came and while the plants withered and were overrun by weeds, we grew lazy.

Spring came. The quarterly change of seasons, such a reliable stake in the ground as each year fills up and tumbles by. Perrin and I got to work on one of the first warm days of the season. I tugged and ripped up weed clogged earth, sacrificing the skin of my hands and arms, while Perrin built a planter box from salvaged wood. We tilled and fertilised, watered and planned what to grow.
Snow peasfrilled and capped snow peas
Now, a few months later, most of my garden is flourishing. I planted sweet corn, tall and with leaves that wave gently. Silk is beginning to sprout from the small bulges along the stalk; soon they will be ready. Spinach thrived here last year, and now if you look down from the balcony you’ll see two small square plots; one with dark forest green spinach and the other a hard wearing rosemary plant. Spanakopita will be on the menu soon.

Between the corn plants on one garden terrace, bright orange marigolds beckon the bees. The flower heads are nearly the size of my palm and new buds, long and slender like bullets, wait patiently their turn. Between the corn on the next garden terrace are two snow pea plants. Their curling tendrils grasp each other and the nearby oregano plant which oddly prospered beneath the canopy of winter weeds.
Corn ears and silkMarigoldsA flowering apple cucumber plant
The tomato plant, though, I am most proud of. It sits in all its bushy beauty in the planter box on my balcony. The balcony has glass sides creating a greenhouse effect, and sometimes I stand out there just to smell the grassy, peppery, fresh scent. I chose a green zebra tomato plant, a move away from the all too common red. I would love to see purple, black, striped and green tomatoes grace our market stalls, but until that day I might have to grow them myself.
Green zebra tomato Peppery sweet flesh
I have a strange affinity for the green zebra tomato plant, which is particularly strange when you consider that before last night I had never actually eaten one. During my last month in France when I lived and worked with the woman who ran a market garden we planted close to 200 green zebra tomato plants. It wasn’t until after we had carried them from the greenhouse to the truck, from the truck to the garden, positioned them along the rows, dug 200 holes and placed every last green zebra tomato plant, tucking the soil around their stems, that I realised green zebra, or grinzibra as I had heard it in thick French accents, were English words denoting their pale and dark green stripes. Jokes on me, kids.

Last night, a Saturday night, but any other night by my standards, a little harvest took place in my garden. I delicately snipped five fully grown snow peas above their pixie edged caps. I pulled whole lettuces from the planter box and peeled away their outer leaves to reveal the young shoots within, each one with a spine intricately curled upon the other. My one green tomato, soft yet firm to the touch, was sliced into eighths, each piece holding tiny green seeds.
A green saladSnap and crunch
I bought a bag of green beans, vaguely prickly to touch, but with snap and crunch. Fresh beans have piz-zaz and oomph. Next a cup of cooked quinoa, lemon zest and half a diced pear for sweetness. A strange combination, perhaps, but there was such a sense of satisfaction in its varied greenery, in the sweet earthy flavours and knowing the goodness of the ingredients. The next morning, a perfect hard-boiled egg and a few rashers of bacon and there was a breakfast salad.
Breakfast salad
My parents spent much of my childhood tending to their garden and I never really understood the appeal. But now, this summer, I fancy myself a grower, a cultivator, a green fingered girl. I dream of self sustainability, revel in seeing a worm weave its way through my soil and continue to marvel at the power of the elements in creating, or destroying, a garden.

PearsIt’s Christmas Eve and it’s sticky, muggy, humid, hot. The air is thick and still beneath the high wispy cloud – so typical this change in the weather after my last post despairing of Wellington’s Christmas climate. Long may it continue, until tomorrow at least.

Today we have made fruit and nut truffles of the whole food kind – walnuts and sunflower seeds blended until gritty then bound together with prunes, dried apricots, raisins and a glug of brandy. We have iced the Christmas cake with brandy butter icing; Christmas smells of brandy in our house. Today we made mayonnaise for our hot smoked salmon hors d’oeuvres platter we are having tomorrow. On one of our first truly hot days Mum and I decided to whip, vigourously I might add, home made mayonnaise. Michael Bublé’s Christmas album took a welcome break and The Eagles, Pearl Jam and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah played as we whisked and coaxed a buttercup yellow egg yolk and olive oil into beautifully thick, rich and bright mayo. Droplets of sweat appeared on our foreheads and our arms ached, but goodness, that mayonnaise, I could eat it with a spoon. Tomorrow will be delicious.
a de-constructed Christmas treefairy lights
On Friday we had our Christmas dinner with Ollie and Jason at their flat. A de-constructed Christmas tree is tacked to their kitchen walls, fairy lights are woven among branches, candy canes hooked between sprigs and baubles hang from the ceiling. We drank bubbles and pulled Christmas crackers; it felt very festive.

The boys cooked an absolute feast that we devoured with greed, each mouthful taken with a hmm and aah, and exclamations of “these potatoes!” “these beans and olives!” “this chicken!” Ollie makes the best roast chicken: moist and tender with crispy skin. There were potatoes roasted in duck fat to a crisp outside with soft white insides; a vegetable tian with eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic and herbs; and green beans lightly sautéed to bright forest green in colour with black olives, lemon and garlic.
Christmas feastJason's lemon tart
For dessert Jason made the best lemon tart I have ever eaten. The filling was thick, high on the pastry and luxuriously creamy like a custard with the sweet tang of lemon. It was light yet rich, sweet yet thrillingly citric, the way only a good lemon tart can be.
bosc pearspear upside down ricotta cake
For dessert I made an upside down pear ricotta and lemon cake. We hardly needed two desserts but the idea for this cake had crept into my head and wouldn’t leave. After Christmas tea and episodes of 30 Rock this cake became our midnight feast.
roasted pearsyellow ricotta cake with roasted pearsimproved the next day, softer
I roasted slices of bosc pears in butter, brown sugar and a little salt until they become slips of sweet juicy fruit. I layered these on the bottom of the pan, a haphazard layering far from a delicate spiral, with the lemon ricotta mix on top. The ricotta lends the texture of ground almonds and gives an open crumb. The cake beneath the pale pears is buttery in colour and in flavour – the smooth, rich butter flavour that becomes soft and sweet in the oven. This is the same mellow butteriness that can be found in a good Chardonnay, in a pear itself and perhaps, even, a tissue thin slice of prosciutto or salami. There is comfort to be found in this buttery warmth, even when it is nearly 100% humidity.

Upside-down Pear Ricotta Cake
The ricotta cake base I adapted from a recipe I found on the BBC Good Food website: a wonderful site and one of my most trusted sources of online recipes. A few extra notes: I used defrosted ricotta which I had frozen a few weeks ago. It worked fine but I made sure to squeeze any extra moisture out before adding to the mix.

For the pears:
3 bosc pears, peeled, cored and sliced
a generous knob of butter
half cup brown sugar loosely packed
pinch of salt

For the cake:
175 grams softened butter
175 grams caster sugar
zest of 2 lemons
3 eggs, separated
250 grams ricotta
125 grams flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Place the sliced pears in a roasting dish with the butter, sugar and salt and roast until tender. About 20-30 minutes. Line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.

Meanwhile prepare the ricotta cake mix. In a bowl cream the butter and sugar together until pale and smooth. Then beat in the lemon zest, egg yolks and ricotta. In a clean dry bowl using clean beaters beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold into the ricotta mixture. Sift the flour and baking powder together then fold into the cake mixture until just combined.

Once the pears have roasted use tongs to layer the pear slices with on the bottom of the cake tin with the least amount of excess juices as possible. Sprinkle over a teaspoon of brown sugar. On top of the pears pour the cake mixture and smooth. Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for one hour before turning upside down onto a serving plate. Serve with cream or yoghurt.

There comes a point during winter where enough is enough. Winter-fatigue comes in stages. First there is the surprise that this, winter, has happened yet again. We watch the leaves change colour and slowly fall off the trees. We feel the sun sink lower in the sky, appear less often to warm our faces, and the days grow shorter. It feels like a suitable end for summer, quiet and colourful, but I tend to forget that the grey winter months lie ahead.

Next comes the envy directed at those in the northern hemisphere who are wondering how to use the bounty of vine ripened tomatoes; their red, green, black or stripey skins glistening in the sun; or the endless piles of summer corn. Then I feel an almost physical pain, like an itch you can’t quite reach, in my desperate longing for heat and summer; for long evenings (you still must wear a jacket, possibly two, in Wellington), and light meals, for new season potatoes and stone fruit and for big, blue skies.
This ice cream is the perfect bridge between seasons here in Wellington. Lemons lend themselves well to winter; their bright acidity adds a little pop to all sorts of dishes. This ice cream is similar to the rather unsuccessful batch I made several months ago, as it really is just sweetened frozen whipped cream. The difference here is I know this recipe to be good.

This was my first taste of home-made ice cream as a child, perhaps a reason for my deep-seated love of cream. The recipe comes from our friend Jill, a fantastic cook. I remember meals at her house with carrot sticks, olive bread, baba ganoush, zucchini cake, barbecue lamb cutlets, and this lemon ice cream. I’m sure we saw Jill and her family during winter, but I seem to only have memories of summer nights playing in their backyard. Lemon ice cream seems to suit these days.The fat of the cream coats your lips and the spoon in this gorgeous slick, and the lemon hovers, constant, smooth and sweet. The zest adds little pin pricks of yellow. The heavy slick is lovely, but perhaps not for everybody. This week I wanted something new, something for these days now. I have been looking for an opportunity to drain yoghurt – to wrap it in muslin and extract the whey. After 24 hours in the fridge the sharp taste of yoghurt remains but the texture is transformed into something closer to cream cheese.It seems a shame to break up these beautiful soft curds with a beater, but whipped through the mix they sharpen the lemon and cut the heaviness of the cream. This ice cream is best after it has been out of the freezer for 20 minutes or so. It becomes softer, more like a frozen parfait or semifreddo. In summer it would be well matched with roasted peaches, or a berry soup. In winter perhaps a rhubarb galette, caramelised pears or apples; something warm to loosen the ice cream further into smooth lemon dribbles.

Even this cute thing thinks it sounds blissful. No matter the weather, she is content.

Lemon Ice Cream

Plan ahead for this recipe – it takes a couple of days.

300ml plain yoghurt
muslin/cheesecloth

300ml cream
4 lemons
1 cup icing sugar

Place a colander or sieve over a bowl and line with the muslin/cheesecloth. Pour in the yoghurt and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight.

When the yoghurt has thickened and the whey has been extracted, beat the cream until softly whipped. Add the zest of 2 of the lemons and the juice of all 4. Add the icing sugar and break in the yoghurt. Beat until smooth and more firmly whipped, but still silken looking.

Pour cream into a freezer container and freeze for 2-3 hours or overnight. Remember to remove from the freezer 20-30 minutes before serving.

Tuesday was a miserable night, calling for slow cooked and warming food – a venison ragoût. On nights like we have had this week; where the wind shakes the windows in their frames; there are metres of freshly fallen snow in some parts of the country; we’ve had thunder and lightening and unrelenting rain, it was such a pleasure to stand at the stove and slowly put together this meal.

In the world of food blogging there appears to be a constant need to reinvent the wheel, to take old favourites then add a bit of this, a touch of that so the original recipe is almost lost. I think this is why baking recipes are held in such high regard on blogs; swap dates for currants, white sugar for brown, all-purpose flour for whole wheat and, hey, we have something new and exciting. This is how we develop new ideas and new ways of cooking, so please, don’t get me wrong, many baking blogs share some wonderful recipes. I like the sound of these, and this, and these.

But we shouldn’t forget the everyday good things: the soups, stews, salads and grains, the humble vegetable. When prepared with tenderness and thought, they too can offer something exciting. After all, most of us don’t just eat cake. This venison ragoût with the sweetness of bacon and prunes and the subtly rich flavour of the meat is a deeply satisfying dish for a cold winter’s night.

I served the ragoût with brussel sprouts, halved and sautéed with a knob of butter, a half teaspoon honey, grating of lemon zest and a splash of hot water. Once the sprouts were lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes, I added a handful of trimmed green beans and continued to toss for a further 5 minutes.

Venison Ragoût
Barely adapted from the Silver Fern Farms recipe

1 tablespoon oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
500 gram venison fillet, diced
1 teaspoon paprika
a few sprigs of thyme
pepper
2 rashers bacon
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
a handful of prunes or cranberries
1 tablespoon tomato paste
100ml red wine
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
zest of a lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
100ml stock

Heat the oilve oil in a frypan or casserole dish (suitable for stove-top use and with a lid). Add onions and garlic and sauté until soft. Put onions in a bowl and set to one side. Turn heat to medium-high and pan fry the venison with the paprika, thyme and pepper until lightly browned. Reduce heat and add chopped bacon and vegetables. Cook for a further 5 minutes. Add onions back to the pan with the prunes or cranberries. Add tomato paste, red wine, vinegar, lemon zest and mustard and stock. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for one hour or place casserole dish in a pre-heated oven to 170°C for an hour.

Serve with potatoes or rice or green vegetables.