Saturday, 30 March 2013

Lardy Cake (please don't hate me)

So, having waxed lyrical and at great length a week ago about a recipe that didn't work because it tasted of lard, what do I do but hit you with another.  Except this one actually works.  You just have to take a leap of faith - so it is appropriate that I tell you about this on Easter Weekend.

Thinking about it, it really would be a great recipe to add into an Easter repertoire, if you are the sort of person who has such a thing.  The flavours are reminiscent of Hot Cross Buns and the ingredients - well.  The purpose of Shrove Tuesday, we are told, was to use up all the good stuff before the denial of Lent kicked in.  This recipe would certainly be a celebration of a return of hedonism and an end to self-denial.

I made this recipe for our Bake Club.  The theme that was picked for us this month was Use Your Loaf - a challenge to us all to bake some bread.  

Here was Andy's offering - looking at that braiding he is my new nominated hair-doer:

Teaspoon for scale
My sourdough didn't work out and so, at the last minute, I was hanging off the fridge door trying to spy something that could successfully be turned into a delicious treat for my friends.  I spotted half a tub of lard that was lurking there in shame after the last use and somewhere, far away in the back of my mind, rang a bell.  A bell that sounded like flaky, yeasted dough, sugar, dried fruit and the warming spices that I love, and a cake that was in fact a bread.

Lardy cake (clue's in the title, folks) originates in the South West of England - not my area, and yet I have a definite memory of these from when I was young.  The lard - even though there really is a stonking amount - creates a light, melting, flaky, somehow sweet and savoury at the same time, yeasted bread.  

What can I say to convince you that this is really, really good, and worth the leap of faith?  It won Bake Club.  And later, the spoils were torn apart and eaten in seconds.  It's that good.  But don't take my word for it.  Can you make that leap?

Lardy Cake
An amalgamation of the millions of recipes out there

200g plain flour
250g strong bread flour
10g lard
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 packet instant dried yeast
300ml warm water

150g lard
110g brown sugar
0.5 teaspoon mixed spice
75g sultanas
75g raisins

1 tablespoon caster sugar, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

In a large bowl (I use the Kitchen Aid but this is certainly do-able by hand), mix the two flours, lard, sugar and yeast.  Stir in the water.  If you are using a mixer, switch to the dough hook and knead for about 8 minutes.  Otherwise, tip onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and silky.

Put in a bowl, cover with cling film, and put in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, mix together the brown sugar, spice and fruits.

When the dough is risen, start by knocking out all the air with a punch (this is strangely enjoyable).  Give it a brisk, scant kneading - 30 seconds or so - then roll it out on a floured surface to make a long rectangle, approximately (don't get your ruler out or anything) three times as long as it is wide.  Sprinkle a third of the sugar mix over, followed by a third of the lard.

Starting at a short end, roll up the dough like a roulade/jam roll/any other analogy that takes your fancy.  Press down hard at the ends, to seal in the sugar and fruit.

Now give it a quarter turn, and roll it out again to a similar size as before.  Sprinkle over your sugar and fruit, sprinkle over your lard. roll it up.

Repeat this one final time.

Roll out the dough so it will fit into a square baking pan, about 23 or 24cm.

Cover and leave in a warm place for about 40 minutes until well risen. 

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 200C.

Bake the cake for about 30 minutes (although start to check just before this to prevent burning).  When it is out of the oven, brush with the glaze.

When it has cooled for 10 minutes, turn it out upside down onto a cooling rack and leave it this way, so all the fat runs back through the cake.

Slice/tear and share the bread - believe me, this is not one to devour by yourself and not just for lard reasons.  Your friends will love you, as long as you don't tell them just how much lard has gone into this amazing bread.  And even if you do, they'll get over it.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Prawn & Potato Curry

There is a pox on this house.  Well, a cold that we seem to be passing back and forth to each other, back and forth.  Extra boringly, the cold has triggered old ailments in both of us that seem to be complicating the road to recovery.  Needless to say, not much bar the essentials is getting done round here, and I am trying to fight the guilt that comes with being a small business owner and taking any time off whatsoever.

Anyway.  Even cooking was an achievement this week, feeling so under the weather, and grocery shopping, which I normally love, was a definite no-no.  Yet we also knew that actual medical scientific fact told us that we had to 'feed a cold'.  (Hmm, although on second thoughts, I've also had a comical-style fever, going from boiling to freezing in a few minutes - what to do?  Feeding rather than starving is a much more appealing prospect, it has to be said).  

So,  back to the old trusty storecupboard.  Even though they still look bizarrely full, we are getting down to the bare bones of serviceable ingredients lurking in the pantry and the freezer.  We had a few vegetables knocking round, including the last of the summer wine new potatoes, and the last handful or two of frozen, cooked prawns from the freezer.  Add into this a requirement of spice, so we had a cat in hell's chance of actually tasting our tea, and a Prawn and Potato Curry was calling.

The starting point of the recipe came from Levi Roots (of Reggae Reggae fame), but it was adapted to what we had in.  I'd used the last of the canned tomatoes in the pizza sauce, and refused to shop even once to replace them.  Instead I used 400ml chicken stock with a tablespoon or two of tomato puree dissolved in it, and then a tablespoon of cornflower slaked in cold water, stirred through at the end to thicken.

This was really, really good.  Bright and fresh and comforting flavours, almost good enough to kick start us back into life.

Prawn & Potato Curry

400g new potatoes, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2cm ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
pinch fennel seeds
1 green chilli, chopped with seeds
3 mushrooms, sliced into good-sized pieces
1 red capsicum, sliced finely
Handful green beans, topped, tailed and cut into 2cm pieces
400ml chicken stock
1 tablespoon tomato purée
150g cooked, peeled prawns (defrosted if frozen)
1 tablespoon cornflour, mixed with just enough cold water to make a thin paste

First, cook your potatoes.  Put them into a pan of cold water, bring to the boil, salt the water then simmer for 10 minutes, until mostly cooked through.  Drain them, and leave to one side.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan over a lowish heat.  Gently fry the onion, garlic and ginger until soft but not burned.  Add the salt, cloves, cinnamon, paprika, pepper and fennel and cook, stirring, for a minute.  Add the chilli, mushrooms, capsicum, and green beans and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir the tomato puree through the chicken stock until dissolved.

Add the potatoes, prawns, chicken stock and tomato puree, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the potatoes are fully cooked and the prawns are completely hot.  Stir through the cornflour, and simmer for a couple of minutes until the sauce is thick and glossy.

Eat in gratitude of the only food you have properly tasted for a week.

Serves 2

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Saturday Night Pizza

I'm starting to think I'm a bit of a freak.  Despite it being well established that I am an absolute omnivore, indeed, there are a few things I love that most people would (rightly) turn away from.  But there are a couple of things so universally loved, so adored by just about everyone, that to include them on a 'favourite foods' list would be superfluous akin to including The Beatles on a 'favourite bands' list - yet I am just not bothered about them.  Two things.  Pizza and Ice Cream.

By rights, I should be in both their fan clubs.  I have a sweet tooth.  I love creamy things.  And yet a tub of ice cream, even the really good stuff, even the home made stuff, can languish, ignored, lonely and forgotten, for months on end in my freezer.  On a hot day I'll be glad to get a cone of ice cream, but it will be more a heat-regulating exercise than a food craving.  

Similarly pizza.  I am a carb fiend.  I love bread.  I am also a protein fiend, and worship at the altar of cheese.  And yet pizza... meh.  It would very rarely be my first choice of takeaway.  But the thing with pizza is, I like the good stuff (shocker, right?).  And by that, I really mean I don't like the bad stuff.  And by that, I mean the vast majority of takeaways I've ever had, and a good few of the restaurant pizzas.  Overloaded, doughy bases.  Cheap meat.  Rubbery cheese.  That raspy, chemical taste that takes the roof of your mouth off.  

We are lucky here in Wellington that we do have one really outstanding pizza place - Pizza Pomodoro.  But sometimes, when you are at your market stall on a slow day and have many hours to plan what you want for your tea, your mind overrules your irrational ambivalence to a certain food, you realise that you have most of the ingredients in, and you get overwhelmed by the feeling that most other people get on a fairly regular basis - that what you really, really want for your tea that night is pizza.  So glad I did, actually, as this was great.  Crispy, without being brittle.  Savoury.  We could taste every ingredient individually.  Absolutely moreish, and very, very addictive.

Yet another bad picture.  This was taken very quickly as we couldn't wait to dive in.  No time for posed shots.

I used the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall pizza dough from River Cottage Everyday, and was very impressed by how silky it was.  Luckily it made enough for 4 servings, so two of them are in my freezer, waiting for the next time I get the craving.  Just got to reach past that ice cream...

Saturday Night Pizza
From River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Pizza Dough
250g plain white flour
250g strong white flour
10g fine sea salt
1 sachet instant dried yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
Polenta for dusting

Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 anchovy
1 pinch dried chilli flakes
1 can tomatoes, chopped
1 pinch oregano
Squeeze tomato puree
generous pinches salt and sugar, to taste

8 rashers streaky bacon, fried until crisp then drained on paper towels
8 mushrooms, sliced then gently fried in butter and garlic
200g mozzarella, in small pieces
10 slices pickled jalapenos, chopped

First make the dough.  Combine the flours, yeast and salt in a large bowl  (I use my KitchenAid stand mixer for this).  Add 325ml warm water and the olive oil.  Knead either by hand or with the dough hook of a mixer for about 10 minutes, until the dough is silky, smooth and elastic.

Wash out the bowl, dry it, rub olive oil around it then put the dough back in, flipping it over a couple of times until the dough is covered slickly with oil.  Cover with cling film and put in a warm place (try the airing cupboard, if you have one) for about an hour, until well risen and about doubled in size.

Meanwhile, make your tomato sauce.  In a small pan, gently heat the olive oil.  Add the garlic and anchovy.  When the garlic begins to go slightly golden round the edges, add the tomatoes, chilli, oregano, and tomato puree.  Bring it to a bubble, then take it back down to a gentle simmer.  Taste, and season well with salt and sugar.  Be generous with both.

Preheat the oven to 250c/Gas Mark 10 (really, really hot.  Our oven burns hotter than the hob of hell so I should have been making amazing pizza for the last two years).  If you are using a pizza stone - absolutely recommended - put it in when the oven is cold, leaving it in there to heat up gradually.   Otherwise, put a baking sheet in there to get really hot.

Divide the pizza dough into four even pieces.  If you are not using all of them, wrap any leftovers and freeze them.  Take one piece and gently roll and stretch it out to a rough circular shape - do not fret, please don't, if it's not perfect.  Very little in life is.

When the oven comes to temperature, take the pizza stone out.  You need to work quite quickly now.  Scatter polenta over the pizza stone to allow the dough to slide off easily.  Fold your dough over a rolling pin, and use that to lay it on the stone.

Now the toppings.  It took me a few goes to realise that truly, less is more.  Take about two or three dessert spoons of your tomato sauce, spreading it quite thinly over the base.  Now scatter your bacon, mushrooms and jalapenos over, and finally the mozzarella.  Finish with a good grind of black pepper.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden and crispy.

I only have one pizza stone so made one, which we ate, while the second one was cooking.  So effectively one each, just in halves.

Serves 4 pizza lovers, newly converted or otherwise.

Secret Food Shame

Here are some things I call my secret food shames.  Food which people who love food, or generally have tastebuds or, you know, mouths, usually shun.  But I love these and I will no longer be ashamed.

1. Overcooked cabbage
I know, I know, we are meant to saute cabbage with butter and caraway and bacon until it is crunchy and delicious.  But I love it - adore it - when it has had the hell boiled out of it and is smushy and barely tastes of anything except cabbage water.  Especially with a carvery roast dinner.  Probably some memory from childhood, though not from my actual home.  Truth is, I don't know why.  Just do.

2. Instant noodles
I love them.  This might stem from my theory that other people's packed lunches are always more interesting than your own - but when we were in 6th form, my friend Laura brought these in for lunch most days and I sat there, a seething ball of jealousy with my peanut butter sandwiches and my apple.  I felt vindicated when I travelled around China for a month and saw how incredibly popular these were - mainly for long train journeys (did you know in China, at the end of every train carriage is a hot water dispenser for making tea and noodles?).  The spicier, the more luminous, the more E-numbers, the better, and I always have a full selection in despite noticing, after extensive research, they all taste the same.

3. Cold baked beans
I think they just taste better cold.  Perhaps it's because seasonings taste less strong when the food is chilled and therefore I can taste the sugar less?  Not sure, but even as a child I asked for these cold.  Even better if they are straight out of the tin - the ultimate hangover cure, despite the elaborate gagging it causes Andy to do as I spoon these little orange nuggets of joy into my mouth.

4. University Rice Soup
This has no name really.  I made it up when I was at uni and money was tight - yet again and again I turn to it for proper cheap, quick comfort food.  Only when alone now - the list of ingredients makes lots of people, not just Andy, do elaborate gagging.  Cook one portion of rice.  Add one can of chopped tomatoes and heat.  If you have any frozen peas, chuck those in too but it makes not much difference.  Add a really good splosh of soy, a good couple of teaspoons.  So far, so not bad.  Now pour into a bowl and cover the lot with loads of cheese.  It's the soy/cheese combo that puts people off but it works, I love it, I am writing it on the internet for all to see.  It's my happy place.

5. Uncrispy bacon
It's the proper way to eat bacon, despite what the rest of the world says.

There are more, I'm sure of it.  If you read this and get the urge, please share your secret food shames so I am not out here on my own.  This is a safe space and I, for one, will not judge you.  I will not even do elaborate gagging.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Pork Rillons

To be fair, all the signs were there from the start.

Sign 1
I didn't actually know which recipe I was supposed to be making.  Dom, over at Belleau Kitchen challenged us for this month's Random Recipe blog to go to our cuttings & clippings heap neatly filed, well-organised folder.  I gleefully grabbed mine, and said to Andy "right, I'm just going to throw them all on the floor! And then we'll pick!" "Noooooooooooo" came the reply, moving towards me like some slow-mo action hero.  We're trying to keep the house a bit show-homeish at the moment, you see, what with the landlords popping round all the time to do the DIY necessary to sell the house.  Fun times.  Anyway - instead of me giving this place a new carpet of recipes, Andy rifled through the file until I said stop.  And here is the first sign - the piece of paper he dubiously handed me had four different recipes on.  All French, all country-esque, 75% of them the kind that would take me flipping hours and then Andy wouldn't really like anyway.  In all honesty I couldn't remember which one of the recipes had tempted me enough to rip it out of the Jamie magazine, so I went for the one that looked like we would both enjoy.  Looked like.

Sign 2
Pork Rillons, the recipe I went for, are - you've guessed it - yet another pork recipe.  Any suggestion that round here we are one pork meal away from turning porcine ourselves would, frankly, be accurate.  It turns up quite a lot round here.  We are both, in short, heartily sick of pork at the moment.  So picking yet another gratuitous pork recipe?  Sign two.

Sign 3
The recipe suggests serving this dish with 'a lively Sancerre'.  

Sign 4
This recipe takes flipping hours.  You have to start it the night before, salting cubes of pork belly.  Then you have to fry and slow cook the pork belly.  Then you have to leave it to cool.  Then you reheat it.  Flipping.  Hours.  For a flipping (and I quote) 'snack'.  A snack, FYI Jamie Oliver and Ed Wilson, from whom the recipe came, is cheese on toast.  An apple.  Yoghurt eaten straight from the pot.  It is not something you have to start the night before.  And yes, I am saying 'flipping' a lot but my Mum reads this blog.  Sometimes.

Sign 5
I had literally no idea just how much 250g of lard looks like, until I measured it out.  Trying to kid myself, I pretended that the fluffy white solids in the bowl were ice cream.  And then I realised I wouldn't even allow myself that much ice cream.  That was the point, sign five, at which I knew we were really in trouble.

Sign 6
Frying cubes of pork belly, skin side down, in some of the aforementioned lard, creates a lot of smoke.  Enough to set off the fire alarm and make your newly-cleaned carpets smell of acrid pig fat.  Oh, and the skin STILL wasn't crisp enough, like some kind of flipping heat-resistant kevlar jacket for the pork.   Every window and door in the place wide open, autumn upon us so not as warm as it has been.  Sign six, right there.

Sign 7
Serving up, after all that time and effort and just flipping everything, what essentially comes down to cubes of flabby pork belly that taste of lard.  Not the promised chic bistro-snack.  I guess that was the biggest sign.  That and the uneaten pork pushed to the side of the plate.  The nicest part of the meal were the green salad and the bread and listen, I am not the sort of person who says that lightly.

Sign 8
We don't eat much pudding day-to-day, but I'd made an apple crumble, on a hunch.  Just in case.  We ate it all. 

So yeah, in the future, listen to the signs.  My sign to you is - DON'T MAKE THE LARD CUBES, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.  Or if you do, make sure that the green salad and bread are really good, you have apple crumble for afters, and that glass of lively sancerre translates into a whole bottle.  You will need it.

Pork Rillons
From Jamie Oliver magazine

1kg pork belly, bones removed if there are any
50g salt
250g lard
250ml dry white wine (I suggest you use your lively Sancerre and neck the rest from the bottle in a fit of disappointment)
3 bay leaves
1 large sprig thyme
10 peppercorns
4 garlic cloves, halved
125ml water
Green salad and bread to serve (this is important)

The day before you want to eat your snack, plan well ahead.  Cut the pork belly into 5cm cubes, sprinkle with the salt, cover and put in the fridge.

The morning before you want your snack, rinse the salt off the pork and pat dry with kitchen towels.  Over a high heat, fry the cubes of pork belly in a small amount of lard.  Curse the recipe and open the windows.

Heat your oven to 140C.  In one layer in an oven proof dish, put the cubes of pork, the wine, the garlic, thyme, bay, peppercorns, the rest of the lard and the water.

Cook for 1.5 hours until the pork is tender and tastes of lard.

Pour away most of the lardy juice and leave to cool in a small amount of it.

When you are ready to eat your snack, heat your oven to 200C.  Heat the pork for 10 minutes until sizzling.

Leave most of the pork, eat the salad, the bread, and drink the wine.  Realise as you smell the lard lingering in your hair that some recipes remain in your folder, uncooked, for a reason.

Serves - god knows.  Depends on how many lard cubes you will eat, per person.   This made about 16 cubes, so take it from there.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Mushroom and Pork Ragout

AKA Because what this blog needs is another leftover pork recipe

When we moved to NZ, one of my conditions was that we live in a city.  As antisocial as I am, I thrive in cities.  It's definitely easier to be anonymous in them, which is what I need -  if you were as scruffy and slovenly as I am, you'd need anonymity too - the high-pressured fishbowl of small town life just isn't for me.  And although Andy says that he'd love to live out in the country with all the psychos and axe murderers (listen, I've seen Misery), he's such a night owl that I think, deep down, he needs the city too.

The thing about cities, even in a small city like Wellington, is you get the best of both worlds.  There are the constants, the institutions, the things that will never, ever go because the locals just won't let it.  And at the same time, the changes, the new ventures - well, they're pretty exciting too.  Working for myself, I don't get the chance to mooch through the city centre as much as I used to, so yesterday, when I had an appointment in town, I took the opportunity to have a wander round.

It was just in the middle of noticing a couple of new places - a new bar on Dixon street, oh and when did Perrett's cafe turn into a Mexican place? - that I noticed something else new.  People were wearing extra layers.  No longer just the thinnest, smallest piece of clothing available, as has been the norm all summer - but here I spotted cardigans.  Jumpers.  Shades of dark green, brown and yellow.  In short - autumn clothes.  

Now, I am a summer-loving lizard, no doubt about it.  I reckon I could live very, very happily in winterless Asia.  But this I will say - I do not suit summer clothes.  The British gene, maybe?  I always look creased, sweaty glowing, fractious, in the summer.  I do not look cool and elegant, much a I aspire to that.  I find it much easier to be one step closer to chic in the autumn and winter.  I suit hats!  I suit structure!  Autumn clothes are my friends.

With autumn in mind, I decided to (yet again) defrost some pork from the freezer and turn it into something completely new for us.  Those of you following the pork saga will be delighted to know I am down to the last bag of it, which I reckon is earmarked for pork chilli.  Mushrooms always seem very autumnal to me, and so I made a Pork and Mushroom Ragout, very loosely based on Nigella's Mushroom Ragout from How to Eat, but very much simplified, as I wasn't in the mood to start with the three pans for one dish.  This was lovely - quite salty, even though I didn't actually add any salt - probably because the pork was salty to start with and I used stock from a cube (YEEEESSSS the last of the turkey stock from Christmas is also gone).  I would love to try this as a veggie dish, as was originally intended, as I think the mushrooms were the star here. 

I served this with polenta, which I tried to turn into cheesy polenta, but it's just so disheartening really, isn't it?  No matter how much butter and cheese I stirred in, all it tasted of was blandness.  "It looks like secret mash" said Andy sadly, peering in the pan.  Yes, but not as nice.

Pig's ear of a photo but a tasty, quick tea if by any chance you have a million bags of leftover pork knocking round in your freezer.

Mushroom and Pork Ragout
Inspired by Nigella Lawson, How To Eat

400g brown button mushrooms
300g leftover slow cooked pork
0.5 tablespoons olive oil
0.5 tablespoons butter
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 fat clove garlic, chopped
100ml red vermouth
1 bay leaf
generous pinch dried thyme
pinch cayenne
1 tablespoon flour
500ml chicken stock

Wipe the mushrooms, then slice them into thick pieces.  In a non-stick pan, gently heat the olive oil and butter.  Add the onion and fry until soft.  Throw in the garlic, bay leaf, and dried thyme, and fry for a few more minutes.  

Add the mushrooms and a pinch of cayenne to the pan and fry gently until cooked and starting to release their juices.  At this point add the pork, stirring until it is warmed through and sizzling.  Stir through the flour, making sure everything is evenly coated, then gradually add the vermouth, leaving to bubble for a minute or two to get rid of the harsh alcohol taste.  Slowly stir in the chicken stock, and give it a good grating of nutmeg.  Check for seasoning but it might well be ok.

Leave to bubble gently while you heat your disappointment of a side dish.

Serves 2

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Mum's Hot Cross Buns

I am not cutting edge.  I am not even blunt edge.  I am nowhere near the edge, in fact, any edge.  Whilst part of me would love to be a Heston-esque food pioneer, smearing Andy's tea with pea foam every night, the biggest, honest part of me knows that I definitely sit at the comfort food end of the spectrum.  Not that I don't admire the brave frontier-pushers - I really, really, do, but more in a watching-from-my-sofa, or eating-in-your-restaurant way.  Actually, this applies in all aspects of my life: my music choices are notoriously bad, middle-of-the-road horrors.  My technology choices are pedestrian and always at the late end of the bell curve.  I do not like change.

That is why the Hot Cross Bun recipe I make every year, without fail, is the same recipe that my Mum has been making for 40-odd years.  Smell is the most evocative sense, they say, and who am I to argue with actual science when making these makes my house smell like Mum's, in the Easter of my childhood?  Easter was always quite a big deal in our family growing up - yet another chance for my big, loud, loving family to get together to eat and laugh and gorge ourselves on chocolate, and so, as a change-averse, ritual loving person and cook, I plan and cook now the way we planned and cooked then.  Hot Cross Buns are the bell-ringing pathway to Easter for me, and I love them for that.  Once you have eaten your first one, hot from the oven, leave the rest to cool then split them and toast them, spreading them quickly with salted butter (and yes, it has to be salted - don't make me come round there).  I can think of no better breakfast, nor afternoon snack.  I make one tiny, tiny change to the recipe: I don't usually keep candied peel in, as the original calls for, so I up the weight of the currants and grate some lemon zest in.  It makes no massive difference, as far as I can tell, to the way they smell and taste.

But don't think that I only make these for nostalgia reasons:  the truth is they are very, very good - a million light years ahead of anything you could buy as a substitute.  Does that make me cutting edge after all?

Hot Cross Buns
Adapted from Basic Baking by Janet Johnston - free from McDougall's Cookery Service

NB: The original recipe, being printed in the late 60s/early 70s, is in pounds and ounces - I have given alternative weights but if you have scales that work in the older weight, I think it works out better for it.  Change averse, you see.

1lb (450g) plain flour
pinch of salt
2 oz (57g) butter
1 egg
half-pint (284ml) milk and water mixed
grated zest 1 lemon
1 level teaspoon cinnamon
1 level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
half oz yeast (I use one packet dried yeast) 
2 oz (57g) caster sugar plus 1 tablespoon
4 oz (113g) currants
2 oz (57g) plain flour, mixed to a pastry with enough cold water to bind.
3 tablespoons milk

Sieve half the flour and all the yeast into a bowl.  Gently warm the milk and water until it is lukewarm, then whisk the liquid into the flour, mixing well.  Cove with a damp cloth and put it in a warm place to 'sponge' for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, sieve the remaining flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar, and stir in the currants and lemon zest. Melt the butter and beat in the egg.

Add the dry ingredients to the sponged mixture, and pour in the butter and egg, mixing very thoroughly.

Cover again with a damp cloth, put in a warm place to rise for an hour to an hour and a half, until it has just about doubled in size.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and cut into 16 even pieces.  Shape each piece into a round.  Place on a greased and floured baking tray, allowing room for the buns to spread.  

Cut narrow strips of pastry, about 2 inches (6cm) long, place in a cross on top of the buns or make a cross using a knife, and put in a warm place to prove for 40 mins.  

Mix the milk with the tablespoon of sugar.

Preheat the oven to 425F/Gas Mark 7/220C.  Bake for 15 - 20 mins.  About 5 mins before removing from the oven, brush over with milk and sugar.  

Makes 16 buns.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The 44

I made this a while ago, in anticipation of summer - not knowing what a record-breaking summer it would be.  Sorry to those of you in the northern hemisphere but here in NZ, the days have been long, sunny, hot and (miracle of miracles!) gale-free.  The kind of mythical summer you imagine your childhood was full of.

And this in itself is a kind of miracle.  Called The 44, which is helpful for those of us whose memories are doing some kind of disappearing trick, its ingredients are simple: An orange, 44 coffee beans, 44 teaspoons of sugar, a litre of white rum, and 44 days.

At first I thought it had drunken disaster written all over it - as a general rule, Andy, though he loves both coffee and oranges in their own right, doesn't tend to love coffee and orange flavoured things.  But this actually just about converted him - somehow, it is so much greater than the sum of its parts.  After merrily sitting there, soaking up the delicious rum and orange and coffee and sugar - and let's face it, which out of us wouldn't be happy after 44 days of that? - it tastes like chocolate orange in a glass - perfect for Christmas, or perfect for summer, or especially perfect for those of us whose Christmas is in the middle of summer.  It mellows and melds and warms and cools and just brings a massive smile to your face.

Plus it looks like an alien.

The 44

1 orange (not too big; it needs to fit through the mouth of your jar)
44 coffee beans
44 teaspoons caster sugar
1 litre white rum, such as Bacardi

1.5 litre Kilner jar

With a small, sharp knife and a lot of care, stab the orange 44 times and insert a coffee bean into each hole - it was probably more time-consuming but I found it easier to do it one at a time, rather than searching the orange for holes afterwards.

Put 44 teaspoons of sugar (just short of 15 tablespoons if you want to go quicker) into the bottom of your jar.  Put the orange in the jar on top of the sugar, then pour the rum in.  Give it a gentle shake to help dissolve the sugar.

Put it in a dark place for 44 days - mark it on your calendar - and gently shake it whenever you remember.

Once the time has passed, decant into a smaller bottle and, if you have room, store it in your freezer.

This is beautiful by itself, or with a mixer.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Waste Not, Want Not

Even as the ultimate omnivore, the news about the horsemeat scandal sweeping Europe has made me incredibly sad and angry, especially as it is food at the lower end of the budget scale that appears to have been targeted.  My thoughts on this are too long and unoriginal to repeat, but all this made me think even more than usual about how much meat we eat, and how we use that meat.  With this in mind, I would much rather buy less meat, but buy smarter and use every single last bit of it well - we have a freezer full of what Andy calls "bones and juice" due to my reluctance to throw out even the smallest chicken bone, but instead chucking it in a large freezer bag until I have enough to provide an unctuous, nurturing stock.  The difference that a good stock can make to a soup is indescribable - a velvety depth of flavour that chemical stock just can't provide.  Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if things like this were taught, either through community or school - but I suppose that everybody feels that way about their passion.

This was all playing on my mind recently when, driving home from a Saturday market, we spontaneously decided to make a Sunday roast (on a Saturday!  Get us, edgy).  We bought a smallish piece - a kilo or so - of topside, and it did us proud on the Saturday and for the re-run on the Sunday, with a sandwich or two inbetween.  Still having 300g left on the Monday, I wanted to make it into something transformed.  While I often go down the curry or chilli route for leftovers, I think with all the news about meat swirling round my brain made me feel the need to return to a much-loved, much older meal.  I said to Andy at the time that making this cottage pie made me feel like someone from our grandparent's generation; we all know that it was very much the common pattern back then to have roast on Sunday, pie on Monday, soup on Tuesday.  Cottage pie was always made as a way of using up leftover meat - the extra layer of flavour from the ready-roasted meat is exceptional.  And how to make a great thing even greater?  Put a layer of caramelised onions and cheese on the top, of course.  

Finally - to pea or not to pea?  I did put peas in mine, but whether that's because I think it's for the best, or because I still have a bag hanging ominously round my freezer despite the fact that we'll be moving soon, I can't honestly say.  What I can honestly say is that two of us got four main meals each and a couple of snacks out of that piece of beef, and I'm very grateful that we have the choice and the knowledge to be able to do that, and know exactly what has gone into our mouths.

Cottage Pie

300g leftover roast beef
2 onions
1 tablespoon Vegetable oil or duck fat (I used the latter, still having some left in my fridge from Christmas)
Few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 heaped tablespoon plain flour
1 litre good beef stock
Salt and pepper
Handful frozen peas
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into even sized chunks.
40g strong cheese (this time I used blue cheese but would usually use strong cheddar), cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon butter
0.25 cup full fat milk or cream

Preheat the oven to 200C.

First, chop your beef up into very small pieces.  I am usually super lazy and use the processor, but this time it was elsewhere so I chopped it by hand, which meant I ended up with slightly chunkier pieces.
Chop one of the onions and, in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, fry it in the oil or fat until soft and starting to brown at the edges.
Add the beef, stirring until warm through and starting to brown.  Stir in the thyme.
Add the flour, and keep stirring until everything is coated.
Very gradually add the beef stock, keep at it with your wooden spoon until you end up with a thick, smooth gravy.  Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as you like.
Throw in the peas and mix them in.
Turn down the heat and leave to bubble very gently while you make the mash.

Add the potatoes to a pan with enough cold water to cover them.  Put them on a high heat, bring to a boil and add salt.  Turn down the heat to medium, and cook for 10 minutes, or until tender -when you can stick a knife in it with no resistance.

While these are cooking, slice the onion and fry it in oil or fat until lovely and caramelised.  Remove from the heat.

Drain and leave to steam for a minute or so to let most of the moisture leave them.  Return them to the warm pan.  Now, how much butter and milk or cream you use will depend on your potatoes - what you don't want is an overly butterly, overly liquid mash - it actually needs to be smooth enough to spread over the top of the beef but firm enough not to sink in.  So take it easy and add the butter and milk bit by bit, then go generously with the salt and pepper.

Butter a baking dish - I use my 23cm square Le Creuset dish which is a great fit - then scrape the beef mixture in.  Dollop the potatoes on top of this, using a silicone spatula to spread them out, then finally top with the caramelised onions and chopped cheese.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until bubbling and the cheese has melted.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Weekends in the Wairarapa

When we first moved to New Zealand, Andy and I put all our worldly goods on a ship and set off with our backpacks to get here overland.  We arrived in Auckland, miraculously within a couple of weeks of our furniture getting here - through luck rather than good judgement, believe me - hired a car and mooched our way down the country slowly, heading for Wellington, our final destination.  We spent some time on the Coromandel, in Hawke's Bay, through Rotorua and Taupo, getting further and further south, until we were within one day's drive of the city.  Talking to people on the way down, their comments started to change from general "oh lovely, it's a great city" observations to "the journey's not so bad, once you get over the hill", and "just the hill to cope with now!" We'd laugh and nod along, then when alone, turn to each other, confused, and wonder, "what hill?"

What hill indeed.  For those of you that don't know New Zealand, Wellington is cut off from a large part of the North Island by a hill range (or, as we call them in NW England, mountains) named The Rimutakas.  We have since learned that they get better with experience but that first time, to two newbies from the UK, they were horrible.  Hugging the wall of the hill to one side, with sheer drops on the other and nothing to separate you from plunging down a ravine but a rickety fence (oh, and actual driving skills of course), they will never be a favourite way to spend an afternoon but two things make it marginally better: 1) Wilson, our van, refuses to go uphill at speed (or anywhere at speed) so we take it fairly easy, pulling over frequently to let people past and feeling like the most popular people on the hill at all the thank you beeps and waves for doing this, and 2) the Wairarapa, on the other side of the hill, is just lovely.  

We went over to the Wairarapa for two weekends in a row - the first, we camped at Martinborough, home of wine in this neck of the woods, while we went on a day trip to watch a rugby match at the Tui Brewery - fully recommended as a day out, it was relaxed and sunny and fun and a bit of an eye opener so perfect all round really.  Combined with a lunch at our favourite vineyard, Vynfields, on the Sunday, it was pretty fantastic.

The main house at Vynfields was originally located about 10 houses away from where we currently live, which gives me a mild thrill.  Moving house here can sometimes be meant quite literally.

The second weekend was to the small village of Featherston, to celebrate the wedding of two good friends.  They're a very fun and stylish couple, and this was reflected in their fun and stylish wedding - such generous hosts, the emphasis was very much on the party - after all the dancing I would willingly have paid someone to remove my feet if it meant removing my VERY high heels with them.  Similarly my head the next day after all that lovely wine.

Two busy weekends in a row meant that by the Sunday night I was craving beef.  And broccoli.  My withered head couldn't make sense of that at that moment in time; when I processed it a day or so later it was obvious I was feeling somewhat low on iron.  And so Monday, coinciding with Chinese New Year, found me making Chinese Beef & Broccoli with Special Fried Rice.  Good job I left it a day really; on Sunday I was lying on my sofa pitifully whimpering "beeeeeeef", and I definitely could not have coped with all the last-minute togetherness that these two dishes require.  Really good though.

Chinese Beef & Broccoli with Special Fried Rice
Adapted from the brilliant blog, Steamy Kitchen

The rice you need to start much earlier than you want to eat - it's a good use for leftover plain boiled or steamed rice, provided you cool it down quickly and keep it in the fridge.  I wasn't this organised, so cooked some in the rice cooker earlier on in the day then fridged it.

1 decent sized sirloin steak, thinly sliced (if you find it difficult to slice, put it in the freezer for 10 minutes and it will be a bit easier)
1 head of broccoli
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed (or do as I do and finely grate it on the Microplane)
1 teaspoon cornflour, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon soy sauce plus 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon plus another teaspoon Chinese rice wine
0.5 teaspoon cornflour
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
0.25 cup chicken stock

Start off by marinating the beef in the teaspoon of soy sauce, teaspoon of rice wine, 0.5 teaspoon cornflour and plenty of black pepper.  Leave for at least 10 minutes.

While this is marinating, cook the brocolli for about a minute until still crunchy.  Drain and give a quick dunk under the cold tap to stop the cooking process.

Put the oyster sauce, chicken stock, teaspoon of rice wine and tablespoon of soy sauce in a small bowl, and stir well - this is the sauce.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat, and when hot, add the cooking oil.  Add the beef and leave it, no stirring, for about a minute.  Turn the slices over, keeping them in one layer as much as you can, then add the garlic.  After about 30 seconds - this is really quick work - pour in the sauce, add the broccoli and bring to a boil.  Pour in the cornflour in the water and stir until thickened - about 30 seconds.

10 large prawns (I used frozen ones that I'd left to defrost while the rice was cooling)
salt and freshly ground pepper
0.5 teaspoons cornflour
1 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 spring onions, finely sliced
Cooked and cooled rice - from 1 cup of uncooked rice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Handful of frozen peas, thawed
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Marinade the prawns in the salt, pepper, and cornflour.  Leave it for 10 minutes.  This is the same length of time as the beef marinades for which is either kismet or coincidence.

Heat another large pan over high heat.  When it is hot, add one tablespoon of vegetable oil, fry the prawns without moving them for 30 seconds, then turn them, and cook for another 30 seconds.  Try to make sure they are in a single layer.  Using a slotted spoon, remove them to a plate, leaving as much oil in the pan as you can.

Turn the heat down to medium.  Pour in the eggs and scramble them then, when they are nearly cooked, tip them out to the same plate as the prawns.  Wipe out the pan with kitchen roll.  Heat back up to high.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, add the spring onions, stirring them for about 15 seconds, then add the cold rice, mixing well with the onions and to coat with the oil.  Spread it out over the surface of the pan and leave it, no touching, for about a minute or so - listen to it and you will hear it start to crackle and pop - that's when you flip it, and spread it out again.  

Pour the soy sauce over the top, then the peas, the prawns, eggs and sesame oil.  Heat it all back up again 'till it's super scorching hot.  Taste it, adding some more soy sauce if you think it needs it.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

One Solitary Aubergine

I'd bought it for something.  That much I know.  Even right now, very late summer (I'm resisting with all my might the word 'autumn' even though the summer we've had here in Wellington has been so generous, so outstanding, so everlasting, that we really will have no right to resent the onset of the cooler months) when everything is at its very ripest, overspilling with scents and sugar, I know I'd bought this aubergine for something and not just "I'll think of something to do with this".  Something specific.

But, with my advancing years and my ever-changing schedule and with my propensity to change my mind about food on a regular basis, I'd be damned if I could remember what that something was.  Pickle?  Not just one, surely.  Griddled?  We had no opportunity to get the barbecue out over the last couple of weeks.  Roasted?  In this heat?

And so I found myself, alone in the house with any aubergine nay-sayers out working a late shift, eggplant in one hand, brow furrowed, and, as luck would have it, the latest copy of Cuisine Magazine in my other hand.  (While we're on the topic, I should take the opportunity to say that Cuisine has been one of the most surprisingly pleasant discoveries, food-wise, of our move to NZ).  I was one step away from hurtling full-on into senility and actually asking the aubergine, out loud, exactly what I was supposed to do with it, when a germ of an idea took place in the form of a recipe from my eagerly-awaited magazine.

Embracing my beloved Indian spices, it fries an aubergine till soft and fragrant, then douses it in a sharp, versatile yoghurt dressing.  It is quick, and the most serendipitous reason I can think of for finding a lonely, unused aubergine in your fridge.

Aubergine, Chilli & Yoghurt
Adapted from Cuisine Magazine, March 2013

1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 small handful coriander leaves and stalks, chopped
1 aubergine, cut into 2cm chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red chilli, finely sliced
0.5 cup greek yoghurt
0.25 cup finely chopped coriander, parsley, mint and basil

In a bowl, mix the coriander, cumin, lemon zest, and coriander leaves and stalks.  Add the diced aubergine and toss to coat.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan.  Gently fry the coated aubergine until soft - about 10 minutes.  Add the lemon juice and chilli, and season well with plenty of salt and pepper.

While this is cooking, mix the yoghurt and herbs together.  Drizzle this over the cooked aubergine.

Serves 1

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Lemony Dhal & Spoilers

It was like coming home,
only to no home I'd ever known
Sleepless in Seattle

I know, any semblance of credibility shot, right?  No shame.  I love that movie (and rest assured, my taste in music is much, much worse than my taste in films).  I have a great memory of watching that film at the cinema in my teens with my mum.  Spoiler alert: look away now if you don't want to know whether this Rom Com has a happy ending or not.  Towards the end of the scene at the top of the Empire State Building, as the little boy was being led away and we think that Meg 'n' Tom's one chance to find happiness with each other is being led away with him, Mum leant over to me and, in a stage whisper that was loud enough to frighten the horses and certainly loud enough for everyone else in the cinema to hear, said "HE'S LEFT HIS TEDDY BEAR!"  A spoiler along the lines of when I leant over to my companion during Sixth Sense and said "It is obvious he's dead, right?".  Like mother, like daughter.

Anyway, I digress, but I was thinking about dhal this week and it always brings to mind the lines above from Sleepless in Seattle.  To me, this, the most simple meal of lentils, tastes of home.  Why, I don't know.  I grew up in the industrial North-West of England and, though my mum was a wonderful cook, dhal (or any lentils, come to think of it) were never on the menu.  We were encouraged from a very early age - indeed, from babies - to try all cuisines, but I don't remember dhal appearing on the Indian menus.  And yet, and yet.  This gentle mix of lentils or split peas, warming spices and liquid is everything a home should be, and everything my home was.  Welcoming.  Embracing.  Warm.  And so, eating my first dhal was like coming home.

This is my favourite dhal recipe, and God knows I've tried many over the years.  Funnily enough, it comes from a film maker - Ismail Merchant, who apparently used to use food, and cooking for people, as a way of persuading stars to appear in his productions.  Something tells me I would have liked that man a great deal.

Anyway, try this.  It blows me away every single time I make it, which is lots.  And it makes anywhere taste like home, even when you are far away from people you love who stage whisper during films, just like you do.

Lemony Dhal
Adapted from a recipe by Ismail Merchant

0.5 cup plus 0.3 cup vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cinnamon stick
450g yellow lentils
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2.5 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon
1 onion finely chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
small fistful coriander leaves, chopped

In a large pan, gently heat the half cup of oil.  Add the sliced onions and fry until soft but not browned.  Add the cinnamon, lentils and ginger.  Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently to stop it sticking.  Add the stock, 2 cups of hot water, salt and pepper.  Squeeze in the lemon juice, and throw in the lemon shell too.  

Bring everything to a boil, then reduce right down to a gentle simmer.  Cook for about 50 minutes, until the lentils are soft and cooked through.  Add more liquid if it needs it - it should be thick and stew-like.

In a small pan, heat the remaining oil.  Add the onion, chilli, garlic and bay leaves, cooking until starting to brown at the edges.  Stir this through the cooked lentils.

Sprinkle with the coriander.

Serves 6.  Keeps wonderfully in the fridge and, in my opinion, makes one of the best breakfasts in the world.

Friday, 1 March 2013

St David's Day Baking

Something that nobody tells you before you take up with a Welshman is how passionate, consuming and welcoming the Welsh community is, anywhere in the world.  Because of various connections we have out here, Welsh people now make up the majority of my expat friends out here.  As an Englishwoman this does mean developing a relatively thick skin at times, especially where rugby is concerned, but for the days of the year when mighty England aren't playing the boyos in red, it's a fun community to be part of.

St David is the patron saint of Wales, and today, March 1st, is his day, and therefore the Welsh in my life go all out to celebrate.  And who am I to miss out on a celebration, even one I'm clinging to tenaciously by the coat-tails?

Last year, as part of the Wellington On A Plate events, we started a bake club at the Welsh Dragon Bar, where Andy is the manager.  You don't have to be Welsh to join, you just have to love baking.  We all loved it so much that we carried on after the official events finished; now we meet once a month and take turns to pick a theme.  Lots of different nationalities, a range of ages and baking experience - the only thing that we all have in common is the firm belief that Baking Makes Things Better.  This month, Andy has asked us all to produce Welsh baking to sample and try.  Somewhat of a challenge for us non-Cymru-born bakers, but if there's one thing we love, it's a challenge.  I fancied something savoury, and so settled on these pies.  I left out the jelly from the original recipe for a few reasons - it was a step too far in the midst of a busy week, but mostly because I'm ambivalent and most people seem to be averse.

My list of favourite Welshmen is long and comprehensive and includes, amongst others, Colin Jackson, Gethin Jones, Steve Jones and Aled Jones (the latter we were involved in a Fawlty-Towers-esque farce with the night after our wedding when we accidentally tried to break into his hotel room.  Yes, it is a long story) but my most favourite Welshman of all is my lovely Andy.

These are for him.

Pork, Leek and Cumin Welsh Dragon Pie*
*Contains no dragon but does breathe a bit of fire
Adapted from Andy Bates

500g pork mince
1 large leek, washed and sliced
50g butter
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to season
450g plain flour
170g butter
200ml water
Pinch salt
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 180C.

In a large, nonstick frying pan melt the butter over a medium heat.  Gently fry the leeks until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes.  Add the cumin and cayenne, cook for a further 5 minutes.  Spread out on a plat to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the cooled leeks with the pork, and season well.  Divide into four equal balls.  Put in the fridge until needed.

To make the pastry, measure the flour and salt into a large bowl.  In a small pan, bring the water and butter to a boil, pour into the flour and mix until combined into a smooth dough.  Divide this dough into four balls.

Take the first ball and split off two-thirds.  Roll this out into a circle wide enough to fit a small pie tin and overlap the edges.  Carefully fit the dough into the tin, pressing it into the edges.  Roll the remaining one-third into a size large enough to make a lid.  Repeat with the other four balls.

Place one pork ball into each tin.  Brush beaten egg around the edge of each tin and fit a pastry lid on, pressing and pinching to make sure the pastry seals.  Trim off the excess pastry and neaten up the edges.
Make a hole in the top of each lid and brush with egg.

Place on a baking tray and bake for 1 hour.  Leave to cool and refrigerate before serving.

Makes 4 generous-sized individual pork pies.