Saturday, 23 November 2013

Regression Therapy - Malt Loaf

God, I love Soreen so much.  While I wouldn't go so far as to claim it as a universal-to-UK experience, having either a couple of crumpets or a couple of slices of squidgey, dark malt loaf spread with salted butter on the return from school, sofa pulled up to the fire and Jonny Briggs on the tv would certainly be something that would ring a lot of bells with my generation.

When we were challenged to make a sweet or savoury loaf for this month's Bake Club, malt loaf leapt unbidden into my mind, and once it was there, there was no shifting it.  Soreen can't be bought here and so, if I wanted malt loaf, I was going to have to make malt loaf.

It required a fair bit of detective work but eventually I discovered malt extract was available for sale here in NZ and, what's more, it inspires the same kind of nostalgia that I have over malt loaf.  I'm not sure exactly what it is about malt - sweet yet wholesome at the same time, the throat-nudging granularity of barley taking the edge off the sugar hit - but combine that with juicy sultanas and you have an after-school, after work, or just after anything, feast fit for a king.

This recipe makes two loaves and, trust me, if you can leave it a few days after making it, well wrapped up, it will reward your patience a hundredfold as the stickiness and maltiness increase, day on day.

This has to be served with salted butter; actually, more specifically, it has to be served with Lurpak.

Malt Loaf
from BBC Good Food

150ml hot black tea (1 tea bag will be enough)
175g malt extract, plus extra for glazing
85g muscovado sugar
50g raisins
250g sultanas
2 large eggs, beaten
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
0.5 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat your oven to 150c.  Grease and line two 1lb loaf tins with baking paper.

Mix the tea, malt, sugar and fruit until fully combined and the fruit has started to swell a little in the liquid.  Stir in the eggs.

Mix in the flour, baking powder and bicarb.  Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins.  Bake for 50 minutes.

When they are just out of the oven, dip a pastry brush (silicone if possible, for cleaning reasons) into your tin of malt extract and use it to glaze the top of the loaves, which will become gloriously sticky.

When they're completely cool, wrap well in foil and leave for 2-5 days until at sticky perfection.

Makes 2 loaves

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Our Own Interests - Celery and Chard Gratin

Every so often, Andy or I tentatively suggest a new outing, a new hobby, a new interest, to see if the other would be up for joining in.  "I see they're doing salsa lessons down on the waterfront this summer" we casually throw into the conversation.  "I see Dolly Parton is playing up in Auckland".  "I'm thinking of starting a book club".  "I want to go to the gaming exhibition at Te Papa".

(Three of those were mine, one was Andy's, and I'm not telling which).

At this point the other will start looking wildly round them, clutching at their hair and clutching at straws, until we come up with the ultimate safe get-out clause.

"I think it's important that we have our own interests".

Seriously - that line has got both of us out of more socially-induced awkwardness than anything else.  A real relationship saver, and I selflessly offer it up to you to use as you wish.

Celery, I would say, is my own interest.  Andy is definitely happy to palm that one off on me.  I go through a fair bit of it, it's true, as the basis of most soups, stews, sauces, but that does mean that there's usually a few sticks, looking limply folorn every time I open the fridge.  And as there's only me to eat it - strictly my own interest, you might say - I love finding new ways to use it up.

This recipe, inspired by an Ottolenghi article in The Guardian, is great, with the proviso that you really, really do have to like celery to enjoy it.  As much as I agree with him that it is often unfairly maligned, there is no escaping the fact that this is a very celery-ish dish.  The lemon in it was incredible though, and lifted the whole thing out of the ordinary.  And let's not forget that topping - almost 50% parmesan.  No arguments from me on that front, whatsoever.

I will keep this as my little secret.

Celery and Chard Gratin

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

4 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped but not too small
1 bay leaf
1 lemon, half the zest taken off in strips with a peeler, the rest of the zest grated
300ml milk
280g silverbeet (Swiss Chard), leaves shredded, stalks trimmed and chopped
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 slice wholemeal bread, grated or blitzed into breadcrumbs
Handful parsley, chopped
40g parmesan, grated

Preheat your oven to 180c/350f

Simmer the celery, bay leaves, and lemon zest strips in the milk for about 12 minutes, until soft.  Strain and reserve the milk (you should have about 200ml left after simmering).  Set the celery to one side; discard the bay and lemon zest.

Clean the pan (I used my non-stick frying pan but it is coming to the end of its days and non-stick isn't so much a misnomer any more as a downright dirty lie), using as much elbow grease as your pan requires.

Fill your clean pan with water, bring to a boil, and add the chard stalks.  Cook for 2 minutes, add the chard leaves, and cook for another minute.  Drain and dry well.

Wipe the pan again so it's dry.  Melt the butter over a medium heat.  Saute the drained chard for a couple of minutes, then add the celery.

Add the flour and stir for a minute or so to cook it out.  Gradually stir in your reserved milk, lemon zest, and the juice from your lemon until you have a thick coating of sauce for the vegetables.

Put this mixture into a smallish gratin dish.

Mix the breadcrumbs with the parsley and parmesan.  Pour this topping on top of the vegetables, and bake for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the top is crunchy and golden.

Don't serve this immediately out of the oven; instead, leave it 10 minutes or so.
Serves 4 as a smallish side or 2 as the highlight dish.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Eat Your Greens - Broccoli Pesto

What's your favourite vegetable?  Are there some that you just won't touch, even under pain of terrible things?  I was musing the other day and I can't think of one vegetable that I don't adore which, I'm sure you'll agree, even for an indecisive omnivore is taking things a bit Too Far.

It does mean, though, that when I head down to the Harbourside Market on a Sunday morning, after I have a nosy wander round the stalls, but before I indulge in the best breakfast in Wellington, bar none (Masala Dosa from the Brahman - $10 of pure happiness and therefore worth every cent), I do tend to get overexcited and completely overestimate the amount of vegetables that we need for just the two of us (and just the one of me, really, on the three nights a week that Andy works).

I am never averse to simply-cooked vegetables, cooked till just al dente (except my secret food shame, overcooked cabbage), but when I have such a volume to get through, I have to get a bit creative with what I do with them.

This Broccoli Pesto came about on just such a night.  I was musing that I was keen for summer to start for a million and one reasons, one of them being my basil would grow and, if all goes to plan, I will have enough this year for a regular supply of pesto.  Until then, until then... what could I do?  My eyes fell on a head of broccoli, a seemingly everlasting reminder of my market profligacy.

Par boiled so it has still got plenty of crunch, colour and texture, then mixed with the pesto classics, parmesan, garlic and pine nuts, a good handful of parsley and some cream to bind, this has the beautiful grassy flavour of broccoli combined with the nubbliness of pesto.

Use it on it's own, or use it as I did as the base of a pasta dressing with peas and bacon, just use it.  Because you need to eat your greens, you know.

Broccoli Pesto

1 head broccoli
20g parmesan, grated
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 handful parsley
2 tablespoons cream
salt and pepper

Chop the broccoli into florets, then chop the stalk into one inch pieces.

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, and parboil the broccoli stalks for 2 minutes, adding the florets after one minute.  Drain well.

In a food processor, blitz the pine nuts, garlic, parsley, oil and salt and pepper until the nuts have been ground but there are still a few larger bits left - this is important for texture.

Add the broccoli and pulse until mostly broken down into small pieces.

Add the parmesan and cream and pulse until well combined.

When you use it, retain a cupful of the cooking water from the pasta.  Use this to 'loosen' the pesto when you add it to the pasta, stirring through a spoonful at a time until it melds into the sauce and it coats the pasta easily.

This pesto freezes very well.

Serves 4

Sunday, 10 November 2013

A Dish to Remember - Piperade

I'm blessed with a good memory.  Exams, as long as I can learn the subject by rote, have never been too taxing.  I'm sure I exasperate my husband with my ability to remember every. little. thing.  But when it comes to food, I'm Rainman.  Along with the list of Andy's likes and dislikes that I have committed to memory, I have freaked my friends out with my tendency to have conversations like:
 "I know you miss Marks & Spencer Smoked Mackerel Pate, so I've made you some". 
 "When did I tell you that?"
 "Three years ago, in passing in a conversation".
One friend doesn't like eggs, one doesn't like parsnips, one doesn't like cooked apple.  You get the idea.  It can make catering for groups of them an exercise in elimination, rather than blissfully picking one thing and sticking to it.

The same applies for recipes.  I have an uncanny recall of recipes I've read just once, let alone a few times.  So when it comes to a book I have probably read, cover-to-cover, novel style, more than any other, it's no wonder I can virtually recite the index from memory.  Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course was the first 'grown up' cookery book I owned just for me, rather than borrowing from Mum.  It was a gift as I headed off to university - and what a gift.  I still recommend it to this day for people just setting off on the cooking journey.  Delia holds your hand through this in an informative, slightly strict at times, no-nonsense fashion, and I for one am still reaping the rewards.  Back in the days, before laptops and internet invaded student halls, there was just me and this book, and I read it, and read it, and read it.

So when I woke up this morning, and the word "Piperade" jumped into my head, I wasn't especially surprised, even though I'd never cooked it before.  I knew it contained eggs and peppers, both of which I had lying around.  I also had all the other ingredients, and so made it for a brunch.  Very glad I did; the sweetness of the slow-cooked vegetables makes the eggs incredibly sweet and creamy.  My young, grown-from-seed basil is aniseed-strong, and was a great highlight to the eggs.  

I'll be remembering this one for the future.

Adapted from Delia Smith, 'Complete Illustrated Cookery Course'

1 onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 eggs
2 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
A few basil leaves
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil and butter in a medium pan over a low heat.  Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes, until soft but not brown.

Add the pepper, tomato and garlic, and continue to cook slowly for another 20 minutes, until the vegetables are sweet and soft.  Season well with salt and pepper

Beat the eggs well then add them to the pan, stirring constantly.  After a couple of minutes, before they are firm, remove from the heat and continue to stir for 30 seconds.

Serve over toast or, as I did, a grilled field mushroom.  Garnish with basil and serve immediately.

Serves 2

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Mum's Christmas Cake

There are some things you should know about this cake.

Firstly, it comes from a recipe book my mum got not long after she was married (I'm guessing about 1970).  It predates me by lots of - ok, a few - years, and has been made faithfully by our family every year since then.  Sure, we've had odd flirtations with other cakes, by way of Nigella's Chocolate Fruit Cake and Delia's Creole Cake, but this is the cake that we return to, time after time.  On this point too, you should know that we adore Christmas Cake, with its fruit and spices, and are therefore self-appointed connoisseurs.  Bear that in mind when you consider our loyalty to this cake.

You should know that it is never, ever dry, which seems to be the biggest crime that fruit cake is often accused of.  Instead - and I am not discounting the effect of lots of alcohol in this matter - it is rich and moist (gah I hate that word but sometimes it is the only option), buttery and juicy.

You should know that last Christmas, when I made some to sell, a happy customer returned in January specifically to tell me it was (and I quote) the best cake he'd ever eaten.

But mostly, I want you to know that, bar the teensiest of substitutions (I can't abide glace cherries, and used to leave a neat gleaming pile on the edge of my plate - seriously, does anyone eat them? - so use dried cranberries instead), this IS Christmas.  The mixing of it, Christmas tunes sparkling away as the soundtrack, the fruits steeping in alcohol beforehand, the gradual transformation into the mixture so familiar to me from my youth, the smell of it as it bakes and cools, the look of it.  It is the joy of Christmas in one neat package, and that is why I continue to recreate it, year after year.  Truly, nothing is better than the comfort of Christmas traditions.

The earlier you can make this, the better.

Christmas Fruit Cake
From the Stork Cookbook, circa 1970

NB: Because of the date and provenance (UK), all weights are in pounds and ounces.  I have given the weight in metric also, but if you have the option, the original will likely give the better results.

For a 9 inch round cake or 8 inch square.  Since moving to New Zealand I have become the proud owner of a wooden cakebox, which gives amazing results, but any heavy cake tin will do.  Grease and line it inside, and wrap the outside with brown paper secured with string or a paperclip - this will protect the edges of the cake during the long, slow cooking.

13oz (370g) currants
9oz (250g) sultanas
5oz (140g) raisins
3.5oz (100g) dried cranberries
3.5oz (100g) flaked almonds
3.5oz (100g) mixed cut peel
1 grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons sherry (ideally Pedro Ximenez)
9oz (250g) plain flour
1.25 teaspoons mixed spice
0.5 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2.5oz (70g) ground almonds
8oz (230g) unsalted butter, softened
8oz (230g) soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon black treacle
5 eggs

At least a day, and I don't mind if you give it two days, before you start, soak the dried fruit, flaked almonds and lemon zest in the brandy and sherry, stirring every so often.  The fruit will absorb the alcohol and go plump and juicy.

When you want to make the cake, preheat the oven to 140c/290f/gas mark 1

Sieve the flour, nutmeg and mixed spice.  Add the ground almonds.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in the treacle.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating each in thoroughly and adding a little of the flour mixture with every egg.

Add the remaining flour mixture with the prepared fruits.  Stir gently but thoroughly until well mixed.

Put in the prepared tin (or box) and smooth the top with the back of a wet spoon.

Bake in the pre-heated oven until very firm, a minimum of 3 hours (it took 4 hours in my oven).  If it isn't done after 3 hours, check back at regular intervals.

When it is baked and a cake tester comes out clean, remove from the oven.  Leave in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out, remove the paper and cool on a wire tray.

When completely cold, wrap in double greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin.

Every week, feed the cake by pricking the top all over with a skewer then gently pouring a tablespoon of brandy over so it seeps into the holes.

I will be decorating the cake a week before Christmas and posting up instructions with pictures.