Wednesday, December 23, 2009



Christmas marks the beginning of the summer holiday period in New Zealand. This confounds many a visitor to the Southern Hemisphere. Many New Zealanders celebrate that which makes our Christmas so different to our Northern Hemisphere friends on the planet - there are amusing images of Santa wearing shorts and sporting a tan, reindeer wearing sunglasses, and kiwis on deck chairs knocking back beer...The New Zealand Christmas is one of barbecues, high sun and beaches.

That aside, there is one thing that does hold us back from totally embracing a distinct identity for noel. Our history is partly formed by colonisation of the English, Scottish and French. Many New Zealanders are but a few generations removed from Europe, thus the cultural ties are not totally severed or subverted. My good friend, the intellectually-ferocious and generous Anita, is an Australian of German descent; she and I are in the same boat when it comes to reconciling the amazing Christmas baking of the north with our southern humidity. Anita's grandparents have been kind to share their recipe for stollen.

Stollen is a fruit cake that is made either with cheese or yeast. As we could not find quark, we opted for a mix of cream cheese and ricotta.

(by way of German tradition, care of Oma and Opa in Australia)

For the cake:

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
8g baking powder
3/4 cups sugar
9g vanilla sugar
4 drops almond flavouring
1/3 cup rum
2 eggs
120g butter, cold
1 1/4 cups combination of cream cheese and ricotta or quark
2 cups dried fruit, such as currants and raisins, macerated in rum for 48 hours
1 1/2 cups ground almonds
3/4 cup citrus peel
250g marzipan, rolled out into two rope-like lengths

For the icing:
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sifted icing/confectioners' sugar

1) Preheat oven to 160 C/320 F.
2) Into a large bowl, sift together all-purpose flour and baking powder.
3) Add sugars, almond flavouring, run and eggs into flour mixture so that it is combined, then cut in butter until a paste-like substance is formed.
4) Knead cheeses, fruit, ground almonds and citrus peel into paste to make a smooth dough.
5) Separate into two logs. Open each log to place marzipan in the middle, then cover over again so that marzipan is wholly enclosed.
6) Place both loaves on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
7) Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden.
8) Once baked, brush loaves with melted butter and sprinkle over with icing sugar.

Do not be afraid to use ALL of the icing sugar. If you are going save the stollen to eat at a later time (which is wise, for it does mature), the icing sugar will be absorbed by the butter, creating a light, delectable icing. To save for later, wrap in foil, then in cling-film and store in a cupboard.

The interesting thing about stollen is that it does not use any mixed spices at all, which is quite traditional in British Christmas fare. However, it does taste of Christmas - dense, dark fruit and nutty almond flavours throughout. The stollen is light in texture yet rich in flavour. I prefer to eat it as it is, but it is also quite acceptable to eat it toasted with jam or other fruit preserves.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

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Sunday, November 29, 2009


Golden Onion Pie

Thanksgiving is a beautiful time of the year in the United States. Leaves on deciduous trees have truly turned and have all but given way to winter, biting winds require an extra layer or two, and candlelight beaming through foggy windows signal welcome and comfort. These are the images I have of my many Thanksgiving celebrations in southern California with my angelheart Eric, our family and dearest friends. Now that we live in my home country, New Zealand, we have to adapt the tradition to our antipodean lifestyle. This year, it has got off to a quiet start - just a light summery dinner. Even so, it was important we acknowledged this special time for sharing and gathering in between calls to family.

Of course, we recollected the many great meals we've had at this time of year, not all of which we made ourselves - our family and friends are really good cooks. This really put us in the mood to think about how else we could make a culinary nod to the US over the weekend. Unfortuntely, one of our sources for inspiration, Gourmet magazine, published its last issue this month. (There's no coverage of that in the magazine itself, so I'm not sure if this is a graceful note on which to leave the publishing world, or if the plug was suddenly pulled.) We turned to this final issue for guidance and came up with Golden Onion Pie.

Gourmet writers added a twist to Zwiebelkuchen, which is a German yeasted dough onto which is cooked steamed onions, bacon and caraway seeds. Instead of a plank of dough, this twist is a pie-like creation, sweet with caramelised onions, tamed with sour cream, though I added yoghurt and a bit of cream instead.

Epicurious has a catalogue of all Gourmet's recipes now, so it is not lost forever. The recipe for Golden Onion Pie can be found here.

We swapped out one brown onion for a red one to underscore our nod to fall in the US, the beautiful mingling of bronze and red. The dough is very easy to work with and can be left overnight, whether covered in a lightly oiled bowl or covered and lightly dusted with flour to slowly rise in the fridge. It stretches well and behaves very well - it also helps that it is muggy here in Auckland, so we didn't have to worry so much about draughts. Overall, the pie is sweet and substantial, symbolic, really, of Thanksgiving (putting aside the difficult task of reconciling the joy of finding a new home and the crimes committed on which successful colonisation was dependent). This was our mellow way of giving thanks, to finding each other, to being together, to having healthy family and friends, to having shared many a lovely memory.

The only bitter note, for us, is that we could not celebrate with family and friends in the States. At least we were able to build on the tradition of turning to Gourmet, even if it will now be absent from magazine racks all over the world - I only hope, of course, that the many talented contributors find worthwhile enterprises through which they can share their cooking talents and views on food trends and food politics.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Saturday, October 31, 2009


Chocolate: Cookies & Cake

Last month I shared with you my enjoyment for baking, which is often curbed by not having softened butter at the exact moment I want to bake. Twice this month, I was smart enough to leave unsalted butter out on the kitchen island over night, preparing me for baking in the morning.

I'm not really a baker, though. Sure, I can knock out pastry shells in a breeze (mostly) and cakes are generally problem-free, but I lack finesse when it comes to decorating cakes or dealing with small baked goods. Most cakes I make are not frosted or decorated in any other way, and I have never really handled cookie dough - why go to so much trouble when they are so cheap to buy? I suppose with making them yourself, you can design your own cookies, for not every cookie is available at the supermarket or your local bakery. Also, one cannot have a true appreciation for such things without understanding the process.

Like most human beings, my angelheart Eric and I favour chocolate cookies. If all cookie manufacturers were to go out of business, the last cookie off the production line in the western world would probably be a variety of chocolate cookie. It must not come, therefore, as a surprise to anyone that my second ever attempt at making cookies (the first were vanilla shortbread made 4 or 5 years ago!) is a chocolate cookie, one that was presented by Martha Stewart in a recent publication of her peerless lifestyle magazine, Martha Stewart Living. The recipe was not especially highlighted, but it captured my attention because I could sense that behind its apparent simplicity was a depth of flavour.

Dark-Chocolate Cookies from Martha Stewart Living, July 2009. (Click on the link to take you to the recipe.)

I did not divert from the recipe, really, but as I am not a cookie maker, I had to improvise with utensils to stand in for cookie cutters (which would have made life easy because they are sharp and cut through dough without any issues), and I let the cookies cook 30 seconds longer than I should have - the nose knows, after all. I was impatient with the filling and whipped it for volume, but it still ran, as you can see in the photo above. All of this in mind, the only things I would think of doing next time around are:
1) Add a tablespoon of finely ground coffee or instant coffee granules to the dough;
2) Roll the dough out thicker (Martha did give instructions, but it is hard to work this out by sight); and
3) Add brandy to the filling.

Like cookie dough, I'm a bit stumped when it comes to icings and glazes for cake decorating. Try as I may to follow recipes, I never seem to be able to pull off a great icing. It could be to do with lack of aesthetic instinct when it comes to applying icing, and it could also be that the recipes themselves are not the best, but it is probably because I have no real experience yet that lends to reading and handling icing. I found that the relationship between the recipes below and above rest in the icing, so attempting the mere variations twice in one month has certainly educated me...

All-in-One Chocolate Cake
(from Diana Henry's Cook Simple)

For the Cake:

125g/4.5oz self-raising flour, sifted
pinch of salt
55g/2oz cocoa powder
3 eggs, lightly beaten
175g/6oz caster sugar
175g/6oz unsalted butter, softened and diced
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons warm water

1) Pre-heat oven to 190 C/375 F.
2) Put all ingredients but warm water into a bowl or food processor and beat until combined.
3) Add water slowly and combine again.
4) Pour cake batter into a greased cake tin, preferably 20cm/8" springform, though I used 22cm/9" and it worked out well, but the cooking time was shorter, for the cake was not as thick.
5) Place cake on the middle rack in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until done.
6) Turn out of springform and leave to cool on wire rack.

For the Icing:

150g/5.5oz chocolate, broken into pieces
75ml/2oz sour cream
75ml/2oz heavy cream
5 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1) Put all ingredients in a bowl that is to be suspended over summering water (the water should never touch the bowl and should not bee too hot) and allow ingredients to melt.
2) Stir ingredients together and take off the heat.
3) Leave icing to cool and thicken.

In terms of presentation, I slathered the icing all over the cake and coated it with toasted slivered almonds - hazelnuts might have been better, but chocolate pairs pretty well with all nuts.

This is the perfect cake to whip up at a moment's notice - but for the softened butter. Even the most baking-averse person could achieve this, a simple though flavourful chocolate cake. As always, you could substitute one-third of the flour with a nut flour (such as almond or hazelnuts) for added sophistication in the general flavour profile, but this cake can stand well on its own - so much so that I might go so far to consider it my stand-by when I'm in a pinch.

What special cake recipe do you rely on for social gatherings?

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Saturday, September 12, 2009


Frozen Orange Syllabub Cake

As much as I love cakes, I sometimes avoid making them. This is principally because I cannot always be bothered combining butter and sugar until they bond into a pale yellow cream, which, first of all, requires that butter be soft. When one bakes, sometimes it's on the spur of the moment, but with baking cakes, one has to be prepared. On account of more often making pastry dough for tarts and pies, I rely on the butter conditioner in the fridge to keep butter firm. Consequently, I actually have to plan ahead to soften butter. Yes, this is a minor matter, but if I want a cake within an hour of thinking about making one, then it is impossible to see this through without softened butter. So, what is a man to do? Well, I find a way around it, of course, and in doing so I often turn to desserts that use melted butter or that dispense of butter altogether.

Today's cake is in the vein of an ice cream cake. It is, in fact, a riff on a dessert that was popular in England from the Elizabethan era to the 19th Century and seems to have found mild resurrgence in current cookery books by British chefs and cooks: syllabub. Syllabub is cream that has been whipped, sweetened with sugar, spiced with nutmeg, soured with lemon juice, and fortified with alcohol, often wine or port. Mixed together, the boozy cream would be left to set up in a cold spot before serving. It is the simplest of desserts, and I am dumfounded that I never thought to freeze it before, like Philly ice cream, until I recently noticed Nigel Slater's recipe for Lemon ice-cream tart with gingernut crust in his inspiring The Kitchen Diaries, a book I've had since it was published in 2005, but, for some reason or another, had not previously registered the genius behind this particular recipe - it is funny how you can read something ten times and can still be surprised, isn't it? I guess with cooking, we're drawn to different flavours and ideas at different times...

Frozen Orange Syllabub Cake
(adapted from Nigel Slater's Lemon Ice-Cream Tart with Gingernut Crust in The Kitchen Diaries)

For the Crust:

400g/14 oz Gingernuts or other ginger cookies
120g/4 oz unsalted butter

1) Line the base of a loose-bottomed 25cm/10" cake tin with greaseproof paper.
2) Crush the ginger cookies to a coarse crumb or a fine powder, depending on the sort of crust you want for your cake.
3) Melt the butter, then stir in the crushed ginger cookies.
4) Pour the mixture into the cake tin, pushing it with your fingers to cover both the base and the sides of the tin - focus more on getting it properly covered than making sure the crust is equally level around the summit.
5) Put the tin in the freezer while you work on the filling.

For the Filling:

150ml white wine
2 tablespoons brandy
zest and juice of 2 oranges
zest of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons sugar
500ml cream

1) Put all ingredients into a bowl and beat slowly until thick, falling in soft folds.

For the Pie:

1) Pour the filling into the crust.
2) Freeze for at least four hours.
3) Remove from freezer 15-20 minutes before serving.

It is evident that this is not meant to be presented at a sophisticated affair, what with the crust being so free-form, but it is perfectly charming. The flavours, of course, are what matter, and they are as intense as the texture is dreamy, like eating sweet clouds.

It does seem too easy for words, but I ask that you try this recipe and adapt it at a whim. Swap out the orange for lime and brandy for midori or tequila, or use cherry juice and kirsh with a crust made with amaretti - the possibilities are endless and delightful. Nothing warms me more than a good dessert, and I will now count this as one of my very favourites. I wonder what other creams of old can be adapted in a similar way...

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Saturday, August 01, 2009


Roast Tail of Monkfish with Orange Sauce

The Auckland Fish Market is so close by that it would be wasteful not to take advantage of the freshest catch. My angelheart Eric has always been an avid lover of most seafood; I, on the other hand, require a bit of persuasion. I have been making a conscious effort to eat more fish, though, particularly the innocuous types, like terakihi and cod. Of all fish, monkfish is the most superior. It is often thought of as poor man's lobster - it is succulent and meaty. While not as sweet as lobster, it does have a high water content, lending to a perfect sauce at the end of roasting your monkfish tail, as my angelheart Eric and I sometimes make.

On account of its abundant meat and water content, monkfish does not really suffer from overcooking. In the worst case scenario, the texture might become raggedy, but one can live with that if that is the worst that could happen to it. If you want to prepare the monkfish tail into fillets for cooking, salt the fillets prior to pan frying so that the water can be drawn out; otherwise, your fillets may end up soggy.

The monkfish tail is a large piece of meat, lending to its nickname in Scotland as "gigot," as in a leg of lamb. Think of preparing it as you would lamb - it can be roasted, braised, breaded and fried. It also partners well with lamb's friends - herbs, orange, anchovies...

Roast Tail of Monkfish with Orange Sauce
(adapted from Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson's Gigot of Monkfish Romarin with Anchovies from Two Fat Ladies: Gastronomic Adventures)

For the Monkfish:

750 g/1.5 lb monkfish tail, butterflied and deboned
large handful of tarragon
1 orange
8 anchovy fillets
8 cloves garlic
olive oil

1) Lay the butterflied monkfish in a baking dish.
2) Fill the inside of the monkfish with tarragon and slices from half of the orange, and season with salt and pepper.
3) Close up the monkfish by tying it up in three spots - either end and the middle.
4) Cut 8 slits into the monkfish tail with a sharp knife.
5) Insert one anchovy fillet and one garlic clove per slit.
6) Rub the monkfish with a bit of olive oil and the juice from the other half of the orange, and season with salt and pepper.
7) Place in the refrigerator to marinade - up to 2 hours.
8) Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F.
9) Bring monkfish out of the fridge for 20-30 minutes prior to roasting.
10) Roast monkfish for 35-45 minutes until cooked through.

For the Sauce:

30g/1 oz unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1/4 cup dry vermouth
liquor from the monkfish
rind and juice from half an orange
tarragon leaves, gently torn

1) When the monkfish is almost cooked through, melt butter with olive oil over medium heat in a saute pan.
2) Add onion and a pinch of salt.
3) When the onions are transluscent, add vermouth.
4) When the vermouth has evaporated, turn the heat up to medium high. Add the liquor from the monkfish (this will require that you pour the liquid from the baking dish - and then you can throw the monkfish into the oven, to finish cooking or to keep warm) and the orange juice.
5) Strew in the tarragon leaves.
6) Taste for seasoning.
7) Remove onions with slotted spoon and place on the monkfish, then pour sauce over the monkfish and serve.

Like a lot of large fish, monkfish stands up to heavy and punchy flavours as well as highly acidic or lowly nutty ones. Try it with romesco sauce or tomato vinaigrette, as Clarissa Dickson Wright does. It also goes well with thick mayonnaise.

This is wonderfully hearty without being too filling, an easy weeknight dish for two.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009


Beetroot Tart

Although it is widely available throughout the year, as are most root vegetables, beetroot (beets) becomes most relied upon in my kitchen when it is winter. Its earthy sweetness and intense crimson flesh give warmth to frosty days. Beetroot bolsters the winter frame of mind and pairs particularly well with ingredients that tend to keep the cold away (especially ginger). Beetroot is surprisingly versatile and always, to my mind, an enchanting root vegetable to behold.

Beets have not always captivated me, though, and my previous aversion to them is relatively common. My revulsion stemmed from containers of sliced, pickled beetroot that were (and remain) a mainstay in my parents' refrigerator. I sampled them but once and practically gagged from the acidity of the flabby slices. I was put off for more than twenty years, avoiding any dish that came into contact with beets, even if they hadn't been pickled. Great cookery writers - Tamasin Day-Lewis, Diana Henry and Deborah Madison and their powers of description - convinced me that I had been too swift in maligning the spunky root vegetable.

For some, there is not an aversion to the taste of beets, but rather to the preparation of them. Beetroots contain pigments that stain (and for some people, hard to break down internally), and I have not come across a quick or convenient way to peel beets once they have been cooked. In my experience, it just seems best to handle beetroots as quickly as possible and to rinse one's hands often. There are two good tips to stop the colour running if you're roasting or steaming beets:
1) do not cut the stalks but 2.5cm (1") from the top of the root; and
2) do not cut the tail of the root.

The only time you may want the colour to run is when preparing soups. When roasting, wrap cleaned beets in aluminium foil and roast at 200 C (400 F) until softened, approximately 45 minutes. Unwrap foil, and when cool enough to handle, the beets are easy to be peeled, then sliced or grated as you prefer. It is best to add seasoning to beets when still warm, so that the flavours you wish to impart are absorbed by the beets.

Beetroot Tart

For the Shortcrust Pastry (for a 22-25cm (9-10") tart shell):

1 cup (and up to 1/3 cup extra, depending on humidity) flour, sifted
100g (3.5oz) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
iced water

1) In a bowl, rub together the flour and butter with the tips of your fingers until a granular consistency is reached.
2) Slowly add iced water, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture coheres into a ball. If it seems dry, you might need to add flour - you do not want it to be sticky. (If you prefer a golden tart, use one egg as the binder, and only add water if the mixture does not entirely come together.)
3) Once a ball has been formed, create a flat disc, and cover in cling-film. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (you can leave it overnight)
4) Bring pastry out of the fridge and let rest at room temperature to become pliable (5-10 minutes if left in the fridge for 30 minutes).
5) Preheat oven to 200 C (400 F).
6) Put pastry on a lightly-floured surface. Roll it out with a floured rolling pin, turning the pastry after each pass of the rolling pin to ensure it doesn't stick to the surface. Roll it out so it can fit into a prepared (that is to say, buttered and floured) tart shell.
7) Allow to sit in tart shell in fridge for at least 15 minutes, and until you are ready to add the beetroot filling.

For the Beetroot Filling:

750g (1 1/2lb) grated beetroot (roasted, then peeled, as above)
1 tablespoon ginger, grated
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
2 eggs, lightly beaten and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper
3/4 cup cream (or milk)

1) In a bowl, mix together the still warm grated beetroot, ginger, pomegranate molasses, and pinches of salt and pepper.
2) Beat eggs and cream together.
3) Pour egg mixture into

To Finish:

Shortcrust pastry, as above
Beetroot filling, as above

1) Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F).
2) Take pastry shell out of the fridge and pour beetroot filling into it.
3) Place on the middle rack in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.
4) Allow to cool for five minutes before releasing from tart ring.

I love the shot of rich colour, almost Elizabethan in its saturation. One cannot help but be drawn to it, forgetting the howling gales outside. The butteriness of the pastry rounds out the beetroot's earthiness. I have made this before with spices, such as caraway, but have found that they make the beetroot quite musty...Ginger, on the other hand, lifts the flavour profile entirely. This is a heady tart that provides something different when one is used to the same preparations for root vegetables over the leaner winter months.

I hope that this post convinces those with an aversion, however slight or great, to give beetroot another chance. If you need to be further convinced of the beetroot's versatility, see my friend Pille's blog, nami-nami.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009



This month's Gourmet magazine's focus is on world travel. Consequently, the Gourmet's Cookbook Club feature for May 2009 is similarly themed: Tessa Kiros' Falling Cloudberries, which takes the reader on a culinary journey to Finland, Greece, Cyprus, South Africa and Italy.

The only disappointment that comes from travelling is losing the magic that makes the experience. Sure, there are lovely photos and purchases to aid in recalling the memories, but the atmosphere and scents sometimes remain out of reach. But this can be overcome with cooking at home. Paying attention to ingreidents, methods of cooking, and combinations of textures and flavours as presented on trips abroad can be reworked in the comfort of your home. My angelheart Eric and I often recall such details when we are in the mood to recapture the moment.

When abroad, I usually look out for things that I wouldn't ordinarily eat at home (or, at least, could not find so easily at home). I have not been to any of the countries featured in Tessa Kiros' culinary memoir, so when flipping through its colourful pages, I thought about what I would eat were each of the dishes on a menu. The clincher was practicality, of course. What combination of ingredients sounds intriguing, and what do my angelheart Eric and I have on hand?

Afelia is a Cypriot (and Greek) dish of wine-braised pork shoulder and lightly crushed coriander seeds. I have neither marinated pork exclusively in red wine nor had a dish that calls for such a heavy usage of coriander seeds. Actually, I couldn't quite imagine how they'd taste together, so I just jumped right on in, making a light dinner for two with ingredients that are almost always available (providing one is not hyper-sensitive to Swine Flu fears).

(from Tessa Kiros' Falling Cloudberries)

750g shoulder of pork, cut into 2cm/ 3/4" thick slices (boned, excess fat removed)
1 cup red wine (we used a tempranillo)
2 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds, lightly crushed
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup water

1) Marinade the pork pieces and one tablespoon of coriander seeds in red wine. Cover with clingfile and refrigerate overnight.
2) 15 minutes before cooking, bring pork out, and pat dry. Reserve liquid.
3) Heat oil in pot and fry pork until caramelised (I did this in two batches so as not to steam the pork pieces).
4) Season with salt and pepper.
5) Add garlic and rest of the coriander seeds.
6) When you can smell the garlic, add the marinating liquid, bay leaf, and water.
7) Bring to boil, then cover and reduce to simmer until the pork pieces are tender, approximately 30-40 mintues. You want liquid to become sauce - be sure to add water if most liquid evaporates during the cooking process.

When I first read this receipe, I did wonder how it could be typical of Cypriot cuisine, given that I had previously read of gorgeous dishes with lemon and tomato sauces, mostly bolstered by bay, celery and parsley leaves. The coriander seeds, however, do add a lemony punch to the rich pork, taking it to new, unexpected heights. Without having been there, I have now seen Cyprus through Tessa Kiros' senses.

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