Wednesday, 8 June 2016

So apparently

So apparently, pregnancy and 'morning' (hollow laugh) sickness put you off food.  

So apparently, babies and toddlers keep you quite busy.

So apparently, all this can happen and suddenly your baby is a beautiful 19 month old boy and you pause to gather breath and realise you haven't written anything in two years.

So apparently, you miss it.  

And maybe, just maybe, life has fallen into a rhythm where writing might be possible again, only this time with a frantic toddler hanging off my legs as we cook and eat.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Gluten-Free Lemon & Ricotta Cake

I went on a course once that was almost cult-like in its attempt to change your life through the power of positive thinking.  We had to practice all sorts of mantras and meditations, visualising our better selves becoming the best possible version we could be.  No limits, we were told.  Dream big.  Whatever you want to, you can do it.  It speaks volumes about the size of my ambition that one of the things I dreamt of having was perfectly manicured nails.  And the thing is, it might be a load of hogwash, but for a couple of months back in 2001, I had awesome nails.  

I tell you this because one other thing I really remember from this course was the idea that if you tidied up for visitors, you were insulting yourself; you should value yourself so highly that your house should be visitor-ready spick and span at all times, just for you.  And while I love the thought of that, I'm assuming I'm not meditating hard enough on having a perfect house because, well, frankly I'd rather be doing plenty of other stuff, nails included, than spend a million hours per week cleaning my skirting boards.  I will always, always be the person who, the night before a visitor, runs round manically with the hoover in one hand and the duster in the other, while with the other hand (still counting?) stir up something welcoming and hopefully delicious in the kitchen.  I definitely assume that distracting someone for long enough means that they won't be bothered about the lack of domestic goddess-ness round here.

This is one such welcoming dish, whipped up in the middle of a cleaning frenzy the night before lovely Ruth came to stay for a couple of nights.  She is gluten free, and so I knew that I had a responsibility not only to spruce up the guest room, but also to make something we could all enjoy.  This is a really lovely cake; the ricotta gives it a creamy tanginess, and serves as the perfect canvas for the sharp, sweet lemon syrup.  This gets better after a day or two, so perfect for making the night before the visitors come, and is sturdy enough to freeze well and to cart about in a lunch box.  

You can even serve it up for breakfast the next day, making you a pretty perfect host all round.  Skirting boards notwithstanding.

Lemon & Ricotta Cake (Gluten Free)

225g butter, softened
225g plus 125g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon natural yoghurt
250g ricotta cheese
150g ground almonds
100g polenta
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 lemon, juice and zest
2 lemons, juice only
100ml water
Blueberries for decoration

Preheat your oven to 170C.  Grease the sides, and grease and  line the bottom, of a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin.

In a large bowl or using a stand mixer, cream the butter and 225g sugar together until they are light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, yoghurt, ricotta, almonds, polenta and baking soda until smooth and everything is combined.

Pour into the tin and bake for 1 - 1.5 hours.  Keep an eye on the top; if it looks like it is browning too much before the cake is fully cooked, cover it with greaseproof paper.  The cake is done when a skewer inserted into it comes out clean with no crumbs.

While the cake is cooking, make the syrup by combining the water, remaining sugar, and lemon juice in a small pan.  Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the texture has turned syrupy.  Remove from the heat, then stir in the zest.

When the cake is cooked, leave it in the tin and pour over three quarters of the syrup.  Leave to cool completely before removing it gently from the tin.  Scatter blueberries over the top, then drizzle with the remaining syrup.

Serve with yoghurt.

Yields 8-10 slices.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Feel The Fear & Do It Anyway - Puff Pastry

I was having a conversation at the weekend about "fake it till you make it". I recently took advice about being assertive from friends whose confidence I admire.  Some of the best advice I was given was to just pretend I was confident when dealing with a particular situation, and the actual confidence would follow hot on its heels.  Now, in real life I don't think I have enough experience of assertiveness, in true people-pleaser style, but the one place I know for sure this works is the kitchen.  Oh yeah, I'll show my utensils who's the boss of them. So, just proving that I do listen to advice, I made puff pastry.

You've all heard them - all the chefs who say don't bother making your own; the frozen stuff is just as good, and I'd nod along in agreement because, well, that's easy isn't it? But I needed to assert myself over SOMETHING, just to prove to myself I could, and so the puff pastry got it. I used Leith's recipe - I figured a cook book from a cooking school wouldn't steer me wrong, and I was right. And here's the thing. It was surprisingly easy. Yes, you heard me - puff pastry was easy. Sure, it took a lot of time, and I don't think I would have been able to pull it off during one of my hungover cooking sessions, but give me a lazy Sunday, no place else to be, and I really enjoyed it. It takes a lot more water than a regular pastry, but this results in a beautifully smooth, soft dough that is a genuine pleasure to work with. And it worked!  The darn thing actually worked.  Once it was done - because I am still not capable of making a decision and sticking to it - I turned it into a hybrid of millefeuille and tarte tatin.

Right, I'm off to take my newfound confidence elsewhere.  I've nothing to fear but fear itself, and other platitudes.  If only platitudes tasted as good as puff pastry.

Caramel Apple Millefeuille

For the puff pastry:
225g plain flour
pinch salt
30g plus 140g unsalted butter
120-150ml iced water

Sift the flour and salt together into a large, roomy bowl.  Rub in the 30g butter, and add enough water to turn it into a soft dough, using only a knife at this stage to bring it together.  On a floured surface, knead briefly until just combined.  Put in a plastic bag and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Flour the surface again and roll the dough into a rectangle that measures about 30 x 10cm.  I have a useful silicone pastry mat that helpfully has measurements up the side, but you would be able to guesstimate it with no damaging outcome.

Take your floured rolling pin, and gently tap the butter into a flat rectangle about 8 x 8cm (it should be narrower than your pastry).

Put the butter on the pastry and fold both ends over to fully enclose it, starting with the third closest to you, then bring the far end over that.  Press the sides together to keep the butter in.  Turn it 90 degrees anti clockwise, so the folded edge is on the left.

Roll it out, lightly and working as quickly as you can without ruining your work, until it is 30 x 10cm again.  Fold it in three again, starting with folding the edge closest to you up,

then bringing the top edge down and over.

Give it a 90 degree turn again and repeat the process.  Now the pastry has had two turns, and it needs to rest, as no doubt do you.  Put it in its bag in the fridge for 30 minutes or so, before repeating this whole process at least twice more, until you can see no more streaks of butter.

To bake it, heat your oven to 220C.  Roll the pastry out one final time until it measures about 20 x 30cm.  Put it on a baking sheet, and prick it all over with a fork.   Bake for 20 minutes, until risen and golden.

When it has cooled, cut it into three even pieces.

For the Caramel Apple Millefeuille:

1 apple
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
0.5 teaspoon cinnamon (I have a hunch that rosemary could be used to good effect here instead of the cinnamon)
200ml cream
1 tablespoon brandy
Icing sugar

Cut the apple into wedges.  Heat a frying pan over a medium heat, and melt the butter.  Gently fry the apple wedges for a few minutes, then sprinkle over the brown sugar, cooking for another few minutes and turning once or twice until the sugar caramelises.  Remove the apple from the pan and leave to cool.

Whip the cream and the brandy together until firm enough to hold its shape.

To assemble, take one of your puff pastry sheets, spread it with half the cream and a third of the apple slices.

 Repeat with the next sheet of puff pastry.  Top with your final piece of pastry, and decorate with the last of the apple slices and dust over some icing sugar.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Suggestibly Yours - Baked Greek Lamb & Orzo Stew

As I'm sure my nearest and dearest, and especially Andy, would tell you, I am incredibly suggestible. Dangerously, flittingly, skittishly so.  And not just about the little things, like which dress to buy or what colour to paint my nails - although definitely about those things too - but sometimes, often, other stuff too.  I'm genuinely embarrassed about just how many of the big decisions in my life have come about because somebody just happens to mention something casually in passing.  I'm not complaining, you understand - my life would be much worse if a friend hadn't spoken to me on the phone one day late in 2005 and mentioned "you should think about going backpacking" - but, at the other end of the scale, my whole misguided attempt at a corporate life started at the moment someone said to me while I was at university "I think you'd be good in Human Resources".  I don't know if it makes a difference that I like and respect the first person; I neither liked nor respected the second, and I suspect it says more about me that I listened to both of them, but the fact of the matter is, other people have affected my life path more than they will ever realise, or I will ever acknowledge.

And obviously, obviously, the same goes for food, too.  Whether that suggestion comes from a non-connected place (when I read A Fine Balance a few months back I cooked my way through the India of my memory as I sobbed my way through that book), or something more tangible like a new cookbook (see my recent obsession with Jerusalem as an example), it's to my cookbooks and to my kitchen I will head, until circumstances and funds let Andy and I head off for more adventures.  So when somebody mentioned to me that there was a Greek Food Festival in Wellington this weekend, there was two places I was heading.  One was to the festival on Hania Street to stuff myself full of Bifteka and Dolmades, the other was to my bookcase.

I've cooked this before, but using a larger leg of lamb which falls apart as it slowly bakes in the tomatoes and gentle spices, reminiscent of so many sunny days.  This time, though, cooking for just the two of us, I used lamb chops, slow cooking them still, and then breaking them up through the pasta at the end.  The orzo is beautifully silky, and makes a real point of difference from rice.  Served with sharp, salty feta crumbled over, this is Mediterranean comfort food and might, just might, stave off the old backpacker's itchy feet for a while.

Baked Greek Lamb & Orzo Stew
Adapted from Tessa Kiros, Food From Many Greek Kitchens

4 large lamb chops

1 lemon
4 tablespoons olive oil
0.5 teaspoon paprika
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 spring onions, roughly chopped
1 tin crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cinnamon stick
Salt and pepper
200g orzo
Feta, to serve.

Preheat your oven to 180C.  Squeeze the juice from the lemon, half the oil, paprika and garlic over the lamb and rub it in well, making sure it's all covered.

In a large, ovenproof pan, pour in rest of the oil, followedd by the lamb.  Add the spring onions, tomatoes, oregano and cinnamon, and sprinkle over some salt.  Put in the oven for 30 minutes.

Add 250ml of hot water (if you had any lamb stock, that would be a good substitution) and cook for an hour.

While this is cooking, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions until it is al dente.  Drain well.

When the hour is up on the lamb, stir the pasta through the sauce with 375ml hot water.  Return to the oven for another 10 minutes, until the pasta is completely reheated and has absorbed most of the sauce.  Using a fork, remove any bones that were in the chops, and gently shred the meat into large chunks.

Serve, with ground pepper and crumbled feta over the top.

Serves 4

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A Random Recipe: Beef & Lamb Meatballs with Broadbeans & Lemon

I made these with a hangover.  It's the one problem with food planning, I find.  Unpredicted hangovers.  At the start of last week I was all, Monday: Pasta Bianco.  Tuesday: Pasta Bianco (oh yeah, I totally give in to my obsessions).  Wednesday: Out for a friend's birthday.  Thursday:  Beef & Lamb Meatballs with Broadbeans & Lemon.

In fact, it should have read blah...obsessive pasta...blah.  Wednesday:  Out for a friend's birthday.  Plus pre-meal drinks.  Plus after-meal drinks.  Plus staying out till 12.30am on a weeknight (you crazy cat).  Thursday:  YOU WILL WANT TO SLAM YOUR HEAD IN THE DOOR TO TAKE AWAY THE PAIN OF A HANGOVER. WHY IS EVERYONE SHOUTING?

But - and here's the really fun bit - I'd already taken the minced beef out of the freezer, meaning I had to use it that night, or lose it forever.  And as much as the thought of having to stand upright for as long as it took to make these was pure pain, so was the thought of not eating at all that night - remember, feed a hangover - or throwing good money after bad and not using up the beef.

So.  I made these, hungover and no doubt somewhat delirious.  They took a smidge longer than I daresay they would have done if I were in the prime of health, and they had a few more steps than were ideal in my delicate state but, still easy enough to do and, as always with Ottolenghi, his spices were bright and unusual enough for me to sit up and take notice.  And, please somebody pass me a medal, I even double-podded broad beans.  Heroic, undoubtedly, but also very worth it to get the contrast between the two kinds of beans.  It fed my hangover perfectly - the meatballs were substantial enough that it was just the right level of dense protein hit needed for a hangover, and the broad beans and lemon nudged any vitamin buttons I felt I was missing that day.

This is my entry into this month's Random Recipe challenge, hosted by Dom at Belleau Kitchen.  It came from my Christmas present from my lovely and generous inlaws, a book I've mentioned my love of already, Ottolenghi's Jerusalem.  I've also noticed it's my second Ottolenghi meatball recipe, but that's the joy of a truly random recipe.  Will it replace those lost brain cells?  No.  Will I make it again?  For sure.  Will I get hungover on a weekday again?  Who am I kidding?  Luckily I've now got some of these in the freezer for next time.

Beef & Lamb Meatballs with Broadbeans and Lemon
Adapted from Ottolenghi, Jerusalem

For the meatballs:
300g minced beef
150g minced lamb
1 onion, finely chopped
120g breadcrumbs
Handful each fresh parsley, coriander, mint, dill, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon baharat spice mix (shop bought is fine; I used a bargain buy I'd got a few months ago called 'Persian Spice Mix' which had mostly the same ingredients in - otherwise, look at those ingredients and DIY)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons capers, chopped
1 egg, beaten

For the sauce:
4.5 tablespoons olive oil
350g broad beans, fresh or frozen
4 thyme sprigs
6 cloves garlic, sliced
8 spring onions, cut into 2cm slices
2.5 tablespoons lemon juice
500ml chicken stock
salt and pepper

For the meatballs, put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.  Form into 20 balls, each about the size of a ping pong ball.  This is easier if you divide the mix in half, and then into half again, and aim to get five balls out of each section.

In a pan large enough to later take all the meatballs, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil.  In two batches, fry the meatballs so they are browned on the outside, a few minutes for each batch.  Remove from the pan.

While they are cooking, blanch the broad beans in boiling salted water for 2 minutes.  Drain and let them sit under the cold tap for a minute, to cool them down.  Double pod about half of them, by pressing gently on each one until the skin splits and removing the bright green beans from inside.  Discard the empty skins.

In the meatball pan, heat the remaining oil.  Add the thyme, garlic, spring onions and fry gently, stirring all the time, for a few minutes.  Add the unshelled broad beans, 1.5 tablespoons of lemon juice, and just enough stock to cover the beans.  Cover the pan with either a lid or with a double thickness of tinfoil, and cook gently for 10 minutes.  Return the meatballs to the pan, stir gently, then add the remaining stock.  Cover the pan again and cook for 25 minutes, when the meatballs should be hot all the way through.

Just before serving, add the remaining lemon juice and shelled broad beans.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Some Like It Hot - Pilpelchuma

To my recollection, there has been only one dish I have eaten that was so spicy it overwhelmed me.  It was a Som Tam salad, and I ate it at a Thai food stall in Kuala Lumpur.  I was weeping, Andy was mopping my brow and the owner of the stall brought me over some watermelon to cool down.  Alas, on that day in the case of Suze versus food, food won.  But (and this is the crucial bit), such is my obsessive relationship with chillies and spicy food, the second, the very second I woke up the next day, I wanted to go back and eat it all over again.

I always find it one of the peculiarities of life in New Zealand that properly hot food is quite hard to find.  Argentina was the same actually, and we ate at was, at that time, the only Indian restaurant in Buenos Aires  so often that we were recognised as regulars, and the Gosht Saagwala would appear at our table as soon as we sat down.  It's also quite odd to me that when you order at an Indian restaurant here, you're often offered the choice of three heats:  Kiwi hot (mild), Indian hot (medium), and English hot (supposedly hot, although us two chilli addicts never find it that hot) - when surely it should be served at the heat the recipe calls for?

So I always like to have some kind of hot sauce hanging round at home to add instant oomph to dishes that need spicing up.  I discovered this as part of the Ottolenghi carrot salad, and happily, there is now a jar of this intense, thick with garlic and chilli paste sitting in my fridge, just waiting to be added to some scrambled eggs, or rubbed over the skin of a roast chicken, or tossed through vegetables before roasting, or bringing new life to sorry leftovers.  This is very much an adaptation; I had to go with the quantities of spices I had in.  I can't vouch for it's authenticity, but I can vouch for it's spiciness, and that makes this chilli addict very happy indeed.

Adapted from Ottolenghi, 'Jerusalem'

10 dried Guntur chillies
12g ground cayenne pepper
12g paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
0.5 tablespoon caraway seeds
20 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
75ml olive oil, plus a little extra for preserving

Boil the kettle.  Put the chillies in a bowl and cover them with boiling water, then leave them for half an hour.  Meanwhile, pour some boiling water into a clean jar, to sterilise it.  Pour it out after 10 minutes, then leave to dry naturally, and be sure not to put your fingers inside the jar.

In a large, dry, nonstick frying pan, spread the cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin and caraway seeds.  Toast them over a medium heat for a minute or two.  Let your nose guide you: when you get a lovely waft of toasting spices, they are done.  Put them into a small food processor bowl along with the garlic cloves and salt.

Drain and deseed the chillies, then put them in the processor with the spices.  Pulse a few times until everything is well mixed, then, with the motor running, pour in your olive oil until it all comes together in a thick paste.

Spoon into your jar, and cover with a thin layer of olive oil.

This will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.  Doubtful it will last that long, though.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Super Spicy Carrot Salad

It's a shame, really, that Wellington doesn't get much of a look-in with the tourists that ply New Zealand.  Time and time again, when we speak to visitors, we hear the refrain of "Auckland-Rotorua-Taupo-Wellington just for one night before we get the ferry - everywhere on the South Island".  No matter how many times Lonely Planet calls it "the coolest little capital in the world", no matter how often the guidebooks say it punches well above its weight, size wise, and no matter how much the locals shout loud about what a very interesting, friendly city it is to live in, those tourists just keep ploughing southwards.

And we do have lots, actually, to offer.  Not only the obvious stuff like Te Papa (been here 4 years and I still haven't worked my way round the whole thing) and The Weta Cave (those clever people who have worked on a couple of little local films), but how about taking a day and mooching along the Writers' Walk, or drive around the 30km of coastline that's right here in the central city, stopping off at Maranui Cafe for lunch then on to see the seals at Red Rocks?

Most of all though, at this time of year, you should check out Wellington Summer City.  There's, like, a million things going on, most of them for free and out of the goodness of the council's hearts.  The best ones are the concerts and the films.  Already this year we've been to an Ohmygodtherearesomanypeoplehere Beatles tribute band in the Botanic Gardens, but the one that has got everyone pretty excited is The Princess Bride showing.  Yes, all my friends and I are of a certain age.  What of it? 

At these events, it's up to you what you take with you, and you see all combos from the sleeping bag and a 6 pack of beer, to deck chairs and smoked salmon.  For us, I tend to go somewhere in the middle, with blanket and cushions (never forget the cushions, especially if you are at the same certain age as us), a bottle of our finest champagne (coughLindauercough), crisps, ostensibly for Andy although I will eat them and whinge about them being Salt & Vinegar, dips, and something delicious and homemade.

And this, people, this will be gracing my picnic blanket at every event from now on.  I'm utterly addicted.  It started off by daydreaming about those lovely carrot salads you get in France - do you remember those, doused in oil and lemon and parsely?  Divine - and ended up with me spying a riff on this in my new Ottolenghi book, Jerusalem, a Christmas gift from my lovely in-laws.  It has those lovely sweet, fresh flavours you get in the French carrots, but with a knockout spicy punch of flavours that come from the spice paste.  I dressed it with parsley, rather than the suggested rocket, at the end, because I had lots of it (seriously, it grows like a weed here), and I personally think that parsley is an even better fit for carrots than coriander is - I'd love to see Carrot & Parsley soup on a menu. 

And yes, I know, I know, it includes a paste that you have to make in advance.  Don't hate me.  BUT you can use shop-bought harissa, AND believe me, you want to make this paste, AND I will give you the recipe next time.  I just wanted you to really want it.

Come to Wellington, and you can share a bit of mine.  I'll even give you some of Andy's crisps to go with.

Spicy Carrot Salad

Spicy Carrot Salad
Adapted from Ottolenghi, Jerusalem

6 large carrots, peeled
1 onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Pilpelchuma paste (recipe next time) or 2 tablespoons harissa paste
0.5 teaspoon ground cumin
0.5 teaspoon caraway seeds
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
0.5 teaspoon sugar
small handful flat leaf parsley, chopped

In a large pan, cover the carrots with cold water and bring to the boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until they are just tender, 15-20 minutes.  Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, heat half the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.  Add the onion, and fry until golden brown.

Cut the carrots into slices about the thickness of a coin (pound or dollar; take your pick).

Put the carrots and onions into a mixing bowl with the rest of the oil, the spice paste, cumin, caraway seeds, vinegar, sugar and plenty of salt.  Mix well until everything is evenly coated.

Now, leave it.  Walk away.  Give the flavours at least half an hour, just to give them a chance to mingle.

When you're ready to serve, dish it up on to a platter or tupperware box, scatter your parsley over, and get ready for your tastebuds to be blown away.  As you wish.  And if you got that reference, welcome to the Of A Certain Age club.

Serves 4