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Archive for April, 2011

Crackers about Walnuts

Whatever happened to autumn? Here in Wellington the southerly has blasted us headlong into winter. Easter seems a little early to be sitting in front of a fire but the upside to all the inside days we’ve been having is a rediscovered urge to bake. For someone who thinks a cake tin is where people go to watch rugby, it’s noteworthy that I’m on to my third walnut cake in less than a week.

I had forgotten how good this cake is. Dense, moist and delicious with coffee, it’s a regional speciality of the Périgord region of South West France. The recipe was given to me by my French friend Sylvie, who I met when we lived in France a few years’ ago. It’s her grandmother’s recipe and it starts with the instruction to “casse-noix”, break open the walnuts. In an area where everyone has a walnut tree or two, you would never buy nuts in a packet. I’m convinced that’s what makes this cake taste so good.

Here is the original recipe handwrittten by la mère de Sylvie.

And here’s the easy version…

Gâteau aux Noix

200g freshly shelled walnuts

12 walnut halves for decoration

100g unsalted butter

200g caster sugar

4 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 160°C (fan bake). Butter and line the base of a shallow 24cm cake tin.

Chop walnuts very finely in a food processor. Cream butter and sugar together until smooth. Stir in egg yolks and ground walnuts. Whip egg whites until firm (or as the French would say, ‘au bec d’ouiseau’, like a bird’s beak). Gently fold egg whites into cake mixture. Spread evenly into cake tin and bake for 40 – 45 mins or until cooked through. A skewer should come out cleanly.

Cool for 10 mins before turning out of tin. Flip over so cake is the right way up, dust with icing sugar and arrange walnut halves on top.

Serve when cool or just warm with softly whipped cream or, even better, a jug of Biofarm Organic Bush Honey Yoghurt, made by my Tait-Jameison in-laws in Palmerston North.

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Interesting, the fuss over transglutaminase (the food industry enzyme used to stick proteins together). Sue Kedgley’s complaint to the Commerce Commission – that glueing two pieces of meat together and selling it as a single piece is deceptive – has confronted us with the idea that this sort of thing is common practice.

The meat industry begs to differ. Brent Slater, CEO of Beef + Lamb NZ, says transglutaminase is only used to glue top-and-tailed tenderloins together to create consistent sized portions for restaurants. That may be so in the world of beef and lamb,  but a quick google search reveals chicken nuggets, crab sticks and other reconstituted protein foods make use of the enzyme. Presumably it’s all on the label.

From a food safety point of view, it appears to be GRAS (Generally Recognised as Safe) but whether it’s done for portion control or to make something ‘palatable’ out of scraps, it’s an unnatural thing to do to food. And  it’s not just being used by food processors.  Molecular gastronomes have used it to stick chicken skin to fish and make noodles out of shrimps. Or – in a piece from the NY Times – how about sticking a fish back together after it has been boned? (Why would you do that?)

On a lighter note. The news stories about glueing meat together came just as I was cottoning on to the latest trend for meat that’s been pulled apart. In Wellington I’ve had slow-cooked pulled lamb, and just the other night at the Roxy, a bun stuffed with delicious five-spiced pulled-pork. “What’s pulled-pork?”, asked my daughter who later came up with her own version….

Pulled Pork, by Maddie Tait-Jamieson

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Peck of Pickled Pepper

Ronaldo’s Pepper Caviar is a new one on me. Green peppercorns, pickled in brine, have been around for a while – I’m old enough to remember dinner parties where we dressed steaks in a creamy green peppercorn sauce. At the time it was a new take on the old pepper steak where the meat was dredged in so much coarsely crushed black pepper it wouldn’t have mattered what you were eating so long as you had a big jug of water to wash it down.

Ronaldo’s are dry-pickled black peppercorns, grown in Sri Lanka by his friend Pani. Black peppercorns are usually picked under-ripe, naturally fermented then dried in the sun. These ones have been lightly crushed, packed into rock salt then probably aged for some time. In Wellington they are repacked into tiny jars and sold with a cute little spoon.

Ronaldo labels his condiment ‘pepper caviar’ on account of the colour and the saltiness of the soft little corns that don’t so much pop, as crunch pleasantly in your mouth. Not that you’d eat them like caviar, but you get the idea.

Ronaldo says Sri Lankan pepercorns have a 15% higher oil content than those grown elsewhere. I’ve no idea if that’s so but they do have a lovely aromatic flavour that goes well with just about anything. I’ve been dropping them on to late season tomatoes dressed with olive oil and balsamic; they are brilliant with buffalo mozzarella and I’d like to try them with strawberries.

Available at markets and delicatessens or buy direct from Ronaldo. $12.80 for a 20g jar, plus freight. Tel 027 476 7043

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