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Archive for November, 2011

Seasonal Faire

Is there a food writer out there that doesn’t urge us to eat ‘seasonal and local’? The universality of the theme in cookbooks and magazines, and on television and radio, make it sound like some sort of foodie trend rather than the natural way of feeding ourselves.

It’s true we did need reminding. Somewhere along the way we lost touch with the natural scheme of things. Seduced by the availability of fresh produce all year round – grapes from California, green beans from Africa – it was easy to eat with no regard to seasonality or country of origin. But I think we’ve got the message.

We get it again in the introduction to Laura Faire’s book Now is the Season, but I like the way she presents it – “not rocket science” – and I like the slightly ironic way she acknowledges herself as “one of a crowd of cooks, gardeners and food writers who have been banging the seasonal drum since the 1970s…”

And then with that out of the way she stops banging on and lets the recipes do the talking. The book is divided into seasons, each one prefaced with a garden calendar because she’s not just a cook she’s also a gardener. She knows what to plant and when to pick it, and because she eats what she grows she’s probably a locavore too. Happily, she’s not a vegetarian; there are some lovely cuts of meat and fish slipped in between the freshly picked greens and bottled fruits.

So I do love this book. But I have to admit, I didn’t expect to. When I first saw Laura Faire’s column in the Sunday Star Times I thought – here we go, another blonde gardener/cook who looks terrific in gumboots. But I’ve been completely won over by her down-to-earth cookbook. It’s beautifully photographed by Kieran Scott who goes close up on the food and the garden. I love the full-page photograph of what I assume to be Faire’s own hands, grubby from the garden with dirt under the nails, opening a pod of broad beans. It’s simple and honest, and it sets the theme for the book.

Each recipe relies on a few fresh tasting ingredients; there’s nothing complicated but there are some lovely combinations. Grapefruit Marmalade Crème Brulée strikes me as a really good idea. I’ll certainly make the Warm Duck and Black Grape Salad; I like the sound of Goat’s Cheese with Lemon and Sage and I’m prepared to try the odd sounding Cauliflower and Cinnamon Soup becasue Faire says it’s her own “emergency dinner party fall-back”.

There are lots of recipes using easy to grow vegetables like kale and jerusalem artichokes, and there are some useful gardening tips, but you don’t need to have a vege plot to use this book. Apart from one or two things like quince and green garlic, the ingredients are readily bought. I only grow a few things myself – tomatoes in the porch and herbs in what was our old sandpit – but I was thrilled to find a couple of recipes for sorrel, which grows like a weed in my patch. I’ve made the sorrel pesto; it’s really tasty and because it’s not cooked it doesn’t lose its bright colour, which is always a problem with sorrel.

I’m embarrassed to say how many cookbooks I own and I’m ashamed to say how little I cook from most of them, but this one is already bristling with little post-it markers, a sure sign I’ll be using it heaps – through summer, autumn, winter and spring.

 

Now is the Season, Laura Faire
Published by New Holland

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Vichyssoise my Whey

I remember my mother serving vichyssoise at dinner parties in the early 70s. The very name made it sound ‘continental’ and the fact it was served cold made it vogueishly different. She used to tell a story about a society hostess she knew in England who ran out of chives on one occasion and in a last minute panic garnished her vichyssoise with grass clippings. Her guests weren’t fooled but they were too polite to say and she thought she’d got away with it. In fact she was the subject of much hilarious gossip for sometime afterwards.

My Vichyssoise

I’d always assumed the soup was invented in Vichy and I imagined high-ranking nazis ordering it in restaurants during the Occupation. Apparently not. According to Wiki it was created in 1917 by Louis Diat the chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York who had fond memories of pouring cold milk into his mother’s hot leek and potato soup. A much better story.

A classic vichyssoise is the easiest soup to make – leeks, potatoes, chicken stock and cream – but my version is somewhat different and calls for an ingredient that’s not at all easy to come by.  I’ve discovered that vichyssoise is a great way to make use of the whey that’s left over from a home cheese-making session. I got the idea from Katherine Mowbray who, during a course I attended, suggested using whey in soups such as leek and potato. Since I only ever make goats’ cheese, I thought I’d try to make a cold soup with goats’ milk whey. It was fantastic and, I think, quite original. The thing about a classic vichyssoise is the way it combines rustic earthiness with chilled sophistication. Substituting goats’ whey adds another dimension. It’s a subtle goatiness that’s elegant, not at all overpowering. I guess you could use cow or sheeps’ milk whey (even buffalo) and you’d get a slightly different result but – as I say – I only make goats’ cheese so other variants are untested.

I know people complain like mad if a recipe’s published and they can’t get the ingredients, so you’re not likely to see this in a magazine but if you do  happen to get hold of some whey, here it is: Vichyssoise my Whey. I’ve also served it in shot glasses with a drop of cream and a snip of chives (never grass) to garnish. And if anyone does make it with whey from another type of milk, I’d love to hear about it.

Vichyssoise au Chèvre

50g butter

3 medium leeks, white part only, sliced thinly

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

1 teaspoon salt

white pepper to taste

1 bay leaf

1.5 litres goats’ milk whey

1 cup water

cream (or sour cream) and chives to garnish

Melt butter in a large pot and sweat leeks over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally to prevent browning. Add potatoes, salt, pepper,  bayleaf, whey and water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until potatoes are soft. Remove from heat. Extract bayleaf then puree soup in a blender.

Serve cold with a splash of cream or a blob of sour cream and a few snippets of chive.

 

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