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Archive for the ‘Recipe’ Category

Searching for Samphire

I first came across marsh samphire in France on the Île de Ré where it grows alongside the island’s famous salt pans.  The French call it salicorne, they pickle it in vinegar and use as a garnish for cold meats and terrines in much the same way as cornichons, the little baby gherkins.

I had no idea it also grew in New Zealand until chef Anthony North brought some to the City Market in Wellington. He had a bag of it under the counter – not for sale but to give away to like minded foragers and foodies. I’ve written about Anthony in NZ Life & Leisure (Mar/Apr 2013). He was at the forefront of the English foraging scene and has since discovered many of the same plants growing in his new hunting grounds in the Wairarapa. For the purposes of my story he took me to his favourite foraging places including the sea shore at Lake Ferry where we picked sea spinach and samphire. Last week I revisited the same spot with my husband Dan and our dog, confident we would collect enough of the salty-tasting plant to pickle a jar or two.

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Samphire. Pick only the tips so the plant will flower and seed for the following year.

Dan reckoned he’d seen samphire growing on the shoreline much closer to home in Wellington. He said we really didn’t need to make an expedition of it but I much preferred the idea of foraging on the wind-blasted Wairarapa coast. And so we drove for miles to Lake Ferry, parked up on the gravel, searched the shoreline for a good hour and, unbelievably, found not a skerrick. I was quite sure we were in the right place and we were certainly in the right season but there was no samphire to be found. Maybe it was because the ground was so dry, or maybe the cattle had eaten it all. I wouldn’t have thought cattle had a taste for samphire but then they do like licking salt blocks and we did find plenty of cow pats dotted around.

The dog had the time of his life but we were windswept and grumpy so we retired to the Lake Ferry Hotel for a beer and a basket of  fish and chips. On the way home Dan insisted we pull over on the shoreline at Petone. And there we found it – drifts of bright green samphire growing between the rocks at this unremarkable layby in Petone. Dan’s a good man. He resisted the urge to say ‘I told you so’, didn’t mention the tank of petrol we’d wasted, and patiently set to picking a bag of samphire for pickling.

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Samphire on the Petone foreshore

Once found, samphire is unnmistakeable in appearance and flavour. It is a tiny little plant and it grows into a mass of succulent branches that break off at the nodes and taste like salty asparagus.  You don’t need to pickle it; it can be simmered for 3 minutes then refreshed in ice cold water so it keeps its colour and crunch. Cooked like this it makes a tasty addition to mixed green or grain salads. It works well with seafood – try it with cockles and spaghetti or pan-fried fish and a beurre blanc sauce. I’m pickling mine so I can serve it atop some raw oysters for Christmas. Here’s the recipe:

Pickled Samphire

This quantity makes enough for a small preserving jar (as pictured)

120g samphire

1 ½ cups white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

10 peppercorns

¼ teaspoon mustard seeds

2 bayleaves

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Pickled Samphire

Wash the samphire in plenty of fresh water then blanch it in boiling water for about 1 minute. Drain and refresh in ice cold water and set aside.

Heat vinegar and sugar in a small pot over medium heat and stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Add peppercorns, mustard seeds and bayleaves. Continue on the heat for another minute and then allow to cool down completely.

Pack the samphire into a sterilised jar and pour over the pickling liquid until it is close to the top of the jar. Seal the jar and keep for 3 weeks in a cool dark place before opening. Once opened keep in the fridge.

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A couple of weeks ago I received a box full of Fairtrade and Trade Aid food products as part of the Big Fair Bake campaign. I was surprised at the range of ingredients, given that it wasn’t so long ago that Fairtrade was limited to coffee, chocolate and bananas. My box contained Palestinian almonds, Medjoul dates (the best kind), cocoa, chocolate, coconut milk, raw sugar, bananas and cinnamon. My mission was to bake something that included some of those ingredients.

Fairtrade Florentines

Fairtrade Florentines

I decided to experiment with Florentines, partly because I’d never made them before and also because I wanted to make use of the dates, chocolate and almonds I’d received. I spent a morning devising a recipe and discovered that these delicious Italian biscuits deserve their reputation for trickiness. Florentines should spread themselves thinly; they should be chewy in the middle with lacy edges that are crisp to the bite. My first batch resembled flat rock cakes with too many nuts and not enough fruit, so I cut back on the flour, reduced the almonds and added more candied orange peel. This second batch was really good – my family scoffed the lot before I could get them into the tin. Just as well – Florentines should be eaten fresh before they lose their crunch.

My recipe is on the blogger page of The Big Fair Bake website, click here. I recommend making your own candied orange peel; it’s not difficult and it tastes so much fresher than those packets of mixed peel that gather dust in the back of the pantry. I’ve included the instructions with the recipe and I’ve also explained how to blanch and skin the whole almonds. You could, of course, buy them already skinned and slivered but then they wouldn’t be Fairtrade and that would defeat the whole purpose of the bake off. I think as consumers we should make the ethical choice and buy fairtrade ingredients where we can. By doing so we return a larger profit to the farmers who generally get paid less than anyone else in the value chain. It’s the least we can do.

Visit the Fairtrade Facebook page to win prizes in the Fair Bake competition.

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Each year as Christmas approaches I wonder why we do this to ourselves: why ramp up the stress levels by trying to meet the massive expectations of the season? As if work deadlines, Christmas shopping and holiday plans weren’t enough to create a perfect storm of activity, I find myself throwing out casual invitations like confetti, energised by the idea of all those end-of-year catchups and then panicking at the thought of spending more time in the kitchen.

T5cover This year, I’ve been saved by a clever collection of recipes published by Wellington food writer and former restaurateur Margôt de Cotesworth, a woman who clearly loves entertaining. Her book Take 5 and Cook: The Dinner Book is guided by the principle that stylish dishes can be created with the minimum of effort and just five ingredients. This isn’t a new idea but Margôt manages to reduce each recipe to the basics without losing the integrity of the dish. She is also a master of taste, using simple combinations to provide maximum flavour without the addition of a myriad herbs and spices. Lamb kebabs are qiuite simply marinated in ouzo, lemon zest, olive oil and oregano, then chargrilled and served with a sprinklng of salt. Pedantic readers will have counted six ingredients but salt, pepper and a splash of olive oil are the only allowable extras in this entire collection of 120 seasonal recipes.

Some are Margôt’s own family favourites. Her brother’s crisp apple tart and her mother’s fish chowder can be whipped up in a jiffy for a family meal. Others are classics and some are café staples. There are recipes for European favourites – ricotta gnocchi, tartiflette and gazpacho – and while they are certainly pared down to the bare essentials, dishes such as Not a Paella and Nearly a Tiramisu are close enough for my purposes.

I’ve tested several dishes and while I always find it hard to follow a recipe I’ve mostly resisted the urge to throw in extra ingredients. I can recommend the Anchovy and Almond Sauce as an excellent accompaniment to fish or venison and I’ve enjoyed serving Pineapple with White Balsamic Dressing, but the dish that’s saved my sanity on three occasions already is Margôt’s quick-to-whip-up-but-deliciously-decadent Chocolate Silk Tart. Like all the recipes in her book the five ingredients must be top quality. I use a dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao and I’ve found it best to use caster sugar because it melts faster. Quantities fit a loose-base 22 cm tart tin.

Margôt's Chocolate Silk Tart

Margôt’s Chocolate Silk Tart

 

Chocolate Silk Tart

2 cups biscuit crumbs

185g butter

150g dark chocolate

½ cup sugar

3 eggs

Stir the biscuit crumbs into 60g of melted butter. Press into a well-buttered dish and chill. Melt the chocolate, sugar and remaining 125g butter, stirring over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Cool.

Beat the eggs and gradually pour in the chocolate mixture. continue beating until well combined. Pour into the crust and chill.

Serve with whipped cream, if you like.

Take 5 and Cook – The Dinner Book, Margôt de Cotesworth. RRP $49.90 at selected book and food stores and online

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Better Butter Biscuits

A couple of days ago a box of butter arrived on my doorstep from my dairy farmer in-laws Cathy and Jamie Tait-Jamieson. Cathy and Jamie have a micro dairy factory on their farm where they produce Biofarm yoghurt with milk from their own cows. They are also one of a number of organic farmers whose cream goes into the making of Organic Times butter.

_1TJ6587 The delivery of several kilos of the stuff was a not too subtle reminder that I had promised to come up with a recipe to promote said butter.  I love butter, and I particularly like this butter – it’s organic, fresh tasting, creamy and not too heavily salted. I will happily put it in everything I cook but my brief was to provide a single recipe in which butter was the hero ingredient.

I considered beurre blanc and then butterscotch but finally settled on shortbread. In it’s simplest form, shortbread is 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter and 1 part sugar. There are variations – substituting a bit of rice flour makes the biscuit crisper, cornflour gives it a softer melting texture, and then you can add, chocolate chips, vanilla, lemon, whatever – but a good shortbread biscuit is entirely dependent on the quality of the butter. It’s the difference between shop bought and homemade. So I spent this weekend baking and came up with the following recipe which delivers a melt-in-the mouth biscuit with just enough orange zest to add interest without taking attention away from the butter.

Orange Butter Biscuits

Orange Butter Biscuits

Orange Butter Biscuits

I’ve used unsalted butter and added a small amount of salt to the recipe. This might seem to defeat the purpose but some butters are more salty than others and this way gives more control.

175g good unsalted butter, softened but not melted

85g caster sugar

fine zest of one orange (a microplane gives the best result)

200g plain flour

50g cornflour

¼ teaspoon salt

caster sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 150°C

Line 1 large or 2 small baking trays with baking paper.

Beat butter and sugar together until smooth and creamy. Beat in orange zest. Sift together plain flour, cornflour and salt. Add to butter mixture and combine gently using hands. Form into a disc shape and roll out to 1 cm thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut out circles or other shapes. Place on baking sheet, prick with a fork and chill in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes before baking (this helps them keep their shape). Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until lightly coloured. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before sprinkling with caster sugar. Transfer to a rack. When cold store in an airtight tin.

Makes 24 if using a 5cm diameter cutter

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Crazy Fish

_1TJ6448I love this fish. I found it at the City Market in Rachel Taulelei’s fish chiller. Her company Yellow Brick Road has a reputation for great tasting seafood: live oysters, whole flounder, line-caught snapper, all beautifully fresh. The day’s catch was laid out on ice – surf clams, whole terakihi, said fish and a row of pearly white fillets. I had been thinking snapper for lunch but this crazy looking fish stole the show in the cabinet. No contest. I thought it was gorgeous and I had to find out if it tasted as good as it looked.

Rachel told me it was a Japanese gurnard – a type not often seen in fish shops – and she very kindly gave it to me. I took it home and had a hell of a job filleting it. Its skin was almost impenetrable, its head armour-plated and the spines on its back (lying  flat in my photo) were  dangerously sharp. But the flesh – once I’d got to it – was beautifully textured. It was silky but firm and whiter than the common gurnard I’m used to.

When it comes to cooking fish, I’m a purist. A delicate white fish like gurnard needs very little flavouring. I panfried the fillets in butter and made a beurre blanc sauce – part of the classic repertoire I’ve been practicing at Le Cordon Bleu in Wellington (more of that later).

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It was excellent. As Al Brown would say, it ate very well. So keep an eye out for this fish, you can’t miss it.

 

Gurnard Fillets with Beurre Blanc

 

2 serving size fillets of gurnard (or similar white fish)

flour to dust and salt to season

neutral oil to fry

squeeze of lemon

scattering of chopped parsley

 

1 shallot, very finely diced

½ cup white wine

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

6 peppercorns

1 bay leaf

150g butter in cubes

2 tablespoons cream

salt to taste

pinch of cayenne (optional)

 

Place diced shallot, wine, vinegar, peppercorns and bayleaf in a small saucepan over medium heat and reduce to about 3 tablespoons. Strain off solids and pour liquid back into saucepan. Place back on heat and whisk in cream then butter, one cube at a time, until you have a slightly thickened sauce. Add salt to taste and a pinch of cayenne. Remove from heat but keep warm.

Season fillets with salt then dust in a little flour. Heat oil in frypan and fry on both sides until flesh is just cooked through. Squeeze lemon juice over the top of each fillet and serve on warm plates with sauce and a scattering of parsley.

Serves 2

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Why is it that when you give a group of men a job to do, it turns into a competition? It’s a universal truth and it’s well-documented in this photo of three New Zealand journalists intent on making the best dim sum dumpling at a Peninsula Hotel cooking class in Shanghai.

Journalists Simon Wilson, Duncan Gillies and Glen Scanlon hard at work.

I warned my three travelling companions that I would ‘out’ them on my blog. Their colleagues at Metro, NZ Herald and Stuff News will be pleased to see how seriously they took every part of this week long all-expenses paid, 5-star-luxury media trip to Shanghai.

Note the concentration with which they are willing their dumplings into shape. It really was that intense and I was happy to count myself out of the race. (Having been taught how to do this on a previous trip to China, I could afford to be smug about my own attempt.)

Stuffing dumplings under the watchful eye of chef Lai Wing

The winning dumpling was made by the high achieving editor of Metro, Simon Wilson. It was a group vote; he would have been impossible to travel with had he lost. Besides, Duncan didn’t need anyone else to tell him that his dumpling was the best one really and Glen had already won his race (and a tidy sum) on the horses in Hong Kong.

Not-so-perfect-looking dumplings

As a woman and a mother, I’m bound to say their messy looking dumplings were all ‘very special’. They did taste pretty good, largely due to Peninsula Chef Lai Wing who had prepared all the components beforehand. His recipe is published below.

I’ll be writing more about dumplings and other things Shanghai in the September issue of NZ Life & Leisure.

 

Shrimp Dumplings

The crucial ingredient here is the dough. Chef Lai Wing used a 50/50 blend of two types of flour. He didn’t speak English so I’m not absolutely sure about this but we worked out he was using rice flour and cornflour. I haven’t tested this recipe; try it at your own risk and let me know how it works.

Filling

500g shrimp meat

75g bamboo shoots, shredded

1 tsp salt

½ tsp chicken stock powder

20g sugar

90g vegetable oil

Dough

75g rice flour

75g cornflour

1 tablespoon oil

boiling water

Mix all filling ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. Mix flours together then add oil and enough boiling water to make a smooth dough. Use 10g pieces of dough (about 1 teaspoon) and form them into very thin discs. This was done with the flat side of a large cleaver – press down hard with the heel of your hand and turn a circle, first clockwise and then anti-clockwise. Put a little filling in each and seal at top to make a half moon. Pinch and pleat the sealed edge together to make a classic purse shape. Place dumplings in steam baskets and steam for 5 minutes until cooked.

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One of the best things about a New Zealand summer is the sudden influx of travellers from other parts of the world. I like meeting people who have come all this way to discover New Zealand, and it’s great to catch up with friends who come ‘home’ for a kiwi Christmas.  I love the enthusiasm with which they slip back into their jandals and reconnect with the things that make a New Zealand summer – fishing, camping, crayfish sandwiches, burnt chops and all.

Swedish Chef, Fia Gulliksson

A few weeks ago, while holidaying in The Marlborough Sounds, I met up with honorary kiwi Fia Gulliksson, a Swedish chef who used to live and work in Wellington. She’d come back with her family for a friend’s wedding. We got talking and, in line with the 2 degrees of separation that connects kiwis everywhere, we realised we’d met before, years ago when I’d delivered fresh pasta to her and Steve Logan at his restaurant, Brer Fox. The Thorndon restaurant is now Le Canard, the restaurant in which I have a half share.

Fia, it turns out, has become a food celeb in her own country.  She owns a tea blending company with her partner Martin and is well known for the booked-out dinner events which she hosts in her gorgeous lakeside boat shed. She also presents a food programme on Sweden’s national radio station. While in New Zealand she was filing interviews with producers and chefs for a kiwi-themed programme which I figured was going to demand a great deal of voiceover translation.

Scandinavia, once thought to offer little but root vegetables, pickled fish and reindeer, has, thanks to chefs and culinary entrereneurs like René Redzepi and Claus Meyer of Noma restaurant, reinvented a culinary culture that blends local ingredients with equal parts of tradition and innovation. The New Nordic Cuisine, as presented in its own manifesto, has a similar philosophy to Italy’s Slow Food movement. It supports a local artisan culture and it makes good use of plants and berries that are sometimes foraged from the wild and often presented in surprising ways.

In the Marlborough Sounds, Fia prepared cavalo nero leaves from my friend Jen Scott’s garden. They were roasted in oil and sprinkled with salt and toasted sesame seeds. We ate them as a crispy snack with pre-dinner drinks but they would also make a delicious garnish. Back home in Sweden, Fia crisps up other types of brassica leaves and sometimes seaweed. If I ever get round to finishing my collection of Marlborough Sounds recipes, this will be in it.

Roasted Cavalo Nero

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