Last Christmas…

Last week I wrote a ‘best of times, worst of times’ kind of essay on Christmas food (and much more besides) for Your Weekend magazine. I ran out of room to include this section, which looks back at last Christmas. How can it be a year ago?

Coconut Eton Mess with berries and pomegranate molasses

Christmas Day 2016, Wellington

My brother stands in the kitchen, taking the cork out of a bottle of champagne. My sister puts on her glasses to read a recipe on her phone. My husband rinses grit off a pound of West Coast whitebait while my nephew patiently teaches my daughter how to play Old Maid. My brother-in-law explains a complex psychological theory to me while I wrangle two kilos of pork loin into a roasting dish. I have been looking forward to this for months – Christmas under my own roof, with visitors from far away. Not even the discovery that our ancient car was stolen overnight bothers me. I have taken the advice of the kind woman on the insurance helpline who told me at 8am that “there’s nothing we can do about it today, just enjoy Christmas”.

Weeks earlier, I had not felt so good. I had just started a new job and was more unsettled by the Kaikoura earthquake than I wanted to admit. I needed a distraction and the Christmas menu fitted the bill perfectly.  I send emails to my siblings; my brother responds with a link to a Fanny Craddock clip on YouTube. My sister directs me to a Nigella Lawson recipe. I show my husband a photo. “Excellent choice,” he says. “But we’re having a ham too, right? And whitebait?”

In the end we have all of these things, plus new potatoes dug out of the garden on Christmas Eve. My brother makes a kind of Eton Mess with coconut yoghurt, cranberry-studded meringues and swirls of pomegranate molasses. My daughter makes us pose for family portraits with the hideous robotic toys she has been sent for Christmas. We laugh so much the neighbours must think we are mad. We want for nothing.

Later that night I crawl into bed, thinking about the person who stole our car. They broke into our neighbour’s car too, stealing his five-year-old’s brand new bike. I don’t care so much about our car, but I hope the bike has made someone happy.

 

Wherever you are this Christmas, I hope you have a happy and safe one with people you love.

A mea culpa (& a white chocolate tiramisu)

This is a story I may have told before, but bear with me. Once upon a time, when I worked at a regional newspaper, a very, very angry reader drove all the way out to the office with a plate of biscuits he’d made. This wasn’t a gesture of generosity, but of rage. He’d made the biscuits to a recipe that was published in the newspaper and he was disappointed by the results. He complained that they were inedible and that we must have left the sugar out by accident. I apologised profusely and said I’d check the recipe with its author.

When I did, she was bemused. “No,” she said, “there’s no mistake. They’re just not very sweet biscuits.”

This is NOT a tiramisu – it’s the raspberry and lemon posset that appears alongside it in the original publication. We ate the test tiramisu too fast to photograph it (it’s that good!)

This was no comfort to the angry man, who was nearing apoplexy. After he calmed down a bit he revealed that he’d made the biscuits for the nurses who were looking after his ill wife in hospital. These nurses had then complained that they weren’t very nice (I know!). So really, it wasn’t about the biscuits at all. In the end we parted on good terms and the rest of the newsroom got some unexpected morning tea. He was right, the biscuits weren’t that nice, but they were made to the exact recipe.

I’m bringing this up now because this week I made a mistake in a recipe printed in The Dominion Post, the Waikato Times and The Press. I left an instruction out and this has made some readers very cross. I picked it up quick enough for it to be amended online, but once a runaway horse has bolted the print stable it’s very hard to get it back.

So, if you are looking at my recipe for Black Doris plum and white chocolate tiramisu and thinking, ‘where does the melted chocolate go?’, I’m sorry. The full recipe is below – with the missing instruction in bold. I wish I could say that there was a good reason for the error but the truth is, I’m only human. I will be more careful next time. Thank you to the people who have gotten in touch (even the ones who sent some rather cross emails) – I hope the mistake doesn’t put you off making the tiramisu because it really is delectable.

BLACK DORIS PLUM AND WHITE CHOCOLATE TIRAMISU
Serves 6-8
Preparation time: 30 minutes (plus 6-12 hours’ chilling time)
Cooking time: nil
A classic tiramisu is a heady confection of coffee and dark chocolate – delicious, but a recipe for a terrible night’s sleep. This fruity version is slightly lighter but no less delectable. To make it alcohol-free, use extra syrup from the plums as the liquid. Look for the Italian sponge fingers, also known as savoiardi, in the “international foods” section of the supermarket, or try a Mediterranean foods store.
1 x 825g tin black doris plums in syrup
200g white chocolate
4 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
250g mascarpone
5 tablespoons limoncello
16-20 Italian sponge fingers
Set a sieve over a bowl. Pour in the plums and leave to drain for a few minutes. Reserve the syrup. Remove all the stones from the plums. Mash them slightly with a fork and set aside.
Break up 150g of the chocolate and put in a small bowl that will fit snugly into the top of a small saucepan. Put about three centimetres of water in the saucepan and set over medium heat. Don’t let the water boil. As soon as the chocolate has melted, remove it from the heat (being careful not to get any water in the chocolate). Set aside.
Put the egg yolks, caster sugar and lemon zest in a bowl. Whip until pale, thick and mousse-y (using electric beaters is easiest). Fold in the mascarpone and the melted white chocolate.
Wash and dry the beaters, ensuring there is no egg yolk mixture left on them. Put the egg whites in a separate bowl and whip until they form stiff peaks. Fold them very gently into the egg yolk mixture.
Pour the limoncello and five tablespoons of the reserved plum syrup into a shallow dish. Dip about eight to 10 sponge fingers into this liquid, then fit them into the bottom of a glass bowl (the sort that your mum makes trifle in).
Pour half the egg and mascarpone mixture on top, followed by half of the plums. Dip the remaining sponge fingers into the liquid and arrange neatly on top of the plums. Spread the remainder of the plums on top, followed by the remaining egg mixture.
Roughly chop the remaining 50g white chocolate and sprinkle over the top. Cover tightly and chill for at least six hours (preferably overnight) before serving.

strawberry fools forever

Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that you “can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”. However, one thing that old Abe didn’t know (and possibly didn’t even consider due to other things on his mind) is that you can feed a fool to all of the people, all of the time and they won’t mind a bit.
 
A fool is a classic English pudding, usually made by folding poached fruit through whipped cream or custard. Here I’ve used perfectly ripe strawberries with a tiny sprinkle of orange zest, with a mixture of yoghurt and cream. The yoghurt adds a refreshing tartness (and also means you can justify eating it for breakfast). It’s also very cool with a crisp, thin biscuit on the side for dipping. When you make this it’s best to allow two punnets of strawberries because some will inevitably disappear in the preparation process. The almonds listed in the ingredients also disappeared in the photographing of these examples. Small helpers are so useful, aren’t they?

Strawberry and almond fools

 1-2 punnets strawberries, hulled and diced
1 Tbsp icing sugar
finely grated zest of one orange
1/3 cup cream
1/2 cup yoghurt (I like The Collective Straight Up Culinary Yoghurt)
1/3 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped
Put most of the strawberries, icing sugar and orange zest in a bowl. Mash together until the strawberries are pulpy but not completely smooth. Whip the cream until it just reaches soft peaks and add to the strawberries with the yoghurt. Fold together gently – the mixture will be streaky – and divide between four small bowls or glasses. Top with the remaining strawberries and the roasted almonds. Serve immediately.
 Need more strawberry inspiration? Here are today’s new crop of Three Ways With… recipes, plus a bunch of strawberry recipes from 2015 that I’d forgotten all about. Time flies, eh?

sweet cheeses

Since October is National Cheese Month in New Zealand, today’s Three Ways With… column is dedicated to blue cheese. Well, I had to choose one, and if you can’t choose your favourite in these circumstances, when can you? Here’s my Kikorangi pannacotta in all its lovely wobbly glory.

If the thought of a blue cheese pudding freaks you out, here’s the equally lovely (but much less wobbly) cauliflower and blue cheese soup that features in the same column…

If you like blue cheeses but lack the time or will to do anything with them beyond sticking slices on a cracker, try this handy tip I picked up from a maple syrup seller at the Food Show. Simply cut a generous wedge of blue cheese (my all-time favourite, after discovering it at the Outstanding Food Producer Awards earlier this year, is Whitestone’s Aged Windsor Blue) and balance it on an oatcake or very gritty-textured cracker before drizzling it with the best maple syrup you can find (don’t try this with anything that pretends to be maple-flavoured). Repeat as necessary.

Lastly, if your cheese tastes tend to the plain and simple (or you are unexpectedly required to come up with some snacks for small children), here’s a handy cheese hack. Spread a sheet of shortcrust pastry with Marmite and top with grated cheddar before baking in a very hot oven for 10 minutes. The kids will love it, but they’ll have to be quick because any nearby adults will hoover it up as soon as it hits the table.

Made any excellent cheese discoveries lately? Let me know…

Shoe polish on toast & The Little Library Cookbook

“Angela lifted the toast on to the table. “I got Antoinette to make anchovy toast for us,” she said. “It looks good, doesn’t it? Take a slice, Anne-Marie.”

Anne-Marie took the top slice. It seemed to have rather a peculiar smell. Anne-Marie looked rather doubtfully at it.

“It’s all right,” said Alison, seeing her look. “Anchovy always smells a bit funny I think.”

She and Anne-Marie took a good bite out of their toast at the same second. The shoe cream tasted abominable.”

This is one of my favourite-ever scenes in Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s boarding school series, which comes after “fun-loving French girl” Antoinette pays out the mean fifth-formers by spreading their toast with shoe polish instead of anchovy paste. To add insult to injury, she then tells Matron of her ‘mistake’ so the three girls end up getting a dose of Matron’s nasty medicine while Antoinette gets cosseted with chocolate by Mam’selle.

I’ve been thinking about this scene a lot recently after discovering what might be one of the loveliest cookbooks I’ve ever come across. It’s The Little Library Cookbook by Australian/Londoner Kate Young and it is utterly perfect. 

 

As the name suggests, Kate’s book is a collection of recipes inspired by books old and new – from roasted pheasant inspired by Danny, Champion of the World, to spaghetti and meatballs inspired by The Godfather. There are lots of recipes from books I know and love (I Capture The Castle, The Goldfinch, Americanah, The Pursuit of Love) and lots from books I’m now desperate to read (How I Live Now, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, The End of the Affair). Each recipe deftly weaves together a little about the book, a little about Kate’s relationship to it, and a lot about the food. It’s such a good idea – and so beautifully executed – that part of me wants to force-feed Kate shoe polish on toast because I’m so jealous of her cleverness. But mostly, I just want this book to be a roaring success so she writes another one.

In the meantime, here’s my homage to Antoinette’s anchovy paste (a rather more palatable version that won’t send you running to Matron).

Anchovy and black garlic paste

Black garlic gives this its rich, shoe polish-y colour, but you can omit it if you don’t have any.

1 x 50g tin (or 80g jar) anchovies, drained of their oil and chopped

50g softened unsalted butter

2-3 cloves black garlic

2 tsp capers

2 tsp pink peppercorns

Put everything in a small bowl (or, the bowl of a blender, if you’re lazy) and mix together to form a smooth-ish paste. Scrape into a jar (add optional ‘shoe polish’ label for kicks) and store in the fridge. Best served on very thin and crisp hot toast.

If anchovy paste isn’t to your taste, you might like to watch Kate making ‘An Enormous Round Chocolate Cake’, inspired by the one the Trunchbull forces hapless Bruce Bogtrotter to eat in Matilda. I think this is in my future these school holidays…