Random Recipe #9: Fear of frying

Oy vey, this months’ Random Recipes challenge really pushed me out of my comfort zone. Not only did I have to let some strange man rifle through my cookbooks, but then I had to confront a life-long fear of deep-frying.

Let me explain. The strange man was Gary from Exploits of a Food Nut. I met him on the internet – you know how it is these days. Anyway, as per Dom’s instructions, I had to choose a recipe at random from Gary’s cookbook collection, and he got to do the same with mine, even though we live some 12,000 miles apart. Thanks to Twitter, that part was easy – Gary got James Martin’s My Kitchen and I got New Pleasures of the Jewish Table by Denise Phillips.
The hard part was realising I was going to have to heat a litre of oil to 200C on my stove top. I’m not sure why I’ve got such a deep-seated fear of frying. I think it might have something to do with being at primary school, when one of my classmates, who was pretty and clever and fantastic at athletics, came back from a long absence with a protective bandage covering her lower leg. She never talked about it and we weren’t supposed to either, but it had something to do with boiling oil and a fire. She later went well off the rails and last I heard she was in jail for GBH after beating up an old lady for her handbag, but that’s another story. This one has a much happier ending, even though I was so overcome with the process that I forgot to photograph the end result.

Egyptian Fish Balls with Tomato Sauce
I can’t recall how I came to have a copy of New Pleasures of the Jewish Table, nor do I remember ever making anything out of it. It’s a great little book though, full of socio-cultural food history (and good recipes). It’s a bit short on deep-frying advice, but I rolled my sleeves down, banished the Small Girl to watch rugby with her father and got on with proceedings. Fear factor (and a few dishes) aside, this is a great, family-friendly dinner. Make the tomato sauce first so you’ve got one less thing to worry about.

The fish balls:
700g white fish (I used alfonsino, Denise suggests bream, haddock or cod)
2 onions, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic
zest of one lemon
handful of fresh parsley
2tsp ground cumin
2tsp salt
3Tbsp matzo meal (I whizzed up a few crackers in the processor instead)
1 egg, lightly beaten
plain flour, for dusting

The tomato sauce:
2Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
2Tbsp tomato puree
120ml red wine
450ml vegetable stock (or water)

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large pot and saute the onion and garlic for a few minutes over medium heat. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 30 minutes. Set aside while you get on with the fish balls.

For the fish balls: Put the onions, garlic, lemon zest and parsley in the processor and whizz until finely chopped. Add the salt, cumin and fish and whizz again to form a smooth mixture. Tip into a bowl and mix through the matzoh crumbs and beaten egg. Dust a couple of plates with flour. With wet hands, take tablespoon-sized amounts of the fish and roll into balls, then place on the floured plates.

To deep-fry, heat one litre of vegetable oil in a deepfryer or in a deep, heavy bottomed pot. Heat to about 200C and fry the balls in batches (about five at a time should do it) until golden brown. When they’re cooked, add to the tomato sauce and heat through gently for about 10 minutes.
Serves 4-6 with rice, couscous or bread and salad.

Now, can anyone tell me what to do with the used oil? Can I pour it down the sink?

Pride comes before a fall

In a year punctuated by bad news, I have finally had some of the good stuff. The thing is, I’ve let it go to my head.
The good news is that The Kitchenmaid has been nominated in the blog section of the 2011 Culinary Quills, organised by the New Zealand Guild of Foodwriters. It was a big shock, especially considering that my fellow nominees are big cheeses in the food writing world. I know it’s not exactly the Nobel Peace Prize, but you’ve got to take compliments where you can, right?

Anyway, I came home, believing my own PR, excited about cooking dinner for a French friend who’s here reporting on le rugby. The Small Girl ran in circles around the kitchen while I confidently went off-piste with a cake recipe, thinking what a genius I was. Then this came out of the oven…

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a delicate melange of eggs, white chocolate, lemon zest, butter, sugar and coconut. It is approximately a centimentre thick, except in the parts that stuck to the tin. It is also a good lesson to not get too cocky. Luckily Victoire was late, so I had time to whip up an emergency crumble instead (and the Boy Wonder cooked a sublime roast chicken).

Now, there’s a prize* for the best suggestion for what to do with this coconut flop. Any ideas?

*The prize: One coconut flop, conveniently thin enough to fit in a small envelope, can be posted anywhere!

Freeform olive fougasse

This month’s Fresh From The Oven challenge, set by Claire of Purely Food, was to make fougasse.
“Bof,” I said to myself as I planned what to eat for a pre All Blacks vs France match dinner on Saturday night. “It will be a piece of gateau!”
Claire gave us two recipes to choose from, one from model-turned-baker Lorraine Pascal, the other from French chef Richard Bertinet. I made a rosemary-scented, olive-studded homage to Lorraine’s version on Saturday afternoon, but the yeast didn’t spring into life and they turned out more like Frenchified pretzels.
The next day, less distracted by le rugby, I had another go, remembering what I’d read from Bertinet’s recipe about “showing the dough who is boss”. These ones were much better, despite some woeful dough shaping on my behalf, resulting in some rather freeform fougasse. I might have taught the dough a lesson, but it was obviously determined to teach me one right back.

This is essentially Bertinet’s recipe, though my measurements are a little different and I’ve added a soupcon (note: that’s different to a soup spoon) of olive oil to enhance their keeping qualities. Silly really, because when these come out of the oven it’s impossible not to devour them immediately.

500g strong flour
350ml lukewarm water
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1Tbsp olive oil
olives, optional

Pour the water into a mixing bowl and add the yeast. Stir to dissolve, then leave for five minutes to start frothing. Add the flour, salt and oil and mix together, then turn out onto the counter and knead. Following M. Bertinet’s instructions, I did this all by hand, but it is a very sticky dough and it would be a lot easier in a freestanding mixer (I know, I am lazy). Either way, you want the finished dough to be smooth, springy and not too sticky when you have finished kneading/mixing it. Resist the temptation to add too much extra flour. Scrape into a mixing bowl and cover with plastic. Let rest for an hour or so in a warm place.
At this point, turn your oven to its highest temperature and put in an oven tray.
Gently tip the risen dough out onto a floured surface, then dust generously with flour and cover again with a teatowel and let rest for five minutes.
Slice the dough in half with a very sharp knife or plastic scraper, then cut each piece again into three triangles. You’re aiming for a fern shape – whether you get there or not is another matter.
Slash cuts into each piece of dough – I used a pair of kitchen scissors – and gently open the cuts up with your fingers. Flour a large sheet of baking paper and place the slashed dough on top. Gently press olives or any other toppings into the dough.
Take the hot baking tray out of the oven (remember it’s hot!) and slide the dough and paper on top. Put in the oven and then splash in a little cold water on the walls (of the oven, not your kitchen) to create steam. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden.

Dedicated followers of fashion

It may surprise you to learn that New Zealand Fashion Week is on at the moment. I mean, New Zealand isn’t exactly renowned for its haute couture or gorgeous inhabitants (no one ever comes away from a trip to Aotearoa saying “oh, the women are so stylish!” or “the men are so handsome!”).

A fine Kiwi specimen, image via here

I don’t follow many fashion blogs, mostly because I don’t need to be reminded that my ‘look’ (harried working mother, accessorised with streak of toddler snot) isn’t going to win any prizes. But for this one, written by a colleague of mine, I’ll make an exception. If you have any interest in fashion, Antipodean or not, you should check it out. You should still check it out if you’re not interested in fashion, because it’s hilarious – and because she asks why food critics say what they think but most fashion writers don’t, which is an excellent question.

Are you a dedicated follower of fashion? 

Pumpkin Parmesan Buns

I’ve fallen off the breadmaking wagon with a resounding thud in the last fortnight, thanks to a combination of factors including too much work, the snow, a warp-speed trip to Sydney and coming to the end of my 20kg sack of flour. But before I fell into the clutches of a bag of Vogels and a stray baguette, I joined the Fresh From The Oven crew, who “meet” once a month to extend their breadmaking skills.

Sally at My Custard Pie set the challenge for August, suggesting participants deal to their zucchini/courgette glut with a recipe for Courgette Cluster Bread. Zucchinis are currently about NZ$13 a kilo here and they look battered, bruised and extremely weary after a long journey from somewhere warmer. But pumpkins are in massive supply at our weekly vegetable market and I had the bright idea to use them instead.

Pumpkin And Parmesan Cheese Bread

Pumpkin Parmesan Buns
These are easy to make, deliciously light and fluffy and they keep really well (if you can resist eating them). Next time I’m thinking pink – beetroot, feta and fennel seeds, perhaps?

450g peeled, seeded and grated pumpkin
675g strong white bread flour
1/2tsp salt
2tsp dried yeast
4Tbsp parmesan, grated
Freshly ground black pepper
2Tbsp olive oil
Tepid water – about 250ml
Milk, to glaze
Sesame seeds, to sprinkle

Mix the flour, yeast, parmesan, salt and some black pepper together in a bowl, then stir in the olive oil and grated pumpkin. Add water until the mixture comes together as a firm, soft dough. (As per Sally’s instructions, I did this and the kneading in my KitchenAid with the dough hook. If doing it by hand, turn the dough onto a lightly floured board or work surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Lightly oil a bowl and put the dough into rise, covered with cling film or a cloth, for about one hour or until doubled in size.
Knock back the dough in the bowl and then turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead again briefly until smooth.
Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll to shape into even balls. Lightly grease and line the base of a 30cm cake tin (or a roasting dish of similar size) with baking papert. Place one ball of dough in the middle and all the others around it.
Brush the tops of rolls with milk and sprinkle over some sesame seeds. Cover again with oiled cling film or a cloth and leave to prove until doubled in size and the balls touch each other – about 30 minutes.
Put into a preheated oven at 200 C for about 25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.