An Easter of Eating

This was my Easter, or at least the bits I photographed.
Most of the time I was too busy – eating, standing at the kitchen sink, having a cup of tea, drinking a glass of wine, laughing – to take photos.
So you’ll just have to imagine the baked flounder with caper butter, the creme caramel, the Piedmontese peppers, the passionfruit cream biscuits and the Lebanese doughnuts with citrus syrup – or at least take my word for it that it was a great holiday. When’s the next one?

The Easter Table

Dan Lepard’s Spiced Stout Hot Cross Buns

Beetroot Gravadlax with Dill Creme Fraiche

The kitchen whizzes
Tamasin Day-Lewis’ Chocolate Espresso Cake

What did the Easter Bunny bring?

I think we will be eating a lot of green vegetables and very little chocolate this week.

How was your Easter?

Hot cross bunny

Many moons ago, a suitor of mine once arrived on the doorstep bearing a charmingly vacuum-packed rabbit. It was an unexpected and unconventional gift, but it certainly tasted better than a bunch of roses. I wasn’t sure what to do with it but he produced a few notes written on the back of a restaurant menu. Using them as a basis, this is how we cooked it.

Braised rabbit with tomatoes and olives
Rest assured that you don’t have to sacrifice the family pet or go hunting for this Easter dinner. Farmed rabbits are available from good butchers, farmers markets and some supermarkets – and they are usually sold already ‘dressed’ (decapitated, skinned and cleaned) . If you flinch at the idea of eating one of the Flopsy Bunnies, substitute free-range organic chicken pieces for the rabbit.

1 rabbit (around 1.5kg), cut into pieces (ask the butcher to do this for you)
1/2-3/4 cup plain flour
salt and pepper
3-4 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 ribs of celery, tough strings removed and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
150ml red wine
500g vine-ripened tomatoes (about five medium-sized ones)
Herbs: 1/2 a small bunch of fresh parsley (use the other half of the bunch for garnishing), several sprigs of thyme, a sprig of rosemary, a bay leaf
1 cup good quality black olives

Begin by putting the flour, a good pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper in a plastic bag with the rabbit pieces. Close the top of the bag and shake well, ensuring the rabbit pieces are all covered with a nice dusting of flour. Remove from the bag and set aside (throw the unused flour away).

Blanch and peel the tomatoes – put them in a bowl, cover with boiling water and let sit for about 30-40 seconds. Lift out and nick the skins – they will lift off easily. Chop into chunks and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan and add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Saute over medium heat until starting to soften, then add the rabbit pieces, browning them on both sides. Pour in the wine and let it bubble away for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and herbs. Cover and simmer very gently for 45 minutes to one hour, until the rabbit is cooked through and tender.

Stir in the olives and season with salt and pepper to taste. Scatter over some freshly chopped parsley before serving with steamed greens and hunks of chewy sourdough bread or crusty baguette. Feeds four.

Guilt-free Easter loaf

When I was growing up there were rules about Easter. We only started eating hot cross buns on Good Friday and Easter eggs were verboten until after church on Sunday. It was a bit of a surprise to realise that other people didn’t live this way – didn’t they get told off, or go to hell? – but I now think my mother had a point. If you eat hot cross buns or Easter eggs from the moment they arrive in the shops, which is now in late January, there’s nothing to look forward to when Easter actually arrives.

Even so, I found my resolve wobbling enormously last week when I masterminded a hot cross bun taste-off for work. That’s why I developed this loaf, which has all the flavour and aroma of a hot cross bun, but none of the guilt.

Easter Loaf
One of the best things about the aforementioned hot cross bun test was getting a few tips from Sean Armstrong (who New Zealand readers might have seen on Masterchef recently) about what fruit and spice do to yeast doughs. I tweaked my normal bread recipe accordingly and it worked a treat. I know the instructions look long but this isn’t at all hard. You don’t have to make a cross on top, but it does stop it looking like ordinary fruit toast.
This is also, handily, my entry for April’s Teatime Treats, hosted this month by the lovely Kate, and for April’s Fresh From The Oven, hosted this month by The Little Loaf.

150g dried fruit (a mixture of mixed peel, sultanas and currants is good)
1Tbsp mixed spice
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
150ml milk
150ml boiling water
500g strong white flour
40g butter
2Tbsp brown sugar
1Tbsp cocoa
1/2tsp ground cloves
1 1/2tsp salt

For the cross:
1 egg yolk
4Tbsp flour
milk to mix

For the glaze:
2Tbsp brown sugar
2Tbsp hot water

Put the mixed fruit and mixed spice in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Stir and let soak for at least four hours – overnight is best. Drain and set aside.
Put the milk and boiling water into a bowl. When it’s at blood heat, add the yeast and leave for five minutes to start working.
While that’s happening, put the flour and butter into a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle beater, and put on low speed until the butter is mixed through. Alternatively, rub the butter through the flour with your fingers.
Add the sugar, cocoa, cloves and salt and stir well. Pour in the yeast and liquid and stir to combine, then use the dough hook on low speed until a dough forms. Tip in the drained fruit and knead with your hands or the dough hook until you have an elastic dough that springs back when touched. It will be quite sticky – this is good.
Form into a ball, put in a greased bowl and cover with a plastic bag. Leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled, about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Turn dough out of the bowl and knock back gently. Press into a rectangular shape with your fingers, then roll up tightly. Put into a large, greased loaf tin and let rise again for about 30 minutes, until risen by half.
While you’re waiting, mix the egg yolk and flour together for the cross. Add a little milk if needed. Scrape it into a snaplock bag – there will be lots left over, but you can put it in the fridge for a day and use it for your hot cross buns. Snip a tiny corner of the bag off when you’re ready to use it.
When the loaf is ready to go in the oven, slash a cross in it, then pipe in the gaps.
Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
As soon as it comes out of the oven, brush it with the glaze, which you have made by heating the sugar and water together until dissolved. Let cool completely before slicing.

Did you have these sorts of rules when you were growing up, or was my family completely abnormal?

Guilty pleasures: The Macaroon

Since today is Shrove Tuesday – the day in which you are supposed to have one (or many) last feasts to use up all the decadent foods you’ve sworn to give up for Lent – I thought I should offer you some food porn.

This is the guilty pleasure I mentioned in my list of food resolutions – a coconut macaroon from the supermarket. Looks benign enough, doesn’t it? Then take a look at this…

In case you can’t quite read the small print, there are more numbers here than in a maths textbook. Even the coconut is not quite coconut, but something called ‘Kokomix’ – which has lots of other goodies in it like milk fat, stabiliser, preservative, colour (colour? it’s white!) and modified starch. The most depressing thing is that the ‘chocolate’ is a mixture of cocoa powder and various fats – but it DOES have coconut oil, which I guess boosts the overall coconut factor a bit.

What this label doesn’t tell you though is that these toxic treats really are delicious. I first discovered them at an Italian cafe in town, where they cost three times as much despite being identical. Learning that they were on sale at the supermarket just a few minutes’ walk from work was my downfall towards the end of last year. Not now though. I am strong. I have willpower. And I am going to go one further and give up chocolate  for Lent. After all, my chocolate dependent friend Ann once gave it up for a year – surely I can manage six weeks, right? Especially since the chocolate on the macaroons doesn’t count…

Are you giving anything up for Lent? Or is retox, not detox, your motto?