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!

Sweet sweet Friday: Lemon Biscotti

Some days, you don’t feel like an all-singing, all-dancing, all-chocolate-with-caramel-and-piped-rosettes extravaganza. Some days, all you want is a something to nibble while you sit down with a nice cup of tea to read the paper and do the crossword. These biscuits are just the ticket.

Little Kitchen Around The World Lemon Biscotti

Little Kitchen Lemon Biscotti
This slightly tweaked recipe is from a sweet book a friend sent me recently, Little Kitchen Around The World. It would be a great Christmas present for a keen small cook – or their parents. They’re not biscotti in the sense of something you crunch into fearing an expensive visit to the dentist, but an an intriguing mixture of soft and chewy. The two other things you should know about them is that the raw mixture is addictively good and the cooked biscuits are very good with sharp cheddar cheese.

130g butter, melted
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2tsp baking powder
1/4tsp baking soda
1 cup caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
150g sour cream
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
finely grated zest of two lemons

3/4 cup icing sugar

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and sugar into a large bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla, sour cream, eggs and lemon zest and mix well to a firm dough. Cover the bowl with plastic and put in the fridge for at least 20 minutes (you could probably leave it for two hours without any harm coming to it).
When you’re ready, preheat the oven to 200C and line three baking trays with baking paper. Sift the icing sugar into a shallow bowl. Roll tablespoons of the mixture into balls, then roll them in the icing sugar so they are well-coated. Place them on the prepared trays, allowing room for spreading.
Bake for 10 minutes, until light gold in colour. Cool for a few minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely. Makes 36.

Have a sweet, sweet Friday and a great weekend, everyone.

Tofu surprise

Wait, come back! That headline is ironic, I promise. Poor old tofu gets such a hard time. I agree, the extra firm stuff is like chewing the bottom of a Converse sneaker, but the melt-in-your-mouth soft stuff is wonderful. If you don’t agree, then you should make this surprisingly good make-ahead bake that is jammed with tofu and brown rice and olives and spinach. Then tell me you don’t like tofu.

This is how it played in our house:

Him (in mock Australian accent): “What’s for dinner, darl? Is there tofu in there?”
Her: (in ‘I am not cross with you yet, but I might be’ voice): “Yes. And it’s going to be delicious.”
Small Girl: “Dinner time!”

Afterwards:

Him: “Is there any more?”
Her: “Yes, and you can even take some for lunch tomorrow!”
Small Girl (singing): “I saw a little green frog last night…”

Tomato Tofu and Rice Bake
This is adapted from an 80s Annabel Langbein recipe I remember my mum making. I know it sounds worthy (tofu! brown rice! spinach!) but it’s really tasty. Please use soft tofu. I buy it from the vege market from an ancient Chinese woman and it costs about $2 for 500g. You can make this ahead of time and refrigerate, covered, until you’re ready to cook it. Leftovers are good hot or cold.

3 cups cooked brown rice (let me know if we need a rice tutorial, but I’m figuring you know how to cook rice if you’ve got this far)
2Tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 x 400g tins of tomatoes
a squirt of tomato paste
300g soft tofu, sliced into 2cm chunks
1 cup kalamata olives, pitted
1 cup cottage cheese/ricotta
3-4 handfuls of spinach or silverbeet, blanched in boiling water and squeezed dry
2 handfuls of grated Parmesan
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease an ovenproof baking dish.
Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil and cook gently until soft and golden. Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes. Stir and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes until the sauce is thick. Add the tofu and olives and let cook gently for another five minutes. Remove from heat and season.
Layer half the cooked rice in the bottom of the greased dish, then cover with half the tomato tofu mixture and half the spinach. Spread the cottage cheese on top, then repeat the rice, tomato and spinach layers. Sprinkle over the Parmesan. Cover with a lid or a sheet of greased foil (it’s important to grease the foil, or the cheese will stick to it) and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil or lid and cook for another 5-10 minutes until the cheese is crispy and the dish is piping hot. Serves four.

What’s your favourite way with tofu?

Asparagus Tart

One of the joyous things about working in magazines or newspaper features is something called Forward Planning. You see, we don’t just have clever ideas on the spot and turn them out the next day (that’s what online journalism is for), we have to think about them in advance. In the UK, this meant people started ringing me up about Christmas story ideas in July. I quite liked going to champagne and mince pie tastings in the middle of summer in London because it felt like home, but it also means you are seriously over Christmas by the time you’ve written or commissioned 20,000 variations on how to stuff a sodding turkey and not get fat.
Things seem a little more relaxed in the southern hemisphere, but I have felt a bit like my old self in recent weeks thanks to an obsession with when the asparagus season is starting so I could organise my asparagus issue. Acting on a Twitter tip-off, I finally found some in two different locations last week so I could rush out and grab some to photograph. See, there is an element of public service journalism in what I do…

Asparagus Tart
My favourite thing to do with asparagus is to cook it really quickly in boiling water and dip the stems into melted butter, salt and pepper, but I needed to photograph this tart for work. It’s really good – and very, very easy.

1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 egg
125g sour cream
about 40g Parmesan, grated (a couple of handfuls)
about 16 spears of asparagus, washed and the tough ends snapped off
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C. Lie the pastry on a baking sheet and score a line about half an inch from the outside (like you’re drawing a frame inside the pastry edge). Mix the egg, sour cream, cheese and salt and pepper together in a small bowl, then spread this on the pastry, inside the ‘frame’. Lie the asparagus on top. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is risen and golden. Makes a nice light lunch for four with salad and bread.

There seemed to be a lot of interest last week in the Small Girl’s cooking abilities. Here’s a shot of her in her favourite role, chief taster.

“Look Teddy, it’s not too hot, it’s just right”

What’s your favourite thing to do with asparagus?

Sweet sweet Friday: Raisin Toast

One of my favourite things to do on a weekend morning is to get up early and go for a run. Mad, I know, but there’s a difference between getting up early because you want to and getting up because a small child is demanding that you do. Often, if I end up running through town, I see people still staggering around from the night before. Last Sunday I ran past a house where one woman, in a spangly dress and runaway mascara, sat on her front step with her dressing gown-clad flatmates, giving them a rundown on her antics the night before. I felt very old and boring by comparison. But I also had the smug satisfaction that I was running home to put a slice of this fruity bread – which I’d made the night before, because I am THAT rock ‘n roll – in the toaster. Take that, young ‘uns!

Spicy Fruit Loaf
Don’t pull one of those ‘but I can’t possibly make bread’ faces, this is really easy. Make it on a Friday or Saturday night (before you go out, if you have a more exciting life than I do) and you’ll be rewarded with lovely toast in the morning.

500g white flour
1 1/2tsp salt
1/2 tsp allspice
2tsp yeast
150g raisins or sultanas
zest of one orange
150ml milk
100ml boiling water
1 egg
2Tbsp honey (or jam!)

Glaze
About 3Tbsp orange juice
3Tbsp brown sugar

Put the boiling water and milk into a large bowl – with any luck it will be the perfect, lukewarm temperature. Add the yeast and honey or jam, stir and leave to sit for a minute or two. Add the egg and stir again. Add the raisins, zest, flour, salt and allspice and knead to form a smooth, satiny dough that springs back when you punch it. You can do this in a freestanding mixer with a dough hook, or with your hands, as your kitchen dictates. Return to the bowl, cover with plastic and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 1-1 1/2 hours). Turn out, punch down and knead gently, then form into a tight ball and put into a greased 23cm cake tin (or form into a sausage and put in a large loaf tin). Cover with plastic again and let rise for another 30 minutes. During this time, turn the oven to 220C.
When the oven is hot and the dough has had its second rise, carefully put it in the oven. Turn the temperature down to 190C after 15 minutes and let the loaf cook for another 10 minutes, until well-risen and hollow-sounding when you tap its bottom.
Just before you take the loaf out of the oven, put the orange juice and brown sugar into a small pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat until syrupy (about three minutes). Brush this over the hot loaf when it is cooked. Let cool on a rack while you put your pyjamas/party dress on.

Have a sweet, sweet Friday everyone, thanks for coming to visit this week.