Little fried fish

It’s whitebait season again, but we’ve yet to hear any reports from the Coast as to how its going. This isn’t unusual – whitebaiters are notoriously secretive, especially those who sell their catch without the knowledge of Mr IRD. Last year the Boy Wonder experimented with frying the tiny fish in a pan, Spanish-style, rather than binding them in traditional egg fritters. It was a great success, if labour-intensive. But last week he stumbled on an even better way – a sort of oven-fried version, made with a recent newspaper-wrapped delivery from Westport. The other thing that’s changed from last year is that a pound of whitebait (they only come in Imperial measures) used to be enough for two of us – now we have to share it with our smallest dining companion. That’s not a bad thing.

West Coast Whitebait Oven-Fried

Oven-fried whitebait
Excuse the Coaster-style description, but there’s no point giving this a fancier name (except ‘bloody good oven-fried whitebait’ perhaps). All you need with this is a crunchy green salad and a bit of baguette. Oh, and lots of lemon halves.

1 lb (about 500g) whitebait
salt and pepper
olive oil – about 1/2 cup

Defrost the whitebait and rinse under the tap to get rid of any grit. Drain well.
Preheat the oven to 200C and pour about 1/2 cup of olive oil in a roasting dish. (You may need more – the BW is a bit vague on exact measurements). Heat the oil in the oven for about five minutes. While it’s heating up, dredge the whitebait at a time in seasoned flour (shake off the excess in a coarse sieve.) Carefully tip into the hot oil and return the roasting dish to the oven. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the little fish are golden brown and crunchy. Serves two greedy adults and one voracious toddler for dinner – so at least four adults for lunch.

Do you have a favourite way to cook – or eat – whitebait?

Sweet sweet Friday: Orange Polenta Muffins

I found this recipe while doing some detective work for my job. (What can I say, I’m easily distracted.) I’m also watching The Wire at the moment and “po-lice” work is all I can think about. Anyway, this is a tampered-with version of the recipe I found while trawling the internet for something else entirely. I don’t know if it would stand up in court as a decent defence, but it’s pretty good all the same. Plus, you can eat the evidence!

Orange Polenta Muffins
If you like my fruity vegan muffins, you’ll love these. The orange peel adds intense flavour, the dates are little nuggets of caramel and the muffins themselves have a light, tender crumb.

1/2 cup brown sugar (increase this to 2/3 cup if you like things very sweet)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1½ cups milk
2 navel oranges, finely chopped (including peel)
1 cup dates, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1 cup polenta
1 cup white flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp baking powder
1½ tsp cinnamon

Handful of longthread coconut for decoration (optional)

Preheat oven to 200C. Grease a 12-hole muffin tray.
Mix the sugar, oil and milk together in a large bowl and let sit while you prepare the other ingredients.
Sift all the dry ingredients into another bowl.
Add the oranges and dried fruit to the wet mixture, then add this to the dry ingredients. Fold together gently until mixed. Divide between the 12 muffin holes and sprinkle the tops with long-thread coconut if desired. Bake for 25 minutes until risen and springy to touch. Let cool for five minutes before turning out of the tray.

Have a sweet, sweet Friday everyone. I’m hoping to watch as many episodes of The Wire as possible…

Random Recipes: Burmese Curry

There are few things more random than the meanderings of a two-and-a-bit-year-old, so I put mine to good use and got her to select the cookbook for this month’s Random Recipe challenge.

I can’t remember how I came to be in possession of Great Ways With Steak & Chops. It was probably a joke gift – I have ‘Cooking For Couples’ and ‘100 Dishes For Two’ that we got as engagement presents. GWWSC was published in 1972 by the Australian Women’s Weekly and written by its well-respected food editor, Ellen Sinclair. Her name should have prompted me to open this book earlier, but food snobbery being what it is, I thought the whole book would be full of appalling examples of 70s cuisine. There are many things in this book I will never, ever, make – such as Veal Oscar (veal steaks topped with canned asparagus, lobster meat and bearnaise sauce) or Pineapple Bacon Cutlets (lamb, topped with tinned pineapple rings, wrapped in bacon, breadcrumbed and baked), but GWWSC actually has some interesting, even enticing, recipes. This is one of them.

Burmese Curry

Ellen Sinclair, who wrote loads of other titles for the Australian Women’s Weekly, certainly knew her stuff. These recipes are very well-written and easy to follow (even if the photos are hilariously awful). The original recipe was very dry, so I splashed in about a cup of water as detailed below and upped the chilli quotient as detailed below. This can also be cooked in the oven – after adding the water clamp the lid on and let it bake for about 1 1/2 hours at 150C.

900g chuck steak, cut into 2cm chunks

2Tbsp oil

4 onions, finely chopped

5cm ginger, grated

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2tsp turmeric

1/2tsp chilli flakes

1 beef stock cube

1 1/2 – 2 cups water

2tsp soy sauce

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan with a lid. Add the meat and brown well, add the onions, ginger and garlic. Cook until golden brown.

Add turmeric, chilli, water and stock cube and bring to the boil, stirring.

Cover, reduce heat and simmer gently for one hour or until the meat is tender. Add soy sauce and salt to taste. Serve with rice. Serves 4-6.

Lucy had another little lamb and this is how she cooked it

Hello, my name is Baabaara. Image via here

I thought it was best to get the gratuitous and possibly bad taste lamb photo out of the way early on. Please, don’t be offended – I love lambs as much as the next person, especially if that person is cooking this spicy, slow cooked lamb shoulder in my oven, then serving it up to me with crispy roasted potatoes and steamed greens.

Braised Lamb Shoulder

Slow cooked shoulder of lamb
This is my version of a Hugh F-W recipe. It is a firm favourite in our house for a number of reasons, not least because it is very low-maintenance and extremely delicious. Mature lamb (ie, the sort that lies about being younger than it is) is especially good cooked this way.

1 lamb shoulder, bone in (about 2kg)
2tsp cumin seeds
2tsp coriander seeds
2tsp fennel seeds

2tsp black peppercorns

2tsp cinnamon

3tsp sweet smoked paprika

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 dried chilli, chopped (or 1-2tsp chilli flakes)

3tsp sea salt

2Tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220C. Toast the cumin, coriander, peppercorns in a dry pan until fragrant. Tip into a mortar and add the garlic, rosemary, smoked paprika, dried chilli and salt. Crush/grind for a bit, then add the olive oil. If you don’t have a mortar you can do this in a mini food processor or just use a bowl, a wooden spoon and lots of elbow grease.
Score the skin of the lamb and put it into a large, lidded, ovenproof dish (like a Le Creuset or similar). Rub half the spice paste over the meat, then put in the oven for 30 minutes. Take it out and rub the remainder of the spice paste on to the meat (I use the back of a spoon). Tip a small glass of water into the pot (not over the meat), put the lid on and return to the oven, turning the heat down to 120C. Let cook for at least six hours, until the meat is falling off the bone.
If you want to cook this in advance, remove the meat from the pot when it is done and discard the bones. Pour the liquid into a container and let cool, then refrigerate both the meat and liquid. To reheat, put the meat back into the (now clean!) pot. Scrape the layer of fat from the now jelly-like liquid and throw it away quickly before anyone sees. Put the jellied liquid in with the meat and reheat at 150C until piping hot.

Aunty Shirley’s Orange Madeira Cake

Aunty Shirley makes the best madeira cake I’ve ever had. I prised the recipe off her several years ago and thought I must have written it down wrong, for it never turned out as light and orangey and altogether wonderful as hers. So last year I invited myself to her house for a masterclass and discovered I’d been doing it all wrong. Shirley, who is actually the Boy Wonder’s great aunt, beats the living daylights out of her cake. If it was a dog she’d be arrested. As it is, her cake is so good it should probably be illegal. It’s taken me until recently to get up the courage to try again. I channelled Shirley’s ‘take no prisoners’ attitude and let the beaters do their work.

Aunty Shirley’s Orange Madeira Cake
Actually, it turns out this isn’t Shirley’s cake at all, but the recipe of one Mrs E G A Mason. I love these old cookbooks with tried and trusted recipes from home kitchens – I suppose blogs have replaced them. This particular book also had recipes for ‘Darkies’, which probably ARE illegal now (and rightly so). Shirley bakes this in an extendable square tin but I make mine in a 24cm round one. She also ices it with an orange butter icing, but it’s almost as good left plain. Just remember to beat it soundly – Shirley uses electric handbeaters, I used my freestanding mixer – and all will be well.

4 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
125g butter, melted
3Tbsp milk
juice and grated rind of one small orange
2tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 23cm tin.
Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and thick (about five minutes), then add orange juice and zest, flour, milk and melted butter. Beat again for a couple of minutes (“you need to get air into the mixture,” says Shirley). Add the baking powder and beat again for about a minute. Pour into the tin and bake for 45-60 minutes. Cool, turn out of the tin and ice with orange butter icing.

Have a sweet, sweet Friday everyone. I’m going to spend the weekend planning The Kitchenmaid’s first birthday party…