Random recipe: Feta + radish salad

I’m always amused at the ways Dom of Belleau Kitchen comes up with to entice people into joining his Random Recipes challenge each month. For April he’s decided to enlist the help of an interactive ‘thingummydoodah’ to make the process simpler (because nothing is more tedious – or frightening – than counting your cookbooks, right?)

For once the gods of Random Recipes smiled upon me and the thingummydoodah chose Fiona Beckett’s Cheese Course. There are no prizes for guessing the focus of this lovely book, which looks at wine and cheese matching (or whisky and cheese matching, if that’s your thing), designing cheese boards and choosing cheeses for entertaining, along with a generous handful of recipes.

 It’s not exactly spring in New Zealand at the moment (though it is unseasonably warm and it is definitely raining a lot) so I was really hopeful that the book would fall open at Fiona’s delicious macaroni cheese recipe (with crispy wafers of Parmesan scattered throughout so no one misses out on the crunchy bits). But as we eat a lot of feta, cucumber and olives in our house, landing on this recipe was surely a sign from the cheese gods.

Feta, cucumber and mint spring salad
Fiona says this recipe comes from London restaurant Ransome’s Dock, which in turn adapted it from a dish at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. She’s given me her kind permission to reproduce it here. Don’t quote me on this but if you’re on Dr Michael Mosley’s 5:2 diet, it strikes me that this salad offers quite a lot of bang for your calorie buck.

2 mini cucumbers (or about half a telegraph cucumber)
6 radishes
2 handfuls of rocket
a small handful of fresh mint leaves, finely sliced
150g feta, broken into small pieces
10-15 small black olives

Dressing:
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
a squeeze of lemon juice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the dressing, put all ingredients in a lidded jar and shake until well combined.
Cut the cucumbers in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds with the tip of a teaspoon. Slice lengthways, using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, until you have a pile of wafer-thin slices. Slice the radishes thinly on the diagonal.
Put the cucumber, radishes, mint and rocket in a bowl and toss together with the dressing. Add the feta and toss lightly again, then scatter over the olives. Divide the salad between two plates and serve with crusty bread. Serves two as a light lunch.

Random recipe #25: Bermuda Salad

I felt very old last week. First, I saw a group of new university students moving into their hostel accommodation and realised I looked like one of their mothers. Second, I got out of bed and put my neck out. Third, I saw several copies of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook in charity shops.

She was more hippy than hipster, but Mollie Katzen ruled the vegetarian school of eating in the late 1970s and 80s. She was part of a collective (it was the 70s, remember?) who ran a restaurant in Ithaca, New York devoted to good, wholesome food. The hand-lettered Moosewood Cookbook, first published in 1973, reflected that ethos (instead of a table of contents it has a ‘table of contentment’) and went on to become one of the 10 best-selling cookbooks of all time, according to the New York Times. The food, though a little dated in parts, is not unlike that in Ottolenghi’s Plenty, so if you see a copy in a charity shop, snap it up.

Moosewood Bermuda Salad
All that said, I felt a bit nervous when my hand fell on the book’s cracked spine when I was searching for a contender for February’s Random Recipe challenge. I thought of some of the book’s less appealing recipes, like Stuffed Cabbage or White Rabbit Salad (cottage cheese, apples, seeds) and wondered how I would sell those to my dining companions. In the end though, the benign gods of Random Recipes – or at least the beatific Dom of Belleau Kitchen – smiled upon me and we ended up with this gem. It looks a bit messy, but it tastes delicious. Don’t tell Mollie’s crew but we ate it with a roast chicken and it was a very happy match.

125ml apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
lots of freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
125ml extra virgin olive oil
500g green beans, topped and tailed
2 red onions, thinly sliced
1 cup grated cheese
two handfuls fresh parsley, finely chopped

Put the vinegar, salt and pepper and garlic in a large bowl (the serving bowl, to cut down on dishes) and stir well. Whisk in the olive oil. Add the sliced onion and set aside.
Steam the beans until just tender. Drain, then add to the marinade. Stir well and let cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving.
Ten minutes before you’re ready to eat, take the salad out of the fridge. Toss through the parsley and grated cheese just before serving. Serves four.

The instructions in the book are very explicit: “This is a COLOR SALAD. Don’t substitute white onions or cheese or you’ll lose the scheme. Okay?” You’re also supposed to serve it on a bed of red cabbage leaves for added wow factor. I didn’t. As for the cheese, the book specifies colby (ugh!) but we used tasty cheddar. Feta or Parmesan would be good too. The final instruction is to “Garnish Lavishly” with eggs, tomatoes, olives, sprouts, lemon slices or orange slices. You can take a book out of the 1970s, but you can’t take the 1970s out of the book.

Do you have the Moosewood Cookbook? Do you still use it?

Treat me: Instant biscuits

I won’t bore you with the details but I have felt very addled this week. Maybe it’s been the heat. Maybe it’s because in the last few days our household was knocked sideways by sickness: one of us was sick, one of us was sick of work and one of us was sick of doing everything. Harrumph.
Anyway, I started making some biscuits one night and accidentally over-softened the butter to the point where it turned to a golden pool in the bottom of the bowl, a bit like the tiger in Little Black Sambo. Furious with myself, I decided to proceed anyway and cheered myself up immensely by realising that it is entirely possible to make really, really good cookies really quickly this way. Result!

Fast Cookies - Egg Free

Instant Cookies
The curious thing about these biscuits is that although they are extremely quick to make, they disappear almost as fast. Why is that, do you think? Use whatever dried fruit combination you have to hand, though I must recommend glace cherries for that retro touch. I’m now wondering if you could speed up the process even further and use oil instead of butter… does someone want to try it out for me?

150g butter
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup glace cherries, halved (or quartered, if they are especially plump)
1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
1/4 cup mixed peel
finely grated zest of one lemon

Heat the oven to 180C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the sugar and remove from the heat.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the butter mixture and stir well, then add the nuts, fruit and lemon zest.
Roll tablespoons of the mixture into balls and place on the prepared baking trays, leaving a little room for spreading.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden. Leave on the trays to cool for five minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container when cold. Makes about 18.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Parmigiano and prosciutto

This might sound strange, given I earn my living by tapping away at a keyboard, but one of my resolutions for 2013 is to spend less time online. It’s so easy now to get caught in the interweb that some days I feel I spend more time interacting with virtual life than the real thing. That doesn’t mean I’ll be giving up entirely – I mean, I have this blog to feed, delectable things like this to marvel at and a shoe habit to maintain – but I want to spend more time doing things that don’t require a broadband connection. Pottering about in the kitchen with friends over the holidays was a good reminder of the benefits of actual reality.

Parmigiano e prosciutto alla Bess
This was one of the things lovely Bess whipped up for our New Year’s Eve feast. Her brother, a chef who divides his time between Martha’s Vineyard and New Zealand, taught it to her and in an ideal world, I’d be at your place making it for you. Instead, invite someone over to your place and show them how to make it.

a small block of Parmigiano Reggiano (or best local equivalent)
a packet of prosciutto (or best local equivalent)
extra virgin olive oil (I have been using this delicious fennel-infused Wairarapa oil)

Lay the slices of prosciutto on a flat plate. Grate over the cheese, then drizzle with the oil. Serve with glasses of prosecco (or best local equivalent). Cheers!

What foodie trick have you learned in ‘real life’ lately?

Easy honey bread

Have you resolved to be more organised in 2013? Me too. Well, sort of. I like to think I am easing into things (which is why it has taken me until January 7 to write my first post for the year). I’ve decided my style of organisation is going to be all about Doing Things In Advance. I’m not sure how that’s going to roll with my life’s general theme of Doing Things At The Last Minute, but I have found a bread recipe that seems to encapsulate both.

Easy honey bread
If you made a resolution to make more bread in 2013 – or you want to encourage someone else in your household to make it – this is a good place to start. There’s no kneading or complicated rising procedures involved, just a bit of planning, because you need to start this the day before you want to eat it. You can do that, can’t you? Use the most flavoursome honey you can as it really makes a difference.

For the sponge:
120g bread flour
1/2 tsp dried yeast
1 tsp honey
150ml warm water

To add the next day:
350g bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast
250ml warm water
3 Tbsp olive oil

Put the flour and yeast in a large bowl. Dissolve the honey in the warm water, then stir into the flour until well mixed. Cover with plastic and leave overnight or for at least eight hours.
The next day, add the flour, salt and yeast to the mixture and stir well. Mix the oil and water together and add, stirring until combined. Cover again and let rise until tripled in volume (about two hours).
Line a baking tray with baking paper and dust with flour. Turn the dough out onto the tray and dust the top with flour. Let rise again, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Bake at 220C for 15-20 minutes, until golden.
This is best eaten hot out of the oven, but it’s also good toasted the next day, topped with feta, honey and lots of black pepper.

How are your resolutions going so far?