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?

Random recipes: Fields Of Greens

In these days of wine and Roses* eating proper food can seem like a real luxury. It was with some relief then that I pulled Fields Of Greens from my bookshelf for December’s Random Recipes.

We were supposed to select a recipe at random from cookbooks received last Christmas but I didn’t get any (sob!) – but I remembered getting Fields Of Greens for Christmas about 17 years ago. The book, written by Annie Somerville, is a cornucopia of recipes from the celebrated Greens Restaurant in San Francisco Bay and focuses heavily on produce grown at its adjacent Green Gulch Farm. The amazing thing about is that the recipes haven’t dated at all and the eat seasonal, eat local ethos is probably much more fashionable and mainstream now than it was then.

My copy, scarred by being left on an element, naturally falls open at page 314 where there are detailed instructions for making an organic sourdough starter. But the week before Christmas is no time to be nurturing a new life, so I flipped through until I found something more seasonally appropriate. As it turns out, it couldn’t have been better.

Grilled New Potato Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Summer Beans and Basil
Potato salads are high on my list of foods to avoid, thanks to the disgusting ones we had at school. I’ve rarely found one I liked, except the baked potato one in Forever Summer, but this one is a keeper. I didn’t grill the potatoes, discovered at the last minute that we were out of beans and had hardly any basil, but it was still delicious. I think it would be perfect with cold ham on Boxing Day – it’s substantial but not stodgy and full of appropriately festive colours.
The recipe below is the way I made it – to do it the Greens way you grill the potatoes after roasting them.

800g-1kg new potatoes, halved lengthways
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
250g green beans, topped and tailed
250g cherry tomatoes, halved (unless they are tiny)
a handful or two of salad greens (something crunchy, like baby cos, and peppery, like rocket)
a good handful of black olives, stoned
handful of basil leaves

2 Tbsp Champagne vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 garlic clove, crushed

Heat the oven to 200C. Put the potatoes on a baking tray and drizzle with the olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are golden and cooked through. Set aside to cool.
Blanch the beans in boiling salted water, then refresh under cold water and drain well.
Make the vinaigrette – put the garlic, vinegar and salt in a small screwtop jar and shake well, then add the oil and shake again. Taste and adjust sharpness as necessary.
Put the potatoes, tomatoes, beans, olives and vinaigrette in a bowl and toss gently. Arrange the salad greens on a serving platter and let the vegetable mixture tumble artistically on top. Scatter with the basil leaves and serve. Serves four.

What books are on your Christmas wishlist this year?


* I haven’t really been eating Roses, I promise. But is it just me or is there a lot of chocolate around at the moment?

Random recipes #22 : Picnic Eggs

After the horror that was October’s Random Recipe, I was a bit wary of taking part this month. But considering we were having a quiet weekend at home (apart from shrieking at Downton Abbey), I figured I could cope with another disaster. Then I opened page 38 of ‘250 Ways To Serve Eggs’ – sample recipes: Egg And Liver Ring, Egg And Liver Salad, Pickled Eggs – and nearly passed out.

This book is one of my most recent acquisitions and, dodgy recipes aside, I am very proud of it. I bought it, along with its 23 companion volumes, for a dollar (thanks, Trade Me!) about two months ago. These books are edited by the Culinary Arts Institute and they are a fantastic snapshot of American food culture in the 1960s and 70s. There’s not even a whiff of social change in these pages – it’s all about ways to show “the alert homemaker” how she can “add interest and delight to the family menu”. Some of the recipes are hideous – Body Building Recipes For Children is especially revolting – but there are some surprisingly good things too. Like this recipe for Picnic Eggs, which I turned to after I recovered from reading p38.

Picnic Eggs
Did you know that if you Google ‘how to boil an egg’ nearly 11 million results come up? How did people learn these things before the internet, do you think? I wish the cooks at my high school had been able to access it – the hardboiled eggs they made were cooked for so long the yolks had turned to dusty grey powder and the whites nearly bounced.
There’s a great method here – from a Le Cordon Bleu chef, no less – but his egg still looks a little dry for my liking. I used a Ruth Pretty method when cooking these eggs – bring a pot of water to the boil, add salt, then add the eggs, one at a time. Lower the heat so the water isn’t boiling so ferociously, then cook for eight minutes exactly. Drain the eggs, bash the shells a bit in the pot and leave under cold running water until cool enough to handle so you can shell them. This gives you eggs with perfectly soft-but-not-runny yolks.

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved lengthways
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
a pinch of cayenne pepper (Togarashi Shimchi would be nice here too)
1 tsp vinegar
1 Tbsp very soft butter

Gently remove the yolks from the eggs and put them, along with all the other ingredients, in a small bowl. Mash together until smooth, then spoon this mixture back into the whites. Either serve immediately, or, if going on a picnic, press the halves back together and wrap carefully in greaseproof paper (twist each end so it looks like a giant sweet). Coriander flowers look sweet (and taste good) as a decorative touch.

For more about Random Recipes, you need to see the nice man at Belleau Kitchen. For more fun with eggs, you can have a bit of fun playing spot the difference between a boiled egg and Heston Blumenthal.

How do you cook boiled eggs? And have you ever seen volume 25 of the Culinary Arts Institute series, 500 Ways With Cocktails? I am desperate to complete my set…