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.

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?

Indian Tomato Soup

May the heavens forgive me but I’ve just tampered with a Madhur Jaffrey recipe. I was having a “oh no it’s a week until payday and we have nothing for lunch” moment combined with lingering guilt over not making a single thing yet from her newest book – and this was the result.

Indian Tomato Soup

Indian Tomato Soup
You know how they say “so simple even your kids could make it”? Well, with just a little help from me regarding measuring and guidance so turmeric didn’t go all over the kitchen, the Small Girl made this. She’s two and three months. Ok, I turned the element on and gave it an occasional stir, but you get the picture. It really is that easy.

2 tins peeled tomatoes (chopped makes it even easier)
100g red lentils
500mls water (wash out the tomato cans)
1Tbsp coriander seeds
1Tbsp ground cumin
1/4tsp ground turmeric
1/2tsp chilli powder
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 5cm piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped (or, if you can’t be bothered, cut in a few pieces and chuck them in whole – I often do this with frozen ginger)

Put everything in a pot. Bring to boil then turn down and let simmer gently for about an hour. Top up with more water if it looks like it’s getting too thick. Taste for seasoning, add about 1tsp salt. Remove the giant pieces of ginger at this point. Serve sprinkled with handfuls of fresh coriander. That’s it. Serves 4.

Random Recipes #8: Corn & Feta Fritters

After the success of last month’s Random Recipes challenge, in which the Small Girl thoughtfully selected ‘Great Ways With Steak And Chops’, I put her to work again to choose September’s recipe from a pile of magazine clippings and pull-outs. I confess, I only gave her a small selection to work with, for I am destined to become one of those mad old ladies who lives in a house overflowing with things she has cut out of the newspaper or scribbled down on the back of a phone bill. Whenever we move house (something we’ve tended to do every 12-18 months in the last six or seven years), I find more recipes tucked into novels or – worse – tucked into other recipe books. There must be a name for this – Compulsive Recipe And Cookbook Kollecting (CRACK) perhaps? Shall we start a support group?

The Small Girl pulled this out of a pile of papers tucked into the handwritten recipe book I made when I first went flatting. There’s a burn mark on the back (left it on the element, Wanganui, 2001) and all sorts of things tucked inside, including a tea-stained note to my 1996 flatmate Kim from her sister Kirsty (“Kimbo: put your heater on the clothes, hope you don’t mind, need some for tomorrow. Early night for me, you crazy partier”), a 100 riel note (Cambodia, 2000), a bank statement from a defunct account (2004) and lots of torn-out pages from Observer Food Monthly (London, 2005-2009). Oh, and the recipes…

Corn, Feta and Microgreen Fritters
I’d like to say the Small Girl chose this particular recipe because she loves corn fritters, but alas, she didn’t eat a single one. Oh well, I thought they were pretty good. Judging from the font and layout, I think the recipe comes from an old copy of NZ House and Garden magazine. The attached story talks about the benefits of cooking with ‘microgreens’, which were the next big thing a while back. Health benefits aside, I think using fresh herbs from your garden (or kitchen) would do the trick nicely.

1 cup flour
3tsp baking powder
1tsp salt
Black pepper
2 free range eggs
125ml soda water
2 cups corn kernels (1 can, drained)
125g feta, crumbled
1 cup microgreens (or finely chopped fresh herbs)

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper into a bowl. Add the eggs and soda water and beat until smooth. Stir in the corn, feta and greens and let stand for 10 minutes.
Cook spoonfuls in a well-greased pan over medium heat until golden on both sides.
Remember, as with pikelets, the first one will be a disaster while you get the temperature right. Keep subsequent fritters warm in a 120C oven while you cook the rest. Serve with chutney and more greens. Makes about a dozen.

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?