Last Christmas…

Last week I wrote a ‘best of times, worst of times’ kind of essay on Christmas food (and much more besides) for Your Weekend magazine. I ran out of room to include this section, which looks back at last Christmas. How can it be a year ago?

Coconut Eton Mess with berries and pomegranate molasses

Christmas Day 2016, Wellington

My brother stands in the kitchen, taking the cork out of a bottle of champagne. My sister puts on her glasses to read a recipe on her phone. My husband rinses grit off a pound of West Coast whitebait while my nephew patiently teaches my daughter how to play Old Maid. My brother-in-law explains a complex psychological theory to me while I wrangle two kilos of pork loin into a roasting dish. I have been looking forward to this for months – Christmas under my own roof, with visitors from far away. Not even the discovery that our ancient car was stolen overnight bothers me. I have taken the advice of the kind woman on the insurance helpline who told me at 8am that “there’s nothing we can do about it today, just enjoy Christmas”.

Weeks earlier, I had not felt so good. I had just started a new job and was more unsettled by the Kaikoura earthquake than I wanted to admit. I needed a distraction and the Christmas menu fitted the bill perfectly.  I send emails to my siblings; my brother responds with a link to a Fanny Craddock clip on YouTube. My sister directs me to a Nigella Lawson recipe. I show my husband a photo. “Excellent choice,” he says. “But we’re having a ham too, right? And whitebait?”

In the end we have all of these things, plus new potatoes dug out of the garden on Christmas Eve. My brother makes a kind of Eton Mess with coconut yoghurt, cranberry-studded meringues and swirls of pomegranate molasses. My daughter makes us pose for family portraits with the hideous robotic toys she has been sent for Christmas. We laugh so much the neighbours must think we are mad. We want for nothing.

Later that night I crawl into bed, thinking about the person who stole our car. They broke into our neighbour’s car too, stealing his five-year-old’s brand new bike. I don’t care so much about our car, but I hope the bike has made someone happy.

 

Wherever you are this Christmas, I hope you have a happy and safe one with people you love.

“Are you one of those Elizabeth David junkies?”

The scene: A suburban charity shop in Wellington, New Zealand. Two elderly women (let’s call them Beryl and Meryl) preside over the counter, keeping an eye on the shoppers on a cold Saturday morning. A much younger woman (let’s call her Lucy) approaches them, clutching a water-stained and battered paperback.

Beryl (looking at the book, then at Lucy): “Are you one of those Elizabeth David junkies?”

Lucy (somewhat taken aback at her aggressive tone): “Err, umm, well, yes, I suppose I am. And I like saving old books.”

Beryl (picking up the book gingerly): “Hmm. Yes, we get people in here like you. There’s another Elizabeth David down the back you know, called ‘Cooking in Summer’ or something.”

Lucy (smiling): “Yes, I saw that one but I’ve got that already and I thought I’d leave it for someone else.”

Meryl (suddenly taking an interest): “What’s this book? French Country Cooking? Who’s Elizabeth David?

[Lucy begins to speak but Beryl overrides her]

Beryl: “Some sort of cookery writer. Normally we sell her books on Trade Me because (sniffs imperiously) there are these junkies who want to buy them.”

Meryl (looks at Lucy to assess junkie-ness, then at the book): “Oh. Isn’t that funny? I’ve never heard of Elizabeth whats-her-name. I thought all the great chefs were men.”

Beryl: “Well, yes. $3 please.”

 

Black garlic chocolate mousse

If I was the sort of person who did things by the book, I’d be planting my garlic today. But after the failure of last year’s crop – I’ll never know if it was too much rain at the wrong time, the wrong sort of compost, or just bad luck – I’m a bit reluctant. Serves me right for being so smug and getting it in on time last year, I suppose. Traditional garden lore says it should be planted on the Shortest Day, but apparently it can be planted any time from May until the end of July. That’s especially useful information for people like me, who don’t fancy going out in the dark tonight to get the job done.

In the meantime, I’m indulging in some extremely moreish black garlic grown and cured in Marlborough. Black garlic, or ‘garlic noir’ as it’s sometimes called, is fermented for a month to create a kind of super garlic that has double the antioxidants of the ordinary stuff. The fermentation process also changes the texture and flavour profile – black garlic is soft and almost chewy, with a sweet and smoky flavour that reminds me of molasses or fresh dates. It’s extremely moreish and I often find I have eaten a couple of cloves while slicing it up for something else.

 

The clever people who make it at Marlborough Garlic suggest using it as part of an antipasto platter, but I’ve also been adding it to vinaigrettes, or as a last-minute flavour boost to risotto, as it doesn’t need to be cooked. They also suggest dipping it in dark chocolate, which I was unsure about until a recent lunch at the sublime Wharekauhau Lodge where pastry chef Yannick Beaurienne devised a gorgeous black garlic chocolate mousse with kumara and pear brunoise, kumara ice cream and garlic caramel, as seen below.

Yannick’s version was beautiful, elegant (and extremely labour-intensive). Here’s my much-simplified version for the home cook.

Black garlic chocolate mousse with black garlic toffee
Don’t be afraid – the black garlic just deepens and enriches the chocolate flavours. This was a huge hit in my household, to the point that there was barely any left to photograph.

For the mousse:
200g dark chocolate
2 cloves black garlic (about 8g)
400ml cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the black garlic toffee:
3-4 cloves black garlic, finely sliced
4 Tbsp caster sugar
20ml (4 tsp) water

A little extra cream, for drizzling

Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a heatproof bowl. Put half the cream into a small pot and heat to nearly boiling point. Pour over the chocolate and set aside for five minutes.
Mash the garlic to a paste and stir through the chocolate and cream until the mixture is smooth.
Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Fold through the cooled chocolate mixture,  then pour into a large bowl or divide between six small serving dishes (I use Great Aunt Shirley’s whisky glasses). Cover and put in the fridge to set for at least two hours.

For the toffee, spread the sliced garlic on a piece of non-stick foil or baking paper. Put the sugar and water in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then let it bubble away for five to 10 minutes, until it turns a dark golden colour (don’t wander off, this will happen sooner than you think!) Pour the toffee over the garlic and leave to set.

To serve, remove the mousses from the fridge at least 20 minutes before serving. Break the toffee into pieces and use to decorate each one. Drizzle a little cream over the top and serve.

Are you planting garlic this winter? Do you have any top tips for failed growers?

Frozen persimmon sorbet

Have you been struck by the dreaded winter lurgy yet? It has cut a swathe through our small household in the last week and I don’t think it’s done with us yet. I lost my voice over the weekend, then lost my hearing as soon as it came back. Worst of all, I’ve lost my sense of taste – unless it’s chocolate or chilli, I’ve been reduced to eating for texture only. This is profoundly depressing.

I’m hoping that my current high levels of persimmon consumption will speed my recovery. Persimmons are high in vitamin C and look extremely cheerful in the kitchen. Oranges are not the only fruit at this time of year, after all.

This week’s Three Ways With… column is devoted to the not-so-humble persimmon, which I have been consuming in huge quantities lately (so imagine how much sicker I could have been!) The following recipe for frozen persimmon sorbet will be extremely soothing if you’re unwell, but you don’t have to be poorly to enjoy it. 

Frozen persimmon sorbet

I was extremely sceptical when I read about this recipe – and I did have to experiment with it a bit to make it work – but it’s a nice bit of fun to try (with minimal effort required). All you need to do is freeze as many persimmons as you have diners for a minimum of three hours. At least 45 minutes before serving, remove the persimmons from the freezer. Slice off the tops and let the fruit sit at room temperature. After 45 minutes they will be icy cold, but soft enough to spoon out the frosty flesh. For an extra treat, pass around a bowl of whipped cream.

If this sounds like too much hassle, be reliably informed that you can freeze peeled, sliced persimmons and whiz them up in smoothies. And if you have a dehydrator, dried persimmon slices are absolute heaven (thanks Ann for the lovely specimens below).

Kitchen DIY: Goats’ curd

Q: What do you call a goat that’s sitting around doing nothing?

A: Billy Idol.

I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. I fell down a rabbit hole of goat memes on the internet the other day and bad goat jokes were rife. Believe it or not, the Billy Idol example was one of the better ones.

Goats have been on my mind because today’s Three Ways With… column is all about using goat meat, milk and cheese. The latter has become much more common in New Zealand in recent years -there were loads of great goats’ cheese entries in the recent Outstanding Food Producer Awards, for example – but the former two are only just on the cusp of being mainstream. It’s a pity, because they’re delicious – and they tick all the boxes in terms of careful production and quality.

I was inspired to make my own cajeta (pictured above) after tasting Hamilton company Cilantro‘s version. Making your own is fun, not difficult and yields a generous amount that will disappear quickly. It’s the closest thing I’ve tasted to manjar, the highly addictive Chilean dulce de leche. One spoonful and you’ll never be satisfied with salted caramel again.

If you’re too pure to sully your palate with such decadence, but want to have a play with goats’ milk in the kitchen, I strongly recommend DIY goats’ curd. I make it quite often (short-dated goats’ milk is often on special at my local food emporium) and it’s the sort of kitchen magic trick everyone should know how to perform.

DIY Goats’ Curd
This is about as simple as cooking gets – milk + heat + coagulant + time = soft, creamy goats’ cheese. Smoosh a bit on some toasted baguette, drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil and bliss will be yours.

500ml (2 cups) goats’ milk
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
a pinch of salt

Heat the goats’ milk until simmering point. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, until curds have begun to form. While you’re waiting, line a sieve with muslin (I use a very fine cotton table napkin) and set it over a large bowl.
Carefully pour the curds/milk into the sieve. Leave to drain for at least 20 minutes, pressing it gently to squeeze out the whey. If you’re not in a hurry, you can put the sieve/bowl arrangement in the fridge and let it drain for a couple of hours.
When you’re ready, scrape the curds into a small bowl. Use immediately or cover and store in the fridge.

Are you a fan of goats’ produce? Or do you have a good goat joke to share? Let me know!