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Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Coconut rice pudding with palm sugar & cinnamon-poached pear

In desserts, gluten free, puddings, winter on 31 August, 2011 at 7:59 am

Like I said before, winter’s fast drawing to a close whether we like it or not. I know this because I’m sitting in bed typing out a blog post and I’m not wearing multiple layers of wool tights, fluffy socks, pajama pants, merino thermals, thick wool jumpers (the answer to “but didn’t you get uncomfortably hot in the night?” is yes).

And like I said last time, I’m not so reluctant to let go of winter anymore. It’s the sunshine, the flowering trees heavy with anticipatory buds, that wonderful feeling we take for granted the rest of the year of leaving the house and coming home from work while it’s still light out. And I’m getting so excited for asparagus.

But the nights are still chilly (ish) and there are still plenty of pears on supermarket shelves and I’m sure we’ll be hit with one last polar blast before we can truly say spring is here. So, okay, we’re cautiously watching the ebb of the bleak, cold signs of winter. But we can still enjoy comforting puddings like this one.

Rice pudding is one of those polarising desserts that people seem to love or hate: maybe it’s the texture, or having had too many stodgy, mealy rice puddings as a child. I remember my parents eating it when I was growing up, though I was never interested: to me, rice was something you eat along with Asian food, a savoury thing, a staple food, not something that would be good in a dessert. But I came around eventually, which is good, because rice pudding can be So Good – creamy, silky, sweet and comforting – and can take on so many different flavour variations.

So I was excited to see a slew of different rice pudding recipes while browsing through the June/July issue of Donna Hay, enough that I was convinced to buy the magazine and try out some of the variations. This was probably my favourite: the rice is cooked in coconut milk rather than cow’s milk, and drizzled with a syrup made from poaching pears in palm sugar syrup. YES.

In the end I made some changes to the recipe, mostly based on what I had in my cupboards, but found it turned out beautifully: I used a combination of half-milk, half-coconut milk (because I only had about 2 cups of coconut milk) and 2 pears instead of 4 (I only had 2 pears in the fruit bowl). It was still nice and coconutty even with less coconut milk, and I found that half a pear for each serving was just fine. Feel free to use all coconut milk if you like (as the original recipe had it) – this would be especially good for people who are trying to avoid dairy. I imagine it would work well with half-coconut milk, half-almond milk as well.

I have a feeling the coconut rice pudding would work really well with fresh strawberries, mangoes, pineapple, peach – so there’s definitely potential to keep this recipe around beyond the end of winter (today!).

COCONUT RICE PUDDING WITH PALM SUGAR & CINNAMON-POACHED PEARS
(adapted from Donna Hay #57, Jun/Jul 2011)

Peel 2 rather firm pears, slice in half and remove the cores. In a saucepan big enough to fit 4 pear halves, place 2 cinnamon sticks1 cup (270g) grated palm sugar and 4 cups water. Heat, stirring, over high heat until all the sugar is dissolved, then bring the heat down to low. Place the pear halves into the simmering liquid, cover and poach until tender.  This should take about 10-15 minutes. Once the pears are done, remove from the liquid and bring the heat back up to high; reduce the liquid until it starts to get all syrupy and amazing-looking. Also, your kitchen should smell beautiful right about now.

Meanwhile, bring 1 cup arborio rice, 1 litre coconut milk (or 2 cups coconut milk + 2 cups milk) and 1/2 cup caster sugar to the boil in a saucepan placed over high heat. Give it a good stir and reduce the heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 25-30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Once it’s ready the rice will be tender and the liquid will have thickened somewhat so that it’s silky in texture.

Serve hot, topped with a poached pear half and plenty of syrup. Amazing.

Serves 4.

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leaves and broth

In soup, year-round on 27 August, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Just a very quick post today: it’s the most beautiful day outside, I’ve been sitting in the sun eating kedgeree at Nikau and gelato on the waterfront, riding my bike around after three months of a flat tyre, just popped home to do some chores* before going back out for a walk in the town belt. I’m happy to say I’m embracing the advent of spring now, in contrast to last week.

Speaking of last week: it was intense. It culminated in me consuming a Wellington on a Plate burger at Bisque on Bolton, a three-course set dinner at Fratelli and an incredible Malaysian lunch at Kayu Manis (with the sensational Chef Wan, no less) within 24 hours. If you add a pizza on Saturday night and a massive Sunday brunch you’ll start to understand why I needed this soup.

It’s the perfect thing for coming down off an eating marathon, for trying to restore some sense of balance. It’s also all I want to eat when I’ve got a cold or when I’m so exhausted I can barely stand at the kitchen counter without my eyelids falling shut. It’s soothing in a non-guilt-inducing way and when you’ve had a long day or an overwhelming month it just barely whispers: “settle down now, everything’s fine”.

At its very simplest this soup is so incredibly easy to make: some garlic, some good-quality chicken stock, some herbs and seasonings, a handful of fresh greens. This time I added a fried egg and some toasted bread for a little more substance: had to ease myself off all those enormous meals I’d been eating.

Because there’s not much more to it than leaves and broth (especially if you leave out the egg and bread), you want to make sure you use the best stock possible. Homemade, if you can. If you haven’t roasted a chicken lately you may be able to buy chicken frames for stock-making (in Wellington, I get mine from Moore Wilson’s for about a dollar apiece). I usually toss one of these in a big stockpot along with the end bits and pieces of vegetables I’ve chopped and stashed in the freezer in a ziploc bag labelled “friends of stock”, some peppercorns, herbs, a few cloves of garlic, bay leaves, whatever else I have that might be happy to be tossed in a stockpot. Celery, carrots, onions, the lot. Bring it to the boil and let it simmer for a few hours. Your house will smell amazing.

*(and what better way to procrastinate from doing chores than writing a quick blog post?)

CHICKEN BROTH WITH GARLIC, SPINACH & A FRIED EGG

The most important part of this soup is the chicken stock, so try to use a good one, or even better, homemade.

Take a few cloves of garlic, peel them and either slice or leave them whole. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic. Fry gently over a medium-low heat until they go all golden but not so much that they start to turn brown (this will take a lot longer if you’re using whole garlic cloves, and you want to almost caramelise them, so don’t get impatient and turn up the heat. Or you could roast them).

Take the garlic out of the frying pan and add to a saucepan along with some chicken stock (about 1.5-2 cups per person should do – less if you’re not adding bread, since it soaks up plenty of liquid). Turn the heat to high; bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 10 or 15 minutes. Season to taste with sea salt & black pepper.

Meanwhile, toast some sliced crusty bread (day-old is fine: another way to use up all that stale bread in the pantry!). Once the broth is ready, ladle into bowls and float some baby spinach on top. Fry an egg. Float the toast on the soup and top with the fried egg. Sprinkle chopped herbs over everything – here I used parsley and dill but you could just as easily use sage, thyme, anything really.

pear, feijoa & ginger crostata

In autumn, baking, desserts, winter on 18 August, 2011 at 8:10 am

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking. Feijoa? In August? You’re right, this post has been sitting here for a wee while. 

But I’ve been wanting to post it anyway. I’ve been in a little bit of a seasonal rebellion. Feels like it was only yesterday that I was lamenting the end of summer and relishing the settling-down feeling of autumn. Feels like it went by in too quick a flash and suddenly all at once winter had set in, the shortest day had come and gone, and we were hurtling recklessly down a fast track into spring. The days were (still are!) getting longer, there were snowdrops and daffodils and lambs on the side of the road coming back from the mountain, the birds seemed to be chirping a bit more, I  smelled something akin to that distinct smell of thaw* in the air in the still, clear mornings.

It came to a head last weekend when I was in Auckland visiting friends and it was warm (warm enough for bare legs and no woolly coat! for a little while at least), springlike, magnolias flowering everywhere. And it was nice. But I thought, hang on. It’s still August. I’m not ready for spring yet. Spring is  full of new beginnings and everything young and tender and bursting with potential. And yes, it’s exciting, with changes afoot and everything moving forward and so on. But not just yet. Not for me, anyway.

So when it snowed on Monday (I was still in Auckland during the first snow on Sunday) and I couldn’t contain my excitement, maybe there was a bit more to it than just the novelty of seeing snowflakes outside my window. In Wellington. On The Terrace. (!!!) Maybe there was a little bit of relief in there too, a little bit of: slow down now, relax, it’s not spring yet.

And as much as I’ve been scrunching up my face at the hail, at the sleet, at having to take taxis home when the buses have stopped, this ridiculously wintry weather has been kind of a reprieve from the dizzying trajectory into spring. Spring is full of opportunity: I’m not there yet. Almost, but not just yet. I’m still holding on to winter, to stews and roasts and snow, to weekends spent with friends and homemade steak pies and mulled wine and hot chocolates, woolly blankets and daydreams. I’m a huge fan of spring and summer but I’m still grasping backwards, to a simpler time, cosy and pleasant and quiet: early winter, maybe even late autumn, when the whole hunkering-down business was still ahead of us and things wouldn’t be picking up speed for a while.

So that’s why I’m sharing this late-autumn pie. The time will soon come when I have to let go and embrace the new, the young, the fresh, to fill my pies with the very first strawberries, to scan supermarket shelves wildly for asparagus. But not just yet.

Until that time comes I’ll be happily making soups and stews and eating the last of the pears, hanging onto the gritty-sweet memories of last season’s fruit. Like feijoas. (Though the other night I did make a pear and tamarillo crumble which is a far more appropriate fruit combination for right now: I reckon it would work beautifully in this pie.)

*If you’ve ever lived in a place where everything (the ground, rivers, lakes, etc) freezes over in the winter you’ll know what I mean… that sort of raw, earthy, fresh dirt smell after months of smelling practically nothing outside. It’s invigorating.

PEAR, FEIJOA & GINGER CROSTATA (makes 2 smallish or 1 large pie)

For the crust:
(recipe adapted from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book via this Serious Eats post)

140g flour*
1 Tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
110g butter, very cold & cut into little pieces
3-4 Tbsp ice cold water, as needed

Sift together the dry ingredients. Add the butter pieces and toss so that they’re coated in the flour mixture. Rub the butter into the flour (or use a pastry cutter or food processor) until the mixture reaches a pebbly consistency.

Sprinkle 3 tbsp of the cold water over the mixture, and using your hands, work the mixture into a dough. If it’s not sticking together enough, add a little more water (only a bit at a time); if it’s too sticky, add a bit more flour. Form into a ball. If you’re making 2 smaller pies, as I did here, divide the dough into 2 and roll into balls. Flatten them a bit, wrap in plastic wrap, stick in the fridge to cool for at least half an hour.

For the filling:

Chop up roughly 350g pears (about 1-2 smallish pears) and scoop out the flesh of 1-2 feijoas (you could easily use tamarillo, or rhubarb, or any pie-appropriate fruit, really). Place in a bowl, grate some fresh ginger over the top, sprinkle over a handful of sugar (I used brown sugar), mix it up and let it sit for a bit.

Assembly:

Preheat the oven to 350C.

Take the chilled pie dough out of the fridge and roll out onto a floured surface until it’s about 1/8 inch thick** and of a more or less circular shape. Trim any weird scraggly edges, but you don’t have to be too meticulous – this is a free-form pie, so a  little inconsistency is okay. (It adds character!)

Pile the fruit in the middle and fold over the outside edge, pinching a bit as you go. Dot the fruit with little torn-off bits of butter, brush the pastry with an egg wash of a beaten egg & a splash of milk, sprinkle demerara sugar over everything and stick in the oven for 25-30 minutes (if you are making one larger pie, you may need to have it in the oven for longer) until the fruit is cooked and the pastry’s nice and golden.

Let cool a little bit and serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche or a bit of plain yoghurt. 

*I’ve made this with both wholemeal flour and various combinations of white and wholemeal. It works however you do it, though you may need to tweak the amount of butter and/or water a little bit.

**You don’t want it to be too thin – this pie doesn’t have the benefit of a pie dish to hold it all together, so you’ll want it to be sturdy enough to hold in the juices.

ps. this is my first contribution to the Sweet New Zealand monthly blogging event organised by Alessandra. Got it in just in the nick of time :)

scrambled eggs with smoked mackerel & chives

In breakfast, year-round on 5 August, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I have a confession: I’ve had this for dinner at least six of the last nine or ten nights. It started one night when I bought some smoked mackerel to make fish pie but got preoccupied doing other things, and bam! It was nine o’clock, I was ravenous, no fish pie anywhere in sight. So I did what I often do when I get into that night-time so-hungry-so-tired state: popped some bread in the toaster and cooked up some scrambled eggs. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, I found myself flaking a bit of smoked mackerel into the eggs.

I have no idea what was going through my head in that brief moment between sitting down and digging in, but I don’t think I was prepared for the overwhelming, eye-widening oh-my-god-why-haven’t-I-done-this before feeling that hit me with the first bite. You know, that stunned, amazed feeling you get when you’re at a restaurant or a friend’s house and have something cooked just a little differently to how you normally do it at home, and you kind of half-squeal with delight. Except I was eating this at home, alone, and is there really a point of squealing if you’re just doing it for yourself, for something you’ve cooked? It’s kind of smug, if you think about it. (I did go and have a bit of a squeal to my flatmates, excitedly offering them forkfuls of eggs. They were less than enthusiastic, something about having just-brushed teeth. Pshh, weak.)

I’m not going to get all spring-is-upon-us yet, because it’s still August and there’s till plenty of time for soups and stews and braises and warm puddings and hot drinks, but there’s no denying the days are getting longer and maybe, just maybe, this is a dish that starts to creep into spring territory. Okay, scrambled eggs can be enjoyed year-round. As can smoked fish and chives. But there’s something just so cheerful about pillows of bright yellow, flecked with grass-green chives.

 

Like porridge, scrambled eggs are one of those things people get pretty particular about: everyone I’ve talked to has their own method. So, like with the porridge, I’ll share my method in the hopes of winning one or two people over – but really, cook your scrambled eggs how you like. Just try adding smoked fish and chives. It may blow your mind. It did mine.

SCRAMBLED EGGS WITH SMOKED MACKEREL & CHIVES:

Crack an egg or two into a small saucepan, add a splash of cream and a little knob of butter. Heat gently over low to medium-low heat, using a heatproof spatula or flat-bottomed wooden spoon to stir it together, but not too much, scraping the bottom of the pan as you go. If it starts to cook too quickly, take it off the heat and give it a stir. Keep repeating this until it’s almost-but-not-quite set. Remove from the heat – the eggs should continue to cook from the residual heat in the pan. If they don’t firm up as much as you’d like, heat gently a little bit more. But be careful! Nobody likes rubbery scrambled eggs.* Once they’re at your desired consistency, stir in a spoonful of sour cream or crème fraiche, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, a tablespoonful or so of chopped chives (to taste), a couple of tablespoonsful of smoked fish (use whatever you like – for me, it was mackerel), flaked or shredded with a fork. 

Last night, nine-o’clock again and hungry and tired from packing for a weekend away** I had this with a pungent spoonful of homemade sauerkraut on the side, and a tall glass of stout. Aside from the fact that I felt a little like I was eating a breakfast fit for a North Sea fisherman*** it took the whole thing to a completely new level. Of  “oh-my-god-this-works-perfectly” triumph, and a little bit of anguish and insecurity that no one else was there to share this revelation. Which is why I’m sharing this little tidbit with you.

*I had some the other week at a cafe I usually like very much. I was so sad, kept thinking longingly of my home-cooked eggs. But that’s another story.

**I’m off to the mountain (yippee!) so this was more involved packing than my usual throw-some-underwear-in-a-bag-and-hope-for-the-best routine: climbing on chairs, pulling boxes out of storage, looking for snowboarding gear, etc.

***and here you discover my complete ignorance ofNorth Seafisherman and their typical breakfast choices. But, if I was some swarthy European fisherman in the cold, bleak sea (again, this is totally theNorth Seaof my imagination), this is what I’d be having for breakfast.