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Archive for March, 2010

Some years ago I invited a number of friends to a Sunday lunch for a Ladies Who Lunch, Lunch.

There were ten of us there, approximately nine of ten being extreme extroverts.  We drank copious quantities of Ata Rangi Summer Rose. The noise was deafening.

I cooked a light lunch dish of lentils with hot smoked salmon. This was followed by Nigella Lawson’s chocolate gingerbread and strawberries.

Ever since then I have had constant requests for the lentil recipe which is a lot more delicious than it sounds. I am baffled and cannot for the life of me find where I got the recipe from. My friend Sue is staying with me and last night I had an attempt at recreating that recipe. It was pretty close.

Lemony hot smoked salmon lentil salad

1.5 cups of Puy lentils
Roughly peeled zest of two smallish lemons (use a peeler)
Salt
4-5T of good olive oil
1/2 red onion, very very finely chopped
Big big bunch of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
200g hot smoked salmon
Juice from the two little lemons you peeled (to taste)

Bring a big pot of salted water to boil. Add lentils and lemon peel with 2T of the olive oil. Follow instructions on packed but cook for approximately 25-30 minutes or until tender. Watch that it doesn’t boil dry. Remove lentils from heat and dump into colander. Rince in cold water to lukewarm/cool. Don’t be disturbed if brownish sludge appears to go down the drain. Don’t be too precious about making them super clean either. Put into big mixing bowl and add chopped onion, parsley, remaining 3T of olive oil, lemon juice to taste and mix. It shouldn’t need more salt if the water was well salted. Stir in the broken up salmon. Tip into more attractive serving dish.

Do add the salmon last as it breaks up if you try and mix it with all the other ingredients.

Et voila! Serve with rose for an easy light lunch for 4 or as a salad for a buffet.

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I had a dim sum lunch with the team yesterday at The Regal on Courtney Place in Wellington. Stu’s partner Hong has directed me there in the past and I was not disappointed this time.  If you are trying to find it – Embassy Theatre end, go up the poky stairs beside the Lotto shop.

The Regal is the real thing. It almost feels like dim sum in Hong Kong. A very high proportion of customers were Chinese. The instructions on the table are in Chinese. The environment is no frills. For Craig and myself it was similar to our regular food surprise meals across SE Asia where we just get the locals to order us things.

David Burton has previously reviewed the restaurant and given it 4.5 stars for food. He particularly commends their crispy pork and it certainly went down a treat with the team.

Wait staff constantly circle and offer trays of items. They do have average to poor English which caused some confusion between “chives” and “tripe” which was of a little concern for some of the guys. And also means I cannot name with confidence or indeed accuracy everything that we ate. In general I can say that the chicken feet went down a treat with Craig who pronounced them the best he had had. He did exclaim every time he spat out a claw which means I won’t sit next to him next time! A variety of delicious home made dumplings.  Pork spare ribs. Beef tendons. Scallops in rice pancakes (the shiny steamed version). Tasty pork buns. Chive and pork (or prawn?) pancakes. Or maybe it was tripe.

No photos sorry. I didn’t have my camera.

It was ridiculously good value. We ate all we could and it came to a whopping $14 per head. Go there.

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Tonight I am cooking one of my favourite staple dishes. Great for family or informal dinners with friends. Freezes beautifully into portions. And actually good enough to serve at a grown-up dinner party too.

The recipe is from Stephanie Alexander‘s mammoth tome The Cooks Companion. This is the kind of recipe book that totally daunts people who consider themselves non-cooks thanks to its sheer size. It shouldn’t. This is the recipe book everyone should have in their kitchen. I gave The CC to friends Tash and Ian for their wedding on the basis that they could spend the next 50 years cooking their way through it. Tash thanked me through faintly gritted teeth but I feel quietly confident that now they have two mini-Tash’s this is a very useful book to have.

The Cooks Companion

Kilos of book: The Cooks Companion

It is the cookbook that does the following:

  • is structured alphabetically by standard ingredients e.g. for rhubarb focussed recipes visit R for Rhubarb. This is a lot handier than it sounds. Think about the moment when you have a load of rhubarb that you are looking at blankly with a feeling that you should do something about it. The CC gives you an overview of the basics of rhubarb (poaching etc); load of rhubarby recipes; and a  bunch of other ideas including cross references to other recipes in the book that include rhubarb.
  • is beautifully indexed and cross referenced. So if you are cooking chicken with chickpeas you can find it under C for Chicken or C for Chickpeas/
  • has all the basic recipes up front such as: pastries (short / sweet / flaky /puff / choux); scones; stock; batters etc
  • is great for the moments when you buy a walloping lamb leg to feed 1o. And then have no idea how long to roast it for to attain pink deliciousness. Just go to Lamb and at the beginning it has Roasts and Legs (boned or unboned).  Even the most competent cooks have baffled moments contemplating large pieces of meat. As a competent cook I probably angst more about getting it right as there is  no excuse for a beautiful cut of organic meat to be ruined.

Anyway, back to the recipe for tonight. Moroccan inspired chicken on page 295.

Ingredients

8 chicken thighs
salt & freshly ground pepper
2T olive oil
1 onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 X 2cm piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
pinch of saffron threads [don’t scimp on the saffron – ever]
1/2 t of chilli flakes
1 cinnamon stick
2 T cumin seeds
2 carrots, cut into 1cm dice [I use whole baby carrots]
2 turnips, peeled and cut into 1cm dice [I use whole or half teeny baby turnips – they are surprisingly good in this and soak up the flavour]
1 litre chicken stock [anyone who uses cubes will be blocked from this site][
500g pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
2 cups cooked chickpeas [I chuck in 2 400g cans usually]
rind of 1/4 preserved lemon [substitute with zest of a whole lemon]
stalks and leaves from a 1/2 bunch of coriander, chopped [I ADORE coriander so tend to chuck in a whole bunch]
Cous cous to serve [I am not telling you how to cook cous cous, read the packet]

Heat oil in large heavy based stock pot or saucepan. [If you have a big Le Creuset casserole dish use this.] Saute onion, garlic, ginger, saffron, chilli flakes, cinammon stick and cumin seeds until onion has softened. Add chicken which has been lightly salt and peppered and brown on all sides. Add carrot, turnip and stock, bring to a simmer and cook on low for 30 minutes. [I use a simmer pad on my gas stove]. Add pumpkin, chickpeas and lemon and simmer for another 20-30 minutes until pumpkin is tender. Stir in coriander and taste for seasoning. [i.e. add more salt now if you want to]. Serve with cous cous.

If you cannot get pumpkin or other base vegetable ingredients (e.g. had a big struggle finding pumpkin in the UK) substitute with other root vegetables e.g. parsnip, sweet potato etc.

Love this dish. Et voila (below).

Stephanie Alexander Moroccan Inspired Chicken

Moroccan inspired chicken in Le Creuset pan!

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I went to the Beijing restaurant in Newtown tonight with Paula. I am not sure what to say. It was a nice meal but it was pretty much your bog standard Chinese meal for Westerners. I feel like you could wander into a random mid-level Chinese restaurant anywhere in the city and get a similar meal. No Chinese eating there either. Just feels like it has gone a little downhill, it used to be packed the whole time.

Fact is I have been spoiled by eating Chinese food in Asia ordered by the locals. Some moderately traumatic moments as I am faced with a bowl of what appears to be marinated gristle. Surprisingly good even if there is no elegant means to spit out a mouthful of shrapnel while on a business lunch. Still the bowl of gristle for dim sum in Kuala Lumpur was more delicious than my szechuan squid tonight at the Beijing in Wellington. The Beijing’s dumplings were good however and worth another go.

Beijing restaurant schezwan squid

The 'jing's schezwan squid

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This post will be extended later when I have actually cooked something from the book. Lulu and John gave me this beautiful book by David Thompson for Christmas.  I have started branching out into Thai and other SE Asian cooking thanks to all the travel (and eating) in the region. It is a classic book of its genre with a fabulous outline of everything from culinary history of Thailand through to an extensive overview of different ingredients up front.

I do have a confession though. This book is a teeny bit daunting. Every recipe has several sub recipes each with lists of 542 ingredients most of which you have:

a) not heard of,

b) need to get from a speciality Asian food market, and

c) wouldn’t recognise if you tripped over it.

I absolutely adore Thai food and have started more gently with Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. It still has the complex pastes etc that you make from scratch but is marginally less complex than David Thompson’s manual. Having said all that, I have every intention of cooking from Thai Food. But this is a new style of cooking for me and I will start with a couple of Rick Stein’s versions of the recipes before stepping up to the stove with the Thompson version.

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Nigella Lawson’s Feast is a total stalwart in my book collection. At her best her approach seems to involve slapping a walloping piece of meat in the oven, suggesting substantial and interesting sides, and stuffing people to the gills. Dinner party guests roll home after consuming recipes from this book. This is by far my favourite of her books.

In some of Nigella’s others the cooking effort and skill seems to be reduced so far down the evolutionary chain I am unclear whether she is targeting preschoolers or chimps. Any recipe that involves tipping a load of Mars bars into a pan and melting them does not deserve to be printed.

I also have How to Eat which frustrates the heck out of me. I cannot stand recipes that seem to involve a chatty  stream of consciousness  with all the ingredients randomly mentioned throughout. I like a nice list of ingredients at the top for shopping purposes. Then instructions. If the writer feels the need to chit chat about their life and experience do it as a paragraph at the beginning of the recipe or the end. Just give us the list of ingredients or I will forget some. Nigel Slater needs a hand slap for this as well for The Kitchen Diaries. In his case though the recipes are sufficiently good, and the verbage is so charming that it is worth sifting through the diary entries to find them and locate the ingredients amongst the burble.

Back to Feast. It is a great book. Broken down into themes (Christmas, Easter, chocolate cake hall of fame). Tasty food that is pretty straightforward to throw together. Great if you have a celebratory dinner or Christmas to plan for.

Her chocolate gingerbread also deserves special mention. Really outstanding and good for freezing in chunks.

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I went to Elements in Lyall Bay today for brunch with Kate B. We were in slight recovery mode after a whole lot of red wine was consumed last night to wash down the charcoal duck I served her. As always, perused the Elements menu, admired everything else, then ordered the twice baked goats cheese souffle. It is just so good. I have only once had a disappointment when it arrived dry and with the consistency of a dish sponge. I went into a decline and stopped going to Elements for two months. Fortunately the standard has picked up again.

My one gripe about that place. What is it with the service? They seem to go for quantity not quality. Half a dozen young waitresses floating around avoiding eye contact and flocking together in corners. It was early so the place was half empty and the ratio of staff to customers was bordering on 1:2.  No water. No menu. No coffee order. This happens every time I go there unless I get one of the owners.

Classic Kiwi cafe style. I think cafe owners and managers assume that table service is so straight forward there is no need for a modicum of instruction.  Advice to the Elements owners: train your staff and get them into a routine. Hand over menu, bring water, take immediate coffee order, check to see if they are ready to order. Surely table turnover is a key driver?

The above aside. Go there and try the souffle. I am going to force myself to branch out onto one of the salads next time.

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