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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

I was lying in bed this morning thinking about which café I’d take my out-of-town cousin and her cousin to when we met today, when it dawned on me to actually invite them home to lunch. I knew instantly that I would serve my go-to Italian spinach pie that I have been making for years. Almost everyone I have made this pie for has asked me for the recipe, and today was no different.

My spinach pie was a regular for our bookclub, it has provided comfort for a friend and her family, it works as an hors d’oeuvres with drinks, it’s the perfect lunch recipe with a salad (my favourite with this pie is a cherry tomato, roast pepper and mozzarella salad), can be eaten hot or cold, and so is great for a picnic or for making ahead.

Erbazzone – isn’t it fun to say? – hails from Emilia-Romagna in Italy (a part of Italy I’ve not yet visited) and, as with any traditional recipe, the ingredients vary; some recipes use eggs (I just use one), some add bacon or pancetta, and the vegetables in it need to be green and leafy, but don’t have to be spinach. I always cheat and use pre-made flaky puff pastry sheets and a 500g bag of frozen spinach, and if I’m feeling lazy (90% of the time) I’ll throw in a 100g packet of grated parmesan, but I do always make fresh breadcrumbs with four or five slices of bread. The recipe is very forgiving, and so it doesn’t matter if I have more spinach, or accidentally make more breadcrumbs that I need, and if I end up with more filling than expected, I treat it as a bonus, and add an extra pastry sheet for another, smaller pie.

So, because I wanted to do something different on my blog today, I thought I’d share it with you by providing a link to Julie Biuso’s food blog, as I use her recipe (though there are many others on the internet) from her Long Italian Lunch cookbook, and feel that I owe her many thanks for this fantastic recipe.

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I have a sweet tooth, but for chocolate and ice-cream and desserts rather than for confectionary (lollies/sweets/candy). So I wasn’t wildly thrilled at the photo challenge for candy this week. As I’m doing both last year’s challenge and this year’s, the Candy challenge required both photos of candy, and photos that implied candy. The first photo speaks for itself.

The chocolate is just asking to be made into a chocolate mousse, in the very glass I’ve used to serve chocolate mousse. I can’t remember the last time I made chocolate mousse. Yet it was one of the first ever fancy desserts I would make for guests. At least one person reading this will remember how I used to make chocolate mousse, and decorate it with chocolate palm trees. I need to try that again, and show you, although it has been years since I made chocolate mousse. Just talking about chocolate mousse makes me want to make chocolate mousse. I love chocolate mousse.

p1020262-chocolate

The second photo is really about my opinion that tomatoes are the candy of the vegetable world. I’ve written about tomatoes before. When I was in the Middle East, I adored the cherry tomatoes that I ate in Israel and Jordan. In our hotel in Amman, we were served a small bowl of cherry tomatoes, along with a small bowl of olives, with our drinks. Perfect!

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Photographically speaking, this challenge taught me a number of things. I played with light, and with different backgrounds. I realised that I should have done this challenge with traditional round cherry tomatoes, as the oval ones look as if I distorted the photo. I learned that I should not always go for a very wide aperture, as it can blur too much of the photo. And I learned that I should take more time for my challenges, and not try to sneak in five or ten minutes of photography when I’m waiting for my husband to get home with the takeaways for dinner.

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(#3 in the Afternoon Tea series of posts)

I grew up having afternoon tea every day. A large family pot of hot black tea – gumboot tea, as my brother-in-law calls it, to distinguish it from other options. Back then, it was really the only tea we knew. This was before the days of discovering English Breakfast or Earl Grey, and long before lapsang souchong, green tea, and all the various herbal and fruit options there are now. It was before coffee – let alone lattes and long blacks and flat whites – had taken hold in New Zealand too. My father drank his tea black and hot, but the rest of us took it with milk and, at the time, sugar.

Afternoon tea (and to a lesser extent morning tea and supper) was a part of everyday life, a crucial meal we rarely if ever missed. My mother would bake weekly, filling the biscuit and cake tins. When we were sorting through her kitchen after her funeral, I think we all wanted to take one of the old tins or two, just for the memories. Instead, I just took photos.

My father was a farmer, and it was a welcome break for him from the thirsty work of farming. Afternoon tea was always about 3.30. When we were older, at secondary school, afternoon tea would be waiting for us when we arrived home half an hour to an hour later, though maybe there would be a fresh pot of tea. It wasn’t a big meal, but we always had a similar selection.

At our afternoon tea, there are always savoury and sweet options. There was always a buttered cracker, in summer with a fresh tomato slice, appropriately salted and peppered, and in winter with a spread of Marmite and/or cheese. On rare occasions, this was replaced with a buttered fruit loaf. Then there was a biscuit (cookie). It might have been a shortbread, or a vanilla or hokey pokey biscuit, or that Aussie-Kiwi favourite, an ANZAC biscuit. It was definitely homemade, with my mother baking everything one morning a week. The only bought biscuits (other than the crackers) I remember having in our house as we grew up were Griffin’s gingernuts, rock hard until dunked into hot tea, usually only for morning tea or supper, late at night with a cup of tea. Just writing this now has the jingle for the gingernuts running through my head, and my taste buds tingling. I mentioned a while ago I had the urge for gingernuts – it’s been there since I first outlined this post some weeks ago. I’m going to try making some and see how they turn out. I’ll let you know.

Finally – because these things were eaten strictly in order – there was a slice of cake, or a special iced biscuit. Mostly, it was a piece of fruitcake or a plain single layer cake iced , or a slice (raspberry slice), or perhaps ginger creams (hard ginger biscuits joined with vanilla icing), or afghans (a chocolate cakey-biscuit with chocolate icing and a walnut from our trees on the top) or melting moments (rich, buttery biscuits joined with icing).  It was a layer cake only on special occasions – birthdays, or when we had visitors.

I had favourites of course. Whilst I loved the spicy fruit loaf, the fruit cake was never my favourite. Anything ginger or spice flavoured (Belgian Slice) was and still is good, and the raspberry slice also stands the test of time.

My favourite was chocolate fudge cake – though probably more accurately it should be called a chocolate biscuit cake – and it only made very rare appearances with visitors, or when there was some left over from a “Ladies, A Plate” event. I used to shave off pieces with my teeth, savouring the taste of the chocolate, the texture of the biscuit, making the experience last as long as possible.

It may sound like a lot, but serving sizes were always small. Go to a café now anywhere in New Zealand and buy a raspberry slice or melting moment or slice of chocolate cake, and they’ll be at least three times the size of the portions we had. (A single serve these days probably has more calories than our entire afternoon tea in the 1970s.) This burst of sweetness and carbohydrate, washed down with a good cup of tea, would keep us all going for the next few hours until dinnertime.

Small pieces of deliciousness

Small pieces of rare deliciousness

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Spring cleaning in January

I’ve talked about my hoarding tendencies for pantry ingredients before. (If that sentences sounds cumbersome, I was initially going to write “pantry-hoarding tendencies,” but knew almost immediately that some of my readers would have visions of a garage/basement/storage container somehow filled with pantries! ) It comes down to a tendency to buy things as I see them, in case I need them, or because I remember I’d seen (somewhere though I can never remember where) a recipe requiring a specific ingredient. So I snap them up when I see them, rather than as part of a menu plan.

As the new year arrived, all that hoarding came to a head as I realised serious pantry rationalisation was required if I was to be able to store a new purchase (with Christmas money) of a cake mixer, and the accompanying bulky freezer bowl. I decided that I would take a gradual approach, and started with a small section of one shelf. But it turned out to be impossible to do just one small section, and so I got stuck in, pleased to see that over several hours, the pantry became transformed. I still have two pull-out drawers to finish, then I need to tackle the even larger “second” pantry, which is where I want to store the cake mixer. (Though that will be easier, I think, as much less food is stored in there.)

Bottles, jars, packets of obscure ingredients I’ve never used, all were turfed into the rubbish. The Husband complained over the number of rubbish bags he might need to put out this week, but not so loudly that I might stop this strangely unfamiliar activity! I commented that I was spring cleaning on 1st January, and he retorted that it was, in fact, decade cleaning. I wryly thought, “maybe he means millennium cleaning,” but didn’t say it, because it might be scarily accurate. The oldest item I found had a Use By date of 2002. <Mali hangs her head in shame.>

I’m hoping that in the future I will only buy the ingredients I specifically need for the next few days. The supermarket is just down the road, and there’s really never any need for two bottles of pomegranate molasses. I’ve taken real steps in the last year to shake off these hoarding tendencies, to buy only what I will use, but it is hard to shake the habits of a lifetime. It doesn’t help that the Husband, asked to buy items at the supermarket that we’ve run out of, comes back with two of everything.

Oh, and I still don’t know where I’m going to put the cake mixer. I have a terrible suspicion that maybe I’ll have to move the wine.

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In New Zealand, biscuits are what are known as cookies in the US, but US biscuits or Canadian tea biscuits are scones, which are neither cookies nor biscuits, and are pronounced like “gone” not “cone,” and can be savoury (cheese) or sweet (with sugar in the dough, or chopped dates – my favourite – or sultanas (ugh), and served with jam and cream), and they are different from griddle scones, which have no butter in the dough, and are not baked but cooked on a griddle or fry pan (usually without any flavouring). They should not be confused with drop scones, which are known as pikelets here, which are not small fish but small, sweeter pancakes, more like the US-style pancakes, though much smaller, and served at afternoon tea not breakfast, never with bacon or maple syrup or banana, which go with real, full-size pancakes as a popular café breakfast/brunch item in New Zealand, though these should not to be confused with thin pancakes or crepes, which my brother-in-law cooks – rolled with lemon juice and sugar – for his Asian-Kiwi-third culture family for breakfast, meaning that their understanding of pancakes is hopelessly confused, much like Americans’ understanding of biscuits.

Please excuse the long sentences, but there’s a lot to fit in and I’m trying to make this an eight-sentence #Microblog Mondays post (maybe the longest eight-sentence #Microblog Mondays post ever), so if you’re feeling breathless reading this, just imagine how I’m feeling writing it, as I decide whether to mention that we use mince, not ground meat, for our burgers, and accompany them with a salad with lovely peppery rocket, which I’ve had to translate (on my travel blog) to my US friends and US-based brother-in-law who left New Zealand a) before he would have learned to cook, if indeed he can now, and b) before rocket became the ubiquitous ingredient it is now, as I understand in the US it is called arugula. We use coriander to refer to the entire plant, not just the powder, or the seed, or the leaves, and so don’t use the term cilantro, but I’ve watched enough cooking shows to understand that, though many Kiwis would not, though I’m still confused with the term scallions, though I think I would say spring onions, and I wouldn’t know what to do if someone told me to broil something, as I heard on a US cooking show the other day, though I know that we say barbecue when the US says grill.

Whenever I mention capsicum, I’m often asked what it is by my US friends, so I should really say pepper, which is understood here I think, as we’ll talk about a red or yellow pepper, so it’s pretty interchangeable, though don’t get me started on the US yams and sweet potato, which we would call by the Maori name for sweet potato that is kumara, though in fact, a yam to us is small and sweet (though never a favourite of mine, and I haven’t touched one since I left home at 17), and originates from the Andes, where (according to Google) it is called oca. Another disliked vegetable from my youth is the broad bean, or fava bean, and I am sure there are more differences with other beans, as there are with root vegetables, including pumpkins, which we tend to use as a category of various squash (which is not a term we use), and until today (thanking Google again), I never realised that a rutabaga is what I know as a swede, and like to add to a winter soup.

We tend to use the Italian zucchini not the French courgette, though again both are understood,  but to be contrary we’ve gone French and use aubergine not eggplant, pinot gris rather than the Italian pinot grigio, and syrah rather than following the lead of our even more contrary Australian cousins who call the grape shiraz. Cheers.

Microblog_Mondays

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After our three-month Lemons to Limoncello sojourn in Italy, I wrote that the dish I most wanted to recreate when I got home was the Pumpkin Gnocchi from Trattoria alla Cerva in Vittorio Veneto.

Maybe part of the reason I loved this dish so much was that we ate it in an amazing location (see below), sitting outside in the Piazza Flaminio, in our favourite trattoria, where the owner would come around to his guests, and sit down at your table, and explain the menu – but only if it had changed since the last time we had visited.

Piazza Flaminio - The view from our dinner table

The view from our dinner table

Our last evening in Vittorio Veneto, temperatures had just started to dip, autumn was in the air, and pumpkin was newly on the menu. Foolishly, I suggested to my husband that we share it as a primo piatto (first course), a suggestion I regretted the moment I tasted the gnocchi. A luscious pumpkin flavour, with something else bringing a richness and strength of flavour – which I know now, after testing a few different pumpkin gnocchi recipes, was parmesan cheese – and dressed either with a virgin olive oil or butter (I cannot remember), and a light dusting of finely grated parmesan.

I tested a new recipe recently – here’s the link (as requested by Lemons to Limoncello readers two years ago) – on some friends who were unwitting guinea pigs, and after one bite, knew I’d found something close to the Trattoria alla Cerva’s gnocchi. The base is simply roast pumpkin and parmesan (the more finely grated it is the better), with a tiny bit of egg and flour to bind it together, and it was delicious tossed with the burnt butter and sage sauce. I roasted too much pumpkin, so have several more servings frozen, ready for when I have an urgent need to be deliciously transported back to a northern Italian medieval piazza again.

My pumpkin gnocchi

My pumpkin gnocchi

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(#2 in the Afternoon Tea series of posts)

When I was growing up, we were always especially thrilled if my mother made pikelets for afternoon tea. We didn’t have them very often in our normal daily life, but they would make an appearance if we were having visitors. My mother would whip up a pikelet mixture, get out the old griddle, put it on the stove top to heat, and grease it well, before carefully spooning small amounts of mixture onto the hot griddle, deftly turning them before they burned. On a hot day, they were hot work, but they weren’t hard to make, and I always enjoyed making them – the key was to flip them gently as the bubbles appeared and grew, but before they burst. Like scones, they are delicious simply with butter and jam (preferably raspberry, in my opinion), and improved immeasurably with a dollop of whipped cream.

The trouble with pikelets is that they are very more-ish, and hungry children find it very easy to devour several in a sitting, so my mother would ration them. We knew we were only allowed 3 or 4 at a time (depending on how many she had cooked), and were always appalled when one particular family of cousins would visit and demolish the pile, without thought to how many of this rare treat there were to go around!

Note: Pikelets is the terminology used in New Zealand and Australia for what are essentially small pancakes, and are what the English call (according to Google) drop scones, which are not to be confused with what my mother occasionally used to make on the griddle (we called them simply griddle scones), and were the same as oven-baked scones but without butter.

Microblog_Mondays

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