Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Learning to love liver (not really)

I like to think I am a total omnivore. As a food writer I think it is important that I am not squeamish about any food, and that I don't have any food prejudices. That I'm willing to give any food a go. 

And that's something I pretty much stick to. Weird exotic meat - no problem. Peacock? Done it. Sheep testicles? Yep. Baby Bambi? Bring it on. Insects? No problem. I would, I believe, give anything a try at least once. But offal. As much as I have tried, I have found it impossible to enjoy kidneys and livers. 

I know I'm not alone here. I love the idea of them - high in iron and vitamin A, rich and meaty, usually cooked in a delicious combo of butter and wine. But something about the texture, paired with that very strong, iron-y, intense animal flavour... I just can't do it.

Except I can eat pate and terrine. Liver, when it's not quite so liver-ish, and when combined with other ingredients, I find I can handle and actually, enjoy. This is good news for my omnivore reputation. 

Here I present my favorite summer terrine; the basis of many a weekend summer lunch, and a lovely thing to nibble on with a glass of wine pre-dinner. Terrine is really just a flash French meatloaf, and it is completely delicious. I am using sausages here instead of mincing my own meats, just because it's easier. Obviously the better your sausages, the better the flavour of the finished terrine. Italian ones with fennel seeds, or Toulouse sausages, make good choices. If you have any brandy you could add a splash of that, too. Next up, pate (a complete revelation!)

Niki's chicken and pork terrine 

450g chicken mince 
400g (about 4) pork sausages (I used Branco's continental pork) 
1 clove garlic, finely chopped 
1 spring onion, finely chopped 
1 rasher shoulder bacon, chopped in small pieces 
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped 
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped 
2 tablespoons shelled pistachio nuts 
1/4 cup white wine 
180g chicken livers 
salt and freshly ground white pepper 

Preheat the oven to 160C. Squeeze the insides out of the sausages into a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients, except chicken livers. Mix together well with your hands (easiest) or a fork if you are feeling squeamish. 

Put the chicken livers into a blender or processor and whiz into a smooth slurry. (This is the grossest bit, but worth it for the flavour it adds). Add this into the meat mixture, season and mix it all together well. 

Put the mixture into a loaf tin and smooth the top. Put inside a roasting dish and fill the roasting dish with water so it comes about halfway up the sides of the loaf tin. 

Cook in the oven for 1 1/4 hours. Check it by inserting a knife or skewer; it's cooked when the juices run clear. It may need another 15 minutes or so. 

Cool the terrine in the loaf tin, then cover with a layer of plastic wrap and a layer of foil. Put something heavy on top of the terrine (I use another loaf tin loaded with cans of food) and leave it in the fridge overnight. This presses it down and gives it that lovely terrine-ish texture. Serve sliced, with a tasty relish, crusty bread and a salad. A glass of wine goes well, too. 

This terrine keeps for several days in the fridge, and freezes well too. Slice it up or freeze it whole. 

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pasta mia - how to make your own pasta

Still feeling Italian.... really, it was only a matter of time before I got my fingers in some pasta dough.

I haven't made much pasta in the past few months, mostly because I've been cutting right back on the wheat. But it's the holidays, and I've been pretty much off the FODMAPs wagon, and I truly hate the thought of never having pasta. So it seemed like a good time.

Every time I make fresh pasta I go into raptures about how good it is, and why don't I make all my own pasta, etc etc. Of course on a lazy holiday day, making your own pasta seems like the easiest thing in the world. Try me again on a busy work night.

It is pretty magical, though, in the same way cake, or cheese, or quince paste are magical: you start with something quite unpromising and end up with something that's completely changed in nature and quite delicious.

For those of you who've never made your own pasta, here's a step-by step. You start with a pile of flour, a bit of salt and some eggs. I used about 1 1/2 cups plain flour here, and 2 smallish eggs.

You mix it up a bit (carefully, to avoid rivers of egg breaking over the flour banks and running all over the bench). There's nothing stopping you doing this bit in a large bowl, if you want to. Gradually incorporate the flour and egg together into a bit of a dough.

It will look a bit gnarly for a while, and you will think "Oh my god, this is not working, what a waste of egg, I'd better add some water," or things like that. But trust me, it works out in the end. Before you know it, you'll have a shaggy-looking dough. Now it's time to knead. Just do what comes naturally, turning and pushing the dough, and it will gradually become smooth and springy and lovely. (This was about as much of a workout as I've had all holidays. I wonder if it was negated by the wine I was also drinking at the time?) Before long you will have a ball of something that springs back when you press it, and you can imagine rolling out into a thin sheet.

This is the stage at which proper Italian mamas with large biceps would roll the dough out by hand, using long thin wooden rolling pins, until they have the world's most gorgeous silky pasta. Then they use their army of grandchildren to make individual pieces of fusilli or orichiette or whatever. This is the stage where I bust out the pasta machine.

This still requires some manual labour (turning the handle) and it takes a wee bit of time as you feed the bits of dough (cut up your ball into manageable pieces) through, gradually setting the rollers closer together and making the pasta thinner and thinner. This is the stage when you start to feel like a complete domestic goddess and start exclaiming in loud, faux Italian to your husband while he's trying to watch the cricket.

I'm always amazed with how much pasta I end up with. This dough really ended up making enough tagliatelle (or is it fettucine? I'm never quite sure) for four comfortably. I often make pappardelle, which I cut up by hand since my machine only has two cutting settings.

I usually scatter the pasta over a board and spread it out so it can dry a little bit and doesn't stick together. Proper Italian cooks hang their pasta on racks. If anyone has a suggestion for what I could use as an impromptu pasta-hanging rack, I'm all ears. Apart from the clothes-drying rack (which trust me, I have thought about).

You can dry this pasta out a bit and keep it for a few days in the fridge. Or you can cook it straight away. Fresh pasta only takes a couple of minutes to cook, so do everything else for your dish first and have a pot of water boiling and ready to go about three minutes before you want to eat. Give it lots of room to move around and a bit of salt.

It's a terrible shame to overcook it when you've gone to all this effort, so give it two minutes, test a bit and be ready to whip it off the heat and drain straight away.

I could eat fresh pasta with olive oil, salt and pepper. But in the interests of marital relations I went to a tiny bit more effort with this pasta. I tossed a little garlic and chilli in a pan, then added some lovely little cherry tomatoes and a few prawns. Toss, toss toss, get the prawns colored, add a couple of handfuls of rocket. Chuck the pasta in, gently toss it all together, add olive oil, salt and pepper and basil leaves and eat, pronto!

Then eat the leftover pasta the next day with a chopped tomato, a chopped chilli, a bunch of basil and a bit (maybe a lot) of grated parmesan. Mmmmmmmolto bene.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Beach House Cookbook.... it's back!

The first recipe book I ever did was something called the Beach House Cook Book. It was pretty successful, in the context of recipe books in NZ (not Alison Holst territory, but pretty respectable). Beach houses, plus recipes... what's not to like? It sold out everywhere, but was never reprinted. 

Until now..... 

The publisher, Chanel, have re-worked Beach House into a new version. It's essentially all the recipes from Beach House, minus the houses. It's called Bach & Beach House

I have a limited number (50 copies) available for sale, so if you're one of the people who's emailed me in the past few years asking where you can get this book, here's your chance. It's yours for the bargain price of just $20... OR if you want an extra-special deal, buy Beach House plus Eating In for just $35. 

Click here to buy, and enjoy! 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rock and (eggplant) roll

I've come over all Italian in the last few days. I think it started when we saw the movie "The Salt of Life" at Matakana cinema. It didn't really have anything to do with food, except for one small scene in which the characters ate Melazane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmigiana) and for the next few days my mind was fermenting thoughts of eggplant. As luck would have it they are right in season, and cost just $1.50 each at Nosh at the moment. So it's been eggplant central here.

I did make a parmigiana and it certainly was delicious, but to be honest I found it a teeny bit of a cheese overload. So I need to have a think about that and work on it - I think maybe some spinach and other vegetable goodies might tone it down a bit.

In the meantime I've been having fun with eggplant rolls (involtini, if you want to be Italian about it) and these I really do love. These ones below are not really strictly Italian at all, being stuffed with feta, cream cheese and parmesan spiked with lemon and chilli. That just happened to be what I had in the fridge. In Puglia, according to Claudia Roden's The Food of Italy, they simply grill the slices of eggplant and roll them around a bit of mozarella and a basil leaf, then bake until the cheese melts. This sounds divine, so next time I make mozzarella I am going to be all over that.

I don't really have a recipe for these.... it is the holidays, after all. I may write one if anyone really thinks they need it (post a comment and let me know). Just mix the cheeses with a fork until you're happy with the combo, add chilli and lemon zest at will and away you go. I've baked the slices of eggplant in the oven, keeping an eye on them because it doesn't take long to go from deliciously brown to hopelessly charred. Roll away and top with a quick fresh tomato sauce (shallots, garlic, chopped ripe tomatoes, red wine, sugar, salt). Scatter over some basil leaves if you like. A platter of these with a lovely green vege salad and some crusty bread makes a fab lunch, which is exactly what I did with my friend Gertrud on Wednesday. These are also quite delicious served cold, as a starter, which is how we had the leftovers last night.

Thoughts, people? Let me know if you try these and what you think!

PS - can I just say how much I am loving my new wireless keyboard for the iPad! Thank you, Sandy McNeur! xxx

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