Category Archives: What I’m Cooking

Asparagus – A Spring Treat

asparagus

Here in Hawke’s Bay it is well into the asparagus season, in fact
before we know it the season will be finished – for some this is about the time they are starting to look for different ways to serve this spring treat, so this week I am having an asparagus festival (or is that feast!).

Starting today with hints and tips for selecting, storing and
preparing asparagus with a few easy ideas for using it, then over the next few days some great asparagus recipes.

It is believed that asparagus has been eaten for at least 20,000 years. It is depicted on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000BC. Thought to be native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, it has since ancient times been known in Syria, Spain, Greece, Italy and Egypt as well as throughout much of Europe.

In New Zealand we mainly grow green asparagus, but there are also white and purple varieties available. White asparagus is popular in Europe where it is often called “white gold” or “edible ivory”. Here, in New Zealand, we usually see white asparagus as a canned
product.

Selecting, Storing & Preparing Asparagus

  • Look for green spears which are smooth with closed unblemished dark green tips. Avoid spears which have woody, brown bases, yellowing stalks or tips which are open.
  • Store stalks in the refrigerator, upright in a jug of water.
  • Wash to remove any dirt or grit that might be clinging to the spears, then holding the base of the stalk in both hands, snap it. The woody ends can be saved to make stock or soup.
  • To cook asparagus, tie bundles of asparagus together with string. Bring a deep saucepan of water to the boil add salt to taste, place the bundles upright in the saucepan and cook for 4-6 minutes or until asparagus is tender. Standing the asparagus upright to cook ensures the tender tips do not overcook. Asparagus cookers/
    saucepans are also available, these are tall, narrow saucepans with a wire basket which means the asparagus stands upright without having to be tied into bundles.

Easy Ways to Use Asparagus

  • Braised Asparagus, Broad Beans and Pancetta: Cook 1 diced onion with ½ cup diced pancetta in olive oil for 5 minutes or until onion is soft. Add sliced asparagus, broad beans and chicken stock and braise over medium heat until vegetables are just cooked.
  • Barbecued Asparagus with Balsamic & Mustard Dressing: Toss prepared asparagus in olive and cook on a preheated barbecue plate, turning frequently, for 3-5 minutes or until asparagus is cooked. Place on a warm serving platter. Combine 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp grainy mustard and pour over warm asparagus. Toss to coat. Scatter with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.
  • Fresh Asparagus Rolls: Prepare and cook asparagus as described above. Lightly spread wholemeal or white sandwich slice bread with lemon and parsley butter. Trim off crusts, then lay an asparagus spear diagonally across each slice of bread with tip protruding and roll up.
  • Asparagus with Mayonnaise: Serve warm asparagus spears with a good quality (preferably homemade) mayonnaise for a simple start to a dinner or as an easy lunch dish.
  • Asparagus with Poached Eggs & Hollandaise: A vegetarian version of Eggs Benedict, use asparagus instead of ham or smoked salmon. Top a slice of toasted sourdough or ciabatta with a poached egg, accompany with steamed asparagus, drizzle with hollandaise sauce and scatter with snipped chives. A great spring bunch or lunch.

Happy cooking and eating.

Information and recipes by Rachel Blackmore

Pork Chops with Apple & Onion Sauce

edgebrookI have made this recipe a number of times over the last six months and most recently just the other night when I had my brother for dinner before he moved to Gisborne. It is a dish that I find easy enough for a family week night meal but special enough for an easy dinner when there are guests.

When I made it the other night I used cider in the sauce which seemed to enhance the apple flavour and take dish to another level – it is good made with wine or beer but with cider it is exceptional. It may, of course, have been the cider which came from Edgebrook Cider – I used their Festive Cider which as I was using Granny Smith apples was probably a good choice. Edgebook Festive Cider is a blend of eight varieties of Hawke’s Bay grown apples with predominant cultivars being Barebrun, Fuji, Pacific Rose and Granny Smith. It is also a great drinking cider that is crisp and refreshing – perfect for summer drinking. Edgebrook Cider is a relatively new comer to the Hawke’s Bay cider market and currently has two cider blends Festive and Village with a third, Orchard, not far away. Edgebrook Cider can currently be found at the Hastings Farmers’ Market and selected New World supermarkets.

Pork Chops with Apple & Onion Sauce

The  Apple & Onion Sauce freezes well so even if not cooking for six, make the full quantity and freeze any leftovers to use to jazz up grilled pork chops or sausages at another time.

Serves 6

6 pork loin chops, mediallions or loin steaks
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
APPLE & ONION SAUCE
30g butter
3 apples, cored and sliced
2 large onions, sliced
1 cup white wine, beer, cider or chicken stock

1              Season chops with salt and pepper on both sides.
2              Heat a heavy-based frying pan over a high heat. Add a little olive oil and chops and cook for 4-5 minutes each side. Remove chops from pan and keep warm.
3              To make sauce, add butter to the pan, then add apples and onions and cook,
tossing frequently, for 8-10 minutes or until onion is lightly caramelized and apples start to soften. Stir in the wine, beer, cider  or stock.
4              Push chops into apple/onion mixture, cover and cook, for 10-15 minutes or until pork is tender and cooked to your liking. Serve the chops topped with Apple & Onion Sauce, accompanied by mashed potatoes and a steamed green vegetable of your choice.

Open Sausage Sandwich
This is a great way to use up leftover sausages and leftover Apple & Onion Sauce.
Serves 2
2 slices bread of your choice, toasted
lettuce leaves
2 cooked pork sausages, split lengthwise
leftover Apple & Onion Sauce, warmed
Top each slice of toast with lettuce leaves, then one sausage and finally spoon over sauce. Serve immediately.

For more information about Edgebrook Cider visit their website.

Happy cooking and eating

Recipes by Rachel Blackmore

My Favourite Cookbook

EssentialItalianCookingA career spent working in food and publishing and a love for books has resulted in a collection of cook and food related books which more than fills a room in our house. I frequently sit in this room
researching or just reading these books for pleasure. This collection includes a few books which belonged to my mother and my
grandmother but most I have collected during my career.

From time to time I plan to dip into my library and tell you about one of the books that you could find there. At other times I will tell you about a recently published book which I have purchased and am enjoying cooking from.

My all-time favourite cookbook and one which I have cooked from more than any other that I own is Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking MacMillan London Ltd 1992. This book is not just a cookbook but also a great reference book for all things to do with Italian food and cooking. The publication of this book in 1992 was the combining of two books written almost 20 years earlier – The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking. At the time these books were considered to be “the most authentic guide to Italian food ever written in the U.S”. It was with great sadness that learnt a few months ago that Marella Hazan had died at the age of 89 – Italian by birth Marcella did not come to cooking until she married her Italian American husband, Victor, and moved to New York in the 1950’s.

It is hard to choose my favourite recipe from this book but after much deliberation I have decided on the following fish recipe.

In the original recipe bluefish is used however choose whatever looks good in the fish shop on the day, I found that this recipe works best with a meaty fish such a bluenose, snapper, blue cod or blue moki.

Baked Fish Fillets with Potatoes, Garlic and Olive Oil, Genoese Style

In Genoese cooking, there is a large repertoire of dishes in which the lead role is taken each time by a different player, while the supporting cast
remains the same. The regulars are potatoes, garlic, olive oil and parsley, the star may be fish, shrimps, prawns, small octopus, meat or fresh
porcini mushrooms. The recipe that follows illustrates the general
procedure.

In Genoa one would have used the freshly caught silvery anchovies of the Riveria. I have found the bluefish available on both sides of the Atlantic to be a successful replacement, so good in fact that one may even prefer it. Where bluefish is unobtainable, the fillets of any firm-fleshed fish may be substituted.

Serves 6

675g boiling potatoes
an oven-to-table dish approximately 40 x 25cm, preferably enamelled cast-iron ware
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
salt
freshly ground black pepper
6 thick firm fish fillets – approximately 150g each

1             Preheat the oven to 230°C.

2             Peel the potatoes and slice the very thinly, barely thicker than crisps. Wash them in cold water, then thoroughly pat them dry with a tea towel or kitchen paper.

3             Put all the potatoes into the baking dish, half the olive oil, half the garlic, have the parsley, several liberal pinches of salt and black pepper. Toss the potatoes 2 or 3 times to coat them well, then spread them evenly over the bottom of the dish.

4             Put the potatoes in the uppermost third of the preheated oven and cook them for 12-15 minutes, until they are half done.

5             Take out the dish but do not turn off the oven. Put the fish
fillets on the potatoes. Mix the remaining olive oil, garlic and parsley in a small bowl and pour the mixture over the fish, distributing it evenly. Sprinkle with liberal pinches of salt and black pepper. Return the dish to the oven.

6             After 10 minutes, take the dish out, but do not turn off the oven. Use a spoon to scoop up some of the oil at the bottom of the dish and baste the fish with it. Loosen the potatoes that have
become browned and are stuck to the sides of the dish, moving them away. Push into their place slices that are not so brown. Return the dish to the oven and bake for 5-8 more minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish fillets.

7             Allow to settle a few minutes after removing from the oven. Serve directly from the baking dish, scraping loose all the potatoes stuck to the sides – they are the most delectable bits – and pouring the cooking juices over each portion of fish and potatoes.

Reproduced from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan with a few minor changes made by Rachel.

Rachel’s notes: I have reproduced this recipe pretty much as it appears in the book so it gives you an idea of how Marcella writes and why I love this book.

  • I have made this recipe numerous times and as mentioned above use the best fish available on the day.
  • I use a vegetable peeler to make the thin slices of potato.
  • I also tend to cook the potatoes in Step 4 for longer than Marcella and turn and
    loosen them several times before adding the fish – but as I do not have the dish
    Marcella recommends I use an ovenproof glass dish which does not get as hot as an enamelled cast-iron one. When I cook this recipe by the time the fish is added to the dish the potatoes are cooked and have the delectable browned bits that Marcella
    refers to Step 7.

This book is still in print and should you wish to find out how to get a copy of it contact Beattie & Forbes Booksellers at 70 Tennyson St, Napier or phone (06) 835 8968.

Aromatic Indian-style Scrambled Eggs

basketofeggsIt’s our wedding anniversary today (hard to believe it’s 26 years) and special days always call for special food so to start the day (and to use up some of the four dozen beautiful free-range eggs I received from Farmers’ Market stallholders at the weekend) it was
scrambled eggs for breakfast – but scrambled eggs with a difference – Aromatic Indian-style Scrambled Eggs.

Sometime ago I came across a recipe for Indian-style scrambled eggs and since then I have found similar recipes in the cuisines of Pakistan, Afghanistan and neighbouring countries – all seem to use onion, tomato, fresh coriander and chilli but vary as to whether garlic and/or ginger is used and which spices are preferred – my recipe uses cumin, but sometimes I use turmeric or a combination of turmeric and cumin.

My interpretation of Indian-style Scrambled Eggs is an easy go-to dish for when you want something a little exotic without a lot of effort and with its layered nutty, chilli and herby flavours makes an excellent brunch dish or a delicious Sunday night tea. Serve with a steamed green vegetable such as spinach or a salad of mixed leaves for a complete meal. If left to cool they also make a delicious filling for sandwiches or rolls.

Aromatic Indian-style Scrambled Eggs

Serves 2-4 as a light meal or brunch

4-5 free-range eggs, depending on size
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped coriander
1 small red chilli, thinly sliced – seeds removed (optional)
Sourdough, ciabatta or bread of your choice, toasted, to serve

1             Break eggs into a bowl, add salt and pepper and whisk lightly to combine. Set aside.
2             Heat oil in a non-stick 18-20cm frying pan over a medium heat, add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until onion is soft. Add cumin and cook for 1-2 minutes longer or until mixture is aromatic.
3             Add tomato and cook stirring, until warmed through and soft. Reduce heat to low.
4             Stir coriander and chilli into egg mixture. Pour egg mixture into pan and cook, stirring gently, for 5-7 minutes or until eggs are creamy and scrambled. Serve immediately with toast.

So with breakfast out of the way it’s time to think about lunch and after that hearty breakfast I think it will be a salad – I’m just working on a kumara and rocket salad with feta and walnuts and will let you know how it turns out on another day.  And dinner tonight a beautiful wild venison fillet from The Organic Farm – haven’t decided how I am going to cook that yet – but have got all day to think about that.

Happy cooking and eating

Recipe by Rachel Blackmore

Cherry and Kirsch Jam

freshcherriesI have now finished as the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market Manager and yesterday as they say ‘Was the first day of the rest of my life’ and it’s time to sit back for a little while and think about what I am going to do going forward – the one thing I do know is that it will be something to do with food, so while I am thinking about it, it is in to my kitchen to start making Christmas gifts and trying and testing some of the recipes I have not got to yet.

My farewell gift from the stallholders at the markets was a generous selection of Hawke’s Bay produce and artisan products, so first up yesterday morning was making sure none of the produce went to waste.

The produce included several large punnets of cherries and while we had eaten our way through some of them the rest have been made into Cherry and Kirsch Jam – there wasn’t a great quantity but being made with lovely Hawke’s Bay cherries it is pretty special.

Making jam is a great way to use up an abundance of seasonal fruit and the simplest jams consist of fruit, sugar and maybe lemon juice, depending on how much natural pectin is in the fruit you are using. Pectin naturally occurs in most fruits and is the substance which helps jams and marmalades set – the amount of naturally occurring pectin in fruit varies and if making jam with a fruit that is low in pectin adding lemon juice helps ensure the jam sets. Cherries are one of the fruits which are low in pectin, adding lemon juice which is an acid helps to develop the pectin which helps to set the jam.

Sugar is also an important ingredient in jam, it helps with setting and acts as preservative. Too little or too much sugar usually means the jam will not set and in the case of too little it will not keep. Too much sugar and the jam will also be sticky and too sweet. Jams should contain half to two-thirds by weight of sugar – I usually measure the quantity of cooked fruit pulp and add an equal quantity of sugar and seldom have trouble with setting.

There are a number of methods to test the set of jam – I usually use a combination of the flake test and plate test – the flake test to give me an idea of when the jam is coming to setting point and the plate test to confirm. For the flake test allow some of the jam to drip from the spoon and when it no longer runs off the spoon but rather forms larger drips it is a good indication that the preserve has reached setting, at this stage I take the pan off the heat and place a small amount of jam on a saucer which has chilled in the freezer for a few minutes (3-4 minutes), then return to the freezer for another 3-4 minutes after which if you can run you finger through the jam and it leaves a path setting point has been reached. If setting has not been reached return pan to heat for a further 5 minutes, then test again.

Jars used for any preserves must be cleaned and steriled – in the home kitchen the easiest way to do this is to put them through the dishwasher, then while making the preserve place the jars upside down in a low oven – pour hot preserve in hot jars and cover while still hot.

The basic method I follow for jam making is to put the prepared fruit into a preserving pan – with or without a small amount of water depending on the juiciness of the fruit – bring to the boil and boil until the fruit is tender. Measure the fruit pulp, add an equal quantity of warm sugar, return to heat, bring back to the boil and boil until setting point is reached.

There is some equipment which makes home preserving easier. I think a preserving or jam pan is a must for home preserving and if you a planning on making jams, jellies, marmalades, relishes, chutneys and pickles on a regular basis it certainly makes the process easier. The difference between a preserving pan and an ordinary large saucepan is the shape of pan which is wider at the top than the base which helps with faster evaporation. The pan should also be heavy based and can be made from a variety of materials, my current preserving pan is stainless steel. Another useful piece of equipment a wide neck funnel – this allows for easy filling of jars with the wide neck allow chunks of fruit to flow through.

Cherry and Kirsch Jam

I had approximately 800g of un-pitted cherries which made about 4 cups of jam. If you do not have muslin use a clean chux cloth – place the pits on the chux cloth and tie with a piece of string to form a bag – the pits of the cherries contain additional pectin.

ripe fresh cherries, pitted – stones reserved and tied in a muslin bag
juice 1 lemon
sugar
1 tbsp kirsch

1              Place pitted cherries, lemon juice and bag of pits in a preserving pan. Bring to the boil and boil for 20-30 minutes or until fruit is tender.

2              Remove pan from heat. Remove muslin bag containing pits and discard. Measure fruit pulp and for each cup of pulp add 1 cup of warm sugar.

3             Return pan to heat, bring back to the boil and cook until mixture sets when tested. Stir in kirsch. Pour jam into clean, warm, sterilised jars and seal.

Recipe and information by Rachel Blackmore