Tahini biscuits

Tahini has taken years to grow on me. I think it might be one those foods that you first either love or hate. Even if you do hate it, I still think you should give it another try. The first time I tried tahini I was disgusted. It just seemed like really bad peanut butter and I couldn’t work out why anyone would eat it. I gave tahini another chance a few years later in a cake and really didn’t like it! But I didn’t so much HATE it. It wasn’t until years later that I became a full-on convert when I tried the tahini sauce at Ottolenghi in Islington, paired with juicy-fried aubergine slices. Such garlicky and great-tasting tahini sauce that was. These days, I use tahini all the time, at any chance I get . Most often, I crush a little garlic with salt, whisk in some tahini and add a dash of water. This elixir is just divine served with baked or grilled fish, or sometimes I add a bit of ground up nuts and then use it as a salad dressing for farro. Yummo.

I must admit, I’ve always been a bit of a conservative and have mostly stuck to using tahini in savoury dishes. But boy was I missing a trick; tahini can really lift a bored or tired bake. I think I’ve made these particular tahini biscuits about four or five (!) times this year and for someone who really despises making recipes over and over again that’s really saying something. This recipe is from Ruby Tandoh, most known for being a finalist in The Great British Bake-Off, but also now talented food writer. Her recipes are exactly what I look for: unexpected yet genius flavour combos and informative, unpatronising and well-crafted writing. With the masses of cookbooks being churned out these days, it is increasingly hard to find recipes that are different and still offer something of value, more than the ‘been there, done that’ ones, and I find myself turning more and more to Ruby Tandoh as a reliable source. These tahini biscuits remind me of these other really tasty tahini biscuits in one of my favourite cookbooks of all-time, Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food. The thing that gives these biscuits another dimension of flavour is the lemon zest. Each time I make these biscuits, they always taste different depending on the size of the lemon or what kind of tahini was used. I like that a lot. These are so melt-in-your mouth and crumbly that you once to pop you won’t be able to stop. If I feel like I’m getting a bit boring, I sometimes go ‘crazy’ and add a bit of honey instead of the full amount of sugar for a slightly chewy texture. Another good addition is vanilla pod seeds instead of the lemon. Rebellious times!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Tahini lemon biscuits
Makes about 20–24

120 g butter, softened
120 g tahini
120 g sugar
zest of 1 or 2 lemons
240 g plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
pinch sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Cream the butter, tahini and sugar until pale and fluffy. Mix in the lemon zest. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gently stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture, using the back of a spoon to combine.

Roll out into balls and space them apart on the baking tray. Pat each down with your fingers, or use a fork to make a crosshatch patter on top of the biscuits. Bake for 12–15 minutes, or take it a bit further for more brownish edges like in the photo above. Remove from the oven and let them sit on the tray for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Dunk into a cuppa tea and enjoy!

(Recipe from Crumb by Ruby Tandoh, Chatto and Windus)

Some pumpkins do ‘ave ’em

As the weather turns full-on winter, I lean towards food that is richer (fattier) and sweeter (fattier again). Not to say that this recipe for pumpkin risotto is in fact ‘fatty’, but I do like to add a lot of butter to it even if it’s not altogether a ‘must’. This dish is definitely on my list of satisfying comfort food and can be made with pretty much any squash, or perhaps even sweet potato. I would recommend using pumpkin/squash that you absolutely love the taste of, and it needs to be fresh because it’s flavour and sweetness will impart to the whole dish. Unlike other pumpkin risotto recipes I’ve made before, this version calls for pumpkin that is simmered gently in milk until very tender. It is then mashed into a puree with bone broth (or vege broth). This milky pumpkin-enriched broth is then used to plump up the grains of rice. I am a real fan of this method because it makes the risotto rice all the more ‘pumpkinny’. And I do love a good pumpkin or squash. There are so many varieties and they are all quite subtle in taste and texture. I don’t like the pale-flesh ones such as the spaghetti squash or turk’s turban, which I find a bit too watery in texture. In the UK, I loved autumn because onion squash would appear in my weekly vege delivery box. Onion squash is similar to the infamous crown prince pumpkin but it has a unique nutty sweetness and is so lovely and smooth in texture. I’ve been trying to find it here, but I can’t seem to track it down! As I wait for my onion squash to find me, I am enjoying trying the different varieties that can be found at my local farmer’s market. IMG_3701 Pumpkin and sage risotto
Serves 4

200 g pumpkin/squash cut into wedges, plus 350 g pumpkin/squash flesh, diced
10 sage leaves
250 ml /8 fl oz whole milk salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
80 g butter
nutmeg
350 g risotto rice
80 ml vermouth
1 litre chicken stock or vegetable stock
50 g freshly grated parmesan

Put the pumpkin wedges on a baking tray and sprinkle with salt, scatter over the sage leaves, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in the oven, while you make the risotto, for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and tender.

In a small pan cover the diced pumpkin with the milk.  Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender. Using a slotted spoon, lift the pumpkin from the milk into a small bowl and set aside. Mash the pumpkin pieces with a fork into a puree. Add knob of butter, salt, black pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Add the stock or water to the leftover milk and set over a low flame.

In a large heavy-based pan, heat the oil and melt half of the remaining butter. Add the onion to the pan and sauté it gently over a medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the rice to the pan and stir well to coat in butter and oil. Add the vermouth to the pan and let it bubble away and absorb. Start adding the milk/stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring the risotto as you do so. Add a little more once the previous ladleful has been absorbed. The rice is cooked when it is tender and creamy but still firm to bite. Take the pan off the heat and then leave the risotto to sit, covered, for 1 minute. Beat in the remaining butter and the parmesan, taste, season with salt if necessary, and then serve with a slice or two of roasted pumpkin and sage.

(Recipe adapted from racheleats.wordpress.com)

Steamy silky wontons

Having grown up part of a Thai-Chinese family, wontons have always been the kind of food my mum would make as snacks, usually for our school fairs. Always deep-fried and usually served cold, they weren’t something I really thought much of when I was kid. I secretly wanted my mum to bake a banana loaf or lemon cake or just something … anything ‘Western’ was cool. These days, I find myself going back to my roots and appreciating the food of my childhood so much more. My mum taught my sister and I how to fold wontons from an early age. As far as I can remember, I used to sit in the kitchen and help mum cook a lot (cue me sitting there eating while chatting my face off) and wontons are something I remember well. I remember putting helpings of the meat filling onto the wonton pastry squares and being constantly told that mine were either too small or too big. (In my household, there was always room for improvement!) With all that ‘training’, when it came to wrapping wontons, years on, I had it down pat. Oddly enough, my sister seems to have forgotten!

Recently, I was flicking through my copy of Every Grain of Rice and found my eyes glued to the drool-worthy photo of steamed Sichuanese wontons that appeared before me on page 292. I like the boiled version of wontons, more than the deep-fried ones of my childhood, just because they aren’t as greasy and feel a bit more like comfort food. The recipe here is so simple except two things: learning how to actually fold the wontons and being bothered with the extra effort to make the aromatic soy sauce. The sauce is brilliant, it really brings this dish together and I like that if you put it in a jug, it can then be lovingly poured over the silky wontons as a final touch.

I made a batch of wontons that were egg free as my niece can’t tolerate egg and they worked out just as well as the ones with egg. I doubled this recipe and we had plenty of leftovers the next day for lunch and then some. Wontons or dumplings in general are something fun to make on a rainy afternoon in the weekend with family. Made with care and eaten with gusto.

IMG_2448

Sichuanese wontons in chilli oil sauce

3 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

150 g minced pork

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp Shaoxing wine

½ tsp sesame oil

salt

ground white pepper

½ tsp brown sugar

3 tbsp pork stock

3 tbsp finely sliced spring onions

200 g package of wonton wrappers

flour, to dust

Sweet aromatic soy sauce

100 ml light soy sauce

½ small cinnamon stick

½ tsp fennel seeds

½ star anise

½ tsp Sichuan pepper

2 slices ginger, crushed

3 tbsp brown sugar

To serve

sweet aromatic soy sauce (as above)

3 tsp sesame oil

5 tbsp chilli oil

2 tsp very finely chopped garlic

3 tbsp finely sliced spring onions

First make the aromatic soy sauce. Heat the soy sauce and 200 ml water together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the spices and ginger, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.

Next make the filling. In a large bowl, combine the pork, ginger, egg, wine and sesame oil. Add the sugar and salt and pepper and stir well. Mix in the stock, a tablespoon at a time. Finally, add the spring onions. Test the flavour of the filling at this stage by frying up a very small piece in a small frying pan until cooked. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more or less ginger, and salt and pepper, if needed.

To wrap the wontons, have a bowl of cold water ready. Taking one wonton wrapper at a time, lay it flat in one hand with one corner towards your wrist. Use your finger to wet all the edges of the wrapper, then put a half tablespoonful of the pork mixture off-centre towards the bottom corner of the wrapper. Firmly roll the pastry upwards towards the opposite corner, enclosing the filling, until three-quarters of the way there (so it looks like a triangle). Turn the wonton around 180 degrees and then bring the two ‘wings’ together above the central body of the wonton, dab a little water on the back of the wing edges, then pinch firmly to seal (I would YouTube this method because it’s really hard to explain without photos). Keep the wontons covered with a damp tea towel to prevent them drying out.

Bring a large pan of water to a boil. When the water comes to a rapid boil, drop in the wontons, in batches, then stir gently to make sure they don’t stick together. Once the wontons have been boiling for about 2 minutes, some will appear to float at the top of the water. Use a slotted spoon to remove the wontons that float to the top of the water and drain well. Check one for doneness to be sure. Repeat with the remaining wontons and serve as and when each bowl is ready (this isn’t one of those sit together and eat together meals because if you like your food hot, you’ll need to boil the wontons and drain them as you prepare bowl to bowl).

To serve, pour over some sweet aromatic soy sauce (it’s quite salty so don’t do what I did and pour in way too much), drizzle in the sesame and chilli oils and scatter with spring onions, finely chopped garlic.

(Recipe adapted from Every Grain of Rice, Fuchsia Dunlop, Bloomsbury)

Give me a salted chocolate cookie any day

All my life I have been searching for two perfect recipes: shortbread and chocolate chip cookies. I haven’t yet found ‘the one’, but I think this recipe for chocolate chip cookies comes a close second to the real deal. The only reason it’s not dubbed ‘perfect’ (although I’ve made these twice already) was because I needed them to be more soft and squishy in the middle. I like my cookies piping hot out of the oven (I have inherited my mum’s asbestos mouth), with a crunch just around the edge of the cookie, then slowly getting more and more chewy and unctuous in the middle. For me, the best bits are the melting oozy bits of chocolate that, mind you, always leave inevitable stains on the only good white shirt I own (I can’t wear white just because I am a terrible messy drooler!)…

I’m kind of glad I haven’t found the be all and end all of chocolate chip cookies yet. Life is nothing without the endless chase for the next recipe to better the one we have now (the grass is always greener after all), so I look forward to writing more on this topic later.

This recipe is from superstar Claire Ptak, who has just published her debut cookbook The Violet Bakery Cookbook, which is brilliant. I had the pleasure of working with Claire on a couple of books, while I was working in London and editing food books, and she has always had such a way with food not to mention the rare ability to style it so well. The key to this recipe, as Claire says in her book, is in the egg yolk – no egg whites allowed here. The yolk is just so important in terms of creating the rich and gorgeous texture of these cookies. It’s like those tasty treats you find in real French bakeries; I always sit there wondering, how do they get it so right? Well, it’s all about the yolk people! Throw away those whites to the wind. This recipe makes so many cookies so I would actually recommend halving the amount and using one super large egg yolk instead of one and a half. I think this cookie wouldn’t be so bad with the odd macadamia nut thrown in too. Oh god … I might have to go bake some now.

IMG_1980

Egg yolk chocolate chip cookies

Makes about 16 large cookies

250 g soft unsalted butter

200 g light brown sugar or dulce sugar

100 g caster sugar

1/2 vanilla pod, seeds scraped

3 egg yolks

325 g plain flour

1¼ tsp fine sea salt, plus extra to sprinkle (I am in love with David’s Kosher Salt)

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

250 g milk chocolate (use really good-quality stuff if you can), broken up into chunks

Beat the butter and sugars with an electric hand-held beater until combined but not too creamy. Add the vanilla and egg yolks and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Add this to dry mix to the bowl with the egg mixture along with the chocolate and mix well.

Shape into a cylinder and wrap with clingfilm. Put into the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours. When you’re ready to bake them, preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Cut the cookie dough into rounds and place on the lined tray, leaving enough space between each one so they can expand as they bake. Sprinkle with a little more sea salt flakes and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the centre of a cookie is slightly soft but the edges crispy. Remove and cool on the tray for a few minutes or just eat them immediately being careful not to burn your mouth too much.

(Recipe slightly adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak, Square Peg, 2015)

Tamarillos forever

IMG_3495

 

I hadn’t eaten a tamarillo in something like 15 years but my god I have been missing out. You don’t see them much in Britain though, so I do have an excuse, but now that I am back in New Zealand I can enjoy these stunning burgundy fruit every autumn. They have a unique flavour that I can’t really pinpoint but it’s like a really fragrant, fruity tomato that is also slightly tropical in taste. They are very sharp eaten raw, but are just the business when poached becoming slightly silken and just pure delightfulness. Skye Gyngell is one of my food heroes (I’ve probably gone on and on about her loads already on this blog) and raves about tamarillos. I’ve had Skye’s recipe for Almond Panna Cotta with Poached Tamarillos earmarked by an unusually stained post-it note for years, waiting patiently to be made. Just the other day, I spotted some fine looking tamarillos at the weekly market and finally got around to making one half of the said recipe – the poached tamarillos. The almond panna cotta will have to wait. Sigh. Tamarillos are simmered gently in sugar syrup imparted with the all-important spices: cinnamon, vanilla pod and yes, bay leaves. (I’ve only just discovered, over the past year, how good bay leaves are in sweet things. Rice pudding with bay leaf and manuka honey being one of my all-time favourite ways to eat rice!)

I served these jewel-like beauties warm with ice cream. On the following days I had them on top of granola and then buttermilk pancakes as the syrup just keeps on giving. You can keep any leftover tamarillos and syrup in a jar in the fridge and just add to smoothies or the odd porridge that needs a bit more excitement. One thing is for sure in this life and that is I’m definitely a tamarillo convert and there is no going back.

IMG_3503

Poached tamarillos

6 tamarillos

220 g caster sugar

1 vanilla pod, slit in half

1 cinnamon stick

2 fresh bay leaves

Prepare the tamarillos buy cutting them in half lengthways. Put 500 ml water, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and bay leaves into a saucepan and set over low heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat and bring to a simmer for 5–10 minutes, or until the liquid looks a little syrupy. Add the tamarillos and poach for 5 minutes, or until they begin to soften and pop out of their skins. Take off the heat and leave to cool in the poaching liquid for a few minutes. Serve warm or transfer to a jar and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

(Recipe from A Year in My Kitchen by Skye Gyngell, Quadrille)

Hen-in-the-nest

I’ve always been a fan of eggs. They are such versatile things and a fresh egg can taste so good. If you ask me, you can’t have a much better breakfast than a couple of garlicky anchovy soldiers dipped in a perfectly gooey centred soft-boiled egg. This recipe for hen-in-the-nest aka egg in a hole or moon egg just proves food heaven can be so simple, as long as it’s cooked just the way you like it.

Last year, I edited a fabulous book titled Egg, by Blanche Vaughan. In this book, there are a myriad of recipes for this humble and versatile ingredient. This was where I came across a recipe for ‘egg in a hole’, taking me back to childhood sleepovers at other kid’s houses. We would wake up to the smell of fried bread and eat these weird toasts with a hole in the middle and where a cooked egg nestled. I think I only tried it twice and on each occasion it was made with bog standard and stale white bread and served with tomato sauce. When I came across the recipe 25 years later, I wondered if it could be good. It can!

This really is such an easy breakfast, and so child-friendly. The key thing is to toast the bread just enough so that it is perfectly golden and crispy but the egg yolk still runny (this will mean all the better for dipping that bread disc). Revisiting retro recipes is something pretty fun; if made with the best ingredients you can afford and with a few extra touches here and there, the dish can become something altogether new.

IMG_2015

Hen-in-the-nest

1 slice brioche bread (or chilli cornbread is also delicious)
large knob butter
1 egg
smoked paprika, to sprinkle
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Use a glass to stamp out a hole in the middle of the bread and remove. Melt half the butter in a frying pan over a low heat. Once the butter foams, add the slice of bread and bread disc and cook for 2–3 minutes until golden. Flip the bread over and add the remaining butter to the pan. Crack the egg into the hole of the bread and cook for about 2 or 3 minutes, or until the egg is set to your liking, covering the pan with a lid for the last minute. Transfer to a plate, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over a little smoked paprika. Serve with the bread disc for dipping.

Upside-down Plum Cake

I haven’t blogged in over a year. Time really has flown by. Also, I should probably mention that I have been busy moving countries! This time last year I was sitting in my small but quaint London flat dreaming about being back home in New Zealand. Now, after eight years we finally took the leap and moved back home. It’s been amazing getting to grips with the culinary trends of this often unknown (well, at least for the culinary delights) part of the world. I love the food here. There is just something so unpretentious, ahead of the curb, yet rustic about it. Not to mention my favourite supermarket of all time Moore Wilson’s is here in Wellington. Everything at the vegetable and fruit market smells fresh. It looks vibrant. It’s affordable. And there is space to roam.

One of my first bakes was this upside-down plum cake for our new neighbours who kindly gave us a bag of fresh eggs from their hens on our big move in day. The eggs were the best I’ve ever had! The yolks were just orange perfection and I knew I had to use them in a cake. I’m a huge fan of Alice Waters. Her writing is as good enough to eat as her food; she epitomises recipe writing at its best and reading her recipes are a lesson in the craft of food writing. I am all for Alice’s advocation of eating within the seasons and as I acclimatise to the produce available south of the equator, it’s exciting to be blogging about the discoveries. Black Doris plums are available in the height of summer here and they are juicy, dark plums that are perfect for jams, puddings and of course, cake.

This cake can easily be made with any stone fruit. I’ve also been wanting to try it made with feijoas but I keep eating them up before having a chance to bake with them …

IMG_1290

Upside-down Black Doris plum cake 

170g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of flaky sea salt
2 eggs, separated
100ml milk
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla seeds

For the topping:
50g unsalted butter
100g brown sugar
50 ml orange juice
zest of 1/2 lemon
about 6-7 plums, stoned and sliced

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
Lightly grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.
First, make the topping by combining the 50g butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the butter melts and starts to bubble. Add the orange juice and lemon zest and stir well. Pour into the prepared tin. Lay the plums on top in a circular pattern, beginning at the edges.

IMG_1282

In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat the softened butter with the sugar and cream until very light and fluffy, about 10 minutes using a hand-held beater. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla until well combined. Using a large metal spoon, add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, starting and ending with one third of the flour. Stir until just combined and no more.

Beat the egg whites until you have soft peaks. Fold a third of the egg whites into the mixture until combined, then carefully fold in the remaining whites. Pour the mixture over the plums in the tin and smooth over. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out just about clean leaving only a couple of crumbs. Take the tin out of the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the tin and invert the cake onto a plate to serve.

(Recipe adapted from Alice Water’s Cranberry Upside-down Cake in The Art of Simple Food, Michael Joseph, 2007)