The end.

After a year of cooking my way through a selection of Lois Daish’s recipes, it’s time to move on to other projects. Lois & Me has given me a new repertoire of recipes and an even greater appreciation for Lois as I encountered chefs, cooks, restaurateurs, and foodies who are as adamant as I am that Lois deserves food hero status. 

Lois & Me has been about recognising and celebrating a forgotten foodie. Restaurateur Martin Bosley calls her the Elizabeth David of New Zealand cooking and is emphatic that she ought to be a Dame. Food writer Ginny Grant counts her as a food hero and lauds her as our answer to Joyce Molyneux (British chef who was one of the first woman to win a Michelin star). Columnist Lauraine Jacobs still feels Lois’ legacy as a predecessor writer of the New Zealand Listener food column many years on. 

Yet Lois Daish is not a familiar name for most New Zealanders. Frustratingly all of Lois’ cookbooks are out of print, but for those lucky enough to own one, these books are still much-loved and much-used (even if the recipes are now committed to heart). Her books may be rare gems but much more common are personal collections of torn-out pages of her much-loved Listener food column, as Ginny Grant puts it, “I cannot be alone in having a food-splattered folder of her recipes”. 

Every week for more than 20 years in a thoughtful and beautifully written column in the New Zealand Listener magazine, Lois showed New Zealanders how to cook with the seasons and encouraged readers to consciously seek out local ingredients to create the best kind of home food. For many of the years that she wrote her column Lois ran a series of popular cafes and restaurants in Wellington while raising a family. Lois’ multitasking is even more impressive when she tells you that the recipes published in the New Zealand Listener each week weren’t sourced from what was being made in her commercial kitchen, but rather from what she was cooking and eating at home.

As a visitor to Wellington in the 1990s if you asked your hotel concierge, ‘where’s good to eat?’, the answer may have arrived in the form of a taxi to whisk you up to the hilltop overlooking the city and drop you outside the Brooklyn Cafe & Grill. As you sat down in a spacious and light Californian-inspired space, you’d be handed a menu that had been typed up that same day and included a mention of who would be cooking your food in the unusual (for that time) open kitchen clearly in view of restaurant diners.

If you’d arrived at the Brooklyn Cafe & Grill on Sunday 3 December 1995 you might have chosen to eat new season artichokes on a platter with smoked mussels from Nelson, or the last of the season’s asparagus tossed with fresh fettucine, capers and mint, or cornmeal pancakes layered with warmed new season tomato, zucchini and grana. And for afters some Oamaru Whitestone cheese or an almond cake layered with passionfruit curd with new season raspberries.

By carefully selecting from what was in season and treating those ingredients gently and with care, Lois and her team at Brooklyn Cafe and Grill created simple and delicious food. As Lois puts it, “I prefer to meddle as little as possible, nudging the ingredients along, and combining them in ways that will bring out their finest attributes”. Lauraine Jacobs recounts a “wonderfully simple but seasonal” lunch served by Lois at the Brooklyn Cafe & Grill: “It was spring and Lois offered a huge platter of fresh asparagus, little lamb cutlets, and we had some exceptional strawberries too”.

It is easy from our contemporary vantage point to miss the significance of what Lois was doing at the Brooklyn Cafe & Grill. Lois’ approach to food back then is what some of the best contemporary food is now: fresh, simple, local, seasonal. Now commonplace, these approaches to food were not obvious or widespread in New Zealand in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Restaurant food in New Zealand up until the 1980s was predicated on turning food into something from somewhere else or into a status symbol. Eating out was a special occasion event and there was an expectation that it would involve eating rich and luxurious food or incongruous pairings of then fashionable ingredients: banana and bacon-stuffed avocado, anyone?

Lois’ approach was the antithesis to this: her food at the Brooklyn Cafe & Grill didn’t involve high status or expensive ingredients, complicated procedures or expensive equipment. It was the kind of food that people liked to make and eat at home; and it turned out to be the kind of food that people wanted to eat at restaurants, too.

Kelda Hains, the co-owner and culinary smarts behind Nikau Cafe, was hugely inspired by Lois Daish during her time working at the Brooklyn Cafe & Grill. Kelda cites Lois as the main influence on the way she cooks and she continues to make Lois recipes both at home and at work. Nikau’s legendary kedgeree is based on a Lois Daish recipe and you’ll find Lois’ influence in the cafe’s exemplary baking cabinet in the form of Queen of Sheba cake, blueberry scones, and apricot bretonne.

Marc Weir co-owner of Cuba Street institutions Floriditas and Loretta, also started out at the famous Brooklyn eatery: “I learnt so much from Lois working for her for eight years,” Marc writes, “[yet Lois] always says it was her that learnt so much from me”. Lois’ characteristically humble and generous approach is one of her defining characteristics and those who know her love her for it, however it does go some way to explaining why Lois isn’t the household name of New Zealand cookery that she should be.  

Lois has published four cookbooks, but her New Zealand Listener recipes are what she is best-known for and most-cooked from. Many of her columns could be republished as they are today without anyone realising that they are over twenty years old. Lauraine Jacobs observes that Lois was writing about food for the New Zealand Listener at a time when New Zealand was awakening to the possibility of “very, very good food – food that was exciting and new as opposed to the rather boring diet of British food we had all eaten through the 70s and 80s”. For Lauraine and generation of New Zealand food writers and cooks, Lois has been enormously influential.

Cuisine Senior Food Writer and cook Ginny Grant describes Lois’ food as having an “honest simplicity… There are no unnecessary embellishments in her cooking, everything that is in a recipe is there because it is needed.” Lois’ recipe for chicken sauté exemplifies this approach and is a beloved dish for Ginny and for Martin Bosley; Martin recalls enjoying this dish at the  Brooklyn Cafe & Grill “Jesus Christ, the best f…king chicken you had in your life – cooked in a frying pan with thyme on top and with the vegetable sides.”

For Lois-loving food writers and chefs, her recipes for zucchini fritters, firehouse chilli beans, and chocolate drenched raspberry cake are frequently mentioned as favourites. These aren’t complicated recipes, but perfected simple ones; once you have Lois’ recipe for tender eggy fritters holding together grated zucchini and crumbled feta, you hardly need another. Ginny Grant writes: “Lois’ recipes are for the everyday cook and I think it’s the simplicity of the food, and clarity of her writing that make her a standout. Perhaps that too is the reason she isn’t celebrated as much as she should be; it’s the chefs with glitz and glamour that get all the attention. I know she is shy and retiring and hates a fuss so I imagine that she couldn’t give a fig about it.”

In an age of celebrity cooks and food writers, it’s refreshing to find someone who wasn’t motivated by fashion or trends or by the lure of the limelight. Lois has stuck to the same underlying principles throughout her lifetime in food be this at home, in her cafes or restaurants or in her writing. She’s an everyday and an every day cook: whether for family, friends, or just for herself, Lois gives the same thought, attention and care to whatever she is cooking to eat that day.

Cioppino

cioppino 2

Cioppino is a Californian fish stew, drawing its roots from Italian regional fish soups and stews. It’s delightfully light but satisfying to eat: think paella but without the rice.

The whole idea of a stew like this is to make use of what ingredients you have: vary up the fish and shellfish, the capsicum could be subbed out for fennel, the silverbeet could become cavolo nero.

Lois’ original recipe makes an enormous feast for eight. I’ve given quantities to make enough for four.

Cioppino (adapted slightly from Lois Daish, Good Food, p.24)

olive oil, couple of good sloshes for the pan

1 large onion, chopped

1 red or green pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 can whole tomatoes in juice

1 cup dry red wine or white wine

1 cup fish stock

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary

bunch silverbeet leaves, stems removed, leaves shredded

500gm firm white fish (moki, monkfish, trevally)

12 fresh mussels in the shell

12 fresh clams in the shell

handful fresh parsley, chopped

to serve: crusty baguette (Acme, if you live in Wellington) & lemon 

First make the sauce. In a wide frying pan for which you have a lid, sauté the chopped onion and capsicum until really soft. Add the garlic and cook for a minute further before adding the tomatoes, wine, stock, herbs, and seasonings. Bring to boil, then lower heat and leave to simmer while you prepare the seafood.

De-beard the mussels and use a metal scratchy cleaner to clean the outside of the mussel and clam shells. Cut the fish into 3cm pieces.

Once the sauce is starting to thicken, add the silverbeet leaves, arrange the mussels on top, and cover with a lid. Leave to simmer and steam for 3 minutes. Remove lid and add clams and fish; recover the pan with the lid and leave for a further 4-5 minutes. Remove lid; the mussels and clam shells should have opened. If not, place lid back on and leave for further 1-2 minutes.

Once the shells have opened, sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top and take the whole impressive pan to the table: you know what to do next.

Passionfruit cupcakes

passionfruit cakes

Another delightfully simple Lois recipe; the kind you might glance at on a page and not give too much thought to. It’s another matter entirely when a plate of these little passionfruit bejeweled beauties is in front of you at afternoon teatime. Even when you’ve just eaten a couple of cheese scones, eh Lily and Ollie.

Passionfruit cupcakes (Lois Daish, A Good Year, p. 36).

110g butter, softened

110g caster sugar

2 free-range eggs

120g plain flour

2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons milk

To finish:

3 passionfruit

Icing:

1 tablespoon butter, softened

3/4 cup icing sugar, sifted

pulp of 1 small passionfruit

Preheat oven to 190°C and thoroughly grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper patty pans. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Sift the flour and baking powder together and beat into the mixture together with the milk. Spoon into the tins and bake for about 15 minutes until the cakes are golden brown and when lightly pressed with a finger, the cakes spring back. Remove cakes from the tray and cool on a rack.

Once the cakes are cool, use a small sharp knife to cut a cone-shaped plug out of the middle of each cake. Cut the passionfruit in half and scoop out the pulp and spoon a little into the hole in each cake and then replace the plugs.

Make the icing by beating the soft butter and icing sugar together until smooth, then adding the passionfruit pulp. Spread a little of the icing over each cake to cover the plug. Eat within a day (you won’t have any trouble with this last part, I promise you).

 

Almond cake

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The privilege of being able to ask Lois about her recipes or for suggestions of what to make is one that I don’t take for granted. It’s pretty rare to have such access to your food hero and I count myself lucky to know Lois.

My dear friend Kate recently got married in Auckland and I decided to make a cake for her bridal shower. Successful cake baking relies upon good equipment and a knowledge of the oven you’re using, so I knew better than to try and attempt the bake in someone else’s kitchen.

I emailed Lois late last year to ask for her recommendation for a cake that could be made a couple of days before the big day in my Wellington kitchen, would keep well, and be robust enough to withstand being carted to Auckland as hand luggage. Lois immediately suggested her almond cake from Good Food.

Lois was right. The almond cake kept perfectly and appeared unphased by air travel. On the morning of the bridal shower I sandwiched together the three layers of cake using Lois’ buttercream icing and adorned the top with edible flowers. It looked like a dream and tasted like one too.

Almond cake (Lois Daish, Good Food, p. 96)

I tripled this mixture to make three cakes.

200g butter, at room temperature

200g caster sugar

4 free-range eggs

150g plain flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

100g ground almonds

zest and juice of an orange or 1/4 cup of milk 

Preheat oven to 175° and grease and line a 22cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Mix together the flour, baking powder and ground almonds and stir gently into the batter alternating with the orange juice or milk. Stir through the zest. Scrape into prepared cake tin and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Buttercream icing (Lois Daish, Listener, October 25 2003, p. 43)

I doubled this recipe to make enough icing for sandwiching three cakes.

125g butter, preferably unsalted

1 1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted

2 teaspoons milk, room temperatue

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste

Cream butter until light and fluffy. Add half of the icing sugar and while beating add the milk. Beat in the remaining icing sugar and vanilla.

Blueberry buckle

 

IMG_4769Lois’ blueberry buckle is a perfect way to use up any frozen blueberries lurking in your freezer which you’re feeling a little hesitant about eating after hearing about this. That aside, this buckle is an extremely delightful dessert with a cute-as-a-button name.

Blueberry buckle (adapted slightly from Lois Daish, NZ Listener, 8 January 2005)

Topping:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

To make the topping, rub the butter into the dry ingredients. Alternatively chuck the whole lot into a food processor or mixer and process until combined. Set aside.

Buckle:

100g butter, softened

3/4 cup caster sugar

1 free-range egg

zest of a lemon

1 1/4 cups plain flour

2 teaspoon baking power

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup milk

1 heaped cup of blueberries, fresh or frozen (if using frozen berries don’t defrost first)

Preheat oven to 180°C and line a 25cm loose-bottomed cake tin with baking paper and lightly grease the sides. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and lemon zest. If using a food processor scrape the mixture out into a large mixing bowl at this point. Sift the dry ingredients and add these to the creamed mixture alternating with the milk, mixing until fully combined.

Scrape the cake batter into prepared tin, cover with blueberries and sprinkle over the topping. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. If using frozen berries the cake might take a little longer, but start checking it from the 35 minute mark.

Zucchini frittata

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Lois’ zucchini frittata is the perfect thing to take on a summer picnic; it’s pretty good for midweek ‘picnics’ at your desk, too. Frittata is best eaten at room temperature or cold, with a dollop of good chutney on the side.

Zucchini frittata (Lois Daish, Good Food, p. 14)

2 medium onions, sliced

4 zucchini

4 tablespoons oil and/or butter

6 free-range eggs

50g freshly grated parmesan

handful of parsley or basil, chopped

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Slice the onions thinly and cook in 2 tablespoons of oil until golden in a large frying pan with a heatproof handle. Meanwhile top and tail and zucchini and slice into thin rounds. Add the zucchini to the pan and stir to coat in oil. Cook for a further 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and take off the heat.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl and beat until combined. Add the parmesan, herbs and zucchini mixture and stir. Preheat the grill of your oven. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil/butter in the frying pan and pour in the frittata mixture and give the pan a shake to evenly distribute the contents. Cook over a low heat for about 5-10 minutes until you can see the sides of the frittata beginning to set. Place under a hot grill until the top is golden brown.

 

Macaroon syrup cake

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I’ll leave it to Lois to convince you that you need to make this cake:

‘In this luscious sryup-soaked cake, a high proportion of coconut ensures a rich, moist, chewy texture. On first tasting it, my daughter [Mary Daish] described it as “Bounty bar cake”.’

Sold.

Macaroon syrup cake (adapted slightly from Lois Daish, Listener, February 17, 2001 p. 43)

150g butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

4 free-range eggs

1 cup flour

1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 cups desicated coconut

1/2 cup ground almonds

Syrup:

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

zest of 1 lemon or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste

Preheat oven to 160˚C and butter a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift the flour and baking powder and fold into the creamed mixture followed by the coconut. Scrape into the prepared cake tin, smooth off the top, and bake for 45 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes away clean.

While the cake is baking prepare the syrup by gently heating all three ingredients together in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the hot syrup over the warm cake and leave for a few hours before serving.