Lois & Karen Speer (and Lois’ firehouse chilli beans)

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My mum has never been one to shy away from a dried legume. It wasn’t unusual for our family to eat curries and savoury loaves combining lentils and vegetables, or shepherd’s pie and nachos made with kidney beans. My family wasn’t vegetarian but enjoyed eating this way and certainly didn’t feel that anything was lacking from these well-made meat-free meals. I didn’t realise that not everyone ate this way until I went flatting and found that for most people, shepherd’s pie and nachos meant mince.

When I asked mum about her favourite Lois recipes, firehouse chilli beans was one of the first that she mentioned. When I was young and we lived out in the wops an hour’s drive away from the nearest supermarket, meals like this that could be thrown together from pantry staples were essential.

Despite the name, firehouse chilli beans isn’t actually that spicy but has a lovely depth of flavour from the spices and herbs that are gently fried together with the onions. Firehouse chilli beans has a comforting quality and there’s something lovely about a bowl of rice with a dollop of spiced bright red tomato sauce studded with beans topped with grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream. A coleslaw made from finely sliced red cabbage, grated carrot, fresh coriander, spring onion and dressed with some extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, sea salt and freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sugar is a perfect accompaniment.

Firehouse chilli beans (Lois Daish, Good Food, p. 139)

1 cup of dried red kidney beans or 2 cans of kidney beans, drained and rinsed (I have also used black beans instead and they work well, too)

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped

1/2 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of cumin or 1/2 – 1 teaspoon chilli powder, depending on how fiery you want it

1 teaspoon paprika

1 can tomatoes in juice

1 teaspoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon fine cornmeal

grated cheese & sour cream to serve

To prepare the dried beans (if using):

Rinse the beans and cover with cold water and leave to soak overnight or for most of the day. Drain off the soaking water and replace with fresh water. Put in a large pot and bring to the boil and simmer until tender; this will take anything from one hour to two hours, so best to do it ahead of time.

To make the firehouse chilli beans:

Warm the oil in a good heavy pot, add the onion and garlic and fry gently until softened. Add the herbs and spices and gently fry for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the canned tomatoes and tomato paste and use a potato masher or fork to break the tomatoes up. Stir in the cornmeal. Simmer for 15 minutes before adding the cooked beans and heat gently. Firehouse chilli beans tastes better after a resting period, so pop a lid on and set it aside while you prepare the coleslaw. Taste the beans and add more cayenne or chilli if you like.

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Little River walnut cake

Barbara Henderson, walnut illustration, Good Food, p. 127.

Barbara Henderson, walnut illustration, Good Food, p. 127.

On the day before the shortest day of the year I baked a Little River walnut cake and took it around to Lois’ for afternoon tea. We sat together in her bright warm living room and happily munched on wedges of cake and blue cheese with cups of hot tea.

Walnut cake and blue cheese (Whitestone Windsor Blue) are a very good combination which I highly recommend you try; a little glass of Pedro Ximénez would be entirely appropriate here too. Packed with walnuts and not too sweet, the added treacle and rum impart this cake with a fragrant caramel warmth. A perfect cake to celebrate the middle of winter.

Lois devised this recipe for a relative who had an oversupply of walnuts from her tree. I’m not lucky enough to have a walnut tree (one day, I hope) and I buy my nuts from Moore Wilson’s or The Nut Store to ensure that they are fresh. Rancid walnuts are awful; check that your walnuts are fresh enough to use by trying one before you start baking. I store my walnuts in the freezer, where they can be kept for a month or so.

Little River walnut cake (Lois Daish, Listener, June 15 1996, p.56-57)

200g softened butter

150g brown sugar

4 tablespoons treacle

2 free-range eggs

150g flour

pinch baking soda

pinch ground cloves

4 tablespoons milk

4 tablespoons dark rum or whisky

340g fresh shelled walnuts, roughly chopped 

Preheat oven to 160°C. Line a 21-23cm cake tin with baking paper. Cream the butter, sugar and treacle together until soft and light. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Sift the dry ingredients and beat in to the mixture along with the milk and rum or whisky. Add the walnuts and mix thoroughly. Scoop into the prepared tin and bake for about 50 minutes until the cake is firm in the middle. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack. This cake has a lovely crunchy exterior when eaten on the day it is baked but is still delightful to eat a couple of days later.

Fish steamed with broccoli

Barbara henderson broccoli

Broccoli illustration by Barbara Henderson, Good Food, p. 132.

One of the first meals I learnt to make was a one pan dinner: an Alison Holst recipe comprising mince, frozen peas, a can of condensed tomato soup and dried pasta. As constantly hungry teenagers, my sister and I made this ‘hearty’ dish repeatedly on our weekly cooking nights until mum could bear it no longer and it was banned from the kitchen. If only I had known about Lois’ own version of a ‘one pan dinner’ to substitute in its place.

Lois’ fish steamed with broccoli is a lovely healthy and fresh-tasting dinner in which everything is cooked together in the same pan. Simple to make, hardly any dishes to do afterwards and, most importantly, it’s really delicious.

Fish steamed with broccoli (Lois Daish, Good Food, p. 24-5)

1 tablespoon olive oil

500gm fresh boneless fillets of firm white fish (I used gurnard)

1 cup of water

1 head broccoli, cut into florets 

small bunch of spring onions, sliced

Some, or all of the following ingredients:

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small carrot, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 small leek, washed and sliced

2 rashers bacon, finely diced

fresh herbs – parsley, thyme, or oregano

freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy based wide saucepan. Add whatever ingredients from the list you have on hand and fry together gently until the mixture softens and takes on a golden tint. Add a cup of cold water and lay the fillets of fish on top. Arrange the broccoli and spring onions over the top, cover with a lid and cook gently for about 5 minutes until the fish is opaque and broccoli is bright green and still crunchy. Serve immediately with boiled potatoes, plain rice or some crusty bread.

Sticky date & walnut pudding

sticky date and walnut pudding

My Tuesday afternoon perked up considerably when I realised that if I stopped and bought walnuts on my way home from work, I could make Lois’ sticky date and walnut pudding for dessert. Dates and walnuts are such a great match; as a snack, on a cheeseboard, in a date loaf, but best of all in this perfect winter pudding. Lois’ recipe follows the ‘self-saucing’ pudding formula where you sprinkle sugar on top of the batter and pour boiling water on top. This pudding has a tendency to soak up most of the sauce as it cools, so it’s a good idea to make a little extra to pour over.

Sticky date & walnut pudding (Lois Daish, Listener, May 24, 1997)

3/4 cup dried dates, cut into thirds (this helps to ensure that you’ll discover any bits of the stone that may be left inside the date)

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup boiling water

1 free-range egg

3/4 cup flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup fresh walnuts, roughly chopped

1/2 cup boiling water

1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C and butter a small deep baking dish (4 cup capacity). Put the dates, first measurement of boiling water and butter into a small bowl; cover and set aside for five minutes. Add the egg to the dates and whisk with a fork. In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, first measurement of brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt and stir to combine. Pour the date mixture and chopped walnuts into the dry ingredients and stir until well combined. Pour into the prepared serving dish and sprinkle with the last measurement of brown sugar and then pour over the boiling water. Bake for about 30 minutes until it is just firm; don’t overcook it or all of the sauce will evaporate.

Extra caramel sauce

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon butter

Put the three ingredients in a small pot and bring to the boil and simmer until it forms a smooth sauce. Spoon most this sauce over the hot pudding once you have removed it from the oven, leaving a little to drizzle over each serving.

Afghan sweet poached pumpkin & simple pilaf

good food pumpkin illustration

Barbara Henderson’s wonderful cucurbits illustration from Good Food, p. 66.

After the recent floods in Dunedin, my mum was helping her friend to clear up the ground floor of his water-damaged house and came across a stack of old Cuisine magazines. Sitting on top of a soggy pile of back issues was a completely dry magazine from 2009 with ‘Lois Daish does dinner’ emblazoned across the front cover. Mum excitedly told me about it and posted it up to me; we both know the value of a undiscovered Lois recipe.

In that flood-spared magazine Lois gives recipes for a simple and delicious dinner at home; a snapshot of what she was cooking and eating at that time. Among these recipes was one for Afghan sweet poached pumpkin which Lois recommends serving alongside simple pilaf.

A small list of inexpensive ingredients and simple cooking methods creates two unexpectedly delicious dishes; the flavour of the pumpkin really shines and is lifted by the dollop of garlic-spiked yoghurt on top. The pilaf has a lovely toasted flavour which comes from the frying of the rice before it is cooked in liquid. Served with some wilted spinach, Afghan sweet poached pumpkin and simple pilaf make for a really lovely and comforting dinner.

Afghan sweet poached pumpkin (Lois Daish, ‘Lois Daish does dinner’, Cuisine 134, May 2009, p. 92).

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup water

500g crown pumpkin (grey-skinned) or buttercup, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-3cm chunks

1/2 cup thick plain unsweetened yoghurt (I use The Collective brand)

1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste with salt

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Place the butter in a wide saucepan or deep frying pan over a medium heat until melted and then add the onion and fry until just starting to colour. Season with salt and pepper and add the sugar and water. Bring to the boil and add the pumpkin, preferably in a single layer. Cover with a lid and simmer gently until the the pumpkin is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. This process will take quite a while, but you can get on with preparing the rice pilaf and green vegetables in the meantime. Combine the yoghurt and garlic. Serve the pumpkin and its sauce in a warmed serving bowl and spoon the yoghurt over the top. Serve the lemon wedges in a small bowl on the side and squeeze over the top of the pumpkin and rice as you eat.

Simple pilaf (Lois Daish, ‘Lois Dais does dinner’, Cuisine 134, May 2009, p.92).

1 tablespoon oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 small onion, finely diced

1 1/2 cups jasmine or basmati rice (I used brown basmati)

3 cups water or chicken stock

1 bay leaf

a few thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt (unless the stock you are using is salty)

Put the oil and butter in a medium-sized heavy saucepan over a gentle heat and add the onion. Fry until the onion is translucent and then add the rice (no need to wash it first). Continue to gently fry for a couple of minutes, stirring it often. Add the water, stock, bay leaf and thyme. Taste the cooking liquid and add some salt if needed.

Simmer uncovered until the liquid is almost absorbed and then cover the pan, lower the heat and cook for a further 10 minutes until the rice is almost tender. Turn the heat off and leave the rice in the covered saucepan for another 15 minutes until it is tender and fluffy.

Silverbeet & pearl barley soup

silverbeet soup

I toyed with calling this ‘Swiss chard & pearl barley soup’ in an attempt to up the fashionability of this simple, but incredibly delicious recipe. In the end, I decided to proudly stick with ‘silverbeet’ as this recipe isn’t about trying to be flashy, it’s about carefully cooking simple ingredients to bring out their best flavours; a great example of Lois’ approach to cooking. Slowly cooking quality, locally-grown and seasonal vegetables, adding some beans and cooked barley to create a soup with a lovely background sweetness and interesting textures. Inexpensive and entirely nourishing, I wish more people knew how to make this soup for themselves.

Silverbeet & pearl barley soup (adapted slightly from Lois Daish, Listener, April 10, 1999, p. 55)

1/3 cup pearl barley

1.5 litres water

3 tablespoons cooking oil

2 onions, finely chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 can peeled tomatoes

1 small bunch silverbeet

1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

sea salt & freshly ground pepper

grated parmesan or grana padana for serving (optional)

Simmer the barley and water in a pot for about 45 minutes until the barley is tender. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed pot and cook the onion, carrot and celery together over a medium heat until softened; you don’t want to brown the vegetables. It’s important to allow some time for this ‘soffritto’ stage, as this will give a lovely sweet base to the soup.

To prepare the silverbeet, cut the leaves from the stems and wash both thoroughly. Slice the stems into thirds lengthwise, then slice into thin ribbons across the width. Slice the leaves into ribbons, keeping the stems separate from the leaves. Add the silverbeet stems to the onion mixture as well as the can of tomatoes. Add a sprinkling of salt, cover with a lid and turn the heat down to low. Leave to cook for about 15-20 minutes.

Add the cooked barley along with its cooking water to the soup, and add the beans and silverbeet leaves. Season with more salt and lots of ground black pepper. Place the lid back on and bring to the boil. Serve the soup in warmed bowls, grate over some parmesan if you fancy it, and enjoy with a piece of chewy wholegrain sourdough on the side.

Rhubarb clafoutis

slow-cooked beef, rhubarb clafoutis 018

‘To take rhubarb out of the breakfast compote category, make a clafoutis. This is a giant popover studded with chunks of rhubarb, dusted with icing sugar and served with lightly whipped cream. Or, put less delicately, toad-in-a-hole with rhubarb instead of sausages

 Lois Daish, Good Food, p.147

Despite Lois’ intention to take rhubarb out of the breakfast realm, I do think that this would make a fantastic weekend breakfast. Only a small amount of sugar is added so that the rhubarb retains its characteristic tartness. Serve the warm clafoutis with a scoop of really good vanilla ice cream (or some Greek yoghurt if it’s breakfast time).

Rhubarb clafoutis (slightly adapted from Lois Daish, Good Food, p.147)

2-3 cups diced rhubarb

a little butter and about 1 tablespoon sugar for preparing dish

1 cup milk

1/4 cup sugar

3 free-range eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

pinch salt

1/2 cup flour

icing sugar for dusting on top

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place all ingredients except rhubarb and icing sugar into the jug of an electric blender and blend until a smooth batter is formed. Butter a large ovenproof dish and sprinkle with sugar; tip the dish from side to side to make a light coating of sugar and discard any excess. Arrange the rhubarb evenly over the base of the dish and pour over the batter. Bake for about 40 – 50 minutes until the clafoutis has puffed up around the rhubarb and the top has browned. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm.