Strawberry & rhubarb shortcake

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It might seem extravagant to use a punnet of new seasons strawberries for cooking rather than just enjoying as they are. My solution is to buy two punnets, eat one straight and use the other to make a shortcake. Do not underestimate how sensational cooked strawberries and rhubarb are together; your kitchen will smell like something out of a fairy tale.

Strawberry & rhubarb shortcake (Lois Daish, A Treasury of New Zealand Baking, Random House, 2009, p.182)

Fruit:

4 stalks of rhubarb

3 tablespoons sugar

1 punnet of strawberries

Shortcake:

125g butter, softened

125g sugar

1 egg

225g plain flour

25g cornflour

1 teaspoon baking powder

For the fruit:

Preheat oven to 180˚C. Wash rhubarb stalks and cut into 1cm pieces. Put onto a baking tray and sprinkle with sugar. Bake the rhubarb for 15 minutes. While the rhubarb is baking, hull the strawberries and cut in half. Once the 15 minutes is up, add the strawberries and bake for a further 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

For the shortcake:

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add the egg and continue to beat until fully combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Line whatever tin you’d like to use (a round 22cm tin works, as does a 20 x 10cm loaf tin) with baking paper. Put two thirds of the shortcake mixture into the lined base of the tin. Spread over the fruit mixture and then put dollops of the remaining shortcake mixture over the top. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

Flapjack

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Lois’ flapjack is basically a giant Anzac biscuit baked in a tin. Perfect for those times when you have the mental capacity for weighing, melting, stirring, pouring, and baking, but shaping individual biscuits is a bridge too far.

Lois’ original recipe calls for the addition of sultanas or raisins, but I used dates as their chewy caramel-ness is perfect with oats and coconut. I think this recipe would also benefit from a sprinkling of pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds.

Flapjack (Lois Daish, Fuss-Free Food for Two, 1997, p.59)

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup dessicated coconut

1 cup sugar (I reduced this to 3/4 cup and it worked fine)

1 cup flour (I used wholemeal flour)

100g butter

2 tablespoons golden syrup

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 tablespoons boiling water

1 cup raisins, sultanas OR 1/2 cup chopped dates and 1/2 cup sunflower and pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 170°C and line a baking tin (mine was 20cm x 20cm) with baking paper. In a large bowl stir together the rolled oats, coconut, sugar and flour. Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a small pot. Put the baking soda in a cup and add the boiling water. Pour this into the melted butter mixture and stir before pouring over the dry ingredients. Add the raisins or sultanas or date and seed mixture and stir thoroughly. The mixture will look a little crumbly. Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin, push down and flatten out evenly and bake for 20 minutes. Cut into squares while still warm.

Mashed white cheese spread

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Lois’ mashed white cheese spread tastes like an upmarket version of the old favourite reduced-cream-and-onion-soup mix dip. I made it to accompany some snacks to serve to friends at our house warming drinks and it was a raging success.

The dip can be made a day ahead and the quantities can easily be doubled or even tripled. When I made a triple batch of this dip I used a medium-sized onion, but you can add as much or as little as you like.

Mashed white cheese spread (Lois Daish, Cuisine, May 2009 Issue 134, p.91).

3 tablespoons cottage cheese

2 tablespoons cream cheese

2 tablespoons creamy feta

1 tablespoon thick plan yoghurt

juice of a small lemon

1 small onion, peeled

Put the cheeses and yoghurt in a small bowl and add the lemon juice. Grate the onion on the large-holed side of a grater to produce a small quantity of pulpy juice. Add this to the cheese mixture and use a fork to mash all the ingredients together to form a course-textured spread. Taste and add more lemon juice and salt if needed. Cover and set aside in the fridge for a few hours before serving. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Summer fish bowl

summer fish bowl

Despite the summery ambition in its title, this is the perfect spring dinner. It’s a wonderful way to use new season potatoes and asparagus. It’s light and fresh-tasting, yet still substantial. I can see this becoming a regular weeknight dinner at my place.

Summer fish bowl (adapted from Lois Daish, A Good Year, p. 31)

2 large potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 3-4cm pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 large carrot, thinly sliced

1 celery stalk, thinly slicely

1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced

1-2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

1/2 cup white wine (dry riesling or sauvignon blanc)

6-8 low acid tomatoes (when tomatoes aren’t in season, substitute a can of tomatoes, drained of juice)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

pinch saffron stamens

pinch cayenne pepper

fresh thyme leaves

1 1/2 cups fish stock, chicken stock or water with a splash of fish sauce

bunch asparagus, woody ends snapped off and the spears cut into lengths

chopped fresh leafy herbs, such as parsley and oregano

500g fresh fish

olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place potato cubes into a pot and over with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook until tender. Drain and set aside.

Warm the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot and add the onion, carrot, celery and fennel. Fry gently for about ten minutes until starting to caramelise, then add the garlic. Fry again briefly and pour on the wine. Allow to bubble up for 1-2 minutes, then add the tomatoes, seasonings and thyme. Cook for a few minutes more, then add the liquid and simmer for 20 minutes until everything is tender. Check to see if it needs more salt and pepper. Add the asparagus spears and continue to simmer gently while you grill the fish.

Preheat your oven grill. Prepare the fish by cutting into large pieces. Place in a rimmed baking dish, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Slide the fish under the grill and cook for 3-5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until it is barely opaque right through. Transfer the fish into a shallow heated bowl, add the cooked potatoes, pour over any juices from the pan into the pot of sauce and ladle the sauce over the top.

Chocolate & marmalade cake

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This is chocolate cake perfection. Two layers of darkly moist chocolate cake sandwiched together with a slather of bitter marmalade. This cake isn’t iced, but is so moist and rich that it doesn’t need it, and the absence of icing makes the marmalade layer really shine.

This cake can be thrown together very quickly, making it a perfect midweek evening bake for taking to work for a birthday shout, or for an impromptu whim of ‘let’s have chocolate cake on a Thursday night’.

Chocolate & marmalade cake (Lois Daish, Listener, July 14, 2001, p.42-3)

85g cocoa

1 1/2 cups boiling water

3 free-range eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

300g plain flour, sifted

435g brown sugar

2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

230g butter, softened until almost melting

For finishing:

bitter marmalade (Seville, if you have it)

icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line the base of two 23cm loose-bottomed cake tins with baking paper and lightly grease the sides.

In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the cocoa and boiling water until smooth. Cool to room temperature. In another bowl lightly combine the eggs, a quarter of the cocoa mixture and the vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda and mix on a low speed for 30 seconds. Add the very soft butter and remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on a low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the beaten egg mixture in three batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure.

Pour the batter into the prepared tins and smooth the top. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until a skewer pushed into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool the tins on a rack for 10 minutes, then loose the sides with a butter knife and invert onto a greased wire rack (the cakes are quite sticky and greasing the rack will help to ensure the cake doesn’t adhere to the rack).

When cold, place one cake upside down on a serving plate and spread with a good slather of marmalade. Place the second cake on top, right side up. Just before serving, sift icing sugar over the top.

Nikau’s scrambled eggs

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Lois’ recipe for scrambled eggs comes from Kelda Hains, co-owner of Nikau Cafe and conjurer of the best eggs in town. As you may already know, Kelda had her start in the world of food via Lois Daish’s Brooklyn Cafe & Grill.

Kelda recalls that when hopefuls came to the BCG to be interviewed by Lois they would be asked to undergo the ‘egg test’. Lois believed that the best indication of whether someone really understood food was to watch them cook an egg.

The eggs could be cooked in any way: scrambled, poached, fried, turned into an omelette. It wasn’t about creating the most creative or elaborate dish but, rather, a chance for Lois to observe the care and attention that the cook gave to the egg. When even the most simple and everyday of ingredients are accorded with respect and care it results in food that that is more than a sum of its parts. Lois’ approach to food in an eggshell.

Here’s Kelda’s recipe for scrambled eggs for you to try making at home, or go and enjoy them in their most perfected form at Wellington’s Nikau Cafe.

Nikau’s scrambled eggs (Lois Daish, A Good Year, p. 111)

6 free-range eggs

1/2 cup cream

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Break the eggs into a bowl, add the cream, salt, and pepper and whisk until the whites and yolks are completely combined. Pour the mixture directly into a cold pan, either a small frying pan or a pot. Put over a moderately high heat and use a wooden spoon to stir constantly until the mixture is hot, but not setting. If you dip your finger into the mixture it should feel hot, rather than warm. Turn the element off (or turn the gas flame as low as it will go), stop stirring and leave the eggs to coddle for a few minutes with the lid on. Use the wooden spoon to push the barely set curds onto a warmed plate and serve with toasted crusty bread. Makes enough for two or three.

Dark ginger cake

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A dark ginger cake for a grey and rainy Sunday afternoon. Lois’ dark ginger cake is one of those cakes that gets better with age, but it’s also one of those cakes that is absolutely delightful eaten on the day its baked while the top is still crunchy. The (let’s face it, obscene amount of) treacle imparts a dark bitterness to this very moist and rich cake. A slice of dark ginger cake is perfect with a dollop of Chantilly cream (cream laced with icing sugar and vanilla paste) for dessert.

Dark ginger gake (Lois Daish, Good Food, p.97-98)

200g butter, softened

200g brown sugar

4 free-range eggs

500g treacle

100g raisins or sultanas

100g crystallised ginger, chopped

400g plain flour

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 170°C. Grease and line the bottom of a 22cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Pour in the treacle and beat until the mixture turns a deep caramel colour. Add the raisins and crystallised ginger. Sift in the flour and ginger and stir to mix. Heat the milk in a saucepan until hot but not boiling and add the baking soda; stir to dissolve. Add the milk mixture to the cake batter and stir to incorporate. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for at least an hour. If the cake starts to get too dark on top you may need to cover loosely with tin foil. Cool on a cake rack.

Apple flapjack

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Lois’ apple flapjack is like a bowl of stewed apples topped with Anzac biscuit topping. A dream pudding in my book (a dream breakfast, too). Next time I make this I’m going to up the Anzac factor by adding long thread coconut and an extra tablespoon of golden syrup (and not add any sugar to the apples).

Apple flapjack (Lois Daish, Listener, June 4 2005)

Topping:

80g butter (if using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt to the dry ingredients)

1 heaped tablespoon golden syrup

2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup standard flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

Filling:

5 large cooking apples

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 170°C. Melt the butter and golden syrup in a medium-sized pan. Once melted, add the dry ingredients and stir to mix. Peel, core and slice the apples. Place into a large baking dish. Sprinkle with water and sugar. Spoon the topping over the apples and bake for about an hour until the apples are tender and the topping is crisp. It goes without saying that this is heavenly with vanilla ice cream or a dollop of thick Greek yoghurt.

Carrot salad with parsley & olives

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A bowl of this salad makes a great lunch along with a slice of good sourdough or it would make a lovely accompaniment for some pan-fried fish for dinner. Lois writes that the flavour of the carrots is enhanced if you cook them whole in their skins, but if you’re pressed for time, peel and cut them diagonally before cooking.

Carrot salad with parsley & olives (Lois Daish, as read on National Radio, October 19 2007)

4 medium carrots

handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

grated zest of half a lemon

6 black olives, stoned and sliced, or 1 tablespoon capers

Dressing:

1 large clove garlic, crushed to a paste with salt

a pinch of ground cumin and a pinch of paprika

juice of 1 large lemon

1 teaspoon honey or sugar

dash of Tabasco or chilli

1/4 cup olive oil

 Wash the carrots and put in a pot covered with water. Boil until just tender when poked with a sharp fork. Drain and run under cold water until cool enough to pull and scrape off the skins. Slice into a bowl. Put the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake to mix. Pour over the carrots while they are still warm.  Just before serving, add the parsley leaves, grated lemon zest and optional black olives or capers. May be served warm, at room temperature, or stored in the refrigerator for a day before serving.

Lemon & orange escabeche

fish

Lois’ escabeche is a lovely way to make pan-fried fish just a little bit more interesting. An acidic dressing of lemon and orange juice is combined with white wine, chillies and spring onion. It’s perfect served with some lightly steamed broccoli or new season aspargagus (!!) and steamed or roasted kumara.

Lemon & orange escabeche (Lois Daish, Good Food, 24)

1 orange

1 lemon

1 small chilli

1 small red onion or 3 spring onions

1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup water

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

500g terakihi or gurnard fillets

flour for dusting the fish

oil for frying

Remove the zest from the orange and lemon, cut in half and squeeze out the juice and put together in a bowl. Finely chop the chilli (remove the seeds if you prefer) and onion and add these to the zest and juice, along with the white wine vinegar, wine and water.

Dust the fish fillets in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the fillets for a couple of minutes on one side before turning over. Cook for a further minute and then pour over the marinade. Continue to fry for a further couple of minutes until the marinade is bubbling and has reduced slightly. Remove from the heat and serve. Remember that the fish will continue to cook once the pan has been removed from the heat – don’t overcook it.