Beetroot, yoghurt, mint & walnut salad

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I’ve recently been talking to chefs, cooks, and food writers who have been influenced in one way or another by Lois Daish. I’ve been particularly interested in how they characterise Lois’ approach to food and what sets her apart from other cooks and food writers. Ginny Grant sums it up very well:

Lois’s food [has] an honest simplicity where flavour is paramount.  There are no unnecessary embellishments in her cooking, everything that is in a recipe is there because it is needed.

I had this in mind as I made Lois’ beetroot, yoghurt, mint, and walnut salad at the weekend. Less of a recipe and more of a combination of four ingredients that go well together, there was a temptation to add more; black pepper at least, but I also thought about adding feta. Instead I followed Lois’ instructions and ended up with a salad that was perfectly balanced and lovely, just the way Lois intended.

Beetroot, yoghurt, mint & walnut salad (Lois Daish, Listener, January 2 1999)

4 medium beetroot

1/2 cup plain yoghurt

sea salt 

chopped mint leaves

handful freshly cracked walnuts

Scrub the beetroot and boil whole until very tender. Cool, peel, and cut into wedges. Mix with the yoghurt, salt, mint, and walnuts. Serve.

Crisp & puffy pancakes

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Weekend breakfast pancakes were a big thing in my family when I was growing up. There were two recipes that we alternated between: ‘American-style’ fluffy pancakes and oaty pancakes, and we happily ate either variety with maple syrup and a jar of mum’s preserved Central Otago peaches.

It seems that pancakes were taken seriously at Lois’ house too; Good Food includes two recipes: one for crisp and puffy pancakes and another for soft and puffy pancakes. This is one of the reasons I love Lois; who else would make this careful but important distinction?

In case you are wondering what the difference between the two is, it’s in the cooking method. Using a more generous amount of butter to cook the pancakes results in a crisp and puffy pancake, while a soft and puffy pancake is produced by merely wiping the pan with some butter paper to ensure that the pancakes don’t stick.

Crisp & puffy pancakes (Lois Daish, Good Food, p. 52)

2 free-range eggs

2 cups milk

4 tablespoons melted butter (melted in the pan that you are going to cook the pancakes in)

2 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon caster sugar

butter for frying (add a splotch of cooking oil to prevent it from burning)

Separate the eggs; put the yolks in a large bowl and the whites into a medium-sized one. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the milk and melted butter to the yolks. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and sugar and stir into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the egg whites.

Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat; you may need to keep adjusting the temperature of the pan to ensure that it doesn’t get too hot. Add a small nob of butter and small splash of cooking oil to the pan (this will help to prevent the butter burning). Use a small measuring cup to drop a circle of batter into the pan. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface and remain open without closing over again. Flip over, and cook until the pancake is firm in the middle. Best eaten straight from the pan, but you can also stack cooked pancakes on a plate in a low oven to keep warm while you cook the rest.

Meatloaf baked in tomato sauce

 

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As fellow Lois Daish fan Lucy Corry recently pointed out in her excellent ‘Three ways with…’ column in the Dominion Post, meatloaf is well overdue for a comeback “not least because a cold meatloaf and chutney sandwich is one of the world’s greatest culinary pleasures.” The joy of Lois’ baked meatloaf in tomato sauce is that you don’t even need the chutney; place slices of leftover meatloaf along with some of the tomato sauce between slices of fresh bread and you’ve got yourself a top rate sandwich.

As well as providing excellent leftovers, Lois’ meatloaf makes a lovely hearty dinner which could be served with some spinach, wilted in a pan and then tossed with extra virgin olive oil. Seeing as you’ve got the oven on already, you could easily bake a couple of Agria potatoes in their skins (scrubbed thoroughly and pricked with a fork) or roast some yams to go alongside.

Meatloaf baked in tomato sauce (adapted slightly from Lois Daish, Dinner at Home, p. 43)

Meatloaf:

2 free-range eggs

500g beef, lamb or a combination of beef and pork mince

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs

2 tablespoon chopped parsley

2 tablespoon grated parmesan 

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons cooking oil

Tomato sauce:

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

500gm fresh tomatoes or 2 x cans of tomatoes (if using canned tomatoes add a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar)

couple of sprigs of fresh thyme (or if making in summer, use a handful of basil leaves)

pinch chilli flakes (optional)

salt and pepper

Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl. Put the minced meat together with the breadcrumbs, parsley, parmesan, salt, and pepper into a large bowl and use your hands to evenly combine. Add the beaten eggs and mix it through. Shape the mixture into four or five small loaves or one large one. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and brown the loaves all over. Carefully lift into a lidded casserole dish.

Make the tomato sauce by gently frying the onion and garlic together until softened. If using fresh tomatoes, you’ll need to blanch the tomatoes in hot water and peel off the skins. If using canned tomatoes, use a potato masher to break them up once you’ve added them to the onions and garlic along with a little sugar. Add the basil or thyme, chilli flakes, a little salt and pepper and simmer for ten minutes before pouring the sauce over the meat loaves. Place the lid on the casserole and bake for 40 minutes, removing the lid after 20 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.

Cauliflower dressed with olive oil, lemon juice & black pepper

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When writing about food the current tendency is towards hyperbole: ‘the best’, ‘the most delicious/amazing/incredible’. If a recipe doesn’t promise to change your life it probably isn’t worth making. Lois had quite a different approach to presenting her recipes to the reader: she let the food speak for itself.

Lois’ approach was a gentle one; each of her Listener columns have a central narrative of which the recipes are characters, used to show certain attributes or qualities. Prefaces to recipes in her Listener columns often talk about the source of the recipe or some suggestions on what to serve it with. Sometimes her weekly column didn’t have a single recipe in it, which goes to show just how good Lois’ writing is.

Every now and again Lois will mention that a certain recipe is her favourite way of preparing a particular ingredient, such as this simple recipe for cauliflower with a Meyer lemon dressing. You know instantly that it is going to be good.

Cauliflower dressed with olive oil, lemon juice & black pepper (Lois Daish, Listener, July 27 1996)

1 small head cauliflower

juice of 1 Meyer lemon

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

sea salt 

freshly ground black pepper

handful of freshly chopped green herbs, such as coriander, chives, mint or parsley

Cut the cauliflower into florets by cutting off the stem and outside leaves. Use your hands to break the cauliflower into florets, then cut each of these into bite-sized pieces. Bring a big pot of salted water to the boil and add a squeeze of lemon juice and the cauliflower. Simmer until the cauliflower is tender, which will take about 4 minutes. Drain well in a colander.

Mix together the rest of the lemon juice, the vinegar, olive oil and salt in a small jar. Put a lid on the jar and shake to combine. Pour over the hot cauliflower and grind a generous amount of black pepper over the top. If you intend to serve the cauliflower hot, sprinkle the herbs over just before you serve it. For a cool salad, add the herbs once the cauliflower has cooled to retain their bright colour.

Baked rice pudding

Detail of illustration by Geoffery Notman, Dinner at Home, 1993, p. 89.

Detail of illustration by Geoffery Notman, Dinner at Home, 1993, p. 89.

There’s an art to making a pudding out of a few simple ingredients. Baked rice pudding is what Lois Daish categorises as a ‘milk pudding’; an endearing term with a cosy nursery supper time feel to it. Other milk puddings include bread and butter pudding, lemon delicious, and rhubarb fool. These old-fashioned style puddings are exactly what I feel like eating in the depths of winter.

The main (but unlisted) ingredient for Lois’ baked rice pudding is time. Preparation takes minutes; the baking takes hours. However these are hours you can spend doing something else, warm in the knowledge that rice pudding is imminent.

Baked rice pudding (Lois Daish, Listener, August 13 2005)

3 cups milk (not trim milk)

3 tablespoons calrose or arborio rice

3 tablespoons caster sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or half a vanilla pod

pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 150°C (not fan bake). Put all ingredients into a deep baking dish with a capacity of one litre and give it a stir. Place in the oven and bake for 2 1/2 hours, stirring the pudding three times during the first hour and then leaving it undisturbed for the remainder of the cooking time. The pudding will develop a golden skin on top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for ten minutes before serving. Serves 2-3 generously and any cold leftovers are a thing of joy the next day.

Layered Savoy cabbage, mince & rice

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Lois had an academic approach to curating recipes for her Listener column. Often not content with picking up ‘second hand’ recipes, Lois would try and get as close to the source of a recipe as possible. Lois would seek out books on traditional cookery from particular countries and cultural groups, and try out recipes she came across in historical accounts or memoirs. Conversations with friends, neighbours and colleagues about their own food culture was another source of inspiration for Lois, and this Hungarian-derived recipe for layered savoy cabbage with mince and rice came by way of her friend Klara.

Savoy cabbages are such a visually beautiful winter vegetable and in this dish they are really given a starring role. Layers of cabbage are alternated with layers of a gently spiced rice and mince mixture and then baked in the oven until the top layer of cabbage turns deliciously dark brown and crunchy. Once baked, it is served with a squeeze of lemon juice and a dollop of yoghurt on top to make a perfectly balanced ‘one bowl’ dinner.

Layered Savoy cabbage, mince & rice (Klara do Toit & Lois Daish, Listener, July 18 1998)

1 medium Savoy cabbage (about 1kg)

3/4 cup long grain rice

1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

300g good quality beef mince

2 teaspoons paprika

generous pinch of caraway seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup beef stock or water

oil for greasing baking dish

1 tablespoon dry breadcrumbs

For serving:

plain unsweetened yoghurt (I use The Collective)

a lemon, cut into quarters

Cut out the core of the cabbage by turning it upside down and cutting in a circle around the core with a small knife. As you do this the outside leaves of the cabbage will fall off. Carry on pulling off the leaves until you get down to the small tight core of the cabbage which can be discarded. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add the cabbage leaves (do this in batches if your pot isn’t large enough). Use a spoon to push the leaves down into the water and and place the lid back on. Once the cabbage leaves have softened (about 3-4 minutes), remove from the water and drain in a colander.

Wash the rice in a sieve and put in a covered saucepan with 1 1/2 cups of cold water. Bring to the boil and then turn right down to low and cook until all of the water is absorbed; about 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the rice on the still warm element.

Preheat oven to 190°C (fan bake setting). Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes before adding the beef mince. Continue to cook (stirring to break up any lumps) until the beef is no longer pink, then add the paprika, caraway seeds, salt and pepper. Add the beef stock and cook until it has been absorbed – this will take about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Brush an ovenware dish (approximately 25 x 18cm) with oil and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Spread a double layer of cabbage leaves in the dish, then a thin layer of the rice mixture. Repeat the layering two or three times finishing with cabbage leaves on top. Bake for about 45 minutes. To serve, cut into squares and serve with a dollop of yoghurt on top and a wedge of lemon on the side to squeeze over top.

Lois & Kelda (and Kelda’s lemon yoghurt cake)

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Kelda Hains’ first job as a cook was at Lois’ bustling suburban restaurant the Brooklyn Cafe & Grill. Kelda recalls being a hospitality and tourism student and approaching Lois to interview her for an essay on small owner-operator run restaurants. Lois was the only restaurateur to ask for a copy of the finished essay; not for editorial control but out of a genuine interest. When Kelda returned to the restaurant to drop off a copy, Lois asked if she would like a job. Kelda said yes.

During the time that they worked together at the Brooklyn Cafe & Grill, Lois had a formative impact on Kelda’s approach to food. Kelda admired Lois’ style of food based on simplicity and thoughtfulness which she describes as ‘home cooking with finesse’ and her approach to running a restaurant based on generosity.

Kelda and Lois’ relationship wasn’t a typical mentor and student relationship however, as the information exchange went both ways. The shared inspiration Lois and Kelda found in each other is self evident as you look through Lois’ Listener columns, where Kelda’s name sometimes pops up as the source of recipes.

As co-owner of the wonderful Nikau Cafe, Kelda has developed a strong reputation for her own simple and thoughtful approach to cooking seasonal and local food. Not to mention for her baking, some of which is made using Lois’ recipes. Anyone who has had the delight of eating a baked something from Nikau Cafe will know to expect great things from Kelda’s recipe for lemon yoghurt cake and it most certainly does not disappoint.

Kelda’s lemon yoghurt cake (Listener, May 3 1997, p. 53).

4 free-range eggs

225g sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

grated zest of two lemons

1/2 cup plain unsweetened yoghurt

200g flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

75g butter, melted and cooled

Glaze:

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup icing sugar

Preheat oven to 170°C. Line a loose-bottomed 23cm cake tin and grease the sides with some butter. Use an electric beater to whisk the eggs and sugar until really pale and expanded in volume (will take a couple of minutes). Fold in the lemon juice, zest and yoghurt. Add the flour and baking powder and fold through. Stir 1/2 cup of the cake batter into the melted butter and then fold this mix back into the batter. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin and bake for around 30 minutes until firm.

To make the glaze, heat the juice and icing together until it forms a syrup. Pour over the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

Folded currant scones

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Scones have the shortest lifespan of any baking. They really are best straight from the oven and with each passing hour they lose their crisp edges and lightness and soften to become heavy. The consolation for this small window of optimum deliciousness is that scones are very quick to make; I was surprised at how quickly I had a tray of scones ready for the oven. The only slightly labourious part is cleaning up the floury bench afterwards, but that can surely be delegated to an eager scone awaiter.

Lois’ folded currant scones are one of the nicest scones I’ve tried. The folding technique creates layers which gives the scones a light and flaky quality. Now that I have been reminded just how quick scones are to make, a repeat bake is on the horizon for this weekend.

Folded currant scones (Lois Daish, Dinner at Home, p.85)

2 cups standard flour

3 tablespoons caster sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

80g cold butter, cut into small cubes

1/2 cup currants

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup plain unsweetened yoghurt

Preheat oven to 200°C (fan bake setting). Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder; if using unsalted butter add a pinch of salt. Add the butter and use your fingers to rub the butter into flakes about the size of cornflakes. Add the currants.

Combine the milk and yoghurt in a small bowl and add to the mixture. Using a cutting action than stirring action, use a blunt knife to mix to a soft dough. You may need to add a little more milk if there is lots of unincorporated dry mixture at the bottom of the bowl. Don’t overmix the dough; some of the butter flakes should still be visible.

Place the dough on a floured bench and use a rolling pin to roll out into a 1-2cm thick rectange. Fold over into thirds and roll out again. Fold into thirds a second time, then roll out into a rectangle. Fold this rectangle in half so that you have a thin long rectangle about 10cm by 30cm. Cut the length into around 8-9 rectangular-shaped scones.

Put on a baking tray and bake for about ten minutes until puffed and golden brown. Transfer the scones to a rack covered with a tea towel and fold the tea towel over the top of the scones until it is time to serve them.

Pumpkin, onion, and lemon kedgeree

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Smoked fish seemed like such an integral ingredient to kedgeree that I really couldn’t imagine it without. Let alone imagine that kedgeree might even be better with pumpkin than smoked fish. At best, I thought, this was a good recipe to have up my sleeve for times when something comforting and substantial is needed for dinner but there isn’t much besides a wedge of pumpkin lurking in the fridge.

When Queen of Kedgeree Kelda Hains (and co-owner of the unsurpassable Nikau Cafe) mentioned pumpkin kedgeree as one of Lois’ recipes that she continues to make, I knew beyond doubt that it was going to be good. But not only is it good, pumpkin kedgeree is delicious. I still love smoked fish kedgeree but there is definitely a place for both.

Pumpkin, onion, and lemon kedgeree (adapted slightly from Lois Daish, Dinner at Home, p. 98)

1 1/2 cups basmati rice

4 tablespoons butter

2 onions, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

750g Crown pumpkin (grey-skinned), deseeded, peeled, and chopped into 1cm pieces

2 tablespoons curry powder

juice of 2 lemons

1/2 cup water

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

juice of 1 lemon

handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

Accompaniments to serve with the kedgeree (some, or all of the following):

Lemon wedges

Unsweetened yoghurt with some chopped fresh mint and black pepper stirred through

Sliced hard boiled eggs

Finely chopped spring onions

Chutney

A salad of diced tomato, cucumber

To prepare the rice:

Start off by cooking the rice. Rinse the rice in a sieve until the water runs clear. Put into a medium sized saucepan with a lid and add 3 cups of cold water. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat right down to low. With the lid on the pan continue cooking the rice until most of the water has evaporated and there are little ‘tunnels’ on the surface. Turn off the heat and leave the rice on the element with the lid on. Leave for 15 minutes and then turn out into a large bowl and fluff with a fork. Once cool enough use your hands to break up any lumps of rice.

To make the kedgeree:

Melt the butter in a very large frying pan and add the diced onion. Fry gently for 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the chopped garlic and fry for a couple more minutes. Add the diced pumpkin and sprinkle over the curry powder and continue to fry for another couple of minutes. Squeeze over the lemon juice, add the water and season well with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and cover the pan.

Cook gently until the pumpkin is tender; carefully stir the pumpkin every now and again to ensure it cook evenly. Test a piece of pumpkin to see if it’s ready; it should be soft but still holding its shape. Add the rice to the pan and carefully turn and stir the rice into the curried vegetable mixture until all of the grains are golden. Squeeze over the juice of the remaining lemon, grind over more black pepper and sprinkle with parsley before serving with your chosen condiments.

Baked caramel custard

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‘I don’t think of dessert as an occasional reward for good behaviour. To me, it is an integral part of the meal…’

Lois Daish, Cuisine 134, May 2009, p. 94

What a refreshing change it is to hear someone talking about dessert without any connotation of guilt or decadence. Obviously moderation is always key and Lois goes on to say that dessert at her house is often just seasonal fruit, but sometimes it’s what she describes as a ‘milk pudding’; delights such as rice pudding, lemon delicious, bread and butter pudding or baked caramel custard. Lois and I are on the same page here. Have some dessert and really enjoy it.

The instructions below might seem a bit long but this isn’t a difficult recipe. If you’ve melted sugar for Lois’ Dutch caramel cookies before then you’re all set to whip up a baked caramel custard for pudding tonight.

Baked caramel custard (Lois Daish, Cuisine 134, p. 94)

For the caramel:

1/2 cup caster sugar

Preheat oven to 150°C (don’t use fan bake). You’ll need a small, deep baking dish for the custard and another larger baking dish that is a suitable size to rest the custard dish inside in a pond of hot water while it bakes.

Put the caster sugar into a medium-sized heavy saucepan (large enough to warm the milk in later on) and place over a low-medium heat. Once the sugar starts to melt, tilt the pan around gently to swirl the sugar so that it melts evenly. Once all of the sugar has melted and deepened to a rich golden syrup pour it into the baking dish, tilting the dish so that is spreads over most of the bottom of the dish. The caramel will harden as it cools. You don’t need to scrape out every last bit of caramel from the pan as you’ll use this pan to warm the milk.

For the custard:

2 1/2 cups (625ml) standard milk

2 free-range eggs

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla (I used vanilla paste)

Place the milk in the caramel saucepan. Put the remaining ingredients into a medium mixing bowl and whisk together just enough to combine thoroughly. Heat the milk until very hot but not boiling; it’s at about the right temperature once steam is coming off the top and if you dunk your finger into the milk you don’t want to leave it in there!

Pour the hot milk in a steady stream into the egg mixture, whisking as you go. Pour this mixture through a sieve into the baking dish with the caramel in the bottom. Place in the larger baking dish and surround the dish of custard with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the caramel dish. I find the easiest way to do this is to put the custard dish inside the larger dish and put these in the oven. I pull out the oven rack slightly and then pour hot water from a recently boiled kettle into the larger baking dish.

Bake in the oven for about 1 hour until a sharp knife cut into the middle of the custard comes away clean, showing that the custard is set all the way through. Remove from the oven and cool until lukewarm before serving, or serve the custard cold and chilled; I like it best served cold.