Tag Archives: ottolenghi

Thanksgiving, bright and beautiful

I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.*
~ Jon Stewart

In the way that nice ideas sometimes drop in without an invitation, the idea of having a Thanksgiving dinner sailed through the door of my mind one evening a few weeks ago. And so it is that around 15 of us celebrated Thanksgiving last Saturday (yes – on Election Day, but I won’t elaborate on that right now) at my place, many of us for the first time. Aside from the lack of football, family members and sweet potato/marshmallow pie, I think we did pretty well ;-)

Friday turned out to be a long day at work, and I only got to hang out with my turkey after 10.30pm. Thank you Nigella Lawson, because without your fabulous-smelling turkey brine, I’m not sure I would have felt like taking taking out giblets**, neck and liver from the turkey instead of going to bed…

And yes, I had to place him*** and Nigella’s brine in a (very clean) bucket because he was way too large for my largest pot. The bucket then sat in the fridge for a night, so Steven-Thomas** could soak in all the goodness.

Of course, we had the all-important pumpkin pie – prepared by an honest-to-goodness American, no less. Also of note: this was made with hand-smashed pumpkin, in the absence of canned pumpkin purée in NZ! A most admirable and delicious effort (thanks Brad!).

I don’t think I’ve ever tried pumpkin pie, and I was pleasantly surprised by the taste of pumpkin in a sweet dish! It made an excellent addition to my mental taste library.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you will know that I have been charmed by Ottolenghi’s recipes more than once. So of course I turned to them for help this Thanksgiving! This recipe for sweet potato wedges with lemongrass crème fraîche (crème fraîche not pictured) comes from their book “Plenty”. Unfortunately, the man at the farmers’ market didn’t have lemongrass – so I added more lime and ginger to the crème fraîche. I also used a giant farmers’ market pepper in place of a chile. Loved the way the zest and zing in the crème fraîche combined with the coriander and salt-flavoured baked sweet potato wedges, and the Christmassy colours of the pepper and parsley.

Here is one of the fastest “dishes” ever to assemble – a few sliced juicy tomatoes, a heavenly ball of Clevedon Valley buffalo mozzarella, some torn basil, salt, pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar – a 30-second plate to put together, so handy for gatherings!

I have no idea how this tasted, but I poached a few stalks of white and green asparagus with a bay leaf in white wine, then added some feta and lemon zest on top. Hopefully it sort of worked…

Here is an impromptu watercress and tangelo salad, served with a (not pictured) balsamic, olive oil and orange blossom water dressing on the side. Thanks to the wonderful Ian for making this look so pretty, and while I am doing the thanking thing – I was pretty grateful for the takeaway coffee he presented me with while I was cooking!

G brought these crazy delicious roasted pears with red onions… mmmmm! Sweet, soft, smile-inducing… yum yum yum. I had a few servings of these!

She also brought a most charming gift – a bunch of herbs from her garden with a note! Love it. Thank you, Miss G!

A second round of thanks to Brad for doing a marvellous job with carving the turkey! It is definitely not as easy as he made it look. Not all of us have that level of competence with knives…

My vivacious friend Emily brought this sweet pumpkin pie cheesecake – on a gingersnap crust, sweet and very nice, though I wish we could have let it sit in the fridge for a tiny bit longer to set properly!

Dinner was a real team effort, and everyone pitched in so cheerfully and kindly. Fiona got super strong plastic cutlery that didn’t even flinch when used to cut turkey slices. Anna brought juice and yummy savoury pumpkin. Ian chopped vegetables with precision and without complaint. Kath brought wine and a vase for my flowers. Jacq brought carrots and capsicum – a pretty medley of red and orange candy cane shapes! Stacey bought a generous tray of potatoes. Emily brought (in addition to the cheesecake above) some very good Swedish meatballs which we devoured with cranberry sauce. R and K brought more wine. I nearly had to physically kick a few people out of my kitchen (when they insisted on doing the dishes) – I really could not have asked for better guests!

Oh yes, and – this cheesecake! My family couldn’t make it to dinner, so Dad baked a cake and my brother dropped it off at my place! Way sweet, and I’m not just talking about the cake, which was fluffy, designed to melt in the mouth and just rather madly good.

So it was lovely to have friends meet other friends, and share conversations and food and flowers and laughs… though I certainly missed a few friends who could not make it that evening! We shared what we were thankful for (some more seriously than others). We had a Thanksgiving toast. People washed plates when we ran out, and took photos for me when my hands were too greasy to touch a camera. The night flowed smoothly like a glass of red… and I was a little sad that the night seemed to end so quickly… but then the smiley MANDY arrived (visiting from Singapore!) and we went out for a late night of bubble tea and cards and got stitches from laughing. Always the case when she’s around!

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers who celebrate it!

* Only points #1 and #2 of Jon Stewart’s quote above happened in my home on Saturday – my guests are still alive. To the best of my knowledge.

** Does anyone have a good recipe for giblet sauce? I was going to try making it but couldn’t find a recipe that sounded realistic and good.

*** The turkey was christened “Steven-Thomas” at an informal ceremony in my kitchen.


Chocolate fudge cake

A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.
~ Roald Dahl

As promised, here is what remains of Ottolenghi’s chocolate fudge cake. The curved strokes you see on its surface were artfully crafted by a budding two year old artist who struck before we could stop him ;-)

Today has been saturated with cake, so much so that I can barely bring myself to type the word without feeling ill. Croquembouche. Banoffie pie. Oreo ice cream cake. Blackforest cake. Chocolate guinness cake. Pecan pie. Etc… (yes this isn’t even the full list).

They were all seriously good (or good-looking, for the ones I just did not have capacity to eat), but I do not, right this second, want cake of any description to come within an inch of me.

I can’t bring myself to taste this cocoa-topped twice baked fudgey cake, but I gather from all comments received tonight that the recipe is a keeper.

    240g unsalted butter, cut into small* cubes
    265g dark chocolate** (52% cocoa solids), cut into small* pieces
    95g dark chocolate** (70% cocoa solids), cut into small* pieces
    290g light muscovado sugar***
    4 tablespoons water
    5 large free range eggs, separated
    a pinch of salt
    cocoa powder for dusting
    Preheat the oven to 170′C. Grease a 20cm springform cake tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment.
    Place the butter and both types of chocolate in a large heatproof bowl – it should be big enough to accomodate the entire mix. Put the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan, stir to mix, then bring to the boil over a medium heat. Pour the boiling syrup over the butter and chocolate and stir well until they have melted and you are left with a runny chocolate sauce*. Stir in the egg yolks, one at a time. Set aside until the mixture comes to room temperature.
    Put the egg whites and salt in a large bowl and whisk to a firm, but not too dry meringue. Using a rubber spatula or a large metal spoon, gently fold the meringue into the cooled chocolate mixture a third at a time. The whites should be fully incorporated but there is no harm if you see small bits of meringue in the mix.
    Pour 800g (about two-thirds) of the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level gently with a palette knife. Leave the rest of the batter for later. Place the cake in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out almost clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool properly.
    Flatten the top of the cake with a palette knife. Don’t worry about breaking the crust. Pour the rest of the batter on top and level the surface again. Return to the oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes. The cake should still have moist crumbs when checked with a skewer. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.
    The cake will keep, covered at room temperature for 4 days.

* Seriously, cut the butter and chocolate into small pieces, or the syrup won’t melt them (in which case – suspend the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and stir till it melts. It worked for me in the end).

** I used 250g Whittaker’s 50% chocolate, and approximately 110g 72% cocoa chocolate.

*** I used approximately 1 cup dark muscovado + just under 1/3 cup caster sugar.

Walking on a cake dream

Let’s face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me.
~ Audrey Hepburn

The cake aliens have arrived with one mission: to turn me into Planet Cake. Will I retaliate, escape my fate, and live to tell the tale? We shall see…

Right now, I have three kinds of cake in my kitchen – (1) fountain mini no-bake cheesecakes in the fridge, (2) Smitten Kitchen’s strawberry summer cake, and (3) Ottolenghi’s chocolate fudge cake (currently at stage two in the oven).

This is the fountain cheesecake, so named due to its consistency. I made it without a recipe, just for fun, from due-to-expire cream cheese, sour cream and cream in the fridge. I added honey and an egg to the cheese mix, poured it on an impromptu base of biscuits and melted butter, and topped it all with Hakanoa ginger syrup and a slice of green kiwifruit. Not bad taste-wise, according to my sweet flatmate, but the texture needs some work!

We’re having a bake off at work tomorrow, and from serving as Guest Judge at previous bake offs, I know I’ll be up against formidable competition. So I turned to a blog that has often inspired me – Smitten Kitchen.

I haven’t tried this cake, but I can tell you that it is a minimum-fuss, sweet-smelling cake involving pretty fruit… also, when it is a Smitten Kitchen recipe – you don’t have much to worry about :-)

I did use less sugar than what the recipe stated though. One cup looked like a bit much!

And now, chocolate fudge cake. This is a birthday gift for E, a person whom I am so grateful exists. E is truly herself, bold, bearer of truth and love… I respect her as much as I love her.

Among my favourite memories is the one where we dressed up as cows and went to a party when we were in uni… you know, even if you find a person who is willing to do this with you (and I promise you I haven’t met many such courageous folk) – not everyone makes the experience gigglingly fun.

Now she is wife to a great man and mother to a baby who actually, miraculously, awakens my mostly dormant maternal instincts… I use the word “miraculously” because most babies do not manage to do this.

This cake is a twice baked, dark chocolate cake (I used both 50% and 72% cocoa content Whittaker’s chocolate) which is decadent in every way – rich, deep, extravagant and sweet, the way E has been to me.

And of course the recipe is from Ottolenghi – The Cookbook (page 196). I made two modifications to the recipe: (1) having no light muscovado sugar, I mixed dark muscovado and caster sugar, and (2) I had to set up an impromptu bain-marie to melt the butter/choc which I should have cut into “small pieces” as listed in the recipe.

I don’t have a picture of the final cake as it’s still baking in the oven… but it will be dusted with cocoa tomorrow, and I will try to take a picture then. Just for you.

P.S. Beware of the cake aliens. They don’t like being told to go away.

In other (non-cake) news:

    NZ bloggers who are attending the inaugural NZ Food Bloggers’ Conference this weekend – I hope you have a SUPER time and wish I could join you! I’ll look forward to reading all about it.
    Auckland readers – eat well and do good this Saturday – see Garden to Table. A portion of the $ will go towards supporting programmes in NZ primary schools to teach children to grow, harvest, prepare and share food through gardening and cooking.
    “It’s more expensive but your budget is tight, you believe in supporting sustainable products but what does that ‘Go Green’ sticker actually mean?” – from ‘Greenwashing’: consumers beware. Interesting read, and one that begs more thought… does sustainability matter to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts/point of view.

Ottolenghi – The Cookbook: page 199

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche
~ Supposedly spoken by “a great princess”

Midnight baking and conversation. Burnt caramel. Singing oven. Cheeeeesseee. Golden goodness. Icing sugar (fairy dust). Ottolenghi’s caramel and macadamia cheesecake. There were a few laughs, a few disasters – but all was fine in the end and we all had cake complete with caramelised macadamias and even a caramel sauce. I attribute this strongly to my friend Rahul who is visiting from Wellington… when you are baking at midnight and SCORCH the bottom of both of your only saucepans with rock-solid brown caramel sauce, I recommend that you place yourself in the company of someone who can make you laugh and who thinks fast to solve problems. With Rahul’s help, the cake and saucepans both survived. Much to my delight, of course.

So at the moment John, Brad and I are sitting in my lounge, we are drinking wine, and I am rudely blogging… just wanted to submit my entry on time for Sweet New Zealand (see note below!)

I have so much from recent days to blog about – but I really have to go (multi-tasking is not my strength at all)… so here’re some photos for you, and I will post again soon. Ciao!

This post is my entry for this month’s Sweet New Zealand – the lovely Sue from Couscous & Consciousness is hosting it this time. Click here to join in the fun!

Ottolenghi’s aubergine with buttermilk sauce and pomegranate

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
~ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Spongy, meaty, melting flesh.

Sounds revolting, you say. I couldn’t agree more – but aubergine defies seductive prose; it is what it is. Most people I know (whose opinion on aubergine I have heard) either love it or hate it. You’re lucky if you love it, there is this entire galaxy of yummy dishes involving this pretty purple vegetable that you’d miss out on if you didn’t!

This vegetable has been present in my world for a very long time. When I was a child growing up in Southeast Asia, we called aubergine “brinjal” and I remember tasting it in spicy, slow-cooking curries; braised with minced pork, tofu and chilli, etc. The texture interested me; so different it was from [less defined/straightforward than] crunchy carrots or leafy kai-lan or soft chewy mushrooms. And the taste – so bland and so distinctive all at once. Always different, it seemed, depending on how it was cooked. It was a mini mystery. I didn’t like or hate it, but it certainly always held my attention if it was anywhere on the table.

In recent years, I’ve experienced this vegetable in whole new ways, and grown to really enjoy it. Baba ghanoush. Roasted/stuffed eggplants. Ratatouille. Aubergine cooked with pasta. And I’ve mostly called it “aubergine” or “eggplant”, along with everyone else here in New Zealand.

As I write this post, I realise that I haven’t associated this vegetable with the brinjal of my childhood for some time… Shakespeare might have been on to something when he wrote “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but to me, a brinjal by another name spells entirely different types of dishes (and borders on appearing to be a different vegetable entirely).

Anyway. Today, I chanced upon a lovely recipe with a photo so pretty I couldn’t resist trying it – especially when I saw aubergines for sale at less than $3 each!

Enter Ottolenghi, an aubergine, and an oven…

And this was my dinner tonight: colder than most dinners in terms of temperature, but warm in the thoughts it brought. For some reason, the dish made me think of Christmas and Morocco, and I started humming Christmas carols midway through dinner (flatmates out this evening, thank goodness ;-).

This dish would be better as a starter than as a main, I feel; but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and was satisfied afterwards. The colours are beautiful (my photos here are too bright; the real life version was great). It leaves your mouth feeling clean and good. The flavours take some getting used to when you first taste it – but what you get in the end is the tender strength of the aubergine, a tzatziki-type garlic-scented yoghurt and buttermilk sauce, heady and smoky sweet herbs, crunchy sweet pomegranate, notes of citrus from the lemon, and salt and pepper to finish it. It’s hard to adequately describe… but the combination works. I suspect the original version, with za’atar (which I haven’t tried but which Google says is amazing), would be delicious too.

A bonus? Not much prep/washing up for this one! Second bonus: this is one of those recipes for which you can double/halve the ingredients exactly and have it turn out – great for dinner parties.

    1 large and long aubergine
    Olive oil
    Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 pomegranate (I used 1/2 of a pack of pomegranate seeds from the supermarket)
    1 tsp za’atar (with no za’atar, I used mixed herbs + fennel seeds + salt + pepper)
    1 wedge of lemon
    For the sauce:
    700ml buttermilk
    50g Greek yogurt
    1 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish off
    1 small garlic clove, crushed
    Pinch of salt
    Preheat the oven to 200°C. Wash the aubergine and cut it in two lengthways through the green stalk (retain the stalk for decorative purposes only). Make three or four deep parallel incisions in the cut side of the aubergine (do not go as far as the skin). Then, make three or four diagonal cuts – you will now have a diamond pattern.
    Line an oven tray with foil or baking paper, and place the aubergines, cut side up, on it – brush generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 30-35 minutes. When you can smell something delicious, and the flesh is soft and well-browned, remove the aubergine from the oven and leave to cool.
    While the aubergine halves are in the oven, cut the pomegranate in two horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, and knock the skin with the back of a wooden spoon, letting the seeds fall into the bowl. Once all are out, sift through the seeds to remove any white skin bits. I just used a packet of pomegranate seeds, so I didn’t have to do this step.
    In a separate bowl, whisk together the ingredients listed under “sauce” above, taste for seasoning and pop it into the fridge.
    To serve, put an aubergine half on a plate, flesh side up. Add a generous amount of sauce on it without covering the stalk, then sprinkle the pomegranate seeds and za’atar if you have it (or a herb/spice rub – see my notes above), and finish with a drizzle of olive oil + a sprinkle of lemon juice.
    Yields two entrée-sized servings, or one refreshing main.

P.S. This was published a while ago, but oh still so good to read!