olive tapenade; christmas condiment?

Since Christmas was over a week ago, we can now begin to look back at it in a nostalgic frame of mind, reminiscing over the lovely time we had and start counting down the days until the next one. I like to spend as much of January as I can talking about what we all ate to carry the magic on for as long as possible.

In my household, we never do Christmas the ‘traditional’ way; we never have a turkey, we don’t play Christmas carols and we decorate a baby fruit tree which we later plant during my mother’s “Christmas spirit ceremony” – a little unconventional but over time I have come to accept it as our version of normal.

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This year was no different. My father was hell-bent on serving a lamb rack from Christmas lunch, something I was never going to object to! I put myself in charge of preparing the condiments and allocated the lamb preparation to Dad; roasted with a simple crust of panko breadcrumbs and preserved lemon, it was moreish and crisp, the tartness of the lemons nicely juxtaposed with the sweetness of all the butter used to hold the crust together like a fantastic culinary clay.

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I digress; the condiments, that’s what I am really talking about here, the condiments. Clinging onto the usual theme of a summer Christmas in a Southern Europe-inspired household, condiment number one was a velvety and zingy olive tapenade.

Olives are always a staple in my pantry; without a jar of olives, I get a sort of meal creation anxiety. It’s for this reason that I thought it was a must that I incorporate my favourite purple pebbles into our celebratory meal.

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Olive tapenade is by no means a difficult side dish to create; it doesn’t involve a large about of kitchen prowess and you only need to invest a small portion of time into it.

For my recipe, here’s what you’ll need:

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A jar of olives – I opted for Kalamata olives but it is completely up to your preferences
3 cloves of garlic – more or less as you see fit
2 tablespoons of capers
a small handful of fresh parsley or 2 tablespoons of dried parsley
the zest of a lemon, and half of its juice
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of wholegrain mustard
a good crack of salt and pepper

You can add anything else you like, obviously stick to ingredients with a Mediterranean feel – sundried tomatoes, anchovies, even figs. Or just keep it nice and simple and let the olives do the talking.

A few notes, too: it’s 100% okay to use extra virgin olive oil here because the tapenade isn’t cooked; the smooth, smoky flavour of the oil is not wasted.

Regardless of if you are using Kalamata olives, black Spanish or green Italian olives, I strongly suggest you buy them whole and pit them yourself. In my opinion, the flavour will be better and the texture of your tapenade will be sleek and not mushy. It’s great if you have, or can locate a cherry or olive pitter (which is extremely difficult if you don’t live in Spain), but slicing them with a paring knife and removing the pits by hand doesn’t take too long.

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Now onto the ‘recipe’: place all of your ingredients into a blender or food processor (or use a mortar and pestle if you’re hard-core!) and whiz until combined and smooth. It is such a beautiful shade of burgundy that you might want to paint your kitchen with it!

It’s ready to eat straight away but the flavour will deepen the longer its left – it will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

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I spread it liberally over the juicy lamb and used the leftovers as a colourful addition to our many Christmas cheeseboards and even spread it over pieces of crusty bread as an easy afternoon snack.

What was your culinary highlight of Christmas?

 

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christmas countdown: stollen

The meaning of Christmas varies depending on where you are in the world. I’m not just talking about the way you celebrate it, or what it means to you – spiritually or otherwise. In every corner of the world, Christmas varies on all sensory levels; the way to looks, tastes and sounds, and the way it smells.

In New Zealand, a typical Christmas is a barbeque of sizzling sausages and an ice cold beer in the evening sun. On the flipside, my Christmases in France revolved around roasted goose and mulled wine, Christmas sweaters and staring out the window at the dreary, grey gloom. I know which one I prefer but here is something about a winter Christmas that is leaps and bounds ahead of the antipodes in festivity.

And that is the Christmas smells.

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This year I have found myself craving those warm, comforting smells; cinnamon, cloves, pine needles and ginger. Instead of brewing up a batch of mulled wine – which I didn’t think would go well with the temperature in the mid-twenties, I decided to try my hand at making stollen.

Stollen is a dense, festive bread from Germany, it is full of nuggets of sweetness and all of the flavours, textures and emotions associated with Christmas. Traditionally made with almonds, candied fruit and lemon zest, I decided to mix things up a bit by substituting in cashews, crystalized ginger and dried citrus peel.

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First things first, you need to get your dried fruit nice and drunk. I mixed a cup of raisins and a cup of candied ginger and fruit peel, chopped, with three tablespoons of Pimm’s – or orange juice if you’re not one for baking with booze. You could also use rum but I like the rich, fruity undertones of Pimm’s and use it in cooking often.

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Next up is the yeasty sponge; combine a tablespoon of yeast powder with ¼ cup of warm water, ¾ cup of warm milk, a teaspoon of clover honey and a cup of flour. Mix into a thick paste, cover with cling film and leave the yeast to do its thing. If your house isn’t too warm, then sit the bowl next to a heater for 30 minutes or until the surface of the mixture is speckled with bubbles.

In a separate bowl, whisk one egg and combine with ¼ cup of honey, ½ cup of butter and a pinch of salt. Toast ½ cup of chopped cashew nuts and add to the mixture, along with ½ teaspoon of nutmeg and 2 cups of flour.

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Add the yeast mixture and the boozy fruit and combine into a thick, wet dough. Slowly add another 1 ½ cup of flour until the dough isn’t so sticky. Knead for five minutes of a floured surface.

Once the dough has come together, roll it in a little vegetable oil and leave to rise. What I hate about so many bread recipes is that it always says the dough will double in size; mine never does and it makes me nervous for the end product. Nervous without cause, in fact.

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Divide the dough in half and roll into flat ovals. Brush the surfaces with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. I used granulated sugar, but you could use icing sugar or even a layer of marzipan. Fold the ovals over on themselves and knit the edges together, making sure no air is trapped inside and the seams are tightly secured so they don’t rip open in the oven like one of mine did!

Leave to rise for another 45minutes before baking at 190°C for 25 minutes.

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As soon as you take the loaves out of the oven, baste them again in melted butter and dust with a thick layer of icing sugar which will melt and be absorbed into the breads outer crust. Delicious!

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Serve it hot as it is, or cold next to a steaming cup of coffee. On the rare chance you have anything left past a day or two, smear each side of a thick slice in butter and pan-fry until crisp and golden. A decadent, toasty holiday treat!

chippie tuesday: tricolore edition

Now for a bit of festivity!

This week’s instalment of Chippie Tuesday is going to be a bit of an ode to the French flag, the Tricolore. I love carrots, and parsnips, and I recently discovered purple carrots, and have since taken quite a liking to them too. So, while it is not a completely accurate recreation, I have taken some creative licensing in creating a chip version of the flag in celebration of Bastille Day.

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I had seen purple carrots often enough, but I had never garnered up the courage to actually try them, until recently. I was pleasantly surprised by their flavour; like carrots and parsnips, their earthy scent fills the air like they have just been plucked from the rich soil they are grown in. They lack the distinct crunch of a regular carrot, but when the knife slides through them with satisfying ease, you know that, when cooked, the soft flesh with be comforting and moreish.

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Begin by switching your oven on to 180°C. I have found that a fan forced bake will crisp the chips up better than an ordinary bake, but if your oven doesn’t have this option, then it’s not the end of the world. Slice any amount of any combination of coloured carrots into sticks of your desired thickness, I cut mine into eights lengthways and then each thin strip in half – about the length and width of your index finger (without thinking about it in terms too cannibalistic).

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Coat the chips in olive oil with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, you don’t need much else because the natural sugars will caramelise, enhancing their sweetness and flavour as they roast. That doesn’t mean to say that adding a little inspiration is out of the question; I find carrots are matched brilliantly with balsamic vinegar, soy sauce or even honey if your sweet tooth is influencing you.

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Roast for about 30 minutes; the cooking time really depends, not only on your oven, but also how thinly sliced your carrots are – so don’t leave them unattended too long! Serve them hot with an extra sprinkle of salt and enjoy this vaguely festive snack!

bastille day thoughts and pizza

I have always had a keen interest in history, and although the majority of what we learn in schools centres around New Zealand’s history, the French Revolution has fascinated me for a long time; the integral catalyst of this event being the storming of the Bastille. The founding of what we now know as Bastille Day occurred on July 14, 1789, when a mob of peasants, dissatisfied with the monarch, stormed the Bastille prison in Paris and freed every single prisoner – all seven of them.

While the repercussions affected the French Empire of a grand scale, the actual event was seen more as a non-event. Perhaps that is why the French are the only ones who don’t call it Bastille Day, instead it is known as le quatorze juillet – the 14th of July. In effect, the date is more important than anything that happened on it, the date that symbolises the beginning of the working class uprising – the event is so unimportant that I have encountered born-and-bred French citizens who have never learnt about what happened at Bastille.

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Le quatorze julliet is the ideal public holiday – it falls in the middle of summer so the sun is always shining, nobody has to go to work so you can enjoy the balmy weather with friends, eating, drinking and being merry, and the fireworks displays are of world class quality, but how has the way it is celebrated changed how it is perceived?

A military parade is held in Paris each year from the Arc de Triomphe along the Champs-Elysée in an epitome of patriotism; the warm summer air carrying the notes of La Marseillaise, fluttering Tricolore flags gripped by children and adults alike, who crowd the street in unruly lines. Further South, the celebrations’ leniency increases with the humidity. Many people opt for escaping the city confines to the beach or the countryside to laze about by the pool with fresh salads, cold beer and homemade pizzas. They may get back to the city to see the evening fireworks display, or maybe not.

© Yann Caradec
© Yann Caradec

While this kind of celebration, or more accurately – lack of celebration, could be taken as a slight to the birth of modern-day France, and a remembrance of those involved, especially in comparison to the celebratory fanfare of the 4th of July, I think it should be interpreted as the base-level, relaxed celebration that it is. After all, the Storming of the Bastille was brought about by many things; the absolute control of the monarchy being one of them, but also the exorbitantly high taxes and shortage of food, were the driving forces. Daily life is made almost impossible when you can’t buy bread, something the nobility didn’t understand – substituting bread for cake seemed an appropriate solution. Keeping that in mind, should this holiday not be about enjoying and celebrating the fact that we can now afford to eat, that buying a baguette costs less than a euro and not a day’s wage?

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For me, every day is a celebration of food; mostly thinking about it, but on occasions eating and creating too. My first Bastille Day was my first encounter with a traditional wood fire pizza oven. I had seen them before, and eaten pizza cooked on them, but I had never actually operated one. I know that making your own pizza is not the French-est sounding activity, but it was such an interesting experience; a daylong event!

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The heat of the oven, after hours of feeding the fire log after log, blisters the dough and liquefies the cheese and toppings, a wondrous contrast to the crunch of the base. If you make each base the size of a small plate it is a perfect serving for one – so you don’t have to compromise on toppings; it can be just what you like! But it’s more fun if you leave everyone to design their own and then share them around, you might just find a new favourite. For me, it was the very French combination of goat’s cheese and honey – I know it sounds odd, but believe me when I say it is a match made in heaven!

arriba arriba, tortilla tortilla!

Spanish tortilla; a staple recipe that every Spanish housewife knows off by heart and can whip up in no time in the event of entertaining unexpected guests. And around Corpus Christi, one should expect a lot of unexpected guests.

While the general concept of a tortilla is very simple to prepare, there are a few complex nuances that are needed to prepare the perfect tortilla – they are essential, because, remember, the whole street is going to be judging you based on it.

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A tortilla is essentially a potato omelette – a frittata, so the ingredients don’t really extend further than potato, eggs and milk. Oh, and an unreasonable amount of oil. My first piece of advice is to think about the amount of potato you have in relation to milk and eggs in relation to the size of your frying pan. You don’t want too much potato that each piece isn’t saturated in egg mixture, but you want enough so that when it is all in the pan it isn’t spread too thinly. I would suggest two medium size potatoes to three eggs and a cup of milk.

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My second piece of advice is to cut the potatoes very small, you want them to cook all the way through without crisping up too much. And the smaller the pieces the quicker they will cook. As a guide, I would say cut them into pieces roughly the size of your fingernail. I did it here with parsnips.

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Gently heat about three tablespoons of oil in a pan and add the potatoes, stirring frequently. ADVICE: Use a non-stick fry pan or don’t even bother. Speaking from experience, if it’s not non-stick, you will end up with lumpy scrambled eggs.

It will take you about 15 minutes to cook the potato all the way through, be patient. When you think they are done, wait a few more minutes, because you are probably wrong and no one likes to eat raw potatoes.

Scoop the potato out of the pan, keeping the oil for later. While the potato cools, whisk the eggs and milk together. Some recipes say to separate the eggs and whisk the whites to firm peaks before mixing in the milk – you can do this but I don’t think it makes for a better end product and just takes up time. Season the mixture with salt, pepper and half a teaspoon of nutmeg. Nutmeg is the key ingredient, the ‘secret’ ingredient – just ask anyone, they are all more than willing to tell you, as long as you promise you won’t tell anyone, and if you do tell anyone each person will insist that they came up with the great idea of adding nutmeg.

At this stage, you can add anything fancy you want; spinach, sundried tomatoes, or cheese. I prefer mine left plain and simple. Mix the potato into the milk, reheat the oil and pour the mixture in. Use a slow eat so the tortilla cooks through without burning, this will take about 5 minutes or until the edges have begun to solidify.

Mentally prepare yourself for the hardest part of this recipe – the flipping. Turn off the heat, place a plate on top of the pan and with a tea towel in each hand, and flip the pan upside-down. The plate will now have the tortilla on it, raw-side down. Place the pan back on the heat and slide the tortilla back into the pan and cook for another 5 minutes.

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Flip it out of the pan, slice it into wedges, bit-size pieces or just tuck into it with a fork each. It’s not much to look at but tastes like an afternoon lying in the sun. Serve with salad, beer and people you like.

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