sweet potato croquettes

Boys will be boys. We’ve all heard it before, usually from an emotionally exhausted parent in our youth, but some of us may have even uttered the words ourselves. I found myself in a bit of a ‘boys-will-be-boys’ situation recently; a phone call from my frazzle mother – my little brother had toppled off his skateboard as he raced down a rather speed hill, breaking his jaw in three places. Typical.

Gone are the days when doctors would wire a broken jaw closed like the monster from a B-grade horror film, but he is still restricted in what he was allowed to eat. Sympathetic of a diet of tired mashed potatoes and tomato soup, I graciously took on the task of inventing some delicious, yet soft and smooth meal ideas.

French cuisine is so much more expansive than many of us imagine, boeuf bourguignon and foie gras are not quotidian meals as any French-cooking themed film would lead us to believe. Au contraire, they are traditional – time-consuming and expensive to make, and like the variety of French wines, are very regionally specific. I have decided that I needed to increase my knowledge on the larger umbrella that is the way that French people actually cook. I have been flicking through my newly acquired copy of 100 Styles of French Cooking by Karl Wurzer, marking recipes to try in my own variation of Julie Powell’s homage to Julia Child in The Julie/Julia Project – the story behind Julie & Julia for those who have no idea what I’m talking about.

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Sweet potato is something that I grew up eating a lot of, I could never pass up a huge pile of deep-fried sweet potato fries, crisp and salty – the perfect picnic dinner while sitting on the beach. They are basically a more interesting version of a standard potato and when I stumbled upon Karl’s recipe for croquettes à l’algerienne – Algerian croquettes, I knew I had to try them out!

Like most delicious things, these crunchy globes of mustard coloured mash are best finished off in the deep fryer, but because I 1) don’t have a deep fryer and 2) am not using that much oil in one go, I decided to pan fry them and finish them off in the oven – kind of like my churros.

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Peel and dice one sweet potato per person and boil until cooked through and tender. Drain through a colander and leave so as much of the water as possible can drip through. Sauté ¼ of an onion per person in olive oil or lard – I used chicken fat from a roast the night before, it gives it a nice meaty flavour without making it seem too heavy. Mash the potato and stir the onions through once they are soft and syrupy, along with 2 tablespoons of ground almonds or cashews per person, ½ a teaspoon of cumin, ¼ a teaspoon of nutmeg, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a big grind of salt and pepper. I added a pinch of dried herbs too.

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Based on your skill and patience, there are two ways to shape the croquettes – you can either shape them into flat rugby ball shaped spheres with your hands, or into quenelles using two tablespoons. Either way, you’ll get the same result. If you are organised enough, I would recommend doing this much of the process the day before and refrigerating the quenelles so they hold their shape better. If that’s not possible then I guess that’s fine too.

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Fry your croquettes in as much oil or melted butter as you want – the more you use, the easier it will be, but as you increase the oil, you increase the un-healthiness – a lose-lose situation. I lightly fried mine on either side before baking them for a further 10 minutes to get an even crisp and to heat them the whole way through.

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I served mine with a yogurt and tahini dip and sprinkled over some more herbs, salt and pepper, just in time for my brother to tell me he couldn’t make it. More for me I guess!

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we are the world: an international apple tart

Last week we had a work lunch where we were told to bring something that represented our heritage. Now, this was a little bit of a loaded question for me as my family have lived in New Zealand since the 1860’s so we are by all means very Kiwi, yet our actual heritage from before that time is from all over the place; Scotland, Norway, Italy and Greece, apparently the Near East a little bit too. This is a lot to try and fit into one dish but I have tried to combine as many element as possible in my apple, cheddar and rosemary tart.

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apple, cheddar and rosemary tart

This recipe calls for:
1 onion or leek
2 sprigs of rosemary
3 apples; peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or Calvados
½ a packet of filo pastry
1/3 cup of crème fraiche
200 grams of vintage cheddar
1 tablespoon of tahini
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

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As you can see, I have a French influence in the leeks and apples, English with the cheddar, a bit of the Near East with the tahini, and a Greek touch with the filo pastry. You can use whatever pastry you like; I used filo because I had some left over from the last time I made baklava. Ideally, green apples are the best for this, but I don’t really like them and had regular royal gala apples on hand and they worked well too.

Firstly, sauté the onion (in butter, as opposed to olive oil for a sweeter flavour). Once they are soft and translucent, set them aside to cool. Mix in the sliced apples, vinegar and rosemary leaves, add a dash of salt and pepper if you feel the need.

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Next whip the crème fraiche, tahini and cinnamon together. The tahini and cinnamon give the crème fraiche a nice complexity of sweet, savoury, nutty and subtly spicy, but they can be omitted if you like.

Layer the pastry into a dish, brushing each layer with a little melted butter as you do so. Spread the crème fraiche mixture over it, top with 2/3 of the grated cheese before adding the apples and the remaining cheese.

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Bake at 200°C for 30 minutes and leave to cool before removing from the dish and slicing.

It is safe to say that this dish went down a treat, maybe the story behind it was a little over everyone’s heads but it definitely was delicious. It is great served hot with a side of salad, and also makes a great hamper-filler, eaten cold at a picnic. Bon appetite!