Monday, May 18, 2009

From Muttonbirds to Gluten-Free Orange Cake: A few of the things we've been eating

Enough of the fantastic travel and natural gorgeousness of this country. What you really want to know is what we've been eating. So here are a few successes and explorations of the last month or so.
As promised, first the Mediterranean Orange Cake from the gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian book club I hosted here. Although people grimaced and made funny jokes about it on Facebook, I really enjoy planning a meal that, while it may have restrictions, is something everyone coming to an event can eat happily and free of worry no matter their diet. I always have so many things I want to cook, it helps focus me and reminds me of all the folks I've written about who struggle to eat out because they need to avoid certain foods. (Interestingly, New Zealand is very gluten-free-friendly as the ethnic roots of much of its European-descended population are from Scotland and England where I understand celiac has a very high prevalence. Almost all cafes and restaurants highlight gluten-free options on their menus and offer special baked goods and other dishes.)
We started with a version of the curried cauliflower soup from Vegetarian Times (easily found online) - with green apple, which intrigued me and added a nice hint of sweetness. I added a bit more garlic than called for and one small potato to smooth the whole thing out. I also sauteed one unpeeled, sliced tart apple in a bit of olive oil and honey to serve on top. (Credit to Shelburne Farms for that idea.) And for those who did indulge in dairy, I recommended they crumble a bit of the lovely hunk of Gorgonzola Sally had brought as her contribution. It's not a pretty soup (rather drab in color), but it was really good.
For the main, I served the cider-glazed butternut squash (used Crown Pumpkin, which a friend had given me from their garden) salad with arugula, hazelnuts, and cider vinaigrette from the cookbook (goat cheese optional) with brown rice and mushroom-stuffed yellow, orange, and red peppers. The base was veggie with veggie stock (gluten-free -- some aren't I discovered) and fresh thyme and red wine (reduced with the mushrooms and other aromatics; sherry would have worked too, really adds a depth of flavor). I did cheat and stirred a bit of browned pork sausage from the farmers' market into the filling of all except the red (veggie) pepper; that one got a little feta, since it was for a dairy-eating vegetarian.

The cake recipe was from my neighbor Chris - from The New Zealand Baker, in her stash of good cookbooks. The recipes come from all over New Zealand and this one is attributed to Pandoro Bakery. I served it with dollops of good thick Greek yogurt, my new favorite cake topping inspired by the cafes here, and a feijoa and passion fruit compote I had made and frozen a while ago when both were plentiful and people would practially pay you to take feijoas off their hands. (I literally walked by a house one day, which had bags of feijoas in front of the stone wall with a sign, "Please take some of these. The monsters are overwhelming me." They are a new favorite for Alex and me with a wonderful sweet-tart flavor and a little bit of a pear texture.)
Mediterranean Orange Cake (which just happens to be dairy- and gluten-free - although not vegan - but is deeelish for eaters of all things)
adapted from Pandoro Bakery as printed in The New Zealand Baker

For orange slush: 3 large or 4 medium oranges

For cake:
15g (1 T) baking powder
310g (about 2 cups) ground blanched almonds
8 eggs
310g (about 1 1/2 cups) white sugar
375g (about 2 cups) orange slush (see below)

For topping:
1/2 cup apricot jam plus 1/3 cup water
natural flaked (slivered in US) almonds, lightly toasted

Make orange slush the day before you're going to make the cake, which you will then make a day before you plan to serve it: OK - so the recipe calls for washing the oranges well and then slicing the tops and bottoms off them so they can sit flat in a pot, filled with water up to their middles, while you simmer them to softness for two hours. Guess what? the water completely boils away so you have to keep adding, which is fine but a pain. Next time I make this, I will simply put the oranges in a covered baking dish with water halfway up at maybe 275 F and bake for up to two hours until they are very soft but not caramelized. Much easier I think. Drain off excess water. Puree whole oranges (yes, including peel) to a smooth slush in a food processor. Place in a bowl and cover. Refrigerate overnight.

To make cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 170 C (335 F) and prepare a 23-cm (10-inch) springform or other round tin by greasing and lining the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together baking powder and ground almonds.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar just until combined.
  4. To egg mixture, add ground almond mixture and orange slush (only 375 g of what you made, not all of it - I had quite a bit left over from 4 large oranges which is why I suggest trying only 3), and mix gently just to combine.
  5. Pour cake batter into tin and bake about 60 to 80 minutes until cake is golden brown and cake tester comes out clean. (Recipe says 80. Mine took 60 and I don't know how true this oven runs.)
  6. Cool cake in tin overnight.
  7. Next day remove from tin to serving plate. Melt together apricot jam and water on stove or in microwave and bring just to a boil. Strain to remove any fruit lumps. While glaze is still warm, brush entire cake top and sides until glossy.
  8. Sprinkle cake with a ring of toasted almonds around top edge to make a wreath. Serve and refrigerate any leftovers.
Now for something British with a touch of India: Kedgeree, a cheap (here) and easy supper that my boys just adore. I've made this British Empire classic a couple times now because we are blessed with really wonderful smoked fish (the hot-smoked kind not the smoked salmon/lox kind) here in New Zealand and Mark, harking to his Finnish roots perhaps, loves it. It can be bought at the fish stall at the market and at any of the fish stores and is really inexpensive. I think my mom (Mom, can you verify?) used to make this when we lived in England and that's why I know and have such fond memories of it. It's so simple, it really doesn't need a recipe although Sally made it the other night from a fancy-schmancy recipe and it didn't turn out she said, so I guess it does need some instruction. I think the bottomline is, keep it simple.

Basically, to feed 4, you need 2 to 3 cups of cooked long or medium grain rice (I've thought of trying brown but I just can't). You will also need 4 peeled, hard-cooked eggs. Finely dice 1 medium onion and saute in a large saute pan until soft in a good knob of butter, or oil if you prefer. Add mild curry powder to taste here if that's your fancy - a couple teaspoons would be good - but you can do it without too. Stir in cooked rice and coat with butter and spice. Then stir in a couple cups of flaked smoked white fish like trout (in NZ, it's other types of fish like kahawai, kingfish, tarakihi, trevally, hoki as in photo...). We've used up to 3/4 pound since it's so reasonable here but you don't need quite that much. Cover the pan and leave it on medium low just to get the whole thing warmed through. Meanwhile finely chop the eggs. Toss them in and serve. Adults will want lots of freshly ground black pepper. You can get fancy with chopped parsley or finely sliced green onions for color if you like. And this belongs with peas.
A few other gastronomic experiences worth sharing. Before she left for her summer in Europe (smart idea to leave here in the damp, cool, uninsulated winter but I miss her!), Margo and her husband John made us a local foods feast - with muttonbird (titi in Maori), wild pork, and wild venison. Muttonbird is a highly prized Maori food. It is actually the chicks of the Sooty Shearwater, a species of puffin, and is sold in local fish stores (it is in the center of the fishmonger display photo above) as, one of my New Zealand food histories says, "an honorary fish." It is known for its strong flavor and oily texture. You boil it for a long time and then crisp it up to remove some of the fat. It is often cooked out of doors, as Margo does here, because of its overpowering scent. We actually found it quite interesting - flavor of anchovies (makes sense because of the diet of the bird) with texture of fatty duck. See cooked photo below right.

Margo also procured for us a haunch of wild pig (on left of photo below with tail at top) and one of wild venison. Both are hunted avidly around here and the wild pig actually came from Brent, who has now guided me up the Whanganui River twice and shared stories of his iwi (tribe) that has lived on the river since the 1300s. Wild pig hunting is done here by solo hunters armed only with dogs and a large knife. There is a whole magazine devoted to the sport.

And for a final, perhaps more mass-appeal treat, we did finally make it to the famous Raetihi Pie Shop, which is only about 45 minutes from here (although on the windy Parapara highway) and can definitely say that they are **by far** the best pies we've had in New Zealand so far with a lovely, light and flaky crust and very nice chicken filling without globs of gooeey gravy or other mysteries involved. (We have only tried the chicken so far as that was all that were left at 1 pm in the afternoon - he always sells out.) Considering pies are one of the Kiwi food icons, we've eaten more mediocre and truly bad ones than we can count at this point, many of which have been recommended or won awards. The Raetihi pies are not allowed into the national competition because they are too big. (They are single serving, and they are generous.) I think it's because they are too good and make everyone else look bad.

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