Food, Recipes

Parmesan-crumbed lamb chops

The best picnic food ever – if they last that long.

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 These Parmesan-crumbed lamb chops are pretty darn awesome, hot or cold.

The recipe is from Pipi: the cookbook and once you try it you won’t want to do them any other way. Adding cheese is a stroke of genius, keeping the deeply savoury, golden, crunchy crumbs firmly stuck to the chop.

6 slices fresh bread

3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

1/2 cup flour

Pinch of salt

2 eggs, beaten

2 lamb racks, cut up into 16 wee chops

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Whiz the bread and Parmesan together in a food processor until they are tiny crumbs. Then fill one bowl with the flour seasoned with the salt, a second with the beaten egg and a third with the crumbs.

First dust the chops with the flour, then dip them in the egg, and then put them in the bowl with the crumb mixture, turning them until they are completely coated. If you want to make absolutely sure you have a lot of crumb on the chops, you can repeat the egg and breadcrumb steps.

Lay the chops on a plate lined with greaseproof paper and put them in the fridge for at least half an hour to help set the crumbs.

Now you’re ready to cook the chops. Place a large frying pan on a medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Brown the chops on each side. You will have to do this in batches, using the remaining oil. Then transfer the chops to a roasting dish or baking tray, and put them in the oven for 10-15 minutes to cook through.

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Food, Recipes

Deliciously retro

Alison Steadman and some mustachioed bloke in a still from 1977 TV production of Abigail's Party

“Tone? A little cheesy-pineapple one?” – Alison Steadman and some mustachioed bloke in Abigail’s Party

A new pop-up shop is bringing a touch of splendidly hip Scandinavian style to Wellington.

Just a hop and a skip from the city in the beachy southern ‘burbs, Skandi purveys quality 50s and 60s furniture and lights that will make you swoon with their awesomeness.

You can check it out online – though if you’re in the capital of cool I strongly suggest you get yourself along to Island Bay toot sweet (and while you’re there you can do your weekly meat shop at the fabulous Island Bay Butcher, just across the road).

In keeping with the shop itself, the opening night shindig called for canapés that were a little bit Danish, and a little bit retro… cheese straws, liver pate and gherkin, smoked eel and horseradish on rye, salmon and vodka tartare, mustardy-mayo-dipped frikkadelle (that’s meatballs to you and me) and devils on horseback.

In keeping with human nature, the cheese straws were the first to be snaffled up. And why not? They’re everything you could possibly want in cocktail food and more: able to be held and eaten with one hand, keeping the other free for liquor; unlikely to ruin your party frock; AND delivering on the essential salty-crispy quotient of downright deliciousness.

Cheese straws

one-and-a half cups of rat-trap cheese, grated – in other words, whatever bits of strong cheese you’ve got lurking in the fridge, parmesan, cheddar, blue…

60g butter, diced

three-quarters of a cup of flour, plus more for dusting

half a teaspoon of Maldon salt

half a teaspoon of crushed chilli

one-and-a-half tablespoons milk or cream

Turn oven on to 180C fan bake.

Chuck everything except the milk or cream in a food processor. Mix in short bursts until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs, then add the liquid and process until the dough forms a ball.

Lightly flour the bench and rolling pin and roll out the dough into something vaguely resembling a rectangle, about 5mm thick.

Cut the dough into thin strips, as short or as long as you like, and carefully prise them up and peel them off the bench and on to a baking tray. This is one of those wonder-doughs that can be pressed back together and rerolled umpteen times without coming to too much harm, so just keep going til it’s all gone.

Bake your straws in the middle of the oven for 8 to 12 minutes, until they’re beginning to turn a burnished gold. At this point the kitchen will smell amazing and you can take them out of the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

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Food, Recipes

Adventures in cheese: paneer

Sliced paneer with honey

Paneer with honey – delicate as custard

I made delicious Indian cheese this weekend, spurred into action by the glorious national institution that is Radio New Zealand.

The wonderful Wendy Adams, she of Cultured Petone fame, was on the wireless on Saturday afternoon, talking Simon Morton and This Way Up listeners through the process of making paneer.

So simple! So quick! Dear readers, I was inspired. I was down that supermarket buying milk quicker’n a kea alighting on a hapless tourist’s backpack.

And you know what? It was even easier than it sounded, and at least ten times as scrumptious as I expected – delicate and lemony with more in common than a wobbly custard than rubbery tofu. Just… yum.

So I urge you, try it, try it today. Then use it to make saag paneer.

You won’t regret it.

I used the paneer recipe on the RNZ website, adding more lemon juice to make it extra lemony. I’ll rewrite it here, step by step. Before you start, you’ll want to gather a few things together – the ingredients, obviously, but also a double boiler, a colander and a bowl to fit inside it, a sieve, clean damp muslin – I used a ham cloth, but you could even use a (clean!) chux. That’s about it.

Paneer ingredients

2 litres milk (not trim)
4 teaspoons or more of lemon juice

Make your paneer

Heating the milk in a double boiler

And so it begins… bring the milk to a rolling boil over a double boiler (to avoid it sticking to the bottom of the pot)

juicing lemons

Easy peasy lemon squeezy – I used the juice of two lemons

separating the curds and whey

Add the lemon juice, stir and watch clumps form as the whey is expelled from the milk, leaving the hot solids to form into a mass (and try not to think about what this looks like – it will get prettier)

using a sieve to strain the whey from the curds

Drain (use the whey for bread, cooking rice, on the garden)

Cheese wrapped in muslin

Place the ‘curds’ into a sanitised cheesecloth/muslin in a colander

Pressing the cheese using a bowl of water as a weight

Place a bowl of water on top, press for an hour or so – less means fluffier paneer, more means firmer

The finished cheese

Et voila!

I was so excited I could only wait an hour. Stole the first slice to drizzle with honey and eat with my fingers.

Diced up the rest and fried it in ghee until it was golden, before adding it to a gently spiced, creamy spinach sauce. On the show they called this palak paneer, but I know it as saag. Either way, it was amazing. And I’ll be back listening to This Way Up again this coming Saturday, for more adventures in cheese!

If you missed it, you can listen to the show by downloading the audio file from RNZ to your iPod or other magical mobile listening machine).

Saag paneer with rice and naan bread

The finished dish: saag paneer

Saag paneer

250g paneer, cubed
Ghee for frying
bunch fresh spinach leaves (I had a 130g bag of leaves)
1 small cinnamon stick
1 thumb fresh ginger, peeled
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chillies (or fresh, eh, but this was what I had to hand)
2 large tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
Half a cup of sour cream
Salt to taste

Fry the cubed paneer in a tablespoon of ghee until light golden brown and set aside.

Blanch the spinach in boiling water, along with the cinnamon stick.

Remove the cinnamon stick, drain and puree the spinach, along with the fresh ginger and tomatoes.

Heat 1 tablespoon ghee in a heavy pan and fry the onions over a medium heat. When they’re a deep, burnished gold, add the chopped garlic and the spice powders and fry for another minute.

Add the pureed spinach mixture and cook for four minutes.

Add the sour cream and cubed paneer and cook for a minute longer. Taste for salt.

This did me for one dinner and two packed lunches (frozen along with half a cup of cooked basmati in each container). I guess you could easily stretch it by adding more spinach or tomato to make a saucier sauce.

Empty plate and fork, smeared with spinach

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Food, Recipes

Broadly speaking

Chianti was the tipple that most infamous of gourmets sipped on to bring out the best in his favourite dish of fava beans served alongside a human liver.

However, you do not need go to Hannibal Lecter extremes to enjoy one of the world’s great gastronomic treasures – the first of the season’s broad beans. A trip to the deli should suffice.

Once there, you should ask for a robust and spicy salami, a wedge of sharp, salty tangy cheese (pecorino, perhaps), an honest loaf of crusty bread and whatever gutsy quaffer tickles your fancy. If you want to go all out you could add some piquant olives and a tiny bottle of that very expensive and very delicious extra virgin oil you’ve had your eye on. This simple and exquisite antipasto is a perfect excuse for it.

Seize the moment (and try not to flinch as you hand over the plastic).

Pour the oil into a jug, the vino into large glasses, and set the remaining goodies out on a platter heaped with fresh young broad beans still nestling inside their velvety pods. Invite the assembled company to dig in. (You will, of course, have chosen your guests for their conviviality, just as you have handpicked the beans, selecting only the smallest and crispest of pods.)

The results, I promise you, will be toothsome, and unlikely to bring you to the attention of the FBI.

It’s a great cheat too – you need not be a good cook, only a good shopper. You don’t even have to shell the beans for goodness’ sake. What could be easier? Just sit back and accept the compliments as they roll in.

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For very special occasions, make this Broad Bean and Pecorino Salad and serve it with crusty bread as a vibrant palate-teaser for six people.

1kg fresh unshelled broad beans
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano (I know, but it works, trust me)
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
quarter teaspoon chilli flakes
250g soft sheep’s milk cheese, cut in cubes the size of a broad bean
salt and pepper to taste

Shell the beans, combine with all the remaining ingredients and toss to blend.

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Food, Recipes

Afternoon delight

“Cheesecake should be the most mellow mouthful of creamy sweetness that ever stuck your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Lusciously thick yet feathery light, with a hint of vanilla and a vague rumour of citrus, just enough to set your tastebuds wondering.” Terry Durack.

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cheesecake
1 250g tub cream cheese (full fat!)
1 cup double cream
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup caster sugar
4 eggs
juice and zest of 1 lime

 

First prepare the pan. I use a 7″ springform tin – it’s easier to unmould that way. Butter it thoroughly then wrap foil tightly around the outside of the tin to prevent the batter seeping out on to the bottom of the oven.

 

I don’t think a crust is necessary. Often, it’s all you end up tasting, rather than allowing your fork to cut swathes through tender, unctuous, creamy cake. If you want to give a bit more definition to the finished cheesecake, add a coating of sponge or biscuit crumbs or very finely chopped nuts to the tin after greasing it. Using half a cup of crumbs, shake them gently, turning the pan to get an even coating.

 

In an electric mixer or food processor, beat the cream cheese until it is soft and creamy; blend in cream and sour cream; beat in sugar bit by bit; then the eggs, one by one, followed by the lime juice and zest. Finally, scrape the batter into the pan and rotate it in several quarter turns to settle the mixture and release any air bubbles.

 

Bake in a pre-heated 150C oven for 1 hour or until the cheesecake is just set. Check it by giving the tin a slight shake – the cake should still have a faint quiver in the centre. It will continue to cook after you take it from the oven, so don’t let it over-bake. Cheesecakes bake best at lower temperatures and for longer times, rather than vice versa. If it seems to have risen alarmingly during cooking, don’t worry – it will sink, but should do so uniformly, settling down evenly as it cools.

 

Remove it to a wire rack and let it rest for an hour before releasing the springform sides (the cake itself will indicate its readiness by starting to pull away). Then put it in the fridge to chill a few more hours before serving.

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Food

say cheese

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Bread and cheese is one of the most satisfying culinary combinations of all time, and one which has stood the test of time.

It’s the ultimate portable food – both real-life shepherds and fairytale adventurers always carry a crust and a hunk of cheese wrapped up in their spotted kerchiefs.

But cook it and it’s something else entirely. The humble cheese sandwich is transformed from a mere hunger stopgap into a thing of melting beauty and textural sensation, alternating as it does the crisp crunch of toasted bread with the pliant ooze of molten cheese.

The words ‘toasted cheese’ conjure warming images of dozy afternoons in front of the fire: the sum of its parts adding up to far more than a snatched snack to get you through to dinner. Heck, it can even be dinner. Students often survive on little else for three years or more.

It’s also the perfect antidote to winter drizzle, guaranteed to stop kids’ grizzles in their throats and turn them instead into docile and pleasant creatures. My mother has a stock of variations on the theme she’d pull out on stormy weekends indoors when our moods threatened to turn as bleak as the weather.

So when ‘melts’ first appeared on café menus I had to laugh: it seemed cheeky to sell something so basic. Then there was the toasted ciabatta thing – an updated version of the takeaway bar toastie, with fancier bread, fancier fillings than cheese and pineapple (and fancier prices to match). But it’s so delicious; why quibble with a winning formula?

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