Friday, July 17, 2009

birth days

Here at la tavola, it's a birthday bonanza. We each celebrate a 30-something birthday this week and are happy to share the dates along with the duo over at winosandfoodies, a cousin and a nephew.

As much as I miss my winter birthday and the cool weather accompaniments (usually anything roasted and red wine compatible), having a summer barbeque is a good alternative. With a Greek and Turkish inspired menu of herbed chicken skewers, tomato-feta salad and lemony roasted potatoes.. I supposed I could get used to it.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Helado de crema morisca

My darling friend and neighbour is from the city of Campeche.  When we traveled there for her wedding, I was delighted by the street and bar foods, (panuchos being a favourite for the late night set), amazing seafood and the drinks, agua frescas (tamarindo!) and fruit juices.  I also learned that Mexican food doesn't always mean heat.  While it certainly CAN (the habernero is painfully hot!) and there are an astonishing number of hot sauces and condiments, I was delighted with the earthy, acidic and roasted notes amongst the myriad of complex flavours that define regional Mexican cuisine.  Most expat Mexicans also have a favourite sweet dessert be it chocolate or coconut based (and usually with canela/cinnamon) that reminds them of home.

Sugar? I know, not the first thing one thinks of when it comes to Mexican food, but one spoonful of helada di crema morisca and that will change.

And ice cream? Not something I thought I'd be finding in abundance in a country where coconut milk, cold beer or tequlia are the (stereo)typical restortives.. it was in a small shop on the square that contained some of the most pecular flavour of ices that I had ever seen. Forget the savoury ice cream trend of the 90s, this was something else. Chocolate, chile, and camaron (prawn) ice cream?

No prawns here, however, the flavour building blocks of this ice cream begins with sherry. You can try using any of the oloroso or blends, but I had good results with a simple fino. The prunes that I use are still very moist and require only a few minutes in water to soften. If you can get a good Mexican vanilla it adds amazing flavour but is not critical here (I've used Tahitian paste with no complaints). The real flavour (and texture builder) was achieved by the use of tinned evaporated milk.

A strange ingredient, but essential in the typical milky, strong Mexican coffee. The scent of which lured me from my hammock every morning. The richness provided by the evaporated milk makes massive amounts of heavy cream unnecessary.  My first memories of that flavour are from stolen sips of my grandfathers tea and later, my mother's cheesecake ice cream (served with a delectable strawberry sauce).  It worked then and it certainly works now.

So here is where I am reminded of what my sister asked me when we tried this recipe the first time.. that is sounded rather geriatric in nature and did I get my recipe form a nursing home menu?? Sherry and prunes? I suppose it does.

And it's delicious.
Helado di crema morisca
  • 1 1/4 c caster sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 375mL whole milk
  • 125mL sherry
  • 2 large or 3 small egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 160mL evaporated milk
  • 240mL heavy cream (35%)
  • 1-2 tsp. vanilla (paste or good extract)
  • 1 C (loosely packed) dried prunes, rehydrated with boiling water and chopped fine.
Blend the dry ingredients and add the whole milk to dissolve sugar mixture. Bring to the boil over meduim heat. Add the sherry. Simmer for about a minute or so.
In a small bowl, lightly beat yolks and, whisking constantly, add some (about a cup) of the steaming milk in a thin stream. This will temper the yolks and prevent the formation of scrambled egg bits. Add the tempered yolks back to the pot and keep over low heat near a simmer for 2-3 minutes (mixture will heat to about 180C) and begin to thicken.
To start the cooling process, remove from heat and add the evaporated milk, prunes, vanilla and the cream. Pour into a bowl and cover the mixture with either saran or parchment allowing the cover to sit right on the surface (so no skin forms). Chill for a few hours or overnight to allow it to chill completely.
I've never set this in the freezer just by stirring, rather I use my Cuisinart. This also makes about 2 liters which is more than my machine holds so I use two bowls.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Strawberries have arrived!

Finally. Without a doubt, the most recognisable sign that spring is becoming summer, as roadside asparagus disappears, is the arrival of the first strawberries.

The amount of rain and lack of continuous sunshine to date has done nothing to assist but they are here nonetheless. I picked up a flat for freezing and also made some fruit based remedy to help with the current increase in temperature. Nothing goes with blue skies and 28C like strawberry granita.

Blend a quart of berries with the sweetener of your choice and sieve to remove seeds if you prefer. I like to remove them as they seem to multiply in this dessert (or settle to the bottom). I also like a bit of lime (I love lime) and a bit of spirit to further depress the freeezing point of the mixture. Any of tequila, rum or vodka would work, and just a tablespoon or so, as I don't want it to take over the flavour of the fruit, however, that is completely a personal preference and can be done to taste.

At this point, you can either churn the mixture in a home ice cream maker and allow it to set up in the freezer to make it more scoopable or you can set it in a tray and scrape with a fork or spatula every hour or so until set.


Friday, July 03, 2009

the flowers get stuffed

It was a warm morning and we were in the garden.. talking about lunch, as you do, and also discussing an upcoming porchetta we are planning (more on that later!). The pig will be filled (ripieno or stuffed) with a savoury rice mixture. A favourite and easy way to cook rice (not to mention flavourful after absorbing all the cooking juices). From there the conversation deteriorated (new meaning to 'lost in translation") into me trying to explain to my suocero that, in NZ, the meaning of the saying 'stuffed' is akin to being tired and that to say 'get stuffed' well.. let's say that both will apply to the pig. Repeated attempts to say 'stuffed' with his thick Italian accent (all the while waving his hands around - as if to help the words flow) had me falling over with laughter, much to his amusement.

So, to accompany our glass of beer (gardening is thirsty work), I made some 'tired' zucchini flowers. Normally, we'd make pitea but not today. This 10 minute snack blends ricotta, a little fresh goat's milk feta and minced fresh herbs (I like parsley & basil) into a simple filling. A quick grating of grana (to taste) and a small egg to bind and we're in business.

The batter for frying is a simple tablespoon of the egg white from above, flour and a little water to thin the mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Frying. Anytime I fry anything nowadays, I'm reminded of Maria Pia's cookbook where she comments on the current 'fear of frying'. We don't eat that much fried food so it's still a treat. But better to eat better food (not just any old parfried/frozen chip) when we choose to fry, no? Everything in moderation and all that.

For frying, especially small batches of fritters, I use grapeseed oil almost exclusively. High heat capability (that is, high smokepoint at 210C) and a nice mild flavour make for the perfect frying mate.

To assemble the flowers, just have them cleaned and ready, careful not to tear the petals when removing the inner bits. Place a small ball of the cheese mixture inside the flower, 1-2 teaspoons.

I know this seems like a tiny amount (it does depend on the size of the flowers), but the filling will release steam as it cooks and overstuffed flowers can burst (read: big splattering mess). When the temperature is at 180-185C, dredge the flowers into the batter using your fingers to regulate a thin coating and twist the ends of the petals together to create a crisp seal.

Flip the flowers when the edges are golden and brown evenly on both sides (they will sort of slump a little as they cook). Remove to paper towel to drain any excess oil. Let them cool slightly as the filling will be quite hot but not so long that they become soggy.

Serve with a chilled Peroni or your favourite local pilsner style.