Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Salad Series I - the salad can be the star!

I always want to give a salad the opportunity of being the "star" or at least the "co-star" on the table rather than an "extra" to the main course.

On Sunday I made a salad for the Fortune Theatre BBQ and get together for cast and crew of "Calendar Girls".   It was a great evening that took place in a unique storybook house set high above Carey's Bay.  As we live on the other side of the Otago Harbour, I knew my salad wouldn't travel well, so I decided to take all the pre-washed ingredients and dressing in a chili bin and made the salad up just before we ate.   Everyone loved the freshness and flavours.
Three of the wonderful "Calendar Girls" Donogh Rees, Donna Akersten and Hilary Halba with my Calendar Girls Salad

Calendar Girls Salad

The salad consists of two varieties of cos lettuce riped into bite size pieces, rocket also ripped if larger leaves, some red orach ripped and 3 sorrel leaves cut into strips for that lemony zing.  
Then I add the herbs. I cut up parsley, pulled apart chervil, cut the strap-like garlic chives with scissors, a few sprigs of coriander ripped and a sprig of sweet Cicely stripped to add a touch of sweetness. 
Now I dress the greens and herbs in the bowl using a convenient spray vinaigrette "Damson Vinaigrette" from The Damson Collection.  Its a real favourite of mine.  Then a sprinkling of flaked sea salt and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Toss the greens. Its time for the decorative and tasty topping.  I use chive flowers plucked for a spicy heat, blue borage flowers gently separated from their hairy bases, the delicate white coriander flowers and the bold as brass peppery yellow and orange nasturtium flowers.   Luckily I have an abundance of wild small strawberries in the greenhouse which I add for sweetness.  Final touch a sprinkling of pickled nasturtium seeds made last summer.   The red, orange, yellow and blue on top of the green drew an appreciative audience to my Calendar Girls salad. 

Of course not everyone will have each of these ingredients on hand but you can use the principle of this salad to make your own colourful salad combinations.
- first pick, wash and spin dry your salad greens or simply a lettuce
- next add a selection or just one of the soft herbs such as fennel, parsley, mint, coriander, chervil, chives, basil and tarragon
- dress your green salad in the bowl and toss.  If you dress it once you have all the flowers and fruit the colour will disappear - this way you can have the enticing colour on top
- add fruit or sweeter vegetables like tomatoes, beetroot, carrot or bulb fennel
- final touch are some edible flowers for colour, texture and flavour punches
- you need to experiment with flavours and combinations of flavours - taste them in your garden and think what would contrast well with that flavour

Here are some of the chosen ingredients starring in my Calendar Girls Salad: 

Red Orach - a young seedling

 Red Orach (also aptly called Purple Passion Spinach) is something I was first introduced to in a friend's garden.   I took some seeds and carefully grew some plants in the greenhouse.   Now all I have to do is to wait for them to pop up somewhere in the garden.  If it does settle somewhere I usually let it stay.   I love its velvety purple-red colour and spinach like texture with a hint of salt.    This photo is of  a baby seedling - eventually the plant will grow to around 60cm tall.   The leaves can also be added to sauted greens although be warned the purple colour bleeds.

Wild Strawberry - the size of your thumbnail
Wild or Alpine Strawberries are called Fraises des bois (fruit of the woods) in France.  As the name suggests these little strawberry fruits can grow in any part your woodland garden.  Quite often gardeners think of them just in oramental terms.   The fruits are sweet and fragrant but do not keep well - you have to use them the day you pick them.  In France they are used in fruit tarts but I have never managed to pick enough at one time to do that.   They are perfect little flavour capsules to add to a salad and look so pretty.  The plants readily self seed so once you find the best edible variety you will always have a sweet harvest from early summer until autumn.  Every 2 years I take out the old plants and replace with young seedlings - after all that fruiting they just get worn out.    I grow mine as an edging in my greenhouse so that I can pick a strawberry at any time while gardening.
I haven't used these pom pom flowers of the chive in my salads until now.   I thought I would try them to see what they tasted like.  They are delicious - quite hot and onion like, as the chive is from the leek and onion family.   It would be too much to eat in one bite so I simply plucked the florets.


Here's a site that quickly tells you of some other flowers you can use in your salads
Flowers you can eat

Bowls by Peter Henderson - Quadrant Gallery, Dunedin
The bowl the salad is presented in is also important if you want to make a big impression.        These fabulous bowls are made by Broad Bay potter Peter Henderson.  Could be a great gift for the salad maker in your family this Christmas.  I love his use of colour and drawings and you can find them at the Quadrant Gallery in Moray Place, Dunedin.    They are also practical - not too wide.   While salads look wonderful in large round bowls they do take up a lot of table space. 

Bowl of Peter Henderson - Quadrant Gallery, Dunedin
Dave McLeod has many New Zealand jewellery, ceramic and glass artists work for sale in Quadrant Gallery
Fortune's Artistic Director Lara Macgregor  is also a talented baker
producing  themed buns (not cupcakes in Yorkshire)  for the Calendar Girls
on Sunday
This salad was more of a production than you would normally have time to do for dinner each night but for a special meal why not give it a try.

I have been experimenting with salads for years and have so many ideas to share with you all that I have decided to run a series on salads so we can cover all seasons and various types of salads.

The Fortune Theatre 2012 season is closing with a deservedly popular show. If you live in Dunedin you may still be able to get tickets for the two extra matinees they are putting on due to popular demand.

You Tube of Calendar Girls Trailer

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Ken the Caterpillar and Fun Food for Kids

I am on "Nana Jean" duty in Auckland with 2 year old Beau while our daughter Tansy is acting in a play.   As we live at the other end of the country, it has taken time for Beau to get used to me, but I think I have cracked it - he likes interesting food!

On my first day Beau proudly showed me three Monarch pupae looking like pieces of jewellery with their glittering rings of gold.

I was curious.  What was the purpose of the gold?  Who better to ask than our Bugman friend, Ruud Kleinpaste.
"Simple ornamentation.  They want to look good.  Just like you and I.  They are chemically protected so don't need camouflage", txt Ruud.
Ah that's why the caterpillar chose a red sack barrow to hang out on rather than a plant.

Tansy has given Beau a very good introduction to science by simply planting swan plants in a pot and encouraging him to observe.    The Monarch butterfly did the rest by laying eggs the size of sesame seeds on the swan plant.

Two of the three pupae don't have names, but one does.   A week ago one caterpillar caught Beau's eye when it left the swan plant for the next stage of its life.   Tansy recorded the moment on her phone.

(As this is the first time I have tried attaching a video I am a little uncertain whether it will work.   If nothing happens when you click on the arrow or if there is no audio then just click on the following link.)    Beau and Ken the Caterpillar  or copy the following address into You Tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P74MHJXV9jI&feature=plcp

Beau checks up on Ken every day.   One day soon we hope to witness the magic moment when  Ken transforms into a beautiful Monarch butterfly.

(If this video is not available when you click the arrow then just click on the following link) Life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly or enter the folllowing address on You Tube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AUeM8MbaIk

You might like to see the whole process in this excellent time lapse video made by Duncan Scott for the Chicago Nature Museum.   It's only four minutes long and shows the complete life cycle of the Monarch.

The Hungry Caterpillar Salad
I was inspired to create a salad for Beau that night with a caterpillar theme.   My only mistake was calling it "Ken the Caterpillar salad"... at first he wouldn't eat Ken.  It's a good way of making a green salad come to life for kids and perhaps may convince young non-salad eaters to give it a try.
Caterpillar Salad: green salad with cucumber and tomato caterpillar
heading towards the purple cauliflower trees

I first slice an iceberg lettuce, then add some chopped parsley and chives. 
I dress the green salad with a little lemon juice (or if you prefer vinegar), a little salt and more olive oil than vinegar, so that the greens have a slight shine but not sloppy.  
Next the fun part - to create the caterpillar using thin slices of cucumber, a tomato slice and for eyes a couple of raisins. For the legs green beans.  Alternatively you could use slices of coloured peppers or cut small pieces of dried seaweed for the legs.
The final touch, a bunch of purple cauliflower.   I used the cauliflower raw as it was so fresh, crunchy and sweet.  This is just a guide and what was on hand for me to use.

Cracker Man

Cracker Man a savoury alternative to a Gingerbread Man

I discovered a recipe for Snake Crackers that would involve Beau in the making but the mix ended up  too crumbly to roll into snakes. I had to quickly think what to do to keep his interest.  I decided to roll it out and let Beau use his gingerbread man cutter and called them Cracker Men. The cracker recipe is easily made and really tasty with the addition of  cumin seeds. Beau loves them.   

Cumin Crackers
1 cup of white flour
1 cup of wholemeal
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp caster sugar
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 egg
1/2 cup olive oil (I used 50/50 extra virgin olive oil with bran oil so that the flavour wouldn't be too strong for Beau)

Mix all the dry ingredients except sugar.  In a separate bowl whip up egg, sugar and oil.   Add to the dry ingredients and an additional couple of tablespoons of hot water to mix into a dough that can be rolled.
To make it easier to handle, sit the dough for half an hour in a cool place before rolling.   If you haven't the time just roll out immediately.  Cut into shapes of your choice. Place on baking paper, or a greased tray in a preheated oven at 180C for 20-25 minutes or until light brown and crisp.

Cracker Man and his tractor salad for Beau
These biscuits need not be an adult free zone.   Cut into squares or rounds to eat on their own or be topped with a topping of your choice. The crackers have the consistency of shortbread and are similar to oatcakes but hold together more easily.You could replace the cumin with finely chopped rosemaruy or thyme and add fennel seeds instead of cumin.

I got the recipe from the blog  Little Food Junction where there are lots of ideas for making exciting snack food for kids.  Unlike many other blogs about kids food, the ideas don't tend to be loaded with sugar.  If you click on this link you will be taken to a post I thought most fitting -"The Hungry Caterpillar".

Last week I was asked a question from a reader whether or not  kumara or sweet potatoes could be used instead of parsnips.  I cannot see a reason why not as both have a good level of starch. When Tansy requested that I make them the parsnip crusted pie I decided to test out the Kumara option. 

The colour with kumara is an inviting golden yellow (we used golden kumara).   It proved to be a good choice as it worked out just as well as the parsnip.   I also think pumpkin would be another good choice.   
For the recipe for the pie go to my posting "An Unusual Vegetable Pie Turns Carnivore"

The very best thing about this pastry is that it has less butter and consuming a small amount of vegetable without really knowing it. Again a winner for kids who try to avoid vegetables.

I have also tried this pastry using a gluten free option.   I used spelt flour.  Spelt can be a little dry in texture but with the mashed vegetables this wasn't such a problem.

I have been here for a week and there is no sign of Ken emerging.   I really hope he will give us a great performance this weekend.  Perhaps like me he is waiting for the sun before we both take flight.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Hawthorn - an emblem of hope that summer is coming

"Ne'er cast a cloot til Mey's oot" 

This old Scottish saying warns not to shed any cloots (clothes) before the may flowers (hawthorn blossoms) are in full bloom.   The Hawthorn tree (also known as May Tree, Mayflower, May-thorn, Quick-thorn, Mother-die, and Fairy-thorn) is in full bloom on the Otago Peninsula, smothered in white flowers with hints of pink.    The tree may be broadcasting that summer is coming but in Dunedin we are not able to shed our layers of clothing yet.    

The Hawthorn in New Zealand does not enjoy the favour it has in its English homeland.  It's standing accused of being an invasive weed.    True it propagates all too easily here, but  I wish to speak up for the Hawthorn.   It's truly a very useful tree.   It's an important plant for traditional herbal medicine, a hot burning low smoke wood for fires, an effective hedging tree that will not only keep stock in but will keep them healthy, and an important habitat for insects and birds especially moths and butterflies.  And for my friends with horses, Hawthorn is reputed to help horses with arthritis.   Horses-with-arthritis

I have known the secret of delicious Hawthorn and Apple jelly made from the fruits called "haws" in autumn.   The spicy bite of the haws with the sweetness of the apples, with a rich purple-red colour  makes it a real winner.   I am happy to share this recipe if you are keen to try it in autumn.  

I first took the photo on one of my walks and decided to find out if I could eat the flowers or leaves.  I discovered that in days gone by in England it was called the bread and cheese tree.    Children were given Hawthorn leaf sandwiches because it was one of the earliest nutritional green in the hungry part of the year.   

I tried the leaves but it was a little late now that the flowers are out.  They were a little tough to chew but next year when the leaves first appear they will be a welcome addition to an early spring salad.  

The flowers are pretty and looking at them you can see why they belong to the rose family.  Some say the flowers impart an aroma of cherries but I couldn't detect that.  

Hawthorn & Borage Flower Salad

Hawthorn and Borage flowers with a mixed green salad

Gather green salad leaves and herbs.   I used a mix of lettuce, miners lettuce, rocket, NZ spinach, parsley and coriander.   Dress the greens with your favourite dressing and then add the flowers. Pretty, different and nutritious.

Eating the flowers and leaves of Hawthorn is a good source of antioxidants but avoid collecting them from the roadside.
The flowers and leaves of Hawthorn are used in herbal teas and tinctures as a heart tonic, to improve circulation and to maintain a healthy blood pressure.  For more information on the properties of Hawthorn visit: US National Institute of Health - Alternative Medicines
Artemis produces a  Healthy Heart Tea and Hawthorn is one of the key ingredients. Artemis - Healthy Heart Tea
 Hawthorn is mentioned in the folklore of many countries and cultures; Celts believed it could heal a broken heart, ancient Greeks carried its branches in wedding processions, the Serbians and Croatians believed it to be deadly to vampires and was used for the stakes needed for vampire slaying, the Gaelic Scottish and Irish believed it marked the entrance to the other world and the fairies.  Its bad luck to cut its branches unless its in full flower and the flowers are still used today as a decoration for May Day celebrations.

Haw-Sin Sauce

I found this most intriguing recipe from Sarah Head of the UK Herb Society and is adapted from a Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall River Cottage Autumn recipe.
The haws are not nice to eat raw, similar in texture to rosehips. Its best to pick the haws after an early frost to intensify the sugars in the fruit...but you have to beat the birds.  375 g haws  
200 g honey
250g water
250 g cider vinegar
Salt and Pepper
Wash haws in cold water and remove stalks.   Cook with vinegar and water for 45 minutes until soft.   Sieve, pushing through as much of the softened material as possible.   Measure liquid - to every 100ml of liquid add 100 g of honey.  Put back in cleaned pot and season.      Cook 5-10 minutes to produce the consistency you want.    Pour into sterilised bottles and seal.  You could add other spices if you liked but I will try it first with these simple ingredients.

 Hedgerow to Kitchen - Hawthorn.   This link to the UK Herb Society will introduce you to other Hawthorn recipes including making your own Hawthorn flower tincture with vodka. 

I am in Auckland visiting my daughter Tansy and grandson Beau.  Lucky Beau has a daily pick of strawberries growing in the garden.  
Tansy's strawberries on a bed of pine needles to keep the fruit dry.
In Dunedin my strawberries are just forming fruits
 As the Hawthorn is considered to be an emblem of hope I am hoping that the blooming Hawthorn will be announcing the start of summer in the South and my strawberries will ripen.

Friday, 2 November 2012

An Unusual Vegetable Pie Turns Carnivore

Friends were coming for dinner on Saturday and the weather forecast said a southerly would hit that evening.    I had a bottle of opened Emerson's Southern Clam stout in the fridge that I was determined not to waste.   I was curious whether an unusual pastry recipe starring the under rated parsnip would work.  What would happen if I used it with a meat filling instead of the tried and true vegetarian version?

The weather, the stout and the parsnip pastry culminated in the creation of the Beef, Stout and Parsnip Crust Pie for dinner.   I cooked and presented the pie on my pizza stone - its golden glaze, its free form shape with no confinement of a pie dish, its rich stout flavoured meat filling and its sweet nutty flavoured shortcrust pastry made the pie a great hit on Saturday night.  

The pie was served with a side of mashed veggies (that I would normally have put inside the pie) and a spring salad. But wait there was more... to make the meal complete, our friend Kate generously provided us with the first of the season's asparagus from grower Rod Philip from Palmerston - so delicious!

Instead of wine, we decided to accompany this meal with a selection of fine beers from our local brewery Emersons, and other small brewers 3 Boys from Canterbury, and Tuatara from Kapiti Coast. The beer perfectly with the stout flavoured pie.

Parsnip Pastry

This pastry has a lovely consistency with the subtle sweet flavour of parsnip.
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
90 gms butter cut into dice
250 gms parsnips, cooked, mashed and cooled

Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl.  Add salt and rub butter into flour with fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.   (I do this the cheating way with a food processor).  Stir in mashed parsnips until it forms a dough.  (I also did this in the food processor just using the pulse button to avoid over mixing it).
Cover with gladwrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Beef, Stout & Parsnip Crust Pie 

Serves 6
Parsnip pastry recipe as above
600 gms stewing or casserole steak
1 onion diced
1 can or bottle of stout or any dark beer
1/2 to 1 cup of chicken stock (or beef stock)
4 tomatoes or 1 can of tomatoes crushed (I used 4 frozen tomatoes from the freezer, let them thaw enough to peel off skin, and crush) 
boutique garni: 2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried, rosemary sprig, 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, and parsley all tied together
1 dessert spoon of jam jelly or quince paste
Salt and pepper

Dice the meat into bite sized pieces, put into a plastic bag that has about 1/4 cup of seasoned flour.   Make sure there is plenty of air in the bag, close the top and shake - and hey presto your meat is quickly covered in flour.  
Heat a heavy pan with ghee* or oil and quickly brown the meat off in two batches.   Set meat aside, lower heat and saute onions add any remaining flour with a dash of water to make a liquid.  Add this sauce and the meat to a casserole dish or slow cooker.  The flour thickens the sauce as you don't want the filling to be too runny. 
Add the tomatoes, herbs and stout or beer and fruit jelly to taste.  The stout can be quite bitter that is why I added some of my rose hip jelly to the meat but any leftover fruit jam, jelly or paste works well.   My son Gus swears by quince paste as an added flavour dimension to dishes.
If you need some more liquid either now or through the cooking process add some stock (I only had chicken stock but you could use beef or vegetable).
Cook at 160C for 1 1/2- 2  hours or until tender.  Stir every now and then and check if you need to add some more liquid.  This can also be cooked long and slow in a slow cooker but you will need most of the day for this process.
Once cooked cool before putting on the pastry.

Roll pastry out into two discs, one bigger than the other (one around 3cm larger for the top).  Place smaller disc onto an oven tray.   Add filling leaving 2-3 cm edge. Brush the edges with a little egg yolk and place the larger disc of pastry over the top. Crimp edges to seal and prick the top all over with a fork.  Glaze with egg yolk and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest the pastry before cooking.
Cook at 180C for about 30 minutes.

*I prefer to use ghee these days over polyunsaturated cooking oils like sunflower, safflower, soy or canola because of the high levels of omega 6 in these oils and the chemicals used in their extraction. For more information on this I recommend reading 
or find a copy of"Nourishing Traditions - The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats" by Sally Fallon with Mary G Enig  

Nursery Pie

The parsnip pastry recipe originated from a magazine and was designed as a comforting Nursery Pie  - a pastry casing shaped like a dome and inside a selection of mashed root veggies with feta.    
As the name suggests it is sure to be a popular dish with children. 
Nursery Vegetable Pie
from North & South Magazine
Parsnip pastry (as above)
4 cups cooked, lightly mashed vegetables
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1-1 1/2 cups crumbled feta (or would be equally good with the soft and stretchy curd cheese available from Evansdale cheese)
1 egg yolk to glaze pastry

Roll parsnip pastry above out into two discs, one bigger than the other (one around 6 cm larger for the top layer)    Place smaller disc onto an oven tray.   Shape the filling into a dome on the pastry, brush the edges with a little egg yolk, place larger disc of pastry over the top, crimp edges to seal and lightly slash pastry from top to bottom to create texture to pastry.   Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to let pastry rest, and bake at 180 C for about 30 minutes.   Cool slightly before eating.  Ideally served with hot greens or a salad.

Veggie Mash

This is the mash I served with the pie.   You can use any combination for this but I prefer a ratio of 1/3 potato and 2/3 other vegetables including celeriac, pumpkin, parsnip and carrot.  You could also use kumara.   I simply drain and mash them with a good knob butter as my mother would have done.   The addition of a good oil or butter is important for the vegetables in the mash that contain beta carotene as a greater quantity of the vitamin A can be digested.   On top I put some coriander and hazelnut pesto with strewn calendula petals, and yes you can eat the petals.

Roast Asparagus

I prepared the asparagus as chef Alison Lambert did at her spring cooking class. Put the snapped asparagus into a long dish sprinkled with oil, salt and pepper (I used my favourite avocado oil as it can take heat).   Quickly tip the prepared asparagus onto a preheated to hot oven dish in a 200C oven and cook until just tender.  This only takes about 5 minutes.  Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice and if you like a light grating of Parmesan cheese.

The Word on Parsnips

The parsnip used to be the top root vegetable in medieval times as it was a good source of starch over the cold winters and even thought to have aphrodisiac properties.   Parsnip wine is still one of the most popular country wines made in England. The carrot took over this pale sweet root as the most popular in the 19th century and only recently is making a come back.  
As a Southlander I know that the parsnip (and the swede) is at its sweetest after a good frost so when I run out of parsnips I prefer to buy my parsnips from Wairuna Organics from South Otago at the Dunedin farmers market.   Time in the ground and the frost converts the starches to sugars.

  •  Parsnips are high in soluble fibre which helps to lower cholesterol and regulates blood sugar
  • Parsnips have half the calories of potatoes, but also half the protein and vitamin C of potatoes
  • A good source of folic acid that is a vital B vitamin for healthy childbirth, reducing heart disease, may prevent dementia and osteoporosis bone fractures
  • Contains manganese, calcium, magnesium and iron
  • Contains potassium which is a good aid to blood pressure
  • Its recommended as food for those who want to lose weight as the fibre makes you feel full and the sweetness will help alleviate hunger pangs. Discovery Health Weight Loss Foods - Parsnip

Growing Hints

Parsnips are easy to grow although germination can be tricky.  Use fresh seed, sown thickly. To assist in good germination pour boiling water over the row once sown.
As they take a long growing period you should have them planted by the second week of November.  
As the roots grow long they do require deep friable soil to avoid forking and stunted growth.
If you get a good strike you can thin the parsnips as they grow and the thinnings are good raw in salads.

A Special Stout from Emersons

My brother Don has convinced our excellent local brewery to revive Cowie's Bulls Head Troopers Stout that was once drunk by the thirsty Otago Mounted Rifles during World War One.   This special edition of stout has been brewed to celebrate the opening of the new military exhibition at Toitu Otago Settlers Museums on December the 8th.   And I love the label - well done Emersons!

Don (Dr Don Mackay) discovered the story of this beer while researching his book The Troopers' Tale: The History of the Otago Mounted Rifles.  It's a history of the campaigns, war horses and troopers of the Otago Mounted Rifles.  The history really suits readers who love war history, and the many break out stories gives the non-historian the human story behind the Otago Mounted Rifles. Don gathered a lot of these break out stories from families of the troopers and spent many, many hours interviewing people.   

We are so proud of our brother Don for producing such a wonderful record of Otago and Southland history through the stories of men who were tough, brave and great horsemen - you could say they were the true southern men.     

If you want to know more about the book go to: The Troopers Tale
The stout will be available from Emersons and selected outlets - contact Emersons to find out more details - Emersons Brewery, Dunedin

There won't be any opened unfinished bottles of the Troopers Stout allowed in the Mackay family fridges...but if there is  -  well I am sure the Troops would appreciate this very good pie.   

Brewer Alec Cowie, an officer in the Otago Mounted 
Rifles, supplied his regiment’s camps with beer including the troops massed at Tahuna 
Park in 1914 waiting to embark overseas during the First World War.