Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Sweet and savoury together - yes or no?

I can not be the only person in the world who has an aversion to fruit in my savoury dishes.  I don't just mean that 1970's dinner party staple, Chicken and Apricot casserole - although I do have to raise my guilty hand on that one.  Hey! I was in my 20s and it was the height of sophistication.  Ahhh the food memories of those wild and wacky years: go on, admit it, you're sitting there in your caftan dipping chunks of French bread into gooey cheese fondue, or eating prawn cocktail out of a lettuce cup, or pumpkin soup - cooked in the pumpkin! How clever were we?  

Speeding ahead to this decade, I admit to enjoying the well balanced flavours of sweetness in or accompanying a meat dish, but to my mind there is something very wrong about chicken and apricot on the same fork, or a finding a strawberry in your otherwise green salad.

With this in mind, I struggle to explain some of the dishes I enjoy where fruit does make an appearance.  With guests for  the long weekend, one of the lunches I make includes apple in a root vegetable salad (below).  As I am explaining that I think the original recipe has sultanas in it but I can't stand fruit in my salad blah, blah, blah, the h-g innocently enquires as to whether apple is a fruit.  Well, yes.  So isn't this very salad a vegetable/fruit combo?  Hmmm, how to back out of this one gracefully?  I can't.  

However, in my mind and to my palate some things work and some things don't.  Pork and apple works.  Strawberries and lettuce doesn't.  Watermelon and feta cheese works.  Lamb and sultanas doesn't.  In fact, anything savoury with sultanas doesn't work in my book, even those otherwise delicious North African/Moroccan dishes made with fragrant herbs, soft couscous and crunchy pine nuts.  However, when I google 'apricot chicken' out of curiosity, 1,960,000 hits tells me perhaps I am a lone voice railing against fruity flavours in otherwise savoury plates.  

I am not sure where I first found the recipe for this raw salad - probably in one of the popular diet books of the 1980s, like the F Plan or Liver Cleansing, or one of the myriad of raw food plans that were around then.  If you would like to make it, it's delicious AND good for you AND easy to make.
Beetroot, Carrot, and Apple Salad 

Beetroot, Carrot and Apple Salad: 
  • Peel and grate raw beetroot, carrots, and apples. The one pictured is heavy on the beetroot but the relative quantities do not really matter. 
  • Layer on a serving plate or in a bowl - I prefer to layer so the beetroot doesn't bleed into the other ingredients, but again, it doesn't matter.  
  • Toast some sunflower seeds (or whatever other seeds and nuts you like) and toss over the top. 
  • Pour over whatever vinaigrette you like, but in this instance I use a dressing made from red wine vinegar, grainy mustard, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper. 

Also whipped up over the weekend, another easy and delicious, but not so good for you dish. This recipe is from Issue 62 of Cuisine, for many years the leading NZ food magazine (which incidentally also won a host of international food writing and magazine awards in its day).  Not many of you will have a 15 year old copy of Cuisine hanging around, so here's Julie Biuso's recipe.  

A dacquoise is not to be confused with a pavlova.  Pavlova, first made in New Zealand though often claimed by Australia, was created to honour the ballerina Anna Pavlova. It is a meringue disc, crisp on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, topped with cream and some kind of fresh fruit. 

dacquoise, on the other hand, is made with layers of almond or hazelnut meringue, sandwiched together with whipped cream. It takes its name from the feminine form of the French word dacquois meaning 'of Dax', a town in south western France.  

This is a smart looking dessert that will wow your guests and cement your reputation as a cook of note! 

Apricot Dacquoise
5 egg whites
The meringue discs are sandwiched with pureed apricot
swirled through whipped cream
250gm castor sugar
100gm blanched and roughly chopped almonds (I used hazelnuts in this one)
pinch of cream of tartar

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gradually add the castor sugar. Fold in the almonds and cream of tartar until just mixed, using a large metal spoon. 

On two oven trays lined with baking paper, spread the mixture into two 20cm discs. Bake for at least one hour in an oven preheated to 140 C. When cooked the underside of the discs will have no sticky patches. Cool on wire racks. 

When completely cool, sandwich together with 
a 400gm can of soft apricots (drained) pureed with 1 Tablespoon of brandy, swirled through 300ml of whipped cream.

Layer the discs with the cream filling at least 6 hours before you want to eat it so the cream melts into the meringue a bit and softens it. In this way it won't shatter everywhere when you slice it in front of your awestruck guests. 

A standard rubber Custard Square

Speaking of shattering everywhere, what about the flaky pastry on a Custard Square?  

Typically the mass produced items seen in every bakery comprise a virulent yellow solid rubbery plug of "custard", and pastry which manages to bend rather than flake when you bite into it, all the while squishing filling out the sides.

It is a treat to get one where the custard is so light and the pastry so flaky it does shatter!  I know they are hard to make because the h-g had a hankering for some recently, so I made a batch. They were not pretty to look at, as you can see, but they did taste damn good.  

My sad, but tasty batch of Custard Squares

So when I come across the perfect Custard Square it is nothing short of a delight.  I find them at Bosco cafe in Te Kuiti (I am on a road trip, okay?)  I ask if they made them there. Uh uh, came the response - they come from Denheath Bakery in Oamaru in the South Island (this is over 1,000 kms and an inter-island ferry away!) and "we only have them here on Fridays". My lucky day!  These wee treasures have a fluffy delicate custard sandwiched between two layers of genuinely flaky pastry.  Coconut dusted lemon icing provides zing, along with a wee slash of passionfruit pulp.  Heaven on a plate.

Denheath's light as a feather Custard Square as served at Bosco.
So a road trip to Oamaru is in the planning - to see the historic stone buildings of course,. And go to the source of the best Custard Squares in New Zealand. 

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