Category Archives: Produce

Baked Feta Nested in Leeks

This evening I made one of those shake the fridge meals in order to avoid a trip to the market and happened on a combination that I just had to share. Feta, leeks and fennel seed – amazing and simple.

All you need is 1 block feta, 1 leek, small teaspoon of fennel seeds and 1/2 teaspoon of celery seeds. Slice the leek in half lengthwise and wash the soil from the upper part. Slice leak thinly and saute until just soft with the seed’s and a little oil. Cut the feta into about 1 in cubes and put on a greased ovenproof dish. Top with the leeks and bake for 15-20 minutes at around 180 degrees Celsius. I agitated the leek nest a couple of times to make sure the edges didn’t scorch during cooking, but other than that its pretty low care.

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Filed under Feta, Leek, Produce, Vegetarian

Homage to the onion

Onions are a vegetable that rewards you with sweetness when cooked with time and care. However, if you are careless or rush it can be quite unpleasant. I have some loves and hates when it comes to onion. My biggest hate is big chunks of undercooked onion in food; something that seems to crop up in stuffed potatoes and quiches. My greatest onion love is sweet, soft camarlised onion jam. This is a terrific topping for savory goods, such as pies or pizza. Last night we topped melba toast with slices of aged cumin-flavored gouda and a teaspoon of onion jam – it was a great combination.

Along with using a sharp knife, there are a couple of things that can be done to make chopping onions easier. I always leave the root on when I chop onions. This holds the onion together, allowing me to get a fine dice (see below) an gives a little end to hold on to when you are chopping.

To make a fine dice, first cut fine slices towards the root, taking care not to cut all the way through the root, then rotate the onion, hold the layers together and slice the little cubes away. If you are doing a very fine dice, essentially mincing the onion, put in an intermediate step of slicing toward the root again, but with the knife blade horizontal (parallel with the chopping board). I have never found a way to stop onions from making me cry. The only good advice I have been given is to learn to chop them quickly.

I always precook onions if they are to be added to something where they will not get direct heat, such as pies, casseroles and sauces. I sweat onions that are going to be added to a white or cream sauce or to a pie. Sweating means to cook them in a pan over a relatively low heat until translucent and without giving them color. This sweetens and softens them. Onions that will go into brown or tomato sauce or casseroles and wot-not are sautéed. This means frying them over a medium heat until they are lightly colored. There is a lot of flavor in the browning that will permeate your dish. However, take care not to burn onions as that burnt flavor will also permeate your dish (the same applies to garlic).

Caramelized Onion Jam

Finely slice 5 onions. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and sauté over a moderately low heat (barely sizzling) for 45 minutes or until soft, sweet and a dark caramel color. Towards the end add 1-2 table spoons of vinegar (I use white wine, but balsamic or cider would also be fine) and a heaped tablespoon of soft brown sugar. Cool and serve as desired. This will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week. The oil component may go lumpy in the fridge, but this will disappear when the onion jam comes back up to room temperature.

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Black Doris Graces my Kitchen

Yesterday I was surprised to find black doris plums at the Rotorua Farmers Market (held amongst the geothermal pools in Kirau Park, Ranolf Street) because I thought the season wasn’t due to start for another month. Their early arrival is perhaps explained by the a hot, if somewhat wet, summer we have had this year. I purchased a couple of kilos and schemed all the way home. In my opinion, Black Doris is the best variety of plumb for bottling. The have a deep crimson skin and flesh, a rich flavor, and they cook without going watery.

The first order of business was plum sauce. For this I cracked out my trusty Alison Holst ‘The Ultimate Collection’; an utterly practical and reliable anthology of everyday recipes made from things that usually reside in the kiwi kitchen. A dear friend recommended this cook book years ago and since then I have been referring to it almost weekly. A little recipe jiggery pokery was required because I didn’t have all the spices on her list and didn’t want to strain the sauce. I don’t mind finding the odd bit of spice in sauces and prefer a thicker product.

Spicy Black Doris Plum Sauce

Cooking/preparation time (including bottling) 1 hr. Specialized equipment: pestle and mortar, food processor, glass bottles and lids (I used recycled salad dressing bottles). Yields approximately 1.5 L.

1.5 kg Black Doris Plums
1.5 C of Cider Vinegar (if you don’t have cider use white or malt vinegar)
1 Large Onion (finely chopped)
3 Cloves of Garlic (crushed, we don’t eat a lot of garlic – if you do, this quantity can be increased to 6 cloves)
4 cm of Root Ginger (grated)
1-2 Fresh Chilis (or dried, adjust depending on how hot you like it)
3 tsp Coriander Seeds
9 Cloves (warning, I really like cloves so this should be reduced if you don’t)
1.5 tsp Black Peppercorns
1 large or 2 small Cinnamon sticks (about 8 cm total)
1.5 tsp Salt
2.75 C Brown Sugar

Wash the plum’s, count and take a note of how many you have. You need to do this so that later you can ensure that all the plum stones have been removed. Put the plums and vinegar in a large pot and place on a moderate heat with a lid. Chop/crush/grate onion, garlic, ginger and chili, and add these to the pot of plums. Crush coriander seeds, cloves, black peppercorns and cinnamon sticks in a pestle and mortar. I find it helps to also rub the mix between my fingers because it breaks down the cinnamon sticks. Place the spice mix in a heavy, dry pan. Place the pan on a moderate heat and fry spices, stirring constantly, for a couple of minuets to roast them, thus making them aromatic. When the spices waft intense aroma they are done. It is important not to burn them, so it is worth standing over them to stir. I returned this mix to my pestle and mortar for more grinding because I wanted them really fine, before adding them to the pot of plums. Simmer the sauce with the lid ajar for 20 – 30 minutes or until the plums are soft.

Fish out all of the stones (I used a spoon to do this). Add the sugar and salt and bring the mix back to a boil. Taste check here and remember that the sauce will taste milder when served cold than it tastes hot. Adjust – more sugar, more chili, more salt, more cinnamon? Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes at least. Puree the sauce in batches with a blade attachment in a food processor. Take care, if the mix has not been cooled you will crack your food processor bowl with the hot liquid. I returned the sauce to the pot and bought it back to the boil before pouring it into hot, sterilized glass jars and capping with equally hot, sterilized lids. As with all bottling, allow the jars to cool in a draft free location. If you doubt the seal on your bottles, dip the tops in wax after they have cooled.

Spicy black doris plum sauce served on roasted free-range chicken that had been marinated in a masala rub comprising ginger, garlic, chili, fennel seed, coriander seed and garam masala, and accompanied by market fresh asian vegetables (yu choi sum).

I drizzled some of this sauce on top of the roast chicken and asian vegetables I made for dinner at the same time (pictured). It would also go well with almost any other kind of meat (particularly pork) and most cheese dishes. Sauces like these will ferment in the cupboard over time and should last until next season if well bottled.

The last 1/2 kg of plums I will just stew and pop in the fridge. I love having this kind of thing on hand because it is yummy on yogurt, cereal, ice cream, in pies or even in smoothies.

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Filed under Plum, Preserving, Sauces