comments 10

Eleanor Ozich’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Jamaican food - classic Jerk Chicken

The last two months have passed in a haze of summer heat and somehow, here we are in mid-February already. I’ve been MIA during this time – and not just from the blog. I’ve slowed down in general, barely lifted the camera, cooked only the simplest food, and hardly used social media. It’s been a bit inconvenient, actually. I had several blog-related summer projects planned: write up a backlog of recipes, learn a few new skills with the camera, set up a Facebook page; but it all fell by the wayside when I realised that, more than anything else, I needed to be lazy over summer. It was an uncharacteristically good decision.

Full ingredients for Jerk Chicken marinade

But lazy is as lazy does and I’m glad to feel that familiar pull to cook and write again. In truth, I also can’t bear to sit on this particular recipe any longer. I’ve had your future summer barbecues in mind ever since October, which is when I took these photos. Umm, luckily the warm weather isn’t over yet?

Coconut sugar, chilli, thyme, allspice, salt and pepper

Jerk is a classic Jamaican style of cooking that refers both to a particular blend of herbs and spices that is used to marinade meat (any meat), as well as a method of cooking over a smokey barbecue. Our barbecue is gas, not wood or charcoal, so I can’t vouch for that part of the equation, but I will (and do) rave endlessly about the marinade. Sure, you can buy Jerk seasoning and save yourself some hassle, but I don’t think that any powdered spice mix can ever come close to the freshly made version, which (bizarrely) makes me think of chocolate. There’s no chocolate in it, which confuses me no end, but perhaps it just beguiles the senses in the manner of chocolate? What I do know is that it’s a complexly layered marinade that sings with lime and chilli, warms with allspice and cinnamon, and clears the sinuses with an abundance of fresh thyme. It is so intoxicating that you’ll find yourself taking deep lungfuls of its heady aroma long before anything edible lands on your plate.

Delicious, fragrant and spicy Jerk Chicken

The recipe comes via Eleanor Ozich of Petite Kitchen fame, and can be found in her book My Family Table or online at Viva. Jerk chicken is traditionally made with meat on the bone, but Eleanor’s family- and waistline-friendly version uses skinless chicken breast. Yes I know that chicken breast is usually dry, tasteless and boring – we have all been there – but I promise that you will not suffer here. The marinade injects bucketloads of flavour and moisture, and to guarantee a delectable outcome, I also advocate bashing the meat with a rolling pin beforehand (as seen below). Chicken breasts flattened to a uniform thickness cook quickly without a dry edge in sight.

Flatten chicken breasts before marinading to maximise surface area and ensure even cooking

It takes about 30 minutes to prepare the marinade solution, another 10 to flatten the chicken and several hours (at a minimum) to let the chicken marinate. This might seem excessive but if you make the full recipe (8 chicken breasts) it makes a large quantity that’s great for a crowd, and if you give the meat a full 24-hour soak you can get most of the work done the day before. I’ve also made the full quantity for just Colin and I and frozen the leftover cooked chicken in single serving quantities. It’s just as good cold and scattered over salad as stuffed into warm pita bread, so you could think of this recipe as an investment in easy weeknight dinners.

Jerk Chicken is a classic Jamaican dish

If you have a little time up your sleeve (and I encourage you to try this at least once), the marinade will be especially good if you grind the allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg yourself (the allspice and cinnamon in a spice grinder; the nutmeg with a grater). The difference in fragrance and flavour is quite astounding; however, I stick to pre-ground most of the time and it’s still pretty special. I like to serve the chicken roughly sliced and scattered with fresh coriander. Eaten with garlicky yoghurt, warm flatbread, avocado and tomato salsa and green salad this is flavourful summer food at its best.

Thyme, orange, red onion, tamari, cinnamon, nutmeg and garlic

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Slightly adapted from Eleanor Ozich, My Family Table

4 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tbsp dried chilli flakes, or 2-3 hot fresh chillies (Scotch Bonnets are traditional)
1 red onion, chopped
1/4 cup coconut or muscovado sugar (or 2 Tbsp soft brown sugar)
Large handful of fresh thyme, leaves pulled off
2 Tbsp ground allspice (pimento)
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy or tamari sauce
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp ground black pepper
8 chicken breasts, preferably organic or free range

To serve:
2 limes, quartered
Fresh coriander

Place all marinade ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. A Magic Bullet is especially efficient but at my place I use a tall jar and a stick blender.

Flatten the chicken breasts by placing each one between sheets of plastic wrap. Pound the thickest parts of the breast with a rolling pin until the entire chicken breast is uniformly thick (see photos above).

Place the flattened chicken breasts in a large container or baking dish. Pour the marinade on top, making sure it thickly coats all parts of the chicken. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 3–4 hours, or preferably overnight for maximum flavour. If you remember, turn the chicken over halfway through its soak.

When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the marinade and shake off any excess. Grill the chicken on a hot barbecue or in a grill pan on the stove over medium high heat for about 4–5 minutes on each side (longer if you haven’t flattened the chicken). Make sure that the chicken is cooked by inserting a skewer or knife and checking that the juices are clear. Remove the chicken to a plate and let it rest for a few minutes.

Carve the chicken into slices about 1cm thick. Serve warm, with fresh coriander and wedges of lime.

Filed under: Eat
comments 31

Fancy food | Blackcurrant-Cured Salmon with Herbed Cream Cheese

Salmon fillet before and after curing with salt, sugar and blackcurrant powder

I actually mean it – make this dish and you will feel so, so fancy. It’s elegant. It’s delicate. It’s raw fish, dyed purple and eaten on thin slices of sourdough bread. There’s even herb flowers in there; I mean, come on! We are talking classy. Classy doesn’t come easy, mind you, so it’s only fitting that the recipe should contain an obscure ingredient that you will need to hunt down, but trust me on this one: imagine this purple salmon served as a starter at Christmas Day lunch or a canapé for your New Year’s Eve party. It’s definitely worth the effort.

Blackcurrant-cured salmon served with herbed cream cheese

I don’t normally do fancy – I’m sure you’re well aware of that – but that doesn’t mean that I’m not a food snob (I am) or I won’t be wowed by a new idea (happens all the time). I’m not going to be forcing the latest food trend on you any time soon (I don’t want to eat egg-flavoured marshmallows aka “cloud eggs” or rainbow-coloured unicorn food anymore than you do) but I am so into food that looks gorgeous and is actually very simple to make.

Home-cured salmon (also known as gravlax) is hardly new – I’ve wanted to try these gin-cured  and beetroot-stained versions for ages – but I’m really not the type to hurry. Way back in January I was in New Zealand dipping into a local food magazine and came across an article about the local blackcurrant industry. Apparently New Zealand’s relatively unpolluted environment and high ultra violet light intensity produces blackcurrants with high levels of anthocyanin, which is a potent antioxidant. Lately blackcurrant farmers have been experimenting with products other than whole fruit and most brands now offer a freeze-dried powdered blackcurrant that can be added to smoothies and such. The article featured a gorgeous photograph of blackcurrant-cured salmon and I just had to make it.

Soft fresh herbs for chopping, sprinkling and mixing with cream cheese

One short shop on the way to the airport later and I had a bag of blackcurrant powder stashed away in my bag. It took several more months before I actually made the fish, but that’s because I needed an occasion. Curing salmon is hardly something that you’d do for a mid-week meal, but a dinner party with friends in May provided the perfect excuse. It was as good as I had dreamed and everyone LOVED it; of course, I then waited another five months to make it again and share it with you.

Blackcurrant-cured salmon with herb and lemon cream cheese

The recipe is so simple but you do need to cure the salmon for a total of 12 hours: no more and no less. This means that if you want to serve the fish at 7pm, it will need to be nestled into its curing solution by 6.30am of the same day. You could cure it overnight, store it and avoid an early rising,  but it’s my opinion that a story of dedication and self-sacrifice always makes food taste better. There’s also the fact that your guests will love to see you pull their entree from the fridge as a murky, blackish lump before being rinsed and sliced to reveal its true beauty.

Texture is important in this dish and slicing the fish as thinly as possible really does improve the flavour. Use your sharpest knife and shave that fish whisker-thin. The curing process draws out a lot of the moisture in the fish so this is easier than it sounds, but try to be your most-patient self and shave, shave, shave. The salmon is served with a smear of cream cheese, delicately scented with lemon and herbs. Slices of sourdough are available for spreading and gorging purposes and that’s about it: beautiful, raw, purple fish!

Salmon cured with blackcurrant powder and served with herb cream cheese

[A word about the photos – I’m currently forcing myself out of my comfort zone to use the manual settings on my camera. It hurts a bit, I’m not going to lie, but I know it’ll be good for me in the long run. Most of these photos came out blurry because I used a slow shutter speed to keep it moody. I should have used a tripod I know (gahhhh), but I’m not exactly going to run out and buy a new piece of salmon as you’d be waiting another year for the recipe if I did. Taking better photos is a process. Mistakes will be made and there were plenty here to learn from.]

Slices of blackcurrant-cured salmon

Blackcurrant Cured Salmon with Herbed Cream Cheese

Slightly adapted from Miles Drewery’s recipe, featured on Food to Love but originally published in Taste Magazine (NZ).

For the cured salmon:
500g salmon fillet, pin bones and skin removed
2 Tbsp sea salt
2 Tbsp raw sugar
2 Tbsp blackcurrant powder

For the herbed cream cheese:
125g cream cheese, at room temperature
2-4 Tbsp finely sliced soft herbs, such as mint, apple mint, sorrel and/or marjoram
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

To serve:
Finely chopped chives
Finely grated lemon zest
Herb flowers, such as chive or rosemary flowers
Sourdough bread (I used a rye and walnut sourdough)

Inspect your salmon and ensure that any excess fat on the skinned side of the salmon has been trimmed away as the cure can’t penetrate through fat. Place the salmon fillet in a glass or ceramic dish large enough for it to lie flat. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar and blackcurrant powder (break up any lumps in the blackcurrant powder). Sprinkle the mixture generously over both sides of the salmon, but reserve 1 Tbsp for later. Use your fingertips to pat the curing mix into the fish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours.

After 6 hours turn the salmon over and sprinkle it with the remaining blackcurrant, salt and sugar mixture. The salmon should be very dark in colour and liquid will be gathering in the dish as the salt draws out the moisture. Re-cover and refrigerate for another 6 hours.

Mix together the cream cheese, soft herbs and lemon zest until smooth, and season with salt and pepper. Start with the smaller quantity of herbs and taste the result. You want it to taste fresh but delicate, with no single herby flavour dominating. The cream cheese can be prepared ahead of time and stashed in the fridge.

When ready to serve, remove the salmon from fridge and rinse off the excess curing solution under cold running water. Pat the fillet dry using paper towels. Using your sharpest knife, slice the salmon very thinly. Place a dollop or smear of cream cheese on each plate, top with a ragged pile of salmon slices and sprinkle with chives, lemon zest and herb flowers (if you have them). Serve with thin slices of fresh sourdough bread.

Filed under: Eat
comments 21

What to do with sad and mad | Nature photos | Part 2

Evening sky in Far North New Zealand - August 2017

Evening sky in Far North New Zealand – August 2017

I saw a film recently that lingered like the taste of bitter medicine. Beatriz at Dinner is the story of a Mexican immigrant (played by Salma Hayek); her roots firmly in the wilderness of her childhood home, but living and working in sprawling LA. The film opens in her bedroom at daybreak as she sits on the floor to cuddle an agitated pet goat. Eventually we come to understand that a disgruntled neighbour has recently murdered one of her goats, leaving its bloody carcass on the lawn for her to find.

Beatriz leaves for work. She’s a healer who uses her hands to massage away the troubles of her clients, but through the day we feel the heavy burden of her grief. At the end of her shift she drives her battered car through dense traffic and eventually pulls into an affluent gated community. Beatriz is there to give a massage to a private client, Kathy, who wants to relax before the dinner party she is hosting in celebration of her husband’s successful business deal.

After the massage, Beatriz’s car fails to start and all options for an emergency repair are found to be impossible. Kathy has a soft spot for Beatriz (believing that she helped her daughter recover from cancer) and graciously insists that Beatriz stays for dinner. As the wealthy guests arrive Beatriz is clearly out of place. Her plain clothes, brown skin and lack of adornment keep her on the invisible periphery of the group. Kathy remembers to introduce her but even then, Beatriz’s sincere, unaffected manner raises more than one eyebrow. At one point a guest mistakes her for the hired help and we cannot help but cheer as Beatriz remains stoic. Rather than giving into the anxiety we feel for her, she gently turns the conversation to deeper matters. Her desire for genuine connection is palpable.

At dinner things take a turn for the worst. Kathy’s husband’s business parter, Doug (played by John Lithgow), reveals himself as a capitalist of Trumpian proportions – grandiose, vulgar, sexist and entitled. As the other guests laugh along and suppress the odd cringe, Beatriz’s Latin blood begins to simmer. Despite Kathy’s efforts to diffuse the tension, Beatriz becomes increasingly impassioned – much to Doug’s amusement. Soon Doug is sharing a photograph of the rhinoceros he killed on safari and Beatriz cannot contain herself any longer. Kathy is shocked and embarrassed. Beatriz apologises and agrees to retire to the bedroom to rest.

Alone with her sadness and anger, Beatriz dreams of her childhood home. In her memories she is a girl again, drifting along sparkling waterways lined with dense green foliage. These scenes are a welcome respite from the ugly reality downstairs but they are all too fleeting – a metaphor in itself for a planet approaching crisis. The respite is short lived when Beatriz starts searching the internet and discovers that Doug’s real estate empire is responsible for the destruction (environmentally and economically) of a community near her home in Mexico. Beatriz rejoins the party, confronts Doug, and this time his attitude of amused condescension fails him: he is rattled and angry at Beatriz for revealing his guilt. The film continues in this vein to an end both inevitable and unfinished.

Beatriz at Dinner has received mixed reviews, but like C.C. Ford for the Daily Review and Max Cea for Salon, I’m a fan. This is Trump-era cinema and uncomfortable viewing at its best. Like Beatriz, I was left both sad and mad. I can do something with mad because every little action counts (support issues you believe in, challenge attitudes that are just not cool, reduce, reuse, recycle etc, etc, etc). Sad is harder. It can really get to you.

Long-time readers will know that I’m a country girl living an urban life in the heart of a major city. I love the pace and excitement of my world, but I need regular doses of peace and beauty to feel like a human. Last year I published a post featuring 16 nature photos taken over six years and today I’m publishing 19 nature photos taken over a six month period. Each moment depicted was and is a lungful of air. Be mad, but never forget to breathe. Peace out people ♥

Above the clouds, over the Tasman Sea

Above the clouds, over the Tasman Sea – August 2017

Surfers at Coolum Beach, Sunshine Coast

Surfers at Coolum Beach, Sunshine Coast, March 2017

Sunrise through the bush, near Enoggera, Brisbane

Sunrise through the bush, near Enoggera, Brisbane – May 2017

Palm trees against deep blue sky, Newstead, Brisbane

Palm trees against deep blue sky, Newstead, Brisbane – June 2017

Rose garden in New Farm Park, Brisbane

Rose garden in New Farm Park, Brisbane – June 2017

Beauty in the city, Chinatown, Brisbane

Beauty in the city, Chinatown, Brisbane – July 2017

Cool green ferns, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane

Cool green ferns, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane – July 2017

Water iris, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane

Water iris, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane – July 2017

Rainbow foliage, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane

Rainbow foliage, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane – July 2017

Green striped foliage, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane

Green striped foliage, Roma St Parklands, Brisbane – July 2017

Winter sunset at home, Far North New Zealand

Winter sunset at home, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Bare winter branches at sunset, Far North New Zealand

Bare winter branches at sunset, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Misty morning down by the river, Far North New Zealand

Misty morning down by the river, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Flowering magnolia, grey day, at dusk - Far North New Zealand

Flowering magnolia, grey day, at dusk – Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Snowdrops in the bottom paddock, Far North New Zealand

Snowdrops in the bottom paddock, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Misty morning in monochrome, Far North New Zealand

Misty morning in monochrome, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Setting sun after the rain, Far North New Zealand

Setting sun after the rain, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

Lemon tree, Far North New Zealand

Lemon tree, Far North New Zealand – August 2017

comments 37

Celebration Cake | Orange Blossom, Yoghurt, Cardamom

A cake for spring - Orange & Cardamom Yoghurt Cake

Thank you for your feedback on the last post. Those thoughts had been brewing for some time and I needed to get it off my chest. It turns out that many of you feel the same – big sigh of relief for me and virtual high-five for you! I have a feeling that I have more to say about this topic, and others, but you might be pleased to know that there is no crankiness from me today: there is only cake and it’s a good one.

Fresh oranges for Orange & Cardamom Yoghurt Cake

There are many reasons to celebrate this cake and the first is that there is no creaming of butter and sugar involved. I really, really dislike creaming butter and sugar. It sounds petulant (and that’s a fair judgement) but the whole faffing about with bringing the butter to room temperature and setting up the cake mixer just annoys me. Batters that come together with a light stir make the whole experience so much more relaxing and this one takes all of 15 minutes to whisk the dry ingredients, whisk the wet (in another bowl), stir the two together and shove in the oven. This is a cake that gives far more than it takes.

Hetty McKinnon's Orange & Cardamom Yoghurt Cake

For all its minimum effort, this cake delivers on maximum flavour – its second obvious virtue. I love the light, damp flavoursome crumb that you get from yoghurt cakes and this one is infused with the beguiling fragrance of orange blossom and ground cardamom. If you’ve never used orange blossom water it’s worth tracking down from Middle Eastern delis, herb and spice retailers, or even some good supermarkets. A little goes a long way, so buy a small bottle, and I promise that you will get through it soon enough when this recipe becomes your go-to cake. Atop the pale orange crumb you may, if you are so inclined, drizzle an orange-infused cream cheese icing. Cream-cheese icing just has that OMG factor (don’t you think?) and this one is no different. It’s gorgeously indulgent, but I only include it when making the cake for a party or gathering. If I’m making the cake for casual snacking I like to keep it simple with a light dusting of icing sugar and tangy Greek yoghurt served alongside. Both versions are divine.

Prepping your bundt tin properly is the key to successful bundt cakes

Third and last, this cake looks great. The original recipe calls for a sprinkle of chopped pistachios to top the icing, which sets off the golden cake and creamy icing perfectly. I happen to have dried rose petals in my cupboard right now (bought for a culinary experiment that is still in the experimental stage) and a few of these scattered over makes the cake look extra special. The pretty is upped even more if you bake it in a bundt tin and make it look like a giant flower. Speaking of bundts, if you’re going to use one, save yourself the heartbreak of stickage/breakage by prepping the pan properly. Grease the pan throughly with butter, don’t miss a single tiny ridge or crease, and dust the entire surface with icing sugar, not flour. If you’re skeptical of my advice, I refer you to the experts and this authoritative article.

Hetty McKinnon's Orange & Cardamom Yoghurt Cake

The recipe for this delightful cake comes from the creative Hetty McKinnon of Arthur Street Kitchen, but I first saw it featured on Elizabeth’s lovely blog, The Backyard Lemon Tree. I’ve made a couple of tiny adjustments to the original (more juice in the icing to make it thinner and the addition of rose petals) but really, it was already perfect. You’ll note in the recipe that you can make it with either melted butter or macadamia oil. I’ve tried both and agree with Elizabeth that the oil version is slightly better, so that’s what I recommend. I also recommend that you freely and openly share this cake as it will do wonders for your baking reputation. No-one has to know how simple it was to make.

Orange Blossom & Cardamom Yoghurt Cake

Slightly adapted from Hetty McKinnon’s Neighbourhood

250ml macadamia oil (or 250g salted butter, melted and cooled)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of one orange
3 Tsbp orange juice
1 cup Greek yoghurt
2 tsp orange blossom water
300g self-raising flour (or 2 cups plain with 4 tsp baking powder whisked through)
330g raw sugar, granulated/caster
1 tsp ground cardamom
Pinch of salt (if using oil, not butter)
Icing sugar (powdered sugar), for dusting

For the icing:
125g cream cheese, at room temperature
90g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
dash of vanilla extract
3-4 Tbsp orange juice
1/2 tsp orange zest

To decorate (optional):
2 Tbsp pistachios, chopped
2 tsp rose petals

Preheat oven to 160ºC / 320ºF. If using a bundt tin, grease it thoroughly with butter and sprinkle icing sugar over all surfaces, shaking the tin to get it into every crevice and then tapping it upside down to remove the excess. Alternatively, grease and line a 22cm springform tin with baking paper.

Combine the flour, sugar and cardamom in a large bowl and mix well using a whisk.

In another bowl, combine the wet ingredients by whisking together the oil (or butter), eggs, vanilla, orange zest, orange juice, yoghurt and orange blossom water.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour in the wet and fold together gently using a large spoon or spatula. Mix until just combined – do not overmix. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a skewer or toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave in the tin to cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a serving platter. Dust the top with icing sugar or, wait until the cake is completely cool then top with cream cheese icing (instructions below).

If making the icing, whisk together the cream cheese, icing sugar, vanilla extract, orange juice and zest. Once smooth, spread the icing over the cooled cake, nudging it to the edges and letting it run down the sides a little. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios and rose petals.

Filed under: Eat