Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Writers and editors on food, 2: Dmetri Kakmi

Dmetri Kakmi was born in Turkey to Greek parents. His first book Mother Land was shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards, and was published in Europe. He is currently working on a second novel.
(Sophie's note: Along with many other writers, I've also known Dmetri as a very fine editor for Penguin children's books, and recently he edited my short story 'Restless' for the Penguin ghost story anthology, Thirteen Ghosts. Dmetri is now working full time on his own writing)

Here's a recipe that will frighten away readers, says Dmetri(no, never, we're adventurous here--Sophie). I love it as an entree.

Crumbed Lamb Brains.

4 sets lamb brains
Lemon juice
Black pepper
Quarter cup plain flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Quarter cup breadcrumbs
Oil, for deep-frying
Lemon wedges, to serve

Soak the brains in salted cold water for 2 hours, changing the water every 30 minutes. Drain them, peel off the membrane with a knife and swirl the brains in tepid water to remove blood.
Place the brains in a saucepan, cover with cold water and add a little salt and lemon juice. Simmer for 15 minutes. Allow to cool in the liquid, then drain and pat dry on paper towels.
Cut the brains into bite-size pieces, trimming off any gristle. Coat with flour, dip in the egg and roll in the breadcrumbs. Deep-fry until golden brown and serve with wedges of lemon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Writers and editors on food: 1: Stephanie Smee

Stephanie's the brilliant Australian translator of some of my favourite French children's books, written by the great 19th century French-Russian author, the Countess de Segur. I was so thrilled that the Countess' beautiful, touching, original and funny children's novels are being introduced to English-speaking children today, through Stephanie's pitch-perfect translation and publisher Simon and Schuster Australia's belief in the power of these stories! The three volumes of the Fleurville trilogy--Sophie's Misfortunes; Camille and Madeleine; and The Holidays were released earlier this year, and went down very well with young readers and their parents. The next Countess de Segur title to be translated by Stephanie, Monsieur Cadichon: Memoirs of a Donkey, is just about to come out, and hopefully there'll be many more to come!
Here, to kick off this new series, is Stephanie's lovely evocation of a magical summer holiday in Sweden, and the delectable cake that goes with it.

Sunshine Cake
By Stephanie Smee

A couple of years ago, my husband and I, and our two youngish children, aged about 9 and 7, were lucky enough to holiday in Sweden. My mother is Swedish, although she has lived in Australia most of her adult life … and the main aim of this holiday was to have a family reunion, with one branch of the family coming from Boston with even younger children, aged 2 and 4, and my parents journeying also from Australia, to an island in the Stockholm archipelago.
We had rented a house on this island(see house in photo) for 2 weeks in the middle of July – the sky never fell darker than a deep midnight blue – and the island itself had no roads, only fairytale-like paths winding across the island. Wild strawberries and blueberries were scattered through the grasses, under birch trees which seem to grow much taller than I have ever seen them in this country.
We had driven north from Copenhagen and stopped to overnight for a couple of nights in a youth hostel which was sandwiched between the Gota Canal which traverses Sweden, an enormous inland lake fringed with pine trees, and a towering forest of birches. It was real Elsa Beskow territory. (Elsa Beskow is one of Sweden’s most adored children’s authors from last century who illustrated her works with stunning paintings and line drawings. They are so typically evocative of the Swedish landscape of forests and lakes – almost a Swedish May Gibbs …) Summer had just arrived – there were merry “seniors” pedalling down the canal’s towpath in often little more than their underwear, so joyful were they at seeing the sun. My favourite memory, however, was a recipe for a cake which the owner of the youth hostel made and served every day in a summer house under the blossoming apple trees, along with freshly brewed, percolated coffee, as the Swedes drink it. Guests of the youth hostel could simply help themselves whenever they felt like it.
I have made this cake on an almost weekly basis since returning to Sydney as it is the perfect lunch box cake! No awful icing which will melt and be messy. And it takes 15 minutes to throw together and 25-30mins to cook. A word re measurements. All Swedish cake recipes are measured in decilitres – dry ingredients as well as wet ingredients. 1 decilitre is one tenth of a litre – so 100 mls. I find it much easier than weighing ingredients! You will find that all the stainless steel measuring jugs sold at IKEA are marked with decilitres ….
Sunshine Cake
125 g melted butter, cooled slightly
3 eggs
2.5 decilitres (250 ml) caster sugar
2.5 dcl (250ml) plain flour
Frozen/fresh raspberries to taste
Grease and line a spring form cake tin with baking paper. Heat oven to 175-180 deg C.
Beat eggs and sugar until really pale and fluffy.
Add flour, then melted butter.
Pour batter into cake tin and sprinkle with raspberries. My children prefer raspberries but I’m sure you could add blueberries and it would be just as delicious.
Bake for 25-30 mins or until skewer comes out cleanly.
Sprinkle with icing sugar for decoration.

Link to an event in Sydney in December around Monsieur Cadichon's release:

Writers and editors on food: a new series

Getting into the holiday mood, I'm going to be running a special series of guest posts over the next month or two, from writers, editors and other people involved in the publishing business, here in Australia and around the world, about food--featuring a favourite recipe, tips, or simply an observation. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Broad beans cornucopia

This year, the broad beans have been going gangbusters--not the case last year and the year before, when they really struggled. Hard to know why it's happened--it rained as much last year as this, and the weather patterns don't seem different--but anyway, that's the way it is. So we've been eating lots of them, struggling to keep up with the fat pods as they just keep going on and on. I used to hate broad beans as a kid, having been subjected once to a nasty broad bean soup made of beans much too big to be any good really; but now I love them; fresh out of the garden, and small, they are tender, subtle delights.
We've been making all sorts of different things with them: delicious hot vegetable dishes or warm salads, with the beans simply podded then sauteed in butter and a little olive oil, with garlic and herbs; or with tomatoes, or a splash of wine, or crispy bacon (as illustrated) or whatever. They can be cooked using European flavours, or Asian ones, or anything, really. You can have them cold in this way too. Double-peeled(podded first, then cooked, then the toughish outer skin peeled off as well), the beans can also be mashed and mixed with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and a smidgeon of sour cream to make a yummy broad bean guacamole, which is delicious spread on toast. You can also make soup out of them, cook them and preserve in oil, and we've even dried sun-drying them and rolling them in a chilli mixture, rather like wasabi peas(mind you, not sure how that will work out yet!) Thing is, there are umpteen wonderful ways to use them before they get too big to be of any good.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Strawberry time

The strawberries have come early this year, and in a big flush too. It's funny because last year despite the bumper crop of other fruit we got(tree fruit, to be precise), the strawberries did not do well at all. As neither did the other berry fruit, actually. That's despite the fact that like this year it was a wet year and everything else grew well! Ah well, forget about analysing the vagaries of nature, that's just the way it goes, and this year we certainly can't complain about a paucity of strawberries! We're eating them for breakfast lunch and dinner, with cream and without, with Marsala and creme de cassis, as simple mousses and fools and icecreams, using just crushed strawberries, sugar, cream and egg whites; as syrups and spectacular tarts and lots more. And David's started making heaps of strawberry jam too, and there'll also be lots of delicious sun-dried strawberries to store for the winter. (They are divine sun-dried; it seems to concentrate both taste and fragrance.)
As a child, my daughter Pippa once made this delightful bon mot, which has since passed into family legend: 'Trouble with living here, is you get to eat too many strawberries!' Well, looks like it's going to be another of those years..

Friday, November 4, 2011

Zakuski spread for dinner

The other day, I bought this gorgeous book called 'Culinaria Russia', which like the other titles in this series, is not so much a recipe book(though there are recipes) as a marvellous journey through the culinary culture of this richly varied and extraordinary part of the world. For in fact it's not just Russia, ie the Russian Federation, that's covered, but also Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan(not sure what the latter four would think of being lumped in with 'Russia', but never mind!) There's wonderful articles and photos on all sorts of aspects of food, drink, folklore associated with food, festivals, looks at sub-cultures, and lots more. It's fascinating stuff!
But as I said, there's also recipes, and there's also the most mouth-watering pictures of food you can imagine. Four such pictorial spreads are devoted to the Russian tradition of zakuski, which can be usefully compared to the Spanish tradition of tapas, or the Scandinavian one of smorgasbord. Like those ones, it accompanies drink,(usually vodka, in this case) is often presented in small dishes(though it can be in bigger ones) and features both cold and hot dishes. Zakuski can be as simple as olives, gherkins and pickled herring, or as elaborate as you like. Salads also feature strongly; colour and pleasing pattern is important.
So, inspired by those pictures, I put together a bit of a zakuski-style spread for dinner the other day. Not all of it was traditionally Russian, but I was still inspired by the concept, the colours, the patterns. And it all tasted great, was simple and quick to prepare, and elicited many admiring comments, both as to the look and the taste!
This is what I made(see photo):
In foreground to right of photo, a Georgian-inspired chicken dish, with tomatoes, tomato puree, onions, dill, chicken stock, Tokay(supposed to use Madeira, but I didn't have any, so I substituted), lemon juice, sour cream. Added chorizo too as didn't have enough chicken! Basically, you just cut up the chicken and chorizo, brown in a little butter along with chopped onions, then add tomatoes, lemon juice, dill, stock, wine, and tomato puree, cook till done(about half an hour). Sauce should be lovely and thick, don't let it burn
In foreground to left of photo, is a mushroom salad. Slice button mushrooms thinly, toss with salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, dill, chives. Do this at least an hour or so before you eat the salad, as then it absorbs the flavour of the dressing most deliciously.
Behind the chicken dish, on right, in mid-field, is a grated carrot salad decorated with capsicum and sorrel. Vinaigrette for the salad is made with Dijon mustard, white balsamic vinegar and olive oil. To the left of the carrot salad, are smoked salmon rolls on a bed of sorrel: slices of smoked salmon simply stuffed with small gherkins and caper-berries.
Far left in background is the other hot dish, which is a Russian-inspired dish of finely cut lamb slices, sauteed in some oil with onion, then vodka added(not too much), cranberries, finely chopped garlic, caraway, and finally sour cream(and salt and pepper of course). Delicious! To the right of that, is a salt herring salad, made of chopped up salt herring slices(which I'd soaked in water first, and then in lemon juice as otherwise find them too salty), mixed with chopped apple, chopped walnuts, finely chopped fresh garlic, and chopped cucumber. Made a dressing for this out of a little olive oil, a little white wine vinegar, sour cream, dill, and wholegrain mustard, it went perfectly with the flavours. Then to the right of that is a warm (but not hot) salad made of braised scallops cooked in a little butter, a little white wine, with garlic, salt and pepper, decorated with capsicum, tomatoes, etc. To the right of that, just behind the bottle of Russian Standard vodka, a salad of avocado, tomato, olives and capsicum, with a dressing like the carrot salad(yes, I know, not very Russian, the avocado, but never mind, improvisation is the key in zakuski!), and finally, in the far background, a green salad with lettuce right out of the garden and a vinaigrette made of olive oil, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, with chives and garlic chives. For dessert we had the remaining half of a delicious strawberry tart David had made the day before.
It was a wonderful feast!