The Taste of Central Otago

37 Comments

The Taste of Central Otago is the name of a cookbook that I purchased at the restaurant, Saffron, in Arrowtown, New Zealand.

Our meal was spectacular there. I enjoyed a beet salad, followed by lamb with sweetbreads.


Even though the food was exquisite in its quality and presentation, it was not an upscale, stuffy dining experience. One would almost call it “pub-like.,” which I prefer.

When we were leaving, I spotted the cookbook for sale at the bar, and bought it on a whim.

Had I made time to actually look through the book, I might not have purchased it. Now that I’m home and perusing it, the recipes take me back to the many times I looked at my Charlie Trotter cookbook, called Meat and Game. I’ve not yet made anything from it, and never will. Everything is way too complicated!

The chef at Saffron, Pete Caron, and the author of this, his second cookbook, takes his food seriously. He’s a forager by nature, and chooses the farm-to-table approach, which makes sense with all that New Zealand has to offer.

But I had no idea how crazy involved his recipes would be in this cookbook. Like this:

Green Tea Creme Brûlée with Spirulina and Seaweed Biscotti and Crisp-Fried Lichen

Many of the proteins I have no access to as well, like Boer goat, mutton bird, red deer, butterfish, and Bendigo rabbit.

The book just isn’t for a home cook like myself. I don’t want to make Vichyssoise Spheres, or Cabbage Pearl Caviar, or Chamomile Foam, or Passionfruit Tissue with Mint Dust. Okay, you get the idea.

But I’m keeping the book, because looking through it reminds me of our lovely experience visiting New Zealand – especially the South Island. Otago is highlighted in the map below.

Most of the pages are gorgeous photographs from Otago, taken by photographer Aaron McLean.

If you want this book, I know it’s available on Amazon’s AU site.

Bastila

80 Comments

A Bastila is a savory Moroccan pie with a chicken filling that is cooked within crêpes. The preparation is a little involved in that both the filling and the crêpes need to be made first. But it’s not a difficult pie to make, and so worth it!

What makes this pie’s flavor unique is that traditional Moroccan mixture of almonds, cinnamon and sugar. If you’ve ever been to a Moroccan restaurant you are familiar with this seasoning mixture, as it seems to be in every dish!

I wish I could tell you a lovely story about how I came about this recipe, but I can’t. I know I tore the recipe out of a soft-backed cookbook of international recipes. At one point in my cooking life I felt it beneath me to keep anything but beautiful, hard-back cookbooks. I’ll never toss a cookbook again. But at least I was smart enough to save the recipes I loved!
bast5
bast
bast123
Bastila

1 – 3 pound chicken
4 ounces butter
2 onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
6 eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup whole almonds
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Butter, approximately 4 ounces, at room temperature
18 crêpes, at room temperature
Powdered sugar
Ground cinnamon

Begin by poaching the chicken with onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, parsley, peppercorns, and a little salt. You can do this the day before.

About 2 1/2 to 3 hours is sufficient to get moist, succulent chicken. Let the chicken cool, then remove the bones and skin and place the chicken in a bowl and set aside. I shredded the chicken more than cut it up into pieces.

Add the butter to a large Dutch oven and heat it over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them for about 5-6 minutes. Then add the parsley, ginger, and all of the spices.

Break the eggs and place them in a medium-sized bowl, along with the egg yolks. Whisk them well.

After the onion and spice mixture has cooked a minute longer, pour the eggs into the onions. Make sure the heat is low. Gently stir the eggs into the onion mixture until they are completely cooked.

Add the chicken to the onion-egg mixture and stir well. Add a little broth if the chicken mixture seems dry. Also taste for salt.
bast33

Using a dry blender, blend the almonds, sugar, and cinnamon together. If you have a few pieces of almond, that’s okay. Set aside.
bast22

To prepare the Bastila, use a large skillet, preferably with rounded sides. Generously butter the skillet.

Begin by layering approximately 8 crêpes around the side of the skillet, followed by 4 more covering the center bottom.


Add the ground almond mixture to the bottom of the skillet and spread it around. Then add the chicken filling. It shouldn’t be over the top of the skillet, preferably.
bast8

Then fold the side crêpes over the filling. Use the remaining 6 crêpes to cover the top of the pie, buttering them first on the bottom side. Spread a little soft butter on the top of the pie as well.
bast7

To cook, begin at medium-high heat. You will see the butter bubbling.
bast6

After about 8 minutes, I lowered the heat to ensure that the crêpes sealed themselves, and to heat the inside of the pie.

Have a cookie sheet and large spatula on hand for the next step.

When you feel that the pie bottom has browned sufficiently, place the cookie sheet over the skillet, and using oven mitts flip the skillet over so that the pie is on the cookie sheet.

bast4

Then gently coax the pie back in to the skillet, and cook the bottom side in a similar fashion.
bast3

The cooked Bastila makes a beautiful presentation.

bast1
When I made this pie before, I prepared and served it in an iron skillet. But you have to be able to cut into your skillet. If you cannot, simply slide the pie out gently onto a serving platter.

The final step is to mix powdered sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle it on the top of the warm Bastila.

bast2

In this photo you can see the crêpes wrapping around the spiced chicken filling that is topped with the ground almond mixture. Heavenly!
bast234

Creamy Nut Sauce

20 Comments

The actual name of this sauce is sas. It’s Indian in origin, and the recipe I’m basing this on is out of the Foods of the World – The Cooking of India cookbook.

The sauce is made essentially with nuts and cream and is served with various kababs. Tomorrow I’ll be posting a recipe for Mughlai kababs, which are grilled, ground-lamb skewers. The kababs and the sauce together are pure heaven.

My most favorite dishes to order in Indian restaurants are the kormas – meats in creamy sauces made from nuts, although you’d never know it. The sauces are very delicate in flavor, yet scream decadence because of their richness.

So today I’m making this sauce, and tomorrow I’ll post the kababs.

Sas, or Creamy Nut Sauce

Pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon boiling water
1/3 cup pistachios
1/3 cup mixed almonds and cashews, blanched
Seeds of 4 cardamom pods
1 cup milk
1 tablespoons ghee
1 cup half and half
1 teaspoon salt

Place the saffron in a small bowl and add one tablespoon of boiling water; set the bowl aside. Given time, the hot water will leach the beautiful color and flavor of the saffron, which you can see as it changes color.

kab15
kab14
kab13

I happened to have green cardamom pods, so I peeled off the outer shell to reveal the actual spice pods. (There are also white cardamom pods.). Below I show the difference between the whole pods, the cardamom itself as it occurs naturally inside the pods, lower right, and some ground cardamom, upper right. If you own ground cardamom, you definitely don’t need to buy the pods. Just try to use the equivalent of ground.

kab11

Place all of the nuts, the cardamom pods and one cup of milk in a blender jar and blend until smooth.
kab9
Then place the ghee in a saucepan and melt it over medium heat. Pour in the nut and cream mixture and cook it for a couple of minutes.
kab8

Add the saffron and the water, the half and half and salt, and cook the mixture until it coats the back of a spoon.

kab7

Store the sauce and refrigerate until needed. Stay tuned tomorrow!