Lauraine reveals her secrets (+recipes)

By Colleen Thorpe


WE THINK YOU ARE A NEW ZEALAND FOOD LEGEND. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF?


That's very flattering. I consider myself a cook first and foremost, with a passion for fresh New Zealand food, whether it's straight from the farm, ocean or from our myriad artisan producers. I see it as my responsibility as a food columnist to share our amazing bounty with the world and encourage everyone to cook simply and often.

WHAT WAS YOUR MOST DEFINING 'FOODIE AWAKENING'?


I was lucky enough to grow up in a household where every meal was delicious, but I guess it wasn't until the 21-year-old me left New Zealand on the big OE. My eyes were as wide as saucers when I experienced my first Italian meal in Sydney. That was a far cry from the tinned spaghetti we'd grown up with!

HOW DID YOU CHOOSE THE RECIPES FOR THIS BOOK?


Each of the 26 chapters has four or five recipes from my repertoire that are related to the stories. A few are old favourites from my years at Cuisine, some are from my recent Listener columns or my blog and, overall, they are the deliciously simple dishes that I like to share with family and friends.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE PEOPLE WILL GAIN MOST FROM YOUR BOOK?


I hope for many readers it will be almost like a history of New Zealand food over the last 50 years. I also hope, through the tips and recipes, readers are inspired to cook something they may not have tried before, such as venison, duck, paua or perhaps some hand-cut, oven-baked chips, with crumbed fish.

WHAT IS YOUR SECRET INGREDIENT?


There's a chapter near the end of the book where I address this, sharing the secret ingredients of all good cooking: lemons, butter, salt and fresh herbs. None can be eaten on their own, but all are essential to making dishes taste delicious.

WHAT IS YOUR STYLE OF COOKING?


Simple, simple, simple. My mantra is if it's simple to cook, it will be simple to eat.

WHAT AND WHO HAVE INFLUENCED THIS STYLE?


The talented, hard-working farmers and producers who deliver extraordinary produce to the farmers' markets and the supermarkets each week. We need to think about these people and treat every piece of fruit, all our veges, and our meat, poultry and fish with respect and care. Don't overcook fresh food, don't disguise it and, most importantly, cook it while the freshness is still evident.

WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF FOOD?


The birthday party feasts my mother lovingly laboured over. I remember fairy bread, homemade sausage rolls with homemade tomato sauce, meringues and butterfly cakes. I made all those things for my children when they had parties.

DO YOU HAVE A SIGNATURE DISH?


Maybe my whitebait fritters, my stuffed roast chicken and my meringues. That's a complete meal, just there.

WHO WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO COOK FOR AND WHO WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO COOK FOR YOU?


I have had the privilege of cooking for some of the international stars of the culinary world, and have shared those stories in Everlasting Feast. However, I would love to have a dinner party with some of my favourite writers: Barbara Kingsolver, Adam Gopnik, Pat Conroy and maybe I'd ask a couple of food writers and chefs like Alice Waters and Nigel Slater as they might give me a hand in the kitchen.

As for who would I like to cook for me? Any of my friends. People always think it's daunting to cook for someone like me, but I can reassure them I appreciate even the most simple food if it's cooked for me.

WHAT ARE YOUR THREE FAVOURITE NEW ZEALAND FOODS?


Oysters, lamb and asparagus.

IS THERE ANY FOOD YOU HATE?


I don't hate garlic but lately it has stopped loving me, particularly if it's not cooked slowly for a long time. And I have yet to like muttonbird.

WHAT IS IN YOUR FRIDGE NOW?


Snapper my husband caught and I filleted last night, lots of buffalo mozzarella, plenty of veges bought at the Matakana farmers' market on Saturday, loads of jars of sauces, chutneys, mustards and duck fat, Lewis Road butter, milk, yoghurt, beef mince, two chicken legs, the sourdough starter for the grainy bread my husband makes, four egg whites, preserved lemons, a bottle of Folium Sauvignon Blanc and a bottle of Paradiso aperitif. For once in my life there are no leftovers.

WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DESERT ISLAND DISH?


I guess that's a question not unlike your last meal. Definitely roast chicken with buttery roast spuds, but I'm not sure I could find that on a desert island so I'd be more than happy with freshly caught fish, cooked over a fire.

WHAT ARE THREE THINGS PEOPLE WILL BE SURPRISED TO LEARN ABOUT YOU?


I play golf to a 22 handicap.

I have a completely irrational fear of birds and think the only safe place for any bird is in my oven. My husband named his boat after me - Raindear, which is my nickname - and in eight years I have never been out on the sea with him.

WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT?


Being elected President of the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2001.

I was the first non-American resident on the Board of Directors of this worldwide networking food and wine professionals' group.

That position really helped to put New Zealand into the psyche of American and other international foodies.


Extract: Recipes


BANANA WALNUT GOLDEN SYRUP LOAF

We've come a long way from that soft, fluffy white loaf with the "kissy-crust" of my childhood.

Auckland and other New Zealand cities have fine artisan bakers producing a wide range of sourdoughs, complex seedy authentic slow-rise breads, and European-style rolls and loaves.

Given that, I wouldn't even think about baking bread. I prefer to bake cakes and long-keeping fruity loaves like this sweet banana loaf. Make sure you buy freshly shelled walnuts, as even slightly stale nuts will be rancid enough to spoil your efforts.

INGREDIENTS

100g unsalted butter, softened

50g dark cane sugar

4 tbsp golden syrup

4 eggs

4 ripe bananas, mashed

225g self-raising flour

4 tbsp chopped fresh walnuts

METHOD

Pre-heat oven to 180C. Prepare a 22cm x 12cm loaf tin by brushing with melted butter and dusting with flour.

Put the softened butter in a cake mixer with the beating attachment and beat until very soft. Add the sugar and continue to beat for two minutes. Add the golden syrup and the eggs, one by one, continually beating.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the mashed banana. Sift in the flour and gently combine, adding the chopped walnuts last.

Tip the cake batter into the prepared tin. Bake for 55 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out cleanly when inserted into the middle of the loaf. Allow the loaf to rest in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire cooling rack.

Serve in thin slices, which you may like to butter, although the loaf is very moist. It will keep in a tightly covered container for up to a week.

GUAVA & ROSEMARY JELLY

=Substitute two basil leaves for the rosemary in this jelly for a different fragrance. This is wonderful to serve with roast lamb or turkey, and I even love it on my toast.

INGREDIENTS

1.5kg guavas

about 750g sugar

juice 1 lemon

a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, washed and dried

METHOD

Place the guavas in a large stainless-steel preserving pan with two to three tablespoons of water, and slowly bring to a simmer. The juices will start to run very quickly and provide enough liquid to cook all the guavas.

Simmer gently for 10 minutes until the fruit is very soft, then take off the heat and place it in a jelly bag. A large square of muslin, gathered up and tied to form a bag, will also work. Hang the bag up with a bowl underneath to catch all the liquid that is released from the guavas. It's important to resist squeezing the bag, or the jelly will be cloudy.

Next day, measure the guava juice and place it in a clean pan with an equal quantity of sugar - for example, if you have 700ml of juice then add 700g sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring and adding a squeeze of lemon juice.

Test after a few minutes to see if it has set. Put a teaspoonful on a cold saucer, and if the jelly wrinkles as you run a spoon through it, it is at setting point.

Once it is at setting point, pour it into hot jars that have been sterilised by placing in a 200C oven for 30 minutes or in boiling water for 10 minutes. Add a sprig of rosemary to each jar and cover with a lid or transparent jam papers and a rubber band.


Everlasting Feast

by Lauraine Jacobs, Random House, $55

 

- Hamilton News

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