Creativity and flavour

Homecooked author Lucy Corry. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Homecooked author Lucy Corry. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Wellington food writer Lucy Corry has some strong feelings about the way eating something a person has cooked themselves often feels unfashionable.

Or how the advent of food TV has emphasised cooking as drama, as an expensive hobby, as an out-of-your-reach leisure activity.

‘‘This is wrong. You don’t need to shout, or spend a lot of time or money, to eat well (or creatively, or locally, or seasonally).’’

She grew up in rural New Zealand in the late 1970s and early 1980s with a mother who was an adventurous and well-read cook for her time but also well versed in the ways her mother had cooked when she was growing up.

Corry, who is also Foodwriters New Zealand president, learnt from her that cooking was a way to connect with others and be creative.

THE  BOOK: Homecooked by  Lucy Corry. Penguin. Photography Carolyn Robertson. RRP $55
THE BOOK: Homecooked by Lucy Corry. Penguin. Photography Carolyn Robertson. RRP $55

‘‘An activity where you got to eat great stuff and get serious Brownie points for making it? I couldn’t sign up fast enough.’’

To now find herself in a time when people can sustain themselves entirely on food prepared and cooked by other people is a concern to her.

‘‘In this environment, cooking for yourself is almost countercultural; an activity set on the fringes. This bothers me so much that I want to stand up and bang a wooden spoon against a saucepan in protest.’’

She believes in this world where people are supposedly chasing mindfulness, connection and wellness, ordinary home cooking is exactly what is needed.

‘‘We live in a country known for producing bountiful and beautiful fruit, vegetables and animal goods. Access to all these things shouldn’t be hard.’’

Her book Homecooked is divided into seasons and makes ‘‘heroes’’ of everyday ingredients like eggs, chicken, strawberries or zucchini that should be reasonably easy to find wherever people live in New Zealand.

‘‘Sometimes it feels like there are few true seasons anymore, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a late-summer nectarine from Hawke’s Bay or Central Otago will taste a million times better than one that’s travelled here from the US in September.’’


Strawberry, radish and cucumber salad with mint dressing

Sweet, crunchy and refreshing, with creamy, salty crumbs of feta and a hint of heat from new-season radishes, this is a complete pick-me-up. It’s best enjoyed soon after making.

Serves 4

Prep time 15 min

Cook time Nil

For the dressing:

1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, washed and dried

½ tsp honey

3½ Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

3½ Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

¼ tsp salt

For the salad:

250g (1 punnet) strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced

1 medium-sized telegraph cucumber, peeled, deseeded and sliced

1 cup sliced radishes (about a small bunch, depending on size)

150g feta, crumbled small mint leaves, for garnishing

Make the dressing first: put all the ingredients in a blender or small food processor and whiz until smooth. Taste for seasoning and set aside.

Tumble the sliced strawberries, cucumber, radishes and crumbled feta into a serving bowl. Drizzle over the dressing and toss gently. Garnish with mint leaves and serve.

Strawberries 

I cannot remember learning anything very useful in my first proper job, apart from being told to always carry a manila folder whenever I left the office because that would stop anyone from asking what I was doing.

The only other thing I recall from that long, tortuous year of filing and admin was being told that you should sit strawberries in a cabbage leaf for 20 minutes before eating them.

My colleague swore it was a fail-safe method, claiming that there was some kind of chemical reaction between the two. While the cabbage-leaf trick is in fact a load of old cobblers, nothing is sweeter than a perfectly ripe strawberry (except wagging off work with a manila folder).

Nurse Gathergood’s sponge cake

Serves 6-8

Prep time 20 min

Cook time 30 min

In the 1980s, my brother Godfrey used to make sponges using this recipe, which came from the local public health nurse, Ailsa Gathergood. Godfrey, then a sheep farmer, busy entrepreneur and father of five, reckoned the secret was to ‘‘beat the s... out of it’’. Use electric beaters, even if you have forearms honed by wrangling sheep and small kids.

4 free-range eggs, separated

pinch of salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup cornflour (use maize cornflour to make this gluten-free)

1 tsp baking powder

TO SERVE:

1 cup cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup jam

2 Tbsp icing sugar

Method

Grease a round 22cm cake tin, then line the base and sides with baking paper. Line the sides so that there is a collar of paper standing 3cm proud of the tin (this will support the risen sponge as it cooks).

Beat the egg whites and salt until stiff. Keep beating as you gradually add the sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time. Continue beating until the sugar has dissolved and you no longer feel little grains of it when you rub a bit of the mixture between your fingers.

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well between each addition.

Sift the cornflour and baking powder over the top and gently fold into the egg mixture with a large metal spoon. You want to keep as much air in the mixture as possible, so be thorough but gentle. The last thing you want is little pockets of cornflour through the sponge like a tissue in the washing.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin and place it in a cold oven. (There’s no misprint here — the sponge goes into a cold oven.)

Turn the oven to 155degC and bake for 27–30 minutes. The sponge is done when it is shrinking away from the sides of the tin and feels springy to the touch.

As soon as you take it out of the oven, drop it on the floor. Then let it cool in the tin for 10 minutes before carefully turning out on to a rack to cool completely.

When you’re ready to serve, slice the cooled sponge in half horizontally.

Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Spread each sponge half with the jam and arrange the bottom half on a serving plate. Dollop the cream on top of the bottom half and set the remaining half on top. Sift a cloud of icing sugar over the top.

Sponges are best eaten the day they are made, though unfilled sponge halves can be wrapped well in cling film and frozen for another day.

Eggs 

 

If you were an egg
And I were an egg
We would have to take such care
We wouldn’t be able to run or jump
We’d just have to roll everywhere

My mother used to recite this to me when I was small, and it’s so hard-wired into my brain that I can’t open a carton of eggs without thinking of it. So I end up thinking of it a lot, because eggs are probably the most useful thing there is for a cook.

Eggs have suffered from an unfairly bad rap ever since they were cast as a major source of cholesterol woes in the 1970s.

Science has moved on, and eggs are fine for most people to eat every day. Nutritionists now want us to know that eggs are a complete, highly digestible source of protein and contain lots of useful essential nutrients.

That’s great - but what’s more important from my point of view is that a carton of free-range eggs in the cupboard equals breakfast, lunch, dinner and a fancy cake, plus all sorts of other useful things.

How to divide eggs

Occasionally in life you’ll find yourself needing to divide an egg in half because you’re attempting some kind of cookery jiggery-pokery involving halving a recipe. In most cooking, using a whole egg won’t make you come to any harm, but it’s handy to know how to halve one for more precise tasks like baking.

Here’s how to do it:

Beat the egg until the yolk and white are well combined, then measure out 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon - it will weigh about 26g for a large egg.

You’re welcome.

Braised chicken thighs with leeks and spring herbs

Serves 4

Prep time 15 min

Cook time 25 min

Thanks to wild winds and fluctuating temperatures, spring can be the most brutal season of the year. This recipe, inspired by a beautiful dish that my friend Charlotte makes, is my antidote to that tempestuousness. Any leftover cooking liquid can be chilled and used as chicken stock.

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 leeks, white parts only, finely sliced

4 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

500–600g skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut in half

½ glass white wine

bunch of fresh parsley

1 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock

spring herbs and extra virgin olive oil, for garnishing

Method

Set a large pot with a lid over a medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, followed by the leeks and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until the leeks are softening. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, but don't let it brown. Remove the leeks and garlic from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in the same pan, then add the chicken pieces. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, until coloured. Return the leeks to the pan and pour in the wine. Let it all bubble up and cook for a couple of minutes, then add half the parsley (including the stalks) and the stock so that it just covers the chicken.

Bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and turn the heat to low. Simmer very gently for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Keep the pot covered and let it sit for 5–10 minutes while you finely chop the remaining parsley.

Just before serving, stir in most of the remaining parsley. To serve, spoon the chicken and leeks into warmed bowls. Ladle over a little of the cooking juices and sprinkle the rest of the parsley on top. Garnish with more herbs and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Serve with steamed rice, or buttered orzo, or with hunks of the very best bread you can buy.

Chicken

Most of the year, an oven-roasted whole chicken accompanied by a tray of crispy roast potatoes is our Sunday night special.
It brightens Mondays, too, because there are always leftovers for lunch.
 
In spring and summer, we forego the oven for the barbecue.

When I’m organised, the carcass goes in the soup pot and before you know it, one humble, free-range chook has gone a long way.
 
A whole chicken is cheaper than its constituent parts, and it’s not that hard to divide and conquer one. Invest in a pair of strong kitchen scissors or poultry shears (I have my parents’ German-made ones, which are still going strong after more than 35 years of use).

That said, I know that dismembering a chicken is not on most people’s to-do lists at dinner time. Isn’t that why chicken thighs were invented?

If you enjoy the convenience of chicken thighs, however, then it’s only fair that you consider the rest of the bird.
 
Chicken feet may be an acquired taste for Western-educated palates, but livers and hearts make for delectable eating.
 
 
 

 

 

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