Saturday, February 28, 2015

Herb and Rice Salad

I dread the summer barbecue request "can you bring a salad?". I want to scream - No, I can't do salads, please, please let me do dessert!. Instead I cave in and spend the available time thumbing through cookbooks and searching online recipes for a salad that isn't just lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and avocado.

My hopelessness with salads was brought to a head recently whilst reading the lovely Sue's blog Couscous & Consciousness where not only does she show an aptitude for creating a mouth-watering range of salads but also requests readers share their own favourites. 

I obediently searched my blog only to find (much to Sue's amusement) NO salads!  She's kindly given me time to address this and with great fanfare I give you my favourite salad because it's easy, it's fresh and tasty, and everyone who eats it loves it.

I've given the recipe for cooking in a pan on the stovetop but I've successfully cooked this in a rice cooker too, checking the rice to water ratio to fit with the rice cooker guidelines. Make the dressing in advance to save time.

Herb and Rice Salad

2 dessertspoons oil
1 1/2 cups white (or brown) basmati rice
700ml boiling water or vegetable stock
1 tsp salt
50g baby spinach leaves
8 spring onions (white & green parts)
2 heaped teaspoons chopped fresh herbs
(e.g. a mix of thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram, tarragon
whatever you can get - don't use dried herbs though)
grated rind of 1/2 lemon
Extra grated lemon rind for garnish

Salad dressing

1 tsp rock salt
1/2 tsp black pepper (grind onto baking paper for easy measuring)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
5 tbsp olive oil

Heat the oil in a large saucepan (one with a lid). Stir in the rice then add the boiling water or stock. Add the salt. Stir once and allow to come back to boil. 

Cover with lid and reduce the heat to a bare simmer (you may need to use a simmer mat as you don't want to burn the rice).  Cook very gently for 40-50 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed and rice is just tender. You may find it cooks quicker if you can't reduce your heat enough.

While rice is cooking, chop up the spinach leaves and spring onions finely. Once the rice is ready, fork these into it, along with the chopped herbs and grated lemon rind.  Cover the pan with a folded tea towel and set aside for 10 minutes.

To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a small glass jar with a lid and shake until blended.

Place the rice in a serving bowl, pour over the salad dressing and fluff it up with a fork.

Top with some grated lemon rind.

Can be served warm or cold.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

etcetera ... Bracu restaurant

Cured tuna

So tell me, why would you drive all the way into the city when you can have this?

It’s a perfect summer’s evening and we’re seated on a balcony overlooking olive groves.  We’ve opted for an early dinner and a few diners are smattered around the old villa that holds the restaurant. Conversations are low and unobtrusive.  I feel the day’s work and cares beginning to melt away.

So begins our evening at Bracu restaurant.

A last minute change of mind brought us here. I‘d been charged with a dinner venue for just the two of us. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the choice of restaurants in Auckland and I’d got to the stage of overthinking where to go. Then I thought about Bill driving home from work mid-week and having to drive back into the city for an evening meal. Why not stay local and have a bit of a splurge? We’d been to Bracu for brunch and had always been meaning to go for dinner. Now was the night to try it.

Fifteen minutes’ drive later and we’re there. An amuse-bouche is set before us with handmade bread and the estate’s own olive oil. With a glass of wine in hand, the relaxation vibes are really kicking in.

Not normally one to order seafood, I surprised myself by choosing (and enjoying) the cured tuna. It came with paper-thin apple spheres; tiny cubes of apple jelly; avocado and nasturtiums – exquisite little bursts of taste to complement the fish.

Bill opted for the heartier Rabbit and Duck terrine, which came with a delicious thick slab of homemade brioche and (I think?) a flavoured butter. There were so many extras on each dish, it was hard not to sound like an annoying child with constant questions for the staff. I am chiding myself for not photographing the actual menu presented and taking notes. I mistakenly trusted my memory to work and it proved me wrong yet again.

My main course of beef (meltingly tender), cauliflower, mustard and burnt onion was perfect. The cauliflower was so silken in texture it was hard to imagine it had once been tough and knobbly. The highlight though was the crispy, whisper-thin dried cabbage leaf – amazing.

Bill chose the lamb rump. Take a look at the photograph above - it tasted every bit as good as it looked. We shared a salad of fresh garden leaves and radish with buttermilk dressing.

Lastly, my favourite part of a meal – dessert, yay!  All the preceding dishes had been so good and the desserts were no exception. We decided to split the dishes as I couldn’t decide between the two berries on offer. Bill commented that in the time it took for him to photograph the strawberry terrine placed in front of him, I’d wolfed down half of the raspberry and dark chocolate dessert and was impatiently waiting for half of his. All I can say is that he’s lucky I didn’t eat ALL of it.

We found staff to be friendly, relaxed and knowledgeable (I was impressed - they had so much to remember!). When it came to choose a syrah for the mains, the wait staff were more than happy to talk us through a couple of options and offered us a taste to help us decide our own personal preference and we opted for two different choices. Picking wine by the glass has its advantages.

Pleasantly sated, we set off on the short trip home watching the sun go down over the Bombay Hills as we left.

This was such a pleasant and relaxing experience that we can't wait to return.  Why would we drive all the way into the city when we have this on our doorstep?  Why, indeed?