Another cookbook made it’s way across my desk this week and this one is just a little bit different from the norm. “The Food Clock”, by Fast Ed Halmagyi (Harper Collins), takes current fondness for the thoroughly sensible trend of eating seasonally and gives it quite a whimsical little twist that I’ve not really seen before. Using the device of a fictional story featuring his alter-ego Monseuir Henri Petit-Pois whose discovery of a clock which tells what to eat rather than the time, Fast Ed walks us through the four seasons focusing on the peak produce for each one.
Fast Ed Halmagyi is well known in Australia as a chef, TV presenter, radio host and author, with three previous cookbooks under his belt. The child of Hungarian parents, Fast Ed grew up on Hungarian cuisine, but is well known for his fondness for fresh, seasonal, produce prepared simply and easily. This new book of his aims to help those of us who are responsible for the family meals move out of our cooking ruts and away from the same meals that we prepare over and over, encouraging us to take advantage of the bounty of each individual season. At the same time, he wanted to give the whole cookbook format something of a gee-up, hence the novel approach of using a fanciful narrative format.
I’m not really sure that the story aspect of this book does it for me, although it is a pleasant new approach for the genre. However, what does do it for me are the gorgeous photo’s, illustrations and styling of the book. It is beautifully presented from the perfectly composed and lit cover shot of a dapper and slightly brooding Fast Ed, to the delicate story illustrations and the rustic presentation and styling of the food. And, let’s be honest, the food is what we’re really after.
Divided into Hot, Cool, Cold and Warm O’Clocks and the quarter-hour graduations, each of the “The Food Clock” sections features a selection of the seasonal produce available, but not quite in the order you might expect. This can make specific recipes difficult to find, but that is what the index is for. By setting the book out in this way, the reader (and cook) is encouraged to wander around the sections and is much more likely to be tempted to try something new to them, than if they were to head straight for the dish they wanted. I think this is a gentle, but clever way to nudge us out of our staid cooking routines, opening our eyes to other meal-time possibilities.
The recipes themselves are fresh, simple and delicious, featuring dishes such as Pan Roasted Duck with (dried) Figs, Orange and Dandelion greens, Warm Camembert with Fricassee of Mushrooms, Crispy Quail with Mandarin Salt and Apricot Stuffing, Cherry Pie and Honey Petit Pots de Creme – all of them just a teensy bit special, but well within the reach of any home cook and not requiring the purchase of ingredients which may never otherwise see the light of day.
There are also quite few baking recipes, including several breads. I’ve been a little slack with my baking efforts of late so I decided to give one of Fast Ed’s bread recipes a whirl, knowing how much my family loves to come home on a cold evening to house smelling of fresh-baked bread. I was a little sceptical as to how this recipe for the traditional French fougasse would turn out, but the end result was one of the most delicious and fluffiest breads I have made in ages – largely due, I suspect, to the long proving times.
- 500 gms strong bread flour (not ordinary plain flour)
- ¾ (5.5gms) sachet of dried yeast
- 300 mls water
- 50 gms rye flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 150 gms pitted green olives, chopped
- 150 gms pitted black olives, chopped
- leaves from 6 rosemary sprigs
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Combine 150 gms of the bread flour with half the yeast & 150 mls of the water in bowl of an electric mixer & beat with dough hook until smooth & elastic. Cover with plastic wrap & leave for 3 hours, until dough has risen then collapsed.
- Add the remaining bread flour, yeast & water, the rye flour & salt – mix on slow for 5-10 minutes until dough is smooth.
- Turn on to a floured surface and knead in the olives, rosemary and half the olive oil until well distributed. Place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap again and leave for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 240C.
- Divide the dough into two equal pieces, then stretch out to form rough triangles on paper lined baking trays. Slash deeply, cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
- Bake for 15 minutes, until golden. Place immediately on wire racks and brush with remaining oil.
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