Each year at about this time, I'm puzzled about the planning of celebrations and the excitement centred on the impending new year. How 2007 will be welcomed in by many with great expectation, and the old year discarded without a thought. I feel a little wistful when a year comes to an end. It's like the departure of a close friend, and it seems very premature to be so enthusiastic about the new one.
Rather than party on New Year's Eve, I'll be ruminating on the past one, and remembering all the highlights of 2006. Having a one-track mind, these are sure to be edible highlights, and I'll leaf through my food diary to remind myself of the delicious recipes I've discovered. I've been keeping the diary for 16 years, recording meals I've cooked that are worth repeating.
Some of the most delicious were very simple: blanched silverbeet leaves rolled up with crisp fried onions and served with a yoghurt dip as a snack. Another snack of sliced tomatoes baked over crumbled herbed feta with a drizzle of olive oil; delicious on pita crisps. A shoulder of lamb diced and baked for two hours with a pottleful of tapenade spread over the top; a puff-pastry tart of quartered red and yellow cherry tomatoes on a bed of baba ghanoush; a sweet tart shell filled with Seville orange curd.
This year I seem to have got rather carried away with what have become known as "functional foods", those that one eats for a specific health gain. So our muesli is bursting with dried cranberries for urinary health, ground linseed for our arteries, raw brown almonds for a healthy heart, oat bran for the gut. At lunch I might have sardines or mackerel for my brain, yoghurt for my stomach, miso soup or tofu for breast cancer prevention. For dinner I'll cook lentils for protein, orange peppers for glaucoma prevention, chicken livers for iron, tomatoes for prostate cancer prevention, silverbeet for our vitamin quota (and because there's lots in the garden) and blackcurrants to keep the shadows from under our eyes. I know this sounds appallingly obsessive, but it's become a bit of a game. It's fun to rise to the challenge of achieving optimum nutrition deliciously, because I really do like all those things. I hasten to add that we often have less virtuous meals, and seldom a day goes by without a little chocolate ... for happiness.
This New Year's Eve I'll cook two of my best recipe discoveries of the year. They will be equally appropriate whether it is just the two of us, all the family or a group of friends. The toasted sandwiches, inspired by a recipe of Tamasin Day Lewis, sound rather unlikely, but are really delicious, and just the thing for an informal gathering. They are baked in the oven so you don't have to stand over the frying pan, imbuing your smart-casual clothes with greasy fumes. As they're more than a snack, you'll need to serve them on plates with knives and forks.
===BOMBAY TOASTED SANDWICH===
1/2 - 3/4 tsp chilli powder; 1/2 tsp turmeric; 3/4 tsp ground cumin; 2 tsp lemon juice; 250g mashed potatoes; 8 slices bread, white, brown or light rye; butter; fruit chutney - mango is really good; 3-4 tomatoes, sliced; salt and grindings of black pepper; 1 red onion, sliced (raw, or fried first); 125g gruyere or tasty cheddar, sliced
Preheat the oven to 220?C. Mix the spices and lemon juice into the potatoes. Butter the bread slices and turn over. Spread 4 slices with chutney, then with the potato mixture. Top with a layer of tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Follow this with onion and cheese. Cover with the remaining slices of bread, butter-side out, and place on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Serves 4.
Lemon buttermilk puddings are a smart version of our old friend, the lemon delicious, but even better cold than hot. They can be made up to two days ahead. If you make these puddings for eight people, you will have enough buttermilk to make a half quantity the following week. One more point: I like the little hits of lemon flavour you get from the zest when you use the small teardrop holes on the grater rather than the side with star-shaped holes, which gives an all-over lemon effect.
===LEMON BUTTERMILK PUDDING WITH BERRIES===
raspberries (11?2 punnets) or strawberries (1 punnet); 400ml buttermilk (available in 600ml cartons); 3/4 cup sugar; 4 egg yolks; zest and juice of 4 Meyer lemons; 1/4 cup flour; 60g butter, melted; 3 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 175?C. Squash the raspberries with a fork, or chop the strawberries into little pieces and dust with a little extra sugar. Set aside. Butter 8 ramekins. In a bowl whisk the buttermilk, half the sugar, the egg yolks, lemon zest and juice, flour and butter. In another bowl beat the egg whites to soft peaks, then gradually add the remaining sugar, beating until stiff. Fold a spoonful of beaten whites into the yolk mixture, then the remaining whites in 2 more additions. Divide among the ramekins (they will be really full) and place them in a roasting pan. Half fill the pan with warm water and bake for 25 minutes. Leave until cold. When ready to serve, put a spoonful of the berry sauce on the centre of each one. Serves 8.
Lois Daish returns next week.