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Dean Brettschneider's new recipe book was inspired by customers keen to quit ready-meals for real home-cooking. File photo/Listener

Chef Dean Brettschneider reminds us why we should cook

You’d be forgiven for thinking the art of cooking dinner was dead, but a new book by chef Dean Brettschneider was inspired by customers keen to quit ready-meals for real home-cooking. Simon Farrell-Green dips into Cook: Food to Share.

The irony couldn’t be stronger. In an age dominated by images of food, across everything from Netflix to Instagram, from chef documentaries to bloggers documenting their every mouthful, we’re cooking less than we ever did. Not surprisingly, it emerged last year that 70% of Kiwis eat dinner in front of television at least one night a week, and just 50% say they cook every day; a third of us don’t like cooking at all.

Instead of cooking, we’re getting Uber Eats and My Food Bag delivered and we’re buying ready-meals from the supermarket. We’re working longer hours, and commuting for longer, too; we barely even have time to shop, let alone cook. In households where both parents work, the act of producing dinner has become just one more thing to do in a day that’s already overloaded.

If you’re a cook, that’s something to feel sad about. And, health statistics aside – the fat!… the salt!… the sugar! – the rise of ready-to-eat food comes with an extraordinary amount of packaging: dinners wrapped in plastic and paper, eaten quickly and without much thought. It’s understandable, but it’s also the loss of a central connection of family life, a ritual that for me signals the end of the work day, even if it’s 8.30pm by the time we eat. Cooking dinner is a moment in my day where I slow down, force myself to focus on chopping onions and feel the blood pressure drop.

Reading Cook: Food to Share, by New Zealand-born chef and baker Dean Brettschneider, along with Jenna White and Helen Burge (Bateman, $40), you get the impression other people are feeling the loss, too. The idea for Cook came from his work at the Dean Brettschneider Baking and Cooking School in Singapore, which he started in 2016. “In an era of fast food and ready-to-eat meals, I wanted to keep the art of cooking and baking alive,” he writes. “I knew that if people understood quality ingredients and proper baking and cooking techniques, they would also appreciate what it means to share a home-cooked meal with family and friends.”

He was right. The people attending his cooking school are hungry for honest food they can make from scratch. “Many of those who attend our classes tell us they want to be able to bake and cook to share good food with people they love. The desire to create food to share has never been stronger.”

Brettschneider grew up in Rangiora, eating simple, fresh food around the family table. Each Sunday, they’d gather at his grandmother’s for a roast, at a table loaded with platters of food. “To me, those dinners were the epitome of comfort and sharing food.”

From modest beginnings as an apprentice in the Rangiora Bakery, Brettschneider went on to a high-powered career at Ernest Adams and Goodman Fielder in the 1990s; in the years since, he’s become something of a global phenomenon with bakeries, restaurants, the cooking school, even a fancy doughnut shop, and a life lived between London and Singapore. The recipes in the book are neither basic, nor on trend: in assembling them, Brettschneider was guided by the dishes that have become firm favourites in his cooking school.

They might hark back to his childhood in rural New Zealand – there’s roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, for instance – but they’re very much a reflection of who we are and how we eat in 2020, with a subtle Asian influence and Middle Eastern flavours. They are good, authentic recipes that will become standby classics. And nothing is beyond the average home cook – because the best eating doesn’t involve 20 hard-to-find ingredients; the recipes you return to, again and again, simply become habit – assembled using muscle memory and half a brain after a busy day at work.

Recipes from Cook: Food to Share

Festive Baked Cauliflower

Serves 6-8 

Queen of any festive table, this impressive but simple dish is deliciously tender and great for sharing. Once you master baking the cauliflower to perfection, you can experiment with different types of dips and salsas.

  • 1 cauliflower head, trimmed at the base
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil + more to serve
  • A handful of Italian parsley, chopped

Butter Bean Hummus

  • 400g canned butter beans, rinsed and drained
  • 80g tahini
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 4 Tbsp water

Olive & Walnut Salsa

  • 40g pitted green olives, sliced
  • ½ pomegranate, peeled and seeds separated
  • 50g walnut halves, lightly roasted and roughly broken
  • 1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  1. Place the cauliflower in the microwave oven and cook on high for 7 minutes. Alternatively, steam until just tender, when a skewer can be inserted into the cauliflower stem with ease.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  3. Place the partially cooked cauliflower on a large baking tray and rub with garlic, then drizzle with olive oil. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until tender and golden in colour.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the hummus. Place the butter beans, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, ground cumin and salt into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the water a spoonful at a time, and blend until the consistency of thickened cream.
  5. Prepare the salsa. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
  6. To assemble, spread the hummus over a large serving plate and place the cauliflower in the middle. Top with salsa and chopped parsley. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.

Sumac leg of lamb.

Sumac & Maple-glazed Leg of Lamb

Serves 6

  • 2kg leg of lamb, bone-in
  • Sea salt, as needed
  • Ground black pepper, as needed
  • 2 Tbsp sumac
  • 4 tsp olive oil

 

Maple Glaze

  • 500ml beef stock
  • 125ml maple syrup
  • 80g brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp grain mustard

Garnishing

  • 75g pistachio nuts
  • 1 pomegranate, peeled and seeds separated
  • A handful of micro mint
  • A handful of edible flowers
  1. Prepare the maple glaze. Place the beef stock, maple syrup, sugar and mustard in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let it boil for 8-10 minutes, until thick and sticky. Set aside.
  2. Score the skin of the lamb, then season well with salt, pepper and sumac.
  3. Place a large frying pan over high heat and heat until it is smoking. Add the olive oil, followed by the lamb, skin-side down. Let it cook until the skin is caramelised and golden in colour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 240°C.
  5. Remove the lamb and place skin-side up in an oven dish. Brush with the maple glaze and roast for 30 minutes. Repeat brushing with the maple glaze every 10 minutes until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the leg reads 54°C for medium rare.
  6. Remove and place on a wire rack. Cover with aluminium foil and let rest for 10 minutes.
  7. Arrange on a serving plate and garnish with pistachio nuts, pomegranate seeds, micro mint and edible flowers.

Dean's Victoria Sandwich

Dean’s Victoria Sandwich with Red Berries & Cream

Serves 12

  • 100g strawberry jam
  • 2 punnets strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 6 cherries, stoned and cut into halves
  • 6 raspberries
  • Icing sugar, as needed

 

Sponge

  • 280g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 280g butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 5 eggs

Chantilly Cream

  • 500ml fresh cream
  • 2 Tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Prepare two 20cm round springform pans and line them with baking paper.
  3. Prepare the sponge. Sift the flour with the baking powder and set aside. Place the butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle and beat until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. Add the flour and beat for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Pour the batter equally into the prepared springform pans and level the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and spring back when lightly pressed. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes before unmoulding. Let the cakes cool on a wire rack before assembling.
  5. Prepare the Chantilly cream. Place all the ingredients into the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk to medium peaks. Refrigerate until needed.
  6. To assemble, spread the jam on the top of one sponge. Cover with a layer of Chantilly cream, followed by a handful of chopped strawberries. Sandwich with the other sponge and press down lightly.
  7. Spread the remaining Chantilly cream over the top sponge, then decorate with the remaining strawberries, cherries and raspberries. Dust with icing sugar.

This article was first published in the February 2020 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to our fortnightly email for more great stories.