SAN ELIJO — Longtime Southern California resident Susan Lazear grew up on a Canadian farm. While cooking was one of many necessary chores, she found that she loved it. However, the standard meat and potatoes fare preferred by her parents and brothers soon lost its charm for her. As soon as she hit high school, she signed up for 4H and its cooking clubs, delighting in every new recipe she found.
Eventually, she took classes at the Cordon Bleu where her love affair with exotic cooking was made indelible.
“It is still my idea of the perfect way to cook, because some one else did all the prep work and clean up,” she laughed. She now brings home new recipes from wherever she travels, and fell particularly in love with the cuisine of New Zealand. She first visited there to teach design and knitting workshops, part of her activities as owner of Cochenille Design Studio
“It seems that everyone I met loved to cook,” Lazear said. Lazear became close friends with Betty Abbott, the woman who distributed her books and software in Aukland, and Abbott shared a one-dish dinner that has become a favorite.
“The recipe is perfect for a dinner party, because you can do it all in advance and then just set out this beautiful platter,” Lazear said. “Not many people realize what good food they have there, but I love the combination of flavors and their use of fresh vegetables and fruits. Every time I go I gain weight, especially from the goodies at daily tea. As Betty became a friend and mentor, I found her an amazing cook. However, I had to learn the local vocabulary before I could figure out my first lesson.”
Speaking her best “New Zealand-ish,” Lazear said, “I had to suss out the new recipes and decide whether to make something for Smoko or Tea. No matter what, I will have to offer a cuppa. Otherwise, my friends will think I’m not good value. It took me awhile to get clued up, and I no longer fluff around looking for just the right recipe. If I run out of time, I can just go down to the hot bread shop. I won’t need a chilly bin, if I bring home freshly made biccies.”
Before leaving, Lazear returned the favor, making a “typical American” meal of chili with corn bread, submarine sandwiches and coleslaw, with root beer floats for dessert. Root beer isn’t sold in New Zealand, but their sarsaparilla drink was close in flavor.
Lazear offers a New Zealand slang primer:
Hot bread shop – the bakery
Shifting – moving from one house to another
Suss it out – figure something out, get the facts
Got it sussed – you worked it out
Good value – a good person
Tea – Tea and food usually served after 3 p.m.
Smoko – the morning tea at 10 a.m.
Cuppa – a cup of coffee or tea
Chilly bin – a cooler for keeping food cool
Clued up – to be made aware
Fluff around – waste time
Sloppy Joe – an oversized sweater
Biccies – cookies, short for biscuits
New Zealand Chicken Dish
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup prunes
12 slices of bacon
Garlic 3-5 cloves, minced
Various vegetables such as potatoes (regular and/or sweet), onions, carrots, bell peppers or just about any vegetable of your choice.
2 cups couscous
4 cups of water, plus the juice of one of the oranges
1/4 cup of sliced almonds (optional)
1/4 cup of dried cranberries (optional)
To prepare the vegetables:
Prepare the vegetables for roasting by cleaning and cutting into manageable pieces. Determine how much to feed six guests. Coat the vegetables with olive oil and minced garlic cloves, salt and pepper.
Place in a 9-inch-by-13-inch roasting pan.
To prepare the chicken:
Take the chicken breasts and pound flat to approximately 1/2-inch thick.
Juice the two oranges, and set the juice aside.
Cut pieces of the orange peel into 1/2-inch strips, approximately 1-inch long.
Lay 2 or 3 pieces of orange peel and 2 or 3 prunes on top of a flattened piece of chicken.
Roll the chicken breast around the filling and wrap each rolled breast with two pieces of bacon. Lay all the prepared chicken breasts in an oiled baking pan.
Bake the chicken and the roasted vegetables for approximately 40 to 45 minutes at 375 F. Check for doneness. Do not overcook the chicken.
Just Before Serving
Prepare the Couscous
Just before serving, place 2 cups of couscous into 4 cups of water plus the juice of one orange.
Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.
Wait five minutes for the couscous to soften.
Mix in sliced almonds, cranberries, or any other condiment of your choice.
Prepare a Glaze
Take the drippings from the chicken pan and mix this with the remaining orange juice and water to make a broth. The goal is to have at least 1 cup of broth.
Strain the broth, and place in a small saucepan. Heat.
Mix approximately 1 tablespoons of corn starch with 1/4 cup of cold water and then pour this mixture into the broth, as you stir.
Continue stirring until the broth thickens slightly.
If necessary, add more cornstarch/cold water mixture.
On a large platter, place the couscous in the center.
Arrange the roasted vegetables around the outside of the platter.
Lay the chicken pieces on top of the couscous.