Best of the Season


The Start of Winter-Eating at Home May 2013

The autumn season has started off well with some good eating !

A new dining table has been a worthwhile purchase I have to say and for people who often have others at our table it seems silly it has taken us this long to get a bigger table. So success all round and this has prompted or at least conincided with a few outstanding guests being over recently.......


it all started with congee

A simple affair but one that I have to say takes more time than anyone thinks-and several pot chnages to avoid a burnt bootom so usually 4 pots later and at least 8 hours I have a bowl of goodness that is perfect. I have to admit I can never get perfectly white congee but mine is super full of flavour as I cook chicken frames and pork bones in the rice for the final few hours. It drakens it up which I am sure my own grandfather woudl be unimpressed with but who cares. A soy egg on top and spring onions......heaven.


This was just Monday night at home while Gin is staying with us for a week so a simply Monday evening dinner of pepper tofu, pork balls with broc and steamed salted fish........




Baking is not my thing but a earning for Victorian sponge prompted me but I hthink it was an epic fail !

But all things go back to Dumpling dinner -thats right just dumplings many ways with a bit of broccoli for good measure

Many dipping sauces in which to dip said dumplings including a fav right now that I cant get enough of -schewan peppercorn with toasted sesame and black pepper

And lets face it nothing beats deep fried treats -minced fish with peanuts and coriander wrapped up in beancurd sheet and fried

And a round of gyoza


More recent eating included parental times at home of late-vists from fathers, fathers and mothers and mothers and step fathers whom I always keen to cook for . Im working on several new recipes but havent quite got them perfected enough to pop them up so once I do Ill sort that out


Sunday, 5 May 2013

Summer Eating-when hot is too hot Feb 2013


Those super hot nights when you feel a bit like a doh having to pant to keep cool are not nights to be spent in the kitchen cooking up a storm. I have a distinct problem in that a salad and piece of meat off the bbq just isnt my cup of tea. As my husband says I have to complicate matters and add something in that makes it Michal-ish. I make no apologies for that at all and I would like to say for the record I did cook a nice champagne cut boneless lamb leg the other night and have it with a big mixed leaf salad and was very happy. I just enjoy putting in that little more effort to have something ...yummier I guess.
I made this the other night though which I was pretty happy with as I was too hot to cook and rather grumpy and being able to simply open up a container of soft tofu, press it to release that excess moisture , slice into and top it with a few super fast things to cook up was a delight-a textural delight of super soft and cold with tingly hot and tasty fried cripsy bits ...mmm
Soft Tofu Topped with Textural Stuff (for lack of a better name right now)
1 container soft silken tofu-drained and pressed gently in a clean cloth for 30 mins
2 eggs
1 t sesame oil
1/2 t salt
1 t Chinese superior soy sauce
1 red chilli, sliced finely
1 spring onion, sliced finely
2 cloves garlic peeled and sliced finely
1 cm piece ginger, sliced finely and julienned
So into the egg beat the sesame oil, soy sauce, salt and spring onion
In a wok heat a little oil and scramble the egg, allowing it sit a bit before starting to move it about the pan so it forms some nice cripsy golden puffy bits at the side . One really nice and golden remove and set aside
Add a little more oil and heat again. Add the garlic and ginger slices and the chilli and fry till golden as well
Remove from wok and set aside.
Assemble the egg and fried extras over the tofu as above
Heat additional 1 T sesame oil till just smoking and then pour it over the tofu and egg
Serve immediately


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Marmalade Winter 2012

Winter citrus ...they have to be good for you !
Like little xmas lights blinking out at you on those horrible cold rainy days I think they have to be seen as a bit of bright sunshine during the winter months.

With some oranges from the in-laws country garden and some mandarins from my garden I made marmalade. Naturally all organic, they just needed a wee wash, a juice, slice and off I went. It had been a while and maybe my brain wasn't quite in gear so I totally forgot to temperature check my sugar and had to reboil it all to reach setting point so I have a marmalade that is a little stiffer than I would like but it is still radiant in delicious bright sunshiny citrus flavour. Perfect gift for all those who are sick and need winter love to get them through these dark months.?



Monday, 6 August 2012

Its winter-lets make Curry June 2012

Its a truly awful day. The cat and me are warm at home thinking of calmer climates whilst huddled over the heater.
So....once I managed to get myself mobile I thought lets make heat things up with a good old curry paste.Whether it be Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Moroccan ...anything at all, the preparation of a good paste is a serious matter which needs time to be given to it.
Im a fan of the lengthy preparation of a good paste so Im quite happy to set aside an afternoon in production of two or three in vast quantities so I can store them or give them away.This particular paste needs quite some cooking so I start it and then keep working on it for a few days to really enhance the flavours. Believe is worth it if you do follow this rather annoying recipe. I cook it in three stages. The paste itself first is made and halved out to use as a marinate as well as the base to the main sauce. This is cooked for some time -several hours at least and I keep adding water and keep reducing it. I do this in order to cook the spices out and give them a more mellow and less raw taste and unfortunately this will only happen with cooking for a long period.

After procuring some lovely fresh produce to work with I set to work back in the warmth of the kitchen. That is some lovely fresh paneer over on the edge there as well as some beautifully fresh mint and curry leaves I plan on using for another dish.

I do suggest getting a simmer mat to do this. You need a good heavy based saucepan so I use a cassoulet dish but every time I make anything like this which is pretty regularly I always say I must get a simmer mat. They sit in your element and act as a diffuser to you don't get that terrifying lava bubbling extreme over flow burn thing happening. I will actually write this down in my must buy list as I never get one when Im thinking about it and now having must had an over may make me remember!~ If you don't have one I suggest to avoid terrifying paste spitting at you and staining your floors and walls, work on a really low heat but keep another element on even lower and I keep switching the elements as they get too hot.See -I told you this would be lengthy.
So I picked up some naan at my local spice trader as I thought Ill focus energy on paste rather than bread. A small cop out yes but I figure I could also clean out one of my kitchen cupboards at the same time and write this up so give us a break !
So back at home with cat moved from her lounge chair to her kitchen position in front of the heater in case of a food offering I started out.
Michal's Butter Chicken
This will make enough paste for 2 large meals so half and freeze or give away.
To make the paste:
4 t smoked sweet paprika
9 t cumin freshly ground
9 t coriander freshly ground
2 t ginger freshly ground
1 t cinnamon freshly ground
1 t fenugreek seeds
1 t black peppercorns
1 t mild to medium freshly ground chilli
1 t caraway seeds
1/2 t cardamom seeds freshly podded
1 T cumin seeds whole
1 t ajwain seeds whole

Pop all in the food processor after being toasted gently and pulse. Add enough grape seed oil to form a paste and allow the motor to run for a good 3 mins or so until the whole spices are well broken down and combined.
Remove the paste and separate in four separate bowls. 2 you will use now and 2 you will keep for future use so pack into freezeable containers.

In one bowl of paste add 180ml fresh full cream plain yoghurt of your choice and mix well.
Add to this 6-7 chicken thighs -bone in or boneless (your choice) and skinless.
Mix well and set aside in the fridge to marinate overnight preferably but at least for three hours.

In your just used food processor puree :
3 onions
6 cloves garlicTurn these out into a heavy based cassoulet dish or cast iron pot and cook gently on a low heat adding a little grape seed if you wish. Traditionally ghee would be added to cook the onion in but I figure we have enough fat as it is .
Once translucent add the remaining spice paste along with :

2 t cumin freshly ground
1 T cumin seeds whole
2 t coriander freshly ground
1 t turmeric freshly ground
2 T good quality Indian mango pickle (the really tart one not sweet one)
2 T ground almond meal
2 Brown cardamom pods, smashed open and seeds removed -discard husks

Allow this mix to cook gently so adjust heat as needed and add water so at to not stick.
Cook for approximately 2 hours adding water as needed.

Once thick and reduced again you can either stop the cooking process and chill in order to hear again the next day and cook for a further 40-60 mins in the same manner.
Or you can add in :
1 can coconut milk or cream
and allow to simmer further for 1 hour.
If you are cooking all in one go carry onto the next step of cooking the chicken.
If you are wishing to stop cooking again after the second heating then again chill and then return to the heat the following day and cook the chicken as below.

Preheat oven to grill function and lay the marinated chicken out on a flat tray.
Reserve all remaining liquids and yoghurt in the bowl and add to the sauce mixing well.  
Grill the chicken on all sides ensuring it has good char
Remove once browned but not cooked through
Place the chicken into the sauce mix and cook for a further 20 mins to enhance all flavours.
Check seasoning adding in grated jaggery or brown sugar for sweetness, another T mango pickle for tartness and salt as needed.

Serve with fresh coriander on top and freshly made naan


Monday, 18 June 2012

Cauliflower and Smoked Fish Warm Salad April 2012

Cauliflower seems more of a winterish thing to me so this easy as salad is the thing for the autumnal change of weather.I love it roasted where it takes on such a nice crunchy quality and has a great creamy taste.

Ideal for an easy mid week meal and you can use really anything in it you have on hand. Replace smoked fish with smoked salmon, smoked chicken, left over roast chicken, bug chunks of roasted pumpkin or aubergine...anything at all!

Makes a good lunch dish as well with some toasted rye bread

Cauliflower and Smoked Fish Salad


1 cauliflower, washed and florets removed –cut down any that are extra large

2 T cumin seeds

1 t caraway seeds

400g smoked fish or your choice, bones removed and flaked

Salt and pepper

Handful of fresh fennel tips(-if you can only get baby fennel then slice finely and roast with your cauliflower and add )

big handful of Italian parsley, leaves picked through and stems discarded


Place the cauliflower in a large oven tray and drizzle with a little grapseed oil.

Sprinkle over the seeds, add salt and pepper to taste and place in preheated 180 C oven for 30-40 mins or until the cauliflower is beginning to brown at the edges.



2 t capers, rinsed

1 T wholegrain mustard

2-4 cloves garlic ( I roast a whole head of garlic in with teh cauliflower and use 2-4 cloves from this for a softer flavour)

juice of 1 lemon

120ml extra virgin olive oil

First peel and finely chop the garlic well with the capers.

Heat a little grape seed oil in a pan and fry the garlic and capers on a low to medium heat till fragrant.

Place in a screw top jar or food processor and add the mustard, cider vinegar and olive oil. Shake or pulse to combine.

Pour over the fish and cauliflower and mix well again adding the juice of the lemons in as you mix.

Adjust seasoning to taste.

Serve immediately

Monday, 16 April 2012

Where has all the fun gone?

As the past few months for me have been rather jam packed with life I have to admit that writing desire has had to be put on the back burner whilst I worked through the day to day matters of food that is my job.
As my job is food related (Im very lucky!) it is hard to not get caught up in the day top day mish mash that becomes like over worked mashed potato-all gluey and rather unflattering for all concerned.
I guess we all forget when we are in it 24/7 what that means and how that may look to an outsider.

Back in the day when I was young and had so much more energy I worked three jobs -more out of necessity I have to admit than desire-but it was a time when I have to say perhaps I was happier as a person. I drank a lot, I played a lot but I also loved that hot line! It was all about the time I spent working on things that really mattered and seemed to be so vital to my existence.

Talk to any chef, any cook, any food passionate individual working in hospitality and it is that overwhelming desire and drive that we all have to be stupid enough to work 14 or 16 hour days and still somehow have at manic grin on our faces. We can still, after a hellish service that involved more than one customer coming close to losing an ear due to their rudeness, manage to smile, joke even and carry on with the next moment of pure delight as we are told by someone that they have just had the best meal ever or that they loved the way that they were talked into something without even knowing it.
Our jobs -whatever bizarre avenue of food that they may have morphed into, is all about bringing an experience of delight. I forget it often I think nowadays as I am more attached to a computer than I am a gas burner. Those days of chronic sciatic pain, deathly tiredness and constant grim are not something I necessary miss but I think they do get me closer to the actual feeling of pure delight that I have ever felt.

As my job has morphed into one that is extremely rewarding but so very different I look for those moments when I actually get to chat with someone who has made the effort to come and look for the quality of ingredients their planned dinner expects. They have planned and listed, they have possibly even costed it out and will be organised and possibly even a little nervous as their guests sit down at their table to share in the time and effort, the energy and love they have produced to create.
I love this aspect of what I am doing now and helping to create. As GM of Farro Fresh I feel like it a community of people who choose to come together to share in that pure delight. They also just happens to also be the best stocked food stores in Auckland as well as having some of the most dedicated and passionate people around to be there alongside me. Its a blast to say the least.

The food anger I have right now though is more about what is being created out there in kitchens and I wonder if this is because they , like me sometimes, have lost their way, lost their desire to share with a community of like minded people and produce food that actually makes them smile-grin even! I fear we have lost any fun in dining that there possibly could be and that we have lost the art of humor in food in my own city. For those of you who don't live in Auckland and perhaps aren't even familiar with New Zealand, we aren't all sheep and farm land. We do have a cultural hub if you will and a food community. We have been written up as having some really good restaurants ...and some pretty terrible ones as well just like any city. But recently the new restaurants that are popping up feel as though they have missed the joke ? Maybe I just haven't been open to their particular humor but I haven't seen or eaten anything for some time that made me -that is simply a fun creation that makes my mouth explode! I wont list names and dishes...but why don't I see the love and attention and pure deliciousness that makes me almost go a little crazy like Joe Beef in Canada. Check these guys out -one is a mountain man that looks perhaps like he is born of bear and man and the rest are beautifully geeky, passionate, hard working and fun. will turn your head, will make you laugh and cry a little for quotes like ...I love burgundy so much I want to pour it in my eyes...”

Move onto a revision of the Mission Street Food team and possibly get all excited about the idea of opening a ridiculous burger joint inside a Korean grocery store! Why not!! Go crazy , go mad and make food! You tube these guys and also feel like you are living a half life. I had not realised to be honest how influential and how community based these chefs were until I spent three days reading their book cover to cover with breaks only for more wine. It can only inspire and suggest to you we have all lost the fun aspect of what we are doing because maybe we are scared to not make money, we cant imagine not serving people actually what they want , we like eating at tables even? What is it that makes these crazy chefs do this and be happy ? One can only dig down and think back to those pure days of old and think it is because it was worth it.

So I want to see savoury eclairs of meat and food that is so back to front it has reemerged again as something new. I want something new for goodness sake. I don't want bad new mexican that is so average it makes me wonder why I even bothered coming in, I want steak that is cooked as I remember it -well and infused with a level of delicious meatiness it makes me rejoice. I don't want something dressed up as something simple and like my gran use to make when really is tastes just as bland as that, I don't want foams, ices or powders unless they are worth it and make sense. I don't want scrapes and smears that are unidentifiable and weirdly coloured. I just want food that tastes good and has been made with love and passion for the ingredients. I want to eat and not over analyse (Im not sure this is possible) what the hell I am eating.

I want a plate full of fun.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Fresh Season Ginger-May 2011

Fresh Season Ginger

Looking more like something that pumps green blood through a carnivorous plant beast, I found wonderfully lumpy fresh ginger pieces at my local health food store. Pull off a green section with root attached and plant it to get your own ginger plant by this time next year was the advice from the smily checkout girl.

Im keen to get this sliced finely into more delicate creations that really emphasis the floral freshness that ginger has when it is this young-pork shank slow cooked with big hunks of ginger, prawns stir fried with slices of ginger, aromatic Thai curries of ginger and will brighten my autumnal mood.

All that weird pink pickled ginger that comes with your sushi is imitating this stuff. Naturally pink with young age, this one's edges are still pink but when you find it super young, it hasn't even developed that scaly exterior yet and is a beautiful rose pink against the bright green stalks.

I recommend eating it fast-any time wasted will change those young and juicy tips to brown in no time.?

Monday, 30 May 2011

Its Parsnip Time! May 2011

Those snowy white carrots that are so versatile are high on my list for winter eating. Think of the possibilities! That creamy woody flavor that works so well in soups, roasted up, into warm salads, pureed and added to other mashy delights. I'm on a parsnip appreciation campaign to make other feel the same as I do about this wonder veg.

Archeological evidence places the humble parsnip rather way back making an appearance at dinner tables through our Eurasia. A native of the area, they were lumped together under the turnip umbrella which is a shame as I don't feel the same about turnips at all. The Romans, who believed the beautiful parsnip to be an aphrodisiac, bought parsnip with them while they raped and pillaged their way across Europe and found that the  further North they moved the larger the parsnip grew.
The need frost to develop as well as sandy, loamy soils so autumn they begin to come into their own right through winter as long as the soil doesnt freeze completely.The British were taken enough with them that they took them to America when they settled but the old potato over took the parsnip in versatility for those who just cant think outside the square. They are also higher in the good stuff than carrots but while than can be enjoyed raw, Im not so keen on them that way to be honest.

I could eat parsnip with just about anything although I have yet to match it with Asian dishes. I'll keep working not hat one though as you never can tell. So Im about roasting them simply with sea salt, heaps of freshly cracked black pepper and a little oil to get them nice and brown and ever so cripsy at the ends.

The addition of some cumin seeds does not go astray at all given they have a profile that is somewhat spicy anyway. I recently read them as being referred to as having a cardamom tang-If I squint a little i can taste that as they do have a licorice tone that is both alluring and warming. Due to this little romance it has going with spices, it happily can adjust itself to both traditional dishes through to some of the more crazed creations that you may be able to come up with.A good mash is enhanced wonderfully with a dose of parsnip puree mixed through.

Give it a whirl!

My favorite Creamy Parsnip Autumn Soup

1 kg parsnips, peeled and cut roughly into chunks
2 white onions, peeled and roughly chopped
600ml chicken stock -you can use vegetable stock also
2 teaspoons cumin-freshly ground
200ml cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook off the onions till softened in a little butter.
Add the ground cumin and parsnips and mix well before adding the chicken stock.
Place a lid on the pot and allow to simmer for a good 45 mins.
Remove the lid and allow to reduce a little.
Using a stick blender or food processor, whizz the soup to a smooth consistency.
Add the cream and allow to come back to a low simmer.
Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
You may wish to add a touch more spice.
I like to add some freshly toasted cumin seeds on top for garnish.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Apples-Nature's Treachery April 2011

The apple has long been known as a symbol of temptation. Eve took the chance and plucked the fruit from the tree to enjoy its crispy, juicy taste. I certainly have no problem with the story as a whole rather that her apple was delicious.
The last time I ate an apple it declared once again the annoyance I have with them as a food. Looking all beautiful and shiny, you are lured in with the expectation of crunch and inevitably you get floury. With the huge variety of apples being grown in New Zealand it becomes difficult to remember which one you bought last time that was such a  disappointment  that you hope to avoid this time.

Go to ENZA's website and you will find all sorts of information about apples and pears that would make reverting dinner party conversation. I have learnt all about the export of pip fruit from New Zealand that is worth more than $1 billion per year to ENZA and the incredible work they are doing to naturally cross breed varieties that will guarantee me and crunchy apple.

I went off to the supermarket to do a little more investigation.
Apples certainly make up a large part of the fruit on offer with three or more varieties on offer at any one time. With the exception of potatoes, you rarely see that many other varieties of any other fruit or vegetable on offer.
I peruse the offerings and find that I personally wouldn't take any of them home. Looking tired and damaged, I move on to another fruit store to see what the offer is.
Again, I look intently to find something that really says fresh to me (not just as a word that appears on its sticker) and I am struggling. I pass amazing looking broccoli, tight little brussel sprouts, dirt encrusted potatoes and imported pineapples and mangos but no beautiful bright enticing apples.

I return home to research more.
We all understand that varieties play an important part in how fruit looks and tastes.
When I look for apples I look for those that are free of bruises and punctures and have a nice bright, almost shiny skin. Thin skins are sometimes cross breed into a fruit so they are easier to eat for those with dentures, so the skin will cook better, so they are more appealing to children.....the list of things they can do to apples is long and some what scary. The more one reads the more ridiculous it starts to seem. I now have a favourite apple known as the Flower of Kent that is a variety that dates back to the 1700's and was the apple that hit Isaac Newton on the head.
Look at the incredible list of apples on Wikipedia and you will find that New Zealand as growers of apples are rather low on the list. Who would have known that the largest apple producer in the world is China closely followed by USA and Iran? New Zealand doesn't even figure into the top ten.
With a wonderfully involved history, the apple is said to have been first cultivated in eastern Turkey. The Germanic peoples of Europe popped apples in with the dead perhaps in honour of a Norse goddess who gave eternal youthfulness. Greek mythology is full of the apple as a symbol of beauty and youth particularly when it comes to woman. As mentioned earlier, Eve coaxed Adam into joining with her in the fruit she had plucked from the Tree of Knowledge and that is today why the larynx in your throat today is called an 'Adam's Apple' because of the notion that the forbidden fruit stuck in Adam's throat.

With more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples I would at least like to be able to find at least one that is bright, crunchy and juicy. Old cultivars are often deemed as unsuitable for reasons such as odd shape (not perfectly round), poor tolerance to shipping and storage (wont keep for 6 months in cold storage), low yield or short season and liability to disease. I sort of thought that was what it was all about but obviously I am a little too much of a greenie. Apple activists (yes-they do exist) rally for growers to maintain their older cultivars to save them from extinction. Local markets have been a great way to preserve and educate people to try different varieties even when they may be misshapen.
I search more on the internet and find a funny little article from 1934 published in the New Zealand Railways magazine that is pondering the question why stores don't write varieties and use on their fruit price tags. I feel vindicated as I feel this is a very important part to our education and keep reading to find that most of the apples that they are describing in 1934 don't ever appear on our shelves. I plan to pay more attention at my local farmer's market to see what they have on offer so I can gain that little bit more information on where my food is coming from and what it has been cross breed with.

What also interests me are the storage times that are given for many. I delved into a rather technical website that detailed the issues surrounding storage in order to kill pests. Interstingly they discuss the storage of apples coming from New Zealand for up to 20 weeks in order to kill some cold borne pests before they even reach the market. 20 weeks! I wonder how long our apples that are being picked right here are being held?
The end of the apple season is July and at that time the rest from then on are from cold storage. Varieties such as Gala then have been well come and gone so have been in storage since mid March. Another one that we see on the shelves all year round is Braeburn which begins in mid March and finishes in late July. The rest of the year it comes out of cold storage.
All of this still leaves us with the issue of cooking versus eating and what to use for what.

Cooking apples are a mass part of what the British apple producers invest time in. The demand for good cooking apples is seems outways eating apples. The Bramley apple is the most popular in the UK for cooking but is described as sharp, sour and less than exciting in flavour. However this doesn't help us as it is almost exclusively a British variety.
Granny Smith originated in Australia in 1868 by chance. Thought to be a mix of wild apple and domesticated green apple, the flavour displays the characteristic sourness of a wild apple. Cultivated heavily in New Zealand, this is an excellent cooking and eating apple. Raw, it will not brown as quickly as other apples so can be used in salads or fruit platters and as it has a great firmer crunch it is well liked by all.
Pink Lady is one variety that we see available. From Australia, it is a cross breed of golden delicious and Lady Williams apples. Pink Lady is a trade marked name and the success of this apple due to its ability to be stored for lengthy periods and a taste that is described to be akin to sherbet. I question this, but must bow to the 'manufacturers' in this case for they have quite a lot to say about their amazing Pink Lady.

Gala is a New Zealand development coming from a Kidd's Orange and golden delicious. Sweet but with grainy texture and softer skin, they are more resistant to bruising. I have personally never found a gala that was in good condition so I reserve them for cooking only and only when I won't a very soft, broken down apple sauce or pie filling.

Fuji, as the name suggests, is a Japanese creation made from two American varieties, Red Delicious and Ralls Genet. Appreciated for their much larger size and high sugar ratio, they have a dense flesh and a sweet flavour. Industry wise, they can be stored without refrigeration for up to six months. I find these to be wonderful for cooking due to their high sugar levels. They work well for slicing and baking lightly such as in a tart or slice.

Braeburn is another New Zealand chance find. Oddly sweet and tart, they are perhaps my favourite apple with a higher chance of having the perfect texture. Growers love them as they are another long store apple. I like them for both eating and cooking. Producing a nice tartness for sauces, pies and tarts, they will work long cooked or lightly cooked.
Braeburn cross breed with Gala in New Zealand was launched in 2007. The new Jazz apple, also trade marked and heavily hyped for its wondrous abilities of long storage, perfect shape, crisp skin and crunchy texture (no claim of tasting like lollies here), they have been taken up residence in supermarkets quickly. Look them up on line and you can get info about the media company who launched them at a media event in Auckland and what supermarkets take them all over the world. A strange thing for an apple but it feels like Jazz has rock star status.

Obviously the trade marking is all part of the gig now but is it really necessary? ?Did all of those growers one hundred years ago think that trade marking their find would save their variety? What stops someone else coming along and cross breeding the same thing and calling it something else?
After my research and taste testing I am still left feeling unsatisfied by the apple. Has the excessive long shelf life got something to do with this? Or is it those annoying stickers that I have to pull off before I bite? Or is it the fact that the perfect russetting, shape and size just makes me feel like I am eating something that isn't real at all? ?The questions will remain for now and my disillusionment has just grown that little bit larger. I look forward to the media launch of another trade marked super star apple soon.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Last of Summer-a weekend away March 2011

This year it has been a snap change to the air temperature. It is officially autumn and it all happened when we were having a weekend away at Te Whanahu.
The long drive to get out of the city was worth it in the end but the rain kept us indoors most of time. I popped out to gather some herbs, talk with the chickens and gather some tomatoes to start making dinner (one I have posted before....deliciously creamy polenta with beef and pork meatballs) so took a few pics of Cathy's wonderfully abundant garden.

Cathy's tomatoes are fearing much better than mine which are on their last legs. They made a beautiful sauce that I slow cooked for about 2 hours.I added a handful of super fragrant basil too for that real summer flavour.



These baby deep purple aubergines I eyed up thinking of my new eggplant and pork dish that I seem to be making an awful lot lately in the name of recipe testing. Ill post that soon...when Ive perfected it.

But this I am intrigued to cook with to see what results I get.Cardamom! No fruit as yet but the leaves are so fragrant you just need to brush your hand over them to get a perfumed aroma that is simply fantastic. I  can imagine adding a leaf into rice for a subtle perfumed result that would work well with spiced meat sauces and really creamy rice desserts. Ill report back when I have had the chance to play.The fruit forms at the base of the plant under all of those leaves so Ill have to keep an eye out to see if Cathy has any success at all on the fruit front. I suspect it would be too cold and damp though but we can be hopeful.











Sunday, 6 March 2011

End of Summer Figs and Quince -March 2011

Figs and Quince signal the end of summer and coming feast of autumn delights ahead.

We have a laden fig tree at home so Lisa and I went on a wee harvesting mission and baked ourselves a yum but healthyish dessert that can be made in minutes.

Quince is an ancient fruit that has a realtively short season. Covered in downy fluff, it needs to be peeled and cored and then sliced either finely as we need it for our dessert or chunky where it can be added to meaty slow cooked dishes in a manner that is more of the Middle East-fruits and meats together in the tagine to slowly cook and soften. I have also added quince to trays of roasted parsnip and potatoes to serve alongside pork and lamb to give a lovely sweet note to your roast.

If you look about your neighbourhood you are bound to find a fig tree sititng there laden with no one harvesting it. They pop up everywhere but do need a bit of care and attention to get them fruit successfully enough that the fruit is a good size and it is juicy enough to be worthwhile.

Figs are one of those fruits that are almost better dried so I di like them roasted in the oven to intensify their flavours and it makes them all jammy and oozy too.

For this dessert I use LSA-a mix of ground almonds, sesame seeds and and Linseed seeds which is very healthy but actually quite yum too. I add it to smoothies but it is excellent o have on hand for fast crumble like toppings. Add some butter, a little flour and cocnut and you have one tasty and very rich topping.

Late Summer Fig and Quince Bake
10-15 figs, halved
1 quince, peeled and sliced finely
3 thick strips of lemon zest, finely sliced
handful LSA
2 tablespoons manuka honey
handful sliced almonds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar (I used jaggery freshly grated as I like the intense malty taste)

Place the quince in the bottom of a saucepan and add the figs, lemon and manuka honey with about 1cm of water.
Place on a high heat and cook for 3-4 mins.
Remove and arrange the fruit into a flat cake pan or baking dish.
Pour in any juices
Sprinkle over the LSA, almonds, cinnamon and sugar
Bake at 180 C in a preheated oven for 15 mins.
Serve with thick Greek style yoghurt.



Monday, 14 March 2011

Chinese New Year-Auckland Lantern Festival Feb 2011

Lantern Festival-Auckland Feb 2011

The Lantern Festival in Auckland each year is a highlight for the city. I love the vibe that happens-we feel like a city that actually enjoys our multicultural nature! I love that it is such a mix-grandmas with babies, kids, teenagers seemingly enjoying the fact that the city is alive and buzzing, food galore and lanterns alight. The growth in the festival goers each year is a great sign I feel that we are more accepting of what Auckland has become. I cant believe what I am told and read in local papers that people feel we are being 'over run' with Asian migrants and that they are taking all of our jobs! Such nonsense. I love the fact that we are growing into an extension of Asia-a far flung paradise to come and play in and a place to bring your family to enjoy a totally differnt way of life.
Naturally Im all for more amazing resturants offering real regoional food from where ever it may be so it is such a joy to see that the festivals food offerings have extended to a whole street of Asian delights.


I wish we could have this every weekend! People wandering and slurping away on young coconuts, noodles piled high in flimsy dishes, the sound of tools scraping the side of hard at work woks, steamers stacked ten high puffying out plumes of delicious smelling steam, massive jelly drinks with giant straws, kebabs seasoned with cumin, spicy satay, sushi and teppanyaki, chive pancakes bubbling at their golden sides ready to flip,  the chant of a hawker (so odd in English) and the smell of oil in the air.

 Lantern Festival food stall-Auckland Feb 2011

The New Year in Asia is a family time. Travelling back home to be with your family, to share the stat of a new year with food, remeberance of those past and to enjoy a break from everyday life. View any on line newspaper in Adia over those weeks and youll see what chaos the movement of millions of people can do for any infastructure.  Many all over Asia travel vast distances to reach their family homes to begin the process of creating food for the family. Special dishes are prepared that are eaten but once a year, the family pig is slaughtered, liquor is drink and any babies that are born over this time are thought as truly special.Marriages occur, for this is the most prosperous time for a good marriage to be sealed.

It is also a time of offering at the temple. Families come to offer insence and pray for the year ahead.In the end of winter cold of Shanghai, the temples were filled to the max with families gathering together in the haze of fragrant temple incense, showing their young ones how to offer incense to the four corners. It is a ritual to watch and to be part of. Its a peaceful place to sit for a few hours, watch the coming and going of generations, listening to the chanting in the distance behind closed doors from monks who you see in full robes looking serene whilst chatting on cell phones.

I always enjoy the complete difference of temples through Asia-each has their own such different vibe from Daoist Chinese to Zen Buddhist, the calm factor goes from a complete 10 of total saturation to the madness and bursting colour of temples in Hong Kong thick with chocking incense and a calm factor of negative 10!

The ancient uninhabited and peacefully airee crumbling temples of old Thailand alongside Bangkok's new and flashy, golden animals galore, noise and dirt of new temples crammed with every concievable form of godly bodies.Turn a corner and you are visually overwhelmed by a Hindu temple stacked high with tounge poking dieties, beautifully formed and coloured, a truly ancient air about it that dates further back than anything you will see. The street itself a wash in waterlilies and marigolds threaded together and being sold by small girls with kohled eyes. The serentiy of a temple garden in Japan, paths lined in moss and the gentle sound of swaying bamboo in the distance matches the hushed tones of the visitors around you in. The ancient chanting one may be lucky enough to hear at a larger Japanese temple accompanied by instrumentation for a traditional wedding ceremony is so solemn and has none of the gayiety of a westen wedding. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up as you pass by hoping for a glimpse of what is happening behind the sliding doors.Chance upon a Zen temple deep in a wooded glade off the Philosopher's Path in Kyoto and you may forget that just down the hill is a the busy day to day life of Japan.Total quiet but for birds, moss covers the floor as if a carpet and not a monk to be found.

Walk from a wet market in Hong Kong but ten paces into the crowded temples thick with incense coils binger than most houses, the gawdy colours matching well with the tropical fruits piled high on altars, the thack, thack of fortune tellers throwing sticks to plying their trade.Why even bother taking that offering out of it's polystyrine tray? Just leave it as it is! The very nature of it is everyday-its the temple you pop into as you pass.

The wonderful factor that religious observence doesnt have to be in a singular manner but can be joyous, solemn, quiet to the point of complete serentiy, outrageous and almost confused makes for an interesting study of people and their beliefs.

Chinese New Year -Shanghai Feb 2010

Chinese New Year -Shanghai Feb 2010

Foods that appear at the table over the New Year are all symbolic, representing health, wealth and prosperity for the year ahead. Whether it be in name or in appearance all foods have to riff on this theme. Noodles are left long (and difficult to eat) to represent long life, whole chickens complete with head and feet symbolise completeness, whole fish for abundance and togetherness as the word for fish 'Yu' sounds the same as the words for abundance and wish. Buns and dumplings galore -as we all love those for any occassion-need to be hand made and stuffed.The list is long and diverse bewteen regional groups but all means a great deal of work for those in the kitchen.

No white foods such as tofu are eaten as white is the colour of death and misfortune. Bright pink, reds, gold and yellows abound in decorations about the house, in fruits, clothing and garnishes for dishes.This year is Year of the Rabbit too so I have spotted some beautifully formed rabbit creations made from sponge, jelly and carrot so far this year.Ill keep an eye out for more that I can share with you.

Happy New year to all-enjoy the year ahead and I wish you all prosperity and luck for 2011.




Sunday, 20 February 2011

New Year's Day Paella-January 2011

New Years Day Paella


New Year's Day paella was the pick to help soak up some of the free flowing organic wine made by Peter and it helped to be outdoors cooking on the portable gas hob. A cooking show of around an hour and then we had a nice simple paella of saffron, prawns, chorizo and cavolo nero from the garden. I like to add some extra touches of taste-heaping handfuls of herbs, textural additions such as halved cherry tomatoes, and naturally if you have several forms of pork then I think it can only be better for it.


Almost ready to eat!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Sunday Laksa January 2011

Laksa sunday Jan 2011

A long weekend presented itself for a gathering of friends and with that always comes food!
We call it an 'Open Door' but the principle is simple. Pop in, stay for a while, stay all night.....its come as you are, when you can and catch up. Busy lives don't have much time for such things it seems these days so what better way to reunite than over good food with good friends both new and old.
We like to be able to theme our eating-a habit that has formed from being way to involved in the food industry, so most occasions revolve around a dish or a desire to eat something rather specific.
We decided as we are on a South East Asian stint still that why not make a communal Laksa.

Laksa has two formats. One is the classic Singapore Laksa or Laksa Lemak that most people who think Laksa will think of. Thick and enriched with coconut milk, it a spicy and wonderfully warming with a heap of rice noodles and prawns thrown in for good measure and extra flavour.
The second format is a Penang Laksa which is a thinner but more fragrant broth made from fish stock and has strong sweet sour qualities. It's a soup that feels restorative with all of those intense flavours.
I like both but I think for fun interactive food I like the Singapore version as it can be a build your own creation.

I start with the basics of South East Asian which we know to be a balance of sweet, salty, sour. I also have over time made some changes that I enjoy and whilst not at all traditional I feel they work for me and for the palates of those I cook for. I use two chicken frames to make my base stock as I find most people can find a fish stock quite confrontational. Sometimes I will add fish stock or a fish frame to the mix but again I find that the taste can taint the cleanness of the chicken. Totally personal, but what part of cooking isn't?

Cheating is another way of getting this beautifully comforting dish down to a mere twenty to thirty minute mid week meal. Using a good quality Laksa paste is not shameful at all and the enhancements you can make then go a long way to giving it your own flavour. Good for good quality pastes with no preservatives or colourants and I suggest one made in Singapore is a good start.

Yes I know this looks like a typical Michal recipe with ten thousand ingredients but bear with me. The base is the easiest part and as there are three components to this you can do each separately and then bring them all together. Make a triple batch of your paste when you have time and have it in the fridge in a jar ready to go as that is the messiest and time consuming part really.

Laksa sunday Jan 2011

Laksa Lemak or Singapore Laksa

 2 chicken frames, washed
2 sticks lemon grass, ends bashed and tops trimmed
1 lemon, halved
1 onion, peeled and halved
3 tomatoes, halved
3 cm piece of galangal, grated
3cm piece of turmeric, grated

Place all ingredients into a large saucepan and cover with 2 litres of water.
Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for at least 1 hour.
Drain through a colander to collect all the liquids and set aside. Discard the solids.
This step can be done well in advance and even frozen to use as needed.

Make a paste in a food processor of:
Bunch of coriander leaf and roots, well washed
2 cm piece lemongrass, trimmed and chopped finely
2 tablespoons powdered turmeric
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 red chilli, chopped
2 tablespoons dried shrimps, re-hydrated in warm water for 20mins
3 tablespoons fish sauce

Combine all ingredients in a food processor till it forms a paste using a little water to make a thick paste.

In another heavy based saucepan, heat a little oil and add the paste.
Fry the mix till it just begins to brown and is smelling very aromatic.
Add the chicken stock and mix well.
Simmer for 20 mins at least, stirring occasionally.
Add 1 can of coconut milk and simmer very gently.

Taste and season as needed-a little sugar, salt, more fish sauce and a dash or two of fresh lime juice goes a very long way. Balance is the key so you should be able to taste all elements.

To assemble:
This is the fun part where you can use anything you like to top your big bowl of Laksa.
Classic Lemak Laksa has two vital toppings. One is fish balls-finely minced fish rolled into balls and steamed and dried tofu puffs. Both make such great toppings as they have very different textures. The tofu puffs soak up loads of flavour so every mouthful is a complex and textural experience. These you can get where ever you get fresh good quality tofu. The fish balls I admit I don't bother making myself anymore. We are lucky enough to have them available at any Asian supermarket made with fresh fish and they are the perfect firm, bitey texture that I can never achieve at home. At $4 odd dollars a pack you can buy them for far less than the cost to make them.
Laksa sunday Jan 2011
1 pack fried tofu puffs, each puff sliced thinly into strips
1 pack fresh fish balls, each ball halved
Handful fresh coriander, chopped well
Bunch fresh mint, chopped well
2 spring onions, trimmed and sliced finely
Handful Vietnamese mint, chopped finely
3 cups peanuts, toasted and crushed roughly (do this in the food processor for speed rather than a mortar and pestle)
Fresh or defrosted raw prawns (I stir-fry these in a heap of garlic, ginger and sesame oil first but you can add them raw as they will cook in the soup quickly)
Chicken-again I stir-fry this in the same wok as I have done the prawns so there is a heap of flavour in there caramelising its way into my chicken
Lemon quarters

Laksa noodles are a particular round noodle rather than flat but these are hard to find. I use vermicelli, softened in boiled water for 20 mins or so. You could also use a nice fresh soft rice noodle.

Short of having some cart you can push out to your diners you can make just as much theatre in the kitchen by laying out all your toppings in bowls and bringing your diners to the kitchen. A little explanation may be needed but basically it is a free for all so let them work it out.  
Bring your laksa soup back to a boil. The soup must be super hot otherwise all your toppings will be cold.
You can ask each diner to make there own by starting with vermicelli then add whatever they feel on top. Finish each bowl with a ladle or two of soup to heat all the toppings. You could heat the fish balls and the tofu puffs through first if you like here whether it be in the microwave or in the soup then having them in a bowl ready to add.
Eat with a squeeze of lemon, drizzle of chilli oil if you wish or sesame oil infused with chillies.
Laksa sunday Jan 2011

Laksa sunday Jan 2011


Unfortunately it still means at the end of the night you are usually the only one left to clean up but its a holiday tomorrow so another chnace to cook something delicious!!

Laksa Sunday -end of the Night

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Lemongrass-January 2011

Lemongrass is one of those essential summer herbs that I resent paying for. I open the pack and inevitably they are dry and well passed it in comparison to the hardier stuff you see all over the Asian continent. I have worked out that a plant is the way to go. I got mine from my mother in law who simply ripped some out of her tough Coromandel soil and put into the boot of the car and now it thrives in my garden, growing taller by the second and being mauled by my intrigued cat.

The Thais call it takrai, the Mala, serai and Vietnamese, Xi, and surprisingly enough it is grown in Israel, South and Central America, Africa, India and Australia as a cash crop. In Sri Lanka it is used merely as a wind break on tea plantations. Interestingly, it is grown in Thailand as part of an on going project to move farmers away from opium crops into sustainable farming with the government guaranteeing outlets for these crops.

Propagated just as my own plant was-detached pieces from an established clump and replanted, it seems to me that all cooks should have a wee clump in their kitchen garden to work with. The Thai people say it keeps snakes away so that has to be a good thing. Apparently it doesn't like cold or too much wet but I haven't seen any noticeable damage to my own plant during the cooler months.

A replacement for the lack of lemons in South East Asia, its distinct flavour really can't be replicated. Intensely perfumed, tangy and on occasion bitter, it brings a zest to the traditional dishes of its home region.

The preparation of lemongrass can be a little tricky but done once, you will know what to do. The flavour one gets from fresh as opposed to dried, shredded or even preserved in brine is far superior.
If you are simmering lemongrass in a dish such as a Thai inspired soup, pound the root end with a pestle or meat mallet to break up the cells to allow that flavour giving oil on the inside to begin doing its thing.
Add it to the liquid part to simmer away quietly and pick it out once you are ready to serve.
For a salad or dish that calls for sliced lemongrass, more preparation is needed.
Peel off the outer layers of flesh. These are very fibrous and can be very distracting to your diners when stuck in their teeth. The pale yellow lower portion of the stem will be very tender and easy to slice and is what you will be working with so cut the remainder off and either discard or freeze for adding a little flavour to soups, sugar syrups (great for cocktails!) or even infused sugars for baking.
Finely sliced, it will release those really intense oils and be soft enough to add to salads, pastes and stir fries.
The suggestion is made by some to try slicing it finely in your food processor but I either have a terrible food processor or just not the right blades as it doesn't seem to work for me. It may be worth a go if you are working on a paste.

When purchasing, look for leaves that are bright in colour and a bunch that has a good heavy weight to it. These are both indicators that the lemongrass is not dried out on the inside. Some of your outer leaves will be semi dried but stay clear of those that look really dry and old. Naturally, the older and drier they are the more fibrous it will be when you cut it making for an unpleasant eating experience.
Bunches will keep happily in your fridge for weeks or pop into the freezer, well wrapped for those times when you cant find any about at all.

The Chinese use lemongrass to treat coughs and colds and throughout Asia it is used in baths to reduce swelling, improve blood circulation and treat wounds and cuts as an antiseptic. An aid to digestion and an anti-flatulent, a simple tea of bruised lemongrass stalks steeped in hot water is very refreshing.  
In the West it has been adopted for similar uses due to its antiseptic nature in soaps, creams and lotions, even air sprays as fresheners. Aromatherapy oils combine it as a high note to help circulation and muscle tone but it is thought to help headaches and even to help as an anti-depressant, reducing lethargy and stress.

On a finishing note, it is also closely related to the citronella family so as an oil, it works well as an insect repellent also.

What a wonder herb giving us so much taste and aid in our lives!

Monday, 17 January 2011

In the Garden-Tomatoes in January 2011

The race is on ! Every summer it seems that people all decide to be the gardeners that they wish they were all year round and start the tomato race of the summer. The work place conversation goes from what are you eating to how big are your tomatoes?
I like that we live in a pretty reasonable climate to be able to pot up a few plants and actually have them bear fruit. This year we have gone for a mass of tomatoes-cherry, Roma, beefsteak and some oddities that have just sprung up out of the ground likely from last years harvest.
All in all a pretty healthy lot that have been helped along with some worm juice from Catherine (if you can bear the wriggling a worm farm is fantastic for your vegetables. If you have a keen gardening friend they may also be happy to part with some for you) and a little tomato food.
So after a number  of weeks of close monitoring, watering and talking sweet nothings to them we finally had a harvest that was large enough to cook with. It seems only reasonable to make something so typically Italian and tomato focused so we settled on a classic Puttanesca.

The origins of Puttanesca are a little unclear but there are any number or tales as to why it is called what it is. There is evidence that suggests a chef created the dish when late night diners showed up demanding they be feed and all he had was a few basics that were thrown together. The Italian word for whore is puttana so I like to think of this as being something hot and fast-a dish that maybe can be thrown together quickly but with maximum taste in the same amount of time that a seasoned professional might take to get the job done.
What ever the origins I believe you need the best quality ingredients you can lay your hands on for this really fast dish. The purity of flavor is all important so no point I think wasting time on cheap quality anchovies, capers or olives. In winter I use the best quality tinned tomatoes I can find (I do really like using tinned cherry tomatoes for this) otherwise the ripest vine ripened tomatoes from your garden.
Some recipes call for garlic, some without, some add no onion, some add chilli....this is just my way.

3-4 cloves garlic peeled and crushed finely
10-12 large tomatoes, chopped or several handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved
2-3 anchovies
1 dried red chilli, finely sliced
6-7 black olives, stones removed and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons capers, washed

In a heavy based fry pan, heat a little oil and gently cook the garlic till aromatic on a medium heat-be careful not to burn
Add the anchovies and chilli and melt into the garlic
Add the tomatoes and any juice that has accumulated
Add the capers and olives and slowly cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
If you feel you don't have enough liquid, add a touch of water or white wine to keep things jammy.

Cook your spaghetti till al dente and remember that there is nothing like the softness of homemade pasta to win hands down over bought pasta
Drain reserving a touch of cooking water which can be added to the sauce
Check the sauce for seasoning and adjust as needed.The anchovies and olives add quite a good salty level so be careful not to over salt.
Lay spaghetti into bowls and pile on the sauce.
I particularly fond of this with a big handful of spicy rocket on top 

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Cooking with Persimmons April 2010

Everyone has quince paste with their blue cheese-why not persimmon paste instead. Works very well with goat's and sheep's milk cheeses.

Persimmon Paste
Slice a kilo of persimmons into quarters and place in a heavy based saucepan.
Add the zest and juice of 1 large lemon and add ½ cup of water.
Bring to the boil and reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 20 -25 minutes or until the persimmons are soft.
Remove from the heat and puree in a food processor to a smooth paste.
Return the puree in the saucepan and add the sugar, stirring over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
Continue to cook over a low heat, stirring regularly (try a long handled wooden spoon as the mix can spit) until the puree thickens and comes away from the base of the pan.

Pour into a shallow tray lined with non stick paper and spread to a thickness of about 12mm.
Allow to cool.
You can leave it dry out over a period of a few days but it will remain a little stickier than quince paste.
Store between layers of non stick paper in an airtight container.
Autumn Salad
Fresh new season walnuts combined with roasted root vegetables and roasted slices of persimmon.
Peel and slice 6 persimmons into eighths.
Place in an oven tray with a drizzle of sherry vinegar, a sprinkle of brown sugar and a little oil.
Bake for 10-15 minutes or just as the sugars are caramelizing.
Serve mixed through the roasted root vegetables with roasted walnuts and a good helping of salad leaves.
Dress with walnut or hazelnut oil and a little more sherry vinegar.

Roasted duck and pork are fantastic with persimmon.
Try roasting persimmons as for the autumn salad and serving alongside the meats. A traditional apple sauce can be spiked with persimmon puree for a richer, brighter flavour or serve a persimmon aioli with roasted pork and duck.
Persimmon Aioli
Whisk 2 free range egg yolks in a bowl or mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt
Whisk in 2 teaspoons persimmon paste or 1 roasted persimmon, well pureed and the juice of half a lime.
Slowly pour in a very thin stream ½ cup of olive or grapeseed oil, whisking all the time.
Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Chill till needed

Cured meats, with their salty taste and leathery texture, are a wonderfully different accompaniment to persimmon. One of my favourites is an easy and really tasty finger food.
Persimmon Salsa
Peel and very finely chopped 2 persimmons, 1 shallot and 1 pear
Toast and very finely chop 2 tablespoons hazelnuts
1 teaspoon toasted and freshly ground coriander seed 
Add the juice of 1 lemon
Season with pepper and salt and mix through a little olive oil to lubricate.
Mix well and allow to sit for up to 1 hour for the flavours to infuse
Lay out very finely sliced pieces of smoked pork, venison or beef and top with the persimmon salsa.
Serve with a dry sherry.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Hanami in the sunshine-Spring Blossom Festival September 2010

Hanami Food September 2010

Hanami September 2010

Spring is a time of festivals all over the world.
The Japanese celebrate it with your usual enthusiasm and vigor.
Daily reports on TV run to inform all of how the cherry blossoms are doing that year so everyone can plan their Hanami-Cherry Blossom Viewing parties.
Its a time of travel to see family, to get married, to have babies and generally think of the hot summer to come. It still cold in most areas of Japan at this time so food plays an important tole in making you warm as does the plentiful warm sake in flasks that dot people's picnic rugs in parks everywhere.

We haven't made it to Japan in Spring yet but saw just the merest glimpse of the beauty of thousands of cherry blossoms all in flower at once when we were there at the very end of winter.You can see why it is celebrated as it is so ridiculously over the top and beautiful. There is an almost fake fluffiness about it all but when you are sitting looking at a grove of over a thousand trees at an ancient temple, one can get a little emotional.

So back at home we have our own Hanami thanks to a local park having their own grove of cherry cherry tress that burst into flower like clock work one week after my birth day in late September.
A chance to enjoy the sun that has been sorely missed over winter, to catch up with friends and naturally to all bring some delicious treat we have been savoring lately, it is a wonderfully relaxing afternoon.


Sunday, 6 February 2011

$3.99/kg Tomato Sauce -April 2010

Making Sauce

My friend Lisa and I committed ourselves to the joys of bottling and decided it has high time to use the bottles we had been collecting over winter for a classic tomato sauce creation that we could enjoy over summer.
Admittedly we hadn't done that well on the growing front so we ended up with a sauce that we called our "$3.99/kg Tomato Sauce".

A visit to some of our favorite vegetable stores locally supplied us with what we needed-10kg of nice ripe  beefsteak tomatoes and 3 kg of good tart cooking apples. It is not s recipe you want to make in the middle of winter when tomatoes skyrocket to over $10 kg and if we had been really organized we would have been reaping the rewards from our gardens rather then relying on someone else's green fingers.
Back home to begin the process, we debated the whole peeling and seeding process but instead decided to just throw it all in the pot and strain it later.
We cooked off the onions first a touch to soften them and help release their natural sweetness then added handfuls of tomato and apple and allowed them reduce down before adding another handful.
We opted for a touch of spice in the way of smoked paprika. I enjoy its smoky hint and I feel it is such a perfect partner to tomatoes but lIsa felt that next time she would prefer to go without so each to their own. Even the same quantity of hungarian unsmoked paprika would bring out a more musky tone in the tomatoes adding a little more depth if you aren't looking for smoke at all.
The whole cooking process took around 4 hours of gentle stirring, reducing, reasoning. You need to get it thick enough to be worth your while when it comes out of the bottle and flavorsome enough that it will stand up to the flavors of a big gutsy sausage.
The second part took a little more man power and clean up. We strained the whole lot through a medium sieve to get rid of the skins and seeds so a great deal of spoon work and strong arms. It seems such a waste to throw all that tomato and apple goodness away too so we recommend a compost bin or worm farm friend to hand it all over to.
The resulting sauce though was beautifully rich with alight tartness of the apple and smoke from the paprika. Thick enough to coat well whatever it is that we may be eating as well as runny enough to get out of the bottle and not have to be renamed a chutney.

A hard days labour of about 6 hours total once we sterilized, packed and wiped down but so rewarding when we broke it out 6 weeks later and tried it.

Beautiful photos by Lisa H. I like there Kodak 1977 feel.
Making Sauce
$3.99/kg Tomato Sauce

10kg ripe preferably vine ripened tomatoes, washed and chopped  roughly
3kg tart cooking apples, deseeded and chopped roughly
5 onions, peeled and chopped finely
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2-3 teaspoons smoked sweet paprika (optional)
2-3 tablespoons white sugar

In a large heavy based pot or two smaller sized pots, soften the onions in a little grape seed oil.
Add handfuls of tomatoes and apples and allow to soften and reduce a bit before adding the reminder on a medium heat.
Stir well at intervals and keep an eye not he heat so it done not burn or catch at any stage.
after 1 hour cooking, add in the sugar and paprika, stirring well to help the sugar dissolve.
Cook for another 2 hours, stirring often.
Check for seasoning and add the above amount of salt and pepper. Taste and adjust as needed for your tomatoes and taste.
Cook for a total of 4 hours.
Sterilise your bottles either in the oven or in a pot of boiling water-dont forget to sterilize the lids too!
Strain the sauce through a sieve, discarding all the skins and seeds. Push through as much sauce as you can from the skins so you aren't wasting anything.
Pour into bottles and I use the overflow method to get rid of excess air. Place the lids onto and tap them gently to again break up any air bubbles.
Store for at least 6 weeks in a  cool dark place before trying. 

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Maori Potatoes and Weekend Piggy September 2010

Maori Potatoes

On a rare weekend off I ventured to see the in-laws with my husband Chris at their wonderfully magic home in Coromandel. Lucky enough to live on kiwi sanctuary in a vast acreage of New Zealand native bush, they live the quiet life of ramshackle hippies. Well not quite but they have an air about them of content that I envy.

Commotion is rare when you have the songful chorus of the tui and the scurrying bodies of quail passing you by but commotion does come in the form of pigs. Wild pigs have a large area that they roam and that roaming comes at a cost to the surrounding bush. Ploughed areas of land can be seen all over and in the garden at my parents I have witnessed it.

Looking like a rather compact tractor has just worked its way through the bush, the tracks they leave are extensive and can cause a huge amount of damage. Lucky they can call on the skills of the local pig hunter who with little more than nod dispatches said pigs to piggy heaven with the help of his muscular but very beautiful pig dogs.

So the weekend we showed up I was presented with a hunk of meat to prepare as I felt fit for a long weekend of winter eating.Marinated in port jelly with a touch of orange, I was a little concerned about what to do with the hunk.

Wild pig is very gamey and texturally can be challenging if not given the right slow treatment it needs to reduce it's intense flavor and tough meat. The wild burning stove is ideal for this purpose so it can bubble and gurgle away all day while it keeps you warm. The only other thing that is needed is a few tasty extras.

So we gumbooted up and off to the vegetable garden we went to see what was available. Catherine's garden is a fine affair with a ring around it for the chickens to run and eat all those nasty creatures that are trying to get into the garden and can be thrown out for them to eat. It certainly adds another element to the harvesting routine to be talking away to Marigold as she flicks her comb at you.

We hauled carrots fresh from the ground, some shallots, perpetual spinach, a leek or two, some palm kale (growing to quite a height, singular cleaves can be removed and allow the plant to keep growing more) and Maori potatoes. For those who don't have clue what a Maori potato is, they grow just the same as a potato growing long and leafy tops that need to be dug about in order to get to the gems below. They are a fantastic purple colour and retain that colour when cooked. They are far more starchy so not great for mashing as they can have quite a gluey consistency when the starch is worked that much. I add them in to stewy creations where they work well. The colour is always the thing that throws me though-The bright purple flesh and darker purple skin looked spectacular next to my red gumboots.

Back at the house a slow cooking big had the leeks finely chopped and added in as well as the carrots for some sweetness. I allowed ten hours for the pig to cook in nothing more than lemon zest and white wine so eventually it was mushy and super soft and then I added the kale finely chopped and the spinach.
Pasta on to boil, and a big handful of fresh Italian parsley added, it was ready to go to the table.
Not a bad piggy all round.

You could do the same with a shoulder of pork or if you are lucky enough to find some wild pork, even better.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Winter Eats with Polenta and Cavolo Nero-July 2010

Winter Eating-With Polenta and Cavolo Nero  
July 2010

I am definitely one for hibernation over winter. I am usually very content being in anyway but as soon as it hits around 4C outside I'm happy to be in with the cat but the heater.
Winter is easily the best time for cooking. Everyone goes on about summer cooking but hot weather isn't conducive to being inside and slaving away over something at the stove for hours. Winter cooking is all about slow cooking and also about having the time to wait for slow cut meats to do their own thing in the oven.

I have been singing the praises of beef shin at the moment-a great cheap cut that has all the flavour of bone in it also and comes alive after at least two hours of cooking.
I cook it simply with white wine, capers, lemon zest, salt and pepper and after it has melted down, I shred it and have it on homemade pasta with the best winter veg, cavolo nero. Luxurious!!
Cavolo can be hard to find but check out your local health food store. I always buy it from there as an organically grown number and it is wonderfully good and hearty for you. A member of the kale family, this type of greens have so much goodness naturally-iron, vitamin K and C, calcium and the much discussed sulforaphane which is said to have anti-cancer properties that are best bought out when the vegetable in question is chopped or minced. The only difference between cabbage and kale is that no head forms as it does with a cabbage so the leaves are looser but a great deal tougher in texture.
Said to have been the most common green in Europe through the Middle Ages, kale was a hearty favourite of the Romans and nowadays the Italians love it as much as I do. It is oddly enough closely related to Chinese Kai-Larn which has a similarly woody texture but more stalky and is far more bitter in taste. Also oddly, I think more people would recognise the kale in bouquets rather than at the vege store. It grows remarkably well in little soil and loves the cold so is used ornamentally by city councils everywhere.  
So my favourite ways with the kale or Cavolo Nero are all about keeping it simple.
As I mentioned, I add the chopped cavolo to my beef shin mix just before I serve it to allow to cook but some other ways are:

 Ribollita Soup -an Italian Classic just isn't the same with out a big handful of cavolo added to it. This truly wintery soup is all about what is stored away for the lean months so it is heavy with beans, left over old bread, tinned tomatoes, sometimes even a bacon hock or two but the cavolo is left in for quite a while to really cook through nicely.

Stir frying cavolo or kale with a heap of crushed garlic is possibly one of my favourite winter treats. Heat a little grape seed oil in a wok till just about smoking. Add 3-4 crushed garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon salt. I then add as much freshly washed, still damp cavolo as I can fit into the wok and mix it together well. Place a lid on the wok and allow the excess moisture on the leaves to steam it. Cook 2 minutes then remove the lid and dish out onto a plate.
I really enjoy this with other wintery delights such as good old mushrooms on toast, simple roast chicken, mash potato and a beautifully cooked piece of quality eye fillet....
It is very much a textural veg that should be enjoyed for the fact that is dark and chewy.
My other all time must make once a week favourite right now is meatballs on soft polenta with cavolo nero. I am a big fan of polenta but when talking with people I find that they think of it as very bland and gluggy. Made from corn, it has little to no nutrional quality at all but that certainly doesn't mean it has to be tasteless! I think of it as a vehicle for flavours as it sucks up anything you add to it. Parmesan and polenta are very good friends as is cream or any dairy for that matter and wine. It can be served wet as below or cooked and set then grilled or baked for another versatile addition to the table.
You will find it in several formats at any good food-store. One is a fast cooked version ready in a matter of minutes. This is almost like parboiled rice and is fine if you are short of time. The other formats require more stirring and are usually a coarse grain or a finer grain. Both require 25-30 minutes of your attention and an arm happy to stand and stir continuously for that period. Italians will likely tell you the way I make it wrong and somewhat sacrilegious but I like the way it turns out so I am happy.

Pork and Veal Meatballs on Soft Polenta with Cavolo Nero
Serves 6-8

For the sauce
3 tins quality chopped tomatoes
½ bottle red wine
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3 cloves garlic, crushed finely
2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped

In a deep and heavy based casserole dish, heat a little grape seed oil and add the onion and garlic to brown gently. Add the tomatoes, mixing all well and then pour in the wine. Add the salt and pepper and the mix. Allow to just boil then reduce the heat to a low simmer.

For the Meatballs
500g free range quality pork mince
500g quality ethical veal mince
2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds
1 lemon zested finely
6 cloves garlic, crushed finely

In a bowl mix the meats and other ingredients together well. Using very little pressure form meat balls approx 2.5cm in diameter and rest them on a plate. If you roll too tight the meatballs will be hard when cooked.  
Heat a fry pan with a little grape seed oil and add a layer of meatballs. The idea here is simply to brown, not cook through so be very gentle when you turn then to brown on each side. Remove as soon as they are browned and place into the tomato sauce.

Cook the sauce either on the stove or in the oven covered on a low heat for 2 hours. This part can be done well advance if you like and then reheated.
Once it is time to start assembling the meal itself, remove the lid of the meatballs and bring back to a simmer so a little excess liquid can reduce away.

For the polenta
250-300g fine grain polenta
200g butter
1.2-1.5 litres water (or stock)
250ml cream
200ml white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

In a separate heavy based saucepan heat the butter till melted. Add the polenta and mix well with the butter.
Add enough warm water to make a sluggy mix and stir. Keep stirring and add all the water, stirring wildly as you go. I use a whisk for this part as it easier to control.
Keep stirring and add the white wine. You will begin to see that the textures of the grains themselves are softening and the whole mass is looking less grainy.
After 15 minutes of good honest stirring I add the cream and stir well again. Make sure at this stage that you are being careful to stir fast enough t stop exploding bubbles of polenta hit you. They burn believe me!
Once you feel it is at a stage that each mouthful will be soft and wonderful and not grainy and gritty then you are done!
Take off the heat and stir though a good helping of freshly grated good parmesan and add pepper and salt to taste.

Tip the whole lot out onto a massive platter with a lid and make a well in the middle. Spoon in the meatballs and sauce and garnish with a big handful of freshly chopped Italian parsley and more black pepper.

To the side I add a big bowlful of just stir-fried cavolo nero (as above) and have on hand a rather large quantity of red wine and good friends.


Monday, 17 January 2011

Winter Lamb 2 Ways-Not your Average Sunday Roast August 2010

I was not bought up in a Sunday roast sort of a family.
What may have been considered crazy oddities were served to my brothers and me and Sunday dinner was not exception to the rule. While other families were settling down to a nice leg of lamb we may have been relishing the work my mother had put into create many dishes of home-style Chinese food.
I guess because of this I am a little daunted by the roast. That heavy long roasted meat with a selection of roasted vegetables in something that happens maybe once in a blue moon in my house now. I love a good roast chicken but roasted lamb and beef I leave to those who have had years to experiment to make there’s better than the terrifying version that were served to them as children who couldn’t say no.

 So when it comes to lamb I have learnt to cook it other ways and in order to take advantage of a special on beautiful fully NZ raised and processed lamb we had running at work recently I took a leg home for some experimentation.

Still a pretty expensive meat, lamb can be dealt with in many ways that makes it that little more cost effective to feed a family of get more than one meal from a leg joint.

So I worked on two recipes that are following that could feed a good sized group quite easily from just one lamb leg for either one meal or two. You can either use the whole leg diced or half of the meat for each recipe.

Red Dhal Lamb Curry
This takes a classic Thai red curry paste and mixes it with a little Indian influence to create a very rich curry that will be great for a cold winter night. This will sit well for a few days also in the fridge so perfect for a night later in the week when you know you’ll be over cooking and you can just pull this one out. Freezes very well too but just omit the spinach and add that in when you reheat the meat and dhal thoroughly.

Serves either 6 or 3-4

To make the curry paste:
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 mace blade (see notes following)
2 teaspoons ajowain (see notes following)
½ teaspoon fenugreek
3 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground garam masala
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 shallots, peeled
3 stalks lemongrass, peeled and hard stalky parts removed and discarded
2 cm piece galangal, grated (see notes following)
2 cm piece turmeric, grated (see notes following)

Toast the fennel, cumin, mace, ajowain and fenugreek in a dry pan till they just begin to colour. Remove immediately and place in a food processor with the remaining dry spices.

Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to combine to begin with then process till a paste forms.
Add a little water if needed to help create a thick consistency in which the lemongrass is not too chunky.
Heat a fry pan with a little oil and once heated add the spice paste.
Cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally for 20minutes.

For the Lamb
1.5kg leg of lamb (or half the lamb if you are making both recipes)
1 cup red dhal or any other dhal that you like, well washed and rinsed in three or four rinses of cold water
2 big handfuls fresh washed spinach

Remove the meat from the bone, removing any excess fat or sinew.
Dice into 2cm pieces and set aside.

Heat another fry pan with a little oil and brown the meat in batches removing it as soon as it has browned so as to not over cook and toughen it.
Set aside.

Once the paste has cooked for 20 minutes tip into a larger heavy based bottom pot or casserole type dish and add the lamb.
Add the dhal and cover all with water and place on a medium heat.
Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Add the spinach and mix through.
Serve with steamed basmati or plain white rice and roti bread

Ajowain is a spice that has a similar appearance to cumin but a smaller grain size. It is used in Indian curries and is available from most good Indian spice merchants. It has a distinct licorice tone that adds a lovely extra element of flavour. If you are not able to find it just omit it.

Mace blades can be hard to find but if you do find them they are worth it. Look at good speciality food stores or try online. They have a fantastically bright floral orange scent when they are fresh and a soft burnt orange colour. Powdered nutmeg can not be used as a replacement here I am sorry but if you do have whole fresh nutmegs then a fresh grating would suffice.

Galangal and Turmeric can be found frozen at a good Asian supermarket. They generally are very cheap (about $2.50 for a large packet) and keep in the freezer well. Just take out a knob and grate as much as you need and return it to the freezer.
Powdered turmeric does not have the same floral tone that you need for this so replace both galangal and turmeric with 2cm piece of fresh ginger instead. Keep an eye out for them both though as they are invaluable for Thai, Vietnamese and even Chinese dishes. 

Greek Slow Cooked Lamb
I love a good casserole slow cooked to bring out the intensely rich flavours.
This can be done ahead of time and the final touches added for an easy dinner party recipe.

1.5kg leg of lamb (or half the lamb if you are making both recipes)
1 red onion, peeled and diced
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely crushed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
2 teaspoon Sicilian oregano or wild oregano
1 teaspoon tomato paste
4 anchovies
12 or so cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup sour cream or crème fraiche 

Dice the lamb meat removing any sinew or excess fat.
Heat a fry pan with a little oil and add the onions and garlic and cook on a low heat till softened for 5 minutes.
Add the spices and herbs, mixing well and cooking for a further 4-5 minutes.
Tip all into a casserole dish and return the fry pan to the heat.
Add the lamb and brown well.
Add the tomato paste and anchovies, mixing well.
Add the halved tomatoes and enough water to just about cover the lamb.
Place a lid on the lamb and cook on a medium heat for 1 hour or until the lamb is soft and yielding.
To serve add the sour cream or crème fraiche and mix well.

I like to serve this just on rice with a few good quality kalamata olives thrown in right at the end but you could try in on pasta also or even mash for a really wintery comfort number.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Tartiflette-The best of winter eating August 2010

Surely there is no better time to consume the good fatty and delicious treat that is baked cheese in the depths of a cold and dark winter?
I never need an excuse to be decadent I have to admit but when it comes to the simple delights of cheese-hot , gooey and spreadable over potatoes with lardons-well nothing more needs to be said in my humble opinion.

So I found myself a few weeks ago amidst a French Market Day of my own making with my friend Gilles-cheesemonger to all who understand the finer things in life in many instances come from France and are made from the milk of wonderfully delicious beasts, that we were standing looking down at several kilos of sliced and partially cooked Agria potatoes, fine pork chunks that would make any piggy proud of its tummy fat and nicely sliced and slowly cooked onions. Gilles gently placed a fine sized chunk of tratiflette on top of this simple peasant creation and into the oven it went to melt and make a dish that is simply known as tartiflette and is named after the cheese itself.

Originating in the Savoie region of France, well known for the wondrous cheeses they produce, comes this rather simple dish.
Tartiflette is apparently a word that is thought to come from the Franco-Provencal dialect word for potato “tartifla”. This is a language that was and still is to some extent spoken in France, Italy and Switzerland so you can start to get a feel for a weird sort of mix here of people, all making beautiful cheese, coming together to create the finest dish mankind has perhaps ever seen. Now, I have to admit that this is a totally non traditional dish invented by some true genius back in the 80’s-not the 1880’s-the 1980’s so it is so brand spanking new for France it is sort of absurd. I feel though that the idea someone didn’t just do this anyway well before then is just down right silly. With all those potatoes hanging about, fine pig products and cheese, someone somewhere would have thought to do this so I am not that willing to accept that as the original date of creation.
Made using Reblochon cheese from the Arvais valley, you can easily swap that out for all sorts of other cheeses on hand.

Reblochon dates way back to the 13th century –when we know full well that both potatoes and pigs walked the earth-and is a beautiful example of an unpasteurised cheese for this region. Not so wonderful for us here in New Zealand, we have to make do with pasteurised formats of this cheese so we laid up some fine slabs of Tartiflette which has a charming orange wrapper and a fine, fine picture of what your desired cheesy dish will look like on it. Fine value too I think for just $19.99 for a nice 250g piece for washed rind goodness all the way from France. We also were able to substitute another great pasteurised cheese called Prefere des Nos Montagnes. With a delicate washed rind and really oozing body, this is a fine table cheese anyway but once heated it tales on a magical quality.

So getting down to your own tartiflette!!

For one cheese you will need
3-4 peeled Agria or similar starchy potatoes
1 white onion peeled and sliced finely
A nice 80-100g chunk of diced bacon but preferably a nice diced chunk of speck or pancetta
Glass of white wine
2 tablespoons crème fraiche

Slice the potatoes finely and cook them till just done. Drain and set aside to cool-do not rinse!
In a little oil, sweat the onions till really softened
Add the bacon or pancetta pieces and cook gently for a few minutes
Butter a gratin dish well
Lay up half the potatoes in the dish and lay some onions and pancetta pieces on top
Lay more potatoes on top
Spread the crème fraiche on top
Halve the cheese and lay over the top of the dish
Add the white wine drizzling it around the dish
Bake in preheated 220-250 C oven till bubbling and browning

Eat immediately with more wine, crusty French stick and if you feel you should, a little salad.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Spring at Last! September 2010

Spring has to be enjoyed for the sheer abundance of life springing forth.
The blossoms are out, the birds are singing, the sun is even shining on occasion! It makes you feel that little bit better about life and that summer is actually on its way at long last.
The long winter rain this year has been hard on veggie growers and the wash out of potato crops and leeks has bought procces up but I am sure that with just a few days of sun this will help immensely.
I am ready for the change of season for sure and am looking forward to some of my favorites in the garden to appear.

Snow Peas-mine have produced a few little babies from those wonderfully delicate white flowers and the mass of curly hair. I have them in a pot and they are totally happy. Watch out for snails though-they love those tender curly tendrils that are great in salads at this time of year
Asparagus-popping their little feathery heads up the asparagus season is happening! Such a great vegetable that is all about itself, why do stuff to it when you just don't have to! Steamed, stir fried, just with butter or hollandaise...yummy . I enjoy a good asparagus dip too which I make from offcuts that are a bit woody for tender eating. Steam it very briefly, churn it in the food processor with toasted pistachios, some roasted garlic and lemon juice and you have a fine spread that also works well on fish when grilled.
Peas-much like snow peas they are super sweet so need very little attention.
Sprouts like brocollini start being really coming int o their own taste wise. They are so good for you but easily ruined by over cooking. Chinese cabbages with nickeling stems and a firmer body to them are very much the same as brocolllini but can be a little more bitter. Try them with Italian dishes for a similar taste to brocollini and more bitter veg such as kale.
New Potatoes start appearing too and there is nothing like that firm little oval to roast or boil. We have always had a tradition in my family home of having new potatoes that were sent to us from my grandfather's vegetable patch in Christchurch as a Chinese dish called new potato and lettuce. It comprises of stir fried finely cut belly pork or bacon, fermented brown soy beans and soy marinated and then stir fried and cooked with new potatoes and a little water till softened. We then take spoonfuls and eat them out of fresh crunchy lettuce leaves. Its a reminder of the coming summer season for me every time.

Besides the veggie garden spring also means spring lamb for us in New Zealand. Real spring lamb is very tender and lightly colored. It is much more mild in flavor so is a nice intro to the season when matched with these more delicate flavors mentioned above. Not cheap, it is worth the outlay for a real old fashioned lamb roast with all the trimmings.
Spring also sees the arrival of the long awaited white bait and scallop season in New Zealand. Both are so very New Zealand they are celebrated with festivals and a real welling of joy for the traditional ways of the everyday New Zealander who once would have been right there with their whitebait net out or diving for scallops.
The year for scallops last year was pretty poor and this year hasn't been that much better so far but I cant help think that this perhaps is punishment for all those years of pillaging on mass. There will certainly come a point where there will just be no 'new season' anything from the sea.
Not being a massive fan of either I am happy to live without but I have to say if I did just happen to have a good old fashioned white bait fritter handed to me on a piece of fresh Vogel's bread with butter and a squeeze of lemon, I wont say no.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Pearly Delights-Sweetcorn January 2010

As a country New Zealand is a pretty big grower of sweetcorn so a day trip out of the city will bring you in to contact with acres and acres of corn blowing in the summer wind.
Its a complete food. Wrapped up in it's own little package, you only need to have a wee peek inside just in case to make sure all is as it should be before you take it home for some heat treatment.
All over the world corn is used in so many ways.
In Japan you will find it floating on the top of your ramen bowl, through South America it is everything-ground to make flour, turned into tortillas, makes appearances in soups, salads and basked in the char of a good bbq. Elsewhere it is made into fritters, cakes, sweets and savories...all are part of the sweetcorn's repertoire.
I do like a simple old fashioned fritter using sweetcorn.Its something my mum use to make and I make it when I feel like something easy and summery to serve with a big green garden salad.

Select the best corn you can that shows no signs of drying out at all. The tip of the husk should be green, not brown or dry and the corn itself when you pull back a leaf or two should be plump and a nice white yellow. The whole cob itself should feel plump and heavy when you pick it up which tells you it hasn't started drying out at all.
Next I select my favorite fritter ingredients-spring onions, a fillet or two of super fresh fish such as ling, guarnard or terakihi. You could use snapper or for those you elsewhere any firm white fleshed fish will do the trick. You could even use fresh diced uncooked prawns, mussels or shellfish.
I do like a bit of texture so I add one grated zucchini also to the mix as well as a few vital touches of seasoning and just one teaspoon of baking powder to keep things light and fluffy. I try to use as little flour as possible to again keep things light and not gluey. The flour acts more as a binding agent to really just keep it all together but is very thin.
Cooked in small rounds in batches so as to not overcrowd the pan, make sure they are cooked through and nice and brown before resting them to drain on some kitchen paper.

Easy Summer Corn and Fish Fritters
2 white fish fillets, washed and patted dry and diced
1 spring onion, white and green parts, chopped finely
2 corn cobs, husks removed and corn cut from the cob
1 zuchinni, grated
1 free range egg
milk to mix
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

In a bowl, mix the fish, spring onion, corn, zucchini and egg together well.
Add salt and pepper, the flour, baking powder and add milk as needed to make a batter that is chunky but not gluey. Mix gently so as to not over stimulate the gluten in the flour and make them tough.
Cook in small batches in a heavy based fry pan in grapeseed oil till golden brown on each side-2-3 minutes.
Drain on kitchen paper and then oil onto a serving platter with wedges of lemon.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Persimmons April 2010

Cultivated way back in the eighth century by the Japanese, the persimmon had long been an autumnal delight in China.
Resembling a glowing lantern, the leaves of the persimmon mimics its fruit by changing in colour as the cold progresses to a golden orange. It is a shame that this rather unique fruit is not more commonly enjoyed and eagerly awaited with the same gusto as other autumn fruits.

Delicate overtones of honey and apricot, the persimmon can be slow to ripen taking anywhere from five days to two weeks to reach the point where the astringent tannins have turned into sweet sugars.
The two most common varieties that we see are the fugu and the haciya.
The haciya is an older variety and easily identifiable due to its acorn shape. Eaten only when totally ripe it has a soft, almost jelly like texture. The fugu has a flatter base and is more commonly seen likely because it stores better and can be eaten when it is still firm. The less astringent flavour and crunchy texture makes it great for serving fresh in salads over the early autumn period.
Look for fruits that are bright in colour, firm (as you can ripen them easily at home) and without markings that may indicate damage. It is more likely that any persimmons that you see will be the firmer fugu variety so buy them when they still have some ripening to do so you have the choice of when to eat them.
New Zealand is a rather large exporter of persimmon straight back to the places they originally came from with 2500 tonnes moving off shore in 2002. We fall about sixth on the list of international persimmon growers.
Gisborne is our biggest grower followed closely by North and South Auckland, Northland, Hawkes Bay and Bay of Plenty.
The Persimmon Industry Council has much to say on the value of persimmons as they are high in vitamin C, iron and calcium and they also recommend that unlike many other fruits, your best storage is at room temperature rather than chilled.
The Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese all dry the persimmon to create rather delicious leather and it is enjoyed simply as a sweet or used in other cooking applications. The Koreans take it one step further and make an alcohol infused with the flavour of dried persimmon and vinegar enjoyed for its health benefits.
The leaves of the tree are used in Korea and some areas of Manchuria for tea.

Persimmon works very well with citrus and should not be overlooked as a fantastic autumn fruit that can be combined with all sorts of cold day delights from desserts, fruit pastes, drinks, purees, sauces to sorbets and ice creams.
The following are a few recipes that I have played with over the years that put persimmon at the forefront of autumn fruits.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

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