Friday, September 29, 2006

BrewNZ Accolades

Congratulations to Richard Emerson and his team at Emerson's Brewery for their recent achievments at the BrewNZ awards.

Cheers!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Food on tour


The garlic looks so forlorn.. after being plucked this spring, its summer was spent drying in the shed before being tipped and placed in a clay pot. Like all bulbs, its finest moment has yet to be discovered, hopefully as part of another lunch or dinner.

I think garden garlic is more pungent that store bought.. and definitely a little dirtier. Dirt in this case is good.. I know that it has been in the ground sometime this millenium.

Not to turn my poor garlic into a poster child for food 'miles', it is still an interesting concept to consider. Food miles are explained here via BBC website and provides a good introduction to the topic. How far food has travelled versus organic food and other emerging food trends are important issues for consumers. Awareness of these facts is essential in order to make informed choices.

Not everyone can have a garden that will sustain them for an entire year or a cold cellar to store it all in. Nor does the average person have access to rural land to raise animals for their milk or to rear their own meat.. and that extreme isn't what I am talking about anyhow. If we all ate as local as possible, supported seasonal foods in our supermarkets and everyone (who was able) reduced even the tiniest of items from travelling those many miles from the farm to the processor to the plate, it would create sustainable and accessible markets for local producers.

And that is what I do.. supporting the local farmers at our Saturday morning market, I also use my smallish back section to grow anything I can just for the fun of watching it all take shape (and then stressing about making sure none of it gets wasted). It is a busy time of year and the joys of preserving and pickling the abundance is enough for another post.

Fun and alot of work. Figs are by far the biggest pain (as per previous post) but only in the initial stages.. melons, beans, peas, blackberries, cucumber, pumpkins, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, capsicum and 7 varieties of lettuce, aside from germinating the seeds early for that added head start, are all relatively effort free.

If you are blessed with some earth, give it a try. Order a seed catalogue or check out a website for gardening or permaculture information. The Slowfood Chapter in Dunedin is having an education session on just that coming up in October.

Even without alot of room, some of these are definitely candidates for 'container gardening'. A bush or trailing zucchini plant can grow well in a sunny spot and herbs are another blessing that grow in small spaces without much intervention.

Most of the garden can be preserved for the coming winter months.. and some items supplemented with fruit and veggies from local u-pick operations to have enough to freeze and make specialty preserves. I combine batches of tomatoes for sauce or salsa, other mixed vegetables for giardiniera, and heartier veggies (corn and beans) for freezing. I also freeze berries for that special breakfast smoothie or cocktail, and they are also useful for an impromtu batch of jam.

In food miles, most of the garden harvest travels a total of 20 meters back to the kitchen with a temporary stopover at the shed.. approximately at the 10 meter mark.

It isn't alot but it is my bit.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I say patae, you say pitea..

The humble squash flower.. or zucchini blossom. The edible blooms of the same family of plants are a favourite all summer. Tucked into risotto, added to a delicious garden fresh stirfry of eggplant, peppers and zucchini, a simple soup, or folded into a frittata.. the uses are seemingly endless, but perhaps most enjoyably, showcased in their fritter form. Patae.


Unsure of the spelling, the spoken word is an Italian 'dialect'. The first spelling (in the title) is of my own design, from the pronounciation I am familiar with. The second is courtesy of a woman whose family is also of that Southern Italian region. I hesitantly use the term dialect as the origins of the language is cause for much heated discussion among the local collettivo.. however no one will debate the flavour of this regional treat.

A batter is prepared with flour, eggs, and a good dose of grated strong cheese. We use a homemade cheese similar to crotonese (which is perfect) or a golden grana padano mixed with a little pecorino romano would be ok too. Herbs, parsley and basil, are added along with some salt, cracked black pepper, often a few small and tender sliced zucchini, and the prerequisite chili pepper if you're keen!

It is a loose texture but not runny. Approximately 2 eggs per 175g (or a little over half a cup) of flour, enough to add about 2 dozen trimmed (stamens, stems and bugs removed) flowers. The amounts vary slightly but the result should be similar to a slightly thick pancake batter and can be thinned out with a little milk as necessary.

Frying is essential. In a light oil, I mix peanut and vegetable for their ability to achieve a high heat without smoking and fry the fritters until golden.

I occasionally fry just the flowers dipped in this batter or in a mixture of seasoned egg whites and corn or potato flour for a gluten free version. They can be stuffed as well but take care. If overfilled, the stuffing makes a right mess of the cooking oil and spatters all over.


Pitea signify the arrival of the summer and are a highlight of the rapidly growing garden. This is definitely a pre-meal treat. Serve with beer, on warm nights, with friends.

Mangia!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cooking with Courvoisier

Doing a little cognac flaming tonight.. in the making of a sauce.

It is divine. A rich, cool weather favourite that give that little something extra to steak and potatoes and whatever your veg of choice may be.. as follows:

In a little butter and olive oil, sauté shallots with a few crushed green peppercorns until soft. Turn off flame (if using a gas burner) and add some cognac.. only a tablespoon or two. Working quickly, and at arms length, ignite with a long match or barbeque lighter. When flame burns itself out, add some stock and cream or butter and stir to combine. Let the mixture bubble slightly and thicken, but not too much and season to taste.  A nice pan sauce for grilled steak. I also added some sautéed wild mushrooms. You can do this in the pan you've seared the steaks in or on its own.

The flavours of flambéed liquors can add a new dimension to food. It's no secret, Julia knew what she was doing.. be it cognac, sambuca, rum, or brandy.. in sauces, Crepes Suzette, pan deglazing or a showstopping flaming Baked Alaska. Just remember: You are not on the cooking channel and no one will know that you didn't attempt the deft tilt of wrist to ignite it off the gas burner. They will, however, remember, the moron in Flat X that was the reason for their interrupted evening due to an activated fire alarm, evacuation and or/incineration of the building. On that note..

5 Things to do when flaming cognac (or other liquors) and how not to burn down the kitchen:

5) Only do so if you are equipped with the following: preferably an extractor fan (or range hood) but definitely a fire estinguisher AND the knowledge to use the latter should things go totally pear-shaped.. A pan lid or baking soda will suffice to smother minor incidents. Should a little flame manage to get on the stove-top or other non-flammable surface, don't go overboard, it will burn itself out in only a moment.

4) Have an uncluttered workspace. All the less to catch fire.

3) Pour a small amount of cognac from bottle to another container, measuring cup or similar before adding to pan. Cognac is highly flammable, limit the source.

2) I wasn't going to mention this.. hoping I didn't have to, but in light of the (real or not) Stella awards.. here goes. Keep the pan at arms length. Do not place your face or hand anywhere near the pan interior to 'make sure' it catches fire. Cognac is about 40% alcohol/volume. There will be no doubt.

and,

1) Buy a good cognac. Not so nice that you need to take a month to pay for it but decent enough that you would drink it on its own. Remember it is just like cooking with wine, the flavours are concentrated by this process so use something you would definitely drink.

Take care and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wishart

A warming bottle of Wisharts Basket Press collection, Cabernet Franc Merlot was a great acompaniment to our dinner.

The wine however, ended up stealing the show with its huge presence. A very spicy earthy nose and the warming aromas buoyed on alcohol (at 14%). This deep garnet hued wine is drinking very well but may have still not been as accessible without decanting an hour before dinner and certainly became more open as we savoured it for an hour afterward.

Plummy, minty, peppery, full of dried herbal notes, the bouquet contained a mild hint of coffee and vanila with tobacco nuances as well. It was, at opening, a wee bit hot but waned after the hour and revealed its ripe blackcurrant fruit and some faint caramel flavours.

As much as another bottle tonight would make a suitable drop for the roast I am preparing, we'll let the remainder rest for awhile yet..

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Meanwhile back at the lemon farm..

A long time ago, I posted a bit about lemons.. fantastic little nubs of juicy goodness that they are, I also went on a wee spree preserving them like mad after visiting Esk River winery in upper Napier and sampling some of their wonderful preserves.

Cool weather leads me to a soothing reppetiore of comfort food, roasts and the like.. and nothing smells, tastes or whispers curl up with bowl and glass of wine like this chicken dish.


The dish came out of several similar recipes and varies a little each time I make it. I generally follow this one for Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives substituting stock and wine for water, fresh for powdered ginger, adding a bit of fresh lemon zest with the first lot of herbs and sometimes using galgal pickle, a preserved wild lime from India avalable in Middle Eastern shops, instead of the preserved lemon. There are no rules.. it is really all about individual tastes.

A word on the lemon or lime.. These vary but are generally quite SALTY. And the pickled limes are lovely but highly spiced. The similar citrus attributes provided by these interchangable ingredients to the finished dish will give a markedly different result. I prefer a more lemony flavour so I add a whole preserved lemon, fresh juice and just a quick grate of fresh zest. When using the limes, I add only a few pieces, probably half a lime in total, fresh juice of a whole lemon, half of the lemon peel. I am also a little more reserved with the lime because of all the other spices added.. which are fantastic but can overwhelm. Again, whatever perference determines.

This is an easy one pot dinner, great with the recommended couscous, roast potatoes or if desired, noodles. And tastes even better made a day ahead, if you can wait that long.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Milungiane Chjine

Taste this!

Milungiane chjine, melanzane ripiene, or stuffed eggplant/aubergine is a treat no matter how you say it. And I certainly couldn't tell it better than the author of the recipe I will pass on for these delectable fried goodies.

Recipe for Stuffed eggplant: Treasured family recipe from Cream Puffs in Venice.

Mangia!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Charcuterie


The art, the science and the marriage of ancient techniques espressly for the home cook is what you'll find between the covers of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's 2005 work, 'Charcuterie'. The secrets revealed in their enthusiastic and proficient use of humble ingredients to preserve meat and produce rustic specialities is a joy to read.

It is a preservation, also, of a dying art if there ever was one. Not sure if I can express it better than Anthony Bourdain (Chef at and Author of Les Halles and "The Nasty Bits" respectively) did in his review of the book where he refers to this 'noble craft' as 'God's work'.

That statement hits the heart of what this collection says to me. Delicacies that were the product of inventiveness and initially born of frugal home cooks are now either mass produced shadows of their original flavours, rarely found or not permitted for import. This volume takes them back to their rightful place and makes them easily accessible in the home.

Nasty bits indeed.. if you can handle the blood and guts (I kid you not), there is a guideline for Boudin Noir (aka blood or black pudding) and tips for using real hog casings. The author fully admits that pork blood is illegal for sale in the United States but suggests a means to accessing it.

One of my favourite chapters is on salt. The oft neglected sodium chloride pared down to its basic primary function.. to preserve and protect. Walking through the preparation and use of dry cures and brines, the method to the madness is evident in the clear, step-wise process beginning with the function of ingredients, the form they take through various processing stages and the impact of both on the final product. There are well illustrated diagrams and a good explanation of food safety concerns.

My least favourite thing is that there are some rather busy recipes. One in particular for Italian sausage that contains more than a few ingredients (not one of which is wine) and looks nothing like the recipe to which I am accustomed. Lack of simplicity is a personal pet peeve.

The need for the proper equipment is clearly stated (i.e. some investment required). Although a grinder and other specialty instruments are useful for making processed meats at home, the author explains the essentials and their use in great detail with well illustated pictures.

The most useful tool in the book, however, is the knowledge expressed by Mr. Polcyn. Armed with that, there are delicious flavour combinations that would take some time to exhaust.

And as you can see from the cover, pictured here, visually delicious as well. Asking only for some good wine and good bread.

Warning: may cause vegetarians to convert and a slight rise in cholesterol (a good plug for wine consumption).

If meat is your thing.. Recommended.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Fig Finale

The amount of care our wee fig tree requires would make the average person scratch their head.. but it is a labour of love.

After a summer of delightful figs, the weather turns colder and to survive, the tree is dug up and buried. The root ball is wrapped and the entire tree gingerly placed in the ground. Winter snow covers the earth leaving no trace of what lies beneath the surface, awaiting spring.

Once the risk of frost has passed, typically Easter weekend, another resurrection occurs. The fig tree is unearthed and again upright.

Growth under these conditions is slow and every fig, that ripens in the relatively short growing season, is revered. So special is that first fig, whoever gets to partake of it often has grounds for bragging rights.

This pale green beauty with a hint of mauve... and her partner, prosciutto di Parma, on the table signifies the season and soon we will bid adieu.

fino alla primavera prossimo..

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Oregano

I often took oregano, that signature flavour of Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine, for granted.

That is, until I started drying my own.

You would never guess that the oregano from the garden with its peppery and earthy notes is the same bland herb that is commonly used in commercial pizza sauces and in "Italian" spiced tinned tomatoes.

In the spring, I buy plants as opposed to seeds. Although I do experiment with seeds, plants allow me to select the flavour of oregano I prefer as seeds can vary. When the plants are full and only starting to bud, I begin the process of drying a good quantity for the months ahead. Strangely enough, I rarely use it fresh, preferring its more delicate cousin, marjoram, and thyme (which lasts in my container garden year round), for fresh use.

Drying your own oregano is easy. Tie the stems together and hang bunches in a warm, dry place that is well ventilated. When dry, I simply store it 'as is' in a paper bag in a cool, dark cupboard. As I require it, I just take one bunch, crumble the leaves and small buds off the branches into a sieve (to remove any stems) and then into a plastic bag. Storing the bulk of the branches whole aids in retaining volatile oils (read: flavour) and picking your own at its optimum gives even more flavour than you'll find in the supermarket packets.

What to do with all these herbs?

I think the list is pretty endless.. everything from classic Mediterranean to Latin American fare. It is a great addition to a marinade for olives and feta, is essential in most of my salad dressings, fantastic with lemon, a must for pizza, its sharper flavour is balanced nicely by cilantro and it a natural with cumin. Meat and vegetables alike both benefit from its use and contrary to many other herbs, oregano revels in a nice slow cook making comfort food tastier be it in stew, deeply flavoured sauces or hearty roasted meals.

With this rain, it is definitely a comfort food day. The aroma of roasting veggies and oregano will complement this weather nicely.