25 May 2009

the memory remains


It has been a little while now since The Food Show, and I've eaten most of the loot I bought therein. There's a little bit left - some preservative-laced ageless salami, the occasional lonely sprout, half a tub of yoghurt. And the Lindt chocolate is sitting in my wardrobe, waiting for that special chocolate recipe. Most of the good stuff is gone though. However since blogging about eating food is a somewhat slower process than just eating food, it has taken me a little while to get round to discussing how I used my purchases.

Some of the yoghurt and sunflower seeds went into a batch of banana muffins. The bagels got eaten in a matter of hours. The mirin I bought made me wish I'd come across it years ago. And the white chocolate Lindt chocolate balls, the very thought of which are making me a little dizzy with wanting right now, I think I inhaled them accidentally while blinking or something.

I devised this salad in my head on a break at work and was pleased with how it sounded - roasted kumara and radish salad with chorizo, halloumi, brocolli and organic sprouts. I was looking forward to it, imagining peppery radish with the sweet kumara, searing hot halloumi against the cool sweet crunch of sprouts, the paprika-d chorizo whispering an oily hymn to the verdant brocolli.

I presented it triumphantly, sat down smugly, held my fork aloft and then cursed loudly. I'd forgotten to add the chorizo. Even though it was sitting right there in the fridge and was one of the main components of the meal. You'd think I would have learned. Time and time again it is proven that if I have an idea and don't write it down, I'll forget half of it. Even if it's something really fundamental to what I'm doing, I'm reliably unreliable.

Luckily the chorizo-less salad was delicious.

If you've never roasted radishes before - and I don't blame you if you haven't, the idea never occured to me until I read it in Jo Seagar's The Cook School Recipes. Drizzle a little olive oil over the halved radishes, and bake at 220 C for 20-40 minutes till they are slightly darkened and caramelised in places. They retain that familiar peppery tang but softened somehow, which worked marvelously with the buttery, chewy halloumi draped over. Seriously, I love halloumi so much it's a good thing it's nosebleed-inducingly expensive or I'd be absentmindedly frying up entire blocks of it to eat while I think about what I'm going to make for dinner.
The halloumi in question was Canaan, and marvelously wonderful stuff it is too. Tumbled over the salad were organic Wright sprouts, also bought at the Food Show. And as you now know, the bargain chorizo remained quietly in the fridge... I wish I hadn't used it recklessly in some tossed together dinner this week though because upon reflection, Nigella has a LOT of recipes using chorizo and as we hardly ever have it in the house, well there goes a prime opportunity to try out more of her recipes.

This following dish - Slow Cooked Lamb with Cumin, Cinnamon and Feijoas - was actually made before the food show but I have never got round to blogging about it, and while it's very different to the above meal gosh darnit it's my party and I'll attempt to dovetail disparite culinary themes if I want to.


First of all I softened one finely chopped onion and an intimidating amount of garlic in my lovely non-stick pan (not one of those pans that just masquerades as nonstick, this one really doesn't require oil) then tipped in a hefty pinch of cumin seeds, stirring for a bit before adding cubed lamb shoulder that I'd tossed in a little flour. I stirred quickly to brown the meat on all sides then added two carrots, sliced into batons. In went a can of chopped tomatoes, which I then rinsed out with enough water to just cover the meat. After a sprinkling of ground cinnamon, the pan lid went on and the whole lot simmered away for a good long time on a low heat. After a while I took the lid off to try and allow the liquid to thicken somewhat, before stirring in a slice of finely chopped preserved lemon, and the thickly chopped flesh of about six ripe feijoas. Finally I stirred in some spinach, allowing it to wilt before serving over couscous.

It was a bit of a gamble - I made this up on the fly - and I wasn't entirely sure if feijoas wouldn't be a bit too freaky with lamb. But, it makes sense - other stews pair lamb with dates, or dried apricots, or figs, so why not feijoas? Their sweet, tangy, elusive flavour and grainy texture contrasted deliciously, with the preserved lemon's pronounced salty sourness offsetting the warmth of the cumin and cinnamon. The sweet-and-salty element to the stew made it quite moreish, and it was a perfect lazy Sunday dinner. If you are unfortunate enough to live in a country where feijoas aren't available, then by all means substitute dates, dried apricots...a diced pear might work deliciously as well. But if you're in New Zealand, they're surely not going to get any cheaper at the market: now's the time, the time is now. I got mine for 99c a kilo which is pretty hard to beat.

Work is a bit on the exhausting side and Wellington remains resolutely arctic which is why this post may or may not be up to my usual luminous standards. Unless you're stinking rich, New Zealand houses tend not to have airconditioning, but in Wellington flats (and I'm sure elsewhere) just some simple honest building insulation would be appreciated. I feel like I wear more clothes to bed than I do to leave the house. That said, this place is warmer than our old flat, where the ground in our room was - I kid you not - permanently damp (a good way to discourage leaving clothes on the floor), we had a hole in our window covered with newspaper, and on more than one occasion we'd rug up in layer upon layer of clothing only to discover it was warmer outside than in. Anyway, musn't grumble as we are both very fortunate to (a) have a roof over our head, crumbly like a Weetbix or otherwise, and (b) relatively secure employment.


On Shuffle while writing this:

Machismo, by Gomez, from the album Machismo

Frei und Schwerelos (Defying Gravity) by Willemijn Verkaik from the Wicked Original German Cast Recording

Basket Case, by Green Day from Bullet In A Bible: Live at the Milton Keynes Bowl


Next time: I'm not sure, although I feel like I'm about due to revisit Nigella again - it's one thing to be inspired to create my own recipes but I miss her...

20 May 2009



I did this training session thing at work on Monday afternoon, where you fill in a questionaire online and from that they ascertain what kind of patterns you follow and which personality aspects affect the way you work. It basically told me that I am a creative, beliefs-driven, spirited hippy who is quite au fait with a lack of structure and can be very relaxed with deadlines. It was rather like a horoscope reading session - and a lot of it rang true with me.

For everything on this earth except graduating. I graduated on Tuesday (with a Bachelor of Arts in Media and English Lit) and was a nervous wreck the whole time. For this one event, I want structure and rules and advance, pertinent information. Which I feel we didn't receive. Had the "So, You've Decided To Graduate" pamphlet told us specifically how the evening was going to be run, I would have been a lot more chillaxed. But all it really conveyed was something to the effect of "you will instinctively, like a spider making its web, know where to walk to and where to be seated." A little mystery and coyness is fine, but in the proper context, please. Had I known that the whole thing would be quietly run by wonderful attendants stationed every two metres to tell you exactly where you were supposed to be going, in soothing, hushed tones, I wouldn't have stressed quite so much.

That aside, it was a wonderful day, and I was lucky enough to share it with lots of other people I knew who were graduating, including Tim, a colleague, an old schoolmate, former flatmates, and one of my cousins. Parading through the town was exciting, if a little fraught - the (miraculously rain-free) wind threatening at any point to separate trenchers from heads, and parents constantly yelling out "stop! look over here!" and attempting to take photos while the orderlies barked at us to keep walking and stay within the lines. An old family friend joined us for lunch at the Black Harp (where I had a wonderful mushroom ragout) and after the ceremony itself Tim's and my families shared a raucous meal at the reliably fantastic BYO Istanbul on Cuba Street. The ceremony itself was something of a blur, my surname being Vincent I was right at the end and so couldn't properly relax until it was all over. We were priveleged to have speak at the event (after getting an honorary doctorate), author and Victoria University alumni Lloyd Jones, whose book Mr Pip won the Booker Prize. All in all a very exciting, momentous time - swelling string quartet music would not have been out of place at several points - and I miss wearing the robe and swooping through town allowing the excessive fabric to subtly draw attention to my higher education and no doubt superior intellect. I am Laura Vincent, BA. It's funny how fast those three years went - I remember reading the book of Anne of Green Gables where she's doing her schooling and thinking "well, LM Montgomery rather skimmed over those three years a little flagrantly", but no, it really does go pretty briskly.

My parents arrived on Monday night took and Tim and I out to dinner, well actuallywe took them out to dinner as neither really know Wellington well. Wanting to find somewhere near their hotel that wouldn't require a traumatically lengthy walk, somewhere non-franchisey and something a little "Wellington", I chose La Bella Italia on The Terrace. I had never been there before but have heard good things about it. It wasn't full and the atmosphere a little bright and cold for an Italian place but this makes sense as it is a deli as well as a cafe (with significantly more reasonable prices than another visible Italian cafe in Wellington). Our service was prompt, friendly and matter of fact, the waitress being able to talk to us at length (when questioned), about the puffin-eating habits of the people of the Faroe Islands and also able to make a fabulous long black coffee.

The food was fantastic - well thought out combinations simply served and made with beautiful ingredients.

I had the egg tagliatele with tomato bolognaise sauce and parmesan. The pasta was delicious although had just a touch more bite to it than I like. The sauce was excellent - rich, tomatoey and nourishing.

Mum had the most wonderful vegetarian eggplant dish - actually I think we all ended up eating vegetarian that night for some reason - the eggplant was cooked perfectly and the sauce was divine.

As you can tell I basically tasted everyone's dinners including my own. Tim had the gnocchi which was incredible - smooth and surprisingly light and tasting of the finest, milkiest ricotta cheese. Dad had a different kind of gnocchi, with a tomato sauce, unfortunately the photo didn't turn out so well but he seemed to enjoy it. Despite being comfortably full we decided to get two desserts and four spoons to share them with.

First up was vanilla gelato with our choice of liqueur. We went for limoncello, which was silky and tangy with a not unpleasant alcoholic kick. The liquid against the smooth, cool gelato was quite wonderful. It came punctuated with two thin, crisp biscuits which were perfect for dipping into the last of the gelato and limoncello as they melted together.

This chocolate and prune terrine with hazelnut meringues was incredible. So often - too often - when we go out for dinner the dessert has blatantly been assembled or unwrapped rather than created. So it's nice to find a place where it's quite clearly the opposite. This terrine was incredible - the dark chocolate bitter and smooth against the sweet crunch of the meringues and the soft dark juicy prunes.

Verdict: I will definitely come back here, if not right away for a meal then definitely to check out the deli side of things. I need some of that pasta.

La Bella Italia
101 The Terrace
Wellington City
Open Monday - Friday 7am till late.


On Shuffle while typing:

These Four Walls, Gavin Creel, from GoodTimeNation
Calliope! The Veils, from Nux Vomica
Modern Love, David Bowie, from Let's Dance


Next Time: I make dinner using ingredients bought at the Wellington Food Show, plus...well that's it. Nevertheless, I remain, Laura Vincent, BA.

15 May 2009

the hardest butter to butter

Maybe in years to come, when my blog has changed lives, and gets turned into a beautiful book, and then the movie of the book of the blog changes peoples' lives (oh wait, that's Julie and Julia that I'm thinking of, and somewhat more feasibly, I'll probably slide quietly into further obscurity), and a naive child asks their grandparents what the ultimate blog post that would describe Hungry and Frozen would be, what the very distilled essence of this whole strange business is, the ur-text, the definitive piece of writing, their grandparents might lean down and utter with a wise, earthy croak: The one where she made her own butter.

I call this one: Self Portrait.

Okay, whoa, things got self absorbed there for a bit, but such is the nature of blogging. I'll be straight with you: I love butter. I don't know what it is, there's definitely the soft, creamy, golden, slightly saline flavour which plays a part. But then there's also the texture, something that can't be imitated. It's a texture echoed in other good things - dark chocolate, pistachios, avocados... I just love it. Somewhat aggressively. I love what it does for cakes, I love butter icing on top of cakes, I love butter smeared thickly across freshly made scones which also have butter in them...I'm not the only person like this, right? Not to mention my strident rejection of margarine. I don't mind cakes with oil in them, some are just supposed to be that way, but don't get me started on margarine - I'll go all twitchy. Anyway, some other lovely bloggers (like Culinary Travels and Tea and Wheaten Bread) have made their own butter recently, which inspired me to do it myself - it seemed so right somehow. Making butter. By hand. Being at one with it. Well, more so than I normally am...

It's simple enough, but there are some rules to be observed. Rather like the movie Fight Club, which, by the way, I'm secure with never having seen because I know it will be light years too violent for me to deal with. Thanks to its Wikipedia page though, I'm still able to discuss it critically with people who actually have watched it.

The first rule of making butter is: You need far more cream than your ability to gauge will let you think you will need, and then some.

I used a litre, which in America you could also see as four measuring cups full, of cream. To add further confusion, you'd want to make this double, or heavy cream, if you were in Britain or America respectively, since our cream in NZ is just called 'cream' and we don't tend to have divergence into 'single' or 'double'.

Why can't we all just get along?

Appalling lack of culinary unity aside, 1 litre/four cups cream will yield around 400-500 grams of butter. You'll also get about 250mls/1 cup of gorgeous buttermilk. Where the rest goes, I don't know. I can't pretend I know much about science, which I suspect could go some way to explaining this conundrum.

The second rule of making butter is: Keep going. Don't stop when it looks like this picture below.

Why yes, when I make stuff by hand I mean by hand. A somewhat deranged venture, I grant you, whisking a litre of cream into stiff peaks. But my justification was, if I was going to make butter I might as well really do it, not remove myself from any of the process. Just as I love kneading bread by hand, not in a machine, so it follows that whisking cream doesn't really bother me.

I do use the electric beaters, it's just when all's said and done, and you've finally found the machine in the bottom draw with the potatoes and onions, located the beater that fell behind the oven and the other one which was behind the pots and pans, sitting quietly in a plastic chinese take-out container, it's probably quicker and easier just to grab a whisk.

The third rule of making butter is: It involves a degree of messiness.

At some point it will separate - often quite suddenly - into tight, nubbly little curds, and thin, whitish buttermilk. At this stage you want to drain off the liquid - don't throw it away though, it can be used in baking, or soup, or you could actually drink it - and I found it pays to squeeze out the curds themselves into the receptacle for the buttermilk as they hold a lot of liquid.

At this stage, you cover the butter-to-be in water and knead it - that's right - then discard the water, repeating this until the water stays clear while you're kneading it. I understand this step helps to make it last longer.

From here you can keep the butter as is, or knead in some salt. In New Zealand 99% of our butter comes salted, it doesn't taste salty in the slightest, just a little...fuller. Nevertheless it's what I'm used to so it's what I did. Like all the hip young things these days, I too have some pink Himalayan salt (gifted to me by one discerning Santa Claus) which I carefully kneaded into the primrose yellow lump of dairy - about 1 1/2 teaspoons. Go easy at this stage because you can always add more salt later.

And then...

Cue the Halleluja chorus. Using only two ingredients - fresh New Zealand cream and Himalayan salt, I made actual butter. It's really that colour too - I don't know where all the yellow hides when it's in cream form, but you whip it up and suddenly it changes colour. That night I made scones using the buttermilk, and the taste of the butter melting slowly onto the tender scones was spectacular. Please note the adorable pink silicone container, which is actually a mini loaf dish, a birthday present from my aunty Lynn, as was the pink silicone mini heart which I used to make my couer-a-la-beurre at the start of this post.

So as you can see making your own butter is easy, so easy that you can make some and suddenly get an inflated ego and entertain fanciful notions of your blog being turned into a movie starring Hollywood heavyweights and indie flick darlings.

Speaking of things that are wildly important to me: If you happen to be in the vicinity of the good village of Otaua tomorrow, please visit the Mighty Otaua Village Garage Sale at the Otaua Village Hall (established in 1985!). This is by no means limited to people of Otaua, if you are from Waiuku, Tuakau, Pukekohe, any nook or cranny in the wider Franklin region, heck, if you're anywhere in the Waikato why not make a scenic trip down to Otaua. You can (a) scout out some ridiculously cool bargains in a recession-tastic manner, and (b) support a tiny village who are trying their best to fight against the ugliness of WPC Ltd who want, of all ill-conceived ideas, to relocate their waste oil treatment plant to Otaua Village.

If you can't make it to Otaua then why not shake your fist at WPC Ltd and the potentially devastating effects of their aims in a virtual way by watching the song on youtube that my father wrote (and videoed!) to protest their actions. For those of you that have been reading this blog for a while, this venomous typing will probably come as no surprise, but for those of you who are newcomers to this strange land, check out the Otaua Blog for the full rundown on the ignorance of WPC Ltd. Ugh, it's totally ruined my butter high just thinking about them - I'm typing all angrily, hitting the keys hard - I feel like I've just seen some margarine or something - so let's try to keep it positive: get yourselves down to Otaua Village for the sure-to-be-awesome Garage Sale.

It has been a busy week - on Monday Tim and I saw Dylan Moran (of Black Books fame) who was, despite being visibly weary as so many stars are by the time they get to New Zealand on their tours, deliriously funny. We were fortunate enough to meet him at the stage door afterwards, he said no photos but signed our ticket happily enough. On Wednesday we were at Bodega for Okkervil River, who were delightful, friendly, generous of encore. The venue, however, was troublingly warm. So warm that I could barely concentrate, let alone applaud. On top of that, work has been pretty manic and suddenly it's Friday already. Which is why I was glad to get home early and bunker down with some chicken noodle soup away from the cold tonight.

On Shuffle while I wrote this:

Blank Generation, by Richard Hell and the Voidoids, from the album Blank Generation
Santa Fe, from the Rent Original Broadway Cast Recording
Central Park by Mark Kudisch from the See What I Wanna See Original Cast Recording (Kudisch can currently be seen on Broadway's 9 to 5, rocking a moustache like he was born wearing it.)

Next time: Well, Tim and I are both graduating on Tuesday, which is very exciting, so I may be relatively quiet until then. What happens after that is anyone's guess. Peace.

12 May 2009

the show must go on


Take a deep breath. If you were at the Wellington Food Show over the weekend, you'd be needing the deep breaths anyway, because no doubt all the pesto and organic ice cream and free range bacon has rendered the passage of air from the heart to the lungs and back again a little slow and laboured. And if you weren't there, you'll need the extra oxygen because this is going to be one heck of a post: it's my annual Food Show Review (well, I did one last year, and in these uncertain, Gen-Y-ruled, recession-at-your-heels times, doing something more than once is quite enough grounds to call it a tradition.)

Perhaps a little ill-advisedly, Tim and I turned up at to the Westpac Stadium - known affectionately/derisively as "the cake tin" due to its severely grey round shape - at about 10.30am and stayed there until 6pm. You could say we got our money's worth out of the place. You could say we are lunatics. You could say many things. We wouldn't have answered, because our mouth would have been too full of food samples.

Here's a few of my favourite things (and my apologies to any of the following businesses, I'm no Ellen Degeneres so don't expect a wild upturn in sales of your product as a result of my grainy photography and almost-witty comments...on the other hand I think my blog is awesome and frankly you could do worse than to be recommended by me.)

In order of how the photos were stored on my hard drive...

I'll be honest. I don't have an ice cream maker, but I make ice cream all the time. I'm sure there is some kind of pact amongst ice-cream-maker-makers, to convince you that you can't possibly create something worth eating if you haven't churned it in an expensive piece of machinery. Bollocks, I say. They just tell you that so you buy their products. And further to this, I think the ice cream I make at home tastes better than any shop-bought ice cream I've ever tasted, even better than the well known, celebrated gourmet brands in New Zealand as well as the more commercial juggernaut types.
Except... Kohu Road ice cream is the very best, non home-made ice cream I've ever tasted. And so it should be, at $17 a litre (luckily the samples were free and plentiful!) and I know it's crass to mention the price when they are a small company, who use local produce and are commited to the environment but...that's very expensive. But - how do I put this - you can taste every dollar. You can taste the golden syrup, the bergamot, the subtle differences between their milk chocolate and dark chocolate flavours. Buy this, savour it slowly, perhaps with one other lucky person, don't for goodness sake eat it while watching TV, and you'll realise that there is some merit in having a little of something astoundingly delicious rather than 2 litres of something cheap, full of colouring and preservatives and unnatural fats and not much else.

As well as this, the people at the Kohu Road stall were lovely, including the highly pleasant Greg Hall who was more than happy to allow me to photograph the ice cream, and the rest of the people working there who never so much as glared at me even though I returned multiple times to sample all the delectable flavours...

Many a nip of this utterly delightful New Zealand made lemon liqueur was had on our travels round the stadium. The friendly people at the Lemon-Z stall were more than happy to refill our tiny glasses and also added a splash of cranberry which made a delicious drink of complex tanginess. But my favourite was just the limoncello on its own - this particular brand is smooth, not in the slightest bit acrid, and delightfully, utterly lemony. And also triumphant - you can see on their website how many awards this has won internationally. I long to pour it over vanilla ice cream...

I don't like beer. Can't stand it. I haven't yet found the best way to explain what it is I don't like about it - the harsh taste, the strident bubbliness, the weird after-bitterness, I don't know.

I kind of loved this stuff though. I don't think I could drink huge amounts of it, but that is no indication of its quality - as I said, I'm just not a beer person. If you are a beer person, however, please look them up. Not only is it made without additives or preservatives, it's made with certified organic Artesian water and comes in such alluring flavours as Manuka honey and Feijoa, as well as classic Artesian. And the people at the Mata Beer stand were fantastically friendly. It made me wish I could drink more beer, which is honestly not a thought I often entertain...(that's a compliment by the way)

Look at all those jams lined up, twinkling like jewels...Barker's as a brand has long been associated with fruity things in New Zealand, but of particular interest to Tim and I at the food show were their range of no-added-sugar jams. According to the website this means they can't legally be termed jam, to which I say: oooh, subversive! With 99% fruit content, a card-carrying diabetic like Tim and a gal like me blessed with the most sluggish of metabolisms can hardly go wrong. As well as being worthy these jams are also delicious, but with all that fruit in there taking up the space that sugar and artificial flavours take up in other jams, how could they not be?

I only tried this briefly, but was entranced. Normally I like to make my own marinadey-rub-saucy stuff but I realise not everyone is as militant as I. At Raymond's stall was a range of flat mushrooms, each swimming appealingly in its own individual marinade for the tasting. I tried the Persian one and it was gorgeous - enticingly warm and spicy, which contrasted beautifully with the juicy, meaty mushrooms.

Avocado oil is special, and this Grove Avocado Oil is some of the finest avocado oil that I've had the pleasure of dipping a piece of bread into. It's actually delicious stuff - rich but not cloying, mellow and flavoursome and, you can hardly tell from my hastily taken photo, the most gorgeous, luminous verdant green colour.

7. The Wright Sprouts (so organic that they don't even have a website!)

I guess it goes without saying that I'd be into sprouts. Since I'm also a known lover of the rolled oat and the lentil. But whatever, I say, these are really, really good. And I don't mean just "good for, you know, sprouts", I mean good. Crunchy, wholesome, light, crisp, juicy, leafy tasting sprouts are what the Wright Sprout people do and they do it well. And they gave me an extra bag for free (now I have five bags of sprouts!) so in my mind they can do no wrong.

As I said earlier, I'm one of those cooking freaks who likes to make their own stuff, but if you are like the 99% of people who don't have the time or the inclination to make lime curd, then I can wholeheartedly recommend the stuff that St Andrews Limes makes. The lime curd itself is wonderfully tangy and full-flavoured with a particularly beautiful texture, that so many other commercial brands get wrong. Also in their impressive lineup of products is a saffron infused lime curd - intense in flavour and deeply golden in colour - and Lime Burst, which they describe as an "eggless aioli". It is sour and salty and seriously addictive (you're allowed to sample the products at the food festival but I wanted to run off with the jar and drink this stuff.) All products are gluten free and made without additives or preservatives - bravo! And their website features all manner of enticing recipes.

I ate about a kilo of each type of sausage that they had on display. I don't think they're organic or sustainable or anything like that but their sausages are ridiculously good and sometimes that outweighs everything. Don't hate me.
Also there's something about the word "smallgoods" that makes me giggle. We were there for seven hours, okay?

I left this till last because frankly, words fail me when it comes to even attempting to describe the deliciousness of the Canaan cheeses and yoghurts. The yoghurt surpassed any I've ever tried - including in Europe - thick, soft and voluptuous in texture and creamy yet tangy in flavour. I ended up buying four pots of the stuff. Don't even get me started on their halloumi. For those of you who don't know, halloumi is a special type of cheese that holds its shape when pan-fried. And as with the yoghurt, the Canaan brand is quite the nicest I've ever had, quickly fried on the spot in front of me and handed on a toothpick by the charming people at the stall. All the cheeses are Kosher, made with vegetarian rennet and without preservatives. I have nothing but praise for this company and frankly there's little I'd rather do right now than lock myself into a room with nothing but a vat of their strawberry yoghurt and a spoon for company. Buy some, and soon!
Honourable mention must go to the Petone House of Knives, whose lovely representatives managed to charm me into buying a potato ricer when I wasn't even entirely sure that I needed one; the fantastic Freedom Farms bacon being given out by the good people at the SPCA; Tim was happy as a clam with his 5 containers of Kono Mussels for $10 (including Manuka Smoked ones); and the good people at Lindt who were handing out the faint-makingly wonderful white chocolate Lindor balls with gay abandon; the fragrant LemonFresh Pantry Essentials stall who handed out beautiful little cakes and whose stall I could have stood by inhaling all day; and the SeJuice Feijoa juice which was just...perfect.
We also managed to take in a presentation by charismatic NZ fabulosity Peta Mathias, who enrobed shrimps in yoghurty marinade and potatoes in ghee while telling us tales of the cuisine of Rajasthan. She finished by singing La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf to one of the event organisers, which was bewildering but also touching...I was disappointed that my favourite Cuisine magazine writer, Ray McVinnie, was only presenting on the Friday and Saturday, but perhaps next year...I was also disappointed that we didn't win the Electrolux fridge. I just was.
So there you have it. This is by no means a comprehensive review - (it's ad hoc, as I say when I'm at the office) - and there were many other fantastic companies presenting food. It wasn't perfect - it felt as though there were slightly less exhibitors this year, although I'm not one of nature's gaugers so I could be wrong. In spite of heaters blasting at intervals (usually near wide open doors) the venue was pretty freezing. And again, the lack of Ray McVinnie on Sunday was a little dampening. But on the whole it was one heck of a day, opening my eyes to a range of new, exciting products and of course, enabling me to partake in one of my favourite hobbies, sampling free food.
On Shuffle while I'm writing this:
For once, no Broadway, but instead a mix of Okkervil River tunes as we're going to see them tomorrow night and I want to get in the zone.
That said, I have also listened to Birdhouse In Your Soul, by the beautiful Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Greene, from the soundtrack to the equally beautiful Pushing Daisies soundtrack, oh, 18 times this evening...
Next time: I make my own butter. Lovingly.

7 May 2009

shank goodness

Breaking News: IT'S CURRENTLY LESS THAN 48 HOURS TILL THE FOOD SHOW (actually it already started today, but I'm going on Sunday, and I'm hopeless at maths and can't actually figure out specifically how much less than 48 hours it is away so...momentum sustained!) I have blog business cards at the ready and my camera batteries charged and once at the event I will blog...hard.

We Wellingtonians are lucky folk. Sure, Auckland gets EVERYTHING, but we have Moore Wilson's food warehouse, which is superior to any food place I've ever been. And friend, I have been food places.

That said, I popped in there casually last Sunday, looking for quinces and brisket - you know, the usual basics - and found neither. Being as Moore Wilson's is well on the other side of town from where I live I decided I wasn't leaving without buying something to make the trip worthwhile and, in that sort of daze that ensues after walking a long distance and contemplating how long it will take you to get back home again, I ended up purchasing some succulent, happy farm-raised lamb shanks and a bag of organic pearl barley. The brisket I wanted for a recipe I saw in the latest Cuisine magazine, the publication of my heart, but with shanks in hand an idea of my own materialised quickly...

(Speaking of quinces, I hope I haven't missed their season. I understand it lasts from about 7.40am May 1st to 4.20pm May 10th, well in the Southern Hemisphere at least.)

Lamb Shanks with Marsala, Tomatoes, and Borlotti Beans

A few things you should know prior to the recipe reading experience:

1- I made this up on Sunday, so it hasn't been thoroughly tested or anything.
2- The lamb shanks came in a pack of three, even though lambs have four legs. Can anyone explain this as it has been preventing me from focussing on more important things in life.
3-This type of casserole is very low-maintenance, feel free to add other things to it. This is just what I did...

In a large casserole dish, place two onions, finely sliced, four cloves of garlic, also finely sliced, and two carrots, chopped into batons. On top of this, place your lamb shanks. Pour over 125 mls dry Marsala, 400 mls water, and a tin of chopped tomatoes. Add a couple of bay leaves, place the lid on top, and bake at 160 C for an hour or two. About half an hour before you're ready to serve, rinse a tin of borlotti beans and add this to the casserole dish, stirring a little. You may need to add a little butter and flour rubbed together to the liquid, which will thicken the sauce as it cooks in the oven. Serve as you like - over rice, couscous, potatoes, or as I did, wet polenta.

Is there a word for the moment where you're stirring your polenta and you taste it to see if it's done - if all the grit has cooked into delicious softness - and in doing so you burn the roof of your mouth? I bet the Italians have, like, thirty ways to describe this.

Above: No false modesty here - these lamb shanks were really good. I don't think you could go wrong with the ingredients though, so maybe culinary conservativeness on my part was the reason it turned out so well. The meat straddled a pleasing crossroads, being partly melt-off-the-bone tender and partly maintaining enough reassuring 'bite' to it, to ensure it didn't lose its identity in the dish entirely. Marsala is amazing, adding its reliably fabulous flavour to the whole shebang. And the borlotti beans held their own, providing an earthy counterpoint to the sweetness of the meaty young shanks and the creaminess of the polenta.

By the way, I LOVE polenta. I make it in an unorthodox way (if you're Italian, cover the eyes of any young children around and avert your own) in that I add the cornmeal to the water while it's cold, stir till smooth, and then heat that mixture to the boil. It's just that I haven't mastered the art of adding the cornmeal to boiling water without it siezing up in unforgiving, solid clumps that will not be whisked out. And there are few things more depressing than lumpy polenta.

The next day, inspired by a post on the lovely Sarah's blog (when I say inspired, I think I read the post around six month ago) I used the leftover lamb shanks in a risotto.

I sauteed two chopped onions and a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, then added carnaroli rice (actually I accidentally dropped the bag into the pan, spilling out quite a lot of rice grains. This is not the method I recommend you take. Chronic clumsiness + obscenely expensive artisinal rice = howls of pain). After stirring this for a bit, I poured in a generous slosh of Noilly Prat - from the bottle pictured in my header picture, come to think of it - and then stirred in the tomatoey sauce from the lamb shank dish, and plenty of water, stirring till the rice absorbed it. I carried on in this fashion - add liquid, stir, absorb, etc, and then finally chopped up all the remaining meat off the third shank and folded it into the risotto, whose grains of rice had now swollen puffily to absorb the meaty, winy, tomatoey juices.

Is there an Italian word for that thing where you eat so much risotto in the process of making it - bearing in mind that you have to stand there stirring it for at least half an hour - that by the time it gets to eating the finished product for dinner you're not really hungry? From what I nibbled stoveside, it was delicious, a really hearty, wholesome, heftily flavoursome dinner. So thankyou Sarah for the inspiration, now that the opportunity has finally arisen! I should point out that Sarah went on to make leftover leftover-stew-risotto risotto cakes, however I cannot even attempt to achieve those dizzy heights of food recycling.

Speaking of Wellington, if you're ever lurking near the Terrace (ie, the office building hub of the city) I can thoroughly recommend the coffee at Rise, where my work team had a little farewell lunch for a beloved colleage. I hate goodbyes but I loved Rise. The service was impeccable - attentive but not creepy, sassy but not rude. She's a fine line. The food was excellent, if a little on the expensive side, but you could tell it wasn't scooped out of a vat out the back (and if it was, they did a fine job of disguising the fact). And, as I said, the coffee - in this case a long black - was perfect.

Rise Cafe
90 The Terrace (straight across the road from the top of the Woodward St Stairs)
Wellington City
04-472 2400
On Shuffle while I was writing this:
1: A Thousand Beautiful Things/Beautiful Day - by the fantastic Julia Murney at Birdland, one of the few people I'd trust to take on Annie Lennox...can be found on her album I'm Not Waiting
2: Deborah - T-Rex, from John Peel: A Tribute
3: I'm Straight - Modern Lovers, from their eponymous album, which I finally found after a long search this year. It's surprisingly elusive...
Next time: I'm blogging the Wellington Food Show. Well, someone has to - last year when I did it I got the blankest stares from most of the people running the booths, and I'm endeavouring to change that. It's nothing heroic, mostly self-promotion, but nevertheless something I feel strongly about. Also I have this urge to make butter from scratch and bought myself a litre of cream with which to do so.

3 May 2009

the dough must go on

My problem with homemade pasta is psychological: I always, every time, bury deep within me and ignore the fact that I have to roll out the dough using my deranged pasta machine and the traumatic act of doing so will render me too sweaty and exhausted and emotionally fragile to properly enjoy the finished product. Every time.

I think even if I had a pasta machine that didn't emit high pitched death-squeals, and that didn't change from setting 1 to setting 6 without warning, and whose handle wouldn't fall off every thirty seconds, it is still the sort of thing that shouldn't be undertaken in a kitchen such as ours.

To wit:

This is, more or less, the kitchen in my flat. It measures 3 1/2 metres by 2 1/2 metres, and I know, that sounds pretty spacious. But within that space, as well as what you see above, is a table, two fridges, a washing machine, a three-tier plastic rack which holds various things - spices, the tinfoil, our collection of plastic bags - and an entirely superfluous sink in the corner that doesn't work and which serves as storage space for various cooking implements. This image above was taken for a photo essay I did last year, so be assured that while the spatula indeed was on the floor because of natural causes (ie, someone dropped it there and didn't pick it up) it has since been moved. All that aside, can you imagine trying to make pasta in this space? It's not exactly the spacious, sun-warmed cobbles of Tuscany or the spacious, granite-topped stainless-steel abode of Nigella Lawson. If one person turns the handle of the pasta machine, the other person feeding the lump of dough in and out of the roller ends up standing in the hallway, clutching the ever-thinning sheet of pasta, weeping softly as flour gets trampled permanently into the carpet.

Such is the power of an evocative cookbook - in this case, Italian Comfort Food by the Scotto Family of New York. It has a recommendation on the front cover from Regis Philbin so, you know, it must be good. It is filled with family photos - the Scotto family all glowing and gorgeously Italian - and anecdotes of famous customers to their cafe, Fresco (did you know Jennifer Aniston likes their tuna salad? Giuliani was a regular? And my favourite, Bill Clinton once ate seven ice cream sandwiches meant for his dinner guests, while they sat there watching politely?) It is one of the few American cookbooks that has instantly appealed to me (I know you're the leaders of the free world but till you stop measuring butter in cups and sticks I remain unimpressed) and every single recipe gives me that feeling of kitcheny anticipation.

One such recipe was for ravioli with black truffles and red beets (or beetroot as we say here, and as I will from now on), which is the reason for my whole aforementioned rant about the Jeckyll-and-Hyde nature of my pasta machine and the lamentably tiny size of my kitchen. The recipe stuck in my head though and not only am I a sucker for beetroot, I also thought I could make use of this bottle of white truffle oil that I bought ages ago and have barely used since.

Perception is a funny thing though. Ravioli sounds pretty easy - lay out a sheet of pasta, make small piles of mixture, fold over your pasta, cut...but for me it was a classic case of easier said than done. After taking the above photo, I ended up individually wrapping the dough around the filling, pressing the edges together haphazardly and, towards the end, somewhat maniacally. I did about four or five ravioli at a time before heading back to the pasta machine to roll out another lump of dough. This was not a swift process, the dough would tear and refuse to stick to itself, and the beetroot would just...spread. Nevertheless, the finished product was utterly delicious, so if you want to recreate this emotional mess in your own kitchen, follow my lead.

I was pleased to see that the Scotto family recipe for pasta seemed to echo Nigella Lawson's - one egg per 100g flour, which kneaded together equals one serving. None of this Jamie Oliver/Gordon Ramsey business where it seems as though they're in silent competition with each other, trying to see who can have the most audacious number of egg yolks in their recipe. I'm not saying their pasta wouldn't be delicious, or that they don't know what they're doing, just...three words: current economic climate..

For the filling I deviated from the delicious sounding recipe to accomodate what I had in my fridge. This is what happened: I roasted two foil wrapped beetroot for an hour, till a cake tester could be plunged into them without resistance. They were then mashed roughly (and I should have whizzed them in the food processer but was too lazy, don't be like me) with 125mls sour cream, some chopped garlic, a few drops of white truffle oil, and some crumbled feta cheese. Once this was haphazardly and hamfistedly turned into ravioli, I cooked them in rapidly boiling, heavily salted water for about 1 minute.

And despite being the most woeful-looking, irregularly shaped ravioli to the point where it is almost an insult to Italy to name them as such, they tasted utterly marvelous.

So good I can almost forgive my pasta machine, even though I'm scared it might stab me in my sleep.
As you can see, beetroot isn't the most well-behaved of vegetables and its deep crimson juice seeped into the pasta dough, creating a marbled pink surface on the cooked pasta which wasn't really the least bit attractive. To serve, I tossed them in a little melted butter and sprinkled them with mint and parmesan. Despite appearances they really were good - the deep-toned creaminess of the sour cream mingling pleasingly with the sweetness of the beetroot and the almost terrifying pungency of the truffle oil, which made itself felt even in the tiny quantities that I used.

Tim and I went to a play last night, because we cultured like buttermilk. The play was God of Carnage, it's very recent and currently lighting up Broadway and starring James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels and Marcia Gay Harden. It is a French play but originated in English on the West End and starred the ridiculously cool Janet McTeer and Tamsin Grieg, plus the moderately cool Ralph Fiennes. With that alone in mind, it's quite exciting that someone in New Zealand managed to secure the rights to stage it so soon. The play itself was hilarious, but rather excruciatingly so, as the four characters onstage slowly became less and less able to maintain their social graces and good manners with each other.

What Wikipedia can't tell you however, is that at the age of 23 I managed to book tickets online for - how do I explain this - what I thought was the 2nd of May, but was actually the 1st. So, we had tickets for Friday night but I thought they were for Saturday night, and when we showed up to Circa Theatre on Saturday night wearing arty theatre-going clothes and anticipating an evening of light entertainment, the woman at the box office gave me a blank stare and said that we couldn't go in. Mercifully, after a stomach-clenching wait wherein I was able to contemplate my own debilitating uselessness, we were told that there were two free seats - not together, but whatevs - that we could take. My peevish hatred for the box office lady who laughed at my predicament softened into the deepest gratitude. All of which seemed to heighten the awkwardness that the characters on the stage portrayed. A particular treat was that it starred the brilliant Jeffrey Thomas, who I recognised instantly from one of his more recent roles as irrepressible hippie commune polygamist Vern in Outrageous Fortune, and whose rich, mellifluous voice is a delight to the ears.

Afterwards we decided to have a debrief over a drink (or, as I used to say before I started working full-time in an office, "a conversation") and found this delightful, utterly gorgeous place called Duke Carvell's, off Cuba Street. It was so lovely that afterwards I wondered if I dreamed the whole thing. We went on a whim - after aimlessly walking up Cuba, not being able to settle on anywhere, it appeared out of nowhere, tucked down Swan Lane, which is really an abandoned parking lot and therefore not as charming as it sounds. Duke Carvell's is quiet from the outside and softly lit with fairy lights - oh, I'm a sucker for fairly lights - and inside mismatched chandeliers and candles illuminate paintings of various sizes and the books and trinkets artfully laden upon the wall-mounted shelves.

Our dapper friend Scotty joined us for a drink, which was lovely, and then without warning a full-on brass band burst through the doors, circled the room playing their music, before leaving as swiftly and mysteriously as they came. I have no idea if the band were in cahoots with the owners of the place or if they were as bewildered as the rest of us, but it certainly added a delightfully surreal touch to the night. The drinks, however, are eyebrow-raisingly expensive, as though there's a $2 surcharge for the ambience...

Overheard In Our Kitchen

Laura: Man, that Duke Carvell's place was cool. Really gorgeous. I'm glad we found it.
Tim: Yep.
Laura: But so expensive. Like they had a $2 surcharge for the ambience or something.
Tim: Sure.
Laura: Heh. Surcharge for the ambience. I'm gonna use that in my blog.
Tim: Okay...

What came on shuffle while I was writing this:

1: Another Year: A Short History of Almost Something by Amanda Palmer, from Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
2: I Will Never Leave You, by Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley, from the 52nd Tony Awards performance
3: El Paso, by Marty Robbins, from Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs

Next time: Lamb shanks with Marsala. That's if the photos turn out pretty, difficult with braisy-stewy-casseroly type dishes...

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