Thursday, January 25, 2007

A new NZ wine blog

New blog: The Wine Consultant - check out this informative New Zealand blog about the world of wine - well worth a look.

Rewena Bread - conclusion

Rewena Bread - Stage 3: Construction / Completion

NB. I've since added some suggestions which may improve the flavour of the bread - a big thanks to Mary from La Tavola.

With my mother installed as overseer and technical advisor, it was time to bake some bread - out came the ingredients:

1/2 litre of starter/bug (feed the remainder with sugar & water; otherwise pop in the fridge if you're not wanting to make more bread anytime soon)
4 tbspn sugar
5 cups flour

1 tspn salt

Combine dry ingredients and form a well, either in a bowl or on a clean surface. Pour bug into well and mix (yes, that's my mum - she started it and I eventually jumped in).


You may find you'll need to add water to the mixture if it appears too dry.

Time to knead the dough; more flour may be required to make it firmer. Kneading serves to further combine the ingredients, as well as distributing tiny air pockets evenly throughout the dough, thus strengthening its structure. Parallels were drawn between my kneading and that of an alsation playing the piano, so again my mother stepped in to show me how it's done (UPDATE - Mary suggested a couple of tips at this point: the dough should be a little sticky - too much flour when kneading can make it dry, as can too much kneading, which should be done for ten minutes at the most).

Cut (if necessary) and shape your dough. Place in a bowl, cover and leave to prove for a few hours in a warm place (such as the backseat of a 1985 Ford Laser parked in the sun UPDATE - er, this may be a tad too hot: if the proofing temperature is too high, not only will it drive off moisture, but temperatures above 35C stress the yeast - try your airing/hotwater cupboard instead). The dough will by now have almost doubled in size; knead again to remove any large air pockets that may have formed.

Bake at 200 Celsius in a greased loaf tin (which I don't have, hence the improv metal bowl-thingy) for 45-50 minutes. As the baking draws to a close, test the bread with a skewer or knock on the top of th
e loaf - if it sounds hollow, it's ready.

Well, it certainly looks impressive, but how did it taste? Bland. The last time I had rewena bread was a loaf I'd bought from the Albert St market in Palmerston North; it was firm and sweet. This, while big and bountiful, tasted a little dry and lacked the distinctive taste of that loaf, the subtle tang combined with its characteristic sweetness. I'm not entirely sure what went wrong - mum attributed it to the potatoes (I used new instead of floury(sp?) potatoes which are meant to be better), or some sort of glitch during fermentation. No matter - this was my first effort and now that I have a bug, I can try again and hopefully develop my rudimentary baking skills.

A big twenty-one gun salute to mummo for all her help and patience (bless!).

UPDATE - Mary also suggested using a little honey in the dough mixture; it retains moisture, limiting the likelyhood of the dough drying out while also imparting sweetness and flavour (depending on the type you use, say, Manuka).

Monday, January 22, 2007

Rewena Bread - woohoo!

Rewena Bread - Stage 2: Fermentation
We have fermentation! There's definitely a reaction going on, with the starter increasing in size by a third! I'm going to have to find another jar. Time to feed it a teaspoon of sugar, mixed into the goo with a knife. Tomorrrow, I'll be adding half a cup of the water from some boiled potatoes. Two more sleeps until the bakeoff!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Rewena Bread - the beginning

Rewena Bread - Stage 1: Making the 'Bug'

After persistent badgering and negotiation (with absurd promises made on my part of producing grandchildren within the next five years), my mother very kindly showed me how to make rewena bread, a Maori favourite. Rewena paraoa (potato bread) tastes sweet and has a slight sour/tang flavour to it, a result of the long period of fermentation it undergoes. A bug or starter is created a few days before the actual baking of the bread, using flour, water, sugar and potato (the potato serving as the leavening agent). This is left to ferment which, when finally added to the rest of the bread ingredients to make dough, produces a wonderfully textured, flavoursome loaf.

The starter can be maintained for an indefinite length of time. Once you've made dough, a piece of it can be removed to make the starter for your next batch of bread, adding flour initially and then water and sugar to keep it alive. My mother talked of how as a child, bread was made every two or three days for her and her seven(!) siblings by my grandmother, using a starter which had been kept for as long as she could remember. This article on bread in Wikipedia talks of how some traditional bakers in Europe have starters which are several human generations old!

This, clearly, is a project that will take a few days. To make the starter, you will need:

-1 medium sized potato ('rewa' in Maori), sliced
-1 cup water
-2 cups of flour
-1 teaspoon sugar
-lukewarm water, on hand

Place your potato in a pot with the cup of water (with the potato being sliced, the cup of water should be sufficient to cover it). Boil until cooked, then leave in the pot until lukewarm (DO NOT drain the water). Mash the potato.

Gradually add flour and sugar to the pot, mixing all the while until the ingredients are combined resulting in a firm, batter-like paste (you will have to add lukewarm water to the mixture as it gets dry). It will have very small lumps - don't worry, these will break down as the mixture ferments.

Pour the starter into a clean, sterilised agee jar or similar container, cover loosely and leave in a warm place to ferment. Hopefully, it will increase in size so make sure your container is large enough to accomodate it. Over the next day or so, the starter will have to be fed to maintain fermentation: 1 teaspoon of sugar and half a cup of lukewarm potato water. Once it starts to rise and form bubbles, it's time to add the rest of the ingredients to make rewena bread. Come back soon to see if it works!

UPDATE: Don't salt the water when cooking the potato - it negates the fermentation process. Also, if you're able to find some, try using Maori potatoes (taewa maori), of which there are several kinds (PDF file) - try experimenting!

Friday, January 12, 2007

How to order wine - "Waiter Rant" archive

I paid a visit to 'Waiter Rant', not having read it in quite a while. It's a thoroughly engaging blog written by an anonymous American waiter passing comment on his job, his colleagues, customers and the restaurant he works in, not to mention observations on life and the world at large. Apparently, he's secured a book deal, such is his popularity, having written for his blog since 2004 - well done!

Being a relative newbie to the world of wine etiquette, this post was very helpful to me so I thought I'd share it with you. Equally as interesting as his posts are the comments left by visitors to his blog, often a good source of information, as well as amusement.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Kawhia Kai Festival, February 3

Kawhia, situated on the west coast south of Raglan, has its annual Traditional Maori Kai Festival on the third of February. Maori kai - traditional and modern - are on offer, as well as a raft of cultural events and activities throughout the day (moko demonstrations, bands, kapahaka displays and more). Last year's festival had a record ten thousand people in attendance, with numbers expected to be well in excess of that this year - I shall be there (popping down from Raglan where I'll be staying), camera in hand! It's a part of the country I've never been to, and I'm looking forward to my trip. I'm also packing the pants with the elasticated waist in readiness...

Click here for a map of the area.

The Harvest Hawke's Bay Wine Festival is on that same weekend too. Eat, drink and be merry, kids!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Filleting & smoking trout, or, how I earnt my man-badge this summer

Nothing says "I'm a man, despite my advanced knowledge of interior decorating" than catching, filleting and smoking trout. Paul, an avid, accomplished fisherman (and full-time man), gave me a trout in December. Having spent most of my life buying my fish pre-filleted and never having smoked one either, it seemed the perfect time to resurrect it from the freezer and to give vent to my inner hunter/gatherer (who, in a previous life, would have lived in a very well appointed cave).

Having thawed the trout, it was time to start. Paul had gutted it, leaving me with the descaling, removing the head and filleting. The first two actions were reasonably straight forward; the filleting posed more of a challenge. The aim was to remove the fillets from the rib cage and the backbone to create a butterfly fillet (you'll see what I mean soon). After wiping the trout down to prevent slippage, I began by placing the knife where the head was and running the knife between the rib cage and the flesh, with the tip of the blade moving along the backbone. Once you reach the tail, repeat this process on the other side.

Such skill! Witness the precision of the knife-wielder...

...and witness the true source of his power. Not having the foggiest idea of how to fillet fish, I found this (PDF file) on a website which took you through the process, gutting and filleting, step-by-step. It even had video clips you could stream or download demonstrating the actions. Having found it, the laptop was placed on the kitchen bench, close at hand, for assistance. For a beginner, the file was very helpful and I'm sure there are plenty of other resources, online or otherwise, that would be equally useful.

Once you have your two connected fillets (a butterfly fillet), you can remove the backbone, ribs and tail by simply pulling it off. Despite the clean-looking shot above, the bench looked like a crime scene. The first fillet (the bottom one in the photo) was relatively easy to remove; the other was damn awkward. My knife wasn't close enough to the rib cage and in the process of getting it back there, I kept leaving wee chunks of flesh behind - it looked very messy, certainly not the tidiest fillet in the world. If I ever come across you in a grievously wounded state, requiring immediate emergency field surgery, whether it's on the battlefield, a car crash or some industrial accident, take the knife off me and send me to fetch boiling water and towels - you won't regret it.Now to prepare the fillets. After separating them, put them aside and grab a bowl into which you'll put two tablespoons of salt and a cup of brown sugar. Mix thoroughly and then sprinkle liberally over the flesh side of your two fillets. Straight away, it'll start to absorbe the excess moisture of your fish. The mixture serves as a buffer to the smoke. Don't be concerned if it seems you have a lot of the salt and sugar mixture; the excess will run off.

Now cover your fillets and place in the fridge overnight.

One of three furry, four-legged seagulls that infest my kitchen.

And now for the final leg of this experiment : the smoking of the fillets. The reason why we're smoking in this instance is to improve the flavour of the trout. Smoking is also performed to cook, as well as preserve foods (this is a very useful Wikipedia link about smoking in all its forms - I never knew Lapsang souchong tea was smoked to give it its flavour!). You can smoke almost anything - fish, chicken and other white meat, red meat and even fruit (doesn't this sound exotic - I might give it a whirl during the apple harvest).
Here, I used manuka chips. Sprinkle one or two handfuls of chips over the base of the smoker - don't use anymore than this otherwise it imparts a bitter taste to the fish.
Pull your fillets out of the fridge a good hour or so before you start to cook. Pop the rack into the smoker and then place your fillets on top of that.

The burner section of the smoker has two little dishes for the methylated spirits. Pour enough so as to reach the halfway point, which provides fuel for around twelve to fifteen minutes (my time might be a little out - I am new to this).

Now at this point, I have to share a story with you. Millions of years ago when I was in the fifth form at high school, Miss Smith, my English teacher, shared a (somewhat apocryphal) story about a famous New Zealand writer. At the height of his alcoholism, and when money was tight, the gentleman would resort to drinking methylated spirits. To render it drinkable(ish), he would pour the meths through a couple of layers of burnt toast, filtering out the methanol and emetics which would ordinarily make you ill. I'm not sure how accurate this tale is, or if the chemistry is sound but it's an image that's stuck with me since I was 15 (that, and fragments of a poem he wrote about explosions and the beach - I can't for the life of me remember its name).

Light your meths.

Cleansing, purifying flame - cheers, Prometheus!

Pop the smoker on top of the burners, then take a peek through the little air holes just to make sure the flames haven't gone out. Make sure the lid is secure and then leave it. It takes around twelve to fifteen minutes for the meths to burn up. Once the fire is out (again, take a peek through the air holes), take the smoker off the burners and remove the lid. Your fillets should have a rich, golden-caramel colour to them.

The flesh should be white; if it's opaque, it's undercooked. It should also have a slight sheen to it.

You HAVE to click on this photo - it looks delectable!

How do they taste? Delicious! Very moist and succulent. Sweet, but not overly so and this is probably due to the tempering effect of the manuka smoke. Watch out for bones as you're eating.
Smoked trout always tastes good on slices of toasted bread with a squeeze of lemon.

A big fireworks-laden 'thank you' to Jen, Paul, Doug and Kerry for their help in this post.


-Want to keep your hands fish smell-free? Clean them with a cut lemon or listen to my mum and rub them against the inside of your stainless steel kitchen sink (it's mentoned in the 'gutting fish' article I linked to earlier in this post - it works!)

-Don't have a smoker? Your barbecue will serve just as effectively, providing it has a firm lid or top of some description. Adapt the method shown accordingly

-A collection of recipes using smoked trout, courtesy of Cuisine magazine (scroll down past main article)

-From Kai Time (a magnificent show with the most mouth-watering food - watch it!): Smoked trout on spinach with freshwater koura (PDF file)

-Lucky last: line your smoker with foil before you scattter your sawdust - makes cleaning up afterwards that much easier (thank you, Ted)