Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Time to head off and stoke the boiler in my ride so I can roll the streets tonight with my crew! 2009 has been a very good year for me, and one of the most memorable in such a long, long time. I've grown more comfortable in the kitchen, and my skill set has grown considerably; I've started my own little business; the blog took off and I have a large and steady readership; I've met so many new people, rediscovered old friends from my past, and for a little while, I was loved by someone special. It's been a very grand year indeed...

Advice for the new year? Don't rely on miracles - make your own good fortune. It sounds glib, but my god, it actually did work for me. Give it a whirl and see what happens.

Have a glorious new year, everyone.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Hanukkah!

Meet Dan and Gwen. Dan is a local lad; Waipawa born and raised, he's the former owner of a ferocious looking beard, is very well travelled, and in the course of his journeys, met Gwen. Gwen is an American (from Seattle), Jewish and has seen more of this great planet than compatriot Sarah Palin is ever likely to. We were talking at work one day about December and Christmas, when she mentioned that the season for her is experienced a little differently than your average kiwi.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Under Construction

Hello! The blog is undergoing a makeover, minus the Ty Pennington shouty-megaphone bits - I even have a proper web site designer doing the work! The preliminaries look brilliant and once revealed, I'll fill you in on all the background - it's going to look fantastic! I've a few posts to put up before that though, looking at jam and Aunt Daisy, Hanukkah, butcher's blocks and another way of cleaning pans! But those will have to wait, for I'm off to town for some last minute Christmas shopping before starting work at the restaurant. I'll fire off a Christmas post afterwards but till then, have a good day, be civil to each other, and spare a thought to those less fortunate than yourselves - in fact, do more than that; give them something, whether it be food, cash or your time. Bye for now...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Honeyed Whiskey Mustard

Just a quickie today. With the growing abundance of late spring/summer produce, and after last weeks chutney exercise, I've caught the condiment bug. Over the next few weeks, I plan to make some relishes and sauces, but for now, here's an old mustard recipe I've put to work.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Rhubarb & Custard...

...cocktail! I had a little rhubarb left over from the chutney, and still wanting to keep away from the usual things folk make with the red stuff, I thought a drink of some description would be worth a try. So after trawling through my cookbooks and asking the internet, I found this (apologies in advance for the non-metric measurements - I'll change them soon):

Rhubarb, Apricot & Ginger Chutney

At the bottom of your typical New Zealand backyard, just past Francesco the Jack Russell's grave and the smelly old compost pile, is an oft neglected plant found in many a New Zealand back yard: the rhubarb plant. It's a sturdy thing, requiring little in the way of attention; bearing a resemblance to silverbeet, it has long crimson stalks topped with full, leafy green, leaves. 

Friday, December 04, 2009

Reconditioning a Cast Iron Frying Pan

When I'm not busy wrestling middle-aged women for vintage cookbooks at garage sales, I can be found rummaging through piles of bric-a-brac for old kitchen treasures. Say hello to my latest acquisition, an old, cast-off cast iron frying pan. With an eye to restoring it back to its former glory (thanks to Greg's post here), it accompanied me home to the Kai Lab.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Clearing Out the Fridge 2 - Peanut Butter & Jelly Toasted Sandwich

Remember my last post, where I found the membrillo lurking in the back of my fridge? I also came across a jar of Welch's grape jam, an American pantry staple sent to me ages ago by my friend Ashley. This brought immediately to mind a recipe given to me the other day by Gwen, a genuine American citizen living in Waipawa! It's for a peanut butter and jelly toasted sandwich. Here goes...

PB 'n' J Toasted Sandwich
You will need:

  • 2 pieces of white bread
  • butter
  • grape jam or jelly (hard to find but you could try Trademe, Ebay, or the neat Asian food store in Napier near Firecats - they get it in every once in a while, as well as A&W root beer!)
  • smooth peanut butter
Grab a frying pan and heat over a hob on a temperature somewhere between low and medium. While that's happening, butter your two pieces of bread. Flip the slices over and spread thickly with peanut butter. Then spread one piece with a generous helping of grape jelly. Sandwich together with the buttered sides facing outwards. Place in your frying pan and brown first one side, then the other. Remove the pan from the heat, slip your toasted sandwich onto a plate and devour with a glass of milk. God bless America...and antacids.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Clearing Out the Fridge - Membrillo

I was cleaning out my fridge the other day (no treasures to be found, apart from a bottle of creaming soda mix for my Sodastream - w00t!) ) when I came across this, the last of the membrillo I made back in May. Membrillo, originating in Spain, is a firm sliceable paste made from quince, typically served with manchego. Other cheeses work just as well; when I made it, I was shovelling it down with some vintage gouda - delicious! It's still in excellent condition, thanks to its high sugar content and having lived in the fridge all this time.

While quince aren't in season until autumn, knowing how to make membrillo is a handy skill to have. Like lemons and grapefruit in this country, it's not uncommon to see quince languishing on trees and going to waste (a bugbear of mine), due to folk being unaware of their potential. Write this down and consider making it once they're available; quince paste ain't cheap to buy, plus it's immensely satisfying to make. Here's the recipe:

  • 1.8 kg of quince, washed, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
  • 1 vanilla pod, split and scraped
  • lemon peel, 2 band-aid sized strips
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • sugar - keep it handy; the amount you'll need won't be determined until we start cooking
Place quince pieces in a large pot and cover with water. Add vanilla pod, seeds and lemon peel and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the quince pieces are soft, about half an hour.

Strain the water from the quince pieces. Discard the vanilla pod but keep the lemon peel with the quince. Blitz with a stick mixer or a food processor. Now weigh the quince - whatever amount you have, you'll need the equivalent amount in sugar eg, 5 cups of quince puree = 5 cups of sugar.

Return the quince to the pot. Heat to medium-low. Add the sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has completely dissolved - this step is important; if it does't dissolve properly, it won't gel. Once done, add the lemon juice.

Continue to cook over a low heat for 1 - 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally. The paste will gradually thicken and turn an orangey pink colour.

Preheat oven to a low 55°C. Line an 18 cm x 22 cm pan with baking paper. Grease it with a thin coating of butter and pour in the paste. Using a knife, smooth out the paste so that it's evenly distributed, and place in the oven for about an hour and a half. Remove from the oven to cool.
To serve, cut into cubes or wedges and pair with cheese, traditionally manchego. To store, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge.

Handy links:

So what exactly is a quince? clickety

Things to do with quince paste clickety

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ca Phe Sua Da / Vietnamese Iced Coffee

I had ca phe sua da for the first time many years ago at university. It was at the flat of a friend who was eager to show off the new gadgets his girlfriend had bought him from her homeland, Vietnam. We sat at their kitchen table impressed as glasses topped with little cup-like pots dripped coffee onto sweetened condensed milk. Once done, the pot was removed, the glass given a quick stir, and then topped with ice and a straw. It was delicious, and the best thing about that hot day. A few months ago, I came across some Vietnamese press pots at The Main Street Deli in Greytown (a neat little store in a beautiful little town), and snapped them up immediately, hoping to use them when it got warmer. Given the state of the weather here, now's as good a time as any.

You'll need:

  • Vietnamese Press Pots (try your local Asian market or Trademe & Ebay)
  • Tall Glasses
  • Parfait Spoons (you can use any spoons; parfait are just ideal given the length of the glass)
  • Coffee (tradition calls for a French dark roast with Chicory)
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • Ice
  • Water, & something to no-quite-boil it in

The press pot is an interesting device. It comprises the pot, which has a screen on the bottom and a mount to which the filter is attached by winding it on. The extent to which you wind determines the strength of your coffee; the tighter the fit, the slower the flow of water and consequently, the stronger the brew. There is also a lid/sauce, as well as a set of instructions. The unit cost $12 from memory.

Down to business: placing the pot on its lid, pour in two tablespoons of coffee or enough until it reaches just below the screw mount; anymore than that and you'll have difficulty screwing down the filter.

Place the filter on the screw mount and wind down. Again, the tighter you have it, the stronger your coffee will be.

Put your water on to boil and be ready to remove it just before it reaches the rolling boil stage. While that's steaming away, get your glass ready. Pour in a hearty measure of condensed milk, around two to three heaping tablespoons. Place the pot on top. Once your water's ready, pour it in the pot, right up to the lip.

Sit back and watch it steadily drip, drip, drip onto the condensed milk.

Once the pot's empty of water, it's done! Remove the pot and place it on its lid to catch any drips. Grab your spoon, give it a good stir and pour in your ice. Now take your glass of iced coffee, go sit outside in the shade, and sip away while listening to this, thinking all the while about how lucky you really are...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sponges & Big Red Tractors - The Waipukurau A & P Show, 2009

I've learnt quite a bit about sponges lately. For a start, a good sponge should be light and airy, moist and with minimal crumb. It should taste sweet, but not overly so, and there should be a complete absence of "eggy" flavour. Once you've got it mastered, expect to become very desirable company - watch that phone run hot when word gets out, with requests like, "Can you make a sponge for me? I've got folks to feed at a birthday/wedding/treaty signing at Versailles - ta!". I like to think that I've finally joined that esteemed group; the one pictured above was my entry in the sponge section of the baking competition at the Waipukurau A & P show (that's Agricultural and Pastoral for you cosmopolitan types) - and it won first prize! It looks a little worse for wear but then it had been sitting out for four hours by the time I took the shot. The sponge was the culmination of three months trialing of various recipes, and my gradual education in the science that is sponge making.

What did I learn? Quite a bit, but one thing in particular stood out: folding is the most important part of the sponge-making process. The egg white mix acts as a leavener, harbouring air in its mass which will give the sponge volume. When folding in the dry ingredients, you want to disturb the whites as little as possible, while also insuring that the dry mix is fully incorporated into it. Using a slotted spoon, scrape around the inside of the bowl, then slice down the middle of the mix to the bottom of the bowl. As you slice through the bottom and work your way back up, you should be picking up up a fair amount of mix. Once at the top, fold the mix you've collected over on the surface. Repeat this action and rotate the bowl as you work, until the ingredients are just mixed. Most of you probably already know all of this, but it's relatively new territory to me - there's nothing like making close to a dozen failed sponges before you start to understand the process.

I made the final cake the day before the competition. On the big day, it was split, sandwiched with strawberry jam and cream (a classic pairing, like Lennon and McCartney, or Smith and Wesson) and then off to the showgrounds at 8:30 am for submission.
Judging started at ten that morning. Half an hour later, they finally make it to my wee sponge. Careful consideration and deliberation ensue...

Yes! The thumbs up!

...or she has cream on her thumb. Whatever the reason, I won - woohoo! According to the judges, my sponge had good structure, was light, springy and airy,. Here's my prize, a fifty dollar voucher to be spent at local antique and collectables store, Piccadilly. Cheers!

The section with the most entrants was the Christmas cakes, with around nine or ten entries. They looked grand, covered in icing and packed full of nuts and fruit. It was a busy morning for the judges, with a lot to sample.

And the sponge recipe?
Never Fail Sponge Cake

4 eggs
, separated
3/4 cup caster sugar

1 tbspn custard powder

3/4 cup cornflour

1/2 tspn baking soda
1 tspn cream of tartar

Turn oven on to preheat at 165c, and grease a round baking tin. Beat egg whites until stiff
. Continue beating while gradually adding sugar. Add egg yolks, beat until well combined. Add triple sifted (from a height) dry ingredients to egg mix and fold using a slotted metal spoon. Bake for 25 minutes (the original recipe said 20 but mine wasn't quite ready at that time, so consider your oven's pernickety temperament when setting a time). Leave in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove and place on a rack to cool.

Below are a few photos of the show.
For those of you who don't know, the A & P show is a key feature of life in small town New Zealand. Held in late spring all across the land, the show is a coming together of town and country, allowing townsfolk a glimpse of rural life. Livestock judging, dog trialling, sheep shearing and field ploughing displays are just some of the events that fill the day. All manner of entertainment can be found there too, with carnival games and rides, trade displays, petting zoos and a myriad of vendors selling food. All this, and big tractors too! One of the traditional aspects of the A & P show are the various competitions on offer to those wanting a challenge. Events range from tractor pulling, to dressage and equestrian events, right through to "Best Bantam" and, of particular interest to me, the baking contests.

A big thank you to Lorraine (for the recipe is hers) and to Lizzy for their help - much obliged! By the way, click on the link for a couple of alternate sponge recipes plus a brilliant lime, ricotta and strawberry filling - clickclack.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Way Off Topic...

This is a post completely unrelated to food, but frankly I just can't help myself. One of my favourite groups, Scottish band Camera Obscura, are about to release the first Christmas single for the year! It's a cover of an old Jim Reeves song, called "The Blizzard", about a man trying to get home in the middle of a snow storm to a gal named Mary Anne. The song comes out on the 8th of December - I'm after a copy on vinyl! Here's the video:

In an attempt to justify a Scottish band's music video appearing in a food blog, let's take time to look at some examples of traditional Scottish fare. Here's a picture of a bottle of Laphroaig, a fine single malt Scotch whiskey, noted for its peaty aroma and flavour, made painstakingly from the finest ingredients to an age old traditional recipe...

...and here are some chips..., that's it. Thanks Scotland!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cast Iron Writing

A must visit blog: Black Iron Dude. Greg, based in the US, writes about the care and use of cast iron cookware. His site is packed full of tips, great recipes and he writes with humour - go take a look.

And here is a picture of Andy Roddick playing tennis with a skillet:

By the way, I won the best sponge competition at the Waipukurau A & P Show last Saturday! More details soon...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Battle Scars

Tiredness, inattention, haste, misplaced bravado; spills, splashes, flashes, slippy tea towels - just a handful of explanations for the scarring that graces the arms of chefs in kitchens everywhere. These are photos of chefs I know and the scars they've accumulated over the years while working their trade.

Created with flickr slideshow.
Feel free to submit photos; this will be an ongoing project where I'll add more shots as they come to hand, so I'll probably move this to the sidebar. These all hurt...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fancy some crumpet?

...then pop over to Alli at Pease Pudding for her English Crumpet recipe - it's well tasty and a keeper! Whip up a batch this weekend.

I've a busy weekend lined up: I'm off eeling, there's speedway on Saturday, I have my stall at the Waipawa Country Market, plus I have my usual weekend shift at the restaurant - lots there to write about! Stay tuned, dear reader...

Photo courtesy of Pease Pudding.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How to Sabre a Bottle of Bubbly!

Want to impress friends and family this Christmas or on New Years Eve? Watch this:

Yes, yes, I've already posted this before, but it's so cool - huzzah!

Monday, November 09, 2009

How to Sharpen a Knife

A good set of sharp knives is an absolute necessity. Whether you're carving the Christmas ham or disposing of the body of that troublesome aunt who just wouldn't shut up, your job is going to be made that much easier for having a well honed blade.
To set yourself up, all you need is a whetstone and a steel. The stone and steel can be bought relatively cheaply from your local hardware store, for as little as NZ$25-$30 combined.

This stone is a double-sided block made of silicon carbide, otherwise known as carborundum. One side has a coarse grit which is where the initial grind is made; the other side is fine, where the sharpened blade will be finished.

To bring back the edge to your blunt knife, we need to grind it on the stone. Place your stone on a cloth to stop it from moving during use; wet the rough side using water or vegetable oil. Applying firm pressure, run the length of the blade along the stone, holding it on a 20 degree angle. Turn the blade & repeat the process. After 8-10 strokes per side, turn the stone over to the smooth side & again, repeat the process. Upon completion, wipe the blade down with a cloth or paper towel, to remove fragments of metal & stone.
Click on play and watch John demostrate the process:

To test its sharpness, have someone hold a piece of paper vertically. Place the knife blade on the top edge of the paper & draw down - if it's sharp, it should cut effortlessly.

Once you've given your knife a good edge, its sharpness can be maintained through regular use of a steel.

The steel is constructed from stainless steel with small ridges that run along its length. It has a hilt or guard which protects the user's hand while in use. A common misconception about using a steel is that it will sharpen your knife blade. What it actually does is realign the micro-edge of the blade; everyday usage causes it to lean or fold, resulting in bluntness. Running a knife blade along the rod hones its edge.

There are many ways of using a steel; here I'll show you two, both of which I believe are pretty commonplace.

Method 1 -

1. Grip the handpiece located under the guard (the guard serves to protect your hand from being cut by blocking the blade as it travels down the shaft of the steel).

2. With the other hand, hold the knife by its handle.

3. Place the heel of the knife (the part closest to the knuckle of your index finger as you grip) to one side of the tip of the steel.

4. With the knife at a 10-25 degree angle to the steel, hold the steel rod steady and draw the knife blade, from heel to point, down the length of the steel.

5. Repeat the process for the other side of the blade. Repeat several times (maybe 6-8 strokes per side).

Again, John demonstrates this method below:

The second method is one probably more suited to those just beginning to learn the process. The steel is rigid, held in place by your hand & the work surface; stability is ensured, allowing for good, even strokes. The blade is run down the length of the steel, from heel to point at the 10-25 degree angle, with the added advantage being that in the event of slippage, you wont cut yourself.

And there you go! Follow these relatively simple steps and you'll never be found wanting in a knife fight again! Choose a method which is comfortable for you and remember that practice makes perfect. If you're still not feeling confident about your work, consider popping down to your butcher for a chat - a good sharp knife is essential in their trade, and they'll tell you what you're doing wrong.

Also, just a few tips for extending the life of your newly sharpened knife:

- use a wooden or plastic chopping board. Glass boards are unyielding and will only flatten the knife's edge

- never put your knives in the dishwasher. The scouring action of the washpowder particles will result in pitting on your blades, so clean them by hand in hot soapy water

A big "huzzah!" to John - ex-freezing worker and resident knife expert - for his help in this post (those are his heavily inked guns you see in the videos). Ta ever so much to Jen as well for use of her camcorder

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Scone Dilemma!

Read this exchange between Hollie Newton and The Ritz London regarding the age old debate as to what comes first:

Link courtesy of Hollie Newton, via B3ta.

Friday, October 30, 2009

DIY Clotted Cream

While not possessing the most appealing of names, clotted cream is an important and revered delicacy, as quintessentially English as Irish stew and Welsh rarebit. Used as an accompaniment for puddings and pies, it is most widely known as being the key component in a traditional cream tea: scones, jam, clotted cream and a pot of tea.

But what actually is it? Made traditionally in the south west of Britain (think Devon and Cornwall), it is a thick, rich yellow-coloured cream, made by subjecting unpasteurised cows milk to heat until the cream rises to the surface, forming a slight golden crust. Once cooled, the clots of cream are then skimmed from the top. Its importance to the UK is such that it enjoys EU-sanctioned protected status, similar to France and its rights to the name of Champagne. Did you know it was one of the last meals served to passengers on Concord's final flight around the world?

I'm quite partial to tea, scones and jam, and I've never come across it here in NZ so it was logical to pursue clotted cream as an experiment. There are a wealth of recipes available to try, but this one was the most straight forward (from an old Aunt Daisy cookbook). Off to the Kai lab!

You will need two parts milk to one part cream; here, I used one litre of full cream milk (whole milk) and a 500ml bottle of cream.

Pour the milk and cream into a bowl or pot and leave overnight in the fridge to allow the cream to rise to the top. The creamy layer that forms will be quite substantial.

Remove the bowl of cream from the fridge and place over a pot of boiling water. Reduce to a simmer.

Over the course of an hour you'll see the surface of the cream start to form a yellow skin; it will also start to form sporadic bubbles (that's bubble, not boil - if it boils, you've got it far too hot).

After an hour, which according to my recipe should be sufficient cooking time, it should look like the photo below - quite a substantial frothy yellow crust. Take it off the pot and place it in the fridge to cool.

Once cool, carefully skim the clotted cream off the surface.

And there you go! Isn't it lovely, all yellow and rich! It tastes as you'd expect cream to taste, with the added sensation of more substance and body, compared to say, whipped cream. Consequently, it's a little richer too...

...and the perfect compliment to scones and jam. Don't use butter - my god, it's rich enough as it is - if you do, the little man who calculates your health insurance premiums will hear your arteries change down a gear to accomodate the load, mark my words. Apparently, I've served this backwards - it's meant to be cream first, then jam - regional bias apparently, although if your scones are still warm from the oven, cream first would result
in it dripping all over the place. Until I get to the UK and spend a warm spring afternoon with a proper cream tea at an English tea room, this will have to do. Time for more tea - pip pip!

Oh, by the way - the leftover milk? Use it to make rice pudding. I won't give you a recipe because you must have one somewhere surely. Failing that, just ask the internet.
Bye bye.

Interesting links:

Simple DIY clotted cream (made with mascarpone) clickety

Wikipedia clickety

Background on Devonshire cream teas clickety

Click on the photo that opens this post - it really does look quite grand!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I sold a photo!

Guess what? A cheque turned up in my mailbox from local book publisher Hachette New Zealand! A while ago, they asked to use one of my photos in a book called "Afghans, Barbecues and Chocolate Fish - The ABC of Kiwi Food". It was one of the shots from the rewena bread series of posts. They were having trouble finding suitable photos for use in the book, found mine quite by chance and asked for copies to peruse and consider. I hadn't heard anything back in several months when, voila! A copy of the book and the accompanying cheque popped up in my mailbox. It's a great read full of information and stories about kiwi food, recipes and cooking personalities. Take a peek - it's available in most book stores. Look at my cheque!

Lovely loot!

By the way, last year, the same photo was used by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the UN agency, for its International Year of the Potato website. You'll find it on this page (scroll down) which forms part of the collection of recipes from around the world which use the humble spud. Pretty neat, huh?

Backyard Tech: The Kerry 1000 Fish Smoker

Ladies and gentleman, I give you: a fish hot smoker made from an old, unloved oven
! It may not look like much, but read on...

While resembling a decommissioned prop off the set of Doctor Who, it is surprisingly effective in what it does. Kerry wanted a hot smoker that could accommodate a large catch. To achieve this, and to render it safe, all wiring and circuitry were removed, along with its housing; the resulting cavities were sealed with riveted metal sheets. The elements too were taken off, along with its casing.

The warmer drawer serves as the smoking chamber, with the smoke making its way into the body of the oven through a series of holes drilled through its floor.

Being a standard sized oven, it has four shelves and when full, there is plenty of room for the smoke to circulate and work its magic on the fish. The door seal is in surprisingly good condition given the oven's age, and no smoke escaped during operation.

And there you go! A dirt cheap fish smoker, made from something which would probably have ended up as landfill; backyard tech at its simplest.
Go make one!

All this and smokey trouty goodness too - huzzah! A big thank you to Kerry for his time and all round cleverness.