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.