Thursday, May 31, 2007

samphire update

The week got away from me a little. It’s visitor time, that means – eating out, other people cooking or having to cook for other people’s palates. It wasn’t til days later that I got a sneaky meal on my own and time to experiment. But getting home tired and hungry after 7 pm doesn’t find me in the most creative headspace.

I compromised, wanting quick carb comfort food. Knocking up wholemeal pasta with a speedy oil based tuna sauce, I added the well rinsed samphire in the last few minutes of cooking, around the time the tin of tuna went in. The ‘sauce’ du jour (not very saucy but a good stir through mix) was onion, lashings of garlic and some diced zucchini to get the mandatory vegetable component. Lastly a can of good quality tuna and the salty samphire instead of my usual olives, finished off with some parsley from the garden, black pepper, salt and a squeeze of lime juice.

The samphire had a little crunch left which added a pleasant texture. Cooked, it was less salty than raw still with a hint of the sea. Even if it was really a salt marsh.

I look forward to more samphire experimentation in future.

Note: Samphire still on sale at Vic Market today at $30/kg (it’s lighter than you think).

Feijoas down a notch: $4 kg but a bit smaller in size. The samphire stall has plumper ones but at a whopping $12 kg.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Leftovers #1 – Garlic bread

A quick, but not exactly healthy, lunch.

Great bean and vegetable soup for dinner last night and a 3 day old loaf of Natural Tucker casalinga that needed a bit of reviving. Softening a little butter (ok, a generous chunk) with garlic, salt, pepper and fresh herbs from the garden, the bread was quickly transformed into a great side dish.

What to do with leftover garlic bread. This was a medium sized sourdough loaf, not your average, shortly lived baguette.

Eggs fried in Garlic Bread

Take a slice or 2 of garlic bread and cut a whole out in the middle (the top of a small glass will do fine).

Place in a hot non-stick pan, crack an egg and pour it into the whole. Don’t forget the leftover disc of bread, toast that in the pan as well.

Turn over when cooked on one side, til both sides are taosted.

Eat while still hot. I like it a little runny still inside, dipping the toasted disc of garlic bread into it.


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Sunday, May 27, 2007

a night and a day with Gingerboy

Sometimes you eat a meal that you just need to think about for a couple of days. To truly review a restaurant, you can’t do it in just one visit. What you can do is recount a single experience after a little reflection. Think of it as a mini memoir.

I’d earmarked Gingerboy as a restaurant to make an effort to visit after it opened last year. In fact it was one of my foodie New Year resolutions. Having eaten at Ezard a number of times, though not of late due to the sad demise of Visitors With Expense Accounts, I knew it would be a swish and pricey experience.

Fortified with an after work glass of wine and a debrief elsewhere, we hit Gingerboy with no booking. The premises, once the home of a favourite restaurant, had been revamped moving from Asian Sedate to Seriously Cool. Walking through the narrow door off Crossley St, you knew you had arrived. There was a vibe and it was packed. But down the little step to the dining room a table for 2 awaited us.

The interior of the room is dim, accented with red strands and bamboo. Philippe Starck “Louis Ghost’ chairs caress your bottom at $600 a pop. The waiting staff wearing trademark red shirts are swift and attentive (mostly, but we will get to that later). Seating you with a salutation of “would you like some sparkling water or tap water for the table?” The Water Question let’s you know what kind of a joint it is, one at the pointy end.

The menu is broken into small and moderate sized dishes with an interesting array of side dishes. There was just enough light to read the menu. The efficient waitress ran us through the proportions; the guide is 1.5 small and 1 large dish per person, to be shared. Fortunately we were an even number so we didn’t have the half dish conundrum. We made a selection easily, enjoyed yet another delightful NZ sauv blanc and headed back into the conversation.

Shortly our first dish arrived. The menu description of the green papaya and fired sticky rice salad didn’t do it justice. It was a mouth explosion of flavour – tang, heat, salt, depth and intense tomato. Eventually we realised the crunchy stuff on the top was the rice. The flavour combination was huge, almost overwhelming. Sadly, it would come back to haunt me until well into the next day.

The other 2 starters were a little more sedate, a couple of prawn dumplings with bonito mayonnaise and a smoked trout/avocado salad with betel leaf number. I’d envisaged a more traditional ensemble on the leaf, but presumably the vegetation was finely shredded throughout it. After the papaya salad, there was something off key about the flavours in the last dish.

Moments later, the mains graced the table. First a Singapore Noodle concoction, with fried egg noodles, lotus root and some barely seen other vegetables. The initial hit tasted smoky and salty. We’d also ordered fish cakes, modest small disks in a sea of orange citrus curry. I suspect it was flavoured with desert limes and possibly grapefruit but by now my taste buds had been so over stimulated I’d only be guessing. A tiny bowl of steamed rice came with the fish cakes – finally something bland and soft to balance the oral riot. We’d been gently nudged into considering the corn cakes on the side and they were a winner. Small balls of corn kernels in batter “to mop” the waitress had suggested. I suspect a more balanced meal could have included extra sides and less entrees.

By now we were full as a boot and hitting the mid-week slump, energy-wise. Skipping dessert the bill arrived promptly. But that was to be the end of the service, we dropped off the radar of the floor staff. Not in any huge hurry it was about 5 minutes later we actually glanced at the bill, making a joke about ‘the damage’. I blinked at the total. $290 plus? The lighting was dim but a second look assured me I’d got it right the first time. Yes we’d been unrestrained in our ordering but our bottle of wine was moderate and there were only 2 of us. A closer examination found an extra $100 on a bar tab that bore no relation to our activity and an extra 4 or 5 dishes added to the bill. We tried to get the attention of our waitress. We waited patiently. The longer we sat there, the more the conspiracy theories grew. Everything else about the restaurant was slick and professional, for no reason in particular we didn’t find the gross doubling of the bill accidental. This is not based on hard fact, it was just a mutual feeling fed by our invisibility.

In the end we got up, cornered the waitress politely got a new bill and paid at the bar before leaving (gone was the table service at this point).

I got home and discovered the party in my mouth had headed south to my stomach. All those individually delightful spices had got together and started singing a most discordant song. It went on all night and I got little sleep.

On waking the SE said to me “I know what you ate last night – I can still smell it coming in waves off your body!”

Not the best way to remember a meal, don’t you think?

Friday, May 25, 2007

potato salad - from desert to sea

Potato Salad with Desert Lime

Boil some potato. In another pot, boil an egg or 2.

Whisk up some mayonnaise (homemade, or cheat with the best pre-made you can find). I added some Dijon mustard and the ‘pearls’ of 1/2 – 1 desert lime and amalgamated it into the mayo.

Chop up the extra bits you want to add to give your salad a bit more zing – What’s in the fridge? Spring onion, a little fennel, a generous bunch of continental parsley and a little smoked salmon.

Cube the potato and boiled egg and combine with the other ingredients.

I think those desert limes are my new best friends. The sharp bursts of citrus (you can see where it gets the name 'citrus caviar') sit well between the creaminess of the mayo and the salt of the smoked salmon. I’ll be making this one again!

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

market goodies

Without any disloyalty intended to my beloved mango and delicious summer berries, the autumn cornucopia is something to be marvelled at. I am loving the short season of feijoas even if i did have a sneak preview a couple of weeks ago in NZ. Last week my secret stall had them for $3/kg but I knew it'd only take a few days before the word got out and the price jumps up. Today they clocked in at $5/kg which was still 1/3 of the price that 2 other stalls had them for. I have also been romancing persimons for the last month. A cheery orange fruit with a vanillary sweetness inside, I don't know why I haven't gone mad for them before.

But my finds of the day came from a specialist stall. I got my first hit of samphire, straight from some South Australian salt marsh and enjoyed bitting into the salty vegetation then and there. I was on the look out for this underused delicacy, since reading Ed’s recent post. Other than washing it well to get off the grit, its hard to resist nibbling them as is. I’m thinking salad with something fishy or in a simple stir fry. Any other suggestions?

The other beauty were some desert limes, or at least one variety of. I’m loathed to honestly describe what the hard, cylindrical fruit really remind me of but all scatological reference is forgotten when tasting the citrusy beads inside. Think juicy explosions of intensified kaffir lime leaves. The market guy, another shopper and I debated over best use of the fruit – which went in unison “alcohol”, “muddled” and “copious”. It definitely would be a great addition to a citrus flavoured cocktail. In the meantime, I sprinkled some beads on smoked salmon for my lunchtime sandwich. A great combination. I suspect they were used in a a curry sauce I had at Gingerboy (hang on to your hats for that post).

With winter a mere week away, it’s time to enjoy the autumn abundance while it lasts. Mandarins are well and truly in and apples still at their crunchy hiatus. The remaining grapes on the vine are 99% gone or shrivelled meaning the laborious task of pruning is before me. Hopefully by next year the recently planted rhubarb would have gone forth and multiplied in my tiny garden.

Enjoy whatever season you are in.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Things I don't eat any more - but can't forget

Things that I don’t eat any more – but were truly memorable: Part 1:

Coq au vin - mid '80's NZ

I was staying in Auckland at the home of a friend of an entirely different ‘not boyfriend’ and his partner. The NB was gay and at that point I’m not sure if he was entirely out, which meant we were sharing a bed in this little cottage and playing happy couples. Oh the things you do, before you learn better!

The happy homeowner was a then famous DJ (who had the most amazing record collection that I had seen up to that point in my life). His partner was an American woman, a bit older than us, with A Past. This involved having a child that didn’t live with her and a stint as a sex worker. This made her very interesting and exotic. I think we both fell a bit in love with her on that visit.

But her food was even more exciting. She was going out one night and asked us to make dinner for her – “It’s really easy”, she said “just coq au vin” and she proceeded to write the recipe from memory.

A couple of decades on I’ve found the recipe, written in a flowing hand, double spaced, with lots of underlining. Here it is as it was written:

Flavia’s Coq au Vin

Melt in a lg pan 1-2 tbsp butter, add 1 chopped onion, I sliced carrot, and at least2 rashers bacon, (sliced up). Cook ‘til veges are translucent and push to one side of the pan (or take ‘em out & put ‘em inna bowl) Brown chicken pieces in the butter & fat in the pan until nicely browned (as if they ever brown nicely!) Put the veges back in the pan now (if your stupid enough to take ‘m out before). Sprinkle 1 LG Tbsp flour over chook & veges, also sprinkle 1 huge pinch thyme and 1 tsp marjoram (oreganum’s ok, too) over it all. Pour over enough red wine to almost cover the chicken pieces, stir (which is impossible, so just try to, to mix the flour in, y’know) and cover & simmer, for 1 hour.

Lg = large
Tbsp = tablespoon

I can’t actually remember what it tasted like, except that I have a memory deep in my bones of it being good. Not only had we whipped up this exotic dish with ease but the author had consulted no books on the passing on of the knowledge! A year or 2 later I reproduced it and using it as a base with some ducks a friend had just shot and wanted me to cook for him. I’d stopped eating meat by them but I know it got the thumbs up – in an “I’ve never had duck that tasted so good” kind of way.

It doesn’t matter that I shy away from meat now, what she taught me was so much more than how to reproduce a French dish. She had demystified cooking, to not be afraid of food with a reputation, to realise it just broke down into its simple parts – in this case of protein, vegetables and some liquid to cook in. Her simple method scrawled from memory was like her taking us for a tour of her kitchen, rather than a precise science experiment that many of the books sounded like at the time.

As I write this now, in another country and century, I realise this is how I like to write about food.

I salute a great cook who I met just once in my life. Flavia, I hope you are still cooking up a storm and bringing joy to those who sit at your table.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Emotionally satisfying

The very nice brunch at Rumi arrived – some spiced rice (different to the apricot and almond on the menu), warm beans in thick tahini, pickled vegetables and olives, supplemented with warm flat breads and some yoghurt. A few mouthfuls in, though I appreciated what I was eating I just new it wasn’t going to hit the spot. “This is lovely”, I said to the Significant Eater “but I know it’s not going to emotionally satisfy me”.

I didn’t know what my body wanted. There was a flavour missing, perhaps heat or acridness, maybe a texture – just something that I couldn’t put my finger on. What ever it was, it wasn’t there.

Foods that warm our soul are individual and varied. Some bound to memory, others triggering happy chemicals that will circulate through every cell in the body. Once home, none the wiser to what I was seeking I began to list the known food that truly satisfy me:

Potatoes – almost any way (though just plain boiled is a waste). I once did an emotional eating survey and it surprised me that the humble spud topped my list. I can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, then sneak a little leftover as a snack. But now I’ve trained myself to go for weeks without eating them.

Chocolate – a bit too obvious but even when full to the brim, I usually find a hidden spot known as my “chocolate stomach” where there is always room for one more morsel of the best, darkest chocolate.

Rice – perhaps with less potatoes in my daily diet this one snuck in under the radar. I’ll often have rice at lunch when I am working in the city – in sushi or a variety of ‘don’ Japanese dishes, with tofu and lashings of peanut sauce or basmati with Sri Lankan curries.

Oats – a hot bowl of porridge with a smidge of something sweet on a cold morning.

Coffee – addiction or true satisfaction? That first crema laden mouthful is almost enough for me.

My mum’s chocolate mousse – even more tempting now I’ve cracked the recipe!

Spaghetti marinara – although I could easily let myself become the Queen of Stodge I have pasta infrequently but a well made, usually oil based with lashings of garlic, marinara is like a siren call on a traditional Italian menu. Similarly, a well executed pad thai with prawn can hit exactly the same spot.

When it's not about outright nourishment, what hits your spot?

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

playing in my kitchen

cassette generator

What discs are you spinning while you cook tonight?


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

the archiving dilema

In 'Epicure' today, Stephanie Alexander makes reference to all her boxes of recipes. Boxes! Now that’s an idea. Currently I have old hand written recipe books in various states of disrepair (most without covers), cut/ripped out pieces from magazines and newspapers, hand scrawled notes on backs of envelopes and other scraps of paper and digitalised recipes. By digital I mean, scattered throughout various hard drives (3, one of which is in a shed and will never see the light of day again) word documents, pdfs, lists of links, scans and photos. The most effective source to date is the blog, I can't count the times I have searched it for something I have previously cooked but not recorded elsewhere.

My last trip home saw me snap a few childhood favourites written in my mothers hand (showing a similar leaning to mis-spelling so I guess it’s genetic).

None are in any order. There are clear files filled to the brim mixing savoury and sweet, computer files exploding all over the place.

So how do you archive your recipes? What works for you? I must admit that even with a laptop, paper is more practical to take to the kitchen. The loving smears of food only enhance its worth – showing it has been made. Adding hand written notes in the margin. But lone pieces tend to get lost (where is the muffin recipe I was perfecting? It was on the table a month ago?) and I would need about 100 folders if I am to keep one recipe to a page.

So many recipes - so little time!


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Maranui cafe

Out on Lyall Bay windsurfers hopped on grey waves. The last forecast I’d heard mentioned a current temperature of 10c. Ah, Wellington, some days I remember why I left you. The boxy wooden building on the foreshore didn’t look like the epicentre of groove central from the outside. Tripping over the raised doorstep we made our way up narrow wooden steps lined with long oars in lieu of handrails. During our ascent photos and club memorabilia on the walls amused us. They were a crusty lot at the old Maranui Surf Life Saving Club.

Once through the double doors we were in a different world. At 1pm the place was hopping. We found two stools at the end of a communal table and placed an order at the counter. I’ve ranted before about the lack of table service in Wellington but as it’s a culture that doesn’t tip – do you blame the staff for minimising their effort? Specials included a soup, pasta and fish dish. The standard menu had some great burgers, sandwiches and a breakfast burrito. We made our order synchroniously choosing a fish burger each. After relocating to a just vacated table, we found ourself in a quiet enough corner to hear each other speak.

The café sits on the second floor of the life saving club, looking out across the bay with the airport to the left and the Cook Straight to the right. The Inter Island ferry made its way out of the safe harbour into the heads. How much pleasanter to sit in this cosy place, I thought, than nurse seasickness in a Southerly for the next few hours.

The place is decorated with retro style. Our table had some interestingly named marine paint colours and stuffed big game fish adorned one of the walls. Behind the counter sat a row of old soft drink bottles. The joint is definitely kitch, but cool kitch.

With a coffee, ginger beer (the wonderful dry Hardy Boys) and 2 fish burgers between us – this hardly adds up to a restaurant review. But I can attest to the deliciousness of the burger - the fish fried but not greasy in the merest of batters, a big dob of aoli, a wholemeal bun and just enough chunky fries on the side to make it feel like a treat without regret.

If you are in the neighbourhood, pop in a find out for yourself.

Maranui Café
7 Lyall Parade
Lyall Bay
New Zealand

UPDATE:2 August 2009 - I am sad to report the demise of the Maranui SLC due to a fire this weekend. The owners are talking valiantly of rebuilding but time will tell. I'm missing it already!

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Friday, May 11, 2007

in search of the bean - Khandallah

The guy at the counter scribbled my order – “short black, long mackiato” (sic). He stumbled over the last word and after a quick bite on his lip, passed it onto the barista. The café cum foodstore was approaching it’s peak hour. 10am pulls in mums with bubs and workers demanding their midmorning break. A capital city the public servant mentality reigns supreme, despite the long demise of the unions. Coffee breaks remain sacred. In this small suburb workers crawled out of unseen businesses. The short main street displayed a vet clinic, podiatrist, physiotherapist, a medical surgery and a hairdresser, but that didn’t explain the influx. It would depict a rather ill local population perhaps but the clientele looked healthy enough, lapping up lattes by the bucketful.

The owner proudly deposited a ristretto, as if wanting to demonstrate he spoke coffee even if the guy behind the till didn’t. Though it wasn’t exactly what I ordered (a full mouthful short of the espresso), that and the long macchiato were a decent brew. Thankfully.

Back on the street the 2 Asian takeaway joints remained closed at this early hour, also the local pizza chain, boutique brewery (show casing a well respected local brew) and an establishment that didn’t know if it was a café, restaurant or bistro – it called itself all three.

The next suburb, 2 minutes away features a slightly smaller shopping strip. There’s a homemade curry business, selling freezer packs of mild Indian meals. The only café appeared packed out with a mothers group. From every direction you could see women advancing towards it with a baby capsule on their arm or pushing a stroller. Their looks were identical – ‘come hell or high water or sleeping babies, I’m going to make it to group on time!’.

Though familiar from my childhood, as an adult the suburbs have become increasingly foreign to me. If you are the only café in the neighbourhood you can revel in mediocrity, as long as you are near the school/kindergarten/play centre – you are assured a morning and afternoon rush. On the weekend the café will be full for breakfast and lunch, of those who don’t want to get in their cars and travel. A captive audience. How I itch to shake them up.

The city has got the message. A place now stakes its reputation on choice of beans and skill of the person behind the espresso machine. But the suburbs are doomed to be random in the coffee stakes but can still knock up a mean afghan biscuit.

For now, it’s great to be home – knowing I can have a short black whenever the urge takes me, perfect every time and delivered to me by the cutest barista in the neighbourhood.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

family favourites

Handwritten recipes in an old book, the pages a little tattered and remnants of the actual dish speckling the paper – these are all sure signs of a family favourite.

As the daughter of a baker, my mum was a dab hand at biscuits and slices, she could ice a cake with a steady hand but took little pleasure from actually eating such things. Her tastes ran to savoury flavours – preferring a bowl of freshly roasted peanuts, tossed with butter and salt, to any dessert. Week night desserts usually revolved around a scoop or two of ice cream topped with homemade chocolate sauce, some canned fruit or if we were very luck it ran to the exotic addition of tinned berries, heated in a pan and thickened with arrowroot.

But the ‘60’s and 70’s were the era of the dinner party and every good wife needed a party piece. My mother’s was chocolate mousse, from an unrecorded source, set in individual parfait dishes and topped with freshly whipped cream and nuts. For a family birthday it would be set in a crystal bowl and sometimes frozen.

On my recent trip home my sister’s wish was to revive the recipe and make it with something better than the cooking chocolate we grew up with. To have a dairy free, rich and luscious dessert is now a rare treat for both of us – so how could I resist the request?

I did my best to follow the recipe to the letter but as our tastes aren’t as sweet as they were in childhood we did tweak it a little. It’s up to you whether you want to stick to the original or try this slight variation.

Shirley’s Chocolate Mousse

5 eggs – separated
180 gm dark chocolate (70% Lindt)
1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp vanilla extract (the best quality you can afford)
1 tablespoon brandy

Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in a double boiler, making sure that the bowl doesn’t touch the hot water. Dissolve the sugar in the warm water and add to the chocolate as it melts. Stir occasionally. Take the melted chocolate off the heat too cool a little then add the egg yolks one at a time, stirring well between each one. If the chocolate is too hot it may cook the eggs.

Beat eggwhites until stiff (so they are fluffy and can hold a peak).

action shot - it's at least 10 years since the old Kenwood was called upon to do it's thing. It's a huge beast but built to last.

Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large bowl and stir in the vanilla and brandy. Fold the beaten egg whites gently into the mixture. You don’t want blobs of egg white but if you over beat it you loose the lightness. Family lore is that if you put in too much alcohol the mousse won’t set.

Pour into a medium sized bowl or individual glasses (or tea cups). Chill for at least 12 hours – it’s a challenging thing to do but try to resist!

Verdict: Sorry Mum, but even without the cream and nuts, the Lindt made it better than you used to make!

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Isn't the best thing about cooking sweet things licking the bowl after?

This is my mum's legendary chocolate mousse...recipe to follow when I have caught up on 200 emails and done some work!

ps: it was even better than how mum used to make it!
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