Wednesday, September 29, 2010

whitebait season

Despite living in the global food basket, there’s the odd treat from across the ditch that is challenging to source in Melbourne. Feijoas make a brief and often pricey visit in winter, tamarillos almost as fleeting and yams, the tiny red tubers that most kiwis love, haven’t been sighted for years. The aforementioned vegetable used to turn up at one stall at Vic market for two or three weeks each September, where homesick New Zealanders would inundate the bemused greengrocer. But no more.

The most illusive delicacy of all is a wriggly little sucker. Genuine, New Zealand whitebait. No not those chunky little fish that Aussies call by the same name. Nor the foul tasting variety of little ‘uns that arrive frozen from Thailand.

Even in the homeland whitebait has an expensive and short lived season. At $160 a kilo, this is a prized entrée, eeked out with egg to make the flavour go further. Though the first time I ate the wrigglers, I’d helped catch them myself in a mountain stream. Free, bar the cold I caught from a day spent too close to icy water.

On my last trip home I picked up 200 gms of whitebait as a treat for my parents. You can just beat an egg and toss through the fish if you like but I like a little more “hold” in my batter. It’s light, crunchy and very easy to make.

Kiwi whitebait fritters
(quantities per 100 gm of whitebait)

100 gm of whitebait

1 egg, separated
1 tab cornflour
salt and pepper

Vegetable oil
(knob of butter optional)
Lemon wedges to server

Place the whitebait in a sieve and strain. Separate the egg(s) and beat the whites to soft peaks. Take the yolk(s) and beat in the cornflour with a wooden spoon. Stir in the salt and pepper. Gently fold in the beaten eggwhites into the yolk mixture.

At this point you can either carefully add the whitebait, or if you want a less eggy fritter (if you’ve caught your own and have plenty, so you don’t need to eek out the precious produce) place the whitebait into another bowl and gently fold in the batter a spoonful at a time until the whitebait it just holds the fish together.

Heat up your frypan, add oil (if you want a more golden fritter the addition of animal fat, such as a knob of butter to the oil). Add about a tablespoon of mixture and fry the fritters til golden. Then turn over and cook the other side, about two minutes each. Traditional whitebait fritters are the size of a pikelet but these days fitters come in all shapes and sizes.

Serve with a wedge of lemon and eat immediately.

Excuse the poor quality picture, the light was fading and the natives were restless. For a clearer image check out this little beauty.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

simply 'shrooms for breakfast

Dench olive and rosemary bread toasted with sautéed mushrooms.

Bog standard, cultivated Swiss Browns are fine as long as you treat them with respect. Cook over a low heat. Just a bit of butter and garlic, finished with parsley, salt and pepper.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

hug a chef week

Back before it was fashionable, I had a relationship with a chef.

He worked in the kitchen of a starred hotel, part of an international chain. Each afternoon he’d iron his uniform, ready his knives and polish his boots. He’d leave the house smelling of Paco Rabanne, returning 11 or more hours later stinking of sweat, fat and god knows what else.

It wasn’t a glamorous job but it had its compensations. On the rare night off when he’d cook at home there’d always be the juiciest steaks or exotic delicacies like frogs legs, courtesy of the big hotel. Not that they knew.

The pay was lousy, despite being years out of his apprenticeship, made slightly better by penalty rates from working unsociable hours. Though I had a mate who worked nights as a rubbish collector at the time who was paid more and came home smelling a darn sight sweeter.

Knocking off late at night, when a city like Wellington was all but closed, he had three options to wind down - get pissed, stoned or fuck someone. Often all of the above. And at times I suspect all three before he left work.

From our liaison I got an appreciation for sharp knives, learnt how to make nifty little bundles of carrots held together by their own ring and became rather wary of sexually transmittable diseases.

And that was before Anthony Bourdain wrote Kitchen Confidential.

I’ve always felt a little troubled by the cult of the celebrity chef. Working split shifts in commercial kitchens are often dangerous, poorly paid and crap for your love life. When Jamie Oliver and Fifteen became popular, I queried the wisdom of putting damaged kids, often with a history of substance abuse, into such a dysfunctional work environment.

There’s little glamour in the kitchen for the average chef. Most don’t get to own an eponymous restaurant, flash their face on television or publish cookbooks. The cycle of sex, drugs and alcoholism in kitchen is apparently not a myth in this city. Of course not every chef, cook or dish pig has a raging habit and some do manage to balance healthy relationships with antisocial hours. Though I’ve got to say the healthiest and happiest chefs I’ve met are ones who’ve taken a back step from the relentless kitchen grind and diversified their skills.

Despite the sanitisation of the professional cook on television, it still looks like an adrenaline fuelled, dirty job to me.

But without them, no matter how skilled we are in our homely kitchens, eating would be a much less interesting sport.

So hug a chef today and tell them you appreciate them.

I’ve cyber stalked the long time ex to no avail. Last I’d heard he’d gone from working in prestigious kitchens to stints of cooking in Kalgoorlie and other gritty mining towns. Despite the pride he took in what he made and the exacting professionalism he once had, I get the feeling life hasn’t been easy for him since our paths last crossed.

Then again, he may have married, had kids, moved to the suburbs and become a respectable sales rep, for a pharmaceutical company.

And despite all the fancy things he could do with carrots, the ice sculpting and butter carving, I’ve not found a cookbook with his face on it yet.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

horta with not so wild greens

Remember the patch of green outside my backdoor? All that bitter radicchio/chicory, the mass of nettles in desperate need of eating, the silver-green elegant fonds of kale and some good old fashioned chard cried out one thing to me. Horta!.

I’ve made this traditional Greek dish before with shop bought chicory. The method was passed down to me through a most circuitous route. The Significant Eater’s ex was of Irish/Greek decent, her mother taught her to cook this, she passed it onto the Italian/Aussie SE and years later this mantle was handed onto me. The “recipe” as such being – wash, chop, boil, strain and then add lemon juice and olive oil. This time I steered a little from the previous path and was happy with the lovely pile of cooked greens that came out of it.


Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
A large colander of washed greens – I used kale, nettles, chicory and chard from the garden
2 lemons

Wash the greens well in a cold water and then transfer in a colander. Then chop roughly into about 6-8 cm pieces.

Heat a little olive oil in the bottom of a pressure cooker (if you don’t have one, just use your biggest pot and cook for longer). Add the garlic and stir quickly til it softens but doesn’t brown. Add greens by the handful (wearing rubber gloves if you’ve picked nettles), stirring before adding more. When all the greens have wilted add a centimetre or two of water to cover the bottom of the pot (if not using a pressure cooker use a lot more water). Fit the lid and bring up to steam. Cook for about 15 minutes, then allow to depressurise.

Drain the water but don’t throw it out, it’s delicious to drink. Toss through the juice of two lemons, a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Serve hot, warm or cold.

For a more traditional version read Maria’s beautiful story about gathering wild greens and cooking horta in Wellington.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

more gardening

Saturday, September 18, 2010

garden update

Spring is here and while the water catchment is not overflowing, there's 50% more water in the dams than this time last year. Dropping back to Stage 2 restrictions we can water by hand at whenever we wish, not that the garden needs it after all the winter and spring rain. After just a couple of days away it's been a shock to see the overgrown greenery in my tiny veggie patch.

A see of green: nettles, radicchio, kale, chilies (being harvested), silverbeet (chard) spring onions, coriander, parsley and cauliflowers.

The SE was bought up on radicchio, I'd call this chicory, though they are all varieties of the same family. This leaf is very bitter but it'll make great horta.

shhh the baby cauliflower is sleeping... that has woken up, now harvested for tonight's dinner.

chilies harvested, soon to be harissa.

There are a few strawberry plants struggling to survive as the cat keeps covering them up. I'd like to grow more spring onions and salad greens before summer hits. There will be tomatoes in summer but not sure what else I can fit (the raised bed is only a few square metres). Any ideas?

If you'd like some nettles and can pick them up from Melbourne's inner north this weekend, email or message me.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Maranui Cafe alive and well once more

The Maranui Cafe, much loved Wellington haunt, has been rebuilt after the fire and reopened in June 2010.

Great to see the phoenix arise from the ashes.

Everything is just the same as before. Heidi at at 101 Cookbooks loves it too and has a recipe for one of their salads.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

random kitchen post

I've got so much junk on my small kitchen bench that I'm too intimidated to post a picture. At least half are vitamins and herbs. You choose, am I healthy, sick or just neurotic?

But there are a few goodies.

The latest batch of preserved lemons are made Diana Henry (Crazy Water Pickled Lemons) style. Press the salted lemons in the jar, weighted, for a few days to let the juice come out. Then add lemon juice to cover, coriander seeds, bay leaves and cinnamon quills. Seal with oil. I couldn't help myself and added some black peppercorns too.

Beside it sits the remains of a very fine dessert wine. My father found two bottles in his "cellar" (while the basement under the garage is relatively cool, it's far too damp) a year ago and was going to throw them out. "They're old", he said "and sweet!". His loss was my gain. Oh so good.

The remains of some marinated olives are ready for topping up again. They taste even better gently warmed.

Finally got the knife rack up on the wall, thanks to the man-with-power-tools being in residence once more. I love the $6 Victorinox paring knives and the curled tip of my grandmother's grapefruit knife. The Brazilian all purpose beauty has served me well for over a decade now.

Is your kitchen counter a minimalist dream or full of clutter?

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hill Street blues, reds and greens

“It’s crap”, the knowledgeable local uttered when I said I was going to pop into Wellington’s Hill Street Market on Saturday morning. But I could feel a little tingle in my produce hunting bones and bartered my precious short break from family commitments to head off to the capital city’s newest farmer’s market.

Though small the market has potential. On the day I attended I found good quality organic produce including some spectacular Savoy cabbages for a mere NZ$2 (Au $1.57), what a bargain. I bought a bag of beautiful broccoli shoots and large organic eggs from the Wairarapa Eco Farm.

Tapioca Treats creates a range of gluten free products from breads to muffins and other sweet finds. Some are also dairy -free, like the chocolate muffin I sampled. Their stall looked much more appealing to me than the French bakery from the city that had its wares on display.

The market also sold meaty products, preserves, posies of flowers, fruit, wine and cheese. I wished I was going to be around for longer so I could have munched my way through more of the goods on offer but at least my sister had got to reap the benefit of my small organic harvest.

New Zealand has such a fabulous range of small producers, give the market a go!

Hill Street Farmers Market
9am – 1pm every Saturday
Hill Street (next to St Paul’s Church)
New Zealand

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