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Media Brew 2014

Only two sleeps until Beervana and the launch of what I’ve been excitedly calling ‘my beer’. It is in fact a collaboration between Panhead Custom Ales and NZ Life & Leisure magazine, one of twenty-five entries in Beervana’s hotly contested Media Brew competition. I’ve been itching to take part – “pick me, pick me!” – since the event started some three years’ ago. This year, I was not only one of the chosen but I was able to pick my brewer. I entered the event with my son Jimmy (my homebrew partner) and I opted for MIke Neilson at Panhead because his Upper Hutt brewery is a driveable distance and because Jimmy and I really like his beer. I’ve written Mike up in the next issue of NZ Life & Leisure (Sept/Oct) in an article about my – I mean our – beer.

Jimmy at Panhead

Jimmy at Panhead

The ground rules of the competition are reasonably open to creative interpretation. The theme changes each year – this year’s it’s Spring – and the brew must include an “intrinsic New Zealand ingredient”. Last year’s winning beer contained red, white and green jet planes; this year I’ve heard rumours of karengo, sea water and horopito. Our own brew is now kegged up and ready to go, so – having managed to keep it a secret so far – I’m ready to spill the beans.

The process began several weeks ago with a brainstorming session that culminated in the idea of Spring lamb. Mike immediately got carried away with the idea of making molecular spheres that, when dropped into the beer, would release the essence of slow roasted lamb. Well, that was never going to happen – it was far too outlandish and hideously complicated – so we abandoned the idea of making a beer that would taste like lamb and decided instead to make a beer that a lamb might drink. Continue Reading »

A couple of weeks ago I received a box full of Fairtrade and Trade Aid food products as part of the Big Fair Bake campaign. I was surprised at the range of ingredients, given that it wasn’t so long ago that Fairtrade was limited to coffee, chocolate and bananas. My box contained Palestinian almonds, Medjoul dates (the best kind), cocoa, chocolate, coconut milk, raw sugar, bananas and cinnamon. My mission was to bake something that included some of those ingredients.

Fairtrade Florentines

Fairtrade Florentines

I decided to experiment with Florentines, partly because I’d never made them before and also because I wanted to make use of the dates, chocolate and almonds I’d received. I spent a morning devising a recipe and discovered that these delicious Italian biscuits deserve their reputation for trickiness. Florentines should spread themselves thinly; they should be chewy in the middle with lacy edges that are crisp to the bite. My first batch resembled flat rock cakes with too many nuts and not enough fruit, so I cut back on the flour, reduced the almonds and added more candied orange peel. This second batch was really good – my family scoffed the lot before I could get them into the tin. Just as well – Florentines should be eaten fresh before they lose their crunch.

My recipe is on the blogger page of The Big Fair Bake website, click here. I recommend making your own candied orange peel; it’s not difficult and it tastes so much fresher than those packets of mixed peel that gather dust in the back of the pantry. I’ve included the instructions with the recipe and I’ve also explained how to blanch and skin the whole almonds. You could, of course, buy them already skinned and slivered but then they wouldn’t be Fairtrade and that would defeat the whole purpose of the bake off. I think as consumers we should make the ethical choice and buy fairtrade ingredients where we can. By doing so we return a larger profit to the farmers who generally get paid less than anyone else in the value chain. It’s the least we can do.

Visit the Fairtrade Facebook page to win prizes in the Fair Bake competition.

Muffins Revisited

_1TJ6958 (1)

It’s been years since I’ve eaten a muffin. I used to like the regular sized ones made with apple or blueberry. On the rare occasions I baked, I would make lemon and buttermilk muffins with a crunchy sugar topping and I even remember making the now defunct bran and sultana muffins. (This was in the days when bran muffins competed with carrot cake in cafes that also sold wholemeal quiche.) But somewhere along the line muffins were given the Big Mac treatment, mutating into super-sized muffin/cakes overloaded with chocolate chips, or with savoury fillings that properly belong in a quiche. 

Ngaire's Muffins

Ngaire with Muffins

I’m happy the monster muffin fad has abated, ‘though why it has been replaced by the trend for tasteless over-dressed cup cakes is anyone’s guess. Anyway, the reason I’m writing about muffins is that I whipped up a batch today, using a recipe given to me by a friend who we visited over summer. Ngaire has a bach in the bay next to ours in the Marlborough Sounds. She invited us over for lunch and with coffee she served some light-as-a-feather retro-sized, retro-styled muffins. They were golden brown, warm and homely and they made me wonder why they had ever fallen from favour.  I got out my notepad and pestered  her for the recipe which turned out to be an amalgam of essential kiwi baking: banana cake + carrot cake + sultana muffin. She gave me her recipe from memory, having more or less made it up, and she generously told me how she achieves a light texture to all her baking. Regardless of what the recipe says, she always separates the eggs, whips the whites and folds them in at the end.

Ngaire’s Muffins

3/4 cup sultanas

1 cup plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice

pinch salt

2 eggs separated

2 tablespoons runny honey

1/2 cup neutral oil (eg rice bran or sunflower)

1 banana, mashed

1 cup grated carrot

Preheat oven to 180°C fan bake. Grease a medium-sized 12 muffin tray.

Soak sultanas in boiling water for 10 minutes then drain and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl sift flour, baking powder, bicarb of soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt.

In a smaller bowl, lightly beat egg yolks, honey and oil. Add to dry ingredients and fold together without over-mixing. Fold in mashed banana and grated carrot. Whip egg whites to stiff peaks and gently fold through mixture. Spoon dollops of mixture into muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out cleanly. Leave in tin until cool enough to handle. Cool muffins on rack. Split and serve with butter.

Each year as Christmas approaches I wonder why we do this to ourselves: why ramp up the stress levels by trying to meet the massive expectations of the season? As if work deadlines, Christmas shopping and holiday plans weren’t enough to create a perfect storm of activity, I find myself throwing out casual invitations like confetti, energised by the idea of all those end-of-year catchups and then panicking at the thought of spending more time in the kitchen.

T5cover This year, I’ve been saved by a clever collection of recipes published by Wellington food writer and former restaurateur Margôt de Cotesworth, a woman who clearly loves entertaining. Her book Take 5 and Cook: The Dinner Book is guided by the principle that stylish dishes can be created with the minimum of effort and just five ingredients. This isn’t a new idea but Margôt manages to reduce each recipe to the basics without losing the integrity of the dish. She is also a master of taste, using simple combinations to provide maximum flavour without the addition of a myriad herbs and spices. Lamb kebabs are qiuite simply marinated in ouzo, lemon zest, olive oil and oregano, then chargrilled and served with a sprinklng of salt. Pedantic readers will have counted six ingredients but salt, pepper and a splash of olive oil are the only allowable extras in this entire collection of 120 seasonal recipes.

Some are Margôt’s own family favourites. Her brother’s crisp apple tart and her mother’s fish chowder can be whipped up in a jiffy for a family meal. Others are classics and some are café staples. There are recipes for European favourites – ricotta gnocchi, tartiflette and gazpacho – and while they are certainly pared down to the bare essentials, dishes such as Not a Paella and Nearly a Tiramisu are close enough for my purposes.

I’ve tested several dishes and while I always find it hard to follow a recipe I’ve mostly resisted the urge to throw in extra ingredients. I can recommend the Anchovy and Almond Sauce as an excellent accompaniment to fish or venison and I’ve enjoyed serving Pineapple with White Balsamic Dressing, but the dish that’s saved my sanity on three occasions already is Margôt’s quick-to-whip-up-but-deliciously-decadent Chocolate Silk Tart. Like all the recipes in her book the five ingredients must be top quality. I use a dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao and I’ve found it best to use caster sugar because it melts faster. Quantities fit a loose-base 22 cm tart tin.

Margôt's Chocolate Silk Tart

Margôt’s Chocolate Silk Tart

 

Chocolate Silk Tart

2 cups biscuit crumbs

185g butter

150g dark chocolate

½ cup sugar

3 eggs

Stir the biscuit crumbs into 60g of melted butter. Press into a well-buttered dish and chill. Melt the chocolate, sugar and remaining 125g butter, stirring over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Cool.

Beat the eggs and gradually pour in the chocolate mixture. continue beating until well combined. Pour into the crust and chill.

Serve with whipped cream, if you like.

Take 5 and Cook – The Dinner Book, Margôt de Cotesworth. RRP $49.90 at selected book and food stores and online

Nespresso Wellington

It had to happen. Wellington, the coffee capital, has a Nespresso Boutique. The Lambton Quay store opened last week with all the glitz and glam of an upmarket cocktail bar. Dean Barker and entourage, John Key and entourage, chef celebs, local artists and personalities gave the photographers plenty to snap about while the rest of us – fuelled on coffee martinis, champagne and canapés – chattered about what this new concept might bring to the capital.

Wellington's Nespresso Bar

Wellington’s Nespresso Bar

We Wellingtonians are insufferably snobby and parochial about coffee. American import Starbucks has failed to make headway in a city that boasts numerous hip cafés and artisan roasters so what do we make of the Swiss company’s chances?

For the benefit of people like me, who until last week thought Nespresso was an upmarket coffee shop frequented by George Clooney, here’s a brief rundown of the concept that has expanded across 50 countries.

Firstly the boutiques are not cafés although they do have bars where consumers can taste before they buy from a range of single shot coffee capsules designed to fit Nespresso branded machines. Machines, capsules and associated products are sold from the store-boutiques that also serve as collection points for the spent aluminium capsules which are recycled off shore. There are 270 boutiques worldwide (NZ now has 2) but most of the action occurs online through local sites that are accessed when consumers join the Nespresso Club.

This means that unlike Starbucks, Nespresso isn’t competing for the café customer – it’s targeting the home and office market. That’s me: a free lancer working from home with a twice-a-day habit. My own machine is a Rocket and I’m completely wedded to the ritual of grinding, tamping and pulling the levers to make my morning coffee, but if I wasn’t into all that, I’d be seriously tempted to buy a Nespresso.

The Nespresso espresso

The Nespresso espresso

I rate the coffee  ‘very good’. I might even give it an ‘excellent’ but I’ve only tried 2 of the 21 varieties (which are somewhat pretentiously called grands crus). The sealed aluminium capsules keep the ground coffee super fresh and the extraction system is as effective as it is fascinating. Drop a capsule in the top and the machine does the rest, delivering an espresso with an excellent crema. I like the frothing attachment too: pour in the milk and it uses magnetic technology to stretch the milk to silky perfection. It’s impossible to make a bad coffee. So yes, even a pretentious Wellington coffee snob like myself would be tempted – but not convinced. The machines themselves are relatively inexpensive ($380 for a smart one made by deLonghi) but factor in the capsule cost (.97 – $1.13) and I’d have to curtail my habit.

My verdict: if you appreciate good coffee and cost’s not a factor then join the club, but please, please do save up the empties and take them back to the boutique. All kudos to Nespresso for the effort it has put into recycling but the system is only ever as good as the people who use it.

Footnote: Artist Taika Waitit’s artwork suggests a more creative use for the empties.

Nespresso artwork by Taika Waititi

Nespresso artwork by Taika Waititi

 

Lewis Road Creamery Milk

Thanks to Lewis Road Creamery I am awash with milk. I received my sample bottles on Tuesday and I’ve been guzzling it ever since. I’m a huge fan of this company’s cultured butter so I knew its milk would be good – it has a clean, fresh creamy taste that somehow seems better than standard milk – the question is why? What does this artisan company do that’s different?

Milks & Creams Family Shot (1)

Firstly, Lewis Road milk is organic. I do think that makes a difference – Zany Zeus’ organic milk also tastes great.

Lewis Road milk comes from grass-grazing cows that haven’t been fed any waste  products from the palm oil industry. The arguments against this are mostly to do with environmental issues, but that aside – and I don’t know if affects the taste of the milk – I do think it’s wrong to feed cows dusty-looking stuff that comes from the fruit of a tropical palm tree. Cows are meant to eat grass.

Lewis Road produces 100% jersey milk. Jersey milk has a high percentage of milk fat so it does taste creamier.  Milk from standard brands is not separated by breed – it’s a mixture of milks. Currently about 80% of the national herd is either holstein-fresian (the black and white ones) or holstein-fresian/jersey cross. Jersey cows (small and brown) account for only 12%. Jerseys produce milk with higher percentages of milk fat but holstein-fresians beat them on volume – hence the work that has gone into creating the crossbreed which appears to be a good compromise for farmers who are paid on the total quantity of milk solids.

Lewis Road milk claims to be more natural and less processed. In particular it makes a deal out of not adding permeate to its milk. This is where it gets a bit controversial and quite tricky because permeate is a natural component of milk. It is essentially lactose and water and it’s a byproduct of ultra filtration. Large dairy companies like Fonterra use this process to remove proteins which are then used in high-protein, higher-value products. The permeate, which is also separated off, is then added back in various amounts, allowing the final protein levels of the milk to be standardised, thus overcoming any seasonal variability. You can’t really call permeate an additive because it was in the milk in the first place but it is a bit sneaky because the way it’s re-introduced enables factories to adjust, or water down, the milk to the lower end of the minimum allowable protein content. In short, big companies like Fonterra are using all the technology at their disposal to extract the best value out of every litre of milk. You can’t blame the farmer-owned co-operative for doing the best by its farmers and there’s certainly nothing wrong with its milk but the permeate practice is a bit of an eye-opener for those of us who imagined milk was not quite so highly processed. Lewis Road milk is processed too: it’s pasteurised and mostly homogenised; the fat levels are adjusted according to type and the calcium-enriched product must have either been added to or adjusted in some way. It is not milk straight out of the cow, but the processing is minimal and Lewis Road milk does taste like milk used to taste. In this, I’m sure my taste buds are influenced by the charmingly retro (recyclable) bottles. The company’s artisan values are wrapped up in some very smart packaging.

Finally, Lewis Road organic cream: it’s fantastic. I’m sure this is the ‘jersey effect’ – jersey milk being naturally richer – but it’s also because the milk fat levels have been kept higher than the minimum standard of 35%. Lewis Road cream is 39% and its double cream is 48%. Yes, double cream. This is a first for New Zealand. The UK has single (18% min), whipping (35% min) and double (48%) but we have only ever had one type of pouring cream. I had always assumed it was equivalent to double but I was wrong about that. In this leading dairy country of ours, the cream has only ever been as rich as UK whipping cream. I find this just as astounding as the fact our big dairy companies have failed to provide us with cultured butter. It’s all very well to be producing products for export (Fonterra and Westland both make cultured butter for customers offshore) but we haven’t been well served at home. Thank goodness for artisan producers like Lewis Road Creamery. Now we have flavoursome butter, good tasting milk and deliciously rich double cream.

Lewis Road Creamery’s milk and cream products are  available in Auckland and have just been spotted at Moore Wilson in Wellington. Organic Jersey Milk 750ml RRP $3.10. Organic Jersey Cream 300ml RRP $3.99. Double Cream 300ml RRP $4.49

Better Butter Biscuits

A couple of days ago a box of butter arrived on my doorstep from my dairy farmer in-laws Cathy and Jamie Tait-Jamieson. Cathy and Jamie have a micro dairy factory on their farm where they produce Biofarm yoghurt with milk from their own cows. They are also one of a number of organic farmers whose cream goes into the making of Organic Times butter.

_1TJ6587 The delivery of several kilos of the stuff was a not too subtle reminder that I had promised to come up with a recipe to promote said butter.  I love butter, and I particularly like this butter – it’s organic, fresh tasting, creamy and not too heavily salted. I will happily put it in everything I cook but my brief was to provide a single recipe in which butter was the hero ingredient.

I considered beurre blanc and then butterscotch but finally settled on shortbread. In it’s simplest form, shortbread is 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter and 1 part sugar. There are variations – substituting a bit of rice flour makes the biscuit crisper, cornflour gives it a softer melting texture, and then you can add, chocolate chips, vanilla, lemon, whatever – but a good shortbread biscuit is entirely dependent on the quality of the butter. It’s the difference between shop bought and homemade. So I spent this weekend baking and came up with the following recipe which delivers a melt-in-the mouth biscuit with just enough orange zest to add interest without taking attention away from the butter.

Orange Butter Biscuits

Orange Butter Biscuits

Orange Butter Biscuits

I’ve used unsalted butter and added a small amount of salt to the recipe. This might seem to defeat the purpose but some butters are more salty than others and this way gives more control.

175g good unsalted butter, softened but not melted

85g caster sugar

fine zest of one orange (a microplane gives the best result)

200g plain flour

50g cornflour

¼ teaspoon salt

caster sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 150°C

Line 1 large or 2 small baking trays with baking paper.

Beat butter and sugar together until smooth and creamy. Beat in orange zest. Sift together plain flour, cornflour and salt. Add to butter mixture and combine gently using hands. Form into a disc shape and roll out to 1 cm thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut out circles or other shapes. Place on baking sheet, prick with a fork and chill in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes before baking (this helps them keep their shape). Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until lightly coloured. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before sprinkling with caster sugar. Transfer to a rack. When cold store in an airtight tin.

Makes 24 if using a 5cm diameter cutter

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