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Archive for the ‘Food Trends’ Category

Salmon is fast becoming the new chicken. Once an occasional treat, salmon is now a regular item on restaurant menus, a favourite at dinner parties and a necessary part of the canapé platter. Its popularity is partly due to the fact New Zealand farmed salmon is a high quality product, so much better than the flabby farmed salmon I’ve encountered in Europe and, I think, better than the Atlantic salmon from Tasmania.

In NZ we farm the chinook or king salmon. It was introduced in the early 1900’s and has thrived in an environment that’s free of the parasites specific to the species. That means we don’t have to dose our farmed salmon with antibiotics. We are also lucky in that we have an extensive coastline with deep sheltered waterways and good tidal flows – perfect conditions for aquaculture.

New Zealand has also pioneered the raising of salmon in fresh-water hydro canals. Our alpine salmon is superb, apparently because the fish are constantly exercising their muscles by swimming against the fast flowing glacial currents in the canals. There is nothing flabby about these fish. 

Alpine king salmon is the fish used by Sealord in its new range of hot smoked salmon. Unlike cold-smoking, hot-smoking cooks and smokes the fish at the same time. Sealord, despite being the second biggest seafood company in the country, is using a traditional smokehouse with manuka wood chips to create a more artisinal product that is very good. Its Manuka Smoked Salmon took out the Supreme Award at the NZ Food Awards 2014. I’ve used Sealord’s Peri Peri Hot Smoked Salmon in the following recipe for kedgeree, its mild chilli flavour goes well with the spices that flavour this Anglo/Indian dish. If you want more  of a kick, add more cayenne.

Salmon Kedgeree

Salmon Kedgeree

Hot Smoked Salmon Kedgeree

200g (1 cup) basmati rice

375ml (1 ½ cups) water

2 free range eggs

2 tablespoons neutral oil

½ onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon grated ginger

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon ground coriander

pinch cayenne

25g butter

1 x155g pack Sealord Peri Peri Hot Smoked Salmon, skinned and flaked

½ cup cream

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander and a few leaves for garnish

Rinse the rice and place in a pot with the water. Bring to a boil then immediately lower heat to a slow simmer. Cover the pot with a lid and allow rice to cook for 12 minutes without removing the lid. Remove from heat and keep covered for a further 10 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed.

Soft-boil the eggs for 6 minutes and set aside to cool before peeling off shells.

Heat the oil in a high sided frying pan and cook onion, garlic and ginger over med-low heat until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in  turmeric, coriander and cayenne and cook for a further minute. Add butter and when melted, add cooked rice, flaked salmon and cream. Stir to combine and heat through. Add fresh coriander and season to taste.

Serve topped with a soft boiled egg and a scattering of coriander leaves.

Makes 2 main servings or 4 small plates (as pictured).

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I love dumplings. Steamed, fried or floating in broth; warm podgy parcels or elegantly pleated purses; pot stickers that cling to the frypan or dumplings that bulge with their own soupy juices –  I love them all. 10256567_526618227465495_2595180234059251554_o

Every country has its own sort – from the gnocchi of Italy to the cheese stuffed pierogi of Poland – but I particularly like the Asian varieties and I’m right behind the current trend for dumplings with flavour combinations that cross culinary borders. I’m thinking of the xiaolongbao dumplings filled with foie gras and truffles that I ate in Shanghai and I’ve been reading about the dumpling houses in New York that offer combinations like pork and fennel or dumplings stuffed with lamb cheeks. There is even a restaurant famous for its Pac Man shaped dumplings with sesame seed eyes. (click for NY Times review)

Here n Wellington, New Zealand, we have the recently opened House of Dumplings owned by Vicky Ha who swears she takes no notice of trends but is bang on with her range of dumplings that include traditional flavours like prawn and chives alongside combinations like pulled pork and watercress, smoked ricotta and pumpkin.

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Dumpling Queen, Vicky Ha

Her Nepalese spiced lamb dumplings, and Korean beef with sesame seeds are personalised renditions of national favourites and while some shapes are traditional, others have been invented by the dumpling queen herself. All are handmade from the stock to the dough, with ingredients that have been carefully sourced for their free-range or otherwise sustainable credentials.

Yes, they are more expensive than the ones you might buy from the freezer of an Asian supermarket but these are so much better – as good as the dumplings Vicky learned to make at home in Hong Kong. “I feed people with what I grew up with. The chicken dumpling is my mum’s recipe and there are good quality ingredients in there. I’m trying to do that same home quality at a commercial level.”

Vicky spent her early years in Hong Kong but was educated in New Zealand where she studied marketing and food science and then trained as a chef. Her eclectic food tastes were honed in the kitchens of Wellington restaurants (the White House and Cafe L’Affare) and her dumpling business began with a hawker bicycle cart at the City Market on the waterfront . The bicycle is now used to deliver dumplings around the capital and Vicky spends most of her time in the kitchen at the back of her Hong Kong styled dumpling house on Taranaki Street. She makes 200 dumplings a day all of which are wolfed down by busy urbanites who share her taste for what she calls the ultimate snack food.

“Every culture has its own dumpling, It’s comfort food for a lot of people  and I guess my job is to glamorise it – don’t eat a hot dog, eat a dumpling.”

Vicky’s dumplings are available to eat in or takeaway at:

The Dumpling House 117 Taranaki St 

Hole in the Wall 79 Manners St

City Market, Chaffers (Sunday mornings)

You can also buy freezer packs at Moore Wilson            

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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

 

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I have my dog to thank for my growing interest in foraging. Every day when we go for our walk, he sniffs out doggy smells while I fossick in the verges looking for edible weeds. Some of the leaves, flowers and young seeds pods I find are nibbled en route, some are rejected (I can’t see why you’d bother eating gorse flowers) and the rest end up in salads and sitrfrys.

9781877505164 The foraging trend is growing apace. I’ve written two features this year with foraging chefs Anthony North and Bill Manson (both for NZ Life & Leisure) and I’ve recently received a review copy of the latest book on the subject, A Forager’s  Treasury by Wairarapa-based writer and researcher Johanna Knox. It joins four similar books on my bookshelf and it’s easily the best for my purposes.

Having said that, it is sadly let-down by poor presentation – cheap paper, messy layout, no index and  insufficient illustrations  – and that really is a shame because the content is excellent. It’s informative, well-researched,  insightful and full of inspiring ways to use wild plants.

The first half of the book is dedicated to identification and general information on foraging. Common poisonous plants such as hemlock are listed (but not illustrated) in the introductory section and this is followed by a large section on edible ‘treasures’.  These plants are divided into families (alliums, legumes, etc), which is a useful way of looking at things, assuming some knowledge of plants. Knox provides excellent information on each one – how to find them, what they taste like and what to do with them –  but the few line drawings included aren’t sufficient to inspire confidence in a new forager. When it comes to identification there really is no substitute for photographs.

The second half of the book investigates the many ways in which you might use foraged plants: medicinal and cosmetic but most of all edible. I would buy the book for this part alone with its handy tips and collection of inspiring but sensible ways to eat weeds.

I say ‘sensible’ because I’ve seen some frankly weird recipes in similar books on wild food, recipes that come across as desperate attempts to find a use for a foraged ingredient just because it is foraged. Knox, on the other hand, comes across as a good cook with a well-tuned sense of what goes with what and an understanding that every ingredient must earn its place. Often that place is in a salad, a dip or a sandwich and there are plenty of ideas for these.

There are also some good basic recipes that come with loads of variations. I’m keen to follow her suggestions for infused syrups and herbal teas, and I’m intrigued by the idea of making pannacotta with cream that’s been infused with scented pelargonium leaves or wild jasmine.

I particularly like the section on wild salads because it not only lists all the likely candidates but divides them up according to texture and flavour. Some plants are mustardy, some are bitter or sour, and some may be crunchy while others are soft. It’s all useful information when it comes to creating a well-balanced salad.

And when it comes to salads, I love the idea of tossing lemony-flavoured oxalis leaves through a creamy potato salad. I don’t even have to walk the dog to find this common weed, my garden is full of it.  I’m also well stocked with onion weed and thanks to this book I’m actually looking forward to the spring flush when I’ll have plenty of flowers to deep-fry in tempura batter.

A Forager’s Treasury,  Johanna Knox. Allen & Unwin RRP $36.99

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I’ve always wondered how people get those photographs of a perfect sunny side up fried egg. My recent food styling course with Denise Vivaldo revealed the secret and left me wondering, for the umpeteenth time during the weekend workshop, how could I have been so naiive? I may be telling all you food stylists out there how to suck eggs (so to speak) but the following method came as a revelation to me.

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Doctoring an egg white

The problem lies in getting a nicely set white with a runny yolk. So here’s what you do. In a heavy pan, on a very low heat, heat oil to a depth of 1 cm. Separate white from yolk and slide the egg white into the oil. It should cook very gently with no sputtering. The egg should be fresh so it stays compact and doesn’t spread too far. When fully set, remove from pan and using a cookie cutter remove a yolk sized disk from the middle of the white and pop the raw yolk into the gap.

Almost perfect. The next bit is more challenging. Inevitably there will be some unwanted craters in the white which need to be filled with – wait for it – denture fixing glue. The glue is just the right colour and consistency to smooth over the holes; vaseline is a second best.

So there you have it. For years I’ve wondered why my eggs don’t look as good as the pictures in magazines. Now I know. But I’m comforted by the thought that the eggs I’ve cooked for the camera have always been scoffed after the shoot and they’ve never got stuck to people’s teeth. However, I do like the picture-book look of my workshopped egg, especially the yolk – notwithstanding the fact that it’s raw.

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My styled egg

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What to make of a Hong Kong celebrity chef who has tattooed the words Devil Chef on his arm in Chinese, calls his molecular style of cuisine ‘X-treme’ and gives his dishes names like Sex on the Beach. I’d be inclined to call him a tosser, especially as his real name is Alvin.

Alvin Leung, Devil Chef

However, Alvin ‘Devil Chef ‘Leung has two Michelin stars, which means he’s not to be written off lightly. His restaurant Bo Innovation is a celebrity hangout and he’s about to open in London. So when the Hong Kong Tourism Board offered to host me at his very expensive restaurant a few weeks ago, I was happy to give it a go.

It was a degustation menu. I think I’m alone in this, but I don’t really like tasting menus. It’s frustrating when you get a little plate of something that’s really intriguing and it’s gone in one forkful. By the end of the evening I’ve had so many of these little tastes it all turns into a gastronomic blur. I can never remember what I’ve eaten. The thing is, the ‘dego menu’, as it’s called in Auckland, demands concentration. It’s serious eating. And so is molecular gastronomy, which is why the two always seem to go hand in hand.

Anyway. What I did like about Alvin’s food was the wit. It didn’t take itself too seriously and neither did he. (I like to think he was being ironic when he joined us at the table to smoke an ostentatious cigar which he kept re-lighting with a crème brulée torch.)

We tasted our way through 15 courses of X-treme Chinese : ponzu cloud, oyster tea, sandalwood smoke, truffled beef tendon and my favourite: molecular xiao long bao. This was a riff on the famous Shanghai soup dumpling: it was presented as a wobbly liquid sphere that burst in the mouth with an explosion of porkiness.

It was a great menu. I even took notes so I wouldn’t forget it. Unfortunately I lost my notebook soon after so I’m grasping to remember the details, but there is one dish I won’t forget: Sex on the Beach. I shudder to recall it.

Sex on the Beach was an off-the-menu extra. It consisted of a ginger crumb ‘sand’ over which was draped an edible condom. The condom was a slippery pink – made of some sort of starch – and inside there was a blob of something white, sweet and viscous. I know it was sweet because I ate it. I nearly gagged, but I ate it. I can remember vividly what it looked like but I can hardly remember the taste – just gingery sand, something sweet and something gelatinous.

 

Sex on the Beach in Hong Kong

I’ve eaten some strange things in my time; duck tongues, ox penis, even a pan-fried huhu bug, but this really was challenging. It was a case of mind over matter. No matter that the base ingredients were quite ordinary, my mind recoiled and it really was hard to swallow.

It turns out this is a signature dish. The devil chef told us he launched it at an event in Milan. Serving up condoms in a Catholic country was quite a brave thing to do, I thought. He said the Italians loved it. Now, it’s part of his Chef’s Table Menu at Bo Innovation. It’s signed off with a pink ribbon and he donates the proceeds to the Aids Foundation. That’s clever.

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I’m a sucker for a new gadget. My kitchen is stuffed full of ‘must-have’ equipment that’s used with great enthusiasm until the next thing comes along. It’s been years since I used my coconut scraper-outer and it took me a while to figure out what the metal thingy was that I found in the back of a drawer recently. It was a croissant cutter. I never used it. It was given to me by a friend who shares my weakness. She’s also given me an asparagus cooker, which was much more useful; and a pair of pink onion goggles, which just made me look silly.

Chef Chris Martinez at La Boca Loca

Yesterday, I fell for a new one. The nice people at La Boca Loca invited me to a cooking demo to celebrate the first birthday of their Wellington restaurant. La Boca is the best little Mexican in the coolest little capital in the world. The food is great, the atmosphere is fun and it serves the best range of top-flight tequila I’ve ever come across. The tequila may have had something to do with my latest ‘must-have’ enthusiasm, but I also blame chefs Chris Martinez and Will Mitchell for inviting me into their kitchen and showing me how they make up to 300 tortillas a night with a gorgeous cast iron tortilla press. It’s an amazing device. You roll out a golf-sized ball of masa dough, pop it on the bottom plate, pull the top plate over and press down. Voila! A perfect 3mm thin tortilla ready for the pan. It’s a rugged looking machine; the sort of gadget that must have been in use for generations. I imagine every Mexican kitchen has one. As I watched Chris make tortilla after tortilla, I started fantasising about making my own. I could take a press down to our boat shed in the Marlborough Sounds, buy a sack of masa flour and get in a load of tequilla. By the time Chris had finished pressing his tortillas, I was having a party to which everyone in our bay was invited. I had passed the point of no return. I had to have one.

Tortilla Press

But where in Wellington would you find a tortilla press? Ontrays, of course. Steven Shekter’s shop has everything. Last time I was there, I nearly bought a strange looking vessel that you use for brewing mate tea. Steven kindly talked me out of it and suggested I try the tea first. Anyway, Steven and I have been tweeting and he’s put aside a tortilla press with my name on it. I’m planning to pick it up tomorrow and introduce it into my kitchen where I can confidently predict it will replace the pasta machine on my bench top. Until the next thing comes along.

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