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Seasonal and Local

I’ve just read yet another once-over-lightly article about eating and buying produce that’s seasonal and local.

This one in the NZ Herald is hooked on the suggestion that TV cooking shows and food magazines encourage people to buy “fancy” out-of-season ingredients that must be flown in from other parts of the world. Hort NZ comes out on the side of buying local (as you’d expect) and Turners and Growers say they only import to supply customer demand.

The subtext to this debate is Hort NZ’s campaign to introduce Country of Origin Labelling. Now, I fully support the campaign. I can see no reason why we can’t know where our food is produced. Personally I always do buy in season, which most of the time means local as opposed to imported. But things are never that simple.

For instance, when I buy snowpeas from Zambia it’s true I’m contributing to global warming (via food miles) and failing to support our local growers (by omission) but it’s also true that I’m helping the economy of a country that’s not as fortunate as my own. I think that’s a mitigating factor.

The other thing to consider is the double standard that’s rarely mentioned in articles like this one, ie, food writers like me encourage people to buy ‘in season and local’ but we don’t really want other countries to apply the same criteria to New Zealand.  As an out-of-season supplier in many overseas markets, this country would be in serious trouble if everyone decided to be a locavore.

Similarly, we need to be careful with the assumption that local will be fresher – I’ve seen some very sad looking local vegetables for sale, especially outside the main urban areas. And if it is true that most imported fresh produce is “fumigated, irradiated or put in cool storage”, then I’d like to know how we keep our own exported produce fresh during long journeys.

There are no easy answers, I just wish reporters would take their stories a bit further than the obvious.

As to the Masterchef hook in this particular story, I’m not sure that cooking shows do drive a demand for out-of-season fruit and vegetables. If so, it can only be that they are being screened out of season. But I am sure about recipes in magazines and I strongly disagree with the man from Turners and Growers who says food magazines often feature certain products that people expect to be able to buy in New Zealand (and, presumably, can’t). I read the food sections of almost every NZ food and lifestyle magazine including the one I write for (NZ Life & Leisure) and the recipe writers are all really careful to stay in season, even ‘though the finished food shots may have been styled weeks before publication. There is also a notable effort to use products that are readily available.

Crazy Fish

_1TJ6448I love this fish. I found it at the City Market in Rachel Taulelei’s fish chiller. Her company Yellow Brick Road has a reputation for great tasting seafood: live oysters, whole flounder, line-caught snapper, all beautifully fresh. The day’s catch was laid out on ice – surf clams, whole terakihi, said fish and a row of pearly white fillets. I had been thinking snapper for lunch but this crazy looking fish stole the show in the cabinet. No contest. I thought it was gorgeous and I had to find out if it tasted as good as it looked.

Rachel told me it was a Japanese gurnard – a type not often seen in fish shops – and she very kindly gave it to me. I took it home and had a hell of a job filleting it. Its skin was almost impenetrable, its head armour-plated and the spines on its back (lying  flat in my photo) were  dangerously sharp. But the flesh – once I’d got to it – was beautifully textured. It was silky but firm and whiter than the common gurnard I’m used to.

When it comes to cooking fish, I’m a purist. A delicate white fish like gurnard needs very little flavouring. I panfried the fillets in butter and made a beurre blanc sauce – part of the classic repertoire I’ve been practicing at Le Cordon Bleu in Wellington (more of that later).

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It was excellent. As Al Brown would say, it ate very well. So keep an eye out for this fish, you can’t miss it.

 

Gurnard Fillets with Beurre Blanc

 

2 serving size fillets of gurnard (or similar white fish)

flour to dust and salt to season

neutral oil to fry

squeeze of lemon

scattering of chopped parsley

 

1 shallot, very finely diced

½ cup white wine

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

6 peppercorns

1 bay leaf

150g butter in cubes

2 tablespoons cream

salt to taste

pinch of cayenne (optional)

 

Place diced shallot, wine, vinegar, peppercorns and bayleaf in a small saucepan over medium heat and reduce to about 3 tablespoons. Strain off solids and pour liquid back into saucepan. Place back on heat and whisk in cream then butter, one cube at a time, until you have a slightly thickened sauce. Add salt to taste and a pinch of cayenne. Remove from heat but keep warm.

Season fillets with salt then dust in a little flour. Heat oil in frypan and fry on both sides until flesh is just cooked through. Squeeze lemon juice over the top of each fillet and serve on warm plates with sauce and a scattering of parsley.

Serves 2

120326_RipeRecipes-AFreshBatch_FRONTCover_FINAL_LR (1)Angela Redfern does it again! The first cookbook from the owner of Ripe Deli in Auckland has been on my ‘favourites’ pile since it was published more than two years ago. Its seasonal collection of interesting everyday recipes still inspire me to dash out to Moore Wilson for the essential ingredient – chorizo, mozzarella, quinoa or quince – and now I’m making new shopping lists with Redfern’s new book, Ripe Recipes: a Fresh Batch.

The colourful up-close photography and whimsical line drawings of book number two are reassuringly familiar – the same team is behind both publications –  but there’s new territory here too.

The recipes are no longer grouped according to season but by chapters that follow the internal workings and food categories of Ripe, the delicatessen. I’ve never stepped inside the store but I now know that Friday is Pie Day and once a month Ripe has a Mexican Day. I’m not sure if this is the best way to organise a cook book but once you get used to what’s where, the recipes themselves are fabulous.

They are eclectic in true deli style. A chapter headed Deli Dinners takes care of the take-home favourites such as osso bucco and shepherd’s pie; three recipes for cheesecake give the retro nod to a dessert of the 70s and there’s plenty of the Mexican and Middle Eastern inspired dishes that are currently trending.

Best of all are the salads. Ripe number one’s stunning collection was a hard act to follow but the Fresh Batch of salads is every bit as good as the last – colourful, crunchy, tasty and loaded with a healthy variety of grains. The emphasis is on nutrition with lots of tofu, sprouts, seaweed and so forth, but for me that’s of secondary importance. I’m guided by taste, texture and presentation; the rest will naturally follow. How could Fattoush Salad with Chicken, Pistachio and Pomegranate not be good for you?

The Green Queen

The Green Queen

Last night I made The Green Queen Salad. I gather it’s a deli favourite, which makes me sympathise with the kitchen hand whose job it is to carefully pull the leaves off the brussel sprouts that complete this arangement. I lost patience and tore at mine so they didn’t look great, but the green-on-green vege and buckwheat salad was otherwise magnificent (recipe follows). I served it with fresh snapper fillets fried in butter. It would go equally well with Ripe’s Cured Fennel Salmon.

The method for the salmon is unusual in that the fish is both cured and cooked. I’ve only ever done one or the other so I bought a side of salmon to test it out. I found it combined the best of both methods – my salmon had a sweetly glazed exterior with meltingly soft flesh beneath. I meant to follow instructions and use the leftovers for Salmon Hash Cakes – the picture looks very moorish – but when I went to the fridge, the salmon was gone. No leftovers. A sure sign of success in anyone’s book.

Ripe Recipes: A Fresh Batch, by Angela Redfern. Photography Sally Greer. Illustrations by Michelle Ineson. Beatnik Publishing RRP $59.99

THE GREEN QUEEN 

This is a great salad by Gawain Cowley. It is bound to bring out the superhuman strength in all of us! A dear customer voted it the best salad she had ever had at Ripe.

Serves 6 to 8

1¼ cups (250g) BUCKWHEAT, reserve ¼ cup for toasting
2 cups (80g) KALE, finely sliced
2 cups (80g) BABY SPINACH
5 BRUSSEL SPROUTS, stem removed, leaves separated
200g GREEN BEANS, tops & tails removed, julienned
50g SNOW PEAS, thinly sliced
2 SPRING ONIONS, white and green parts, finely sliced
180g CRUNCHY BEAN SPROUT MIX
1 cup (250ml) GREEN QUEEN DRESSING (see pg 85)
SALT and freshly GROUND BLACK PEPPER

To prepare the buckwheat: place a medium saucepan of water over a high heat and bring to the boil. Add one cup of the buckwheat and boil for 10 minutes or until tender. Remove from the heat and strain. Set aside to cool.

In a dry frying pan over a medium heat, place the reserved buckwheat. Toast for 2-3 minutes stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and set aside in a
small bowl.

To prepare the salad: place a large saucepan of water over a high heat and bring to the boil.

Add all the vegetables (except for the spring onions and crunchy bean sprouts) and blanch for 30 seconds. Strain, refresh under cold running water and drain well again.

In a large bowl, place the blanched salad greens, spring onions, crunchy bean sprouts and boiled buckwheat. Pour the dressing over the salad, season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss well to combine.

Transfer the salad to a serving dish and sprinkle with the toasted buckwheat.

GREEN QUEEN DRESSING

This dressing is packed full of goodness. We use it in the Green Queen Salad on page 81. This recipe makes a generous quantity. Add it to any salad that needs a good boost of flavour.

Makes 1¾ cups

1 whole bulb GARLIC
1½ cups (60g) BABY SPINACH, roughly chopped
½ cup (20g) FRESH BASIL LEAVES, roughly chopped
½ cup (20g) FRESH MINT, roughly chopped
½ cup (20g) FRESH CURLY PARSLEY, roughly chopped
JUICE of 1 LEMON
2 tbsp APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
1 tbsp soft BROWN SUGAR
1 cup (250ml) OLIVE OIL
1 tsp SALT

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Slice through the very top of the garlic bulb, exposing the cloves. Drizzle over one tablespoon of the olive oil, wrap in foil and bake for 30 minutes or until garlic is caramelised. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. When cool, squeeze the garlic from the bulb into a small bowl.

In a food processor bowl, place all of the dressing ingredients including the roasted garlic and process
until smooth.

The Perfect Egg

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

Make It or Fake It?

I arrived back from Australia a few days ago with my head reeling from a weekend workshop at the Sydney Cooking School. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it but I discovered a side of the food business that has nothing to do with creating good tasting food – food styling is all about making inedible stuff look tasty. And man, there is such an art to doing it well!

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Not Real Ice Cream

The weeekend workshop was run by Denise Vivaldo, an American/Italian based in Los Angeles. She was in Sydney at the recommendation of my friend Harriet Harcourt, a cook and a food-stylist who lives in Perth. Harriet helped organise the course and told me I should sign up – you’ll love it, this woman is brilliant.

And she is. She is warm, funny and hugely entertaining. More to the point, she has written the bible of food styling based on 25 years of experience tricking up food for televison, film, cookbooks and multi-national food companies. And she is so good at it that during her Sydney course I found myself salivating over food that may well have killed me.

It’s true. The crushed ice in a refreshingly cool looking cocktail came from a jar marked poison. Nearly as bad, I licked some delicious looking caramelised chicken juice off my hand before realising it was the brown stuff I’d been using to paint a raw chicken. The thought of salmonella had me sluicing my mouth out with what I hoped was fresh water.

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‘Roasting’ a Raw Chicken

Painting raw chickens to make them look roasted was just one of the mind-bending exercises I worked my way through on this eye-opening course. My chicken was only so-so but I did quite a good job of making a pre-prepared Weight Watchers risotto look reasonably appealing. This is not something I’d ever have to do in my professional life but big food companies pay big money for this sort of thing and I suspect my fellow students had ambitions in this area.

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The ‘Pizza Pull’

I was more interested in making food look attractive for my blog or the occasional magazine recipe and I’m happy to say I now have quite a few tricks up my sleeve. I know how to do a “pizza pull” so you get those yummy strands of mozzarella looking just right, I can present a perfect fried egg and I know how to get great-looking grill marks on a hamburger bun – an eyebrow pencil fills in the gaps. I’ve discovered how to fake ice cream and cappuccino froth, and I have zillions of uses for Scotch Guard.

The problem is, I’m not sure if I can actually bring myself to use all these tricks. I had my doubts during the chicken painting lesson but by day number two I was having a full on ethical attack. Was it honest? I hit Denise up about this. Honey, she said, would you want to be photographed without makeup? Or words to that effect. Well, I rarely leave the house without lipstick at least, so I can see where she’s coming from.

We had an interesting discussion – she’d obviously given it some thought – and the upshot is, it depends. It depends on the context and the degree: is it enhancement or falsification?  Foundation or facelift? The comparison with makeup and fashion photography is a good one. We know the clothes have been altered for a perfect fit on the model and we know the cosmetic pics have been airbrushed – we accept it because it makes for a great looking photograph and even ‘though we know we won’t look as good if we wear that dress or that lipstick, it gives us something to aspire to.

Food photography works the same way – it has to look better than it does in real life. That’s why we learned how to paint a ‘roast’ chicken. A real roast chicken doesn’t look half as good when it’s photographed: partly because it collapses and looks tired and wrinkly before the photographer has set up the shot, and partly because we can’t smell a photograph so it has to work twice as hard to make us want to eat it. So we stuff it with paper towels to plump it up, give it ten minutes at 180°C to stretch the skin, then paint it with a mixture of gravy browning and food dye. A sprinkle of paprika and and a spritz of oil finishes it off and it will stay looking good for hours. I would also challenge anyone to tell the difference if it had been styled by a pro.

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Denise Vivaldo with assistant food stylists Harriet Harcourt (left) and Kirsty Bryson (right)

Since I got back from Sydney I’ve been examining food photographs in quite a different way, especially the ones you see in advertisements. I now know if I was to bite into one of those high rise hamburgers, the beef would be raw, the buns would be sprayed with scotchguard to make them sauce resistant, the mustard would shine with glycerine and I would be rewarded with a mouthful of pins and make-up pads. However, I also know that if the picture on the poster was a real hamburger I would never even open the box. Ditto for the Weight Watchers’ Risotto.

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Weight Watchers’ Risotto Inside and Out: the reason why we have food stylists.

I’m not sure which was more exciting – cutting the seaweed ‘ribbon’ on our newly built boatshed…

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…or pouring the beer we brewed for the occasion.

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At any rate it was a great party, a perfect night in early January, and the culmination of many months of hard work – the building I mean, not the brewing. We invited about forty guests – anyone we knew within sailing distance of our bay in the Marlborough Sounds – and we welcomed them with ice cold beer and punchy margaritas.

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The evening rocked on with an opening ceremony, speeches, a Mexican feast and a concert from the hastily assembled Marlborough Sounds Ukelele Orchestra.

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James, Jimmy and Dan Tait-Jamieson

The food was a labour of love. Four of us had spent the previous day hand-pressing 125 tortillas which we presented with bowls of spicy pork, chicken, beef, chilli, avocado, coriander, tomatillos and anything else we could rustle up. I’m now sold on tortillas as a way of feeding the troops. (The proper maize flour and the requisite cast iron tortilla press can be bought from Ontrays in Wellington).

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Tortillas toasting on the barbecue

I’m also sold on our Boatshed Brew as the perfect drinking partner for a chilli-based meal.

ImageMy son Jimmy and I brewed it back in October (see previous posts), an IPA with an extra dose of cascade hops. I think it was the hops that gave it such a fabulous nose – refreshingly citrus with a touch of blackberry. To be honest, it under-delivered on the taste. I found it a bit lean and short but Jimmy reckons it’s a great ‘session beer’ so we’ve tweaked the recipe and made another batch for late summer drinking.

The label, by the way, was designed and drawn by daughter Maddie. The black blob at the end of the jetty is a fair rendition of Jeb, the dog.

Baking Bible

I’m not a good baker of cakes. I blame this partly on my oven, which is a commercial gas monster with an unreliable temperature gauge, and partly on my inability to follow a recipe. I can’t stop myself making adjustments and, as we know, this can be fatal when baking cakes.

So when I got sent a review copy of Annie Bell’s Baking Bible I thought the publishers had got me mixed up with another food writer – a domestic goddess who knows her sponges from her pound cakes, perhaps. I could have sent it back but instead I found myself flicking through the pages admiring the photography and the next thing I knew I was marking it with post it notes.

 There are a huge number of baking books out there but this is the best I’ve seen. It really is a bible. Not only that, it’s a lovely looking book; a hefty hardback, nicely set out and easy to follow, in line with the writer’s pared back philosophy to baking. The ingredient lists finish with ‘little extras’ should you wish to dress things up but what I like is the emphasis on the cake/biscuit/tart itself. I have no doubt these recipes will work; Annie Bell is noted for the care she takes designing recipes. She has written for Vogue and the Independent and has been, for many years, the food writer for the Mail on Sunday’s magazine.

I’m sure I’ll bake lots of the recipes in this, her latest book. I’ve bookmarked the New York cheesecake, salted caramel flapjacks, saffron lemon crisps and cannelés Bordelais. The latter are my favourite and I’m delighted to discover Annie thinks cannelé’s are no harder to produce than clafoutis. I have a set of silicone cannelé moulds that I’ve been too intimidated to use until now.

For the purposes of this review I decided to test the Ginger, Almond and Fig Meringue Cake.  I was encouraged by the photograph showing a lovely broken crust, which I was sure I could emulate, and the notes that said it was “endlessly adaptable”.

Ginger, almond and fig meringue cake. Baked by me.

In order to give it a fair trial I promised self-restraint and followed the recipe to the letter. It was really easy and turned out just like the picture in the book. I took it to a fireworks party the same night, where it was wolfed down so fast I had to beg a spoonful from someone else’s plate. It’s a cake I plan to make often, only next time I will revert to type and make a few adjustments – pistachio nuts, figs and a dash of rose water will ring the changes for Christmas.

Annie Bell’s Baking Bible is published by Kyle Books and distributed in NZ by New Holland. RRP 59.99

Bottling the Brew

Ten days on and our brew is in the bottle. I was planning to take a note of how much it has cost so far but I’ve already blown the budget on a heat pad to keep the brew fermenting at a constant temperature and a new hydrometer to replace the one I dropped. This first batch was always going to be expensive.

The Boatshed Brew was supposed to be a collaborative effort but my son Jimmy has departed for a fortnight, leaving me to check the ferment, record the hydrometer readings, add the finings and clean and fill the bottles. Also, daughter Maddie hasn’t even started to design the label so I’m thinking of re-naming my brew after the Little Red Hen in the children’s fable. (‘Who will help me bake the bread?’ said the little red hen. ‘Not I’, said the dog/cat/pig etc.) Like the lazy farmyard animals in the story, I expect my family will suddenly reappear when it’s time to drink the beer. And like the little red hen I might just drink it ‘all by myself’.

I have tasted it already and although it has a fabulous aroma I think it’s a bit too hoppy. It’s also quite cloudy, despite the fining powder that was supposed to clarify it. I’m hoping it will develop in the bottle. My instructions say it will be ready to drink in three weeks.

 

The Boatshed Brew

It’s a measure of how much my family has grown up that I find myself in the kitchen not baking brownies or making playdough but brewing a batch of beer with my son Jimmy.

   

We’ve been talking about doing this for some time. Jimmy has developed a taste for craft beer while apparently studying at Otago University and I’ve been interested ever since I made a radio feature with Paul Croucher in the summer of 2004. Paul had just won a prize for the home brew he made in his garage and as he took me through the process I was thoroughly seduced by his enthusiasm. Unsurprisingly he went professional soon after and his beer regularly takes out top awards in the annual beer awards.

More recently I’ve been writing a feature about Wellington’s micro brewery, the Garage Project (to be published in the Nov/Dec issue of NZ Life & Leisure). Brewer Pete Gillespie re-inspired me to give it a go. He makes beers with interesting combinations of malts and hops, playing about with the various processes and producing some fantastic beers. He has years of experience to draw on and quite wisely advises me to keep it simple. Start with a kit, get some experience and then when you’re ready, pull out all the stops.

So Jimmy and I have been down at the Brew House supply store in Newtown, Wellington. Having decided we wanted to make an IPA with a flavour reminiscent of our favourite Epic Pale Ale, we’ve  bought a kit with a fermenter barrel and various bits and pieces, together with a pouch of ready-to-go malt (Mangrove Jack’s IPA) and some Cascade hops to give it a bit of a boost.

It was very easy to make. Like cheese making, most of the work is in the cleaning and sterilising of the equipment. We made a guess with the hops and threw in a handful, otherwise it’s dependent upon the quality of the malt kit and the yeast that came with it.

Boat Shed under construction

Our brew is currently fizzing away in the garage. We’ve timed it be ready for the launch of our boatshed in the Marlborough Sounds. This project, several years in the making, has almost come to fruition. The boatshed and jetty have been built by father Dan, with the help of extended family and sons Jimmy and William. We hope the last nail will be hammered into place at about the same time our brew reaches perfection in the bottle.

We’re calling it the Boatshed Brew. Daughter Maddie is currently designing the label and we plan to pop the caps early in the New Year. I’ll keep you posted on the progress. And If anyone else is interested in home brewing from a kit, I can recommend Mangrove Jack’s short YouTube videos Part One and Part Two.

Last week I ate at the White House restaurant in Wellington. It was a family birthday and we ordered the winning Visa Wellington on a Plate menu. It was the second time in one week that I’d eaten the chef’s rabbit pie with Otaki carrots. The grower would have cried tears of joy to see how brilliantly his humble root vegetable was prepared – not just boiled but also dried, powdered and sous vide – it was a mini degustation of carrot. It goes without saying that the rabbit was excellent too; Chef Paul Hoather is into the detail. He even makes his own butter from cream he’s cultured himself. And that brings me to the funky dessert which was not on the Wellington on a Plate menu but it did contain cultured cream. He thought I should try it because he’d read my blog post on the edible condom I ate in Hong Kong (scroll down to Sex on the Beach). I think he was suggesting I wash my mouth out with soap.

Milk Curd, Pistachio Sponge Cake and Honey at the White House

Paul’s soap was a gloriously rich chilled down, dense version of crème anglaise, tasty because it was made with his own cultured crème fraiche. The bubble foam was somehow infused with honey and the loofah was pistachio. It was the most difficult part to create but it made the dish with its contrasting texture and undeniable wit. It’s on the degustation menu.