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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Who has a great Butter Chicken Recipe?

I love a good curry, but I can't cook one to save myself. I'm not talking about whipping up a bit of beef with curry powder and tomato soup and raisins, either; I mean something that might be thought to resemble a genuine dish of Subcontinental persuasion.

Of course, we run into a problem. Just like Chinese food, which any self-respecting Chinese person will tell you cannot be bought at any New Zealand fast food outlet that claims to be selling Chinese meals, the Indian food we can buy here sits somewhere between the genuine article and the sweetened, watered down versions dished up by such institutions as the Tulsi chain of restaurants.

And here I must make a confession. I think that I prefer the Kiwi imitations of Indian cuisine. Tulsi actually make a pretty nice curry, as far as I'm concerned. Supermarkets sell various brands of pre-prepared curry dishes, whose genuineness-to-flavour ratios are also suitably skewed, but you know how I feel about pre-packaged sauces. Some of the poorest people in the world can whip up delicious curry meals out of hardly anything, so why should we have to pay exorbitant prices for the branded stuff? Cooking from scratch, that's the thing.

I'll mention here, of course, that I'm sure those poor folk don't have access to as much meat, or as much dairy, or even the yoghurt and tomato paste and coconut cream that we have the luxury of picking up at the store, and for that I am a) greatly appreciative, and b) even more admiring of how fantastically they must be able to cook.

Please, noone raise the fact that Indians by and large eat very little meat, and that in comparison, the menu items offered in your average New Zealand Indian restaurant do not by any means reflect this. That's a whole can of worms I'd rather not open.

So we've established that what we call Indian food here is not what an Indian family would call dinner; in fact it might be what they would call junk food, and laugh at us, in the same way that we would laugh at someone who deepfried a kumera and called it a hangi. Nonetheless, it's a curry of this calibre that I would like to be able to cook up at home: something fragrant and sweet but not too spicy, because some of us here (though not I) have delicate palates. And besides, I like to taste the complexity of a dish as full of different tastes and textures as a curry, and too much heat can actually be counter-productive to the enjoyment of the meal. IMHO.

I'm currently looking at trying this one by Mallika (Image Copyright Quick Indian Cooking 2007), which strikes me as awfully authentic and might be a whole lot more curry than we're hoping for;

And this one, which is at the other end of the scale, coming from a TVNZ breakfast show, and is probably as tame as a tortoise in a torpor;

And finally this one, for the slow cooker, by the crazy woman who used her crockpot every single day of last year. (Image Copyright A Year Of Crockpotting 2008)

Can anyone recommend any more good curry recipes, be they Butter Chicken (our favourite), Tikka Masala, Korma, Rogan Josh, etc? Since I've just very recently discovered Jasmine rice, which goes beautifully with curry, I intend to make more curries this year, particularly when the days get shorter and the nights colder.

So please post your favourite curry recipes in the comments, either as a comment or as a link, and I'll get back to you when I've tried it out.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Day to Remember

What a weekend it was. It was such a weekend, it's taken me until now to catch up. The Big Deal was the civil union/wedding of my good friends, Morgue and StrongerLight. Congratulations to you both!
Yes, that's the handsome groom in the kilt and the lovely bride in white, and the official photographer lurking under their feet.Once it got dark, you could even see some of my handiwork in the background against the walls! Thanks to Jenni for letting me use her photo, since I was silly enough to put our camera away rather early in the piece.

I was also lucky enough to meet Giffy for the first time, and hopefully we'll be able to have them down for dinner sometime soon.

Wellington turned on the most beautiful day for the wedding couple and the almost 300 guests who turned up to attend. I betcha they felt popular.

To put that number in perspective, the Civil Union was an open invitation to everyone the bride and groom knew, and the catering was a bring-a-plate/pot-luck affair. And you know what? It really, really worked.

So what did the crew at Freshly Ground contribute to help feed such a mass? Well, full credit goes to Dessert Chef who whipped up a batch of mini-quiches, and they were so nice we made them again for dinner. But the salsa was just something I whipped up at home. Apologies to any of the guests reading this, who may have had one of Dessert Chef's delicious creations but now feels they were shortchanged by not getting a drizzle of this lovely fresh dressing. Now, you can try it yourself!

Bacon Quiche with Fresh Spicy Salsa

(Makes 1 Large or 2 Medium Quiches)

Quiche Ingredients (I'm doing this because my big sister told me to...)
400g bacon, chopped and fried
1 onion, also chopped and fried
3 large Free Range Eggs
1 Cup Grated Cheese
1 Cup Self-Raising Flour
1 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup Peas (Frozen ones are fine)
In a bowl, mix up the fried bacon, onions, cheese, peas, and flour.
Add the eggs and milk and mix well.

Pour into a greased and floured pie dish, and place into the oven at 200C for 25-30mins.
Check the quiche is cooked by putting a knife through the centre. If it comes out clean, it's all done. If not, pop it back in for a few more minutes and check again.

Meanwhile, whip up your salsa (Warning: Uncharacteristic cheat methods ahead).
In a small bowl, chop up 1 inch of cucumber, 1 tomato, 1/8 of a red capsicum, and about 1/4 Cup of Sweet Thai Chilli Sauce. Mix well and leave to sit for a while, preferably in the fridge.
Spoon the salsa over the hot quiche, for a cool, spicy, crunchy contrast to the hot savoury eggy thing on the plate. It's like a salad in disguise.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Other Side of the Sunset

It seems that Off-Black and I weren't the only ones to get photos of the sunset in December.

BamBam took this brilliant shot over Wellington Harbour the same evening.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Twittering from the Rooftops

I've joined the warbling crowd in the Twittersphere.

You can find me here.

I can't say that I'll have anything useful to say; after all, 140 characters is barely enough time for me to get up to speed, much less get even the least bit witty or thoughtful.

But I will be using it to transmit some of the tastier morsels I find in my webby travels that don't make it as far as this blog, things that people might like to read or hear about that might otherwise slip them by.

I'm also using it to listen to the sounds of the internet breathing.

If you're already on, click through to me, and I'll come visit you too.

Altogether now.... TwitterTwitterTwitterTwitterTwitterTwitterTwitterTwitter....

Now ssshhhh.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Taste of Pork

It seems that pork just isn't what it used to be.

Twice in the past month or so I've had conversations with family members from older generations who have lamented the decline in the taste of pork from how they remember it. As I understand it, the old adage that you are what you eat applies to livestock as well. I've commented before on the way free range meat tastes so much more real than bulk-produced stuff. We're lucky in NZ that our beef, lamb and mutton are pretty much free range by default, and it's only our chickens and pigs that are raised in confinement and fed grain.

Much as I take issue with pen-bred meat, I've also discussed on this blog the dilemmas of trying to eat well, and trying to retain some sort of ethical compass while keeping ourselves nutritionally healthy on a budget that we can afford. I imagine that I'll draw some criticism just by raising the issue of animal rights, but that's OK. Debate is healthy.

Like I've said before, if we could afford to eat all organic free range meat and produce we would, just like if I could grow all the fruit and veges I needed to feed my family I would. No doubt if we were forced into the situation of having to keep animals as a food source we would find ourselves eating a whole lot less meat overall. But the social and economic realities are that I only have so much time in a day, and while I make an effort to do what I can to support humane and sustainable food production, there comes a point when we have to look at what's on the shelf and what's in the wallet, and take what we can for what we can afford.

We all find different ways to manage the minefield of existing as an omnivore in a social order where our eating habits are largely driven by profit-geared corporations, their market placement and their advertising machines. I'm aware that we don't co-exist with our food sources, but exploit them and the land (or sea) that they live and grow on, not simply to survive but to fully enjoy the bounty that agribusiness can supply us with. However, for all my good intentions, I can't provide my family with protein and nutrients simply out of goodwill. And I've listened to all the arguments in favour of vegetarianism, and while I agree with a lot of it, particularly the stuff that relates to how we treat animals, I'm still an omnivore. I feel guilty only when I think about it too much, but never when I'm eating.

As a rule, we only buy free range eggs, and that's a win all round, since good FR eggs have more taste and thicker contents than cage eggs. I also get them from the market, where they're cheaper than similar products at the supermarket. I also buy lamb from the Wai-Ora stall at the market every week, as I've posted several times. I've been pleased to see these guys are bringing more product to the market now than they had been previously, which hopefully means that word-of-mouth advertising like mine in support of suppliers like them is working. And that in itself is a step in the right direction.

I've also made the point before, and I'll make it again: We all (and I mean all of us, not just the Kiwis reading this) need to learn how much is enough when it comes to eating meat in particular, and cut down. There are so many good reasons to do this that it would make a post all of its own, but suffice to say that it's better for the land, the animals, our wallets and our bowels to eat less meat. (I don't shy away from that image - after all, we're all animals made of meat and offal too, remember).

So far this summer, we've only had leftover meat after one barbeque, rather than after every one like we used to have, and those leftovers were eaten up the next day. Reduce the excess, reduce the waste, cook what you need, and enjoy it. And your finances will appreciate it too.

Which brings me back to my original point: If our pork is raised in pens now and is accordingly of a much lower quality and inferior taste to what it used to be, then that might go some way towards explaining why the old methods of cooking pork were fairly simple, letting the meat speak for itself (apologies for the bad imagery), while nowadays there seems to be a fixation with dressing pork up with chilli, herbs, spices, nuts, fruits, and other bits and pieces to give it flavour. Instead of being a taste explosion all its own, pork has become a blank canvas for a good chef to demonstrate his skills on.

It seems a shame. But until free range pork becomes affordable, I'll still eat what they stock in the supermarket (we have a butcher across the road from where I work who stocks organic, free range meats, but at $16.00 for 2 pork steaks, you can see why I'd prefer to pay $6.00 at the supermarket for unethically raised, bland, but affordable meat).

There's always wild pork, of course, but that's just as expensive, and a completely different flavour that Dessert Chef can't abide, so we won't be going down that road anytime soon.

And on that note, here's one of my most recent entries in the Dollying up the Pork stakes.

Pork Chops with Sage and Apple Crust

(Serves 2, with a bit sliced off for the little fella)

In a small pan, heat some olive oil and fry the following:
2 Cloves of Garlic, minced;
1 Onion, finely chopped;
1 small Apple, finely diced;

Once the apple and onion have started to soften, add a splash of worcester sauce and 3T of brown sugar. As this reduces, add the leaves stripped from 3 stalks of fresh sage and 3 stems of fresh mint, roughly chopped. Once this has heated through and is a bit saucy, remove to a bowl and heat fresh oil in the pan.
Season two large pork chops with freshly ground pepper and salt, and place in the hot oil. Allow the chops to brown a little, then add a splash of white wine. Shake, and allow the wine to be absorbed. When the underside of the chops is nice and brown, turn over and repeat. Cook until there is no pink in the juices.

Spoon the apple mixture over one side of the chops, grate some parmesan cheese over top, and place under the grill to brown.
Serve with couscous cooked in chicken stock, fried mushrooms, and fresh veges.

Monday, January 19, 2009

That Sunset

At the end of last year we had an absolutely gorgeous sunset in Wellington. Myself and fellow blogger Off-Black both got out with our cameras and recorded the event for future generations.
Off-Black actually made it at least as far as the street, unlike me. His fantastic shots, including this one (above - copyright © Off-Black 2008), can be found here, along with a little science, and a little philoetry (it's like philosophy and poetry running together).I was lazy, and pretty much stayed on the deck of our house to get these shots as the sky darkened.
Then I got up the courage to head down to the pohutukawa tree which was in its brilliant Christmas flowering, and took a few there too.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Garden Update

I've made a lot of noise about growing your own garden, and how easy it is for everyone to get something green sprouting in whatever little space they have. My own efforts have, admittedly, been a bit hit-and-miss over the past few years, apart from fresh herbs and making compost. But since herbs are really just weeds with a useful side that's not saying terribly much, and you can't eat compost.

So when I started this blog, I decided I should really make a proper go of it myself, and got out planting.

Well, we've had successes and failures. The strawberry plant didn't fruit this year, to our untold sadness. We grew one beautiful broccoli, but were so proud of it that we didn't realise it was ready to eat, and it went to seed on the doorstep.

But I put a whole lot of pumpkin seeds down in a bunch of compost, and fed it all with lots of worm castings, and waited.
Then when the season turned, the garden suddenly came to life. Amongst the things growing up around the weeds were more pumpkin plants than I could count. My ulterior motive with growing the pumpkin plants was a lazy one really: I hoped that they would spread out and strangle all the weeds. It seems to be working.
Then these started to appear.
And then a few of these. Yesterday I counted 11 fruits growing in the pumpkin patch, as well as a few errant tomatoes that may or may not survive the strangling effects of the pumpkins.
Dessert Chef's potted tomato plants have also been shooting up, and with judicious applications of stakes, worm castings, water, compost, and a careful trim, they might be the big success story of the summer.
They've also popped out a bunch of these
And even a few of these.
And the random potatoes I planted in the back yard near the pumpkins have been our first proper harvest. Straight from the garden, we cooked these up the other night, and they were just beautiful. So much more flavour than the ones from the shop, or even from the market. You could almost taste the compost and the worm wees.

Hmm, maybe that's not what I'm really trying to say.

Anyway, I'm pleased to say that it looks like our efforts have not been in vain. There's also rhubarb growing, and onions, though I have to say I'm not sure what to do with those.

We'll see. I've put down more potatoes, and now I've got a better idea of what I need to do to get ready for the next planting season.

Now that wasn't so hard, was it?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Even More Tomatoes

While we're on the topic of tomatoes and barbeques, the two go together like, well, tomatoes and barbeques.
Just slice them up, sprinkle with freshly ground salt and pepper, fresh grated parmesan, olive oil and fresh thyme leaves.
Pop them on the back of the barbeque and let them sit there and cook while the main event is taking place around them.

That's all there is to it. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Tomatoes are Coming!

At this time of year, tomatoes are coming into season and you can pick them up pretty darn cheap at the markets, even if they're not as bright and shiny as the ones you might get at the supermarket. There isn't a better time to pick up a few kilos of ripe tomatoes and make yourself some pasta sauce.

Unlike my first (hilarious) attempt at making a pizza/pasta sauce, this one turned out all right. I decided to use the crockpot, and it worked a charm.
First off, score 10 tomatoes with a sharp knife and pop them into a bowl of boiling water. After a few seconds, drain and place in a bowl of iced water.
The skins will then easily peel away using a sharp paring knife. Roughly chop/mash the tomatoes and place them in the crockpot. Chop 2 onions and 6 cloves of garlic, and add these to the tomatoes, along with a dram of olive oil, some freshly ground salt and pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, and 2 T of brown sugar.
Add another 1/2C of fresh chopped herbs. I used Oregano and Thyme straight from the garden.
Turn the slowcooker on to low, and leave for 8 - 12 hours.
Stir occasionally. Taste and season with salt and pepper as required.
Once the cooked sauce has cooled, blend it up. I use a stick blender, just because it's easy. Make it as smooth or as chunky as you like.
Pour into freezer-proof containers and put aside until you need them. You can also use this recipe for pasta sauce, just cook and reduce for a bit longer and blitz right down to a fine paste before storing.
And here it is in action; bolognaise with beautiful homemade sauce. I tend to stir half the jar through the meat and half through the cooked pasta just prior to serving. Lovely stuff.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baked Pineapple-Dukkah Chicken

I've just realised that while I pretend that this is a foodie blog, it's been a month since I actually posted a recipe!

I'm sticking to the excuse that it's been the holidays and that there's been a lot going on. It seems that I've also had a lot of other things to write about, and I've been flat tack with other writing work, including completing a submission to Firebrand Literary Agency. Fingers crossed that that is well received, but if not I won't be worried. It's just the first step on what can be an even harder process than writing a book in the first place: getting published.

We also finished painting the house and with a lot of help from Obi, we got the roof painted too, as well as tidying up the garden, cleaning out the tool shed, putting up shelves in the garage, and nurturing the pumpkin patch. It was while we were painting the roof that I had this thought:

In ten thousand years, when the archeologists of the future are digging up the ruins of our ancient civilisations, what will they learn from the DNA and stomach contents of insects stuck in paint on our rooves and walls? Because there sure are a lot of them.

Anyway, without further ado, let me roll up my sleeves, roll out the orange ink, and present to you...

Baked Pineapple Dukkah Chicken

Serves 2 - increase quantities to suit

Using whole chicken legs, slice open the skin, gently prise away from the meat, and slot in 1 slice of tinned pineapple, cut widthwise (ie, to make it skinnier), per leg.

Toss the chicken in
Dukkah (usually available from most ethnic groceries or in Wellington, Christchurch, Kapiti and Nelson, from the MFW) and semolina flour. Dukkah is a spicy and fragrant rub made with a hazelnut base, and is delicious on many things, but especially on chicken. There are plenty of recipes online if you'd like to make your own, too.

Heat some olive oil in a pan and fry the chicken on one side until brown.

Add 2T soy sauce to the pan, shaking vigourously until the liquid has been absorbed. Turn the chicken over and repeat, sprinkling over any leftover dukkah and flour you might have.

Add quarter of the pineapple juice from the tin, repeat shaking until the liquid is absorbed, turn the chicken over and repeat. Cook for 10 minutes, being carfeul not to let the skin cook away from the chicken.

Place the chicken in an oven dish. Add the rest of the pineapple juice and about 1/8 Cup of water to the pan to deglaze it, and drain this liquid over the chicken legs. Place into an oven preheated to 220C and bake for 1 hour, turning twice during the cooking time.
Serve with Jasmine Rice cooked in Chicken Stock and a fresh garden salad. Delicious summer food. It's making me hungry, and I only just had dinner!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Wanganui Road Trip

What would the holidays be without a road trip?

Well, a nice boat trip can be just as good if not better, but we had a road trip instead.

Just before Christmas we took Isaac up to visit his Great-Gramps and Gran in Wanganui. We must have missed all the traffic, because it was a quick trip up the country. We stayed in Foxton on the Friday night, with Isaac's Nana Beth.

Great-Gramps is one of my revered cooking mentors, and Gran has been responsible for pointing out all sorts of interesting and helpful little things in the kitchen over the past few years. I was very much looking forward to having dinner with them on Saturday, and I was not to be disappointed.
Beef fillet, wrapped in bacon and smothered in butter.
I'm not going to mention how healthy this may or may not have been, but it was delicious.
I can't pass on the secrets of cooking this fine dish, as Great-Gramps and I were very busy drinking gin and wine respectively, and immersing ourselves in a very engaging discussion about politics and the environment. I haven't had so much fun in a long while. Ah yes, there were mushrooms involved, too.
I know I've already used this shot, but to be fair it was Gran who had prepared these raspberries and strawberries for us for dessert,
with a delicious amaretto cream to match. They were also good enough to make us breakfast on Sunday morning, with hot coffee, to give us the strength for the drive home.

We stopped again on the way down in Foxton, and had lunch with Dessert Chef's whanau, before making it home at a leisurely pace.

Yip. Road trips aren't what they were when I was 18 anymore.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

A New Theme

I've talked a lot on this blog about food, as you would expect, and about the politics and issues that surround food and the environment, and about how much I like food.

I've also raised some of my other passions, like writing, and my family.

Today I've been inspired to add another of my favourite subjects into the repertoire of Freshly Ground topics of conversation: Photography.

I can think of no better way to kick this off than by drawing your attention to the National Geographic International Photography Contest. The winners are pretty good, but I browsed through the wallpapers offered by NG as downloads and found some images I thought were even more stunning.

Here are a few of my favourites. The captions are written by the photographer or NG, not me. There are dozens more of these dramatic and enduring images available for free download at the link above.

Note: The images may appear truncated. Click each image for the full panoramic impact.

This was taken around 6 a.m. on the drive from Delhi to Agra. The people looked like ghosts as they came out of their field tents to commence their daily walk along the highway to their jobs in the next town.
The Pantheon in Rome, Italy is a dramatic symbol of permanence after a summer lightning storm.
After a long day of meetings, I made it up to the peak just before dusk to shoot the glittering city of Hong Kong, China, just before it plunged into night.
Erosion causes the death of these live oak and pine trees that scatter the beaches at the south end of Jekyll Island, Georgia, United States.

I'll find opportunites to put up more photos over the coming months, both off the net (with full credit to the creators) and those of my own and friends.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Seasoning the BBQ in the BBQ Season

Summer is the season of the barbeque, as we all know. Barbeques are a classic kiwi tradition, as I'm sure they are in much of the rest of the world. Yes, for some reason we seem to think this is a unique condition.

I have a few curious observations to make about barbeques and the culture that surrounds them, which I'd like to share. Please be aware, some gentle male sensibilities may be offended (the rest of us are permitted to laugh ourselves silly, if we so desire).

For starters, I have yet to understand why barbeque tools seem to come in such ridiculous sizes. Personally, I use the little paring knife and a pair of tongs from the kitchen when I barbeque. We concluded that the reason for barbeque tools being so stupidly big is so that men can stand around the barbeque with their beers in one hand and compare the sizes of their tools.

Which I'm sure is also not a uniquely kiwi practice.

While we're on the subject of men and their misplaced sense of entitlement to the role of barbeque chef, may I ask what it is about having the appropriate chromosomes that makes so many males think that suddenly, despite not having stepped in front of any piece of cooking equipment more technical than a toaster for ten months of the year, they can suddenly claim dominion over the outdoor gas (or charcoal) grill? They then proceed to stand over said grill, drink beer, talk sh!t, burn the sausages, reduce the steak to hunks of leather, drink more beer, talk more sh!t, and complain about where the salad is and why the bread isn't buttered already.

Gents, I hang my head in embarrasment for you. The barbeque's a glorified frying pan, that's all, and if you can't drive a frypan, then you have no right to ruin everyone else's food by declaring yourself its master. "BBQ FLAVOUR" is not a substitute for basic culinary competence. Get into the kitchen, make the salad and butter the bread, and let the cooks do the cooking.

Full credit to all those men who can and do cook; you have every right to be out there, drinking beer and talking sh!t to your hearts' content (so long as you made the salad and buttered the bread before you started!).

The other thing that men seem incapable of doing more often than not is cleaning the barbeque after it's been used. The excuse for this is also BBQ FLAVOUR, that indefinable taste which seems to be not so much a matter of ingredients and technique but rather one of cultivation; as in, strains of bacteria. Perhaps there is some primal urge among men to bulk up their immune systems by allowing all manner of germs and micro-organisms to breed on "their" cooking grills, and the obligatory overcooking of any meat that comes within range is therefore more a matter of survival than anything else. That special flavour can only be achieved by allowing the petrie dish to fester and then cooking that flavour off onto the meat, which must then be virtually incinerated to ensure it is safe to eat. All of this men know instinctively, and is perhaps why they can't actually cook on a barbeque despite what all the advertising tries to tell us.

Please note, I write the above lines in the full knowledge that my own barbeque is sitting outside uncleaned since last I used it, but I assure you it will get a thorough scrub before it is used next.

Do I have anything useful to say, or am I just taking great pleasure in deriding my fellow man? (Ah, the joy of picking on people who aren't here to defend themselves...)

In fact, I do. This comes back to the cleaning of the barbeque. There is the small matter of the last of the soapy taste that you can't quite get rid of, and who wants to cook on that?
Here's the solution:Chop up a large onion and a handful of fresh herbs and garlic, mix it up with some rice bran oil and freshly ground pepper and salt, get the barbeque really hot and season it with the onion-herb mixture. Cook this stuff right down, constantly shifting it around the grill. Some of it will stick, and thats OK. Scoop the rest off, and you have a seasoned barbeque, with no soapy residue whatsoever. Real Barbeque Flavour, without the heirloom cultures.
A couple of weeks ago Liz E. Bear's Mum brought a pile of steak around, dressed in fresh sage and rosemary from their garden, and I didn't want to waste it. So I proceeded to RESEASON the grill with the herbs before cooking the steak, letting them wilt and adding a little more oil and salt, so that there was a lovely herbed oil sizzling away on the barbeque for the steak to go onto. I then removed the herbs and put the steak on to cook, placing the wilted herbs back on top of them to infuse the meat as it cooked.
Blimmin' delicious it was. And if you want to know how to cook the perfect steak, go read this too.

Hooray for real Barbeque Flavour!

P.S. To anyone out there who may feel offended by what I've said here, tough. Pun intended.

EDIT: Go on, read the comments. You know you want to. Heeheehee.