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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Report from the Front Line: The Food Show, Wellington

Since today was Mother's Day, I took Dessert Chef to the fabulous Food Show at the Stadium in Wellington.
OK, it was her idea, and I ate and drank a whole heap more than her, so really, she took me. In fact, since I tasted countless wines and she drove home, it really was her taking me out than the other way around.

Not to worry. Here's the up-to-the-minute review of New Zealand's biggest gastronomic event, as experienced by Yours Truly this very day. Yes, for once, my blog post won't be months out of date. It's good to be on the cutting edge.

Speaking of cutting edges, the highlight of the show for me was not actually any particular food or wine; it was the knives. Not just any knives, but ceramic knives. I have some great knives (a wedding present from my Mum, and still going strong), but these blades just blew me away.

I had just listened to an audiobook in which one of the characters has ceramic knives, which are worlds beyond any steel blade. So sharp that they don't blunt, lighter than steel - and of course never picked up by metal detectors, which is very helpful - I hardly believed it. Then I got to hold one, and cut with one.


They're great. I could slice a tomato literally paper-thin. At $110 on special for a small one, however, they're beyond this humble food critic's reach. but if anyone out there has that sort of money to spend on knives, I'd seriously recommend checking them out.

The other highlight was the Freedom Farms Bacon, purely on the basis of ethics and taste. I've talked often enough about getting more humanely farmed meat products into the mainstream, and as well as tasting delicious, this seems to be a step in that direction.

I learned a lot about different rice bran oils, and olive oils, and avocado oils, and tried probably three dozen or more (*gurgle gurgle* - quiet, tummy!) and disliked as many as I liked. I was surprised to learn that rice bran oil, which we think of as a terribly healthy option, is in fact a hydrolised product that is run through a chemical process before it gets to us. That's a shame, but we'll still use it - for now. I also discovered that avocado oil, which I've never eaten because of its hefty pricetag, tends to taste like overripe avocado. Yuk. I love avocado, but not once it's turned. There were some good ones, but they were really expensive. So hard to strike a balance.

I also tried numerous wines from several different regions and vineyards, and was surprisingly not blown away by any of them. That was also a shame. I wanted to buy wine, it's something I like to do because it means I get to drink wine. Oh well. Thinking about it now, though, I did drink wine, so that's probably OK. I didn't discover my next favourite Pinot Gris, though. Darn.

I've talked before about celebrity chefs, and while I err on the side of appreciating their passion for food even while I dislike the reality TV they have succumbed to, I have to admit a proclivity for snapping up their cookbooks if they cross my path at the right price. Dymocks Booksellers had a stand at the Food Show, and I grabbed a copy of Gordon Ramsay's Cooking for Friends for the bargain price of $20 (NZD). This book is not a "look at this great food that you'll never be able to cook" sort of a book. This is GR's family recipes, the stuff his kids make. And to celebrate this find, I dove straight in and cooked a recipe out of it tonight.

I know, it's unheard of. I'll be posting a meal that I've cooked on the same day as we ate it. I don't think that's happened since Day 1. But there you have it.

So, summing up the Food Show: Good. Yeah, lots of nice free stuff to eat and drink, as you'd hope (barring the $20 entry fee, of course, but I'm pretty sure we both ate and drank more than $20 worth of food). There was plenty of variety, and I even learned a few new things. It seems that nothing has made me sick, although my tum was telling me that I might have had just one too many lugs of olive oil by the time we left. Next year, I'll forgo breakfast to make even more of the delicacies on offer. Gordon Ramsay's Pasta with Baked Pumpkin and Rosemary
(With minor adjustments, just because I can)

Serves 3Pumpkin courtesy of our garden, no less.

1 500g Pumpkin, deseeded and sliced into thin wedges
3 Rosemary Sprigs, chopped into 2cm lengths
4 Garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Lots of Olive Oil
50g Grated Parmesan
Drizzle a roasting tray with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and salt. Scatter the rosemary and garlic around, and drizzle with more olive oil and seasoning. Place into a preheated oven at 210C. Turn after 12 mins, then again after another 12 mins, until soft on the inside and lightly caramelised on the outside.
Set aside to cool. Discard the garlic and rosemary but reserve the oil. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin.
Place the pumpkin flesh and oil in a pot. Add a little more olive oil (I think I used a lot less to cook this than GR intended, as I had very little to reserve) and some water or vege stock to loosen it up. Blend with a hand blender or run through a food processor.
The pureed pumpkin should be more of a sauce than a soup, thick enough to coat the pasta but not runny. I think that I'd make mine a bit wetter next time. I wonder if UK pumpkins have more moisture content that the ones I grow out the back.

Keep the sauce warm while you cook a pot of pasta, steam some veges, and cook up your sausages or whatever, if this isn't your main course.
Drain the pasta and mix in the pumpkin sauce and the parmesan. Dish up hot, with freshly ground pepper, a grating of fresh parmesan, and perhaps a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

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