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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Polly Want a Cracker?

You've all heard the rumours about wild big cats that roam the wilderness of places where there ought be none. Most famous are the tigers of Britain's moors (or some such), and in New Zealand we have our very own legendary panther that is reputed to stalk the highlands of the South Island.

The story goes that these animals are errant strays from the collections of rich, perhaps rather lonely folk, though I wouldn't presume to know anything about that. What I do know is that we have an exotic animal loose in our neighbourhood.Dessert Chef got these tantalising shots a few days ago of something that can only be a parrot, cavorting in the manuka with a tui.Wellington readers, please forward this link to as many other Wellington readers that you might know, in the hope that by pure viral spread the owners of one missing parrot might drop us a line so we can pass on the last known siting of this lost bird in the wild.
You can see from this cropping that it is most definitely not a bird of native origin, and it is probably quite keen to find its way back to a warm home and a cracker.
As you can see by this comparison with a tui on the same branch, it's not a small bird, and it must be pretty friendly. If we can help by letting someone know where we saw it, please leave a comment so we can get back to you.

Because, as a parrot I once knew was wont to say, "Any port in a storm."

No, it didn't make sense to me, either. That's just one for the birds.

Bohemian Goulash

Here at the bottom of the South Pacific the days are getting longer and the nights are feeling warmer. But I'm not fooled: it's still winter.

Nonetheless, my opportunities this winter for posting lovely hearty stews are running short, so here's one of my all-time favourites: Goulash.

Whether your Goulash is simply hearty or truly fiery all comes down to how much spice you add, so if you like a good hit of tongue-burning heat, just double the quantities of paprika and carraway.

Otherwise, this meal follows the template of most of my stew dishes: Sealing the flavours into the meat in a hot pan, deglazing the cooking pan with wine and stock, and cooking for a couple of hours, adding dumplings at the end. What better way to wrap up a Sunday night?

Bohemian Goulash
(Serves 4)

400g stewing steak, cubed
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
2t carraway seeds
2t dried thyme or 1T fresh thyme leaves
2T paprika
2t flour (or potato flour to make this recipe Gluten Free)
2 carrots, sliced
3 small potatoes, diced
1 kumera, diced
1/2C red wine
1 1/2C beef stock
1/4C sour cream


Heat some olive oil in a pan, fry the onion and garlic until soft, then add the meat and brown quickly. Add herbs, spices, flour, and freshly ground pepper and salt. Sear thoroughly without burning.
Place the carrots, potatoes and kumera into an oven dish and scoop the browned meat and onions into it. Mix well.
Return the pan to a moderate heat, then add the red wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to bring up all the cooking flavour. Add the stock, not too quickly, ensuring the reduction doesn't cool too far. Allow to thicken slightly.

Pour the reduction over the meat and veges in the pan, top up with a little water if required to stop the meat from drying out.

Cover and place into a preheated oven at 200C, and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Then add your dumplings, and cook for a further 20-30 minutes.
When the stew is done, dish up the dumplings, then mix the sour cream through before serving. If, like me, you sometimes forget to do this, it's also fine to just spoon it up on top of the stew.

Great with mashed potato and fresh steamed greens, plus a nice big glass of bold red wine.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Roast Pork & Pumpkin Soup

Things being what they are out there, you can't go past a good leftovers meal. One of the things I set out to do when I started this blog was focus not only on good tasty food but also economical meals, and making the most of your supplies.

I might have done something like this last winter, but what the hey. Learning by repetition is the best way, right?

Or was it learning by doing?

Anyway, not to worry.

This soup requires that you have the following leftovers:
Roast Pork;
Roast Pumpkin;
Roast Veges;
Chicken stock, made from leftover chicken and vege scraps.

This is good, because it gives you good reason to cook:
A Roast Pork;
Roast Pumpkin;
Roast Veges;
And a Roast Chicken, at some stage (although the stock can be frozen, of course).

Making the soup is dead simple.
Take your roast pumpkin and other veges, and chop them up into chunks.
Drop them into a bowl and add the chicken stock. Blend up to a nice, thick consistency. Try to get it ... soupy. Add water if further thinning down is required.
Add your leftover pork, chopped into nice little bites. Heat thoroughly, without boiling.
Serve with fresh rolls, sour cream, and freshly ground pepper.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Day at the Farm

I'm terribly behind in my blogging responsibilities, I know, and I do apologize. We had a busy weekend with friends and family, which included my little niece sleeping in our office - thus, no computer. Thus, no Sunday night blog post. This I shall quickly remedy.

A couple of weeks ago we took Isaac up to Nan Gailyn's farm to see the 4-day old calves.
As you can see, he was dead keen.

You might remember our visit last year to Staglands in the Akatarawas, where upon seeing a couple of lambs Isaac - then not even two years old - said, in all seriousness:


Yip. Macabre as it may seem, I felt like I must have doing something right that my boy recognised that food doesn't come from a shop, but from the real world.

On the drive up to the farm the other day, he saw cows out the window of the car, and had this to say on the matter:

"That's a cow."

"That's beef."

"That's dinner."

With apologies to any vegetarians reading (No, I'm not getting into that discussion here), I consider this continued success. He also knows that milk and cheese come from cows, that chickens give us eggs, and that we also eat chickens.

No sugar coating here.

Unless you're talking about the alpacas:
I'm not sure what he sees in these surly, smelly beasts of burden, but Isaac just loves getting to see alpacas, and even pat their ears. Maybe it's because we don't eat alpaca - we just wear their wool.

That's all for now. I've got a mountain of writing work and audio editing that I need to get up to date with, so I'll be back soon with more foody goodness.

Take care everyone.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Banana-Honey Bread

Anyone who's been reading Freshly Ground for a while will know that I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with that curious breed known as the Celebrity Chef. And by love-hate, I don't mean that I love to hate them, or even that I hate them at all. Most the time, I am inspired by their dedication to good food and nutrition and taste, and sometimes it's just that they are such a world beyond what I will ever be as a cook that it bugs me.

So, in order to give the Olivers and Ramsays of the world a fair go, I've also made an effort to document my humble attempts to replicate their luscious-looking dishes in my own small kitchen.

My last try was not terribly successful - there must have been something in the Italian air that I was missing. (Either that, or, as the Alligator said, I just didn't follow the recipe, so it was my own darned fault).

This next one, however, hit the mark perfectly. To be fair, I've made this before, and it worked back then too, so I came into the process with anticipation rather than foreboding, which may have helped.

But how hard could making bread with the banana and the honey built-in be?

Another Jamie Oliver recipe, this one is from his second book, Happy Days with the Naked Chef, and is a real winner. Especially if you have bananas that look like this stinking up your fruitbowl:

The key difference between Oliver's recipe and my interpretation of it is that I'm lazy: mine just goes straight into the breadmaker to do all the hard work.
Jamie Oliver's Banana and Honey Bread
(1 Loaf)

500g Strong Flour (Hi-Grade)
1t Salt
2t Sugar
2T Breadmaker Yeast
3 Ripe Bananas, Pureed (see picture above)
4 T Honey, either runny or melted until it's runny

Dump all the ingredients, reserving half the honey, into the breadmaker pan. Turn onto a dough cycle.
I'm just going to pop this photo in here gratuitously, because I like it.
When the cycle is done, turn the dough out onto a floured bench and gently shape. With a long knife, cut the dough into six roughly equal sized pieces. Then, if you like, you can score them into fancy shapes. Place in an oiled baking tray and put into a warm, dry place for one hour to rise.

Drizzle over the remaining honey and place into the oven at 200C, for 18-20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool - but not too much.
With a bit of butter, you won't find these last long enough to get cold.

So Jamie, this one's a 5-Star winner. That's just Pukka.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Getting an Early Start

We always tell ourselves that October is the time to start planting stuff. Accordingly, we put off doing anything about the garden until Labour weekend, by which time life is getting busy again, and so we put it off further.

In other words, we procrastinate, and nothing gets done. We've managed to keep a few pumpkins and potatoes going in the past, and our little crops of tomatoes on the doorstep have been OK, and the herbs - which are just glorified weeds, let's not forget - seem to thrive despite being neglected for weeks at a time.

But in terms of really having a proper vege garden that will yield a significant harvest, in the past we simply haven't done the work to make it happen.

Last weekend, that all changed.
We took a drive to the hardware store and the garden centre, then came home and cleared out one overgrown corner of our little front yard to put our planter down.
After getting it relatively level, we spread a layer of ash, in what may have been a misguided attempt to keep the weeds down.
Then we put down some plastic sheeting, punctured to permit some drainage, and assembled the 4'x4' planter box over top of it.

Now, I'm not saying that you should follow our lead here. We may have done ourselves all sorts of damage, like not permitting the soil to breathe and wotnot, but our main concern was for the weeds. The weeds up the back are the bane of my potato patch, and I don't want them invading this plot too.
Next, we got in some awfully cheap labour to do the grunt work.
Potting mix, about 8 bags, including a bag of strawberry mix, turn this from a wooden square into a miniature garden.
Then we got to planting: Strawberries, Lettuces, Beans, Peas, Tomatoes, Silverbeet, Cauliflower and Broccoli, several of each.
Into the potting mix, with a nice dousing of water and plenty of sunshine.
Finally, a bit of mesh to keep the local wildlife out - particularly our cat (I'd post a picture of said feline but I'm sorry, this just isn't that kind of blog). The mesh is attached to pieces of wire which are stapled into the timber, allowing access to the garden to weed and prune and harvest.

Since it's still winter and there may yet be frost, we also rigged a sheet of clear plastic which will double as a frost cover overnight and as a mini glasshouse of sorts on cooler days.

So there it is, August and we have our vege garden planted out. And the best thing is that a week later, the seedlings are not only alive but actually getting bigger. I hold out great hopes.
So after a big day's work like that (I could be honest and say that it was spread over 2 days, but that would completely dissolve the mystique surrounding our achievements), the hard workers deserve a cold, relaxing brew.
And sausages. There must be lovely lamb sausages.
Which are then made into burgers. What a perfect way to end the day.

(In case you're curious, Sausage Burgers contain sausage, lettuce, beetroot, cheese, sour cream, and sauce. Just like your mum used to make them. )

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Steak Stew

This is from a recipe I heard on the radio a few weeks back and decided that I had to try.

Since I'm a big fan of steak, and I'm a big fan of stew, the idea of Steak Stew just seemed like a match made in heaven.

Officially this was called Slow-Cooked Steak in Red Wine with Gremolata Dumplings, but Steak Stew was easier to remember.

To quote this particular rendition of the European classic's progenitor, Meillier Ouvrier chef Mark Gregory,
"In these recessionary times, it’s good to remind ourselves that simple food, slowly cooked is cost-effective, comforting and absolutely delicious. Our grandmothers used dumplings to pad out the more expensive ingredients like meat, and it’s a great house-keeping tip which is more relevant than ever right now!"
Never was a truer word spoken. If you're not making the most of cheaper cuts of meat cooked long and slow in the oven, then now is the time to get into it. And this one is actually pretty darned easy.

Just imagine: You've had a "stew" ticking away in the oven for a couple of hours, and when you come to dish it up, it's not stew but steak that slaps down on the plate, tender and melting and drowning in delicious red wine gravy.

With dumplings, of course.

I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter, only reducing the quantities by half. I have copied most of the recipe direct from the Radio NZ website, indented for clarity.

Beef steak
4 x 300 - 400g beef blade or chuck steaks
plain flour to dust steaks
¼ cup olive oil – or use other if not available
2 medium onions – finely chopped
3 cloves garlic – finely chopped
300ml red wine
1 cup tinned chopped tomatoes
½ cup chicken stock
pinch dried chilli
3 sprigs rosemary – from the garden if you have it
6 pieces anchovy - optional

"First choose a casserole dish large enough to hold the steaks.

Heat a frying pan, add three tablespoons of olive oil then sweat the onions and garlic for 5 minutes until soft and sweet. Scrape all into the casserole saucepan."

"Re-heat frying pan, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, lightly dust steaks with flour then pan fry until golden – you may have to do this in batches depending upon size of fry pan. Place the coloured steaks on top of the onions."

"Add red wine to the frying pan and reduce down for several minutes until it’s nearly all evaporated, add the tomatoes, stock and chili, rosemary and anchovies if using. Stir well before scraping everything over the steaks. Cover with a lid and place in oven at 325F/160°C for one-and-a-half hours."
Don't forget the dumplings:

Gremolata dumplings
2 cups plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic – crushed
1 lemon, zested
½ cup parsley - chopped
1 cup grated butter – place in freezer for 1 hour first before grating
¾+ cup milk

"After 1 hour make the gremolata dumplings – sift flour into a large mixing bowl, gently mix in all other ingredients except milk. Now mix in sufficient milk to make a moist dough (similar to scones).

With wet hands, roll dumpling dough into golf ball-sized pieces and place on floured bench top. Remove steaks from oven, take off the lid and place gremolata dumplings evenly around the surface, be sure to leave one inch between each – if there’s too much dumpling mix do not use the extra.

Recover steaks with the lid and place back into the oven a further 20 minutes to cook the dumplings."

This was pretty yummy, but I think they should've cooked for even longer to really get down to that melt-in-your-mouth stage. The Gremolata Dumplings were different, and a curious change from my usual herbed dumplings, but I think we'll stick with the original for a while yet.

So there you have it, a bit of a recipe review. I just keep moving into new, exciting fields of endeavour, don't I?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Guest Postage

You know, I do more than just write and cook and listen to podcasts.

I also write.

Hang on, did I say that already?

Ah well, I'm very excited to tell you that I've written my first ever Guest Blog Post, and you can read it over here at Jenni's Blog, Talula the second.

Without wanting to put too fine a point on it, it's about writing.

Please take a minute to go visit Jenni, have a read, and leave her a comment.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Curry Odyssey Episode 7: Beef Rendang

It's been a little while since I updated The Great Curry Odyssey, and there is a very good reason for this; specifically, because I haven't had a chance to spend the afternoon making curry.

The more I go down this track, the more I like the idea of Curry Paste.

But a couple of weeks ago, at the Hutt Riverbank Market, my eagle eyes picked out a tiny stall where a man and his son were selling ingredients for real, authentic, make-it-from-scratch curry, including galangal, kaffir limes and leaves and, what really caught my eye:


My Nana has a lemongrass plant in Coromandel, where the stuff grows wild. Down here it's a delicacy, and more importantly, it's the key ingredient in one of my favourite curries, Rendang.

If you're in Wellington and you want to know why Rendang is my favourite curry ever, head down to Satay Village on Ghuznee St, and order the Chicken Rendang, with a side order of Roti. If you're not a curry person, order it in mild, and I guarantee you will still be impressed.

So, with grand delusions in my head that I might have even a ghost of a chance of creating a rendang to rival the best in Wellington, I bought a bunch of lemongrass and started scheming out dinner for the night.

For once (as is the way with the Great Curry Odyssey) I did a bit of research, trawled through several rendang recipes online, cross-referenced these with what I actually had on hand, and composed the following hybrid recipe.

For a first time, it came out pretty well, though it didn't have a bar on Satay Village. Being beef, not chicken, and not having lovely oily rotis to go with it probably didn't help. It was hotter than I anticipated, but we took it to a shared dinner, and thankfully Uncle Ian and Liz E Bear, who both like spicy food, gave it the thumbs up.

The curious thing is that that man and his son have not been at the market again since. I wish I was a travelling curry ingredient salesman, bringing galagnal to a new farmers market every week. That would be the life for me, indeed.

Of course, I'd need to a) grow galangal first, and b) know what galangal was, and what to use it for. That would help, I imagine.

Beef Rendang
(Serves 4)


500g Skirt Steak, diced
4 cloves of Garlic
2 small Onions
3 small dried Chillis
2t crushed Ginger
5 stalks of Lemongrass
1/4t Fennel seeds
1/4t Coriander seeds
1 whole Nutmeg
2T Brown Sugar
3 whole Cloves
1/4 Cinnamon stick
400ml can of Coconut Milk

Chop and fry the garlic and onions until just soft (You might not need to fry these. Between the market and dinner time I had forgotten I had lemongrass for rendang, and I had started making goulash. But hey, I'm just relaying what I did to get here). In a bowl, mix up the garlic and onion with the chillis, ginger, and lemongrass, chopped. Blend to a paste by whatever means is most practical. I would've liked more of a paste than what I got here, but I was rushed (what with having set out to cook a goulash, and now trying to throw together my rendang research on the fly).
I decided to use the Jamie Oliver Ball Thingy to mix up my masala, using it to pulverise the fennel, coriander, and nutmeg (which I think I grated in).
In a pot, heat the paste, then add the masala. Heat for a minute to bring out the flavours, then add the beef and brown, tossing in the curry mix to coat it.
Add the sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and coconut milk. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer, and leave to cook down for a couple of hours. The rendang should come out almost dry, but with lovely tender, spicy chunks of meat.
Serve over rice (preferably rice boiled in beef stock), with nice hot, oily rotis if you can get them.

Previous Posts in the Great Curry Odyssey:
Butter Chicken
Naan Bread (For Comedic Value Only)
Curried Lemon Chicken
Lamb Korma
Roti Bread