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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Its the Meal that Matters

The thing about TV Chefs is not that they're arrogant, or that they don't grasp the fact that most real people can't co-ordinate poaching and grilling and reducing and glazing all at once, or that they're not nearly as witty or good-looking as they think they are, or that what they think of as affordable often seems somewhat governed by the ridiculous sums of money that they earn for being TV Chefs. What makes these folk worth the time they take up on the airwaves is that they inspire.

I haven't watched a single episode of anything that Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson or Gordon Ramsay have presented without being struck by the way they just LOVE FOOD, and that they want people out there in TV Land to love food like they do.

This is great. They try to make cooking look easy and satisfying and rewarding, no matter how many years of professional cookery they might have under their hats. They try to fill simple plebs like me with the idea that I too can stuff a chicken with bacon and garlic or entertain 6 dinner guests without breaking a sweat while enjoying a nice chianti. The trick for someone like me is to believe it, and then when it all goes pear shaped, to remember that I just have to try again and change a few things and eventually I'll get it sorted out. With time and effort, I'm not necessarily any closer to having my own TV show, but I seem to keep the dinner guests happy even though I have yet to enjoy a good chianti.

What is important about these people, however, is not that they fill us with aspirations that fit their own delusions of grandeur. What matters is how much they care about what they cook. It MATTERS to them that they have the freshest possible ingredients. It MATTERS to them that the food they put on the plate is as good as it can possibly be. It MATTERS that their food will be enjoyed to the utmost, and not just be scoffed down unnoticed as yet another pile of uninteresting muck. And by having these grand illusions and rising to the height of Celebrity Chef, they gain the power to fill ordinary people with these same dreams.

What MATTERS, at the end of the day, is the MEAL. It's an idea I've touched on in the past, but never had a chance to come back and explore here. We are so lucky to live in a country where food is plentiful and safe and wholesome and delicious. In many parts of the world, people are far less fortunate. But for most of us, who can't join the UN to go and fight for justice where it's so terribly lacking, one of the things that we can do to take a morally responsible attitude towards our good fortune in the face of others' suffering is appreciate and respect what we have. We have a duty to keep our waste to a minimum. We have a responsibility to enjoy what we cook and to share with others. Food should be more than just the stuff we put in our mouths; it should be the social glue that holds us all together. Its the Meal that Matters.

When we were growing up, we always ate dinner at the table. It's just what we did, unless it was a barbeque. And at the table we talked, and caught up on our days, and hung out like a family. After I left home and went flatting, meals became something chowed down while sitting on the couch watching the great brain-puree box known as TV (mentioned above). By the time I came to own a house and find myself raising a family, it took a determined effort to break that habit and to win back mealtime as a family time. I realised how many meals I had cooked and eaten but never tasted because I was absorbed not in the food and the company, but in some mindless stream of garbage coming out of the box.

Don't get me wrong, I still watch my fair share of garbage, although these days I do it all off HDD and thus do so in my own timeframe and sans advertising. But the point is that what has come to matter is getting to the table and being together. I highly recommend it.

Coming back to the idea that we have to be responsible for our actions, here's a quick list of what you might be able to do to make the most of your food (some of this is likely to have appeared in previous posts, but think of it as the good stuff that drains off the worms after they've digested all the rubbish):

  • No vege scraps should ever be wasted. Either freeze them for making stock, or compost them, or start a worm farm;
  • No pasta, bread or rice leftovers ever need be wasted. If there's not enough to freeze and use later, hang an ice-cream tub in a tree and feed the birds;
  • Anything else apart from meat and cheese can usually go onto the lawn, if you have one, to feed the hedgehog, if you have one;
  • Learn how much you really need to cook, so that you don't have to throw anything away. Remember that meat and dairy take about 7 times as much energy to produce and get to you as you'll ever get from them in return, and any that you throw away will only attract rodents and cockroaches and flies;
  • Share meals with friends often. The shared energy of cooking and the goodwill you'll generate will help restore the planet's balance;
  • Recycle, and remember to sort it out rather than just bunging it all in the bin and letting them do it at the other end. Keeping recycling costs down will become a major factor in all our lives in the coming years, so you might as well get into good habits now.
Most of this stuff is really easy, its just a matter of forming new habits. So how did we go from celebrity chefs to worm farms? It's what happens when you draft a post over several days as the ideas bubble up. But it all matters, and what matters more is what you take from it. The world is changing. Life is to celebrate.

Its the vibe, your honour.


Goatherd's Pie

I would in no way want to imply that goatherds are lazier than shepherds - some of my best friends are goatherds. But this particular dish is a lazy meal, and although it is very much the essence of Shepherd's Pie but is not in fact Shepherd's Pie, I have, in my great ignorance, dubbed this meal Goatherd's Pie. And if I was a Goatherd, I would be proud to have such a magnificent dish named after me.

Of course, lazy and easy are relative terms (No, I'm not suggesting that my relatives are either lazy or easy, thank you very much), and much of the ease of this pie came from the fact that I had cooked up a huge pot of mince the previous day. The other part of the laze/ease factor was in my just slicing and parboiling the potatoes over the top, instead of boiling and mashing as per a Shepherd's Pie.

We were very lucky in that Grandad J had come to stay and brought with him a veritable cornucopia of fruit and vege, some of which needed to be cooked up rather urgently. So on the first night of his stay we had pasta with mince and mushroom sauce done in the slow cooker, and I used what was leftover for this warming winter nosh-up.

Goatherd's Pie

In a bowl, blend up the following:

3 large tomatoes
15-20 cherry tomatoes
1 chopped onion
1 t dried Italian herbs

Place the following in the slow cooker on low for 7 hours:

600g Mince
Tomato and Onion mixture
200g chopped flat mushrooms
1 T soy sauce
Freshly Ground Salt & Pepper to taste
1/4 Cup of Tomato Sauce

(Alternatively, cook up in a pot on the stove over a very low heat for 2-3 hours, stirring frequently and adding water as necessary to keep the ingredients from sticking or drying out.)

Wash 3 or 4 small new potatoes and 1 kumera. Slice into roughly 1cm pieces and boil vigorously for 5 minutes. They should be soft enough to pass a knife through easily but still firm enough to hold thier shape. Drain and put aside.

When the meat is done, layer it in the bottom of a pie dish. Place the potato and kumera slices around the top of the dish like so:
Over the potato grate some cheese and sprinkle a good handful of breadcrumbs. Season with pepper and paprika and place in the oven for 30 mins to heat through (Possibly less if you have just cooked the meat as described - remember, I was using chilled leftovers!). When the meat is bubbling and the potato is definitely cooked through, switch the oven to grill for a further 5-10 mins until the cheese and breadcrumbs are nicely browned.
Serve up with your necessary 5+ a day of fresh greens, preferably whatever is in season and locally available.
Then, if you're pretty much anywhere in NZ right now, head outside and check that A) your roof hasn't blown off, and B) that your car hasn't been washed away by floodwaters. Good Luck.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ghost in the Machine?

So I was dreaming, as you do in the middle of the night, and in my dream there was some music playing. Very clearly, not like music usually does when you're dreaming. It all made sense at the time, but then the song faded out and another song started, also very clearly. Clearly enough that I grew suspicious in my unconscious state and woke up. To hear music. This music was not in my head at all, but in my ears.

In the dark, I got up to investigate. It was five past midnight. The music was coming from Isaac's room. Now, if he had been singing in his sleep, I wouldn't have been surprised. He does stuff like that. But no, the music was coming from the Ipod.

We have an Ipod in his room, hooked up to a set of computer speakers. We used to put it on shuffle and it would put him to sleep, but we haven't used it for a few weeks now. It was playing. The Ipod had started at the first song in its library and was working its way through. Now it's nice to listen to a bit of Chris Isaak now and then, but hearing his dulcet tones crooning through the house in the middle of the night from a possibly haunted Ipod lent his heartfelt ballads a slightly sinister edge.

I turned the Ipod off. Then went back to bed. It didn't do it again.

The question now is this: Is there a ghost in the house, or in the Ipod? And how do you exorcise an Apple?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Spicy Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks

Time Warp: This post also takes us back to the distant past of Saturday a week or so ago. It seems like such a memory now...

What better winter food than Lamb Knuckles? What better meal for a Slow-Cooker than Lamb Knuckles? How fortuitous that today it was rainy and cold and awful while on the crock-pot the lamb shanks were slowly cooking down to succulence.

How perfect that when they were pulled from the pot to the plate, meat and bone alike were falling apart, and it took extra utensils to lift them out. What a glorious smell filled the house, as roast veges and delectable lamb was dished onto plates.

How oddly disquieting that despite the prospect of dinner being dished, Isaac wouldn't stop crying. How very frustrating that right as we sit down to eat, with Isaac still unsettled, the phones should all start ringing despite our best efforts to ignore them.

The meat was completely falling apart. So was Isaac, it seemed, and so to was Aunty L, who had been visiting, and whose car had broken down on the way home. Things went downhill from there. Dinner went down in about 3 bites - a good night to have a melt in your mouth lamb shank for dinner, I suppose, but still a shame to rush such a beautiful meal. While I jumped in the car with my wooly hat and my headlamp to go out and see if my completely unmechanical mind could solve Aunty L's car woes in the dark and the rain, C tried to soothe the crying boy.

While there was nothing I could do about the car, I spent most of the next 2 hours keeping Aunty L's kids entertained or sleeping, as required at the time. C got Isaac sorted (you really don't want to hear the details as this is a blog about eating, but I will say that it involved raisins...), and finally I got home to spend what was left of my Saturday night on the couch, as I had originally planned.

What it all boils down to is that I have a really good reason to do Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks again, very soon!

Spicy Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks

In a pestle, grind up the following:
4 Cloves of Garlic, sliced
1 Small Dried Chilli
1 t Coriander Seeds
1 t Dried Thyme Leaves
1 T Honey
1 T Balsamic Vinegar
2 T Olive Oil
1 T Flour
Freshly Ground Salt and Pepper

Score the Lamb Shanks and coat them thoroughly with the marinade. Leave to stand.
Slice a couple of carrots and a couple of potatoes into roughly 2mm thick pieces and layer these on the bottom of the crock pot. Cover these in water and sprinkle with salt. Place the Shanks on top of the veges and turn the Slow Cooker on low for about 8 hours.Peel and chop a tray of nice roasting veges and toss these in the remains of the marinade mixture, adding a little salt and pepper, some olive oil and perhaps a bit paprika or something similar to liven them up (it was a week ago now, and I forget exactly what I did). When the meat has 1 1/2 hours to go, place the veges on a low rack in the oven at 190C, turning every half hour. We probably had a dash of colour in the form of brocolli, beans and carrots too, but peas would be nice as well.

When the 8 hours is up, extract the knuckles from the crockpot with care and dish up with the roast veges and greens drizzled with a bit of butter.
Try to take more than 3 minutes to eat them. They're worth savouring, even though you'll find that there's no chewing involved. Mmmmmm...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ricotta Sausage Bake

Time Warp: This post was written prior to my week of cooking alone, but I didn't have the camera with photos on it, so this is like a trip back in time. By a week. Thats kind of cool if you don't think about it for too long.

Since we got the Slow Cooker, we've tried cooking various things in it. One of the less successful of these attempts was devilled sausages. Its not that they weren't nice, its just that there seemed to be no benefit to doing them in the crock pot. So when we had sausages come up on the menu again, I decided I'd head back to the old-fashioned way of cooking up good old bangers, and then altered it somewhat.

What I really liked about this meal was that I found a use for my Top Secret Pizza Sauce. We were towards the end of the week, and having missed out on the market the weekend before due to the whole family being sick, it was slim pickings in the veges department. So I whisked up a tomato sauce, fleshing it out with a dose of the famous aforementioned Sauce, boiled and then grilled the sausages and layered them together in the oven with the sauce, some cheese, and what was left of the Ricotta from the Bacon and Leek extravaganza. In the end, it was just bangers with cheese and pasta sauce, but it was good.

Ricotta Sausage Bake

Heat some olive oil in a pan and add 3 sliced garlic cloves, one chopped onion and 3 diced tomatoes. Mix well and add 4T of
Top Secret Pizza Sauce. Allow to simmer and thicken. Season to taste with freshly ground salt and pepper.
Boil up a tray of sausages for about 10 minutes. This is both to precook the meat and to knock out some of the fat that sausages are notorious for. Pull the sausages out into a shallow oven dish, score on all sides and place under a hot grill, turning as each side browns.
Boil up a pot of your favourite pasta.

Drain the fat from the sausage dish and spoon the Tomato and Onion Sauce over and around the sausages. Place tablespoons of Ricotta around the sausages and grate cheddar cheese over the dish. Place back under the grill and allow the cheese to brown.
Steam up some greens to go with the Sausages. When you dish, take care to keep the clumps of Ricotta intact.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Easy Vego Nachoes

Its a shame that I don't have the camera, because these look really good.

Distressed by the idea of eating what's left of the cabbage in the fridge, I decided I needed to think outside the square a bit to get my veges in tonight. I had planned on having nachoes, and the idea of a pile of buttery cabbage on the side for the third night in a row was not appealing. I made enough for 2, and put one aside for lunch tomorrow. But the main thing is I started cooking about 15 minutes ago and I'm eating right now. Yes, at the computer. I'm trying to kill two birds with one stone so that as soon as I've done my dishes I can get back into my writing work. On that topic, I passed that magical page 615 at lunchtime today. Yay me!

Easy Vego Nachoes

(Serves 2)

Slice one clove of garlic and half an onion. Fry these lightly in a small pot and then add 1 whole can of mild or hot chilli beans, depending on your chilli palate. Add 2 diced fresh tomatoes to the pot and warm through. As this is heating, place a pile of nacho corn chips on an oven tray with a piece of baking paper underneath. Grate some cheese over the chips and place under a hot grill until the cheese has melted. Pull the tray from the oven and split the nachoes between two plates. Serve the beans on the other half of the plate and dress with sour cream and a sprinkle of paprika. If its seasonal, slice half an avocado over the top as well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Halfway Points

So I rapidly approach the last halfway point in the revision process.

The first halfway point was completing the revision of Volume 1 of my novel, where I could physically put aside the first printed and bound "half". That was an achievement in itself.

But it wasn't really halfway, as Volume 2 has 3 chapters more than Volume 1, so last night I passed the second halfway mark by revising to the end of Chapter 22, effectively having revised more than half of the novel's 43 Chapters.

Except, as I'm sure sure you'll appreciate, this was not quite the true halfway point, as I had not yet revised more than half of the novel's 1230 pages. Tonight's effort, which saw a whole Chapter redrafted (there's nothing quite like knocking off a whole Chapter in a night to get the blood pumping), brings me in sight of that goal by bringing me up to page 605.

So yes, each of these is a halfway point, and each one is a goal that must be set and overcome to find success at the end of the road. I figure that whatever arbitrary measures I put in place to attend to the monumental task at hand, any that keep me feeling like this is not a job bigger than I can actually complete has to be good. On the plus side, 600 pages in and the quality of the writing has improved over the course of the second draft, which has meant less actual rewriting to be done by me anyway. So maybe I actually passed halfway some time ago, and now I'm on the downhill run. I sure hope so.

In other halfway news, my Mum has corrected my halfway activities as regards her Corned Beef, which apparently is nothing like her Corned Beef at all. Also on the note of my Mum's cooking, I made the Tangy Sweet Curry which has been raised here in the Slow Cooker on Monday, letting it cook while I was at work. I prepped it on Sunday night, and to keep things interesting (and because I was only cooking for me) I added a bit more Curry Powder than safety guidelines recommend. Now, a night's marination and a day's very slow cooking has a way of really bringing out the best in a curry, even a mild one. Diners are advised to bring extra water, perhaps by Elephant if possible. As I have not mastered this recipe for the slow cooker, I won't post it here. But the leftovers that I had tonight showed that with a night in the fridge, even a killer curry can show a bit of maturity. It was served with a panful of crunchy cabbage cooked in butter and salt. I'll be looking for ways to make cabbage interesting too, as its the only vege I have in the fridge until Saturday. Last weekend's attempts to get to the market were a washout - literally. I didn't have a big enough boat to bring the veges home.

And for the record, here is the link to the Beef Ragu I mentioned briefly yesterday. Go National Radio!

Monday, July 21, 2008

I have 11 Minutes

So, I have 11 minutes in which to write this post. Then I have scheduled the rest of the evening to serious writing work. Last time that C and Isaac were away for a few nights, I took upon myself the all-important task of clocking Halo at long last, and in that I succeeded. But such opportunities for focused work are few and far between. May the chapters fall beneath me this week!

9 Minutes, after that scurrilous intro. Onto the matter of these soaring petrol prices, which have, incidentally, just seen a slight fall. Transit tells us that car use in Wellington is down 8% on this time last year. What does that tell us? Yes, Sherlock, people are using cars less, probably because they can't afford petrol. It also means that, being less cars on the road, people like me are spending less time in traffic, thus burning less petrol, thus reducing the demand for the stuff. Win Win! It also suggests that for every 100 people who have sworn up and down that they can't do without their cars, 8 have found they in fact they probably can. The question now is whether or not the public transport system can sustain this upward trend.

6 Minutes. There was a great discussion regarding slow cooking and cuts of meat on Radio NZ today. The link is here, but as it will be gone in 10 days, I will endeavour to find the link to the recipe and put it up here too (but not with only 4 minutes to go).

Camera has been hijacked, still replete with photos from the two recipe posts I have drafted. Since I will not have it back until Thursday, as it is currently assigned to the task of Recording The Childhood Years of My Beloved Son, there will be no more foody photos before then. Stink eh.

2 mins (better abbreviate). I think the key to getting the slow cooker working is getting the volume of liquid right. Too often I find my meals are coming out too watery. Normally, I would have the option of rapidly reducing excess moisture away, but with the slow cooker there is no such option. There have been some slightly-less-then-successful meals slow cooked over the past couple of weeks, but also one fantastic triumph. Will get there when the camera returns.

Times Up! Must Publish!

(For the Record, then spent 4 mins proofreading and correcting mistakes - never pays to rush, does it?)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Feeding the Sick

The dreaded Winter Flu has run its path through our house. First Isaac, then me, and now C have all been knocked down by the bug. Thus, attention to cooking and, by association, this blog, have both been neglected. Suffice to say that there have been several repeats of the usual fare, including Chicken and Corn Soup and Curry. Meals have ticked away in the slow cooker, and leftovers have been defrosted. But there is one good thing about the raw throat, chesty cough, unexpected bouts of sneezing, aching joints and muscles, and alternately blocked or running sinuses: that thing is called Scrambled Eggs.

I was taught how to make proper Scrambled Eggs by a Doctor in Amsterdam, of all places. Its not the usual New Zealand way, and for that I make no apology. These eggs come out moist, fluffy, and silky, perfect for sore throats, and the only difference is in the technique. For a start, leave the frying pan in the cupboard.

Dutch Scrambled Eggs

Break 4 large Free Range Eggs into a small pot. Add 4T of milk and freshly ground salt and pepper. Whisk up with a fork and heat gently over a low heat, 2 - 3 on the dial. As the egg on the bottom starts to cook, whisk it gently, allowing the uncooked egg to run down the bottom of the pot. Meanwhile, cook some toast. Keep gently whisking the egg until it has cooked through but it still moist. Grate in a tiny bit of either cheddar or a hard salty cheese like parmesan. Allow the cheese to melt through and dish on toast. Great with avocado and sweet chilli sauce.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Moment for Hugh

For anyone who has ever read and loved the fiction work of Hugh Cook, you may be aware that he has been suffering for the last several years with brain cancer. Following his blog, I have learned that he has recently taken a bad turn. Hugh, as well as being an absolute imaginative genius (unjustly maligned by the publishing world), is a truly decent fellow. He has been a champion of flash publishing (print-on-demand technology) and I stand among many of his fans who have received warm and encouraging emails back from the man when approached. I remember getting that message, and how it made my day. For anyone who's interested, that email is copied to the bottom of this post.

Hugh lived in NZ for some time, and much of his work shows the dark inspiration he drew from Aotearoa's landscapes and our own stories. His epic 10-book series The Chronicles Of An Age Of Darkness are pure fantasy sci-fi brilliance. Three of those novels are available online here. They come highly recommended by me, though the online versions have been partially sanitised by Hugh to suit a broader audience. If you can find any of his books in second-hand stores, they are gold!

Hugh can no longer see, due to the aggressive action of the tumour on his brain, which must be the most awful thing for a writer. He lives between blind reality and hallucination. His family have been documenting his condition on his blog, and it is not happy reading.

His sister has asked that anyone who wishes to leave thoughts for Hugh do so by replying to comments on the blog, and has also made another poignant request that can be found here. For anyone who has ever read and loved any one of Hugh Cook's amazing works of fiction, please follow these links and let Hugh and his family know. For anyone who hasn't, go read the online novels and then send him your wishes. At a time in one's life like this, love and support can be the greatest medicine. Please take a moment for Hugh.

Hugh's website Zenvirus, where his Post-Chronicles work tends to reside, can be found here. Hugh's body of work available by print on demand can be found here, courtesy of

An email reply from Hugh, November 16th, 2006
Subject: Hugh Cook says thanks for getting in touch, good luck with your writing Re: message

Thanks for getting in touch,
Dan. Always nice to hear from a fan.

As you understand, there will be no more CHRONICLES
books, but I do hope to deliever further novels to the
world in due course. I am currently slowly working on
a new edition of THE SHIFT, which will replicate the
text of the first edition, and I am also working, very
slowly, on further books in the TALES OF OOLONG
MORBLOCK series, to follow on after TO FIND AND WAKE

The next two books, all going well, will be COMRADE
hope, in the next three to four years.

Good luck with your writing!

Hugh Cook

Creamy Bacon and Leek Pasta

Leeks are plentiful at this time of year, and since writing this blog has forced me to think about cooking some new and interesting stuff, I figured it was about time that leeks made it onto the menu. I remember having something like this while I was in London many years ago, but since I couldn't recall the exact ingredients, I just sort of made this up as I went along (yes, as usual).

Creamy Bacon and Leek Pasta

Boil up a pot of pasta, whatever you happen to have on hand.

In a large frying pan, heat some oil and fry 4 finely sliced garlic cloves. As this starts to brown, add 4 chopped rashers of bacon (I also threw in 1/2 a chorizo sausage, sliced, since it was in the fridge). When the bacon starts to go crispy, add to the pan:
1 chopped cored apple;
1 large diced tomato;
1 carrot sliced into thick wedges;
1 large squirt (about 2-3T) of worcester sauce.

Allow this to simmer for a few minutes before adding 1 leek, sliced into roughly 1 cm pieces. As the leeks start to cook, break the rings up and mix them through the pan.

Simmer for 15 minutes are so. Add about 150ml of cream to the pan and allow to heat through. Turn the heat down and spoon several large dollops of ricotta cheese over the pan, but don't stir in. You just want this to warm, but not to disappear into the mix.

Dish the pasta onto plates, and carefully extract the bacon & leeks from the pan, keeping the ricotta piles intact. Serve with freshly ground pepper.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Spicy Slow-Cooked Lamb Chops

This, our second use of the Slow-Cooker, was a weeknight meal. Once again, I just followed my instincts rather than actually doing any real legwork prior to cooking, and it all came out marvelously. The beauty of it is that virtually none of the work was done in the 5-6pm bracket. I got the meat out of the freezer the night before, prepped the marinade, and got the veges ready. Then in the morning before I left for work (6am), I coated the chops in the marinade and left them to sit. C then put the meat in the cooker at lunchtime and popped the veges in with about 2 hours to go, so come 5.30, all I had to do was steam up some greens.

I know that the grand idea here is to be able to put a meal on at about 6am and have it ready with no extra attention being paid to it until its ready about 12 hours later, but its early days yet. Soup and stew are all on the menu for coming weeks, so I'll see how those go when we get there.

Spicy Slow-Cooked Lamb Chops

In a bowl, mix up the following:

3 finely sliced or crushed cloves of garlic;
1 small dried chilli;
Zest of 1 lemon;
1 t of fennel seeds;
1 grating of nutmeg;
freshly ground salt and pepper;
1 T of brown sugar;
1 T of balsamic vinegar;
a handful of washed, chopped fresh mint.

Toss about 800g of lamb chops in this marinade and leave for 6-12 hours.

Peel and chop 2 onions, 1/4 of a large pumpkin, 6-8 potatoes, and 2 kumera. Place in a bowl and toss with freshly ground salt and pepper. Leave to sit with the meat.

When you are ready to start cooking, chop an onion and place it in the bottom of the slow cooker dish. Place the meat on top of the onion, add about 1 C of vege or beef stock, and turn the Cooker on High for one hour. Turn down to low and leave for a further 3 hours. Add the veges and leave for a further 2 - 3 hours.

Alternatively, place everything in the Slow-Cooker and turn on low. As long as its been cooking for at least 7 hours, it'll be lovely by the time you're ready to eat. Following the method above, the veges still had their firmness, but by leaving them in for the duration
they will be falling apart by the time you dish, which is also nice.

Serve with steamed greens and a drizzle of the cooking juices as gravy. Lovely Winter Nosh!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chicken and Corn Soup

Did I mention that the Slow-Cooker Chicken was just divine? As chef, I had an obligation to ensure the highest possible quality was being served up, and so I was forced to sample the wings as they fell apart all over the chopping board before I could get them under the grill. I could literally suck the meat away from the bone, and they just melted in the mouth. So good.

As usual, I reserved the breasts for later meals, and boiled up a stock with the veges scraps, the bones and the cooking liquid. I had intended to make some lunch servings of soup to freeze, but didn't quite get there. Isaac is so keen to be able to eat more that he's decided to get all his eye teeth at once, so our usually quiet Sunday night was anything but. Accordingly, little more than the dishes got done.

Monday night we were all pretty shattered, so the plan to make soup for lunches became a plan to make soup for dinner, and what a good idea it was! Soup and toast on a cold July night with the fire going; that's the stuff! Isaac liked it so much he even figured out how to eat soup from a spoon without getting most of it everywhere but in his mouth!

Chicken and Corn Soup

In a bowl, chop up about 1 C of roast veges (potato, onion, kumera, pumpkin, all leftover from the previous night's roast). Add about 600ml of Chicken Stock (also a by-product of the roast) to the bowl and blend up with a hand blender. Scrape this all into a pot and heat gently. Add 1 chopped roast chicken breast (yet again leftover from last night).

Open a can of whole kernel corn and drain the liquid into your original blending bowl. Add the corn to the soup, then add the liquid to achieve the desired consistency (I ended up using the whole lot). Serve with hot buttered toast, freshly ground pepper and a dollop of sour cream.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

All Hail the Slow Cooker

Put your hand up if you'd like to spend less time cooking at dinner time and still have a nosh-up feast? I seem to recall shooting my own hand in the air in response to this question (paraphrased anyway - with nods to Morgue and Giffy :) )

So when the opportunity arose to get a Slow Cooker we took it. I have heard from lots of people how much they love theirs, but I have to admit I've been a bit dubious about the ability of a single 5.5litre pot and element to replace all the skill and technique of a good cook. I have decided that that, however, is missing the point. The Slow Cooker is a tool, and you make of it what you will. But aside from questions of time and technique, the cooking test had to be done. Never one to bow from a challenge, I dove in feet first, offering up a whole chicken to the Cooker. I did a bit of research to get an idea of cooking times and suchlike, then had everything ready and cooking by 10am. Eight hours later, I pulled out the chicken, and had to go back in four or five times to get it all, because it was absolutely disintegrating. I slung the meat and veges under the grill for 10 minutes while I did some fresh veges to go with it, and dinner was served.

Slow-Cooked Paprika Chicken

Take one whole size 14 Chicken. Pat dry with paper towels, then prep with freshly ground salt and pepper, a few good lugs of olive oil, a few grated cloves of garlic, and about 3T of paprika. Toss it all about in a bowl to coat throughly. Place a few crushed cloves of garlic in the cavity. Quarter an onion and place it on the bottom of the Slow-Cooker Dish, then position the chicken on top of it, with the breasts facing up. Turn the Slow Cooker on High for 2 hours.

Prep some roast veges: 1 Onion, 2 Kumera, 6 Potatoes, and about a 1/4 of a Pumpkin. Prep these with feshly ground salt and pepper and a few finely chopped cloves of garlic (great stuff for warding off those winter bugs, thats why I use so much of it!). Place on top of the Chicken and turn the Cooker down to Low for a further six hours.

After 8 hours, remove the Chicken and Veges to an oven tray and place under a hot grill to brown lightly.

Serve with fresh steamed veges. I had some trouble making gravy with the chicken liquid, so I won't pretend to advise on that just here. Maybe after a bit more practice I can provide a recipe for Slow Cooker gravy.

As usual, I used the Chicken bones, vege scraps and the liquid to make a stock, and kept a few extra roast veges as a soup base. Yesterday, we did Lamb Chops in the Slow Cooker, and they were great. Will post that shortly.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pumpkin and Ham Risotto

Back to the quick and easy. My journey into RisottoLand is branching out gradually, and this is a minor variation on the Ham and Tomato Risotto I posted a couple of weeks ago. The thing about Risottos is that they're a great way to use up food that really needs to be finished off, and you can throw almost anything in them. I had a pumpkin turning a bit ripe in the cupboard, so into the Risotto it goes. I also blanched a handful of the usual greens - carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower - in the water that I used to boil the pumpkin, and added them in just at the end.

Pumpkin and Ham Risotto

Cut up 1/4 of a big grey pumpkin. Slice off the skin and cube into 1cm pieces. Boil in salted water until tender but not quite cooked and put aside in a colander. Reserve the cooking water.

Heat some olive oil in a large pan, and add 1 chopped onion and 3 finely sliced or crushed cloves of garlic. When the onion starts to go translucent, add about 200g of chopped ham and allow to brown lightly. Mix in 1 cup of Arborio Rice. This will snap and crackle a bit, so keep it all moving to prevent it from burning to the bottom of the pan. Give it about 3 minutes, then add 1/4 of a cup of Vegetable Stock. If this is prewarmed, it will speed the cooking process. As the rice starts to absorb the liquid, add the pumpkin and mix in gently. The pumpkin will give the Risotto a lovely orange colour and a slightly gooey texture.

Blanch a small colander of fresh veges in the pumpkin water and stand aside.

Continue to add the stock in 1/4 Cups, letting it cook the rice gently, and add a bit of the pumpkin water if you run out of stock (allow 1 - 1 1/2 Cups). When the rice is nearly done, add the veges to the pan and mix through. When the rice is cooked, mix through 1/4 cup of sour cream and heat for a couple of minutes longer.

Serve with a scoop of sour cream, freshly ground pepper, and a drizzle of EV Olive Oil.

Our other exciting news on the food front is that, after several weeks of watching the mailer advertising for bargains and specials, we picked up a Slow Cooker for a mere $50.00. Our first foray into the Slow Cooking world was a Whole Chicken, which I'll post soon. Divine! Right at this minute we have Lamb Chops simmering away too. Watch this space for more!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Poll Results: Whats more important?

On the surface, I guess it seemed that this poll was really a bit of a no-brainer.

The options were: Organic; Free Range; Both; or Neither.

Essentially what was being asked was:
What matters more: our health; the welfare of the animals we exploit; both; or neither?

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming 50% of readers (4) voted for both. 25% voted for organic, 25% for free range, and no-one voted for neither. Whether this is indicative of the moral norm of the traffic through this site or the simple failure of the poll to really pose a challenging moral dilemma cannot be known. If I had qualified this with the consequences of these choices, particularly the financial impact, then would the survey result have been the same? Or was the number of responses too small to draw any real conclusions from?

I'll say this much: If we could, most people would chose products that are both free range and organic, because most people have it in them to care both for the well-being of the creatures that we eat as well as their own long-term health concerns. But in reality, as I've said before, most families in NZ can't afford to exclusively eat free range or organic meat and produce. The extra costs of producing food this way - the real costs of producing healthy guilt-free food - are more than most of us can absorb in these days of higher interest rates, soaring fuel costs, and the general trend towards recession and the tightening of the purse-strings. The fact is, of course, that we have become accustomed to these cheaper prices for mass-produced food simply because the produce market is driven by intensive agriculture, fueled by cheap oil and the indiscriminate application of fertilisers to thousands of acres of farmland, the true costs of which are now starting to show themselves. For several decades, we have been indulging in this short term gain for what will amount to a nett loss in terms of the environmental and health costs which we are seeing appear now.

So why can we not afford to pay for food that is natural and humane, when it is the food we would have been eating barely a hundred years ago? Ironically, it would seem to be the same consumerism that has made everything else so desirable, cheap, and wasteful. So many families are mortgaged to the hilt and bogged down with credit card and HP debt in this country that we now struggle just to provide the basics. But just like trying to spread the word that it's worthwhile to grow a garden if you can, and that the more we can live as smaller communities sharing what is good between us and the less we rely on mass consumerism the better off we'll be, it's a monumental task for most families to try and wipe out their debt and take steps to break away from the economic models that chain us to our possessions, our desires, and our debt.

Which brings us back to the poll. No-one voted for Neither. Of the whopping 8 votes that the poll received, everyone wishes that they had the option of buying and eating better than what the mass market offers. But there is a cycle of economic hardship and financial ignorance in NZ that needs to be broken. The only question is, will that happen as a matter of market forces, as a result of the potential recession which is threatening, and in the process hurt everyone from big business to mum and dad?; or will it come from the ground up, from people's desire to rise above the economic machine that ties us down? With babies crying in one ear and creditors howling in the other, it's pretty hard to predict.

Rumpus 08 - Rumple On!!

Made it to Rumpus 08: Rumpus vs Episode on Saturday night. Much dancing and fun was to be had. Full credit to the dedication of the nurses, and their commitment to wearing their uniforms with pride on the night.

Big ups to Big Geek for the music and Morgue for the invites.

Caught up with Off-Black and looked at photos, with a view to collaborating on upcoming book covers. Very promising.

Good to see Moose for the first time in ages, and talk about his novel and documentary, both works in progress (2nd novel, that is).

A good night out was had. Long live the Rumpletron!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Table for One

I discovered an interesting thing this week: I don't really like cooking for myself. Somehow, the process of creating dishes and then having to wash them, all for the sake of sitting and eating a meal alone just doesn't seem worthwhile. C and Isaac have been away this week, visiting Nan and Obi, so I've been left to my own devices. There has been a lot of XBox played.

What's also amazing is just how much stuff there is floating around in the freezer and the cupboard that hasn't been eaten because there's not enough for 2 or 3 people, but there is enough for one. So what a good opportunity to clear out all that food.

Tuesday: Corned Beef Toasted Sandwiches

What more do I need to say? Bread, Butter, Corned Beef, Onions, Tomato, Cheese, Pepper. Be sure to cut the Corned Beef up into little bite size pieces beforehand, or you'll be struggling with meat trying to escape every time you take a bite.
Wednesday: One processed Chicken Burger and a handful of wedges grilled with cheese and sour cream, with carrot sticks and tomato wedges. No picture here, too much shame.

Lemon Pepper Fish Fillets, Udon noodles tossed with steamed carrots, broccoli, cauli, and sweet thai chilli sauce, plus sour cream and extra virgin olive oil, with tomato wedges.

So at least I ate one healthy meal this week. Which was then cancelled out by the pie and chips I had for smoko on Friday morning. Well, we try our best to be good, but sometimes you just can't help it.

Rehashed Corned Beef

There's always so much Corned Beef left over that it would be criminal not to come up with new and interesting ways to use it. I try to avoid heating it again unless its in some sort of liquid, since it has a tendency to go dry and chewy very easily. Its great in salad sandwiches or toasted sandwiches, or just cold on the plate with steamed greens and mash.

Because we had roast veges also leftover, but not enough to go around, we went with the failsafe option: Frittatas. So easy, and so yummy!

Corned Beef Frittatas

Chop up leftover veges (Pumpkin, Potato, Kumera) and place in a large mixing bowl. Add one chopped tomato, 2 grated carrots, 1 chopped onion, 1/2 C of grated cheese, and about 5 slices of corned beef chopped up into 1cm pieces. Break in 3 eggs for 3 Frittatas, and mix up well.

Heat some olive oil over a moderate heat in a small frying pan, and when the oil is hot, add enough frittata mixture to cover the bottom of the pan. Allow the egg to set, before shaking the frittata gently to prevent sticking. When the frittata is cooked on the bottom, flip and cook through.

Serve up with a few steamed veges, some slices of tomato, the leftover mustard sauce and freshly ground pepper.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Mum's Corned Beef

This is a great meal when they've got the Silverside piled up in the meat aisle for $5-7 a cut. One of these will usually do us two dinners, plus sandwiches for a week (or at least a couple of days).

I'm pretty sure that this is how my Mum likes to cook a Corned Beef, and although I may have taken a few liberties here and there, the basic principle remains the same. The kicker for this, however, is the mustard sauce, which I have only just started making, and comes straight from the Edmonds Cookbook, modified here slightly for quantity's and copyright's sake. I halved the recipe because it makes heaps, but I'll post the whole recipe and you can make that call yourself. Half the recipe made enough for both Sunday night's dinner and Monday's rehash of the leftovers (which I'll post later), but I'm the only mustard freak in the house, so it didn't have to go far.

I cooked up a tray of roast veges and a steamer of broccoli, cauli, and carrots, as per usual, to accompany the meat.

Mum's Corned Beef

Pop the Beef into a large pot. Add a large chopped onion, a large chopped carrot, a sprinkle of peppercorns and a couple of bayleaves, as well as a large spoonful of honey. Cover with water.

Bring to the boil, allow to cook vigorously for about 15 mins, then turn down to a simmer for a further hour. After an hour, boil the jug. When the jug is hot, remove the pot from the heat and strain the liquid and extras from the meat, reserving at least a cup of the liquid. Replace the meat into the pot with hot water from the jug and return to the stove, bringing the pot back to a simmer. Cook for another 45 mins - 1 hour (the longer you can cook it for, the more the meat will be falling apart).
After this time, remove the meat to a cutting board and allow to stand for about 10 mins before carving.

Mustard Sauce

In a small pot, blend up 1 egg with 1/4 cup of sugar. Add to this 1 T of flour, 1 t mustard powder, and freshly ground salt and pepper. Gradually stir in 1 cup of the reserved water from the meat and 1/4 cup of cider vinegar. Cook over a low heat until the sauce thickens.

Serve with roast potatoes, pumpkin, kumera, and onion, and steamed greens. Perfect for a pouring Sunday night.