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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Quicky Pizza

This blog might have left you with the impression that we eat ridiculously well every night (and most mornings, too).

I can assure you, that is not really the case. It is certainly our intention, but we're just as hard-pressed for time, energy and budget as everyone else out there.

Weeknights especially seem to go the way of meals that are as fast and simple as we can manage. Most of the flash and interesting stuff, the time-consuming stuff, happens on the weekends. It's sort of like the magic of television, only it's the internet.

But you saw it here, so it must be true, right?

Anyway, over the next few posts, I plan to intersperse a few more of our weeknight meals, and the little things we like to do to keep our meals vibrant, healthy, and tasty.

Here we have really quick, simple pizza.

The bases were in the freezer, leftover from another night of homemade pizza.

Then all you need is a brush of olive oil, a little bit of minced garlic, a slather of pizza sauce, some sliced salami, onion, and capsicum, and a grating of cheese.
In the oven for 18 minutes, and served with salad. Dinner made in less than half an hour.

More of these will follow, because I'm sure there are folks out there who will find them useful and hopefully inspiring.

Monday, October 26, 2009

'Urban Driftwood' Review

Our first real review has come in for Urban Driftwood.

Please take a minute to pop over to Tim Jones' website, Book in the Trees, and read what he has to say about our little book.

If you haven't already, you can get a free PDF copy of Urban Driftwood from my homepage, or you can pick up a paperback from ($9.00US plus freight).

We are currently recording and editing an audio version which will be released as a free podcast as well, so keep your ears open for that. Watch this space for more details.

If you've already read Urban Driftwood and enjoyed it, I'd really love it if you could take a minute to rate it and even write a quick review over at

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Curry Odyssey Episode 8: Chicken Masala

The Great Curry Odyssey continues!

I'll have to tell the truth here. All that hard work with the spices and the grinding and the frying and the blending and all that was never going to catch on. I think it's like Marmite or Chicken & Waffles; you really have to be brought up with it for it to make sense. That's not to say I've given up, mind you, or that I won't plunge into the hard work of real curry again. But for now, I'm not ashamed to say that I'm going to be looking for some shortcuts.

(Yes, you're right, I am ashamed. I'm weak and broken and deserve to be given the task of grinding coriander seeds and lemongrass to paste by hand for a thousand years with tennis elbow, but hey, that's not going to happen, is it?)

So for my first stop on the road to curry-shortcut-ville, I took the Garam Masala turnoff. I know that this is a vagary, but it is also a redemption of sorts. Garam Masala can be as unique as the person blending it. You can either pick it off the shelf at a supermarket, buy it pre-ground from your local Indian or Asian grocer, or, if you have the talent and the tastebuds, you can grind your own. Essentially Garam Masala is a blend of ground dried spices, and can include anything from coriander seeds to turmeric to cinnamon to cumin.

I got a nice pre-blended one from the little Indian grocer who used to be across the road, but which went out of business some months ago. It's probably going a wee bit stale, but it still suits us, and that's the one I used in this recipe.

Gluten-Free Casserole Chicken Masala

(Serves 6)
3kg Chicken Pieces, thawed, skin on
Freshly Ground Pepper and Salt
4T Potato Flour
2T Garam Masala
1/2 a whole bulb of Garlic, minced
4T Avocado Oil
2t Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil for frying
1/2 C White Wine
150g Tomato Paste
3 Onions, sliced
1 400g tin Chopped Tomatoes

Toss the chicken in the salt and pepper, flour, Garam Masala, garlic, avocado oil, and vinegar.
Fry in batches in a heavy pan.
Place the browned chicken in an oven dish.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine, then add the tomatoes and onions. Pour over the chicken.
Bake, uncovered, at 200C for 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
The meat should be falling off the bone. Serve with rice and steamed veges.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Crockpot Herbed Lamb Shanks

It's been a while since I gave the good word to my friends at Wai-Ora, but that time has rolled around again.

I would have loved to have posted more lovely lamb deliciousness this winter, but it has not been the case. Mostly, this is because when we cook lamb we generally keep it very simple, and so there's not much to say about it, really.

The other thing is this: We are big fans of Lamb Shanks. Knuckles, Shanks, whatever you call them, there was a time, not so long ago, when they were a cheap and delicious meal that we would have at least every couple of weeks.

But something changed. The twin-packs of knuckles we used to get from the supermarket for $5 have crept up to $7 or $8, or even more. For two people (and given the long cooking time) that's not such a great deal anymore. You could pretty much buy steak for that price, and cook it in 10 minutes.

What happened to push up the price of a joint that used to be considered little more than offal?

I tell you, it's those damned Celebrity Chefs again. That, and possibly the severe shortages of lamb due to last year's weather, the declining market, the shift from lamb farming to dairy in New Zealand, and whatever else. But I'm going to blame Oliver and Ramsay. By doing the right thing and championing delicious cuts of meat like the Lamb Shank, they've pushed up demand and therefore market value for something that really should be an affordable family meal. Now it's almost a luxury.

With this small travesty simmering in my viscera I went to the market, and drooled over the selection in the Wai-Ora lamb fridge like I always do. When I saw two Lamb Shanks for $7, I was equally outraged, but then I did the math.

It was the same price as you'd pay for the ones in the supermarket, and they were slightly smaller, but, as we well know, of a much superior quality (I kid you not, and I have the pictures to prove it). Reluctantly accepting that if Lamb Shanks were now to be a treat they might as well be a delicious treat, I bought them.

No regrets.

But it does seem a shame that Lamb Shanks might now be a rarity in our diet, rather than a reasonably frequent staple. There's nothing quite like having that bone on the plate, all melting meat and oily juices. Very primal. For the sake of preserving these memories for future generations, I took the liberty of recording in great detail the cooking and even eating of these most delicious joints.

Because that's what I do.

Crockpot Herbed Lamb Shanks

(Serves 2)


2 Lamb Knuckles
Fresh Mint, chopped
Fresh Thyme, chopped
Olive Oil
Freshly Ground Pepper and Salt
Zest of 1 Lemon
2T Flour or Potato Flour for Gluten-Free
4 Cloves of Garlic, minced
1 Cup Beef or Lamb Stock
1 Onion, chopped
2T Sour Cream

Grind up the herbs, lemon zest, garlic, flour and seasoning with a mortar and pestle, adding enough olive oil to loosen it. Coat the knuckles thoroughly.

Place the knuckles in the slow cooker, push the onion in around the meat, and pour the stock in around the edges of the dish. Be careful not to rinse the herbs off the shanks with the stock.

Cook on High for 1 hour, then switch to low for a further 3 1/2 - 4 hours.
When the shanks are done, blend the remains in the crockpot into gravy.
Add the sour cream to the gravy, mix well and spoon onto plates.Lay the shanks on top of the gravy. Serve with couscous cooked in beef stock and fresh steamed vegetables. As promised, this is the depth of colour you'll get in the middle of one of these lamb shanks. That, my friends, is flavour, and that is why we have to do so little to get Wai-Ora lamb tasting amazing. It already is.

In case you missed it before, you can find the Wai-Ora truck at various markets around Wellington on the weekend, or you order direct from their site. And as I've said before, Wai-Ora don't pay me anything to promote their product. I'd just hate to see them disappear from my market, so get out there and support them, or I'll be cross.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A New Yorker in New Zealand

I'm not a big desserts sort of a guy. You may have picked up on that from the scarcity of desserts gracing these pages. That and the fact that I refer to my lovely wife as Dessert Chef.

It is Dessert Chef that does the desserts. That is just how it is.

Until Dessert Chef got a book for her birthday.
If there is a dessert that can get my mouth watering at the very thought, it is real cheesecake.

For real cheesecake, I will enter the kitchen, roll up my sleeves and make dessert.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, the opportunity to make cheesecake was the best excuse I had ever had to buy a blender.

Yes, I can hear you. You're saying: "what, you don't already have a blender?" Well now I do.

There was no point wasting any more time. It's many years now since we were in New York, but my first stop on the Cheesecake Highway was at the corner of Fifth and Broadway.

I will say this: living out this particular dream was not a cheap one. You could have bought three of those cheap, sugary things that call themselves cheesecakes in supermarket fridges by the time you'd made this cheesecake. But the taste, without a doubt, simply does not compare.

And in reality I could have halved this recipe and made one smaller cheesecake which would have served us perfectly well, too. As it was we were eating cheesecake every night for half the week.

I am not complaining. Not one crumb.

New York Style Cheesecake

(Serves just the two of you, if you hide it from your guests)

120g Wine Biscuits
3/4 C Sugar
50g melted Butter

1 1/2 C Sour Cream
1 C Sugar
2 Eggs
1 t Vanilla Essence
500g Cream Cheese
40g melted Butter
For the base, blend the biscuits, sugar and melted butter. (Look at the blender go. Isn't it sweet?)
Grease a 23cm springform pan and line the bottom with the base mixture, pressing down firmly and as evenly as possible.
Blend the sour cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth. (There it goes; that's one sweet blender.)
Chop up your cream cheese into small blocks. (I just wanted an excuse to put in a photo of the cream cheese. Nomnomnomnom.)
Add the cream cheese to the sour cream mixture and blend. Pour in the melted butter as you blend the mixture down to a smooth consistency. (You couldn't do that without a sweet, sweet blender.)
Pour the mixture over the base and spread out in an even layer.

Put the oven rack one third of the way up, and Fan Bake at 170C for 45mins. Check the interior of the cheesecake is cooked by sticking a knife in it - if it comes out mostly clean, it's done. (Ours took almost an hour.)

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, overnight if you can.
Dust with icing sugar and serve with freshly whipped cream.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

First Harvest '09

A few weeks ago we planted out our little vege patch in anticipation of Spring.

I'm sure you've all been wondering just how that garden is growing.

Haven't you?
So far, so good.
We've kept out most of the wildlife, apart from the odd white butterfly, and everything is growing like crazy. So much so that we really need to actually stake out the beans and peas or risk losing them completely.
I was even able to go out today and pluck leaves from the lettuces for our dinner tonight.
Look at that, lovely and fresh from the garden. Such a great feeling.
Not so fresh from the garden. But they feel pretty great too. (Stop squishing the sausages in your hands, Dan.)
And here it is: Sausage, egg and fresh garden salad with olives and feta on toast, all seasoned with a big old helping of satisfaction.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tropical Beef Stew

Has it really been a week since I blogged here? Where does the time go? My sincerest apologies. I shall try my best not to leave you all alone for so long again.

Just when we thought it was getting all summery again, the southerly has come back through, so the fire is going and the wintry food keeps rolling out of our kitchen.

This one comes from the Recipe Book of the Weird and Wonderful - that's not a real recipe book, mind you, but an excuse for me to make up strange combinations and cook them just because I can.

This particular meal came about because we happened to have a whole fresh pineapple in the house. We'd sliced up about half of it and eaten it off a platter during the day, but as anyone who's ever kept pineapple will know, you really should eat it the day you slice it open or it goes bad.

I really don't like it when things go bad.

So, no matter that I had taken stewing steak out of the freezer to cook for dinner that night. The pineapple was going in with it too, somehow.

Thus was born the Tropical Beef Stew. Think of it as a Summer-Winter fusion if you must, as Spring in Wellington so often is.

Tropical Beef Stew
(Serves 4)Ingredients:
400g Stewing Steak, cubed and seasoned with freshly ground pepper and salt
1 Large Lemon
1/2 Fresh Pineapple, cubed, or 1 200g Can of Pineapple Pieces
Whole Nutmeg for grating
2C Hot Beef Stock
Grate the zest of the lemon and a few gratings of nutmeg over the beef and toss well. Batch fry the meat, draining the cooking liquid into a large pot as you go.
Transfer the cooked meat into this pot. Heat the pan again and add the pineapple, squeezing over the juice of the lemon. Heat briefly, tossing to deglaze the pan, then add to the pot along with the beef stock.

Bring to a rapid boil for 20 minutes, then reduce to a simmer for 1 1/2hrs.
Dish over rice boiled in beef stock, with sour cream and fresh steamed veges.

(The odd shape on the left in this photo is a dumpling. I had some dough that I had frozen, but here's my advice: dumpling dough doesn't unfreeze and cook very well. Don't bother, or, if you know a trick that makes them not come out like shrivelled little piles of rubber, leave me a comment so I know better for next time.)

I'll be honest: This dish got a mixed reception. I liked it, but not everyone at the table thought it was something I should add to our regular menu. But if you like beef and pineapple, it's a pretty good combination.