Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Food Of Wanaka

The night on the Cold floor was matched in culinary terms by the thing Air New Zealand like to call a shepherds pie. I mean, it shouldn't be hard to get right, some half decent pastry, lamb mince, but no, it was so bad it didn't even come close to the "pie at the footy" standard. The beer failed the same standard, being lukewarm and in a redbull can for some bizare reason. Perhaps airlines think if they can crush the spirits of terrorists with the food, they won't bother doing anything.

By the time we had got to Wanaka, about an hours drive out of Queenstown, I was tired enough and hungry enough to almost, but not quite, be happy to see another Air NZ meal. Thankfully we found a great little cafe, Lago, just in behind the pubs and I got stuck in to one of my alltime breakfast favourites, eggs benedict. I can be pretty harsh on these when i buy them out, mainly because I can make a great one at home, my own duck eggs and smoked salmon give me a certain edge i'll admit. This one, maybe because of the hunger, was 10 out of 10 good, not to mention a coffee i inhaled. Oh, and they had these great little rostis too, loved them.

I had a few hours before the bucks party, so we decided to go check out a local mediterranean foodmarket and the local butcher, with the nip in the NZ air i had a hankering for lamb shanks. The foodmarket was everything the waitress at the cafe had promised, I bought one of the best loaves of soy and linseed bread i have ever had the pleasure to smear unhealthy amounts of butter on. One of the other things i love about NZ is that they treat the potato with the respect it deserves. I could have bought heaps of different varieties, but they also had four different types in these big 10kg paper bags. A whole weeks worth of potatoes!

The lamb shanks went into a big steel pot with some tinned tomatoes, carrot, onion, garlic, a bottle of Montieths Apple Cider and some mushrooms and was whacked into an oven that had the least useable interface i have used. I took me 20 minutes of beeping to wrestle it on at the right temperature. After running round firing weapons with the bucks, a few beers then a nap, lamb shanks in front of a wood fire went down exceedingly well. Mashed potato of course.

The next day, rested and refreshed, we were wandering down into town for a coffee when we noticed a little odds and ends shop, Jumping Tangents that also sold chocholate. We tasted a whole heap, lime and chilli dark chocolate, sea salt chocolate and they were all really, really good stuff, enough that i shelled out for lime and chilli dark chocolate. Cathie also shared her fabulous hot chocolate recipe with me.

In two litres of milk add a few bay leave and some chilli. Bring to just under a simmer and leave to infuse. Make a ganache by melting 200g of the best dark choc you can buy in 300mL of cream. Strain the milk into the ganache and mix. That's it! No sugar needed or added. She told me the incas used to add a flour to thicken, as they used it for their armies as a type of energy drink when marching, but she like the normal consistency. It was very warming, with just the hints of the bay and chilli, a subtle added note. Delicious

We also did go for a coffee and i was drawn straight to the kitchen and these 80+ year old copper cookware hanging up. The chef told me that in all the time she had worked there i was the first to wander over and have a good look. Cookware like this is part art, part functionality, but I was disappointed to learn that they never cook with them.

We had a roast chook for dinner, a huge bird that must have won a chicken body building competition before going to the butcher and then the wedding on the saturday. Wedding food can be a funny thing but the food at this wedding matched the quality of the venue, the weather and the bride and groom, top class! Good sushi, rare roast rib fillet, new potatoes in butter, salmon, risotto and asparagus. I could go on, but my mate Davey sums it and the whole Wanaka food experience up much, much better.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Recycled Meals 101

A culinary challenge I like to set myself is to see if I can get two different meals out of one cooking effort. No, not because I'm lazy in the kitchen; on the contrary, I find cooking a complex dish quite relaxing after a long week in the salt mines. (I don't cook much during the week, but during the weekend I do the bulk of the cooking in my household.)

It's partly because I like the economy aspect. I think it is something I picked up working at a large multinational food company that prides itself on not wasting anything. (Apart perhaps, from the souls of the hapless munters who find themselves working there long enough to get excited about products like canned dogfood. No, I'm not kidding.)

Anyway, any by products or seconds / rejects from the manufacture of one product would become an ingredient for another, known as "rework". So the best products, from the company's perspective, are the ones that can share key ingredients with another. This is why the nougat inside a Milky Way bar (the Australian variety), seems vaguely familiar - it's a reworked Mars Bar (again, the Australian variety) that didn't quite make it.

Unfortunately, they never found a way to recycle those sickly strawberry flavoured Milky Way bars, other than to sell them cheap to the hapless munters toiling away at the sister company's dogfood cannery at the other end of the state.

So armed with this insight into economical food production, I like to find ways of reworking leftovers into meals that are as different as possible. So, I'm not talking about leftover taco mince becoming mince on toast, or chopping up leftover roast dinner and frying it up to make bubble and squeak, although those things are good. I'm talking about a different meal.

Example one. Leftover risotto isn't just good for spackfilling the cracks on your stucco walls. If you have any large inclusions (pieces of meat, vegetables, etc), hook them out and chop them finely. Then add back to the risotto, along with some finely grated hard cheese like a parmesan or reggiano. Next, make the risotto into small balls, wrapped around a small piece of the same hard cheese (about 5mm cubed). Then crumb the balls (you can take a short cut here and use Krum-in-one or you can do it the old fashioned way. You decide.) and deep fry them until golden brown. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Arancini. Serve hot, with a cold Italian beer like a Peroni or a Moretti.

Example two. Yesterday I slow cooked some lamb shanks in an Italian-style sauce with a tomato base, which I served with mash. They were scrumpdiddlyumptious, and after 8 or so hours in the slow cooker the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender. I had a few shanks left over, so this morning, I whipped up a quick and easy white sauce, chopped up the remaining lamb shanks and the carrots keeping the lambykins company in the slow cooker and made a lasagne. Its in the fridge at the moment, ready to whip out and stick in the oven for about 30 or 40 minutes tonight, when the hungry hoards arrive. I plan to serve a cheeky lambrusco with it, for the alliteration value alone.

That's how I roll, gentle readers.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Random thoughts.

Been over at Fraser Island this week, which brings out a subset of a subset of cooking, camping cooking but without a fire. It worked out pretty good, including a lamb and pork roast in camp ovens for fifteen people. The highlight was getting up at half past five on Tuesday morning to go to have a chat with the fantastic Mr Birmingham during his local ABC gig. You can get the audio here. Many thanks to Birmo for getting us on. Apologies to Abe, the producer attributed the English Breakfast post to me, once again i steal his glory!

Once I got home and chilled out I was hankering for smoothies, one of my favourite things in the whole of the food kingdom. After waiting for Sunbeam to replace part of my stem blender for the last four months I gave in and bought a new one. It created this.

Mulberries off the tree in the duck pen, banana, yoghurt, ice, ice cream, milk and lantana gold honey. Mmmmmmmm it was a mighty fine breakfast. Of course as soon as I had used the new blender the part for the other one turned up.

MF from the iPhone