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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Breakfast Dinner

What better way to wake up on a Sunday morning than to the smell of frying bacon and onion and hot toast, with fresh coffee? Fixing up a huge feed for breakfast on the weekend is all good and well, but what really bites is then having to do all the dishes. What a way to drag down your Sunday morning. So here's the solution. Instead of going to all that effort when you should just be sleeping in, whip it up for dinner on a Thursday or Friday night instead. Somehow that way, the dishes don't seem like such a burden. Of course none of this applies if you have one of those new-fangled dishwashers, but we're certainly not that flash (despite the Dessert Chef's insistence that we move into the 20th Century and cram one into our rather undersized kitchen). Either way, here's what I reckon is right royal Breakfast-Dinner nosh-up, complete with hot coffee in the morning or followed up with a hot milo at night. Yes, we really do have a milo at night. And with your Sunday morning, cook porridge and don't waste all that time doing dishes.

The Ultimate All-Day All-Night Cooked Breakfast

Bacon, fried.
Onions & Capsicum, fried.
Hot Baked Beans.
Buttered Toast.
Scrambled Eggs.
Tomatoes, halved and fried, then covered in grated parmesan & freshly ground pepper before being finished under the grill.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Spinach Cannellonis

Here's one of those rare and exciting vegetarian meals that crops up in our kitchen now and then. Cannellonis can either be a fiddly pain in the neck or a breeze, depending on how everything comes together. Usually a bit of practice sorts it all out, though. I found that making these with meat was more difficult than the recipe here, because with something like mince you have to cook it up, wait for it to cool, and then it doesn't always hold together very well. So roll on vego dinner!

You'll need a box of pre-made cannelloni tubes, unless you're really keen and feel like making them fresh. If you feel such an urge, all the best. I can do spaghetti and ravioli, but I've never tried anything that actually has its own shape. Let me know how that goes.

Spinach & Ricotta Cannellonis

(Serves 4)

In a bowl, mix up 250g Spinach leaves (frozen portions are fine if you can't get hold of fresh Spinach), 250g of Ricotta cheese, and one small red onion, very finely chopped.
Stuff each Cannelloni shell with the spinach mixture. This might be messy, but it really is easiest just to do it with your fingers. You can mess around with spoons or piping bags if you like, but experience has taught us that fingers are just the best way. And how often do you get to play with your food, anyway?
Layer the stuffed tubes one deep in an oiled oven dish (or spread with baking paper - wonderful stuff in the cleaning-up stakes). Over the tubes, spread one 420g can of pasta sauce, or an equivalent amount of proper homemade stuff if you've got it. We don't. Watch this space when tomatoes are 50c a kilo in late summer.
Grate cheddar and parmesan cheese over the cannellonis and place in the oven at 200c for about 40 mins. For the last 5 mins, flick the oven over to grill mode and brown the cheese.
Serve with fresh veges and sticky sweet pumpkin.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sticky Sweet Pumpkin

I'm always looking for ways to make veges more interesting. Sometimes I find recipes, sometimes I just make stuff up. This is one of those things. I figure if I can write a book I can write a recipe. It just requires some suspension of disbelief on the reader's/eater's part. Anyhoo, from memory these were yummy.

Sticky Sweet Pumpkin

(Serves 4)

Slice 1/4 of a big grey pumpkin into wedges, deseed and peel. Compost the seeds so that when you plant your spring garden you'll get little pumpkin seedlings springing up everywhere. At first these will be a boon as you replant them, then after a while they become annoying and you just have to compost them again. Oh well.

Roughly chop 3-4 cloves of garlic and place in a bowl with 2T of brown sugar, freshly ground salt and pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, 1T of olive oil and 1T of balsamic vinegar. Place the pumpkin in an oiled oven dish and brush the garlic mixture over the top.
Roast at 200C for about 50 mins.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

So, What's Really In Our Food, Petra?

Tonight we watched the last episode of TV3's What's Really In Our Food?, hosted by Petra Bagust. I'll admit I probably only saw about half of this series, because it was one of those rare instances where we were obliged to watch a show at its actual scheduled time, which is something we are totally not in the habit of doing. But each episode was much the same, so if you saw the ads during the week you'd have a pretty good idea of what it was going to be about. The show covered such things as organics vs big agribusiness, imported vs local, free range vs battery, etc. It tackled chicken, fish, fast food, coffee, packaging, and imported food, among other things. It had the potential to be a hard-edged exploration of the dark side of our mass food market, but instead it proved to, ahem, lack teeth.
The producers of WRIOF seem to have taken the line that its better not to offend anyone, even at the expense of its viewers' health and wellbeing. It touts itself as an informative piece of journalism, but comes across as a vaguely directionless magazine item, which will suggest the hidden dangers of our food industry but refuses to really expose them. For all her disarming charm, Petra just isn't the hardnosed investigator that this show needed at the helm. Maybe next series the producers will see sense, and hire Jeremy Wells instead. Then we'll get to the bottom of it.

But with due consideration, I can fathom why the producers chose the sharp-as-cotton-wool approach that they did. For a start, no-one wants a lawsuit flying at them that would see their hard work pulled from prime-time TV and all that money going down the gurgler. And when the lawsuits will be coming from the big nasty corporate world who have the most to hide and the most money to spend on lawyers, not many private producers will put their plums on the line for the sake of a half-hour TV slot.

The show in the end took care not to oversensationalise any particular issue, handing the viewer a balanced argument which always erred on the side of safety, with Petra's final disclaimer that she will be reading the fine print and washing all her veges just to be sure.

But here's what I liked about it. OK, there was nothing new to be found in this show, but it did surprise me how little a lot of people out there actually know about what they put in their bodies. (Garlic was a target in tonight's episode, saying much what I said here. The key thing to note about garlic is that if the roots have been cut off, it's almost definitely imported.) While they refused to openly confront the weak-willed blather spurted by the FSA, they did something even more subtle. They abandoned the hammer and nails grunt of investigative journalism and replaced it with the power of suggestion.

In every episode, just after the dangers of whatever they're covering have been carefully downplayed, we see Petra at her laptop smiling and suggesting to the viewer that if they were to go online and search for XYZ, they would find a lot of information about XYZ. Twaddle, you say, how can a self-respecting television show call itself a source of right and proper information if it hands the research off to its viewers? Well, in the grand tradition of good journalism, the producers have decided that as consumers, it is up to the public to consider the evidence and make up thier own minds. Give people a framework to start from, and let the public inform itself. Certainly, such an approach actually has some validity in this age of wide-spread internet access. And if even a few people ask a few questions and start delving deeper into the myths and realities that Petra and her pals have raised in this short series, then I'd say that they've done what they set out to do.

My rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Trifling Affair

What do you do when you have two large sponges and a 2 litre bottle of Light Blue Milk which is mysteriously thick and creamy, like its actually Whole Cream Farm Special that's been labelled wrong? Well, you make trifle. Two of them, in fact. And then, when you realise that there's absolutely no way that two of you can eat two huge trifles by yourselves before they go bad, you take one to work and share it around.

Easy Fruit Trifle - By Dessert Chef C

(Serves heaps)

Spread one side of a 200mm x 200mm sponge with jam and slice into cubes. Spread through a large serving bowl. Open a can of tinned fruit (we used peaches for one and plums for the other), pour the juice over the sponge and spread the fruit over the top.
Make up some instant custard (real egg custard is much nicer, but it won't keep very well in the fridge for the number of days that this trifle will). Pour over the top of the fruit and sponge.
Whip 300ml of cream and spread over the top of the trifle. Get a block of nutty chocolate and grate liberally over the cream. Serve with ice cream and/or jelly. This trifle is even nicer after a night in the fridge, because all the juices and flavours soak right through the sponge. Mmmmm.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Market Day Lamb

It was a beautiful day to swing by the Hutt Market last Saturday (Yes, my posts are at least a week out of date right now, mainly thanks to one little boy who has decided that 9pm is a fine time for him to go to sleep.). I was cheeky and took Isaac's buggy, even though I had no Isaac. After loading up with the usual fantastic array of fruit and veges, I stopped at the little stall selling Farm Fresh Lamb. We've been by these guys a couple of times and often been tempted, and I decided I'd give them a go. So this is a review, if you like, of Wai-Ora Farm's product.

Wai-ora have a small stall at the market with a refrigerated display, where they sell portions and cuts of lamb, but thier prime sales drive is in half and whole joints, prepared to suit you. Your meat will be waiting for you to pick up on the day if you order by the Monday prior. I spied a piece I liked the look of and asked the salesman (who I see smiling out of the website photo, which is encouraging) what the cut was and how best it should be cooked. It was a cut of rump steak, and he told me that about 15 minutes in the oven at 150C would be just beautiful.

Do excuse me for being dubious.

Anyway, I brought it home, and duly prepared it while the oven preheated. I took mint from the garden, along with a few loose sprigs of thyme and oregano that came loose when I got excited and did some weeding. Seasoned with the chopped herbs, freshly ground pepper and salt and rubbed with olive oil, the lamb duly went into the thusly preheated oven with a few mushrooms for good measure. While the 15 minutes ticked away I did the obligatory pile of fresh market veges (I know, its repetitive, but its important), and decided that it needed at least another 5 if not 50 minutes. I don't like to eat my meat raw.
Finally, after 20 minutes, I gave up on the oven and put that piece of steak where it belonged: In a hot pan. Hot fry, 5 minutes per side.
Dished with boiled new potatoes, the fried whole button mushrooms, and steamed green stuff.
The Verdict: The meat was absolutely divine. It was fresher and had more taste to it than anything I can ever recall buying from the supermarket. It was a $5.00 cut, which is at the top end of our meat for 2+1/2 budget, but it was more than worth the money. The cooking advice I was not so impressed with. It's a steak. Whole fillet beef steak is best sealed in a hot pan before being roasted hot in the oven, so I'm not sure how a low oven heat alone was meant to bring out the best in a slice of lamb steak. But it was saved, and it was delicious.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Fence is Born

Holes were dug. Posts were erected. Concrete was mixed and poured. Rails were nailed. Gates were whacked together. There was much rain, and plenty of mud. Palings went up, and the driveway disappeared. A gate was hung. Latches were attached and holes drilled for latches to latch into. Gate was swung, and grins were had. There was more rain, and more mud.

It's amazing what an almost 2-year old with a spade can achieve.
And big Thanks to Obi, who really did all the work, under Isaac's close supervision.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pepper Steak Stew

Every day as I drive to work, the streetlights seem to be turning off closer and closer to home. So, either I'm running later every day, or the mornings are getting lighter earlier, which means that Spring's coming. But don't let it fool you, Winter is still here, and its not going without a fight. What that means for us, apart from the chopping and shifting of firewood and the mud on the carpet which that generates, is that its still very much stew season. I love stews. What I love even more about them now is getting all the ingredients ready the night before and coming home to the smell of cooking stew after work the following evening. Ah, Slow Cooker, how you've changed our lives.

Pepper Steak Stew (Slow Cooker Recipe)

Serves 4

Heat about 2t of olive oil in a pan. When it's quite hot, add the following to the pan:
1 t Peppercorns
1 t Carraway Seeds
2 Bay Leaves
6 Fresh Sage Leaves
3-6 Whole Cloves
1 T Fresh Rosemary Leaves
Freshly Ground Salt

Fry lightly, filling the kitchen with all those lovely smells. This is really to open up all the flavours of the herbs and spices and release thier fragrances into the meat.
In a mixing bowl, blend 60ml of red wine with 60ml of dry white wine, 4 T Olive Oil, 2 T Honey and 1 T of paprika. When the spices have been frying for about 3-4 minutes (keep to a moderate heat, and be sure not to let it burn), add this to the wine and allow to steep for 10 minutes or so.

Roughly chop an onion and pop it in the pan on a low heat to absorb that flavoured oil. When the onion has just started to soften, place it in the bottom of the crockpot.

Meanwhile, cube a 600g piece of Skirt Steak or similar. Brush up a kumera and a couple of carrots. Leave the skins on these as you want them to hold together and release that lovely colour as they cook. Chop into roughly 2cm cubes and mix up with the onion in the crockpot. Open a tin of whole peeled tomatoes and mix these through the onions, mashing up the tomato as you do. Place 1/3 C of concentrated Chicken Stock or Beef Stock in the crockpot.

Note: To make Concentrated Chicken Stock, just put a normal pot of stock on the stove to simmer and then forget about it over a few wines and a movie. Then when you're ready to go to bed and you start wondering what that bubbling, tinkling noise is coming from the kitchen, you're most of the way there.

Place the meat in the wine marinade and mix through thoroughly. Leave in the fridge for at least a couple of hours, preferably overnight.

To cook, mix everything together in the crockpot and turn on, either on low for about 8 hours, or on High for 2 hours then down to low for a further 4 hours.

Mix up a bowl of Dumplings. Sift 1.25C of Flour, 1t Baking Powder, a pinch of salt and the other half of the Oxo Cube into a bowl. Add a shake of dried mixed herbs and 50g of butter, cubed. If you have a pastry blender, this is an easy way to crumble up the ingredients. If not, just rub it through your fingers until it feels like a light crumble. Then add milk or water a little at a time until the dough forms into a sticky mass. Roll into spoonfuls and place on top of the stew for the last 2 hours.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Trawling the Net

Just stopped by gallimaufree and read this post, which sums up really well many of the things I've been yammering on about over the past few months. Seems to be a site dedicated to the more benign elements of self-reliance and survivalism, with a focus on:

building a non-secret society of nice people who respond to disasters, catastrophes, and apocalypses with humanitarian aid, kick-ass tools, and extensive knowledge.

Maybe a bit more intense than my own attempts at a pumpkin patch (roll on Spring!), but full of good advice and a great attitude towards life and the planet.

Over at Adventures in Beanland, Anne explores making your own baby food. This is something we did when Isaac was starting solids. When we were in Canada last year, and Isaac was only 6 months old, we were stunned by the amount of sugar that goes into baby food over there. He ate a lot of banana and yoghurt in those three weeks. Beanland has a whole swag of Vego recipes, for those of us who are looking for new and interesting ways to reduce our meat intake.

And in a spot of good news from those nice folk in California, someone is finally doing something about Food Wastage, by spearheading a Food Rescue Program in San Francisco. There's also a bill before the California Senate that would allow purchasers of catered food to mandate that all leftovers be donated to a food charity, rather than discarded as so often happens.

Its good to see that the revolution of attitudes towards food and waste isn't limited to my backyard, and its encouraging to know that I'm not just one isolated voice, but one of a growing number of concerned global citizens determined to do whatever they can to make our planet a better place for our children.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bier Stick Risotto

Time for another crack at risotto. We got some bier sticks as an alternative to chorizo, which was a bit spicy for some of the family, and decided that they'd go nicely with a bit of rice and kumera all simmered up together. I used a packet of pre-made liquid stock, because I have lots of vege and chicken stock now but no beef, and while it smelt a bit strange, it had no numbers in it and the odd aroma didn't affect the taste. Still, I plan on getting some beef bones and boiling up a bit of beef stock for the freezer very soon.

Bier Stick Risotto

Slice up 4 bier sticks and be sure to sample them for quality. Peel a kumera and cut into small cubes. Chop up an onion and about 4 cloves of garlic. Heat up 2 cups of stock and stand by.

In a pan, heat some olive oil, then add the onion to the pan. When it has started to sweat, add the garlic. Soften for about 3 minutes, then add the bier sticks and kumera. Fry gently, to coat with the onion and garlic, for about 3 minutes. Add a cup of rice, either arborio or jasmine. Mix everything together and fry gently for a few more minutes. When the rice starts to go glossy, add in about 60ml of dry white wine. As this boils off and is absorbed by the rice, start adding your stock. Add about 1 ladelful at a time, allowing the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next ladelful. This should be a gentle simmer, hot enough that the rice is cooking through but not so hot that it cooks on the outside but not in the middle. That just takes practice, and getting to know your cooking tools. If you get to the end of your stock and the rice isn't done yet, just add a bit of hot water.
When the rice is done, remove the pan from the heat and stir through about 40g of butter and a good little pile of parmesan, also about 40g. Stir until melted through. Dish and garnish with a bit more grated parmesan and some chopped capsicum.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sunday Scones

There's nothing nicer than waking up on a Sunday morning and enjoying freshly baked scones in the sun with jam and whipped cream. It makes getting up the morning before and going out to the market in the cold and the rain worthwhile. This was a little treat from my resident Dessert Chef, C. Thanks, Honey.

Yummy Scones

Recipe is courtesy of Alison Holst's Dollars & Sense Cookbook. Full credit, Alison.

2 Cups of Self Raising Flour
1/4t Salt
1 T Sugar
25g Melted Butter
1/2 C Milk
1/4 - 1/2 C Water

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Heat butter until it melts, tip all the milk and 1/4C of water into the flour. Mix until blended, adding extra water as necessary to make a soft dough. Turn on to a floured bench and roll out lightly into a square. Cut into triangular sections, place 1cm apart on an oven tray . Bake at 220c in the middle of the oven for 12-14mins, until the tops of the scones are lightly browned.

Break open with your hands, butter and serve with jam and whipped cream. Then enjoy the rest of the day, because after all, it's Sunday. (Disclaimer - May not actually be Sunday)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hot Diggity Dog

You can't always be good.

This has to be the ultimate in naughty comfort food, but I do put a tiny healthy spin on it. Hot Dogs are a good mid-week food, so long as you remember to get what you need at the supermarket on shopping day. The other good thing about them is that its easy to add whatever you like to them. Which may or may not make them good for you. But we all deserve a treat now and then, and if its one that only takes 15 minutes to prepare, then I'm happy with that.

American Hot Dogs

Boil a pot of water, and place 6 Frankfurters in to cook.

Slice 6 long rolls lengthwise across the top. Butter lightly, and place under the grill for a minute if you're sure you won't forget about them.

Grate some cheese and a carrot or two. Chop up half a red onion and some capsicum.

Stand by your favourite sauces: Tomato, BBQ, Sweet Thai Chilli, Mustard, Aoili or what have you.

When the franks are just starting to split, pull them from the heat and drain.
This is one of those meals that you just put everything on the bench and let everyone make their own. Better than anything you'll get from a street vendor, even in NY itself.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

One Hundredth of a Second

I'm not a big sports fan, but I have to say I just watched what was perhaps the most exciting race I've ever seen.

Now, when your country wins an Olympic Gold Medal by 1/100th of a second, that's something to be proud of.
I think they call it Phelps' Syndrome, and it seems to be catching.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Things that Fatherhood has Taught Me

1. Anything which looks like something that you know the word for can legitimately be called by the name of the thing you know;
2. If it looks like a bug, its a bug;
3. If it says MEOW, its a Fluff;
4. If it has four legs and isn't a Fluff, it says WOOF;
5. Unless its a cow, in which case it says Moo;
6. Or sometimes WOOF;
7. Lions and Tigers say ROAR, but leopards don't. Silly Daddy.
8. Being overtired does not mean that the 18-month-old will go to sleep any more easily;
9. Being outside is much more fun than being inside, unless the Fluff is inside, then being inside is much cooler;
10. If there's water, then that's the best place to be;
11. If there's also mud, that's even better;
12. Helping Daddy with Cooking means grabbing any utensil you can lay your hands on and taking it to the couch, or the bathroom, or the bedroom, and then forgetting about it;
13. If it looks like a sausage, it probably is. Best try eating it to check;
14. Chairs are not for sitting, they are for climbing, as are couches and tables and beds and benches and clothesracks and anything else that can be reached, either from the floor or wherever a stool can be pushed to;
15. "One More" can be applied to any situation any number of times to allow a given activity to continue indefinitely, or until Mummy or Daddy enforces the "Last One" instruction - usually two or three times;

And finally, as a Dad I've learned that when you have to walk at the same pace as the 18-month-old, and you have to stop and inspect all the marvels of the world as closely as he does - things like flowers, and drains, and puddles, and pinecones - you'll find that there's more all around you to see than you've realised in the years since you used to walk that slow and look at the world with such awe and fascination. So no matter how old you feel, sometimes it can be worthwhile to take the time to see things like an almost-two-year old again.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Alfredo with Chorizo and Mushrooms

This is a variation on a theme using our favourite Alfredo sauce. Big Ups to Aunty A for the inspiration for this one. This is a great midweek meal, as it's quick, easy and tasty.

Alfredo with Chorizo and Mushrooms (Serves 3)

Boil a pot of salted water with a good lug of olive in it and put a handful of long pasta in to cook.

In a steamer over the pasta cook some brocolli, cauliflower and carrots.

Slice up 5-6 button mushrooms and 3-4 cloves of garlic. Heat 1T of olive oil in a small pan and brown the mushrooms and garlic.

While these are cooking, slice 3-4 Chorizo sausages. With just a little oil (the Chorizo will release plenty of their own!) brown the sausage on both sides.

In a small pot, prepare the Alfredo Sauce: Melt 2 T Butter. Add 1 Cup of cream and gently stir for 5 mins or so. Heat well without boiling. Whisk in 3/4 Cup of Cheddar Cheese and about 1/4 Cup of stronger cheese, like Parmesan or Emmental until melted. Add pepper and parsley to taste.
Everything should come together about the same time. Drain the pasta and mix in the Chorizo and Alfredo sauce. Dish, layering the mushrooms on top and drizzling extra Alfredo over the steamed veges. Serve with pepper and a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ham and Vegetable Fritattas

Can you spell Vege Overload? This dish could just as easily be a vegetarian option simply by omitting the Ham. This is a great way to sneak a bunch of veges onto the kids' plates, and also a fantastic way of enjoying really fresh produce. Strange, you might say, it wouldn't seem that putting veges in a fry pan covered in egg would do anything for them, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Ham and Vegetable Fritattas (serves 4)

Cube and boil a kumara and two potatoes in lightly salted water.

Slice a handful of mushrooms, one red onion, 5 cloves of garlic, 1/4 of a capsicum, and 3 or 4 leaves of silverbeet. Cut a few florets of brocolli and cauli. Cut 3 slices of ham into small pieces (if you're not set on the vege rush).
When the potato and kumera are just cooked, drain through a colander, reserving the cooking water. Allow to cool slightly (so that the heat of the veges doesn't start cooking the egg prematurely). Return the water to the pot and put the pot back on the heat, bringing the water to the boil. Put the brocolli and cauli in a colander and place in the boiling water, blanching for about 4 minutes. This will heat the florets but leave them crunchy and full of flavour.

In a small non-stick frying pan, heat 1T of olive oil.

For each fritatta:
In a small bowl, add a portion of everything you now have ready, including a scattering of ham if you're using it, and 1-2 eggs (I always think I need to do 2, and it always ends up being too much for the pan, greedy boy!). Mix well. When the oil is hot (but not smoking) scrape in the fritatta mixture. Allow the egg to set on the bottom, then keep the fritatta moving by jiggling the pan frequently. When the upper side of the fritatta is semi-solid, flip the fritatta. If you're not confident that you can do this without destroying the meal (as I so often do), slide the fritatta out onto a plate, then place the frying pan upside-down over the uncooked side, hold it all carefully with a tea towel or two, and flip it over. Brown on the underside and dish with a bit of pepper and your favourite sauce or relish.
Repeat until you have cooked enough for everyone, or else some people might get a bit titchy at being forgotten.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Ultimate Chick Fight

Roast vs Slow Cooker

In a completely arbitrary manner (my notion that this could be any sort of valid test was thoroughly disabused by Obi), I decided to put the Slow Cooker to the test against the good old Oven Roast.Well, I have to be honest. Chicken #1 was in the crockpot already when I learned that there were so many people coming to dinner that it would be a two-chicken night. So the second chicken had to be roasted, and the idea of the ultimate taste-test was a secondary consideration.

A lot of firewood was then moved. An awful lot of firewood. Did I mention that there was a lot of firewood to move? Again, I have Obi to thank for much of the firewood moving. But that has little to do with the Chick Fight.

After the firewood was moved (a lot of firewood), I put on Chicken #2. Both were cooked, along with a tray of roast veges, some steamed veges, some fried veges, and some boiled carrots, just to make sure we had all our vege bases covered.

The chickens were dished and I asked that everyone take a piece of each and tell me which they preferred and why. In other words, who would win the Ultimate Chick Fight? Not unanimously but overwhelmingly (in an MMP Democracy), it was Chicken #2 that was described as moister and tastier, and everyone trying it assumed that it was the Slow Cooked Chook. It wasn't. Roast Chook won the Ultimate Chick Fight.
But here's the thing. Because Chicken #1 was still a teensy bit frozen, I put it on at 10, on high for 2 hours, before turning it down to low for a further 6. Also, it was a size 12, and Chicken #2 was a size 16. Chicken #2 was also a different brand from Chicken #1. So its possible that Chicken #1 got a wee bit overdone, and since its not fair to compare apples with pears, the entire debate is, as Obi has said, a load of...

Or so any statistician will tell you.

In any case, Chicken #1 carved much easier than Chicken #2. Dinner was delicious, and both chickens were enjoyed equally. I'm not sure that we proved anything, except that after two bottles of wine, all chicken is good.

But here's the final word: As you'll see below, I took Giffy's advice and put a whole apple in Chicken #2, which I think is the reason it came out so moist.

Chicken #1: Slow Cooked Garlic Chicken

Dress the chicken with:
Freshly Ground Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil
Grated Garlic (about half a head)

Stuff the chicken with:
1 lemon, pierced all around
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

Cook in the slow cooker on low for 6-7 hours.

Chicken #2: Apply Roast Chicken

Dress the chicken with:
Freshly Ground Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil
Gluten Free Flour

Stuff the chicken with:
1 apple, sliced into eighths

Roast at 200C for 2 hours (allowing for a tray of roast veges underneath for the last 1 1/2 hrs).

And for good measure, dress your tray of roast potatoes, kumera and onion with freshly ground salt and pepper, olive oil, dried mixed herbs, and gluten-free flour.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Finding Jane

Very exciting times.

About 10 years ago, I started a project called Urban Driftwood. It began as a collection of writing, poetry and short stories, and grew into a mix of word and image, comprising photos and paintings that I put together from local (Wellington) artists. We had a great collection, but then the realities of life, work, and trying to get an independent publication funded and distributed put all our plans to rest. Urban Driftwood went on the shelf.

In the intervening years, I lost touch with all but a few of the artists and photographers who had contributed work. I even lost touch with one of the writers, Jane. Now and then the project would re-emerge, but other than a redrafting, nothing much ever happened. I was uncomfortable going ahead with the project if I wasn't in touch with the contributors, so after a review and a polish, Urban got saved under a new file name and put aside again.

Last year I discovered Suddenly, internet-based Publish-On-Demand services had made a project like Urban viable. It came back off the shelf. The only way I could make a go of it now was by working with only the material I had from the people I still had contact with. So we went back, and we cut, with a very large pair of scissors. All the visuals were discarded, other than the cover image, which had been provided by Steve, one of the writers. It was tough, but I had to cut Jane from the writing ensemble.

We generated a new draft, and new covers, and we were a few formatting tweaks away from uploading Urban to Lulu and doing something with it at long last. I even went out and took photos of driftwood, and put out an email poll on the best colour for the cover. Although we had put together a fairly passable piece of work, I felt that dropping Jane's writing had lost some essential, balancing perspective from the overall concept of Urban Driftwood. This may have been because the other three writers (myself, Morgue, and Steve) are all male, and a female point of view amidst the clamour of angsty young men should never be ignored. Time has a way of moving quickly, though, and its already August. Still we haven't finalised Urban and printed an inaugural run. Was there a reason?

Then by chance I spotted a familiar name on Facebook, and I got excited. I chased that name, and found Jane. The right Jane, no less, and hopefully she's still keen to be a part of the longest surviving project I have on my shelf.

I'm suddenly very excited about Urban Driftwood again!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Crockpot Mince

Sounds good, eh?

This was one of those mornings when I knew that I wanted dinner to be ready when I got home. C was taking Isaac up the line for the day and wouldn't be home til around 5, and I didn't want to get home and have to start cooking. So as I made my breakfast I got dinner ready. It still feels strange to be chopping onions and carrots before the sun's even up, but it was worth it.

Not my most tasty of meals, largely because the grey matter is still pretty much grey at that time of day, but with a little thought, probably a grating of nutmeg, a splash of sweet chilli sauce, some tomato paste, and maybe some mushrooms to go in at the end, it would be great. But this is easy, and in the middle of the week, that's what matters.

Crockpot Mince

(Serves 4)

Into the Crockpot, mix up the following:
600g Beef Mince
1 Chopped Onion
5 Peeled Garlic Cloves, gently crushed with the flat edge of a knife
1 Sliced Carrot
1 Can of Chopped Tomatoes
2 lugs of Worcester Sauce
Freshly Ground Salt & Pepper
1 T dried Italian Herbs
2 dried Bay Leaves

Turn the Crockpot on to low and leave for 6-8 hours. Stir a couple of times toward the end to break up any lumps of mince.

Serve with pasta or rice, steamed veges, freshly grated parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Zesty Crumbed Chicken

There's a funny thing you'll find when looking through old 70s Cookbooks. Its called the 70s. Crikey, but they had some funny ideas back then. It seemed that nothing couldn't be pureed or moussed or blended or jellied. Some of the things that they did to fish were just wrong.

Anyway, I had a few old books from that dark period of culinary history, and I decided a while back that there must be some value in them, even if the recipes themselves ought to be microwaved on high for several days, and their ashes spread over the vege patch. So I scoured through the old books and salvaged a handful of recipes to try, or at least adapt. What follows is an adaption.

Before I get to the nuts and bolts, I found it very interesting that in this particular book (No, I can't give its title as it has been recycled many months ago now) there was a particular interest in turning home cooking into a healthy experience. Apparently in the 70s they worried about this a lot. What I saw was the removal of many ingredients that were considered "BAD" (egg, butter), and replaced them with things deemed "GOOD" (yoghurt, margarine). Then, because no-one knew any better, they would go and line the baking tray with aluminium foil, and undo all that hard work. Of course, with the hindsight of 15 years of research into the dangers of cooking with aluminium (and plastic, for that matter, not to mention margarine), none of us now would be silly enough to do that. Would we?

So with this in mind, and not quite having a baking dish with a tray big enough to complete the final stage of this meal, I got all crazy and layered a bunch of ramekins on the bottom of a baking dish with some baking paper on top of them so that the fat could drain away. It sort of worked. Sort of. Of course, I'll be grinning on the other side of my face in 20 years when they tell us how bad cooking with baking paper is, and how only those crazy folk in the good old 00s would have ever done that...

Disclaimer: Freshly Ground takes no responsibility for the number of dishes this meal generates.

Zesty Crumbed Chicken

Makes 5 servings

Defrost enough Chicken Pieces for 5 people (about 1 - 1.5kg). Remove the skin and pat dry.

In a large bowl, mix up 3 eggs, 5 crushed garlic cloves, freshly ground salt and pepper, 1 t dried thyme or 1 T fresh thyme leaves, and 1 t dried tarragon leaves. In a pie dish or similar, mix up 1 C of breadcrumbs and 2 crushed weetbix or similar, with the grated zest of half an orange and 1 small lemon, and 3 T of grated fresh parmesan.

Coat the chicken pieces in flour. Dip each piece in the egg mixture, coating thoroughly, then place in the crumb. Coat and turn, ensuring that the whole piece is well covered. Place on a plate and repeat until all the chicken is crumbed. Put in the fridge for at least 20 mins to allow the crumb to bind to the chicken. (This is the bit that it was worth keeping the recipe for - you'd laugh if you knew how much I had already changed.)
Preheat oven to 200C.

Heat a layer of oil in a heavy pan. Place the chicken in the hot oil 2 pieces at a time and brown; about 5 minutes a side. Keep the chicken moving so it doesn't stick, and ensure there is enough oil in the pan that it doesn't burn. This is not a Heart Foundation Tick meal (Although apparently
Milo is now). When all the chicken is in your baking tray (as described above or on a tray if you have one), place in the oven on bake for about 45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Serve with a side of fried rice, some steamed carrot, broccoli and cauli and some fried courgettes with wilted silverbeet, if that's what takes your fancy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Politics of Dependence

It's an election year. Now, I have no plans to make this site political, but a thought did occur to me on the way home.

For fear of bringing the full terrifying weight of the Electoral Finance Act down on my head, no parties will be named in this post.

It seems that we have a major party who would be happy for the bulk of the population to depend on the government. And there is another party who would like everyone to depend on the business sector. There are several smaller parties who advocate various positions in between these two. But it seems to me that there is only one party who continue to push for people's right to depend on themselves, and to suggest that the government ought to be willing to support such endeavours.

When we were in Melbourne last year, I noticed that the Victoria State government was paying a rebate of 50% of all costs to people who were installing their own rainwater catchment systems and solar panels (Please, correct me if I'm wrong - there's nothing worse than the fall from a high horse when you're not really in the saddle). Here, it will cost a minimum of about $3000 to retrofit a small solar water heating system in an existing home (its cheaper if you install when a house is being built). Then, if you qualify, the government will pay you up to $500 towards the cost of interest on a loan to pay for said solar water heating system. Which is a start, but is it enough to convince people that its worth the investment?

People need to be encouraged to do more for themselves and to rely less on either A) the government, or B) the consumer market, but the costs of becoming even marginally self-sufficient are awfully prohibitive. Also, the long-term effects of such a societal change are at odds with the overall agendas of both the major parties in this country (and probably in most countries, to be fair). Increased self-sufficiency, while better for the planet, the small community and the individual, is detrimental to the mass triumvirate institution of bureaucracy, industry and corporate greed. If people learn to look after themselves a little better, we won't need the massive machine that grinds away consuming our energy and absorbing our productivity.

There should be one issue that matters more this year than we've ever admitted to before now, and that is the simple fact of how we can best be at balance with our planet in a time of rampant consumerism and depleting resources. Just a little something to chew on as the election campaign gets underway.

And that's me for politics for now. If it takes your fancy, you can always follow some of the links on the right for more comprehensive coverage.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Homemade Jelly - This is not a Misprint

It has been mentioned that I really ought to balance out all those mains with some desserts, so here we go.

This comes courtesy of Gran in Wanganui. There's a lot to be said for paring things back to how they used to be done, before we had all these convenience products on the shelf. For a start, making jelly from scratch, you know exactly what's going into your dessert, and there are no artificial colours or flavours to be seen. On the downside, this is a bit time-consuming and by far more work than just pouring boiling water into a bowl of jelly crystals, but the results are fantastic.

This post introduces Freshly Ground's Dessert Chef extraodinaire, who shall hereafter be known as C. In case you haven't guessed already, I'm not really a dessert kind of guy. But I did read a recipe for some yummy pear tarts just recently, and they might make it here yet. Watch this space.

Lemon Jelly

Ingredients (4 Servings):
3/4 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 T Gelatine
2 Cups Cold Water
2 Lemons
1 Mandarin

Stir the sugar and gelatine in a saucepan. Add cold water, stir again and leave to stand while you peel the skin from the lemons and mandarin with a potato peeler, being careful not to peel off the white pith. Drop the peel into the gelatine mixture, then heat until it comes to the boil and the gelatine dissolves. Remove form the heat. Squeeze the fruit, which should yield 1/4 to 1/2 Cup of juice. Add this to the pot, along with any pulp and seeds, stir well, then pour the jelly through a fine sieve into the dish in which it will set. Allow to cool before placing in the fridge to set.
We had this, and I have to say it was the best jelly I've ever tasted. And I like jelly. Based on this, you can make so many variations. Raspberries will be on the menu when they're in season.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Creamy Dhukka Beef Stew

Its not a Slow Cooker Stew this time. I've not been 100% happy with my stew results in the Slow Cooker, although I've been stoked with Lamb Knuckles and Chicken. Today we had a bit of tenderised beef steak, and while this in not generally considered ideal for stewing, I was listening to the radio a couple of weeks back and listened in utter astonishment as Jeremy Jones provided a recipe for Beef Stroganoff made with fillet steak. That's just crazy! I thought. But in all fairness, if you have no time and plenty of money it sounds reasonable enough, and I haven't actually tried it myself. And since we had a frying steak on a stewy day (in more than one sense of the word) I decided I'd have a go at making a stew that might not need several hours cooking. Prep and cooking time was under 2 hours, and it probably could've been shorter.

You can find dhukka in middle eastern or Mediterranean groceries, or follow the link for a recipe that I haven't tried.If you're lucky enough to live in Wellington, Christchurch or Nelson, the Mediterranean Food Warehouse usually stocks a nice blend, along with lots of other goodies (not a sponsored plug!).

Creamy Dhukka Beef Stew

Finely chop half a head of garlic, 1 onion and 2 carrots. Heat some oil in a medium sized pot and soften these . Add 1/2t of blended curry powder to the veges and toss. When the curry has mixed through the veges, add about 3T of Cider Vinegar and reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes.

Chop 600g of tenderised steak into chunks and season in a bowl with freshly ground salt and pepper, olive oil and a liberal coating of dhukka.
Stand aside. Remove the onion mixture from the pot and heat a bit more oil. When the oil is hot, brown off the meat in a couple of batches. When you've finished the meat, heat the pot again and deglaze with a mixture of about 1/8 Cup of balsamic vinegar and 1T of honey. Reduce the glaze by half, then return the meat to the pot. Toss well in the glaze, then return the onions to the pot. Mix well. Add a can of chopped tomatoes, bring to a gentle bubble and reduce to a gentle simmer for 1 to 1&1/2 hours. In the last half hour add some veges to the stew. Over a pot of boiling water, steam a few florets of brocolli and cauliflower. I did ours over a pot of kumera and lovely new potatoes bought fresh from the market on Saturday morning, boiled up with a sprig of mint out of the garden and some peeled lemon rind (thanks, lemon tree!). When the broco and cauli are hot, pop them in the stew and mix through. Then add 1/4 Cup of cream and stir through thoroughly. Increase the heat to reduce the stew a bit, allowing about 5 mins for the cream to thicken, and dish with the potatoes and kumera. Lovely stuff.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Cooking up New Features

The lovely people at Google have been kind enough to provide me with a custom search bar, which you will see if you take a look to the right of this post and down a bit (or up, as time goes by...). I have set this Foodie Googlie up to only search for things relating to food, cooking, recipes and suchlike. Give it a go! See if its as good as I imagine it might be.

I've also added a few live feed options down the side a bit too, but I really don't know what this does. I suspect it means that when I update Freshly Ground, you will somehow be informed.

It was also recommended that I join the Technorati, though I am likewise ignorant of exactly what this has really meant for me as a blogger and citizen of cyberspace. But as the advice came from a well-trusted source, I, well, trusted it. Please, if you like Freshly Ground, take a moment to fave me (I hope it only takes a moment, anyway). I currently rank about 1.9 billionth in the world, so any advance on that would be encouraging.

And while you're about it, rememer the Free Rice page. Go donate some food to hungry people and expand your brain power at the same time.