Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Global cuisine - Morocco

[Olive and lemon display in Meknez souq]

This specific choice was one I had been looking forward to. A few years ago, while still doing my undergraduate degree, I took a month to travel to Fez, Morocco and attend an arabic language school. It was a phenomenal experience and I think of it with great fondness, hoping someday to go back and see more of that magical country. One of the things I loved about the trip was the food.

The first three weeks of my trip happened to coincide with Ramadan, the month of fasting. From sun up until sun down, no food was allowed to pass the lips of any muslim. This is practiced in order to learn patience, spirituality, humility and humbleness before God. My last week there was Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting when the new moon is first spotted. This is essentially a big party with lots of food and celebration. Everyone was decked out in their finery and smiling. It was good fun.

For our week of Moroccan food here I was constantly telling Stephen stories about this meal or that one. He was even thoughtful enough to make up a batch of paratha dough early in the week, which allowed me to slice, fold and fry them up for breakfast each morning and store the remaining dough back in the fridge. Although parathas are not originally North African, one of the other language students at the school whom I lived with treated me to them each morning - slathered in butter and honey.

Moroccan food is about couscous, cinnamon, saffron, dates and olives. The tajine is probably the most recognized food from that area and a tasty one at that. One of the rules I remember learning from my host family was that the meat was always hidden under the mound of couscous which was in turn covered in vegetables. This ensured that children would have to eat through the important bits to get at the meaty treasure beneath. Another important lesson in a land where hands were the tools used for eating was that only the right hand was ever used to take food from the communal plate. And if possible, it was the only hand used at all. This presumably comes from the sanitary requirements for survival in a water scarce environment.

One of the highlights for me of the week was finally trying chermoula. This is traditionally used as a marinade for fish but we used it with delicious results as a sauce for carrots as well.

[Meat and carrot tajine with leftover chermoula on the carrots]


Taken from der Haroutunian, A. (2009) North African Cookery. Grub Street, London.

4 tablespoons oil
75g butter
1 onion, sliced into rounds
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
50g chopped fresh parsley
50g chopped fresh coriander
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon saffron diluted in 4 tablespoons water (I didn't have any, it still tasted wonderful)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 bay leaves

1. Heat oil and butter in a saucepan and add all remaining ingredients. Cook over moderate heat for 12-15 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and serve hot or cold.

I cooled mine to room temperature and then poured over my white fish fillets. Leftover was stored in the refrigerator and used later in the week tossed in with cooked carrots.

Spring garden

[Recently finished quilt for a friends birthday]

Despite my increased work load recently I have enjoyed taking the time to enjoy our new garden. It's a small adventure every time I go out to see what new treasure has poked out of the ground. We are busily putting in our herb garden and strawberry fence (more on that later), and Stephen is putting together a wee chicken coop for our new additions (more of them later too). Life is teeming in the garden and the beautiful oasis it is turning into is a realm of peace and calm in the rush of our current lives. Unfortunately, I have yet to learn the names of our lovely blossoms.

[A lovely flowering tree that spreads white petals everywhere]

[One of many rhododendrons]

[Hellebore - grows in the shade of the first flowering tree shown]

[Wee blue fairy flowers]

[Our flowering cherry tree - seems to blossom in levels]

Global cuisine - Thai

[One of two fish curries served with brown rice and lime]

It has certainly been a wee while since I've posted anything up here. Lots to do lately, with deadlines and projects coming to a head. And spring too, seems to be bursting forth with no holding back. Despite our busy schedule, we have been keeping to our national food adventures. After our foray into French cuisine we wandered back East to try some Thai. Stephen had been wanting to try making Phad Thai, so we bought some rice noodles, some limes and some bean sprouts and got stuck in.

We began with something we were rather comfortable with - curry. Before taking on this experiment I never fully realized the huge differences in curries. I knew that several different nations made curries, but I was never fully appreciative of their unique qualities. Indian curries (well, the Westernized versions anyhow), for example, have quite deep, warming flavours, with cumin, fenugreek, and coriander (along with many others). While Thai curries tend to be more fresh and clean tasting. These are usually based around fresh ingredients like kaffir lime leaves, chilies and ginger. Our first couple of meals were fish curries, and despite using the same fish, we were able to make vastly different curries formed around these basic ingredients (along with fish sauce, sugar and coconut cream).

I must admit the Phad Thai we eventually made was a bit of a let down as it lacked enough sauce to make it really flavourful. But this was most likely the fault of the cooks rather than the recipe. We moved onto what was probably my favorite dish - spicy longbeans with(out) salty eggs. The latter subtraction was due to the 3 weeks needed to actually make the salty eggs. But it was pretty tasty even without. And finished the week with prawns with chili and basil.

[Prawns with chili and basil - tasty, tasty]

A rather tasty week, full of fresh flavours. It was lovely and light after the warm heaviness of french cuisine. One of the lessons we took away from the Thai week, was the mathematics of taste in a Thai curry. Too salty - add sugar, too sweet - add fish sauce, and too sweet and salty - add lime juice. Worked every time!

Spicy longbeans with(out) salty eggs

I have adapted this from the original and not included the salty egg bit, but you can find the full recipe in Bhumichitr, V. (2005) Vatch's Thai Kitchen. Ryland, Peters & Small, London.

Peanut or sunflower oil
180g ready-fried beancurd, finely sliced
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon Red Curry paste (see below)
250g Chinese longbeans (or green beans), chopped into 2.5cm lengths
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
4 tablespoons vegetable stock
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon ground roasted peanuts
4 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in wok on high heat. Add beancurd and fry until golden brown. Remove from wok and drain on paper towel covered plate.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in wok, add garlic and fry until golden brown. Stir in the curry paste. Add beans, soy sauce, stock, sugar, peanuts, lime leaves and fried beancurd. Stir-fry until the beans are done to your taste.

3. Serve and enjoy.

Red Curry Paste

Grind the following ingredients into a paste in a large mortar and pestle.

8 long red dried chilies, deseeded and chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chopped garlic
2 stalks lemongrass, chopped
3 coriander roots, chopped (I didn't have any - it still tasted good)
1 teaspoon chopped kaffir lime skin, or finely chopped lime leaves
3 cm fresh galangal or ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon salt

Friday, September 9, 2011

Spring is in the air

[Biking is the perfect way to get around in the lovely warm spring air]

After a couple of exciting snowfalls the air is getting warmer and the birds are getting louder. There are tiny buds poking out of my new garden and spring has arrived. We've been extremely lucky with the weather over the last couple of weekends, allowing us to get out and enjoy that glorious spring air. Below are some photos from the last couple of weekends which we've had the pleasure of enjoying here in Christchurch.

[Riccarton Bush Farmers Market]

[Cupcakes and cookies are always popular]

[There are many more flowers to choose from now]

[There are always numerous bakers from whom to buy your bread each week]

[It is still only spring so hot soup is most welcome]

[An outdoor exhibit of Yann Arthus-Bertrands Earth from Above photographs as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival]

[The images wend their way down Rolleston Ave. from the Hagley Park bridge, past Christ College to the Canterbury museum. Some amazing photographs and interesting stories.]

[On September 2nd, the Canterbury Museum opened up again after being closed since the February earthquake. It was wonderful to be able to go back through the familiar halls.]

[One new exhibit consists of over 4000 hand sewn hearts donated to Christchurch for the earthquake. Initiated by a woman in Napier, the hearts come from around the world and make their way around the room in a rainbow of colours. They are absolutely wonderful.]

[A detail of some of the hearts]

[While much of the museum was the same there were certain, minor differences - missing exhibits and individual pieces.]

[A temporary exhibit of the photographic works of Brian Brake, a New Zealand photographer who captured the world on film.]

[The Botanic Gardens were also filled with the signs of spring]

[An interactive water feature which always seems to prove popular]

[Waiting patiently for the parents to be finished their conversation.]

[The park was filled with scenes like this. Picnics abounded, so we decided we should have one too. Nothing like a lovely, warm spring day for a picnic in the park.]

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Global cuisine - France

[Steak au Poivre with truffle mashed potatoes and sauteed baby leeks]

Continuing on from our previous plan, last week we focused on French food. What a change from our previous week which had been simple, light, and easy. French food, with its profuse use of butter and cream and a multitude of techniques was very different. But that's what we were looking for so we dove straight in.

While it would be easy to get bogged down in the highly technical and fancy food of French haute cuisine we were more interested in finding recipes that were more the basic, eat around the farm table fare. Also keeping to our seasonal vege rule limited our forays into too many exotic areas. But good thing for us, leeks are in season right now. And if a leek is not the epitome of french cooking then I don't know what is.

Our first french meal was mussels gratine with green lentils and herbs. Rich with a tasty creamy sauce, the mussels were a lovely, cheap way to start things off. The next night, we had Steak au poivre (or pepper steak) with truffle oil mashed potatoes and sauteed baby leeks. Familiar with the carnivorous leanings of french cuisine (or my experience and knowledge of it), we wanted to see what sorts of vegetarian dishes were there. We had a tasty (and butter and cream filled) leek tart, leek and potato soup, and of course, french onion soup (so much better than my first taste of it at a highway rest stop on the Alaska Highway in the middle of the Yukon). And throughout all this I was researching and planning my coup d'eta - cassoulet. Unfortunately, this led me to realize that cassoulet was not a meal to be made in a day, or even a week really. So we will have to enjoy it a little later, once the duck confit is made and rested. And the beans are found and soaked. Then, say in three or four weeks (I've been told the duck confit improves with age), we can finally sit down for the finale. But for now, we're moving on - Thailand up next.

[Mussels Gratin with green lentils and herbs]

Mussels Gratin (from So French - A lifetime in the provincial kitchen by Dany Chouet and Trish Hobbs)

1.25kg mussels
2 large french shallots, diced
250 ml dry white wine
40 g unsalted butter, plus extra for grilling
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 egg yolk
50 ml cream
juice of half a lemon
20 g fine fresh breadcrumbs

1. Scrub mussels thoroughly under running water and pull our the hairy beards. Do not soak them or you will lose their precious liquid. Once clean, place them in a bowl and set aside.

2. Combine the shallots and wine in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes only and add the mussels. Cover the pan and shake. Continue to cook until the mussels begin to open. Remove the mussels as they open (allow them to get quite open, not just slightly). Throw out any mussels that do not open (these were dead before you cooked them and could make you sick).

3. Once all the mussels are out, strain the remaining juices through a fine seive and allow to settle. Remove the empty half of the mussels and lay the meaty ones in a large gratin dish (shallow baking pan with sides). Set aside.

4. Meld the butter in a saucepan over low heat, add the flour and stir until completely mixed (make a roux). Gradually pour in the mussel juice, being careful not to stop before any of the sediment at the bottom gets in. Whisk this until smooth, add the garlic and the curry powder and cook on low, stirring, until it thickens. Check your seasoning and add salt or pepper if you like. If it gets too thick add some water.

5. In a bowl whisk together the egg yolk and the cream with the lemon juice and some pepper. Add to the sauce.

6. Preheat your grill on high. Pour the sauce over the mussels, being sure to get some in each little shell. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over top and dot with butter. Throw it under the grill for 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

- Chouet, D. & Hobbs, T. (2010). So French: A lifetime in the provincial kitchen. Murdoch Books; London. p.96

Backcountry skiing in New Zealand

[Kea hanging out at the parking lot]

Due to the various circumstances of the past year, Stephen and I had not gotten out skiing once this winter. We decided that this could not be and so packed our things one glorious Sunday morning and headed for the mountains. As our finances have changed since buying a house (which most of you are probably familiar with), we decided to do some backcountry skiing and save ourselves some money by not buying lift tickets. Hiking up is much better for your health anyways.

We arrived at Porter's Pass around 10am and unpacked our gear. There were already loads of cars parked in the small pull off at the summit below Foggy Peak. And we could see a large group of trampers trudging up the mountain through the snow. We figured that they were probably here for a course. Another couple of skiers pulled up while we were getting ready and we chatted with them about the route they were going to follow. Then it was back to getting dressed - snowpants, ski boots, PLB, fleece, mitts, toque, sunglasses, and jacket, hmmm, no jacket, it's pretty warm out.

Finally, we were ready and headed for the snow. We strapped on our skis and made to follow the other guys ski tracks. Two steps in I heard swearing behind me, I looked back and saw Stephen messing with his ski skins (strips you stick to the bottom of your skis to only allow you to slide one direction, good for climbing). Both skins had snapped in two. He quickly told me to keep moving and that he would catch up. Feeling that it would be best for me to let him deal with this on his own I trudged my way up the slope. There was a long ways to go and the more time I gave myself for breaks the better.

Stephen didn't take long to catch up. With his skis in his arms he followed the trampers tracks straight up while I twisted back and forth on the ski tracks (there's only so steep one can go with skis on even with skins). Up and up and up. Around spikey spaniards sticking through the snow and over hidden shrubs that would suck you in when you stepped on them. When we reached the first bench, we took a short break to strip down a layer. I was pretty sweaty already and we weren't even halfway up.

At one point we passed the trampers as they stopped for lunch. Stephen going up over the rocky ridge in the sun and my opting to stay low and cross the rather steep, shady bit of slope. Half way across I realized why the other skiers had decided to go over, it was almost sheer ice. I inched my way across the slope slowly and carefully. Thinking how embarrassing it would be to serve as a bad example for the tramping groups lesson plan. But eventually I made it across, with nothing worse than some rather shaky legs. I met Stephen back on top of the ridge and we sat down for some lunch.

After lunch we made the last dash for the summit. I was pleased as punch to have made it to the top and enjoyed the view East towards Christchurch and the ocean. While Stephen took a quick wander over to the other side, I had some tea and put my layers back on. Finally, we were all set. With our skis on we looked down the mountain and planned our route. It looked like there was a beautiful, open slope ready for us to carve down so off we headed.

I was at the top of the slope and about to head into the glorious powder, Stephen was waiting to let me have the first turn on that blank white canvas. I lunged into the turn, jutting my right leg forward and leaning into the hill . . . . but my back foot felt funny. It jiggled. It wiggled. And then, bewildered, I stumbled and watched as my left ski slid, rolled and tumbled down the hill to the bottom of the slope. I collapsed into the snow and howled with laughter. Poor Stephen, thinking I was hurt quickly came down to see if I was alright. He couldn't quite understand how it was funny. But I reassured him that nothing could be more hilarious. He had had to walk up the mountain, it seemed only fair that I walk down it.

So while Stephen gracefully carved his way down the hill, I slid, rolled and tumbled after my ski. We met up at the lonely ski and examined the damage. It didn't look all that bad, the screws that attached the binding to the ski had just come out. Though we figured it would probably be time for some new bindings. So much for saving money by going backcountry skiing. Stephen graciously passed his skis over to me and I took the next section of the mountain by ski, while he, braver than me, attempted to ski one legged. I have to say it was impressive that he could stay up, let alone steer. When I had the broken skis back, the best I could do was slide on them.

We made it back to the parking lot just as the trampers left. Utterly euphoric from the beauty (and adventure) of the day we had spent in the mountains, we packed up our gear, drank the last of the tea and headed for home.

[Packing up the car after a day in the snow - notice the ski second from the left missing its binding]

The next day Stephen found an old pair of telemark skis on Trademe that included a pair of skins. They're in the mail now.