new year, new me

Quite frankly, I am not one for New Year’s resolutions. I do, however, think that it is important to take some time to both reflect and look ahead – why it must happen at the end of one year, I am not really sure.

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But I am not here to critique people’s life choices, I am here to put down in written form some of my musings for the year to come. Similar to much of the work that we laid out in Blogging 201, I have been tossing about some ideas of how and where I will take this blog in 2016.

It has been rather difficult to evenly distribute between all that I have wished to; Travel, Food and Life in general. Not that I have ever really struggled to find something to write about but I have noticed that the general content focus has varied significantly from time to time.

Travel
Now that I am in one stationary spot for the foreseeable future, I find it really hard to write about travel. At this stage there isn’t a lot more I can do apart from writing in retrospect, which I guess I can make do with but I feel like there is something slightly untruthful about it. Rose-tinted glasses some may say.

Food
I will always have a focus on Southern European cuisine, even though I’m no longer based there. It’s my automatic go-to and what I enjoy researching. Even so, I find myself branching out a bit; I do love Middle Eastern cooking and I have noticed that more and more international and fusion dishes are making their way onto the blog. I guess it all depends on what I have time to make.

Life
This is something I am a little stumped with; how much of one’s life should be incorporated into one’s blog? It is talked about at length in Will Write for Food but I can’t decide where I sit. I think that’s be I think as long as it fits with the blog’s concept, then it’s fine with me.

Writing 201
I have enrolled in another writing course for February of 2016 to work on finding, and expanding what my story really is. If anyone wants to join me in this, let me know; here’s the link.

The January Cure
I have also signed for another month long task – this one is aimed a little bit at Life Admin and decluttering the home before the year gets into full swing. It’s called the January Cure and it’s a collaboration between Apartment Therapy and the kitchn. I’ll post updates as I go, but once again, please feel free to join me!

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As 2016 swings into action, there’s how I see it going, or at least beginning, for me. But we don’t know what we don’t know, we know where we are going to start (for me it’s lying in the sun!) but where we will end, is all part of the fun!

 

 

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a taste of south america – tamarillo salsa

I can’t sit still for long, I try to stay in one place for an extended period of time and it just makes me feel anxious. I am always thinking of future holiday destinations and daydreaming about where I want to go next.

My current obsession is South America, in particularly, Argentina. I went to an incredible Argentinian barbeque recently and while I was being rolled out the front door, my mind started swirling around ideas of how I could recreate many of the brightly coloured, punchy dishes in my own kitchen.

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As you can imagine, a barbeque joint is going to be packed to them brim with meat so I wanted to dream up something a little lighter but still with that South American kick. Taking inspiration from the vibrant buildings and streets of downtown Buenos Aires, the tropical flavours that come with year round sunshine, and what I could find scrounging around the kitchen cupboards, I whipped up a quick tamarillo salsa.

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Tamarillos are such a wonderful fruit; tart and oozing with dark orange blood, hands stained purple from scraping the soft flesh out of its casing is a sensation that fills me with childhood nostalgia. Their flavour is also a perfect contrast to the sweetness of salsa’s primary ingredient; tomatoes.

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Dice three small tomatoes, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, if the seeds are quite watery then discard them. Dice the flesh of one tamarillo, and ¼ of a red onion for a sharp flavour and an added pop of colour. Add them to the tomatoes. Dice one red chilli or ¼ of a red bell pepper; which you choose depends on how spicy you want it – if you’re not a spice fiend then use the bell pepper as it possessed a similar flavour to the chilli without the fieriness.

Add the juice of ½ a lemon or lime, a drizzle of olive oil, a tablespoon of rock salt and another of raw sugar, add a teaspoon of smoked paprika for an optional extra kick if you so desire.

Combine well and leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour – the longer you leave it, the more time the flavours have to combine and meld together – after a day you can hardly distinguish between the tiny cubes of pepper, tamarillo and tomato.

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This is a wonderful accompaniment to steak, lamb or chicken, or even heaped onto a piece of toasted ciabatta for a tropical bruschetta fusion.

sweet potato croquettes

Boys will be boys. We’ve all heard it before, usually from an emotionally exhausted parent in our youth, but some of us may have even uttered the words ourselves. I found myself in a bit of a ‘boys-will-be-boys’ situation recently; a phone call from my frazzle mother – my little brother had toppled off his skateboard as he raced down a rather speed hill, breaking his jaw in three places. Typical.

Gone are the days when doctors would wire a broken jaw closed like the monster from a B-grade horror film, but he is still restricted in what he was allowed to eat. Sympathetic of a diet of tired mashed potatoes and tomato soup, I graciously took on the task of inventing some delicious, yet soft and smooth meal ideas.

French cuisine is so much more expansive than many of us imagine, boeuf bourguignon and foie gras are not quotidian meals as any French-cooking themed film would lead us to believe. Au contraire, they are traditional – time-consuming and expensive to make, and like the variety of French wines, are very regionally specific. I have decided that I needed to increase my knowledge on the larger umbrella that is the way that French people actually cook. I have been flicking through my newly acquired copy of 100 Styles of French Cooking by Karl Wurzer, marking recipes to try in my own variation of Julie Powell’s homage to Julia Child in The Julie/Julia Project – the story behind Julie & Julia for those who have no idea what I’m talking about.

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Sweet potato is something that I grew up eating a lot of, I could never pass up a huge pile of deep-fried sweet potato fries, crisp and salty – the perfect picnic dinner while sitting on the beach. They are basically a more interesting version of a standard potato and when I stumbled upon Karl’s recipe for croquettes à l’algerienne – Algerian croquettes, I knew I had to try them out!

Like most delicious things, these crunchy globes of mustard coloured mash are best finished off in the deep fryer, but because I 1) don’t have a deep fryer and 2) am not using that much oil in one go, I decided to pan fry them and finish them off in the oven – kind of like my churros.

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Peel and dice one sweet potato per person and boil until cooked through and tender. Drain through a colander and leave so as much of the water as possible can drip through. Sauté ¼ of an onion per person in olive oil or lard – I used chicken fat from a roast the night before, it gives it a nice meaty flavour without making it seem too heavy. Mash the potato and stir the onions through once they are soft and syrupy, along with 2 tablespoons of ground almonds or cashews per person, ½ a teaspoon of cumin, ¼ a teaspoon of nutmeg, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a big grind of salt and pepper. I added a pinch of dried herbs too.

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Based on your skill and patience, there are two ways to shape the croquettes – you can either shape them into flat rugby ball shaped spheres with your hands, or into quenelles using two tablespoons. Either way, you’ll get the same result. If you are organised enough, I would recommend doing this much of the process the day before and refrigerating the quenelles so they hold their shape better. If that’s not possible then I guess that’s fine too.

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Fry your croquettes in as much oil or melted butter as you want – the more you use, the easier it will be, but as you increase the oil, you increase the un-healthiness – a lose-lose situation. I lightly fried mine on either side before baking them for a further 10 minutes to get an even crisp and to heat them the whole way through.

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I served mine with a yogurt and tahini dip and sprinkled over some more herbs, salt and pepper, just in time for my brother to tell me he couldn’t make it. More for me I guess!

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the smallest kitchen in paris

My approach to learning the French language was slightly alternative to most; I didn’t take French at school, in fact, my school didn’t even offer French until I was 16. I studied Japanese at university then decided, in a rather spontaneous decision, to move to France instead of heading to Japan as originally planned.

Armed with a My-First-French-Words book, I set off on a whirlwind attempt at conquering this difficult little language. It turned out that my greatest tool would actually be a cookbook.

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La pétite cuisine à Paris by Rachel Khoo was first published in 2012 and details the recipes Rachel finds closest to her heart from her time in Paris. Like me, Rachel moved to France with basically no knowledge of the French language, unlike me, she has become hugely successful. Her love of food, cooking and entertaining is prevalent in this book, and that is what I love about it, it’s not pretentious, like French cuisine can easily become, the food is uncomplicated and gives a modern spin on many French classics without being too ‘modern’.

When I was given this book (as part of the French-est Christmas present ever) I was under the impression that Rachel had written the book in French, or translated it herself from the English version, but I am not quite sure I can confirm this as a true fact. But at the time I liked if for that very reason; it made me believe that it wasn’t impossible to master the language, even though so many irregular verbs should be illegal; if she could do it, and write a book to prove it, then so could I!

The language the book uses is relatively basic – the majority of it is recipes; they all follow a similar structure and repeat many of the same verbs and nouns. Reading it and cooking from it was an excellent way of improving my reading ability, practicing verb conjugation in a practical and delicious way while learning verbs and nouns that would eventually come in very handy! Faire fondu, préchauffer, and la recette are all phrases that anyone who has to cook anything in French needs to know.

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As well as teaching me how to say whisk in French and the words for a bunch of vegetables, it also provided me with a crash course on the French classics. We have all heard of coq-au-vin and macarons, but my favourite new encounter was her mini tartiflettes – a sinfully delicious Savoyard take on potato bake, filled with smoky lardons and gooey melted cheese; relatively unheard of anywhere else and one of France’s best kept secrets!

frommage failure

It is official; I have failed. Or at least, I have half failed; one of my wheels of camembert which I had maturing at home has imploded, resulting in a gooey, yellow mess, specks of mould floating in a cloudy sea of old, un-extracted whey. I thought that I had researched, even over-researched the subject of DIY cheese making, but it turns out that I probably made some classic rookie mistakes.

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Below is a collection of tips, of weary words to head to if this is an endeavour you wish to pursue, a list that if I could turn back time I wish I could have followed.

Tip #1: Removing as much of the whey as possible.
Salting the surface in order to extract moisture may not be enough, I recently watched a documentary on cheese making in Brazil (yes, I did watch this by choice) and before salting the cheese, these farmers would place a large, smooth stone on top of each wheel while it was wrapped in the cheese cloth for at least a day in order to squeeze as much liquid out as possible. They were also far more liberal than I was with the salt; the more salt equals more dehydration – a good thing in this situation.

Tip #2: Clean clean clean.
I said in my first cheese post, that it was essential to sterilize everything that touches your cheese so that no ‘bad bacteria’ gets into your cheese. This is for obvious reasons; the wrong sort of mould can lead to your cheese rotting instead of maturing, and certain kinds of bacteria can affect your cheese’s ability to grow mould which in turn can lead to it not maturing as well as it should. What I didn’t particularly do, but should have, was keep everything sterilised all the time; in hindsight, I think it is particularly necessary to clean the inside of your fridge before you start, and regularly during the process – you never know what invisible creatures can be carried on to your cheese but the air.

Tip #3: Walk before you run.
Every website and blog post I read about amateur cheese making specified the necessity of taking it slow when deciding to tackle more complicated cheeses – slow and steady wins the race, so to speak. I, however, thought that I was exempt from this rule, that I could just jump into the hard stuff – I had made ricotta and that had been easy, so why not just try something incredibly difficult as the next step? Don’t. Work your way up to the hard stuff, the natural progression is ricotta, mozzarella, blue vein, and then camembert.

Tip #4: Mould growth.
According to curd-nerd.com, there are many reasons why a camembert might not be growing ma sufficient level of mould. Mine moulded sporadically, rather unevenly, and I was not sure why, or to phased by it. It could be that the environment is too cold, or not enough salt was used (see above), there could have been too much moisture or unwanted mould could have beaten the good bacteria (also see above). I am relatively sure that my camembert didn’t produce enough mould because of the temperature or low salt levels. I know that the moisture levels where quite high, but I am almost certain that they weren’t too high. The refrigerator I used didn’t have a particularly accurate thermometer; the settings are either ‘Mild’, ‘Cold’ or “Really cold’ – not exactly scientific measurements!

Only a little bit discouraged, I am not entirely sure on what my next step is, I still have my second wheel of camembert which is looking like it might be ok – it will be ready in about a week so fingers crossed! Maybe a blue vein, or I might even try my hand at making mozzarella, who knows?!

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did someone say satay?

My post a few weeks back about the markets of Marseille made me think about a couple of things. The reminder of the amazing range of spices, flavours and smells; so foreign to the traditional French style of cooking, made me think about the flavours of my childhood.

I grew up with an eclectic mix of flavours and cooking styles – like most of New Zealand, and trying new dishes from exotic cultures was not an uncommon occurrence. There is one dish that does stand out in my memory particularly, and that is peanut satay. Until last week, I didn’t realise how much I missed this mildly spicy, nutty sauce with its rich, dark-yellow, turmeric-induced colour.

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So I decided to make some, for this instalment of Chippie Tuesday.

The French are not known for their tolerance of spicy food – far from it in fact, and when the nation has a love affair with sweetness that runs as deeply as it does here, the thought of eating salty peanut butter for breakfast is so unimaginable that it is almost impossible to find decent peanut butter anywhere. So I sacrificed a tablespoon of my dwindling stock for this recipe.

Mix a teaspoon of turmeric, a tablespoon of peanut butter and a tablespoon of red curry paste with a healthy drizzle of olive oil and another drizzle of warm water. Briskly mix until you have a consistently smooth paste – the only lumps should be the bits of peanuts… unless you’re using smooth peanut butter, which you shouldn’t be doing, because crunchy is where it’s at.

Peel and hollow out half of a small pumpkin, half it and slice into thin slices, as thin as you can get them – a mandolin with make easy work of it, or a sharp knife will suffice. As you may have noticed recently, I am a bit addicted to pumpkin, obviously any root veg will do; potato, sweet potato or even carrot.

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Toss the veges through your sauce until they are all nice and coated, distribute them evenly over a baking tray and bake at 180°C until crisp and golden, rotating every once in a while; this will take about 30 minutes.

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The beauty of this recipe is that you don’t really need to prepare any sauce to go with them – they are baked in the sauce! However, if you are like me and didn’t judge the levels of spiciness too well, you might want to prepare a little yoghurt sauce or cucumber dip to cool things off a little!

when life gives you limes

My love of Middle Eastern inspired food is not something I ever shy away from talking about, in fact, I will often try and drive a conversation towards it where possible. And today, I don’t have to try and subtly change the subject, I can very blatantly exclaim about my latest feat – black limes.

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Black limes; also known as dried limes or limoo amani, originate from the Persian Gulf and are often used to add a depth of flavour to stews and soups or as an alternative to spices when seasoning meat.

The traditional method of preparing black limes is to blanch them whole in hot, salty water and then leave them to dry in the sun until their skin darkens and their flesh becomes dark and brittle. I had to be a bit more resourceful with my drying technique because I don’t live in a city anywhere near as hot or as dry as the Iranian dessert – even in the middle of June!

The internet was obviously a very helpful tool in my investigation of possible methods; I don’t have a dehydrator so that one was out of the question. The idea of drying them in the oven did seem the most practical, but on further research it was likely that the oven would actually burn the limes instead of drying them, and I didn’t like the idea of having the oven on for three days!

My chosen method was in a slow cooker. A slow cooker on the lowest setting – on my one it is ‘warm’ – is the closest way of emulating the warm baking on the Middle Eastern sun. Because it is not so much a setting for cooking anything, there isn’t the risk of burning the limes and the gentle warmth is just enough to dry them out nice any evenly.

Begin by placing your limes in a large saucepan with a teaspoon of salt per lime. The kind of salt you use doesn’t particularly matter; I used rock salt but table salt would suffice. Next pour boiling water over top until the limes are just covered. The salt will dissolve in the water creating a lovely warm brine. Leave the limes to soak for at least 5 minutes. The reasoning behind blanching the fruit first, instead of drying them from the get-go, is to remove some of the bitterness from the rind and pith.

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The limes that I had acquired were larger than the ones usually used so I sliced mine into 1cm thick rondelles. If you happen to have smaller limes then this method will work just as well when keeping them whole or even just slicing them in half. Arrange them along the bottom of the slow cooker, if you have cut them up; arrange them evenly so they are all touching the bottom on the pot. Cover and leave them for about 3 days, or until they become crisp and light ebony-coloured. I turned mine twice a day for a consistent dryness and drained any juice that collected once a day to avoid soggy, poached limes.

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When I use my dried limes, like any of my dried citrus that I have curated, I usually drop it into a sauce or stew, it soaks up the liquid; becoming soft and edible, while infusing the sauce with its deep, rich and slightly tangy flavours. You can also crush it up in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to combine with oil or vinegar as a chicken marinade, or with flour and breadcrumbs as a crunchy coating for pan-fried fish.

chippie tuesday

On several occasions I have entered into the debate of whether or not polenta is an ingredient that should be celebrated or scorned; usually debating on the celebratory side. While today’s recipe is not exactly directly linked with polenta, there are definitely some polenta-inspired elements to it.

Like the majority of human beings who have ever eaten polenta chips, I am a fan. Simple as that. In fact, I am a fan of almost every kind of chip; which is why I have a whole series of chip-orientated posts in the pipeline- stay tuned! I might even go as far as saying I could devour a sizzling bowl of polenta chips faster than their French fry equivalents.

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During one of my many episodes of craving, fantasising and googling unique food combinations, my mind drifted to roast pumpkin, then to polenta fries, and then back to pumpkin. Before I knew it, my brain had fused the two together and right in front of me was a scribbled and makeshift recipe for pumpkin polenta fries.

This recipe is an expansion of a simple pot of pumpkin puree, I had no real idea about what I was doing, or if it was going to work out- but that is how most of my creations begin! I added half a cup of milk and half a cup of polenta to the mashed equivalent of a small pumpkin, along with a knob of butter, a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. I wanted to harness the milk’s creaminess and the polenta’s absorption to create a firm mixture, the nutty flavour and texture was an added bonus!

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Spread into a thick slab on a cling-filmed baking tray, I resisted the urge to eat the mixture then and there, instead, enjoying the sweet scented steam while it cooled. The next day dragged on; all I could think about was the bright orange mixture chilling in my refrigerator. Alas, I knew that this was a necessary step for the mixture to hold its shape.

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That night, I sliced the mixture into thick fingers and carefully removed them from the tray. I coated them in flour with a hint of cayenne pepper, which I love because of the tingly warmth that it gives you.

Not one to ever deep fry anything, I oven baked them like my churros, at 180°C for 45 minutes, rotating them every 10 minutes. The timing on one oven is always going to differ from the next, so it is best to keep an eye on them and leave them until they are a shade that you find most desirable.

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Unlike your average Kiwi, I detest tomato sauce, so instead I served mine with a quick Greek yoghurt sauce- yoghurt, lemon juice and ground cumin. And then I ate them in bed; paradise.

 

adjectiveless chicken

The second task in my Will Write for Food challenge is about adjectives, or more accurately, a lack of adjectives. Many writers think that the more adjectives they cram into a piece of writing, the better it will be. The result is usually a flowery piece of writing with a lot of words, without very much substance. To avoid this, and to come to really understand the proper use of adjectives, this piece was originally written without any, afterwards I allowed myself to add in five where I thought they were most beneficial (oops I actually did six!)

How do you think I went?

Anyone who grew up in an anglophile home is going to have nostalgic memories of roast chicken, and I am no different. Since beginning my travels I have eaten roast chicken in many countries and in far more situations than a Sunday lunch on a winter’s day.

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Frango no forno is a perfect early evening meal served in Portugal; a series of lemon wedges artfully arranged along the edge of the plate and a scoop of fries nestled next to the glorious oven-roasted chicken. It may seem odd to serve fries as a standard accompaniment to roast chicken, but on any table on Britain you will find potatoes; either roasted, boiled or mashed, within an arm’s length of the stuffing and gravy – fries are just one more variation of a good old potato, offering a fluffy contrast to chicken’s crisp skin and moist flesh.

Since leaving Portugal I refuse to serve a roast without a dish of lemon wedges on the table, I often follow Jaime Oliver’s roast chicken recipe; a whole lemon in place of the stuffing inside the chicken’s cavity with a bunch of fresh herbs. The lemon’s juice keeps the chicken moist from the outside in, from the time in enters the oven until the time in enters your mouth. Not only are the lemon’s juices infused throughout the meat but the lemon’s flesh is infused with the flavours of your herb garden, the bitterness of the rind is cooked out and you are left with a tangy juice to add to your gravy or veges.