Feed by Various artists


Fulminating and fermenting

by Russell Brown

Longtime readers of this site may be aware of my occasional bursts of fulmination about overhopped stunt beers -- and my calls for New Zealand craft brewers to produce more sessionable brews in the classic best bitter style I think suits life in New Zealand. I might as well have been shouting into an empty fermenter for all the difference that made. Until now ...

I was approached a little while ago with an invitation to conceive of and oversee my own own "Media Brew", to be brewed and presented at this year's Beervana in Wellington. So I said, yes, I would very much like to make a delicious best bitter with a malty base and sweet heathery tops, much like, say Fuller's London Pride, Emerson's Bookbinder or Galbraith's Bellringer.

I was paired up with the North Shore's Deep Creek Brewing, who make beers for their own bars from a facility in Silverdale. Last week, I went up to meet my personal brewer, Hamish Ward, and oversee the brew.

Hamish, I discovered, is a Public Address reader, and thus a very nice chap. He is also a scientist, and when his biotech research project for Fonterra lost its funding a while ago, he accepted an offer to bring his considerable home brewing expertise to Deep Creek. He also brought along his home brewing kit, which was what we used to make our 100 litres of bitter.

Before you ask (and because people already have), the two tanks on the left are hot water cylinders, and the smaller of them supplied the mash tun, where the grains and malt were heated.

During that process, a fine mesh gravity filter separated the grain from the liquid, which ran into this little steel box.

When Hamish deemed that process to have run its course, the liquid was redirected into the kettle, where it boiled for a couple of hours, to ready it for the fermenter.

I had never realised that hops can be added to the kettle at various times in the process -- from the beginning of the boil to the very end -- depending on what role the brewer wants them to play, and whether they're there for flavour or aroma.

While this was going on, we progressed to a very important duty: a preliminary tasting for our special ingredient. The Media Brew rules dictate that a uniquely New Zealand ingredient must be used. We agreed on manuka, but rather than try and incorporate manuka in the actual brewing process -- which would deliver a nasty result if it didn't go well -- Hamish recommended we use a manuka flower tincture made by Justin from Zeffer Cider, who share a building with Deep Creek.

This is Justin, who takes his work seriously.

The tincture was fascinating. Straight out of the bottle it smelled like nothing so much as aniseed, but added to our test beers, it came up strikingly differently in each concentration we tried (1ml, 2ml and 2.5ml per litre), and reacted differently with each of the two beers. Hamish and I agreed that at 2.5ml there was too much of the medicinal scent of manuka -- too much of the stunt beer I didn't want to make. But at 2ml, the flowery esters came up in a nice balance with the malt -- the manuka was less a flavour than a potentiator of other flavours.

At that point, I had to head back for town but in a week or two I'll return for the final, crucial tasting, where we will make the call on how muchmanuka to finish with. I gather the fermentation is going well, although the cold temperatures have been a little bit of an issue. I have every confidence that we will be able to finish off a delicious beer suitable for enjoying in pints with yer mates, at a strength of 4%-4.5%. If you go to Beervana, please do try it and let me know what you think.


A scientist researches restaurants

by Bart Janssen

Last week, a friend put together a Venn diagram which collated the restaurant reviews for Auckland by the Cuisine good food guide, the Metro magazine Top 50  and the top 50 restaurants listed for Auckland by TripAdvisor.

Yeah, my friends are geeky scientist food lovers too.

Now let’s be clear: I am well aware that I’m very lucky to be at a stage of my life where I can afford to eat out at some of these restaurants more than once. Most of these establishments will cost upwards of $100 per person for a night out. Add to that some wine from their extensive lists and, well, let’s just say it’s a serious spend-up and you better be having a good time.

For me it’s an easy call, because eating food with friends is one of my favourite things to do. My 50th birthday consisted of going to Melbourne and eating at top restaurants four nights in a row – by which time even I was starting to crave a simple meat-and-three-veg dinner with nothing remotely resembling a foam or smear.

So for me, Soon’s Venn diagram is useful. It reminds me of places I’ve wanted to get to sometime and some of those that I really want to visit again to try more of the menu. But it also made me think about how I choose places to eat.

A significant part of the fun of eating out for me is the anticipation. I like to read the reviews and try and figure out from the obscure coded language reviewers use whether I will actually enjoy the meal. I want to know if the restaurant will cater for the likes and dislikes of my dinner companions. I’m geeky enough to want to know about the chef’s philosophy: why they cook, what they cook, the way they cook it.

But sometimes I also just want to try that place I saw as we drove past last weekend. “Cazador has been revamped, so should we finally actually try it?” and “look, the place that used to be Bowman’s has changed hands again (now Bolaven, apparently the name of a plateau in Laos) -- should we check it out?”. And yes, sometimes the choice amounts to what is on the way home.

“Cheap and cheerful” is sometimes hard to find. Often the equation is half right, which to be fair, is better than the “expensive and great” being half right. There are cheap eats guides around: Metro cheap eats  and cafe guides are good and so is TripAdvisor with the appropriate filters .

But a problem with cheap and cheerful places is that they can change very quickly if a chef or front of house changes so perhaps the best way to find them is a recent recommendation from someone who has the same taste as you.

I admit to looking at food porn and sometime producing some myself. As a side note I’m in favour of taking photos of beautiful plates of food. I figure if the chef has made the effort to make it pretty, why wouldn’t I take a photo, just like I’ll take a photo of a canyon or a castle (no flashes though)?

On Twitter, I follow some foodies, a chef or two and the odd front of house person. I read blogs like Eat Here Now , Jesse Mulligan’s blog and these five sisters who make me feel very old.

All of which makes me feel like I might be a bit obsessed. That’s not a bad thing though, is it? So how do you folks choose where to eat when you want a night out?


Meals for Me

by Russell Brown

The most piteous image of a life which has had more than its share of awkward moments was related in Paul Goldsmith's admiring biography of Don Brash. You know what I'm going to say: the loneliness of the long-distance corned beef. Ruth Laugesen recalled it in the Star Times when she met Brash after another marital setback:

Brash boils the jug and makes cups of instant coffee. The last time he was living on his own was in 1985, after his 21-year marriage to Erica Brash broke up in the wake of his intense affair with Je Lan, whom he of course later married.

Biographer Paul Goldsmith painted a depressing picture of those days, of a small Glenfield flat and a man awash with guilt. Every fortnight or so Brash would cut up a slab of corned beef into portions. And each night he would put on a pot of peas, his dinner plate with two slices of frozen corned beef resting on top. By the time the meat was defrosted, the peas were cooked.

This time, the surroundings are more luxurious. Some things don't change, however.

Brash is back eating corned beef. "I like it," he says.

He probably likes that instant coffee too.

I'm one of those people who is more comfortable cooking for 20 people than four; less of  a chef and more of a caterer. I genuinely enjoy  the process of preparing a mountain of food for a crowd of friends. But once a week, on Mondays, I am faced with making dinner just for one.

Half the family is at Film Society every Monday and the remaining member scorns our neurotypical human food. So I can please myself. There are several thing to consider here.

One is that I don't want to be making a whole lot of mess for myself to clean up. Not that I don't clean up after myself, but it feels a bit stupid making work for myself in the circumstances.

Another is that it's a chance to eat things the rest of the family don't like. My darling is not a great fan of steak, and responds glumly to the sight of any meat with even a hint of blood about it.  And no one else in the household likes fresh salmon (I know, right?). Either, with a little side of potatoes and greens, is a delight.

But there are also times (quite a few of them lately) when you want to spend as little as possible in the way of effort or money. I freeze single-serve leftovers of curry and serve them over some microwaved rice from a sachet. That's a perfectly fine dinner, as is a homemade tomato sauce fetched out of the freezer and served on some pasta.

Some of the best dinners-for-me are the result of haunting the aisles of Farro Fresh, looking for near-dated specials. I got some venison shortloin there a few weeks. It's normally as much as $90 a kilo, but I found a generous piece for $12 and it was incredible.

Tonight, I shall be dining on duck cassoulet. No, I'm not making it. I bought it in a single-serve 350g jar from Farro, marked down from $14 to $7.99 as an introductory special for the new line Labeyrie from France. Officially, it's Cassoulet au Canard du Sud-Oest.

I will tip it into a nice little Temuka dish I got for a couple of dollars at Avondale Markets, put a breadcrumb crust on the top and heat it in a hot oven while I cook some green beans. I will fancy myself to be quite flash when I eat it, and then I will watch Native Affairs on the television.

But of course, I only do this once a week. Things might be different if it was this way every night, like it was for poor Don Brash. I don't think I could bear eating the same thing every night. Would I actually cook all the time? Or would the takeaway seem too alluring? I dunno. What do you guys do?


Grandpa's Kitchen

by Russell Brown

A huge dog-leg of a section,  2 Saulbrey Grove, off White's Line West in Woburn, is the largest remaining piece of the old Saulbrey family farm and the site of the magnificent red-brick house built by my grandfather, Jack Saulbrey. When I used to visit as a child, it had the most extraordinary vegetable garden. 

Grandpa Saulbrey's trade as a brickie was not only manifest in the house. The back garden was dominated by a big raised bed built in brick and a large glasshouse where the vines would be heavy with tomatoes for much of the year. The fencelines were planted and in the far corner of the yard the chooks pecked and squabbled in a pen. 

As I've written before, Grandpa suffered great sadness in his life, losing a wife and a daughter in terrible circumstances. It was when his second wife began to slip away that he occupied himself more and more not just with the garden but with preserving its produce. He pickled all sorts: cucumbers, betroot, the lot. The cupboards were full of jars when he died. My mother disposed of most of them. He was never very fussy about properly sterilising the jars, she says.

He was also infamous for his garlic sauce, which contained a goodly helping of chillis from the garden too. We don't think of his generation (he was born in 1911) as having had much truck with such things, but Jack did. Apparently when he had the garlic sauce on the go you could smell it from the end of the street. (I've transcribed the recipe in his exact words below --- the "Ian" mentioned is my father. I might have a go.)

His dream kitchen wasn't what we'd build today. It was small and quite dark, although the ceiling was high. In place of a table there was a diner-style booth. Proper meals were had in the living room next door.

I remember chickens hanging in the kitchen, and the time he greeted us off the plane and told me he'd made rabbit gumbo for me. I'd never had anything like the gumbo, but it was magic and I loved it. Mum recalls the perpetually unruly pressure cooker and Grandapa's old-fashioned habit of boiling cabbage along with the corned beef and how bad that smelled, but not as bad as the fish-head soup, which no one else ever ate.

But it was the tomatoes more than anything by which I recall him. The powerful, fresh, hoppy smell inside the glasshouse, the ones I'd pick fresh and the ones he'd endlessly bottle and serve. The red of the tomatoes and the bricks and the family's ginger locks all blend now together, into the colour of memory.


Jack Saulbrey's Infamous Garlic Sauce

Half a gallon of vinegar

2lb of treacle

Half an ounce of cloves

Half a teaspoon of ground ginger

Half a pound of sugar

Two and a half ounces of chillis

Half a pound of garlic

Two large onions

2lb of apples

Mince garlic and onions and cover with the other ingredients, stand overnight

Boil one hour or perhaps a little longer

Strain through Ian's underpants and add a small bottle of Worcester sauce (not necessary)

Strain again

Put in empty whisky bottle -- or throw out window. Which is it?

(Good for a hangover -- two gulps and you'll never have another one)


Saints Preserve

by Russell Brown

My best rationalisation for not being a gardener is that our sloping 1950s Point Chev section is not really suitable for vegetable gardening. Which doesn't mean that food does not grow in it. We have established fig, feijoa, cherry guava and grapefruit trees (Why couldn't it have been a lemon tree?! Why?!). And this year, for the first time, our olive tree is bearing meaningful fruit.

I've had a crack at drying both the figs and the feijoas in the past, but the cheap food dehydrator I bought at Briscoes simply could not fulfill its stated purpose, no matter how long it sat in the porch sounding like a jet engine. So what I've mostly done is eat and give away the figs, eat a few feijoas with breakfast and watch most of the rest fall on the grass.

But this year, things have been different. It started with the figs. After a small, early crop last summer, we had the best season yet. Like this, lots:

Week after week, I went out onto the deck in the morning, picked a couple of fresh figs and sliced them over my muesli. I took them to parties and gave them to friends. And still there were more. So I thought, well, instead of giving someone else a bucketful to make chutney or pickled figs (not recommended -- they look like something floating around in a specimen jar) I'd make a damn chutney myself.

It didn't turn out to be a particularly cost-effective exercise, given that I not only had to buy ingredients but preserving jars, but it was a bit of a revelation. I'd always thought that I wasn't a preserving person. That preserving would be like baking, where you can't afford to freestyle it if you want it to work.

Turns out that although there's the odd tricky bit, you can get your groove on and you can freestyle your preserving. I figured the recipe I used could do with a bit of chilli. It worked! The chutney is bloody delicious, especially with roast free-range pork.

Thus emboldened, I got out the ladder on Sunday and scratched around for an hour getting every ripe guava on the guava tree. Which turned out to be quite a few:

And, lo, as per this nectar recipe, it turned into three of these one-litre bad boys:

I had a little tequila in the cupboard, so I celebrated close of play on Monday by pouring tequila, guava nectar and sparkling water over some ice and drinking it. And then, for the sake of science, performing the experiment again. Eureka! I'm a bloody genius.

On Sunday I also turned to the olives. Although our tree had fruit, I could see that the project really needed access to the bigger bounty hanging over the neighbours' wall and begining to drop on the footpath. So I popped across the road and introduced myself to the tenants, a young family. They happily agreed to my proposal that I harvest their olives and share some of the eventual bounty. Between ours and theirs, I got about 3.5kg of more-or-less ripe olives:

Naturally, I tweeted the picture and thus unexpectedly found myself in cordial online conversation with the Minister of Justice, who also, it turns out, has figs and olives and has been ruminating on their uses. She eventually declared I had "inspired" her, which will probably come as as much of a surprise to you as it did to me. I've promised to report back.

Anyway, the olives. I guessed that attempting to press them for oil would end poorly, but brining them is not difficult. It's just a matter of bruising the olives (I used a rolling pin, the bottom of a measuring jug and my bare hands), dousing them in a bucket with salted water (with a plate on top to hold them under the water) and changing the brine daily for, depending on who you believe, anything from 10 days to six weeks. It's actually pretty easy to tell whether the job is done. If it's not, your olives will taste really horrible.

When the olives are cured, I'll decide on how many I'll experiment with by adding chilli and other seasonings, but it all seems to be going quite nicely at the moment. I'm going to need to find some free jars.

Which leaves the feijoas. I don't really like them all that much, and I'm not sure I want to make a lot of feijoa jam, but the idea of, say, a sweet feijoa chilli sauce is most appealing. Anyone got a recipe?