Feed by Various artists

17

Feast

by Gareth Renowden

For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept.

Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales

Christmas in the little village outside Llanelli where my mother was born would -- when I first remember experiencing it in the 1960s -- have made Dylan Thomas feel at home. A turkey so big that it wouldn't fit into the small oven in the kitchen would be taken to the bakehouse (run by a cousin) at the end of the row of tiny terraced houses, where it would sit surrounded by the birds of others, roasting slowly. A flock of Christmas dinners, to be accompanied by a field of roast potatoes, and a mire of salty gravy.

After being attacked by the assembled family, our turkey would be picked over for days, the carcass admired by the parade of Uncles and Aunts who would visit and pat the small boy's head, speaking a rapid lilting Welsh that I understood more by osmosis than by learning. And on Boxing Day there would be rugby; London Welsh versus Llanelli at Stradey Park, an Uncle giving me a nip of fiery spirit from a little bottle in his pocket "to ward off the cold".

It was an important bird that turkey. In those days, and in that working man's world of steel mills and tinplate factories, dank mines and stern chapel, it formed the centrepiece of the most significant family occasion of the year. It's not that no expense was spared, because expense was always something to be managed carefully, but financial prudence would not be allowed to stand in the way of a button-loosening Christmas dinner, even if in January there had to be a return to plainer fare.

That was where my mother learned how to make her Christmas puddings -- rich puddings that have to be made a year in advance and aged to arrive at a moist perfection -- where she started out on a lifetime of making mince pies that are now widely acknowledged as the finest in the world, even if the recipe has been refined over the years, and the latest version of her melt-in-the-mouth pastry derives from a 70's Josceline Dimblebyrecipe. It took Mum a couple of years after arriving in New Zealand to get back to peak pastry performance. It was the flour. Different. And making them in summer?

We celebrate a traditional Christmas. It is the one time of every year when our extended family gathers to sit around a big table and share a meal. And we eat turkey. But because Christmas is a season, and people come from around the country and from over the Tasman and don't retire to their own homes for Boxing Day, the bird is not the only meal. Over the last couple of decades we have evolved a sequence of meals that have become embedded in our own version of a summer Christmas.

So there's turkey on Christmas Days. Most years I will bone the bird and stitch it around a cylinder of souped-up sausage meat (add dried porcini, parmesan, a little Kaitaia Fire, perhaps juniper berries soaked in gin), cushioned from the flesh by a moist layer of mushroom and onion stuffing. It roasts without much fuss, and carving's easy. Each transverse slice delivers twin white crescents of breast cradling mushrooms and stuffing, and looks most impressive on the plate.

There will be leftovers. Some will be eaten cold with pickles, but the primary purpose of the bits of leg that nobody wants is to supply protein for a nasi goreng. The inspiration came from Rick Stein, to whom I have warmed in recent years. He did a "Christmas" nasi goreng on TV a few years ago, made with a Balinese spice paste and leftover turkey. (There's a non-turkey version in his Far Eastern Odyssey). I offered it to the family, it was eaten and enjoyed, and now I am told it has to happen every year.

The same thing happened when we put a pizza oven in the kitchen garden ten years ago. I had to make pizzas for everyone, for nieces and nephews and cousins and Uncles and Aunts, and now I have to do it every year. And then there is the pig.

The pig dates from a meal with friends in London before we left for New Zealand. It was cooked by a fastidious Islington foodie and served in the presence of an opera singer of ample appetite, and we who were about to depart for the other side of the world were left to consider if we were doing the right thing.

Forward a year: I cannot be doing with gas barbecues. One of the first purchases I made after arriving at our little farm in Waipara was a charcoal kettle barbecue, for that is what you need for the pig. That, and a boned, rolled, skin-on shoulder of pork. A whole shoulder will feed a lot of people, so I usually cut it in two and freeze a bit for future use.

What we eat is a version of southern barbecue pork. The Islington foodie obtained the recipe from a book by Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme, but there are many, many versions of "pork butt" in the southern US. Michael Pollan devotes a large part of his Cooked: A Natural History of Transformationto the subject, and I have no doubt that the version I cook is a bastardisation of the real thing. But it is delicious.

The key is the dry rub. This is a mix of paprika, sugar, cumin, chillies and cayenne pepper, mustard powder, salt and black pepper that should be rubbed into every surface of the shoulder, and then left for at least 12 hours. To cook, fire up your kettle, put the pork over a drip tray, add some wood chips for smoke, and then cook for at least 4 or 5 hours -- the longer the better. You want the pork to be pull apart tender.

To genuflect in the general direction of a New Zealand summer, the pork is accompanied by kumara baked around the meat for the last hour. There's a sauce too, from eastern North Carolina: white wine vinegar sweetened with brown sugar, simmered with thickly sliced cloves of garlic. Spoon this hot over the pork. There will be little in the way of leftovers.

The last meal in our seasonal sequence is ham on New Years Day. This was my parents' contribution, and until my father became too frail to manage the lifting, they always cooked their own ham - boiled in a brew that involved cider. But the signature element remains the same - my mother's version of a tangy, sweet and citrusy Cumberland Sauce that is the perfect accompaniment to fine ham.

Every family that feasts together will have some sort of tradition of favourite foods that must be eaten in order for the ties that bind to be refreshed. Food in this context has real emotional power and significance. We pay our respects to each other by bringing good food to the table, and honour the ingredients and the suppliers and the beasts that died by cooking with love and care. And then we do penance for the over-indulgence. This year, as last, it's a dry January. My liver will be pleased.

8

Food Show 2014: Not Bad

by Russell Brown

There are a number of things you can count on at The Food Show in Auckland. Among them: the stall immediately to the left of the entry to the hall is always a busy one. It's most people's first stop, and that was particularly the case this year with celebrity chef Simon Gault in attendance.

Gault got a good spot to tout his personally-branded stocks and rubs, but unfortunately really muffed the design of his stand. It was hard to see the products or tell what was in the tureens next to them, so Gault kept having to tell people, but it was hard to hear him if you weren't at the front of the crowd. I think there might have been a show special, but there was no signage about that either. As anyone will tell you, I'm always up for a nice rub, but I moved on in this case.

The flow wasn't particularly good in that corner in general. The nation of Korea was back again this year, with a bigger stand, but it didn't seem to work as well and they weren't getting many takers for what seemed to be a sushi-rolling competition. But the $2 bulgogi marinades were a bargain and, as ever, they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The first new thing I found that really impressed me was from a familiar source. The Pic's peanut butter people now sell a high-quality cold-pressed peanut oil for use in stir-fries and the like. It smelled and tasted very good indeed.

I like to taste interesting products I have no intention of really eating, and I'm glad I stopped at the Angel Food stand. They make "dairy free cheese alternatives", I tried their mozzarella (mock-zarella?) and parmesan products and while they were distinguishable from the real thing, they really were pretty good and I would happily recommend them to my vegan and lactose-intolerant friends. Also, the gentleman running the stand was rocking quite a classy mohawk.

Also of interest: the Be Nourished pickled products, most notably the red sauerkraut juice, which apparently you're supposed to have a shot of first thing in the morning.

Maybe I'd had too much chilli sauce already, but the curry-and-poppadums flavour from the Schoc chocolate folks didn't really do it for me. Their "chocolate salami" (nb: not actually salami) though? Amazing. The Food Show is the only time between now and Christmas they'll be selling them. I bought one.

In the things-that-actually-are-meat category, Taranaki's Green Meadows Beef was back this year. Your fancy, pricey wagyu is all very well, but it's not often I taste beef as savoury and delicious as Green Meadows'. I served my boy Jim burgers made with their patties last night and he was actually quite taken aback by the flavour. I also like that they're a genuine family business. You may detect a resemblance between father and son Michael and Nick Carey:

What kind of maniac lugs five different craft beers to a Food Show and runs the whole thing on his own? Stephen "Ben" Middlemiss of Ben Middemiss Brewing, apparently.

He's nothing if not an ambitious brewer and I was particularly taken with this beer, in which he'd conjured a background taste of something like cardamom solely out of the hop characters.

In a considerably more delicate vein, I also thought the Flora Tea products -- green tea leaves hand-tied with dried flowers into a "tea ball" -- were quite delightful. The tea is not cheap but it is perfectly delicate and beautifully packaged for sale and presented on the stand in large wine glasses (the visual appeal of the rehydrated, unfolding flower is a big part of the experience). The tea originally comes from Britain, where it has featured on BBC Dragon's Den and won a number of awards. The local people seem nice ...

There were some less appealing things at the Food Show this year, most of them in the third hall, which was host to not only various over-branded "miracle" foods and the shiny-faced, vaguely annoying people selling them, but an actual chiropractor and this, the saddest and most befuddling thing I saw all day ...

A whole lot of people huddled over Nespresso machines having a "Nespresso Moment" under instruction? No, me neither.

Anyway, it was eventually time to go (pesky day job) and I wasn't going to make the mistake I did last year of forgetting to go back to West Indies Spice Traders of Nelson. They're doing a good show special this year -- all five of their spicy sauces for $20 -- and were more than happy to convert that for me to a jar of their jerk seasoning plus three sauces for the same price. If you hang about and chat, Dave Phillips will essentially insist that you sample every sauce, twice if need be:

But I don't think I ate anything more delicious all day than my lucky lungua beef tongue taco from The Lucky Taco. And I'm not just saying that because they're lovely people. If you haven't tried their food before, you really should build it into your Food Show day.

38

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.

49

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?

53

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?