Monday, January 30, 2006


Barbara over at Winosandfoodies has tagged me for a meme, my first.

4 x 8 Meme

4 Jobs I've had..

Newspaper delivery girl
Slinging dough in a pizzeria
Mango picker
Brewing assistant

4 Movies I could watch over and over..

All together now.. Ameile!
The Red Violin
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Cinema Paridiso, Casablanca, Some like it hot, the odd couple.. vintage films in general.

4 Places I've lived..


4 Websites I visit daily..

Reference/scientific journals
Uni email

4 TV shows..

The Thirsty Traveller
Intrepid Journies
Iron Chef
Terra Nostra

4 Favourite foods..

Pasta e fagioli by Terese
Lobster bisque by Ma
Fried zucchini flowers by me
Pavlova with home-made passion fruit sauce by Tracy

4 Places I'd rather be..

Cooking with Ma or Terese.
Tramping. by the sea or on the mountain!
Glass in hand, under the olive tree with Zio Pasquale.
Up to my elbows in cheese curd in Piedmonte.

4 People to pass this on to..

Cream Puff in Venice
From the Branches of the Olive Tree
Wine W**ker

Thursday, January 26, 2006

L'ultimo baci

The last kiss..

It is official, the last of the Christmas candy is finally gone. (Well, almost, give me ten minutes). I wasn't going to buy any knowing full well that I'd be the one eating most of it. I thought it would be better to make a few decent meals instead. Thesis writing doesn't always lend to that kind of time but, according to my flatmates, I still do remarkably well.

Not going to buy any.. Yeah, that so didn't happen. I was making a quick trip to the supermarket and spotted (a damn good spot if I may say so) a little bag of Baci tucked into a large display of imported Christmas goodies. "Baci" means kisses and they are lovely little Italian chocolates by Perugina/Nestle.

To describe them as lovely is a little understating the fact. They are scrumptious little hazelnut truffle-like morsels with crushed hazelnuts throughout, a whole hazelnut on top and enrobed in dark chocolate. Enrobed. Not covered or dipped, enrobed.

Another neat thing about 'baci" is the little proverb writted on the inside of the wrapper.. like a small fortune cookie but better. Things like: "Perche parlare? Tutto l'amore si dice in un bacio." (Why talk? Love is spoken in a kiss.) Or, "Per cogliere tutto il valore della gioia devi avere qualquno con cui condividerla." (To get the full value of love, you have to have someone to share it with).

And my favourite.. "Quando una freccia e incoccata sull'arco, prima o poi bisogna scoccarla." (When the arrrow is primed on the bow, sooner or later it must be unleashed.)

All that and chocolate too.

Perhaps they should read.. "Ogni amore ha la sua pena." Meaning "Every love has it's pain." Until next year sweet kiss.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Tomatoes (and la via vecchiata)

Tomatoes are summers gift. After a long winter, I do long for insalata di pomodori. Tomato salad.  For my father-in-law, I think this likely reminds him of the days where this was the standard summer lunch.  Made with tomatoes, still warm from the sun, and herbs he used to carry back to the house after working in the garden from dawn.

For me, it's simple Nonna fare, comforting and, with a few easy additions, it can be a meal in itself.  A tin of tuna in olive oil, an anchovy or two, a feathery mozzarella di bufala or a few sliced bocconcini all add flavour and dimension to this salad.

How to make one? Easy as. Pour yourself and your dining companion a glass of wine. Nothing too tannic, I like a nice light Barbera or my father-in-law's homemade wine hits the spot too.  For white, a decent Gavi or a more mild Sauvy, perhaps? If you have some Ciro, perfect!

Go outside and pick some parsley and basil. And, if you are not blessed with a garden full of sun ripened pomodori, try to find some ripened on the vine and have everything else at room temperature.

Thinly slice half a red onion (unless chunky is ok) and rinse in a bowl. Then coarsely chop two or three beefsteak tomatoes over (to collect the juices) and into the same bowl. Salt the tomatoes and onion. Tear herbs and add to the salad. Sprinkle over with a little dried oregano. (Drying your own is easy too.. and can make a very pungent herb. It can be a little bitter too so don't over do it. A quick and light sprinkle is all you need.) Drizzle with a good quality olive oil.

Ok. The oil.

If you can get your hands on a good Calabrese or Sicilian, they are simply without comparison. I'll have to scout for some brands that may be imported as I don't know if there are many (or any) to be found in NZ. Maybe at a specialty shop or import distributor. Typical southern Italian oils made from Carolea and Ottobratico are personal favourites. They are the perfect condiment contributing warm and subtle, almost buttery nuances, to pasta and bean soups, minestra, and similar dishes. Some prefer the peppery Tuscan varieties which are good and very popular in New Zealand as are NZ grown oils (go Waiheke Island).  All good choices if the liquid sunshine from Southern Italy is unavailable.

Oops. Rewind back to salt.. Adequate salt is essential. And no vinegar.  This might dismay the vinegar aficionados but the tomatoes should have enough acidity to convince even the most die-hard balsamic or wine vinegar addict. It simply isn't necessary and tends to get in the way of the wine.

Deciding on the addition of tuna, anchovies, a hot red pepper or cheese? Tuna in olive oil is best. Just break up a little in the tin and add. Anchovies are better if scraped a little to remove bones and sliced into long pieces. If using a hot red pepper, make sure all are aware of its presence and slice as you wish. Cheese is not a typical addition but can be used in or placed on the side. Mozzarella di bufala is perfection. Remove from the brine and set aside to temper before tearing/slicing. Usually reserved for insalata caprese, which is its signature dish, or pizza margherita, this mozzarella is sublime but regular cows milk bocconcini could be substituted if that's your preference.

Then all that is left is to gather are the essentials: a loaf of good bread (to tear and dip in the juices) another glass of wine, the bottle, and your dining companion. Take everything out to the patio and mangia!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Russian Jack Pinot Noir

Yell it from the rooftops! Under $20 Pinot Noir.

Ok. We know the typical price point for decent Pinot. And I know I generally prefer something a little more substantial. I've read reviews where this wine gets a bit of abuse for being too light to serve as a the lone Pinot Noir offering on a restaurant wine list. Ok. Fair. But at this bargain.. let's focus on the beauty of diversity.

I do love Pinot Noir, in all it's forms and interpretations, throughout this great wine country. I've been from one end to the other, had my socks blown off by some of the Central Otago Pinot, have stashed away a few of the robust (and pricier) renditions up in Marlborough (I buy a bottle or two from Herzog's everytime I'm there), and should have saved some of the fine Nelson Pinots. I think Nelson was where it really started to grow on me but the affair was sealed in Martinborough.

Martinborough. A different style again. Although I love South Island Pinot Noir, especially fond of Central and Waipara and very impressed with the class of Nelson Pinot, many of my favourites are still from Martinborough mostly because it suits the food I like to cook.

When I am mentioning this overseas, I am still amazed at people who think, probably because New Zealand is a relatively small country, that there is no discernable difference in the wines from region to region. And all this in the days of the newest wine trend "terroir". I even read a quote (by someone I thought was a rather learned fellow) that said "Canterbury, that's close enough to Central Otago isn't it?"

Maybe he was joking. I hope so.

So back to the matter at hand. And that was a light bodied 2004 Pinot Noir from Martinborough. From Burnt Spur to be exact. Their second tier Pinot is a nice fresh drop of ripe dark cherries and plum. Balanced, the acidity is still in hand of the light tannins. Colour-wise, it is light ruby and with some wild berry, mossy components and faint tobacco/milk chocolate on the nose, it's savoury enough. Combined with the fruit characters coming through, it will certainly compliment appetizers of mushroom pastries. dishes of game meat (preferably a lighter treatment), and a nice aged cheddar.

It was a nice choice for a dinner of mushroom risotto.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Joe's Garage

Sometimes the best cafe or restaurant formula is to keep it simple. And at Joe's Garage, they do.

With maybe 21 blackboard menu items in the area of fantastic little (to LARGE) breakfasts, salads and Joe's Sticks (Baguettes filled with an array of tasty combinations), juices and coffee, Joe's menu is no mystery. Nor is the preparation. Everything is done behind a standard diner style counter with front row seating, if that is your thing.. or you can order and retreat to the back patio overlooking a little river and the stone bridge in Queenstown.

I prefer front row, mainly because I am solo and do not wish to take up space that could be enjoyed by the couple chasing around the cute little guy in the orange jumper. Also, it gives a first look at the prep area. When I can, I do. It is clean. And organized. Has to be, it is 8am in a small space with 5-6 people doing a well choreographed routine to get the "sweetie" (egg and bacon on a bun) and the piklets and cream out to a stream of hungry diners, replace dishes, and fill the endless number of take away coffee orders.

Did I say service was fast? There are no numbers to take to your table here. I reckon that by the time you did your food would be there anyhow. I got some juice and figured I'd be getting another by the time my "sweetie" arrived. How wrong I was, I barely got the lid off.

And coffee. Joe's carries coffee from Cafe L'Affare (Wellington) and even though my latte turned up looking suspiciously like a cappuccino.. ah well. It tasted great. The place to go for a fix the morning after the night before, coffee rescue indeed. I have issues with coffee, as per previous post, but can enjoy Caffe L'Affare because they sponser Coffee Kids, a non-profit organization whose projects provide alternative employment options in impoverished coffee growing regions.

My "sweetie" was great. Not greasy, I mean it IS bacon and egg, but hadn't taken a swim in cooking oil. The bun it was served on was also good. I have had hit and miss with bread in similar cafes but this was crisped up nicely with an appealing slightly cracked outer crust and a not too light interior. Served with a chutney and herbed mayo on the side (yay!!) I could decide if I liked the accompaniments before slathering them on my sweetie.

Place: Joe's Garage
Address: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Camp Street, Queenstown
Opinion: Fills the gap, albeit with the familiar, which in the morning.. is just what I was after. Great coffee and FAST!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Happy New Year

What a long time it has been.

It feels like I have been gone forever and it has only been a few weeks. And some of that a little longer than I expected. I have been away tramping in Fiordland and got held up in the big rain. But what a trip it was.

Not wanting to let a little flu bug stop me, although it certainly curtailed my tasting aspirations due to lack of functioning tastebuds, I hiked the Dusky Track. A crazy 7 day adventure through some of the most remote wilderness NZ has on offer. And it was fantastic. Not sure if the dehydrated tramping meals warrant a post but the little bit of cheese and wine tasting I managed in Queenstown and en route to Dunedin after the sinuses cleared just might.

Hope Everyone rang in the New Year with family, family and food!

All the best for 2006!