Sunday, November 30, 2008

Third anniversary cheesecake

Another year here at la tavola has passed. So just recently, we had a little impromptu 3rd anniversary party.

A. Dessert. Party.

Nothing over the top, just some sweet little bites, a cookie tray and one large pumpkin cheesecake with some whisky scented cream. All washed down, of course,with espresso and a little liqueur.

What good is cake is you can't share it with those that inspire and motivate you? So, I'll post more on the cake soon. For now, here is a photo of Alexandra taken earlier this year. The view is from THE clock that I photographed on la tavola's 2nd anniversary. You can see the Shaky Bridge Café and William Hill vineyard immediately below as well as the Manuherikia River leading to the mighty Clutha. Across the latter is the main street of Alexandra wines, Earnclueugh Road.

Alexandra is a gorgeous town and I highly recommend anyone travelling in the area not to by-pass this nugget of Central gold. If you're headed that way, I'm more than happy to pass on any info from tips on where to eat, the wonderful wine, the characters who grow it and the fabulous walking/biking trails.

Grazie mille for joining me at la tavola for another year!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Fish and Chip Friday

Every so often, I get that craving. Yes, for fried food of a convenience variety. But not for greasy international chain pizza, not for burgers of the see-through type, not for buckets of chicken and/or fried bits that are made from chicken (or fish) but are named for parts that neither of these species possess. No commercial takeaway will suffice.

Only the local fish and chip shop will do.

Fish and chips, in theory, are quite a simple thing to make, but they are something I typically leave to the experts: those with years of beer batter know-how and a ready source of fresh fish. I had a great-uncle who used to own the best takeaway EVER. The batter he used was possibly the best I've ever had, I was a teenager and it was THE business. Never mind the amount of coaxing that acompanied my first fish and chip encounter (I was four and sad as it seems now) - a cheeseburger was the only thing I could be persuaded to eat.

And while I appreciate good battered fish, no one makes crumbed fish like mum does. Ok, fair to say that the takeaways in Waikouaiti run a close second.. anyway, since I am near to neither, I'm having to do it myself.

I do it her way and organise my prep area for easy frying.. 3 oblong bowls containing seasoned flour, the next with a beaten egg and the last half full of seasoned, herbed breadcrumbs (sometimes a little cornmeal). These (oh, and some fresh local fish) are all you need.

Peanut oil is my fish frying fat of choice and since I am sans deep fryer, I pan fry in an inch or so of oil in a straight sided skillet. When the oil reaches 190C, working quickly, I dust one fillet with flour and immediately into the egg followed by the breadcrumbs. A thermometer works wonders for getting and keeping this temperature spot on. At 190C, the fat is just hot enough to cook one inch thick, haddock in my case, fillet in the time it takes to brown nicely.

Place the crumbed fillet gently into the oil and fry until deep golden around the edges. Flip gently using a spatula to avoid splashing the hot fat. You can cook two at a time but don't overcrowd the pan and make sure the temperature doesn't drop too low. Keeping the frying temperature up is important to achieve that undeniably delicious combination of crisp crumb and moist fish. And best of all, there's no waiting to get home to eat them.

Serve with chips or wedges and your favourite beer.



November 21st was International Fisheries Day. Here's what Canada is doing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

brutti ma buoni

Ugly but good.. are cape gooseberries, Physalis peruviana or what are also commonly called ground cherries. I like to eat them as is or in a fruit salad. They also made for a unique garnish on my pumpkin cheesecake and, if you are bored with the same old slice of lemon, physalis look (and taste) great on the edge of a cocktail glass.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cauliflower risotto

While cauliflower seems an unlikely suspect (read: beige and boring) for a risotto, it is a very tasty addition.  I was reminded of this while browsing Jamie's Italy on-line the other day and decided to use up the latest harvest for this very purpose: Mr. Oliver's recipe for cauliflower risotto

For variation, I have added a little roasted cauliflower for a deeper flavour and have tried using a Romanesco cauliflower, as the recipe suggests, with good results as well.  For the pangrattato, please make it.  I know the ingredients are a seemingly odd combination of strong flavours but, sprinkled over this risotto, they provide a burst of umami in every bite.  Depending on your chilli preferences, add them to taste.  My chilli plant is quite firey so I eased up on them a bit but still used enough to get that earthy chilli flavour essential to a pangrattato.  If you aren't into heat, try using less, combined with the anchovies it is pleasantly pungent but not over the top hot.

Risotto is a seasonal favourite in the cooler months.  It complements all autumnal vegetables and its creamy consistency makes the perfect comfort food.  Despite cauliflower's 'reputation' for being difficult to grow, I have managed (huzzah) and, this year, grown some prime specimens.  Happy days.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Vendemmia 2008

It isn't about making an award winning wine or competing with any commercial offering.. it's about tradition. The grape harvest and making of the years wine was, and still is my husband's favourite time of year.

He graduated from form to form in the school of home winemaking under the close and watchful eye of his father and uncles. After keeping the bees and wasps at bay as a youngster, he was soon designated to the task of opening the cases of grapes. A few years older and stronger, he carried cases (36-42 lbs) to the crusher and later, proudly helped out with the turning of the torchio (the press).

Nowadays homewinemaking shops abound. You can find wine kits and sterilised juice from all over the winemaking world.. bring the juice to temperature, pitch some yeast and ecco fatto!

But what do we do?

We keep the tradition. We get up very early. There are a few growers around that will allow the harvest of your 'own' grapes (there are also many that will allow you to participate in their harvest) for home winemaking, so we make a few trips to the vineyards over the course of the year and again to pick up the grapes. Then the all day business of crushing, pressing the white grapes (riesling this year) and destemming (by hand) the remaining red begins.

Depending on the weather, the next few days (as the must comes up to temperature) can be somewhat distressing as we make more wine than is logistically possible for us to handle with any real control. We are at the mercy of Baccus and hope that San Martino sends us some manageable weather.

It is a bizzare ritual of worry taking a few weeks to finish. Grapes are pressed midway and the skins saved for, well, that's another post.. Once fermentation is complete, the crude wine is racked (clarified by transferring to clean vessels - demis or carboys) and placed in the cantina. Then it undergoes much the same process as in any biodynamic winery, rackings only proceed when the moon is favourable.

As I write, my nails and fingertips are still faintly purple.. but will likely post this closer to, if not after, San Martino, the Feast of the New Wine.


October 6, 2008

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A gift.

Pohutakawa Branch Showing New Growth by P. Hutchinson.

Blood and blood product transfusions are often required by cancer patients to replace crucial components of the blood when they are either lost, not being produced in sufficient quantity or at all. When it comes to cancer, this can be due to the disease or the treatment.

Depending on the type, cancer can cause internal bleeding which can lead to anaemia (too few red blood cells). Forms of the disease that start in or spread to the bone marrow (overtaking the normal blood-making cells) and those that affect organs involved in keeping enough cells in the blood, such as the kidneys and spleen, also increase the need for transfusions.

Most cancer treatments and their side effects impact blood producing cells. Blood loss from surgery may require red blood cell or platelet (blood clotting agent) transfusions. Chemotherapy drugs stress cells in the bone marrow to the point where levels of white blood cells and platelets are so low that the patient is at risk for serious infections or bleeding. Likewise, the large doses of radiation (particularly that given to Marrow Transplant patients) destroys the blood-making cells and lowers blood counts.

While there are drugs that can treat anaemia in cancer patients, they pose another set of risks, are expensive and generally don't work very fast. It may take weeks for blood cells to return to normal or, at least, acceptable levels so that treatment can begin. A half hour of your day to donate blood makes a difference.

This is hoping that people who think that they have nothing to give, give the gift of life.

Australian Red Cross
New Zealand Blood Services
Canadian Blood Services

Google Blood Services in your area for local services and donation locations.

Thank you.
The Pohutakawa or Christmas Tree is a New Zealand icon. The painting titled Pohutakawa Branch With New Growth is another courtesy of Paul Hutchinson of Taranaki. I like the symbol of the Pohutakawa for this post because of its well-known ability to maintain its hold in the most precarious of positions (National Heritage Collection) and particularly this painting showing the beautiful, pale green leaves of new growth. Until we can make cancer history, both symbolise what I hope for everyone battling this disease: the ability to hold on and the opportunity for a new beginning free of cancer.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Whenever I think of piselli (poiselle in dlalect) or peas, I'm always reminded of a prof at University who told a story about one of his summer jobs at a large frozen veg producer working on a line processing frozen peas. Peas are light enough to be transported through the process on a bed of air. Until the line has a problem and you are wading knee deep in the vegetable world equivalent of little green marbles.

Commercially frozen veg, peas especially, are processed so quickly after harvest nowadays that they are of really good quality. Spring peas, like everything else, are at their best when fresh but since we have so many and they are easy to freeze, that's what I do. And I use most of my stash this way, adding them to stews or soups. This is not a quick soup (it takes half the day) but can also be made, as convenient, over two days. Starting quite early in the morning, it will be wonderful by teatime.

Like this:

Go to your local butcher and get a smoked ham hock (bone in). Place it in a saucepan (6L), cover it with water and cover the pot. No salt required, there should be plenty in the ham. Proceed to cook the tar out of the ham, or at least until it is springy to the touch. This could take a few hours, mine usually takes almost 4. Once boiling, I reduce the flame to a low simmer and add a few celery stalks, a couple of quartered carrots, a halved onion, a few cloves of garlic, a small bunch of parsley, a bay leaf or two and some black peppercorns. Don't fuss about these veg, just rinse them, chop to fit and add them to the pot. They get strained out anyhow.

This stock is also very good for pumpkin or squash soups too. Almost anywhere you'd add pancetta or bacon to the soffritto, you can use ham broth alone or along with chicken for a milder flavour.

Once the stock is ready (that is, the ham hock is tender enough that the meat will easily peel away but not yet disintegrating), drain it and set the strained broth in the fridge for about an hour or so (or overnight). After cooling, skim off any fat that separates. This step is only necessary if you care to remove the fat. There usually isn't heaps but as I like to serve the soup with a drizzle of olive oil, I generally remove it.

Place the stock back in the rinsed saucepan, reserving about 2 cups.

Chop or shred the ham meat and set aside. You can do this while the peas are cooking.

Place 3 cups of frozen peas in the broth and allow to cook until quite mushy. Once peas are cooked, purée them with an immersion (or stick) blender. It will still be quite liquid so watch out for hot splatters.

In another small saucepan, sauté a finley diced shallot or small onion in a little olive oil. When softened, add the 2 cups reserved stock and cubed carrot and potatoes. Cook until veg are tender. Remove all but half the potatoes and set aside. Continue cooking remaining potatoes until stock is reduced considerably (keep a close watch not to burn) to the point where the stock darkens slightly to a light amber colour and becomes very thick and sirupy. Add a few tablespoons of white wine to deglaze and add all to the peas and purée again. Then add the cooked cubed veg and the chopped or shredded ham.

This two step cooking of veg and reducing some stock is time comsuming but makes a flavour base that is worth it. However, that's just my preference. After a taste, you can opt not to do this and add all veg to the pea mixture choosing either to blend the lot (or not). I like the consistency that one puréed potato adds to the soup and the contrasting chunky veg and ham.

Finally, reheat soup throughly, add some fresh ground black pepper and taste for salt/seasoning. A little salt might be added if you think its necessary. When serving, drizzle the soup with a little good olive oil and serve with thick cheesy toast.

Enjoy with a crisp Italian white, possibly a Chardonnay or even Pinot noir..