Rich Dahl Soup with Tandoori Spiced Chicken

I’ve been flat out busy lately, working all day and looking after a new puppy at night, yes you heard right, a puppy! Meet Waffles the corgi (another pet named after food). She likes to eat, poop, pee on the carpet, eat, shred newspaper, bite ankles, bite socks, bite legs, bite hair, bite faces, eat, pee some more, chew hands, chew slippers, eat, bark when you get her dinner ready, bark if you look at her funny, bark if you don’t pay her any attention, howl in the middle of the night, eat coloured bark and sticks out of the garden, poop and vomit out coloured bark and sticks from the garden…oh and she sometimes looks really cute and gives me snuggles when she is sleepy. Don’t worry, I kinda knew what I was getting myself into after living with Gizmo the corgi for 5 or so years.

Sleepy Waffles
Sleepy Waffles

With all of my waking hours now being taken up by work and puppies it leaves little time for doing anything else. I keep a lookout for recipes that take minimal prep time but taste like you have looked after them all night. This dahl soup has been adapted from the book “What’s cooking, Vegetarian” by Jenny Stacey. It’s tasty, easy to prepare and one of the few recipes that Mrs. Foodie will willingly choose to make.

For the predators, the addition of stir-fried tandoori chicken takes it to the next level.

Serves about 6, takes less than an hour all up.

25g butter

2tsp crushed garlic

1 onion, finely diced

½ tsp turmeric

1 tsp garam masala

¼ tsp chilli powder

1 tsp ground cumin

2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes

1 cup dried red lentils

2 squirts lemon juice

1L vege stock

1 x 400ml can coconut milk

Salt & pepper to taste

Handful of chopped coriander leaf (cilantro) to serve

For 2 chicken breasts

4 Tb plain unsweetened yoghurt

2 Tb  tandoori paste

  •  If you are doing chicken, chop that now into ~1.5 cm cubes and mix with the yoghurt and tandoori paste. Refrigerate whilst you cook the soup.

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  • In large pot, sauté garlic & onions in the butter for 2 mins.

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  • Add spices, heat another minute.

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  • Add all other ingredients and simmer 20 – 30 mins till lentils are soft. I pressure cooked mine for 10 minutes.

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  • When the soup is almost ready (if pressure cooking, whilst you wait for the pressure to drop), heat a frypan with a light coat of Sunfield cooking spray.

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  • When hot, add the chicken and stir-fry till chicken is cooked (white) all the way through.

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  • Serve the dahl soup with chicken in the middle and a generous sprinkle of coriander.

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Compliments to Condiments

The best part of a meal for me is often not the main component but rather the accompanying sides and sauces, the toppings, the spreads, the dressings, the flavour bombs – the things that surprisingly a lot of people forget about. Many a time I have had under-seasoned food, a salad without dressing, meat without a sauce or a dry sandwich without mayo; well I say enough is enough!… it’s time for us to make a stand!… time to change the world!… make it better for the future generations!… Who is with me? Ehem, sorry I got a bit carried away, I really do like my condiments.
With a fervent passion for so many condiments it is not surprising that I may keep one or two around to spice things up. Mrs. Foodie and I had been noticing and attempting to ignore, a growing smell coming from the fridge… so were forced to do a clean out. This involves moving all of the contents into our spare (booze) fridge and chilly bin so the fridge could defrost. Whilst Mrs. Foodie did the wash down, I clambered around to see if I could find where the stench was coming from, a dead animal perhaps? Maybe a cabbage that had lost the will to live? Or the least preferred scenario was that one of my precious condiments had turned against me!

A typical scenario
A typical scenario

After this whole ordeal I’m pretty sure that the smell was just a blocked defrost drain hole. However it gave me a chance to sift through the ingredients clogging up the fridge, disposing of some whilst reminiscing with the long forgotten ones hiding behind the butter conditioner.

Kiwi Classic
Kiwi Classic

As a child I grew up with the usual basic condiments such as mayonnaise, mustard, tomato sauce and the occasional chutney that my granny had preserved. For me the treat of school lunches was the day I got to have luncheon or even better – salami with a slathering of Cerebos Tomato relish, in all of its tomatoey oniony, sugary glory. Good for meats and cheeses, rolls, sandwiches and burgers. Also good is its friend Piccalilli for corned beef sammies… oh yeah!

Indian pickle snack
Indian pickle snack

While we are on the subject of pickles, an Indian work colleague gave me some homemade lime pickle – fresh lime, chilli, fenugreek and a ton of salt… intense but really good. If I ever decide to make a full Indian banquet it’ll be one of my sides. As it stands I just have the occasional nibble at it as a snack, so whenever Mrs. Foodie tells me to throw it out I can tell her that I’m still using it.

Two mates on a steak-out
Two mates on a steak-out

If there’s one condiment you can guarantee is in everyone’s pantry, it’s good ol’ tomato sauce. I’m talking classic Watties for a saussie in bread; maybe a hickory smoked steak sauce for a piece of rump. It’s a key component in good ribs, makes a nice addition to a pizza sauce, I even had some on a Jersey caramel once – but that was a dare because I said it went with everything. Right now I have a collection of Tuimato (which has a whispering of Tui beer in it), Glasseye creek (smokey, treacley fruit flavours awesome on steak or add bourbon whiskey to baste ribs with) and Bacon Jam – yeah I know it’s not saucy but it is a bit tomatoey and has Bacon in it so it gets a mention just cause Bacon is awesome!

SAF condiments - we're getting serious now
SAF condiments – we’re getting serious now

As I said in “Who are you calling a jerky?”,the SAFs can throw down a mean braai. It’s no wonder I have claimed to be an honorary South African in order to get my hands on their barbecue secrets. No. 1 rule is if you have the time, cook with charcoal – ‘slow and steady wins the race’ as they say, Rule No. 2 always have a supply of fresh cold beer (duh obviously) which as well as refreshing the ‘tongmaster’ can be used to marinade or put out unwanted flare-ups. Rule no. 3 is to have the following two condiments: Braai salt, which adds salt and spice to the meat as it cooks and Mrs. Balls Chutney, put it on everything from rice to a metre long boerewors sausage! Special mention goes to Aromat, a maize based seasoning packed full of MSG and other flavour enhancing goodies… I don’t have it… should put it on the shopping list though…

Tip of the Asian iceberg
Tip of the Asian iceberg

Asian food is a big part of the New Zealand melting pot of cultures now, with pretty much every cuisine you could imagine being readily available – Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Mongolian, Korean, the list goes on. Many Asian condiments have become commonplace and a quick and easy way to zhuzh up any meal – soy sauce and sesame oil in a stir-fry, wasabi, pickled ginger and Japanese mayo on anything Japanese, sweet chilli sauce on everything. A few new ones that I think are pretty badass include; Sesame dressing –recommended for fish or salads and Sambal oeleck, an Indonesian salty vinegary chilli paste, put it on nasi goreng or anything needing a relatively mild chilli condiment.

Hot stuff baby
Hot stuff baby

Now If you want more than a mild kick of heat, you need to have a few chilli sauces in your arsenal. Tabasco or Crystal chilli sauces are the norm but I advise that you seek out some of the smaller players, who focus on flavour as well as heat. I’m really getting into chilli at the moment so picked up a couple from Culley’s; local guys whose flavoursome sauces range from mild to a 5 chilli ++ Carolina Reaper chilli infused beast! I add a few drops to everything I eat now… Interesting fact, the Carolina Reaper is the current holder of the Guinness World Record for Hottest chilli, with some peaking at over 2,200,000 Scoville Heat Units! (SHU is how chilli heat is measured). In comparison at the other end of the scale the well-known Jalapeño chilli weighs in at a measly 2500 – 10,000 SHU.

Allo allo allo, who av we got ere?
Allo allo allo, who av we got ere?

The British have passed down a number of unforgettable dishes through the generations and as a typical Kiwi mongrel with an English-Irish heritage I have had my fair share of the roast lamb with mint sauce combo or corned beef with a dollop of mustard. HP sauce is also distinctively British, the most popular ‘brown sauce’ for whacking on your cooked breakfast or chip butty. It is effectively a tomato sauce with Worcestershire sauce added to it and not surprisingly tasted almost as awesome as Worcestershire sauce itself. My guilty pleasure – drinking straight from a bottle of Lea & Perrins’…. yeah you heard me right! In fact I have been known to just snack away on condiments, a sprinkle of this… a swig of that… have I disgusted you yet? I haven’t of course mentioned the big two and most popular condiments in the world – Salt & Pepper, which are mandatory in any kitchen! Nuff said.

After my very odd topic of ramblings, I thought I would leave you with the final condiment stocktake from the fridge cleanout:

  • Yoghurt
  • 9 x curry pastes
  • Tamarind puree
  • 7 x jams / sweet sauces
  • 10 x chutney / relish
  • Tasti Passionfruit Pulp (shameless plug)
  • 8 x Salad dressings
  • 9 x tomato / chilli sauces
  • 3 x mustards
  • Pickled capers, olives (kalamata and hojiblanca), sundried tomato, green peppercorns, onions, jalapenos
  • Lemon & Lime Juice, fresh limes
  • Miso paste (awesome savoury flavour hit and soup base)
  • Garlic butter (half a tsp left… really want to just throw it out)
  • Pesto
  • 2 x Random unknown marinade / sauce / bacterial growth mediums
  • 2 x Gherkins (they were significantly different not to combine jars)
  • Wasabi, Japanese mayo, sesame dressing, pickled ginger.

A special mention goes out to the other random open containers of ingredients in the fridge clean-up – 3 x juices ‘cause one is not enough, wine, stock, pineapple pieces, 3 cheeses, portions of soup ready for lunch, 2 different baking yeasts probably out of date, super glue with a rubber glove glued to it, cheese and beer making supplies and random agar puddings from the Asian vege shop that Mrs Foodie wanted to try. Then I went to the pantry…. there are another 35+ condiments to go through in there… sigh.

If you have read this far then I take it you’re also a freak who loves condiments… I salute you!

Mmm a buffet
Mmm a buffet

Niue, August 2013 (Part 2) – Fish Anyone?

The majority of our meals were had on the main street of Alofi. I had heard great things about The Crazy Uga having the best fish & chips on the rock so went for dinner. Naturally I went for the aforementioned famous meal which was fantastic, always made more special being able to eat watching the sunset. Poor Mrs. Foodie on the other hand asked if they could do something vegetarian, the lunch menu looked ok but that was not available, “How about a fish burger minus the fish with salad and vege stuff in it”…. after checking with the chef, “That’s not possible”…. “What about a milkshake, that’s on the menu”…. “Sorry we are out of milk, no more coming in till the next cargo boat”…. “Hmm I guess just a bowl of fries then, grrr”. Well I did say my fish was good which almost made up for it.

Why what are you doing here Mr Crabs?
Why what are you doing here Mr Crabs?
Uga or Coconut Crab, local delicacy, very big, very expensive
Uga or Coconut Crab, local delicacy, very big, very expensive

The Washaway bar opens up only Sunday nights on Avetele beach, 5 mins south from our resort. The atmosphere looked great just after sunset, the locals whipping up burgers off a barbecue in a beach shack. As we approached the glow however it came to our realisation that again the only options were fish burger, chicken burger or beef burger. Knowing the lack of flexibility of these operations (and despite Mrs. Foodie offering to be a hunger martyr again) we decided to hastily retreat. In the process of making a quick exit in the dim lighting arrangement I manage to smash my shin on a park bench fixed into the concrete; my excessive manliness prevented me from showing any outward pain although my shin was telling me to arrange swift death.

Avatele beach, easy to get to, lovely place to swim.
Avatele beach, easy to get to, lovely place to swim.
Fish Balls
Fish Balls
Mr Octopus you look so white as if you've seen a ghost... or a giant Liam perhaps?
Mr Octopus you look so white as if you’ve seen a ghost… or a giant Liam perhaps?

We chose instead to go to Kai Ika which is currently rated number 1 of ~8 restaurants on Niue by Trip advisor and for good reason. Although the name of the restaurant suggests traditional fare, what you get is rather an interesting fusion of Italian and Japanese, the host Avi being Italian and having two Japanese chefs. I had an entrée of Moonfish carpaccio done simply with balsamic, olive oil dressing and grated parmesan. Very interesting flavours as I had not had moonfish before, a very dark red flesh looking similar to beef, maybe not quite my cup of tea though. Our host was interested to know what I thought of it and very kindly brought me some tuna sashimi with mustard and ponzu on the house, to compare… what a champion! We decided to have pizza to follow, I had the Niuean (fish, papaya and chilli) which was very good and uniquely flavoured. Mrs. Foodie finally found some decent vegetarian options (hooray!) with a vegetarian pizza. We enjoyed the food and the generosity of Avi as well as the background music of well-known songs sung in Italian, so much so that we came back again another night for a Japanese feast of sushi, sashimi and tempura which was equally as enjoyable. Avi also owned Avi’s Ark which is an ice cream parlour (boat) which is parked out the back of the carpark, unfortunately to Mrs. Foodie’s horror (ice creams’ biggest fan) , they were out of ice cream till the next cargo boat!

Off the beaten Vaiea Sea Track
Off the beaten Vaiea Sea Track
Wild east coast of Anapala
Wild east coast of Anapala

The best bet for vegetarian food is usually Thai or Indian; populations in the world who have to cater for a great number of consumers who choose vegetarianism as a life choice for religious reasons or whatever. Thankful we were (especially Mrs. Foodie) when strolling down main street, we smelt the aromas of rich spices emanating from a corner shop. Gills Indian Restaurant – we also decided to eat here two nights having multiple options that didn’t have to involve fish or other dead animals, though me needing to refuel on animal protein when I can, opted for beef/chicken options. In summary they were cheap and pleasant meals, not the best curries I’ve had but you can’t be too picky when it’s the only Indian food on the island.

Anapala chasm, freshwater source once reserved for royalty
Anapala chasm, freshwater source once reserved for royalty
Togo Chasm, home to beautifully vicious coral pinnacles
Togo Chasm, home to beautifully vicious coral pinnacles

There were a few other eateries we went to – Falala Fa had a bar/bistro feel and I had a great fish dish… so much great fish but hey, “when in Rome”. Mrs Foodie was looking forward to a delicious tropical fruit salad but there was no fruit available (none at the market and no boat!). We had an ice-cream and takeaway shop just down the road from Matavai resort but after visiting a half dozen times throughout the week at different times we never saw it open (sigh) so ended up raiding some convenience stores in Alofi so Mrs. Foodie could get her ice cream fix. There is a larger supermarket open during restricted hours although we did not visit.

The bar's open! So many buildings like this around the island that have been abandoned
The bar’s open! So many buildings like this around the island that have been abandoned
Gecko getting some resort food
Gecko getting some resort food

So in summary, in a week we managed to see some whales and swim with them albeit at a distance (I’m claiming it), we circled the ring road and explored down every possible sea track we could find- We ate at almost all available popular restaurants and visited just as many that could not be bothered opening. Niue has very limited food options, especially if the boat is late and especially if you have dietary restrictions but there are enough gems to find to get you through the week. Great place to go if you like fish, it seemed to be the only ingredient that was on every menu. As Mrs. Foodie and I sat through our last sunset (looking for whales) we realised how we had forgotten the woes of our hectic Auckland life, how we had slowed down to the pace of “The Rock”… I thought we could live there, maybe spend my days snorkelling and fishing, perhaps own a little vegetarian restaurant that would perhaps feature a fish dish if you were lucky… hmm why not.

Waiting for whales at sunset
Waiting for whales at sunset

Last words: Remember you are on island time, just go with the flow and relax if things don’t turn out the way you hope and if you feel like choosing off the menu a vegetarian burger with a milkshake, fruit salad and ice cream – just go for the fish & chips, it’s easier!

Niue, August 2013 – A Whale of a Time

I am fortunate enough to travel occasionally and be able to experience other sights, cultures and cuisines. Mrs. Foodie also has the travel bug and ensures that my work annual leave allowance never gets too big. I’ve never written about any of the trips so I am enjoying reliving the journey as I write this.

It’s always nice to leave the gloom of an Auckland winter and head to the islands where the tropical weather awaits. We have been to a few islands so thought we would go somewhere we had not been before; Niue was advertised as being something different and had the big draw card of being able to see and hopefully swim with whales. Niue is a raised coral atoll, surrounded by reef and absent of the sandy beaches typical of other tropical islands. There is no choice to go for less than a week because there is only one plane that flies in and out every Saturday!

View from Palaha Cave
View from Palaha Cave
Limu Pools, beautifully clear swimming... not many fish on the day
Limu Pools, beautifully clear swimming… not many fish on the day

I didn’t think there would be too many surprises with Niue, being an island in the Pacific, the cuisine is dictated by the limited food that is produced on the island and the majority of ingredients being imported when possible. The availability was worse than I realised, produce from the island was not in as great supply as I had thought (due to the limited number of farms still being run) and imported food was running low as the boat that brought it was running late. All this being said there were still some great eats and hidden foodie treasures to be found.

We stayed south of the capital Alofi in the region of Tamakautoga at the Matavai Resort. It was a very well presented place, lush gardens and a deck with a beautiful sunset view, perfect for whale watching whilst sipping on a cold beverage. We ate at the resort for one night, which had a couple of vege options for Mrs. Foodie and the usual resort foods like steak etc for me, pleasant enough but nothing to write home about (considering resort pricing).

The cracker view from Matavai resort.
The cracker view from Matavai resort.
Happy hour
Happy hour

Deciding to venture away from the resort on the other nights, we found plenty of options advertised in local food guides, the majority of them in Alofi and a few scattered throughout other villages. Many of these are family run establishments offering traditional fare in the form of a buffet and often with a cultural show. The problem with being on island time and very small population (only ~1300) meant that the restaurants did not always open when was advertised. I called a place that only opened a few days a week and although trying throughout the day that it was meant to be open, I could not get through to anyone… sigh!

Wickedly deep chasm full of interesting corals and fish, ocean swell replenishing from the back
Wickedly deep chasm full of interesting corals and fish, ocean swell replenishing from the back
Mr Fish caught in the swell "Holy crap a human!"
Mr Fish caught in the swell “Holy crap a human!”

We toured around the island, visiting many of the natural wonders, inland caves and coral formations. The island is very rugged due to the coral base and I had a hard time not to twist my ankle on the terrain whilst going off the beaten track.

Wlk to Talava arches, watch your footing... if you can find the path
Wlk to Talava arches, watch your footing… if you can find the path
Talava arches... it's a long walk to get there
Talava arches… it’s a long walk to get there

It wasn’t just around meal time we found the foodie related things, whilst wandering out to a whale watching site we found a noni bush, a local fruit delicacy which after picking up I realised smelt like rotten cheese! I read they are high in vitamin C like oranges and rather bitter but I wasn’t game enough to find out what the taste was like. We also passed many small plantations of taro and were endlessly dodging chickens crossing the road which I assume were not all there just to be pets (nom nom nom).

Hold your nose - Noni fruit, on the bush and ripe from the ground
Hold your nose – Noni fruit, on the bush and ripe from the ground
Huvalu Forest, look out for chickens at all times
Huvalu Forest, look out for chickens at all times

One of the big foodie highlights was going on a tour of a vanilla plantation “Vanilla on the Rock” with our guide Nonga. She carefully looks after the vanilla orchids, growing them in coconut fibre which helps retain the right moisture and nutrients for the vines to thrive in such a harsh soil environment. Each orchid flower has to be hand pollinated and folded over, then left to grow into a seed pod for many months. Nonga chooses to leave the pods on the vine to ripen to their fullest, then naturally ferments the pods to get the finished product, rather than pick early and treat chemically before drying to within an inch of its life like cheaper overseas manufacturers might do (great sales pitch I know!). The proof is in the pudding they say and let me tell you she had the plumpest best looking vanilla pods I have ever seen!

Follow the signs
Follow the signs
The vanilla flower
The vanilla flower
Vanilla pods growing
Vanilla pods growing
Vanilla Pods, the good stuff!
Vanilla Pods, the good stuff!

Stepping away from food, early on in the trip we decided to go on a Whale Watching tour which for some reason I envisaged a rather high tech operation on a largish boat which would easily locate our blubbery friends so we could admire from a distance… and maybe swim up and give them a pat. All of the advertising and photos people had taken seemed to make me form that opinion. What it turned out to be was a couple of inflatable boats which carried half a dozen of us “spotters” looking for whales blowing spouts of water into the air. I wished I had known this as I’m pretty sure half of us had crap vision and the other half had no idea what to look for as there was no training whatsoever or textbook to study up on the various whaley patterns. By some miracle someone spotted a spout in the distance to which our guide got really excited because I don’t think she had actually seen one that season (yeah now we find out the truth!).

She had a bit of a whale tail
She had a bit of a whale tail

We chased over to where we saw it, but the funny thing about whales is they are really freaken fast and can go underwater for like 20 mins and pop up miles away so it was only by more miracles that we kept seeing the same one, going down and coming back up. It was really cool to see but a little disappointed we did not get the chance to swim with it. Eventually we lost its trail and were forced to drive around aimlessly before heading back to the aptly named “Snake Gully” for some snorkelling. The snorkelling was excellent, seeing all sorts of fish life, small reef sharks, a turtle and a heap of sea snakes which are venomous but not that interested in us so fun to chase (Mrs. Foodie was not having a bar of that or the sharks).

What do I see down there?
What do I see down there?
"Here snakey snakey"
“Here snakey snakey”

We had also already signed up for a dolphin watching trip with the same crowd (if we had known their technique beforehand we may not have) so ended up driving up and down the coast hoping some marine mammals would take an interest and come and visit. Alas it was not to be, so went back to the same snorkel spot to chase some more snakes and sharks.

Ooh a shark!
Ooh a shark!
Let's get a closer look
Let’s get a closer look

A few days later whist snorkelling at the crack of dawn down from Alofi, I finally got my personal whale experience. Exploring around the reef I stopped when I heard a whining noise, thinking it was Mrs Foodie (no I don’t mean it like that!) I asked her if she made a noise… No… ok a bit later there were more, different pitches some high some deep – it was whale song, a serenade perhaps, an island love song. I could not see the whales as they were too far out, but I swam as far as I would dare till I swam over the drop off into the abyss… hmm don’t want a whale to come up from under me… maybe best to just stay back and enjoy the music!

Looking back to Alofi from the waters edge
Looking back to Alofi from the waters edge
Snorkelling off from Alofi
Snorkelling off from Alofi

It turns out that from just a week on an island I have an increasing number of things to share with you… so take it easy, have a coffee break, embrace island time and join me back here for my next post soon when I talk of restaurants and the woes of vegetarianism. Niue to be continued…

I’m Sick in the Head

No, not mental issues, I’m talking about the fabled Man Flu (it’s real), the dreaded Lurgy, the common cold; whatever you may call it.

It all started with an innocent birthday lunch for Mrs. Foodie’s Oma (that’s Dutch for grandmother), last week Sunday. After arriving and completing the mandatory formalities of handshaking and birthday kisses, it was announced to my horror that Oma was sick… I knew I was doomed.

That evening, or the next (I can’t remember as Man Flu has damaged my memories), Mrs. Foodie and I started to develop sore throats and over the course of a week have proceeded through the usual cold symptoms namely; coughing, sore bodies, sleepless nights and ‘stuff’ trying to pour out of your sinuses if you show it a moment of weakness.

Hiding away from the world in quarantine
Hiding away from the world in quarantine

We all know it’s not much fun being sick; less so when the person who would usually look after you is wrapped up in bed next to you, looking just as sad. This is when you call a friend to help – Jack, Jim or Johnny, whoever is handy at the time. Everyone knows the healing powers of a warm lemon and honey drink, so it must be even better with a tot of booze. It’s also documented that alcohol makes a great sanitizer so surely if I drink enough it will start to remove all of the unwanted bugs in my body… ok so maybe not but it must be worth a go!

I could tell you to find some ripe lemons to squeeze or some fancy manuka honey with magical healing properties but let’s be honest, when faced with the heavy blow that is Man Flu, you don’t want to be doing any more than you need to.

So here’s the scoop:

  1. Start water boiling via electric kettle/jug whatever you wanna call it.
  2. Get an awesome pre-made bottle of lemon honey syrup (I used Baker-Halls Lemon & Barley) and put a slog of it into a mug.
  3. Find some whisky or whiskey, whatever your preference, yes there is a difference – nothing too fancy cause your nose is blocked you won’t be able to detect subtle peaty, smoky, floral nuances or any of that guff (I used the Irish whiskey Tullamore Dew which is delicious in its own right or with this)… yep you guessed it, put a good slog of that in your mug as well.
  4. Top up the mug with the boiled water.
  5. HEALTH & SAFETY!!! Important… blow on the drink before you gulp it down in your dozy plagued state, I don’t want anyone getting burnt tongues as well.

Whether you want to call it a hot toddy, cocktail, drink or remedy… it’s good and if you’re sick it’ll make you feel all good inside… at least till the bottom of your mug. Hope you get better soon!!!

BONUS: To make you feel extra good, pair the drink with your favourite mug cause it’s the little things that count. I like the one I used as it has a pic of Gizmo the corgi (R.I.P.), I reflected on how she was the funniest, craziest, fluffiest man’s best friend I ever did meet.

The lineup
The lineup

Vegetarian for Carnivores – Italian Hotpot

When I’m not working, I spend most of my time with my lovely wife we shall call “Mrs Foodie”. She enjoys baking but generally shies away from other cooking, meaning I am left with the conundrum of what to cook every night. Now at first glance this does not seem much of a mean feat but where the conflict arises is that she’s an ovo-lacto vegetarian (eggs and milk ok) and I love to eat meat. So the majority of my cooking is vegetarian, food hearty enough it can substitute my insatiable desire for meat, or flexible enough that you can add meat to it when it is served.
After a long day’s work it can be hard to muster up the energy to cook and now we are heading into winter it seems there is even less incentive. This is where your trusty friend SOUP comes to the rescue! It’s relatively quick and low fuss, fills you up and comforts you, great as leftovers the next day for lunch or why not freeze for an emergency dinner.

 
Italian Hotpot
A hearty vegetable soup with the subtle flavour of fennel and heaps of beans for protein and fibre. For the carnivores you can make it super awesome by adding some sausage meatballs.

You need:
A slug of olive oil
2 onions, diced
3 tsp crushed garlic
2 medium size bulbs of fennel (Florence fennel, not the herb), diced
2 zucchini (courgette if you’re French but today we’re Italian), diced
1L vegetable stock
1tsp salt
1tsp ground black pepper
2cans beans (cannellini are good)
1cup dried lentils
1can pasta sauce (~450g), cheap stuff is fine for soup
1/3 c chopped fresh Herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme is good)

6 country pork sausages (optional)
Finely grated parmesan cheese and more fresh herbs to serve

To make:
1. Grab your soup pot/ pressure cooker and sauté onions, garlic and fennel in the olive oil for a few minutes.

Fennel bulb, chop chop chop
Fennel bulb, chop chop chop

2. Hiff everything else in and cook till lentils are soft, I pressure cook for 15 mins.

Everything in the pressure cooker
Everything in the pressure cooker

3. Whilst waiting for the soup, quarter the sausages making little meatballs and pan fry till nicely browned all over.

Mmm sausages, better eat one just to check if they're cooked properly.
Mmm sausages, better eat one just to check if they’re cooked properly.

4. When everything is ready, serve up the soup with meatballs if you please and parmesan/herbs to garnish.

Buon appetito!

Soup's ready!
Soup’s ready!

Who are you calling a jerky?

I love South African food, a real melting pot of European, Indian and indigenous cuisines and like us Kiwis they really know how to put together a good barbecue (braai). Let’s be honest if you need something to have before your barbecued meat, it’s more meat! A key appetiser to any braai and perfect partner for beer is the preserved meat known as biltong. Different to the American style jerky that is common, biltong is not as sweet, more salty and is only lightly spiced bringing out the flavour of the meat better. It usually comes in a range of moisture levels and fat contents and flavours usually only go as exotic as ‘traditional’, ‘chilli’ or ‘garlic’. Biltong can get pretty expensive as the main ingredient is steak and it’s then halved in weight by the drying process so I thought why not have a go at making it myself? The key steps are marinating, curing and drying (then eating of course!) and the whole point of the exercise is to preserve the meat so will last for a long time on the pantry or in the bush or if you are a nomad wandering the desert. I don’t anticipate it will last long once I get stuck into it.
It all starts with the meat selection. Theoretically you could use any old piece of meat even some road kill if you so desired but I like my raw materials to be as free from disease as possible. I’ve heard of jerky being made from chicken / pork but it can be a little difficult and would rather not tempt the food poisoning beast and stick to red meat for now. Beef was the choice on the day… now for the cut. Cheaper meats might be ok if you like eating a piece of old boot leather when you finish but I opted for sirloin, nice and tender and easy to trim to the fat content I want, a bit more pricey so waited till there was a good special on at the local butchery so I didn’t have to empty my bank account.
I got really excited about this project especially after buying the ingredients so decided to kick things off at 10:30 at night… who needs sleep when meat glory awaits.
I took the large piece of cow’s back muscle and trimmed most of the fat off, leaving only a very thin strip. In hindsight I should take this off as well as there was a sinewy piece under that which is very chewy once dried. The advantage of getting the whole sirloin is I could then cut to the thickness I like ~2cm which when cured gives you a reasonable surface area to volume ratio for your seasoning to contact. The disadvantage of getting the whole sirloin as opposed to pre-cut steaks is that there was a fair bit of waste when I trimmed off the fat and fatty meat on the edge (diced up and froze for future gravy / stews).

Big ol' slab of meat
Big ol’ slab of meat
Cutting the steaks
Cutting the steaks

Once I had cut up the meat into thick steaks, I prepared the seasonings. Coriander seed was lightly toasted in the frypan and coarsely ground in the motar & pestle with black pepper and added to paprika, chilli and garlic powder. Marinade was made with vinegar and Worcestershire sauce and threw in a few spoons of the spice mix to get the flavour infusion started.

Toasting coriander seeds
Toasting coriander seeds
Grinding spices with mortar & pestle
Grinding spices with mortar & pestle
Spices and marinade ready to go
Spices and marinade ready to go

The steaks were stacked in a container and coated with the marinade mixture. Mix around for a bit and then chuck it in the fridge for an hour. We want to refrigerate at these early stages to inhibit the growth of any unwanted bacteria and the marinating will add flavour, tenderise the meat and kill off any surface bacteria due to the rise in acid.

Marinating
Marinating
Curing mixture
Curing mixture
Steaks before curing
Steaks before curing

 

Next day the trays of meat are removed from the fridge and as you can see the salt has really sucked heaps of moisture out.

Mmm osmosis... my favourite!
Mmm osmosis… my favourite!
Steaks after curing
Steaks after curing

 

If we dried these as is, they would be ridiculously-face-destroying-salty so the next step is to rinse off each steak under running water, shake dry and place into container for further flavouring. The meat will be all rigid and greyish looking which is fair enough considering we have sucked all of the life out of it with that curing mixture. Recoat the steaks with the marinade, I added in some Mrs. Balls Chutney (another south African masterpiece) to give my biltong that ‘je ne sais quoi’. Marinate the meat for another hour or so before squeezing the meat of as much marinade as possible, coat in the spice mixture and hook the steaks for drying.

Second marinade
Second marinade
Things are spicing up
Things are spicing up

 

Drying, the final hurdle in the preservation of biltong. To dry the steaks, I used a borrowed dryer – a homemade vented wooden box, a halogen lamp (to provide gentle warmth) and some computer fans. I’ve read you can dry it faster in the oven at higher temperature but biltong aficionados say that you will compromise flavour. So the meat was all hooked and hung in the dryer making me feel like a bit of a killer especially seeing as it was not at my house and had to travel to a secret location (to avoid the thieving of biltong). All set up, the dryer was turned on and left for 4 days, don’t be concerned about power cost, it is such a gentle drying process it only draws about $1 worth a day.

Some good meats just hanging out
Some good meats just hanging out

Four days of eager waiting, I had not been out to the drop site to check on my babies. Hopefully four days was enough drying for the amount of meat I had loaded. Upon opening the dryer door it was declared a success. The meat darkened, stiff and dry, losing its flexibility and going slightly brittle at the ends. I had calculated the start weight of the fresh meat and finished dried weight and had a yield of 56%, so you can see why it is so expensive.
When cut, the biltong is still a little flexible with a salty, spicy, sweetness. I can now start the consumption or slice and use as currency for barter.
I thought I would bring some to work for Friday drinks, surely 2 steaks would be enough… it lasted 5 minutes and the locusts wanted more. Maybe I’ll bring some next Friday if they’re lucky. Hmm do I need anything from anybody? 

Biltong is done... get me a beer!
Biltong is done… get me a beer!

Recipe, adjust quantities to the amount of meat you have:
Meat 3 kg
Malt Vinegar 300 ml
Worcestershire Sauce 75 ml
Salt 750 g
Brown Sugar 225 g
Baking Soda 1.5 tsp
Coriander Seeds 5 T
Black Peppercorns 2 T
Garlic Powder ½ T
Smoked Paprika ½ T
Chilli Powder ½ T
Mrs Ball’s Hot Chutney A couple of gloops

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