Thursday, 23 February 2012

A Balinese Banquet.

On my recent adventure to a foreign land I discovered that the term ‘Bali belly’ is alive and kicking. Most of us have heard a story about someone who traveled to the island of Indonesia and experienced a period of bed rest, vomiting and some long-winded dates with the toilet seat. It’s not always a part of the holiday plan. As a first time-traveler to Bali my main concern was to avoid consuming the filthy Balinese tap water. At first, this was a frustrating and dam right annoying adjustment. Buying bottled water is something I personally despise with a passion, but on this occasion it was deemed more than necessary. The neighbouring ‘Circle K’ mini supermarket softened the blow by selling 1.5L bottles for 3000 Rupiah, the equivalent of 43cents in New Zealand. 

Welcome to Bali

Unfortunately for my travelling companion, he naively purchased a tasty smoothie from one of the many road-side restaurants. Needless to say the ice cubes in that drink were not mineral water and considering our “Grilled White Snapper” still tasted like frozen sea water, we made a well educated assumption and he prepared for the worst. That evening the worst surely came. For the rest of the trip we were extraordinarily careful about which restaurants we chose and we spent a fair chunk of holiday money on (cringe) bottled water. 
Let me at it...

As the days passed I was intrigued by the stalls on the side of the road selling their local delights. I steered clear for the first week, secretly deciding that before I left I couldn’t come all this way without giving at least one street food feast a go. I would deal with the Bali belly later.  So my tastebuds waited eagerly for their first traditional Balinese experience.
Our local Balinese friend Dede introduced me to the first of the ‘Bali Street Food’. For a guy who earns approximately NZ $3.50 a day, I trusted his judgement and figured I had nothing to lose. Everyone else was very skeptical, but as he led me to a typical dark hair and skinned Balinese women, who had worked all her life perfecting these delicacies; a surge of excitement ran through my veins. Naturally Dede ordered, one for me and one for himself. I would pay. 20,000 Rupiah for two satisfying meals. $2.85 NZD. It was the least I could do- the guy probably hadn’t eaten all day. 

The face says it all
 As we watched her make it, I asked Dede to talk me through each ingredient she added to the meal. ‘Lawar’ is a traditional balinese side-dish served during celebrations and was a highlight among our culinary adventures. It consisted of coconut, jackfruit, roasted chilli and garlic, a salted prawn paste and some other extraordinary and colourful looking concoction. She was mixing it with her hands, but funnily enough that didn’t phase me. A big scoop of perfectly cooked fluffy white rice filled the bottom of the red plastic plate, then she added the lawar. I could feel my mouth salivating. A pork mince kebab stick and another kebab of pork chunks were served atop my meals, along with some chewy crispy pork bone off cuts. The dish was accompanied by a bright yellow turmeric flavoured clear broth served in a small light pink plastic bowl-with exactly three pieces of leftover pork flaps-providing minimal meat, but maximal flavour.

A genius at work

When I finally tucked in my friends looked at me in horror…Clearly I would not be entitled to an ounce of sympathy tomorrow. I was skeptical for a second or two, but once I started eating, I knew the Bali belly would be well worth it. Needless to say I devoured the lot. The flavours were amazing, so intense and different to anything I have every had before. Pork is the signature meat in Bali, and they certainly know how to make it a winner. If given a blind taste-test with this stuff I highly doubt many could turn it down. It really was that good.


Note the coloured plastic crockery

Dede ordered me a drink with no name, to wash the feast down. He described it as natural, healthy and really good for you. It consisted of a dark green jelly like substance emerged in a murky whitish liquid. Nothing appetizing about its appearance. But the taste, continued to blow my mind. A slightly sweet and tangy ‘juice’ accompanied by the refreshing jube like bits. Yum. It went down a treat. I wanted more. But knew I should wait and see how my body reacted to these new found flavours. But that moment sitting at the local markets soaking up the atmosphere was one I will never forget. Life there was far from flash, but dam it tasted good. 

'Health in a cup'

Well Bali. Bye for now. I'll be back. 

P.S. No sign of Bali belly. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Salute the Salmon

Being Valentines I figure it’s only appropriate to choose a food with the theme of Love. Unfortunately its not a traditional food you would associate with this day of romantics, but for me it is one very dear to my heart. Ok first things first. Rich, succulent Salmon is outright one of my all time favourite foods. In fact I can say with confidence that it wins as the favourite. Yum-mo. There is something about the beautiful coral coloured flesh that mesmorizes my soul and captures my tastebuds. 

Salmon and Avocado with Miso. c/o Yuki. Dunedin
Unlike most indulgent foods of which I choose to consume, this slimy creature is one my body and health are truly thankful for! It’s full to the brim of omega-3 fatty acids which are known as essential to growth and to improve health. ‘Essential’ being the key-word, as they can’t be made by the body and therefore must be obtained in our diet. To be specific it is the EPA and DHA (both long chained fatty acids) that have now been associated with numerous health benefits, and more are being discovered as technology and the world of medicine develops.
Their most well-known benefits include: improving heart health, reducing inflammation and improving mood. With plenty more where that came from as you can see the benefits of consuming salmon are rather plentiful.

This crispy end piece causes fights in our household. I usually win.
At risk of overkill, I could probably consume Salmon for breakfast, lunch and tea, 7 days a week.  But just as a marriage should be, this is a long-lasting love that I would like to retain for many years to come, or til death do us part. Ok enough of the lovey, dovey stuff, now lets eat. I bet your all wondering… 'How do you eat yours?’. Many different ways actually. Hot smoked, pan-fried, grilled, baked, raw (as sashimi), cold-smoked slices, in sushi, steamed and even poached in a flavour-some broth.

As of late my Salmon addiction has included: The Classic Salmon and Cream cheese Bagel finished with capers and red onion on Christmas Day. If in doubt, salmon + cream cheese = a special companionship. Some will cringe when I say this, but as encouraged by my degree I recommend light cream cheese, it does the job just as well! 

Part of the breakfast spread at Christmas
In my eyes, my God-father is king of the salmon-smoking business. Boy does he know a thing or too about hot-smoking salmon. At risk of giving away his secret- Brown sugar, Olive Oil and Sea salt generously rubbed over a large fillet of fresh New Zealand Salmon. Hot smoked for around 20 mins. Literally is food of the Gods. We served this beaut up at a party recently and it went down an absolute treat!

Hot Smoked Salmon: from the hands of a God.
However for some of us, the luxury of salmon exceeds the capabilities of our bank accounts. But let me tell you, where there is a will, there is always a way! I have two budget salmon secrets to share.

Tip #1: Certain New Worlds (aka Dunedin central) stock what they like to call ‘Salmon Mince’ which are literally salmon off-cuts, they are dirt-cheap and make for the perfect sandwich and sushi filling, throw it in a pasta dish, or turn your omelette into something a little fancy!

Tip #2: Beware-this one is not for the faint-hearted. Salmon Frames. Literally the bone/carcass of the salmon that is left when all the beautiful fillets have been removed. Pak 'n’ Save charged me around $2.50 for this beauty and dam it is good. A touch of honey-soy marinade and five minutes under the grill. Scrape off the luscious shards of salmon with a spoon and you have yourself a beautiful feast. (Ignore the tail, and excessive bone collection)

Dare to indulge.
Yours truly,
Love Salmon.

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Angelic Avo

Something I most certainly missed during my time in the deep south was the one and only. Avocado. a.k.a the Alligator Pear. This odd-shaped fruit consists of a rough leathery skin that encompasses a smooth, luscious lime green flesh. They are also named ‘Food of the Gods’ due to being rich in antioxidant properties, vitamins, minerals and carotenoids. Their creamy consistency mean they can and should be consumed throughout life. Ideal as a 1st food for babies, and perfect to retain good health as we age.

The Alligator Pear

The avocado has, is and always will be a crucial ingredient to delight my palate, and lets hope it will never have to end.
Residing in the Bay of Plenty means that I am blessed with plenty of heavenly avocados. So many so, that they often tend to overfill our fruit bowl. Unfortunately I have the tough task of devouring these beauties day in, day out. Poor me! On toast, in salad, as guacomole, in a salsa, on crackers. You name it. I’ll eat it.

Tomato + lemon juice + Avo = Bliss

The luscious lime green oily flesh is full of mono and polyunsaturated fats, which basically means the best ones! So it’s the perfect replacement for butter or margarine, and has even been scientifically proven to help aid weight-loss, lower cholesterol and treat Diabetes. Not bad considering it has a heart of stone (the big rock like sphere inside never ceases to amaze me).

A heart of stone

Recently I have endeavored to utilize our excessive supply of ripe avocado flesh by using it in baking, and have been surprised with my success. A great friend with a flourishing avocado orchard let me roam free through her trees to collect a bunch of the leftover goodies. So I began. To start: An avocado butter-cream. Ingredients: avocado, icing sugar, lemon juice and vanilla bean paste. That was it. And it was delicious.

Avocado buttercream: green with envy?

Next on my list was a Brownie recipe using avocado in place of butter. A lovely lady at the Tauranga Farmers Market inspired me for this one. She used avocado in all of her baking, and it was just as indulgent! My attempt was interesting. I tried to craft a Dairy-free, Gluten-free, Sugar free, Vegan (if you replaced the honey) Brownie. It was interesting to say the least. But I basically just threw a few ‘healthy’ ingredients in a bowl and hoped for the best. So what did I expect. Two bananas, an avocado and some ground almonds later, one thing it definitely was is moist!

A quick Google search will open up a world of possibilities for the angelic Avocado. I will continue my search to find a base for my delectable avocado butter-cream. But in the mean time, I suggest broadening the horizons of your palate. And of course, devouring more avocado!

Note: I have two personal favourite avo combinations that I just love to lather on my vogels. These are Marmite + Avo,  and Honey + Avo. Both are rather strange but have been consumed in our household for years, and must not be knocked til at least attempted.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

A Plum Job

 The humble Plum. As far as I am concerned it is one of the most overrated fruits we have available. But for my Father it is the only fruit worth eating. Dad’s collection of plum trees are one of his many prized possessions. A fondness that happily takes a back seat for his love of White-baiting. (More on these wonderous little fishys in future posts). Although unless Rena destroys all signs of marine life- I doubt anything will come close. He waits every year for the hot months of summer to come around, trying and testing them as the sour bitter flavour becomes sweeter by the day.

A ball of goodness

 Straight off the tree our homegrown plums are rather tart. We have two varieties, the larger ones are lighter on the inside and slightly sweeter so best for eating. While the small dark beauties are best used for cooking. Having such an abundance of plums at hand forces you to be rather creative in the kitchen. A task I welcome with open arms. I attmepted to delve out Nana’s ripped, tea-stained recipe for ‘Homemade Plum Sauce’. Plenty of vinegar, sugar, chilli, spices and of course plums boiling away in a large pot. Immediately it fills the house with a potent plum perfume. Two hours and a number of blender loads later we filled an array of jars, ready for gifts or to be stored away for a rainy day.

No colours or preservatives here
An attempt to re-create a stewed plum that could compete with the classic Watties tinned ‘Black Doris Plum’ variety, was a tough ask. I had better do something pretty special. Using flavour notes of star anise and vanilla bean paste, the water and sugar all mingled beautifully with the rich red plums. As the aromatic scents simmered in the pot. I awaited in anticipation. Once softened, they were drained, liquid preserved, left to cool and taste-tested. Verdict: Succulent juicy balls of delight. Plated up with your vanilla ice cream and it finds itself a new best friend.
In terms of flavour depth they beat the tinned variety by a long shot, but for the sake of nostaligia, it’s hard to go past the Black Doris herself.

Look closely and spot the tiny vanilla beans 
The final creation involved a recipe from a sought after Dunedin café and deli. Famous for it’s extensive list of Hot Chocolate varieties, The Everyday Gourmet is a food-lovers paradise. Fortunately I have friends in high places and was able to get my hands on a recipe. What would be the perfect addition for my numerous plums? Answer: The modest Friand. A beautiful mixture of ground almonds, icing sugar, butter, egg whites and flour. Crafted with care and friendship these elite beauties looked very impressive. A dense, moist flavour-some treat best served with good friends, a touch of summer sun and a dollop of natural yoghurt.

A match made in heaven

 Pretty dam plum if you ask me.

Note: Things learn’t during this post

1. The definition of ‘plum’ when used as an adjective refers to ‘a highly desirable accomplishment’ [c/o MBP dictionary].

2. Mace -one of the spice ingredients in the plum sauce; is essentially the outer-shell of a Nutmeg, so nutmeg is the ideal alternative [c/o Wikipedia].