Sunday, 31 March 2013

Waitaki Valley Honey with Plums and Basil

Easter break is an opportunity to visit family or to explore other parts of New Zealand over the long weekend.  Receiving a gift of honey and a box stone fruit from my friend Kate has prompted me to take you on a virtual journey to the Waitaki Valley, inland from Oamaru, South Island. 

In less than a month the Waitaki River will be showing its autumn colours
as in this photo courtesy of Tourism Waitaki
Kate White and Peter Irving live in the Waitaki Valley, just out of Kurow.  Peter is an apiarist operating 3,500 hives and Kate manages the business end of the Waitaki Honey Company.

Their honey is the most creamy, soft and delicate honey you could wish for. 

Peter working on the hives; Waitaki Honey export around 80% of
their honey to international markets as New Zealand honey is highly valued overseas.

The plums were the size of nectarines and a beautiful red.   I promised I would bring the dessert to a friend's for dinner, but with little time to prepare, it had to be simple. I remembered a recipe from the New York Times site that suggested roasting peaches with basil.

I would try basil with the plums instead and use the honey to produce a Waitaki Valley inspired dessert.

Roasted Plums with Honey and Basil  

I cut and stoned the plums and placed them on my blue oven proof plate from an appropriately South Canterbury institution, Temuka Pottery.

The dip in the fruit where the stone had been, I filled with honey and spread a little over the cut surface.  I sprinkled the plums very lightly with cinnamon and some sliced fresh basil.  (I used a good handful for the plate).

I wanted the fruit to caramelise a little, so I put a light dusting of raw sugar over the top.  It's up to you as to whether you want to add sugar at all.

I didn't have time to cook the fruit, so I just took the plate and a carton of ice cream, and we cooked at our friends for about 10-15 minutes at around 180C.   The cream of the vanilla icecream with the hot, sweet yet tangy plums worked a treat.  And the basil - well it looked great, and it produced a subtle aniseed flavour.

Basically you can do this with any type of stone fruit.  Roasting brings out the flavours beautifully and it's so simple.  

Honey when cooked gives the kitchen a wonderful fragrance.  New Zealand honey is widely sought after because of its single floral flavours.
The wild areas where Peter puts his hives allows the bees to flavour his honey with clover, thistle and vipers buglos.  Honey made from vipers buglos is often called Blue Borage but its not the herb borage that we grow in the garden.
This image of vipers buglos was captured by landscape photographer
Gilbert van Reenan.   This is how you see it in areas of central South Island
and Marlborough, especially in dry areas.
Vipers Buglos produces a brown tinted honey with a light herbal bouquet.  It is sought after because it is high in fructose and as such is an excellent sweetener for drinks.  It is supposed to be excellent in coffee as it adds another flavour dimension.
Waitaki Honey is harvested from hives dotted over the remote
high country of the Waitaki and Hakataramea valleys and from the
lake shores and meadows throughout the MacKenzie Country
Honey, unlike sugar, is more than just a sweetener.  It has antioxidants and healing properties. 

The stonefruit Kate sent me came from Waitaki Orchard on Highway 83 just 4km east of Kurow. It's truly a family run operation. Justin and Julie Watt and their 8 amazing children aged 8 to 18 all work on the orchard.
Kate is an excellent horse woman and took my Peter
for a ride along the back roads near Kurow to show
the growth of vineyards in this newest wine region in NZ
Mt Cook Alpine Salmon, Hot Tubs at Omarama, Benmore Dam
and Lake Ohau
 The Waitaki River is sourced from the Southern Alps and is the lifeblood for all the communities that have grown up along its banks.  Waitaki Valley is a gateway to the Southern Alps and the MacKenzie Country.
Here are some things you can do if you travel to the Valley following the River from the alps to the ocean (with a foodie focus).
  • Cycle the whole valley by doing The Alps2Ocean cycle trail. It's the longest continuous ride in New Zealand (300 km)from our highest mountain Aoraki Mt Cook finishing in Oamaru. There are still large sections of the trail that are on-road.  Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail
  • Near Lake Pukaki eco-sustainable salmon are farmed in the swift cold currents of snow fed hydro-electricity canals.   The salmon having to work hard against the current produce flesh with more omega 3 and less inter-muscular fat than other ocean bred salmon. Mt Cook Alpine Salmon 
  • High above Lake Ohau is Ohau Snowfield and only 20 minutes away is Ohau Lodge. Many have told me Ohau Lodge is a real retreat at any time of the year and that the food is good. Lake Ohau Lodge and Snowfield  
  •  Hot Tubs Oamarama a good place to soak weary muscles be it from skiing or cycling.Hot Tubs Omarama
  • The Waitaki Valley is New Zealand's newest wine growing region.  The limestone and mineral rich soils, as well as a long cool growing climate produces aromatic wines such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Reisling. One wine label I have tried and really enjoyed is Waitaki Braid's Reisling and Pinot Noir.  International chef Peter Gordon recognised the potential of this area and is a part owner of Waitaki Braids. Waitaki Braids Vineyard
  • Duntroon is centre for fossils, rock drawings and nearby at Elephant Rocks incredible limestone formations that look quite out of this world. Visit Vanished World and get a Vanished World Trail Map.  Before you take off exploring you might like to stop for a coffee at The Flying Pig Cafe - reviews are good and its a memorable pink.
  • Near to the mouth of the broad-braided Waitaki is the famous Riverstone River Cafe where chef Bevan Smith and his team produce fresh regional food, much of it from Riverstone's own kitchen garden.
  • Thanks to Tourism Waitaki for providing me with images to use. 

Elephant Rocks, The Flying Pig Cafe, Ohau Snowfield, and
Riverstone Cafe

An early morning view Peter often sees in the MacKenzie Country on the way to his hives
"Paradise found...heavenly nectar", the opening lines to Waitaki Honey Company website - couldn't agree more, about the place and the honey.


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Now what can I do with all those courgettes...or are they zucchini?

My sister Kerry in Dunedin has a problem.  She has a glut of courgettes or zucchini.  Now that's a problem I envy. Our late in the season courgette in a bucket has not thrived at all. Kerry's plants keep on producing, sometimes from flower to fruit in a day. These abundant fruits are fast losing their novelty appeal and she has requested I give her some new ideas for using them.  

Ribbon cut courgette with Portobello mushrooms and cherry tomatos
 threaded on  kebabs sticks and cooked on a ceramic bbq plate

My latest kitchen addition is this lovely red Emile Henry ceramic bbq plate that can also be used in the oven.  It comes with 8 stainless kebab spears that fit into grooves along the sides of the plate.   The plate has small ridges and is ideal for roasting anything in the oven - vegetables, fish or meat.  This plate will also avoid your vegetarian option being flavoured with meat which is important if you are catering for a vegetarian.

Emile Henry Ceramic plate can be used on bbq or
 oven but not on a naked gas flame.

Courgette Kebabs

 I first make a simple marinade to avoid the cut courgette discolouring and to add extra flavour.   I crush a clove of garlic with a little salt, adding a good slurp of olive oil, and half a juicy lemon or one whole lemon (to your taste), and pepper.  

I slice ribbon lengths of courgette using a vegetable peeler.   You can also use a mandolin but this is something you have to really concentrate on when using as they can be lethal on fingers.   I find for courgettes that cut easily that the vegetable peeler does a good job.   The slices have to be thin so that they will bend and thread easily.  I used about three courgettes.

Next I cut up  2-3 Portobello mushrooms - cutting into 6ths or 8ths (depending on size of mushroom).  You could also use button mushrooms but I find Portobello has a bigger flavour.  I sprinkle a little oil, salt and pepper over them, but this is optional.  

I also used a punnet of cherry tomatoes to add flavour, colour and juiciness to the combinaton. 

Now simply thread the courgettes through the's a bit like tacking stitch if you sew.   (If using bamboo sticks then remember to soak them in water for at least half an hour before using - this avoids them burning.)  Follow with a piece of mushroom, more courgette and then a cherry tomato and repeat until the stick is filled.

The kebabs are quickly cooked especially if the plate is preheated and the
tomatoes are usually the best indicator that the kebabs are ready.
Cook at 180 C for around 10 minutes.  This is a delicious and fun way to prepare vegetables.

If you want a more punchy marinade use this Greek marinade I discovered in Adrian Richardson's "The Good Life" cookbook.

Greek Marinade
2 Tbsp chopped thyme
1 Tbsp chopped sage leaves
2 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp fennel seeds, ground (I grind them in a coffee grinder I keep esp for spices)
1 garlic clove crushed
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon and juice of whole lemon
180 ml olive oil

Whisk all ingredients together and if not using immediately it can be kept in the fridge for a month.

Use this marinade for all cuts of lamb or for brushing onto vegetables that are cooked on the bbq or in the oven.

This is easy to make if you grow your own fresh herbs, and the fennel seeds that you can get from any Indian spice shop or collect your own fennel seeds.

You can harvest your own fennel seeds by collecting seed heads from fennel plants
and letting them dry.   If you forage for these then do make sure that the fennel hasn't been sprayed.

This marinade is excellent to use to flavour cubes of haloumi cheese for at least one hour and ideally overnight before wrapping the outside edge of the cheese with a courgette ribbon.   This is a good dish to serve as a tasty vegetarian option.

I just added one of these courgette wrapped cubes in amongst the courgette, mushroom and cherry tomatoes simply to make the expensive haloumi cheese go further.  Adrian's recipe featured the cubes alone and was served with a tomato and capsicum sauce.  I think you could use creamy feta or firm tofu instead.

Barbecued Haloumi Wrapped in Zucchini with Tomato and Capsicum Sauce
- a photo fromAdrian Richardson's "The Good Life"

The courgette, zucchini and the marrow

Have you ever wondered what is the difference between a zucchini and a courgette?

Absolutely nothing!   

They are both from the family of summer squash. Italians call them zucchini and the French call them courgette.  Then the eccentric English like to let them grow into giants and call them marrows. Growing up we only had marrows - a courgette or zucchini unheard of in our house in the 60's.   I was never that fussed on the marrow.   If only we had known then that we could have harvested the baby marrow like we do for courgettes and let others grow into the monster marrows.   

In New Zealand we tend to follow the French tradition and call them courgette, but we are also using the two names to differentiate size.   Courgette for smaller cigar sized fruit and zucchini for larger fruit.
Zucchini Cocozelle from Kings Seeds
I grew a Kings Seed Italian variety of zucchini very successfully in Dunedin.   It's a vigorous, large growing plant that has quite prickly stems.  It produces a delicious green stripped and ribbed zucchini, and it is recommended as a variety that grows well into a marrow.  

One of my favourite soups features zucchini.   This recipe is from Lois Daish's "Good Food" cookbook.   I would usually make this soup as the evenings start to cool down in the South. In Auckland I felt it was too darn hot to bother with soup but I had to make it for the blog.  I was surprised how light and refreshing it was with its tang of lemon.  Good news is that it doesn't take long to make.

 Egyptian Zucchini Soup
(Serves 4)
1.5 litres chicken stock
2 celery stalks 
2 small leeks or onions
3 zucchini
2-3 cloves garlic
2 lemons
1 cup cooked rice
Salt and Pepper
Chicken stock boiling with onions added - I am so lucky to be able to use
our friend Chris's copper and tin pots that he bought in France 30 years ago.
They keep the heat and look so good you could take the pot to the table.
Bring the chicken stock to the boil.  Slice celery, leeks or onions and zucchini very thinly.   Crush the garlic.  Add the celery and leeks or onions to the boiling broth.  Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the zucchini and garlic and simmer another 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.   Squeeze the lemons.  Add the juice little by little to the soup, tasting as you go.  There should be a distinctly lemony tang.  Place a spoonful of cooked rice in each person"s bowl.  Ladle the soup on top.

I didn't have celery but as I used homemade chicken stock that was well flavoured with celery I left it out.  I will do a posting in the winter that will feature making your own chicken stock.  

You could also use a stalk of the herb Lovage as a celery replacement but I would tend to just put the leaf in and simmer taking it out before serving, as you would use a bay leaf.
Lovage is easy to grow, prefers a damp location, looks and smells like celery and dies down
in the winter.   In the spring until autumn it can be used as
a celery alternative esp in soups.   The flavour is strong so use with caution.

The good thing about not having a shelf full of cookbooks is that I now go to the library to get my recipe inspirations.   I have got out many good books but sometimes you get out one that is exceptional.

"The Good Life" is a book that immediately draws you to it because of it's presentation from the soft padded hard cover to the gingham ribbon page marker. The photos by John Laurie and the layout are gorgeous. The masterclass sections teach you to salt cod, make salami, focaccia bread (that I have made and was delicious) and the book offers plenty of vinegars, spice rubs, marinade recipes clearly and simply. Adrian Richardson has been a television chef, runs his own restaurant in Melbourne and believes in cooking from the garden.  The book is laid out in seasons.   It's an inspirational book making you want to grow more of your own and like Adrian give the next generation "The Good Life" skills.

It's good to find different ways of cooking courgettes because they are extremely good for you. The skins have a supply of dietary fibre which aids digestion, prevents constipation, maintains low blood sugar and curbs overeating.  Vitamin A and C in courgettes are powerful antioxidants and are effective anti-inflammatory agents deterring disorders like asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.   They are also beneficial for men for the prostate gland. High in Manganese means eating lots of courgettes will reward you with good skin and fast wound repair.
If you want to read more about how great courgettes and zucchini are go to this page:

Make sure you select fresh courgettes if you want to reward yourself with all these nutrients.
Like in the photo above they should be firm and shiny skinned.   They can have small blemishes from mixing with the crowd but shouldn't have pock marked skin.  A limp courgette will not deliver all those promised good things.  It is recommended you store them in a plastic bag in the vegetable conditioning drawer of the refrigerator and use them in 3-4 days.  

That is one really good reason to grow these little beauties next summer and, if you are lucky, just like Kerry you will be picking fresh vital courgettes nearly everyday. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

Watermelon Feast and The Blues Bokashi Bucket

Grandson Beau (2) loves eating watermelon - simply sliced
(Photo: Jessie Mackay)
Watermelon - a real summer treat and we are eating lots of it up here in Auckland.   Put in the fridge before slicing and you have Nature's sorbet - cold and refreshing, juicy and sweet.  Beau with my niece Jessie picked out this watermelon at the Wesley Community market on Sandringham Road.
Jessie teaching Beau how to tap a watermelon to check that it is ready
 - it should sound hollow
A couple of weeks ago I prepared a dinner for 12 friends and served a watermelon salad after the main.   I treated the salad as you would a sorbet, to cleanse the palate after a full flavoured main. If you serve a salad with the main event, so often it gets lost and unappreciated. By serving it on its own it turned out to be one of the star turns of the evening.

Watermelon Salad
(photo: Jessie Mackay)
Watermelon Salad
Cutting up the watermelon and taking out as many seeds as you can is what takes the time with this salad.   You could let people sort out the seeds for themselves but for our dinner we went that extra step to take them out.

I decided to contrast the pink of melon with an edging of oranges and red peppers and a touch of green with rocket leaves.

Next pile in the centre the watermelon.
Photo: Jessie Mackay

Follow this by adding feta.  I ignored my rule of trying to keep regional and for that special night used a sheep's feta that came from Bulgaria.  It was truly delicious, affordable and just perfect with the watermelon.

The dressing I wanted to keep light and with a hint of sweetness.   As my friend Kate got us all together for the dinner I wanted to use some of her gorgeous Waitaki Valley honey in the dressing.   (I had to leave a lot of treats behind in Dunedin but I did find room in the car for Kate and Pete's creamy honey).
Waitaki Organic Honey and my favouite oil
for dressings Avocado infused with lime

The Salad Dressing

1/4 cup of avocado oil (lime infused)
half a squeezed lemon (to taste)
Salt and Pepper
Heaped tsp of honey
Mix all together to melt the honey and taste to see if the balance is right.   
I dipped in a piece of watermelon to test the taste.

Me preparing the salad outside
(photo: Jessie Mackay)
Alternatively mix the feta through the dressing before placing onto the watermelon and then dribble over the dressing.  The avocado oil makes the dressing a rich green. 

Finish off the salad with torn pieces of basil or thinly slice mint and sprinkle over the top.
For that special dinner I had half a pomegranate so I picked out the seeds and added them to the salad, then squeezed out the pomegranate juices over the watermelon.   The sharp zing of the pomegranate seeds with the sweet melon are a heavenly combination.

Watermelon is listed as one of the top aphrodisiac foods - even claimed to have Viagra-like effects on the body.   Scientists have found watermelon contains large amounts of a plant nutrient called citrulline, which is known to have beneficial effects on the cardiovasular and immune systems.  The chemical can relax blood vessels and improve blood flow.   But researchers say it isnt organ specific like Viagra and most of the citrulline is found in the rind of the fruit.
(ref: Health.US News)
For those interested in pursuing this beneficial nutrient citrulline,
 I discovered a blog that offers a method of pickling the rind of watermelon.   

 Pickled Watermelon Rinds: The Domestic Man Blog

Pickled Watermelon Rind has the best Citrulline content.
(Photo  Russ Crandall, The Domestic Man Blogger )

Real men may eat watermelon but also consume lots of whey protein as Peter discovered while being diligent about his orange peel, placing it in a bin outside the Auckland Blues High Performance Centre while at Unitech.   Being a tidy Kiwi paid off when he discovered two large plastic buckets with lids discarded in the bin.

These buckets are perfect - a good fitting lid and
previously used for food so should be safe for composting

Everyone in the family was on high alert to find suitable buckets for our number 3 Bokashi Bucket composting system.   For this composting queen, Peter's gift of the buckets was just as appreciated as a bunch of flowers.
Beau loves being involved and finds the drill most entertaining
To make the Bokashi bucket drill holes in the bottom of one of the buckets and use the second bucket as the draining bucket.
The holes should be big enough and plentiful to easily let the liquid escape,
Having buckets the same size has meant that it's easier to pull the buckets apart when pouring off the juice every second day.

I have discovered by involving everyone in the family in the Bokashi composting process, it has been easy to get it right as we all know not to put in liquids and to push down the scraps after each daily addition to get rid of trapped air.  

If you want to know more about the Bokashi system then read my previous posting.

Last Friday night Peter was lucky enough to get to see the Auckland Blues play at Eden Park.  He says the protein must have worked because they easily beat the usually unbeatable Crusaders.

You could say we now have "celebrity" composting buckets which are rapidly being filled with all those watermelon rinds.   Perhaps I should try to pickle them.