Asparagus with mustard crème fraîche

Do you snap or cut? Peel or shave? The start of the asparagus season often ignites debate between cooks about whether it’s better to cut off the woody ends (gives a neat finish) or snap them (feels satisfying, but has high potential for wastage). Others claim using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife to shave off any tough, stringy bits is a better option.

Personally, I think it depends on the asparagus; spears as fat as your fingers are likely to have woodier ends, while the very slender ones will need the tiniest of trims. Any ends you do trim off can be used in vegetable stock or – according to Love Food Hate Waste, because I haven’t tried this one myself – turned into asparagus stalk pesto.  

If you’re challenged in the kitchen equipment stakes and don’t have a deep pot (or steamer insert) to cook the asparagus standing up, try cooking them in one layer in a deep frying pan instead. 

ASPARAGUS WITH MUSTARD CREME FRAICHE

Serves 2-4

This is a fast way to dress up asparagus, whether you’re serving it as a side dish for four or a main course for two. The sauce can be made in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge for up to three days. 

  • 500g fresh asparagus, ends trimmed
  • For the creme fraiche sauce:
  • 1 small clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a paste with ½ tsp salt
  • 1 generous tsp Dijon mustard
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 tsp freshly squeezed juice
  • ½ cup creme fraiche
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook the asparagus in lightly salted boiling water until al dente – about 5-6 minutes for spears of medium thickness (skinny ones will be done in 3-4 minutes and their thicker compatriots will need 6-7 minutes). 

While the asparagus is cooking, put the crushed garlic, mustard, lemon zest and juice in a small bowl. Mix well, then fold in the creme fraiche. Season to taste with black pepper.

Drain the asparagus and divide between two (or four) plates. Serve with a generous spoonful of the sauce.

TIP: This also works if you want to eat the asparagus cold: just cook the asparagus until al dente, then drain immediately under cold running water. When the asparagus is cold, wrap it loosely in a clean, dry tea towel and store in the fridge until ready to serve.

Hiakai – Modern Māori Cuisine

In my line of work, the things you do are often invisible (and meant to be that way). It used to be that the worst thing you could do as a journalist was insert yourself into the story. Editing is a bit the same, because the trick is to make the work sound more like the person who wrote it than it did before.

Still, it’s always good to have tangible proof of a project… and this one is exceptionally beautiful!

It was an honour and a privilege to to work with Monique Fiso and Penguin Random House on this groundbreaking book. Take a little tour around any bookstore or library (even the venerable National Library, where I spent quite a lot of January 2020), and you’ll soon discover that books on Māori food are few and far between. Books like this one, that combine the history of Māori food gathering, cultivation and preparation with modern cooking methods are even rarer.

I know this isn’t about me, but I learned so much while working on this book – about much more than food. I really recommend reading it! (In the meantime, here’s a story I wrote about Monique last month.

Nau te rourou, naku te rourou, ka ora te manuhiri – with your food basket and my food basket, the people will thrive.

Smashed peas on toast

Got smashed recently? Nah, me neither. It’s not so good for us in these already anxious times (and it is Dry July, after all). Personally, I got really tired of all the ‘wine mum’ memes on social media during lockdown. There’s nothing like being encouraged to join a tribe to make me want to run screaming in the other direction. I also interviewed a couple of experts who had some sobering things to say about using alcohol as a lockdown coping mechanism. It’s more common sense than rocket science, but both seem to be in short supply.

A much cheaper, healthier and family-friendly way to get smashed is to try these peas on toast. You can be fancy, and serve them on little crackers or crostini when you have a few people over for dinner, or you can turn them into dinner if you eat them with a poached or fried egg on top. As it is, this amount serves two generously – and makes a good working from home lunch. Cheers! 

Smashed peas on toast

I prefer baby peas (sweeter and cuter) to ordinary ones for this dish, because the big ones can be a bit mealy. But use whatever you have. 

  • 4 tsp butter or olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled and sliced
  • Finely chopped red chilli, to taste (optional)
  • A handful of fresh parsley and mint, finely chopped
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • A handful of fresh parsley and mint, finely chopped
  • 4 slices bread – preferably baguette, pita, or wholegrain toast

Melt half the butter or olive oil in a small pot set over medium heat. Add the garlic, followed by the peas and the water. Crush the peas with a potato masher or a fork as they cook, until you have a rough puree (this will take about three minutes). Stir in the chopped herbs. While the peas are cooking, toast the bread and spread with the remaining butter or olive oil. Arrange the toast on a plate and pile the crushed peas on top, allowing for a bit of artistic scattering. Season well with salt and pepper and serve.

Meet 2020’s Outstanding NZ Food Producers

I’m a terrible liar (I like to think this is a good thing) but I’m excellent at keeping secrets. Want proof? I’ve known for the last month who the winners of the 2020 Outstanding New Zealand Food Producers Awards are, but I’ve kept it quiet until now. Drumroll… here they are!

Bostock Brothers, the Hawke’s Bay organic chicken producers owned by Ben and George Bostock, is this year’s Supreme Champion. The Bostocks’ Organic Whole Chicken took the top award and was also named the Giesen Wines Paddock Champion. Their Chicken Thighs and Chicken Breasts also won gold medals.

Bostock Organic Chicken

I interviewed Ben and George (without letting on that they were winners – see, I told you I was good) for the upcoming e-edition of NZ Life & Leisure. What top blokes they are! The Bostocks run New Zealand’s only truly organic, free range chicken farm, where the birds get to roam free in a former organic apple orchard by day and snuggle into French-designed chalets by night. As it says on their website, ‘the key to success is nurturing, feeding and raising the chickens well’. The Bostocks’ chicken tastes like ‘real’ chicken should – congratulations to them for putting in the work.

This is my fourth year as a judge at these awards, which are run with extreme precision and absolute attention to detail. Founders Nic McConnell and Kathie Bartley put in endless amounts of effort behind the scenes, not least of which is corraling 25 judges and eight stewards on judging day.

This year I judged the Dairy section, which meant a day of eating ice creams, yoghurts and other miscellaneous milky products. I’m delighted to share the news that Pure NZ Ice Cream’s Boysenberry Ice Cream was named Emerson’s Dairy Champion. My fellow judge and I couldn’t stop eating this one – it has an incredible fruity flavour (thanks to the Nelson-grown boysenberries) and great mouthfeel.

AHIA Freshly Smoked Kahawai (Manuka Honey) from Gisborne’s Ngāti Porou Seafood was awarded Seafood NZ Water Champion. Judges described it as ‘beautifully moist…moreish…a good honest Kiwi fish celebrated and treated with love.’

Closer to home (for me), Wellington’s Fix & Fogg Everything Butter was named Farro Earth Champion. It’s the second big win at these awards for the ambitious nut buttery – their Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter won the Earth category in 2017.

Forage & Ferment Wild Kefir (Ginger root) – a light, crisp drink with more probiotic properties than kombucha – is the Label & Litho Drink Champion. It’s the second Awards success for founder Kelli Walker – her carrot, ginger, turmeric and marigold Wild Kraut received a gold medal in 2018.

Sustainability plays a huge part in the awards – specialist judges assess each entrant on their sustainable practices and initiatives. This year Raglan Food Co. (owned by Mr and Mrs Coconut – Seb Walter and Tesh Randall) is the Outstanding Sustainability Champion. The company also won two silver medals for its Boysenberry Coconut Yoghurt and Organic Blackcurrant & Vanilla Gourmet Yoghurt.

Speaking of yoghurt makes me think of breakfast – if you’re looking to start the day on a winning note then you should try a bowlful of Blue Frog’s Manuka Honey & Hemp Heart Probiotic Porridge. This ‘porridge with attitude’ is the FMCG Business New Product Champion.

If chocolate is more your thing, you’ll be pleased to know that Foundry Chocolate is the Freshco.nz New Business Champion. It’s the second big win for the Mahurangi bean-to-bar business, after it was named Supreme Winner at the NZ Chocolate Awards.

Lastly, Zaroa Pohutakawa Smoked & Sous Vide Cooked Angus Beef Brisket is the Outstanding Free-From Champion. Zaroa is a family-owned business launched last year by Wilhelm Zabern, an Austrian ‘Master of Meat’ who has lived in Aotearoa for 30 years.

While winning awards is nice, all these businesses – and the other medal-winners in this year’s awards (see here for a full list) – need our help to stay viable in these challenging times. If you’ve got the means, do support them in the coming months.

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Chocolate avocado butter (aka woke Nutella)

I’m not particularly proud of myself for this, but I developed a bit of a Nutella habit when we were in France. You know how it goes – warm, crusty baguette, cold, unsalted butter, a dollop of shiny, Wonka-esque Nutella – it’s pretty irresistible.

In my defence, the country basically runs on the stuff (which is why strikes at the factory are always taken so seriously). I know that’s no excuse – France runs on cigarettes too, but I managed to not start smoking – but no one’s perfect. I mean, at least I wasn’t eating foie gras for breakfast, right?

Now we’re back in New Zealand, I wouldn’t dream of buying Nutella, especially not when there are some very good local alternatives (such as the so-good-it-sold-out-in-a-day Kindness Spread from Good Bitches Baking and Fix & Fogg). But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss having chocolate for breakfast. Here’s a rather more woke version of the dreaded Nutella that you can whip up in seconds.

Chocolate avocado butter

Recently I lunched at Inca, Nic Watt’s new Peruvian-Japanese joint in the fancy new Westfield Newmarket. I’d go again for the sashimi, personally, but they also do a nice line in table theatre by making guacamole in front of you. You could always do the same with this chocolate avocado butter at home, perhaps as part of a Christmas breakfast?

  • 1 generous Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 generous Tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 perfectly ripe avocado
  • Finely grated orange or lemon zest
  • Optional extras: Finely grated dark chocolate, a pinch of cinnamon, a sprinkle of chilli flakes

Beat the cocoa, honey and salt together until well combined. Mash in the avocado and beat until smooth. Stir in the orange or lemon zest. Taste – it may need a touch more salt, or a drop of juice for acidity – and add the optional extras if you fancy. Slather over a piece of sourdough toast. Alternatively, eat from the bowl as if you’re eating Nutella from the jar. Cover any leftovers and store in the fridge for up to a day.