The Coffee Club, Taupo

Before the long weekend (spent with family and a great time) I had the worst cup of coffee I can remember (thank goodness for small mercies). We went to Taupo where Barbara had appointments. The Coffee Club is convenient and prominent on the main road opposite the lake. Location, location, location.

We stopped at The Coffee Club, it was a beautiful spring morning with the remains of last night’s wind driven waves making the lake look more like a sheltered seaside bay. Barbara’s soy cappuccino was horribly expensive, though she said it was “fine, quite OK”. My “long black” came in a huge mug, filled almost to the brim with scalding hot water used to dilute the bitter taste of some coffee made from second hand grounds, or possibly they just let the hot water run through the single shot head until the giant mug was full. I have had better instant coffee, when occasionally I have made the mistake of thinking a church was serving proper french-press coffee, but they had really used instant.

I can not recommend strongly enough that (if you actually like coffee) you stay away from The Coffee Club, Taupo. Though I guess if you don’t like coffee the food and tea might be wonderful ;)

A new low? New heights?

One of the more depressing outcomes of a post-infection fatigue is the things one is reduced, but lack of energy to do better, to eating. Come lunchtime, I was hungry, from a morning dutifully preparing my paper for the symposium: “Doing Theology in the Light of the Trinity“, later this week. But I have barely enough energy to prepare words, none to cook food. In the freezer there were some “Chicken Tenders”. I remember them, they epitomise the phrase “cheap and nasty”. That’s why there was still the remains of a small packet – after trying them I had not (previously) been desperate enough to have a second go.

I won’t shame the company that produced them by naming them here, but they taste and look like mechanically recovered meat from roadkill. I’m tired, lacking energy to cook, I grilled a few. The first was as bad as I remembered, mushy, mild and flavourless except for the excess of pepper, with the slight crunch (where they had not absorbed mushy softness from the “meat”) of breadcrumbs to redeem them.

In desperation I drizzled the remaining monstrosities with some decent olive oil. It was a revelation, the “Chicken Tenders” were still as unappetising as ever, but the zing of the oil made the meal quite edible, almost satisfying. No wonder chefs drizzle olive oil over everything! If it can almost redeem those cheap and nasty “Chicken Tenders” it must do wonders for real food.

Mikano (Degustation Menu)

We bought a degustation menu at, Auckland restaurant, Mikano from Grabone, and enjoyed the meal on Sunday. 

Mikano has a brilliant setting over the helipads on Tamaki Drive with a stunning view of the harbour to Rangitoto and Waiheke. Our sense of occasion was heightened by having booked for an early sitting and so getting a window table, and even more by realising that the friendly and courtly gentleman who preceded us up the stairs and held the door for Barbara and me was the grand old man of NZ theatre (and accomplished film actor) Ian Mune. When we realised who he was we wished we’d said “Thank you for introducing our children to Shakespeare.” But although the Munes were just two tables away the moment had passed.

Degustation menus are a great way for a restaurant to showcase their work, and for customers to enjoy a fine meal at a reasonable cost. Since a number of customers eat the same sequence of dishes, though each individual requires more courses, overall less different dishes are prepared, and ingredients are also more standardised than an a la carte menu.

Mikano’s degustation menu was uncompromising. Each item was a simple unadorned classic:

  • French Onion Soup with gruyere crouton
  • Smoked Snapper with leek, potato, & parsley cream
  • Wild Mushroom Risotto with crispy pancetta
  • Beef Bourguignon Pie with thyme roasted baby carrots & horseradish
  • Lamb Shoulder Tagine with Moroccan spices, tomato, olives & cumin, parsnip puree
  • Sticky Date Pudding with toffee sauce & hokey pokey ice cream

The main menu is more traditionally restaurant fare, the first starter listed is: “Wild mushroom & proscuitto minestrone with char-grilled garlic bruschetta”.

The onion soup was superb, a balanced contrast of sweet onion with savoury meaty stock, simple but brilliant.

The smoked snapper was tasty and set off nicely by the vegetables and ‘cream’. Perhaps the smokiness of the fish disguised the tang of parsley, because the ‘cream’ was a striking deep green that visually contrasted with the deep colour of the fish.

Barbara really enjoyed the risotto (though I am not sure telling the Maitre d’ afterwards that it was as good as mine was really a compliment to a fine restaurant ;)  For me this was the least successful dish, the strong stock seemed to overpower the mushrooms, but I may have been biased by too much pepper in the first bite (for the other dishes, as you would expect, the seasoning was perfect).

The beef pie was well done, a tiny (this is a degustation menu :) pastry parcel of tender beef and gravy, the baby carrots were roasted enough to be sweet, and the horseradish finely balanced with enough ‘kick’ but not aggressive.

The lamb tagine with its powerful spices, olives and spiced parsnip was a strong tasting finish, making the sticky date pudding something of an anticlimax, though the vanilla ice cream was superb. (I’m not a fan of hard chunks of partially caramelised sugar in ice cream so I won’t comment on the choice of a Kiwi-classic in place of plain vanilla.)

Overall did the menu ‘work’? As a really enjoyable meal, yes. Every dish (except perhaps the risotto) was really well done, the combination and movement through the meal worked very well, as the tastes complemented and enhanced each other excellently. But, as a display menu from a fine restaurant, not so well, the dishes individually lacked that touch that lifts a dish from “really good” to “excellent” – the star quality of the setting (or our fellow diners ;)

Mamma Mia: delicious degustation at the Mount

We bought a GrabOne voucher for a five course degustation menu at Mamma Mia an Italian restaurant at the Mount.

Unprepossessing exterior of Mamma Mia (ex-Vivo)

Mamma Mia Ristorante Italiano
14B Pacific Ave
Mt Maunganui

07 575 8245

It doesn’t look like much and has recently changed hands (and name), but the degustation menu looked interesting. The regular menu does not look exciting but contains some gems.

We had:

Thin slices of orange with toasted fennel seeds, watercress and an olive oil dressing. The orange and fennel worked beautifully. The sprig of watercress added a nice peppery bite. (Barbara loved the olive oil dressing, I’d have liked to add some vinegary sharpness.)  [From regular menu.]

Carpaccio with incredibly thinly sliced eye fillet1 seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil topped with capers and parmesan, then served with wild rocket and fried bread.2 This was just delicious and beautifully presented, the meat so thin and tender.

Gnocchi “Mare”: Homemade Gnocchi with garlic, fresh tomato, chilli, prawns, shrimps
& herbs topped with Pecorino cheese. The gnocchi were beautiful, tender but firm, and the sauce (in which the chilli was barely noticeable but added just a touch of warmth) was simple but worked well with the seafood and the gnocchi. This was one of the highlights of a delightful meal. (From regular menu.)

Another highlight followed (not from the regular menu) dried salted catfish poached in milk and wine on mash with a lightly creamy sauce and a cherry tomato. The flavours blended beautifully and the use of salted dried fish, and the tasty sauce, lifted this way above “poached white fish and mash”!

For dessert we had iced zabbaglione, a slice of rice pudding flavoured with coconut and a “Soupa Inglezi” concoction of custard3 sponge, chocolate and fruit flavours with desert wine softening the sponge. Each was delicious, but together they almost persuaded two diners who usually pass on desserts that they were the best course of a superb meal.

I have dined as well (or even better?) in France, Thailand, at a few of the best restaurants in Auckland, but this was by far the best meal, and several of the best dishes, we’ve had in the Bay of Plenty.

Definitely one to recommend. And both the chef who helped a busy service by bringing some dishes to the table, and waitress, used a charming mix of Italian and English :)

  1. The chef must have superb knife skills as the meat was really paper thin! []
  2. The “fried bread” was also wafer thin and crisp. []
  3. Yes, real egg custard :) []

Cooking mistakes

It’s the weekend :) Time to cook and eat :)

But, though we know better, we all cut corners. In cooking some corners can safely be cut (caramelising onions can be hurried – a bit – by adding a little salt and sugar and water from time to time, so allowing a slightly higher heat) but most can’t.

The image from "6. You over-soften butter."

There’s a fine list of mistakes we have all made (well maybe none of us has made all of them but all of us have made some) at Cooking Light in a post: The Most Common Cooking Mistakes Most instructive, especially since they explain the science behind the wisdom :)

For example I have been wondering why my poached eggs have been getting less and less well shaped. I’ve been putting more and more effort into getting the water really hot and fiercely swirling. Wrong move, have the water just simmering, that way there is less stress on the egg, better shape. It is so obvious once you know why!


The Ethics of Animal Testing and being Carnivorous

Fattening beef, commercial "farming" (photo from Animal farm Life)

I was recently asked about the ethics of animal testing. While I’m aware that it is a very contentious issue for “animal rights activists” it is not one I have thought much about. Though, since I grow animals to eat, I am closer existentially to that related issue than someone who gets their meat from the supermarket.

It seems to me there are some simple principles that provide guidance:

  • God made animals so we have a general responsibility to care for them like for the rest of creation (see Gen 1)
  • God explicitly allowed the use of animals for human benefit including killing them to eat (see Gen 9:3) n.b. I’d see this extending to the next line…
  • Research and testing which is of other great benefit for humans should also therefore be considered within God’s will.

We have a duty to care for God's creation - including other creatures we use for food.

This leads to the tentative conclusions:

  1. We have the right to use animals for our benefit. (This is an extension, but a small one of the permission to eat them in Gen 9:3. Testing products for safety would (to my mind) fall under this category.
  2. We have a responsibility to care for them, and so the testing should not be cruel nor unnecessary.
I suspect that in NZ the Government and the SPCA ensure testing is not cruel and is “necessary”. So, cautiously, I am in favour of animal testing.
OTOH, especially now that I am involved in rearing animals for meat, it seems to me that much that today goes by the name of “farming” is unnecessarily cruel and therefore ethically indefensible. To keep animals penned up in small areas to make human food cheaper or more tender is wrong. Much pork and chicken and some beef (not so much in NZ where most is free range grass fed) transgresses the criterion of care.

New Ice Cream Flavour: Plum and Licorice

You can tell I'm no food stylist ;) but what matters to me is taste and this new flavour is superb :)

The Fig Ice-cream was toppled from the position of family favourite very quickly by fig and licorice, even the scoffers who laughed to scorn my claim that this was a great ice-cream when I sampled a professional attempt at the Gisborne food festival a few years ago were converted. But now after weeks of testing there’s a new favourite, Plum and Licorice.1 It’s made just like the fig ice-cream except a load of prunes and finely chopped licorice are used instead of figs. As you will note the name is a marketing ploy, since some of the testing panel were hesitant about prune ice-cream, even the thought of prune and licorice failed to impress :(

However, under its marketing name “Plum and Licorice”2 this brand new, and according to a Google search world-first ice-cream is now an established favourite.3

Recipe: Plum and Licorice Ice-cream

  • 1.5l Cream
  • 300-500g Prunes
  • 300g Licorice
  • 3 eggs
  • Vanilla extract
  • Sugar to taste

Cut the licorice into small chunks, the smaller the better. Put the licorice, prunes and egg yolks into a food processor and zap them.4  In one bowl whip the egg whites till stiff, in another whip the cream to firm peaks. Fold the fruit mix into the cream and add the egg white.

Freeze. It may help if you stir with a fork when the mix has begun to freeze  but frankly the fruit and licorice content should stop large crystals forming.5

  1. The favourite ice-cream is judged on the basis of a litres/person-day score. Plum and Licorice now beats all previous contenders. []
  2. Despite initial consumer resistance, spouses are often a chef’s toughest critics. Which is quite fair because they also suffer the chef’s toughest meats ;) []
  3. Actually to be 100% transparent, Google books does suggest that one ice-cream company may have tried prune and licorice, but this depends on an abstruse point of exegesis, and the absence or disuse of an “oxford comma” in the report. If they did actually reject prune and licorice, and not both prune and licorice separately, then they missed a fine and delicious ice-cream. But I’m claiming the report was written suggesting the rejection of each of the single flavours and not of the combined delight! []
  4. The longer you can bare the noise the smaller the licorice lumps in the final ice-cream, though the initial cutting actually has even more effect on this, so for small nuggets cut small! []
  5. Having all the ingredients really cold before you start really helps the freezing process. []

Bacon and egg for grown-ups

There are times when Bacon and Eggs is just the thing, as a comfort food for your inner-child it’s a combo that can hardly be beaten. But, for those times when you want something a little more grown-up, and let’s face it just a tad healthier. I have invented the perfect recipe.

Just combine a lettuce and chicory salad with bacon and blue cheese dressing with egg dressed potatoes :) The result is sharp, clean and sophisticated, but with undertones of bacon and egg comfort.

Put the potatoes on to boil, this works best with a floury potato, not a waxy one (look for those marked for roasting etc.)

The salad couldn’t be simpler, just mix lettuce and chicory leaves (you want a head that has decent leaves not one of the baby tight ones that are bestgrilled) with a little garnish of chopped spring onion.

The dressing is simple and brilliant:

  • Grill bacon (less than you’d use for real Bacon and Eggs maybe 1.5 -2 rashers per person).
  • Put a  tablespoon per person of each of olive oil and milk into a small bowl, crumble a good big nob of  blue cheese per person (I used a creamy blue, they seem to blend into the dressing better). Beat with a fork till the cheese is almost incorporated into the oil/milk emulsion, making a thick but just pourable dressing. If it is too thick add extra milk.

Chop the bacon small. Mix the salad, bacon and dressing.

Take the boiled potatoes, and put them still hot into a heated bowl, sprinkle with mustard seeds (for garnish and a slight added bite) and salt, then break an egg over the potatoes and stir to coat. The heat of the potatoes (straight from the boiling water) should cook the egg1 the stirring will soften the potatoes, and coat with yellow (I used free a range egg with a deep yellow yolk, if yours are pale you may want to cheat and add 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric to the egg before stirring into the potatoes). Do NOT make mashed potatoes, just lightly stir to coat and fluff them.

Voila, bursts of lovely flavour, and pretty healthy bacon and eggs for grown-ups!

  1. More or less, you may want to avoid this recipe if you or a guest is pregnant or in fragile health as some egg may remain uncooked, just spread as a dressing. []

Being an extra in a story Jesus told

Photo by redjar

In response to my post Fairtrade: Coffee, Chocolate & Bananas Heather commented:

…it will do nothing to convince the group that I most often encounter: those who don’t believe that what they do could possibly change ‘the system’. That’s the main point I find myself trying to argue with people.

Oh, you silly people! I’ve always tried to change the world, but, since I was three I’ve recognised that usually I have little success. I have a blog, it’s quite popular, I regularly write posts trying to change the world. However, there are nearly 600,000 websites that are visited more often than my blog. Realistically I stand little chance of saving the world :(

Happily I don’t have to. That post is already taken. What I do have to do is to try to change my little corner of the world. If I persuade five of you to change your buying just habits on just one of these three  products: Coffee, Chocolate and Cocoa, or Bananas then at least one family’s life will be changed for the better. If two of you five persuade five others, we have a snowball, and snowballs do change the world…

But, for the moment forget about snowballs, because Jesus told a story that featured a couple of possible world-changers:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  (Luke 10:30-32)

Priests are always trying to make the world a better place, and preaching to change the world is a Levite’s job…

Fairtrade: Coffee, Chocolate & Bananas

Photo by anthony_p_c

Some of you, I hope many, do not need to read this post. Sadly those who flick past will probably be mainly those who DO need to read it :(

When I posted a recipe for some nice Chocolate Muffins (which are actually a sort of moist and juicy cross between muffins and brownies, but that’s another story) on Repentant Carnivores Heather commented suggesting that I should have recommended that people use FairTrade chocolate and cocoa. To my reply that “I just assumed that people would (at least try to) use Fair Trade” she wrote: “Wow! You must move in very different Christian circles from me! I know relatively few Christians who think that such buying decisions have anything to do with their faith (even Christians who are very aware of and concerned about the Majority World)

Fair trade is a Christian issue:

God hates rapaciously greedy oppressors. The prophets and the Old Testament laws had loads to say about the evils of injustice and how God cannot tolerate people who oppress their neighbours. Jesus had some interesting things to say about who our neighbours  might be. Put these together and if our buying in the market (or even supermarket) is done at a price that does not allow the producers to live a decent life we are acting in a manner that God abhors. Whether or not there is any truth in claims that: “God hates fags” it is abundantly clear that God does hate rapaciously greedy oppressors.

The world trade system is rapaciously greedy: Unless it is moderated by consumer choice or government legislation the world trade system in which we operate is rapaciously greedy. (In this post we will ignore legislation, that’s someone else’s business.) Take coffee,  a high proportion of coffee is grown by small farmers,1 they get usually a tiny proportion of the price that the big coffee companies charge for the end product2 these prices hardly cover the cost of production.3 Buying “normally traded” coffee therefore is oppressive and unjust.

For Chocolate and Cocoa the issue is different, there much comes from large plantations, whose owners (Western companies or local elites) make good money, but pay a pittance to their workers, or even if many stories from reputable sources including the US State Department are to be believed use child slaves imported for the work from neighbouring countries. Buying “normal” chocolate products is therefore oppressive and cruel.

For bananas there is a third problem, here most production is from large estates, the monoculture practices of these companies require the use of dangerous chemicals, the companies have often bribed government officials and legislators to ensure that they can continue to expose their workers to these chemicals (and so not lose their commercial edge). Buying “normal” bananas thus endangers the health of the people who worked to grow your banana.

You CAN now (at least in NZ) often find FairTrade coffee at the supermarket – there is no excuse to buy anything else.

You CAN now (at least in NZ) often find cafes that sell FairTrade coffee – there is no excuse to go anywhere else.

FairTrade chocolate and cocoa are less easy to find, a few supermarkets stock them, but often you have to go to a TradeAid shop, or buy online: NZ, or search Google.

Some supermarkets stock fairly traded bananas.

If your supermarket does not stock these products do some Social Media Activism, “social media” is a hot notion among marketers, supermarkets want you to “friend” them on Facebook. Do so. And then post on their wall asking them to stock Fair Trade products. If enough people post on Pak n’ Save’s FB page, they will stock Fair Trade… it’s up to you!

  1. 70% from properties of less than 10Ha. []
  2. Typically less than 10%. []
  3. In 2010 the price was around US$2/pound  according to the International Coffee Organisation. []