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Freshly Ground

Food and the other things in life that really matter

Updated: 2018-03-06T11:45:40.533+13:00


Grinding Down


It's sad to see something end, but I think that this blog has died a peaceful and natural death.

Freshly Ground was more than just a blog to me. It was my entry into this thing they call "having an online presence", and it turned out to be so much more than I ever imagined. However, as you can see from the lack of posts over the past several months, this blog really has, well, ground down.

But fear not. Although I shall no longer be blogging over here, or posting recipes and delicious photos that make you just want to open your jaw as wide as it will go so that you can, if at all possible, eat the computer screen, I will still be around, and this is not the last gasp from Freshly Ground.

I can now be found over at my recently revamped homepage, There, I'll be blogging, from time to time, as it suits me, about the things I'm most passionate about, namely family, writing, and, occasionally, food. And whatever else I feel like blogging about. Because it's my site, and I can do what I like. Nah nah.

Also, I have a very special project going on around Freshly Ground, and I'm looking forward to getting that to completion and being able to announce it to you all. I think you'll be as excited about it as I am.

Anyway, please come on over to and say 'hi". I'd love to see you there.

Saving the Hobbit - The FAQs


The public response to yesterday's events has made it clear that this situation is as confusing to many as it is potentially disastrous. In response, I'd like to very quickly address what seem to be some of the most common misconceptions floating around out there in the comments, both here and around the blogosphere.Q: Do the actors have a valid dispute? A: Yes, but not with the production company 3' 7", or with Wingnut Films. Their claims regarding conditions lie in employment law and should have been taken up with SPADA and the Department of Labour. This could have been done long ago. An opportunity to do so was presented to Actors' Equity 18 months ago, but they chose not to at the insistence of the MEAA's Simon Whipp, who advised them to "wait until The Hobbit".Q. Should Sir Peter Jackson have met with actors to discuss terms?A. No. To do so under our current labour laws would have been illegal.Q. Can't they just cast around the boycott?A. I'm no casting director, but the answer to that is no. It's not that simple. The more important point is that the damage the boycott has done to this production in particular and also to New Zealand's reputation as a stable place to invest in film projects has been catastrophic.Q: Does Sir Peter Jackson have a secret agenda to take the production offshore because it's cheaper?A: Absolute nonsense. Anyone who has worked in Wellington over the past ten years or more knows that a tremendous amount of money has been re-invested by Wingnut Films into the services and infrastructure required for Wellington to offer world-class film studios, post-production facilities, and everything that goes with it, not to mention keeping hundreds of people employed both during filming of larger projects and in the downtime. Everything Jackson needs is here, and it won't come any cheaper taking it elsewhere.Q. Do the studios have a secret agenda to take the production offshore?A. The studios have every right to protect their investment. If the risk seems to high to spend their money here, then it makes business sense to take it elsewhere. That's the hard reality of multi-million dollar industries.Q. Aren't the studios just trying to gouge a bigger tax cut from the Government?A. Perhaps. According to Sir Peter, they have never asked for one. According to Gerry Brownlee, they have not asked for one. Remember, up until the industrial action was started four weeks ago, there was no discussion about this project going offshore. Not being a studio exec, I can't answer that.Q. This is just about a rich greedy man getting richer and greedier. (Not exactly a question, but a blatant case of Tall Poppy syndrome that this country has suddenly developed for a man who was our hero not that long ago.)A. First off, Sir Peter Jackson is anything but greedy, as anyone who knows him and has worked with him will agree. Secondly, yes, he is wealthy, and he has earned every cent of that money through years and years of hard work. If anyone else out there has built a film-making empire from the ground up out of practically nothing, has gone on to bring millions of dollars into our country to feed down into the pockets of ordinary New Zealanders, has created thousands of jobs, has generated billions of dollars in tourism income and created a cultural phenomenon whereby our country is now recognised as a mythical place where dreams can be made reality, then you have a right to criticise whether or not Peter has the right to spend money. If not, then keep it to yourself.Q. Will losing The Hobbit really be that damaging to our film industry?A. Yes. The reputation we have as a stable and safe country to bring large jobs to will be gone. Investors will not have confidence that their money is secure and will choose to take it elsewhere. Even the low-budget end of our market is cushioned by the influx of big-budget work - it allows suppliers and technicians to work for lower rates to see projects shot because they love working on them and want to see them made. Without the big-budget work, the low-budget [...]

Breaking the Silence - Save the Hobbit


As some of you may know, my day job is in New Zealand's film industry. It is a dynamic and exciting area to be working in, but the events of the past few weeks surrounding The Hobbit have brought the industry as a whole into great peril, and things could not be worse.However, this in not being seen in the media. All we have been hearing is "actor's conditions" and "Peter Jackson refuses to meet with the union." Until yesterday, we had not heard a whimper of support for the filmmaking genius that brought us LOTR and King Kong. For years we have all presumed that Sir Peter was impervious, a rock that could weather any storm and bring us all through it with him intact. The selfish and destructive actions of the Australian MEAA have proven otherwise.Last night I joined a thousand other technicians marching through the streets of Wellington in an unscheduled demonstration in support of Peter Jackson, and in support of our local industry. It was well past time that the people who have been so supported by Peter and his tireless work in this country over the last 25 years stood up and showed him that we value and respect him. We owe him a great deal, and we will not stand silent while he fights the fight of his life. He has fought for us. We will fight for him.These are the basic dynamics of this conflict:- The Australian Union (the MEAA) is threatened by the dynamic and creative independent NZ film industry that is flourishing on its doorstep, taking projects and doing them better than they could.- The MEAA has manipulated Actors' Equity into industrial action against The Hobbit specifically because of the massive impact it will have on our small industry.- Even if The Hobbit is not shot in Australia, but in Ireland or Prague or wherever, losing it will have disastrous effects on the New Zealand film industry.From the cynical point of view of a film technician seeing his industry being ripped out from under him, it seems pretty clear that whatever machinations are at work here at higher levels, whoever is being played by who, the outcome of all of this will not be better working conditions for actors, as the smoke and mirrors are leading us to believe.It will be no work for actors, fullstop. Or for technicians for that matter, or the myriad of support services that prop up the industry, or the hundreds of suppliers downstream who prosper on the downstream value of a project of this size.What many Actors' Equity members don't seem to understand is that by supporting this boycott they are, to all intents and purposes, committing career suicide. Not in a "if you support this boycott we won't hire you in the future", sort of way, but a "there will be no industry in this country anymore" sort of way. I won't argue that there are issues to be discussed, but these relate to employment law and should be taken up with the New Zealand legislature, not with a production company working within that law.If The Hobbit goes away, the amazing creative workforce we have here, which has been nurtured by Sir Peter for almost three decades, will also go away.It's time for more than just the puppets of the union to be heard. Last night we marched, and we tried our best to get people to understand just what is at stake here. We want to do this job. We can do this job better than any other country. Sir Peter is a highly collaborative artist, and the success of his work is not simply the result of his own genius, but the combined efforts of hundreds of people, many of whom I brushed shoulders with on the streets of Wellington last night.Peter Jackson cannot pick up the hundreds of people who comprise this amazing community and take them overseas. These are the people who brought you The Lord of the Rings. These are the people that hand-sculpted the miniatures, who drizzled the blood, who aged the costumes, who hammered and dressed the sets, who rigged the lights. New Zealand is Middle-Earth.But something drastic needs to happen if that is going to remain the case. The Hobbit made anywhere [...]

The SJV and What it Means for You.


Or, more to the point, what it means for me.

But let's back up a little. What, you ask, is an SJV when it's at home?

SJV stands for Sir Julius Vogel, this particular SJV refers to the awards presented by the SFFANZ (Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand) and is this country's pre-eminent recognition of outstanding achievement within or services to the Speculative Fiction genre.(image) I have two fantastic pieces of news regarding the SJV nominations this year. Firstly, nearest and dearest to my heart, the nomination that I put together (after being gently prodded by all-round good chap Grant Stone) for Hugh Cook has been accepted onto the ballot in the category of Services to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. I've written about Hugh and his life and work a great deal over the last couple of years, so it's fantastic to see him being recognised at last.

One of those articles also earned me a place on the ballot, for Fan Writing, which fills me with a lovely warm glow way down deep inside. Hopefully I didn't swallow a dragon, because that would be uncomfortable in the morning.

There are a raft of other great names in there as well, including my friends Grant Stone, Tim Jones, Philippa Ballantine, Debbie & Matt Cowens, Jenni Dowsett, and Anna Caro. The list is all but bubbling over the rim with talent.

So, in the name of shameless self-promotion, it would be wrong of me not to ask you to cast a vote for Hugh, or for me, or for both of us, or for any of the marvelous folk that have put in t he hard yards and made it onto the ballot, if you were able. Of course, I'd prefer votes to be cast my way, but do what you feel you must. Members of SFFANZ or anyone who attends the Au Contraire Science Fiction Convention in Wellington in August 2010 can vote.

The Bottom Rung


Long-time readers (if any of you are still coming back to check up on this most sporadic of blogs) might remember a year or more ago when I waxed lyrical about getting my lazy butt into action and writing something every day. (image) Well, it might sound strange but after more than a year that little book, which I promised to write in every day, is only half full. It contains what are, in my writing oeuvre, very rare things called short stories.

I haven't written a lot in that book because shortly after writing the above-mentioned post I got said butt into gear and spent a lot of time hammering out novel length manuscripts. Not at just a few pages a day, but aiming for a writing goal of at least 1000 words a day.

All of this, of course, on the computer, or else I'd have needed several dozen of those lovely little notebooks to contain all those many many words.

Some days I didn't hit the 1000 word mark. On many days I wrote a lot more, a really good day being up to about 5000. Since I wrote that blog post, I have completed two full-length novel manuscripts, and have had significant interest in one of them from a small publisher. It's not a book deal - in fact, it was a very kindly written and helpful rejection, which I will cherish for a long time to come - but it has validated the long hours and the carpal tunnel syndrome and the eye strain that all those words have cost me.

But I didn't start writing this post to brag about getting a rejection letter from a publisher, since I know there are plenty of writers out there who can claim the same thing many times over, and I don't want to tread on any toes.

No, I wanted to point out the power of making a public statement.

I said it, therefore I must do it.

Prior to writing these two manuscripts I had completed a very lengthy and, at this stage, unpublishable epic tale. When I researched the publishing market and found out just how unpublishable a 275,000 word fantasy series was for an unknown author, I began to languish. I had a plan, but I had not put it into action.

Telling everyone that I had committed to putting words on the page every day cemented the need to do so in my mind, and the habit was formed. If nothing else, failing to do so would mean that I had lied to you all, and I'm not the lying kind.

Well, apart from writing fiction, which is lying in its purest sense, but we won't get into that here.

And now, a year and a bit later, I may not be a published author but I have my first rejection under my belt and I know that my strategy is taking me closer every day. I have gone from standing on the ground looking up at the ladder hanging mysteriously in the overlit sky, to clutching with all my might to the bottom rung of that ladder and holding on for all I'm worth.

So if I don't crop up here more than once or twice a month (as has been the case for a while now) you know where I am: with my head in another world, thinking of horrible things to do to my poor characters.

Failing that, of course, you can normally find me lurking around on Twitter, with my legs dangling uselessly beneath me.

The Prolific Blogger Award


It strikes me as somewhat ironic that I sat down to write a(nother) post apologising for my slackness in the blogging department of late, only to remember that I was recently named in the "Prolific Blogger Awards" by my friend Debbie Cowens.(image) Yes, it has in fact been a month since I last posted here, so no, I don't really deserve an award that suggests I blog an awful lot. A year ago that was so. But a lot has happened in the past year.

My excuse this month for not blogging has been quite simple: I have had far more important writing work to get done. There are only so many hours in the day and writing fiction has been taking up most of my time when I'm not working or being a family guy. There, excuses made and moving on.

Nonetheless, I'm not one to turn down a prize. I believe there are cream buns at the awards ceremony, so I won't be doing myself out of free cream buns.

The idea is that I must go on to praise seven other bloggers (yeah, it's not the most exclusive of clubs) and give them the same award. At last count, there were at least 150 other registered winners. Seems to me a bit like one of those lotteries you get in the mailbox that promises you've already won, but I'm not going to let that worry me. Cream buns, man!

Unfortunately, I'm fairly sure that most of the bloggers I read don't read me back, and Debbie has already chosen most of the good ones who do. Full cred to Jenni, Morgue, and Tim for getting their invitation to eat cream buns with us.

I'll add a few more to the list, bloggers who really are prolific and whom I think will actually read this post:

Off-Black - Random musings of a 30-something guy from The Hutt;

Undulating Ungulate - Also random but somewhat darker musings of the mildly anarchic, in the nicest possible way;

The Alligator Love - The trials and tribulations of a chef in Washington State, USA, just trying to find a way back to NZ before his car really eats him;

and last but not least...

- More slice of life stuff from Morgue's better half; short, sweet and to the point.

Prolific Blogger Award Rules | ONE: Every winner is expected to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. | TWO: Each Prolific Blogger is asked to link to the blog from which he/she has received this award. | THREE: Every Prolific Blogger is asked to link back to this post, which explains the origins of the award. | FOUR: Every Prolific Blogger is asked to visit the post listed in rule #3 and add his/her name to the “Mr. Linky” at the bottom.

Just like Debbie, I don't expect the above prolific bloggers to list seven bloggers, unless they wish to do so. :-)

Cappuccino Cheesecake


I promised it, and here it is: Cheesecake. I took this recipe out of the same cheesecake recipe book as my first Cheesecake post, and I have to say it was just as good as that one. I modified the recipe slightly to use a brewed shot of espresso rather than instant coffee, but I'm a bit of a coffee snob like that.So without further ado, here it comes.Cappuccino Cheesecake(Serves 1, unless anyone else hears that you've made it)IngredientsBase1 1/2C crushed Wine Biscuits2T Sugar50g ButterFilling500g Cream Cheese1/2C Sugar1 1/2T Flour2 Eggs1/2C Sour Cream1 Short Black, with a pinch of cinnamon mixed in. Whipped cream to servePour a strong shot of espresso coffee. Add sugar and drink. This will put a spring in your step, if nothing else. Pour another shot for the cheesecake mixture and place in the freezer or fridge to cool.Combine all the ingredients for the base in a blender, then press into a 20cm springform tin lined with baking paper. Bake at 160C for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and cool. Increase oven temperature to 230C. In the blender, combine the cream cheese, sugar and flour, mixing at a medium speed until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing each in well. Add the Sour Cream and blend. Add the cold coffee to the filling and mix well. Pour the filling over the base and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 120C and bake for another 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Test with a knife to determine that the centre of the cheesecake is cooked. Loosen from the rim of the tin and allow to cool before removing. Chill. Serve with whipped cream or natural yoghurt, and maybe, just maybe, coffee. (I'm going to be honest - I ate this for breakfast, just because I could.)[...]

Now, Despite What I Said Earlier...


This time a year ago, I made some rather jocular and possibly insulting comments about barbeques, the tools that are used to drive them, and the cleaning habits of most the men who lay claim to them.However, despite all my protestations to the contrary, I finally decided that we did, indeed, need a bigger barbeque. Here's me, the boy, and Off-Black Sam, who helped me assemble said new barbeque. (Thanks again, Sam & Fish. Hope Charlotte's still getting a kick out of the box!)And this, as you can see, is a big, three-burner barbeque, complete with oversized barbeque tools and the obligatory cold beer. See how bright and shiny they are when they're new?This is the first slab of strip loin steak to go on the barbie, a cut worthy of baptising such a fine cooking device.These are the mushrooms and onions, for flavouring the grill plate.This is the steak, sizzling and flaring.Asparagus, because it's in season and absolutely divine with simple seasonings on the hot plate.And this is the first dinner plate dished up straight off the new barbeque, with soft buttered rolls and steak sauce to round it out.What can I conclude about barbeques now that I've had a chance to get used to using one that is bigger than a large frying pan?Well, I'll be honest and say that yes, good long tools are a requirement. I never really doubted it, but until I got this barbie, I never needed them.As for cleaning, well, that's another story. I make an effort to not only scrape down the grills and to burn off the dead carbon, but I also slice a couple of lemons and smear them over the plate while it's still hot to get it all citrusy clean. My conclusion is that it's well worth the time to take a few minutes to clean the barbeque after I'm done cooking on it than to open it up a couple of weeks later to find it all greasy and smelly and crawling with critters.On another subject, this post marks my return to the blogosphere after a near silence for the past two-and-a-half months. Thanks for sticking around and for popping back to check in. I had a very focused couple of months working on the new draft of a novel that is my current obsession, and then we had a nice couple of weeks away in the Marlborough Sounds, sailing and rowing and drinking wine, mostly.I'm back into it now, but I rather suspect that I will be light on the blogging until I've put the complete rewrite of this novel to bed, which might take me a couple more months.By way of apology, my next post will be cheesecake.[...]

Garden Update Summer 2010


I know it might seem like this blog has ground to a halt.(Yes, I went there. It's an awful pun, but it was really begging for it.)However, we are still alive down here, there has just been an awful lot going on and a whole load of reasons why I haven't been blogging, the main one of which, as I've said before, is that I'm spending a lot more time doing what I should be doing, which is writing and submitting that writing to publishers.However, I thought it was about time to share with you all how our efforts at growing a garden have gone this year. You might remember our little vege patch that we planted back in August. It did pretty well.We got lots of leafy greens......cauliflowers......broccoli......peas......lettuce...... and we're still getting strawberries - as long as a certain 3-year-old doesn't pick them the moment they go from green to pink.We're also getting little cherry tomatoes coming through one at a time, which is about as well as anyone I know that has tried to grow tomatoes has done this season.Overall it has been a success. My usual pumpkin and potato patch up the back was left this year to ... er ... lie fallow. Yes, it might look like it went to wrack and ruin on the outside, but there is a method to the madness. Fixing nitrogen to the soil and all that, you know.Honest. It's not just another excuse for being slack...[...]

A Temporary and Unexpected Hiatus


Let me start by apologising to those of my readers who have been popping back here to catch up on Freshly Ground over the past three weeks, only to find that I haven't been updating.

No, there has been no family calamity, nor was I abducted by aliens or a shadowy government organisation both of whom wanted me to cook for them the best meal they've ever had. None of those things happened.

Quite simply, with the silly season upon us and work and life getting busy again, something had to give, and blogging seems to have been the thing that gave.

As well as that, I have another opportunity to submit a novel to a publisher, and I'm pouring every spare moment I can find into working on getting that polished up until it shines. I was doing this about this time last year too, but for a different publisher, and it is always an explosively productive time for me, whether the submission is successful or not.

I very much doubt that I will blog here again before next year, although I may try to get some of my in-progress photos of our vege garden up this weekend coming. It really has been something to be proud of.

And with that I must leave you again, so that I can go and grovel to my readers at The Podagogue. Catch you all later!

A Curry Odyssey Episode 10: Mum's Tangy Sweet Curry


I love it when I can combine two themes into one post: In this case, we have the latest installment in the Great Curry Odyssey, as well as another fast, healthy meal for you crazy NaNoWriMo participants.By fast, I mean quick to prepare. So long as you can get this ready and leave it to stew for a couple of hours, then it won't take you away from your frantic writing pace for long.This is the one that started it all; my Mum's famous Tangy Sweet Curry. It's by and large more of a British dish than an Indian one, but if you can get your hands on a good pre-mixed curry powder then there's no reason why this shouldn't stand in for a regular Indian feast. Takes about 15 minutes to prepare. Serve it up with bread rolls and you don't even have to spend time cooking rice.Tangy Sweet Curry(Serves 4)Ingredients500g Stewing Steak, tenderised and cubedOlive Oil for frying8 Garlic cloves, minced2 Onions, slicedFreshly Ground Pepper and Salt1T Flour (Use Potato Flour to make this Gluten-Free)150g Tomato Paste1/3 Cup Water1 C Beef Stock2t Curry Powder2t Honey1 Apple, cored and chopped1 Kumara, peeled and dicedHeat the oil in a large pan. Soften the garlic and onions. Add the meat, season with the salt and pepper and flour and brown. Add the tomato paste and water. Into your beef stock mix the curry powder and honey, then add to the pot. Add the chopped apple and kumara. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.Boil up some peas, steam a few carrots and some broccoli, and serve with buttered bread rolls. [...]

Quicky Pizza


This blog might have left you with the impression that we eat ridiculously well every night (and most mornings, too).

I can assure you, that is not really the case. It is certainly our intention, but we're just as hard-pressed for time, energy and budget as everyone else out there.

Weeknights especially seem to go the way of meals that are as fast and simple as we can manage. Most of the flash and interesting stuff, the time-consuming stuff, happens on the weekends. It's sort of like the magic of television, only it's the internet.

But you saw it here, so it must be true, right?

Anyway, over the next few posts, I plan to intersperse a few more of our weeknight meals, and the little things we like to do to keep our meals vibrant, healthy, and tasty.

Here we have really quick, simple pizza.

The bases were in the freezer, leftover from another night of homemade pizza.

Then all you need is a brush of olive oil, a little bit of minced garlic, a slather of pizza sauce, some sliced salami, onion, and capsicum, and a grating of cheese.
(image) In the oven for 18 minutes, and served with salad. Dinner made in less than half an hour.

More of these will follow, because I'm sure there are folks out there who will find them useful and hopefully inspiring.

'Urban Driftwood' Review


Our first real review has come in for Urban Driftwood.

Please take a minute to pop over to Tim Jones' website, Book in the Trees, and read what he has to say about our little book.

If you haven't already, you can get a free PDF copy of Urban Driftwood from my homepage, or you can pick up a paperback from ($9.00US plus freight).

We are currently recording and editing an audio version which will be released as a free podcast as well, so keep your ears open for that. Watch this space for more details.

If you've already read Urban Driftwood and enjoyed it, I'd really love it if you could take a minute to rate it and even write a quick review over at

A Curry Odyssey Episode 8: Chicken Masala


The Great Curry Odyssey continues!I'll have to tell the truth here. All that hard work with the spices and the grinding and the frying and the blending and all that was never going to catch on. I think it's like Marmite or Chicken & Waffles; you really have to be brought up with it for it to make sense. That's not to say I've given up, mind you, or that I won't plunge into the hard work of real curry again. But for now, I'm not ashamed to say that I'm going to be looking for some shortcuts.(Yes, you're right, I am ashamed. I'm weak and broken and deserve to be given the task of grinding coriander seeds and lemongrass to paste by hand for a thousand years with tennis elbow, but hey, that's not going to happen, is it?)So for my first stop on the road to curry-shortcut-ville, I took the Garam Masala turnoff. I know that this is a vagary, but it is also a redemption of sorts. Garam Masala can be as unique as the person blending it. You can either pick it off the shelf at a supermarket, buy it pre-ground from your local Indian or Asian grocer, or, if you have the talent and the tastebuds, you can grind your own. Essentially Garam Masala is a blend of ground dried spices, and can include anything from coriander seeds to turmeric to cinnamon to cumin.I got a nice pre-blended one from the little Indian grocer who used to be across the road, but which went out of business some months ago. It's probably going a wee bit stale, but it still suits us, and that's the one I used in this recipe.Gluten-Free Casserole Chicken Masala(Serves 6)Ingredients3kg Chicken Pieces, thawed, skin onFreshly Ground Pepper and Salt4T Potato Flour2T Garam Masala1/2 a whole bulb of Garlic, minced4T Avocado Oil2t Balsamic VinegarOlive Oil for frying1/2 C White Wine150g Tomato Paste3 Onions, sliced1 400g tin Chopped TomatoesToss the chicken in the salt and pepper, flour, Garam Masala, garlic, avocado oil, and vinegar. Fry in batches in a heavy pan. Place the browned chicken in an oven dish. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, then add the tomatoes and onions. Pour over the chicken. Bake, uncovered, at 200C for 1 1/2 - 2 hours. The meat should be falling off the bone. Serve with rice and steamed veges. [...]

Crockpot Herbed Lamb Shanks


It's been a while since I gave the good word to my friends at Wai-Ora, but that time has rolled around again.I would have loved to have posted more lovely lamb deliciousness this winter, but it has not been the case. Mostly, this is because when we cook lamb we generally keep it very simple, and so there's not much to say about it, really.The other thing is this: We are big fans of Lamb Shanks. Knuckles, Shanks, whatever you call them, there was a time, not so long ago, when they were a cheap and delicious meal that we would have at least every couple of weeks.But something changed. The twin-packs of knuckles we used to get from the supermarket for $5 have crept up to $7 or $8, or even more. For two people (and given the long cooking time) that's not such a great deal anymore. You could pretty much buy steak for that price, and cook it in 10 minutes.What happened to push up the price of a joint that used to be considered little more than offal?I tell you, it's those damned Celebrity Chefs again. That, and possibly the severe shortages of lamb due to last year's weather, the declining market, the shift from lamb farming to dairy in New Zealand, and whatever else. But I'm going to blame Oliver and Ramsay. By doing the right thing and championing delicious cuts of meat like the Lamb Shank, they've pushed up demand and therefore market value for something that really should be an affordable family meal. Now it's almost a luxury.With this small travesty simmering in my viscera I went to the market, and drooled over the selection in the Wai-Ora lamb fridge like I always do. When I saw two Lamb Shanks for $7, I was equally outraged, but then I did the math.It was the same price as you'd pay for the ones in the supermarket, and they were slightly smaller, but, as we well know, of a much superior quality (I kid you not, and I have the pictures to prove it). Reluctantly accepting that if Lamb Shanks were now to be a treat they might as well be a delicious treat, I bought them.No regrets.But it does seem a shame that Lamb Shanks might now be a rarity in our diet, rather than a reasonably frequent staple. There's nothing quite like having that bone on the plate, all melting meat and oily juices. Very primal. For the sake of preserving these memories for future generations, I took the liberty of recording in great detail the cooking and even eating of these most delicious joints.Because that's what I do.Crockpot Herbed Lamb Shanks(Serves 2)Ingredients2 Lamb KnucklesFresh Mint, choppedFresh Thyme, choppedOlive OilFreshly Ground Pepper and SaltZest of 1 Lemon2T Flour or Potato Flour for Gluten-Free4 Cloves of Garlic, minced1 Cup Beef or Lamb Stock1 Onion, chopped2T Sour CreamGrind up the herbs, lemon zest, garlic, flour and seasoning with a mortar and pestle, adding enough olive oil to loosen it. Coat the knuckles thoroughly.Place the knuckles in the slow cooker, push the onion in around the meat, and pour the stock in around the edges of the dish. Be careful not to rinse the herbs off the shanks with the stock.Cook on High for 1 hour, then switch to low for a further 3 1/2 - 4 hours.When the shanks are done, blend the remains in the crockpot into gravy.Add the sour cream to the gravy, mix well and spoon onto plates.Lay the shanks on top of the gravy. Serve with couscous cooked in beef stock and fresh steamed vegetables. As promised, this is the depth of colour you'll get in the middle of one of these lamb shanks. That, my friends, is flavour, and that is why we have to do so little to get Wai-Ora lamb tasting amazing. It already is.In case you missed it before, you can find the Wai-Ora truck at various markets around Wellington on the weekend, or you order di[...]

A New Yorker in New Zealand


I'm not a big desserts sort of a guy. You may have picked up on that from the scarcity of desserts gracing these pages. That and the fact that I refer to my lovely wife as Dessert Chef.It is Dessert Chef that does the desserts. That is just how it is.Until Dessert Chef got a book for her birthday.If there is a dessert that can get my mouth watering at the very thought, it is real cheesecake.For real cheesecake, I will enter the kitchen, roll up my sleeves and make dessert.Also, and perhaps more importantly, the opportunity to make cheesecake was the best excuse I had ever had to buy a blender.Yes, I can hear you. You're saying: "what, you don't already have a blender?" Well now I do.There was no point wasting any more time. It's many years now since we were in New York, but my first stop on the Cheesecake Highway was at the corner of Fifth and Broadway.I will say this: living out this particular dream was not a cheap one. You could have bought three of those cheap, sugary things that call themselves cheesecakes in supermarket fridges by the time you'd made this cheesecake. But the taste, without a doubt, simply does not compare.And in reality I could have halved this recipe and made one smaller cheesecake which would have served us perfectly well, too. As it was we were eating cheesecake every night for half the week.I am not complaining. Not one crumb.New York Style Cheesecake(Serves just the two of you, if you hide it from your guests)IngredientsBase120g Wine Biscuits3/4 C Sugar50g melted ButterFilling 1 1/2 C Sour Cream1 C Sugar2 Eggs1 t Vanilla Essence500g Cream Cheese40g melted ButterFor the base, blend the biscuits, sugar and melted butter. (Look at the blender go. Isn't it sweet?)Grease a 23cm springform pan and line the bottom with the base mixture, pressing down firmly and as evenly as possible.Blend the sour cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth. (There it goes; that's one sweet blender.)Chop up your cream cheese into small blocks. (I just wanted an excuse to put in a photo of the cream cheese. Nomnomnomnom.)Add the cream cheese to the sour cream mixture and blend. Pour in the melted butter as you blend the mixture down to a smooth consistency. (You couldn't do that without a sweet, sweet blender.)Pour the mixture over the base and spread out in an even layer. Put the oven rack one third of the way up, and Fan Bake at 170C for 45mins. Check the interior of the cheesecake is cooked by sticking a knife in it - if it comes out mostly clean, it's done. (Ours took almost an hour.)Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, overnight if you can. Dust with icing sugar and serve with freshly whipped cream. [...]

First Harvest '09


A few weeks ago we planted out our little vege patch in anticipation of Spring.I'm sure you've all been wondering just how that garden is growing.Haven't you?So far, so good.We've kept out most of the wildlife, apart from the odd white butterfly, and everything is growing like crazy. So much so that we really need to actually stake out the beans and peas or risk losing them completely.I was even able to go out today and pluck leaves from the lettuces for our dinner tonight.Look at that, lovely and fresh from the garden. Such a great feeling.Not so fresh from the garden. But they feel pretty great too. (Stop squishing the sausages in your hands, Dan.)And here it is: Sausage, egg and fresh garden salad with olives and feta on toast, all seasoned with a big old helping of satisfaction.[...]

Tropical Beef Stew


Has it really been a week since I blogged here? Where does the time go? My sincerest apologies. I shall try my best not to leave you all alone for so long again.Just when we thought it was getting all summery again, the southerly has come back through, so the fire is going and the wintry food keeps rolling out of our kitchen.This one comes from the Recipe Book of the Weird and Wonderful - that's not a real recipe book, mind you, but an excuse for me to make up strange combinations and cook them just because I can.This particular meal came about because we happened to have a whole fresh pineapple in the house. We'd sliced up about half of it and eaten it off a platter during the day, but as anyone who's ever kept pineapple will know, you really should eat it the day you slice it open or it goes bad.I really don't like it when things go bad.So, no matter that I had taken stewing steak out of the freezer to cook for dinner that night. The pineapple was going in with it too, somehow.Thus was born the Tropical Beef Stew. Think of it as a Summer-Winter fusion if you must, as Spring in Wellington so often is.Tropical Beef Stew (Serves 4)Ingredients:400g Stewing Steak, cubed and seasoned with freshly ground pepper and salt1 Large Lemon1/2 Fresh Pineapple, cubed, or 1 200g Can of Pineapple PiecesWhole Nutmeg for grating2C Hot Beef StockGrate the zest of the lemon and a few gratings of nutmeg over the beef and toss well. Batch fry the meat, draining the cooking liquid into a large pot as you go. Transfer the cooked meat into this pot. Heat the pan again and add the pineapple, squeezing over the juice of the lemon. Heat briefly, tossing to deglaze the pan, then add to the pot along with the beef stock. Bring to a rapid boil for 20 minutes, then reduce to a simmer for 1 1/2hrs. Dish over rice boiled in beef stock, with sour cream and fresh steamed veges. (The odd shape on the left in this photo is a dumpling. I had some dough that I had frozen, but here's my advice: dumpling dough doesn't unfreeze and cook very well. Don't bother, or, if you know a trick that makes them not come out like shrivelled little piles of rubber, leave me a comment so I know better for next time.)I'll be honest: This dish got a mixed reception. I liked it, but not everyone at the table thought it was something I should add to our regular menu. But if you like beef and pineapple, it's a pretty good combination. [...]

Bacon Bolognaise


Just when I think that it's getting all summery, it turns cold again. Luckily, I've got a whole swag of warm winter stewy-type meals sitting here in the drafts folder waiting to tickle your saliva glands, but this one ought to go down just as well for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere who have started to feel autumn biting around your ankles.This recipe was inspired by my friend Jenni's trip to Rarotonga, where she had a dish that sounded so good I just had to try it out myself.Fortuitously, the same day I read that post we had somehow ended up with two lots of meat defrosted, which is not like us at all, and both had to be used up or one would have to be thrown out. The Stephano's Spaghetti Bolognaise with Bacon was obviously just meant to be.Of course, not having been there myself, all I really had to go off was the name, and the rest I just made up. The cherry tomatoes, for example, were only in the fridge because a certain 2-year-old had got hold of the packet in the supermarket and started eating them, forcing Dessert Chef to buy them. As it turns out, they might have been the best bit.So thanks to Jenni for the inspiration, and to my boy for the odd choice of unsanctioned supermarket snacks.Bacon Bolognaise(Serves 4)Ingredients300g Beef MinceFreshly Ground Pepper and Salt1T Balsamic Vinegar1T Worcester Sauce1/2t Freshly Grated Nutmeg1t Dried Thyme or 1T Fresh Thyme Leaves4T Tomato PasteOlive Oil for Frying1 400g Tin Chopped Tomatoes4 Rashers Bacon, chopped4 Garlic Cloves, Minced150g Mushrooms, peeled and sliced1 Punnet Cherry TomatoesHeat oil in a pan, add the mince and brown. Season with salt and pepper, vinegar, worcester, nutmeg, and thyme. Cook these flavours into the meat, then add the tomato paste and reduce. Cook until the moisture is absorbed, then add the tinned tomatoes. Mix the bacon and garlic, then fry until crispy. Put your pasta in to cook at this point.Add the mushrooms to the mince to heat through. Rinse a handful of cherry tomatoes. Add the cherry tomatoes to the bacon pan for just a couple of minutes at the end, enough time to soften and warm a little. Toss well in the garlicky salty goodness of the bacon.Mix the bacon and tomatoes into the mince at the end, then dish over long pasta, dressed with freshly grated parmesan cheese, freshly ground black pepper, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Then tell me if it tastes like Rarotonga. [...]

Burgundy Beef Stew (Mine, I tell you)


There's an irony here, and it's not just the cast-iron pan (although in some ways, it is).Inspired by all the Slow Cooker recipes I've posted here at Freshly Ground, my Mum bought me the Slow Cooker recipe book pictured above. Thanks, Mum.She also asked me to try a few recipes from it and post them here, so that was, by all means, my intention.The trouble was that on the day Aunty L came to visit and I was going to do just as Mum had asked, we ran out of hours in the day, and therein lies the irony.I sort of had to adapt the Slow-cooked Burgundy Beef Stew with Horseradish Dumplings - which I had planned to make - into something that I didn't need to, well, Slow-cook. Also, I just made normal dumplings. Not a big horseradish fan.So, Mum, here's what might be a version of that recipe, but done in the oven, the old-fashioned way. Anyway, I had to change the recipe somewhat so as not to be in some sort of copyright breach, so I'm going to call this...Dan's Burgundy Beef Stew(Serves 6)Ingredients750g Stewing Steak, cubed1t dried thyme or 1T fresh thymeWhole nutmeg, for grating1 Onion, sliced3-4 Cloves Garlic, chopped2T Flour or Potato Flour300ml Red Wine300ml Beef Stock1T Tomato Puree2 Bay Leaves3 Carrots, peeled and sliced1 Leek, trimmed and sliced into rings100g Mushrooms, cleaned and slicedOil for fryingFreshly Ground Pepper and SaltSeason the meat with salt and pepper and a splash of wine. Heat the oil in a pan, then brown the meat in batches. While frying, add thyme and a few grates of nutmeg. Add the onion, stir in and fry for a few minutes. Add the garlic and flour, then mix in the wine and stock.Add the tomato puree, bay leaves and salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then transfer to an oven dish.Mix in the mushrooms and leeks, make sure there is enough liquid in the dish to almost cover the stew (add more hot water if necessary), and place in the oven at 180c for 2 hours.Prepare your dumplings when the stew goes in the oven, and add to the oven dish for the last 20 minutes of cooking.Dish up with rice (boiled in beef stock, of course) and a nice glass of red wine. The slow-cooker version is to shift the meat from the pan to the slow-cooker on low for 7 hours, then adding the leeks and mushrooms, turning the slow-cooker up to high, and then 45 minutes later adding the dumplings for a further 45 minutes. Certainly not something you can start into at 3pm, but here's the quick version. And as you can see, it turned out pretty well.[...]

Honey Soy Chicken Wraps


There's been a hint of summer in the air these last couple of weeks, even if it just turned cold again a few days ago.Such warm tidings get me thinking about crisp salads and food I can take out onto the deck to enjoy in the sun. It might not be quite that way yet, but it's not far off. I'll be blogging stews and casseroles for a week or two to come, but this incarnation of classic honey-soy chicken counts as one of my personal successes.I've tried time and again to make a good honey-soy mix that I can whip up in the frying pan, only to have the honey burn and ruin everything.Finally, after much banging of my head against the bench, I had the brilliant thought: Add the honey right at the end.Ping!The most obvious solutions are often the most easily overlooked.Since making this for these wraps, this recipe has come out again and again to make stirfries, applying the same technique, and it has worked every time.Dip your brush and paint me proud.Honey Soy Chicken (For Wraps, Stir-fries, etc)(Serves 2) Ingredients1 Fresh Chicken Breast, diced into 1cm pcs;Freshly Ground Pepper and Salt1T Balsamic Vinegar1 dsp Potato Flour2 Garlic Cloves, MincedOlive Oil or Rice Bran Oil, for frying1/2 Red Onion, finely chopped2T Honey2T SoyHeat the oil in a pan. Season the chicken with the salt and pepper, and toss in the vinegar and potato flour. (Normal flour probably works fine, too; I've found the lighter texture of potato flour prevents it from clumping and is a bit less thick and gluggy. Using potato flour won't make this recipe Gluten-Free unless you also have Gluten-Free Soy Sauce, which most commercial brands are not.)Add the chicken to the pan and brown all over. Add the onion and soften. Place the Soy Sauce and honey in a microwave-proof dish and heat in the microwave for about 45 seconds (1200w microwave). Remove and mix well. When the chicken is cooked, add the honey-soy mixture to the pan, mix through, bring to a brief simmer and serve. We spooned ours into tortilla wraps, with grated carrot, salad greens, beetroot, peppers, cheese, sour cream, and fresh sliced tomatoes. We could almost convince ourselves it was summer already by the looks of them. [...]

Hugh Cook – The Wordsmith and the Warrior


This article was produced as part of New Zealand Speculative Fiction Week. For more information, go to Pterodaustro Dreams.Hugh Cook might not be a name instantly recognised by readers of the fantasy genre, but to his legion of dedicated fans across the world, mention of the man and his work inspires a sense of reverence.Cook remains one of New Zealand’s unsung heroes of fantasy literature, despite his achievements outshining those of many of our more well-known authors. Between 1986 and 1992 Cook released his Chronicles of an Age of Darkness series, a ten-book cycle of stand-alone fantasy novels. Set on a world ruled by bloodthirsty emperors, threatened by swarms of monsters, and blessedly devoid of goblins and elves, the Chronicles capture a history of Cook’s lands and their people in a multitude of voices, spanning continents, and all occurring roughly within the same timeframe of a decade or two. Characters recur across the books, making cameo appearances from one story to the next, weaving a complex web of events that draws the reader through the series, however unrelated each volume may seem to be at a glance.Cook was among a group of authors who eschewed the traditions of Tolkienesque high fantasy, choosing instead to write about the dark, unsavoury aspects of human nature in the grim harshness of a world bent on crushing the meek. In Cook’s world, orcs are hunted for their blubber and sea dragons are vain creatures who pretend to recite poetry in their sleep before sinking into snoring heaps. Empires are driven to war by syphilitic emperors, who are in turn murdered by warring sons. Heroism is a constant theme, usually as a partner to vanity, folly and ultimately death, and can be summed up in the immortal line, “vaunting their boasts with the blood of their lungs on their lips.”Suffice to say that Cook rebelled, writing unorthodox fantasy in an unorthodox world. He dismantled old tropes and bent the genre like light through a smoked lens. He replaced the tired theme of good versus evil with one which instead pitted brutality against barbarism, and rarely delivered a clear victor. Cook not only rejected the clichés of the fantasy genre; he subverted them with an almost malicious glee.To judge Cook’s success by book sales alone would be misleading, but the numbers are certainly impressive at first glance. Altogether, the Chronicles sold around 450,000 copies, and that in itself is reason for celebration for any New Zealand author. The Wizards and the Warriors, together with its US incarnation, Wizard War, sold over 160,000 copies, a phenomenal sales record for any fantasy author.Unfortunately, as the Chronicles became less conventional and more obtuse, sales began to decline. This was compounded by the decision made by bookselling chain W.H. Smith to drop Cook’s books from their shelves when sales slowed, which inevitably led to an even steeper fall. Despite a rebounding of style and content in the last three books of the series towards more action-based storytelling, Cook had largely lost the means to supply to his mainstream audience, with sales for these three books falling to between 7,000 and 10,000 copies each. I bought all my copies of Hugh’s books in my local Whitcoulls here in New Zealand, where his books enjoyed pride of place on their shelves with every release. But if the books were not on the shelves overseas, then Cook’s fans had little chance of finding them.Cook’s prose drew heavily on the landscape, places and myt[...]

Secret Family Recipe Barbeque Chicken


There's nothing quite like spilling the beans on a secret family recipe, is there?This one's been in our family for generations - two, at the very least (including my own progeny).So not exactly a secret extracted from the depths of time, but pretty good nonetheless. Add to that the fact that I've adapted it to work in our slow-cooker that we've only had for about a year, and the mystique all but dissolves.Not to worry.Slow-cooked Barbeque Chicken it is.I will warn you in advance, however, that my precious notebook full of recipe notes went wandering sometime between cooking and eating dinner, so I'm trusting to the original oven-bake recipe here. Let's hope I didn't get too creative when I modified it.Crock-pot Barbeque Chicken(Serves 2)Ingredients2 Large Chicken Legs (Thigh and Drumstick, skin on)1 T Soy Sauce1/4 Cup Steak Sauce1 T Honey1 Dsp Brown Sugar1 T Cider Vinegar1/4 t Crushed Ginger3 Cloves Garlic, minced1/4 C Hot WaterCombine all the marinade ingredients and mix well. Pour the sauce over the Chicken and cover well. Place the Chicken in the crockpot and pour any excess sauce over top. Slow-cook on High for 3-4 hours.Serve up with oven-baked chips and fresh veges. Pour the excess sauce from the bottom of the crockpot into small cups and place these in the centre of each plate for dipping. [...]

The Pudding to End All Puddings


It's been an awfully long time since I wrote about dessert, hasn't it?OK, maybe not that long. But long enough.So when Dessert Chef started making noises about cooking up what sounded like the ultimate pudding of all time, I was all for it.It involved lovely ripe winter pears.It required stewing those pears down with sugar, and getting some stewed rhubarb out of the freezer.It involved crumble. Lovely, lovely crumble.It involved custard.There was pastry, rolled and pressed into a buttered pan and filled with the stewed fruit.The custard went on top.Then came the crumble.Then the oven.Lastly, it involved a bowl, a spoon, and a dollop of ice-cream.There are no words necessary.[...]

Fusion Chicken


"Fusion of what?" you say.Very hard to know.But Uncle I and I (by which I mean me and Uncle I, in case that was unclear) went to the store to get more chicken and on the way settled on a bottle of wine that suggested it would go well with "fusion dishes", whatever that means.Since I had no nuclear reactor on hand with which to fuse my chicken, we settled on a fusion of mustard and mushrooms, because hey, who's ever done mustard and mushrooms before?Since my last go at mixing up chicken and mustard was such a blinding success, I saw no reason why this shouldn't work for a second effort, but I decided to make this one more of a casserole.Overall: Well-fused. Fusionality. Fusacious. (by which I mean: it was good, in case that was unclear.)Mushroom Chicken Fusion Casserole(Serves 4)Ingredients1.5kg Chicken Drumsticks and Nibbles2T Mustard PowderFreshly Ground Pepper and Salt2T Potato Flour2T Dried Basil2T Worcester SauceOlive Oil for frying1/2C White Wine2 Chopped Onions1C Chicken Stock200g Sliced MushroomsHot WaterToss the Chicken Pieces in the mustard powder, salt and pepper, potato flour, basil and Worcester. Coat well and cook in hot olive oil until browned all over. Add 1/4 Cup of the white wine and reduce, then add the onions. Allow the onions to soften slightly, then remove the chicken and onion to an oven dish. Deglaze the pan with the rest of the white wine and the chicken stock. Add the gravy to the oven dish and place the mushrooms over and around the chicken. Add enough hot water to almost cover the chicken, then cover and place in the oven at 200C for 1 hour. Serve with piles of fresh veges and mashed potato. (And keep your Geigermeter handy, just in case...)[...]