Thursday, March 25, 2010

How to make a man cry

I have found the perfect reason to cry. If you are going to cry, it had better be for a good reason, and one good reason is the new-season white pearl onions from the Marlborough Farmers' Market.
If it is from the farmers' market, that must mean it has been grown in our region (good to keep the money and jobs local), it must be sold by the producer (tick that box – Steve is the man who made me cry), and it must be edible (that's my favourite part).
For a sweet little onion, the white pearl packs a punch, reducing a grown man like me to tears in a matter of minutes as I stood at the bench peeling them in preparation for the potato salad.
The white onion is popular raw or sauteed in salads, as it has a higher moisture content than normal onions and is somewhat sweeter. It is also just as good roasted in its skin (ahh, no more crying).
The onion has been traced back as far as the Bronze Age and was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, and eaten by the Israelites during their bondage in Egypt. Onions were rubbed over the muscles of Roman gladiators, used to pay rent in the Middle Ages instead of money, and were highly praised for their culinary contributions.
No good kitchen today would be without onions in the pantry, so how do we enjoy their oniony goodness with reducing ourselves to tears?
Here is the easy of why we cry: when you cut into an onion, its ruptured cells release all sorts of goodies like allinase enzymes and amino acid sulfoxides. The former breaks the latter down into sulfenic acids.The sulfenic acids, unstable bunch that they are, spontaneously rearrange into thiosulfinates, which produce a pungent odour and get the blame for our tears. But there is more. The acids are also converted by the LF-synthase enzyme into a gas called syn-propanethial-S-oxide, also known as the Lachrymatory (crying) Factor. Syn-propanethial-S-oxide moves through the air and reaches our eyes. The first part of the eye it meets, the cornea, is populated by autonomic motor fibres that lead to the lachrymal glands. When syn-propanethial-S-oxide is detected, all the fibres in the cornea start firing and tell the lachrymal glands to wash the irritant away.
Our eyes automatically start blinking and producing tears, which flush the irritant away. Of course, our reaction to burning eyes is often to rub them, which only makes things worse, since our hands also have syn-propanethial-S-oxide on them. It only takes about 15 seconds to start crying after the first cut. That's all the time needed for the syn-propanethial-S-oxide formation to peak.

And you thought onions were just another simple vegetable! So bear up and just slice into them, and remember that Steve, who grew the onions, has to pick and harvest tonnes of them at a time. A little bit of Lachrymatory Factor never hurt anybody.
600g potatoes, unpeeled
4 bacon rashers (Premium Game do great wild pork bacon)
5 Tblsp Marlborough olive oil
1-2 medium-sized sweet onions, sliced into rings
1-2 garlic cloves, minced (Marlborough, of course)
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 Tblsp wholegrain mustard
Marlborough flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley or other soft herbs, chervil, chives etc
Cook potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water just until tender (about 20 minutes); do not overcook.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium-low heat. Add the bacon, onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is golden and caramelised.
Whisk together the vinegar, mustard and oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the onion and bacon and chopped herbs to the warm potatoes. Pour over the dressing and toss the potatoes to coat.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

FMNZ CONFERENCE 2010 Bill Gallagher Centre Hamilton, 6-7-8 June

FARMER'S MARKET NZ Honest-to-goodness  GOODNESS 

With over 50 Farmers' Markets  now operating  around  NZ,  this conference will celebrate the  success of your hard work, both regionally and nationally.  Stallholders, market managers and market organisers and committees are invited to Hamilton to be inspired, to learn, to network and most of all share market experiences so that we can all benefit in the future.  Hamilton will bring it on in June 2010 and we look forward to seeing you all there with a program that will be aimed at both established long running markets  and new markets.  The conference  will look at “ the longer term success of farmers' markets   as well as “Authenticity” and “Transparency” and keep you enticed with  key note speakers and local food experiences from both the Hamilton and Cambridge Markets.  For more information and to register click here

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cheese Cheese Cheese Cheese

It was with great pleasure that I once again found myself in the Marlborough Sounds, getting comfortable with a couple of goat. Not just any old goats, but a rather friendly pair from Sherrington Grange.
While I have had random experiences in the past with these four-legged creatures, they are the stars of a small cheesemaking enterprise that has managed to impress all those who have tried the product, including the team from the Cloudy Bay winery that I was with that day.
A recent winner in the 2009 Cuisine Artisan Awards, Sherrington cheese has now been showcased all over New Zealand and is truly unique to the Marlborough region.
Making cheese is something the Harper women have done for generations. They use fresh goats' milk from their property and fresh cows' milk from neighbouring properties to make cheese in a farm dairy, using recipes that are more than two centuries old.
Each cheese is handcrafted using traditional methods that have been discarded by modern dairy factories in the quest for efficiency. At Sherrington, they have chosen to make only limited quantities of cheese, using the old ways, because they believe it creates a better product.
This is the way cheese was before mechanisation and standardisation became the norm. Sherrington cheeses look, smell and taste the way they were meant to – a real taste of history.
If this is the way that cheese is supposed to taste, then I want more, for there are very few places where you can try or taste something that is truly representative of its surroundings and the true essence of the people who produce it. This is a real skill and talent that Lisa and her mother have, and manage to put into every batch of cheese that leaves the property.
1kg plums, halved
1 cup water
caster sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Choose plums that are slightly under-ripe rather than over-ripe, as their pectin content will help this paste set faster, ensuring a true plum flavour that will not taste overcooked.
Place the plums, stones and water in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Simmer, covered, until just softened. Pass the plums through a mouli, discard the stones and return to the saucepan. Weigh the pulp and add an equal quantity of sugar.
Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, then add the lemon juice. Turn up to a brisk simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened. This process will take 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the pectin content of the fruit. Test the plum paste as you would jam; a small amount on a saucer should form a skin and thicken quite quickly after 1-2 minutes in the refrigerator.
Pour the paste into a rectangular loaf tin lined with baking paper and leave to set. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or in a cool, dark place until ready to use with some of the best cheese in New Zealand, the very likeable Sherrington Grange cheeses