New Zealand Lamb Chops with Eggplant and Couscous (Eating, drinking and hiking around the South Island)

( Travels in the South Island of New Zealand, continued; see previous  Mussel post, if interested, for a more information about our itinerary.)

IMG_1041Skirting the coast in our Toyota Corolla, we note Farm to Table is not marketing hoop-la, but in your face reality around every bend in the road.

Plucked from the ocean seafoods, meats and game (they farm deer as we farm beef), artisan cheeses and yogurts, orchard stacked upon orchard, and top-drawer wines – we haven’t lacked for a delicious meal, whether cooking in or dining out; soothing antidotes following days of hiking, biking & kayaking.

The New Zealand grocery stores we’ve been shopping in are fairly Westernized; less like one of those timeless fresh markets dotting the Mediterranean, and more like one of our Whole Foods crossed with a generic grocery chain.

Whatever green-lip mussels aren't sold that day, are not sold.

Whatever green-lip mussels aren’t sold that day, are not sold.

Much of the New Zealand food basket is now exported to China. The good news is the sheer volume of refrigerated square footage in town groceries given to local fare – and what a plethora of riches is to be had, particularly those Green Lips down Aisle 3.

From my limited observations and particular point of view, Kiwis seems deep into the process of defining a unique culinary tradition reflecting their citizenry and culture.

The Asian, Middle Eastern and Western European countries I’ve travelled have such marvelous signature dishes rooted into their landscape, reflecting centuries of refining and reinventing  available foods and spices. And during this time, while all of these delectable recipes were being brought to the table, New Zealand was the sole province of an exotic array of birds – that is until Polynesians (the Maoris) began settling the shores killing off most of the native species.

And then came the Brits, claiming New Zealand as a crown colony towards the middle of the 19th century. Locals have told me the ensuing food served on the South Island was really quite dreadful until the late sixties. Chuckling over the described pub fare, and some of those dishes Mum brought to the table – environmental concerns aside, I imagine the natives with their spitted birds and exotic fruits ate better.

But when more kiwis began traveling abroad, they brought home a new attention to their own horizon’s possibilites. They began re-thinking how they prepared their enviable diversity of produce, grape varietals, fish, lamb and beef in their own backyard – particularly creative juices spent in the Nelson region.

Food carts are just entering the scene. Unfamiliar to locals, the Japanese entrepreneur who sold me my crayfish, said he was struggling.

Food carts are just entering the scene. Unfamiliar to locals, the Japanese entrepreneur who sold me my crayfish, said he was struggling.

Judging from the excellent restaurants, road-side food carts,  food network types of shows, and the glossy culinary magazines I’ve been perusing, it’s clear that New Zealanders are giving serious thought to their own stylized Kiwi brand of cuisine, fusing Indian, Asian and tropical flavors into their rich, abundant local fare.

 

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Curried Lamb Pie with House-Made Chutney

The British stamp, however, remains entrenched into the landscape – those ubiquitous kiwi suppers (think lamb shank, mashed potatoes and peas drowning in gravy), fish and chips and meat pies are available at every “take-away”.  But even their comfort foods are being reinvented with flair and finesse.

 

Mussels perfumed in Thai flavors for lunch, delicately smoked mussels (pictured) for dinner.

Mussels perfumed in Thai flavors for lunch, delicately smoked mussels (pictured) for dinner.

 

As we crawl north up the western coast, my quest for mussels hasn’t dimmed from my last post; in fact, I reached the pinnacle of mussel euphoria in Havelock, closely followed by a plate of beautifully constructed, delicately smoked mussels in the Marlborough Sounds.

But I digress. The following is a simple dinner I made with ingredients purchased at a local store that can be found at any decent USA grocery.

I certainly appreciate being surrounded by granite with a 6-burner Viking and cupboard full of condiments, but when cooking in very basic, minimally stocked “kitchenettes”, I make do with what’s available. I always tote a good olive oil around, but was happy to discover the cottage we were renting had a bit of (low smoke) grape seed oil for searing the chops.

Richard and I had the luck to pick the right winter to escape the Michigan landscape; I worry about friends and kids and all of you traversing the snow & ice, and am relieved to read there’s a warm-up coming soon. Our blessed neighbor has been tending our house and just sent a picture – it looks like an igloo! This is surely a surreal, beautiful landscape to travel, but we’ve been away a long time with crummy WIFI and communication channels; we miss our family, friends and Ann Arbor.

Here are a few additional pics I’ve been snapping during our journey. (Recipe follows.)

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Combing the shore for cockles at low tide in Marahu.

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Trolling the Abel Tasman landscape searching for wildlife.

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Seal pups! How thrilling!!!

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Flipper!

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Shags, baby, shags.

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A fan of fronds, typical of the Queen Charlotte track.

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Pretty bird awaits our return.

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Grumpy old men.

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In Kaikori, this food cart was a mob scene.

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No wonder, with (female) scallops and their red roe so sweet.

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Recipe: Lamb Chops with Eggplant & Couscous

Ingredients

  • 1 medium sized eggplant, peeled or striped if desired, then cut into 3/4-inch slices
  • 1-2 tablespoons grape seed or canola oil
  • 6-8 lamb chops
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1 ( apx. 8 ounce) canned diced tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup good red wine, optional***
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs, plus extra for garnish**
  • 1 1/2 cups instant dry couscous, cooked according to package instructions

Instructions

  1. Season eggplant with kosher salt and allow to drain over a clean cloth or paper towels.
  2. Heat 1-2 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil over high heat. When oil is hot, sear both sides of chops until well-browned on each side, about 1 minute per side. Remove from pan and reserve.
  3. Reduce heat to low, and add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to pan. Sauté garlic, stirring occasionally, until just fragrant, taking care not to let burn. Dice eggplant into 1/2-inch pieces, stir into the garlic and cook 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomatoes, with their juice, and wine, if using, and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, occasionally stirring, until eggplant is just tender. Return chops to the sauce with chopped herbs, if using, and reheat chops to desired level of doneness.
  5. Stir in herbs and serve chops and sauce over couscous, garnishing with fresh herbs, if using.

*I used economical leg, loin chops

** Chives were growing in the garden so I used those; fresh rosemary would have been preferred, but I’d use only a teaspoon or two.

***I used a local Pinot Noir that was delicious served with the dish.

Number of servings (yield): 2-4

Time: 35 minutes

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Zealand Muscles (and Mussels)

Green Lip Mussels in a Blue Cheese- Sauvignon Blanc Bath

Green Lip Mussels in a Blue Cheese- Sauvignon Blanc Bath

Planet Earth flexes her biceps in New Zealand’s South Island – oh those salaciously shifting teutonic plates!

The above photo is one of a trillion I’ve been taking on our Oceania voyage, the trip I’ve always dreamed of taking; the landscape more salubrious than the Green Lip Mussels I purchased in a Kiwi run-of-the mill grocery store, pictured to the right bathing in locally produced blue cheese and Sauvignon Blanc.

I planned our itinerary in early Spring of last year; we’re in summer on the South Island and the best, most reasonable, accommodations are snapped up fast. My plan was concocted after reading dozens of travel forums, Trip Advisor reviews, and studying a well-reviewed hiking book. Certainly there are countless ways to approach this landscape based on what one prefers on a vacation – ours is suited to our love of hiking, wildlife and my desire to have a small kitchen at most of our stops. As well, aside from Queenstown, we wanted to avoid the the cities and large organized tour groups.

After a brief respite on Kauai, we began our journey on the Otaga Peninsula then onto the Catlins; both areas dripping wildlife, eye-candy allure. Environments of fur seals basking on rocks; sea lions fighting on the beach; Royal Albatross swooping above; hector and bottle-nose dolphins dancing in the Pacific waters…all yours to be had, if quiet, down under. Then, traveling counter-clockwise, we headed to the Fiordlands, our base for hiking various “legs” of the Kepler and Routeburn tracks. Here are a few pics, to date, from some of our hikes (my highlights from the Catlins in the penguin slide-show below). Sadly, we lost our “good” camera the second day of our trip, as mentioned.

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Flew into Christchurch; connecting flight into Dunedin;and followed the coastline, clockwise. (Blue ink is flight; yellow highlight is driving in rental car.)

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Kauai, Hawaii was our half-way to NZ, jet-lag combatant stop. Stayed at VRBO "tree-house" in the jungle.

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The wave after this lashed at us, unexpectedly, inhaling Richard, destroying his camera, and giving both of us a good scare.

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At last in New Zealand, blue, so blue, waters on the road to Milford Sound, intriguing shades of blue.

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Greens dripping green, pictured here on the Kepler Track.

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Around the next switch-back, tumbling down the mountains, there seems yet another waterfall to admire.

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The Milford Road entrance to Routeburn Track (one of the "Great Walks".)

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Key Summit; the view worth the long, strenuous climb up the mountain (off-shoot of Routeburn Track).

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No worries of poisonous snakes or vines as we tramp across the island.

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The Homer Tunnel carved into a mountain; the official gateway to the Milford Sound.

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The clever Kea parrots - Homer Tunnel mascot – charm and annoy; this one posed for me as if wanting me to catch its best angle.

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The Milford Sound; one of the most photographed landscapes in New Zealand.

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In Fiordland, we stayed in a cottage in Manapouri (the gateway onto the "Great Walks" and the Doubtful Sound) on an alpaca farm.

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Clear waters of Lake Manapouri; the heart of Fiordland.

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One of the winding fiords cutting into the south of the South Island.

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The trip through Doubtful Sound had an eerie magnificence.

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Onto Queensland, where adrenaline-junkies peppered the landscape.

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We can think of better ways of spending hundreds of dollars to hang from a rope in a bungee jump...

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…like sampling the amazingly complex Pinot Noirs in Gibbston Valley; a bike ride away from the bungee jumpers, outside of Queenstown.

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Then al fresco at a Waitira Creek "church". Warming into the New Zealand landscape, so far.

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At the top of the Queenstown Hill Walk. What they call a "walk" here never ceases to amaze. Note this is not photoshopped enhanced; the lake is really that shade of blue.

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The endangered yellow-eyed penguin mama.

The endangered yellow-eyed penguin mama.

But for me, most enchanting of all (if enchantment can be quantified) was sitting on a stump in a petrified forest in Curio Bay, watching the rare yellow-eyed penguins in there native habitat of water, bush and nests.

Far better than prime-time, we watched a family drama unfold – well over an hour:   a mother returning from sea, a belly full of fish to feed  her fledglings. What could be more thrilling than sitting in an ancient, petrified forest in the South Pacific ocean, with penguins chattering several feet from your feet?

As they say on the South Island: Sweet ass!

Here’s a “Penguin Prime Time” slide-show imagined after reviewing my pics, accompanied by a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. It’s far better suited to a pre-schooler personality, so please forgive me this indulgence keeping in mind that it’s the wine channeling Penguinese!

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I've hunted the waters all day to catch a belly full of fish to feed my chicks – Penn & Gwen.

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Waddling to our nest, I can't wait to see my kid-guins!

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Exhausted after a hard day, I return to the bush to whines and pleas: "Feed me first," screeches Penn.

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"No me!" cries Gwen.

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"He always eats first" Gwen continues.

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"Gwen's molting, losing her feathers. See how chubby she's become! I deserve to eat first!"

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"Time-out! " cries Mama, sad they are so spoiled. "Back to your nests, without any supper, the both of you. Remember that your selfishness leaves you both with an empty belly."

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"OK, you two. Let's see what the sea gull has to say about this matter."

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Mother listens to sea gull, who says that if a penguin is molting and losing their feathers, that penguin must eat first – but save some fish for Penn! (The End)

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Recipe: Mussels in a Blue Cheese-Sauvignon Blanc Bath

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil, or a combination of both
  • 2-4 teaspoons minced garlic*
  • 2 cups Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1 cup seafood stock
  • 2 cups packed crumbled blue cheese
  • 3 pounds mussels, (green lips, preferred) rinsed and scrubbed
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Freshly sliced bread

Instructions

  1. Scrub shellfish under cold water, debearding for aesthetics, if desired.
  2. In a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat butter or oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, taking care not to burn; 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Stir in wine and stock and bring to a simmer. Stir in blue cheese and whisk until melted and combined into a sauce. Cover pan and raise heat to medium-high; stir in mussels.
  4. When mussels have opened, remove pot from heat, discard unopened mollusks, and stir parsley into pan. Serve with bread for sopping sauce.

*The garlic I’ve been using in New Zealand is less pungent and more sweet then what I’m used to using in Michigan. I’ve been doubling up.

Number of servings (yield): 3-4

Time: 25 minutes

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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Seared Scallops with Truffle Flavors over Wild Mushroom Risotto

Best freebie dip in town? Zingerman’s samples of bread with truffle-infused olive oil tops my list. This year, however, I’m wary of samples, quite sure I contracted last year’s hideous virus from a different, yet similar, dunk. Fearful of flu-infested double-dippers contaminating the culinary landscape, I chunked down the change to purchase the truffle-infused salt, a bargain compared to to the cost of truffles, uninterrupted.

Plump beautiful scallops and wild-mushroom risotto would surely appreciate a dab of world-acclaimed fungi perfuming their star-status appeal. Valentine’s Day falls on Friday, and seems a fine a day as any to indulge in all of this magnificence.

If you have truffle oil, by all means, substitute it for the salt-infused oil – it may be preferable if you have a top-drawer bottle, especially if sodium is a concern. Feel free to substitute a filet mignon, shrimp, or an eggplant “fillet” for the scallops, if desired. Here are some other recipes from Valentine’s Days gone by:

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate Truffles

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Chocolate Rum Mousse with Whipped Cream and Strawberries

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Classic Chocolate Soufflé

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Filet Mignon with Cranberry-Zinfandel Sauce

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Filet Mignon with Red Wine-Mushroom Sauce

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Duck Breasts with Raspberry Sauce

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Ahi Tuna with Avocado-Wasabi Purée

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Sherried Scallops over Spaghetti Squash

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Mussels with Chorizo and Fennel

Steak Diane
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I could have made the following recipe increasingly delicious by stirring in an extra tablespoon of butter to the finished risotto and brushing a bit atop the scallops, after they were seared. I encourage you to do so if the added fat is of no concern.

This recipe insists you have all of your ingredients pre-measured and at the ready (your mise-en-place) before diving into the recipe. Advice on searing the perfect scallop is redundant from previous posts, but it bears repeating to protect your investment.

  1. Begin with the fattest, freshest sea scallops you can find, making sure they’re not injected with that sodium solution, and your heaviest skillet. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat for a minute before adding a thin layer of canola or grape seed oil.
  2. When the oil starts to shimmer, add scallops to the pan. Don’t touch the scallops for a full minute.  If you think you are burning them, remove from the heat a few seconds, adjust the heat, but leave the scallops alone!

3.  After they are golden, turn down the heat to medium and cook an additional minute.  Then raise the heat, turn them over with tongs and repeat the process. The scallops will be cooked, but a bit translucent in the center. Divine!

I created the recipe as a romantic meal for two, but it can divided in half to serve the one and only YOU! Be good to yourself. Happy Valentines Day!

BTW: I’m celebrating Valentine’s Day in New Zealand with Richard. We’ve been reading about Oceania for years – friends telling us the beauty is incomparable (a truffle glittering down under) – and it’s our turn to check out this piece of paradise. I’ll be doing most of the cooking as we skirt the coast, the South Island NZ motels and farm stays I’ve booked are equipped with small kitchens. Cooking with local foods is an enjoyable cultural immersion; I look forward to sharing my experience with fellow food and travel lovers.

Recipe: Wild Mushroom Risotto with Seared Scallops and Truffle Flavors

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon truffle salt,* plus extra for sprinkling over scallops
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil*
  • 1/2 cup dried mushrooms, porcini preferred
  • 1/4 cup dry red or white wine
  • 3-4 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 medium-sized shallot, finely chopped (apx. 1/4 cup)
  • 3/4 cup Arborio (risotto) rice
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme, plus extra sprigs for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons grape seed oil
  • 6 large (sea) scallops

Instructions

  1. Stir truffle salt into olive oil. Reserve.
  2. Soak mushrooms in wine until softened, about 20 minutes. Remove from wine (reserving wine) and finely chop.
  3. In a medium-sized pan, heat stock until bubbly, then reduce to a low simmer.
  4. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy- bottomed pan and saute mushrooms, stirring, over medium-high heat one minute. Pour in reserved wine and cook until wine is almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove mushrooms from the pan and reserve.
  5. In same pan, heat remaining butter over medium heat and stir in shallots. Cook, occasionally stirring, until fragrant and transparent, about 3 minutes. Stir rice into pan and toast, stirring, an additional 3 minutes.
  6. Stir in about 1/2 cup of hot stock to the rice. Cook, stirring over medium heat until stock is almost fully absorbed, about a minute. Add the remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring, and adding more broth only after the previous addition has been absorbed, about 18 minutes. When rice is almost cooked (at about 18 minutes), stir in reserved mushrooms and thyme and cook 3 additional minutes.
  7. The risotto is done when it is creamy and the grains are plump and tender with a slight bite. Remove from heat and stir in the truffle oil.
  8. As you are finishing your risotto, heat oil to medium high or high heat in large sauté pan. Gently pat scallops dry with paper towels. When oil is shimmering, sear the scallops until lightly browned on both sides and slightly translucent in the center. 2-3 minutes per side, depending on size of scallops (see above notes). Sprinkle additional truffle salt atop each scallop, if desired, but take care not to over-salt.
  9. Divide risotto between 2 plates and top each plate with 3 scallops.

*May substitute truffle salt and olive oil with a teaspoon or more of truffle oil.

Number of servings (yield): 2

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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