Gourmet Direct

It’s been a wee while between blogs. Life gets busy enough at this time of the year without my going and making it busier. I decided I missed journalism too much, so I’m back writing features, as well as my weekly column, for the Herald on Sunday. The first one will – all going according to plan – be published this coming Sunday, but I do get very nervous and stressed when I step back into feature writing again, and wonder why. I’m always sure I’ll be exposed as a fraud.

Meanwhile, I feel the urge to give this Hawke’s Bay company a really good plug for the quality of both their product, and their service – Gourmet Direct. You order on line, or by telephone, and your order is delivered to your door. They’ll often phone to check all is okay. It’s personal, friendly and very satisfying.

I buy most of my meat from Kate (who owns and runs the show) and I can assure you the quality is truly superb. No, it’s not the cheapest meat on the market, but there’s no waste, and I believe if you pay a little more you think carefully about how you prepare it, and you won’t eat it every night. So that’s better for your health.

About two months ago, I bought on special a tenderloin (eye) fillet. It was vacuum-packed, and nearing the end of its three-month aging when I bought it. I think it cost me about $110 and weighed about 2.5kg. I wanted it for a dinner party for 10 people, but that wasn’t happening for another three or four weeks, and I didn’t want to freeze it so I phoned Kate and discussed it with her. She asked if I had a beer fridge, or similar (yes, in the winery) and advised me to put it in there where the door isn’t being opened and shut all the time. I did that, and turned it down to really cold. Then on the night in question I cooked it the Stephanie Alexander way:

Two hours before dinner remove meat from fridge. An hour and a half before dinner heat oven to 220C. One hour before dinner put meat in oven and cook for 20 minutes for rare (which I did) or 30 minutes for medium. Remove meat, roll in a double sheeet of silver foil and keep warm in warming drawer.

What could be easier than that? It was absolutely divine. When I brought it to the table, one of the guests, Farmer Stu, who used to breed Angus cattle, said “I hope that’s Angus”.

“Of course it is,” I replied.

“How do you know?” he retorted.

“Because it was on the packaging. Pure Angus Prime. I only buy my beef from Gourmet Direct.”

Well, after he’d finished his meal he said it was the best beef he’d ever eaten and he would dream about it for the rest of his life. You can’t get better praise than that for beef.

By the way, there was enough left over to feed the QC and I for two more nights.

I have never had any second rate product from Gourmet Direct. I don’t buy pork from them, because we grow our own, but I do buy venison and it’s top quality. I buy lamb and it’s terrific. I have bought pheasant for a treat, and I bought a packet of 25 frozen, prebake croissants which you defrost overnight then next morning bake for breakfast and everyone thinks are homemade. They have all sorts of deli goods – in fact an order form to drool over. Don’t take my word for it, get on line at www.gourmetdirect.com.

They have a wide range of poultry goods, fantastic sausages, and I have bought delicious duck, but I guess I won’t be able to face eating duck for a while because our little family is out and about now:Star's family 005



My daughter from London is here, with her boyfriend, the first time she’s seen Redbank. She’s come from the snowstorms, and having been raised in the seaside town of Russell, in the Bay of Islands, she has a penchant for paua. So yesterday, after riding the horses (first time she’d been on a horse in about seven years, she said) we headed for the coast – Tora (in Maori, to burn or blaze, or, erect). It was a bit of a windy cold day, as you can see by her attire, but after checking with some locals who seemed to know what they were doing, diving in the rocks, we donned our swimming gear and went in. There were hundreds of little paua, which we left behind, and were quite pleased with ourselves when we actually got one to bring home. After all, we had no goggles, snorkles, wetsuits or weight belts, just Valentine in her bikini and me in my togs.tora-004

We also found a basking seal. They look pretty benign, and as kids always do, Valentine asked me what would happen if she tried to pat it. I said try it and find out – my standard advice to curious children – and of course the seal made as if to go for her.tora-001


tora-003Back home, I cooked up her one paua, using the recipe I always use:

Clean the paua, then slice thinly. Don’t beat. Finely dice half an onion (for one paua) and crush a clove of garlic. Heat butter in pan and saute onion and garlic until soft, then turn up heat and throw in paua, quickly toasting it around the pan until it just curls, add salt and pepper and serve immediately, back in the paua shell.

Cool Climate Syrah

Spring is definitely more than in the air, it’s arrived. We know this not only because of the fat lambs dashing around the paddocks, nearly butting their mothers into orbit as they tuck in for milk. Not just because of the blossoms, the daffodils, and Smitty’s winter coat falling out in chunks, providing nesting birds with lovely soft palomino horse fur with which to line their nests. We know this because the syrah, sleeping in six barrels in our winery, is not shrinking as much as it did in the heart of winter.

Larry McKenna of Escarpment fame has been helping us with the syrah. We picked just under two tonnes on May 2nd, destemmed and sorted it at Escarpment (over the Te Muna Road from us) and sloshed it into an open vat. On 23 May Larry pressed approximately 1300 litres and towed the tank over to us at Redbank, where we put it in our own barrels. Larry described it as a good cool climate syrah, with high acidity, and “peppery”.

The wine in the barrels is absorbed into the oak, and shrinks somewhat, so at first we topped it up (you don’t want air at the top of the wine) with the left-over syrah. When that ran out, we used 2006 James Pinot Noir (it’s okay, we’re allowed to do that without mongrelising the syrah).

On Saturday we had a guest staying, who is a senior waiter/wine waiter at Peter Gordon’s Dine Restaurant in Auckland’s Federal St Grand Hotel (got a good review in the Cuisine 100 Best New Zealand Restaurants), and we decided to not only top up the syrah, but taste it as well.

That’s when we noticed we didn’t have too much topping up to do. The wine is warming up, and will stabilise or expand even more. We drew off about quarter of a carafe, and brought it over to the house to rest awhile, and tasted it before dinner.

Yewwesh! Crawwerr! It oakey! It raw! Pepper pepper pepper. That’s got a long way to go, I thought.

Mr Carruthers reacted as if someone had just told him his newborn son was ugly. It will improve, he said, in somewhat injured tones.

Well, if a week is a long time in politics, two days is a long time in syrah. I used some of the syrah that night (Saturday) to make Stephanie Alexander’s Fast Red Wine Sauce*, then put the carafe up on the shelf for future cooking. Last night I used a bit more to make a mustard, crabapple jelly, and red wine sauce to go with our pork rack (superb, by the way, from Scotties, the local butcher). I left the carafe on the bench.

*Stephanie Alexander’s Fast Red Wine Sauce (for fillet)

1 cup red wine, 1/2 bay leaf, 1 shallot sliced, 1 tblsp olive oil, 1 cup finely chopped lean meat trimmings, 1 cup finely chopped aromatic veges (celery, onion, carrot), 2 cups beef, chicken or vege stock, 20g softened unsalted butter, freshly ground black pepper.

Heat red wine with bay leaf and shallot and reduce to make 3/4 cup, then set aside. Film heavy-based frying pan with oil and sear meat to brown it extremely well. Scatter over veges. The pan should be hot enough so that the pieces brown rather than stew, and not so hot that they burn. Pour over a third of the stock and stir to release any piece of meat or vegetable that has stuck. The liquid should bubble up furiously and almost evaporate in a minute. While there is still a little liquid, add half remaining stock. This time it should settle to a simmer and there will be the beginnings of a sauce in the pan. Stir again so nothing sticks. After 1-2 minutes add remaining stock and reduced red wine. The liquid should be a reddish brown and start to smell very pleasant. Adjust heat and simmer 5-10 minutes until reduced a little. Strain into saucepan, pressing on contents. Taste. The sauce will taste of wine but should be more complex. Return to rinsed-out pan and boil hard to increase intensity and mature flavours, then drop in butter while still boiling. This will give your sauce ‘eyes’ or shine. Taste for pepper. No need for salt.

About an hour later, half-way through dinner, I noticed the carafe was on the table and empty! Did you drink that? I asked Colin. Yes, he said, surprised I’d asked. That was the syrah, what was it like?

Well, after I’d sloshed it into the cooking, he only had a little left to taste, but he declared it was lovely. He realised it wasn’t pinot noir; thought, this is different, but gee it’s good, and quaffed it.

I wish I’d paid more attention to what was being consumed. I’ll have to wait until our next tasting to give my own verdict, but we think our vineyard might be making a very good, elegant, sophisticated, berryish, peppery, not-too-hot cool climate syrah. Meanwhile, this is what we tasted Saturday night:


A Good Day’s Work

I don’t know what it is about living in the country but it’s certainly good for the soul. And when you’ve been away overseas, it’s lovely to come home and go around the garden looking at your plants to see how they’re doing. There had obviously been a lot of rain and wind in our absence, because a few of my plants are looking a bit dishevelled, but they’ll bounce back. They’ll have to, because I’m not going to nursemaid them through life. This is not the botannical gardens. I actually have a bit of a weird attitude to gardening – to me, a weed is just a plant in the wrong place at the wrong time. If the weed is threatening to steal all the water and nutrient from something I’ve raised from seed, or bought at the garden centre, the weed loses. But because we have such harsh conditions here – searing hot in summer, icy cold in winter, windy all year round – there are many weeds which are actually quite pretty groundcovers which I am allowing to stay. One, for instance, which is flowering now, has a tiny, azure flower and it’s so brave the way it creeps all over the stones and hard ground, determined to thrive.

That said, today I replanted sage bushes, cardoons, and about one dozen artichoke plants (I raised them from seed last summer) which have multiplied. They make great shelter belts, plus who can resist the delicious heads. Boil them until tender, then serve with a vinaigrette of olive oil, melted butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper and garlic if you wish. Peel the leaves off one by one, dip the soft end into the vinaigrette and scrape it off with your teeth. As you progress through the artichoke, the soft parts get bigger and bigger until you have the delectable heart. It’s like opening a present really – pass the parcel all to yourself. So this coming summer I’ll have masses of artichokes, hopefully, to deliver to our friends in Wellington. I might even sit out at the gate and sell them (just kidding).

Meanwhile, Colin was down dismantling and tidying up the old pump area just through the gate. Before we went away he dug out, with great difficulty because it was cemented in, the pump shed, and we dismantled it and brought it up to use as a pig house. Today he went down and dug out a random post which had a pipe and electrical wiring attached to it. Unable to find the source of the wiring, he refused to just bury it, as I kept suggesting. (Just chop it off and bury it, darling, just bury it, ad nauseum). He hates a job half-done, so I left him to it, digging his way to England, and came back up to my garden.


Hours later, after splitting more firewood for me on the way back, he arrived at the house and informed me that the wires were still attached to the pump, probably live, so luckily he didn’t, as the old ball and chain kept suggesting he do, “just chop it off”.

The vineyard is looking a picture, all beautifully pruned and tied up, ready for the new growth. Rowan’s been at work with the new mulcher, which is attached to the tractor and goes along the rows gathering up the prunings, chomping them up and spitting them all back in the rows as compost. It’s good for growth, plus, if you just leave the dead prunings around the place, you risk disease getting into the vines.


We’ve also had FrostBoss here hi-teching the vineyard with all sorts of flash weather stations so we’ll be able to get state-of-the-art information on wind speed, humidity, temperature, rainfall – every time the vineyard sighs, we’ll know about it. Don’t ask me how it works yet, I don’t know, but for sure we will be given a lesson by Nick and Rowan.

So it’s very satisfying to work hard, physically, all day – even to dig a hole in this weather when the ground is relatively wet requires massive swinging of the pick-axe – lie down and read for a wee while, then take a nice hot bath and pour ourselves a glass of wine. Which is what I intend to do, right now.

RedbankJames WineBlog – Lunch

Colleagues from Wellington over for lunch yesterday and when they asked what could they bring, I said, “Just hungry tummies”. I love cooking for people – I’m addicted to collecting recipes and trying them out. But when push comes to shove, you can’t go past a roast.

We started off with wild mushroom soup – Mum’s recipe from the farm at Wanstead days – made from field mushrooms we gathered in the autumn and froze. It’s very easy to make, and delicious. Chuck the mushrooms in the food processor and whizz til finely chopped. Then toss in melted butter and panfry until well sizzling. Add about one tablespoon of flour (if it’s one tablespoon of butter you’ve used) and cook well. Any roux like this, with flour, needs to have the guts cooked out of it. Add milk slowly until the right consistency is achieved. I keep powdered milk in the pantry, and mix it with cold water first. It’s cheaper, and better for you – not so fatty. Add lots of salt – mushrooms need quite a lot of salt – and heaps of black pepper. That’s it! This soup tastes better if made the day before.

I served it with little homemade dinner rolls made from a recipe a chef at Baron’s Craig Hotel in Scotland gave me. They’re sort of like brioche really – flour, melted butter, yeast, eggs, salt and sugar – and I cook them in little mini-muffin tins. Man, they’re so delicious – you can see them behind the beef in the photo, peeking out from the serviette.

Then we had roast fillet of pure prime Angus beef – I buy it from Moore Wilson’s in Masterton because they have such good meat. The New Zealand Cook’s Bible, which came out before Christmas, recommends for every 1kg of beef, for rare, roast at 180 degrees for half an hour plus 15 minutes, but I think that’s too long. This was about 1.23 kg and I roasted it for half an hour, then rested it, wrapped in tinfoil, for 15 – 20 minutes, while I faffed around making the salad, putting out the bearnaise sauce (which I buy ready-made, the Kato brand), and my home-made quince jelly. Then Colin carved the filet and it was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Before roasting it, I’d massaged it with a bit of olive oil, and draped it in anchovy fillets.

Then for dessert we had Martin Bosley’s Pear, Ginger and Chocolate Crumble, taken from the Listener, July 19-25, and I’ll reproduce it here for those who don’t read this mag (you’re missing out on some good writing).

Crumble Topping: 150g soft brown sugar, 1 tsp baking powder, 60g unsalted butter @ room temp, 150g flour. Mix all ingredients together rubbing butter into dry stuff until resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in 50g of roughly chopped dark chocolate. There is no quick way to do this – don’t use the food processor. Just have a nice little dream time while you rub it in with your hands. Think loving thoughts, and this will come out in the pudding.

Fruity Part: 5 ripe pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped; grated zest of lemon; 3cm piece of ginger peeled and grated; 2tbsp soft brown sugar; 50g dark chocolate roughly chopped. Combine all, put in baking dish, cover with crumble topping, pop in 180 degree oven for about 35 minutes, serve with vanilla bean icecream dusted with cinnamon.

We then hauled our stuffed bodies away from the table, having washed all this down with a lovely Reisling – Neudorf 2005, Moutere, then a Magnum of James 05 which was fantastic, and another bottle of Winebox Red. With dessert we had a bottle of Nectar, which is a vouvray – and went for a walk around the vineyard. Of course, Taja, Kete and Smitty had to tag along – until Kete got bored and went back to the verandah and Smitty showed off by prancing away like a Ferrari.

One of our friends was surprised at the size of the vineyard – he thought we had a few little vines in the back yard, not a serious proposition. Then we went into the winery and tasted the Syrah – one sample from our new barrel, and you can really taste the oak, another sample from an older barrel we bought off John Porter. This syrah, I think, is going to be very damn good – it’s got a helluva long way to go, at least another 12 months in barrel then that again in bottles, possibly, before release, but you can taste the complexity and the same pepperiness that our vineyard gives to our Pinot Noir. Our biggest satisfaction, however, and relief, is that the syrah was ripe and picked at exactly the correct time. Big thanks for that go to Nick Hoskins, John Porter, and Larry McKenna.

Finally, we staggered back to plonk down on couches in front of the fire while I served coffee with chocolate covered preserved ginger – easy to make, you just buy the ginger from the bulk section at the supermarket, melt cooking chocolate in a bowl over bubbling water, then coat the ginger in the choc and allow to dry. Also, I’d made Ray McVinnie’s (Cuisine food editor) Sticky Chocolate, Coconut and Prune cakes which he wrote about in the Sunday Star-Times magazine July 13. I didn’t have prunes, so used dates, and I think there might have been some misprints in the recipe because the icing didn’t really make sense. But that might have been my idiocy so I’ll reproduce the recipe here as she was writ:

100g butter, softened, beaten til pale and fluffy with 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar. Add one egg and beat well. Sift dry ingredients – 1 1/2 cups self-raising flour, 2tbs cocoa – and add alternately with 1 cup long-strand coconut and 1 cup chopped prunes (or dates). Place well-spaced, large dessert-spoons on papered trays and bake in 180 degree oven for about 12-15 minutes. Ice when cold.

Icing – 1 1/2 cups icing sugar, 1 tbs softened butter, 3 tbs cocoa, put everything except the coconut (yeah, I know, there is no coconut, but this is what the recipe said) into a bowl and add just enough hot water to make a thick but smooth spreadable icing. Beat well so no lumps and spread a little on top of each cake.

Needless to say, I felt a little sick that night, but a great day was had by all.

Welcome to RedbankJames WineBlog – Pinot Noir Hare

Sliding around in the mud today, checking on the new calves, and falling on my butt, it’s hard to believe just four months ago this area was stricken with drought. Not that it was bad for us, but the farmers suffered. As did thirsty wild hares, because creeks and dams dried up. So they invaded the vineyard and bit holes in the irrigation pipes to get water. Sean, charged with scaring birds, brought down a hare with his shotgun. Did I want it? He asked, slinging this magnificent creature on my front steps. Do I what, I answered, since the hare and its mate had been nibbling perilously close to my lettuces for several weeks. I also believe you shouldn’t eat meat unless you’re prepared to stomach the unsettling process of killing and preparing it. But how to take a hare from furry rigor mortis to jugged or saddle of? Up close and dead they’re more macho than a rabbit – disarmingly muscular, in fact. Nothing in my New Zealand cookbooks (so much for Logan Brown’s “Hunger for the Wild”), so I looked up Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (known at Oxford as Hugh Fairly-Longname) and Australian Maggie Beer. After hanging the ungutted hare for three days in the tack shed I carried it and its smell in the wheelbarrow, far, far away from the house, carefully cut the skin around the middle and peeled it away from the body (realising why I said “skin a rabbit” when peeling jerseys of my little children all those years ago). Breathing through my mouth, I slit the abdomen and removed the innards – large kidneys, liver, heart, lungs and of course the paunch filled with our grapes. With an axe, the head and feet were removed, then I washed the rabbit in balsamic vinegar to get rid of some of the smell. For two days he marinated in a bottle of James Pinot Noir, then I casseroled him with lemon, pinenuts and sultanas until the meat fell away from the bone. Heaven on a plate.