Saturday, October 14, 2006

What the Heck's a "Hangi?" A Little New Zealand Culture in New Hampshire.

"Haere mai!" (Maori for "Welcome!") graced the sign leading guests on to the property for the 6th Annual Hangi, a wonderful event I attended this past weekend in scenic Canterbury, New Hampshire. Unless you're a Kiwi (or know one), you probably don't know what the heck a Hangi is. A Hangi (pronounced hung-ee) is a New Zealand method of cooking underground based on the Maori tradition (the original settlers whose decendents are dwindling but whose traditions live on). The whole event is actually referred to as a Hangi because the day revolves around waiting for the big unveiling of the food.

The event was hosted by Simon Leeming, New Zealand Honorary Consul to New England, on his vast country property overlooking the mountains, something you might find in New Zealand. Spacious, spectacular views and healthy, beautiful sheep and llamas with plenty of room to roam.

How to Hangi
Preparing a Hangi is quite an involved process and not one you could easily pull off in your back yard. First, a large fire is built. Train tracks (don't ask where they get those) and fireproof bricks are warmed on it. Next, a large pit is dug next to it about the size of a grave site (sorry, that's the best reference I could think of). Then the train tracks and bricks are placed in the bottom of the hole and the layering process begins. The food is lowered into the pit in metal buckets and baskets filled with a variety of foods for the feast — beef, lamb, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, onions, corn with the husks on and stuffing. The food is then covered with muslin cloth and burlap bags that have been soaking overnight which helps create a steam oven effect in the pit. The pit is then re-covered with soil and the food cooks in the ground for about 4 - 5 hours.

A Rugby Match
While the food was cooking, folks set off down the street to watch a little Rugby action - Kiwis vs. a team from Portland, Maine. For those of us who only know the rules of football, Rugby can be pretty confusing with the scrum (see photo), no "downs," throwing the ball backwards, no pads. It's crazy but fun to watch, especially since one-time All Blacks (New Zealand Professional Rugby team) star Mike O'Callaghan, at 60(!) was playing and smoking his opponents. Unfortunately, the Kiwis lost but were very gracious losers (what did they care? they were about to chow down at the Hangi!).

The Kahurangi Maori Dance Theater of New Zealand Performs
Maori singing and dancing took place right on the mountainside. They performed several songs in the Maori language. A very passionate, entertaining group who interacted so well with the audience and distracted them from their growling stomachs. At one point one of the women performers asked the audience to repeat "Kia Ora!" (Hello/Greetings!) after her and to our neighbors to the left and right of us. It was one of those events where nothing seemed silly or over the top. It was all genuine, real and you found yourself getting caught up in it all. "Kia Ora!" I said to my friend on the right and to the stranger at my left. Somehow it all felt good and right. I enjoyed the Maori dancers very much. Check out the video below.

The Pavlova Dessert Competition
There was also a little dessert competition which my boyfriend, Kemal (a Kiwi), and I felt the need to enter. Pavlova is a meringue-like dessert that was invented by New Zealanders (although some Australians contest that fact and want to claim it as their own). This is a delicious, light dessert that's a little crispy on the outside and sort of marshmallow-y (although not that dense) inside. Its classic incarnation is the baked meringue itself covered with whipped cream and fruit (kiwis, strawberries, etc.). We decided to break the mold a little and added New Zealand "Crunchie Bars" as a topping. They have sort of a malted flavor and are covered in chocolate. We also added raspberries and bananas. In our eyes, this was hands down the most innovative entry. Unfortunately, we did not win. The mother of one of the judges won (can you say "fixed?"). She entered 4 different Pavs. Oh well. We know in our hearts that we had the best one. It tasted amazing!! At the bottom of the page is the recipe if you'd like to try it yourself. We found that the key step is to NOT ever for any reason open the oven while it's cooking or even when it's resting in the turned off oven.

The Unveiling of the Hangi!
Finally, it was time to unearth the food that had been buried at 8:30 in the morning. A crowd formed around the men with shovels. The anticipation was building. The stomachs were growling. Dig that thing up! After a a short informative talk about the Hangi tradition (watch video for details), the digging commenced. Several men shoveled the soil off the top. When enough soil was removed, the men pulled up the muslin and burlap to reveal the metal cans and baskets with the cooked food. What a sight! The steam came pouring out. The meat looked so tender. The carrots bright orange. The corn - ready for shucking and eating. But could it feed 300 people?! It certainly didn't look like it.

The men pulled up the containers and before I knew it, a huge line had formed where the meat was being cut for serving. We high-tailed it to the line before we got too far back and waited not-so-patiently for our turn. Would there still be food by the time we got up to the serving area? Plenty. Seemed like a loves and fishes miracle to me but I was not asking any questions. Kemal, I and my friends Preethi & Joe loaded up our plates, found a nice sunny spot on the hill overlooking the mountains and dug in. Excellent! The meat, the stuffing and the cabbage were our personal favorites. They were cooked to perfection. So simple (no spices or anything) but very flavorful, almost a smoky flavor from the heated bricks and railroad track.

Canterbury is a great little town. Just down the street from the Hangi is a Hackleboro Orchards so you can get in a little apple picking. They have the best Honey Crisp apples ever! The name says it all.

New Zealand Pavlova Recipe
After combing the Web for the perfect "Pav" recipe, I opted for the one on because some guy named "Tom" had posted some extra tips on the recipe (I incorporated those below) which many of the other readers found helpful. Of course the topping idea is our original. Patent pending. LOL.

For meringue-like part:
- 6 large egg whites
- 1 1/2 cups superfine granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 cup boiling water

For topping:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 bananas
- 6 - 10 raspberries
- 2 Cadbury Crunchie Bars (or Velvet Crumble if you must - the Australian version. Both are available at Cardullo's in Harvard Square). This is obviously optional but it's darned tasty.

How to:
- Preheat oven to 350° F. and line a large baking sheet with foil.
- In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat together whites, sugar, cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla on low speed until just combined.
- Add boiling water a little at a time and beat on high speed 3 to 5 minutes, or until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks.
- Spoon meringue mixture onto baking sheet and spread into a 9- to 10-inch circle.
- Bake Pavlova in middle of oven 10 minutes.
- Reduce temperature to 200° F. and bake Pavlova 40 minutes more. Turn off oven and let Pavlova stand in oven 2 hours.
- Transfer Pavlova to a rack and cool completely. (Pavlova will be hard on outer surface and soft inside.)
- In a bowl with cleaned beaters beat cream pouring sugar in a little bit at a time until it holds soft peaks and spread over Pavlova.
- Slice bananas into 1/2" slices. Place slices in a circle around the top of the cake, overlapping one banana slice over the next.
- Break up the Crunchie bars into small pieces and drop on the cake, leaving a small circle in the middle for the raspberries. Place the rasperries with open end facing up in the middle.

Eat immediately or refrigerate. Should be eaten within a few hours from creation for best results. ENJOY!!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pumpkin Gnocchi w/ Sage - Heavenly Pillows of Perfection

I've been wanting to make gnocchi for years but it looked so hard. I was intimidated by the process. Turns out, gnocchi is in fact very easy to make. It's like the lazy man's pasta. I've made pasta several times and it's hard work! This is not at all. You just need to ensure the dough stays cool and that you work relatively quickly while the dough is cool. It's just easier to work with. Following is a recipe from another great Portuguese dude, Emeril Lagasse. This is a great main course or a nice appetizer for Thanksgiving dinner. The smell of the spices, the taste of the sage/butter sauce and the light, pillowy texture of the gnocchi are intoxicating. Simply irresistible.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage

It's great to have a "ricer" to make gnocchi because it makes the gnocchi so light and fluffy. This is not just a gadget you'll use once. It's great any time you make mashed potatoes.

- 1-1/2 lbs Idaho potatoes, about 3 large, scrubbed and boiled in skins until tender (about 20 - 25 minutes)
- 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (from a can is fine. you can also boil and puree your own.)
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- Pinch allspice
- 1 tsp salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups flour (I used about 1-3/4)
- Salted water, for cooking gnocchi
- 1/2 lb unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp fresh sage leaves, chopped
- 1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas, cooked

How to:

Making the Gnocchi:
- Allow the cooked potatoes to cool slightly, then carefully peel while holding potato with a kitchen mitt. While still hot, puree potatoes through a ricer or food mill into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool completely before proceeding.
- Add the pumpkin puree, cheese, egg, cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper and mix well.
- Gradually add in enough flour to form a smooth, slightly sticky dough.
- Briefly knead the dough to incorporate the flour, being careful not to overwork.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil.
- Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces and place 1 piece on a lightly floured work surface. (Keep the other pieces cool by placing them by the window or in the refrigerator. It makes the dough easier to work with.)
- Roll piece into a long rope, about 1/2-inch in diameter, flouring lightly if needed.
- Slice the rope into pieces 1/2-inch wide.
- Holding one piece at a time, roll the tines of a fork against the dough until slight indentations are formed. Repeat with each piece of dough, setting formed gnocchi on a floured piece of parchment paper or baking sheet. (This is an optional step - looks nice and holds the sauce nicely)
- Immediately add the gnocchi to the boiling water and continue cooking for 2 to 3 minutes once they have risen to the top. - Remove the cooked gnocchi with a slotted spoon or skimmer and set aside briefly while making the sauce.
- Alternatively, you can freeze the gnocchi and cook later. Put in boiled water. Remove when they float to the top.

Making the Butter/Sage Sauce:
- In a skillet over high heat add the butter when pan is very hot. Let butter sit undisturbed until almost all melted and outside edges have begun to caramelize.
- Quickly swirl the skillet and add choped sage. Let cook for 30 seconds longer, season with salt and pepper to taste and add gnocchi to skillet to toss with sauce and rewarm if necessary.
- Serve immediately with freshly shaved or grated Parmesan cheese and peas. Garnish with a couple of sprigs of fresh whole sage.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Day in the Life of a Fishmonger

Ever wonder how your fish gets from the ocean to your local fishmonger? I always have. And I finally got the chance to find out. Recently I tagged along with New Deal Fish Market's Fishmonger Extraordinaire Carl Fantasia on his daily trip to Fish Pier on the waterfront in Boston. Actually, normally Carl's father buys the fish but since he was on vacation in Italy, Carl took over the reins. Carl is a third generation fishmonger who upholds the excellent reputation his family has established by selling only the best. He's also a great sport and extremely knowledgeable. I thought I knew a lot about fish but have realized after going to his market for the past year or so, that I know nothing and he knows all.

I met him at his fish market at 9am. We hopped in his truck and headed to Fish Pier on Northern Ave. so close but in so many ways a million miles away from South Station and the Financial District. I envisioned one giant warehouse type space with all the wholesalers in their own area selling their fish. I was way off. Each wholesaler has his (I'm saying his because this business is 99.99% male) own store. Many of them are at Fish Pier but several others are in different spots along Northern Avenue. (Bet you never noticed that there are several right behind the Fleet Pavilion Concert Hall?) So you can imagine how much time it takes to go from store to store to get what you need. It took us about 2 hours! Imagine, 5 days a week, spending 2 hours shopping for fish?! I'm sure some folks are faster but Carl is very particular about the fish he buys so he takes his time finding the very best of the day.

In the course of the excursion, we stopped at one place for snapper, one place for Atlantic crabs, another place for soft shell crabs, scallops and periwinkles(!), yet another for sushi grade tuna and still another for "boo hoo," a beautiful fish - a type of tuna. What I found interesting was that the fish is not just from New England and not even just the U.S. Fish comes in from Italy, Portugal, the Carribbean. Amazing.

At each location, Carl would check in with the owners to see what they had. In some cases, the fishing boat carrying what he wanted had not yet come in. So he'd move on to the next item on his list. Walking into these places is a bit intimidating. They are all business. Get what you need and move on. They're busy people - artfully filleting fish, packaging it up, etc. No time for idle chit-chat. I just stood as out-of-the-way as possible and observed all the incredible beautiful fish. At one place, there was a whole wall of huge swordfish. An incredible site for a person like myself who is not in the industry. For Carl, it's just another day at the office so to speak.

Loading up your purchases is no easy task either. You have to bring in your own bins, shovel (yes, shovel) ice into your containers, layer in your fish and then cover the fish with ice to keep it fresh. You then need to lug it to the loading dock so you can put it in your truck. I was exhausted just watching Carl do all that hard work. I would have lent a hand but literally, I couldn't even begin to lift those things.

So next time you go to the fish market, thank your fishmonger for all the time, attention and muscle he puts into bringing you the best, most fresh seafood available.

New Deal Fish Market
622 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA (midway between Inman Square and the Cambridgeside Galleria)
Ask for Carl. Tell him Lynne sent you.

Fresh Flavors and Fine Service at Himalayan Bistro

My sister, who is a discriminating diner, has recently been singing the praises of Himalyan Bistro, a new Indian and Nepali restaurant in West Roxbury. She and her husband love it so much they have been going there several nights a week. With that kind of review, I had to go there myself and find out what was so fantastic about this place. So I ventured out of my normal Cambridge/Boston stomping grounds and hit the road to West Roxbury.

When I walked into the restaurant, I knew this was not your typical Indian restaurant. They definitely went the extra mile designing a soothing, Zen-like space. It's very open. High, saffron-colored wood-beamed ceilings. Warm red and yellow color palette and Himalayan tapestries and photographs hung sparingly throughout the restaurant. Easy to breathe. Good for the digestion.

Our waiter was very friendly and recognized my fellow diners from their frequent visits. We were immediately served some warm, nicely spiced and crispy Papadum (lentil/chickpea flat bread), one of my personal favorites. Great start.

For an appetizer we ordered vegetable Momos, a steamed Napali snack that, according to the menu, are readily available on the streets of Kathmandu as well as in the homes of Nepal. I hate to say it but they were quite a bit better than the ones at Om. They were so fresh! And the dough was very light. We ran into a couple on the street afterwards who were very excited about these Momos. The guy had just moved here from Colorado where he said there was an incredible Nepali restaurant so he was so happy to find a place with great Momos here as well. I promise I did not initiate (and barely participated in) this animated conversation about Momos that took place on the street. I'm not the only one who loves food clearly. Anyway, it's a tribute to Himalayan Bistro's Momos. They're a huge hit.

For dinner, my sister suggested ordering something that was new to me - the Himalayan Dinner Thali, which includes Mulligatawny soup, a choice of 2 vegetarian dishes (a non-vegetarian option is also available), Raita and a choice of dessert. All for a very reasonable $13.95.

The soup was absolutely delicious - rich lentil flavor with a hint of lemon. I haven't had a lot of Mulligatawny soup in my lifetime so I can't compare it to others but definitely no complaints. The two vegetarian dishes we ordered were the Dal Maharani and the Saag Poneer. Dal Maharani consists of slow-cooked black lentils tempered with garlic, ginger, onions, tomatoes and spices. Saag Poneer (which I've also seen spelled Saag Paneer) is a blend of fresh spinach, ginger, onion and cubes of homemade cottage cheese, cooked in light spices. Both of these dishes were above and beyond anything similar I have ever ordered in an Indian restaurant. It just tasted so much fresher - like it's made seconds before it reaches the table. What you must order along with this is some of their Naan so you don't leave any of those delicious sauces behind! They have seven different kinds ranging from onion and garlic to those stuffed with ground lamp or nuts & raisins. This may actually be the first time I've ever ordered a purely vegetarian dinner and it was absolutely delicious. I didn't miss the meat at all. Having lentils, I think, replaces the hankering for meat. It's stick-to-your-ribs kind of food.

My sister and brother-in-law were very concerned that I get a good idea of how all the desserts tasted so they insisted that we order, well, all of them - Gazarko Haluwa (Indian carrot cake), Rasmalai (cottage cheese-like cheese in sweetened milk), Gulab Jamun (basically donut balls in sweet syrup) and Kheer (rice pudding). They also offfer mango and coconut ice cream but you have to draw the line somewhere. My personal favorite was the Gazarko Haluwa - much more carrot-y and a lot less sweet tasting than the American version. For some, it might be an acquired taste but I loved it. The Rasmalai tastes much better than it sounds. The creamy texture of the cheese with the milk is very nice. Only version of this I've had that was better was made by my friend, Preethi. The Gulab Jamun is one of those desserts you feel really guilty eating. Donuts in syrup. Hello. It's a little rich for my blood but a nice treat. I love pretty much any rice pudding and theirs was delicious although I like the Portuguese version better personally because I love the lemon and cinnamon that's added. Overall, again, better than average Indian food across the board. I hope you'll give it a try sometime.

Himalayan Bistro is very easy to find even for a person who is primarily a pedestrian such as myself. Here are some directions for my Boston area friends. It's worth the trip.

From Boston (from Brookline Avenue)
- Get on the Riverway (right near the Best Buy, EMS, Staples shopping area in Fenway).
- Riverway becomes Jamaicaway.
- Jamaicaway becomes Arborway.
- Enter next roundabout and take 1st exit onto Centre St.
- Pass Faulkner Hospital on the right, continue down Centre Street until you reach the rotary.
- Go through the rotary, and take the second right, this is still Centre Street.
- Himalayan Bistro is about 100 yds on the right.

Himalyan Bistro
1735 Centre Street
West Roxbury, MA

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Autumnal Hors d'Oeuvres & Cocktail Party Fun

As many of you know, I just had an open house for my company, Rival Marketing, and went into a cooking frenzy for a couple of weeks preparing for the big event. Seasonal ingredients make for the freshest tasting, most vibrant and delicious hors d'oeuvres. Below are a couple recipes that I felt best captured the season. Judging by their quick disappearance from the serving trays, I take it they were a hit. My sense is that the appearance drew them in and that the taste kept them coming back for more!

Aside from food, cocktails and t-shirt giveways, another thing we did at the party was to set up a "Photo Booth" with one of our computers. There is a feature on the new Macs that enables you to sit in front of the monitor and take a photo really easily. I highly recommend setting this up at your next cocktail party if you have a Mac. We had a blast with it (note photo). Gives people something to do besides eat and drink (although there was still plenty of that going on!). And as the night goes on, the photos get more interesting as you might imagine. Good times.

Eggplant, Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Canapés
This recipe is from "Martha Stewart's Hors D'Oeuvres Hanbook," an amaaaaaazing book available everywhere fine books are sold. Seems complicated but it's not. Very easy actually.

1 small eggplant (10 oz)
2 1/2 ounces creamy feta cheese
12 1/4-inch-thick slices of pumpernickel bread
6 oz of baby zucchinis or a larger 6-oz zucchini
2 large roasted bell peppers
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

How to:
1. Place the whole eggplant on a baking sheet in the middle of the oven and roast until the skin buckles and the flesh is cooked throughout (30 - 40 minutes). Remove the eggplant and slice open.
2. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.
3. Scrape away all the cooked eggplant flesh from the skin and place it in a food processor. Set aside to cool.
4. Crumble feta into the food processor with the eggplant and blend. Season generously with salt and pepper and set aside.
5. Reduce over temperature to 300 degrees. Arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet. Place the bread slices in the oven to dry out and toast slightly, 5 - 7 minutes. Let cool. Cut each slice into a 2.5 x 3-inch piece.
6. Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, cut the zucchini lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush the zucchini slices lightly with olive oil. Working in batches, grill the slices until tender, about 2 minutes each side until light grill marks appear. Remove and set aside.
7. Generously spread each bread slice with the eggplant/feta purée. Place a roasted red pepper* piece over the purée (in the middle). Arrange a slice of similar size on each side of the eggplant.

Voil. So pretty, declicious and healthy!

* Roasting the Peppers:
To roast peppers, rub olive oil on the exterior of the peppers and place right on the flame of the gas stove, turning occasionally until all sides are charred. Let cool slightly and peel off the charred exterior. Cut the pepper in half and remove seeds and veins. Cut into 3 inch by 1/2-inch slices.

Pattypans with Tapenade, Goat Cheese & Toasted Pine Nuts
My Own Invention!

18 - 20 mini pattypan squashes
6 oz Goat Cheese
1 tsp Honey
2 tsp fresh Thyme
2 tbsp Toasted Pine Nuts

How to:
1. So that the pattypans will sit upright, shave the bottom off of each with a paring knife.
2. With a small melon baller, scoop out the top of each so there's room for the tasty filling.
3. Steam the squash for about 7 minutes (until cooked but not too soft).
4. Spoon about 1/4 tsp tapenade in the bottom of each squash.
5. Blend the honey with the goat cheese with a spoon.
6. Cover the tapenade with goat cheese (about 1/2 tsp per squash).
7. Top off the goat cheese with 2 - 3 toasted pine nuts and a small sprig of thyme.
8. Refrigerate to set the ingredients.

Serve at room temperature. They're really beautiful and a real mouthful of flavors and textures.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Fall Favorite - Stuffed Roasted Pumpkins

Sunday, October 1st. Rainy, lazy day. Perfect time for Stuffed Pumpkins. Nothing says Fall like pumpkins and putting in a little extra time making a hearty dinner. The first thing that came to mind when I woke up and saw the dismal weather outside were these Stuffed Roasted Sugar Pumpkins that I made one day for Cards Night last year. The filling is absolutely delicious and scraping the roasted pumpkin insides into the rice mixture is a real treat. And as you can see by the photo, it's also lovely to look at. You can also make this in one big pumpkin instead of several small ones but remember to cook the pumpkin at least another 15 - 20 minutes longer to ensure it's cooked all the way through. This is a nice idea for Thanksgiving - bring it to your host or have it right at home. The mixture can be made a day or two ahead and stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.

Stuffed Roasted Sugar Pumpkins Recipe
This recipe is a combination of two recipes in a really nice cookbook, "Pumpkin, Butternut & Squash" by Elsa Petersen-Schepelern (available on

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

• 4 small sugar pumpkins
• 2 carrots, chopped
• 4 slices bacon, chopped
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
• Leaves from 3 - 4 sprigs of thyme
• 2 cups ground beef or pork
• 2 tsp tomato paste
• 1 red chile, seeded and chopped
• 1 cup cooked white rice
• Leaves from 1 large bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
• Salt and pepper to taste

How To:

Prepping the Pumpkins
1. Use a very small knife to cut the top off the pumpkin. I use a tiny pumpkin carving knife I bought at the drug store. Really does the trick!
2. Scoop out the seeds. An ice cream scoop does a great job or get down and dirty and stick your hand right in there!
3. Rub the outside and the inside with a little olive oil.

Fixin' the Filling
1. Par-boil the carrots in boiling salted water until almost cooked (4 - 5 minutes). Drain and set aside.
2. Put 1 tbsp of olive oil in a non-stick skillet or cast iron pan. Add the bacon. Cook until crisp. Drain on paper towels.
3. Add the onions to the skillet and sauté until softened and translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until the onion is golden. Add the thyme and the beef (or pork) and cook until meat is browned. Stir in the tomato paste and chiles. Add the carrots, bacon and rice and sauté until well combined.
4. Mix in the parsley then spoon the mixture into the pumpkins.
5. Place the pumpkins on a cookie sheet, tip the top of the pumpkin to the side and pop in the oven.
6. Roast for 30 - 40 minutes (varies by pumpkin size). If you can insert a toothpick or knife into the base of the pumpkin easily, the pumpkin is done.