Where we're going this evening - New ZealandWe're off on a long-haul trip tonight, all the way to the other side of the world. I must confess my ignorance here - if you'd have given me a pin to put in a map where New Zealand is, I would have put it totally in the wrong place, somewhere close to northeast of Australia - not miles away to the southwest. Live and learn already!
So what do I know about it? When I think of New Zealand, I think of Anchor butter which we used to have when I was growing up, New Zealand lamb, and latterly, as a magnificent film set backdrop to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Also, New Zealanders and Australians get a bit huffy if you mix them up (same as the Americans and the Canadians when we Brits plonk them all in the same bracket).
Now let's go and do some homework to find out more...
The two islands that make up New Zealand are very slightly bigger than the size of the UK, but the New Zealand population is just four million compared to the UK's sixty million. I suppose they need all that extra room to graze cows for butter and to raise lamb.
If your wondering why the official language is English despite being literally half way around the world, 12,000 miles away, it's because it's one of those place that our very own intrepid Captain Cook came across - an extraordinary feat - and decided 'we'll have that' despite there already being a perfectly happy native Maori population who were minding their own business.
Actually the Dutch beat the good Captain to it - briefly - but after a quick scrap with the locals which they lost 4 to 1 in terms of people killed, they scarpered & left Cook to have a crack at it over a century later.
The native Maori people were laid back enough despite our usual strong arm tactics of planting a stick in the ground and called it 'ours', and were happy to be widely converted to Christianity and everyone seems to rub along well enough.
New Zealand has been independent of the British parliament for the past sixty or so years as opposed to having legislation from the Palace of Westminster (which must make governing an awful lot easier), although it is still a staunch member of the Commonwealth with the Queen as head of state.
There are some fascinating New Zealand people. I must include the New Zealand all blacks Rugby team in this category, simply as they perform the native Maori war dance or haka before each match. Scares the life out of me, anyway.
The aforementioned Peter Jackson is from New Zealand, as is actor Russell Crowe and opera singer Kiri te Kanawa - but for my money, the most marvelous New Zealander is Burt Munroe, the garden shed motorcycle enthusiast and engineer who at the age of 68 raced his beloved Indian Scout motorcycle across the Bonneville salts flats to set a number of speed records, one of which still stands today. The tale was told in the excellent film The World's Fastest Indian staring Anthony Hopkins.
Back to the important stuff - with their beautiful scenery, can-do attitude and relaxed way of life, lets say hello to New Zealand...
The main dish had to be lamb - I'm used to eating the succulent roasted meat with a sweet redcurrant jelly, garlic, rosemary or mint sauce, or slow cooked with red wine; but this recipe has a real oriental influence and is cooked with ginger, sherry and Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce.
Pavlova is a traditional New Zealand dessert (despite Australia laying claim to it too) - pavlovas are often made as children's birthday cakes, decorated with fruit, or sweets and chocolate and candles.
I fancied something to snack on too, so these scone-like cheese puffs look spot on.
Lea and Perrins Lamb Chops - recipe from food.com
Marinade lamb loin chops in a mixture of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, sherry and grated ginger for quarter of an hour or so in the fridge. Pan fry & serve with salad. I took out the chops and poured left over marinade into the pan for a couple of minutes then used this as salad dressing.
Pavlova - recipe from about.com home cooking
Whisk egg whites until stiff. Beat in sugar and a little cornflour. Fold in vanilla extract. Spoon onto baking parchment - either one large or smaller individual nests - bake in a low oven for an hour then turn off the oven and leave the meringues in overnight. Fill nests with fruit and cram then decorate with more fruit, chocolate sprinkles etc.
Downunder Cheese Puffs - recipe from food.com
Beat egg and milk and bead in sifted flour, baking powder salt and grated cheese. Put large teaspoonfuls on a greased baking tray and cook for ten minutes in a hot oven.
And what have we learnt?
- If this food is typical of New Zealand's cuisine, I would like to move there tomorrow - although I would soon become the size of a house, particularly through piling pavlova and cheese puffs down me at every opportunity.
- To think ahead and read the recipe in good time - pavlova was enjoyed for Thursday breakfast rather than Wednesday dinner as the meringues have to be in the oven overnight
- Read the damn recipe properly - it is only now whilst writing up that I see that I should have filled the meringues with fruit and not just put it on top. I thought there was a bit of a cream overload.
- The zingy marinade really adds a new - and extremely tasty - dimension to how to serve lamb
- Cheese puffs should be made with caution. Far too many of them disappeared off the baking tray before getting as far as the cooling rack, and more disappeared before they got as far as the cupboard.
- Have I mentioned that I would like to move to New Zealand?
And out of 10?
- for the Lea and Perrins lamb chops - a delicious and difficult to beat 9/10 - the only reason that this didn't get full marks is that I didn't trim quite enough of the fat off the loin chops, although that is hardly the fault of the recipe. Utterly delicious, to be added to the repertoire.
- For the pavlova - a very tasty 8/10 - so easy to knock up, although you do have to think ahead. as meringues take so long to cook. Would have been even better with more fruit in the nests.
- For the cheese puffs - a fabulous 9/10 - easier and quicker to make than cheese scones and just as tasty. One teeny criticism is that they don't taste quite as good the next day, having gone a bit spongy. I can think of a solution to that particular nit-picking issue though...