Friday, 30 October 2015

Wallaby Casserole

Here in the Eastern Bay of Plenty we have had wallaby in the news over the last couple of weeks – and not because of the rugby. There is a healthy population of Dama wallaby in the Kawerau area and there a concerns that the population is spreading to other areas. The Regional Council has asked for sightings of them to be reported. My worst fear is that they are planning to poison them. Why does that worry me? Because they taste so good and it would be a shameful waste of good food!

According to a published paper by Wodzicki and Flux, there were 12 species of marsupial introduced to New Zealand between 1858 and 1870. These included the possum and a few wallaby species. Here in the Eastern BOP Dama wallabies have flourished. Around Canterbury, in the South Island, there is a population of the larger Red Neck wallaby which has also done well. I have memories of eating Red Neck wallaby as a child and thinking it was the best thing I had ever eaten. I have a similar memory from my first culinary encounter with the smaller Dama wallaby here.

Wallabies were listed on the Noxious Animals list in the mid-1950s. That means they can not be kept as pets or farmed. They eat our native forests, and like all the other introduced pest species, there is no natural predator for them, so we need to manage the population. My favourite way to manage an animal pest is to cook them. Make a pest into food; eliminate the need for poisons – a net gain to the environment.

The age of the wallaby meat determines the way I cook it. A young animal has a sweet and delicate flavour, while the older animal can be a little tough and gamey. The tail meat can make delicious steak or casserole. The legs lend themselves to a slow cook, as you would for shanks. I often mince the meat for burger patties, rissoles or lasagne etc…

Wallaby meat is not only tasty, it is also good for you. It is very lean but is a good source of omego-3. It is very rich in iron, zinc and a 150gm fillet will provide between 30 and 100 of your daily requirement of the vitamin B family. It is good for your mood and your general health. Unfortunately you can’t easily obtain it from a store – you need to know a hunter who can get some for you. But if you do know a hunter, please encourage them to shoot wallaby. It would be a tragedy to see the wallaby poisoned, or to see cullers sent in to leave them to rot in the forest. What a waste!

Wallaby Casserole
75 g plain flour
500gms of diced wallaby tail and legs wallaby
100 ml good oil
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled, chopped
1 onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tsp celery seeds
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp peppercorns
2 sprigs each oregano and rosemary (1tsp dried)
400 g can chopped tomatoes
850 ml can tomato juice
500 ml (2 cups) red wine
250 ml (1 cup) good beef stock
2 tbsp tomato paste

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place flour in a clear plastic bag – season with a little salt and pepper. Put some diced meat in with seasoned flour, shake to coat meat in flour. Remove meat from flour, shaking off excess.

Heat oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over high heat and brown meat, turning, for 3 minutes. Remove meat from pan and place in a casserole dish.

Clean frying pan and return to high heat with some oil. Add vegetables, onion, garlic, spices and herbs, and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes .

Stir in tomatoes, juice, wine, stock and tomato paste. Bring to the boil, then carefully pour over meat.

Cover and transfer pan to oven. Bake for 2½ hours. Stir after each hour and add water if necessary.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Magic of Mushrooms

Because we are such a food-oriented family, we entertain a lot. I have always put a lot of effort into the food I cook and guarded my recipes. In the past people used to ask me to teach them how to make food the way I do and I would refuse – I don’t know why. As you can tell, this is no longer the case. I love to share what I know and I enjoy the feedback I get from people trying my recipes. It makes me happy when I get emails with all sorts of variations on the original; some I adopt and some I park. All of life should be a learning lesson!

Last week we had visitors for dinner and I made a mushroom sauce to compliment the meat. One of our visitors asked for the recipe, and it reminded me that I have promised the recipe lots of other times, too. So today I am going to share it. It is not overly complicated, but it is really good to eat and very versatile; you can have it over meat, vegetables, mixed through pasta, as a pizza base,  on toast with an egg, or have it like my big fella does, with a spoon straight out of the sauce jug.

Before we get into the recipe, I want to talk a bit about mushrooms. Here in Whakātane we are really limited in the kinds of mushrooms we can get from the store. We get button mushrooms and portobello or field mushrooms. There are lots of growing kits for oyster, shiitake, poplar and burgundy mushrooms, but I am yet to hear of anyone having great success and I am keen to hear from anyone who has. I would like to learn.

Mushrooms are packed with nutrition. They are low fat, low, cholesterol, low sugar, but high in vitamins and minerals.  A 100gm serving of Portobello mushrooms will give you more than 20-40% of the B vitamins you need for the day, 50% of vitamin D and 22% of the selenium you need. New Zealand soil is very low in selenium so we need to take it where we can get it. I can’t think of a more delicious way than mushrooms.

Kia makona
Mawera Karetai – The Wild Cook

Mushroom Sauce
400gms of mushrooms (diced or sliced)
4 spring onions, finely sliced
3 med/large cloves of garlic (pressed or grated)
250gms of sour cream and around ¼ c water
1 heaped tblspn wholegrain mustard
1 heaped tsp Italian herbs of your choice
Pepper and salt to taste
Butter and oil for frying
*Optional: finely sliced celery or capsicum

· Melt butter in a frying pan. Add mushrooms and cook on a medium to high heat until caramelised. Reduce heat.
· Add spring onions, garlic and optional celery and capsicum if you are using them. Cook until softened.
· Add mustard, sour cream, water and herbs. Cook on a low simmer until you are happy with the consistency.
· Taste and then add pepper and salt to season. Salt is something you should always add at the end of cooking. As the liquid evaporates, the salt concentration increases in your dish. You will not need much with this sauce.

· This recipe reheats well and tastes even better on the 2nd day if you can keep it that long.

The sweet things in life don't always need sugar

A year or so ago I had a miraculous recovery from an illness that had us all very worried. A few months before this recovery, I accidently breathed in some moth ball dust and shortly after developed a cough that would not go away. It got worse and worse, to the point that I could not cross the room without having a coughing fit so bad that it would make me pass out. Not good. No one could figure out what was wrong until one day (one dark and miserable day) it dawned on me that it was sugar, or
at least the fructose part of regular sugar that was making me sick.  I refrained from sugar for a day and noticed an immediate change. After the mothball incident there was a change in my throat that caused my throat to swell when I had a lot of fructose. Since having this realisation I have had to be almost completely sucrose and fructose free, but I am cough-free, too.

While I have been ok without sugar, it is times like my birthday where I really want cake. This weekend I decided to experiment with some of the fructose-free alternatives out there and had such a great result I want to share it with you – we will get to that.

Fructose is a monosaccharide found in plants. It is usually bonded to glucose to form a disaccharide called sucrose. Sucrose is what you have in your cupboard in the form of white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, maple syrup, golden syrup etc… There are then other sources of fructose in your cupboard from honey, agave and hidden in lots of products like pasta sauce, mayonnaise and curry pastes – it is everywhere! Refined table sugar (sucrose) starts life as sugarcane and sugar beets. Those plants are processed in hot water to form concentrated syrup which is then crystallised to what you buy from the store. You don’t need sucrose to survive; you do however, need glucose as a ready source of energy to keep our bodies working and you get enough of that from eating plant-based foods. There has been a lot in the media of late about fructose and the bad stuff it does to our bodies. I am yet to meet someone who has the same problem I do, but our fructose consumption is something we all need to think about.

So, if you cut out the fructose, where do you get the sweetness in life from? Stevia is the obvious choice. This weekend I made profiteroles and iced them in chocolate icing made from powdered Natvia (available from the store) and sweetened the some coconut cream with a little Norbu (a monkfruit product). Because the Natvia is so sweet, I used a lot more cocoa than I would normally. The profiteroles were delicious and everyone liked them a lot. Other than the lovely taste, one of the best things was to eat something so decadent and sweet without the sugar rush. If you are cutting out sugar but concerned about missing out on treats like this, it can be done. Over the next couple of months I am going to try new ways to use these fructose-free alternatives to sucrose.
Kia makona,

Mawera Karetai – The Wild Cook x

•             50g butter cut into cubes
•             75g white flour, sifted with a pinch of fine sea salt
•             2 eggs, lightly beaten
•             few drops vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 220C/200C fan. To make the profiteroles, put the butter and in a small pot with 150ml water. Place the pan over a medium heat until the butter has melted, then bring to the boil. Take off the heat, add the flour all at once and beat energetically with a wooden spoon until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan.
Leave to cool for 5 mins, then beat in the eggs bit by bit until you have a stiff, glossy mixture.

Rinse two baking trays with cold water, shaking off any excess so they are slightly damp (this helps the pastry to rise, then line with good quality baking paper. Using 2 teaspoons, spoon balls of the mixture onto the baking trays, or pipe them with a round piping nozzle, in one ball. Then place in the oven and cook for about 18-20 mins until well risen and brown. Remove the profiteroles from the oven and cut a small slit in the base of each one so they don’t collapse. Turn oven off and return to the oven for 5 minutes to dry out the insides. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

To make fructose-free icing:
125gms soft butter
125gms cocoa powder
100gms powdered Natvia
3 Tblsp boiling water
Add butter, cocoa and Natvia to a small bowl. Add two Tblsp boiling water and mix to combine. If the mixture is too thick, slowly add more water, stirring well before each addition.

I piped my profiteroles with whipped coconut cream flavoured with some vanilla and a little Norbu. Using a piping bag, fill your profiteroles through the small hole you made at the bottom and top with chocolate icing.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Red Cargo Rice Stuffed Aubergine

I was in the Fresh Market the other day to get some rice and thought I would try something new – Red Cargo rice. I have seen the product a few times lately, but when you have kids who love brown rice as much as ours do, change is not always welcome. Curiosity got the better of me and I bought some. I am so glad I did!

The red rice we have available in New Zealand is a non-glutinous long grain rice from Thailand and is similar to the Camargue Red rice from France. It is unpolished and only the husk is removed during milling, so it retains the red colour of the rice bran. It also retains all the goodness of the bran, so it is high in fibre, vitamin B and is a source of iron, too. It is nutty, sweet and a little chewier than we are generally used to, but so good to eat!

Instructions on the pack say that rice should be cooked in a rice cooker – fine if you have one and I don’t. I own a microwave and its only purpose is for cooking rice; it cooks rice perfectly. I had a couple of attempts at getting the red rice cooked properly in the microwave and here is how I did it: I first soaked 2 cups of Red Cargo rice in fresh water for 30 minutes to begin the softening process I drained the cold water and added 4 cups of boiling hot water. I cooked in a microwave bowl on high for 12 minutes, and then stirred and cooked for another 12 minutes. I allowed it to stand for 10 minutes before serving. To my surprise and delight, the kids liked it a lot. That night I served the red rice with peacock in a makhani sauce. The sweetness and texture of the rice added to what is already a delicious dish. Since then I have made Red Cargo rice stuffed aubergine and that is the dish I am sharing with you today.

To have a look at my other recipes, including my makhani sauce recipe, please go to

Kia makona,
Mawera Karetai – The Wild Cook

2 large aubergines
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic – grated or pressed
A good handful of pitted green olives, halved
1 capsicum – your choice of colour
A handful of fresh basil, half of it finely sliced
2 cups of cooked Red Cargo rice
Pepper and salt to taste

Cut the aubergines in half along the length. Using a paring knife, score a border around the inside of the aubergine where the flesh feels soft and scoop out the soft flesh, leaving a hollow for the filling. Place hollowed-out aubergine halves on a baking tray, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes on 180 C.

While the aubergines are baking, heat some oil in a pan and onions and capsicum, cooking until soft. Add in garlic, olives, sliced basil and some pepper and salt to taste. Cook for two minutes, then add the cooked Red Cargo rice.

Remove aubergine from the oven and stuff with rice mixture. Return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Serve with some fresh basil and a light Italian-style vinaigrette made with 3/4c oil, 3 cloves of pressed or grated garlic, 1 tsp mustard, 1 tsp dried or 2 tsp fresh oregano and 1/4c red wine vinegar. Shake in a jar to combine.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Asparagus Soup

Sweet dreams are made from asparagus!

Some time in the middle of August I woke up with a big smile on my face after having a dream about asparagus. I kid you not! It is an excruciating wait for me, from those last little end-of-season spindly, wrinkled sticks, to the big, fat juicy new-season spears. Oh, the months of desperate waiting since I refuse to buy imported produce. On dropping the kids of at school, that morning of my dream, I was straight to the shop to buy some. “No asparagus, yet”, they said. I return home, a disconsolate cook.  Then today it finally happened; I got a text from Jeremy, the owner of our local Fresh Market, to let me know he had asparagus – I literally jumped for joy!

It is wonderful to have asparagus back on the menu, more than just for the flavour. Nutritionally speaking, asparagus is a super food. It is high in vitamin K,B1B2, C and E, as well as folate and copper. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and good for heart heath and blood sugar regulation. What could be better for you?

Asparagus is very easy to grow, if you have space for it; we don’t, especially for the amount of it we eat. If you have the space, now is the time to plant. If you decide to plant seeds, it will take up to three years before a crown (a mass of roots)  is formed. You can buy crowns, ready to go and if you plant them now, next year you will be harvesting your on asparagus. If you allow your less-than-perfect spears to grow, they will turn into asparagus ferns and be a good source of food for the plant over the winter season. The ferns grow poisonous red berries that are not safe for consumption in any form. In autumn next year cut the ferns back and leave them on top of the bed with some manure and compost, to give some good nutrition over winter, ready for a good spring crop. For more information on planting your garden this season, please check out the planting guide on our site:

Since the evenings a still a little cool, the recipe this week is a hearty asparagus soup. Enjoy with some crusty bread and a generous grating of parmesan cheese.

Kia makona,
Mawera Karetai x
2 c chopped, fresh asparagus
½ c sliced spring onions
1c diced celery
2 cloves of garlic (pressed or grated)
3 c of good chicken or vege stock
1tsp fresh thyme (off the stalk)
½ tsp cumin
A generous grind of black pepper
2 Tblsp butter or oil
Parmesan cheese to serve

1.         Melt butter over a medium heat  in a pot large enough to hold all ingredients. Add in the asparagus, spring onions, celery and garlic. Cook until starting to soften – around five minutes.
2.         Add stock and bring to a slow boil. Reduce heat and simmer for around 15 minutes.
3.         Once the vegetables are very soft, use a hand wand, a blender or a good processor to blend until smooth.
4.         Add in thyme, cumin and pepper and cook on a slow heat for a further five minutes.
5.         Serve in warmed bowls with a generous grating of parmesan cheese and some crusty bread.