28 June 2011

{wellington on a plate 2011} here we come!

It's that time of year again.  Can you hear it?  It's the sound of foodies all over NZ whopping in delight and groaning in frustration.

Wellington on a Plate launched couple of weeks ago and ripples of delight can be seen (and heard) everywhere you go - the people sat next to you at a cafe/on the plane/seat behind on the bus or train planning their mode of attack on which events to go to, all your tweeps twittering about nothing else for an entire week (or more), suits hurrying along the footpaths in the CBD clutching their programmes, lone strangers during lunchtime thumbing through their dog-eared programmes, and gleeful updates on friends' Facebook pages when tickets are secured.

Wellington on a Plate is the most successful (in my opinion) culinary event in NZ.  The festival is in its third year and growing in popularity.  It's held in the Wellington region but has also successfully attracted people from other parts of NZ.  I think that one of the main reasons for its success is that it really does have events that cater for every taste and budget.  From $15 set menus through to $325 Masterclass with some of our top chefs, from chocolate tasting to beer tasting, and from a cocktail crawl to blind dining.

For my readers and friends who are not from NZ, go here and find out more about Wellington on a Plate.  Who knows?  You may be in NZ for some reason between Aug 5-21...!

As for little old excited me, here's what we're going to:

A Local Food Story in Three Parts - cooking demo and food tasting (3 course) at the Urban Harvest HQ.

Tongue-to Tail Duck Delights - a degustation menu based around the duck at Le Canard.

Lunch at Martin Bosley's - a 3 course lunch at multi-awarded Martin Bosley's.

New Zealand Chocolate Festival - NZ's first chocolate festival! Demos, tastings and chocolate indulgence at the InterContinental hotel.

Malaysia Kitchen Night Market - diverse mouthwatering Malaysian food.

There's a whole long list of other events that I'd love to go it, but can't for various reasons...

Blind Dining at Capitol
Foodie Zoo Safari
Behind the Scenes in Two Top Kitchens with Zest Food Tours
Hands on Pastry Making
The Dark Side of Coffee and Chocolate
Wellington Young Chefs Dinner

But who knows?  Things could change!

As of 22 June, 21 out of the 80 events were already sold out or fully booked - a week after the festival's launch.  So if you haven't bought your tickets or made your bookings yet, don't leave it too late!

{recipe test} mushroom sauce with homemade pappardelle

When I started this blog, I really had no idea what I was doing and where it would lead me.  Arguably I still don't really know what I'm doing compared to the legion of ridiculously talented foodie bloggers out there.  And as to where it would lead me...I think I'm still on that road and haven't yet arrived at any destinations.

What has happened though, is that I've made some new friends.  Half of whom I've now met, and the other half I've only communicated online.  It's a bit like internet dating!  You're initially drawn together based simply on interest (all things food), the first tentative comment left or tweet twittered, then friendly online banter.  And like real life, a small handful do actually become friends! (remembering that you can't be friends with everyone  you meet).

A little while ago, something else happened.  Something that only fellow foodies can truly appreciate I think.

I've been following an Australian food blogger - I like the beautiful, emotive photos he takes and his principles on the fundamentals of understanding where your food comes from and appreciating it (i.e. not just from your supermarket shelf all beautifully packaged).  Anyway, I comment on a couple of his posts, and he does the same on mine.  The next thing you know, I've been asked if I would like to be one of his recipe testers for his upcoming new cookbook!

I mean seriously.  Although we've struck up a friendship due to our blogs, the man doesn't know me from a bar of soap.  And I can't bring myself to be arrogant enough to think that I'm that  good a cook.  So all I can put it down to, is this friendship that has been built around our love for food, that has gotten me this recipe testing 'gig'.

Did I tell you how I did a bit of a victory lap around my minuscule kitchen?  Bugger how many visits or comments my blog gets.  Making friends and having been asked to be a recipe tester for an upcoming cookbook is better!  Sooo much better.

Now I can't list all the ingredients of the recipes I'm testing, but I can show you photos and tell you about my experience making the recipe.  I did make my own pasta (for the first time!) to go with the mushroom sauce.  Now that I can go into detail. :-)

I wanted to use wild/field mushrooms for this sauce.  But do you think I was able to get any?  Farmers markets, speciality stores, regular supermarkets...and I came up zilch.  Sure, there was 'exotic' mushrooms if I wanted those.  But no wild mushrooms to be bought!  It was pretty frustrating.  So I settled for good 'ol dependable portabello and brown cap mushrooms.  I figured that these would give me a certain degree of earthiness that the wild varieties would have.

The recipe was easy to follow - not a crazy long list of ingredients, but just a handful of necessary ingredients to make the sauce taste just right, like fresh herbs and a glug of some quality wine.  The end product was this silky creamy sauce with a lovely earthy flavour.    And it went very well with some pappardelle pasta.

Apart from gnocchi, I've not made pasta before and thought perhaps it was time to take the pasta machine out of its box and use it for only the second time since it was purchased last December.  Making the dough turned out to be relatively easy.

Add these...

...to these...

...a little bit of this (good quality stuff)...

Get your hands into it...

...and work it all into a nice big ball of dough.

After a bit of resting, dividing up into smaller balls and refrigeration, the dough is passed through my pasta maker roller thingy majig.

The harder part of making this pasta was rolling it out through the machine.  I have no photos for you of the mound of fresh pappardelle that was laid out on a large baking tray.  Reason? My first attempt at pasta making came out all knobbly, uneven widths and thickness - as you no doubt see from the photos of the cooked pasta.  Although my pasta was nothing to look at, but once cooked, it had a lovely texture and flavour.  The difference between store-bought and homemade pasta is so ridiculously obvious!

But I do have this photo.

My crooked knobbly homemade pasta definitely looks much better when smothered in mushroom sauce.


2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup + 2 tbsp semolina flour, plus more for dusting (I use semolina 'fine')
6 large eggs, at room temperature
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Sift the flours together onto a large work space on your kitchen bench or dining table.
  2. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into the well and add the olive oil. (try and make a deep-ish well so that your eggs & olive oil mixture does not spill out and over the mountain on flour).
  3. With a fork, start beating the eggs to break them up.  Continue to mix with your fork, bringing in a little flour at a time into the egg mixture.  Essentially you're working from inside, out.
  4. Once you've got your flour 'wet', its time to start using your hands.  Dust your hands with flour and start bringing in the dough to form a large clump.
  5. Start kneading the dough - push the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, and then fold the dough over itself and turn counter-clockwise.  Repeat this kneading action until the dough is smooth and elastic.  If the dough starts to stick to your work surface or your hands as you're working on it, dust your hands and the dough with a light dusting of flour.
  6. Rest the dough for 10 minutes and then divide the dough into 2 balls.  Flatten the balls of dough slightly, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  7. When you're ready to roll out your pasta, take your dough out from the fridge and work on it straight away.
  8. You can role out the pasta into sheets with a rolling pin or the use of a pasta making machine - I used a machine.
  9. Divide each refrigerated 'block' of dough up in half, and flatten the dough a tiny bit more before feeding it through the roller of the pasta making machine.  Each time you roll the dough through the machine, adjust your roller back one number/mark, so that the sheet of pasta dough is rolled thinner and thinner with each progression.  I needed to feed each sheet through 4 times to get the thickness desired.  I also found that a very light dusting of flour (I use a sift) after each roll prevents the dough from sticking to the machine or bench.
  10. After each block of dough is rolled out to a nice sheet of pasta dough, dust the top of the sheet lightly with flour and roll loosely into a cylinder or 'cigar'. With a sharp knife, cut into wide rings of pasta, unroll each ring and dust with semolina and gently toss to separate the strands of pasta.
  11. Place your pappardelle pasta on a large baking tray and if not cooking straight away, cover the pasta with a damp tea towel.  Or freeze straight away in freezer bags.
  12. Cook pasta in rapidly boiling water that's been well salted.

24 June 2011

spice roast quail with carrot & pine nut stuffing and orange cous cous

There is, I must admit, a small eensy weensy obsession with Al Brown in this house.  Not stalking, hearts drawn with a cupid arrow kinda obsession.  More of a culinary hero worship sort of thing.  We follow his blog and tweets, have his Go Fish and Coasters books, watch reruns of Hunger for the Wild, etc.

Every now and again, a recipe will go up on his blog and we'd drool over it.  But to be honest, haven't felt that we had enough skills to pull them off at home.  Well, not until a recent spice roasted quail recipe.

Now I have to point out that yours truly has never seen a quail alive, let alone dead.  And I always thought that it was one of those meats that you had to go shoot for yourself, or a hunting mate do it for you.  Didn't have a clue.  So one fine afternoon, I thought I'd send Mr Brown a tweet asking him if he got his quails from Moore Wilson.  I figured if I didn't get a reply, then I'd just quietly forget about it...

From the photo in this post, you can see that I got a reply!

So off we went to get our quails.  I've never been so tickled by a dead bird.  I've cooked poussin before but these quails were so...little!  Plucked, headless and feetless wee little things.  They were borderline comical!  Anyway, I was glad each pack came with 4 quails, so there was 2 for each of us.

It was getting late and I decided not to bone the quails as per the recipe.  I think if I attempted to do that, 1. I would have butchered it (no delicate boning skills here), and 2. dinner would have been served at 10pm.  Now if we were maybe French, 10pm dinner maybe de riguer.  But seeing that we're not, I think I would have been pushing it having dinner ready at that time of the night!  So as you can see, it was whole instead of boned quails.

I was so intent with getting everything done right that I didn't take any photos during the prep or cooking process.  But I did managed to take a few pics of the final product just before serving it up.  All in all, I was pretty proud of myself.

The stuffing is out of this world.  Seriously.  Its like one of the best stuffing recipes I've made.  It is a tad bit expensive as it does call for 1 cup of pine nuts.  But let me tell you, it's well worth it.  I was eating just the leftover stuffing on its own for lunch the next day.  I have future plans for this stuffing!

A tip - loose pine nuts from the bins at the supermarket actually comes in more expensive.  I bought 2 small pre-packed pine nuts (I think they may have been Pams) which was exactly 1 cup and it cost about $8 total.  The pine nuts from the bins came in at almost $12 for the same amount.

Anyway, this is becoming one helluva long post, and since I don't have lots of photos to break it up, I think I should just finish it up soon.

I made everything from the recipe, including the cous cous (that's super yummy too!) and cucumber yoghurt.  I also added some broccolini on the side for greens.  So if you're looking to cook something special this weekend, or just want to cook something you've not done before, you should look at making this.  It isn't a difficult recipe to follow at all and it's sure to impress.

Spice Roast Quail with Carrot & Pine Nut Stuffing and Orange Cous Cous
I won't lay out the entire recipe - you can find it on Al Brown's blog.


  • Moore Wilson sells quails frozen in packs of 4.  Since there was only 2 of us, I only bought one pack.  But I still followed the exact recipe for the stuffing and cous cous, which was great as we had left over stuffing and cous cous the next day for lunch!
  • If like me, you haven't boned out the quail, I found that it was easier to stuff the cavities by pipping the stuffing in because the quails are so small and cavity opening not very wide.  Just place the stuffing into a medium-large zip lock bag and snip a small opening at one corner of the bag to make an impromptu pipping bag.

glorious granola {i love you}

I've been um-ming and ah-ing about whether to make granola, or to bake chewy oaty fruity cookies.  Yeah.  All these choices one must face in one's lifetime. *deep breath and looong sigh*

I finally chose granola.  This is despite not being a granola lover in the past.  In fact, I've had pretty tasteless and super chewy (in a bad way) granola in the past and it had put me off buying it until a year ago.  I was in an organic shop and one of the ladies working there cornered me - yep, cornered me.  It's the only word that'll describe what happened.  All I was doing was checking out the cereal aisle when she saw an opportunity, and pounced.  I might as well have been a gazelle in the Serengeti and she a lioness out on a hunt!

I watch FAR to much Animal Planet.  How the hell did I even get here...

Back to granola.  So this lady, she picks up a bag of granola and I wrinkled my nose and started to protest.  But no.  She was having none of it.  She produces some for tasting (like from no where!) and started to rave about the granola.  Seriously, I've not heard anyone rave about granola like this.  So what can I do, right?  I gingerly tried one and then WHAM!  Yup.  I was like 'wow' and she was like 'told you so'.

And then I parted with $17 for a 350g bag of granola.  Sucker that I am.  Yes, it was organic.  And yes it was gourmet granola. But on hindsight, $17 for that much (or little) of granola is a bit of a rob.

So back again to why I chose to make granola.  (Is she ever going to get there, you ask)!

I snack a lot throughout the day.  Even an hour to dinner and I'll be having a snack.  You know, the kind that tides you over whilst you're cooking.  We'd normally have some chocolate of some sort at home for 'afters' as well.  So I wanted to make something that was a double whammy - to serve as dessert/afters and a snack.  I also wanted something healthy-ish (healthy-ish is the best I can do) and not break the bank, especially in these lean times.  I also wanted to make something that would last for more than 3 days.  And granola seem to tick all the boxes.

I found a few granola recipes and zeroed them down to two that I liked from Shutterbean and Hungry Girl Porvida.  Decided on one of them as a base recipe and adapted it to my taste.  I wanted a granola packed with nuts and fruits.

The granola pre-bake isn't much to look at.  But I tell ya, as it bakes, you get these gorgeous smells wafting through the house and it deepens to this beautiful bronze.

This granola is sooo easy to make.  It's one of those 'everything goes into a big bowl and mix' kinda recipe.  But you do need to pull the tray out from the oven every 10 minutes to mix it around until the mixture is gloriously golden and sticky.

I'm telling you, this granola is phenomenal - who would have thought I'd ever describe granola as 'phenomenal'?!!  It's so damn..well, yummy!  You won't be able to stop munching on them all day (and night) long.

You. Will. Love. Them.

Glorious Granola
Adapted from a recipe from Shutterbean

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup peanuts, roughly chopped
1 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
3/4 cup mixed dried fruit - cranberries, currants and sultanas
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup rice bran oil (or you can extra virgin olive oil)
3/4 cup manuka honey
1/3 cup packed brown sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 150C / 300F. Line a couple of large baking trays with baking paper - you don't have to line your baking tray if you don't want to, but it saves cleaning your trays which is why I do it.
  2. Except for the dried fruits, combine all the other ingredients into a large bowl and mix well.
  3. Spread the granola mixture out onto the trays in an even layer.
  4. Bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring the granola around every 10 minutes.  Stir in the dried fruit when you've got 20 minutes more baking time before the end.
  5. Your granola is ready when it's all golden and sticky.
  6. Cool the granola in the trays completely before breaking them up and storing them into airtight jars/containers.
  7. Chomp away!

Next time, I think I'll add some dark chocolate bits.  Mmm...

Their sweet perfection is also featured in December's round up of Sweet New Zealand, hosted by Bron Marshall.  Go check the other Sweet New Zealand's December offerings out!

22 June 2011

flounder with anchovy & caper butter sauce

We love fish in this household and try to eat it at least once a week.  And if I don't get around buying fresh fish, I always have a back-up: crumbed frozen fish fillets.  Okay, don't be all judgemental now.  Crumbed frozen fish fillets may not be 'fish' to some of you, but it's better than eating no fish at all.  I do check the ingredients list and try and buy the ones with the largest % of actual fish!  Couple of crumbed fish fillets (cooked in the oven without oil), steamed vegetables and sometimes topped with a fried egg.  Not too bad for a lazy school night dinner, no?

But this post is NOT about frozen fish fillets.  Its about flounder.  Proper whole fish.  And surprisingly cheap! The flesh is sweetish and doesn't have a very fishy smell and not a lot of bones either.

I was tempted to stick a 'censored' or a shape of some sort over the eyes of the fish in the above picture - aware that quite a few of you have an aversion to looking at the eyes/head of any animal/fish that you're about to cook or eat, and might find the photo a little off-putting.  But I decided to leave it.  I know that it's somewhat easier for me, being Chinese and all.  Afterall, I grew up with dishes like roasted whole suckling pig, whole braised chicken and whole steamed fish.

But come on guys, really.  Stay with me here.  Its a fish.  Where do you think your nicely filleted, skined and boned fillets come from huh?  Last I know, no one has yet been able to farm skinless, boneless, headless and finless fish.  We're actually pretty lucky here in NZ.  A lot of places that do sell whole fish have already scaled and gutted them.  So all the icky bits have been done for you.  If you haven't tried cooking whole fish, try it, at least once.  Fish cooked that way often stay nice and moist, and together!

I got two small-ish flounders, one for each person.  It was actually just right for dinner.  I found this easy recipe in a cookbook I have which called for sole.  But seeing that we don't have sole here, I thought that flounder was the next best thing.

The sauce is actually what makes this dish.  The butter and anchovies gives a rich and earthy saltiness.  The capers give it acidity and the freshness of the lemons and parsley lifts it all up.  Now that I've made this dish, I think that the sauce is perfect for any delicate tasting fish.

And heirlooms potatoes and organic yellow carrots and baby leeks, made perfect accompaniments for the flounder.

Flounder with Anchovy and Caper Butter Sauce
Recipe from Aaron Cooks Italian, by Aaron Craze (tweaked a wee bit)
This serves two.

2 medium sized flounder
2 large lemons, cut into 12 slices
Salt & pepper

4 anchovy fillets
2 tbsp capers*, the salted type is preferable but brined is fine
100g butter, softened a little
1 bunch flat leaf parsley

  1. Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.  Lightly oil/butter a baking tray big enough for both flounders, or line with baking paper.
  2. Rinse the fish quickly with cold water and pat it dry with kitchen paper.
  3. With a pair of scissors, trim away the fins/frills around the fish and also the tail.  Make 3 slashes on each side of the fish.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  4. Working quickly, put all the ingredients for the sauce into a food processor and blitz a few times until coarsely chopped.  You could try and manually do this with a knife, but its much quicker (and less messier) in a food processor.
  5. Arrange the slices of lemons on the baking tray so that each fish sits on 2 or 3 slices.
  6. Smear and cover the top of each fish with the butter mixture, pushing some of it into the slashes you made.  Then lay out the remaining lemon slices on top of the butter mixture.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until just cooked through.
  8. Serve immediately.

*If you're using brined capers, you might want to rinse them well to get rid of the vinegary taste.

21 June 2011

heirloom potatoes and honeyed vegetables

See that tray of gorgeous vegetables?  That's my haul from a trip to the Hill Street Farmers Market last Saturday morning.  I came home with my haul, and rinsed and arranged them to be photographed with pride. That's how nutty I get about produce I find at farmers markets!  There's even a post just about these vegetables - here.

The plan was fish for Saturday's dinner and I'd lined up a new recipe from one of the many cookbooks I have.  These vegetables were just perfect accompaniment to the main.  I didn't want to mess about too much with them, so decided to keep 'em simple. Ish.

I've lived in NZ for almost 15 years now and I've never tried any of the heirloom or Māori potatoes.  Can you believe it?!  There is really no reason behind it.  Just never something on my shopping list is all.  But for some reason last Saturday, when I saw these all heaped up in lovely flax baskets, they called out to me.  Or maybe it was just clever merchandise display techniques.  Hmmm... Either way, for the weak-minded* like me, it worked.  I came, I saw, I oood and ahhhd, and I bought.

*Getting sucked in by rustic merchandise displays and/or hearing voices, in this case speaking potatoes, definitely indicates a weak mind.

It took me forever to google search the names of these heirloom potatoes.  It was harder than I thought it would be!  So many sites that talk  about them, but no photos.  And those that have photos weren't very clear.  But finally I was able to (I think) piece together from different sites and pair the right name to the right potato. Why would I not just post the photo up as is?  Simple curiosity.  And a sudden fixation on finding out the names of these heirloom potatoes.

These potatoes were just simply paired with some rosemary, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and roasted at 180C / 350F, until cooked and golden.

And then, there were these...

Yellow carrots and baby leeks!  I love baby leeks - they're so sweet and have none of the onion-ny taste or smell once cooked.  These I just glazed with a little runny honey, tossed in extra virgin olive oil, a light sprinkling of salt and roasted them as well.  Roast until soft and cooked through, and edges of the vegetables caramelised a little.

I served these in individual bowls since the flounders I got took up an entire dinner plate each.  They were just perfect.

If you like fish, come back and check out my post on Flounder with a Anchovy & Caper Butter Sauce which will be uploaded soon.

19 June 2011

hill st farmers market: my loot

I was (and still am!) in need of some wild/field mushrooms, and thought perhaps I'd be able to get some at the Hill Street Farmers Market today.  So braving the rain and cold on a Saturday morning, that had every promise of getting grey-er, colder and wetter by the hour, we descended on the market armed with our very responsible reusable eco bag and rain coats.

I absolutely love farmers markets. Note the word 'love' is italicised, bold, underlined and in red font.  The whole from producers straight to you thing kind of makes me feel...well, special.  I flit between a trance-like state of euphoria and 5 year-old glee as I walk around from stall to stall.  I get like that at the Sunday vegetable market, Moore Wilsons, CommonSense Organics and even good 'ol New World.  But in varying degrees of euphoria and glee - venue and offerings dependent of course!  I never claimed to be right in the head.

This morning was no different (I still wasn't right in the head).  Although there wasn't any wild or field mushrooms to be had, I still found plenty to be excited about.  Some of you may find this utterly boring, but for the kindred, I'd like to share my loot with you.  Even if it's only visually...

Le Loot:  Selection of organic heirloom potatoes, bunch of yellow carrots, baby leeks, cavolo nero and a bag of fresh walnuts (which didn't quite make it into the photo mosaic above).

We feasted well tonight on flounder drenched in a rich buttery herby sauce with the heirloom potatoes, yellow carrots and baby leeks.

Now that, I'll tell you about in the next post.  'Cos now, it's nigh-nighs for me.

Sweet dreams (or good morning)! x.

14 June 2011

pork mince and eggplant in spicy bean sauce

If you've visited my blog several times, you'd have noticed that there aren't many Asian/Chinese dishes here.  Its not because I cook more European dishes.  In fact it's almost a 50/50 split in any given week.  The reason's pretty simple really.

Cooking Asian dishes, in particular Chinese ones, come second nature to me.  I don't really think about it much and certainly don't refer to cookbooks much for them either.  I normally make dishes that I've either grown up with or dishes replicated from something I've eaten that I liked.  Indian curries are probably one of the few Asian cuisines that I refer to a cookbook for.

And because it's much less of an effort for me to cook Asian dishes and I'm almost on 'auto-pilot' when I do, I never think of taking photos, writing down measurements and blogging about it after.  The measurement part is the most difficult as I always cook by taste (and sight) when I cook Asian.  Its usually a splosh or sprinkle of this, a couple of glugs of that, and a pinch of another.

My repertoire of Asian dishes is pretty varied and a mish-mash of influences, coming from more than one region (or dialect group).  This is due to my maternal Hainenese influence, paternal Hokkien and Nonya influences and Cantonese influence from my step-mother and step-grandmother.  A lot of what I cook is made up, and the rest of it is based on memory and taste, and snippets of conversations I've had with my mother, my dad, aunties, cousins, stepmother, step-grandmother...etc.  I wouldn't even consider many of my dishes authentic to their origins - but in terms of taste, certainly more authentic than some of dishes you get at Asian eateries in town.

So as I was cooking away at the stove tonight, I replied to a tweet from a blog friend on what we were having for dinner.  It was a pork mince and eggplant dish, to be eaten with rice.

On a side note - Isn't it great to be a woman and being able to multi-task?  In the old days, we'd be holding a child and balancing it on one hip, whilst stirring the pot with the other hand.  In modern times, its stirring the pot with one hand and social media in the other.  Wonder what both my nanas would make of this if they were both still alive today...

So back to dinner.  Another blog friend was following the tweet and asked if I could blog about this dish - but of course!  The tweet request actually came just in time.  We'd just finished our dinner and was about to pack up the leftovers.  So very quickly the leftovers went into a pretty chinese bowl so that I could take a few snaps for the post.  A few snaps later...

Hope you like this Emma!

Pork Mince and Eggplant in Spicy Bean Sauce
This is a very simple dish to put together since the sauce is made from pre-made bottled sauces!  I use Lee Kum Kee brand which is readily available even in regular supermarkets in NZ.  I avoid other brands. With Lee Kum Kee, there's no MSG or preservatives, and it's a brand I know well and trust.  But you're more than welcome to use whichever brand you prefer.  The measurements are guess-timates of what I used, since I didn't take any notes or use measuring spoons.

1 large eggplant*, chopped into roughly 2cm cubes, skin on
500g pork mince
2 garlic cloves, minced
2cm ginger, julienned
2 tbsp Black Bean Sauce
3-4 tbsp Spicy Bean Sauce (this is not a very spicy sauce at all despite it's name, so don't worry)
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp ground white pepper
Light soy sauce, to taste
1 cup water
Another 1/4 cup water
1 tbsp cornflour dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water
Light/neutral tasting oil for cooking (I use rice bran oil)

  1. Sprinkle the chopped eggplant with salt and place the eggplant either in a colander or spread out on a wire rack.  Place the colander or rack in the sink - the salt will draw out moisture from the eggplant and drip directly into the sink.
  2. 15 minutes later give the eggplant a quick (but good) rinse of cold water to rinse off the salt.  Dry the eggplant well either with a cotton tea towel or paper towels.
  3. Heat 1/3 cup of oil in a deep pan (or a wok-style pan) over high heat and fry the mince pork.  As you fry the mince, some of the bigger clumps will start to break up into smaller bits, but leave some of the slightly larger clumps as is.  Fry the pork until cooked but NOT browned.
  4. Add the ginger and garlic and fry for another minute.
  5. Add the eggplant, lower the heat to medium-high and fry until the eggplant and mince pork is nicely browned.
  6. Add the sauces, sesame oil and white pepper, and mix well.
  7. Add the cup of water and soy sauce to taste, depending on how salty you like your food.
  8. Bring the mixture to boil and then lower the heat to medium, cover loosely and cook until the sauce has reduced by 1/2.
  9. Add the 1/4 cup of water and stir in the cornflour mixture.  You'll notice that the sauce will thicken and turn slightly opaque and shiny almost immediately.  Cook for another 5-10 minutes, stirring every now and again.
  10. Best served with jasmine rice.** 

*I used the large dark purple skinned variety that's readily available in supermarkets.  I believe these are called Imperial Black Beauty.  But you can use the long skinny ones as well, just use several).

**I found organic brown jasmine rice at Commonsense Organics and tried it, and gotta say, I'm sold!  Try it.

13 June 2011

thanks for the shanks!

It's winter and it's time for hearty, rich, warming, sleep inducing kinda meals.  One-pot wonders, slow cooked falling off the bone meat dishes, deep coloured fragrant cooking liquids, lugs of wine, and liberal use of ingredients such as cream and butter.  Let's not forget the carb loaded sides like creamy mash and more artisan bread than your breadbox has space for to mop it all up.

But it's all good.

Here's how I see it.  Strictly speaking, winter's only for 3 months right?  I'm happy to carry that bit of extra weight and fat for that time.  Afterall there's always spring to start that diet or detox, in time for the summer months.  I mean there are other things we can put in our bodies that are FAR more harmful than a bit more fat and carbs than the norm for 3 months.

So as of last week, the dinner menu at home featured a few of the winter stalwarts - pumpkin soup, stroganoff, lamb shanks and creamy mash.

I've tried making lamb shanks at home a couple of times in the past, but they've never really turned out the way I wanted them to.  This time round, I got a recipe off Rohan from Whole Larder Love after reading one of his recent blogposts.  I tinkled with the recipe a tiny bit, mainly because of what I had on hand to use in my kitchen.

I've got to say, I was well pleased with the final product.  I served the shanks with the only thing that should be served with it (in my opinion anyway) - creamy mash potatoes.  I also did something different with my mash this time - on a whim, I added some english mustard.  The twist in taste actually worked I thought, especially paired with the very rich tasting shanks.  And it gave the potato mash a really lovely yellow colour (which isn't really showing up in the photos I took!).  Saturday night dinner was soooo good.

So, thanks for the shanks {recipe} Rohan! :)

Lamb Shanks with Creamy Mustard Potato Mash
Adapted slightly from recipe provided by Whole Larder Love

2 large lamb shanks, frenched if possible
Extra virgin olive oil or rice brand oil (about 1/4 cup or 4 tbsp)
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, chopped into medium cubes
4 sticks of celery, chopped roughly same size as carrots
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 can of italian tomatoes
1 tsp each of dried sage and rosemary (use fresh herbs if you can, I didn't have any)
1 cup red wine (I had a bottle of cabernet merlot, but use whatever you like)
1 cup of beef stock
Salt and cracked pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
  2. Heat up your oil in a deep ovenproof casserole dish or heavy based fry pan over medium heat, and brown the lamb shanks all over.  Remove once nicely browned and set aside.
  3. In the same casserole dish/ fry pan add in the onions, carrots and celery and saute for a few minutes until softened, then add the garlic and cook for another minute. 
  4. Add the red wine to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes to cook away the alcohol in the wine.
  5. Add the beef stock, can tomatoes and herbs.  Season with salt and cracked pepper to taste.  Cook for another two minutes.
  6. If you're using a casserole dish, place lamb shanks back into the dish.  If you're using a heavy based fry pan, tip everything (lamb shanks included) into an oven-proof casserole dish.  Ensure that the lamb shanks are covered by the liquid.  Cover and cook - if your casserole dish does not have a cover, use heavy foil to cover the top of your dish tightly.
  7. Cook covered in the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.  By which time, the meat will be just falling off the bone and ready to be served!

Creamy Mustard Potato Mash

4 large-ish sized potatoes (floury variety - Agria and Red Rascal is my fav)
50g butter
1/4 cup each milk and cream
2 tsp of english mustard

  1. Skin and quarter the potatoes. You can leave the skins on, which i do sometimes in my mash, depending on my mood.
  2. Boil the potatoes in salty boiling water until cooked and soft - you should be able to run a knife very easily through the biggest chunk of potato you have boiling in your pot.
  3. Just before your potatoes are cooked through, mix the milk and cream together in a microwave-proof bowl or jug and zap on high for about 30-40 secs.  You want the mixture hot, but not boiling.
  4. Once cooked, drain the potatoes well and mash them.  If you have a ricer, that'll be best.  If not, a good old fashioned hand masher works fine.  As best as you can, mash the potatoes well until there are no lumps.
  5. Then working quickly (whilst the mash is still hot), add the butter, milk and cream mixture and mustard.  With a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, mix it all up until soft and creamy.  If you've salted your water well earlier on, you won't have need additional salt to the mashed potatoes.
  6. Serve hot with lamb shanks, oxtail or any of your favourite casseroles or stews.  Or eat it on its own - so good for the soul!

11 June 2011

triple chocolate espresso muffins

Today was a day of major sidetracking.  Yes, yes, the sidetrack thing I get myself into.  Can't help it!  The brain wanders.  The brain does what it wants to do.

I start editing the photos for this post and then started skyping a friend in Singapore.

I resume photo editing for a few minutes before a tweet caught my attention, which eventuated in me blog-surfing and finding two new blogs to follow!

Photo editing again...then suddenly remembering that just the other day I was googling Carmina Burana's O'Fortuna on youtube.  So got wrapped up on O'Fortuna for a while, blasting it on my laptop.  I SO want to sing this one day. Who knows, eh?  Weirder things have happened in this world let me tell you!

Guess what I did next? Ah-ha. But...and yes, there is a but here.  It didn't last very long.  New Zealand's Next Top Model came on and it was all over rover - for about an hour.

But now I'm back.  With no side tracks. (she says with gritted teeth and determination)

So this morning started early-ish for me.  Well, early for baking that is.  See, I normally bake in the afternoon or evening/night.  But I had a friend come over for a late morning visit and to swap books.  She and I used to be in the same book club.  Yeah.  I'm a bit of a nerd like that.

I didn't really know what I'd be making/baking until the morning.  I did  know however that it had to be chocolate though.  I don't get to bake much chocolate-based stuff  'cos I'm the only one here with a sweet tooth.  But since I had a girl-friend visiting, and which girl doesn't like chocolate right?

So I made these.

I've had an Allyson Gofton double chocolate fudge muffins recipe for quite some time now, but have never got round to making some.  I'm not a huge fan of fudge and I wanted to bake something with chocolate and coffee.  Coffee is the perfect partner with chocolate and makes it well, even richer and more chocolatey.  So I used it as a base recipe and made a few bits of changes here and there.

I added espresso coffee, more good chocolatey stuff, and then in an attempt to make it a bit healthier (yeah, go figure right?), I sub'd some of the flour for wholemeal flour and used organic raw sugar (and less of it) in place of white granulated sugar.

Voila!  Triple Chocolate Espresso Muffins.  They were rather be-au-tiful, if I may say so myself!

Indulgently luscious and rich chocolate muffins speckled with melting dark chocolate bits.

Best way to eat these: warmed ever so slightly, then dust with some icing sugar...and enjoy with copious amounts of hot sweet black coffee.

Make these on a grey, cold and wet day (like it was today) and share it with your BFFs.  Or just keep them all for yourself.  They're that good - I think so anyway!

Ooo...and tomorrow, I'll be catching up with some Wellington foodie bloggers and a visiting Auckland blogger.  I've never met these girls except online, so I'm terribly excited about meeting these new friends.

And to keep the weekend excitement going, I'm going to test out a recipe for lamb shanks.  The recipe comes from one of my favourite bloggers - Whole Larder Love.  You should check his blog out - gorgeous, gorgeous photos of his food, family and friends.  The man is not just a photographer (by trade), but also hunts, gathers and fishes.  All he needs now is a ring that emits a eerie green light to complete it all... :)

Triple Chocolate Espresso Muffins
Adapted from Allyson Gofton's Double Chocolate Fudge Muffins

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder (the best quality you can afford)
3/4 cup organic raw sugar (white or light brown castor sugar is fine)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup dark chocolate chips/drops

1 cup instant espresso coffee, cooled (make it strong)
100g butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1/4 cup cream
3/4 cup chocolate yoghurt, thick gourmet type if you can afford it (plain is fine if you can't get chocolate, but it won't be a triple  chocolate espresso muffin if you don't)

  1. Preheat oven to 220C / 425F. Prepare muffin trays by lining with muffin/cupcake paper cups.
  2. Sift all the dry ingredients, except the chocolate chips/drops, into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
  3. In a separate bowl or jug, mix together all the wet ingredients, except the melted butter.
  4. Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and fold in the butter and chocolate chips/drops. Mix quickly and with a light hand until the dry ingredients are just wet - mixture will be lumpy, which is fine. Over mixing will produce heavy muffins.
  5. 3/4 fill each muffin paper cup with the mixture. These muffins will rise a fair bit, so don't be tempted to fill the cups to the brim, unless you like those huge overflow 'texan' style muffins.
  6. Bake for 15-18 minutes until well risen and cooked.  Test with a skewer after 15 mins - you don't want overcooked dry muffins!
  7. Leave to cool in the muffin trays for about 5 mins before removing them to cool further on a rack. Dust with icing sugar and enjoy.
  8. If you're eating these muffins a little later, heat them up ever so lightly (I just zap mine in the microwave for 10-20 secs). These muffins are best eaten warm.

This is my contribution to June's Sweet New Zealand.

06 June 2011

shrouded in mist

Its a long weekend holiday here in NZ - Queen's Birthday.  And this is what we woke up to in Wellington today.

Photo on the left was taken on the first day of Winter, 6 days ago.  The one on the right is today.

And within half an hour, the mist thickened...

We can barely see past the trees and bushes in front of our house now and the harbour is totally blanketed in grey-bluish white.

You notice the stillness when living in Wellington, since 'windy' is the norm here.  What would be windy to others, would be a 'breeze' to Wellingtonians.  And at the moment, its still.  So very very still.  And quiet.  No gulls and no native birds.

Did someone just say 'earthquake weather'?  Shaddup already!!

02 June 2011

spiced potatoes with chorizo & cavolo nero

I was thinking of a story to tell you for this post...

Can't think of a story.

Was thinking perhaps I'd start with something clever, or witty...

No hope in hell.

Digging deep.  And comin up with nothin.

But I really, really wanted to share this yummy dinner idea with you.  So I'm just going to keep it simple for a simple meal idea.

This dish is not clever, nor is it original.  Seriously.  In fact, it was inspired by someone else's blog.  But it was so marvelously yummy that I had to share it with you.

If you come across some cavolo nero, buy some and make this dish.  Cavolo nero ticks every box in looks, taste and nutrients.  If you like spinach and kale, you'll like this.  I'm sure of it.  Unless you have some weird aversion to gorgeously coloured green vegetables.  Or generally to any vegetable.  (Then why are you here??!)

Its a super easy dish to make for a weekday night and a great one to share with flatties.

For a vegetarian option - substitute the chorizo sausages for vegetarian ones, firm tofu pieces or tempeh.

And for those of you who don't have a stomach for spicy food, the curry that's used to season the potatoes really only adds a bit warmth to them and makes them smell soooo fragrant.  You can get really mild curry powder in the supermarkets nowadays anyway, so be a bit brave and try not to leave it out!

Spiced Potatoes with Chorizo & Cavolo Nero
Inspired by this dish by Joy the Baker (but ended up looking nothing like it except for the use of fennel seeds with the sausages and potatoes!)
Feeds 3-4 people, depending on appetites.

4 large potatoes (try Red Jackets, they’re great for this), cut into medium sized wedges, skin on
1 tbsp curry powder (mild will do just fine)
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Cracked pepper

1 onion, chopped into medium chunks
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large red pepper (capsicum), cut roughly into medium chunks
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

6-8 chorizo sausages (or any other sausages you like), sliced at an angle at about ½ inch thick
1 tsp fennel seeds

2 large bunches of cavolo nero, remove all tough stems and very roughly chopped
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
  2. Place the potatoes, seasoning and olive oil in a large bowl and mix well. Use your hands and toss everything together - much easier! 
  3. Lay seasoned potatoes in a large roasting tray/dish and roast in the oven until potatoes are cooked through, browned and slightly crispy at the edges.
  4. Once potatoes are done, turn the oven off and leave the potatoes in the oven to keep warm. 
  5. Heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a large fry pan (preferably a heavy-based one) on medium heat and fry the onions until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and fry for a minute.
  6. Then add the red peppers and cook until just soft (don’t overcook them) and the garlic smells fragrant (slightly browned, but not burnt!). 
  7. Remove the cooked onion mixture into a bowl and set aside. Leave any olive oil left from frying the onion mixture in the pan to cook the sausages next. You won’t need to add more oil as some of the fat in the chorizos will render in the cooking process. 
  8. Still over a medium heat, add the sliced sausages to the pan and fry them until cooked through and lightly browned. Add the fennel seeds towards the end and fry for a minute or so to release their oils.  There’ll be some caramelisation (burnt bits) at the bottom of your pan – don’t worry about it at this point. Remove the cooked sausages into the same bowl that you’ve got the onions in. 
  9. In the same pan, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil and cook the cavolo nero for two minutes.
  10. Then add 2 tbsp of water to the pan to deglaze the bottom of the pan from the brown caramelised bits from frying the sausages earlier. Continue to cook the cavolo nero until soft and just cooked. (Cavolo nero doesn’t wilt as quickly as spinach and will take a few minutes, but don't overcook it). Salt to taste. 
  11. Add the onions and sausages back into the pan of cavolo nero and heat the entire mixture through. 
  12. Take your potatoes out from the oven and add the onions and sausages to the roasting tray/dish. Quickly toss to mix everything up. Dish out and serve warm.

01 June 2011

ba-bye, adios, au revoir, tschuss, later...

No, no.  I'm not going anywhere.  Still here I'm afraid.  As annoying as ever.

But Autumn (and hope of warm-ish days) has left the building.

And Winter's sauntered in all ladi-dah today on form.

11 degrees with a southerly in the late afternoon.  Welcome back!

Please be nice this year.  Don't be throwing your toys with too many cold snaps, okay?

Ok, maybe just once, or twice.  Just so that I can wear my fancy leather boots, new winter beret, and gorgeous Voon jacket.  Compromise they say, is the mature thing to do.