25 December 2012

spiced apple & walnut cake with a side of random thoughts & merry christmas! xxx

I haven't baked in months and really wanted to write beautiful, thought-provoking content to accompany the photos of this cake I made. (the cake was a success - yes!!)  But all I have are random thoughts.  Although I can assure you that there is food involved in these random thoughts!

Random thought 1:

Sometimes, when I walk through town, I daydream about the kind of job I could have.  And those thoughts evidently lead to...if I got a job here, is there any good eats around for lunch?  And more importantly, how far will I be from the nearest cafe with the best or my favourite coffee?  You know, the important things!

By the way, I used Lemonade apples.  They were new at the supermarket and I was intrigued to see how they would taste and hold up to being used in baking.  Verdict: It's okay - holds up to baking well even though I cut them into quite small and thin slices.  But it's not very sweet or fragrant.  Not very 'apple-ly'.  I think you could use type of apples really for this cake, just as long as they're fresh and still crunchy.

Random thought 2:

Sometimes there's either little in the fridge or only with odd bits that I wouldn't normally put together as part of a well thought-out dish.  This happens often and is usually when we're at the end of the pay cycle and it's two days away from pay day.  I'd stare at what I have with fierce determination and bash out dinner with one or two concoctions, made up with whatever I've got to work with.  Sometimes I'm asked never to make the dish again.  Ever.  But sometimes I surprise myself and it works brilliantly, and I think...how things could've been so different had I gone to cooking school and pursued a career as a chef.  I'd have mad knife skills for one!

By the way, if you're wondering why the cake is so dark in colour, it's because of the 3 teaspoons of ground cinnamon used.  I love cinnamon and didn't mind it at all that the cake was so heavily spiced.  But 2 teaspoons is plenty if you want a lighter spiced cake.

The cake batter is also rather lumpy-ish and you might think that there's too much apples to batter.  But go with it.  The fragrant spiced batter rises through the gaps between all that fruit and nuts as it bakes, and ends up looking like a pretty normal cake once cooked.

For those of you who have been following my blog, you may have noticed a difference with the photos for this post.  Yours truly had a sudden wave of creativity (yes, creativity - just go with that too) and decided to have a play around with the food styling.

So okay.  There isn't that much styling going on here - just strategically placed items on some brown paper that's actually recycled brown paper bags from a couple of delis.  And since I had these 'vintage' plates and cutlery like forever ago and haven't used them, I thought perhaps it was about time!

This is seriously good cake.  Even better with a dollop of thick Greek style yoghurt or slightly thickened cream on the side, and much nicer if eaten slightly warm.  It keeps well for 3 days in an airtight container.

Random thought 3:

Still on the job-career-food thoughts - my Dad's a businessman and has always had his own business from as early as I can remember.  According to him, entrepreneurship is supposed to run 'in the family', but I obviously did not get that memo.  So here's my last random thought for this post...

Sometimes when I'm on the bus or walking home, I think about owning my own business - specifically a deli.  By the time I arrive home, I'd have some idea on the name of the deli, branding, marketing plan, ideal sites/suburbs, products, packaging, etc.  By the time I change into my comfy clothes...I've reached the stage of madness where I am talking to myself: "Do you want to work 7 days a week, 14 hour days and have to deal with the IRD and the revolving door of staff?  Are you MAD?!"

So there ends my random thoughts for this post.

Have a gorgeous Christmas, happy feasting, merry drinking, spread the love and who knows!  Next year, maybe some (if not all) of our dreams might just come true...even the ridiculous ones. Happy summer everyone! :-)


Spiced Apple & Walnut Cake
I got the recipe for this cake from an episode of Annabel Langbein's Simple Pleasures.

3 large apples, peeled, cored, quartered and then sliced
250g butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs, lightly whisked
2 ½ cup plain flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3 tsp cinnamon powder
1 cup sultanas
½ cup walnuts

Have a large pot ready on the stove top – big enough for melting butter and mixing the cake batter

  1. Preheat oven to 150°C. Prepare a springform cake tin by lightly greasing the sides and bottom with butter, then line the bottom with greaseproof/baking paper.
  2. Melt butter in a large pot. Once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the apple pieces.
  3. Stir to coat apples with butter.
  4. Add sugar and eggs, and stir lightly to mix.
  5. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon.
  6. Also add sultanas and walnuts.
  7. Stir to mix until the mixture is wet – do not over mix but just enough so that the flour and mixed through and wet. The mixture should not be ‘smooth’.
  8. Pour mixture into prepared cake tin, level the top out and bake for 1 hour and 20 mins, or until the cake is cooked (test by inserting a skewer into the middle of the cake – cake is cooked if skewer comes out clean).
  9. Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave the cake in the tin for 5 minutes before removing onto a cake rack to cool.  You could dust the top with some icing sugar once the cake is cooled if you like.

This cake is also my contribution to December's Sweet New Zealand, hosted by sweet Lydia of Lydia Bakes.

22 November 2012

bacon & caramelised bananas on oat pancakes

These photos (and about 40+ others of the same) have been sitting in a folder called 'WIP' since September.  'WIP' for those who don't know, means work-in-progress.  So it's been in a very looong progress, but hey, many of you who blog will understand this.  I figured that any time is a good time to blog about pancakes, bacon and bananas.  Not necessarily always together, but when these three meet, it's a no brainer!

I dunno about you but pancakes is something I very rarely order.  In fact I can't remember the last time I did so!  (although I did get some cutest pikelets at Ti Kouka Cafe some time ago and they were pretty spesh)  Pancakes in cafes are always disappointing - they're either too stodgy, too floury, too thick, too bland, too sweet, too much...etc, etc.  Making them at home allows me to make them exactly as I like them to be - topped with bacon that hasn't been fried to an inch of it's life and definitely more than just two miserable rashers, bananas that are well caramelised and lashings of syrup.

Once bubbles appear, it's time to flip!  Except my cast iron pan is so damn heavy that I couldn't do the one hand flick of the wrist flip.  Using a spatula just isn't the same - no?

See that butter container?  It's heavy and cool to the touch.  It was also really cheap.   I love it.  But it doesn't fit the usual 500g block of butter.  Dammit!

Monitor the heat of your pan as you cook, adjusting the heat accordingly so that your pancakes don't burn.  A few of my pancakes were just a little more 'golden brown' than needed.

Remember that uproar not so long ago in the news about Dole bananas using a sticker that misleads people into believing that their bananas are Fairtrade?  Well, I have to admit that I was one of them.  Now I only buy All Good Fairtrade bananas.  I'm not saying that you're an evil person if you don't - 'cos it may be more than you want to spend on bananas and you have a mortgage and kids and all that.  But if you can, you should.

My masterpiece plated.  It was a good Sunday on that day.

"But these are so unhealthy"!  I hear you mutter.  I posted a photo up on Facebook and a friend commented that it was "...asking for a coronary...".  Maybe it is...if you ate like this weekly!!!

Make these as a treat for breakfast in bed with your honey or save it for a awfully cold, grey and rainy weekend, or on a gloriously sunny day eaten al fresco on the deck.  It'll put a smile on your face and everyone else's whom you've made it for. :-)

Bacon & Caramelised Bananas on Oat Pancakes
Pancake recipe from Chelsea Sugar, tweaked with the addition of spice

4 eggs
2 cups milk
2 cups self-raising flour
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup oatmeal or rolled oats
1/2 cup soft brown sugar
Bacon - I used streaky but use whatever you prefer
Bananas - ripe but not too soft - use Fair Trade ones if you can find and afford them
Butter for cooking the pancakes, bacon and bananas - or use a light cooking oil like rice bran or canola if you prefer
Golden syrup or maple syrup

  1. Preheat oven to keep cooked pancakes warm, around 120-150C.
  2. Sift the cinnamon and flour - I do this so that the ground cinnamon is evenly distributed in the wet mixture later.
  3. Mix the eggs, milk, flour, cinnamon, oats and brown sugar in a large bowl until you get a smooth-ish batter.  If you have a food processor, use it as it'll be so much faster and less effort.
  4. Pre-heat a non-stick fry pan over medium heat and grease with a tiny bit of butter.
  5. Drop couple tablespoons of batter into the pan and cook for couple of minutes or until you see bubbles forming on the top of the pancake.  Flip the pancake over and cook until golden brown.
  6. Repeat numbers 4 and 5 until all the batter is used up.  Tip: Adjust the heat accordingly as you cook so that your pancakes don't burn
  7. Place each cooked pancake on a oven-proof plate and into the pre-heated oven to keep warm as you finish cooking the rest of the pancakes.  Leave them in the oven whilst you move on with cooking the bacon and bananas.
  8. In the same fry pan, melt a tiny bit of butter over medium heat and fry the bacon until cooked to your liking (I don't like mine crispy but you might).  Place cooked bacon in the oven to keep warm.
  9. Leave the bacon fat in the fry pan and add a little bit more butter if you need to to cook the bananas.  Your caramelised bananas will be sweet and slightly salty from this.
  10. Cut each banana into half, lengthwise.  And then peel the skin off each piece.
  11. Place bananas pieces, flat side down into the pan and cook until brown and caramelised.
  12. Turn the banana pieces (carefully) over and cook until brown and caramelised.
  13. To plate - stack 2-3 pancakes, then arrange a couple rashers of bacon, and then top with caramlised bananas.  Drizzle with golden or maple syrup.  Serve!

14 November 2012

indian goat curry with peppers & potato

[Walking through the Blogosphere door]  "Hi honey I'm home"!

Yes, after a four-month hiatus, I'm back.  I would've liked to be back here blogging much earlier, but as it was, the longer I left it, the harder it became to be inspired.  It's kinda crazy how hard it is to piece 2-3 lines together to start a post when your mind is otherwise majorly occupied with other stuff.  I had so many false starts and bunny hops that there are no less than 12 posts sitting in draft, most of which have not gone past the title and some photos.  Although it had been easier on social media, so you would've still seen some tweets and instagrammed photos from me.

Since I've been away for so long, god only knows who many of you are still reading this blog.  But hey, people do say that your real friends stick around at the worst of times.  Perhaps maybe blog readers are the same?

Anway, just so I don't over-share and take the tone of this post down to shades of purgatory, let's just summarise the reasons for my absence as such:

I was totally over-blogged and over-foodied after August's activities of Wellington on a Plate and organising the NZ Food Bloggers Conference.  It was like coming on a major down after a crazy month-long high.  Then life kinda crapped out a bit for the next couple of months and got a bit unbearable.  The kind of need-to-hide-away-from-the-world kind of unbearable.

But I'm back.  I've taken a deep breath and making an effort to start enjoying the things I used to - like blogging about food and being a foodie.  And what does a foodie share when she makes a return?

Why this packed full of big flavours, out of this world, mean-as goat curry of course!

As much as Summer is just around the corner, it is also fact that living in Wellington also means that Spring time weather and temperatures is a tease.  A handful of sunny warm-ish days full of the promises of Summer and then...kapow!  Gale winds, southerlies, rain, 6 degrees during the night, the whole sh-bang.  And it was on such a miserable cold SPRING day a few days ago that I peered into my freezer and was reminded that I had a tray of goat meat waiting to be glorified into some big memorable dish - 'cos it's not like we eat goat everyday and it needed special treatment right?

So came the age old question.  To curry or not to curry.  All my spidey instincts....or wait, I mean foodie instincts said "CURRY!!!!!!"  Yep, it all but shouted it.  Therefore the multiple exclamation marks.  And capitals.  Deal with it.

Having grown up in Singapore eating goat curry and soup kambing (Indian mutton soup - although called mutton, goat meat is used), it's a meat I do enjoy eating.  Although, I've actually not eaten goat in all the 15 years living in NZ.  It wasn't a meat you could buy at the supermarket in the early days.  These days you can get trays of goat meat easily, probably due to the increase in migrant population.

This goat curry leans a little more to a Northern Indian style curry - but my variation.  But I wouldn't say it's 100% authentic Indian, but it's a curry base I've used before which is particularly good for pork, lamb and beef.  It's a bit more fiddly than some other curry recipes in that there are 2 stages and what would seem to be a pretty long list of ingredients.  But I wouldn't advise substituting all the individual spices with a generic pre-mixed curry powder as I'm not sure you'll get the same flavour if you did that.

The recipe calls for a handful of ground spices like cumin, coriander and garam masala.  If you haven't got any, I'd recommend investing in a small box of each from the supermarket.  The Gregg's boxes are small enough.  You'll be surprised how often the same spices are called for across a range of different types of dishes, from all sorts of Mediterranean dishes to South East Asian and Central Asian dishes.  It would be a good investment to have these spices in your pantry.

You can cook this curry entirely on stove top or in the oven for stage 2.  I did mine in the oven as it took a shorter time to cook and I didn't have the patience to keep checking and stirring to prevent burning.  Use a heavy bottomed oven proof pot with a lid (like an enamel coated cast iron pot), you can cook stage 1 and stage 2 in the one same pot  and serve from the pot as well - saves on washing up!

Indian Goat Curry with Peppers & Potato
Word of advice is - this is spicy. It's got quite a kick. Not as numbing as say a vindaloo but definitely a heck more than a 'medium-hot'. If you would still like to give this recipe a go but can't take the heat, just cut back (maybe go half) on the chilli powder and fresh chilli.

INGREDIENTS - for Stage 1:
2 onions (or 1 large) roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
Large piece of ginger, roughly the length of your middle finger, roughly chopped

Place these in a bowl and mix - you'll need half of the mixture for stage 1 or the other half for stage 2.  If you have a food processor to chop these, use it instead.  I do!

1/2 cup oil (canola or rice bran oil) + another 1/4 cup oil for Stage 2
2 bay leaves
600g-700g goat meat, cubed or leave as is if it's small chops (don't trim the fat as it'll go a long way to making a beautiful tasting curry)
Juice of 1 lemon

In small dish:
1 tsp chilli powder + 1/2 tsp tumeric + 1 1/4 tbsp ground cumin + 2 tsp ground coriander + 1/2 tsp garam masala

INGREDIENTS - for Stage 2:
2 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
4 green chillis, deseeded and roughly chopped
2 tsp paprika
2 medium red capsicums (peppers), sliced into roughly 2cm pieces
2 medium green capsicums, sliced into pieces
1 tsp each salt and black pepper
4 medium waxy potatoes, roughly 500g, cut into 2cm cubes
10 curry leaves* 
1 tsp garam masala

In another small dish:
1/4 tbsp ground cumin + 1 tbsp ground coriander + 4 dried chillis + 1 tsp mustard powder

* You'll have more curry leaves than you need, so with dry hands, pluck the leaves from the stalks and store them in an air-tight container and freeze them.  Just take as much out as you need each time and use straight from frozen.

Stage 1
  1. Heat 1/2 cup oil in a large heavy bottom oven-proof pot over medium heat.
  2. Fry the bay leaves and 1/2 the onion, garlic and ginger mixture until the onions are soft.
  3. Increase the heat, add the meat and fry until well browned and about 1/4 cooked.
  4. Take the pot off the heat and transfer everything into a large bowl.
  5. Add the spices from the first dish and the juice of one lemon.  Stir until the meat is well coated and set aside.
Stage 2
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Put the oven-proof pot back on medium heat with 1/4 cup oil.
  3. Fry remaining 1/2 of onion, garlic and ginger until the onions are soft.
  4. Add the spices from the 2nd small dish and fry until fragrant.  Don't worry if the mixture sticks a little to the bottom and looks/smells like it's burnt.
  5. Add the chopped tomatoes and fry for about 1 minute, and then lower the heat and cook until any liquid has been reduced.  Scrap the bottom every now and again and stir.
  6. Add the meat, green chillis and paprika, and increase the heat back up to medium.
  7. Cook until the reduced sauce is thick and the meat is coated in the sauce.  Probably a couple of minutes.
  8. Add the capsicum, potatoes, salt and pepper and 1 cup of water. Stir to mix well.
  9. Cover the pot, place in oven and cook for 1 1/2 hours.  At the 1 hour mark, remove the pot carefully from the oven and stir the mixture.  Then put it back in the oven to finish off cooking.
  10. After 1 1/2 hours, check to see if the meat is tender.  If not cook it for another 15 mins.
  11. Once the meat is tender, add the curry leaves and put the pot back into the oven without the lid and cook for another 15 mins.  The meat should be nicely coated in a thick, slightly lumpy looking sauce.  This is not a soupy, gravy-ish curry.
  12. Finally stir in the garam masala and if required, a little more salt.  Stir to mix thoroughly.
  13. Best eaten with basmati rice or warmed wholemeal pita bread.  If you can get your hands on or wholemeal paratha bread from your local curry restaurant, they would be fantastic with this curry.

02 July 2012

[round up] sweet new zealand june

It's round up time again for Sweet NZ - this time for June.  I hosted Sweet NZ way back in February - can't believe I just said 'way back'!  Time has certainly flown this year.

Thank you Jemma of Time For A Little Something for hosting Sweet NZ May.

It's been a busy couple of months for me.  Lots of thinking (and scribbling into my notebook) about possible wee business idea, picked up some temp work (to bolster the mulah kitty for coffee, movies & books) and organising the NZFBA Conference 2012.  The latter has been the most stressful but the fun-nest (again I stress, it is a word) and most satisfying work I've done for ages!  If you want to know all about it, head towards to conference webpage.  Places are limited and we've filled almost 3/4, so don't wait too long to register!

Sweet NZ Feb introduced me to a few Kiwi blogs that I did not know of...and this time, there's more!  I've had entries from regular contributors like Emma, Alessandra, Mairi and Vanille - always such a pleasure ladies to get your beautiful photos and scrummy recipes.  And then there are the entries from new blogging friends - absolutely gorgeous photos, the sweetest recipes and the nicest people!

For those of you who aren't familiar with Sweet New Zealand - head towards Alessandra Zecchini's blog to find out more.

I shan't go on and on about it...check these out and you'll see what I mean.  The sweetest most yummiest Sweet NZ yet - I'm biased since I'm hosting! ;-D

For all you girly-girls out there, here are some delicate and pretty raspberry vanilla marshmallows from Morgan of Pretty Sweet Things.

Citrus season is here, so why not make the most of it and wow family and friends with this Orange Poppy Seed Pound Cake with Warm Orange Glaze from Cathy of She Loves Simple.

And if you're wanting to impress your colleagues at morning afternoon tea, Cathy also has these for you - White Chocolate Chip, Craisin and Macadamia Nut Cookies.

And why stop there if you're on a roll?  You could also some of these delectable Lemon and Almond Cookies...from Cathy of course!

June seemed to be a month of lots of chocolate cookie baking.  Perhaps is the comfort sought with eating these cookies with a glass of warm milk or hot cuppa during the cold winter days and nights. Whatever the reason may be, you can't go wrong with these Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies by Lydia of Grace Cakes.

For those chocolate cookie fiends out there who LOVE the cookie but worry about the guilt - check out this Chocolate Chunk Chickpea Cookie Pie by Christina of De La Casa.  You'd never guess what goes into making this cookie pie...and you'll never feel guilty again about enjoying cookies!

Mother earth has a lovely way of lifting our spirits during the winter months - with lots of bright summary colours and taste of citrus fruits such as navel oranges, mandarins, grapefruit and the well-loved lemons. This gluten-free lemon delicious pudding from Emma of My Darling Lemon Thyme is certain to lift anyone out of the grey and gloomy haze that we all seem to have one time or the other during winter.

Ahhh...hot chocolate.  Another sure cure of the winter blues.  You just can't beat it, especially if it's made of decadent Valrhona chocolate. Picture this - kids tucked up asleep in bed and you on the couch rugged up warm with feet up on the sofa, sipping a cup of Valrhona Hot Chocolate Soy Drink by Arfi of HomeMadeS.  Bliss.

The tarte tatin is a personal favourite and I make it a lot at home for guests and just for us. You just can't go wrong with it.  Mairi of Toast's Apple Tarte Tatin with Salted Caramel Sauce is a fabulous twist to the norm, with a bit of salty and sweet - hits all the right spots!

Another example of citrus baking - Orange and Cardamom Cake by Sanaz of The Baking Diary.  The simplicity of this cake is what makes it such an excellent cake - easy to make...and soooo easy to eat.  Forget about leftovers and storing.  I think this cake will be gone in a matter of minutes the moment it's out of the oven.

Alessandra of Alessandra Zecchini blog started Sweet NZ and is a regular contributor of it.  This time, she's offered up this lovely light and fruity dessert - Passion fruit and Cape Gooseberry Agar Agar Jelly.  If you're not a chocolate fan or like very sweet desserts, this is one for you.

This elegant Upside Down Cranberry Cake studded with cranberries is from Vanille of At Down Under.  Perfect to bring along for that housewarming, weekend get togethers with the girls or just shared with your other half.

These Chocolate and Peanut Butter Gluten Free Cookie-Brownies are also from Alessandra.  So quick and easy to make, and so moreish as well.  These will be great to make on Sunday after dinner and bring them to work for afternoon tea.  I'm sure these will make the last 2 and a bit hours of the working day fly by much faster.

And finally, my own contribution to June's Sweet NZ.  These Triple Chocolate Espresso Muffins are best eaten a little warm with a dusting of icing sugar.  They're rich and don't really need any cream or yoghurt on the side.  But have them with some good quality black coffee - it intensifies the coffee taste and brings out the sweet chocolatey goodness.

Thank you everyone who contributed to June's Sweet New Zealand.  July will be hosted by Bridget of After Taste.  Be sure to get baking!

01 June 2012

it's sweet new zealand...again!

After having such a fun time hosting February's Sweet New Zealand, I've decided to host June's as well!

If you don't already know what Sweet New Zealand is - its a monthly food bloggers event, started by fellow blogger Alessandra Zecchini.

It's about sharing recipes, getting to know each other, discovering new blogs, growing the Kiwi food blogger community (both in NZ and worldwide) and everything sweet - cakes, cookies, lollies, jams, ice cream......

To find out more about this event and how to participate (it's not a competition), go to my Sweet New Zealand page at the top, or click here.

Happy baking and dessert making everyone! :-)

16 May 2012

braised cabbage & butter beans in anchovy sauce

Here's a dish (and many variations of it) that I make often.  It's one of those dishes in my repertoire that works whether it's a cold or hot day.  And yes, its got cabbage and yes, its got anchovies.  Two much maligned ingredients I think.  I can assure you that this dish is so simple to make and yet so very delicious in all it's buttery, salty, almost meaty tasting goodness.

I ate a lot of cabbage growing up.  It's pretty popular in Chinese cooking - whether in soups, stir fry or braised. Maybe it's all the different ways that cabbage can be cooked in my culture and flavoured with different sauces and spices that hasn't turned me off it the way it has with so many people I've met in NZ.  Most of my Kiwi and English friends won't touch it citing bad memories of the smell and of limp grey bland tasting cabbage from when they were young.  Whilst I only have good smell (and taste) memories of cabbage!  Yes, cabbage.  Who would've thought, eh?

Try and imagine these - cabbage stir fried with loads of garlic and ginger and flavoured simply with some light soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil, or braised slowly on low heat with chinese mushrooms, light soy sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic and a dash of chinese cooking wine, or simply chopped into squarish chunks to make a soup with chicken, ginger, garlic and goji berries.  And a little trick - white pepper is cabbage's best friend.  Everyone has cracked black pepper at home, but invest in some ground white pepper and experiment with it, especially in Chinese cooking.  You'll love it!  So suddenly, cabbage doesn't sound so terrible now does it?

And what of anchovies?  I suppose here's another ingredient I've grown up eating so am not aversed to it.  Although the anchovies of my childhood is nothing like the Italian-style cured and packed in oil type that I often use now.  Those anchovies were also dried and salted, but never packed in oil.  They're either fried just with sambal (chilli paste) and eaten as a condiment, or into this sticky, sweet and salty snack with brown sugar, sambal and peanuts.  Sometimes they're just simply fried to a light golden crisp - all salty, crunchy and addictive.

Up to about couple years ago, I had never cooked with the Italian or Spanish style (cured and packed in oil) anchovies.  But once I started using it, I was hooked.  Since then I've used it countless of times as a flavour base in pasta sauces, casseroles, soups, risottos, etc.  One of my favourite pasta 'sauce' is an olive oil mixture that's flavoured with anchovies and sautéed garlic, chilli flakes and chopped black olives, tossed through hot pasta.  Very quick to put together on lazy weekday nights and so very satisfying.

So if you're one of those who wrinkle their noses up at the very mention of anchovies because of a bad fishy pizza experience, give it another go - this time as part of a sauce or flavour base.  When it's cooked that way, the anchovies melt completely so that you no longer see the fillets at all and the pungent fishy smell turns into this deep rich salty explosion of flavour.  I promise you it's nothing but goodness.

And if you're still not convinced and swearing that no anchovies will ever pass your lips come hell or high water, let me let you in on a secret...those lips of yours, have had anchovies more times than you'd think.  Every time you ate at your favourite Thai or Vietnamese restaurant or takeaway, that dish was very likely flavoured with some fish sauce which is often made with anchovies.  And what about Worcestershire sauce?  Yep...did you know that anchovies is a key ingredient in that?  What about those fancy pants olive tapenade that you've smeared on your crusty bread or cracker? Ah-uh...

There, no more excuses. :-)

Braised Cabbage & Butter Beans in Anchovy Sauce
This is enough for 2 if it's a main meal, but can be stretched for 3 if eaten as a side with poached or baked fish, or some grilled chicken breast.

1 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
6 pieces of anchovies (soaked in oil), plus a tsp of the oil
1/4 head of a large cabbage, sliced
1/2 cup of water
Cracked black pepper
1 can of butter beans, rinsed
A knob of butter (oh...about 30g)
1/4 cup grated or shaved parmesan (or any hard good melting cheese you prefer)

  1. Heat some lightly flavoured oil (like rice bran) in a deep pan over medium-low heat and saute the onion, celery and garlic until soft and translucent.
  2. Add the anchovies and the anchovy oil and saute until the anchovies are melted.
  3. Add the cabbage and saute for 1-2 mins.  Add the cracked pepper to taste.
  4. Then add the water, lower the heat to medium-low and slowly cook the cabbage uncovered until cooked through and soft - but still with a tiny bit of bite, unless you like it soft.  Make sure you stir it every now and again to prevent burning or sticking.
  5. Once the cabbage is cooked, add the butter beans and cook a little further to heat the beans through.
  6. Just before serving, add the butter and parmesan and stir through till melted.
  7. Serve with sides of crusty bread slathered with butter.  No seriously, do just that.  It goes so well with this cabbage dish!

09 May 2012

leek, potato & kumara soup with nutmeg

Soup is my ultimate comfort food during winter (and when I'm feeling a little under the weather).  Now I love a spicy stomach warming curry, an unctuous risotto or a comforting bowl of rice congee with all its condiments.  These are all dishes the rich dishes that I have an excuse for making weekly - cold winter nights.  But nothing beats a good soup, mopped up with some bread on the side.

Soup is really versatile - you can make soup out of just about anything in your fridge.  I often use vegetables that are starting to go limp, or use up the last of whatever there is sitting at the bottom of the vegetable bin like the last 2 stalks of celery left and the lone carrot.  Depending on what I've got on hand will often dictate whether I blitz the ingredients into a creamy soup, or make a clear broth-like soup.

And it doesn't stop there.  I often try and cook a nice balance of both western/European and Asian food weekly.  So my repertoire also features soups with Asian herbs, spices or ingredients (like winter melon (tung qwa), shiitake mushrooms or chinese greens).  These soups often have a lighter or clear soup/broth base and I'd have some jasmine rice on the side to eat with it.

Hmmm...I just realised I've not blogged about any of the Asian inspired soups I've made before.  That's going to have to change.  Soon my friends...soon!

And since most soups take no time at all from stove to table, soup it was for dinner tonight.  (I was feeling a little lazy).  It was a 'poke-around-to-see-what's-there' kinda soup - there were 2 kumaras that have been sitting by their lonesome self for a while and had to be used.  So those went in with some leek and organic potatoes that we bought over the weekend.  It would have been nice if I had some rashers of bacon to fry up for the flavour base, but a tub of frozen homemade chicken stock was the next best thing (defrosted of course!).  The colour of this soup may not have been an attractive earthy colour like pumpkin soup or a gorgeous green like broccoli soup, but it certainly made up for it in taste.

It's quite a thick soup, so if you prefer something a little more liquid, add one more cup of stock to what I have listed below.  And if you don't have thyme at home, leave it out or substitute it with whatever other herb you like.  I drizzled a bit of cream and a sprinkling of parsley over my soup when I served it.  You're more than welcomed to leave both out!

Leek, Potato and Kumara Soup
Enough for 3-4 people for one meal, or dinner plus lunch to take to work for 2.

1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (use less garlic if you prefer)
1 leek, washed well and sliced
2 medium sized kumara, cut into small cubes (I used purple ones, but use whichever you prefer)
4 medium sized potatoes, cut into small cubes (I used organic Agria)
1/4 tsp thyme
Nutmeg, freshly grated (if not use about 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg)
6 cups of stock (veg or chicken)
1/4 sour cream
Salt and cracked black pepper
50g (or large knob) of butter
Oil (I used rice bran oil, but you can use olive, canola or any other vegetable oil you have)

  1. Over a medium heat, melt the butter with a bit (oh...about 1 tsp) of oil - the oil helps to prevent the butter from burning.  Gently saute the onion and garlic until soft and translucent.
  2. Add the leek and thyme and continue to saute until the leek softens.
  3. Stir in the kumara, potatoes and nutmeg.
  4. Add the stock and 1 tsp of salt (check the stock you're using to see how salty it is first) and bring to boil on high heat.  Cover and reduce heat back to medium heat.  Cook covered until the potatoes and kumara are cooked through and soft.
  5. Blitz the mixture until smooth - I used an immersion stick blender - and then stir in the sour cream, mix well and heat through.
  6. Salt and pepper to taste - taste the soup and add more salt if required.

PS:  I feel the need to apologise for the photos in this post - it's quite hard to take good photos in my house at night.  It's yellow/orangy lighting throughout the house except the bathroom which has white lights, but that's not an option!

07 May 2012

{review} the dumpling house

The Dumpling House - Review

The Dumpling House - Review

The photo above on the left should give you a peek into Vicky Ha - self-confessed 'Dumpling Queen' and face, talent and passion behind Wellington's latest culinary craze, dumplings from The Dumpling House. I say 'craze' because it seems like anyone who has tried these dumplings have raved about them on Twitter, Facebook, to each other...the word is spreading quickly!

See how each free range ingredient has a big fat tick, see how 'NO' MSG/Artificial Stuff is underlined, 'handmade' is in CAPS and underlined, and so is the fact (with asterisk!) that you'll get to choose from 4 different types of dumplings (unlike the dumplings at yum cha which all feature prawns, pork, prawns and more pork).  For me, that's Vicky to a tee - passion, energy and an unwavering conviction on what she believes in when it comes to food quality and the dumplings she makes.

The Dumpling House - Review
When I invited Vicky for coffee and a chat to talk about her new dumpling business, I had a few questions in my head that I had ready for her.  But I really didn't need to ask many questions at all.  Vicky was so damn passionate about her craft, her dumplings and her principles that I just sat there transfixed.  I did have to end up asking a few questions towards the end because I was too busy listening instead of taking notes!

As much as she knew at a relatively young age that what she really wanted to do was cook, Vicky being the dutiful Chinese daughter (Vicky is originally from Hong Kong), went to Dunedin and studied food sciences and marketing.  God forbid that she'd actually cooked for a living since apparently that's not a professional career - you have to be Asian to understand this...no really, you do.  I am and I do!

So what does one do with a degree in food science and marketing?  Well here's what Vicky did - she started a marketing company and then was the brainchild behind BAXI (pedicabs around Wellington) before selling the business.  Then she put herself through chef school at a local polytech.

And what does Vicky do now that she is a classically trained chef?  Why work as a cook on a prawn trawler of course!  Yep, no typos here - a prawn trawler, where she helped with sorting prawns as they got hauled in and cooked for the boys on board for 3 months.  Oh the stories she could tell from those 3 months...apparently the boys on the trawler complained about her cooking, calling her made-from-scratch gravy 'gay-vy' and snorted at her eggs bene.  All they wanted was meat and more meat!  Soon Vicky was back on shore (after threats of mutiny due to having to eat gay-vy maybe?) and spent the next couple of years at a popular local cafe as a larder chef.

Fast forward to present day and Vicky is now a chef with the Compass Group and also churns out trays of delicious dumplings on the side, for the good people of Wellington.

The Dumpling House - Review
The first time I heard about The Dumpling House, it was from a tweet sent out by The City Market one early April afternoon.  The name itself got me excited - afterall, why should Aucklanders be the only people in this country to have access to dumplings galore?  We may be spoilt for choice in Wellington when it comes to cafes and amazing coffee, but we are definitely sorely in need of noodle bars and dumpling houses.  I got down to market that Sunday at a respectable 10.30am to find that they had sold out!  So I made sure I was down early the next week to ensure I got my share of dumplings and to snap some photos before the market got crowded.

I wasn't disappointed.  I inhaled my first dozen right there at the market and bought some home for lunch, which I shared with 'S' grudgingly.

The Dumpling House - Review
Is there anyone more passionate about making good dumplings? I think not.

The dumplings from The Dumpling House aren't like the usual fare you get at yum cha.  Instead, you get dumplings that are from different cities/regions of China and elsewhere in the world (like Nepal and Korea), and vegetarian options as well.  Vicky made it a point to explain that respect for the origins of the different dumplings she produces is paramount - ingredients, flavours and production methods are kept as authentic as possible.  

The Dumpling House - Review
Browning up some dumpling to-go at the City Market

The dumplings are all handmade with the freshest ingredients and everything is made from scratch, from the stock to the dumpling skins.  Eggs are free-range and so is any pork and chicken used.  And very importantly, no MSG, stock powder or artificial flavouring is used.

The Dumpling House - Review
Choose from 3 dipping sauces when you buy your dumplings at The City Market.

When asked what her point of difference was, Vicky did not hesitate to list them in quick succession:
  • The Dumpling House is solely dedicated to the production and perfection of dumplings 
  • Her dumplings are made from scratch
  • They're all made with natural ingredients, with no preservatives or MSG
And when asked what her principle(s) was in running this business, Vicky was quick with that answer as well - to provide honest food.

The Dumpling House - Review
The crowd grows...and has been growing rapidly for these dumplings.

Judging from the increased online chatter and mentions on Twitter and Facebook, and how quickly the dumplings get sold out every Sunday at the market, it looks like more and more people have discovered The Dumpling House and Vicky's honestly good dumplings!

The Dumpling House - Review
Dumplings at home for lunch - wonder what the boys on the prawn trawler will think of these...

The Dumpling House will be at the market every Sunday, 8.30am - 12.30pm.
Fresh, frozen or precooked to be enjoyed on the spot.
Visit the website for the range of dumplings available.
For pre-orders to be picked up at the market on Sunday, email: vicky@dumplinghouse.co.nz 

The Dumpling House is also on Facebook.

So pop down this Sunday to get your dumplings from round the world - you won't regret it!

For more reviews - click here