30 April 2012

roast baby tomatoes, spinach & potato pie

It won't be long now before the cost of tomatoes start climbing again. Soon we'll be walking by tomatoes piled high in the supermarket and even at the farmers or vegetable market, shaking our heads in disbelief. And on a very quiet news day, right smack in the middle of winter, a journalist might even decide to make a huge issue in the media about the cost of groceries, citing tomatoes (and eggplant) as an example. In the middle of winter. Did I already say that? Yeah...

I only buy tomatoes during winter if they're on special and even then, I wince a little at the price.  Basically, fresh tomatoes don't feature in my winter cooking in a big way.  Actually, off-season vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, eggplant and courgettes are often not on my shopping list during the cooler months.  There are many other vegetables to indulge in and enjoy like pumpkins, broccoli, cauliflower, leeks and a wide range of root vegetables.  As for fruits, there are mandarins, pears, persimmons, grapefruit and kiwifruit (and feijoas in autumn).  So not eating fresh tomatoes weekly for roughly 3 months out of a year is not such a biggie.  There's always a huge range of tin tomatoes that can be called upon which are especially good in hearty winter meals like stews, casseroles, curries and sauces like bolognese.

Roast baby tomatoes, spinach & potato pie
So when I was at the Sunday market a couple of weeks ago and saw these beauties still selling at summer prices, I grabbed the chance to buy a whole bagful.  We may only have another week of summer-priced tomatoes (and very ripe ones!), at the Sunday market at least.  I had no idea then what I was going to make - just knew that very soon, it'll be a while before I could indulge in such bulk-buying again for tomatoes.

A stock check when I got home had me turning most of it into tomato chutney and the rest into a pie, as I had a roll of pastry and a block of soft goat's cheese in the fridge.  Pies are pretty popular at my place so that was an easy decision.  They're pretty quick to throw together and 'S' likes it because it's easy to take a large wedge to work the next day for lunch.

Roast baby tomatoes, spinach & potato pie
There are pie-making days where I just mix all the ingredients together and fill the pie crust.  And then there are days where I carefully lay each layer out and then stand back and admire my creativity (that's what I like to think anyway).

Roast baby tomatoes, spinach & potato pie
I gotta say, the tomatoes in this pie were just perfect - each bite was a burst of almost caramel sweetness due to slow roasting the tomatoes before hand.

For those of you out there who are old hands at pie making, this is a no brainer - not even a recipe!  More so just me listing the ingredients I used.  But for those novices out there, this really is a simple can't-go-wrong pie recipe.  I suppose you could challenge yourself and make the pie crust from scratch.  I'm happy using store-bought pastry - some of which are now 100% butter pastry.  Store-bought pastry saves time, minimises pastry disasters (unless you're good at it) and affordable.

Roast baby tomatoes, spinach & potato pie
Head down to your Sunday/farmers/vegetable market this weekend and see if you can still get the last of the late summer/autumn tomatoes at a reasonable price.  I think this pie would make an excellent weekend meal to enjoy at home or even cold, at a picnic (if the sun behaves!).

Roast Baby Tomatoes, Spinach & Potato Pie

Shortcrust pastry - store bought 400g block or easy pre-rolled sheets, or make your own*
Ripe tomatoes - baby or large ones on the vine**
Olive oil
1 big bunch of Spinach, torn - fresh or frozen***
2 medium sized potatoes - precooked and cut into thick slices
1 block of soft goats cheese - I prefer this to the salty crumbly feta cheese
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup cream
Salt & Pepper to taste

* There are loads online on how to make pastry - recipes and how-to videos on youtube.  Just Google it or here's a few links for you - Gordon Ramsay How To Make and How to Roll shortcrust pastry, shortcrust and puff pastry recipe, and another recipe.

** Leave the tops of the vine tomatoes on as they look nice sticking out of the pie when baked.  But if you prefer to remove them, then do so.  If you're using larger tomatoes, slice into thick slices before slow roasting them.

*** If using frozened spinach, make sure that it's defrosted and excess liquid is squeezed or dabbed out with paper towels.

  1. Preheat oven to 150C.  Line a baking tray with baking paper - I like to do this so that the tomatoes don't stick onto the tray when the juices in them start to run and caramelise.  Makes for easier cleaning!
  2. Arrange the tomatoes on your tray, drizzle with some olive oil and a light sprinkling of sugar.  Roast for about 2 hours, depending on the size of your tomatoes.  We want them still whole, sweet and roasted and not dried and breaking down.  Once roasted, remove from the oven and allow to cool a little so that it's easier to handle the tomatoes.
  3. Turn the oven up to 180C.
  4. Roll out your pastry and line a lightly greased pie tin or dish with the pastry.  Blind bake until the sides of the pastry is cooked and lightly browned.
  5. Whilst the pastry is being baked, pre-cook the potatoes.  You can boil them.  I find it easier to do this in the microwave - leave whole and the skin on and prick with a fork so that your potato doesn't explode in the microwave.  Cook on high for 1-2 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes.  You want the potatoes just cooked through and not soft and mushy.  Cut into medium slices and put aside.
  6. Start building your pie by first lining the bottom of your pie case with spinach, followed by slices of cooked potatoes, and a light sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Next comes the layer of tomatoes - if using baby tomatoes, arrange them sitting up. Then crumble the block of soft goats cheese in between the tomatoes.  Season with a bit more salt and pepper to taste on the top.
  7. Lightly beat the eggs, milk and cream together and pour into the pie dish/tin.
  8. Bake for 30-45 mins or until the egg mixture is cooked through and set.


21 April 2012

{review} little penang

Review - Little Penang, Wellington

Little Penang opened in Sept 2011 and those who know authentic Malaysian food either did a little jig, raised their arms in a loud hurray, stamped their feet in excitement or simply breathed a long sigh of relief. Or all of the above.

I don't know about you, but I for one am pretty over the offerings around town that pass for Malaysian cuisine - many of which are inaccurately represented and lacking in authenticity, and yet sold to Wellingtonians as Malaysian food.  So suffice to say, when the 'opening soon' sign went up on the windows of Little Penang, I was determined not to get my hopes up on what I was sure was going to be just another Malaysian eatery dishing out huge mounds of oily food, that looked nor tasted anything like what it should be. When the doors finally opened. I went in one day with a healthy dose of scepticism and walked out a little later beaming from ear-to-ear. I knew then that I was going to do my blog's first review on Little Penang and have since been back numerous times to try as many dishes as I can for the purpose of this review.

Little Penang not only serves the most authentic Malaysian dishes (mostly Penang street food) in Wellington, but unlike others, they also offer Malaysian desserts and kuehs (a general word that can be used to describe pastries, cake and baking).

Opened 6 days a week and Little Penang operates like a 'street food stall' with most customers taking away their purchases. There are a couple of small tables inside if you want to eat in and also seats along the windows. The set up is simple but comfortable. There is a small menu of set dishes that are always available and specials that regular customers come back for on a weekly basis. The specials change daily and range from 1 - 3 different dishes. In addition to these, there are always a range of snacks that are great as entrées or if you're feeling peckish, and trays of traditional kuehs and also sweet desserts for afters.

Review - Little Penang, Wellington
L-R: Mary, Jessie, Hui, Tee and Keith

The people who are behind Little Penang are a tight-knit family who are from Penang, Malaysia (of course!). Tee and Keith left their high-powered executive positions in international finance and banking to come and live in New Zealand so that the family could have a better quality of life and away from the rat race. Tee has always loved to cook and when they came to live in Wellington, she started to put her cooking skills to good use when the children were in school. She volunteered at the City Mission, cooking for them and also cooked at various functions for the church the family attended. The idea for Little Penang was hatched partly due to Tee's love for cooking and Keith's boredom at home after he retired. When the plan finally came to fruition, it was a no brainer that Tee would be the maestro in the kitchen, Keith the front of house and face of Little Penang, and Mary (sister-in-law) the magic behind those kuehs.

It's fair to say that the business is not their passion but the other way around - the passion they have for their food is their business. The care and lengths that Tee and Keith go to, to ensure that what is served up is as true to it's origins as possible is a mark on how deep their belief goes in serving food that's traditional - in this case, Penang street food. Herbs and various other fresh ingredients are sourced directly from contacts in Penang, vacuum packed, then fresh-frozened and sent to NZ - not bought dried from the Asian grocers here. Stock is made from scratch and no MSG is used. Pastes, sauces and dried anchovies are also imported in from Penang. This is all so that Tee and Keith can ensure that the ingredients used are authentic, as fresh as they can be and give the dishes their specific tastes. And it doesn't end there.

Review - Little Penang, Wellington
L: Mary making kueh dough                                                      R: Tee at the wok

The passion for the food they serve stretches across other areas - educating customers on the food they're eating, for example advising them on what sauce/condiment they should be having with their meal (satay sauce does not go with everything!) and taking the time to talk to them about the cultural origins of the dishes. Front of house staff are also chosen with care - they're are required to be enthusiastic about Penang street food and be able to talk to customers about the dishes.

The pride in which everyone in Little Penang takes in the food they serve up impressed me. And in all the times that I've been there, I've also noticed that they know many (and I do mean many!) of their customers by name, including what their favourites dishes were. I wonder how many Malaysian eateries in town can really say that they do the same.

Here's a peek at some of what Little Penang offers:


Review - Little Penang, Wellington

These are some of the selection of snacks on offer to tempt your taste buds, to quell that initial hunger pang, to feed that snack-attack or as entrĂ©es.  From L-R top to bottom: curry puffs, lor bak (fragrantly spiced mince rolled in thin soybean sheets and fried), otak-otak (fish marinated with herbs and spices, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed), baked Siew Bau (baked roast pork buns) and vegetable fritters on skewers.

Review - Little Penang, Wellington
Assam Laksa - this is one of Little Penang's most popular dishes and is one of Penang's most well known and well loved dishes.  Unlike the curry-based laksa that most Wellingtonians are used to, this is a fish-broth based laksa that is sour, sweet & salty with a bit of spice.  The noodles are topped with fish (mackerel), mint, cucumber, pineapple, ginger flower and sprinkling of fresh cut chillis, finished with some prawn paste stirred into the broth.  This very traditional laksa is an acquired taste for those who've not eaten it before.  But those in the know including Kiwis who have travelled or lived overseas, have been coming to Little Penang in droves for this laksa.

I highly recommend anyone who wants to try something different from what you'd normally get in every Malaysian place in town, to try a bowl of this Assam Laksa.  You might just be very pleasantly surprised.  This dish is only available on Thursdays.

Review - Little Penang, Wellington
Penang Hokkien Mee - another favourite is the Hokkien Mee from Penang.  It's different from the type of Hokkien Mee you'd get from say Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur and again different from how it's cooked in neighbouring Singapore.  Penang Hokkien Mee is made up of 2 different kinds of noodles in a soup with prawns and pork ribs.  It's so flavoursome that you'll be wanting a 2nd bowl.  This dish is available only of Wednesdays.

Review - Little Penang, Wellington
Chicken Curry & Roti - For those of you who like Malaysian food but are not so adventurous, there's always the tried and true Roti with Chicken Curry.  In Malaysia and Singapore, the curry served with roti is often just a side condiment - a thin curry with very little or no meat in it at all.  The roti is suppose to be the hero of the dish.  Little Penang's chicken curry is a little different in that it's a little thinner than the usual rich creamy curries you often find and with a much fresher taste.

I personally love the whole spices used and - no premixes are used here!   The roti as well is different from the usual overly sweet and doughy type served up in almost every Asian eatery.  It's light and flaky - like it should be.

Review - Little Penang, Wellington
Mee Mamak - I know of many Kiwis who prefer their noodles dry (i.e. fried) instead of served in a soup or broth.  If you like fried noodles, Mee Mamak is the noodle dish for you.  Mee Mamak is sometimes known as Indian Mee Goreng.  'Mee goreng' just simply translates to 'fried noodles', but don't be fooled by all the imposters you've eaten around town - oily mounds of egg noodles with a bit of egg, dark soy sauce and some meat thrown in for good measure, often bearing very little resemblance to any version of mee goreng you can get in Malaysia.  Little Penang's authentic Mee Mamak is a delicious plate of noodles fried with meat, prawns, bean sprouts and tofu, topped with fried shallots and pieces of crispy-crunchy vegetable fritters.

Review - Little Penang, Wellington
Nasi Tok Ma - A Friday special, rice is served with richly spiced braised beef, cabbage, boiled egg, a little curry sauce, some sambal for those who really like their food spicy and a papadom.  Simple yet satisfying, and the braised beef reminds me so much of my grandmother's homecooking.  This dish is only available on Fridays.

If you're after more rice dishes, you won't be disappointed with the Nasi Lemak - you get to choose from a selection of at least four types of curried or spiced chicken with your order (offered daily).  Something to suit all tastes.

Review - Little Penang, Wellington

Bak Chang - Bak Chang is a type of meat dumpling. The stuffing is enclosed with glutinous rice, wrapped in banana leaves to form a pyramid shape and steamed. A childhood favourite of mine, the stuffing differs from household to household, dialect group to dialect group (e.g. Cantonese, Hokkien, etc). Little Penang's Bak Chang is filled with melt-in-the-mouth pork belly, chestnuts and chinese mushrooms. It's a great any time snack or as a stop-gap if you're feeling peckish. Or, have two and call it lunch like I do.

Daily Specials - Monday: Kueh Teow Teng (rice noodle soup), Tuesday: Bak Kut Teh (herbal pork ribs soup served with rice and fresh cut chillis), Wednesday: Penang Hokkien Mee, Thursday: Assam Laksa, Friday: Nasi Tok Ma, Saturday: Char Kuey Teow (fried rice noodles).  Pasembur (Malaysian-Indian salad) is available several times a week.


Review - Little Penang, Wellington

Whether you eat in or take away, make sure you leave a little space for dessert.  Don't expect sweetened glutinous rice this and mango that.  The kinds of dessert you can find in Little Penang are typically found at food stalls not just in Penang, but all over Malaysia and in Singapore too.  During the warmer months, you can order Ice Kachang - bowls of naturally flavoured ice-shavings that are heaped over a mixture sweet corn, red beans and seaweed (grass) jelly.  Not too sweet but very refreshing.  For cooler months, there's Bubur Cha Cha (no, not named after any dance!) which is served warm - a medley of sweet potato, taro and sago (tapioca pearls) in a sweetened coconut milk that's lightly fragranced with pandan leaves.  My favourite which is available daily, is Tau Foo Fah - a soft and super silky light custard made of soybeans eaten with a syrup made from gula melaka (palm sugar).  No matter how much I've had, there's always space for a bowl of Little Penang's Tau Foo Fah.  Best in town as far as I'm concerned.

And there's always trays of different kuehs that are made fresh daily.  These snack-sized 'cakes' or desserts are often made of rice, glutinous, tapioca or mung bean flour.  Most if not all are steamed.  They can be sweet or savoury, or both.

And if you're a bottomless pit like I am and still able to put away just a little bit more, then finish your experience at Little Penang with a cup of Kopi (coffee) imported in from Penang.  Have it the way the locals would - strong with condensed milk.

So if you like Malaysian food or keen to try something new, stop by Little Penang.  And if you're from Malaysia - it's a little taste of home (particularly if you're from Penang).  You won't be disappointed.

Opening Hours:
Monday - Saturday (closed Sunday)
10.30am - 7.30pm (during winter)
10.30am - 8.30pm (during summer)

Oaks Complex
Dixon Street
(opposite Dixon St Deli and Simple Paris)
Tel: (04) 382 9818

For more reviews - click here

16 April 2012

{orange & honey} sunny muffins

I'm queen of the muffins!  Errr...okay, maybe not queen then.  Afterall I'm no Alison Holst or Allyson Gofton.  So let me try that again - I'm a fan of homemade muffins.  There.  Much better.

Muffins were the first type of baking that I could do right from the start without mucking it up.  I'm still a pretty amateurish baker and since beating my first batter with the wooden spoon, my baking repertoire has not increased as much as I would've liked to.  But muffins I can do.  You'll notice that muffins have featured a few times on my blog - would have been more if I bothered to take photos and blog every single time I churn some muffins out.

Although muffins are a regular fixture at home, I don't often buy muffins or order them at a cafe.  A lot of places serve these humongous Texas-sized muffins that seem to give you a false sense that it's great value for money - afterall you get these volcanic eruption like concoctions that seem to be brimming with whatever it is.  Bite into one and you'll often noticed that there's all but 4 blueberries, no taste of real butter and the overly sweet taste of white chocolate flavouring with no chocolate in sight.  Right?  So homemade muffins have got to be better!  They're so easy and quick to make and depending on what flavours/type you want, the ingredients are so affordable.

Also, have you noticed that muffins don't make much of an appearance on blogs?  Anyway, I have.  Wonder if it's because it's quite 'juvenile' as far as baking goes.  I suppose it may not make a food blogger come across much as a foodie if he/she blogs about baking muffins.  Hmm... Yes, it would be major wows if I was able to present to my readers fancy red velvet cupcakes with Italian buttercream frosting topped with sprinkles of jewel-coloured sugar.  Don't think I haven't thought about baking some of those!  But seeing that the success/failure ratio with my baking is often weighed favourably to the latter...

I present to you, my Orange and Honey Muffins. Aka Sunny Muffins! (stop sniggering!!)

And yes, I'm juvenile. Sometimes.

These have been nicknamed by moi 'Sunny Muffins' as a sort of fist shake towards the miserable summer we had this year.  A sort of I'll-show-you.  Now that we're in the middle of autumn with more sunny and warm days that we had over summer, I wanted to capture (in desperation) the feel of summer in my next batch of muffins.  These orange ones I decided, would do just that.

So.  Do you bake muffins at home much?  Would you admit to baking them then? ;-p

Sunny Muffins
I think maybe this is an Alison Holst recipe - I've got a lemon version of this scribbled on my recipe notebook from way back but no name.  I've sub'd the lemons to oranges and added honey for this batch.

2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup granulated raw sugar (original recipe just uses white granulated)
2 oranges, from which you need:
i) grated orange rind,
ii) 3/4 cup orange juice (if not enough top up with milk)
75g butter
1/4 cup honey (I used Blue Borage because that's what was in the pantry)
1 egg

  1. Preheat oven at 200C.  And prepare your muffin tin - I line mine with cupcake/muffin papers.
  2. Melt the butter and honey together, and let cool.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, sugar and orange rind together well.
  4. Beat egg and orange juice together.
  5. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and add all your wet ingredients to the flour.  Stir to mix until dry ingredients are just wet, do not over mix.  Your batter should look a little lumpy and not smooth.
  6. Fill your muffin tin up 3/4 of the way - drop spoonfuls of the batter into your muffin tin.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the muffins are light golden and cooked through.

This happens to also be my contribution to April's Sweet New Zealand, hosted by the super-baker Frances of Bake Club.

15 April 2012

{risotto} hot smoked salmon with peas

Risotto is one of those dishes on my list, which when I do get around making it, I'm always so pleased that I did.  But somehow whenever I open the pantry door to look at what I've got to work with, my eyes will skim past the bag of arborio rice and pretend I didn't see it.  That, or find some excuse not to make it - oh but I don't have white wine. Oh but I don't have stock.  Oh but, oh but, oh but...you get the picture.

There's something about making risotto at home that still scares me a teensy bit.  And as I thought about why that is (for the purpose of this post), I suddenly realised that it may well be because of all those damn cooking shows I watch!

See, all these celebrity chefs and tv cooks bang on and on, and on about how easy it is to make risotto at home and yet how easy it is to go wrong.  And then they all wonder aloud why it is that us plebs shy away from it.  Although I've not heard any of them use the word 'pleb' on tv, I have a sneaky feeling some of them think of their viewers that way!  Anyway, I digress.

So instead of just showing us how it's made and then leaving it to us, I feel like I've been almost 'warned' off making risotto at home.  A little bit like 'he doth protest too much' - know what I mean?

Back to me making risotto.

I have an admission - my first couple risotto attempts were miserable failures.  They were either too stodgy or had way too much of the al dente.  However it didn't take long before I got the hang of it.  (Okay that still doesn't mean it's my first point of call when I'm wanting comfort food, all right)

Here's how I make it work for me:
1) I stir the rice and stock mixture often enough to release the starch which creates the creaminess,
2) have a little more stock on hand than the recipe calls for, or else have hot water on the ready just in case the stock wasn't enough to cook the rice to the right consistency, and
3) taste a few grains of rice at intervals to get an idea on where I'm at with the cooking.

How al dente you like your risotto is up to you.  Me, I prefer my rice just cooked through but not soft like if I was to cook say, white jasmine rice.

And right towards the end, I like to stir in a nice big knob of butter and grated parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano if you want to go all fancy with the name of the cheese.  The addition of butter at the end makes the dish even creamier and taste richer (in a very good way) and gives the rice a nice shine.  The parmesan will give it bite and saltiness.

So seeing that we're coming into cooler days and even colder nights, maybe you could give making risotto at home a go?  Once you've made it 2 or 3 times, you'll be an old hand at it and be able to create some of your own flavours.  And don't be like me - next time you make a scan of your pantry, let your eyes rest on that bag of arborio rice a tad longer than that packet of same 'ol same 'ol pasta or white rice.

Hot Smoked Salmon and Peas Risotto
Feeds 2-3 people depending on appetites!

1 x large carrot, fine diced
2 stalks celery, fine diced
1 small onion, fine diced
2 cloves garlic, fine diced
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup white wine (I used sauvignon blanc, but use whatever you prefer)
4 cups stock, heated until hot (chicken or vegetable stock)
3/4 cup frozen peas, do not thaw*
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, a a little more to sprinkle on top later
A large knob of butter
Smoked salmon, flaked (a piece large enough for the number of people you're feeding)**
Hot water on hand, just in case you need more liquid for cooking the rice

* I like using baby peas - they look prettier instead of these large green balls in my risotto! hehe...
** I buy my salmon from my neighbourhood deli (Plentifull) - they have amazing hot smoked salmon that I love.  Also, if you've stored your smoked salmon in the fridge, take it out early so that it's room temperature.

  1. In a large and deep pan (or wok-style pan), saute the carrot, celery, onion and garlic over medium heat until soft and fragrant.  Take care not to burn the mixture, turning the heat down a little if you need to.
  2. Add the rice to the onion mixture mixing well and saute for a few more minutes (about 5mins) until the rice is well coated with the mixture and starting to cook (rice starts to develop a translucent look).  Again, take care not to burn the rice as we don't want browned bits.
  3. Then add the white wine and stir in.  Cook until the alcohol has been cooked off.  If you'd turned the heat down lower than medium, turn it back to medium at this stage when you're adding the wine.  Stir often.
  4. Next turn the heat up to medium-hot and add the hot stock one cup*** at a time to the rice mixture and stir it in.  You're cooking the rice via absorption method - once the stock from one cup has been almost absorbed fully by the rice, add in another cup and repeat this method until your rice is cooked and at the right consistency.  Stir the mixture every now and again to release the starch and to prevent any sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Again take care not to burn or brown your risotto.  To know if your rice is cooked, taste a few grains each time a cup of stock is absorbed - it'll give you a good indication on how far you are from completion.
  5. When your rice is almost cooked, stir in the frozen peas.  I do this at the end so that the heat of the risotto defrosts the peas and heats them through just - I like my peas hot but still with a bite and not mushy or wrinkly.
  6. Once your rice is cooked, very quickly stir in the butter and grated parmesan.  After that, taste your risotto before adding salt since the stock and parmesan may already be salty enough.
  7. Ladle the hot risotto into your serving bowls/plates and top with your flaked salmon.  And if you like, grate a bit more parmesan over and crack pepper before serving.

Buon appepito!

*** You can use a ladle but I use my measuring cup because I have no patience with adding one small ladle of stock at a time!