Monday, August 30, 2010

Portugese Custard Tarts

I stumbled across this recipe on Curious Kai and as soon as I saw the pictures, I started drooling!   We were heading out to a friends for dinner and I knew that Terri was cooking Paella, given that Portugal is at least in the vicinity of Spain, I though that was good enough reason to break out the pastry.

As I followed the receipe to the letter, I will just provide this link rather than type it out again!  My tarts do not look quite as lovely as the ones pictured on Curious Kai but they did taste great!

Wellington on a Plate: Finc!

I love Finc!  Their Wellington on a Plate lunch special for $25 included two courses and a glass of local organic wine - bargain!

I couldn't go past choosing the pork on pork option: pork dumplings to start followed by the pork belly main... what can I say, I'm a pig!  Soooo delicious though!

The Dumplings were definitely the winner with their tasty dipping sauce (wish I'd paid more attention to the menu in order to tell you about what was in it...).

The pork belly was just a tiny wee bit dry however very tasty and not overly rich which can be a problem sometimes with pork belly.  The greens were perfectly cooked and extremely tasty!

A lovely lunch, thanks Finc!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wellington on a Plate: Pop-up Restaurant

You know your week is going to be good when it is kicked off by scoring tickets to a two-night only Wellington on a Plate festival event!  A pop-up restaurant in the heart of the city with the menu designed by Rex Morgan of Citron fame, no-less.

Rex Morgan's Citron restaurant won more awards than you can shake a stick at and is still mourned by Wellingtonians after closing down last year.  These days Rex can be found at Boulcott St Bistro, another Wellington favourite but on Sunday and Monday night he was found in the old Rialto building, doing his thing for a few lucky punters, including me!

The ground floor of the old Rialto building has lately been used as a showroom for the stalled Watermark apartment development but was transformed for the festival event.  White table cloths, candles and dozens of bunches of spring flowers set the scene for a fabulous dinner with service which would be expected of any fine-dining restaurant. 

The meal started with a tasting platter which produced a reverential hush punctuated with exclamations of "have you tried the...", "OMG that ... is to die for!", "mmmmmm, so gooood".  The highlight for me was the Venison carpaccio with horseradish cream... my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

For my main I had Roasted Groper with Marlborough mussels, clams and green pea stew.  Another winner, nothing beats Groper and the peas were just barely cooked making them so sweet and juicy.  In fact the broth from the pea stew, which looked to be about 80% butter, was so delicious that my friend asked for spoons so that we could get at every last drop!  Across the table the beef was just as popular.

I hate to gush but it just keeps on coming!  The dessert of Mojo coffee brulee and Whittakers chocolate mousse had me wanting to pick up my plate and lick it clean and still the goodness kept coming with complimentary Mojo coffee and Whittakers chocolate square!

All of this for the bargain basement price of $29!  Although we did get through a few bottles of Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc and finished the evening with a palate cleansing bottle of bubbles which was also fantastic... unfortunately checking the label was beyond me by then.

Thanks for a memorable evening Rex Morgan and Wellington on a Plate!  And thanks to Lee for getting the tickets!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Daring Cooks August Challenge: The World of Pierogi!

The August 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by LizG of Bits n’ Bites and Anula of Anula’s Kitchen. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make pierogi from scratch and an optional challenge to provide one filling that best represents their locale.

Is there really anything better in the world than dumplings?!  Different forms of these delightful deliciousness come to us from all over the world; in NZ we are lucky to be part of a very multi-cultural society but with all the interesting culinary choices that brings, I had never heard of Peirogi!  I loved making these because they are something that I probably wouldn't have attempted at home by myself but would definitely order in a restaurant, and I was surprised at how easy they were - if just a little bit fiddly!

I used this basic recipe for the dough.  I learnt quickly that I had to be sure I had the dough rolled as thinly as possible to avoid a soggy, doughy finished product.

Dough Recipe
2 to 2 1/2 cups (300 to 375 g) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt
About 1 cup (250 ml) lukewarm water

Place 2 cups flour in a large bowl or on a work surface and make a well in the center. Break the egg into it, add the salt and a little lukewarm at a time.  Bring the dough together, kneading well and adding more flour or water as necessary. Cover the dough with a bowl or towel. You’re aiming for soft dough. Let it rest 20 minutes.

I made a sweet and a savoury filling, with the savoury winning the contest hands down. 

Pumpkin, Leek and Sage Pierogi Filling
Roasted pumpkin - mashed
1 leek
1/2 red onion
Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan cheese)
Small handful of fresh sage leaves
50g butter

I sauteed the chopped leek in butter for around 45 minutes, by this time is had reduced to around a third of the original amount and was quite caramelised and sweet.  Mix in finely chopped onion and sage along with the mashed pumpkin, parmesan and season well with salt and pepper.  I should note that I had about 1.5-2 cups of mashed pumpkin which was a good amount to go with the whole leek I'd cooked, but I ended up with about 4 times the amount of filling that I needed!  Allow filling to cool before use.

To assemble the Pierogi, on a floured work surface, roll the dough out thinly (1/8” or about 3 millimeters) cut with a 2-inch (5 cm) round or glass.  Spoon a portion (teaspoon will be the best) of the filling into the middle of each circle. Fold dough in half and pinch edges together with a fork.

Bring a large, low saucepan of salted water to boil.  Drop in the pierogi, only a single layer in the pan at a time.  Return to the boil and reduce heat.  When the pierogi rise to the surface, continue to simmer a few minutes more ( usually about 5 minutes).

The cooked Pierogi are now ready to eat however I lightly fried these in olive oil before serving - yum!

Apple, Stem Ginger and Chocolate Pierogi
1 apple
2 pieces stem ginger
1T honey
Dark chocolate

For my sweet Pierogi I cooked up some finely chopped apple and stem ginger with honey and then added a little bit of dark chocolate before I sealed the Pierogi.  I used Whittakers Dark Ghana chocolate which is made locally and is fantastic.  I served these with a runny custard.

Wellington on a Plate!

We are amidst the second annual Wellington on a Plate festival which runs from 14 August through to 29 August.  The festival is a joint venture between Positively Wellington Tourism and Grow Wellington and was set up to showcase regional food and beverage products.  There are a multitude of events to attend and restaurants to visit.  With pop-up restaurants, wine classes, a beer festival, degustations and even speed dating - it's going to be an action packed fortnight!

The most accessible event is Dine Wellington in which participating restaurants and cafes offer lunch and dinner deals over the two week festival period.  The most common deal includes a set menu priced at $25 or $35 often with a glass of wine thrown in or tea/coffee, with a few variations on that theme such as a free desert or 20% discount.

Unfortunately, time and the ever elusive moolah will limit my participation to just a few events, but I can't wait!

Watch this space...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rick Stein!

Last Saturday a friend and I flocked to see Rick Stein live, along with hundreds of other Wellingtonians.  I was surprised to look around and note that we were perhaps 20yrs younger than the median age of Rick Stein groupies; I'm not sure why this surprised me as surely Rick, being as polite and gentlemanly as he is, appeals to an age-group who may find Gordon Ramsay, for example, a tiny bit crass or, common (as my mother would say!).

I wouldn't say that I learned anything new about food or cooking but the show was very entertaining.  I had tears in my eyes from laughing at some of the clips they played on the big screen - particularly the Chalky scenes!  But I am bias when it comes to cute dog stuff!  It was however, very interesting to hear about Rick's life.  I never realised he wasn't a classically trained chef - which gives me hope for some sort life in the food industry, after all anything is possible.

Another highlight of the evening was going to Capitol restaurant for dinner before the show.  What a revelation!  I had been to Capital before for brunch/coffee but never for dinner and I was extremely impressed with the quality of the menu, the wine list and, of course, the food!  Unfortunately, due to rushing off to see Rick, we could only enjoy one course in the beautifully ambient space, but every mouthful was bliss.

I had the baked lamb rack with wet polenta and broad beans.  The lamb was perfectly pink and juicy and the broad beans sweet and delicious.  The whole ensemble was brought to life with the most distinct jus I have ever tasted!  The jus was unpretentious and simply tasted of lamb, which was fantastic - why mess with perfection?!  Also, very apt given that we were off to see a chef who has previously criticised what he calls 'cheffy food'.

The meal was very reasonably priced and I can't wait to head back to Capitol for a more extensive sample of the menu!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sunday Roast

The great Sunday roast is infinitely more appealing in the dead of winter when the body is craving comfort food and a spot of hibernation.

The latest Dish magazine came out last week and there are things on every page that I'm dying to make (Read: EAT) but what most grabbed the attention of my beady little eyes was the spatchcock Roasted Basil and Lemon Chicken with Jerusalem Artichokes.  Everything about the picture appealed to me (cause it's all about the food porn), the chicken looked crispy yet juicy and oh so flavoursome (seriously, it's a great picture!  My mouth is watering again as I look at it!) and the artichokes are all caramelised and moreish.

So I gave it a whirl.
Not quite magazine perfect but not too shabby!

I'd never before attempted to spatchcock a chicken before and was surprised at how easy it was (also very proud of the new skill in my arsenal).  The chicken was as succulent and tasty as the picture promised although the basil flavour didn't really come through at all - possibly due to the out-of-season supermarket basil.  I was lucky enough to have been given some Jerusalem Artichokes by a friend a few weeks ago and they were absolutely divine!  JA would have to be one of my favourite veges, however can only be enjoyed in the comfort of my own home as they have a rather adverse effect on my digestive system... 

Along with the artichokes I roasted a few baby carrots and beetroot from our garden.

Roasted Basil and Lemon Chicken with Jerusalem Artichokes
Adapted From Dish Magazine Issue 31, p106

1 free-range corn-fed chicken                                              
100g cream cheese at room temperature                            
2 clove garlic                                                                       
finely grated zest 1 lemon                                                     
2 spring onions                                                                    
1/4 c finely chopped basil                                                     
salt and pepper

To Cook
olive oil
1 lemon, thinly sliced
sweet spanish smoked paprika
salt & pepper
jerusalem artichokes/baby roasting veges

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Combine the cream cheese, garlic, lemon zest, spring onions and basil in a bowl and season.

To prepare the chicken follow this link.  Using your fingers gently ease the skin away from the flesh and spread the cream cheese mixture under it.

To cook: Brush both sides of the chicken with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Lay the lemon slices over the skin, brush with more olive oil and dust with paprika.  Place on roasting dish.

Clean vegetables, toss with olive oil and place around the chicken.  Roast for 1 hour, basting the chicken and vegetables with the pan juices occasionally.  The chicken is cooked when the juices from the thigh run clear when pierced with a skewer.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Soup for the Soul

It's wet and blustery here today - perfect for a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup.

When I started out making this I was thinking of this more traditional soup I read about earlier in the week, however it evolved slightly to a have a more Asian feel. 

Yesterday, a trawl of the Petone food shops turned up some black fungus at Davis Trading, the local Asian supermarket and I decided to try it out in my soup.  Black fungus comes dried like Shitake and needs to be re-hydrated before use.  I soaked it in warm water for half an hour before chopping and adding to the soup.  It had a surprising crunchy texture which was slightly disconcerting but not unpleasant.

Black Fungus, also known as wood ear - for obvious reasons!

The base of the soup is home-made chicken stock, which I simmered for around 30 minutes with fresh ginger, crushed garlic, chopped onion, carrot and leek and a few chicken drumsticks.  I then strained the stock and returned it to the pot, discarding the vegetables and removing the meat from the chicken bones to be added back to the soup.  To the broth I added the chopped black fungus, dark soy sauce, fish sauce, a small amount of chilli paste and seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper.  I served the broth over the chicken meat and Japanese Soba noodles and garnished with spring onion and a healthy slug of sesame oil.