My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with.
~ Oprah Winfrey
Dishes in the middle for everyone, that was what I knew growing up. My grandma and mom both often cooked this way (unless we were having pasta or similar). We’d all have our own plates of rice and bowls of soup, but everything else – meat, vegetables, fish, etc – would be placed on large plates in the centre of the dining table so we could help ourselves.
For some reason, I possess none of my Gran’s gift for cooking family meals – but what I do hope to learn from her are things like these: cooking with love; feeding friends/family good food; prioritising eating and talking together. Sharing.
Sharing is pretty cool. You know, the kind of uncalculative, spontaneous sharing that we probably used to excel at in kindergarten. It seems that the true, honest art of sharing is slowly being lost in this individualistic, “I need me-time I need space” kinda world we live in. I get like that too, but recent days have been so full of generosity and great times and I am reminded of how good it is to do it together, you know? I really want sharing to become written into my blood.
On that note, are you ready to read a long post? I’ve been writing mini posts in my head for a few days now so this is an ambitious attempt at posting them ALL in one post…
Last week, R and I went to the bubbly Liz’s place for dinner – we used to work together and it was great to catch up again! Liz whipped up this YUMMY bacon, mushroom and spinach Donna Hay-inspired risotto in the oven (up till that evening, I had never known you could make risotto in the oven) – so warm and savoury and filling. We ate this with glasses of singing Gerwutztraminer while their lively cat darted around the room (jealous, I bet) – and had bowls of gourmet ice cream afterwards.
Friday: R taught me how to whip up Spring in a bowl – spirals with prosciutto, asparagus and baby spinach leaves with red pesto and parmesan. I learned a few things that evening:
1. To bend the asparagus till it reaches its natural breaking point, then snap it and discard the bottom part.
2. To use baby spinach leaves (I always thought people always used cooking spinach for warm dishes – but he popped these fresh leaves into a bowl with steaming hot pasta which then wilted the baby spinach beautifully).
3. To use red pesto. How is it that I have not previously spotted this jar of goodness in the supermarket?
To recap: cook pasta in salted boiling water. Snap asparagus. Blanch or pan-fry asparagus. Tear prosciutto with your fingers, add this and raw baby spinach leaves into a bowl. Drain cooked pasta and asparagus when they are ready, pour them into the bowl – stir and let the heat wilt the leaves. Stir in red pesto. Serve with parmesan.
I think I’ll be making this again – so easy and so good!
On the subject of thoughtful and talented friends, K gave me kiwifruit and white chocolate muffins, and G gave me cheesecake today… (which served as a most decadent lunch!) So spoiled am I.
Ottolenghi’s Cookbook is bursting with food for sharing. A few weeks ago, G shared her lunch with me at work, so I thought it’d be fun to pack lunch for three of us – and of course Ottolenghi’s book sprung to mind. My eyes fell on a recipe for roast chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey (recipe re-posted here). I made a few adjustments (chicken thighs as opposed to a whole chicken, orange blossom water as opposed to rosewater, etc) – it was sweet, gently spiced and reminded me of Morocco… I served it with some green beans with tomato and feta (fried them this time).
I was very careful with the orange blossom water and I am now no longer (as) afraid of it. ;-)
Saturday was a Brazilian day – complete with “Reflections of a Blender” (think: a taxidermist who is also a murderess; a talking blender; philosophy; craziness + general fantastic-ness in Portuguese), a loud Brazilian festa; and this gem of a place… Casa da Sogra (which translates as house of the mother-in-law, I think).
When we walked in, I felt like I’d chanced upon a grand secret that everyone else already knew. Small this place may be, but it lacks nothing else. It was 2.30pm, and the place was packed – I tuned in and realised there was almost as much Portuguese being spoken as there was English (so cool)! We joined two friendly Brazilian ladies, started chatting and I couldn’t help ordering what Priscilla was eating – pastel.
According to her, these are as good as the ones in Brazil. I haven’t been to Brazil yet, but I can believe it. For $3 each, these golden pillows are crispy deep fried pastries filled with yummy things. I can’t do it justice with my words, but suffice to say – if you’re in Auckland, you need to go here… even if there’s no seating room when you get there – stand and eat, it’ll all make good sense once you do it.
This is the pizza flavoured one…
We also ordered a few acai berry shakes (rather potent, in a good way) and a spicy lamb pita. Tasty and generous, and better with friends to share everything with. Eating food native to a different culture and chatting with people from different countries while sitting right at home is probably the closest one can get to teleportation (which I would love to do if I could)!
I’m sleepy, so I’m going to start wrapping up my blog post now.
I end with two other places I wanted to share, which I unfortunately did not take photographs at but are worth writing about, photos or not:
Faro – I went here with Brad who was up for a visit and learned a magical combination from the smiling waitress that attended us – leaf + radish + pickled onion + kimchi + a soy bean paste which I cannot remember the name of + perfectly grilled beef. Ask their staff how to eat your food – it could make your eating experience even better. I love that they serve delicious food, don’t close so early, and have a clean and lovely place with thoughtful staff and extraction fans at each table to ensure you don’t smell like food when you leave.
And lucky last – we had the pleasure of meeting the man behind Giapo a few days ago. With its catchy branding, huge array of fantastic flavours, friendly staff and grinning customers – Giapo is hard to miss if you are in Auckland. What’s even harder to miss, if you get to meet Gianpaolo Grazioli yourself, is his insatiable passion for life, honesty that made me smile, creative nature, wealth of knowledge and unmistakeable courage. Hearing him talk was inspirational… as was the ice cream.
The ice cream is all made from excellent ingredients – and there are all sorts of crazy and scrumptious flavours – ALL sorts. Even whisky and blue cheese (this admittedly took my breath away, and I haven’t decided whether in a good way or not). Pumpkin, riesling, amaretti, organic fruit… it is all there.
My favourites were their: (1) antipasti (sounds strange, but it’s crazy delicious); (2) dark chocolate and smoked salmon (base note similarities make for compatibility; who would have thought?); (3) lemon sorbet (think: sweet little girl kissing your cheek), (4) green tea (flecked with chocolate bits, the best word I can use to describe it is a Mandarin word which I don’t know how to put into English right now… but it’s deep, and calm, and sweet in a true, non-sugary way).
It’s so different when people do what they love. Their faces light up and they have this energy and joy about them that is unmistakeable and so super.
Time for bed. All the best to my brave friends who have embarked on the mammoth adventure known as NanoWrimo! Good night!
Casa da Sogra – 12 Remuera Road, Newmarket, Auckland – Phone: 09 520 0250
Faro – 5 Lorne Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 379 4040
Giapo – 279 Queen Street, Auckland