Tag Archives: delicious

The easiest, most delectable cookies

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There’s something to be said for creating a recipe that is both easy, and yields delicious results.

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I don’t even know what to say. See for yourself. Swoon with the simplicity of it all. And if you’re still reading this … don’t hesitate. Bake a batch of these lovelies* and give the best-shaped one to your clever husband**, and watch his eyes light up.

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Eat up.

You’re welcome.

* I skipped the freezing step – instead just placing the dough in the fridge for approximately 15 minutes while the oven was heating up. It turned out well enough!

** My man suggested that we use our baking dish – something a little like this one – rather than our usual steel tray, to help the cookies cook more evenly. Mini batch #1 – baked my way – came out after 23 minutes cooked to perfection on the top and slightly burnt on the bottom. Mini batch #2 – husband’s way – emerged after a lengthy 40 minutes, cooked to perfection all the way through. And guess who’s the patient one in our family!

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Warm orzo salad with roasted vegetables

She turned to the sunlight
   And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
   “Winter is dead.”
~ A. A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

One of the pleasures of living in Wellington: walking down to Harbourside Market on any Sunday morning and leaving with a bounty of goodness for a reasonable price. I also like the fact that the vegetables are likely to stay fresh for almost twice as long as their supermarket equivalents!

Last Sunday, I exchanged $9 for a bag of garlic, a bag of lemons, an aubergine, capsicums, zucchinis, and a generous selection of big and little tomatoes… I was a happy woman.

I cooked this mostly by sight, taste and feel, and the oven door opened and shut more than I usually allow for in one session of cooking, but hey – dinner got done, nicely, and that is what matters.

    Warm orzo salad with roasted vegetables
    Ingredients:
    1 cup orzo
    ½ onion
    1 aubergine / eggplant (use your favourite vegetables – pumpkin could work well too?)
    1 zucchini
    1 capsicum
    6 or more small tomatoes
    4 sprigs asparagus
    1 tbsp demerara / brown sugar
    1 lemon
    Olive oil
    1 tbsp butter
    Salt
    Pepper
    Ground chilli
    Paprika
    Dried mint (or torn fresh mint, if you have it)
    Fresh herbs of your choice (optional)
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a flat baking tray with aluminium foil or baking paper, and lightly grease it.
    Peel and dice the onion, and set aside. Zest half a lemon, and set aside. Cut off the ends of the aubergine, then slice it into rings approximately 1cm thick, and halve those rings. If you have time, sprinkle them with salt and leave them to sweat for about 30 minutes – this will tenderise the flesh, reduce any bitterness and make it less likely to absorb too much cooking oil later (I admit I skipped this step on this occasion, as we were hungry). Vertically slice the zucchini into 4 strips. Cut the capsicum into 6 pieces. Place these vegetables with the tomatoes into a bowl, add in some olive oil and toss to coat well.
    Arrange the aubergine, zucchini and capsicum pieces in a single layer on the baking tray, and place in the oven (on the centre rack, if possible) for 10 minutes. Then remove the tray, flip the aubergine slices and bake for a further 10 minutes. Once the aubergine pieces look nicely golden, remove them from the oven and place on a dish. Flip the zucchini and capsicum slices, add in the tomatoes, and replace the tray in the oven. After 10 minutes, take out the zucchini and capsicum. Lower the oven temperature to 150°C and leave the tomatoes to bake to perfection.
    All of this may sound terribly confusing, but it basically comes down to this: when the vegetables tell me they are ready with golden faces, I take them out. Also, tomatoes don’t mind staying in the oven for longer if you lower the heat before too long.
    Meanwhile, place some water in a deep saucepan and bring to the boil. Shake in some salt and the orzo, and cook according to packet instructions. Remove the orzo when it is about a minute from being completely cooked (after approximately 7 minutes of cooking), and drain off the liquid.
    Over medium-high heat, heat the butter (or use olive oil if you prefer), add in half a teaspoon of chilli and paprika each, and a pinch of dried mint – rubbing the mint between your fingers as you go. When you can smell the onion and it begins to turn translucent, break the asparagus sprigs into thirds and add them in. Sauté the lot for 2-3 minutes. Throw in the drained orzo and lemon zest, add in a dribble of water, allow it to be absorbed before adding in a little more (kinda like how you cook risotto), and cook this way until the orzo is cooked through. Stir in the demerara sugar.
    Pour the orzo and vegetables into a large bowl, add salt and pepper to taste, squeeze in the juice of a lemon. Add in chopped fresh herbs, if using. Toss the lot until well combined. Rescue the tomatoes from the oven, which should now be looking juicy and ripe to burst. Arrange them like jewels on an orzo crown. Serve immediately.
    Yields 3-4 servings.

Harbourside Market – Corner of Cable Street & Barnett Street beside Te Papa, Wellington – Phone: 04 495 7895

One fine croissant, and other stories

Do you know on this one block you can buy croissants in five different places? There’s one store called Bonjour Croissant. It makes me want to go to Paris and open up a store called Hello Toast.
~ Fran Lebowitz, journalist

So many things affect our experience of food. Who cooks. Who serves. Where we eat it, and with whom. How we eat it. Our mood and hunger levels at the time of our meal. What we eat. How it’s cooked (or not cooked).

Eating is seldom straightforward – even though, on the surface, it is a direct attempt to satisfy hunger. Every eating experience is a delicate dance between tens and possibly hundreds of hidden questions, thoughts, factors and functions all going on at the same time.

Good food, though, is a lot simpler to define: good food nourishes us. On many levels, or all at the same time if you’re exceptionally lucky. I’ll leave “good eating” for another post, shall I, so this doesn’t become a book stuffed into a blog post?

The topic of “good food” has been on my mind a lot this year, mostly in between dreams, plane rides and everything else. Travelling definitely makes me think about good food a lot. From the time you get on the plane, depending on the airline you’re with – you could be very thankful or very revolted looking at that box of stuff that’s meant to tide you over till you land! And, once at your destination, depending on a range of things like budget, availability, who you’re with and whether you’re the kind to dine in style or in hiding when alone – there’s a whole range of possibilities for meals that are different from and better than (you hope) the options at home. If you have dietary needs, then that adds a layer of stuff to consider and all your options under further examination, too.

I flew to sunny Nelson this last weekend – just a bumpy 30-minute plane ride away from Wellington. My belly was surprisingly unresponsive; I subsisted on three meals over two days despite my best attempts to make myself hungry. (Admittedly, one of the meals was had at none other than Burger King since there was nothing else close by and open, and my mind was too engrossed in work to travel much further in search of food).

But something unexpected did happen to me belly-and-food-brain-wise in Nelson; I was surprised by a croissant.

I had just returned to Nelson city from the airport on Saturday afternoon, slightly miffed that flights to Wellington had been disrupted and I was ‘trapped’ for an additional day in Nelson with a lack of clean clothes. This was probably the only moment in Nelson where I was suddenly attacked by hunger pangs… so I googled a place I had walked past the day before to check their opening hours and find their address, and promptly headed to The Swedish Bakery & Cafe – about half an hour before they closed.

As luck would have it, the only likely lunch options left were whole loaves of bread, or a solo croissant sitting in the cabinet. I wasn’t really in the mood for pastry, though this one was very pretty with its brie and chutney stuffing. And alas, this didn’t look nearly capable of killing off Hungry Monster, which was by now causing my belly some distress. Still, the lady there was so nice that before I thought about what I was saying, I bought it and hurried back to the place I was staying at (after casting a longing look at the pretty items on their shelves which I had to leave there since I had no space in my carry-on to bring anything home).

I warmed it slightly in the microwave, took out a pen to keep working and popped a corner of the warm, oozing croissant into my mouth. I thought I’d do the whole eat-and-work thing which I profess to hate but do anyway so as not to disrupt the crucial flow.

Well, I had to hit pause on work because this croissant was too good to be true.

Perhaps I was just overly hungry and everyone knows that food tastes better when you’re hungry… but I’m pretty sure this is one of the yummiest bakery items I’ve eaten in New Zealand. And NZ has a lot of very talented bakers around. But it’s hard to get everything perfect – a croissant, for instance, can be just a little too flaky (so everything falls on you or on the plate); or too soft (meh); or too full of stuffing (so everything falls on you or on the plate); or too salty; or too floury… or something. Not that I can be bothered being so fussy ;-) …… and this croissant was PERFECT. Flaky, without raining flakes on me. Soft, without being limp. Melting cheese. Perfect chutney. Fresh, savoury, flavourful. Yummy! I really enjoyed it. It killed off Hungry Monster, too.

And while it contained neither meat nor veg it really nourished me – sustaining me through an inspirational afternoon at the The World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum. :-)

P.S. Not too difficult to see why Lonely Planet put in a good word for them, too!

The Swedish Bakery & Cafe – 54 Bridge Street, Nelson – Phone: 03 546 8685

Back in NZ’s little capital of cool / Boulcott Street Bistro

We must let go of the life we had planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
~ Joseph Campbell

I’ve been trying to write this post for over an hour, and words are failing me. What can I say? It’s good to be back. I am wrapped in a blue blanket, fighting the final remnants of a cold I caught in Singapore. I have Welly mud on my shoes and Welly food in my tummy. Life is tiring, crazy, charming and beautiful. I have no complaints.

Besides working, catching up with a couple of friends and overdosing on sleep, I have spent two evenings catching the tail end of Wellington on a Plate. Yes, though I may be slightly ill with a less-than-intact appetite… I couldn’t resist :-)

Thursday found Brad and me at Soi munching on very delicious burgers – listed as “Zany Zeus organic feta and corn-fed free range chicken with oregano and tzatziki on homemade fennel buns, with lemon–pepper fries” on the menu, these went down a treat. Oozing feta, juicy chicken, spices and addictive fries came together to form a very tasty plate indeed…  mmmmmmmm! And of course the view at Soi is amazing, especially in un-windy/wet conditions :-)

And following a gelato run with Jeremy late this afternoon, we made the spontaneous decision to try Boulcott Street Bistro’s WOAP menu. Though the price be quite a lot more than I would usually pay for a meal out, I figured WOAP doesn’t come often and I was pretty sure it would be well worth the price at Boulcott Street Bistro.

Luckily, this was the case :-)

We arrived just a few minutes after they opened, but already the place was packed with people… and we were ushered up a narrow staircase into their lovely dining area upstairs.

Brief thoughts on our meal are below –

Chilli pumpkin soup with coconut foam

Jeremy’s thoughts: a marble visual with an incredibly smooth and silky texture that disappears into your mouth as you eat. The pumpkin and coconut flavours complement each other so well you can’t separate them – before the subtle chilli aftertaste.

My thoughts: The soup arrives looking like dessert lovingly poured into a votive holder, and as I taste my first spoonful, I think of a slow wave rolling – first with the marriage of warm, fragrant coconut and sweet pumpkin breaking against my tongue, followed by the subtle chilli as the wave recedes down my throat. If I could compare the soup to a marble floor, it is so craaazy smooth you’d be bound to slip, even with ‘super-grip’ shoes. 

Line caught snapper, parsnip puree & sauce vierge

Jeremy’s thoughts: Deliciously crispy exterior with smooth meat that still has bite. The tomatoes and onion are fresh and juicy – sauce has a good kick to it (tart and rounded with a subtle honey flavour).

Mel’s thoughts: I am about to discard the fish skin as is my usual habit, but upon seeing Jeremy’s facial expression I decide I have to try it – and I exclaim in surprise. Crispy, salty, flavoursome, it is so good – especially with the fresh, creamy flesh. I like the tiny bits of sweet onion and the way the textures and tastes come together so beautifully to form my favourite course of tonight’s dinner! 

Manuka smoked beef shin with petit sirloin, confit potatoes & crushed garden peas

Jeremy’s thoughts: Nice, smoky flavour to it with a rich sauce that complements the meat. I like the potatoes too. The peas taste fine but I’m not sure about the texture…

Mel’s thoughts: Perfect (bar the peas, but only because I don’t really like peas). I also really like the crispy bits with seared, salty edges on both the potatoes and the beef! 

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir chocolate mousse with vanilla bean brûlée and berry sorbet

Jeremy’s thoughts: The sorbet is light and refreshing with a prominent fruity flavour, a subtle minty aftertaste and the flavour of basil coming through. The chocolate is exquisitely thick, dark, rich – with a dense texture. The brûlée has a perfect crust, crispy with a well-caramelised finish. Smooth and intense in flavour.

Mel’s thoughts: death by dessert! I mean this in the best way possible – dessert, for its appearance of petite pleasures – packs a punch. The sorbet tastes like minty, refreshing snow. The chocolate mousse is rich, so rich… and I manage only half of the brûlée, which is like custard on a motorbike for me. Fast and powerful. It is possible that I don’t enjoy dessert as much as I normally would because I’m still a little ill and the wine is getting to my head too… oh, and on that note, I manage just under a glass of wine and refuse the second glass which is included in the dinner set. The pinot noir brings to mind currants and cherries trapped in wood, woven into a silky ribbon and stretched and reduced to liquid… I like it! 

And it is way past my bedtime… good night!

Boulcott Street Bistro – 99 Boulcott Street, Wellington – Phone: 04 499 4199

Soi – 305 Evans Bay Parade, Evans Bay, Hataitai, Wellington – Phone: 04 386 3830

Wellington on a Plate

Haphazard poetry, and Pizzeria Mozza

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.
~ Jack Brooks

Waiting for taxis; trains; lights to go green
as sweat forms patterns on your back
and oozes out of you
like rain
escaping from secret clouds

Taking in the sight of people permanently attached to
everyone (so it appears) via phone, laptop, iPad
Always
There is no separation from technology

From noise

And yet – for such a connected city
I have to ask – what is connection here?
There are people who do not connect, REALLY join in mind and heart,
with another human…
For days. Years. Ever?

A link on your wall is not a conversation

Merging into seas of humans in shopping malls is not filling your love tank

As you meander through people jams
as you take in the charm and madness of this place
as you eat – something amazing
as you walk – in permanent summer
as you glance – eyes stunned – by the tall buildings and shiny cars
as you dance – in wonder
as you spend – this country is not a place for the stingy

It is hot, so hot.

There is time, just a little, to think (briefly) –
to sleep (maybe).

The sky is blue and bright – but life is not a holiday
Time waits for no one

Waxing poetic at 1.00am, just ‘cos I can. I can’t believe I’ve already been here in Singapore for a whole week… it’s gone by so quickly!

I’ve had some great meals which I have blog posts written in my head about – but no time as yet to sit down and write them. Today was a day of amazing food (not a difficult thing to achieve in Singapore, I know full well)… and I want to write about it all, but that would make for a terribly long post so I’ll stick to lunch for now: a trip to Pizzeria Mozza with my aunt and cousin. :-)

Initial thoughts upon entering: I want to smile. The place is cosy and elegant. Wine bottles line the walls, cherry tomatoes and other colourful fruits beam at you from the bar and the ovens make you feel right at home. Smiling staff are at once discreet and ready to assist you immediately.

First to arrive at our table: fried squash blossoms with ricotta – the taste and fragrance of spring encased in light batter which, upon meeting my knife and fork, revealed a warm oozing centre of ricotta… a great start which certainly made us eager to sample the other dishes we ordered.

Calamari al forno with fagioli & oregano – not a combination I would’ve dreamed up on my own, but one I will bear in mind now if I were to try cooking calamari at home. Beautiful flavours…

(From my placemat: indeed a sad thing to read)

Listed as “funghi misti, fontina, taleggio & thyme” in the pizza section of the menu, this was simply the best pizza I’ve had in a LONG while. Everything from the way the mushrooms and cheese mingled on my tongue and the delightful traces of garlic which surprised me as I inched closer to the tasty crust… was yum yum yum – perfect!

I love it that they employ a “piatto del giorno” system for their main dishes. Today’s (Friday) was the pork ribs, cooked with fennel, honey and cider vinegar. Very filling, with lots of strong flavours which I imagine I would have enjoyed more in New Zealand right now (winter blues call for richer meals) – but still, a nice dish. I’d definitely be inclined to stick to pizza and starters on a future visit to this place though.

Pizzeria Mozza – 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore – Phone: +65 6688 8522

Au revoir janvier, bonjour février!

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.
~ Frederick Buechner

If you’ve read my blog for a long, long time, you may recall (vaguely) that I once made a project of cooking through Tessa Kiros’s “Falling Cloudberries”. As it is, I reached #62 with her champagne risotto… and mysteriously fell off the cookbookwagon after that.

I still feel a little bad about that.

To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ll get around to completing that project. I’m considering the amount of $ that will go into this if I do it (and the resultant smaller budget for other things). I’m hesitant about the sound of a few recipes. I do not think I can afford to pour the necessary time into it if I am to live the rest of my life, love humans, see the light of day, work full time, and sleep too.

But if I find a friend who’ll force me to make stuffed fried herrings and then eat them with me, or a friend who will dry my tears as I burn my lingonberry jam crazy, perhaps I will pick up the project again. (Chances aren’t high though, if you must know).

In the meantime, I’m happy to share that I made something from her book, the first new Tessa-recipe I’ve attempted since… October 2010! Ding ding ding!
#63 Nut Meringue Cake with Whipped Cream – Page 268

I almost didn’t make it. When my eyes first fell on the phrase “you will need two springform tins that will fit in the oven at the same time”, I got ready to turn the page… you see, I’m a little afraid of sandwich cakes. Somehow I always imagine them turning into catastrophes… being too thin, looking stupid, getting uncomfortably “smooshy”, collapsing, etc.

But something about the recipe title caught my attention, too. “Nut meringue cake with whipped cream”… it definitely sounded like something different, something light and floaty and fun. Something challenging… I like challenging. Lastly, a two-tiered cake felt strangely apt for the day: saying bye to January and saying hello to February.

I followed Tessa’s recipe as best as I could (without kitchen scales) and modified a few things to use what I had (blueberries for raspberries, kahlua for vanilla essence, and 9″ cake tins in the absence of 8.5″ ones).

The two cakes came together pretty easily, especially with a handheld electric whisk that I still feel grateful for each time I see it! (Gone are the days of beating egg whites till my hand cries). The finished product was light-tasting, nutty and fragrant – and I like the cream and berries in the middle. I took it as a lovely compliment that most everyone ate and finished their slice even though we’d all already shared a marvellous carrot cake just before! (Yes, we ate two cakes in an evening).

The last picture in this post is courtesy a boy who made my cake blush with the number of pictures he took [so we could “tag” a girl on Facebook, who left early, and let her know that she missed cake]. (Thank you Daniel M).

A peek into GIAPO’s kitchen

Chefs aren’t made in the kitchen.
Chefs are made from something they have deep inside them –
an inner flame that burns brightly… with purpose, curiosity and passion.
In reality, true chefs pursue the creation of something better than yesterday and when they think they got it, they realise they don’t.
~ Gianpaolo Grazioli

A smiling face opens the door, and we walk through to the area behind the counter. I peek into the cosy kitchen and see that it resembles a laboratory – only it is fitted with stove facilities and edible ingredients. A purple cap finds its way to my head. I take in the sight of 24 cracked eggs caught in a bowl, yolks bobbing in the gloopy pool of whites. I smile at the myriad of utensils, pots, bowls, trays and litres of milk that line the shelves and fridge. I stare out the window at the other humans walking to work (and smile knowing that I will join them soon… BUT not just yet).

Slowly, a sense of unfounded familiarity and tingles of exhilaration wiggle through my toes.

I am in GIAPO’S kitchen.

This morning, Giapo is baking brownies to make brownie gelato. Fresh cream is whipped till it tries escaping from the mixer with violent jerks, and leaves in its wake a beautiful mound of butter. No store-bought chocolate is used (he uses fresh butter, choice cocoa powder and cocoa butter). Giapo gives me a sample of cocoa butter to taste – I am a little put off by its name because it sounds like a lotion, but I am struck by the luxurious quality of it, the way it reminds me of an edible bar of creamy soap – creamy but clean and not sticky in any way (“wow!” is what I want to say). In the course of the morning, he also makes a beautiful batch of dulce de leche and the bit I taste fresh from the pot leaves me feeling a little like I am walking on air.

The way everything whirls, mixes and cooks around me reminds me (just slightly) of one of my favourite Disney moments. I am as intrigued by the beautiful brownie-making process as I am by Giapo’s solid understanding of the science behind food/cooking. (The science of food is not yet my forte. I cook and bake by way of a certain random madness, and without an understanding of why ingredients act the way they do).

So I enjoy myself immensely watching the brownie come together, but I can’t shake off this funny feeling that lingers in my mind the whole time I am in the kitchen… until Giapo tells me he’s going to make a chocolate gelato and combine that with the brownie to make brownie gelato.

This is the moment at which everything feels illogical and marvellous all at once. Questions and answers start flying in and out of my head in rapid succession.

WHAT! WHY! I want to say. How does any of this make sense? Does everyone even really see/understand just how much work goes into this? Couldn’t you take more shortcuts? Couldn’t you use less good (and thus costly) ingredients? Why don’t you let supermarkets/stores etc carry your products? Why do you bake brownie from scratch? Why and how do you invent so many new flavours every single week? Why do you do what you do?

I’ve asked some of these questions before. But even as these questions surface in my mind, everything now makes complete sense in my heart. I already know that yes, GIAPO is a business with overhead costs. Yes, there is nothing to stop them from taking a few time and money-saving shortcuts. Yes, they could easily rely on market knowledge and stick to flavours that have been proven to be popular with the masses (rather than take a chance with experimental flavours). Yes, they could arrange for supermarkets and other stores to stock their gelato.

But the way I see it, GIAPO is not your average business. It’s a people-loving business/”Wonka factory”/thought leader/research lab/innovative centre/delicious gelato parlour and more, rolled into one magic entity. I think it’s less about sticking with the proven, or focusing on profits, or abiding by what some would label as “sense”…

The way I interpret it, it’s about the execution of a mission. Loving food and loving you. Fanning that inner flame. Embarking on a quest to experience life by tasting everything. Combining science, art and passion. Holding strong to values and principles in a society that doesn’t do this as much as they should. Pushing boundaries. Following a dream and vision. Having the courage to go where passion says to go. Making something gobsmackingly delicious, just ‘cos. Revolutionalising gelato, food and eating. Taking pride in their work. Having fun along the way.

And, as they say, giving you food that is as it should be – good for you. With a lot of love, commitment, excellent techniques, quality time and ingredients (no shortcuts or artificial content), and a sparkling dose of genius.

It’s taken me two days to write this post, and still I am not sure I have expressed myself adequately. But thank you for reading my clumsy words. If you’re in Auckland, please visit GIAPO and bring everyone you know. If you are not in New Zealand, well, get here. It’s a thoroughly beautiful country. And go to GIAPO.

Grazie mille Giapo, for the lovely privilege of spending an hour with you in your kitchen!

Giapo – 279-291 Queen Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 550 3677