Tag Archives: dinner

Bacon, tomato & mandarino spirals

On my birthday last month, I drove purposefully to Sabato. One has to be strong (as I learned) to shop there with self-control! On this particular day, full from brunch with friends, I thought I might manage …

When I got there I was greeted with a smiling face, pleasantly-stocked shelves, a table with various oils and vinegars to taste. I took my time, dipping cubes of bread into oils and vinegars, gazing at cheese and chocolate. It was difficult to maintain my resolve to pick up just dinner ingredients and a treat or two. In the end, I left a little guiltily with a brown paper bag filled to the brim with goodies.

After all of that, I didn’t enjoy our dinner that night that much, though J complimented me very kindly on it.

But this dish, made a few nights later with one citrusy Sabato purchase, won both of us over.

    Bacon, tomato & mandarino spirals 
    Ingredients:
    Olive oil
    Pasta spirals
    Fresh heirloom tomatoes – halved
    Garlic cloves, minced (we used 3 for 2 of us)
    Shoulder bacon, roughly diced (we used 100g)
    Sundried tomatoes, chopped
    Handful mushrooms, sliced
    Chilli flakes
    Ormond Rich Cream or white wine (optional)
    Mandarino* oil by Marina Colonna
    Salt
    Pepper
    Method:
    Bring a saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Salt it generously, then add in pasta spirals**. Ensure that the pasta is well covered with water. Cook till al dente, stirring every so often to prevent the pasta from sticking.
    While the pasta is cooking, place a skillet over moderately high heat and add in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. When the oil is warm, fry the tomato halves until they smell sweet and begin to collapse, then remove and set aside.
    Add in a little more oil if the skillet is too dry. Throw in the chilli flakes, minced garlic and sun-dried tomatoes – sauté. Once you can smell the garlic, deglaze with a splash of Ormond Rich Cream (you can also use any white wine or water) and cook for a minute or two till it evaporates. If you add in too much liquid at this point, just take some of it out with a spoon and set aside.
    Add in the bacon, fry till they turn a rich pink and brown in bits. Add in the mushrooms. Add in excess liquid from above if any – or add another splash of cooking wine / water, as well as a tablespoon of water from the pasta pot. Stir and lower the heat. Add the cooked tomatoes back in.
    When the pasta is ready, drain it, shake off excess water and stir it into the ‘sauce’.
    Now for the finishing touch*. Drizzle on the Mandarino, and serve immediately. Add freshly ground salt and pepper as you wish.
    * In lieu of using Mandarino, perhaps you could leave it out / experiment with another infused oil, or perhaps with adding a pinch of sugar, some chopped preserved lemon or a squeeze of fresh orange juice?
    ** Depending on the cooking time of the pasta, you may wish to adjust the order of cooking so the pasta and bacon ‘sauce’ are ready at the same time.
    Measurements are not exact as I cooked this rather spontaneously (i.e. without measuring things) – this post is intended to serve as a guide / inspiration rather than a definite ‘how-to’. :-)
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A special evening at Ang Bahay

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.
~ Charles Dickens

Sometimes, life throws you a bouquet with flowers you fancy (my ideal one would have tiger lilies, chocolate mint and maybe a leprechaun or two thrown in for good measure). I am talking about days on which life tickles and delights – you know the ones. They don’t need to contain one million dollars or a rugged Prince Charming arriving on a motorbike (though I suppose they would be nice…). They could happen in good company; at the beach; at the duck pond – when the beauty of life rises to meet your face – and you find your heart and feet dancing.

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The last 10 days have contained a few of these moments for me – a crucial ‘aha’ moment in my work; swimming at Eastbourne; watching a ladybug glide slowly by; having my friend Jane visit. So many things. Hellos and goodbyes. New friends. Last but not least, a spectacular surprise – dinner with the gracious Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand, Her Excellency Virginia Benavidez.

Yes!

Through serendipity, friendship, a big dollop of warm Filipino hospitality and more, Her Excellency hosted a dinner in honour of Jane at Ang Bahay, the Ambassador’s residence. And I got to be Jane’s guest.

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Recently, Jane visited the Philippines and was clearly enthralled by the experience – I could feel her passion radiating through the phone as we spoke. It awakened good memories – mainly of a visit to Manila when I was a little girl, where I found myself chin and elbow-deep in mango heaven… and of the Filipino friends and domestic helpers I have met, almost all of whom are always, in my mind, laughing, boisterous, joyous, gentle as they speak with their beautiful Spanish-tinted accents.

Just the other day, I met one of Jane’s friends, a glorious Filipina lady, who had me beaming within seconds of meeting her. I begin to understand Jane’s heart for the Philippines and its people.

So… when the invitation to Ang Bahay arrived in our email inboxes, we were thrilled! Of course!

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Opening your door to someone is something special; sharing stories and food with someone, even more so. Her Excellency did these and more. I thought to myself, here is a lady in a significant position with a sea of facts and faces to remember – and here she is, humble, graceful and approachable. She included all of us in her informal address and in conversation. No one looked ill at ease – we dived into conversation. Never mind that I have little connection to the Philippines or that I only know about five words in Tagalog – we laughed, chatted, joked… and I forgot myself in the course of the evening, mainly in exchanging stories with the people seated at my end of the table. No attention to napkin placement / polite regal laughing needed (though, umm, I tried to behave ;-)).

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I could try to explain what made it all wonderful – getting to dine at the Ambassador’s beautiful residence, the amazing food, the smiling people… but all that doesn’t really say it. Pretty surroundings, novelty and friendliness are great, of course. I noted, with pleasure, the table setting, tall vases, art on the walls, menus printed on handmade paper cards supporting Samaritana, and (real) fruit candle holders! I enjoyed our meal immensely – everything from soup with a perfect puff pastry crown to an impressive ice dome with fresh fruit tucked into it, which kept cool the entire time. I soaked in the whole experience, marvelling at the fact that I was at the Ambassador’s place.

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But all that doesn’t encompass what made it possible to be fully present and at ease in a new and novel situation. Soaking in something that is at once complex and terribly simple: genuine hospitality. Hospitality that is generous, other-focused, radiant and passionate – hospitality from a host that brings out her best for her guests – hospitality that is glorious, yet humble and welcoming, with no airs and pretension. Hospitality that makes me fall in love again with the world, and its diversity, and the beauty of culture and humanity. Hospitality that seems to touch me not as a gesture, but as an embrace.

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It all sounds terribly cheesy, doesn’t it. But, well, that is the way it was. To Her Excellency, Jane and the other guests: thank you.

Masaganang bagong taon sa lahat!

P.S. Just in case you are interested, the menu was as follows (ah, I’m getting hungry all over again, typing this!):

Mushroom soup with puff pastry
Alfa salad with fruit
Strawberry sorbet
Fish and vegetables in teriyaki sauce
Chicken royale
Braised pork hocks
Fresh fruits in dome
Turon with chocolate dip
Wine
Date tea

Caramelised onions, rapid ragù and a diary you should buy

Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.
~ Anne Lamott

Today has been one fantastic day.

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For a while now, I have felt a soul and body sensation somewhat akin to constant choking. There have been many moments where my mind kept saying “dooooon’t wooooorrryyy” or “sloooooow down!” while my body and heart fluttered with anxiety and insomnia.

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I really, really don’t want to see another night-to-day transition happen outside the window while the rest of New Zealand (except fellow insomniacs or night-shift workers) get to play in Dreamland.

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I guess the year’s been a little crazy. It’s been unspeakably wonderful in a thousand different ways, and it’s also driven me completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for seven months, and I’ve been in 12 cities in three countries this year. That’s not much for people on an OE or for people who love ongoing plan-less spontaneity, but I’m not either of those things.

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Right, first world problems.

Got it.

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They’re still a little tough :-o

(The First World Problem Lady Whines)

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Recently, in the midst of a dark passage of stress and insomnia, I came to a very important realisation. That now is the BEST time to learn contentment, resilience, calm and all those quality things.

Today, I woke up, peered into the mirror and said, “I like your life. I don’t want ANY OTHER.” After I said it, I was surprised to realise that I really meant it. I really wouldn’t want to be anyone else. I’m really happy being me, with my personality, strengths, flaws, relationships, circumstances and all.

And then a few really, really good things happened. I’m still smiling as I type this.

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One of those things is that I *finally* got my hands on a Kiwi Diary! My friend Cathy told me about them a few years ago, and for some reason they stayed elusive… until today! At Commonsense Organics they sat on the counter like they had been waiting for me all along (okay, slight exaggeration, but only a slight one)!

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It’s every bit as beautiful, compact and spacious as I wanted my 2013 diary to be. Don’t you want one too?

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Another good thing that happened today was that I felt in the mood to Cook Properly. Dinner was started and finished in an hour and turned out nicely, and my lovely flatmate Jono helped me to eat it AND booted me out of the kitchen afterwards to tackle the dishes :-)

Here’s the approximate recipe, if you’d like it. As always, I recommend cooking by sight, smell, taste and instinct.

    Pappardelle with rapid ragù and caramelised onions
    Ingredients:
    Caramelised onions:
    Olive oil
    2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
    pinch of cinnamon
    1 tbsp demerara sugar (or use normal)
    1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
    The rest of the dish:
    225g dried pappardelle (packet said 2 servings)
    1 tbsp butter
    3 cloves garlic
    450g mince
    1 sprig rosemary*
    1 sprig thyme*
    1 carrot, peeled and diced
    1 zucchini, diced
    400g canned diced tomatoes
    3 tbsp tomato paste or passata
    1/2 cup red wine
    Salt
    Black pepper
    3/4 tbsp demerara sugar (or use normal)
    Method:
    Over medium-high heat, glaze the bottom of a skillet with approximately 3 tbsp of olive oil. Once it’s warm, fling open the windows and throw in the onions. Cook for 15-20 minutes, adjusting the heat as required and stirring occasionally to avoid it burning. It should be smelling pretty great and turning slowly golden-brown. Add in a pinch of cinnamon, breathe in deeply. Stir well. After 5 minutes, add in the sugar and balsamic vinegar and cook for a further 5 minutes till it’s all rich, brown and soft. Pour them into a bowl.
    Turn the heat up again. Reusing the skillet, melt the butter, then add in the garlic and mince. Stir well, and add in the herbs. When the mince is partially cooked, add in the carrot and zucchini, and cook till the mince is just cooked. Then pour in the wine, tomatoes and tomato paste, lower the heat and let it all simmer for around 20-30 minutes. More time won’t kill it – just make sure it’s simmering and not splattering. At some point, stir in half of the caramelised onions (refrigerate the rest for another meal!), sugar and salt and pepper to taste.
    10 minutes before the sauce is due to be ready, bring water in a deep saucepan to a rolling boil. Throw in some salt, then add in the pappardelle and cook according to packet instructions or till al dente.
    Dish it up – pappardelle on plate. Ragù on top. Serve immediately.
    Yields 3 servings.

* I just used these because they were leftovers I had in the freezer – feel free to substitute with fresh / dried herbs you have on hand.

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

Lamb and coffee

I’ve got nothing to do today but smile.
~ Simon and Garfunkel

Glory of the humble steak.

For all its fuss-free ease (under eight minutes from pan to plate), it is one of my favourite experiences. Whisking clean laundry away into the bedroom (to avoid catching smells). Watching tiny showers of oil blitz with the sound of microscopic rockets onto the surface of the gas stove. Feeling fresh Wellington wind whip against my cheek as I stand at the hot stove with the kitchen window wide open. Seeing the meat lose its healthy blush and take on a golden, plate-ready glow. Slicing it, noting its soft seared / brown / pink layers… and just a trickle of juice flowing on to the plate.

Yesterday’s dinner: lamb steak, seared with ground chilli and a flick of oregano – and a fresh cup of black coffee on the side. I don’t want to say it was “magnificent”, since that seems too grand a word to bestow on a rapid dinner that took less than 20 minutes to prepare and eat… but to be honest, that is the word that flashed through my mind as I ate ;-)

And that is all I wanted to write about today. Good morning!

Instant gratification pizza

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
~ Leonardo da Vinci

One of the quickest and easiest dinners to make, especially when you have a bunch of seemingly mismatched ingredients left in your fridge… they might just get along on a pizza base :-)

    Instant gratification pizza
    Recipe for pizza base adapted from KiwiWise
    Ingredients:
    For the base:
    1/2 cup lukewarm water
    1/2 teaspoon sugar
    1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
    1 cup flour
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon oil
    Toppings:
    Whatever you like – I used:
    Olive oil
    1/2 onion, diced
    3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    1 red potato, thinly sliced then diced
    2 button mushrooms, sliced
    3 slices salami, quartered
    1/3 tomato, thinly sliced
    Loose handful of baby spinach leaves
    Feta cheese, diced
    Black pepper
    Dried oregano
    Tomato paste
    Method:
    For the base:
    Combine the water and sugar in a small bowl, then sprinkle the yeast on top. Cover the bowl loosely with a tea towel and leave for 15 minutes until frothy.
    Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle, add the oil and yeast mixture. Mix and combine.
    Place the dough on a floured surface and knead it until it is smooth and elastic (if sticky, add a little extra flour). Shape it into a ball and place it into a greased bowl. Leave covered in a warm place until the ball doubles in size (approximately 40 minutes). Punch down the dough and knead it lightly. Set it aside.
    Cooking:
    Preheat oven to 200°C. Lightly grease a baking tray.
    In a skillet, heat approximately 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat, then throw in the onions. Sauté for 1-2 minutes before adding in the potato and garlic. Fry the mixture for around 3 minutes, till partially cooked and the potato edges start to go a tiny bit brown. Add in the mushrooms and cook for a further minute. Do not overcook anything – it will cook further in the oven. Remove from the heat.
    Roll out the pizza base with a rolling pin or suitable substitute (I used a drinking glass), then spread it with a thin, even layer of tomato paste.
    Add the spinach leaves, potato mix, salami, tomatoes and feta (or toppings of your choice). Sprinkle with dried oregano and a generous amount of black pepper.
    Bake pizza for 15 minutes, or until the base is golden brown and your pizza looks ripe for eating! Serve immediately.
    Yields 2-3 servings.

Mid-Autumn in Spring

The moon’s an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun.
~ William Shakespeare

Spring is whizzing by in a blur of tulips, work and windy sunshine… and I nearly forgot all about Mid-Autumn / Mooncake Festival! Luckily, Jeremy didn’t – and him and Char prepared a delicious celebratory feast for us lucky folk last weekend :-)

It was a blustery blustery busy busy Saturday for me, so walking through the doors to see and smell ALL THIS was especially amazing!

Tofu with a sweet chilli marinade, deftly stacked into an inviting tower…

Mussels with melting cheese and bacon bits… mmmm!

Prawns, corn and greens tossed in a pretty stir-fry:

Jeremy’s version of san choy bau (生菜包) – traditionally made with chicken / pork mince and water chestnuts, with the cooked mince rolled up in fresh lettuce leaves immediately before consumption. Classy finger food :-) This (addictive!) version incorporated lamb mince, bamboo shoots, tinned baby corn, carrots, oyster sauce, and a host of other ingredients.

Roast duck – bought, but made to look homemade ;-)

Of course – the necessary mooncake. I’ve heard that each one carries approximately 1,000 calories, but the truth is I am clueless about calories so I eat them even though 1,000 sounds like a lot. Growing up, I tried mooncakes with all sorts of crusts and fillings – yam, red bean, lotus paste, snow skin… they are different in each region of Asia and even now the sight of mooncakes makes me smile and intrigued to know what is inside.

This one hid within itself pandan and salted egg yolks. Pandan is a happy scent for me, don’t often get to inhale it now – and I loved this!

Mooncake on its own would have been sufficient for dessert, but out popped a second surprise – mango pudding, made from scratch! Creamy, rich and so mangoey, for lack of a better adjective! I asked Char for the recipe she used, which she kindly sent to me – see below :-)

    Ingredients:
    3 cups Alphonso mango pulp
    3 tbsp plain gelatin
    2/3 cup cold water plus 2/3 cup boiling water
    1 cup evaporated milk
    1 cup superfine sugar
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    Method:
    Place the gelatin into a bowl and stir in the cold water. Add in the boiling water and stir until the gelatin is thoroughly dissolved. Set aside to cool a few minutes.
    In a bowl, add sugar to the evaporated milk and stir until sugar is completely dissolved.
    Place the mango pulp into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the gelatin mixture, then add the sweetened evaporated milk and vanilla extract. Give everything a good stir, then pour into 8-9 custard cups or bowls (we used plastic cups, as shown in the picture above).
    Chill for at least 3 hours, or until set. Serve with a garnish of fresh fruit and evaporated milk poured gently over the top.
    Yields 8-9 servings.

Thank you Jeremy and Char, and happy Mid-Autumn Festival, everyone :-)

P.S. Somehow I’ve missed eight rounds of Sweet New Zealand! Grazie mille Alessandra for reminding me (incidentally, she is also the gracious host of this month’s Sweet NZ!). Don’t forget to send in your entry if you are a NZ food blogger and haven’t already…