Tag Archives: new zealand

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

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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!

Beauty-full weekend

Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

One cannot tire of the beauty in New Zealand. Especially down in the South Island, which I miss very much.

I spent last weekend down in Invercargill (one of the southernmost cities in the world, for non-NZ readers) for my friend Brooke’s wedding.

It worked out to travel to Invercargill via Queenstown (see photos above). Which, incidentally, was wrapped in a glaze of delicious sunshine when I got there. A beautiful day to go tandem hang-gliding! This is my very cool pilot and me:

I swallowed buckets of nervousness on the way up to the point at which we leaped into the air, and my shoes, similarly, dived to their death in nervousness and landed somewhere down below. Once I was barefoot on this large human kite and staring at the marvelous spread of beauty before me, though, there wasn’t anything to fear. Also met a paraglider who sang an ode of love to flying afterwards, and now I begin to understand why these mad people love being up in the air out of an airplane :-)

Shoes. It is hard to pretend to be a lady without them. I was pleased to find inexpensive replacements in a women’s shop shortly before they closed for the day:

Down on the ground – the obvious place to hang out in town is Lake Wakatipu… not only because the water there is mesmerising, but also because there is Patagonia Chocolates, where you can get a MARVELLOUS hot chocolate with fresh grated ginger (or lavender, or chilli) in it. I didn’t even look properly at the luscious cabinet in case I collapsed in a chocolatey stupor and missed my hang glide.

Another plus point: Patagonia has these great tables outside with tame birds, beautiful views and lovely buskers nearby…

Went to Vudu the first weekday morning after daylight savings, and I can tell you… no one here had Monday blues. A comfortable place to be, well-lit and thoughtfully decked out – though it’s all done in such a casual way that it’s attractive without being at all pretentious. The overall feeling I got was that of being in a friendly place (think woody, birds, lights, espresso, good food, energy, freedom) which bids you a very, very good day without needing to say it with words.

The food looked so yummy, too. I had no tummy space for it that day, sadly, but I will have to come back one day.

If you’ve ever read any touristy material about Queenstown you’ll probably have seen something about The Remarkable Sweet Shop. And you wouldn’t be disappointed by a visit to them, even if you don’t actually like sweets (I don’t as much). This place draws out the child in all of us. I kid you not, I saw a grown woman literally skipping around inside – and it wasn’t even me this time.

My teeth considered falling out as I stared at the spread before me, but I managed to walk out with my teeth intact and a few fudgey gifts. Wonderful staff here, who were full of smiles and friendly service.

I’ve heard a lot about Fergburger, but since I didn’t get time to pop in, I did the next best thing and went to Fergbaker for a mini garlic and parmesan focaccia bread. Next time I’ll try the burgers.

The wedding was beautiful in every way. The skies behaved exceedingly well (no trivial matter in Southland), the bride and groom were most radiantly happy, and the guests were fun to hang out with. The food was also very delicious!

Favourite of the night: the scrumptious dessert akin to tarte tatin!

A lot of beauty in one weekend

Flying home

Patagonia Chocolates – Lakefront of 50 Beach street, Queenstown – Phone: 03 442 9066

The Remarkable Sweet Shop – 39 Beach Street, Queenstown – Phone: 03 409 8656

Vudu Cafe – 23 Beach Street, Queenstown – Phone: 03 442 5357

Gipps St Deli, Karori

But some secrets are too delicious not to share.
~ Suzanne Collins

I have long forgotten his name, but I remember well the weight of his words. Something to the effect of: “you’ve got to make at least 500 coffees before you can even start practising being good at this. You know why? If you serve even one bad coffee – that customer will tell three friends, and each friend might tell another, and then your business will go bust. Now can you please tip what you just made into the sink, and start again?”

A few years ago when I graduated without a clue as to what to do next, I waltzed into a cafe and asked a man to teach me how to make coffee, just ‘cos. He thought he only taught me the basics of how to steam milk, make a good espresso and make a leaf pattern thing on the top of a latte; the truth is, my milk-steaming talents (?!) could do with a lot more work… but I learned a lot more. Practice practice practice. Passion. Skill. Craft. Successful business. Quality. Pride in one’s own work, even if it’s ‘just’ coffee. Keeping customers, not just getting them in.

One valuable thing about business he taught me then, that is so simple yet so often overlooked, is the importance of always being sincere and always making every last thing you sell bloody good so people come back, with their friends, again and again, always. (I imagine that feeds back a thousand times into one’s own soul and life too, loving people like that… love breeds more of the same, right?)

See, people talk about the two degrees of separation in New Zealand – it’s true. Everyone knows everyone (I began to experience this even in my first five years of living in this country). And word travels fast… always sooner rather than later.

Case in point: without the two degrees of separation and people-sharing-the-best-with-their-friends thing, I would probably not have embraced gusty unfamiliarity (windy Karori) and discovered Gipps St Deli. You see, way before I stepped through their doors, I heard one rather passionate review about Gipps St Deli’s brownie. So when a lovely friend of mine suggested an afternoon catch-up at the place, I jumped at the chance.

We stumbled into the place after a sunny and very gusty walk from the bus stop, and were met with a delightful looking spread of goodies. Light streamed in; I saw colourful cushions and white tables, a smiling girl behind the counter, art on the walls, and other things which made me feel instantly glad to be there. Perhaps it sounds cheesy to talk about liking a place at first sight. But that is how I felt.

We may have ordered a little too much for us two, but it was all very delicious and we had a substantial amount of roast veg left over which made a yummy meal for me today. Salad with crisp sweet apple matchsticks, a tasty risotto, perfectly seasoned and roasted vegetables, and slices of baking that were a pleasure to eat. See, I was so eager to tuck into the food that I was too impatient to take a proper photo:

Particularly dangerous was the coffee and walnut slice. I really don’t want to be addicted to ANY slice… but if I were ever to become a hopeless slice addict… this might well be it.

We polished off the brownie and slice between us. Too much sweetness, especially since I am partial to savoury flavours these days – but I lacked the willpower to leave any of it behind.

I know that before long, I’ll be closing other two-degree gaps with songs about the slice and sunshine at Gipps St Deli ;-) … starting with this post!

Gipps St Deli – 4 Gipps Street, Karori, Wellington – Phone: 04 476 4741

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

Pine Harbour Fresh Market

The Eskimo has fifty-names for snow because it is important to them; there ought to be as many for love.
~ Margaret Atwood

When you love travel and can’t do it all the time, you find ways to ‘cheat-travel’. Language books, foreign films, exotic foods – there are lots of ways these days to make the world your oyster, wherever you are.

I do it whenever I can. Did some mini cheat-travelling via Pine Harbour Fresh Market today… such a treat :-)

Below is my rough guide to/notes from the (délicieux!) market:

  • Leave ugly city behind for fresh air, delicious stands and smiling faces…

  • Join the flurry of people eagerly pouncing on the croissants, brioches, pastries, breads and other delights. Note: if you want some, be quick.

  • Really. Don’t be shy. Minutes after I photographed these fragrant loaves, they were gone… to happy hands (and I suspect, by now, happy bellies). I was not one of them… boo.

  • While we’re on the subject of bread, I’ll tell you what goes superbly well with bread (especially the crusty kind) – this chicken and duck liver parfait. Handmade by two French men and a dream on crusty bread. $5 per tub.

  • As your eyes and nose take in the sights and smells, your ears and feet will be dancing to music by Edith Piaf et al – interspersed, wonderfully, with tunes from this man! (though he may not be there on non-Bastille-Day Saturdays)

  • If you like something very sweet (I do once in a while), pick up a box of lovely baklava – otherwise known in my books as a flaky, nutty, honeyed song for smiles.

  • If baklava isn’t quite your thing, perhaps some dips will satisfy? Tried three and liked them all – finally settled on a light and creamy tub of cow’s feta + garlic + mint… already thinking of ways to use it up. Yum!

  • Got around to the task of buying breakfast after gawking at various stalls. With tempting menus for both galettes and crêpes, we had some difficulty choosing a flavour but finally settled on lemon and sugar. Lovely to listen to the crêpe chefs speaking in French whilst waiting for our crêpes!

  • If I were to become vegetarian, it would be on the condition that my vege supply came solely from farmers’ markets. Most farmers’ market vegetables I’ve ever laid eyes on are so vibrant and beautiful – and it is such a delight to chat with the farmers and/or sellers whilst shopping for them. We picked up some salad leaves with edible flowers and the very nice man gave us a Jerusalem artichoke to try too (since I said I’d never tried one). Really tempted by the carrots, but we already had one very full bag of goodies by then!

  • After an oh-so-tough morning of shopping and waiting in line for breakfast, you may want to eat while looking at this (we did)…

  • Perhaps pick up some flowers on your way home?

P.S. If you observe Bastille DayBon le quatorze juillet, I hope you had a good one!

Pine Harbour Fresh Market – Jack Lachlan Drive, Pine Harbour, Auckland – open Saturday mornings, 8.00am – 12.00pm