Monday, 21 August 2017

Two thumbs up

The winter lurgy has well and truly visited our home this past week and is yet to fully leave. It brought with it some nasty symptoms and a raft of questions about its status. Have you been to the doctor? Can you work from home? Is it flu or is it another virus? How come you can't walk 200m/get dressed/fold washing without puffing? Why don't you just relax and read a book? Can't you take something for that cough? Maybe you should rest and not worry about work? Do you have to cough so loud?? At least you're not [aching any more/losing a limb/facing real problems/dying].

But really, what does it matter? After a week that saw me cancel Every. Single. family and social event as well as work, it's easy to feel sorry for myself and feel like I've achieved nothing at all. But maybe all was not lost while I systematically forfeited all my plans and commitments? Stranger things have happened.

If I think about it in a cheesy two thumbs up, fake grin and get-over-myself kind of way, this last week actually looks pretty good! Well, maybe.

Two thumbs up moments

  • I saved a small fortune in transport, takeaway coffee and food expenses by not leaving the house, making coffee at home and barely eating anything for a week. This went a teeny way towards paying for the expensive Wellington on a Plate event tickets that went to waste on a night I was too sick to go out.
  • Our 8-year-old nephew loved his birthday present from us: a boxed set of all ten Diary of a Wimpy Kid books - so much so that he was still reading with a torch under his duvet at 10:40 pm! He eventually accepted his mother's pleas to go to sleep on the understanding that he could wake up early the next morning and read more. And Mr Weka thought he wouldn't want books for a present! #lovereading #lifelongreader
  • I conquered my fear of baking with topsy turvy cake pans by successfully practice-baking one off-set layer. It worked perfectly. Now I need to repeat the feat three more times, decorate each cake and work out how they will stack without falling over.
  • I discovered how far two big pots of soup and a loaf of homemade potato bread can go when you're just not hungry. Several days' worth of meals from pantry staples. WhatWho have I become?
  • I also discovered the Ear Hustle podcast and had a bittersweet binge through the first few episodes. I couldn't wait to listen to the next but wanted to savour the series rather than being left with a long wait before the next episode drops.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Perfect pastry class

It's that's time again: Wellington on a Plate has kicked off. Seventeen days of food, fun and more food. Wellington is a great place for foodies to be in August each year. I have four festival events booked this year and hope to squeeze in a lunch or two along the way.

First up was a practical lesson. The Clareville Bakery north of Carterton is renown for its artisan bread and pies. They're offering two classes for Welly on a Plate this year: a bread masterclass and the perfect pastry class. We packed up our aprons and headed over the Rimutaka hill for a hands-on pastry masterclass with Mike and Rose Kloeg, owners of The Clareville Bakery.

The class was a mix of demonstrations and hands-on practice. We learned about making puff pastry, Danish pastry (similar to puff but one less fold), choux pastry and sweet pastry. A French pastry class five years ago gave me a glimpse of what's involved in the process, which is too labour intensive for me to repeat at home, but I was keen to revisit the techniques and pick up some more tips.

Danish pastry

We practised working with Danish pastry. Like puff pastry, the art of Danish pastry involves more rolling, resting and patience than a three hour class allows. However, our already-prepared 10 x 10 cm squares meant we could have fun with shaping and actually have something to take home at the end of the evening.

We learned three techniques for folding and filling pastry squares. I was quick to master the first one: a square with an indent in the middle for custard and fruit. The second technique involved creating a pinwheel by cutting diagonal slits to corners of the square and indenting the centre.

Danish pinwheel
Indent the centre and cut from the edges
Next, each corner was folded from below the slit into the centre to create a flower shape and secured by pressing down the centre. The centre is then filled with crème pâtissière and topped with fruit before baking.

Fold corners into the centre to create a pinwheel
The third technique was creating a classic pocket. Fold corners to the centre and indent to secure.

Danish pocket - first fold
Repeat with the opposite two corners to create a square pocket. Again, fill with crème pâtissière and top with fruit before baking.

Fold in half again to create a Danish pocket

Choux pastry

I enjoy making choux pastry; it's one of my baking success stories that sees éclairs and profiteroles frequently on my dinner party menu. However, I'd never made a choux pastry swan before. Mike's recipe includes milk for texture and colour. He showed us how to use a large star nozzle to pipe swan bodies.

Piped swan bodies
You can also pipe profiteroles using the same star nozzle.

Profiteroles
Finally, add a small round nozzle to the end to make the swan necks.

Piped swan necks
Spot the intruder
To assemble, cut the bodies horizontally, then slice the top half of the body vertically. Pipe crème pâtissière on the bottom, arrange the wings and neck and dust with icing sugar.

So elegant!


Mike and Rose joined us for a wine and cheese break. It was great to hear about Clareville Bakery's story from when they first started in 2013 to get to where they are now - and the journey is continuing.

Perfect cheese platter with house made crackers
Then it was back to the kitchen to pack up our goodies. Here is everything we took home: three styles of Danish pastry, caramelised onion and potato galettes, profiteroles, choux pastry swans and sweet fruit tarts.

Finish products
A huge thank you to Mike and Rose for their hospitality and expertise. I learned some new techniques and was reminded of other tips I'd forgotten. I doubt I'll be making puff or Danish pastry any time soon but I'm keen to give sweet fruit tarts a try at home.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

High tea at Louis Sergeant

After sampling many high tea menus in recent years, I had finally worked my way up to the top. High tea at Louis Sergeant is a very special affair. The tables are set with white linen and the tea menu is presented. Much like with cocktails, I loved reading the descriptions of each blend but opted for coffee instead of endless cups of tea.

I had planned on scrupulously taking notes detailing each item, reporting back on both ingredients and form. However, when the time came, I could only manage to gape with wide eyes at the selection placed in front of us and let the lyrical descriptions float over me. So here I am, one week later, trying in vain to remember details of the menu. I'll let the photos do the talking.

Louis Sergeant high tea
This is what four high tea servings looks like. Each item was tiny and perfectly formed - and not a sandwich or sausage roll in sight!

Savoury delights
Interestingly, the middle tier was the starting point with four savoury items to begin with. Each had a different texture and themes included cheese, a bit more cheese, betrooot, mousse-y stuff and microgreens.

Something sweet
There were two sweet tiers, one each on the bottom and top. But where should you start? I decided what I'd like to finish with and worked backwards from there, heading to the bottom tier first. Hazelnut praline, chocolate, gold leaf and a strawberry and balsamic macaron featured here, each one a heavenly mouthful.

Saving the best for last
And now the finale. Which to choose: strawberry or lemon? Both were elegant and bursting with decadence but the lemon edged its way into first place for me.

This really was an exquisite high tea. I'm so glad I've worked my way up to it as Louis Sergeant is hard to beat. Apologies to my foodie friends for making such a hash of my descriptions. Hopefully you're reading this and smiling as you remember our high tea. I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Chocolate dipped macaroons

I'm a Good Bitch Baker this weekend and felt like trying something different. Thumbing through a new cookbook, I came across a recipe for chocolate dipped macaroons. Remember macaroons? They were all we knew before macarons came along. What's the difference? This explanation is harsh but accurate.


These macaroons are actually light and crispy. They're pretty much meringues with desiccated coconut rolled through and dipped in chocolate.

For a smooth finish, roll the mixture into balls and pat down the rough edges. For a chunky coconut rough-type finish, drop spoonfuls of mixture onto the tray.

Chocolate dipped macaroons

Ingredients
  • 2 egg whites
  • 180 g caster sugar
  • 4 t cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 180 g desiccated coconut
  • 130 g dark chocolate for dipping
Method
  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Line two trays with baking paper.
  2. Whisk egg whites in a clean, dry mixing bowl until firm peaks form.
  3. Gradually add the sugar, beating well after each addition. Beat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and glossy.
  4. Add the cornflour and mix until the ingredients are just combined.
  5. Add the coconut to the egg white mixture. Using a slotted metal spoon, mix until just combined.
  6. Roll heaped teaspoons of the mixture into balls and drop onto the prepared trays.
  7. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the macaroons are lightly golden. Remove from oven and leave to cool on the trays. 
  8. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl and dip the top half of each macaroon into it. Leave to set on a drip tray.
Makes 36 macaroons.

Chocolate dipped macaroons

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

High tea at Aston Norwood Gardens

Kaitoke Country Gardens at the base of the Rimutaka Hill has undergone a makeover in recent months and has now been reborn as Aston Norwood Gardens. The venue is positioning itself as more of an all season destination and aiming for the country-style wedding market. Among the cafe's offerings is high tea. Don't mind if we do!

The table setting was cute. Delicate tea cups with well loved but worn out decorative spoons were presented alongside sugar cubes and a fake flower spray. The bubbles were poured on arrival and our tea cups whisked away to be returned bearing the coffees of our choice.

Country charm
Three tiers of food were delivered to our table. We were left to work out what we'd been served.

Sparkling high tea
The savoury tier had two tomato, cucumber and pesto white bread sandwiches each and a handful of about five heated up frozen savouries and sausage rolls. I sampled two (two more than I'd ever normally eat in a typical year!) before giving up and leaving the rest to take home to Mr Weka.

Sandwiches and heated savouries
The middle layer was pseudo-sweet, with home-style ginger crunch, then a lemon curd pre-made tart and scone with jam and cream. Looking across at the next table I noticed that some others had chocolate slices and what looked to be a miniature glass of berry coulis. It would have been interesting to try them both.

Ginger crunch, lemon curd tart and scones
The top layer once again featured pre-made pastry tarts, one featuring jam and covered with more jam and cream and the other filled with chocolate and caramel. Not unpleasant but nothing special.

Berry jam and chocolate tarts
I'd describe this experience as a high tea of sorts. I was disappointed with the lack of variety and very surprised at how much of the food was pre-prepared from frozen or store bought but still presented as high tea. It's not somewhere I'd rush back to but we still enjoyed some time out to catch up during a busy weekend.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Exploring the Martinborough wine trail

The plan was to cycle around the Martinborough vineyards and taste wine at a leisurely pace. We'd stay in the town centre, pick up a wine map and head out on two wheels each to explore the best of Martinborough's wine trail. The weather forecast had other plans, though. Heavy and steady rain was forecast all day - and if the early morning downpour was anything to go by, it wasn't going to be fun riding in the rain. We'd experienced soggy wine tasting before, but this was looking to be much worse. Plan B was devised.

We decided to replace two-wheeled transport for two sets of four wheels. This meant we could head out to some of the wineries that were slightly further away than the ones we'd managed to cycle to before. After two or three tastings, we'd return to our accommodation and walk to nearby wineries until the rain got the better of us. Luckily, our drivers were happy with this arrangement.

Te Kairanga Wines

Making the most of our transport, we started furthest away at Te Kairanga Wines. The cellar door is in The Cottage, a classic farm house cottage built in the late 1800s. The picturesque grounds were resplendent on an autumn morning. Our host was welcoming and informative, giving us the background to each wine we tasted. Given that 70% of Te Kairanga's vineyard is pinot noir, three of these vintages were included in our tasting, something which is lost on those of us who are white wine drinkers.

Te Kairanga wines
White wine tasting notes
  • 2016 Sauvignon Blanc. Although I'm usually a sav drinker, I found this style particularly forward and acidic, overpowering the tropical fruit palette. Maybe.
  • 2015 Riesling. This very dry wine gave off a kerosene smell. I learned that this isn't offensive to note; it's a result of the terpene produced while on the vine. This is more prominent in New Zealand and Australian wines as there is a higher concentration of UV rays on the canopy. Too acidic for me. No.
  • 2016 Chardonnay. Barrel fermented on 15% new oak for 10 months, this chardonnay blend was not too forward or oaky. Maybe.
  • 2014 reserve Chardonnay. A much fuller flavour - far too oaky for me. No.

Poppies

The sun had started to shine and more people were venturing out for wine tasting. We made a smart decision to visit Poppies before the crowds and rain arrived. Poppies is phenomenonally popular in summer. Their wines are only available from the cellar door and the venue is simply beautiful.

A warm welcome from Poppy
We started with wine tasting by the roaring fireplace. It was hosted by winemaker Poppy Hammond, while husband Shayne Hammond (viticulturist) prepared an outdoor table for our lunch.

Wine tasting notes
We were served teeny tiny samples, which made it a hard to get the full flavour of each wine, while Poppy explained her tasting notes.
  • 2016 Rosé. This rosé is 100% pinot noir and its pinkish colour came from two hours of contact with the skins. Maybe.
  • 2016 Riesling. I didn't quite know what to make of this Riesling. It was extremely dry with a limey aftertaste, which some of our group loved. Maybe.
  • 2016 Sauvignon blanc. This very smooth wine is the last time Poppy will make a pure Sauvignon blanc. In future, it will become a Sauvignon blanc and Semillion blend. Not overly sweet. Maybe.
  • 2016 Pinot gris. Very smooth and sweet. Maybe.
  • 2016 late harvest Riesling. These grapes were harvested 6 weeks after the regular Riesling. Usually I find late harvest or dessert wines far too sweet but, surprisingly, I kind of liked it! Maybe.
By now the sun was well and truly out and Poppies was almost full. We were enticed to a table outside and offered warm blankies to cuddle up with (it is autumn, after all). Poppies is not a restaurant but is known for its excellent seasonal lunch platters, which offer all sorts of goodies including rosé poached salmon, pork belly slices, stuffed peppers, mushrooms, olives, brie, pumpkin hummus, rare beef, crostini ... the list goes on but our vegetarian was also happily catered for.

Lunch platter at Poppies

Luna Vineyards

No sign of the promised rain - far from it, in fact. We moved on to Luna Vineyards. Situated on the former Alana Wines site, Luna Vineyards has a lovely cellar door setting and restaurant.

Luna Vineyards tasting bar
Wine tasting notes
  • 2015 Riesling. This off-dry Riesling had around 30g residual sugar and a pleasant finish. Maybe.
  • 2016 Sauvignon blanc. Very smooth and not too fruity. Maybe.
  • 2015 Rosé. This orange-tinged rosé is made from 100% pinot noir grapes that had spent five hours on skins. Maybe.
  • 2015 Chardonnay. Not too oaky. This chardonnay spent 10 months aged in 40% new French oak barrels, leaving it with a smooth finish. Maybe.

Non-events

We drove out to two final vineyards on the way back to our accommodation. Both are slightly off the wine trail but we stopped at neither before calling it a day. Here's why:
  • Colombo Wines. Only four wines available for sampling but still with the usual $5 tasting fee. This usually gets 6-8 samples elsewhere.
  • Cambridge Wines. $10 tastings. Enough said.
Back at the bach, I checked the weather forecast status. Still no sign of the heavy rain we'd apparently had all day and were currently experiencing, so we could have cycled after all. Oh well, next time!

Pure fiction