Sunday, 25 August 2019

Return of the dragon yum cha and beer tasting

One Welly on a Plate event I hoped would return after an epic event two years ago was an evening of yum cha and beer tasting. Although most people wouldn't see these as a natural pairing, I was really excited to see Return of the Dragon in the festival events programme. On Friday night, Dragons Restaurant and Garage Project had a full house serving four courses of delicious regional yum cha dishes with matching locally made beer.

A lot has changed in two years and this is now a well organised event. Each course was made up of 3-4 regional dishes and served with a matching beer. There were top ups available, which Mr Weka enjoyed, and entertainment provided by some very cute dragon-style Chinese lions.

Onto the food. The first course was Sichuan themed and waiting on arrival. Here's what we ate from left to right in each photo and the Garage Project beer match. My favourite for each course is marked with an asterisk (*).
  • Hot and spicy shredded chicken salad
  • Chinese style canape with beef, Chinese sausage and vegetables
  • Mixed nuts with spinach *
  • Beer match: Hazy IPA with Mosaic and Motueka 7.2% (not bad for an IPA)
Spicy Sichuan starters
The second course was Cantonese-style dumplings and a delicious mushroom and pork mince bun.
  • Mushroom and pork mince bun
  • Prawn dumpling with golden garlic sand *
  • Pork and peanut dumpling with squid ink
  • Cumin chicken dumpling
  • Beer match: Shaolin Sour dragon pearl jasmine aged sour 6% (pleasant at first but tasted more like vinegar with each sip)
Cantonese dumplings
The third course featured Beijing style food.
  • Crispy jumbo prawn and cuttlefish ball
  • Shredded duck bean curd roll
  • Sweet as BBQ pork bun
  • Crispy prawn beetroot rice rolls *
  • Beer match: Spezial K Kellerbier, unfiltered lager 5.1% (heavy bitter malt flavour - no thanks)
Beijing third course
Finally, dessert. I saved the best for last; the warm sweet cocoa bun was heavenly and the beer match sublime. I also regretted being the sober driver (yes, I literally just sipped each beer twice to sample it) as I could have easily finished off a glass of the 12.5% Super Deluxe beer. It which was rich and warming - the highlight of tonight's beer tasting.
  • Walnut and white chocolate cocoa bun *
  • Sweet-scented osmanthus and coconut jelly (we had to Google osmanthus)
  • Beer match: Super Deluxe bourbon barrel aged dessert stout infused with organic bananas 12.5% (tasted like a rich porter or even a glass of port)
Hong Kong dessert
A great evening of food and beer enjoyed with friends. We'll definitely be back next time.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Chocolate masterclass at Baron Hasselhoff's

I love chocolate. The Hands-on chocolate masterclass at Baron Hasselhoff's caught my attention in the Wellington on a Plate programme. After enjoying the Wellington Chocolate Factory Find your inner chocolatier event last year, Baron Hassellhoff's seemed the next logical event. It was a great choice!

Baron Hasselhoff's (no relation) has been operating from the old L'affaire au Chocolat premises in Berhampore since 2012. We were warmly greeted by owners Clayton and Erin, a glass of Lindauer Special Reserve, the intoxicating aroma of chocolate and some delicious samples.

Almond mole bar inspired by a visit to Mexico
We headed into the kitchen and learned about the origins of cacao near Mexico, the introduction of chocolate to Europe and how it developed into the form we know and love today. We peeled husks off cacao beans, a process called winnowing, which is quite therapeutic in small amounts. We used a mortar and pestle to gring the beans into a paste. The kitchen smelt amazing!

Winnowing or shelling the husks from the cacao beans
Despite learning how to temper chocolate and acquiring much of the equipment needed to make chocolate, I've never actually done it at home so this masterclass was a good incentive to give it another try. Tempering is the process of heating and cooling chocolate to create form V crystals, resulting in a glossy finish and a crisp snap.

Clayton teaches us about tempering chocolate
Then it was onto making chocolate bars and truffles. Tempered chocolate was poured into a mould and then shaken on a vibrating table-type machine to get rid of the bubbles. We could choose how to flavour the back of our bar before leaving it in the fridge to set. Here is the selection we were offered.

If you can imagine it, it just might work
I followed the lead of someone else in the class and split my bar into two flavour profiles: freeze dried raspberries and marshmallows (sweet) and hazelnut chipotle chilli brittle and sea salt (savoury).

My chocolate bar creation
We learned how to dip sea salted caramel and coffee espresso truffles into tempered chocolate. This is not as easy as it sounds.
Chocolate truffles that taste better than they look
Finally, we wrapped our chocolate bars in a personalised chocolate label and bagged up our truffles to take home. I bought some other goodies to enjoy later.

Chocolate for breakfast? Don't mind if I do!
A huge thank you to Clayton and Erin for such an enjoyable evening. I love how they shared their expertise and enthusiasm for chocolate and am excited for everyone else who has booked in to visit Baron Hasselhoff's at their upcoming sold out events.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Psychological gastronomy high tea

Artisan at the Bolton Hotel hosts a great high tea. Their 2019 Wellington on a Plate event is Psychological gastronomy and described as "a not-so-traditional high tea" where savoury and sweet may not be as they seem. In fact, they're the complete opposite. Every item that appears savoury tastes sweet, and every item that looks like it should be sweet is savoury.

This was actually quite a challenge. Where do you begin? The high tea tradition of starting at the bottom savoury tier and working all the way up to the sweet finalé clearly wouldn't work here. We pondered the menu over coffee and a glass of Giesen Classic Cuveé.

Things are not how they appear
Here's how we played out our high tea strategy.

Savoury that looks sweet
  • Duck pâté domes on sable biscuit
  • Cheese profiterole
  • Spinach and blue cheese cupcake with truffle icing
  • Beetroot macaron with goat's cheese
Somewhere between savoury and sweet
  • Compressed melon tartare with Chantilly cream
Savoury looking but actually sweet
  • Brioche sandwich with chocolate and banana
  • Rice pudding arancini with vanilla
  • Chocolate pie
  • 'Salmon' raspberry mousse with sweet blini and berry 'caviar'
This was a very fun high tea with a twist. The flavours were clever, delicious and beautifully presented. I hope Artisan holds another high tea event next year. We'll be there!

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Homemade exfoliating facial scrub

Not me
I have very sensitive skin. It has led me to follow a very simple daily skincare routine with just two products: light cleanser followed by moisturiser each morning. I rarely wear make up (maybe once a year if I need to be on stage or look semi-presentable), drink heaps of water, stay out of the sun and exfoliate once a week.

I came across a recipe for a homemade exfoliating facial scrub made from pantry ingredients and have been using it for years. I made another batch today. It will last me around a year if I use about a teaspoonful each week. You can scent it with a few drops of vanilla essence or a sprinkle of cinnamon if you want, but I don't usually bother. It's cheaper and gentler than any exfoliating product I've ever bought and really couldn't be easier to make and use.

Homemade exfoliating facial scrub

  • 65 grams brown sugar
  • 65 grams caster sugar
  • 40 grams coconut oil
  1. Smoosh it all together in a bowl.
  2. Transfer to a jar.
To use
  1. Gently apply one teaspoonful to face and neck.
  2. Rinse off with warm water.
Homemade exfoliating facial scrub

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

The Lion King (2019)

Disney The Lion King 2019.jpg 
The Lion King (2019) has been remade as a computer animated live action movie.

I've been in two minds about this since first hearing about it earlier this year. Sometimes newer isn't improved. Is it best to leave the classics alone? Or could a new imagining do the original justice and even add something? (Let's ignore the fact that I've never heard of a real life lion talking and singing.) I'm just glad it wasn't in 3D.

Nostalgia is a curious thing. I remember when a friend and I first saw The Lion King (1994) at the theatre. The singer in the band I was in at the time appeared to be a tough beer drinking rugby player - with a marshmallow heart. He urged us to go. He'd seen the movie three times and said he cried every time. Conversations at work recently made us realise just what a tragic tearjerker this classic movie is, yet we think every child should watch and love it like we did.

Could a remade version be as good as the beloved original?

Verdict: it was good but not excellent. Cleverly animated with extraordinary attention to detail, especially the animals' movements. But it didn't quite capture the magic and emotions of the original cartoon animation. I'm glad the legendary James Earl Jones returned to voice Mufasa, but Scar was no match without Jeremy Irons, Zazu was a little flat without Rowan Atkinson's cheekiness and nobody can replace Whoopi Goldberg as Shenzi.

So, I'd recommend you see this remade version of The Lion King before the cartoon animated original (if that's possible) and enjoy discovering its magic all over again.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Winetopia 2019

As an occasional wine drinker but keen wine sampler, I am pretty spoilt with the wine tasting options in my neighbourhood. Each month we are visited by a winery or distributor with 6-8 wines available to sample for a princely sum of $5. Add free Friday night wine tasting at along with a few wine tasting trips and I have learnt a huge amount about what I like in wine, what I don't like and some surprising discoveries.

Winetopia hit Wellington this weekend. I hesitated to buy tickets. Other wine and food-type events we'd attended before either charged very expensive entry fees before any wine or food was consumed or were complete chaos. A very quick Twitter poll and last minute discounted tickets helped influence my decision: we'd give it our best shot.

With almost 60 wineries showcased, Mr Weka and I needed a solid strategy to maximise our wine tasting experience. Luckily we have similar tastes in wine and are also not averse to sharing germs on glasses (with each other - not anyone else), meaning we could share each 30 ml sample and try twice as many.

TSB Arena was helpfully organised into wine tasting regions. We decided to stay away from wineries we'd already visited or sampled. From there, our pecking order was sparkling wine (if available), sauvignon blanc and the occasional riesling or rosé. We set off for Hawkes Bay and Marlborough with wine glasses (real, not plastic) and five tokens each.

The next three or so hours were a flurry of 30 ml tastings and comparing notes. We added many wines to our yes list, one or two maybes and a couple of definite nos. It was good to see jugs of water available at every stand and some substantial food options. Crowds were well managed and, despite my initial hesitation, we had a great time.

How to maximise your Winetopia experience

  • Check the programme and go to the talks you're interested in as they come with two extra tastings (if you're quick enough before they run out)
  • Visit the Singapore Airlines Lounge and trading in your 'boarding pass' for a free sample of Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne. Delicious!
  • Explore a region you know you like or you'd like to learn more about. 
  • Pace yourself and drink plenty of water in between tastings. After a while it's gets hard to tell whether you like something or it's just blending in with something else you've sampled.

New additions to the yes list