Saturday, 28 August 2010

Boomrock Spanish Fiesta

View from Boomrock
I have really enjoyed all the Wellington on a Plate events I have attended this year. (To quickly recap, Discovering artisan cheese, Cupcakes and cocktails, and Making great patisserie at WelTec.) There were many other appealing festival events on the list but, after careful deliberation, these were the ones I'd chosen and managed to book into. That's where the Twitterverse is so amazing; I was the lucky winner of two tickets to the Boomrock Spanish Fiesta.

My sweetie and I spent an amazing half-day experiencing Boomrock in Spanish-style. After being picked up from the centre of town, we were bused out to Boomrock Lodge, featuring a beautiful view of the west coast of Wellington. Greeted with a glass of Freixenet Cordón Negro, we were handed five more drinks tokens for the rest of the afternoon. (Let's just say that several of our tokens were 'spent' on this bubbly, described as a medium bodied, dry sparkling wine with apple, pear and dry citrus - yum!) The tapas started doing the rounds; they literally melted in our mouths - real taste sensations.

As part of our prize package, we were able to try claybird shooting. I hadn't done this since I was about 7 years old and went with my father to the Chatham Islands gun club. I don't think I hit anything (I probably didn't even shoot by myself), but I'm proud to say that I hit two claybirds yesterday - one with help and the other entirely on my own. Woo hoo!

Our entrées were ready. We took our places at the beautifully set tables and started on a seafood feast. The steamed mussels and Cloudy Bay cockles were absolutely delicious, cooked with tomatoes, sherry, onions and fennel bulb. The other entrée included grilled sardines; I'm not a huge fan of these salty, bony fish so switched back to the mussel dish.

An elegant table setting
The feature dish of the day was our main course, a gigantic seafood paella made by guest chef Ian Hornblow. While we were out shooting claybirds and drinking on the deck, he worked on mixing up the ingredients to create a tasty masterpiece. Cooked to perfection, this was a stunning way to feed a large group.

Making a giant seafood paella
A seafood paella masterpiece
It seemed a shame to break up such a beautiful creation in order to feed the masses.

The recommended accompaniment for the paella was a glass of Torres Gran Vina Sol Chardonnay. Served with lemon, mussels and a king prawn, the flavour was subtle enough to appreciate all of the types of seafood (including crayfish) in the paella. As you can see, the serving size was very generous; regrettably, I couldn't quite finish all of mine. After all, I wanted to leave some room for dessert: churros with a rich chocolate sauce.

Seafood paella is served
We concluded our afternoon of feasting with shots of Baileys on ice then tea and coffee. We had a fantastic afternoon at Boomrock. It is a stunning venue and I see from their website that they host various corporate functions and events. I wonder if I'll be lucky enough to be part of one of these in the future?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Ukulele madness

I'm mildly obsessed with ukuleles at the moment. Can you tell? Three of my 101 in 1001 activities are ukulele-based and I am having a lot of fun spreading some ukulele madness around.

On Saturday afternoon, I arrived in to town with a bit of time to spare before meeting a friend for coffee. I decided to look for a ukulele tuner, as it can get noisy and confusing trying to tune 8-10 ukuleles all at once at the start of our ukulele orchestra practice each week. I bumped into a couple of managers from work, both of whom had expressed interest in joining our orchestra, but neither who had actually turned up to practice. One of them assured me she had a ukulele at home and would bring it on Tuesday; the other said she just needed to buy one but hasn't managed to get to the music shop yet. I pointed four shops down the street and said, 'that's where to buy them from - and I'm just heading there now to buy a tuner'. Suddenly, the three of us were wandering down to Alistair's Music. A short time later, she left with a stunning, purple Gypsy Rose ukulele under her arm and I had my tuner before we all went out separate ways again. Awesome!

On Sunday, three of us went to the ukulele lounge at the Southern Cross. Hosted by the Wellington Ukulele Collective, this is a regular jam session for people wanting to get together and learn new material, or just practise and improve their playing. We came away with lots of ideas and some new music, most of which we'll have to wait until our group are beyond playing the four basic chords, but lots of things we can work towards.

Today is our regular ukulele orchestra practice at work. Each week (or two), we plan to learn a new song to sing and strum while revising a couple we've already practised. It's slow going with a wide range of ability but sooooo much fun. I love it when new members arrive; I love it even more when they come back again, as it shows we haven't scared them off yet! Our wiki is growing along with our group and word is spreading that our ukulele orchestra is the place to be on Tuesdays. Progress!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Discovering artisan cheese

Last night, a friend and I went to The Empire in Petone for a cheese feast. Mmm, I love cheese! Another Wellington on a Plate festival event, Discovering Artisan Cheese was co-hosted by Paul, owner of The Empire, and Wendy, owner of cultured, a specialist cheese shop right around the corner from me. Paul matched the various cheeses (and accompanying food) with beer, wine, or cider while Wendy demonstrated how to make mozzarella in just 30 minutes.

Cheese tasting
First up was the Red Leicester. This firm, hard pressed cheese was really well matched with the house bitter, Empire Ale. Quite strong in flavour without being overpowering, I could happily have eaten more of it with bread or crackers. In between each cheese tasting, we sipped Mac's Green Apple; apparently cheese tasters eat a slice of green apple to cleanse the palette, and this was a refreshing alternative. Next, we tried a Cheshire cheese with pear paste and served with a creamy Boddingtons Pub Ale. I could have eaten this all night. Crumbly, yet strong in flavour, the pear paste set off the flavour and created an exquisite taste combination. Our third sample was the Sunset Blue, a creamy entry-level blue served at room temperature. Paired with a distinction port, this was too much for me. (I'm not really a blue cheese fan.)

Wendy started demonstrating the process of making mozzarella, using a 30-minute recipe, fiore di latte. This was vastly different to the process I've heard that my Napolitani friend's family use, which can take quite a long time and has resulted in his mother sporting red and scalded hands from time to time. Meanwhile, Paul went about preparing bruschetta, which was paired with a Wairarapa Pinot Noir, Russian Jack. (I must say that I was very impressed with Paul's Italian pronunciation - not to mention his cooking skills!)

Paul makes bruschetta
While Wendy continued with her cheese making, Paul prepared pan-fried halloumi with roast pear and walnut salad. Wow, what an amazing taste sensation that was, especially as the dressing contained raspberry puree. We enjoyed this with a refreshing Mac's Isaac's cider.

Wendy makes mozzarella while Paul prepares a halloumi salad
We went home with tickled taste buds and a thirst for more. Apparently they are looking to host further events like this in the future; I'll be there after enjoying the ultimate wine (beer) and cheese evening!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Cupcakes and cocktails

Wellington on a Plate is in full swing. Last night, a friend and I went along to Martha's Pantry for Cupcakes and Cocktails. Going by the almost-exclusively female group that had assembled, it would appear that others had the same idea as us: a fun night out for the girls. We were warmly welcomed with a Pimm's winter cocktail and tiny club sandwiches à la high tea, put on our pinnies and took our places at beautifully decorated tables.

An elegant welcome at Martha's Pantry
Martha's Pantry has a long tradition on its premises and is operated in family-style; we met the two sisters who own the café, their mother, their cousin (who taught me cupcake decorating at Tempt last year) ... the embedded family culture was obvious. We were given the super-simple recipe that Martha's Pantry use for their cupcake base. This would be good to try if I need to whip up some cupcakes in a hurry, as everything goes into a blender for just a few seconds and then straight into the oven - easy peasy!

While the cupcakes were cooking, we were given a lesson in cocktail making. We learned about using jiggers (yes, that's a real word), Boston shakers, and practised making a cocktail for ourselves - lots of fun and noise! Then it was on to decorating cupcakes Martha's style. Their secret seems to be using large piping nozzles on little cupcakes, making one simple, fluid movement to ice the whole cake. Again, their icing recipe was very simple, so this might become my quick-fire backup.

Cupcakes and cocktails
We piped some white chocolate onto baking paper, then finished our decorating by making some delicate tape roses out of sugar paste. The sugar paste was very soft and crumbled easily so this style of rose was probably easiest to make from it. The result was a pretty, elegantly styled cupcake perfect for high tea (or dessert, as it was night time) and a fabulous girls' night out.

Rose cupcakes

Monday, 16 August 2010

Patisserie class

On Sunday morning, I took part in a one-off patisserie class, Making Great Patisserie with WelTec, one of the Wellington on a Plate festival events. With just sixteen places available, the event quickly sold out. On arrival, we were welcomed with a cup of Celcius coffee and a mini lemon tart - a taste of what was to come. With the guidance of patisserie tutor Paul Gibbs and two students in his current patisserie class, we had the most amazing morning learning how to make pastry and gleaning gems from their wealth of cooking knowledge.

Two recipes were on the menu for the morning: choux pastry (which would become chocolate profiteroles) and pear and almond tart. I've never really tried making pastry before, apart from my cousin showing how to make chocolate eclairs years ago; it looked like a lot of hard work to me and I thought there was far more that could go wrong than with regular baking. Apparently lemon, or citrus, tart has more possible factors that can go wrong in a 3-hour session so, although we didn't get to make it ourselves, we were given the recipe to take home and try.

We mixed, beat, creamed, dipped, sliced, piped, and gently added ingredients all morning. We looked very professional in our white dust jackets. We grinned as we took our creations out of the oven and moved on to the next task, made easier by having all the ingredients pre-measured and stored in separate containers - I wish someone could do this for me at home! My cupcake piping skills came in handy when dropping profiterole mix onto the oven tray; it also meant that I could evenly pipe frangipane on to the sweet pastry base when making my pear and almond tart.

Profiteroles straight out of the oven
Paul shows us how to dip profiteroles in chocolate
Magic trick - Paul removing the flan tray in one swift move
I have been hoarding a voucher for The Cake Shop since Christmas, acting like the proverbial kid in a candy store looking at all the great things I'd like to buy online. I've now decided to stock up on some pastry-making items so I can try making it at home and add patisserie to my baking repertoire.

And  the result? Well, let's just say that a friend and I were going to meet for coffee on Sunday afternoon. As I had gone home with about 20 creamed profiteroles and a whole pear and almond tart, I put the coffee on and she came around for Sunday afternoon treats. What a perfect way to spend a Sunday!

Chocolate cream profiteroles
Pear and almond tart

Qui tutto bene!

Qui tutto bene!
(Here, all is well)

It's one of my favourite sayings. Qui tutto bene! All is well. Even when things don't seem to be going to well at the time, I still like how the saying rolls off the tongue. One of my ongoing 101 in 1001 activities is #48 - Find something to be happy and thankful for each day. While I don't make a conscious attempt to record (or even think about) something positive every single day, I'd like to think that my thoughts are tending towards appreciating the simple pleasures that makes life great.

Here are some of my #48s at the moment - and there are plenty more in my life:
  • I baked orange chocolate cupcakes for a pot luck dinner with friends at the weekend. I'll try out a new recipe for ganache fudge another time and see if I can turn it into some sort of decoration.
  • We are having lots of fun with our ukulele orchestra at work. In fact, it makes Tuesday the best day of the working week.
  • My new camera is awesome!
  • I'm still enjoying Zumba.
  • Wellington on a Plate started this weekend and I have booked in for a few of the festival events: Cupcakes and Cocktails, Discovering Artisan Cheese, and Making Great Patisserie with WelTec. Bellissimo! 
  •  In among some hideously cold and wintry weather, we are already being teased with some beautiful spring days. That means that spring flowers are not too far away.
  • I have just landed the job of my dreams - I have been waiting to make lemonade for a looooong time! :-)
What are you happy and thankful for right now?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

My iPod touch apps

Ever since discovering Free App A Day a while ago, my iPod touch has really come to life. I have only bought a few fully-paid applications but have downloaded lots of freebies. Free App A Day offers one free app for iPhone/iPod/iPad each day. I enjoy playing games, but am not too keen on action games or ones that eat my battery life before my eyes.

Here are some of the apps I'm enjoying at the moment. There are others, but these are the ones I use most frequently.

I've blogged about this before. The Classics app allows me to have 27 classic novels on hand everywhere I go. This is great if you are a bibliophile like me, or are caught waiting somewhere without a book to read or anything to do.

There is something strangely addictive about building and rebuilding a community from scratch. Build-A Lot is not as complex as Sim City, making the challenges easier to dip in an out of when time is tight.

Fuzzle is a fun game to play in short bursts, for example, when waiting in the queue for my morning coffee. It is a simple, untimed game which doesn't restart every time you open the application - it continues your saved game. Basically, you move the balls around the board to create lines of five balls of the same color. Every time you finish a row, the balls are removed. But after every other move you make, more balls are added.

Sudoku 2
I hadn't had much experience with solving sudoku puzzles before, but Sudoku 2 is great and has taught me lots. There are several different levels and the updates released have made the board and numbers even clearer to see.

Moonlight Mahjong
Use the touch screen to adjust the angle you view the game board or the size of the puzzle. Moonlight Mahjong has several different tile styles, and even one which uses numbers if you're having trouble finding matches. I randomly select puzzles to solve and they range from being relatively simple to quite complex.

I have finally found a Lemmings-style game for my iPod touch. Chicks takes me right back to the 80s/90s when we first met little creatures who would fall off cliffs and bash their way through walls at our command.

Cooking Dash
I have spent far longer than I care to think about trying to master Cooking Dash. Flo dashes about trying to cook up meal orders for her customers, who are each only prepared to wait for varying lengths of time. The kitchen gets busy and the heat turns up a notch. The biggest frustration with Cooking Dash (and Diner Dash below) is that it doesn't save the game when you close the application - you need to start again from scratch.

Diner Dash
As above. Be warned: Diner Dash is also really addictive.

Do you have any recommendations of your own?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Things I have learned

Today is the anniversary of my arrival on this planet. No, I'm not an alien (really). I'm just not that big on birthdays. (Mine, that is - others' are fine.)

Having said that, today has started well. At midnight, my sweetie presented me with my first ever digital camera, and it's a beauty! As I sit at work twiddling my thumbs (and blogging) in between projects, I'm eyeing up the glimpses of winter sunshine from my desk and thinking that I'd much rather be outside trying out my new toy. Who knows - my Project 365 might yet live to see another day now that I have my own camera to play with. I'm also planning a baking bonanza tonight - hummingbird cupcakes and caramel slice is on the menu.

Apparently you can learn something new every day. Some days we learn more than one thing, but what happens on days where nothing substantial is learned? Does it just get added to the collective pearls of wisdom acquired from previous days? Can you be in credit if you learn lots of things on one day but then nothing for a while afterwards? Or in debt, needing to catch up if you haven't learned anything all week? And what if what you have learned is, ultimately, totally useless? Does it matter? Hmm.

Anyway, here are a few of the gems I have learned during the past few decades. They're hardly lifelong lessons, but some I've learned the hard way:
  • Cheap nail polish from the $2 Shop works just as well as expensively branded nail polish that costs 7-8 times the price, so long as you apply it over a good base coat and finish it with a top coat. 
  • I could easily live without a phone (cell or otherwise), but a cheerful ring tone helps ensure that I smile when the darn thing rings.
  • Being polite and pretending to be appreciative of certain types of presents only leads to me receiving more of them. Over the years, I have received and 'stored' more talcum powder, fancy soaps, alcohol, handbags, and hand cream than I care to think about.
  • I need to have several books on the go at once, or at least two or three as a backup just in case I finish reading my current book too soon. The Classics app on my iPod touch has helped allay some of my fears (27 books on hand). In the past, I've resorted to reading instruction manuals and encyclopedia entries if I've been caught short without a book! It's just how I am.
  • There is more to life than increasing its speed (Mahatma Ghandi). It's true.
  • I'd rather listen to the music in my head, or no music at all, than bad music. This is not always easy, especially when others insist on sharing their lack of musical taste with you.
  • Anything less than real coffee is not worth even acknowledging. Instant coffee is parallel to tinned spaghetti or cheese in a tube. (I haven't tried cheese in a tube, but I'm just saying.) Don't do it.
  • Gardening is not my thing. I love flowers, though.
  • Some things never change. (That's not always a bad thing.)
What have you learned in your lifetime? What gems do you have to share?

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

A baking bonanza

Busy times. (Aren't they always?) We have had a lot going on lately, both socially and in terms of things to get done. I've missed baking regularly in recent times but have decided to remedy that with a baking bonanza. We have a few events coming up that require bringing a plate, and I'm going to put on a morning tea shout at work on Friday. Here's what I have been baking, and what I plan to bake in the next wee while:
  • sultana cake - I made two of these last weekend to bring as plates for various events.
  • hummingbird cupcakes with cream cheese frosting - I had planned to make these last weekend but didn't realise I needed four over-ripe bananas to go with the coconut and pineapple. Doh! Instead, they will be part of a workplace shout on Friday morning.
  • chocolate chip cookies - These were a great backup plan on Saturday when I discovered I had no way of over-ripening four bananas in just 20 minutes.
  • caramel slice - Recipe courtesy of 3rd Gen. I'm assured it's quick and easy - it will be added to Friday's workplace shout.
  • dark chocolate and orange cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache fudge pieces - Aiming for extravagance here. I have come across a simple recipe for dark chocolate ganache which I'm keen to try and will see if it works as a decoration over dark chocolate ganache frosting.
What are people baking out in the blogosphere? Any recipes to share? I'll post as I go.