Sunday, 27 May 2012

Ginger crinkle biscuits

I have been unwell this past week, but now that I've started eating again, I thought I'd go one better and try some baking. I have a tin of treacle lurking in a dark corner of the pantry. Now, I am more than a tad suspicous of treacle. Sure, it looks good, all dark, syrupy and mysterious, but there's something about treacle that doesn't quite leave the aftertaste one would expect. It's supposed to be a sugar variant, but I'm not convinced of its intent; if you tasted my wholemeal bread last weekend, you'll understand why. Now, golden syrup, on the other hand ... yes, I have a sweet tooth. :-)

I searched the Chelsea Sugar website for baking recipes using treacle and found this one for ginger crinkle biscuits. Apparently they are good for dunking. The treacle ratio didn't look too high but I wasn't quite ready to trust it yet so substituted some of the quantity required with golden syrup. It seemed to work and I might raise the golden syrup level even higher if I bake these biscuits again.

Ginger crinkle biscuits

  • 2/3 cup oil (I used canola)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup treacle (I mixed this with golden syrup)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup sugar to roll biscuits in
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Beat oil, sugar, egg and treacle together. Stir in flour, baking soda and spices, mix well.
  3. Drop teaspoonfuls into the extra sugar and form balls. Place on baking paper lined baking tray 5cm apart.
  4. Bake for 10-15 minutes, then carefully remove to cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container. These biscuits flatten and crinkle all by themselves. Makes 60-70.
Ginger crinkle biscuits

Monday, 21 May 2012

Online restaurant reviews

I read a post recently on Mashable about the habits of restaurant goers. The headline says Most restaurant-goers rely on online reviews. Now, most would be hard to qualify and the stats referred to are American, but I was intrigued with this quote: "Before setting foot outside, about 45% of consumers have already chosen where to eat with the help of an online dining guide."

Is this true in New Zealand? Could it ever be? I frequently review cafés and restaurants for DineOut, an online review community that accepts reviews from the New Zealand dining public. Menumania is another one. Both sites are places I turn to when contemplating a new dining experience or looking for something different (if I have enough warning), but I'm not sure I'd go as far as saying I rely on them. Then there's that whole thing about the advice of strangers ... Twitter is great for that.

I try to reserve my judgement until I've tried a restaurant myself and will then review my dining experience honestly, be it positive or negative. I believe that praise should be given where praise is true; the same is true with criticism - albeit fairly. I gloss over reviews that gush 10/10 about everything or are extremely negative, but usually find that the collective rating of an establishment over time can be quite accurate. Mostly.

Do you use/post online reviews for restaurants? What convinces you to try (or avoid) a new restaurant?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Double chocolate uncooked slice

Continuing my food-themed weekend after The Food Show yesterday, I decided to try out this recipe for double chocolate uncooked slice as part of my Mothers' Day baking. I spotted it in Friday's Hansells Baking Club newsletter and it gave me a great excuse to stop and buy chocolate on the way home from work. The slice is extremely rich so I cut each piece to half the recommended size. Delicious!

Double chocolate uncooked slice

  • 200 g packet chocolate thin biscuits or other plain biscuits if preferred
  • 100 g butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 100g dark chocolate (I used Whittaker's 50% dark chocolate)
  1. Crush the biscuits in a food processor or in a plastic bag until coarse crumbs.
  2. Heat the butter, sugar and cocoa in a saucepan large enough to mix all the ingredients, until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and cool.
  3. Beat in the egg and vanilla with a wooden spoon until combined. Add the biscuit crumbs and mix to combine.
  4. Spread into a 16 cm square cake tin that has been lined with baking paper to cover the bottom and come up over two sides. Refrigerate until firm.
  5. Melt the chocolate in the microwave for 45 seconds, stir then continue to microwave for 10 second bursts until the chocolate has melted. Alternatively, melt over hot water. Pour over the slice and spread to the edges.
  6. When the chocolate has started to set, cut the slice into 4 cm squares or 2 x 4 cm oblongs. Store in the fridge. Makes 16/32 pieces.
Double chocolate uncooked slice

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Food Show 2012

 The Food Show is on this weekend in Wellington - a true foodie's paradise. Countless stands with gourmet products of every kind, from chocolate, cheese, bread, nuts, sauces, meat products, seafood, food magazines, as well as various kitchen products and applicances, all beautifully topped off with lashings of wine tasting. Nom!

We tried so many new products and fresh taste combinations that I would never had sampled otherwise, which is the great thing about events like this. I bought a few treats but came away with products and brands to look out for in future, including lots of gift ideas. I found myself getting a bit olive oiled out after a couple of hours. (Thankfully, it is impossible to become cheesed out. Believe me - I would have crossed that line today if it existed.)

The crowds were, once again, phenomenal. It seems like every third person in Wellington was there, which is great to see. We had hoped to arrive before it got too hectic but everyone else must have had the same idea as there was shuffling room only, even at 11 am. Still, we waddled back to the car more than four hours later with contentedly full tummies. Needless to say, there is no need for dinner tonight!

Truer words were never spoken

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The art of macarons

Although I am a cupcake queen, I understand that macarons are currently the new black. Gluten free, perfectly delicate and colourful - what's not to love? Tonight, a friend and I attended a macaron making demonstration with Helen from Sky & Helene's Macarons.

Helen explained her trepidation about giving a demonstration like this outside of the controlled conditions of her commercial kitchen. Even the tiniest variation can mean disaster, from an increase in humidity (which needs to be less than 60%, especially while the macarons are resting) to too much baking paper overhanging the oven tray (which must be placed exactly in the middle of the oven). We learned that Helen likes to use 'old' eggs (ones that are almost at their best before date) as fresh eggs are more liquidy when heated and that certain brands are better than others. Gosh!

"Everything is precise," we were told as she executed every move with ease. Hmm. Now, it's no secret that I don't have the patience for things like accounting, but it sounds like the precision required for baking macarons could come a close second.

I picked up some valuable tips to add to my piping skills, such as swirling small circles to avoid air bubbles. Helen also showed us a really simple trick for filling piping bags (something I grapple with): open the bag over a jug and pour the mixture in from the top. I'll definitely give this a try.

I don't know if I'm brave enough to try baking macarons for myself but will need to be prepared to practise, practise and practise again. Still, I suspect it will be a long time before mine turn out like Helen's.

Sky & Helene's Macarons gift pack

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Welcome to New Zillund

I saw this image on Blog on the Tracks today and had to steal it for myself. Priceless!

Zoom in closer and take a better look. For anyone who knows what the New Zealand accent sounds like, you'll know what I mean. Although I love New Zealand, I'm one of those cultural cringers; I find it embarrassing to listen to Prime Minister John Key speak, especially during overseas interviews.

While we laugh about fush n chups and other words on this list, I can assure you they are not made up. Apparently Wendy was one of the names my parents were throwing around when I was born. Dad liked it, Mum wasn't fussed, but my Italian grandmother had the final say: "Windy? How can you call a baby Windy?" Whew!

I remember learning about New Zealand English at school. Back then, rising intonations, diphthongs and a broad accent were just things we had to know about to pass exams but, sadly, they are very real. Just step outside the country for a moment or two and you'll notice it immediately. *shudder*

As a teacher, I have made audio recordings for my students for years, particularly for those living overseas. I'm conscious that I speak quite quickly and make a concerted effort to talk s l o w l y when recording or speaking publicly. I emailed off an audio file to a kiwi family living in China, feeling proud of my efforts. The next day, I received an email back from the children's mother. She and the kids were thrilled with my recording and said it reminded them how much they missed hearing the kiwi accent. I was mortified! Needless to say, I now record at my usual talking pace lest my attempts to slow down and enunciate carefully be misinterpreted.

What do you think of the kiwi accent?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Banana chocolate walnut muffins

Once again, I find myself with overripe bananas on hand - not a problem as they are perfect for baking with. This is a varation of the banana chocolate chip muffin recipe from the Baking for Blokes recipe book. I altered the quantity of chocolate chips and substituted in some chopped walnuts instead to make up one combined cup of goodies to add. It is a smaller, wetter muffin recipe than the ones I usually bake with and the Weetbix and walnuts gave some extra texture. Also, it is unusual in that the wet mix is added to dry instead of the other way around.

Banana chocolate chip (and walnut) muffins

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 Weetbix, crushed
  • 1 egg
  • 100 g butter, melted
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 large or 2 smallish bananas, mashed
  1. Preheat oven to 200°C.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder and sugar into a bowl.
  3. Stir in the chocolate chips and crushed Weetbix, then make a well in the middle of the mixture.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and stir in the melted butter along with the milk, then pour into the well in the dry ingredients.
  5. Add the mashed banana, then stir briefly - just enough so that it's mushed together.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
Banana chocolate chip walnut muffins

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Improvisors - History Never Repeats

We are long time fans of The Improvisors. We have learned not to sit in the front row (although the cast are getting sneakier and even picking on audience members a few rows back) and love how latecomers are afforded the welcome they deserve. Recently, two of the troupe provided entertainment at a conference dinner I attended and the crowd were once again amazed by their quick thinking and sharp repartee.

Last night, thanks to Wotzon, we saw The Improvisors' latest show at Circa Theatre as part of the 2012 NZ Comedy Festival. History Never Repeats is a comedic jaunt through time from 2000 BC until some point in the future and was both educational and entertaining. For example, we learned that the ancient Etruscan civilisation started with E and so did most of their language. Shakespeare had set a play in South Auckland and the inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup final somehow managed to coincide wth 1985's Rainbow Warrior sinking. It's certainly history as we didn't know it!

Although last night's show didn't quite fire on all cylinders like usual, there were still plenty of belly laughs to be had with Nic Gorman and Ian Harcourt in particularly fine form. The theatresports season is on its way and we hope to catch a couple of shows. Bring on the laughter!