Saturday, 22 June 2013

Butterscotch self-saucing pudding

The winter solstice arrived with a vengeance this weekend. This means it's time to indulge in the kinds of winter puddings that we southern hemisphere dwellers strangely like to eat at Christmas time when it's warm and sunny. I've had butterscotch pudding on my mind today, mostly because I'd never made one before but also because I like golden syrup. Mmmmmm, golden syrup. This self-saucing butterscotch pudding is decadent (look at how much sugar is in it!) and perfect as a winter dessert.

The original recipe serves six so I played around with quantities to make just two servings. I used a small casserole dish (~2 cup capacity) and melted the butter directly into it, 'swishing' some up the sides to grease it before mixing the rest of the ingredients in. It seemed to work.

Butterscotch self-saucing pudding

  • 30 g butter
  • 1/4 cup (caster) sugar
  • 1/2 cup self-raising flour
  • 1/3 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 15 g butter
  • 2/3 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 tablespoon golden syrup
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Melt butter in a small casserole dish in the microwave. 'Swish' around the sides of the dish to grease it.
  3. Add milk, vanilla essence, sugar and flour. Mix well.
  4. Place butter for sauce in a jug. Pour boiling water over butter and mix. Mix in brown sugar and golden syrup.
  5. Pour sauce over the back of a spoon on top of the pudding mixture.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes until pudding is firm (although it will wobble around in the sauce). Serve with ice cream or cream.
Butterscotch self-saucing pudding

Friday, 21 June 2013

Things to do in a storm

The weather frequently makes the news here in New Zealand. We love impending weather bombs. Then there was that time it snowed in Wellington. It may seem trivial, but I'm actually grateful that we live in a country where there is little 'real' news.

We're used to a bit of wind in Wellington. Sometimes the trees really do look like the ones in this picture. We certainly saw (and felt) a lot of it while driving home last night, as well as a huge flash that took out the street lights in several blocks close to home. Clichés like "the worst storm in 40 years" really grate on me, but we really did experience that in Wellington overnight. The point of reference is the infamous storm of 1968 when the Wahine sank and passengers were washed up on the rocks near Eastbourne, with 53 losing their lives. Apparently the strongest wind gust (admittedly up a hill) was 2 kmh over those experienced in 1968. That's serious stuff.

Our house held up really well. Being concrete, it's pretty solid and we escaped with only minor damage to the garage door. The new roof pretty much paid for itself last night. We also manage to avoid a power cut, but 30,000 other homes in the region weren't so lucky. The roads into town were a mess and damage along Island Bay's coastline is phenomenal.

Due to the chaos hitting roads and rail this morning, I'm working from home and enjoying the super-productivity that results when there are no interruptions and no commuting to fuss with.

Things to do during a storm:
  • Work from home in your jamies and dressing gown. No-one will know.
  • Have a(nother) shower to warm up and get dressed in front of the heater, just like you did when you were a kid.
  • Eat vegetable soup. I'm really glad I made a huge batch a while ago and filled my freezer with it.
  • Drink six shots of espresso. (Ok, that's not ideal, but my 3-cup caffettiera is at work so I used my 6-cup one instead. At least I didn't use my 9-cup!)
  • Listen to Ella Fitzgerald while you're working. She's awesome. Especially when she makes up the words.
Have I forgotten anything?

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Afternoon tea at Maginnity's

Our ladies' training continues with another high tea, although this time it has been correctly named afternoon tea. This weekend, we indulged in afternoon tea with bubbles at Maginnity's in Wellesley Boutique Hotel. To clear up any confusion, there was even a brief explanation of the origins of afternoon and high tea in the front of the tea menu.

Maginnity's oozes old style charm. It's distinguished and refined, warm and elegant on a winter's afternoon. The patterned china, delicately embroidered napkins and bowl of sugar cubes with tongs are a step back in time. A window seat allows for people watching and time slows down for an hour or two.

With coffee and bubbles at the ready, it was onto the beautifully presented food. There was a selection of tiny sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, tea cake, mini profiteroles with Chantilly cream, raspberry lamingtons, dark chocolate truffle slice ... it takes time and determination to pace yourself through so many treats. I'm glad I saved the citrus and fruit tart for last; it was simply perfect.

Afternoon tea at Maginnity's
We're getting good at this ladies' afternoon tea thing. Any recommendations for where we should go next?

Friday, 14 June 2013

An evening with destitute gourmet

I seem to be the only foodie on this part of the planet who had not heard of destitute gourmet before this week. Gourmet cooking and eating on a budget? Sounds good to me! Last night, I enjoyed a delightful evening with Sophie Gray of destitute gourmet fame at a fundraising event.

Sophie had the 98% female audience in the palm of her hand with her opening lines about how under resourced and unappreciated home cooks trying to feed families every day while on a tight budget are. The task is ongoing and relentless, yet necessary. So how to do it?

As a presenter, Sophie is dynamic, passionate and talks at a million miles a minute. She is full of ideas and willingly shares them. At one stage, as she was excitedly rattling off variations for one of her pastry recipes, I gave up trying to write as fast as she could talk, crossing my fingers that these variations would be somewhere on her website, rather than trying to decipher my scribbled notes later!

Sophie prepared six dishes (four savoury, two sweet) in front of us and explained the formula for creating each, rather than just giving us recipes to follow. It was refreshing to see her open tins of supermarket branded food (tomatoes, beans etc) to use as a base for cooking. After all, this is what our pantries are full of and, in reality, is what we'll use most.

Sophie's food budgeting advice is not exactly rocket science; most of it is just plain old common sense, but there were still plenty of tips and recipe variations that will make a difference. I have just borrowed Live Well, Spend Less from the library and look forward to gleaning it for tips this weekend. The main point I want to reinforce for myself is learning how to use my freezer smartly. I've had some success with this this year by making a concerted attempt to cook one meal a week that can be frozen, but freezing (and using) individual components to use again later saves so much more waste.

Here are just some of the food tips Sophie offered. [Any misquotes are my own.]
  • Buying a good chef's knife ($100-$300) costs less than a lawnmower and you will use it more often. [I totally agree!]
  • Freeze leftover tomato paste in tablespoon-sized globs wrapped in Glad wrap. Then, just drop the frozen globs into soups or sauces to as you need them. [It's better than trying to scrape the scody bits off the top of paste that you've left in the fridge for too long.]
  • Make a huge pot of soup and freeze individual portions in a muffin tray. That way, you'll always have a healthy snack-size serving that you can defrost and heat up in a cup.
  • A handful of freshly chopped herbs added while cooking doubles the amount of antioxidants in the dish. [Heck, even I can grow herbs, so this shouldn't be too hard for most.]
  • If you're freezing larger quantities of soup (for example, in an ice cream container), put a round beaker or cup in the middle of the container. This will prevent you ending up with a big frozen chunk in the middle of your soup that won't defrost as you reheat it.
You can find the destitute gourmet community everywhere online including Twitter, Facebook and on their blog. Sophie also wrote for Healthy Food Guide for a number of years.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

How to Live in Italy - Rebecca Helm-Ropelato

I have been reading How to Live in Italy: Essays on the charms and complications of living in paradise. It is a collection of short essays by American expat Rebecca Helm-Ropelato about her experience of moving to a town south of Rome. If you are Italian, or know someone who is, you'll probably (hopefully!) find yourself chuckling and nodding at these tales.

I can certainly identify with the local patriotism Helm-Ropelato talks about. Sure, we have a bit of this going on locally but the sense of loyalty to each region (complete with language, culture and food) is much more defined in Italy. Although I've never lived in Italy myself, I grew up in an Italian community where so many of the mannerisms Helm-Ropelato describes make perfect sense. It is fascinating to view them from an 'outside' perspective and I can sympathise; to us, the You know you're Italian when ... lists are the real thing!

It's refreshing to read stories of someone who hasn't moved to Tuscany. As beautiful as the region is, there is far more to Italy than restoring cliched villas in the north ... oops, there's my regional Italian patriotism coming through!

I laughed as I read the anecdote about movie dialogue being overdubbed into Italian. When in Rome (ha!), I went to see A Beautiful Mind, which had recently opened. I found what I thought was an English language cinema - all the posters were in English - but discovered within the first few seconds that I was in for two hours of struggling to follow a movie with my very limited Italian. I was also amazed at how fluently 'Russell Crowe' spoke Italian! I probably don't need to mentioned that I enjoyed the movie far more

How to Live in Italy is a delightful collection of tales and reflections for expats, locals and wannabe travellers. Download it for Kindle and temporarily transport yourself to paradise.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Piping workshop at Stiletto Studio

Following on from our fondant flower making course, we have once again spent the last three weeks in the company of Becs at Stiletto Studio. This time, the work involved practising different piping techniques to decorate cakes. I discovered that slapping basic buttercream frosting onto a dummy cake speeds things up immensely; it's easy to be reckless when you know nobody's going to eat what you've made!

We began with buttercream piping. After admiring rose frosted cupcakes for years, I was both thrilled and slightly put out to learn that they are incredibly easy to make using exactly the same piping technique I use on my own cupcakes but with a different nozzle. Who knew?! I'm definitely adding this one to my decorating arsenal. I also really liked the 'rope' border, created by piping overlapping S shapes.

Buttercream roses with piped 'rope' border
Next up was royal icing. I've piped numerous chocolate filigrees over the years and that technique is similar with royal icing. This time, we learned how to create a brushed embroidery look by piping an outline in royal icing and using a flat brush to drag the icing inwards. I think using a smaller brush would have resulted in a tidier effect here. The rest of the squiggles ... well, I was running out of time and had plenty of icing left over to use up. ;-)
Brushed embroidery flowers ... and some random squiggles
By request, we learned how to pipe royal icing roses. I actually got the hang of this after a few attempts and can see myself doing it again on my own cakes. There are two different techniques here: one involves making a layer of three petals near the top of a glob of royal icing, then adding five and seven petals beneath in two more layers. The second technique (in the middle) is basically a continuous spiral of icing around the centre that opens further out each time you add another layer underneath. I've grown quite attached to my roses so bought the tip to try making them at home.

Finally, we experimented with different stencils. Basically, the technique resembles slapping on concrete and smoothing it with a darby. I think it will work better on fondant than buttercream as I found the layers of buttercream stuck to each other, leaving a messier finish. Also, stencilling or decorating onto the side of a cake is not as easy as it looks!
Stencilled peacock feather with royal icing roses
Thanks Becs for lots more learning and laughter. I'm now dreaming of cake designs and getting really excited about planning all the cakes I'll make for upcoming special occasions!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Warhol: Immortal at Te Papa

Warhol: Immortal is a new exhibition at Te Papa featuring the work of pop artist Andy Warhol. On Thursday night, we had a guided tour with the exhibition's curator, Sarah Farrar. Sarah is obviously both passionate and knowledgeable about Warhol's work and her enthusiasm was contagious. It was great to be able to revisit the exhibition after the guided tour and take a closer look at the art works in more detail.

Warhol's early works in the form of commercial art resemble something akin to graphic design today. The exhibition is mostly made up of portraits and self-portraits, which exemplifies Warhol's fascination with people. There are also video screen tests and art works made of visitors to his studio, The Factory. You can even make your own screen test, if you're that way inclined. (If you're not familiar with The Factory, Factory Girl (2006) with Guy Pearce playing Warhol is somewhere to start.)

The most notably different art work in this exhibition comes in the form of silver helium clouds floating about in a room covered with cow wallpaper. Despite how it sounds, it's actually quite delightful! Warhol's blacklit Last Supper was also quite stunning.

Most of the works are on loan from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania so this is not a permanent exhibition. If you're interested in learning about something a bit different, check out Warhol: Immortal, which is on at Te Papa until 25 August. (Admission charges apply.) You'll discover there is so much more to Andy Warhol than Campbell's Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe portraits.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Dumpling making

Handmade has been happening in Wellington this long weekend. As part of the Taste programme, we were thrilled to see that Vicky Ha from House of Dumplings would be teaching a hands-on dumpling making class. I waited, poised and ready for action as soon as bookings became available ... then pounced to book our places. I'm glad I did; her two sessions sold out almost immediately - and so did the extra sessions she put on in response to popular demand.

Chinese dumplings are a staple of dim sum (yum cha). I'm told that dumpling houses are very popular overseas and eagerly await the day this trend catches on here. In the meantime, there is House of Dumplings to bring dumpling delights to Wellington.

The dough is surprisingly simple: plain flour, boiling water and a bit of elbow grease. Make the dough with hot water for steamed and pan fried dumplings, but substitute it for cold water if you intend to boil them. I think I'll use the dough hook on my Kenwood mixer to make the dough as it takes about 10 minutes of mixing before sitting for anywhere between 30-120 minutes. Also, it's good to know that you can use any types of flour to make dumplings; it doesn't have to be high grade, either.

While the dough is resting, prepare your filling. Vicky said that anything you would make a meatball out of goes well inside a dumpling. We had delicious free range Shanghai Pork and savoy cabbage dumplings, topped with Mum's secret sauce - it seems every family has food secrets like this. Roll the dough out to about 3 mm thick and cut into a 10 cm round. (It's much easier to get a consistently thin dough if you use a pasta maker.) Add about half a tablespoon of filling to the middle of each floured circle of dough, then assemble.
Filling the dumplings.
The yellow skin is coloured with turmeric.
When it comes to folding, almost anything goes. We practised seven different folding techniques, some which are more prevalent in particular cultures. It was surprisingly simple (or maybe I was just having a really good day?) with the edges being 'glued' together with water.

Folding the dumplings
... and then they are ready to cook. These ones were steamed for 7-8 minutes but you can also pan fry or boil the dumplings. Pan frying gives a caramelised finish but still lets the filling steam.
Steamed dumplings ready to eat!
A huge thank you to Vicky for a fun hands-on session. The dumplings tasted absolutely amazing! I think we might need to have Dumpling Sundays so we can practise what we've learned by starting our very own dumpling assembly lines at home.