Sunday, 31 August 2014

Pretzel making

My final Wellington on a Plate event was a hands-on pretzel making class on Saturday. Most people conjure up images of moreish party treats that come in the shape of mini pretzels, but we were being shown how to bake soft pretzels by German chef Uwe Braun.

After a monumental ticketing stuff-up that resulted in some of us turning up to an empty room due to us having a different start time printed on our tickets (2 hours earlier), we returned to a more reassuring sight: tables set with everything you need to make four soft pretzels and an entertaining host.

Tools of the trade
The ingredients are simple: flour, yeast, sugar, salt, melted butter and warm beer. (We were given half-bottles of Tui but I imagine real beer would taste good. You could even use cider.) Make a well in the flour. Mix the yeast in with the beer and a little bit of surrounding flour and leave until it starts reacting. Bubbles will form on top.

The yeast begins reacting to the beer
The next parts of the process are typical of bread making, involving kneading (I remember now why I have a bread maker and Kenwood mixer), resting the gluten and shaping the dough. After several stages, long strips of dough are twisted into the famous pretzel shape and placed on a baking tray. They are then glazed with egg yolk, dark soy sauce and a little bit more beer then sprinkled with rock salt or flaky salt.

Glazed and ready for baking
Approximately 15 minutes in the oven sees the dough turned into dark coloured soft baked pretzels.

Pretzels for afternoon tea
The finished pretzels looked good but were far too salty for my palette. I actually struggled to finish one. There was quite a bit of salt in the mixture, then soy sauce and more salt added to the glaze. I might try making pretzels at home but will either drastically reduce the salt content or look for a different recipe.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Classic soda and siphon workshop

And now for something a little bit different. Last night's Wellington on a Plate event was a hands-on classic soda and siphon workshop at Six Barrel Soda Co. We pulled up seats at the soda fountain and had some fun making yummy drinks.

We started by getting up close and personal with a soda siphon. This involved shaking (and shaking and shaking) this contraption to carbonate the water.

Soda siphon
We then used it to make our own soda floats, a smoother version of the old ice cream spiders we grew up with. Fill the glass to 3/4 with ice, then 3/4 with carbonated water. Pour 35 ml of soda syrup over the top and let it settle into the glass. (That's the correct way to make a soda. If you use alcohol, pour it into the bottom of the glass to mix it.) Add a scoop of ice cream or gelato and then more carbonated water on top. This gives the ice cream a frothy look and means that you can drink it, rather than eat it as a sundae. This is my classic cherry pomegranate soda float.

Cherry pomegranate soda float
We then experimented with a range of flavoured syrups and garnishes to create our own uniquely flavoured sodas. The syrups are all made onsite and distributed around the world from this little upstairs soda bar. I tried out the raspberry lemon syrup, added a few drops of orange bitters and delicately garnished it with orange and lime wedges. Very refreshing!

Raspberry lemon and bitters soda
It was time to step things up a notch. I added a dash of ginger syrup, then some freshly picked mint, a cucumber slice, some more bitters ... you get the picture. It was so much fun adding splashes of syrup and other ingredients to create new flavours. The results are only limited by your imagination!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sweet Couture - Pâtissier Louis Sergeant

For just a few nights during Wellington on a Plate this year, pâtissier Louis Sergeant has opened up his kitchen to teach a small handful of guests how to create an exquisite French pastry dessert. Louis assures us we can whip up a chocolate and hazelnut sphere at home. After watching him in action on Tuesday night, I'm not so sure!

Sweet Couture on Featherston Street has been on my list of places to visit ever since it opened earlier this year. I walk past it most days and promise myself that I will come back with some girl friends so we can have a ladies' afternoon tea. Just look at these tempting pastries!

Pastry counter
The session was complemented by wine pairing with Nicola Belsham on behalf of Feast & Vine. We began with a small glass of late harvest Martinborough sauvignon blanc. We were told all about the science of wine and food matching and how you should choose a wine that is sweeter than the food being served. (That explains stickies!)

We moved behind the scenes into the kitchen, where Louis demonstrated how to effortlessly create a masterpiece for dessert. He developed this recipe for chocolate hazelnut spheres especially for Wellington on a Plate and urged us to try it at home. It is created in three stages, beginning with making a hazelnut paste, which needs to set in the fridge, then mixing an almond meringue sponge base.

Louis pipes almond meringue into baking rings
While the sponge is cooking, the chocolate hemispheres are created. Louis showed us a simple way to temper the chocolate before brushing it into silicon moulds. Once set, one hemisphere is placed on a cooled meringue sponge piece, then filled with hazelnut creme. The edges of the second piece are gently melted and then carefully placed on top to create a beautiful masterpiece. Louis makes it all look so effortless; I imagine it's going to take plenty of practice to create anything that even remotely looks like a sphere at home.

Louis assembles the chocolate sphere
We moved back into the cafe to enjoy our treats, which were matched with a fortified red dessert wine.

Chocolate hazelnut sphere
This was a really enjoyable evening. Louis Sergeant is delightful and talks with real passion about the pastries he creates. The wine matching part of the evening didn't do much for me; I don't think it necessarily added anything to the event. However, I can't wait to return with friends for afternoon tea. I want to try one of absolutely everything in the counter and see if they taste as delicious as they look. (I'm sure they will!)

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

WOAP lunch: Portlander Bar & Grill

Wellington on a Plate is fast becoming my favourite time of the year to be a Wellingtonian. A group of us from work had the $25 lunch at Portlander Bar & Grill today. After many attempts trying to book our table and confirm our pre-order, we arrived to a full house and were duly impressed with how many groups were being accommodated all at once.

I chose the twice cooked Boomrock lamb ribs with light South East Asian spices, Portlander's peanut and coriander slaw and crisp potato skins as an entree to begin with. There didn't seem to be crisp potato skins hiding anywhere but the seasoned lamb ribs were excellent. I'd definitely order them again.

Lamb ribs
Because it's Wellington on a Plate and because this is a special event and because I can ... I skipped straight from my entree to dessert - and I wasn't the only one at my table who did that! My dessert was Gelissimo berry pavlova gelato with crumbled pavlova and La Bella Italia vanilla bean crème brûlée. The crème brûlée was absolutely perfect: smooth and creamy with a layer of hard caramel on top that you had to crack into with a spoon. Yum!

Crème brûlée with berry pavlova gelato
I also enjoyed a raspberry and lemon soda from Six Barrel Soda Co. It topped off an excellent meal made from locally sourced produce that was cooked to perfection. *contented sighs from our table*

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Happy Tea - High Tea

Friday was a foodie's delight for me, with two Wellington on a Plate events in one day. After learning the secrets of Dom's Cheese Scones before work, I celebrated the end of a very busy week with a special Happy Tea - High Tea at Martha's Pantry. We were assured that our grandmothers would have enjoyed a tipple at high tea, so some special tea-based cocktails were created to accompany this event. Look at the beautifully set table.

A beautiful table setting
The high tea menu was similar to the one I enjoyed at Let Them Eat Cake last weekend. This time, we were provided with a booklet featuring some of the recipes from high tea. I quickly looked for the lemon curd that I loved ... and discovered it's actually made in the microwave!

I'm not a tea drinker - not even remotely - but luckily had brought a tea drinker with me. We cautiously approached the tea cocktail menu, looking for something that I might enjoy and found it in the hot masala chai cocktail, which was essentially mulled wine. Two pots later ... yes, I can assure you it was very nice mulled wine! I wasn't impressed with the iced coconut rough cocktail, though. It was far too sweet for me to take more than a couple of sips, a situation that my friend took advantage of by polishing off most of the 1 litre pitcher.

And then we got to the food. Three tiers of exquisitely prepared sandwiches, savouries and sweets. We discovered that mulled wine didn't go too well with the cool cucumber sandwiches with minted cream cheese, so fixed that by topping up our tea cups, cleansing our palettes with long sips of mulled wine and moving onto the next tier. It was lovely to finish off with some soft opera gateau, along with tiny raspberry macarons and a creme patisserie sweet pastry tart. I'll definitely be emailing Martha's Pantry to ask for those recipes.

Happy tea high tea
As we polished off the final tier, we were astounded to look across at the next table and see four ladies sitting around a half-full high tea serving set, having methodically each eaten the same food item together at the same time, then taking a break before moving onto the next. We don't understand this kind of restraint but redeemed ourselves slightly by discovering that we didn't win the medal for first finished in the room; another pair had beaten us - just.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Cheese Scone Friday with Dom

After three years of scrambling online the moment Wellington on a Plate tickets went on sale, I was finally successful in achieving a long-term goal: booking a place at the Dom's Cheese Scones event. In case you hadn't heard, Pravda's world famous cheese scones are my reward to myself for surviving a week with everybody still intact. Also, people are beginning to realise that the last day of the working week is aptly named Cheese Scone Friday, so it's only right that I indulge in some cheese scone goodness.

This morning's event was about learning the secrets of the best cheese scones in town. Now, I'm the first to admit that I am seriously scone challenged. I can bake a whole range of things with quite a bit of success, including bread, fancy treats and decorated cakes. But I really struggle with the basics of scones. There is something about rubbing cold butter into flour that I don't seem to have inherited the gene for.

We began by ordering coffee, then met Dom, who told us about the multitudes of cheese scones (and other baked goods) he has made during his career as a baker. I can't help wonder if he finds himself rolling cheese scones in his sleep! He showed us how to make a batch of perfect cheese scones, then we each had a go at rolling one or two into balls, ready for baking.

Dom, the cheese scone master
I won't divulge the recipe but it involves melted butter, wet hands and a light touch. The scones are quickly rolled into smooth balls and placed on a baking tray with room to grow, then topped with a cheese glaze - extra grated tasty cheese. Turning the tray every 5 or so minutes in a hot oven ensures a consistent golden finish.

Cheese Scone Friday
A huge thanks to Dom and the team at Pravda for a fun cheese scone experience. Happy Cheese Scone Friday, everyone!

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Silver Linings Playbook - Matthew Quick

Silver Linings Playbook has been on both my TBR and movie lists for a while now. I was determined to read the book before seeing the movie (as I usually prefer to do). Billed as a comedy/drama, I had heard from a colleague about how accurately the movie portrayed bipolar disorder and that her partner, a practising counsellor, highly recommended it.

Written in 2008, The Silver Linings Playbook is the debut novel of American author Matthew Quick. It begins when the main character, Pat Peoples, is being released from a mental institution, referred to as 'the bad place', into his mother's care. Pat has little concept of how he came to be in the bad place and is unsure about how long he's been there, but his determination toward self-improvement so his ex-wife, Nikki, will return to him once their 'apart time' is over is the driving force for the novel. He develops some extreme behaviours as part of his self-improvement, some of which are endearing while others border on being disturbing.

But it's not funny at all. The humour, if you could call it that, is deeply poignant and almost tragically sad. That's not a criticism in any way; the writing style is clever and conveys through Pat's internal dialogue far more than overt words could reveal. Pat's condition is never named in the novel and doesn't actually need to be; its complexity is subtly introduced rather than boldly announced. The reader figures out that apart time is never intended to end. Ever. And there are very good reasons for apart time, even if Pat doesn't realise what they are. The twist is finally revealed in the final two chapters, when suddenly everything makes sense.

And that's what I found so hard about watching the Silver Linings Playbook (2012) movie. A complex set of circumstances gradually revealed throughout the novel's plot is bluntly hammered out within the first few minutes of the movie, establishing a whole new story. There is a new gambling subplot and various changes in characters, their relationships and prominence. The dance competition is merely another part of Pat's journey in the book and not the climactic ending it became in the movie. Pat's relationship with his father is the polar opposite of the one portrayed in the book, where Pat's dad is cold, closed and incredibly disconnected. It loses the subtlety of Pat's disorder, which is only ever hinted at in the book; naming the disorder itself is not important but becomes the main focal point - and that's a shame.

The movie was basically a collection of a few carefully constructed characters, sub plots and events rearranged and exaggerated for the purpose of entertaining an audience, rather than invoking thinking or reflection. Also, it tried to ruin one of my favourite songs ever. Perhaps the movie should have been renamed instead of keeping the original title, which suggested it was an adaptation of the original novel?

My recommendation: read the book and watch the movie but treat them as standalone, separate pieces of work.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Let them eat cake

Let them eat cake! How's that for a title? My second Wellington on a Plate event today promised all the ingredients of a fine outing for ladies who lunch. (Ooh, that's us!) The setting was Colonial Cottage Museum, the site of Wellington's oldest original cottage.

We began with a standing high tea provided by Martha's Pantry. Take a look at the menu so see what we indulged in.

High tea menu
As always, food made by Martha's meets the "you only have one opportunity to impress so use it well" high tea rule. Each bite sized portion on the three tiers offered a different, tantalising flavour. The lemon curd on the tiny scones was some of the best I have tasted. Their lovely hostess circulated among the tables, serving tea and coffee and making conversation with the guests.

Martha's Pantry high tea
To be honest, I'm not sure how well the standing high tea concept works. Sure, the food is the same and you still work through the tiers from bottom to top but it didn't seem to be the same high tea experience that you'd get when seated around a beautifully set table.

After high tea, we had a tour of Colonial Cottage and gardens. We learned about the Wallis family who built and lived in the cottage upon their arrival in Wellington during the 1830s. Some parts of the cottage have been restored and others seemed to be in the process of refurbishment. Pieces of furniture had been reupholstered and others added to replicate similar period items.

Not so easy to cook or bake on this stove
There's a good reason why I don't iron.
There's no way I would have even considered it in the 1830s!
No modern comforts in this outhouse
At $75, this was a pricey event for just 1.5 hours. It didn't seem very well planned and I wondered about how prepared the venue was to host several groups of guests on one day, given the appearance of the facilities and grounds. I didn't come away with the WOW feeling that I usually get at Wellington on a Plate events. There was very little cake (and no reference to cake at all), other than a teeny tiny cupcake on the top tier of high tea. While the food was impeccable, as always, I'd give this particular event a miss in future and go directly to Martha's Pantry for high tea instead. It certainly would have been better value.

Friday, 15 August 2014

WOAP dinner: Avida Bar

Wellington on a Plate has kicked off for the sixth consecutive year. Until the end of August, Wellingtonions can feast on a celebration of local food and drinks.

I began my campaign tonight at Avida Bar on Featherston Street. An after-work drink with a friend turned into an impromptu dinner and tapas appealed. The $25 two course lunch or dinner tapas menu has several tempting offerings. I paired my meal with a tall lime and soda.

I chose a main course and dessert. The slow-cooked PrimeStar beef short rib with BBQ sauce was perfectly cooked, with the beef falling off the bone.

Slow-cooked beef short rib
Now, it's no secret that I love chocolate so I couldn't go past the Whittaker's Dark Ghana and Caffe L'Affare mochachino mousse for dessert. I'm not usually a fan of coffee flavoured food (even though I'm a huge coffee fan) but this mousse was decadent, smooth and simply divine.

Divine mochachino mousse
All in all, a very good start to Wellington on a Plate. I have several events and meals planned during the next fortnight and look forward to the foodie delights in store for me.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Chocolate cider cake

Birthday time. This calls for a special cake. I had been eyeing up a recipe for chocolate cider cake for a while and finally had a good excuse to try it. You can use either apple or pear cider in this recipe. I chose pear as I like the more subtle flavour that pear cider offers. I used Rekorderlig pear cider but would probably use Zeffer pear cider in future as I prefer a crisp, dry cider taste.

Despite appearing in a trashy New Zealand women's magazine, the recipe appears English in origin, meaning that I had to substitute some ingredients. (For example, we don't have double thick or thickened cream here but plain old kiwi cream works just fine.) I am really impressed with this recipe; I don't think I have ever managed to bake a round cake that rose perfectly even all round and didn't need levelling! It was also declared a new favourite by my family judging panel tonight - and that's high praise considering how many cakes I have baked for them over the years.

Chocolate cider cake

  • 1 1/4 cups self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 125 g butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 200 ml apple or pear cider
  • 300 ml cream
  • 150 g dark chocolate pieces
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Lightly grease and line a 20 cm round baking tin (or 2 x 20 cm sandwich tins) and set aside.
  2. Sift flour, cocoa and baking soda into a mixing bowl. Add butter, sugar and eggs.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat mixture on a low speed until well combined, smooth and creamy. (The mixture will be very thick). Fold cider through gradually until combined.
  4. Pour mixture evenly into the pan(s). Bake for 45 minutes (or 30-35 minutes if using sandwich tins) and test with a skewer; it should come out clean. Loosen edges with a knife and transfer onto a wire rack to tool.
To make ganache
  1. Place 150 grams of cream (weigh the cream - don't measure it) into a medium saucepan and bring almost to the boil over a medium heat. Remove from heat and add chocolate pieces. Gently stir until combined then set aside to cool.
  2. Beat remaining cream until just whipped. Gently fold in 1/3 cup of cooled ganache mixture.
To assemble
  1. Slice cooled cake in half horizontally. Place bottom half on a cake plate and spread with a layer of ganache. Cover with the whipped cream and ganache mixture. Gently place top layer over the cream and drizzle or ice with remaining ganache. Decorate with chocolate curls, if desired.
Chocolate cider cake

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Part of the furniture

We were talking today about an upcoming work anniversary; not a huge milestone but one that has caught some colleagues by surprise.

"Really? Only two years? I thought you were part of the furniture!" my manager commented. He attempted to get himself out of trouble by assuring me that it's a good thing, going on to say he's surprised at how much institutional and sector knowledge I've managed to gain in such a short time ... blah blah blah. He carefully backed out of the room while addressing a question to the room in general:
If you were a piece of furniture, what would you be?
Let's think about it. I used to be like this at work, but thankfully those days are over:

I know this technically isn't a piece of furniture, but it sure would be fun to be one of these:

I like the idea of being one of these, mostly just for the name but also for the images of the exuberant lifestyle it conjures up:

And then I came up with my answer: a bright, colourful and unique Tiffany lamp.

It wasn't until I got home tonight and discovered a quiz that can tell you exactly what item of furniture you are supposed to be. Of course.

A desk? No thanks. I prefer my colourful Tiffany lamp.

Go on ... what item of furniture are you?