Sunday, 29 March 2015

Villa Maria wine tasting

This month's wine club tasting was hosted by Villa Maria

The development of Villa Maria is a great success story. From modest beginnings in 1961 to having 250 employees in more than 50 countries, this family owned business has grown and survived due to a focus on quality, hard work and innovation. For example, 2001 was Villa Maria's first cork-free wine bottle year. They also have armfuls of awards from around the world.

As a testament to how much Villa Maria Estate founder, Sir George Fistonich, loves wine, he was quoted as saying something like, "I love wine. During the past 50 years, there are only three days where I have not drunk wine." [Badly paraphrased by me, but you get the picture.] Wow, he must really love the stuff! We couldn't help wondering though which three days were the ones where he took a break from wine and why. A hospital visit? Bad planning on a public holiday? In transit to another world where wine doesn't exist?

Villa Maria produces a huge range of wines from vineyards all around the country. We got to try three wines from their Private Bin Light range. We were given detailed tasting notes, meaning that all I really had to do was enjoy each sample then put a tick or cross on each page once I'd decided whether I liked it or not.
  • Pinot Gris 2014 - Private Bin Light. With just 9% alcohol, this was a really light wine and pale in appearance. It's produced in Marlborough and tasted ok, but I didn't really like the floral aftertaste.
  • Rosé 2014 - Private Bin Light. I'm coming to like light rosés, but this dry rosé was far too light for me, so much so that there really wasn't much flavour to it at all. Made from Hawkes Bay pinot gris and merlot grapes, it was served lightly chilled.
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2014 - Private Bin Light. I enjoy a dry Marlborough sav, but I just couldn't get a full taste from this 9% alcohol wine. I think I'll stick to full bodied wines in future.
During the second half of the evening, we were introduced to Left Field, a new wine range from Te Awa Collection that was only launched a few weeks ago. These full bodied wines boast "something a bit different", either in the way they are made or their palette.
On paper, it doesn't look like we had a very successful night. However, I find wine tastings a great way to find out more about what I like, even if it's just to rule something out, instead of having to randomly buy a full bottle and risk trusting the tasting notes.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Wellington Wine and Food Festival

The Wellington Wine and Food Festival hit town this weekend. Frank Kitts Park was the venue for this newly revamped event, a huge step up from similar events held at the soulless Westpac Stadium years ago.

Everything we ate last night was delicious - and that's not something I say very often. Or maybe I was just really good at picking the best stuff? I'll admit it wasn't easy with so much on offer. My strategy was to try things outside of the usual market offerings and seeking out vendors I'd not been to before. It paid off.

Here is our main course menu for the evening. We divided each serving in two so we could try as many dishes as possible before getting too full - and avoid arguments over who had taken a bigger bite.
  • Tom Khem, (caramelised braised pork belly with cripsy rice balls), steamed pork buns and beef meatballs with sweet sticky sauce from Taste Lao (Dai and Dal). So yummy! Pork buns are my new food obsession.
  • Beer battered warehou with chips and tartare sauce from The Chippery. Absolutely delicious! (This is high praise from someone who doesn't eat fish and chips.)
  • GChả Gio` from Nam D, which is crispy ground pork and glass noodle spring rolls, served with tangy dipping sauce. We'd already tried these before at City Market so knew how good they were.
  • Whitebait fritter sandwich in white bread with tartare sauce from The Tasting Room. Oh my! Actual whitebait inside and not too much egg. Divine.
  • Pulled pork long dog with hot siracha sauce from Zibibbo with really tender pork. Nom!
Dinner was washed down with Tuatara Hefe and Black Dog Chomp. (Good to keep the whānau gainfully employed, lol.) I think there was also a glass of sav somewhere along the way.

We tried some samples of Heavenly Fudge but were too full for dessert. Instead, I got a takeaway box from Sweet Release Cakes and Treats to waddle home with. Here is their salted caramel rum cookie and Kit Kat brownie, an idea I might try baking myself.

Salted caramel rum cookie and Kit Kat brownie
Overall, I'm not sure how I feel about the event itself, more specifically, the $39 entry fee. I am really lucky to have won free tickets, which was the difference for me between going or not. Although I'm a foodie who is always keen to support local producers and vendors, I didn't see much bang for buck on entry. I wasn't alone; friends I bumped into made similar remarks. Given the number of giveaways from vendors and last minute $29 discount deals, it looks like numbers of paying punters were low.

We spent quite a bit of money buying food and drinks, which I am really happy to do in support of local businesses. Sure, we may have spent a similar amount at a restaurant, but a restaurant or bar wouldn't have charged almost $80 for two of us to walk in the door, even one with a band. Once inside, we faced many of the usual suspects that we would find at City Market each Sunday and other free events and fairs around town. I understand that events like this need organisation and promotion and that there are expenses involved, but I wouldn't have been in a position to go if I had to pay the expensive entry fee.

A huge thank you to New World Thorndon for the complimentary tickets. We had a fantastic time and have made lots of food discoveries to follow up next time we go to the markets.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Afternoon tea at Louis Sergeant

Yesterday, I treated a foodie colleague to afternoon tea at Louis Sergeant in Featherston Street. From the moment you pull open the wide, heavy door you get the feeling of entering a French salon - not that I've ever experienced this for myself but this is how I imagine they would be. Tables were buzzing with conversation over delightful treats. What's not to love?

My phone was out of my bag as quickly as my eyes popped out of my head and I instantly became one of 'those' foodies who feel compelled to photograph everything I'd eaten, as well as things I hadn't. Feast your eyes on this beautiful display counter full of immaculately constructed treats.

Feast your eyes
More to drool over
It was incredibly hard to choose. I settled on a hot chocolate with Religieuse Belle Hélène, choux pastry filled with a 70% dark chocolate mousse and a light pear puree. The pear puree balanced the richness of the dark chocolate beautifully and the smooth mousse inside the choux pastry melted in my mouth.

Religieuse Belle Hélène
Afternoon tea at Louis Sergeant was just what we needed for a mid-week treat and to break our 3.30-itis. We can't wait to come back for high tea!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Living herb wall

I'm no gardener by any stretch of the imagination. Still, the cook in me likes the idea of cooking and eating fresh. Also, have you seen how much it costs to buy herbs these days?? Two years on from tending a basic herb garden, a pot of thyme remains intact. Although the other herbs have sadly passed on, I did use the parsley, chives and rosemary several times in my cooking before they died off. Perhaps they were only supposed to last a while? Hopefully.

One of my summer projects was to set up living wall of herbs on a patch of trellis in the back yard. The area is sheltered but also gets good sun. After scouring garden shops and daily deals for a few months, we came across this design which has individual pockets made of felt. This means that I can plant and water each herb separately and any excess water just drains through the felt.

I looked through my spice rack to see which herbs I use the most in my cooking and bought a few varieties of each in small pots to transplant into my wall. From top to bottom, I have planted:
  • Italian and flat parsley
  • lemon and pizza thyme
  • Greek oregano
  • garlic and regular chives
  • sweet basil (I know this one will probably need to come inside during winter)
  • rosemary to drape over the bottom edges.
There is also a tub of coriander hanging beneath the wall.
Living herb wall
I have planted little violets and violas in between the herb pockets in a checkerboard shape. Hopefully their pretty colours will attract bees and also allow room for the taller herbs to grow upwards without getting in the way of others.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Tiny potato widsom

Someone we are very fond of has recently embarked on a journey of personal development. He is highly accomplished in his current field (and several others) but lacks confidence in his ability to cope with studying towards his dream profession.

We know he'll be fabulous at whatever he does and that once he finds his feet he'll do really well with his study and future career. But how do you convince someone that your belief in them should spill over? Motivational quotes help some people.

This morning, three tiny potatoes presented him with our favourite motivational quote du jour. It's currently pinned to our office wall ... but I guess you need to know us and our work environment to understand how it sums up our humour and the manner in which it's intended. Luckily, he did!

Thought for the day: believe in yourself and never doubt tiny potato wisdom.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

High tea at The Little Teapot

I hadn't heard of The Little Teapot until spotting a Groupon offer for high tea. We booked in for this afternoon without realising that there were two Kilbirnie Fairs on at the same time outside (yes, two similar events in the same suburb on the same day). After wandering around both fairs for a bit, we were early for our appointment at The Little Teapot but they were happy to accommodate us.

The menu is baked fresh and changes daily. Nine savoury and sweet items are presented in two layers and accompanied by quaint cutlery and crockery and cute coloured bottles of chilled water. Once again, we passed over the tea menu in favour of coffee.

Starting from the bottom, we had ham, lettuce, tomato and piccolini sandwiches, crème fraiche mini sandwiches with cucumber and mint, caramelised onion tarts and mushroom and ricotta tarts. The sweet layer had scones with jam and cream, lemon tarts with raspberry, mini vanilla cupcakes and double chocolate brownie to finish. (Does that add up to nine? I think I've missed one somewhere.)

The Little Teapot high tea
If you are in the eastern bays or fancy a trip across town for a treat, do check out The Little Teapot for vintage style decor and home style baking.