Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Serafin Tapas Bar - Restaurant Review

Ahhh, the serenity of a four day weekend.  Nothing quite like it really.  Forced holidays for those of us lucky enough to receive them (apologies to all the hospitality workers out there!).  Being such a planner it can take me a while to get an organized holiday together.  That's why I love Easter.  Without wanting or planning I suddenly find myself with respite.  With time.  A chance to catch up on those things I've always wanted to do but never got round to.  Like gardening, or cooking a big batch of stock for the freezer, or *cough* *cough* changing the oil in my car.   

Nadia and a rather excitable Michael aka Kitchen Ninja
Our weekend started on Thursday night when we joined Michael and Nadia to head to Serafin Tapas Bar in Dominion Road, Auckland.  We'd all seen recent comments from Ray McVinnie praising the establishment on it's opening night and it seemed fitting after the Tapas challenge to head somewhere to witness a Spaniards take on their home cuisine.

My wife and I were lucky to make friends with a few Spanish people in our travels.  The year before last one of my wife’s Spanish friends was holding a photography exhibition in Madrid and she invited us over for the weekend.  As we learned you should never turn down the chance for a local to show you around their home town and it turned out to be one of our favourite weekend’s away.  The way the Spanish entertain and dine out is an experience on it's own.  We had been to Spain before and eaten tapas, the bite size taste sensations that are starting to become popular here, but we did it the wrong way, going to a recommended bar and then ordering five or six different things settling down for the night.  


Eating Arroz Negro in a Madrid square
The Spanish way involves a lot more movement!  Essentially each tapas bar is well known for one or maybe two dishes.  They do this dish better than anyone else.  Your job is to tour round the bars keeping your whistle wet and tasting the best the bar has to offer before hitting the streets to the next one.  This activity starts anywhere from 8-10pm but no earlier.  After all this adventure then, and only then, you can consider heading to a proper restaurant and sitting down for a few hours to have a meal, before again hitting the town to dance the night away until the very early hours.

Tapas seems to be a cuisine that has struggled to make a foot print in this country.  NZ town geography and our dining mentality is probably the main killer in this.  No real kiwi is going to be happy with having only a small morsel and an even smaller glass of beer.  

The few Tapas bars that do exist in Auckalnd tend to go for the more western commercial approach to the cuisine.  Offering a large range of small plates for you to satisfy your hunger.  Order a couple each and then share in your companions selections.  I love this way of eating.  The chance to try multiple dishes in an evening feels almost like cheating and getting two starters, two mains and two desserts all for one.  And being able to share in each others dishes brings a real sense of conversation and vitality to the table.

For this particular newcomer to the dining scene red tape also seems to be an issue after being refused a liqour licence due to one households complaint that allowing a glass of Rioja might result in drunk people which might result in noise.  I feel sorry for Serafin.  The council perhaps get frightened by the word bar.  Perhaps they haven't been to Spain to realise what a tapas bar is? Perhaps they don't realise the community aspect of good food?  Perhaps the complainants shoud realise if they are going to enjoy living close to one of Auckland's busiest roads they might have to suffer a bit of noise too?!  Come on council.  Give them the licence.  We don't want to put a hand brake on the introduction of new and exciting cuisine.

Well placed to benefit from the expected rugby mad crowds expected later this year Serafin has made fabulous use of it's location.  With a very relaxed feel and an open and inviting courtyard I can see the place doing very well on a long summer evening.  Feeling less like a restaurant and more like an upmarket cafe it has the right feel for a Tapas bar so let's see if the food fits the bill too.


Michael suggests that we put our fate in the hands of the chef and ask him to choose us six dishes to sample.  The good thing about eating with proper foodies is we will pretty much try anything you give us!  No need to worry about strange dislikes of cooked carrots or a preference for over cooked meat here.  And it's always exciting to have a sense of mystery about what is coming to the table.  Not knowing what's going to be next to tickle the tastebuds until it finally arrives.  So here's a selection of the chef's choices and a quick review of each:


Pinchos:  The pinchos are the free bar snacks that any tapas bar offers to entice in the drinkers leaving the office on their way home and aiding them, after a few too many cervezas, on the way home!  There is a selection available and we hastily accept the delightful waitress's offer of free food.  Various combinations of typical spanish flavors sit on top of some crusty bread.  I have the spanish tortilla which is nice enough.

Patatas Bravas - Deep fired spuds served with a paprika aioli.  The tapas bar equivalent of the french fries you'd have to do something really bad to muck something this good up.  Crunchy with a soft interior and covered in a gorgeous paprika flavored aioli I would happily get another bowl.  A suitable filler to warm up the evening.

Pan Con Tomato e Jamon - Serrano ham and some dressed salad leaves are served a top lightly grilled bread coated in tomato.  A dish like this is as good as its parts and the ingredients used are quality, with the bread being especially nice.


Bombo de Chorize con Salsa de Mojo Verde - Deep fried potato croquettes surrounding a small piece of chorizo and topped with a Mojo Verde, which is a sauce originating from the Canary Islands, essentially a garlic and corriander vinaigrette.  They look good but wind up being a little disappointing with no real flavor coming from them.  Too bland and not enough seasoning.


Albondigas con salsa de Azafran Guisantes Calamares - Soft pork meatballs with subtle seasoning are dressed in a saffron sauce with finely chopped pieces of squid, a hard boiled egg, corn and peas.  the sauce has a delightfully mild, savory aspect to it that makes the dish.  It serenely carries the flavor to your taste buds, rather than pushing your tongue through the spice and seasoning door.  I'm an instant fan

Langostinos a la Ajillo - I can't enter a Tapas bar without having the Gambas in some way or another.  Serafin's offering is some simply cooked prawns in a chilli garlic and paprika sauce.  Yum.  I could eat these all night.  The hardest aspect when cooking with chilli is to get the heat just right, and this sampling is perfect.  Only getting five prawns for $17.50 seems a bit stiff though.


Paella de Mariscos y Aves - One of the most well known of Spanish dishes Paella is actually a very regional dish originating out of Valencia.  It is traditionally cooked by men around a fire made of orange and pine branches.  Cooked in huge shallow pans which give the dish it's name (paella is a derivitave of the old french word for pan).  It's a very generous serving and the rice was tasty however there was not the crunchy bits sticking to the sides of the pan that you usually get in a well cooked paella.  We all agreed that it could have done with a bit more flavor as well.  Something to lift it.  Perhaps some more saffron?  Maybe we've been hanging round Cameron too much.


Chocolate con Churros:  Fried doughnut batter coated in cinnamon and sugar with a rich milky chocolate sauce.  I don't think I have to say anymore.  Get one each.  You aren't going to want to share.  And you must drink the chocolate when done.  It would be a crime not too.


Torrijas:  The favorite dish of the evening turns out to be a booze laden french toast styled number.  Old bread is soaked in red wine, sugar, cinnamon, milk and then fried in butter to produce the incredibly tasty morsel called a Torrijas.  As it happens this pudding is a typical Spanish Easter treat.  So it is fitting that it is the dish wish makes the most sense.  The combination of the wine and sugar gives the dish a real fruity character.  Topped with some ice cream and orange rind it is a perfect finish to our evening and one which will inspire me to replicate the dish!

After that run of dishes we are all feeling content.  As for the selection from the chef: A couple of stand outs in the Meatballs and the Torrijas and a couple of disappointments.  It did feel slightly like he was giving us the standard round the world Tapas selection, rather than showing us the individuality that Serafin can offer.

The service throughout the meal was exemplary and we also had the pleasure of talking to the chef himself.  He proudly divulged the recipes we wanted stating that 'there are no secrets in cooking!'  Coming in at $120 between the four of us (sin unavailable booze) it really was good value.  While none of us were blown away by the food I would still return.  A convivial environment with food at a good price it may just be a place to know what to order and to stick to it.  Each bar doing one or two good things, enjoy it, and then move on.  That is the Tapas way.


Serafin Cafe & Bar
Ph: 09 630 0228
225B Dominion Road (actually down side street)

Food:  6/10  Some winners, some not.
Atmosphere: 5/10 Good setup but still awaiting a crowd.
Service: 9/10  Looked after with typical Spanish Charm
Price: 8/10 Good value for money.
Overall: 6.5/10  Worth a look

Getting back into the swing of things....

It's always hard isn't it.  Coming back after a few days off.  Why does it never last longer.  Just one more day!  It's always the catch call at the water cooler.  One more day would have been nice.

That's what I need.  A chair, a bottle of wine and a View!
Our weekend was a perfect selection of getting out there and relaxing at home.  We went to Rakino Island in the Hauraki Gulf to visit friends and soak up the sun at a sedate Jazz Festival.  The country cousin of the Waiheke Jazz Festival with only about 300 attending it is a very relaxed affair.  But with the sun shining and being trapped on Auckland's equivalent to Stewart Island we weren't complaining.

The beautiful Rakino Island
The evening was topped off by a birthday meal at the Malaysian Restaurant, Bunga Raya in New Lynn.  A great casual feed I must get a proper review up soon.  Although, the place is already very busy.  I wouldn't want it getting too hard to get a spontaneous booking in!  Happy birthday cousin Katey!

Sunday and Monday morning were particularly hard.  Being a bit of a silly beggar, and getting incredibly frightened by the amount of circling cars at the local supermarket on Thursday night, we were without any reasonable form of nutrition.  It shouldn't be right for a Masterchef's cupboards to be bare.  No vegetables, no meat, no eggs.  It was going to be tough to get through.  Thankfully a supply of potatoes, frozen peas and some dried herbs and pasta kept us fed.  It's fair to say none of those recipes will make the blog though!

As I was bereft of sustenance for a few days my mind did a bit of wandering and once the shops were open again I joined the masses zooming around the supermarket as if the end of the world were nigh.  A few ideas had popped into the head and so the wife and I have had three days of yummy food.  I thought I would tease you with a few pictures while these dishes get tested again so I can get those recipes perfect for you.

Chicken Breast, Bacon, Mushrooms and Mash with a 'Coq au Vin' style sauce and a side serve of green beans.

Lamb and Mint Sausages served upon a spicy cannellini bean and savoy cabbage stew.  And some spuds for good measure.  Warm and comforting.  Perfect for that rainy Monday night!
A Greek inspired dish.  Walnut and Parsley encrusted Lamb rack served with Kumara chips, Courgette, Feta and Lemon Sauce and a rough Olive Tapenade.

Tomorrow I will have a review of the tapas bar and cafe, Serafin, in Dominion Road Auckland.  And check back on Saturday when I will have a super simple prawn and pasta dish that, out of all the options she could have, my Wife loves the most.

I'm off for Teppanyaki tomorrow night.  Can't wait!  I've never been before and who can't like dinner and a show.  Especially when it's combined!

Heads down people.  We can do it.  Only two more days to go.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Over the moon about cheese

A wall of cheese!
On my recent visit to Putaruru I was lucky on two fronts.  The most obvious being the chance to dine with Cameron and his family but the second equally rewarding occasion was spending a considerable time in the tasting room of one 'Over the Moon' Cheese shop and factory.

I've always been a fan of cheese, much to the annoyance of my brothers.  It seems I was the only one of the siblings born without a dairy intolerance.  Lucky me.  As long as I didn't take too much of Dad's extra vintage tasty then I would be ok!
 
There is nothing better than finishing a good meal with a great array of cheese and a nice digestive such as a glass of port.  During our travels in France we became addicted to trying out every restaurant's cheese board.  You simply can not top a cheeseboard in France.  Typically, once you have finished your main meal the waiter will pull out a cart laden with the local area’s top cheeses.  You may then pick and choose to your hearts content.  The selection available is mind boggling.  The largest one we saw had about 50 cheeses on it.  None of this crap with a few segments of Mainland and half price brie that is still as cold as the kitchen hands pay packet.


Perfect Cheese Making Country!

Cheese changes around the world. The types found and their use in cuisine differs as you travel between borders from one country to the next.  The variation is down to many things but simply put different milk provides for different cheese.  It would make sense then, that in such a dairylific country as ours that we should be able to produce some fantastic cheese.
Placed slap bang in the middle of NZ's cow corner Over the moon has a small but interesting retail shop.  Of greater interest are the glass panes allowing you to see next door, into the actual factory where the cheese is being made.  Unfortunately while we are there it seems it is smoko but we are invited into the tasting room for what we really showed up for.  Tasting the cheese!

Over the Moon has done amazingly well in it's few years.  Already a multi award winning establishment they have a fantastic selection of cheese from Halloumi to Brie to Feta to Camembert to Blue.  Many cheeses are mixed milk varieties and it is also heartening to see flavor enhances like Cumin, Pepper and Garlic incorporated into some of the range.

During the tasting two of their cheeses really blew me away:

The pepperino cheese with nuggets of black pepper. 
The Pepperino is a chalky sheeps milk cheese flavored with whole peppercorns.  It has an amazing balance that makes it a delight to consume.  First off you get the taste of the cheese.  A rich, smooth, mid-strength offering.  It then finishes with the delightful flavoring of pepper.  Not too strong and just right.  Perfectly made.  When deciding what dish I could cook with this cheese I could not stop thinking of a pepper steak sandwich.  One of my favorite things to do for a Saturday lunch is to get a nice piece of steak, cook it just to my liking, and then serve on some crusty bread with some slow cooked balsamic red onions and top it with some grilled cheese.

 The second star, and my favorite of the whole range, was the Double Delight triple cream brie.  Using a combination of Cow and Goat's milk the creators have wound up with perhaps THE most delightful brie I have had in a long time. And I am not alone in my praise.  Entered into the Oscars of the cheese world the Double Delight was voted the 3rd best Surface Ripened mixed milk cheese in the World Championship Cheese contest held in Wisconsin, USA.  The cheese is deliciously creamy.  So creamy that my wife and I wind up eating the whole block.  Slowly letting each wedge melt away in our mouths, savoring it's flavor for as long as possible, before being tempted to indulge again.

This cheese is so good it almost seems like a crime to do anything other than consume it as quickly as possible.  Which is the problem we faced. Post whole block consumption I did wonder how it would work on a Bechamel Sauce based Pizza with Grilled Chicken Breast, Cranberry glaze and slow cooked shallots.  I think I will have to purchase some more to try this out!!

We also got tempted into purchasing a Garlic flavored Halloumi.  Another award winner the halloumi has a faint flavoring of garlic.  Enough to know it's there but not so much that it scares away the neighbors or overtakes the flavor of the cheese.  Again it surprises me how well balanced the cheese is.  It should not be a surprise then that next door to the shop is the NZ Cheese Making school.  Someone is definitely doing their homework.  I imagine there must be a bit of experimentation that goes into getting such balance. 


I served the halloumi with some freshly baked bread and a chunky olive, capsicum and caper tapenade that you can buy from Sabato deli.  The salty squeaky cheese worked really well with the Mediterranean flavors.



Our forth offering could not quite hit the heights that had previously been achieved.  A Goat and Cow Milk Blue was just too mild for a blue cheese.  It seemed confused and was a bit disappointing.


However.  Three huge strikes out of four is not a bad going and I am definitely going to be purchasing vast quantities of that Double Delight Brie.  Over the Moon's cheese range is sold through various distributors around the country.  If you would like to know where you can try their cheese send them an email.  For west aucklanders you can find their cheese sold at the Titirangi Food markets held on the 2nd Sunday of every month.  Although you'll have to get there early if you are going to get some of that Double Delight before me!

Fancy Steak Sandwich with Pepperino 'Over the Moon' Cheese




Serves 1
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cooking Time 30 minutes


1 piece of your favorite steak ( I choose scotch fillet) at room temp
1 Red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
30g Over the moon Pepperino Cheese cut into slices.
Handful Salad leaves
2 Tbsp Creme Fraiche
2 tsp Wholegrain Mustard
1 slice Ciabatta or other crusty bread.


Put a little olive oil in a pan on a medium heat.  Cook the red onion for about five minutes then turn the heat down low.  Add the Balsamic Vinegar and Brown sugar then season.  Cook slowly for about 15-20 minutes.

Season the steak with salt and pepper then oil the steak, not the pan.  Place steak into a hot pan until cooked to your liking, turning once.  2 min each side for rare, 4-6 for Medium, 6-8 for well done.  When cooked allow the steak to rest for at least 5 min before cutting into slices.  

Place steak slices on an oven tray, top with the cheese and then place under a hot grill until the cheese is melted

Combine the Creme Fraiche and mustard.  Mix thoroughly.

Drizzle the Ciabatta bread with olive oil, season and then put under the grill toasting both sides.

Spread the Creme Fraiche mix over the bread, place salad leaves on top, then the red onions then the sliced steak with melted cheese.  Enjoy with an indian pale ale!!  You'll feel pampered, pleasured and perfectly content.



Thursday, April 21, 2011

Please support the CAM-paign

Now everyone has had a chance to shed a few tears and compose themselves I think it's time we all realised the truth.  Cam has gone.  Elminated at the hands of the evil cupcake conspiracy his time in Masterchef is over.

But hold back people.  There is no point throwing your pizza crust at the TV screen or sending bad ju ju jibes towards the judges.  The decision has been made and we must move on.

We need you, YES YOU, to get behind the Official "Bring back CAM" CAM-paign.  We need to make the people who control these box screen things we stare at in the evening realise that Cam has got what it takes.  He's provided the true Kiwi essence that we are all so protective of and delivered it every Sunday as a perfect accompaniment to finely cooked food.

By buying one of Cam's t-shirts you are helping to keep his name out there and hopefully showing those that need to know that we need more of this man in our lives.  So do it!  Get on board the OFFICIAL CAM-paign.

Once you have the shirt head to the facebook page and show us a pic of you strutting your stuff!

$20 for a shirt, which also puts you in the draw to win dinner cooked for you and 3 friends by the man himself.  I'm telling you that prize is awesome!!!  Buy 1 shirt buy 3.  It is getting cold people.  Layers.  Always wear Layers!

 
Trademe link: http://www.trademe.co.nz/Clothing/Menswear/Tshirts/Large/auction-370546638.htm

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dinner with a real Star

There are some seats in this country of ours which are coveted more than others.  That seat in parliament for instance that is reserved for the leader of our country.  Many ambitious people would love to have that position of ultimate power and responsibility.  A seat on the board of one of our most successful corporate companies perhaps?  Making big decisions and earning big bucks for it.

Perhaps bigger and more coveted than even these would be a much more casual seat.  A seat around the dining room table of one Cameron Petley from Putaruru.  The nation's favorite Masterchef contestant.  The softly spoken pig hunting chicken farmer who has captured the hearts of the country with his simple, perfectly cooked cuisine.  He entraps his audience by cutting through the pretensions of fine dining to deliver food from the heart that can be cooked and enjoyed by all.

In the hot seat.  Cameron cooks the steaks up.
 So it seemed sensible then that on a return journey to Auckland, from a visit to the Mountains, that we make the most of our recent acquaintance and visit Cameron in his parents home for a catch up to see how he is and if he is managing to keep up with the adulation and the sudden thrust of fame.

We arrive in Putaruru late afternoon and have about half an hour to kill before we are meant to be round at Cameron's.  With Putaruru being quite a small town we were wondering how we might go biding our time however it seems that there are other things that Putaruru has a name for.

On the main drag through town happens to be a multi award winning cheese shop, Over the Moon.  Simon Gault had mentioned to me that if I pop through the town I must check them out and with a wife who adores some fine fromage it takes little persuasion to suggest we park up and check out what they have to offer.

Over the Moon is a boutique cheesemaking factory and shop started by Sue Arthur in 2007.  Despite it's relatively new arrival to the cheese scene they have already won multiple awards for some sensational cheeses.  Firmly implanted in what is real dairy country they make the most of the local produce as well as utilizing the best products from around the world to deliver top quality cheese.

Check back later this week where I will have a review of some of their finer products and hopefully a few interesting dishes incorporating their cheese.

While we are being shown through the Over the Moon range by the lovely Debbie I receive a call from Cameron.  Boys being boys we haven't really settled any of the detail.  Cam knows we're showing up, that's about it.  That's how us guys handle things.  Cam asks if we're staying for dinner.  The wife is not wanting to impose, I'm easy either way, Debbie is rather excited by it all.  'How can you say no!  It's dinner at Cameron's place!!!!'  Too true.  Yes thanks Cam, invite accepted.

So after purchasing a fair portion of cheese we make the short journey to Cameron's parents house.  Sometimes it can be a bit uncomfortable arriving at a new house for the first time.  Did I get the address right?  What number is it?  Check it again.  Are we on the right street?  Is it the house on the left or the right?  What number is it again?

As to be expected initial nerves are quickly allayed after knocking on the door.  We are greeted at first by kids, and then more kids! Cameron is definitely a family man, with five sons himself, and with a few of the nieces and nephews around as well it's almost like walking into a creche.  A quick hello to Cam's wife Jerusha and the Ma and Pa and then it's off to the kitchen and the dining room, the place where it all happens.

It really is such a pleasure to be in the Petley household.  They are a warm and welcoming bunch.  Very kind and very relaxed.  We open a beer each and then sit down to catch up.  Masterchef life has obvisouly been quite surreal for all of us, but even more so for Cameron!  Coming from a smaller town he is now perhaps the most identifiable thing to exist within the county.  It may not be a surprise to shortly see a statue of him outside the local supermarket.  Such is the adulation.  Copies of the women's magazines with Cameron in it sold out in a day.  And no doubt purchased not only by women!

In fact one of the local girls Anne White has even created the 1st in a range of T-shirts.  Eggs with Saffron, world famous in Putaruru.  Too right it's world famous!!  I'm just waiting to see what the next one out is.  'If in doubt, wrap it in bacon.' perhaps?  That's a line that definitely belongs on a T-shirt!!

But like everything Cameron handles it all in a very relaxed way.  The things most important to him are his family and he is still the same person to them as he was before this adventure began.

The kids haven't quite developed Masterchef taste buds as yet!
So obviously what everyone wants to know is what did two Masterchefs cook for the family?!  Well we wouldn't want to break with tradition and get all fancy on ya would we!!

Serving up the steaks.  Cam is always cooking for numbers.
 We had some finely cooked scotch fillet steak served with Josh Emett's Mushroom sauce from the first masterclass, new potatoes coated in butter, garlic and chives and a simple leafy salad with red onion, grilled capsicums, cherry tomatoes and pepperino's covered in a classic vinaigrette.  Simple, well cooked and absolutely fantastically bloomin tasty!  Just as it always is in the Petley household.


Not wanting to leave you without a recipe at all I thought I would provide you with the Vinaigrette recipe.  It's always better making your own than buying the bottled stuff, and really is a cinch to make.

A simple vinaigrette can have as few as two ingredients so to make a good one you need quality ingredients!
If you are into your cooking you should always have a good olive oil and some quality vinegar on hand.

Ant's simple Vinaigrette:

1 tsp Wholegrain or Dijon Mustard
2 Tbsp White Balsamic Vinegar
5 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Seasoning

Makes enough for a salad for 5

  • Combine the mustard and White Balsamic Vinegar in a small mixing bowl and whisk until well mixed.
  • Slowly add the Extra Virgin Olive Oil about a Tbsp at a time and whisk constantly.  To stop the bowl from moving you can place a folded tea towel under the bowl, freeing up your hands to pour and whisk at the same time!
  • When you add the Olive oil and whisk what you are doing is forming an emulsification.  The mixture will get thicker as the vinegar and oil combine.  It is very important that you do this slowly to ensure that the mix emulsifies properly.
  • Keep adding the Olive oil and whisking.  Then season.  Taste the vinaigrette.  You want it to have some bite as when you put it on your salad that bite will be spread over many leaves and so will be diminished.
  • If necessary add a bit more oil or vinaigrette.
  • If you have whisked it enough then the mixture should hold together and not separate over time.
  • Dress the salad with your vinaigrette just before serving.  If you dress it too early the salad leaves will become wilted.

Friday, April 15, 2011

In memory of a dear friend......The Vegan adventurer.

Evolution has lead us Humans to be very aware.  Through the power of thought and the power of our five senses (yes alright ladies, not forgetting your 'sixth sense') we have become lighting rods for the happenings of our world.

That is why a good meal is such a precious thing. It stands as one of only a few experiences which allow us to invoke this multi-sensory power which we have become accustomed to.  Smell, taste, sound, sight, touch.  All playing together to create an experience and a memory.  Without going into too much detail the only other experience I can think of that is this powerful involves a Man, a Woman, a Barry White CD and some candles!

We all have memories of certain foods.  Ice cream at the beach.  Fish and chips in the park.  Christmas Turkey with all the family.  Grandma's Chocolate Cake with a cup of tea.  And when we recall these memories it is almost as if we can feel, smell and taste the food again.  It is this power that I wanted to enhance this Wednesday, when I cooked a very special meal in honor of a dear friend.

Our dear friend Cherie at a monkey sanctury

Our friend Cherie was a loving person who held strong to her beliefs.  She believed in the good within people.  She believed in traveling the globe to see all that she could see.  And she believed firmly and utterly in the rights of all living things.  A few years ago Cherie was taken from us.  A victim of a disease which would normally affect the old she was taken away before her time.  Wednesday gone would have been Cherie's 32nd birthday.

Now by the time she passed away Cherie had developed into the ultimate of Vegan's.  To clarify for those who get a red mist when they read that word a Vegan will not make use of any animal product.  So this isn't just about avoiding the meat isle in the supermarket.  It goes a bit further than that.  No dairy.  No eggs.  No processed product which contains animal products of any nature.  You would be surprised by the number of things in your supermarket that this would include.  Many beers and wines for instance have some form of animal product in them.  

My stance on food is a slightly different one.  I am not adverse to eating anything.  Put something in front of me and tell me it tastes good, chances are I would have swallowed before I ask you what I'm eating.  Saying this I am all for Free range and Organic produce.  I've seen too much coverage of battery farmed chickens to be able to knowingly support that industry.  Happy animals taste better.  Fact!

We decided that in memory of our friend we would travel down to the mountain that she loved and dine for that evening as she would have had us dine in her abode.  And so it was that I went into an adventure of attempting a Vegan, Masterchef quality, meal.

Cherie was always happy when she was near a Mountain!
I've cooked for people with restrictive diets before.  In fact one at one dinner party I wound up cooking for a vegetarian, a pescatarian, a pregnant lady, a Hindu and a Muslim all at the same table!  I find it is always interesting to try cooking within boundaries so you can test yourself and see what you can come up with.  Cooking vegan however was not something I had tried.

The main meal was a simple decision.  Vegetable Stack!!  The idea here was to get the freshest produce available and to cook it to perfection.  Adding in a few flavors and making the most of the herbs on offer to enhance the dish.  The Stack would then be spiced up by a few simple accompaniments.  A rocket and garlic oil and a sun-dried tomato pesto.

The end result was delicious.  The peppery rocket oil and sweet pesto gave so much flavor to the dish.  I was worried that the garlic may overpower the rest of the flavors but the level of woosh worked out perfectly.  We served it up, poured a glass of wine for all, as Cherie would have had it, and toasted our dear friend.  You may not be with us in person but you are here in our hearts and we will eat this food and we shall remember you.



Cherie's Vegan Stack Tribute

Serves 6
Prep Time 60 minutes
Cooking Time 60 minutes

Ingredients

3 Capsicum
6 Portobello Mushrooms
6 Courgette
2 Eggplants

50g rocket
300 ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 cloves of Garlic


1/2 cup Sun dried Tomatoes in oil
Large Bunch Basil
1/2 cup Toasted Cashew Nuts

3 Red Onions
4 Tbsp Malt/Balsamic Vinegar
3 Tbsp Brown Sugar
Few sprigs of Thyme.

Method

Firstly you want to salt your eggplant.  Cut the eggplant into 2 cm thick rounds.  Modern eggplants have been genetically breed so that they are nowhere near as bitter as they used to be however I still like to salt the eggplant when I bake it as it gets rid of the moisture which would otherwise make the rounds soggy.  Lay the rounds out on an oven tray lined with some paper towels.  Sprinkle over table salt liberally.  Leave for at least 30 minutes.  You will see the moisture come out of the eggplant.  After the half hour rub the salt and excess moisture off the eggplant and they are then ready to use.

Thinly slice the red onions then place in a frying pan on a medium heat with a little bit of olive oil.  Cook the onions for about five minutes then turn the heat down to low.  Continue to cook for a further 10 minutes, slowly sweating the onions down.  Then add the brown sugar, malt vinegar, stripped thyme leaves, salt and pepper.  Cook for a further 10 minutes until the onions are tender and syrupy.  I used Malt vinegar as it is all we had available but balsamic vinegar would work even better.

Prep the remaining stack vegetables by cutting the capsicums in half.  Remove any pith and then make a small incision at the base of the capsicum so that you can push the half flat, when cooked.  Remove the skin from the mushrooms.  Cut the ends off the courgettes then slice lengthways into about five pieces.

For the pesto place the sundried tomatoes, the cashew nuts and the basil into a food processor and add about 150ml of the EV olive oil.  Blitz until you have a paste.
 
For the rocket oil gently heat about 3 Tbsp EV olive oil.  Finely chop the garlic cloves and then place in the oil.  Cook very gently for about five minutes so that the garlic flavor infuses into the oil.  You do not want the garlic to color. Take off the heat and allow to cool till warm.  Place the garlic and oil in a mini food processor then add the Rocket.  Add the remaining EV olive oil and blitz for about a minute.  Season.

Place the eggplant, capsicum and mushrooms on a couple of oven trays, season, drizzle over olive oil and then place into an oven at 200 Celsius for around 25 minutes, turning the vegetables once during cooking.

Fry the courgettes in a pan with a little olive oil for about 2-3 minutes each side until nicely browned, seasoning as you go.  Only do as many courgettes that will fit face down at a time. 

To serve place a couple of spoonfuls of the red onion in the centre of the plate then top with a large eggplant round, a mushroom, the red capsicum and then a slightly smaller eggplant round.  On top of the eggplant place a dollop of pesto and then top with the courgette.  Drizzle around the plate the rocket oil.

Enjoy!!  Best served with some nicely grilled Ciabatta so that you can sop up the extra juices of this extremely friendly dish.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Murgh Makhni....or you might know it as Butter Chicken

The nation's favorite curry.  That orangey creamy sauce with a deep tomato flavor and a subtle combination of spices that makes it appealing to even the most timid of tastebuds.

Consumed from the streets of Kerikeri down to the pubs of Mosgiel kiwi's consume more Butter Chicken than any other curry.  In fact were it not for butter chicken I doubt many Indian restaurants would still be around today, it is that loved within our shores.

Strange then that in the UK, the western worlds home of the curry, Butter Chicken is not as you know it.  In fact it is very hard to find an Indian Restaurant that has it on the menu.  Even when you do find it the dish served is not the one that we love but a version without the sweet Tomato sauce that makes the dish so special. Perhaps it's anonymity is due to it's slight similarity to Tikka Masala.  Or perhaps it is beacuse Brits are far too interested in the hotter curries like Vindaloo and Rogan Josh, to have interest in a mild offering.

Whatever the reason it was this forced embargo that lead me to the following recipe.  If no one shall deliver me butter chicken then I will learn to make butter chicken!!

So to the internet I went.  Of course, like most things on the internet, there is a lot of content!!  Most of which is crap but some of which is gold.  Thankfully I stumbled across a video demonstration of a recipe by Alfred Prasad, from the Michelin-starred Tamarind Restaurant in London.  A Michelin-starred Indian Restaurant?  Good enough for me!

Little was I to know where this journey would take me.  Still a novice to the world of spices I found some of the ingredients on the list a bit strange.  Kasoori Methi?  Kashmiri Chilli Powder?  Chances are you will not find these in your local supermarket.  So what do we do?  Give up?  Find replacements?  Time for a food mission!!

Now Indian Cuisine is found the world over.  There are few places on the face of the earth where you will not find at least one small Indian takeaway making curries for the locals.  And Indian spices are the same.  For thousands of years Indian spices have been dealt the world over, going as far back as to the 5th Century BC!  In fact in the 17th century whole shipping fleets such as the Dutch East India Company were devoted to the shipment of things like pepper from India to the western world.  It was such an important business that it even had military protection.

Chances are that somewhere near to you will be a trader selling bulk spices.  It may just look like an ordinary dairy.  The first time I went to my local shop  Malabari Spice Merchants in New Lynn was such a pleasurable experience.  Lined up along the wall were bins of spice.  Loads and Loads of Spice.  Five types of Chilli Powder.  Proper Cinnamon Tree Bark.  Ground Spices.  Whole Spices.  And at a price that was unbelievable.  You will never be buying spice from the supermarket again!

It is in one of these places you are likely to find your Kasoori Methi (Dried, ground fenegreek leaves) and your Kashmiri chilli powder.  Kashmiri chilli powder is milder than standard chilli powder and produces a deeper orange color.  You can replace with standard chili powder if you like but be careful with the heat. 


I'm not going to plaigarise this recipe as I cook it pretty much exactly as done by the creator.  Unfortunately I'm unable to embed the video so please head to the following link for your taste of a magical curry:

Butter Chicken from Alfred Prasad at Tamarind Restaurant

A few tips I've learned from cooking it countless times:

  • You can easily alter the heat of this dish by playing with the whole chilli amount.  I swap the five green chillies for two large red chillies and it gives a bit more bang.
  • I add about twice as much water to the tomato and spice mix and cook it on a slow heat for about an hour.  I find this gives a deeper final taste.  If you like you could swap the water for chicken stock too.
  • Instead of using just a Tbsp of Tomato Paste I add half a tube of the stuff.  It gives a richer tomato flavor and adds to the color.

Oh, and just to clear the air for any UK bound folks.  If you ask for Murgh Makhni chances are you may get the version we know and love.

I'm off on a road trip to Ohakune over the next few days.  Tomorrow night I'm attempting a vegan meal in honor of a dear friend.  Look out later this week for a glimpse of how this devoted eater of anything on a plate gets along!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

A night out on the town - off to EURO!

After Fiona Read was evicted at the hands of merciless children there was some consolation offered to her by the ever generous Simon Gault.  Fiona was invited to do a tour of Gault's culinary kingdom dishing out her impressive Hapuka audition dish to the lucky guests at Euro, Auckland, Bistro Lago, Taupo and Shed 5 Wellington.

I don't really need much of an excuse to go out for a nice meal and with Fiona in Auckland last week I got on the phone to fellow contestant Nadia suggesting she join my wife and I and head to the restaurant to support our friend's fantastic achievement.

Masterchef Family in the House.
Euro was of course the scene of Episode 4 in this series where we were thrown in the deep end and asked to cook five star dishes for 100 discerning guests in an impossible amount of time under a bucket load of pressure.  Some of us came out with our heads held high, while some of us were wondering how much it costs for a professional change of identity.

Not long after sitting down Fiona came over to see how we were and it was great to see her again.  By Friday she had spent the last four nights working hard in the Euro Kitchen.  From the sound of her voice it was hard work, but very enjoyable.  A real treat to be immersed into such a professional kitchen with the honor of cooking your own dish.  It was really interesting to hear how the dish was created and to hear about the subtle changes in method required to upscale the cooking of the dish from a personal kitchen to a professional one, having things prepped and ready for the hungry evening diners.

My lovely wife Kelly and Dietician extraordinaire Nadia.

Of course Fiona's Hapuka dish was always going to be our main but we had starters to get through first.  Euro really does have a fantastic selection of 'filler' food.  Whether it be standard entree's or a selection of cured meats to lots of interesting bar snacks there really is a great range of tasty treats to get you started.  I'm excited by the Jamon Iberico.  Definitely the king of cured pork it comes from the Iberican Black Pig that is coveted so much within Spain that hardly any of the stuff makes it into export.  The meat gets it distinct flavor from both the breed of pig and the fact that the pigs are fed mainly on acorns.  Simon admits that it takes a lot of paperwork with MAF to get this coveted morsel to the country.  Thanks for the effort Simon.  We need people bringing the best of the world all this way down south!!

We decide to order from the standard Entree Menu and I choose the Scallops served with Ginger and Three Caviar Risotto, Kelly goes for the Crispy Duck and Nadia chooses the Tuna Tataki.

My scallops are well cooked.  Still tender with a nice caramelization on the surface.  They were a little under-seasoned but they worked very well with the creamy risotto, which is flavored with pickled ginger and caviar.  The creaminess of the risotto works well with the texture of the scallop and it is a delight on the palette which works perfectly with our chosen wine, being a Peregrine Pinot Gris.  I don't even notice the caviar however and had I not reread the menu I wouldn't have known it was in there.  That could be simply because I'm not that familiar with the taste of caviar though!!

Kelly's Crispy duck looks tasty and the roasted cashew dukka and orange flavored slaw are nice additions to what is otherwise that classic combination of pancakes, cucumber, hoisin sauce and Peking style duck.

Nadia's Tuna Tataki is well received.  The combination of Pear and Tuna is perfect with the sweet ripe pear cutting through the fatty taste of the tuna.  The dish comes with a pipette of soy vinaigrette, so you can add as much as you desire.  Simon must have bought a bulk load of these plastic pipette's from China as they seem to make frequent appearances in the restaurant's dishes!  Also on the dish is perhaps the most interesting thing in our first round.  Sea Grapes.  Speaking to Simon later on we discover these are a small type of seaweed that grow on coral.  Tiny green balls they burst in your mouth with an intense saltiness.  It's little touches like this which as Simon would say, bring that 5% magic.  Surprises from the kitchen that are not only interesting but work well with their chosen dish.

And then we move onto our mains.  Time for the trumpeted arrival.  Cue music......

Fiona Read, amateur chef in a professional world presents to you:


Hapuka with Black pudding served with sherry potatoes, saffron aioli and nettle and walnut pesto.

Now you might think as friends we are quite bias in our opinions, and you would probably be right.  But that goes with all tasting.  The mind is a powerful tool and preconceived ideas already affect your palette before you've even opened your mouth.  That being said I don't think I would have ever thought to combine black pudding and fish!!

Fiona confesses she is a fiend for the boudin noir and it must be that obsession that led her to try an extravagant combination which suprisingly works very well.  I've never had Hapuka before and I am blown away by the thickness of the fillet and the true meaty texture which it possesses.  The dish works very well with different layers of flavor combining well.  The fish is the first taste on the tongue which is smoothly taken away by the earthiness of the black pudding.  Following through is the aioli and the nettle pesto with a slight citrusy sweet finish from the sherry potatoes and the orange vinaigrette.  A fantastically put together dish so all accolades to that woman Fiona.

Nadia shared in the Hapuka dish and she was equally impresesed. Kelly went for the Salmon on Prawn and Pea Risotto.  Perfectly cooked Salmon with a crunchy skin.  The Pea and prawn risotto was tasty and creamy, but did not have enough of the sweet pea flavor coming through for me personally.

Organized Banoffee Pie
By this stage of the evening we are extremely full but as always the dessert menu somehow makes it way onto the table.  My eyes are drawn by an Organized Banoffee Pie.  I'm a very organized person.  I write lists.  I check lists.  I tick lists.  I rewrite lists cause I can't read them.  Organized Pie.  Yes thanks, I'm sold.  It turns out to be a treat.  Sweet banana crisps, lovely ice cream and a fantastic combination of caramel and what looks like a set banana puree covered in freeze dried raspberries.  The importing company Sous chef do a range of freeze dried berries and fruits which are sensational.  Real intense flavour in a small package they are a fantastic addition to the dish.

Kelly has pavlova which includs a hidden kiwifruit jelly.  It looks great and Kelly confirms that it tastes the same.  Nadia goes for the melting chocolate pudding, which good to it's name ooooooozzzzes all over the plate.  Yum Yum.  The desserts are a fantastic way to finish the evening's eating and what a way to top a meal.  If you head to Euro try, try hard, not to eat too many bar snacks, so you can enjoy the sweet treats on offer.  Either that or book for lunch and intend to stay there till dinner ensuring you have a room booked at the nearby Hilton so you can just roll on home.

Our night finishes with Fiona and her lovely husband Chris joining us for a few Pinot Noir's and we find ourselves sitting on the table next to one William Shatner.  Perhaps the most amazing finish to an already fantastic evening.  Euro's cuisine is somewhat similar to Shatner's most famous character Captain Kirk's eternal quest: to boldly go where no man has gone before.  Well that may be taking it a slight step too far but there is nothing quite like the joy of suprizes when dining.  And you are sure to get that at Euro.  Suprises that taste good just make it even better.

Fiona has finished her run at Euro but southern friends still have a chance to get a taste of this dish.  Fiona will be in Taupo at Bistro Lago for the next few days and at Shed 5, Wellington from the 18th-22nd April.  It is well worth the effort!!

3 courses for 3 with 1 bottle of wine was $300

Food 8/10
Atmosphere 7/10 + 'William Shatner' Factor = Illogical Captain.
Value 8/10
Service 10/10
Suprise Value 10/10

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Curry Capitulation

And so there we have it.....the end of the road.  The Masterchef journey ends with a disastrous effort in the curry challenge.  Obviously I'm disappointed to be going home, mainly due to my poor effort on the day.  Who forgets to put salt into food in a cooking competitio!! I had an absolute mare and just got too comfortable with my surroundings.

While I'm disappointed in my efforts on the day I am immensely proud at what I achieved.  I really didn't ever believe that I could have said that I would be into the last 7 of a show like Masterchef.  Not because I can't cook, I know I can cook, but because of the pressure and the unknown factor of it all.

I'm sure some others couldn't believe I was still there as well.  The great duck swindle and plaster gate were rather auspicious ways to be remembered and obviously if I had my chance again I would do things differently.  But don't forget that we are amateur cooks.  Amateur cooks in high pressure environments who wind up doing silly things.  My silly things just seemed to be a bit more silly than others!  At least they were entertaining!  I'm a Virgo you see, so clumsiness is something that I have had hanging over me since an early age, and it doesn't look like it will be leaving me any time soon! Beyond all that I've learned so much and I've really ignited a passion that I want to share with the rest of you.  Best of luck to my fellow Masterchef contestants as they continue the battle for that coveted prize.  I have my favorites and it will be interesting to see how they fair over the weeks to come.

While this is the end of the road in one way I'm merely waiting at a a red light for it to turn green so I can continue my journey on this life long road trip with food.

I'm loving writing.  I really hope you're all enjoying the posts and that the recipes are giving you ideas for you to try in your own kitchen.  I'll be doing a whole host of interviews tomorrow and will be on Good Morning at around 11.45am with my Tarakihi and Salsa recipe.

Also, just to prove I CAN cook a curry I will have the best Butter Chicken recipe in the world up during the week.  Don't forget to subscribe to the blog using the panels on the left so that you can get new posts delivered straight to you!!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bacon wrapped Monkfish on Pea Risotto with a Burnt Lemon Butter

 
One of the best starts to a sentence that, 'Bacon wrapped'.  There were a few catch phrases in the Masterchef house.  We would spend quite a bit of time in each others company during the show, often with not a lot to do, so there was a fair amount of banter going on and some things stuck more than others.

The boys came up with an 'if all else fails' catch cry:  'If in doubt wrap it in bacon and deep fry it.  Everything's better wrapped in Bacon.'  Very wise words those, except for vegetarians......and certain religions...and Bacon hater's....The world hasn't come to that though has it?  People who don't like Bacon.  I understand those who don't eat bacon due to principle but that aside surely everyone likes Bacon.  Not liking Bacon just seems weird.  It's like not liking Hugs, or wishing Sunday evening would go a bit quicker.

Fresh from the fish markets I had picked up some tasty Monkfish fillets.  I first encountered this fish in the Gastropubs of London, where it is commonplace to find it wrapped in bacon or prosciutto.  A mild tasting fish it is distinct because of its meaty flesh.  Often called the poor man's lobster, due to it's meaty texture and mild flavor, the Monkfish has to be up there as one of the ugliest fish around.  You certainly won't see this being served whole on a platter!  I'll spare the squeamish and not put a photo up but google it if you are intrigued!

After wrapping the Monkfish fillets in bacon I'm going to serve it on a lovely pea risotto and serve it with a burnt lemon butter, where we get melted butter to that proper, nutty, colored stage and then freshen it up with lemon juice and zest.  This dish is a real star.  The classic flavors of pea, bacon and lemon work with the fish so well.  If I did ever open my own Kiwi Gastropub this would definitely make it to the menu!


Ingredients

400g  monkfish tail fillets cut into 2 fillets with tapered ends.
eight strips of streaky smoked bacon
Few sprigs of Thyme

1 litre Chicken Stock
1/4 cup wine
200g Aborio Rice
1/2 onion choped finely
2 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 cup Frozen Peas

30g Butter
Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon

Method:

 Lay out the Monkfish fillets on a board and sprinkle over the thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper.  Place one fillet on top of the other so each end has one thick and one thin end of the fillets.
Lay the bacon on a board with each piece slightly overlapping and then place the Monkfish slightly to one side as in the picture.
Wrap the Bacon around the fillets.  Wrap the rolled bacon and fillets tightly in cling film and then place in the fridge for about 30 minutes.  This will keep the bacon in shape when cooking.

Put the oven on Grill at about 200C.  Unwrap the cling film and then place onto a grill pan with the bacon joins facing down.  Grill for about 15-20 minutes turning every 5 minutes to get all parts of the bacon crispy.  The fish is cooked when it feels firm when pressed on top.

To make the pea risotto melt 1 Tbsp butter in a small saucepan.  Add the frozen peas and cook for a few minutes until defrosted.  Add chicken stock until the peas are just covered, about 1/4 a cup, and cook for a few more minutes.  Place the cooked peas and stock in a food processor and puree.  Put to one side.

Place the remaining stock in the saucepan and put onto a medium heat.  You want the stock to be simmering, but not boiling for when you add it to the risotto.

Melt the remaining butter and the Olive Oil in another saucepan.  Add the onion and fry for a few minutes.  Add the aborio rice and cook for a further two minutes stirring constantly.  Add the wine and let it cook off.

Now the next part of the process differs from cook to cook.  Some people make their risotto by putting all the stock in at once and then leaving the rice for 20 minutes.  I go the other way, adding a ladle at a time, stirring constantly until the stock has absorbed and then repeating that process until the rice is al dente.  I find this method produces a creamier risotto, even if it is more work.

Either way you go, just before all the stock has been absorbed, towards the end of cooking, add the pureed peas and stir thoroughly.  Season the rice to taste.

Lemon butter.  Notice the color of the butter.  A light shade of brown
To make the burnt lemon butter place the butter in a frying pan and melt.  When melted add the lemon zest.  Cook the butter gently until it starts to turn light brown and produces a nutty aroma.  Be careful as you don't want to actually burn the butter.  When ready add the lemon juice.

To serve spoon the risotto into the middle of a plate.  Slice the monkfish into about six pieces and place on top of the risotto.  Drizzle the lemon butter around the risotto.

Meaty fish, salty bacon, creamy sweet pea risotto and sharp citrusy butter.  Heaven!

Enjoy with your favorite white wine.

Have you ever cooked with Monkfish?  What are some of your favorite things to wrap in bacon?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

And for our first Public appearance........

So a few Saturday's ago was a little bit different to the ordinary welcome of the weekend.  Along with fellow MC contestants Cameron, Sam & Michael I was heading along to Sylvia Park to take part in a live cook off in front of an anticipating audience of adoring Masterchef Fans, Friends, Family and people who saw a spare seat and thought there might be free stuff.

Josh keeps us all amused.
It's fair to say that I didn't get that much sleep that Friday night!  Being on the show definitely gets you more used to high pressure situations but it was only cameras that we had to be frightened of when filming, rather than real live people!  No second chances in front of a public expecting big things from us hopeful chefs!

Unfortunately the weather didn't live up to the event with Auckland producing a terribly wet day with a blanket of grey, morbid cloud that reminded me of times in the UK.  That didn't stop the crowds though!

I arrived early and it was great to see my fellow MC contestants again.  We keep in touch but with us all being so busy it's nice to have something to bring us back together again, especially when it involves food!  Nadia and Stu also popped down to say hello and lend some support.

It was also good to see Josh Emett again, who was to lead the show.  People might think that we have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the judges but in person they are a lot nicer, and more helpful than can be seen on the show.  I still see it as a privilege to be able to spend time with such great cooks and share these experiences with them!

And so to the challenges!  Two separate cook offs where we are paired into teams of two to cook a dish in Forty minutes and the ingredients being...........Mystery box!

Of all the challenges the Mystery box was the one which scared contestants the most.  That unknown factor and being put on the spot to come up with something that is going to prove you can cook and also set you aside from all the other contestants.  The hardest part I found was trying to incorporate your own style of food into what you cook.  I love French classic cuisine so if there's no butter, cream, wine or onions I'm a bit lost already!


However once your head is down and you realise you're cooking the pressure drops off and you start to focus on what you know and love.  Food!

Forty minutes to design and cook a dish from scratch was quite a stretch but with two of us on each challenge we managed to get there.  And the dishes on the day worked out really well!  Michael turned out an amazing White Chocolate and Tomato Vinaigrette to match his and Sam's Pork, which wound up trumping the Tomato and apple sauce served with Watercress Salad and Pork Chop from Cam and I.



Round two saw the return of the duck......of course I am very comfortable with this type of fowl......now!!!!  Michael and I created a Ducklava.  Layers of deep fried rice paper with asian veges, a plum sauce, perfectly cooked duck breast and pistachio nuts.  It was great.  We did run out of time though so it was just a wee bit messy on the plate....and that counted against us as Sam and Cam turned out to win with their simple duck and orange slices.....none out of two for me on the day but still a thoroughly enjoyable day.

The crowd seemed to have a great time and perhaps the strangest part of the whole day was at the end when we had people coming up asking for autographs and photos.  All very surreal!!!  We almost had to organize an orderly line for Cam's fans!

So all in all a great event to be part of.  Thanks very much to Countdown and to all those who came down and said Hello!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fish Food Fantasies....

What you looking at?
It's another fantastically sunny Saturday in Auckland.  For my wife Kelly and I this is the first full summer we've been in NZ for eight years.  We'd been back every couple or so for a break away from the wintry UK but this was our first long stretch.  And what a stretch.  To think we were enjoying days like this four months ago and we still have a few more to come is awesome.

Being such a nice day and having a pretty clear agenda we decided to try somewhere new for lunch.  Of course being the wily foody I am I had to think of a way to fit in some gourmet food shopping as well!  My wife is not the biggest fan of food shopping.  It's not to say she isn't interested in food, but to go with someone who gets wildly excited at the sight of a well cured piece of pork leg and spends half his life savings on cold pressed olive oil I can understand her reluctance.  So I have come up with these little detours with promises of a nice lunch or other temptations.  I'm sure she does the same to me, in fact positive.  Otherwise how come every time we head to the mall we wind up shoe shopping?  A girl can never have enough shoes right?  A foody can never have enough luxury olive oil

Colleague Kelly had mentioned during the week that the Auckland fish market, located a stones throw from the viaduct, had some of the best tasting fish and chips in the vicinity.  I also happened to have an idea for a lovely risotto dish that would be best served with a marine morsel on top so off to the market we went!

 Auckland Fish Market is without doubt one of the best places to go if you are a fan of the sea's bounty.  For range of fish it cannot be beaten.  Sometimes the prices are a bit steep but look out for fantastic specials where you will be guaranteed supremely fresh fish for a reasonable price.  Not only do they have a great selection of fresh fish but the market next door has an awe inspiring collection of various forms of smoked fish as well as a huge selection of ready to eat seafood salads, and prepped and ready-to-cook morsels like salmon kebabs, stuffed squids and marinated mussels.  You'll also find a great selection of gourmet meats, cheeses and other delicatessen items that will have you hungry and wanting for a larger shopping basket very quickly!

Kelly found a fridge full of frozen pasta morsels made by Pasta Mia.  We choose the Kumara and Blue Cheese Pansooti and look forward to having them with a simple sauce very soon.

I picked up some lemons and some arborio rice and then headed to the fish counter where they had Monkfish on sale for $10.99 a kilo!  I was originally thinking of getting some snapper but sometimes you go with what's cheap and then alter your dish accordingly!  But anyway, that's for another post which I will put up shortly, Bacon wrapped Monkfish on Pea Risotto with a Burnt Lemon Butter.

After all this shopping we were more than ready for some lunch and following Kelly's recommendation we headed to the Oceanz seafood shop next to the market, which sells fresh fish as well as having a conveniently placed deep fat fryer for the provision of super fresh fish and chips!

 Fish of the day was Deep sea Cod, which I like the taste of so we got a combo, including a crab stick a potato fritter, chips and a drink for $9.  There was a 15 minute wait for the food, which I;ve heard is quite standard.  Nothing wrong with waiting for good food.  Sometimes the reason you wait is because it's that good.  In many of my travels I would wind up at must visit Boulangeries or essential Tratorrias where you would have to line up out the door and round the corner to hopefully get a chance to sample their famous offerings.

While taking a seat I notice that a write up of Fish and Chips around Auckland City finds that Oceanz comes out right near the top for flavor.  A promising thing to see while waiting for your lunch!  Now, this isn't the most special of locations.  Please understand that this is a stone's throw from the viaduct.  Pretty people and fancy yachts don't like stones.  They especially don't like thrown stones.  So you won't find them around here.  No in fact the view while you wait is much more down to earth......in the form of a car park.  But not to worry, we're here for the good food.  So after watching a few cars reverse carefully our remote control buzzer alerter starts vibrating signifying that our patience has been rewarded.  Our bounty arrives:


The batter looks golden, and very well cooked.  Portion wise it looks a little small but then I say that about most food and in the end it worked out as a good sized lunch.  The chips are perfectly cooked.  Crunchy but soft on the inside.  Just the way I like them.  The fish is beautifully cooked as well.  The cod is meaty and with a strongish flavor it works well with the light crisp batter.  The most important thing for me with fish and chips is although it's spent the last few moments of life surrounded in a cholesterol wonderland, I don't want to be reminded of it.  There is nothing worse than a soggy, fat soaked piece of battered fish that sticks to the paper.

So the fish and chips gets the thumbs up from me.  I'm not sure I would head all the way into town just to try it, but as a nice stop off while shopping at the fish market it can't be beaten.  The Oceanz offering is definitely up there with top quality fish and chips and could easily be served as it is a stone's throw away: On a plate, with a knife and fork and a chardonnay.  Although they would have to do something about that carpark.