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.