Monday, 15 August 2016

High coffee

It's no secret that high tea is one of my favourite treats. Sure, it's been pointed out to me many times that "you don't like tea". Most high tea venues are happy to exchange their selection of teas for coffee. Some will even upgrade you to sparkling wine. With high coffee for lunch today, I didn't have this problem.

The Intercontinental Lobby Lounge was the location for today's Wellington on a Plate event. We were presented with a selection of fifteen high tea items (I think - I lost count!) and a novel coffee selection to begin with: either an espresso martini or affogato on the side. Given that it was a work day and I had meetings to return to, I opted for non-alcoholic affogato, much to the disappointment of the maître d. "Shall I put a shot of something in it for you?" she asked. I have to admire her tenacity.
We hatched a game plan early on and decided to take it slowly, pacing ourselves through the wonderful menu, but we were no match for what was placed in front of us. The savoury and sandwich layer included a delicious smoked salmon and cream cheese mini bagel, egg and cucumber club sandwiches, pumpernickel with blue cheese (not for me) and little scones with jam and cream. My attempt at the middle layer was pitiful; I managed a mini red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting, a lemon meringue tartlet and a few spoons of fruit salad in between finishing my affogato before declaring defeat. The leftovers (seven more dessert treats!) were packed up into boxes for later.
Intercontinental high coffee
Back in the office, my box of treats was admired and drooled over by my workmates. Mr Weka and I shared them after dinner and enjoyed an orange macaron, strawberry tartlet, lemon cheese cake, dark chocolate mousse cake, Gâteau Opera and a delightful chocolate and popping candy lollypop that fizzed and popped on my tongue.

High coffee at the Intercontintal is a decadent treat more suited to a long afternoon tea than a workday lunch ... so we'll make sure we do that next time.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

The Dairy Made

Wellington on a Plate 2016 has started. Two and a half weeks of endless food and local foodie events lined up. Wellington's food scene really comes alive at this time of year.

Our first event was hosted by one of my favourite foodies, Ruth Pretty. The Dairy Made was a celebration of all things dairy. (Think milk, cream, butter, cheese ... mmm.) Fittingly, the event was held at The Milk Station in Otaki, an old 1900s milk station converted into a beautiful venue and function centre. Check out the decor.

I'd love a chandeleir like this
(and a house big enough to hang it).
'Old school' milk and dairy memorabilia
This copper milk jug used to carry 5l of milk at a time.
We were warmly greeted by Ruth and treated to coffee and cheese scones. The tables were beautifully set and decorated with daffodils, reminding us that spring is just around the corner.
I love the huge wooden doors in the background.
They led through to an interior courtyard.
A touch of spring.
I confess to not having read the event description properly before we arrived. Imagine my surprise to discover a menu for a four course meal with wine matching! Each dairy-inspired dish was preceded by a speaker talking about various related topics (an introduction to the venue, the chemical constructions of dairy products and a talk about the free range pork we ate for the main course). This spread the meal out, meaning we could take time to enjoy each course before the next.

We began with the first course of smoked fish pie with walnut and Colby crumble and fennel lemon salad. The wine match was 2014 Soho Jagger Pinot Gris from Awatere Valley.
First course
As if one entree wasn't enough, we had a second! Double baked cheddar, mushroom and bacon soufflé served with a refreshing sorrel and radish salad. I hadn't eaten raw sorrel before. On its own, it would taste quite overpowering but the radish complemented the flavour. The wine match was Tietjen Witters Gold Chardonnay from Gisborne.
Second course
Even the palette cleanser between courses was a noteworthy dish of its own! I could easily have eaten this kaffir lime sorbet with poached pear and frozen yoghurt for dessert. Note the original 1930s parchment paper (a butter wrapper) place mat.
Palette cleanser
The main course was all about pork cooked three ways (plus crackling). Woody's Free Range Farm founder Daniel Todd talked about the challenges of feeding quality food to around 200 free range pigs to produce a quality pork product. We enjoyed pulled pork, pork belly and pork braised in milk with apple and pork jus. The creamy Swiss style cheese potato gratin was absolutely delicious. Note the token touch of green (broccoli)! The wine match was 2012 Georgetown Pinot Noir from Central Otago.
Main course
Finally, it was onto dessert. I hadn't tasted junket before but apparently it was a staple dessert before my time. I didn't care much for this rum junket but did like the crumble on top, along with the other dessert dish of Esther's gingerbread with poached quince and vanilla whipped cream. The gingerbread would also have tasted great slightly warmed.
After dessert, we got to walk through the impressive wooden doors into an interior courtyard, where Milk Station owner Lindia Wood had opened some of the accommodation rooms for us to explore.
European style interior courtyard.
Thank you to Ruth, Lindia and the team for a delightful long lunch. Needless to say, I don't need dinner tonight!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Neapolitan cake

There's so much more to Neapolitan than the ice cream we grew up with as kids. Back in the day, vanilla and chocolate were the predominant flavour options. We hadn't heard of cookies and cream, goodie goodie gum drops or salted caramel yet. Neapolitan added a touch of exoticism, even if we didn't really like it. Hokey pokey was another whole level of excitement for kiwi kids.

Birthday time calls for a special birthday cake. I wanted to use my Fresh As freeze dried strawberry powder to bake with and Neapolitan cake came to mind. After unsuccessfully searching for Neapolitan cake recipes, I decided to double and modify the standard Edmonds Cookery Book butter cake recipe. It's incredibly versatile and produced three layers for turned out to be a very large cake once assembled and decorated.

Neapolitan cake

  • 300 g butter, softened
  • 3 t vanilla essence
  • 330 g sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 420 g flour
  • 2 T baking powder
  • 375 ml milk
  • 1 t freeze dried strawberry powder
  • pink food colouring
  • 2 T cocoa
  1. Preheat oven to 170°C. Grease and line three 20 cm sandwich cake pans.
  2. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla essence together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down sides of the bowl and beating well after each addition.
  4. Sift flour and baking powder together. Fold into creamed mixture.
  5. Add milk gradually to give a soft dropping consistency.
  6. Divide mixture into three equal portions (about ~568 grams each) as follows.
    Vanilla cake
    : Pour one third of the mixture into a prepared pan.
    Strawberry cake: Pour one third of the mixture into a separate bowl. Add freeze dried powder and enough pink food colouring to achieve your desired colour. Pour into second prepared pan.
    Chocolate cake: Add cocoa to remaining mixture and combine thoroughly. Pour into third prepared pan.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cakes are cooked when a skewer comes out clean and cake shrinks a little from the edges. Cool for 10 minutes in pans, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
Assemble cake layers with chocolate on the bottom, vanilla in the middle and strawberry on top. Spread buttercream in between each layer before icing and decorating the whole cake.

Decorate any way you choose. I made 700 g of strawberry buttercream by adding one tablespoon of freeze dried powder and food colouring to a standard buttercream recipe, then decorated the cake with fondant ruffles in the same order as the cake's layers. The finishing touch was fondant roses using my new easiest rose ever cutter.

Neapolitan cake with fondant ruffles

Strawberry, vanilla and chocolate layers

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Wellington Regional Sugarcraft Competition 2016

Just next to one of the most popular Pokémon Go hunting spots in the Hutt, the Dowse Museum was once again host to the annual Wellington Regional Sugarcraft Competition and Exhibition this weekend. The exhibition is a great source of cakespiration and a celebration of the many hours of hard work that go into cake decorating.

I really enjoyed this year's 1950s rock and roll theme. Think juke boxes, diners, music and lots of dancing. It allowed for bright colours, black and white themes and a kind of design simplicity that really appeals to me.

Here's a selection of my favourite cakes from this year's competition. They weren't necessarily category winners but caught my attention in one way or another.

At the diner
Angry bird
made by an 11 year old
My nephews would love this.
A celebration of Grandparents Day
These figurines are beautifully detailed.
A funky handbag
made by an 11 year old
A celebration of music
I love the effect achieved using just black and white fondant.
Realistic cakes usually freak me out
but this one wasn't so scary.
A celebration of rock and roll
This is my people's choice nomination.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Shouldless days

I recently started listening to the Death, Sex & Money podcast by Anna Sale. The premise for the podcast is that it openly talks about the topics we think about a lot but usually leave unspoken.

One of the many episodes I enjoyed was Ellen Burstyn's lessons on survival. I have to confess to not knowing who Ellen Burstyn is before listening to it but I was taken by one particular piece of advice. Ellen is a fan of shouldless days, when you do what you want to do and not the things you think you should - the epitome of guilt-free.

This got me thinking. I'm very much a should person. I should do this and I should do that and I should get around to doing the things I haven't done yet and so on. I'm also a should have person, whereby I relive the guilt of not doing the things I should have done at the end of each day. Does this sound familiar?

In an ideal world, Sundays would be shouldless days for me. It's not just about being lazy and achieving nothing. Sometimes this describes my Sundays perfectly, but there is usually an element of guilt about the things I should have done. This is definitely something I need to work on.

As for what I'd do on my shouldless days, well, I imagine this would be different every week. It's likely to involve coffee, baking, brunch, music, home, new places, sunshine, a book, a walk, making plans, having no plans, good company, no company ... all of the above, some of it or none at all.

What would a shouldless day look like for you?

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

House rules for cruising with friends

So you're going on a cruise! For two weeks! With friends, no less! A girls' only trip! Leave the boys at home!

It all sounds wonderful – and certainly is. Imagine: two and a half weeks of lying by the pool, eating heaps of yummy food, sipping endless cocktails, partying all night and throwing in a spot of duty free shopping every so often. Except it's not quite so wonderful if these activities aren't your idea of what you should do every day on holiday, or you want to try something different for a change, or even do something quiet by yourself occasionally.

Our group knew from the outset that one particular person was at risk of not returning. It was just a matter of who would do it, when and how. I'm pleased to report that we did survive the duration of the cruise, thanks to employing some survival tactics. It was tough at times to remain calm and patient but we can now repeat the wise words our cruise ship captain announced after each shore excursion, "all the souls are accounted for" – just.

House rules for cruising with friends

  • Choose your cabin mates wisely. The cabins are very small and two weeks is a long time to spend with others in a confined space.
  • Realise that not everybody has to or will want to do the same things at the same time – and that's perfectly ok. Desirable, even.
  • Know who in your group is an extrovert, who the introverts are and have a plan for keeping everybody alive. Not as simple as it sounds.
  • Realise that everyone has a different idea about what being on holiday means. For some it's drinking endless cocktails on a pool lounger. For others, it's having time out to quietly read a book or spending some time alone to recharge their energy.
  • Have an understanding that if people get separated or want some time out that you'll meet up at a regular activity or meal. For us, it was the daily quiz at 5 pm or dinner at 7.30.
  • Bring headphones and use them just like you would in an open plan office. They're a great way to carve out some personal space or even just to show others that you're not going to be part of this conversation.
  • Let stuff go. Remember that you're all away for a break and a good time. Your holiday will fly by and you'll be back to reality before you know it so enjoy it while you can.