Saturday, 18 November 2017

High tea at the InterContinental

Team building exercises can be tiresome. Some are bearable. It turns out that a 3-hour long scavenger hunt around Wellington's CBD brought out the competitive side of my workmates and ended up being a huge amount of fun. Even better was the promised prize of afternoon tea for the winning team ... us! We perused afternoon tea menus and settled on high tea in the Lobby Lounge at the InterContinental Hotel. What a great choice!

The atmosphere in the Lobby Lounge is comfortable and relaxed. There's an extensive tea menu that, naturally, I cast aside in pursuit of coffee. We knew we'd be in for a feast so made sure nobody had lunch beforehand but still weren't certain we could finish a full high tea each - although we'd certainly try our best.

The staff were great. While we wouldn't be able to take home any savoury foods, the sweet items could be packaged up if we couldn't make it through all fifteen pieces. Just as well ... most of my top layer came home in a beautiful doggy (piggy?) box to be devoured later.

So what did we eat? The menu was similar to the high coffee I enjoyed last year. We started at the bottom with   warm bacon and avocado slider, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, pumpernickel with apple and aged blue cheese (I'm still getting used to pumpernickel), cucumber and egg club sandwiches, followed by mini date scones with jam and cream.

Intercontinental high tea
And this is what we brought home: gateau opera, white chocolate mousse, strawberry tartlet, chocolate and popping candy lollipop (so much fun!), mini cheesecake, coffee éclair, tropical fruit salad and a tiny macaron.

We had an amazing high tea with delicious food and excellent company. I can't think of a more pleasant way to spend a Friday afternoon.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Kevin Bridges - NZ Tour

Paying it forward really can work. After abandoning two sets of Wellington on a Plate tickets last month due to illness, I was rewarded with free tickets to a comedy show from a colleague in a similar situation to mine. Would I like to see Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges on stage? Heck, yes! She insisted I take them as she hated to see good tickets go to waste. (A special cake will be making its way to her this week.)

The warm up act for the sold-out show was Italian-Australian gay gluten intolerant comedian Nath Valvo. He got things off to a flying start before Bridges took the stage.

We laughed ourselves silly from start to end as phrases were helpfully translatated into kiwi English for those who may not have understood Bridges's broad Glaswegian accent. Then the usual suspects (Trump, ISIS, Brexit) made an appearance in a standup routine that took him all around the world before finishing up with anecdotes about growing up in a suburb that sounds like the Hutt Valley of Glasgow. Yes, he did his research before facing a Wellington crowd. Hoos rice, anyone?

It seems like the audience was full of Scots keen to show off their patriotism - so much so that Bridges had to deal to a persistently annoying heckler, who made it clear just how much online stalking research she'd done by shouting out her findings all night. After some bickering in the gallery, a flurry of pledges to buy Bridges a beer after the show later popped up on Twitter. I hope he took up an offer or three. This guy is hilarious!

Monday, 21 August 2017

Two thumbs up

The winter lurgy has well and truly visited our home this past week and is yet to fully leave. It brought with it some nasty symptoms and a raft of questions about its status. Have you been to the doctor? Can you work from home? Is it flu or is it another virus? How come you can't walk 200m/get dressed/fold washing without puffing? Why don't you just relax and read a book? Can't you take something for that cough? Maybe you should rest and not worry about work? Do you have to cough so loud?? At least you're not [aching any more/losing a limb/facing real problems/dying].

But really, what does it matter? After a week that saw me cancel Every. Single. family and social event as well as work, it's easy to feel sorry for myself and feel like I've achieved nothing at all. But maybe all was not lost while I systematically forfeited all my plans and commitments? Stranger things have happened.

If I think about it in a cheesy two thumbs up, fake grin and get-over-myself kind of way, this last week actually looks pretty good! Well, maybe.

Two thumbs up moments

  • I saved a small fortune in transport, takeaway coffee and food expenses by not leaving the house, making coffee at home and barely eating anything for a week. This went a teeny way towards paying for the expensive Wellington on a Plate event tickets that went to waste on a night I was too sick to go out.
  • Our 8-year-old nephew loved his birthday present from us: a boxed set of all ten Diary of a Wimpy Kid books - so much so that he was still reading with a torch under his duvet at 10:40 pm! He eventually accepted his mother's pleas to go to sleep on the understanding that he could wake up early the next morning and read more. And Mr Weka thought he wouldn't want books for a present! #lovereading #lifelongreader
  • I conquered my fear of baking with topsy turvy cake pans by successfully practice-baking one off-set layer. It worked perfectly. Now I need to repeat the feat three more times, decorate each cake and work out how they will stack without falling over.
  • I discovered how far two big pots of soup and a loaf of homemade potato bread can go when you're just not hungry. Several days' worth of meals from pantry staples. WhatWho have I become?
  • I also discovered the Ear Hustle podcast and had a bittersweet binge through the first few episodes. I couldn't wait to listen to the next but wanted to savour the series rather than being left with a long wait before the next episode drops.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Perfect pastry class

It's that's time again: Wellington on a Plate has kicked off. Seventeen days of food, fun and more food. Wellington is a great place for foodies to be in August each year. I have four festival events booked this year and hope to squeeze in a lunch or two along the way.

First up was a practical lesson. The Clareville Bakery north of Carterton is renown for its artisan bread and pies. They're offering two classes for Welly on a Plate this year: a bread masterclass and the perfect pastry class. We packed up our aprons and headed over the Rimutaka hill for a hands-on pastry masterclass with Mike and Rose Kloeg, owners of The Clareville Bakery.

The class was a mix of demonstrations and hands-on practice. We learned about making puff pastry, Danish pastry (similar to puff but one less fold), choux pastry and sweet pastry. A French pastry class five years ago gave me a glimpse of what's involved in the process, which is too labour intensive for me to repeat at home, but I was keen to revisit the techniques and pick up some more tips.

Danish pastry

We practised working with Danish pastry. Like puff pastry, the art of Danish pastry involves more rolling, resting and patience than a three hour class allows. However, our already-prepared 10 x 10 cm squares meant we could have fun with shaping and actually have something to take home at the end of the evening.

We learned three techniques for folding and filling pastry squares. I was quick to master the first one: a square with an indent in the middle for custard and fruit. The second technique involved creating a pinwheel by cutting diagonal slits to corners of the square and indenting the centre.

Danish pinwheel
Indent the centre and cut from the edges
Next, each corner was folded from below the slit into the centre to create a flower shape and secured by pressing down the centre. The centre is then filled with crème pâtissière and topped with fruit before baking.

Fold corners into the centre to create a pinwheel
The third technique was creating a classic pocket. Fold corners to the centre and indent to secure.

Danish pocket - first fold
Repeat with the opposite two corners to create a square pocket. Again, fill with crème pâtissière and top with fruit before baking.

Fold in half again to create a Danish pocket

Choux pastry

I enjoy making choux pastry; it's one of my baking success stories that sees éclairs and profiteroles frequently on my dinner party menu. However, I'd never made a choux pastry swan before. Mike's recipe includes milk for texture and colour. He showed us how to use a large star nozzle to pipe swan bodies.

Piped swan bodies
You can also pipe profiteroles using the same star nozzle.

Finally, add a small round nozzle to the end to make the swan necks.

Piped swan necks
Spot the intruder
To assemble, cut the bodies horizontally, then slice the top half of the body vertically. Pipe crème pâtissière on the bottom, arrange the wings and neck and dust with icing sugar.

So elegant!

Mike and Rose joined us for a wine and cheese break. It was great to hear about Clareville Bakery's story from when they first started in 2013 to get to where they are now - and the journey is continuing.

Perfect cheese platter with house made crackers
Then it was back to the kitchen to pack up our goodies. Here is everything we took home: three styles of Danish pastry, caramelised onion and potato galettes, profiteroles, choux pastry swans and sweet fruit tarts.

Finish products
A huge thank you to Mike and Rose for their hospitality and expertise. I learned some new techniques and was reminded of other tips I'd forgotten. I doubt I'll be making puff or Danish pastry any time soon but I'm keen to give sweet fruit tarts a try at home.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

High tea at Louis Sergeant

After sampling many high tea menus in recent years, I had finally worked my way up to the top. High tea at Louis Sergeant is a very special affair. The tables are set with white linen and the tea menu is presented. Much like with cocktails, I loved reading the descriptions of each blend but opted for coffee instead of endless cups of tea.

I had planned on scrupulously taking notes detailing each item, reporting back on both ingredients and form. However, when the time came, I could only manage to gape with wide eyes at the selection placed in front of us and let the lyrical descriptions float over me. So here I am, one week later, trying in vain to remember details of the menu. I'll let the photos do the talking.

Louis Sergeant high tea
This is what four high tea servings looks like. Each item was tiny and perfectly formed - and not a sandwich or sausage roll in sight!

Savoury delights
Interestingly, the middle tier was the starting point with four savoury items to begin with. Each had a different texture and themes included cheese, a bit more cheese, betrooot, mousse-y stuff and microgreens.

Something sweet
There were two sweet tiers, one each on the bottom and top. But where should you start? I decided what I'd like to finish with and worked backwards from there, heading to the bottom tier first. Hazelnut praline, chocolate, gold leaf and a strawberry and balsamic macaron featured here, each one a heavenly mouthful.

Saving the best for last
And now the finale. Which to choose: strawberry or lemon? Both were elegant and bursting with decadence but the lemon edged its way into first place for me.

This really was an exquisite high tea. I'm so glad I've worked my way up to it as Louis Sergeant is hard to beat. Apologies to my foodie friends for making such a hash of my descriptions. Hopefully you're reading this and smiling as you remember our high tea. I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Chocolate dipped macaroons

I'm a Good Bitch Baker this weekend and felt like trying something different. Thumbing through a new cookbook, I came across a recipe for chocolate dipped macaroons. Remember macaroons? They were all we knew before macarons came along. What's the difference? This explanation is harsh but accurate.

These macaroons are actually light and crispy. They're pretty much meringues with desiccated coconut rolled through and dipped in chocolate.

For a smooth finish, roll the mixture into balls and pat down the rough edges. For a chunky coconut rough-type finish, drop spoonfuls of mixture onto the tray.

Chocolate dipped macaroons

  • 2 egg whites
  • 180 g caster sugar
  • 4 t cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 180 g desiccated coconut
  • 130 g dark chocolate for dipping
  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Line two trays with baking paper.
  2. Whisk egg whites in a clean, dry mixing bowl until firm peaks form.
  3. Gradually add the sugar, beating well after each addition. Beat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and glossy.
  4. Add the cornflour and mix until the ingredients are just combined.
  5. Add the coconut to the egg white mixture. Using a slotted metal spoon, mix until just combined.
  6. Roll heaped teaspoons of the mixture into balls and drop onto the prepared trays.
  7. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the macaroons are lightly golden. Remove from oven and leave to cool on the trays. 
  8. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl and dip the top half of each macaroon into it. Leave to set on a drip tray.
Makes 36 macaroons.

Chocolate dipped macaroons