Sunday, 9 February 2014

Erratic postings may soon resume!

Hello!  Or bonjour!

You may have noticed a slight hiatus in blogging... and part of the reason (the more interesting part, not the part about the overwhelming day job) is that we packed up the family when winter storms were at their worst, and stepped out the door, and 37 hours later we tumbled out of an A380 at Charles de Gaulle airport.  

Yes.  It takes more or less 37 hours to get from Wellington, New Zealand to Paris.  

But when you get to Paris at 7.00am and you can't get into your lovely apartment in Montmartre until 1.00pm (that's 43 hours since leaving home), you CAN wander the streets of Montmartre...

First stop... baguette!
Next stop... fromage to go with the baguette
Something for dinner
That would be NO!

We had a fantastic time in Paris.  Highlights included:

    ...A bike tour of Paris, which the girls LOVED
Miss 8 about to bike through the Louvre courtyards

...Getting up close and personal with gargoyles on Notre Dame
...The Eiffel Tower, by day and by night
We walked up those stairs on the left...700+!

We then headed south by train and car, and stayed on a farm called Mas Saint Germain in the Camargue National Park, where we could ride local Camargue horses around the rice fields, and see the flamingos in their breeding grounds.
A week on a canal boat (self-drive) on the Canal du Midi followed, from Argens-Minervois to Trebes (for a visit to Carcasonne) and back.  We had the most divine cassoulet in Trebes.

We briefly stopped in Bordeaux (definitely keen to go back again), Chinon in the Loire Valley, and Paris again, before heading to England and visits with friends and family.  And a wedding.
So that is part of the excuse for no blogging.  I won't go into the work-related part, except to note that I've been a bit busy.  However, I have made whitebait fritters, and Schweinbraten and Kartoffelkloesse, and now it's plum season, so I'll get cracking and pop up some recipes soon!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A new signature dish? Flourless chocolate cake

I'll outline the background to this particular recipe when I fill you in on the latest dinner party club menu... however, having decided that I was on dessert, I turned to a recipe that I have gazed at many many times, but wondered if I would really like.  It is a cross between a chocolate cake and a baked cheesecake from one of Julie Le Clerc's books, and was met with resounding acclaim and requests that I had better blog it IMMEDIATELY!

The other good thing about this recipe is that it is just so easy to make - I had spent the day racing round, fitting in brunch with our cousins from Westport and squeezing in some gardening, and I had never tried the recipe before (potential recipe for disaster).  But no, get all the ingredients out, turn on the oven and off you go...

Flourless chocolate cake
Serves 12

Preheat the oven to 150C (fanbake).  Grease a 22cm springform cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper.

Vanilla cream
250g cream cheese, softened to room temperature (DON'T for a MOMENT think about using "lite" or reduced fat cream cheese)
2/3 C sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp Heilala vanilla paste

Beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add egg and vanilla and beat for another minute until it is combined.  Set aside.

Chocolate batter
150g butter, roughly chopped
300g quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped

Place in a medium size bowl and gently melt together.  This can be done over a small pan of simmering water (which I did) - just make sure that the water is not touching the bowl. Alternatively, zap in the microwave in 30 second bursts. Once it is mostly melted, take the bowl off the pot of water and leave to cool on the bench, stirring from time to time. You want it to be warm, but not scalding hot when you add to the eggs.

3 large eggs
1/3 C sugar
1 tbsp espresso coffee
pinch salt

Place these ingredients in a bowl and whisk together for at least 5 minutes, until they are thick and pale.  Gradually add the slightly cooled chocolate mixture, while continuing to whisk, until combined.

Pour about half the chocolate batter into the prepared pan. Then alternate dollops of the vanilla cream and the chocolate batter across the pan.  Use a medium palette knife to roughly swirl the two together and get a marbled pattern. Give the bowl a gentle shake so that the top of the cake is even, and place in the middle of the oven.

Cook for 45-50 minutes. The top should be slightly crusty, and a skewer inserted into the cake should be a little sticky, but not runny.  I preferred the cake still slightly warm - it keeps overnight in the fridge, but I would warm slightly before serving.

This leads me to another essential kitchen item, the perfect basket for transporting food.  When I bought this, I really didn't know how vital it would be - but if you find a sturdy basket that will fit your most popular baking dishes, just buy it!

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The miracle of grandparents: WBC restaurant review

These school holidays, my wonderful parents were wondering if the girls would, perhaps, like to fly down and stay with them for a week?  No one in our household needed to be asked twice – the girls were very excited about being Unaccompanied Minors, and we were quite keen to explore what a week without children could be like.  In a week bookended by southerly storms (and delayed flights) at one end and earthquakes at the other, the answer for us was *busy* (and we missed our girls, but they had a ball with their Granny and Papa)!

However, we were determined to get to the newest restaurant in town – WBC.  WBC is in the building of the former Wholesale Boot Company, and the food is, I’m happy to advise, melt-in-the-mouth delicious.

We arrived at the rather nondescript doorway on a cool winter evening, to see candles lighting the stairs.  On arrival upstairs, we were warmly greeted and taken to a table.  As with most restaurants in Wellington, they don’t take dinner bookings – on our wintry Wednesday evening, we arrived in time to get the last table at 7pm.  The room is long, with lovely large windows along one side and tables arranged the length of the room.  There is a bar that seats six (enough space to dine at the bar), with views into the kitchen where all the action is taking place.

The menu has a range of offerings and there are also lots of daily specials listed on brown butcher's paper as you come up the stairs.  There are starters and small dishes, mains and larger plates to share, along with veges and salads.  This creates options for creating a meal of the plates that you want and not being constrained by any expectation that you’ll follow a straight line though the menu.

The wine list covers the bases, with generally one option for each variety offered, including a mix of New Zealand and international wines.  All wines are available by the glass, giving the option of wine matching to each dish, if you wish.  There is a wide selection of spirits visible behind the bar, and I suspect that if it wasn’t a mid-week evening, we would have explored some cocktails to get us started.

The MOTH started his meal with a selection of oysters, which he was very happy with.  I opted for a small plate special of barbequed blue cod wings, with roasted red pepper and capers – these were delicious.  They had just the right amount of smoky flavour, balanced by the sweetness of the peppers and the salty tang of the capers.  The small plate provided enough for me to be happy enough to share one wing with the MOTH.

For our main, we took the chef’s recommendation of a special plate to share – groper steak.  Without a doubt, the best groper I have ever had – perfectly seared on the bone, lightly flavoured and melt-in-the-mouth delicious.  The flavour of the groper was the main event, enhanced but not overwhelmed by its light and buttery juices.  The groper came with two sides.  The first was a green salad with seaweed – simple, but surprisingly tasty, with the slightly salty seaweed and a good balance for the fish.  The second side was fresh peas, with tender green broad beans and garlic – perfectly complementing the fish and the salad.  We had also ordered hand cut chips – which rounded out the main course perfectly.

After a small pause to chat, we turned our attention to the dessert menu.  Predictably, I opted for the crème brulée, with poached rhubarb.  The crème brulée was perfect, and its little side dish of perfectly pink rhubarb was described by the MOTH as “like eating an orchid” – fragrant, lightly spiced and cooked to perfection.  In a departure from normal procedure (the MOTH is not a regular dessert eater), the MOTH chose banana doughnuts… and I have to say (as I don’t care for doughnuts), that these were a revelation – light and fluffy, with a delicious chocolate sauce.  I know what the girls would have had for dessert, if they’d been with us.
Overall, a lovely evening – attentive service, an interesting menu, wonderful food and delightful company.    Thanks WBC and the grandparents.