30 August 2010

Island Time Part Deux

Kia Orana,,,thought I'd better continue the island update before it all becomes a distant memory though after day one at work I feel I am still retaining a little of that relaxed and refreshed feeling. The second night in Raro we managed to secure a table at Stefano's post bubbles and oat and beer - local Matutu beer - bread with some tasty pesto and hummus all picked up at the local markets.  
Stefano's is a delectable little Italian restaurant run by Roberta and Stefano who moved out from Milan in 2000.  Also only a moment or two stroll from our resort.  It is a simple menu with several bruschetta's on offer for an entree. The traditional crispy bread rubbed with garlic and olive oil and topped with tomatoes and herbs.  We opted for the original tomatoes and herbs but also variations with olives, cheese and salami on the menu.  Really shows how simple flavours can really sing...yum!
For mains it is pasta, all freshly made on site.  We had the pasta saporita - fresh spaghetti with bacon, chili, white wine, garlic in a light tomato sauce topped off with a little Parmesan and ravioli con panne e funghi - fresh ravioli with a mushroom and cream sauce.  The mushroom ravioli was really delicious. After a bit of a breather we just had to try the tiramisu and it was worth it! A real pick me up and gave us the energy to manage a cocktail back at the resort for moonlight happy hour.

Sunday dawned with more blue skies and sunshine and was a designated day of pure relaxing 0 heaven and felt like such an indulgent luxury. So post breakfast we ensconced ourselves on the beach with books and magazines galore.  Lunch was from a fantastic little deli that we came across at the market...having seen the delights on offer we just couldn't resist a visit to Deli Foods.  See for yourself! We opted for their pizza breads, salad and a couple of muffins which added up to a great beach side picnic.

Monday - another day in paradise and off on a lagoon cruise with Captain Tama - our two guides Captain Fantastic and Captain Awesome made it a memorable and hilarious day out on the lagoon.  A little snorkeling, colourful tropical fish and giant clams followed by fresh coconut for morning tea.  Then it was off to a tiny island just off Muri Beach for a BBQ lunch and entertainment.  While the crew cooked up a freshly caught feast there was time for a little more lazing in the sun. Lunch was BBQ wahoo, freshly caught that morning,with BBQ banana, onions, coleslaw and potato salad - simple but yumm!  Seconds were definitely in order.
A little light entertainment post lunch was hilarious with a lesson on how to tie sarongs...there are a million and one ways, coconut husking and some island ukulele playing in the background to round out the island vibe. 
After a bit of an afternoon siesta it was beer battered fish and chips Raro style with an apple slaw, island fries (local maniota, taro and kumura - seriously good - crisp and slightly sweet) and coriander and lime aioli with the beautiful Muri beach to look at.  So picturesque - we certainly never tired of that spectacular view, and the fish and chips were pretty good too.


29 August 2010

Sunday Kitchen

It feels like spring is almost here!  Certainly the chill has gone, the heat pump hasn't even been switched on today,,,plus the intermittent downpours or as I still call them April showers, as they would be in the UK,  are a definite sign that spring is almost upon us.  Need a little less of the down pours as the garden is water logged and some serious clean up and weeding required before any visits to Kings Plant Barn are allowed. It is almost time to start getting some seeds and seedlings in for a summer bounty.  For seeds you can't go past Kings Seeds - check out there catalogue here and you won't fail to be inspired by the sheer range available and for gardening tips sign up to the NZ Gardener Get Growing newsletter here.
After a couple of hours of restorative yoga time for some cooking and inspiration courtesy of Epicurean Supplies who will courier you (if in NZ!) the most beautiful box of seasonal, freshly picked organic vegetables.  Returned from Raro to a box of delicious goodness! Bokchoy, radish, swede, white turnip, broccoli, leeks, spinach, cavalonero, onions, fennel, mixed lettuce leaves, rosemary, chives, bay leaves and mint...don't think I have missed anything.  I just love the surprise of not knowing what is going to be in that box.                                                                                                 So for Saturday night it was a bit of a beef stir fry...a bit of a concoction as out of fish sauce and oyster sauce, so had improvise a little on the original plan. Sauteed off some onions,garlic, ginger and chillies.  Added some sliced mushrooms and the beef...just for a minute or two and added some soy and sweet chili sauce and finished off with some basil and coriander as what I happened to have.  Served over simply boiled rice with some stir fried vegetables on the side, including the beautiful bok choy from Epicurean Supplies. Dressed with a little sesame oil and all served with a nice chilled glass of Alana Estate Sauvignon Blanc.

Back to Sunday...I was looking for spinach inspiration.  I would have done Giada's spicy spinach pesto but I did that only the other week and I still have a stash in the freezer. It really is delicious.  So in the end I was thinking spinach and feta and arrived at spanakopita.  I do love Ina Garten'sspanakopita and I have made them quite a few times but today I thought I'd try these ones from Tyler Florence.  They just seemed a little more interesting than the usual with the addition of ground toasted coriander seeds and nutmeg. Loved the idea of fresh herbs, chives and oregano, sprinkled between the layers of filo pastry. Get the recipe here, really easy to follow and they look really pretty with green flecks of herbs visible through the filo. A light and tasty lunch served with some of the salad leaves from Epicurean Supplies. Reckon this is the spanikopita recipe to beat!  Really fragrant with all the herbs and coriander.
And for dinner I will be satisfying my cravings for fresh pasta along with some of the spicy spinach pesto from the freezer. For my fresh pasta I use a Giada recipe and usually just do half which would serve 3-4 depending on how hungry people are.  

So for a half batch place 1 1/2 cups of flour (regular old plain flour is fine!) in to a food processor (yes some Italian mamas would have a fit but it just makes it so quick and easy and you still taste all the benefits of freshly made pasta!).  In a small cup or bowl beat two large eggs and add 1/2 a tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper, beat and add to the flour. Pulse to combine in the food processor, scraping down the sides a couple of times.  The dough should stick together if pinched between your fingers and be quite yellow in colour.  Turn the dough out on to a board with a little flour and knead gently until smooth, I like to give it a good 5 mins to get the right texture. Cover in cling and let it rest for half an hour or so.  Then just roll and shape...much easier if you have a pasta machine.  To cook all you need is a few moments in pot of boiling, salted water, a good amount of salt - the water should taste like the sea! Stir in the pesto and voila dinner is served. Buon Appetito!

And the final result...

28 August 2010

Island Time Part One

Kia Orana...Muri Beach, Rarotonga, Cook Islands...It really was as idyllic as it looks, a view you could never tire of looking at, hence the numerous photos taken.  I'd say by the end of the week at least 100 plus! Off the plane late afternoon and no problem whatsoever settling in to island time.  
Also arrived just in time for happy hour so what better way to kick the holiday off with a couple of Mai Tais at the Barefoot Bar beach side.  
Our first choice of restaurant for dinner was fully booked (booked in for the following night) so took a recommendation and went to Flame Tree, handily a few minutes walk from the resort and with umbrellas on hand we were sheltered from the fairly torrential downpour.  A pretty spot down a long driveway and we settled in for the first of many delicious meals.  We started off with a smoked marlin mouse with sauvignon jelly and sourdough bread.  The mousse was light with a delicate smoked flavour that didn't over power the beautiful fresh marlin.  The jelly provided a nice little acidity to the creaminess of the mousse. For main course I opted for some grilled mahi mahi on a kumura rosti and drizzled with a Bearnaise sauce that was sublime.  Post dinner we were treated to the most spectacular lightening storm.  Made even more memorable, as actually so far out at sea we couldn't hear the thunder but could only marvel at nature's magnificent light show. 
Noni - v smelly!

Awoke our first morning to sunshine and balmy tropical temperatures. We caught the anti clockwise bus in to the main centre of Avarua where Punanga Nui Cultural Market is held every Saturday morning. Lots of local produce on offer. Including a new one to me noni.  Not a very appealing smell to say the least and can't really describe it.  The Noni (Morinda Citrifolia plant to use its "proper name") flourishes in the rich volcanic soil in the pristine tropical paradise of the Cook Islands.  The fruit is organically grown and processed in a traditional manner to extract a pure quality juice with no additives. It is a dark brown juice that tastes a little better than the actual fruit juice - an accurate description would be an acquired taste!  Noni is full of nutrients, vitamins, active enzymes and minerals and can help build your immune system and has even been shown to help with arthritis.
Amongst all the food  - beautiful kebabs, fruit smoothies, homemade lemonade is the classic Rarotongan dish ika mata - basically marinated raw fish.  Easy to do at home and a refreshing dish on a hot summer's day with an icy cold beer.

                                 Recipe here courtesy of Pacific Resort in Raro.
400g yellow fin tuna
1 large lemon
1 tomato
1/2 cucumber
1 medium capsicum
1/2 white onion (or normal kiwi onion will do to!)
1/2 tin good quality coconut cream (or 1 fresh grated coconut juice if you happen to be in the islands)
Salt & pepper to taste

In to a bowl squeeze the juice of the lemon. Dice the tuna into 1cm cubes, add to the lemon juice, mix and place to the side.
Into a separate bowl, dice the vegetables into 1/2 cm cubes.  (The time this takes is enough to marinate the tuna)
Add vegetables to the tuna as well as the coconut cream and season to taste.

Great as an appetiser or serve with a simple salad & fresh crusty bread for a light lunch.

And there's more. In addition to all the food some  great arts, crafts, clothing and souvenirs to be found. Great food and some retail therapy to boot! All under the beautiful Rarotongan sunshine makes for a perfect Saturday morning.

The wonderful colours of the South Pacific.
Traditional eis

20 August 2010

Jetting off in to the sunset,,,,

As I am jetting off in to the sunset for a week of relaxation in Rarotonga,,,I thought I would leave you with some food for thought,,,The Cuisine Restaurant of the Year Awards. Check out all the winners here.  One of my favourites is O'Sarracino which won Best Specialist Restaurant - if you love Italian you have to go.
Other Auckland winners were The French Cafe & Soul Bar & Bistro,,,both always consistently pretty great!
Any favourite winners or favourite restaurants?  Check back next week for Island inspired food for thought. 

15 August 2010

Sunday Roast

Another wet and windy Winter Auckland day,,,on a bright note perfect for a morning in the kitchen to get stuck in to Sunday roast for 5 grown ups, 2 toddlers and a baby. 
On the menu today crostini with leek ragu and crispy prosciutto,,,a sort of hybrid of 2 recipes as I had beautiful leeks instead of fennel.  A thank you for the recipe inspiration goes to Real Simple ( one of my favourite magazines and a website you can get lost for hours in!) -Prosciutto Crostini With Lemony Fennel Slaw and Mario Batali's Leek Ragu Bruschetta Topping, courtesy of his new book Molto Gusto. Excellent book by the way, full of really simple seasonal dishes.

For the leek ragu which makes about 1 cup:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves coarsely chopped
1 pound leeks, trimmed, halved, lengthwise, cut in to 1/2 inch (approx 1cm) slices, and washed well.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic & cook, stirring until soft, 1-2 minutes.  Add the leeks and season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring until softened but not browned, 8-10 minutes.  Add 1/3 cup of water, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook gently until the leeks are very soft, about 15 minutes. If necessary increase the heat to high and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until most of the cooking liquid has evaporated. 

For the crispy prosciutto I just tear it up and pan fry for a moment or 2.  Grill your bread of choice, I do it on the griddle to get some nice toasty grill marks and then slice a garlic clove in half and rub around the outside of the bread.  Top with a little of the leeks and crispy prosciutto. These were really good - always amazing how simple fresh produce can be so tasty, with basically just a little seasoning.

Not so good a start to what I thought was my fail proof lemon tart!  Crust has shrunk!  Fingers crossed the patchwork attempt at recovery is successful! I guess I will find after the next few minutes in the oven!  Not my best ever tart case but I think rescue operation successful! And with the lemon curd filling it may not be prefect but I am pretty sure it will still be quite delicious...so in the end I guess this lemon tart is fail proof. I use Anne Burrell's recipe and just add a little more lemon zest and juice and a little less sugar as I like a tarter tart. The recipe calls for Meyer lemons but I tend to use my own from the garden.  I am not sure exactly what variety they are just very tasty, juicy lemons and they make a great lemon tart. 
At the end of the day not my best tart shell but still a pretty good dessert.  The blueberries really set it off and for a little more decadence add a dollop of whipped cream...yum!

For the main event today it is, to quote,,,incredible roasted shoulder of lamb with smashed veg and greens, courtesy of Jamie Oliver.  Mum and Dad also tried this one out last week so I have it on good authority that it is indeed incredible.  Going with the smashed veg too as I happened to have them all on hand - including my own turnip from the garden.  
A slight variation on the greens...cavalo nero, spinach out the garden and rocket (needed using!). Slowly softened some onions and garlic and added cavalo nero and spinach with a generous pinch of chilli flakes plus salt and pepper.  Pan fried for a moment or two and added a half cup or so of chicken stock.  Cook until greens cooked and stir through rocket just before serving.
Incredible roast shoulder of lamb
Verdict on the lamb...this really is incredible..super tender and juicy and so tasty.  What a fantastic recipe and so easy, this one will definitely become a staple. There's is just something so satisfying about taking a cheaper cut of meat & making it into a truly delicious feast.  The gravy just adds that little extra that makes this, just as the title says "incredible".

A really lovely Sunday afternoon...you really can't beat a Sunday roast in the company of good friends...really one of life's simple pleasures.

09 August 2010

Roadtrip North

Beautiful Matakana Countryside
Woke up to the most beautiful of NZ Winter mornings last Saturday & the perfect day for a road trip. Headed off early with a quick stop to fuel up with a good strong coffee, the only way to start the day .The first stop en route was the Honey Centre just out of Warkworth, about 40 minutes north of Auckland. They have an amazing array of different natural honeys and honey products.  Even better you can sample most of the honeys.  They also have NZ's largest display of live bees,,,quite a sight! This time I came away with some Multi-Flora Honey and some Manuka Honey - delicious. 

Next stop Matakana and the farmers market but side tracked by a delightful looking little place - The Dragonfly Cafe and Gallery - and what a wee find.  A beautiful gift shop and seriously delicious food - a good selection of gluten free fare as well. However,I couldn't go past the sausage roll which was divine!  Cruised past Ascension Vineyard as a little early for wine tasting, but time permitting it is worth a stop as some very good vino.  Being winter the vines looked very sparse having given up their beautiful bounty.

Arrived Matakana Village, bustling as always on market day. The village has certainly changed over the years with a number of boutiques type shops and even a Nosh.  The Farmers Market was busy as ever & they do have some great produce and artisan cheeses, olive oils, smoked salmon, mustard, chutneys, preserves and breads. My haul included a huge bag of freshly picked clementines, walnut bread and some Puriri Flat Olive Oil - spicy and tasty.  The piece de resistance though was the discovery of the Whangaripo Buffalo Cheese Co.  What amazing cheese.  So tasty, but fresh and tart and clean all at the same time.  A truly great find!  Took home some of the cream cheese, more ricotta like in texture and just a great clean, tangy fresh taste.  I couldn't possible go past either of the blues - a true blue and a blue cheddar - both equally delicious. Thought one for me and one for Anna and Alex, friends in Whangarei and the destination of this wee road trip.

I continued north out of Matakana to Kaiwaka.  If you are passing through the little village of Kaiwaka it is always worth a stop. Kaiwaka is located on an ancient Maori portage between the East and West Coasts, the narrowest point between the Auckland Isthmus and the far North. What I love is Cafe Eutopia.  

Allpress organic coffee and fantastic food and fresh organic fruit juices. It is also worth a stop to just check out the building itself,,,a little bit of a wonderland and certainly unexpected!  Today is was refuelling with a good, strong long black and a gingernut spelt cookie,,,yum! My second must see is the Kaiwaka Cheese Shop which has the largest range of Gouda cheeses I have ever seen. They have more than 52 cheeses altogether, so if you are a cheese lover you must check it out!

Finally arrived in Whangarei and had a great evening with a veritable feast accompanied by good wine and good company! My homemade pate and Anna's homemade bread followed by a scallop, bacon and pear salad, roast lamb racks (from the farm) with decadent potato dauphinois, spinach and carrot, all freshly picked. And we still managed to find a little room for some Whangaripo Blue and some aged Gouda and all topped off with Anna's chocolate marmalade tart. 

 And yes as delicious as it all looks!

07 August 2010

Grapefruit Bounty

The neighbour's again had another bountiful harvest from their grapefruit tree & post our annual Mid Winter Christmas Shindig half the street had a bag of these golden gems.
What to do with them? Even with my plethora of books on pickling, preserving & pretty nifty google skills there would appear to be few recipes for using a whole heap of grapefruits.
So it was back to the tried & tested from Jams & Chutneys - Preserving the Harvest by Thane Price. A marvellous little book all seasonally arrange. The pineapple & red onion relish is delicious plus some great vinegars.
Back to the mountain of grapefruit & a great recipe for Pink Grapefruit Marmalade.
Only slightly tweaked here as I had regular grapefruit & used a little less sugar as I prefer a tarter jam & happy just to spend a little longer to set to get that tang,,for me that makes it a great marmalade.
The recipe will make about 1.6kg or 3.5lbs & will keep for a year (at least! I still have some of last year's batch & all good!) Though this year's batch once distributed around the neighbours & a flat mate, Teresa, who has fallen in love with it. The recipe also calls for some lemons & very happy to have a great crop myself this year.

So here is the recipe, a little prep required with the overnight soaking but well worth it for these jewel like jars sweet, yet tart, deliciousness.

Pink Grapefruit Marmalade


3 pink or red fleshed grapefruits ( I used regular)
2 large lemons scrubbed
1.35kgs (3lbs) white granulated sugar (I used 1.2kgs)


Cut the fruit & half & squeeze out all the juice & strain in to a large bowl. Reserve the pip
s & store juice & pips in fridge until needed.
Using a sharp knife, cut the shells of the grapefruit & lemons into fine shreds. (Or as chunky or less chunky as you like in your marmalade - for as long as I can remember I loved Mum' marmalade but did not like "the bits"! So for me it is quite a fin chop!) Put these in a large china or glass bowl & cover with 1.5 litres (2 3/4 pints) of water & leave to soak for 24 hours.
Tie the reserved pips in a muslin bag (Or gauze from the chemist works too). Put the fruit &
water in to a preserving pan with the reserved juices & the bag of pips. Bring to the boil& simmer for 60 minutes until the peel is very soft. You should be able to cut it easily with a wooden spoon.
Stir in the sugar & simmer over a low heat until it has dissolved. If any scum rises the the surface, skim it off. You may need to do this several times. Now increase the heat & cook at a full rolling boil for 20-30 minutes & then test for a set. It took me a little longer with less sugar but worth the wait.
When it has reached setting point,,,,,put a little on a co
ld saucer & leave for a moment & then check with your finger to see if it wrinkles,,,if it does you are set!
Once you have reached setting point let it sit for 5 minutes & then pot into sterilized jars, seal & label.

Still a bowl of grapefruit so going to try & preserve them,,,,after discussions with one of the neighbours if one can preserve lemons in salt why not grapefruit?
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