29 November 2011

Witloof, Orange & Pomegranate Salad

On Friday I headed to Art of Produce for some inspiration for my weekend cooking. Inspiration was required, as for the last couple of weeks work has well and truly taken over, all worth it and an exciting project but balance went a little by the wayside.   So a relaxing weekend for me with a little reading, a little chilling and of course a little kitchen time to bring back the balance, the yin back in line with the yang.

I can always rely on Art of Produce for wonderfully fresh fruit and veg but also for a little inspiration as guaranteed they will have something I am not too familiar with or something I have never come across at all.  Fridays picking included white asparagus (yes it was quite exciting) and witloof, or chicory or Belgian endive....so many names for one small unassuming little vegetable!

Belgian endive also know as French endive, witlof in Dutch, witloof in Belgian Dutch or in the USA, chicory in the UK and even chicon in some parts of Northern France.  It has a small head of cream coloured bitter leaves and is grown underground or indoors to stop the leaves turning green or opening up. It is kept just below the soil surface as it grows with only the very tips of the leaves peeking out above the surface.  They can be stuffed, baked, boiled or raw in salads and have a slightly bitter flavour.

I felt like salad, though wrapped in prosciutto and baked in a bechamel sauce topped with Parmesan sounded pretty good too but the salad fits in to my pre Christmas healthy living a little better,  and with the sunny, if a little windy (read blustery and somewhat chilly), days I am still determinedly in the mood for salad.

I found some watercress and a pomegranate and this salad started to come together in my head.  I love those little jewels inside the pomegranate, just like little rubies.  Moreover I love their tartness and that little crunch.  Add to that some oranges for a fruity citrus hit and maybe a little crunch from some toasted walnuts.  For the dressing...well I tossed up between keeping it clean and simple with a light bright orange vinaigrette or a continuation of the pomegranate with a little pomegranate molasses vinaigrette.  Light and bright won out to allow all the flavours to come in to there own. Much as I love pomegranate molasses it can be quite overpowering.

Witloof, Orange and Pomegranate Salad

Serves 4


2 witloof
4 cups mixed greens, I used watercress, spinach and some sunflower sprouts, another find at Huckleberry
1 cup walnuts, toasted
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
1 orange, skin and pith removed and cut in to segments, the sweetest of oranges will make all the difference to this salad.

Sunflower sprouts
Orange and Pomegranate Dressing
Zest of one orange
Juice of half an orange
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Pinch salt


Place all the salad ingredients in a serving bowl, leaving aside a few walnuts and pomegranate seeds. Season with a little salt and pepper and set aside.  For the dressing whisk together all the ingredients and drizzle a little over the salad, just enough to coat the salad.  Top with a few more walnuts and pomegranate seeds and serve immediately.

Light, refreshing and a pretty near perfect salad for summer, the flecks of crimson pomegranate and brightness of the orange giving it a little festive spirit. It certainly would be good along side a little turkey if looking for some lighter sides this holiday season. I love the peppery watercress and the clean crunch from the witloof, then tart crunchy pomegranate and what was the sweetest orange I have had in a long, long time.  Topping it all off a toasty mellow nuttiness from the walnuts and coated in the light, a little fruity and a little tart dressing. 

If you like this you might like this Fresh Beets with Coriander Seeds 


26 November 2011

Just Photos Viva Mexico at Cook the Books

Viva Mexico! Cook at Cook the Books have Grace Ramirez as a guest chef for the next few months and coming up are ceviches and Venezuelan.  Grace has just arrived in NZ from New York via Miami, Venezuela and Mexico.  This past week it was Mexican and it left me wanting long summer nights, a cold cerveza, guacamole and whole lot of chilli.

To start the evening only one way to go and that was a nice cold cerveza, but not just any cerveza.  Ice cubes, a squeeze of lime, top with Corona and a splash of tabasco in glass rimmed with salt and Magic Powder.  Really, Magic Powder.  It is a mix of salt, chilli powder and lime and it is quite delicious if salty, tangy with a chilli hit is your thing.  And if you would like some Magic Powder head to Mexican Specialities in Ellerslie and if you are not in Auckland you can order on line.  I'll most definitely be popping in to pick some up.

Along with spiced up beer tortillas, a little black been dip, some pickled jalapenos and homemade Queso Fresco. Queso Fresco translates to "fresh cheese" and is the most common cheese to be found in Mexico, crumbled atop beans, salads, rice or used to  stuff chillies or quesadillas.  It was crumbly, light and fresh and on Wednesday it was flecked with jalapenos and coriander.   Wrapped up in a flour tortilla, with a little pickled jalapeno and some chipotle tabasco the perfect friend for an icy cols beer.

If you are going Mexican and don't have Queso Fresco a little mild feta makes for a good substitute.  However, it really is quite easy to rustle up a batch and all that is required is a milk, a little vinegar, sea salt, jalapenos, coriander, cheesecloth and a little time. Grace used Marcela Valladolid's and there is one from Rick Bayless here.  Go on, impress your friends with some homemade cheese.

The Chilaquiles con Pollo production line.

Next up Chilaquiles con Pollo.  I love saying it!  Chicken breast are poached with garlic, bay leaves, onion and peppercorns and then shredded.   These go atop some chilaquiles; tomatillo salsa verde with freshly fried corn tortillas.  It has always sounded a little odd to me to go to the trouble of freshly frying tortillas to toss them through a sauce.  But hey what do I know???  This really works, satisfying and full of flavour and what tops it all off is the crema.  

Even better with a little chipotle sauce
Now crema is something I could become quite addicted to.  The best way to describe it is as Mexican sour cream but that really doesn't quite cover it as the Mexican version is more salty than sour.  
You can whip up your own by whipping together 300ml of fresh cream and half a tablespoon of salt at high speed and popping it in the fridge for a little while.  Tangy tomatillo salsa, the corn flavour from the tortillas, juicy chicken, a little crema and a little hot sauce all the layers come together to make for a perfect helping of comfort food.

The perfect avocado, essential for the perfect guacamole

Keep it simple, avocado, onion, chilli, coriander, lime juice, salt, pepper.

It wouldn't be Cook at Cook the Books without a second "main course" this time more layers and layers of wonderful Mexican flavours in the shape of Crispy Beef Tostadas.  On the bottom a crispy freshly fried corn tortilla,  smeared with guacamole, topped with shredded steak that was poached with capsicum, onion, bay leaf and garlic, pico de gallo (salsa mexicana), black beans and of course a generous dollop of crema.  Just delicious especially with a little of Chipotle Tabasco, another addiction in the making.

Layer, layer & layer all the flavours - Crispy Beef Tostadas

To finish, simplicity itself.  Fresh mango sprinkled with Magic Powder and a shot of some very good tequila.  Another great night at Cook at Cook the Books.

If you like this you might like these for some Mexican inspiration...
Raspado de Sandia y Frambuesa (Watermelon-Raspberry Ice)

Enjoy or as they would say on Mexico...Buen Provecho!

19 November 2011

Fennel, Radish & Watercress Salad with a Roasted Lemon Vinaigrette

Spring has well and truly arrived, asparagus season is in full swing and some beautiful broad beans arrived in the vege box.  Two of my favourite spring ingredients that in some shape or form will be dinner tonight. Last weekend it was fennel and radish making an appearance in the vege box and I was quite excited to come across some watercress at the local supermarket.

And then to add to the foodie excitement they had garlic tops at Huckleberry, the local whole food store. I have never used them before and I can't resist new things to try, so they were added to the mix too.

All so bright and light and just waiting to come together in Spring salad.  And to dress the salad, well I had been over at 101 Cookbooks reading about Roasted Lemon Chutney, which I can attest is delicious, with cheese or tossed through some pasta with grilled prawns.  That is what gave me the inspiration for this dressing.  I pilfered a few lemon slices destined for the chutney and made them in to a wonderfully lemony dressing, all mellowed out from the roasting.

Fennel, Radish and Watercress Salad with a Roasted Lemon Vinaigrette


Serves 4

For the salad
2 fennel bulbs
1 bunch radish
2 handfuls watercress
Salt and pepper
2-4 garlic tops - optional, I was just lucky enough to come across some and I liked the sharp oniony hit

Roasted Lemon Vinaigrette
1 lemon sliced in to 3/4 cm slices
1 tsp honey
Small pinch salt
3-4 tbsp lemon olive oil
2-3 tbsp lemon juice


Pre heat the oven to 205C/400F and line a baking sheet with baking paper or a silicon sheet.  Slice the top and bottom off the lemon and discard.  Slice the lemon in to 1cm thick slices and remove the seeds with the tip of a sharp knife.  Place the lemons on the baking tray and brush with olive oil. Place the tray on the oven and roast for 20-25 minutes until they are soft.  Turn over after 10 minutes and keep an eye on them as you don't want them to brown.  

Once roasted let them cool for a few minutes and then pop in to a food processor with all the other ingredients.  Whizz until smooth and taste.  If need be add a little more honey or lemon to taste and set aside.  It will be quite a thick dressing but just a drop or 2 of water will loosen it.

Thinly slice, as thin as possible,  the fennel and radish and place in a medium sized bowl.  A mandolin would be great, may have to see if Santa will be kin enough to find one for me this year. Tear the leaves off the watercress and add to the bowl and toss together with the fennel and radish.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add just enough dressing to just gently coat everything.  We are aiming for a fresh, crisp salad.  Place on a platter and sprinkle with the chopped garlic tops if using.  Serve immediately.

Pretty as a picture, crisp, crunchy, green and white flecked with the pink of the radishes. The subtle aniseed flavour from the fennel and then the peppery watercress make for a great combination that is all bound together in a mellow, lemony coat.  Perfect on its own, even better with a nice chilled glass of vino.

If you like this you might like this Caramelised Fennel and Goat Cheese
One Year Ago - Watermelon Raspberry Ice


14 November 2011

For the Love of Food - Our First NZ Food Bloggers Conference

The weekend finally arrived after months and months of planning, much thanks goes to Alli over at Pease Pudding for making our very first NZ Food Bloggers Conference actually happen.  Yes, a few of us chipped in to help but it was Alli who really made it all happen. We've all enviously followed tweets and read blogs about all the wonderful experiences of bloggers at various conferences around the globe and finally we had our very own inaugural NZ Food Bloggers Conference this past weekend...and it was fantastic.

For me it started on Friday as some of the Wellington food bloggers started arriving in town and 4 of them were staying at Casa Cardwell, i.e. my place, a food blogger slumber party if you like.  So good to finally meet face to face and put the social in to social media.  The wonders of the twittersphere spilling in to reality.  And all so easy and comfortable as you really do feel that you already know each other through chatting about all things food on a regular basis in 140 characters.  Who would have thought what 140 characters can lead to? So on Friday evening Domestic Exec, Gniwordon, AtDownUnder and Mrs Cake got to get to know each other face to face over a little anti pasti and glass or 2 of rose.  

Saturday dawned with the sun trying very hard to make an appearance and it did every now and then. We head out in our own little convoy to The Tasting Shed in Kumeu. Convoy being the safer option given I lack the sense of direction gene completely! Way out west in the the countryside, well I guess not quite way out as only about a 30 minute drive from the city.  However, you do feel well away from the city with all the green fields and vineyards.

After registering, catching up with people we knew, meeting new food bloggers and receiving our over flowing goodie bags it was time for the first session of the day with Andrea from So D'lish to try and educate us all a little on the technical side with web design and optimisation, she makes it all look so easy! That was followed by Jaco Swart talking about social media before a caffeine fix and a beautiful spread for morning tea.

Refreshed and revived Alessandra spoke to us, with her always refreshing honesty, about writing for different media types: books, blogs, magazines and private clients.  How very different they all are!  So good to be able to have a realistic perception of what is required if you want to pursue writing professionally. Next up was Emma from Our Kitchen, Fisher & Paykel's blog.  How envious we all were that Emma gets to blog about food as part of her day job!! If anyone knows of any other jobs like that going....

The sun made one of its appearances for lunch and we all back over to the Tasting Shed for some really delicious food, not to mention interesting!  To start smoked paprika spiced almonds, marinated olives and warm bread with olive oil. 

Then the plates just kept coming...Braised and rolled pigs head, kohlrabi remoulade, sweet and sour carrot - yes I ate pigs head! Also romesco marinated chicken thigh, Israeli couscous, parsley and harissa, prawns, cider, pickled shallots and garlic puree and on the side mushrooms, garlic and herb butter, crispy shallots and balsamic onion, roasted beetroot, red onion, green beans, radicchio, feta and walnuts and triple cooked potatoes with garlic and rosemary...so golden, crispy and delicious as only potatoes can be. I would certainly like to head back to try some of the other delights on the menu..twice cooked pork belly, fennel and smoked apple and not to forget dessert...there are some churros calling my name.

For the afternoon we were treated to a lively Q&A panel and then a presentation from Pacific Harvest...seaweed posts will definitely be making an appearance.  As we were at a vineyard only right that there was a little wine tasting and the Coopers Creek Pinot Noir was especially good.

To finish off the afternoon a photography workshop with Bron Marshall...which has inspired me to revisit my 'real' camera to develop my photo skills rather than relying on easy tap tap tap of my iPhone.

There was only one way to finish off a great day and that was with more food chatter, good food and wine at Cook The Books. As always mountains of delicious food....the miso corn cakes and the green sauce as delicious as ever.  That sauce really is quite exceptional. 

Well that wasn't quite the end of the evening.  I thought it only right to introduce my guests to the best cocktails in town.  Very handily a 2 minute walk from Casa Cardwell. The best cocktail in town in Onehunga???  Well actually yes...at The Bramble, just down Onehunga Mall...seriously!  So we finished off an amazing day with a little dessert in the shape of cocktails...the classic Bramble for Julie, Tiramisu for Rosa, Lemon Meringue Pie for Christina and for me Sticky Date.  To give you an inkling of just how good here is what was in the Sticky Date...Date syrup, brandy, Grand Marnier, butterscotch schnapps, orange juice, nutmeg and orange zest...what's not to love, it really was a sticky date pudding in a glass.

A wonderful weekend, inspiring and so many highlights but the best was meeting and getting to know other food bloggers...what a fantastic bunch of people.  I am now looking forward to lots more culinary adventures and next year's NZ Food Bloggers Conference.....

For more thoughts on our conference...
A big thank you to all the bloggers that made the conference possible, to all the attendees who made it such a fun, and to our sponsors for their generosity:

The Tasting Shed
Cook the Books
New Holland Publishing NZ
Kohu Road
Coopers Creek
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