Sunday, May 27, 2012

Leek and celeriac soup

I've found it very hard to take an attractive photo of this soup. The colour is not that inspiring (I was tempted to use some kind of app to brighten things up) despite various attempts to find the 'best side' of this soup.  But then I guess it doesn't really matter because the soup is for eating, not looking at.

I first had this flavour of soup at the Ballroom Cafe on Riddiford St, Wellington.  I was attending some kind of dreary mandatory team bonding kind of meeting that involved lunch.  I had my meal all planned out, but when the person next to me ordered the Leek and Celeriac Soup I decided to follow suit. 

I figured it would not be too hard to replicate, and over the last couple of years I have enjoyed playing around with the recipe.  When I say recipe I kind of mean method.  Lately I've seen dozens of recipes for pumpkin soup - every family has their own special version and I've been absorbing all the different methods.  One thing I really like about cooking is learning techniques that allow you to personalise your meals. 

For me, I wanted the soup to be creamy without needing to add too much cream.  I actually found that adding potato did this really well. 

Leek and Celeriac Soup (approximate amounts - this soup changes with every batch)

Two small or one large celeriac (peeled and diced int
Two fat leeks (or three narrow leeks)
One onion
Two or three large floury potatoes (the soup all gets blended at the end so don't need waxy potatoes that hold together).
Two cups stock (I used chicken)
Salt and Pepper

Put the leeks and onions in a heavy bottomed saucepan and on a low-medium heat saute in olive oil.  Add a teaspoon of salt and cook for around ten minutes.   You don't want the onions and leek to caramelise, but you do want to sweat out the moisture (I find this helps to make the onion and leeks sweeter). Add the celeriac and potato and turn up to a medium heat.  Add the stock and further salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer for around forty minutes.  I use my stick blender to blend the soup in the pot - otherwise let the soup cool and put it in a blender (never put hot soup into a blender unless you have someone prepared to video the resulting disaster for playing on YouTube).  You may wish to adjust the seasoning once blended. 

I do like a little cream added to this soup.  To prevent curdling I add it while serving (say a little cream in the bowl or adding a spoon of creme fraiche).

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

High Tea at Hippopotomus

Many of you will have experienced high tea; if not then I thoroughly recommend high tea at The Museum Hotel's Hippopotamus restaurant.

My Mum visited the weekend after Mother's Day so I decided that it would be lovely to go out and have high tea.  I've had high tea previously at Hippopotamus - on that occasion it was with twenty other people for a birthday celebration.  My youngest daughter was still quite little and I remember frantically breastfeeding, dashing into town then hurrying back home again afterwards to feed again!  This time I really wanted to savour the experience.  That was not really to be - my husband decided to go off on an unnecessary errand returning five minutes after the scheduled start of our session.  I was not amused.  We were very lucky that they held our booking.

The restaurant was full of (mainly) women enjoying quiet conversation and lovely views.  The very charming, polite and omnipresent staff welcomed us and left us to decide which flavour tea we wished to drink.  We also decided to have a non-alcoholic cocktail with the tea since we were celebrating.  I am not a habitual tea drinker - but the fragrant and strongly flavoured rose-vanilla tea I selected could change this.  I've often found that 'flavoured' teas disappoint - they are big on aroma but the taste rarely emerges from the drink.  This was amazing.  I wish I had thought to note the brand.  The blackcurrant and lime spritzer was light, and, coincidentally, matched the dominant flavouring in the food provided.

The food was lovely, but then, it was always going to be.  Beautiful little savouries, lovely pastries, chewy blackcurrant macarons and delicious tiramisu.  Just gorgeous.  My Mum nearly fell over though when they bought round more food - a couple of madelines for the road.  We did our best to fit them in!

It was lovely just sitting back, listening to all the happy chatter in the room.  I'm determined to make more of an effort to make and savour afternoon tea - instead of just putting a handful of crackers and some chopped fruit on the plate and giving it to the girls while I use the opportunity to tidy up!

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Free tickets to The Food Show!

If you are looking for a free ticket that is not what this post about!  Rather I won free tickets to the Wellington show via Mums Review and quite cheerfully popped along with my husband and the Sweetheart this morning.  I love winning prizes, and when it comes to trade shows like The Food Show I'd much rather not have to pay to enter an event at which I am being aggressively targeted by advertisers.

My husband and I have fond memories of the first Food Show we attended pre-children.  We went with an old friend who was there mainly for the wine and beer and we acted as the drivers/ free food samplers.  It was a great day - we were there nearly all day (doing four laps of the stadium from memory) and left laden with samples and purchased products.  It probably helped that we knew some of the food demonstrators and were there all afternoon on the last day when the demonstrators took to giving away product so they wouldn't have to carry it home.  My husband also reminded me that our friend had a near-heated conversation with an Australian cheese producer enquiring as to why they were not using local milk.

I'm surprised the car was able to carry all the stuff we left with.

Over the next few years children and pregnancy interfered with attendance.  There is no point going to a Food Show when you can't try any of the samples and strong food smells make you vomit.  The last time I went the Sweetheart was the Poppet's current age, and my friend and I worked out that taking a pram to The Food Show worked well if you were purchasing bottles of wine!  Generally though it can be rather a painful place to take a pram unless you are dropped off.  We have noticed over time (and I guess the recession is part of this) that the samples have become less generous but that the associated programme of masterclasses/ shows has improved. 

Today we arrived early with modest spending ambitions and a desire to do just one lap.  It was good to go at the start of the day.  For starters you couldn't walk ten metres without running into a celebrity chef or cooking show contestant.   I wanted to approach them and say fawning things like 'Richard Tull I love your Sunday Star-Times recipes' or 'Laurine Jacobs I enjoy your writing.' I restrained myself but kind of wish I'd spoken to Richard.  Ray McVinnie was being stopped constantly and was very polite and gracious.

We enjoyed sampling our way around.  Feijoa chocolate (Donovans) delicious.  Feijoa jelly (Te Horo) - feijoa nearly undetectable.  Cactus juice was very fragrant - but only contained 1.5% cactus juice.  My usual pact not to buy anything marketed by people wearing headsets and talking quickly held (I hate miracle product aggressive marketers).  There were some non-food or drink stalls which confused me - Lush and The Body Shop seemed like odd inclusions.  I normally like to visit their stores, but didn't bother visiting them today as I couldn't work out why they were there.  We declined to sign up for as many competitions and mailing lists as we had in prior years (if anyone knows how to get off the Cherry Tree mailing list please let me know).  One stall was particularly aggressive in getting my details - I could have just walked away but decided to thank their aggressive tactics by using my fake name email account (a handy thing to have for trade shows or marketing - it keeps the crap out of your real email).

We had a lovely time.  I'm not sure that there were all that many new products this year - a lot of well known brands adding more flavours to their ranges but not so much completely new stuff.   I was quite taken aback with the number of new products on previous visits so seeing a lot of stuff that I'm familiar with (and of course very pleased to sample) was a little less interesting. 

My husband liked the Nescafe stand - they had the cutest plastic cups that he got last year - the perfect size for children.  We both dislike coffee so it was quite a mission getting through those samples! 

Mostly, apart from the Feijoa chocolate and Gu Puddings (we are weak) we only purchased stuff that we would have otherwise purchased, albeit from different suppliers. 

My show favourites:
  • Cream cheese with lots of cracked black pepper.
  • Turks chicken rissoles - I'm not much for pre made meat balls but these rissoles were delicious
  • Celeb chef spotting
  • New Mad Millie preserving pan (I've been wanting one for awhile and there was a good show special)
  • Intriguing marketing approaches ('like our FB page on your smartphone and show us straight away and you get this show special).
  • Conversation in the queue to get cash out ("there should be in-queue entertainment.")

Least liked:

  • I mentioned this feedback when I filled in a survey on a previous visit - there should be better information for people hoping to arrive with prams or wheelchairs in the car park.  Unless you feel like a 6-700metre round trip you have to carry those prams up a lot of stairs to get to the stadium.
  • Queue jumpers!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Checkerboard cake.

Ever since I read about these tins I've been trying not to buy a set. Temptation got the best of me! If you have three tins the same size and a couple of rings or bowls you can imitate this. Dry cake batters work better than runny ones. I'd love to try using two completely different kinds of cake, e.g. Banana and chocolate. I just wonder if they would cook differently?

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mexican/ South American styles of cooking

I've never given much thought to Mexican cooking before. It hasn't really excited me, but then the standard supermarket Mexican offerings don't tend to produce fantastic results. Once I learnt that the ready made guacamole sold in supermarkets didn't always contain avocado (often cream cheese and green food colouring) I dismissed the cuisine without much thought.

As these things happen I was yet to be exposed to a decent experience of the cuisine. Last Saturday night that changed. Very good friends of mine were back in the country last week so food and celebration were high priorities. Dinner last Saturday was hosted by a friend who lived for six months in South America. She recently discovered that it was possible to buy proper cornmeal for tortillas now, and these made a delicious base to the meal.

You mix the cornmeal with water until it comes together, very briefly knead it then separate it into balls.  You squish the ball flat (I just used my hands) then cook on a cast iron pan for a couple of minutes.  The bread is delicious, with a genuine corn taste and made a brilliant addition to the meal.  I managed to make them (from opening the pack to eating the first one) in about seven minutes.  The cornmeal is the Tio Pablo brand and found in the gluten free section of my local supermarket.

We accompanied the meal with freshly made guacamole.  I love searching the internet using search terms like 'authentic recipe for xxx.'  Blogs can be the best for this kind of thing because the comments sections are so valuable.  I particularly enjoyed the lime juice/ lemon juice debate in the guacamole recipes I read!  We also had refried beans and a small amount of chicken thigh meat diced with a Mexican Seasoning Mix from the same range mentioned above.  I was quite taken with the ingredients in the mix, including dried plum, cinnamon and citrus!  Too yummy.

I'm keen to try some more examples of food from Mexico or South America, particularly using beans - can anyone suggest any?

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