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In Praise of Dumplings

I love dumplings. Steamed, fried or floating in broth; warm podgy parcels or elegantly pleated purses; pot stickers that cling to the frypan or dumplings that bulge with their own soupy juices -  I love them all. 10256567_526618227465495_2595180234059251554_o

Every country has its own sort – from the gnocchi of Italy to the cheese stuffed pierogi of Poland – but I particularly like the Asian varieties and I’m right behind the current trend for dumplings with flavour combinations that cross culinary borders. I’m thinking of the xiaolongbao dumplings filled with foie gras and truffles that I ate in Shanghai and I’ve been reading about the dumpling houses in New York that offer combinations like pork and fennel or dumplings stuffed with lamb cheeks. There is even a restaurant famous for its Pac Man shaped dumplings with sesame seed eyes. (click for NY Times review)

Here n Wellington, New Zealand, we have the recently opened House of Dumplings owned by Vicky Ha who swears she takes no notice of trends but is bang on with her range of dumplings that include traditional flavours like prawn and chives alongside combinations like pulled pork and watercress, smoked ricotta and pumpkin.

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Dumpling Queen, Vicky Ha

Her Nepalese spiced lamb dumplings, and Korean beef with sesame seeds are personalised renditions of national favourites and while some shapes are traditional, others have been invented by the dumpling queen herself. All are handmade from the stock to the dough, with ingredients that have been carefully sourced for their free-range or otherwise sustainable credentials.

Yes, they are more expensive than the ones you might buy from the freezer of an Asian supermarket but these are so much better – as good as the dumplings Vicky learned to make at home in Hong Kong. “I feed people with what I grew up with. The chicken dumpling is my mum’s recipe and there are good quality ingredients in there. I’m trying to do that same home quality at a commercial level.”

Vicky spent her early years in Hong Kong but was educated in New Zealand where she studied marketing and food science and then trained as a chef. Her eclectic food tastes were honed in the kitchens of Wellington restaurants (the White House and Cafe L’Affare) and her dumpling business began with a hawker bicycle cart at the City Market on the waterfront . The bicycle is now used to deliver dumplings around the capital and Vicky spends most of her time in the kitchen at the back of her Hong Kong styled dumpling house on Taranaki Street. She makes 200 dumplings a day all of which are wolfed down by busy urbanites who share her taste for what she calls the ultimate snack food.

“Every culture has its own dumpling, It’s comfort food for a lot of people  and I guess my job is to glamorise it – don’t eat a hot dog, eat a dumpling.”

Vicky’s dumplings are available to eat in or takeaway at:

The Dumpling House 117 Taranaki St 

Hole in the Wall 79 Manners St

City Market, Chaffers (Sunday mornings)

You can also buy freezer packs at Moore Wilson            

Wrapping up Beervana

Beervana 2014 took place in Wellington over the weekend. My son and brewing buddy, Jimmy, and I went along to represent NZ Life & Leisure in the Media Brew competition. After letting his stomach settle, he wrote up the following guest blog.

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Jimmy and Anna outside the Panhead stand

My usual experience of the Westpac Stadium concourse is the traditional half-time queue for hot chips and Tui, served in paper punnets and plastic bottles. It goes well with a game of rugby – and the concourse can be a welcome break from the swirling stadium wind – but it’s hardly a taste sensation.

So it was a welcome surprise to walk in through the ticket gates on Friday and be confronted with a fairground of elaborate and colourful stalls set up the country’s craft brewers (and a few from overseas).

Beervana has been going on for a little while now – 13 years in fact – but this year was my first one. Getting the chance to help out Mike Neilson of Panhead in the Media Brew competition was the perfect opportunity. By opening day, we’d brainstormed our spring-themed entry, brewed the beer, done the photo shoot for Life & Leisure, and even come up with a suitably automotive name for our ewes milk wheat beer: Lamb Chopper. I just hadn’t tried it yet.

But before sampling our creation, there was a festival to check out.

A Taste of Portland

Down one end of the concourse, behind some tall black drapes, was the Taste of Portland seminar.  This year, Beervana brought over three brewers and a chef from Portland, Oregon to run a bar and a beer and food seminar, hosted by John Holl, author of the American Craft Beer Cookbook and journalist for the seminal publication, All About Beer. (When John saw my Life & Leisure media pass he said, “That’s a nice name for a magazine. Mine’s better though.”)

Ben Love, from the Gigantic Brewing Company, explained that the city of Portland is actually known as “Beervana”. There are 57 breweries in Portland and 77 in its wider metropolitan area – all that for a city about the same size as Auckland. Ben explained that in Portland turning up at a party with craft beer is the norm and that Portlanders know and frequent their neighbourhood breweries.

Each brewer presented a beer, along with a matching dish prepared on-stage by the chef.  My pick of the three was the Nova Pacifica, brewed in collaboration between Commons Brewery and Tuatara. The two ends of the Pacific came together in the mix of Nelson Sauvin hops and Oregon Meridian. It was a fresh, fruity and strong ale – Commons are known for their Farmhouse Saisons – and went down well as the first drink of the day, accompanied by a Kingfish salad.

The craft beer market in the States is booming, but fierce competition for taps keeps the brewers innovating. So, what’s next in the world of craft beer? Joe Casey, of Widmer Brothers, predicts the rise of lagers. Hopped-up pale ales have ruled the craft beer world for long enough: “Sometimes people want a beer that’s not going to rip their tongue off when they drink it.” The goal is to convince people that lager is more than just a mild, crisp beverage that comes in a green bottle.

On the Concourse

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The Garage Project stand was one of the most popular

The concourse was really starting to hum by the time the Portland seminar had wrapped up. Many of the breweries had decided to launch new beers or create special releases for Beervana so there was a lot to try. The focus of the festival meant that brewers (and the beer-enlightened drinkers) were eager to push the boundaries further than the supermarket chiller allows. Some of the highlights for me were:

  • Garage Project’s Two Pot Flat White, a double-poured beer made up of a bottom layer of rich coffee-flavoured stout and a separately-poured, heavily-frothed head, topped off with chocolate sprinkles

    Two Pot Flat White

  • The sour beers on offer (a new flavour for me), including 8 Wired’s potent Wild Feijoa nine-and-a-half-percenter and, perhaps more sessionable, Hallertau’s NZ Wild Ale media brew entry
  • The effort that went into the stands: a Tuatara smashing its way out of the gable of a weatherboard shed, the Aro Street garage projected in grey-scale on concourse walls and, this year’s undisputed best stand, the Panhead “beer and tattoo” parlour with its dentist’s chair and resident tatooist, Simon Morse
  • And when you needed something to line the gut, the food on offer was a step above the stadium’s usual pie+chips combo – I’ve heard the pulled pork from Grill Meats Beer was a highlight for many, but I can’t imagine a much better match for craft beer than the pork buns, hot off the spit, from Big Bad Wolf.

The Media Brew

 

The most adventure to be had was down in the Harbour Zone at the Media Brew bar.  There were some truly weird creations. ParrotDog added lamb bones to the boil to create their Dogbone and topped it off with add-your-own fresh thyme. The beer’s bark was probably worse than its bite: it had the deep brown colour of gravy but its taste was more subtle than I expected. Monteiths chose sweet over savoury. Their creation was labelled Raspberry Lamington Wheat Beer and tasted like someone had been particularly generous with the raspberry milkshake syrup.

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Milk on tap

But the beer I’d been itching to try was our Lamb Chopper. Poured in the glass, it had the pale cloudiness of a wheat beer and the citrusy hop aroma matched the spring theme. On the palate, the spicy, clove flavours kept the beer interesting. But what about the secret ingredient, the ewes milk? The beer, fortunately, didn’t taste milky beyond a slight sweetness and a lingering coating on the inside of my mouth after I finished my first mouthful – just like you get when you drink a glass of cold milk.

Lamb Chopper didn’t win a prize (robbed!) but the judges enjoyed its colour, cloudiness and farmyard nose. The bottled special edition is currently being rolled out, finished with a drawing of a ram on a motorbike by Simon Morse (the tatooist). Thankfully, it’ll be in bars soon – I haven’t been weaned off it yet.

Media Brew 2014

Only two sleeps until Beervana and the launch of what I’ve been excitedly calling ‘my beer’. It is in fact a collaboration between Panhead Custom Ales and NZ Life & Leisure magazine, one of twenty-five entries in Beervana’s hotly contested Media Brew competition. I’ve been itching to take part – “pick me, pick me!” – since the event started some three years’ ago. This year, I was not only one of the chosen but I was able to pick my brewer. I entered the event with my son Jimmy (my homebrew partner) and I opted for MIke Neilson at Panhead because his Upper Hutt brewery is a driveable distance and because Jimmy and I really like his beer. I’ve written Mike up in the next issue of NZ Life & Leisure (Sept/Oct) in an article about my – I mean our – beer.

Jimmy at Panhead

Jimmy at Panhead

The ground rules of the competition are reasonably open to creative interpretation. The theme changes each year – this year’s it’s Spring – and the brew must include an “intrinsic New Zealand ingredient”. Last year’s winning beer contained red, white and green jet planes; this year I’ve heard rumours of karengo, sea water and horopito. Our own brew is now kegged up and ready to go, so – having managed to keep it a secret so far – I’m ready to spill the beans.

The process began several weeks ago with a brainstorming session that culminated in the idea of Spring lamb. Mike immediately got carried away with the idea of making molecular spheres that, when dropped into the beer, would release the essence of slow roasted lamb. Well, that was never going to happen – it was far too outlandish and hideously complicated – so we abandoned the idea of making a beer that would taste like lamb and decided instead to make a beer that a lamb might drink. Continue Reading »

A couple of weeks ago I received a box full of Fairtrade and Trade Aid food products as part of the Big Fair Bake campaign. I was surprised at the range of ingredients, given that it wasn’t so long ago that Fairtrade was limited to coffee, chocolate and bananas. My box contained Palestinian almonds, Medjoul dates (the best kind), cocoa, chocolate, coconut milk, raw sugar, bananas and cinnamon. My mission was to bake something that included some of those ingredients.

Fairtrade Florentines

Fairtrade Florentines

I decided to experiment with Florentines, partly because I’d never made them before and also because I wanted to make use of the dates, chocolate and almonds I’d received. I spent a morning devising a recipe and discovered that these delicious Italian biscuits deserve their reputation for trickiness. Florentines should spread themselves thinly; they should be chewy in the middle with lacy edges that are crisp to the bite. My first batch resembled flat rock cakes with too many nuts and not enough fruit, so I cut back on the flour, reduced the almonds and added more candied orange peel. This second batch was really good – my family scoffed the lot before I could get them into the tin. Just as well – Florentines should be eaten fresh before they lose their crunch.

My recipe is on the blogger page of The Big Fair Bake website, click here. I recommend making your own candied orange peel; it’s not difficult and it tastes so much fresher than those packets of mixed peel that gather dust in the back of the pantry. I’ve included the instructions with the recipe and I’ve also explained how to blanch and skin the whole almonds. You could, of course, buy them already skinned and slivered but then they wouldn’t be Fairtrade and that would defeat the whole purpose of the bake off. I think as consumers we should make the ethical choice and buy fairtrade ingredients where we can. By doing so we return a larger profit to the farmers who generally get paid less than anyone else in the value chain. It’s the least we can do.

Visit the Fairtrade Facebook page to win prizes in the Fair Bake competition.

Muffins Revisited

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It’s been years since I’ve eaten a muffin. I used to like the regular sized ones made with apple or blueberry. On the rare occasions I baked, I would make lemon and buttermilk muffins with a crunchy sugar topping and I even remember making the now defunct bran and sultana muffins. (This was in the days when bran muffins competed with carrot cake in cafes that also sold wholemeal quiche.) But somewhere along the line muffins were given the Big Mac treatment, mutating into super-sized muffin/cakes overloaded with chocolate chips, or with savoury fillings that properly belong in a quiche. 

Ngaire's Muffins

Ngaire with Muffins

I’m happy the monster muffin fad has abated, ‘though why it has been replaced by the trend for tasteless over-dressed cup cakes is anyone’s guess. Anyway, the reason I’m writing about muffins is that I whipped up a batch today, using a recipe given to me by a friend who we visited over summer. Ngaire has a bach in the bay next to ours in the Marlborough Sounds. She invited us over for lunch and with coffee she served some light-as-a-feather retro-sized, retro-styled muffins. They were golden brown, warm and homely and they made me wonder why they had ever fallen from favour.  I got out my notepad and pestered  her for the recipe which turned out to be an amalgam of essential kiwi baking: banana cake + carrot cake + sultana muffin. She gave me her recipe from memory, having more or less made it up, and she generously told me how she achieves a light texture to all her baking. Regardless of what the recipe says, she always separates the eggs, whips the whites and folds them in at the end.

Ngaire’s Muffins

3/4 cup sultanas

1 cup plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice

pinch salt

2 eggs separated

2 tablespoons runny honey

1/2 cup neutral oil (eg rice bran or sunflower)

1 banana, mashed

1 cup grated carrot

Preheat oven to 180°C fan bake. Grease a medium-sized 12 muffin tray.

Soak sultanas in boiling water for 10 minutes then drain and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl sift flour, baking powder, bicarb of soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt.

In a smaller bowl, lightly beat egg yolks, honey and oil. Add to dry ingredients and fold together without over-mixing. Fold in mashed banana and grated carrot. Whip egg whites to stiff peaks and gently fold through mixture. Spoon dollops of mixture into muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out cleanly. Leave in tin until cool enough to handle. Cool muffins on rack. Split and serve with butter.

Each year as Christmas approaches I wonder why we do this to ourselves: why ramp up the stress levels by trying to meet the massive expectations of the season? As if work deadlines, Christmas shopping and holiday plans weren’t enough to create a perfect storm of activity, I find myself throwing out casual invitations like confetti, energised by the idea of all those end-of-year catchups and then panicking at the thought of spending more time in the kitchen.

T5cover This year, I’ve been saved by a clever collection of recipes published by Wellington food writer and former restaurateur Margôt de Cotesworth, a woman who clearly loves entertaining. Her book Take 5 and Cook: The Dinner Book is guided by the principle that stylish dishes can be created with the minimum of effort and just five ingredients. This isn’t a new idea but Margôt manages to reduce each recipe to the basics without losing the integrity of the dish. She is also a master of taste, using simple combinations to provide maximum flavour without the addition of a myriad herbs and spices. Lamb kebabs are qiuite simply marinated in ouzo, lemon zest, olive oil and oregano, then chargrilled and served with a sprinklng of salt. Pedantic readers will have counted six ingredients but salt, pepper and a splash of olive oil are the only allowable extras in this entire collection of 120 seasonal recipes.

Some are Margôt’s own family favourites. Her brother’s crisp apple tart and her mother’s fish chowder can be whipped up in a jiffy for a family meal. Others are classics and some are café staples. There are recipes for European favourites – ricotta gnocchi, tartiflette and gazpacho – and while they are certainly pared down to the bare essentials, dishes such as Not a Paella and Nearly a Tiramisu are close enough for my purposes.

I’ve tested several dishes and while I always find it hard to follow a recipe I’ve mostly resisted the urge to throw in extra ingredients. I can recommend the Anchovy and Almond Sauce as an excellent accompaniment to fish or venison and I’ve enjoyed serving Pineapple with White Balsamic Dressing, but the dish that’s saved my sanity on three occasions already is Margôt’s quick-to-whip-up-but-deliciously-decadent Chocolate Silk Tart. Like all the recipes in her book the five ingredients must be top quality. I use a dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao and I’ve found it best to use caster sugar because it melts faster. Quantities fit a loose-base 22 cm tart tin.

Margôt's Chocolate Silk Tart

Margôt’s Chocolate Silk Tart

 

Chocolate Silk Tart

2 cups biscuit crumbs

185g butter

150g dark chocolate

½ cup sugar

3 eggs

Stir the biscuit crumbs into 60g of melted butter. Press into a well-buttered dish and chill. Melt the chocolate, sugar and remaining 125g butter, stirring over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Cool.

Beat the eggs and gradually pour in the chocolate mixture. continue beating until well combined. Pour into the crust and chill.

Serve with whipped cream, if you like.

Take 5 and Cook – The Dinner Book, Margôt de Cotesworth. RRP $49.90 at selected book and food stores and online

Nespresso Wellington

It had to happen. Wellington, the coffee capital, has a Nespresso Boutique. The Lambton Quay store opened last week with all the glitz and glam of an upmarket cocktail bar. Dean Barker and entourage, John Key and entourage, chef celebs, local artists and personalities gave the photographers plenty to snap about while the rest of us – fuelled on coffee martinis, champagne and canapés – chattered about what this new concept might bring to the capital.

Wellington's Nespresso Bar

Wellington’s Nespresso Bar

We Wellingtonians are insufferably snobby and parochial about coffee. American import Starbucks has failed to make headway in a city that boasts numerous hip cafés and artisan roasters so what do we make of the Swiss company’s chances?

For the benefit of people like me, who until last week thought Nespresso was an upmarket coffee shop frequented by George Clooney, here’s a brief rundown of the concept that has expanded across 50 countries.

Firstly the boutiques are not cafés although they do have bars where consumers can taste before they buy from a range of single shot coffee capsules designed to fit Nespresso branded machines. Machines, capsules and associated products are sold from the store-boutiques that also serve as collection points for the spent aluminium capsules which are recycled off shore. There are 270 boutiques worldwide (NZ now has 2) but most of the action occurs online through local sites that are accessed when consumers join the Nespresso Club.

This means that unlike Starbucks, Nespresso isn’t competing for the café customer – it’s targeting the home and office market. That’s me: a free lancer working from home with a twice-a-day habit. My own machine is a Rocket and I’m completely wedded to the ritual of grinding, tamping and pulling the levers to make my morning coffee, but if I wasn’t into all that, I’d be seriously tempted to buy a Nespresso.

The Nespresso espresso

The Nespresso espresso

I rate the coffee  ‘very good’. I might even give it an ‘excellent’ but I’ve only tried 2 of the 21 varieties (which are somewhat pretentiously called grands crus). The sealed aluminium capsules keep the ground coffee super fresh and the extraction system is as effective as it is fascinating. Drop a capsule in the top and the machine does the rest, delivering an espresso with an excellent crema. I like the frothing attachment too: pour in the milk and it uses magnetic technology to stretch the milk to silky perfection. It’s impossible to make a bad coffee. So yes, even a pretentious Wellington coffee snob like myself would be tempted – but not convinced. The machines themselves are relatively inexpensive ($380 for a smart one made by deLonghi) but factor in the capsule cost (.97 – $1.13) and I’d have to curtail my habit.

My verdict: if you appreciate good coffee and cost’s not a factor then join the club, but please, please do save up the empties and take them back to the boutique. All kudos to Nespresso for the effort it has put into recycling but the system is only ever as good as the people who use it.

Footnote: Artist Taika Waitit’s artwork suggests a more creative use for the empties.

Nespresso artwork by Taika Waititi

Nespresso artwork by Taika Waititi

 

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