Friday, 30 November 2012

A Testament to Tofu.

Tofu is a tough one. Despite not being at all tough in texture. Getting it right is the tough part. Good tofu can be exceptional. And bad tofu, can be very, very average. Most people are either all FOR or all AGAINST this intricate food. Along with copious vegans, vegetarians and adventure foodies out there, with my recent tofu experiences I would happily consider myself a tofu groupie.

Some seriously GOOD gingered Tofu @ the Godparents.

Packed with protein, iron and reasonably low in fat this bean curd is a staple food in the majority of Asian cuisine. Despite never eating much of it as a child (due to my fathers disapproval of the stuff). My first vivid memory is the Teriyaki Tofu sushi served at Yoku in Tauranga. A huge slab of the sticky coated goods perched atop its horizontal column of white rice. Delish. Many a study period or lunchtime was spent here, being the best in town it was no surprise to see your school rivals queuing up behind you.

It's Teriyaki time @ Renkon.

Keeping with the Teriyaki tone, another amazing dish can be found at the ever-popular Renkon. With five locations throughout Auckland, it’s a go-to in our house. Ideal for those mid-week ‘I can’t be bothered cooking moments’. Their selection of Donburi with either udon noodles or rice are topped with stir-fry veges and a protein/sauce combo of your choice. The Teriyaki Tofu Donburi is a winner. With its thin crispy teriyaki crust complementing the delicate fresh tofu inside. And unlike most takeaways you don’t feel a) guilty b) sick or c) like your adding to NZ’s growing obesity statistics.

Harissa and hummus playing Husband to Tofu.
From my years in Dud-city two tofu highlights included this delightfully marinated tofu roll eaten with top-notch company and coffee at Fluid espresso. The other can be found at Jizo. For any Dunedin student/inhabitant that is yet to experience their ‘original sushi’ you should probably put on your puffer jacket and take the walk down George to Princes St. I promise you will not be disappointed. But it’s their Kushiage Tofu - that I believe could convert any tofu-hater (even my Dad). At a mere $2.50 the silken tofu inside is a textural heaven. While it’s sweet, salty, sticky, hot, crispy crust is phenomenal. A flavour combo so good that I have been known to lick every morsel off the small dish. From dining next to the All Blacks, to almost missing my flight, ensuring I get my kushiage tofu fix is a high priority. And anywhere that serves complementary rice tea is more than ok by me.

The Jizo spread - Kushiage Tofu  + Salmon & Chicken Original Sushi.

Back up the country, another flat favourite is KK Malaysian found on Manukau Rd, Epsom. The deep-fried tofu here is infamous throughout the city. Their in house, handmade tofu is served freshly fried with a beautifully golden casing and a lusciously smooth centre. Served with julienne onion, cucumber, sweet chilli sauce and crushed peanuts – this small yet substantial $5 dish is one I’m more than happy to trade for my daily coffee. For the vego in my flat, and me – I am certain we will be eating this for years to come. The Mince Tofu is another crowd pleaser, flavoured with chicken, mushrooms and shrimp it’s a gigantic, satisfying feast for only $20.  

Golden cubes of greatness @ KK.

Experimenting with tofu at home has been quite the adventure in the last few months. A fresh tofu, pan-fried with tamari soy, ginger & sesame dressing was quite the success at my godparents. Another was a supermarket bought version also pan fried with a hoisin, garlic soy mix served with a broccoli, asparagus medley finished with crispy shallots. Inspired by a Riverstone salad and crafted by a very welcome house guest.

A Chef for a guest. Hoisin Tofu Salad w. Crispy Shallots.

My most recent tofu taster was the silken tofu variety, baked with honey, soy and ginger in an oven dish. A whole tub for only $2 from the Asian supermarket was satisfyingly sweet. If you are short on cash and feeling adventurous I would recommend hitting up an Asian supermarket ASAP. Their cheap produce, chilli sauce and tofu will satisfy any budgetary or time constraints.

The key to great tofu is FLAVOUR. That way texture and taste can be enjoyed simultaneously. Next time the opportunity arises I plan to create or order a sweet tofu dish, and for all those skeptical disbelievers out there, its time to challenge those tastebuds and tuck in to some Tofu!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Rhubarb has it.

There is no denying it. Summer is well and truly on it’s way. Thankfully for the humble Rhubarb seasonal consumption has no boundaries, as it is available all year round. While having a mild laxative effect, this mighty root blends beautifully with apples, strawberries, ginger and citrus flavours. Which makes it a great companion for baking or breakfast dishes.

Bircher # 1 c/o The Good Oil, Dunedin.

Perfecting stewed rhubarb is something of an art, and a cooking process that has always intrigued me. My experience stewing rhubarb often ends in a slimy sloth-like goo. That tastes heavenly but looks a little worse for wear. A friend and I established that the water : sugar ratio is the issue. And my latest purchase ‘Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery’ suggests using only a small amount of water as rhubarb releases water and shrinks when it cooks. But in the mean time I will continue to strive for rhubarb perfection.

Bircher # 2 c/o Atomic Coffee Roasters, Kingsland
Bircher Muesli seems to have become a staple on many a breakfast/café menu around about town and rhubarb has played a starring role in both of my recent bircher experiences. Something about the match of delicately stewed tart and sweetened rhubarb seems to match the hearty earthy-ness of oats perfectly. Atomic Coffee Roasters in Kingsland, Auckland has my heart sold on their version of Bircher Muesli (and their exceptional coffee!). Packed with chunky oats, cinnamon, coconut and natural yoghurt and studded with delightful plump chunks of rhubarb peeping through the glass. Topped off with a poached, slightly tangy tamarillo its pretty jolly great.

Rhubarb perfection.

After conquering Mt Eden; Ray Charles and I had worked up an appetite and could not go passed their sumptuous Banana Bread. Served w. poached rhubarb, berry compote and lemon ricotta it was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. And of all the things on the wooden board the rhubarb disappeared first. Bircher + Banana Bread = Best Birthday Breakfast.

Speaking of birthdays, breakfast on another occasion earlier this year involved a mighty batch of soy cinnamon porridge topped with stewed rhubarb, fresh raspberry coulis and sprinkled with brown sugar. With her impressive vege garden this birthday ‘Belle’ provided the luscious homegrown fruit which made it all the more enjoyable.

Happily homegrown.
Another homegrown rhubarb treat was a rhubarb crumble pie served by the sweetest family. The Joyful Vegan Cafe Caravan is notoriously known at the Otago Farmers Market for its Veggie Burger and Five Grain Loaf (which I am confident can take on vogels). All packed full of goodness, flavour and animal free they craft savoury wraps, burritos, enchiladas, dahl, and an uber healthy tempeh broccoli kale salad. At the humble price of $2 their slice of rhubarb joy exceeded expectations. A pink filling packed full of pleasantness, tasted even sweeter shared among friends.

Rhubarb Crumble & its' Pumpkin spice companion.

So it’s not a rumour. Truth be told. If it’s an intricate bittersweet breakfast treat or distinctive tart flavour to enjoy then Rhubarb has it.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Yes peas, more PEAS.

P + E + A. It astounds me how these three single letters can be used to describe these vivacious circular balls that have the ability to bring a world of joy, sweetness and excitement to our palates.

Green pearls of joy floating in Gazpacho. 

One of my favourite pea memories included eating peas by the handful in a family friends garage. When they first dove into the bag I thought they were crazy. But after overcoming the initial brain/tooth freeze, these icy little morsels fresh from the freezer bag presented me with a taste that like their friendship (you know who you are!) I would savour and treasure forever.

Pea pesto/dip/spread/hummus. 

The humble pea would have to be one of the most underrated vegetables on the market. A bag of frozen peas will put you back around $4, but its enjoyment will last far longer than the caffeine hit of your trim flat white. With my new residence, whipping up a storm in the kitchen has been a real pleasure. A house of four working girls each with hungry appreciative mouths means that I get to frolic about in the kitchen as often as I like.

PPP, complete w. peanuts.

My latest creation was Pea pesto pasta inspired by the popular Smitten KitchenThe pesto itself made a mighty batch so I served it up with thinly sliced kumara chips for a pre-dinner nibble. I tweaked the recipe slightly to match what the pantry did and didn’t have on hand. Which included substituting pinenuts for almonds and parmesean for a touch of tahini to add a creamy note. I also opted for a slightly thicker fettuccine that carried the pea puree perfectly. The addition of coriander and lemon juice helped bring the dish to life and one would hope that the cleaned out bowl reflected the state of enjoyment. 

Tickled pink by peas.

Another pea dish that is engraved in my memory is one consumed on the infamous Waiheke Island. Two words. Casita Miro. You will probably hear me talk more about this idyllic restaurant but for today it’s all about the peas. Served straight to the table in the frying pan these peas were some of the best I’ve ever had. Plump, sweet and zestfully green each individual pea increased my already ecstatic mood to a whole new level. Fused with a delightfully cured lamb pancetta, the freshest of sage leaves, pungent garlic cloves finished with a glossy, creamy hint of butter. It was incredible and gob-smackingly edible. I will be back again very soon.

Close your eyes and picture the perfectly poached egg.

When the budget is tight and ingredients are minimal, one of my favourite dishes is to whip up a simple Pea soup. Frozen peas, garlic, chicken or vegetable stock, salt, pepper and water. Fresh mint is a personal fav. But in my world pea soup is not complete unless an ooey, gooey poached egg is placed delicately on top. (if meat is a must for you - crispy bacon works beautifully too!) There is something about this thick, creamy, sweet, salty puree that seems to satisfy my soul. I am yet to conclude whether it’s the satisfaction of simplicity, speed, health and flavour. But whatever it is you can bet I will be enjoying this dish for years to come.

Pea, lemon & feta salad. Don't beware. Get here.

Just to tease your palate a little more here is a another plate of gold served up by our beautiful friends at Kiki Beware. This delightful boutique cafe has moved to a more accessible George St location and is a must while in Dunedin. Yet another eatery that I intend to boast about later. Til next time. Peas out.