Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Best of 2013: Relished memories & Katering escapades.

Well, well, well what a pleasurable year 2013 has been: adventurous, tasteful, overindulgent and laden with all things food. To celebrate another year of feasting I thought I would share an update of my latest Katering escapades and a snippet of 2013's greatest eats. 

A trio of truffles!

Firstly a Christmas party with the task to cater pre and post dinner treats for the elves that work their magic as Radiation Therapists. To sustain them through a night of competitive lawn bowls (and drinking!) I put together a simple range of tasty dips, veggie sticks and corn chips. Think coriander, peanut & sweet chilli dip, garlic hummus, moroccan carrot, spicy guacamole and the classic favourite - onion dip. It was just a nibble – although most bowls were licked clean.

Fruit kebabs in production...

The night got even sweeter, with a dessert spread fit for kings and queens. Inspired by trawling the net I included a few very festive Santa Hat Brownies. Rounds of decadent chocolate brownie, were topped with vanilla mascarpone, plump, ripe strawberries and finished with a mascarpone pom-pom. Dusted with a sprinkle of snow (icing sugar) they looked seriously cute. I do recommend using a more substantial creamy filling - humidity got the better of mine and a few strawbs had a slippery slope to their death.

Santa Hat Brownies!

Platefuls of my go-to dessert Raspberry Coconut Slice were contrasted with simple yet elegant mini fruit kebabs – loaded with grapes, melon, kiwifruit and pineapple. While a new addition to my repertoire, Joy Slice made its debut -a slightly more festive and chewy take on the ginger crunch. Complete with a variety of truffles including: White Chocolate and Honey covered in Toasted Almonds & Pistachios as well as Coconut Chocolate Truffles filled with a Chocolate Brownie centre.  Phew! Another bunch of satisfied sweetened souls.

Santa's Sweet Spread.

On to the next Katering gig this time for the talented creative collaborative that is – Collectif Magazine. A few savoury morsels to help celebrate the launch of their 6th edition was a highlight of my festive season. I recommend getting your hands on this news print publication ASAP. Sophie and her contributors are seriously talented and you can see their passion springing from each page. Held within the walls of Terrarium, Kingsland it was very humbling to share and help celebrate such innovative young creative’s.

Saffron Chickpea Falafels w. Orange Tahini Dipping Sauce.

After being gifted a precious box of Saffron threads I had just the thing for the occasion. Inspired by the stunning blog that is Green Kitchen Stories I recreated their mini Saffron Chickpea Falafels and served them with an Orange tahini dipping sauce. Back on the Mexican buzz I opted for a few bowls of chunky salsa – one with avocado, tomato and cucumber and the other pineapple, black bean and coriander – perfect served with jalapeno corn chips. 

Fuelling the creative festivities.

However what seemed to be the dish of the day and one that came and went in record time was the platter of mini mint, pea & feta fritters served with a citrus yoghurt dipping sauce. Juicy, moreish and packed with flavour – sprinkled with pomegranate seeds they were pretty jolly spectacular. And I am chuffed to say they held their own against a gorgeous array of Milk Moustache & Cookie Bar Cookies (of which I may have had 3!). Moderation – right?

Mini Mint, Pea & Feta Fritters made beautiful with Pomegranate Arils!

So that was that – two more successful Katering gigs down and even more food to be savoured.
With such great intentions of putting together this list of favourites for 2013 – I soon realised that there have been so many wonderful memories that once I started I found it hard to stop. But I have pulled in the reigns and here is a short (ahem) list of relished memories:

The Relished Memories of 2013…
  • Caramelised Pork Hock from MooChowChow.
  • The Flakiest of Roti at Sri Panang on K Road.
  • Orange and Almond Cake with Marmalade Ice Cream at Riverstone Kitchen. Bliss.
  • Deconstructed Carrot Cake c/o Nick Honeymoon from Everybody’s Izakaya.
  • All things Al Brown – Depot’s Fig Toasties, Best Ugly Bagels, Fed Deli’s Smoked Kahawai Fritters and Whitestone’s Smoked Butter. Bless that man.
  • Lemon Creme Fraiche & Blueberry Tart - an off the cuff collaborative creation ft. R.Murds.
  • Fish & chips cooked by Thomas & Lilian at Greenwoods Fresh Catch, Epsom.
  • Best Coffee Award goes to Cereal Killa & Good One Cafe, Douglas St.
  • Custard Square and Rosemary Loaf from Love Rosie Bakery in Tauranga.
  • Salted Caramel Gelato on a stick from Ortolana + Tiramisu Gelato from Giapo.
  • Pomegranate seeds and their ability to make any dish magical.
  • Dad’s catch ft. Whitebait Fritters and Lake Rotoiti Trout hot off the smoker.
  • Raspberry Coconut Slice for its impeccable flavour and reliability.
  • Toasted Coconut Butter - what dreams are made of.
  • Homemade Raw Chocolate – melted coconut oil, cocoa/cacao, honey/maple syrup & sea salt.
  • Lemon Coconut Truffles + all the other wonderful creations from Petite Kitchen.
  • Everything that touched my lips from Little Bird Unbakery – minus the price tag!
  • Zoodles and Toodles – zucchini and tofu noodles!
  • Salted Caramel Spiced Banana Cakes.
  • Sweet Breakfast Omelettes inspired by The Holistic Ingredient.
  • Most utilised cookbook - Ripe Recipes & A Fresh Batch

See what I mean - where do I stop! To find snaps of these images or for a more frequent rendition of my feasting moments follow @relishthememory on Instagram.

To add to the excitement, after all this years’ venting, photographing, eating, and writing about food I have managed to acquire my very first published piece!!! The talented Vicki from Nourish Magazine entrusted me to write about the true beauties that are ‘Bountiful Berries’. Pick up a copy of the December issue at your local café or check it out online here. A kiwi publication focusing on local fare from the Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions. 

And finally, it seems that the hospitality scene just can’t keep me away. With such fond memories of my Nova days I have spent the last month crafting menus, elbow deep in flour - baking scones, filling cabinets with cakes and polishing my skills on the coffee machine. I am officially back in the game… BUGGER (Cafe)! 

Pop in and say hi! Bugger Cafe...Thames NZ. 

2013 has been one truly sumptuous and delectable year. Thank you to all those who have inspired, eaten, enjoyed and supported my foodie ventures. Feeding your souls fuels my love for what I do. Bring on an even more outrageous, fearless and food ridden 2014. All my love. X

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Scandal on Salted Caramel.

If you are yet to experience the sensation of a ‘Salted Caramel’ treat it is probably time to venture out from behind your culinary inhibiting rock. However I'm fairly optimistic that most of you will be well aware of this ‘salty’ trend, which manages to combine two of our favourite tastes – sweet and salty.

It's time to drool. 

It’s all pretty simple really - a sweet, toffee-like caramel spiked with a touch of salt, creating the perfect balance to excite our palates. In my mind it is an epiphany that should be celebrated and enjoyed by all who’s lips it touches. I will admit I have heard the odd murmur from those who don’t quite appreciate the salted caramel craze, but I’m confident these voices are drowned out by the crowds.

Over the last few months I have taken the arduous task (poor me!) of researching, discovering, tasting, experimenting, and devouring salted caramel in all its wondrous forms. The first was a single scoop gelato from the ever-popular Takapuna Beach Café on the North Shore. With their handmade, award-winning gelato this one definitely leaned toward the salty side – but no complaints from me. I lip-smackingly licked every melting morsel from the cup and spoon. First exhibit: ultimate success.

SCG. Salted Caramel Gelato. 

The next was an attempt in my own kitchen to create salted caramel sauce from scratch. After a touch of googling and an amalgamation of methods I went for four ingredients: 1 cup white sugar (+ 2 Tbsp water), 4 tbsp unsalted butter, ½ cup cream and a generous sprinkle of sea salt. After stirring the water into the sugar, creating a wet sand, I heated it slowly to let it melt down. With no candy thermometer in sight, I watched it like a hawk til it turned a beautiful shade of amber and whipped it off the heat. I carefully beat in the cream and butter, added the salt and the rest was history.

Once I had the sauce sorted I needed to find something to do with it ASAP before it all ended up in or on my abdomen. Inspired by a few sad looking apples in the fridge I grated the living daylights out of them and whipped up some spiced apple muffins. Filled with caramel and topped with a wad of salted caramel icing to be shared and savoured.

Spiced Apple & Salted Caramel Muffins.

Next on the agenda was a bittersweet farewell cake for a very special egg in my life. Consisting of a spiced banana flavoured cake, layered and iced with salted caramel buttercream, topped with a salted caramel drizzle and finished with jersey caramels. Phew. It was exhausting, extravagant, laden with sugar & butter and oh-so-delicious. Despite it representing the sign of a departing friend across the ditch it was certainly a sweet, sweet note to say bon-voyage.

The Bittersweet Farewell Banana Salted Caramel Cake. 

With such a success this beauty was spotted via my Instagram @relishthememory and especially requested for a certain birthday celebration. Eager to share the salted caramel joy I wholeheartedly accepted and so came attempt number two. Despite missing out on a slice of this baby, my mandatory bowl/spoon licking made me confident that it would be thoroughly enjoyed all over again. And I am pleased to report that it most certainly was!

Take two. 

As they often say 'Everything in moderation' (including moderation itself), so back I went to the gelato arena. This time it came served beautifully on a stick covered in rich dark chocolate shell & crushed macadamia nuts. Many Aucklander’s will know exactly where I’m talking about without even mentioning the name. Milse – the stunning dessert restaurant with a beautiful range of handmade gelato on a stick (as well as a million other mouth-watering, hip-hugging desserts – moderation remember).

What could possibly lie beneath that Dark Chocolate & Macadamia shell...

After a beautiful mother-daughter dinner at Ortolana, it was my duty to taste-test the Salted Caramel Gelato. And in no way did it disappoint. My preference towards the salty side was met and it was the perfect finish to a delightful evening. If you get the opportunity – you absolutely must try BOTH of these eating establishments they are worth their weight (you are highly likely to have to wait for a table) in salted caramel!

Salted Caramel Gelato on a Stick. 
During my latest adventure to Dunedin, I picked up a sweet (and salty) treat from the Peasant Bakery housed within the Dunedin Railway Station, at the Saturday Farmers Market. A generous candy-like biscuit, which I have spoken of before here, that goes by the name of Macaron in the form of Salted Caramel of course. A bit more on the sweet side, but light, gooey and crumbly, it went down a treat, if not unneeded during the extravagant foodie weekend, but worth every mouthful all the same.

A Macaron starring Salted Caramel.
With only good and great things coming from salted caramel thus far I decided I would attempt to turn this bad boy into a slightly more nourishing version of itself. The result, a Vanilla Coconut Salted Caramel, free of refined sugar and far less dairy. The experiment went a bit like this…a can of coconut cream, a few decent spoonfuls of honey and some vanilla extract – left to boil together in a pot, stirred often, letting it reduce down to a thick syrup. Off the heat with a couple of tablespoons of butter carefully beaten in, the result was wholesome joy on a whole new level. Truly wonderful stuff, despite being dangerously difficult to halt consumption it leaves you feeling virtuous and nourished with every spoonful.

Vanilla Coconut Salted Caramel (refined sugar free).

Back to the real deal I saw the salted caramel combo reach new heights. Always looking at ways to recreate or reform recipes, I took the classic Chocolate Caramel Slice and made it just a little bit salty. Using this recipe here and adding salt to the caramel and a sprinkle on top I established another way to share the splendour of this saintly syrup.

Not your traditional Chocolate Caramel Slice.
The final adventure was an operation of sorts involving a syringe loaded with salted caramel, a chopping board, a ramekin of cream and a sugar coated donut. Need I say more. The injection donut has hit the ground running making its way from the North to the South Island in no time at all. But its everything you want eating to be – fun, interactive, interesting, decadent and dam right delicious. You can try these beauties at Foxtrot Parlour, Ponsonby here or at Nova Dunedin here. Go forth and inject happiness with a syringe of salted caramel.

Operation Salted Caramel. 

As the elegant wise woman, Nigella Lawson once said – ‘Salted Caramel is the class A drug of the confectionary world’.  On the back of my recent adventures I would have to agree. There is something just so whimsical about the stuff, its ability to confuse our tastebuds, give it a fascinating and mischievous power that I have certainly fallen head over heels for. Let’s hear it for the Oh-so-scandalous Salted Caramel! x

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Suave Sweets for Salasai.

Fashion and food seem to be combine in a beautiful, creative and fabulous way. For Relish the memory, NZ Fashion Week 2013 was another excuse (not that I need it) to dust off the apron and spend some quality time in my happy place. Following a few previous catering escapades I was approached by Fashion PR company Public Library to create a selection of sweet treats to match Salasai’s Liberté et Damour Autumn/Winter 2014 Show.

The sweet, sweet spread.

Established in 2006 the kiwi-born brand, Salasai, has gained an amazing reputation throughout the fashion world. With talented designer Kirsha Whitcher working hard to develop a ‘sculptural aesthetically pleasing androgynous’ range. Held upstairs in the stunning venue above Ponsonby Central – I knew I had my work cut out for me to put my best treats forward.

Floral inspiration.

Presented with this gorgeous grey floral print (highly confidential as it had not yet been released to the media).  I drew inspiration, colour and texture from a small square of design and came up with a trilogy of sweet indulgences - petite enough to be enjoyed in 1-2 mouthfuls along with an alcoholic beverage or three.

Cubes of crunchy, gingery, pistachio greatness.

On the menu was:

1.  Pistachio Ginger Crunch – a modern take on the classic, with a base packed with wholegrain oats, coconut and ginger, topped with a smooth layer of smooth gingery spiced icing and finished with a single pistachio. The tan, khaki and green hues reflecting shades found in various pieces of the range.

2.  Raspberry Coconut Slice – an elegant vibrant looking sweet, shaped into small circles and loaded with coconut, egg whites, icing sugar and vanilla, speckled all over with tart raspberries. Inspired by the neutrals creams/whites and drawing on a pinky red from the florals. (Read more about this splendid slice here).

3.  Lemon Polenta Slice w. L&P Chocolate Icing – a real statement piece, small squares of moist lemon-infused polenta & almond meal base, topped with a generous layer of the new Whittakers L&P white chocolate ganache providing a super-sweetness to match the tangy lemon. A class of it’s own, but true to its kiwi roots – much like the Salasai brand itself.

Prepped and ready.

Samples were approved and the beaters were ready. The pantry was stocked up and the action begun. With a few late nights it all came together quite nicely. Show time came on Thursday 5th September, as the models were getting prepped and ready I got to spend the night backstage in the finest god-damn kitchen you have ever seen. Kitted out with state of the art appliances c/o Fischer & Paykel this place was a foodie-utility-heaven. Available to be hired for celebrity dinner-parties, functions and charity events. I only hope one day I get to actually cook in this glorious place.

Coconut Raspberry circles of joy (filter included).

Plenty of careful preparation and specialised reinforcement meant that all was relatively relaxing on the night. Entertained by the talented hands of MAC’s Amber D makeup artists, the beauty of NZ’s top fashion models and the impeccable taste of stylist Dan Ahwa. Distracted only by the need to plate up the goods ready to be devoured – watching those empty plates return to be filled was about as satisfying as it gets.

NZFW 2013 Salasai Show - Photo credit: Adele Krants TV3.

A huge congratulations to Kirsha, Kelly and the Salasai crew, as well as the lovely ladies at Public Library. It was a class-act show on all accounts and simply an honour to be involved in supporting such a stunning collection. So a massive thank you! X

P.S. If you missed out on the Salasai ‘installation’, grab yourself a sweet treat and watch it here.  Or head straight to their website and add a sweet addition to your wardrobe here.

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Utter Peanut Butter Nutter.

If you were around in the 80s or 90s you may have a fond, or perhaps not so fond memory of a screechy, geeky, slightly irritating and unforgettable advertisement for Peanut Butter. Take a moment and enjoy a trip down memory lane watching the tune that will forever resound in my head, here. Sanitarium should be commended for their successful marketing tactics, acknowledged for imparting the PB love and most certainly thanked for helping attain an ‘utter peanut butter nutter’ out of me.

Homemade PB.

There is a whole lot more to this humble spread than one might think. The percentage of peanut content, extra added ingredients and the quality and state of the peanuts themselves. All of which have a huge impact on the flavour and quality of the final product. In an ideal world you would opt for organic, but for me that’s an unlikely luxury. Avoiding those with sugar or added vegetable oil – is recommended, and if you are feeling virtuous go for no added salt. Although my health conscience self allows me to eat and enjoy the unsalted variety, when it comes to PB I’m all about the salt. But there is no need for the sugar here folks – if you need sweetening up, then I suggest jamming it with it’s companion strawberry or raspberry. Or better yet - head down to Al Brown’s Best Ugly Bagels (at the City Works Depot in Auckland), order the PB & J and savour every mouthful. 

Our 'Pic' - never stays full for long.

With his impeccable taste in kiwi cuisine, Al Brown and his team at Best Ugly bagels use only the best of peanut butters - Pic’s ReallyGood Peanut Butter. It is New Zealand owned and operated, grown in Nelson and for those who have tried it I am sure you will agree – it is really, REALLY good. These guys have their peanut butter sorted, so natural and authentic that they even advise you to store the jar upside down to prevent the natural peanut oils from separating. Kiwi ingenuity at it’s finest. As with most things in life, you pay for the best, but as an only slightly more expensive variety, this stuff is worth every cent and rightfully achieves my ‘pic’ of the bunch. :P I have been experimenting with peanut butter in all sorts of breakfast/snack concoctions recently - the most surprising was a Peanut Butter Tofu Mousse. Four ingredients: fresh tofu, peanut butter, dates and banana. The result was a thick flavoursome paste that felt a little like eating cream cheese - not for the faint hearted, but thoroughly devoured and enjoyed by me.  

Peanut Butter Tofu Mousse. Intriguing & wonderful.

For the peanut butter lovers among us there is a heated debate when it comes to how you have your PB on toast. My family have perfected our own ultimate PB combo and this is how it goes…steaming hot, perfectly toasted original mixed grain vogels, spread with a layer of butter or olivani, lathered with a decent hunk of crunchy and salted peanut butter, topped with sliced banana and squished down (only slightly) so you can enjoy each bite without losing a single banana sliver. It really is a slice of wholesome heaven. But each to their own and however you have yours – whether it’s the smooth on white bread, an English muffin with jam or even sliced tomato. Any time of day or night, each utterly delicious mouthful of PB on toast is almost always a good idea.

Vogels, Peanut Butter & Banana Bliss.

To further strengthen my love affair for this gorgeous tanned chunky spread, I booked in a kitchen date with some roasted peanuts, my patience and a high-powered food processor. The result was my very own pottle of homemade, sea salt and a dash of cinnamon, peanut butter. It’s smokey roasted flavour was delightful, the texture a mix between smooth and crunchy – unlike the bought varieties I didn’t have much control over the crunch/chunk factor but I was more than satisfied with the result. To ensure I didn’t devour the jar in one sitting I opted to create a few other peanut-butter laden dishes.

It doesn't get much better than this...

The first of my nutty friends to come to fruition were my mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. The chocolate-peanut-butter combo is an American-inspired and infamous companionship. The sweet-tooth in me is partial to the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, although preferring to avoid the hydrogenated or high-fructose nasties inside, I was inspired to give them a homemade re-vamp. Encouraged by the beautiful blog of sister-duo, Julia & Libby, these simple, rich and decadent treats are a delight to the senses. Using only a handful of ingredients the recipe (here) takes wholesome nutritious treats (and my peanut butter addiction) to a whole new level. And it’s the usual stopping at one part, that I am yet to master. 

Gado-Gado: Vibrant salad w. Peanut Sauce. Recipe c/o Ripe Cookbook. 

As with anything in life balance is key, and peanut butter does as well in the sweet stakes as it does with the savoury. A spoonful of this gold seems to find it’s way into a number of my savoury kitchen escapades. A generous dash added to my stir-fry green beans makes the perfect budget-friendly satay side dish or filling for rice paper rolls. A spoonful or three adds a rich, creaminess to soups – my flavour of the month being Pumpkin, Peanut and Chilli - a recipe inspired by the good old days of staff meals and a S.O.D (Soup of the Day) to warm my soul at Nova in Dunedin. A few spoonfuls of peanut butter melted with a little coconut milk creates the perfect cheat version of a dreamy peanut sauce to top ‘Gado-Gado’ an Indonesian salad consisting of fresh vegetables, tofu and a hard boiled egg - a dish that takes me straight back to my Balinese adventures. 

Soup: Pumpkin, PB & Chilli.

Versatile, wholesome, nutritious and delicious – what more could you want from the humble spread. As the saying goes where there is a will there is a way, and I am determined to discover even more exciting ways to eat, enjoy and share the utter peanut butter nutter love far and wide. x

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Crazy for Coconuts.

It’s no secret – the "Coconut" is a born again food hero and current obsession in the health and general foodie world. I must admit my own respect and affinity for the power of this tropical nut have definitely inflated over the last year. It’s versatility; textural variety, taste and wholesome goodness tick all the boxes for me. So you could say that lately I have been going a little coco-NUTS.

Coconut Raspberry Cake.

My most recent sweet-treat coconut adventure was found in the trusty ‘Ripe Recipes’ cookbook. Anticipating the arrival of two dear friends from the cold depths of Dunedin. I whipped together the Coconut and Raspberry Slice – tweaking it a little by adding vanilla extract and baking it in a cake tin. Made with egg whites, icing sugar, packed full of coconut and dotted with raspberries. It’s chewy texture and balance of flavour were quite something. Needless to say it went down a treat!

Slice of Heaven w. Cream & Raspberries.

As an avid fan of the beautiful Petite Kitchen blog. I have a wee addiction with her Lemon and Coconut Truffles. These things are not only raw, but free of gluten, dairy, sugar and all things naughty. Instead they are loaded with the good stuff including coconut oil, lemon juice and zest, ground almonds, honey, sea salt, vanilla and of course shredded or desiccated coconut. After playing around with a few variations (including feijoa and lime below), I have found adding a few sprigs of fresh thyme to the lemon mix makes a winning combo. Fresh herbs have this undeniable way of adding depth and interest to any dish, so I try to find ways to get them in my food whenever possible.

Feijoa & Lime Truffles
Carrot, Cashew, Coconut & Coriander or the 4 C’s Salad - is a refreshing and delicious bowl of goodness. Vibrant, simple and quick to whip together. A good grind of salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and you are away laughing. This coconut-carrot salad combination can be enjoyed with varying accompaniments. I like to add poppy seeds, raisins, chopped parsley and a few toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

The Salad of '4-C's'.

Another brilliant use of coconut has been as a replacement for breadcrumbs on meat or vegetables. They incorporate a beautiful tropical zing and crunchy texture to whatever you choose to crumb. My favourite fish-coconut combination to date was devoured several months ago at the Seaside Café in Maketu, Bay of Plenty. Known as ‘Tropical Fish of the Day’, it was a simple fillet of fresh gurnard dipped in a coconut crumb and flash-fried to perfection. Served atop a melon, cucumber and tomato salsa and finished with raspberry viniagrette, it was all things a summer fish dish should be, and more!

Coconut Crumbed Goodness. 

Having never heard of Coconut butter before, I simply had to give it a try– another act inspired by Petite Kitchen. Basically you just have to blend the crap out of shredded coconut, wait til it heats up, releases its heavenly oils and turns to a thick buttery consistency. Patience and a hearty powered blender are required for this one. Much to her dismay I used my mothers machine, and she was adamant I was going to break the thing. But I can assure you nothing was harmed in the making of my lovely jar of coconut butter. It’s a perfect variation to butter if you are dairy free or just like a change – but to be honest mine didn’t get much further than a spoon and my mouth, and didn't last longer than a few days. WARNING: Rationing these delicious treats is a tough ask. But worth the risk.

Persimmon Porridge w. Coconut Sprinkles.

Whether it’s a key baking ingredient or a sprinkle of toasted coconut sprinkles on my morning porridge. It’s certainly got the goods. I’ll save my affinity for its' relatives - coconut cream and milk til another day. In the mean time I recommend jumping on the coconut bandwagon, it’s one tasty ride. x

Note: To spot more coconut-laden dishes, follow Relishthememory on Instagram. 

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Discovering Per-FIG-tion.

The irony of this post resides in my intention of sharing it with you over two months ago - when a certain fruit was flourishing in its season. But after weeks of several chips keeping me down I am pleased to announce that I am back in the game! Without further or do I present to you my recent (albeit historical) FIG discoveries.

A toast to the Fig. 

Fresh is best. Never has this statement been more appropriate. Since hearing a friend’s tale about frolicking along the roadside in Greece munching on the freshest, most succulent of Figs - I have been curious. My first few experiences of fresh figs have been sub-par, so for a while now I have queried what all the fuss was about. Picked by hand from a lonesome tree in Thames. One bite was all it took. These beauties truly are PER-FIG-TION aka. PERFECTION!
The Fresh Fig in all her glory. 

Figs, like most fruit, come in several different varieties, each with a slightly different size, colour, texture and flavour. Some are green and firm, while others are deep purple and soft to touch. Some have a luscious red interior while others veer towards a cream or white. All are filled with tiny little seeds that have this fabulous ability to pop and crunch between your teeth creating their own party in your mouth. Some describe the taste as a mix of peach and strawberry – dependent on variety & ripeness. Whatever it is it’s dam delicious. Savouring the few I had freshly picked, I cut one horizontally, drizzled it with a little honey and baked for just a few minutes. The result: slices of heaven.

Slices of Heaven.

After FIG-uring out my new found love for this delightful fruit I was on the hunt to consume them in every way I could. To my amuse this journey included a celebrity encounter and a visit to one of NZ's finest yet funkiest eateries. Depot. There are few things greater than the combination of being referred to as ‘on the same page’ as the culinary food great, one of them was being served a Fig, Blue Cheese, Prosciutto & Rocket Toastie by the man himself - Al Brown.  This small plate was the definition of balance. Enhanced by a strong creamy blue, a salty succulent sliver of cured pork, a few delicate peppery leaves and sitting between two crisp slices of Olaf’s finest sourdough. The lusciously red and ripe figs shone through like a shooting star. The memory of this mouthful sits right up there on my 'tastes-to-savour' mantle piece.

Fig, 'Salash' Prosciutto, 'Kingsmeade' Blue Cheese & Arugula. Oh Yes.  

Another intrepid journey led us to an Auckland food lovers playground the La Cigale Markets. After feasting through a Wardolf salad filled with apple, celery & candied walnuts, stealing a bite of the sensational Rolled Pork Belly Sandwich (crackle included), and taste testing several spoonfuls of hummus. My sweet tooth emerged and on my second lap via the donuts, almond croissants, pain au chocolats and more I spotted it. The cutest little friend…a Fig & Lemon Curd Tart. With a delicate buttery pastry, glossy tangy curd and finished with perfect fig segments and a sprinkle of the sweet white dust. Contentment was well and truly achieved. 

Fig & Lemon Curd Tartlet.
Just as I thought the Fig's seasons door was closing. My favourite foodie and I had some fun with a rack of Lamb and two varieties of figs! With an entrée involving several dozen Bluff Oysters, Kapiti Smoked Havarti & Kikorangi Blue Cheese, A fig, port & cardamom paste and several slices of baguette. This was going to be one tasty night in! Inspired by several recipe books and following our nose we put together a dam fine feast. The result: Mustard Lamb Racks roasted on a bed of figs and fennel, topped with a port, balsamic & fig reduction. Served with a Anchovy & Garlic Potato Gratin and freshened with a Crunchy Slaw featuring Chevron (goats cheese) and honeyed walnuts. It was a truly incredible dish and an honour to share the creative process with one of my life's faves.

Lamb + Potato + Fig. 

PerFIGly perFIG in everyway. If that doesn’t convince you I don’t know what will. Maybe a trip to the Mediterranean? See you there!

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Hunting for Hot X BUN(nie)S.

The culinary palate at this time of year calls for two things: Chocolate (obviously) and Hot Cross Buns. Fearing an impossible task in trying to discover the best easter eggs and inspired by the glorious features of the Denizen I opted to hunt down and critique the BEST Hot Cross Buns Auckland had to offer.  
Let the hunt begin...

Using their leads, one sunny Friday morning I directed a stroll toward Newmarket via two possible contenders. Heart of Flavour is a boutique dessert and cake shop run by the talented duo Frank and Michelle. Gunning for the best first –(according to Denizen) I purchased a couple of their fresh and still warm buns to continue en route. The scent instantly filled me with joy and as a examined the buns’ sticky glaze spread over the signature white cross my mouth dribbled a little. Gems of dried fruit peeping out through the dough meant I indulged immediately. Bliss. Light and fluffy in texture, perfectly balanced between fruity and spicy but moreish and moist enough to chow down without butter or heating. Unsure how any other could come close I continued the search…
HBC Contestant # 1.

Next stop was the infamous Sabato Deli. The buns here are delivered fresh every morning from the award-winning Wild Wheat Bakery. Fellow foodie and I meandered around cleansing our palate and filling our intrigue with the latest and greatest olive oils, vinegars and chutneys. After ooing and aahing at every new product we made our purchase and prompt exit. With a darker colour tinge and slightly more dense texture we barely reached the end of the driveway before giving them a try. Slightly less sweet than the first, this one carried a strong citrus tone and although chewing required a tad more vigour it was a pleasure all the same. Vouching as slightly heavier on the spice sector I wandered home to devour them both hot. Both were delicious in their own right and mental notes were reserved for judging later.
Critical analysis underway.

The next two contenders were found on Dominion Road. Pandoro Panetteria has a series of retail bakery branches throughout Auckland and Wellington. Their bun was the most expensive of all purchases. But one taste-tester had it as her ultimate ‘fave’. I found this one to be particularly lemony and sweet with big chunks of zesty orange peel, it was relatively light but a pleasant texture all the same.

The contenders continued...
The second D-road purchase was from Nosh Food Market - the boutique supermarket who house the brand Loaf; Handcrafted breads created by Sean Armstrong. This little number was much darker on the colour palate, rather dense and almost cakey in texture. With its strong gingery undertones I likened it to a gingerbread loaf (fancy that) studded with raisins and currants. But the particular bun chosen by the Nosh café staff was a crusty corner, nearing the stale scale. Putting it at a slight disadvantage from the get-go and meant it demanded to be consumed at home with its’ dear friends heat and butter. 
Chocolate vs. Original - battling it out at Tart Bakery.

After three failed attempts to taste-test Little and Friday’s version of the HCB. I resorted to finding another contender. My next entry was Tart Bakery a relatively new addition to the Grey Lynn suburb. As I watched the super-friendly, super-passionate lady at the counter sprinkle fresh white dust over a customers’ Raspberry Brioche I knew this would be a strong contender. Trays of both classic and chocolate Hot X Buns adorned the top of the cabinets and for research purposes I ordered one of each. The cheapest of the haul I headed home to taste test and both did not disappoint. The chocolate version was to be expected – sweet, sticky and delicious. Call me old-fashioned but it was only the spiced versions that had a shot in this race. Having the highest fruit ratio of all meant it upped the sweetness stakes, complemented by just a touch of spice all together it made for a pleasurable mouth experience (with the right amount of chew!). Extra points for the flavour and texture of their white cross.
Most fruit & best cross.

One final stop lead me to losing my Whoopie Pie virginity. And what better way than with an Easter Hot X Bun inspired version. Spiced, orange, fruity cake domes filled with orange buttercream and topped with a white chocolate cross of delight. Needless to say I enjoyed it very much. Although when a girl wants an HCB no matter how whoooop the pie might be. Simply nothing else will do. 
The Hot Cross Pie.

So the verdict…this is one of those horrible moments where no winner is announced and like the PC nation that we are we applaud everyone for their high-quality buns. Got ya! It is true though – all buns were tasty and enjoyable in their own right and most non-food-obsessed individuals would be happy as larry with any of these Hot Cross Buns. As long as they are served slightly warm with lashings of butter and jam. This festive treat is a winner for everyone. However…
The jury voted.

I have a winner in my mind – possibly skewed by a certain family connection, but I am not afraid to celebrate it…. Heart of Flavour wins my palate vote. The passion and pride in this business runs from the store name to every last crumb of cake. The perfect amount of class (the only entry served in a white cake box), flavour, texture, spice, sweetness, zest, balance, bready-ness and true to its traditional roots. I felt like the HCB had been individually crafted for my tastebuds, as opposed to being mass produced to feed any hungry mouth it lands in. I have my stash ordered for Easter and am looking forward to devouring this one all over again. Happy Easter everyone. X 
My winning Hearts of Flavour.
Note: Unfortunate circumstances meant that on my Easter Sunday I was deprived of consuming my winning buns of choice. Resorting to the trusty Te Puke Bakery, my point was proven that served with warm and buttered any Hot Cross Bun devoured on Easter will be satisfyingly delicious.