Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sapa

Leap years were always something that confused me - it's a strange thought that someone could be aged 72 but have only had 18 birthdays. For those of you that may have lived under a rock for your whole life, a leap year contains an additional day and occurs only once every 4 years which is why the Gregorian calendar (the one we all use), has 29 days in February this year.




My Grandmother, however, was born on February 30th -something that has always managed to confuse our European friends (and various immigration officers). The following conversation would then entail an explanation of how the traditional Chinese calendar is still used widely in China and how many have their Chinese birthdays recorded on official documents. 


Hence, a lot of confusion ensues.






So, to avoid future confusion, her European birthday is now on the 29th while we continue to celebrate her birthday according to the Chinese calendar. I've recently found out that this is actually quite common among other Chinese people and many use it to their advantage by having two birthday celebrations -one for the Gregorian calendar and one for the traditional calendar! Pretty clever, if you ask me!


This year, my family celebrated grandma's birthday on March 21st, which is actually the 29th day of the second month according to the Chinese calendar. The menu for her birthday celebrations are usually the same every year -Peking Duck, Lobster Noodles and a few other Chinese dishes to go with them. By a few I mean at least 10. This family is big on food. 



Peking Duck -$48 for two courses
This year, instead of the local Hong Kong style restaurant we usually frequent, my mother booked a big table at a Vietnamese restaurant in the hopes we would all branch out -but not so much that we have to miss out on Peking Duck. Sapa doesn't actually have Peking Duck on their menu, but strings were pulled because it's my grandmother's all time favourite dish and, considering that it's not something they usually serve, the chef certainly did a fantastic job. The duck skin was sliced perfectly and the spring onions were bundled up in chili skins which we all thought was a neat touch.


Peking Duck - second course
Again, I feel the need to commend the chef on serving something that isn't even on the menu. The second course of the Peking Duck was perfectly seasoned and beautifully presented. The combination of duck meat, preserved vegetables and the addition of nuts was like a flavour explosion in my mouth -possibly even the best second course I've had!

Secret Pork Casserole
Vietnamese Style Prawns
Black Bean Beef
The next few dishes that came out were pretty average. There was nothing wrong with any of them, but none were spectacular. The secret pork casserole tasted strongly of cloves but the Black Bean Beef was very tender. On to the next..

Crispy Chicken
 Crispy Chicken is my grandmother's all time favourite dish which she orders at every chance and, luckily for her, was one of Sapa's specialties. The meat was  tender and moist while the thin layer of skin was made extra crispy -a feat that I have seen few Chinese restaurants achieve.

Stir fried fish pieces
Another dish that deserves special mention is the stir fried fish. As a family who usually orders a whole steamed blue cod, having our fish already cut up was a welcome change. The fish was very fresh and the flesh fell apart in your mouth (but miraculously stayed intact in between my chopsticks!).


Egg Foo Young
I'm not entirely sure how this ended up on our table, but it couldn't have been a mistake (we were the only ones dining in that night). To be perfectly honest, I didn't give it a good try because I had pigged out on the numerous other dishes that night and Egg Foo Young just never seemed like a restaurant dish to me. Like some of the previous dishes, this was average and slightly underseasoned.


Sapa had a few average dishes but some real highlights. Although we were the only ones dining that night, I noticed that they had many takeaway customers. The decor was brilliant and waitress was very friendly and attentive.
Sapa Vietnamese Restaurant can be found at  Unit 7, 357 Albany Highway, Albany.


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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Apricot Cobbler

My favourite thing about Summer is how the best fruit suddenly becomes affordable and readily available -there is nothing better than walking through the fruit store and filling up your trolley with mangoes, watermelon, peaches, lychees, longans..


Apricot Cobbler with Vanilla Bean Ice cream
..I'll stop now. I think you get the picture..


They LOOK juicy..
Among the summer fruit is the juicy looking apricot. I say juicy LOOKING because, more often than not, I always end up with floury tasting ones! And every subsequent year, I forget and buy yet another bag, only to be disappointed again. This year, however, was gonna be different. This year, I had a back up plan.


Pictured: back up plan.
This year, I found myself a brilliant apricot cobbler recipe from Delicious Magazine. 


Step 6: Sprinkle with remaining sugar
This year was actually the first time I had a juicy apricot. It was as if God had smiled upon me and placed a few in my bag. And as for the rest? They went into my cobbler.




This recipe is ridiculously easy and tastes amazing. Somehow, cooking the apricot brings out its tart flavour which is complimented so well by the crust. I even found myself hoping I would find some duds so I could make more!


Apricot Cobbler (from delicious. December 2011)
Serves 4 to 6




Ingredients:
50g unsalted butter
3/4 cup plain flour
2tsp baking powder
1/2 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup milk
6-8 apricots, halved and with stones removed(I just use enough to cover the top of the casserole dish)
Icing sugar and vanilla ice cream to serve


Method:
1. Preheat oven to 180°C
2. Place the butter in a 2L casserole dish and place it in the oven to melt while you make the batter
3. Combine flour, baking powder, 1/4 cup sugar and a pinch of salt in a bowl
4. Add the milk and mix well to form a smooth batter
5. Pour the batter into the casserole dish WITHOUT mixing. Be careful not to burn yourself
6. Arrange the apricots on top and sprinkle with remaining sugar
7. When the oven has preheated, insert the cobbler and bake for 1 hour or until the edges have started to caramelise and the fruit has sunk into the batter
8. Dust the warm cobbler with icing sugar and serve with ice cream

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ginas

The problem my parents have with European establishments is that conversation volume must be kept at a constant whisper and, if you've ever been to a Chinese restaurant (or anywhere where there's more than 6 Chinese people), you would know that it is near impossible.


This is why we mostly frequent Chinese restaurants where you can practically  yell at the top of your voice and it would barely be heard over everybody else. 




In my mind, European restaurants were all super sophisticated and, therefore, near silent where conversation is kept to a hush and the only sound that should be heard is the occasional clinking of wine glasses. 

Chinese food is about atmosphere. That, and the ability to talk about anything you want and not be overheard.




I was overjoyed to find that Gina's (or, GINA'S) Italian Kitchen prided themselves on atmosphere and absolutely delighted to see their tag line:


"You want quiet darling? Then you'll have to go elsewhere because we don't do quiet."


And with Jason's recommendation of their food, immediately booked a table for three for the night. 


Classic Bellini and Kiwi Bellini - $10.50 each
Upon entering Gina's, we were immediately greeted by a bunch of enthusiastic (and gorgeous!) men and women who were speaking Italian at the top of their voices. We were led to a table in the middle of the restaurant (and right in front of the kitchen) and, coincidentally, perfectly positioned to experience what Francesca calls "true, Italian restaurant atmosphere." We started our night with Francesca's favourite EVER drink, the Bellini while I opted for one with a more Kiwi twist consisting of kiwifruit nectar instead of peach puree.


Pizza Garlic Bread - $10.00
To accompany our drinks, we ordered a pizza garlic bread for the table. It was then I decided that I was going to dedicate as much time as needed to learn the secret to that base -light and crispy on the outside and soft, but not doughy, on the inside. 


Tre Funghi Pizza - $24.00
Still in her "OMG I love pizza phase", Francesca ordered the Tre Funghi pizza which consists of grilled portabello, chanterell√© & porcini mushrooms 
with rosemary & truffle oil. If there's one thing that Italians do better than anybody else, it's making pizzas. The base is similar to the pizza garlic bread we had before and the earthy taste of mushrooms was perfectly offset with the rich truffle oil.


Tagliata di Manz - $30.50

Jason opted for a grilled scotch steak with a side of chunky fries and salad. The steak was cooked a little rare for his liking but was well seasoned and went very well with its sides.


Fettuccine Mari o Monti - $25.00
My hands down favourite dish of the night was definitely the seafood fettuccine. I was informed, when ordering, the the kitchen had run out of fettuccine but could replace it with some spinach tagliatelle (which is basically the same thing). The dish comes with prawns, chicken and mushrooms swimming in the most amazing sauce made of marsala, roasted walnuts, truffle oil and pecorino cheese. Mmm.. just writing about it now makes me want to go back for more. Delizioso! 




If you want to experience authentic Italian food with amazing atmosphere, or if you want to talk about secret things without fear of being overheard look no further than Gina's Italian Kitchen. 


Gina's can be found at 101 Symonds St, Auckland, New Zealand.


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