Sunday, June 28, 2015

Grateful for Sundays 10

Taking little pauses throughout my weeks for my Grateful for Sunday posts has brought me great joy and peace. However, I realised that I've made a terrible mistake. 

In my haste to start a string of themed posts, I have forgotten what topic makes me the most excited to share with my readers -food. In order to make room for both, I have decided to make my Grateful for Sunday posts on the last Sunday of each month.

So, for the month of June, I am grateful for...

Sparrows on Powerlines

I made a conscious decision to get up early for a walk last weekend and happened to look up. This might sound weird but, because I am mostly driving or busing, I rarely look up and see cute sparrows sitting in a row.

Citrus Season
Right now my garden smells beautiful. Our lemon and orange trees are full of fruit which means our water is infused with deliciousness and our desserts are exceptionally zesty!

Quiet times in the CBD
I discovered this beautiful seated area during a site visit. I took a 5 minute mini break and enjoyed staying still while the city moved around me.

Sculpture Trail at Brick Bay Winery
The highlight of my month was the Sculpture Trail at Brick Bay Winery. We arrived at midday and spent an hour winding through beautiful scenery to look at 45 contemporary sculptures crafted by New Zealand artists. Above is one of my favourite sculptures, especially because of the way it reflects on the lake.

What are you grateful for this month?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Aria - Winter Menu

I find it incredibly exciting to be among the first to discover something new. It is even more exciting when the discovery is yummy food. And because I'm not very good at keeping secrets, I want to share with you the new winter menu at Aria Restaurant and Bar.

Located in the Crowne Plaza on Albert St, Aria Bar and Restaurant is a fancy hotel restaurant that has kept a cozy, intimate feel. The space caters for large groups as well as date nights. Its central location also makes it perfect for a pre-show dinner. 

I was lucky enough to be invited to a menu tasting, along with several other food bloggers. We journeyed our way through 11 amazing dishes which left me very satisfied and eager to come back with Jason.

Mushroom Salad
The mushroom salad consisted of Shiitake, Button and Portobello mushrooms. The dish was full of umami and the parmesan added to it. The toasted pine nuts added another layer of texture.

Smoked Salmon 
The house smoked salmon was very flavoursome and was served in generous chunks. Each bite was flaky and tender. The roast beetroot provided a light sweetness while the horseradish gave a bit of heat. I was glad that the cauliflower panacotta was more of a puree than a jelly and added some creaminess to the dish. All the separate elements of this dish worked together very well to highlight the salmon.

Pan Seared Scallops
My eyes widened as this colourful dish came to the table. The scallops were cooked perfectly accompanied by earthy french lentils and bursts of flavour from the cherry tomatoes. I couldn't really taste any heat from the chili but I thought that the dish didn't need it.

Sweet Potato Tortelloni
What is the difference between tortelloni and tortellini, you ask? According to Wikipedia, a tortelloni is slightly bigger. Who decides how big is big? I didn't get that far with my Googling..

Nevertheless, the tortelloni was cooked al dente. The sweet potato filling was creamy although a little too sweet for my liking. I would have preferred a larger pasta to filling ratio - perhaps tortellini would be a better size to balance out the strong flavour of the sweet potato. I really enjoyed the nuttiness of the burnt butter and the saltiness of the parmesan.

Prosciutto Wrapped Pork and Beetroot Risotto
The french goats cheese added to the creaminess of the neon pink risotto. Together, they provided a fantastic base for the pork. The prosciutto formed a deliciously crispy and salty coating for the tender pork. 

Pork Cutlet Crépinette
For me, this was a great first introduction to crépinettes. The casing was amazingly thin and crispy. However, the stand out of this dish was the gnocchi. The soft pillows of potato had an amazing texture and was complimented well by the jus - I could have had a whole plate of these!

Lamb Shanks
The lamb shanks fell apart at the touch of my spoon. We were told that it had been cooking for the whole day and we could really tell! The cannellini mash wasn't too heavy and the sautéed silver beet added an earthy freshness to the meaty dish.

Confit Duck
The duck confit came in a creamy red curry. The duck had a nice crispy skin and easily pulled apart flesh. The curry sauce had a good amount of heat and had bursts of juiciness from bites of lychee and pineapple.

Chocolate Melting Pot
The chocolate lava cake was made of dark Belgian chocolate so it was quite rich. The vanilla bean ice cream and the blueberries provided great freshness to balance out the decadent cake. 

Black Doris Plum Tart
The warm plum tart was a welcome dessert on this cold night. The pastry had a wonderful texture which resembled a soft biscuit. The plums were plump and juicy, the pistachios gave a good crunch and the créme anglaise balanced out the tartness. 

Hazelnut Dacquoise 
The Hazelnut Dacquoise was my favourite dish. The very thin layers of hazelnut and salted caramel came together to form the lightest dessert I've ever had. The blackberry sorbet was wonderfully sweet (but not sickly) and the praline added a nice pop to the creamy dessert. All the flavours and textures on the plate came together perfectly.

To try some of these amazing dishes yourself, Aria Restaurant and Bar can be found at the Crowne Plaza, 128 Albert Street, Auckland. 

Lucy dined as a guest of Crowne Plaza, Auckland.

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Thai Green Curry - My souvenir from Phuket

For me, experiencing another culture through its food is a big part of travelling. Being able to taste the local foods provides great insights to each regions way of life. 

I love sight seeing and buying trinkets when I go overseas, but there is something incredibly special about buying local culinary specialties. In my pantry we have truffle oil from Rome, squid ink from Venice, chocolate from Osnabrück and noodles from Fuzhou. They remind me of the great adventures Jason and I had along our travels.

The best souvenir I've ever brought back, however, is some recipes from a cooking class Jason and I attended in Phuket. We were taken to a local market to taste the local food before being whisked away to the kitchens to try our hand at Chicken Green Curry, Basil Chicken and Tom Yum Goong.

Our favourite was the green curry, which I have since adapted to suit my tastes and what is available at the supermarket. I am lucky enough that my local Asian grocery stocks most of the essential Thai ingredients - there is sometimes even fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and Thai eggplant! 

The hardest thing about this recipe is collecting the ingredients which most good Asian groceries should be able to help you out with. The next step after that is to grind all the ingredients into a paste (which I find quite therapeutic actually). 

So, lovely readers, what do you like to take back from an overseas trip? Do you make your own curry paste or do you prefer the store bought variety?

Thai Green Curry with Chicken (Serves 4 to 6)
Inspired by recipe at Phuket Thai Cooking School


Curry Paste*:
2 stalks lemongrass, chopped
8 kaffir lime leaves, roughly torn
3-6 birds eye chilies
2 shallots, chopped
5cm x 2cm x 2cm ginger, chopped
1 small bunch of fresh coriander (stalk and roots too!) 
1 lime -zested and juiced
1 Tbs coriander seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp Thai fish sauce
2 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar

2 to 4 Tbs green curry paste (depending on how strong you like it. I like my VERY intense)
400ml can of coconut milk
300g boneless chicken thigh, cut into bite sized pieces

200g broccoli, cut into small florets
200g can of sliced bamboo shoots, drained
optional: 4 Thai eggplants, cut into bite sized pieces

1. Blitz all the curry paste ingredients in a food processor** until it forms a paste. Taste to see if it needs more heat (chili), sour (lime juice), sweet (sugar) or salt (fish sauce). Adjust as required and set aside.
2. Heat up a wok (or deep frying pan) and 1 cup of the coconut milk. Wait until it boils and the milk starts to separate.
3. Once the coconut milk begins to separate, stir through all of the curry paste. Fry until fragrant and when all the milk has been soaked up.
4. Stir in the remaining coconut milk.
5. Add the chicken, broccoli and bamboo shoots. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 7 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
6. Serve hot with fluffy rice.

* This paste can be stored in a jar for up to 3 weeks in the fridge.
** If, you don't own a food processor, the curry paste can be made in a pestle and mortar. It takes a little longer, and you will probably need to process it in batches, but it makes the end result a lot more satisfying. Start by grinding down the lemongrass and lime leaves before adding the rest of the ingredients. 

Here's a sneaky photo of us standing in the sweltering heat, proudly displaying our dishes

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Grateful for Sundays 09

This Sunday I am grateful for...

Grateful for.. Treating Yo' Self
Jason's birthday was last weekend which provided a great excuse to go somewhere extra special. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of "Treat Yo' Self" please have a look at this short clip from Parks and Recreation. While our day wasn't nearly as extreme as Tom and Donna's, we did treat ourselves with 8 dishes at The Sugar Club (post coming soon!).

Grateful for... Community
Last Friday, my cycle way project team and I attended a dawn blessing to officially open the Hinaki Bridge in War Memorial Park. A large group of us gathered on one side of the park to cross over the bridge as the sun was rising while representatives of the local Iwis said prayers and blessed this new site. It was great to see such a big turn out from the community despite the cold weather!