Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Taro Paste

In China, dinners usually finished with a sweet soup, small sweet pastry or a fresh fruit platter. The meal is mostly focused on the savory dishes and it is very rare for my family to even order dessert after the main course.

Enter the Taro.


Taro Paste, or Yu Ni, is one of the most popular foods from my home town of Fuzhou. Ranking up there with Fuzhou fish balls and lychee pork, Yu Ni is a dish that is wheeled out any time someone visits Fuzhou for the first time. It is different to many desserts you are probably familiar with - it is very dense, sticky, and, as you can see, not the prettiest thing to look at. Yu Ni is usually served warm in a big bowl and diners can scoop spoonfuls from the middle. 

When cooled, Yu Ni can also be used as fillings for pastries such as mooncake and buns.



As my current schedule is filled with baby Charlie, I haven't had time to make mooncakes for mid-autumn festival this year so I have opted to remind my family of home with this dish.

Judging from the ingredients, I hope it is obvious that this isn't the healthiest dish in the world. This is why Yu Ni is a food reserved only for celebrations or when there are visitors to your hometown. 

What is a specialty dessert in your hometown? Do you always finish a meal with a sweet dish?

Taro Paste



Ingredients:

1kg taro (frozen or fresh)
400g white sugar
180ml vegetable oil

Method:

1. If using fresh taro, remove the skin and any hard bits. Cut into small pieces (around 2cm x 2cm x 5cm). 
2. Steam the taro pieces until soft. The taro should break easily when poked with a chopstick.
3. Mash the taro while it is still hot. The taro should have a smooth texture with small lumps. If you want a smoother, paste-like texture, place the taro into a blender until your desired texture. 
4. Place taro paste, oil, and sugar into a pot. Cook and stir over medium heat for 15-20 minutes until the mixture turns becomes thick and glossy.
5. Serve warm as a dessert, or set aside to cool if you are using as a mooncake filling.

Note: If you are making taro paste for dessert, I would recommend making a half batch. Otherwise, it gets a bit much. Trust me. 

It is best to find a taro that is floury in texture. They are the best. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Inti

Prior to last Wednesday, my knowledge of South American cuisine was limited to tacos, quesadillas and salsas. So, when I was sent a preview of the menu at Inti, I inadvertently received a lesson in exciting new ingredients and flavour profiles. 



I was impressed by the sleek modern interior. The warm lighting, dark floors and modern South American music made for a trendy and inviting atmosphere. 

I felt super hip.


We were greeted at the door and were immediately offered drinks when we arrived at our table. The wait staff were very friendly and eager to share their own dining experiences with us. With unique ingredients such as cactus and black ants, I had a hard time deciding which dish excited me the most.


The Venezuelan - $21.00, The Brazilian - $20.00
We started our evening with some cocktails from a list of interesting sounding mixes. Jason had the Venezuelan which included Diplomatico 'Exclusiva' rum and flavours of coconut, vanilla, and a raw egg. The drink reminded me of a classy eggnog with a hint of spice.

I ordered the Brazillian, which was a refreshing blend of Cachaça, guava, and passion fruit. Cachaça, I have since learned, is a spirit made from distilled sugarcane and is mostly used in tropical drinks. The drink was very refreshing and well balanced from the get go (unlike most cocktails which are too sweet).

Salsa Tarasca - $14.00
Mexican breads (top to bottom): nixtamal corn tortilla, cricket panucho, concha
The Salsa Tarasca, made from pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, was accompanied by a selection of Mexican breads. The salsa was nutty and had a warm tangy flavour from the roasted tomato and onions.

The soft corn tortilla had a very mild flavour and made for a great vessel for the salsa. The panucho, a puffed fried tortilla, had a nice crispy outer a slightly gritty texture from the cricket flour. Like the tortilla, it was mild, with a little saltiness provided from the sprinkling of cheese.

My favourite of the bunch was the concha - a sweet bun topped with a cookie crust topping. The bun was incredibly fluffy and its sweetness was perfect for balancing the savoury salsa and its crunchy topping was a welcomed texture change.

Cactus "Guacamole" - $16.00
The guacamole had a light saltiness from the rehydrated seaweed and wakame powder and its creaminess was cut through with a touch of citrus. The addition of epazote gave it a fresh "green" flavour. Texture-wise, this dish was a treat - the crunchy almonds little bites of cactus (which tasted similar to aloe vera) dispersed throughout, and the chewy seaweed all worked to give the smooth avocado a bit more interest.

The warm crunchy tostada was a great base for dipping into the cool guacamole. We were impressed with the deep fried avocado leaf - lightly salted, it tasted very similar to a crispy nori sheet.

Green Chorizo - $19.00
I was excited by this modern interpretation of the classic chorizo and egg pairing. The chorizo was reinvented as a pork mince mixture, with pumpkin seeds and very fragrant spices. The 65 degree egg had a custard-like texture which was perfect for mixing through and mellowing out the heat of the mince, while the wood sorrel and spinach puree provide a little freshness to the dish.

Tostada - $16.00
The hero of this dish was the morcilla, the Spanish version of black pudding. Served atop a thin crunchy tostada, the morcilla was intensely flavoured with many spices that danced on the palate. Chef Carmona orders the morcilla in liquid form from the Grey Lynn Butcher in order to get this layer so thin.

To accompany the strong spices, the morcilla was layered with creamy peanut butter, sweet dragonfruit, refreshing watermelon radish and topped with a sprinkling of black ants and wild flower. All these different textures and flavours enhanced the sausage and were in perfect harmony with each other.


Lamb Pibil - $32.00 (photo provided by Inti)
In my haste to devour the lamb pibil, I neglected to take a photo. Each succulent piece of slow roasted lamb was beautifully paired with hints of beeswax and pomegranate. A topping of fushia flowers provided a refreshing crunch to the hearty dish. The highlight for me were the purple carrots which had spent hours cooking in a jus. 

Cebiche - $24.00
I felt that it was a bit odd to finish on a cold main, but it worked well after the heartier lamb dish. The generous slices of trevally were cured in a citrusy red cabbage marinade and accompanied with dehydrated sweet potato strips, salted tamarillo, and pickled onion. There was a good amount of heat from fresh and dried chillis and I was happy to learn that they do not skimp on the heat!

Vanilla Queso - $15.00
It was a real delight to dig into our dessert to discover its contents. Beneath the vibrant cucumber ice was a layer of thinly sliced roast pineapple and a vanilla cream cheese base. The fresh cucumber balanced out the rich cream cheese, while the slow roasted pineapple provided the gentle sweetness in the dessert. The sunflower seeds added a welcome crunch and the lemon verbena provided little bites of acidity.

Executive Chef Javier Carmona
With each dish, we were lucky enough to have the executive chef, Javier Carmona, explain the ingredients and flavours in each dish. His passion for Hispanic cuisine was very obvious and I was blown away by how much thought went into the menu. Each ingredient is in harmony with its accompaniments and his care is reflected through each meticulously presented dish.


Everything about Inti impressed me. From its modern interior to its dishes that are too pretty to eat (almost), it is truly a great dining experience. I can't wait to come back and try the rest of their menu.

Lucy and Jason dined as guests of Inti.

Inti can be found at 2 Chancery Street, Auckland.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Peking Duck Noodle Soup

One of our favourite dishes to order at a Chinese restaurant is the Peking Duck. This dish is frequently ordered in two courses to make the most out of the bird - the crispy skin is wrapped up in a thin flour pancake and eaten with a sweet bean sauce, while the fragrant meat is stir fried with crunchy vegetables and wrapped up in a fresh lettuce leaf. 


Less frequently ordered is the third course - a soup made from the duck bones. The roasted bones impart a smoky flavour to the soup and is sometimes served with tofu and Chinese cabbage. At Quanjude (the Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing), the bones from all of their ducks are cooked for a long time to create a flavoursome soup. 

Chop the duck bones so they fit in your pot
If you don't order this third course, most restaurants will let you take the roast duck carcass home. I usually go for this option as it leaves room for a different menu item, and it provides the base for an easy meal later on in the week. Creating the broth is as simple as cooking the duck bones in boiling water for an hour and enjoying the lovely aroma that wafts through the house. 

Peking Duck Noodle Soup Ingredients:
bok choy, duck meat (from the carcass), noodles, and bone broth
Instead of making a soup to accompany a meal, I like to add noodles to the broth to create a hearty one pot meal. There is usually a lot of meat left on the carcass which, too, can be used as part of the dish. What I like about this dish is that there are no limits to what you can add - the ingredients I have listed are merely what I had on hand at the time.

You can use any noodles, but these are my fave
You can also use any kind of noodles, although I think the firmer types like egg noodles are the most suitable. My favourite are these Taiwanese style noodles which have a chewy texture and hold up well in the broth. A thin pasta, such as spaghettini, would also work well.

Do you like Peking Duck? Have you ever had the third course?

Peking Duck Noodle Soup  (Serves 2)


Ingredients:

1 Peking Duck carcass
10 cups cold water
salt to taste
1/2 packet Taiwan style noodles
2 bok choy
marinated eggs and other noodle toppings to serve (optional)

Method:

1. Break down the duck carcass in to smaller pieces and place into a large pot.
2. Add cold water to the pot and bring to the boil. Once the pot starts boiling, reduce the heat and let the stock simmer for one hour.
3. Remove the duck bones and set aside to cool. Add noodles to the boiling stock and cook according to packet instructions.
4. While the noodles are cooking, carefully remove any duck meat from the bones and set aside as a noodle topping.
5. When the noodles are almost cooked through, add in bok choy leaves to cook for the last minute or two. 
6. Add salt to taste.
7. Place noodles, bok choy, and duck meat in a large bowl, along with any other toppings you have chosen.
8. Ladle the hot broth over the other ingredients and serve.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Kushi

During my pregnancy, the one thing I really craved was sashimi. Unfortunately, raw food was something I had to avoid so I spent a year watching longingly as others consumed bite after bite of delicious salmon and tuna. So large was my craving that, as soon as I brought Charlie home, I was on the hunt for the perfect place to have sashimi. I had heard about the excellent food at Kushi so I decided that this would be the place. 

Expectations were high.


Inside, Kushi was dimly lit, with high ceilings and a spacious interior. The dining area was cleverly sectioned to form a few different spaces - large private areas, smaller intimate areas for small groups, and booths for an even more private feel.
Suntory - $11.00, Plum Wine - $9.50
We started with some drinks while we perused the menu. Jason had a Suntory, a malt beer which was smooth and easy to drink.

I ordered a plum wine which was syrupy but not overly sweet. It reminded of a childhood cough medicine, but in a nice kind of way. 

Edemame - $6.95
We ordered edemame to have while we waited for our food although we didn't make much of a dent before our first dish arrived.

Takowasabi - $8.95
The Takowasabi involved little pieces of raw octopus marinated in a wasabi dressing. There was a sweetness to the octopus flesh which was complimented by the light dressing. I enjoyed each bite of the slippery yet chewy octopus that was accented by delightful pops of caviar.

Small Sashimi - $20.95
Our order of small sashimi came nestled within a Paua shell. We were treated to thick slices of salmon, tuna and kingfish. I closed my eyes and made sure to savour each bite - the fish was so fresh that it had a sweetness to it.


Beef Tataki - $14.90
The beef in this dish was very nicely marbled and sliced delicately. I felt that it was a little light on dressing so the beef tasted a bit bland. The flavour of the beef was lifted when eaten in conjunction with the salad but I thought the dish would have been nice with some sort of dipping sauce specifically for the beef.


Kani Tempura - $20.95
The tempura batter for the soft shell crab was incredibly thin and crunchy. The crab itself was quite meaty and well seasoned. The mild wasabi mayo made for a great dipping sauce. The fresh radish slices were a bit bland compared to the rest of the dish and may have been a nicer addition if they were pickled (this, of course, is a very minor issue in an excellent dish). 


Buta Ko Kakuni - $16.90
The pork belly was our favourite dish of the night. Kushi's special soy marinade fully penetrated through the pork. Each piece was impossibly soft and melted as soon as it reached my mouth - it was actually made it a little difficult to pick up with chopsticks! 



By the end of our meal, we were in a near food coma. Each dish was impeccable in both presentation and taste that, at times, we couldn't decide what to have for the next bite!
My very high expectations were certainly met.



Kushi can be found at 22 Durham Street West, Auckland.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Cafe Hanoi

This was to be my last outing before having Charlie but, because he came two weeks early, we had to wait over a month before making a visit to Cafe Hanoi. Despite having visited before, we walked straight past the bright red front doors of Cafe Hanoi. 



I hadn't taken an infant to a restaurant before so I called ahead to make sure it was OK. The staff on the phone were very accommodating and made a booking for five people and a pram. 



The staff helped us with getting the stroller up the stairs and led us into a spacious room that was filled with natural light. Despite bring right next to a busy road, we felt miles away from the big city.


The Virgins: The Herbalist - $9.00, Sweet Spiced Mule - $9.00
We started with a few mocktails while we perused the menu. I ordered The Herbalist because I love Chi (the drink). It came infused with thai basil, coriander, lime, and passion fruit which gave it a very Asian feel. I wish it came with more Chi as the passion fruit syrup was too sweet for me - it tasted better once the ice had melted a bit. 

Ashley ordered the sweet spiced mule, a variation of the Moscow Mule with the addition of cinnamon and other sweet spies. The drink was refreshing yet warming. 

Pho bo- $6.00 per individual serve
We started with individual servings of pho. Although the menu item is "pho bo", we got pieces of chicken instead of beef. Nevertheless, the chicken was juicy and the noodles had a great bite. Tying it all together is the light, yet flavoursome broth. The addition of lime and pickled chili made the whole dish sing. 


Master stock chicken with green papaya - $10.50
The fresh papaya salad was wonderfully light while packing a big flavour punch. I thought there was a great ratio of tender master stock poached chicken to papaya, and crushed peanuts added a great nuttiness to the dish.

Hanoi Style Grilled Pork - $27.00
I thought that thBún Chà was a very harmonious dish. The fatty pork had a delicious char on the outside and was balanced by the pickled vegetables and fresh herbs. The nuoc cham sauce had a lovely flavour which tied all the ingredients together into the rice noodles (the left over sauce was also nice mixed into our rice).

Caramelised Pork Belly Hotpot - $27.00
We could smell the fragrant dish before it even arrived at our table. Each piece of pork belly was incredibly tender and beautifully caramalised. The sweet sticky sauce had a hint of coconut and was also a great sauce for spooning on our rice.

Soft Shell Crab with Spicy Tamarind Sauce - $28.00
My eyes gravitated toward this dish as soon as I opened the menu and I was not disappointed. Each piece of crab was coated in a light crunchy batter and came with a delicious tangy sauce that made my salivate. This was my favourite dish.


Lime Curd with Soft Meringue - $12.50
The Lime Curd and Meringue sounded nice on the menu but I felt that the dessert was overall quite sickly sweet. There was simply not enough tangy lime curd to balance out the sweet sticky meringue and the meringue ice cream. The delicate tuille provided a nice texture change but, again, there was not enough of it to counter the meringue.

Sage Pudding with Mango Sorbet - $12.50
This dessert was a nice modernisation of the traditional sago pudding, with a mango sorbet and fresh pieces of mango and coconut. The warm and cool elements of the dish balanced each other out nicely and the palm sugar drizzle was delicious.


Báhn trôi Tàu - $12.00
Báhn trôi Tàu is the Vietnamese equivalent of the Japanese Mochi or the Chinese Tang Yuan. The giant glutinous rice flour dumplings were filled with a sweet black sesame paste and sat in a coconut scented broth. The sandy sesame contrasted well with the soft chewy pastry and I thoroughly enjoyed having a warm dessert to follow our mains.


Hot Soy Milk Doughnut - $2.50
We ordered a number of the Hot Soy Milk Doughnuts for the table. Dusted with cinnamon sugar, the doughnuts were very generous in size and came with an equally generous bowl of caramel sauce (the sauce was so good that each bowl was licked clean!). I was not able to taste any soy milk flavours from the doughnut, but that didn't detract from the deliciousness at all. At a mere $2.50 each, we all agreed that this would make an inexpensive treat.


Our first outing turned out to be very successful - little Charlie slept through the whole meal and we were able to enjoy every dish to the fullest. The staff were super attentive and every dish was delicious.


Cafe Hanoi can be found at the Excelsior Building, corner of Galway Street & Commerce Street, Britomart, Auckland 1010


Friday, July 21, 2017

Ampersand Eatery

One of my last outings prior to having baby Charlie was to the newest, and hippest addition to Orakei Village. Ampersand Eatery had been showing up all over my social media pages and I was dying to know what the fuss was all about.



Although the space is large, Ampersand is filled to the brim with brunchers and lunchers. The restaurant doesn't take reservations for lunch so I put our names down on the 30 minute wait list. It was the first time I had been to the newly constructed Orakei Village so I was happy to have a wander around the boutique stores that fill up the little complex. 


Iced Chocolate - $5.50, Spicy Chai Latte - $5.00, Hot Chocolate - $5.00
We started off with some warm drinks to combat the windy weather outside. The chai latte was lightly spiced and not too sweet while the hot chocolate was rich but a little watery. Not pictured is a ginger latte which I enjoyed the most.


Sourdough and burnt butter - $3.90
The littlest bruncher in our group was being fussy that day and only wanted to eat bread. Luckily, there was some soft pieces of sourdough accompanied by some beautiful burnt butter. We loved the butter so much that we spread it on anything bread-like on our other dishes!


Smoked Trevally and Potato Omelette - $19.00
I was quite impressed with the serving size of the omelette when it arrived on the table. The smokiness of the fish gave off a lovely aroma and paired well with the saltiness of the pesto. I felt that the egg could have been seasoned a little more as the dish as a whole tasted a bit bland, even with its salty components. 


Benedict with Bacon - $19.00
The eggs benedict came with a generous amount of bacon and lashing of spiced hollandaise. The eggs were poached perfectly and the bread was nicely toasted without being difficult to cut through. 


Colombian Corn Cake - $19.00
The Colombian Corn Cake was soft and creamy. The mushrooms imparted a great earthy flavour while the feta provided some much needed saltiness. The best part was the perfectly poached egg which tied the whole dish together.


Fresh Pasta Stuffed with Sweet Potato - $22.00
My favourite dish that day was the stuffed pasta. Everything about this dish was just perfect. Texture wise, the light pillows of pasta, creamy apple sauce, and yoghurt were offset with crispy bacon pieces and pinenuts. The sweet components were balanced with bacon, parmesan, and dots of pesto. The little pops of chili were also a welcome surprise. 


Caramel Slice - $4.90
By the time we were ready for dessert, one of the only sweet items in the cabinet was a caramel slice. The buttery base and gooey caramel made for a deliciously rich dessert. It would go perfectly with a bitter cup of coffee but, as we all ordered sweet drinks, splitting the slice into quarters turned out to be the perfect portion size.

Ampersand 'Snickers' Bar - $15.00
I'm a sucker for house specialties and the Ampersand 'Snickers' bar jumped out at me as soon as I opened the dessert menu. The peanut parfait was as good as any I've had before and the chocolate mousse was incredibly smooth. As with the caramel slice, I'm glad we split this between four as there wasn't quite enough of the bitter mousse to counter the sweet parfait.


Ampersand is a nice space to catch up with friends. Based on my visit, some of the dishes could use a tad more seasoning but the stuffed pasta is just perfect. 

Ampersand Eatery can be found at Orakei Village, 228 Orakei Road, Auckland.