Monday, December 30, 2013

Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti (from Little and Friday)

Biscotti is something that I used to only allow on special occasions. Not for any dietary reasons, but because they are so darn expensive! It was only a few weeks ago that it occurred to me that I could actually make a batch of my own for a fraction of the price. Jason had bought me a book full of delicious items that are made from one of my favourite cafés in Devonport, Little and Friday.

The recipes in this book are taken from café favourites and modified to suit home bakers so everything is much simpler. 

The recipe called for surprisingly few ingredients and I was pleasantly surprised with the little effort to required. I really loved the citrus flavour imparted by the addition of orange zest which really set it apart from the boring old coffee/chocolate flavoured type you usually see in the shops.

The best part? Now I can have all the biscotti I could ever eat!

Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti (from Little and Friday)

4 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence or paste
2 cups cranberries
2 cups pistachios
zest of 1 orange
4 eggs

1. Preheat oven 180°C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
2. Sift flour and baking powder into a large bowl.
3. Stir in remaining ingredients, except eggs.
4. Beat eggs separately and add to dry ingredients. Using a wooden spoon, mix until combined.
5. shape mixture into two logs measuring approximately 20cm and place on a lined tray. Bake for 30 minutes.
6. Remove from oven and slice each log with a serrated knife into approximately 20 1cm-wide slices. The slices should be slightly moist in the centre.
7. Reduce oven to 140°C. Lay cut slices on lined baking trays and return to oven for 20 minutes, until they are dry and hard. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks.

Tip: These are also nice with one half dipped in melted chocolate.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Eurotrip, chapter 3: Osnabrück, Germany

... Continued from Eurotrip, chapter 2: Berlin, Germany

Shortly after our big pretzel in Berlin airport, we touched down in Osnabrück. I don't think it's a place people normally put on their travel list but we made a little detour to see my friend Luisa's home town. We arrived late in the evening, after a full day in transit, so it was nice to see a familiar face when we arrived.

On the way to town on a beautiful morning
Osnabrück was a very welcome stop for us as our poor feet were sore from days of walking and we were quite glad that we didn't have to stress out about public transport for a few days. We woke up the next day well rested and to gentle snow falling outside!

Streets of Osnabrück
Although it was snowing, it didn't feel very cold. We found that we didn't need to wear our thermals and could get away with just a down jacket. Luisa took us into town for a hearty breakfast buffet at Cafe Blatt and then for a walk through the town. 

The University of Onsabrück
Walking through the town reminded me of walking through a Disney movie. The cobblestone streets were incredibly tidy, lined with pastel houses and old timey lamp posts. The bare trees and snow just added to the charm.

Leysieffer Chocolate Boutique
On our way, we stopped into Leyseiffer which, Luisa said, is a must visit. They are a very well known German brand known for their incredibly indulgent and luxurious chocolates. There was a cafe in the rear end of the store with cabinets filled with delicious looking cakes and patisseries while the walls were lined with chocolatey treats. I took my time here to get a couple of slabs of chocolate as presents for the family. For the record, the Elderflower chocolate is delicious!

Small model of the town covered in snow
Schokokusses and putting up the Christmas tree
We wandered into a Christmas market before it started to get dark. It was far quieter than the ones we saw in Berlin which meant we could spend a little more time browsing without worrying about getting pushed around. The highlight trying my first Schokokuss, which is a sofr marshamallow covered in a very thin layer of chocolate.

After the markets, we stopped off at the local garden centre in Hunteburg for a Christmas tree to decorate with all things turquoise -Luisa's favourite colour.

Snow covered landscape
We were only able to stay a day here but it was great to be able to see an old friend again. We weren't there long but we left knowing a little more about what Christmas is like in Luisa's little corner of the world. 

Next stop: Paris, France

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Federal Delicatessen

As a big fan of Al Brown, I had been looking forward to visiting Federal Delicatessen ever since it had opened. Taking inspiration from the Jewish delis of New York, Al Brown has recreated his own in little ol' Auckland.

I am told that booking is not necessary for groups of less than ten and I was afraid of a long wait. Fortunately it is quite spacious inside, despite the small shop front. The Fed is situated right next door to another Al Brown restaurant called Depot and the two restaurants share a hallway.

The interior resembles a stripped back diner and all the wait staff are dressed to suit. There are seats up near the bar and cooking area, as well as more private booths along one side for groups of four. Old jazz was playing over the speakers and it felt like we had stepped back in time.

Cherry Cola - $5, Vanilla Egg Cream $6
We started off with the drinks menu which was very exciting, to say the least. The Vanilla Egg Cream was described to me as a mix between creaming soda and milk which turned out to be delicious - creamy and bubbly without being too sweet. My dining companion had the Cherry Cola which I'm told was very nice too.

The menu at The Fed is quite varied and extensive but, as we all know, too much choice can sometimes be a bad thing. Luckily, our waiter was super helpful and was able to help us pick a few dishes to share after much indecisiveness from the group.

Matzo Ball Soup - $16
Matzo Ball Soup up close
We started off with Matzo ball soup which was kindly divided into 3 portions for us. This item is from the "specialties" menu and I can certainly see why! The chickeny broth was full of flavour and came with very tender pieces of chicken and delicate fennel. The highlight for me was the matzo balls which were wonderfully soft and very well seasoned.

Smoked Kahawai Cakes - $14
Our next entree was smoked fish cakes with a thin crunchy crumb filled with lots of smoked fish and creamy potato. The wasabi and lime mayo was a great partner to the sweet smoked fish.

Veal Schnitzel - $28
Due to past experience with horrible dry schnitzel, I was a bit apprehensive when our waiter suggested it. But the veal turned out to be very juicy, flavoursome and the light crumb was not too oily. The deep fried sage was a welcome addition and really helped to lift the dish. I think The Fed has made me like schnitzel!

Spit Roast Chicken - $23
Grilled Zucchini - $8
The spit roast chicken was very tender and juicy and came with a very tasty gravy -so tasty, in fact, that I even poured it over my schnitzel.The cheesy grilled zucchini was a great accompaniment to the meal and has now become one of my favourite sides. 

NY Cheesecake - $11.50, Banana & Toffee Pie - $11.50
Although we were close to bursting after our mains, we just couldn't leave without sampling something from the dessert menu. The New York Cheesecake was very smooth and tasty without being overly sweet, but my favourite would have to be the Banana & Toffee Pie. The thin base added just the right amount of crunch to the soft filling while the caramel popcorn was a very cute twist.

The Fed is a must visit if you're in the mood for something a little bit different. The menu is full of interesting items and I've already decided what I'm ordering when I return!

Federal Delicatessen can be found opposite the Sky Tower at 86 Federal St, Auckland, New Zealand

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Friday, December 6, 2013

A Quick Meal at Barilla Dumpling

The first time I had heard of Barilla Dumpling was when it was voted top 10 in Metro's cheap eats. The second was when it was listed as one of dirtiest eating establishments in Auckland. The latter is probably not a good reason to visit a restaurant, but the fact that a bad hygiene score didn't deter their customers peaked my interest. This, and the fact that my colleague highly recommended this place.

Pork and Chive Dumplings - $12 for 20 (+$1 for fried)
We arrived at the bright green restaurant on a Sunday and it was already packed with people having lunch. We were lucky enough to get the last table. The service was very quick and, while we were waiting for our food, I noticed that the "D" grade had been changed to an "A".

Pork and Eggplant Dumplings - $12 for 20 (+$1 for fried)
With what seemed like a million different dumpling flavours (sorry, I didn't actually count), we had a very hard time choosing what type we wanted. In the end, we went with one familiar, pork and chive, and one new, pork with eggplant. 

Boiled dumplings were priced at $12 each with the option of having them steamed or pan friend for an extra dollar. The pork and chive dumplings were very flavoursome and we loved the crispy bottoms. The pork and eggplant, in my opinion, were a little bland but it was nothing that soy sauce, vinegar and chili couldn't fix!

Sauteed Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan) with Chopped Garlic - $14
As an accompaniment, we also ordered a very generously portioned plate of sauteed Gai Lan in garlic. I thought this dish was done better than many other restaurants I had been to as the veggies were tender and the sauce wasn't too overpowering.
I forgot to take a photo of the lime green walls, so here's a menu..
Barilla Dumpling is definitely somewhere I would love to revisit just to try some of the more different flavours such as pork and fennel or cashew nuts. I think the fact that it was still popular despite receiving negative press shows just how great the food is. Besides, we've eaten food on the side of the road in rural China before - I think we can handle it!

Barilla Dumpling can be found at 571 Dominion Rd, Balmoral, Auckland.

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Lemon Syrup Loaf (from Bluebells Cakery)

The end of the year is fast approaching and we, at work, are entering what we like to call "the mad dash to get everything out the door before Christmas" and the "OMG there are so many clashing Christmas functions going on!"

It's actually quite exciting as I'm on a big project that I enjoy and Christmas functions are a great way to catch up with friends from university but I find myself wanting to spend a bit more time at home. 

I finally got the chance, this weekend, to leaf through Karla Goodwin's book Bluebells Cakery which was a birthday gift from Jason's sister. Inspired by London's array of boutique cupcake and cake shops (Hummingbird Bakery in particular), Karla started a stall in Parnell's French market, La Cigale. It wasn't long until the stall turned into her own kitchen in Hillsborough and then into a full blown shop!

Her book is full of recipes that are made at Bluebells Cakery, inspired by her time in London. It also has a handy list of tips and tricks to help any budding baker.

Lemon Syrup Cake seemed the most obvious choice this weekend because I had all the ingredients in the kitchen which meant I didn't have to leave the house. The syrup made the loaf super moist and it goes well with a nice cup of tea. It's so good that Jason's already had about half of it (I made it a couple of hours ago).

My loaf took a bit longer for the skewer to come out clean (about 1 hr 10 minutes) but it still managed to cook evenly.

This has been entered into Sweet New Zealand #29, a monthly Kiwi blogging event, started by the Alessandra and hosted this month by Alice from Alice in Bakingland.

Lemon Syrup Cake (from Bluebells Cakery)


3 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
230g unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups caster sugar
1/3 cup lemon zest
4 eggs 

Lemon Syrup:
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar

1. Grease and line a 22cm x 12cm loaf tin with baking paper and set aside. Preheat the oven to 180°C. 
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl and set aside.
3. Combine the milk, lemon juice and vanilla in a jug and set aside.
4. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and mix through.
5. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Don't be alarmed if the mixture curdles, it will come together when the dry ingredients are added.
6. Add half of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined, then add half of the milk mixture and stir through. Then repeat this process to add the remainder of the dry and wet mixtures.
7. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and level out the top until even and flat. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
8. To prepare the syrup, combine the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan and cook over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
9. When the loaf is cooked, remove from the oven and make several holes by piercing the top with a wooden skewer or toothpick (these should be a couple of centimeters apart). Pour the lemon syrup over and let the loaf cool in the tin for 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire cooling rack.

The syrup helps to keep this loaf moist for up to a week in an airtight container at room temperature.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hua's Restaurant

My father likes to boast that we have been to all of the Chinese restaurants on the North Shore and that he can pretty much memorise the menu at each one. This sounds very impressive until you realise that there's actually only 4 or 5 that we frequent and we rarely branch out so it's always exciting when we venture over the bridge to try something new.

This time we headed over to Hua's Restaurant in Newmarket to celebrate a birthday with my aunts and uncles.

Wasabi Duck Feet - $18.80
We started off with some braised duck feet tossed in wasabi sauce and wasabi oil (and a bit of peanut butter I think). Needless to say, it was hot. Not the normal chili hot that I'm used to but the wasabi kinda hot where it creeps up on you and gives your brain a big shock because you ate too much in one go. Other than that, I really enjoyed the creamy texture of the duck feet and kept forgetting about the wasabi shock that would soon follow. Vicious cycle.

Salad of Bean Seeding - $13.80
Next was a cold salad of bean sprouts and peanuts which I thought was so nice that I actually forgot to take a photo before diving into it. It was nice enough for me to forgive the mistranslated title.

Chef cutting up various parts of Peking Duck
After the first two cold dishes, the chef came in with our Peking Duck and began to make a show of carefully slicing the crispy skin, then the very top layer of meat followed by pieces that had a little bit of each. The only other time I had seen this done in such a meticulous fashion was at 全聚(Quanjude), Beijing -the home of the Peking Duck.

Peking duck with flour wrap, veggie wrap, 3 sauces and 3 vegetables - $68
Our hostess then gave us a lesson in the proper way of eating Peking Duck -first by eating the skin dipped in white sugar, the breast meat dipped in sweet chili or garlic soy and finally the remaining pieces wrapped in steamed pancakes with sweet bean sauce, cucumber, spring onions and turnip. This is the same order we were taught to have Peking Duck in Beijing and it was great for me to relive the memory.

Made from pumpkin, I thought the veggie wraps were a great idea although they came out from the steamer a little soggy.

House Special Roast Lamb Chops - $36.80
The presentation of the lamb chops was absolutely delightful and it was not let down by the taste. Each piece of lamb was generously dusted in cumin and was crunchy on the outside while melt in the mouth on in the inside.

Sweet and Sour Fish - $48.80
The sweet and sour fish was everybody's least favourite dish of the night. Although it looked impressive, the thinly cut pieces of fish had dried up and disappeared during the deep frying process and we ended up with sweet and sour batter.

House Special Lamb Kebabs - $24.80
A variant of the lamb chops mentioned above, this was ordered for the kiddies to snack on (not that it stopped me..). The tiny pieces of lamb were leaner than the lamb chops and had the texture of jerky.

Sichuan Boiled Beef in Fiery Sauce
Sichuan boiled beef is one of my favourite hot dishes and one we have quite often when we go out. This version had just the right amount of kick and numbness and a HEAP of garlic!

Egg Yolk Fried Pumpkin - $22.80
I was a bit surprised when a plate of chips was brought to the table (very UN-Chinese) but it had to admit that they were quite nice. Although it was another dish for the kids, I found myself loving the salty, crunchy outer and the sweet pumpkin centre.

Pork mince, cow pea stir fry wrapped in steamed pastry - $24.80
By the time our last dish came, I was full to bursting point. 

That didn't stop me from taking one anyway. The steamed buns were very fluffy and the stir fry well seasoned although the filling was quite loose and kept falling out. Needless to say, I had to have a long sit down before feeling well enough to stand up again.

Hua's is a great restaurant to visit if you want to try Chinese cuisine with a twist. The menu, although pricier than your average Chinese restaurant, has some items that are definitely worth trying out!

Hua's Restaurant
410 Khyber Pass Rd, Newmarket

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sweet New Zealand #27 Round-up

At last, I can count the remaining days of the fit24 challenge on just one hand. Like I've mentioned before, the sleep and steps were a breeze but not having sugar was absolute torture! 
It was nice to see that the rest of the blogosphere has not subjected themselves to the same challenge and have given me the pleasure of living vicariously through their entries for this month's Sweet New Zealand round-up. 

First in the roundup is from Alessandra, the lovely lady who started Sweet New Zealand, and her Vanilla Cupcakes with Italian Butter Icing. They feature on the front cover of her new book Party Food For Girls and shows us how easy they are to decorate with pretty edible flowers from her garden!

Next, we have Carmella at Easy Food Hacks, with a Caramel Cake with Sea Salt from Jordan Rondel's recipe book, The Caker. The rustic looking cake is lightly infused with mandarin and the sprinkle of sea salt on top of the caramel sauce is just genius.

Egged on by her flatmate, Bridget at After Taste made a fantastic looking Cherry Ripe Mud Cake. While Cherry Ripes aren't a favourite in my household, her picture makes me want to give it a try in cake form. We always have a few at the bottom of a Cadbury Favourites packet that I could use..

After being inspired by a picture of a layered Cheesecake/Carrot Cake on Pinterest, Alice from Alice in Bakingland created her own, easier version: Carrot Cake Cheesecake. I don't know about you, but anything with cream cheese frosting gets my tick!

Not one for super ripe bananas, Sue at Couscous and Consciousness made Caramelised Banana Bread by sauteeing still firm bananas in butter and sugar. This was a slight twist on a Donna Hay recipe and was made as part of the breakfast food theme at the I Heart Cooking Club.

Amanda at Move Love Eat decided to forgo store bought custard and make some Homemade Custard and Stewed Fruit. Considering that I'm on a no sugar month, I'm delighted that none of it appeared in Amanda's recipe for custard (she used artificial sweetener) or the stewed fruit (I guess the fruit is sweet enough by itself). She has even posted nutritional information!

Upon hearing of my sugar free month, Alessandra quickly sent me a recipe from her Only Recipes blog which featured a very vibrant Pretty Fruit Salad. With watermelon season coming up, this will be a very refreshing treat to have on a hot day.

Being able to host Sweet New Zealand this month has been a real pleasure for me. It has been so exciting to see new blogs and meet their owners through great recipes and I look forward to participating next month when I have full use of sugar again!

Thank you to everyone who participated and thank you Alessandra for introducing me to this wonderful bunch of bloggers. Next month's host is Mairi from Toast who will be looking for your November entries. See you there!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chicken and Sesame Cakes

So we're about halfway through the fit24 challenge at work and, I have to say, it's not as easy as I thought it would be. Just to recap, this is a well-being challenge my work has put out to all employees to complete the following tasks for 24 days this month:

1. At least 7 hours sleep
2. At least 10,000 steps
3. No sugar

As I expected, the sleeping was the easiest challenge for me as I rarely get less than 8 hours but was quite surprising to see that many of my co-workers struggled to get the required hours at the beginning! This challenge has forced them (well, some of them) to make small steps towards shaking the bad habit of working into the night and making sleep a priority in their lives.

Pictured: most of the ingredients
Getting 10,000 steps while working in the office was a little harder. Most of us were aware that office based jobs offer little in the way of physical activity, but never realised how inactive we were at work. 

Research shows that completing 10,000 steps a day dramatically reduces the risk of developing lifestyle illnesses such as obesity and cardiovascular disease.

During our trials with our pedometers, a group of us measured less than 3,000 steps each during work hours and I only managed 6,500 when I took an hour long site visit. On average, about 10 minutes of physical activity equates to 1,000 steps so fulfilling this challenge was great motivation to get out off our butts! I've also used this as an opportunity to explore cycle ways around Auckland with Jason.

At the office, we've been having lunches away from the office (which is a nice incentive to try new places), trialing walking meetings and using the stairs instead of the elevators. I'm also more keen to get up to change the channel instead of asking Jason to pass me the remote (yes.. I'm very lazy sometimes).

By far the hardest challenge for everyone is the sugar ban. We were given a list of foods that needed to go, which includes the obvious things like sugar, honey, desserts but also dried fruit, certain sauces and dressings, fruit juice and "low-fat" products which contain a surprising amount of sugar when you check out the nutritional information. Any item with more than 10g sugar per 100g must go.

Most people have had to rethink their workplace snacks as museli bars and chocolate biscuits are no longer viable. Instead, I have seen them replaced with mixed nuts, rice crackers and, my favourite, cheese and crackers. I've been eating mandarins and grapes when I feel like a sweet hit.

This, so far, has been working for me but I would be lying if I said I hadn't used any of the 6 cheat days we are allowed (I allow myself dessert once a week when we visit Jason's parents). One of my poor Japanese co-workers can no longer make teriyaki chicken at home because of the amount of sugar contained in the sauce :(

My favourite part about this challenge, so far, is how much great discussion it creates around the workplace. I love hearing new ways people have managed to complete their 10,000 steps and the woes of no longer being able to have dessert after dinner.

Coming at a close second, is cooking without sugar at home. This recipe is something I actually made at the beginning of this year and have only just gotten around to posting. These Chicken and Sesame Cakes make for an incredibly easy and light lunch or a very yummy party snack.

Has anyone else tried to go sugar free? What about taking on a difficult challenge?

Chicken and Sesame Cakes (makes 16 patties)


500g chicken mince
1/2 cup fresh coriander (have some extra as garnish)
2 Tbs sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 zucchini
1 red chili
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs sesame oil
1/2 Tbs white pepper (I used black pepper because I couldn't find white pepper..)
Oil for frying


1. Grate your zucchini and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Discard the liquid.
2. Put grated zucchini into a bowl with all the other ingredients and mix together with your hands. If the mixture is a too wet, add some breadcrumbs.
3. Divide the mixture into 16 balls and flatten them slightly to get a disc shape.
4. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to set the shape.
5. Heat some oil in a frying pan and add the patties, frying for about 5 minutes on each side until they are golden on the outside and completely cooked through.
6. Serve with rice and a cool salad.

Note: the mixture can be divided up into smaller balls as a party snack with sweet chili sauce for dipping