Monday, December 22, 2014

Easy Chocolate Truffles

Leaving things until the last minute is not something I enjoy doing. In fact, it stresses me out. I like to plan out my tasks for the day, jot major events in my calendar, and have weekly to do lists to tick off. 

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the organisation kicks up a notch. My Christmas shopping is done by the end of November, the tree is up by the fist week of December, and Christmas dinner is on a Gantt chart ready for the big day.

This year, however, I had no choice.

Weeks of night construction works (say, 10pm to 4am) had me dazed and confused and unable to function during the day. Luckily, that's over now, but there is never a good excuse not to bring something to a dinner party. 

This is where you need something is a guaranteed crowd pleaser and takes minimal effort to prepare -Tim Tam truffles.

With only two ingredients, it's impossible to forget the shopping list. If you have a food processor, crushing the biscuits takes no time at all. Note that I don't actually own one, so I used my mortar and pestle so it did take me a little longer..

The truffles are ready to eat as is or, to make them a little more special, you can roll them in cocoa or dip them in chocolate. They also make fantastic edible gifts.

So if you have left it to the last minute this year, there is still time to make these easy chocolate truffles! Get rolling!

Easy Chocolate Truffles
Recipe adapted from Arnotts

Truffle Ingredients:

2 packets of Tim Tam
250g tub of spreadable cream cheese

Coating Ingredients (optional):

Cocoa powder
Dark chocolate, melted
White chocolate, melted
Flake, crumbled

1. Crush Tim Tams in a food processor to make a crumb.
2. Fold in cream cheese to bind and chill the mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes.
3. Roll the mixture into truffle sized balls (I use a teaspoon) and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
4. Coat the truffles in whatever coating you would like or just eat them as they are.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Raspberry and Pistachio Meringues

Christmas is one of my favourite holidays because it's all about spending time with your family and friends. I know it sounds corny, but life really does take over some times and you suddenly realise you haven't caught up with anyone for months.

I am one of those horrible people that need special occasions as reminders. 

Being Chinese, my family didn't really do Christmas until we came to New Zealand and, even then, it was just for the benefit of us kids. We all knew that Santa wasn't real, but the excitement of having the whole extended family gathered around one table is one of my favourite memories. Now that we are all older and have our own lives, it is even more important to keep up this tradition. 

Since last year, I have inherited Christmas. This means cooking for around 20 or so friends and family with the help of my sous chef, Jason. 

This year, I am working all the way up to Christmas Eve, so we have been looking at things can be prepared ahead of time like these raspberry and pistachio meringues. The toppings give it extra oomph and texture while the red and green provide a Christmas feel. These pictures were just of my test batch and they were devoured in two days -I think they'll be a great hit for the big day!

These would also go well with a cup of tea or wrapped up as an edible gift :)

Have you had the honour of inheriting Christmas yet? Or will you get to enjoy someone else's spoils?

Raspberry and Pistachio Meringues (makes 24)
A Lucyeats Original


6 egg whites, room temperature
350g caster sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup freeze dried raspberries*
1/2 cup pistachios, shelled
Freeze dried raspberry powder to serve (optional)*


1. Preheat your oven to 110°C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
2. Place egg whites and salt in a large mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer to whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form.
3. Add the sugar, one teaspoon at a time, while the mixer is running.
4. Once all the sugar has been added, continue to mix until the mixture is thick and glossy. High, stiff peaks should form when you lift the whisk attachment.
5. Gently fold through the freeze dried raspberries
6. Spoon dollops of meringue on to your baking sheets. Each meringue should be about 2 Tablespoons.
7. Roughly crush the pistachio nuts with a mortar and pestle or with a rolling pin.
8. Sprinkle the crushed nuts and raspberry powder over the tops of the meringues.
9. Bake in the oven for one hour. Turn off the oven and leave the meringues for at least two hours. Leave them in the oven overnight if possible.

These should last up to 3 weeks in an air tight container.

*You shouldn't need to travel far for freeze dried raspberries and raspberry powder. I used the Fresh-As brand from my local supermarket.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Chinese Braised Pork Ribs and Pickled Cucumber

One of the highlights of my day is to wind down while cooking dinner. I spend my commute home trying to remember what is left in the fridge and figure how to combine them into something that is dinner worthy. Sometimes, the combinations are pretty average but, every once in a while, the stars align and the result is something worth sharing.

My Chinese Braised Pork is something I'm reasonable proud of as it wowed both Jason and our flatmate, John Dory. Because of its ability to save me a lot of time, the pressure cooker my parents gifted me is fast becoming a favourite. Unlike traditional braising methods, you don't have to wait hours for delicious, melt-in-your-mouth meat. It's a kitchen item that I would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat!

Paired with the pickled cucumber and a bowl of hot steamed rice, it is a delicious meal that won't take too much time out of your day. 

Tell me, dear reader, what is your favourite kitchen tool and what is your go-to quick dinner meal?

Chinese Braised Pork Ribs and Pickled Cucumber
A Lucyeats original


Braised Pork:

2 Tbs vegetable oil
750g thick cut short ribs
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
2 star anise
1 stick cinnamon, roughly broken up
10 whole black peppercorns
1 Tbs crushed rock sugar
1 Tbs rice vinegar
1/4 cup light soy sauce
2 cups water

Pickled Cucumber:
1 tele cucumber, sliced or diced into bite sized pieces
2 1/2 Tbs rice wine vinegar
2 Tbs water
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs sesame oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 medium sized fresh red chili


1. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker and sear the ribs on all sides. Do this in batches, if required. Remove the ribs to a separate bowl.
2. Add Shaoxing wine to de-glaze the bottom of the pot. Use a spatula to remove any bits stuck to the bottom.
3. Return the pork and add the remaining ingredients. 
4. Lock the lid to the pressure cooker and cook on high until pressure is reached.
5. Turn the heat to low and cooker for a further 20 minutes.
6. Make your pickled cucumber by combining all the pickled cucumber ingredients together and chill in the fridge while you wait for your pork to cook.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Engine Room

I sit here with the biggest grin on my face as I recount the best restaurant meal I've had in 2014. I know it's not the end of the year yet and some people might think I've jumped the gun, but I already know that no other eatery will compare.

It was my birthday and I knew Jason had something special planned. The Engine Room, located in trendy Northcote Point, is somewhere I've wanted to visit for a long time. We had heard nothing but great things about the food here and were eager to give it a try.

Lychee and Ginger Fizz - $16.00
I sipped my lychee and ginger cocktail while we looked around the room. It was still light outside and the restaurant was humming with conversation while some nondescript music played in the background.

My cocktail also had mint, kaffir lime and 42 Below Passionfruit Vodka. The result was something unbelievably fresh and it was nice to taste little bits of lychee and zingy ginger up the straw too.

While sipping on our drinks, we spent a long time staring at the wall. Not because there was a lack of conversation, but because the menu had been written there in meticulous handwriting. Our waiter tells us that Waiheke Island oysters and diamond shell clams are the specials of the night.

1/2 Dozen Waiheke Island Oysters - $24.00
Our oysters were extremely fresh and served simply with a vinaigrette and lemon wedge. Vinaigrette had a nice after taste but I preferred it just with the lemon. 

Complimentary Amuse Bouche 
While waiting for our mains, the kitchen sent out two small spoonfuls of Hapuka ceviche to further whet the appetite. The tender fish was well prepared and was complimented by a green salad. The mouthful was very fresh tasting and had great texture.

Zaatar Chook - $36.00
Not long after our amuse bouche, our mains arrived. I took a while to admire the presentation (and snap lots of photos) before starting.

The Zaatar Chook had a very light and crispy skin which crackled beneath the knife. The spice was subtle but crept up on me with each mouthful. The roasted fig and tahini mellowed out the spice and provided a nice sweetness and creaminess to the dish. Pomegranate were included in the tasty saffron pilaf and provided a nice burst of juiciness.

Pork Shoulder - $34.00
We could smell the coconut rice before it even hit the table. Although it wasn't the star of the dish, the fragrant rice was the perfect accompaniment to the pork shoulder. The tamarind sauce fully penetrated the pork and it easily fell apart on my fork and . The fresh green papaya and lemongrass salad, along with the tangy tamarind sauce balanced out the fattiness. Every bite was delightful.

All the components on my dish were finished at the same time which shows how expertly the portion size of each element was thought out.

New York Cheesecake - $16.00, Natalia's Valrhana Truffles $3.50 each
The New York Cheesecake was beautifully baked and came with a chocolate top which was soft enough so that it wouldn't be too hard to cut. It had a silky smooth centre and a very soft crumbly base. My fork glided through it effortlessly and every bite was delicious. The acidity of the strawberry and raspberry couli cut through the creaminess and brought balance to the dish.

The truffles were very decadent with a hard milk chocolate outer and silky ganache centre. It wasn't overly sweet but enough to balance out the cocoa outside. This went great with my tea and was the perfect finish to the night.

It was quite fitting that the best meal of the year was accompanied by the best service we have received. Our water was very attentive without being intrusive and did a superb job even though he was looking after half of the restaurant! This was the first time we had ever had an entire conversation about the quality of the service and the first time we had ever felt compelled to tip our server. 

By the time we left, the sun was setting. We were completely satisfied.

How will I outdo Jason for his birthday?

The Engine Room is located at 115 Queen Street, Northcote Point, Auckland, New Zealand

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mexico, Takapuna

I've often marvelled at the variety of different restaurants that are available in Auckland. There is just about every type cuisine you could possibly want in various stages of authenticity. 

There are many little family run eateries which offer dishes that remind those of their home town but often deter those who are less than adventurous. Then there are bigger chain stores that take a country's cuisine and add a more commercial twist for the masses. 

Mexico is the latter, but does it well. My sister in law, Miss J, had been nothing but complimentary about this place for a couple of months now because it allowed her to try something new -without venturing too much out of her comfort zone.

We came to Mexico, Takapuna to celebrate the end of Miss J's time at university. We weren't able to book ahead of time as we didn't have a party of ten, but we were early enough that it didn't matter.

Sangria Blanco - $26.00, Salsa roja and corn chips - $8.00
We started off with some white wine Sangria which goes down a lot smoother than your regular red wine variety. The addition of elderflower cordial was a pleasant surprise. 

I found the salsa a little disappointing (mushy) but the house made corn chips were super light and were the perfect vessel.

Burnt Avocado Guacamole and Corn Shards - $8.00
The guacamole was my favourite starter, with big chunks of creamy avocado and light taco shells. I did find the whole tomato a little strange as there was nothing to cut it with and the guac would have been fine without it.

Quesadillas - $14.00 to $15.00 (pictured, Cactus Quesadilla)
We ordered three quesadillas to share - the pulled pork special, the chicken mole and a cactus one! The pork and the chicken quesadillas were very well prepared, with tender pieces of meat and great accompanying sauces.

I was quite let down by the cactus quesadilla which tasted of the charred broccoli that it was paired with. I wouldn't recommend this unless you like the taste of burnt things in your mouth.

Clockwise from left: Fish Taco -$6.00, Pipian Chicken Taco - $6.00, Pulled Pork Taco $6.00, BBQ Pork Quesadilla - $15.00
Soft shell tacos are the only things on the menu that are designed to be single serve. The fish taco was fried in a very light, crispy yeast batter and was paired in with a crunchy salad and jalapeno mayo. 

The Pipian chicken was flavoursome but lacked the texture the other two tacos had. The cheese provided a balance to the chili.

The BBQ pork taco was nice, although a bit on the sweet side. The creamy sauce went nicely with the pork and the addition of some hot sauce made it even better.

Mexico Fried Chicken - $15.00
The Mexico Fried Chicken gets its own mention as this was the entire reason Miss J wanted everyone to come. Each piece of boneless chicken was moist while the batter was incredibly moist and light. It came with two sauces, which I could only identify as "hot" and "hotter". The only down side was that it could have done with a bit more salt.

Churros - $12.00
We ended our meal with some deliciously crunchy churros. I can't say that they were better or worse than your usual street side truck stall though. The chocolate sauce was a bit heavy and we found that the churros were actually better without it.

With its eclectic décor and relaxed atmosphere, Mexico, Takapuna is a great place to catch up with friends over some shared plates. Our servers were attentive throughout the night and kept our drinks topped up. Next time we come back, we'll have to go through their 50+ tequilas!

Mexico, Takapuna can be found at 4 The Strand, Takapuna, Auckland. There are also outlets at Britomart, Ellerslie and Ponsonby.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Crab Shack, Wellington CBD

The first thing I do when going to a different city is check out the food offerings. So naturally, I got very excited when I discovered that there was a crab shack at Wellington's Shed 5. Like, the squealy kind of excited.

Even though I was only coming down for a conference, I was determined to make a weekend of it. I was also able to convince Jason to come down with me (too easy), and we wandered down to Shed 5 together.

The Crab Shack was absolutely packed when we arrived and we were told that there would be a 1.5 hour wait. I kicked myself for not booking ahead, but wasn't deterred. We put ourselves on the second page on a very long waiting list and went off for drinks. 

Luckily, the wait didn't turn out to be quite that long and we were seated while it was still light. The interior was dressed to look like a fishing boat, with crab baskets hanging from the ceiling and mismatched decking on the walls. Every table was packed and the kitchen looked super busy. The smell of garlicky crab wafted through the air -I couldn't wait to order.

Salted Lychee Höpt Soda - $4.00
I opted for the Höpt Soda because I'm a real sucker for anything Lychee flavoured. The salt muted the sweetness you would usually get from something Lychee flavoured, but still let the fruitiness through. It had quite an interesting taste and I noted that I never got sick of the flavour because it wasn't overwhelmingly sweet.

Kiwi Clam Chowder in a Jar - $10.00
We ordered the clam chowder based on reviews and boy, was I glad we listened! It had a perfect creamy consistency and its flavour reminded me a bit of salted caramel. As it was so rich, the small jar was the perfect size for sharing between two people.

Raw Fish Board - $16.00
The raw fish trio arrived on a coriander salad and topped with fried shallots. We had four generous slices of salmon, tuna and something I didn't quite catch -cronow? crowno? (I asked the waitress to repeat it three times before I got embarrassed and pretended to understand..)

Anyway, the fish was very fresh. My favourite part about this dish was the dipping sauce - lemongrass and chili, which had a fantastic tang to it. It went very well with the tuna and the mysterious white fish but we felt that it wasn't strong enough to combat the oily salmon.

1kg Nelson Paddle Crab - $30.00
My eyes widened as our server brought our 1kg crab pot and I began to wonder if we had grossly overestimated how much we could eat. I needn't have worried, however, as the the night was still young and the crab was good.

The paddle crabs were steamed in a garlic and chili butter and were incredibly messy to eat -although that just adds to the fun, don't you think? We were given bibs and all the proper tools to help us along, but they just got in the way and we ended up using our hands and teeth which made it more satisfying.

The aftermath
When we finally worked our way through all the dishes, we agreed that it was the most satisfying meal we'd had in a good while. There is something about getting your hands messy and having to work to get at your food that makes it so rewarding. We looked around the restaurant and had a little chuckle at all the other tables who were also enjoying the challenge (we were too full to move, you see).

As you can see from the above photo, it was well after sundown when we finally left the Crab Shack. We slowly walked back to our hotel, hands on our bellies, lamenting the fact we couldn't eat any more and looking forward to our next visit.

The Crab Shack is located at Queens Wharf, Wellington CBD

Friday, October 10, 2014

Quick Lamb Stew with Even Quicker Kumara Mash

The sun was still shining bright when I arrived home the other day, so I decided to go out for a nice walk. I had made it less than 10 minutes away before the skies opened up and started pouring down. I ran home and vowed that I wouldn't step outside again for the rest of the week.

Although we are more than a week into October, you would be forgiven for thinking that it is still winter. This suits me just fine though, because it means it is still appropriate for warming stew. The only problem is that stew is something that requires a lot of time and I don't really fancy waiting 3 hours after work to eat.

This is where a pressure cooker comes in handy. My mother gifted this to me when we moved into our new home, no doubt because she knows the value of time. With this nifty tool, the cooking time is more than halved! 

This stew can be eaten on its own but the sweetness of the Kumara compliments this savoury dish. It only takes 15 minutes to make and really adds a lift.

Quick Lamb Stew with Even Quicker Kumara Mash
A Lucyeats original



300g diced stewing lamb, cut into 2cm x 2cm cubes
1 Tbs flour
1 onion
2 carrots
3 stalks of celery
1 250g can of crushed tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
350ml vegetable stock
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Kumara Mash:

1 large Kumara
1 Tbs butter
2 Tbs milk


1. Roughly chop the onion, carrots and celery
2. Lightly dust the lamb with flour and season with salt and pepper. Shake off excess
3. Put the pressure cooker (lid off, of course) on medium heat 
4. Add 2 Tbs oil and brown the lamb 
5. Add the garlic and chopped vegetables and fry for about 5 minutes
6. Add the canned tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves and vegetable stock
7. Stir everything together to mix well and bring to a boil
8. Cover and lock the lid on the pressure cooker
9. When pressure is reached, turn the heat down to low and continue cooking for 20 minutes
10. Wait for the pressure to release naturally before carefully opening the lid
11. While waiting for the pressure to release, peel and roughly dice the Kumara. Place pieces in a microwave proof bowl with a pinch of salt and cover with water
12. Place in microwave on high for 10 minutes on high or until Kumara pieces are soft enough to mash
13. Drain them and mash. Mix the butter and milk through with a wooden spoon
14. To serve, ladle the stew into bowls and sit a scoop of mashed Kumara on top

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Pok Pok

I was a bit skeptical when one of my friends suggested going to Pok Pok for their birthday lunch. I had previously visited the Thai restaurant when it first opened and left sorely disappointed. However, I was pleased to learn that, after a year, Pok Pok had really picked up its game.

The menu had been updated and the selection really seemed to be different from your average restaurant. 

Stir-fry Crispy Pork Belly with Thai Basil - $16.00
The first dish to arrive was the stir fried pork belly which was served in a delicious light soy and chili sauce. The fat had rendered nicely and melted in the mouth.

Massamun Curry with Goat - $20.00
The Massamun Curry had a nice earthy flavour to it and had obviously been cooking for so long that all the spices had penetrated into the goat and made it super tender. The shallots were sweet and the potato was floury and thickened the soup. It was a great introduction to Massamun Curry for me!

Caramelized Pork Belly - $10.00
The Caramelized Pork Belly is a sweet and sticky variation of the pork belly dish from before, served with crispy shallots and cucumber. Because of its hard sugary shell, the pork belly was a bit hard to cut into but it was totally worth the effort.

Silk Tofu - $14.00
My favourite of the dishes had to be the Silk Tofu. The smooth tofu sat in a clean, light broth of ginger, coriander, chili, soy and sesame. Everything was in perfect balance. I could have had another bowl of this. Pure bliss.

We have been here for a couple of work lunches now and Pok Pok really caters quite well to large groups, even allowing us to order ahead. I am really glad that my friend made me come back again because, otherwise, I would have missed out on a real gem.

Pok Pok is located at 261 Karangahape Rd, Auckland

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sweet and Spicy Candied Nuts

Pinterest is every lazy scrapbooker's dream. I have 273 pins ranging from craft projects, to travelling and, of course, recipes. It's a great way to explore new blogs and projects based on the things you love. However, I have a bad habit of forgetting about them and leaving my potential projects to sit.

My friend, the Pinterest Fairy, has over 1500 pins and is much better at going through with the items on her boards. 

She introduced us to these Sweet and Spicy Candied Nuts on a girls weekend where we demolished them over the course of one night. Needless to say, we were hooked.

After hearing me rave about it the next week, she gifted us a giant jar of these nuts for our housewarming -where they were again demolished by our guests. I had to make some of my own.

This recipe for Sweet and Spicy Candied Nuts is so simple to make and is a big hit.

The hardest thing is making them last.

Sweet and Spicy Candied Nuts (adapted from Citrus and Candy)


1/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
500g mixed nuts (I used macadamias, almonds and cashews)
1 egg white
1 Tbs water


1. Preheat oven to 180°C
2. Mix first 6 ingredients, making sure there are no lumps and set aside
3. Beat the egg white and water until frothy and loose. Coat the nuts evenly with the egg wash
4. Sprinkle nuts with the sugar mixture and toss to coat evenly
5. Spread the nuts on a baking tray in one single layer and bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally
6. Remove from oven and separate nuts as they cool
7. When completely cooled, break up clusters and store in an air tight jar

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Scratch Bakers, City Works Depot

Over the past few years, the City Works Depot (CWD) has seen some remarkable changes. Originally a bunch of factories, these buildings on Wellesley Street have been transformed into some of the trendiest, industrial-chic eateries in the Auckland CBD. CWD is home to Dry and Tea, the TV famous Food Truck Garage, and a range of ventures by Al Brown including Best Ugly Bagels.

This weekend, we are trying Scratch Bakers because I had heard really great things about the food. Everything in store is baked from scratch, hence the name, and the menu is quite unique. As with the other buildings in the CWD, Scratch Bakers is industrial looking with a high ceiling, concrete walls and exposed pipes. The Of Monsters and Men soundtrack was playing so I knew I was going to have a good experience.

There was a small queue when I arrived so I spent a little time oohing and aahing over the selection at the counter.

Pork Belly and Apple Cider Pie - $9.50, Carrot Juice - $7.50
Although it was a lot pricier than other cafes, my Pork Belly and Apple Cider Pie was unique enough to be worth it. The soft flaky pastry was filled to the brim with a generous amount of pork belly.  The apple cider, a perfect pairing, had completely penetrated the pork which fell apart with the slightest press of my fork. My only complaint is the wooden disposable cutlery that was offered because it made cutting the pastry very awkward.

I ordered a fresh carrot juice to accompany my pie. I'm always impressed when cafes make their own juices.

Fish Burger - $7.50
By the time Mors had arrived, there were only a few burger choices left. He went with the fish burger which had a crispy fish fillet in a tumeric batter. It was well seasoned and encased in one of Scratch's hand crafted buns.

Pork Belly and Kimchi Burger - $7.50
Pei went for a Pork Belly and Kimchi Burger which looked absolutely amazing and well put together. As with the pie, the slices of pork were very generous and all of the ingredients went right to the edge of the bun to ensure each bite is consistently delicious.

Creme Brulee Tart - $4.50
By the time we had finished our food, there was not much room for dessert so we decided to share the Creme Brulee Tart. Our server took it out the back to brulee and it came back with a perfectly crackable top.

Scratch Bakers is located at City Works Depot 90 Wellesley Street West, Auckland CBD, Auckland