Failed Stamp

I had a disappointing experience recently that very nearly put me off cooking for good. Now I know that sounds a wee bit extreme but i should explain.

I am an absolute perfectionist. Failure is not an option. And in this case, failure (on a grand scale) is exactly what happened.

Crispy pork belly with crackling is one of my favourite dishes of all time. I love the saltness and tenderness of the pork with the delicious crispy texture of crackling and topped off with a tangy apple sauce. YUM!

I’ve always wondered how easy it would be to make. There are a lot of cooking shows on Food TV that make it seem as easy as cooking toast. I was pretty confident that i could make it no problem.

Pretty quickly I discovered that there were some issues with my decision to try and make it from scratch rather than picking it up pre made from the local roast place. First of all was my dislike for touching meat. The biggest problem was that my slab of pork belly had nipples. Therefore, it became a real animal rather than just an ingredient. And thus my enthusiasm for pork belly diminished rapidly.

Secondly, was my choice of recipe. Actually to be fair, it was my absolute inability to accurately follow directions. No fault of the recipe at all. One of the issues is that I don’t own a set of scales (If you’re shaking your head at this point, i don’t blame you). So usually I just guess how much something weighs and some times I get it close and some times it’s an unmitigated disaster. This was the latter.

Now, Jamie Oliver is a very talented man. I respect the guy a lot. Especially what he’s going with Schools and encouraging healthy eating. But i implore him to write a cookbook with a title like – ‘Pork Dishes for Dummies’ or even ‘Using a Gas Oven for Imbeciles’. It’s my own fault really. I believed in my abilities far too much. But I digress…

Once I had gotten over the initial horror that my pork belly had once been a sweet and happy little ‘Babe’ character, I went about following the recipe as best I could.

If you’ve ever tried to ‘score’ pork. It’s actually not that easy. You have to actually hold the meat and then slice into it and make nice deep, but not too deep, slices into the fat. I was too grossed out by the nipples and I had to get Man of the House to do this part. You have to then rub salt into your nicely cut gouges which should be easy right? Wrong. It turns out that if your knives are even slightly too blunt then making pork belly instantly becomes an exercise in futility.

Anyway, once the pork had been gouged and salted, it went into the oven to get all puffed up and delicious. Or so it was meant to. After half an hour in a hot oven, the crackling was meant to have started puffing up and looking edible. After close to an hour it wasn’t even close. Our old work horse of a gas oven just wasn’t getting hot enough and although it was cooking the pork through, the crackling was greasy and flat. I was started to get desperate, and more importantly, very hungry and very grouchy. Man of the House decided that there was a super easy solution to this, we just chuck it upside down on a hot skillet (fry pan, if you will). He’d seen someone do it on Food TV so again – piece of cake!

For someone who isn’t confident cooking meat to begin with, a huge deviation like changing the cooking method half way through is close to going out in public in your underwear. Mostly panic followed by the instinct to run.

As it turned out, that’s exactly what I should’ve done. After about 10 minutes it became blatantly obvious that the Food TV chefs knew something we didn’t. Half of the “crackling” burnt to a crisp and the outside edges stayed chewy, fatty and uncooked.

Now I’m really cranky. So we ended up turning the heat down and cooking it as best we could until it looked somewhat edible. In the midst of all of the pork drama, I had neglected by roast vegetables in the oven which were now lumps of coal at best and turned a head of crispy bok choy into a mushy, overcooked veggie nightmare.

I can only assume that all of comments from people saying how amazing their pork belly turned out, were contestants on Master Chef.

We ate in silence. Broken only by the snorts of derision watching a program on easy pork recipes. Back to what I know best – Baking.

Kaibosh - Food rescue in Wellington

I’ve often sat back after a nice meal, totally satisfied that I am full to the brim and could not possibly fit in one more bite, and thought to myself – What happens to all of the food that gets made that isn’t purchased?

It was always depressing to consider a kitchen full of unwanted delights being thrown out unceremoniously into a landfill and the hungry mouths who would be grateful to claim any of it.

Well apparently i’m not the only one who feels this way. Thank goodness for Kaibosh.

Kaibosh are a Wellington based organisation dedicated to rescuing food that would otherwise spend the rest of it’s existence degrading in a rubbish pile.

We’re just not talking about mouldy old prunes here either. Kaibosh rescue surplus food from retailers which is good enough to eat but not good enough to sell and they resdistribute it to charities working with people who need it.

So far, in 2011 alone, these fine people have rescued 3.6 tonnes of food for redistribution. To put that into some sort of perspective, that’s the equivalent of 21,176 pies! Not bad at all.

According to the Ministry for the Environment in New Zealand, the average person throws out 70kg of edible food every year. A truly terrifying figure.

Not only is this completely shameful when you consider the population of the world who don’t have enough to eat, but also consider that food waste thrown into landfill also contributes to the increase in destructive greenhouse gases.

Now i know this is beginning to sound more and more like a preachy, ‘Save the World’ message here but really, what a waste! There are several things that people at home can do to reduce the amount of food waste are here are some helpful resources:

If you’re a business and you want your surplus food to go to a good home, get in touch with the awesome people at Kaibosh at foodrescue@kaibosh.org.nz. They can even come and collect it from you, because they’re just that good.

My challenge to you out there is a small one. Next time you open your fridge door, spend 30 seconds looking inside. Rather than wait until your creamy Greek yoghurt has a decidedly green tinge, think about how you can use it today. See? Easy.

Miniature Food - Paris Brest

Image by PetitPlat Food Art - Stephanie Kilgast via Flickr

The first sign that you have fallen in love with pastry is when it takes you four hours to finish and then the next day it’s all you can think about.

Let me be clear though, this was no ordinary pastry. I don’t fall in love with pastry on a whim. I’ve had a few pastries in my time and i’m not fickle enough to fall in love with each one.

This particular pastry had me add hello.

A large base of choux pastry with a creamy delectable custard filling, chocolate shrapnel baked into the pastry, a moreish meringue topping decorated with slivered almonds and dusted in icing sugar.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Probably because it was only yesterday.

The Bordeaux Bakery in Wellington call it a Royale but the closest i could find on Google was the Paris Brest. I’m not entirely sure it is the same thing but after at least an hour of searching it was as close as i was gonna get.

A very brief history thanks to the Travel Provocateur explains that “This wheel-shaped dessert is named after a bicycle race from Paris to the port of Brest and back. Durand’s maison was on the cyclists’ route, and in 1910, a delicate pastry wheel was born.”

If i was a little more confident in my baking prowess i would attempt to make this pastry mountain of awesomeness. Seeing as of late my baking has been less than impressive (some very sad wee Belgian Biscuits that i don’t want to talk about), i’m going to post an incredible recipe by pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis in the hope that someone makes it and tells me how easy it is…

Cocoa Paris-Brest
Ingredients

Vanilla Pastry Cream

– 7 ounces/200 grams whole milk

– 3 ounces/90 grams heavy cream

– 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

– 2 large egg yolks

– 2 ounces/60 grams granulated sugar

– 2 tablespoons/15 grams cornstarch

– 1 sheet gelatin, previously bloomed in cold water

– 0.5 ounce/15 grams unsalted butter

Cocoa Pate À Choux

– 6 ounces/180 grams water

– 4 ounces/120 grams whole milk

– 4 ounces/120 grams unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

– 1 ounce/30 grams sweetened condensed milk

– ½ teaspoon/2 grams fine sea salt

– 4.5 ounces/140 grams all purpose flour

– 0.5 ounce/15 grams cocoa powder

– 4 large eggs

Cocoa Paris-Brest

– Cocoa Pate À Choux

– 1 egg, for egg wash

– Water, as needed

– Sliced almonds, as needed

– 8 ounces/240 grams Vanilla Pastry Cream

– 4 ounces/120 grams unsalted butter, softened

– 3 ounces/90 grams hazelnut praline paste

– Confectioner’s sugar, as needed

Directions

Vanilla Pastry Cream

1) Place milk, cream, and vanilla in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.

2) Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and corn starch.

3) Remove the milk form heat and carefully whisk in to the egg yolk mixture.

4) Return to the pan and to medium heat, stirring constantly, just until combined mixture begins to boil.

5) Remove from heat.

6) Stir in the gelatin and transfer the mixture to a shallow bowl, discarding the vanilla pod.

7) Allow to cool and then stir in the butter until incorporated.

8) Store tightly wrapped, under refrigeration.

Cocoa Pate À Choux

1) Place water, milk, butter, and salt into saucepan and bring to a full rolling boil.

2) Add the flour and cocoa all at once to the boiling mixture.

3) Stir with wooden spoon or heatproof spatula until a smooth mass forms.

4) Keep cooking and stirring it around over moderate heat to dry out the dough as much as possible, about 2 to 3 minutes.

5) Transfer dough to mixing bowl. With the paddle attachment, beat at medium speed to release steam and cool a bit for one minute.

6) At low speed, beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated between additions.

7) The dough should look smooth and glossy.

Cocoa Paris-Brest

1) Transfer cocoa pate à choux dough to a pastry bag with a plain tip and pipe out as desired.

2) Beat one egg yolk with 1 ounce water to make an egg wash.

3) Liberally sprinkle the sliced almonds over each puff.

4) Place in pre-heated 400 degree F oven for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 300 degree F to continue baking for about 20 minutes more, until the interior of each puff has begun to dry.

5) Meanwhile, combine butter and praline paste in a mixer bowl and whip until thoroughly combined. Slowly add pastry cream.

6) Briefly chill the mixture while the choux puffs cool.

7) Split each choux puff in half; place the praline mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a small star tip.

8) Pipe a ring of the filling onto the bottom of each puff and gently replace the top.

9) Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Coffee bean on transparent background. Better ...

Image via Wikipedia

All coffee is created equal.

Actually, to be fair the original statement was “All men are created equal”.

There is a hot debate in some circles about whether it’s the coffee beans which are either good or bad or whether it’s the barista who decides whether your coffee is going to taste like boiled mud or a cup of heaven.

Not being a coffee bean analyst, i can’t say if either are true. But i know a good coffee when i taste one and Sir Breadwins in Wellington make a GOOD coffee.

To be honest with you, if it wasn’t for the smooth, delicious coffee their barely-out-of-high-school barista makes, Sir Breadwins would probably be the type of place i would avoid like a bad cold.

The small boutique coffee bar is located down the nearly forgotten end of Lambton Quay in Wellington where you don’t usually go unless you have a specific reason to be there. Oddly, they’re right next door to a fish market. Thankfully the waft of fresh coffee beans and baking overpowers any potential fishy odours.

A narrow little venue which has to be called a coffee bar rather than a cafe. It doesn’t have any tables where you can leisurely drink your smooth rich soy flat white at your own pace, but rather some factory ready bar leaners for you to prop yourself up at while you patiently await your turn.

Service can be a bit hit and miss. Given that Sir Breadwins is too cool for School (it’s packed out almost all hours it’s open), the staff serving see no point in disrupting their day with any semblance of friendliness. In fact, if anyone says a word to you, consider it a rarity as you would if you saw a snow leopard on a moped.

But the coffee…. Oooh the coffee.

I’m always reluctant to try new coffee places. I have my absolute favourites in Wellington such as Aporo Cafe and Mojo on Kumutoto so i see no need in upsetting the balance by trying somewhere new with the high chance the coffee is going to be below my ridiculous standards.

Thankfully, on the morning i was in dire need of a caffeine injection (Straight up. Hold the cup) Sir Breadwins did not disappoint. Despite the patchy welcome and the hoards of people, the end result was a strong, smooth, refreshing and invigorating cuppa joe made with Havana coffee beans.

To top it off, they have a generous selection of sweet and savoury baking (personal fave – bran and banana muffin. Weird aye). They also custom make their sandwiches to the eaters request, have a warm food cabinet which includes particularly tasty chicken pies, and they offer a selection of cold drinks, fruit and miscellaneous food items like lolly bags.

Not bad from a little place with no room to swing a hedgehog.

I would go back – and i have been. Not for the service. Not for the crowds. Not even for the tasty bran and banana muffins. But for the consistently fantastic cup of coffee that gives me an instant reminder that the day is going to be a good one.

The one thing that always makes me fall in love with my country – New Zealand – is the support and love we give each other in times of crisis.

Strangers come together, families reunite, people we have only just met become our closest friends, and the degrees of separation become even smaller.

Last week New Zealand was shattered by the Christchurch earthquake which is set to become our little country’s worst natural disaster. Christchurch was already pummelled by the September 4th 2010 earthquake which miraculously saw no one killed. Unfortunately this time we have not been so lucky. The news items are horrific, the newspapers are full of stories of suffering, loss, and unbelievably, scum of the earth who have been stealing emergeny generators, looting and burglarising.

This aside, the amount of people desperate to offer some form of help is astounding. Charities are asking people to stop donating goods as they’re overwhelmed. NZ Blood has stopped accepting donations because of the incredible response. Aid organisations are asking people to donate money and people are listening in huge numbers.

People don’t want to feel helpless, to feel like there is nothing we can do. So a number of amazing groups of people are coming up with some of their own ideas and here are some of them:

Christchurch Baking Army: At the time of writing this, the Christchurch Baking Army had baked and delivered an incredible 4,060 baked goodies for distribution to the people of Christchurch.

Great Palmy Bake Off: People all around the country are getting their bake on to raise funds for the Red Cross Earthquake Appeal. Love thy neighbour has never had more meaning!

Get Your Bake On: The awesome people at Delish Cupcakes have organised a bake sale in Auckland for the 5th March. So far more than 300 people on Facebook are attending.

The Great Sunday Bake Off: These creative cats from Wellington launched a flurry of baking activity by organising to drive to Christchurch with a truck loaded of donated baked goods. One of the comments which made me melt like chocolate icing reads: “there was just so many people handing in icecream containers of cookies, men in business suits carrying chocolate cakes, little kids in school uniform with biscuits, etc etc, it makes my heart strong to see the love for fellow beings in need” – too right.

The Great Sunday Bake Off

Other non baking fund raisers and group include:

Water for Christchurch: With water supplies cut to a huge percentage of households and the water available not safe for drinking, George FM encouraged people to drop off bottled water to take down to Chch.

Softies for the Children of Christchurch: This super sweet lady has come up with a way to show her support by banding together with a bunch of like minded individuals to knit, sew and crochet toys for little nippers affected by the earthquake.

Softies for Christchurch

Help Christchurch stay in touch: Even big business is getting involved. Telecom is asking people to donate old analogue telephones that don’t need power to operate.

The point to all this is that wherever you are and whatever your situation, there IS something you can do. Kiwi ingenuity and togetherness prevails and above all, so does the human spirit of wanting to help those in need.

Although our hearts are heavy for the people in Christchurch, we can be comforted knowing what an amazing country we live in and knowing that we’ll all get through this. Kia Kaha Christchurch.

So now I know that 5 cupcakes in one day is my limit. This is a good thing to know. How did I come to this conclusion you ask? Well let me explain…

I had intended to make a Cookies n Cream Cake because it combines two of my greatest loves in life – cookies and cake – when i stumbled upon a little gem of a recipe which made my heart flutter a wee bit:

Cookies n Cream Cupcakes! – More specifically, Oreo Cupcakes!

I have Annie’s Eats to thank for my dream cupcake. Not only was it one of the only recipes that didn’t include yogurt in the batter, but the recipe used about 3 times the cookies of other recipes.

Although the recipe called for about 40 cookies, I had eaten quite a few of them by the time I started baking so had about half that, which roughly works out to a pack and a half of Oreos.

I also didn’t use the frosting in the recipe… Because I had used up (see: eaten) all the Oreos. Instead I found this nifty little frosting recipe that goes perfect with these cupcakes. It also uses sour cream which i thought was a bit different and added a little bit of tartness to an otherwise extremely sweet cupcake (not that i’m complaining).

inside cookies n cream cupcake

Ultimately I was pretty happy with these cupcakes. My only minor complaint (and no doubt this is my baking prowess rather than the recipe) is that they seem a teeny bit dry. If anyone bakes these and finds the same thing, let me know. Otherwise I will assume it’s me.

Regardless, I still ate 5 of them… in one morning… one after the other.

I had to give at least 10 of them away because I feared the repercussions of eating 24 cupcakes all by myself.

So now i’ve found a recipe for Champagne Cupcakes which look absolutely amazing. I have to try it out… I can hear the recipe calling me… Watch this space.

I impressed myself the other day by making what can only be described as THE best muesli/granola Earth has ever seen.

This might seem a tad presumptuous and i’m sure there are plenty of delicious muesli and granola recipes but I am telling you, this was goooood.

Bakesaurus Uber Delicious Museli Recipe

  • handful of shredded coconut – about half to a cup
  • as many cashews as you like – I use about 3/4 cup
  • 4 cups of oats (I use organic but you don’t have to be fussy)
  • 1 cup of dates chopped into quarters
  • 1/2 cup of slivered almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1/3 cup of tightly packed brown sugar – half a cup is ok too
  • 1/3 cup of apricots chopped into quarters
  • At least 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of white sugar
  • 1/2 cup of honey
  • 4 teaspoons of vanilla essence

Heat your oven to 150 degrees celsius (300 degrees fahrenheit). Prepare a large baking tray with non-stick baking paper.

Mix together the oats, coconut, almonds, sea salt, cinnamon, brown sugar, dates, apricots and cashews in a big bowl.

In a saucepan, combine the honey, oil and white sugar and heat until simmering. Be careful with this because the ingredients swell (kinda like when you make hokey pokey). Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients. When it has cooled a little (just enough so you don’t burn yourself!) mix together all the ingredients with your hands to cover all the dry ingredients with the liquid.

Spread the mixture out on the baking sheet. Spread this as evenly as you can, unless you like your muesli a bit chunky which is also delicious in my opinion.

Bake until golden brown or about 25-30 minutes, stirring regularly (you’ll smell it and instantly KNOW it’s ready). A word of warning – if you’re using a gas oven this tends to be ready after about 20 minutes.

The muesli will be HOT, HOT, HOT when you take it out of the oven so don’t do what I did and pop some in your mouth straight away (it’s hard to resist…). Transfer the muesli to a rack and let it cool completely. Once the muesli is cool transfer it to a airtight jar and munch away!

This is delicious with greek yoghurt or as a crumble over stewed fruit. Or just do what I do and eat it by the handfuls!

Now i’m off to try and make the Best Cookies n Cream Cake Ever Made… Wish me luck!