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So it was one of those random afternoons when the holiday season festivities and dust was settling down, mum and I went shopping for a birthday gift for my nephew “I”. So famished from all that window shopping in between we just had to stopover at our local café  Muffin Break to enjoy a cup of Joe.

To my surprise our flat whites were served in these festive takeaway cups which I just had to comment on. I wanted to share how awesome it is when corporates embody the spirit of Christmas or any other Holidays for that matter. It certainly brightened up my evening.

As a former marketeer I have got to say I loved your Holiday message and fun Crossword on your takeaway cups Muffin Break. Such an awesome idea!!!

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imageRam and I have been clearing out the pantry and using up items rarely used. And one of them being couscous. My experience with couscous is quite limited. I bought it with the hope of doing some salads or dishes but never got around to it. But every time I think of couscous I still recall the couscous soaked in ragout which I had in “Ragu” which was sublime.

I first scoured the internet for ragout recipes but I didn’t have ingredients for most of them. I lost my patience and said you know what I am just going to let my creativity out loose.

It was so yummy I just had to write this down. And fairly healthy too. Come on what can beat that! Flavours and healthy food in the same sentence, how often does one hear that!

Ingredients:

2-3 red onions chopped long
1 head of garlic
2 tsp chilli flakes
4 tomatoes roughly chopped
2-3 tsp of capers
1/4 pumpkin chopped into small cubes
1-2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 pinch of nutmeg powder
1 tsp of cumin powder
1 tbsp of honey/ 1 tbsp of brown sugar
4 cups of stock
Salt to taste
2 tbsp olive oil

For the couscous:
2 cups couscous
2.5 cups hot stock

Method:
Heat olive oil in the pan. Throw in the chilli flakes, garlic and onion and sweat it down until it starts to brown. Add your cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin and salt. Then throw in your capers and tomatoes. Let the tomatoes shrink in the heat and then add your pumpkin and give it a good old toss. After a couple of minutes or so, add your sugar/honey and then pour in your stock. Close with a lid, turn down the heat to medium and let the mixture stew nicely for a good 30-40 minutes with the occasional stir.

This is the same concept as tagine. When something is cooked with a closed lid the flavours expand exponentially. The ragout takes on the vapours, aromas, its own juices heightening the flavour to extents unimaginable. The explosion of flavours is something undeniable even for a fussy eater.

When that’s stewing on, add 2 cups of couscous to a saucepan/bowl. Add the 2.5 cups of stock. Use cling wrap to close the couscous and let it sit for 5 minutes. After this time, remove cling warp, using a fork fluff out the couscous. Just be mindful different couscous have different cooking instructions. So cook the couscous according to your packet instructions.

When serving, portion out some couscous in a pasta bowl. Ladle out that gorgeous ragout and here comes yet another surprise. Some of my avocados were starting to ripen, so for garnish I just shaved off the avos on top and the creaminess of avocados just worked. I don’t know how, somehow everything gelled and made sense. Were it not for remembering portion control I would have gone back for seconds or thirds.

What better way to end your Sunday than a hearty home cooked meal that takes your taste buds around the world.

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It’s forever been my dream to make pasta from scratch. The colours and flavours of Italian cooking has always been fascinating for me. Seeing a pasta maker on display on a window shopping trip was all the impetus I needed to delve into pasta making. After coming across an interesting recipe for a lemony gnocchi on Pinterest which by the way is my latest vice, I thought it would go very well and would be an apt choice as it was a far cry from your usual Italian staples of tomato and basil.

And with previous knowledge of gnocchi being one of the tough pastas I set about gathering the ingredients to make this much adored pasta.

Gnocchi is a kind of pasta that resembles the shape of pudgy soft dumplings each probably the size of a walnut. Now I normally go through a gazillion recipes before settling on one which I think I can trust. But today I pulled the first recipe that came up on google. Fortunately for me it was a family handed down recipe, tried, tested and perfected. What more could a novice ask for! The only thing missing was an Italian nonna talking non stop in my ear correcting me.

And thanks to Marie’s tutorial I found making gnocchi was less daunting and a real pleasure. The gnocchi turned out light and fluffy and melt in mouth yummy. It’s one of those pastas that can easily go wrong but if you followed the tutorial to the last word I don’t see how you could go wrong!

For the gnocchi recipe I highly recommend the below link.
http://foodnouveau.com/2010/10/destinations/europe/italy/how-to-make-gnocchi-an-illustrated-step-by-step-recipe/#

Sky is the limit in terms of creativity for flavour combinations for the sauce. The other recipe I was talking about earlier called for lemon juice, garlic and Parmesan. I tweaked it a bit to improvise.

Sauce ingredients:
Juice of half a lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
3 – 4 cloves of garlic pushed through a garlic press
10 – 12 sage leaves
1/2 cup white wine of your choice
Butter/Olive oil 1 tbsp

Heat butter or oil in a saucepan. Add garlic and cook till fragrant and light golden brown. Throw in your sage leaves, lemon zest, lemon juice and white wine. Cook for a couple of minutes until the alcohol evaporates.

To serve:
Once your gnocchi is cooked as per the tutorial above toss it in your sauce and serve in individual pasta bowls, garnish with grated Parmesan and a sage leaf to finish. Buon appetito!

Verdict??? Hey man that’s easy. It was “molto deliziosa”.

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Okay here is the most mouth-watering, king of all fries that was tried and tested. The fries just melted in a close your eyes and sigh kind of way. Yes it was that yummy. And that roasted garlic dip took it to unimaginable heights.

Simple and easy to prep, it’s for those long for something different yet comforting side order made in the comfort of your own home.

For the avocado fries –

Ingredients:
1 avocado
1 egg
2 tbsp flour
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
Grated Parmesan
Salt & Pepper for seasoning
Sunflower/ vegetable oil

Method:

Mix bread crumbs, Parmesan, Salt and Pepper. Wet a finger in water and dip it into the bread mixture and taste check for seasoning.

2 plates set aside, one with flour and the other for the above bread crumbs. Plus a shallow bowl with the whisked egg which will be used for binding.

Cut avocados into long chunks. It’s better if isn’t ripe.

Take avocado, coat it with flour, dip it in egg and into the bread crumb mixture. Get your oil going in the stove. And fry ’em up. Drain on paper towels.

For the spicy roast garlic dip –

Ingredients:
1 tbsp butter
2-4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
Sour cream
Chilli paste (I just ground up some red chillies with water in a mortar and pestle)
A few drops of lemon juice

Roast garlic in butter until light golden brown and crispy. Then simply mix up all ingredients adjusting heat and acid to your taste. And voila your dip is ready.

So what are you waiting for just dip that fried green heaven and dip away and enjoy!

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Masala @ Mission Bay, Auckland

Mazedar is the Hindi word for ‘delicious’. And I am using this word to describe the delicious food we had at the restaurant ‘Masala’ in Mission Bay, Auckland.

We went for dinner last night to Masala, courtesy my in-laws. Always meant to test drive this place, but never got around to it. We decided to book a reservation in advance for a table with a view of the beach and of course in anticipation of the new year rush.

We were ushered to our table. Because we had read some past reviews about the delays in getting food served, we decided to order our entrée and main together and request them to bring it in stages. Ram and his father decided to sample the “Jaipur beer” which I am told was really good while his mom and I decided not to have any drinks.

For entrée we decided to go for onion bhaji and paneer tikka. I must say we were quite impressed with the onion bhaji. The paneer tikka’s masala could have been better. But they came out in the most gorgeous glass platter served with a mint chutney and yogurt mint chutney and the bhajia were served in a cute metal spiral stand accompanied by a tamarind sauce. Sometimes I think some restaurants let you down in terms of ambience and their choice of cutlery. But Masala appear to have made some wise choices and geared with a well stocked bar to their credit.

For the mains, we decided to try malai kofta, veg korma and veg jalfrazie. They were served with a complimentary accompaniment of rice. For the naans, we chose cheese, butter and a peshawari naan.

The malai kofta gravy was beautiful, but I wasn’t so happy with the texture of the koftas. They were rolled way too firmly for my liking. The veg korma was definitely passable, no wow factor there. And the jalfrazie was yummy. The colour and the flavours were quite different and rated the second best in mains. Another thing that impressed me was that most Indian restaurants especially abroad rip people off by using the same gravy base for all mains and just switch up the vegetables or meats. But you could actually taste the difference in each of these gravies. So good on you Masala for that.

Breads, now here’s something tricky. Cheese naan, well Ram was expecting a gooey cheesy naan, but to his surprise what they meant to serve was a paneer/cottage cheese naan. They should probably make that clearer on their menu. Butter naan was nice, light and fluffy. The peshawari naan again not so wow. Mixed nuts ground with raisins and coconut was definitely not what I was expecting. Maybe it’s probably that I have had better food back home and I am judging their food against those authentic greats!

Finally for dessert, one of the servers suggested that we try their newest addition on their menu the Malai kulfi. So to add variety to the fare we chose Malai kulfi, Mango kulfi and bread & butter pudding with kahlua liqueur. Verdict was Malai kulfi was the best and was as good as the servers promise. Mango kulfi was pretty average, the bread and butter pudding well not too shabby either.

Serving times were fairly quick for entrée and mains. There was a fair bit of delay for desserts but that can easily be justified after seeing the amount of effort that went on the presentation.

Service was very good. But for the fact that we had to call the hostess to come take our orders at the beginning, the rest of the service went down well, with the servers clearing up tables after each course and engaging in pleasantries, checking on our comfort, wiping down the table which we found a bit sticky, all done with a smile.

Before I forget pricing was very reasonable especially considering the suburb. And ambiance was surprisingly good as well. There is good scope to take things up a notch, but it’s up to them to build their brand to enter that league.

So overall I rate Masala with a ‘mazedar’ 3.75 stars on 5.

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I can’t believe 2012 has flown already. But I have no regrets. It was another year well spent reviving old friendships, celebrating new ones, changing jobs and paying off some of those damned loans.

Thank you 2012 for making us a bit wiser with me being living evidence with the sprouting of more greys hehehe…!It was a merry blast with many learnings and experiences. And guess what the much raved about “Apocalypse” didn’t happen. Yet another reason reminding us to celebrate life in the now.

And it would only be fair to make merry with some of the things we love most. Our four pawed son. Our people. Our food. And so us Ramkumars signed off 2012 with a 5 course spread as a wonderful thank you to 2012 with many more happy ones to come.

The menu was fantabulous with Avocado fries with roasted garlic spicy dip, French onion soup served with French stick & gruyere cheese, Cabbage Rosti, Lemon rocket risotto with roasted hazelnuts and ricotta and for dessert my most favourite part of the meal, the much lazy but super yummy homemade Tiramisu. Of course recipes will follow.

Avocado fries with Roasted garlic spicy dip

Avocado fries with Roasted garlic spicy dip


French onion soup served with French stick & gruyere cheese

French onion soup served with French stick & gruyere cheese


Cabbage Rosti

Cabbage Rosti


Lemon rocket risotto with roasted hazelnuts & ricotta

Lemon rocket risotto with roasted hazelnuts & ricotta


Tiramisu

Tiramisu


Review – Absolutely delightful!

After much indulgence we went to watch the fireworks display over the Sky tower. Surprisingly this year it went on for a good 5 minutes. So thank you to all those pyro tech greats who make everyone’s new year special.

With that I wish each one of you a fantastic New Year 2013 and that 2013 brings you Good Health, Cheer & Happiness.

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Heaven in bite size

It’s small, its pretty, it’s colourful, it makes you sigh, and it is ‘bite size’. A gold star to you if you answered ‘Cupcakes’.

Cupcakes

I have always been fascinated by these small delicate looking cakes that come in its plethora of colours, designs and decoration.  And me being me wanted to make it. And what better time than the holiday season to do some baking.

You will find a couple of pics of my very first attempt at baking these mouthfuls of heaven, and I request that you don’t be harsh in your criticism, after all I am a self-confessed juvenile when it comes to baking. Again it was Sir Thomas Edmonds cookbook to the rescue.

I chose not to use those cupcake covers as the ones I baked were using the smaller patty tins as against the regular muffin ones. Either way the charm of the cupcakes weren’t lost.

The recipe for the cupcake itself was spot on, measures were perfect and turned out close to impeccable. Icing well, that’s another story. I ended up making my own measures and failed miserably. So I had to keep adjusting until the icing held together. I had blue, green and pink food colours to use. I first made White Icing and split it in four different cups. And I have again strayed from the ordinary, I mixed pink and blue for the lilac icing, and pink, green and blue for the burgundy icing. Green and Pale blue were from just one drop of the respective colours used in the icing. And as an instrument for distraction from the imperfections of my cupcakes and of course to make it a lot more prettier I used Cachous (aka) Sugar pearls in the centre which I find quite elegant in baked goodies.

Verdict of taste check? Well that’s easy enough. Yum Yum Yummy!!!

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Cool bananas……

Banana cake with chocolate icingApart from “Cool Bananas” being a kiwi slang meaning “Awesome”, there is yet another thing that is ‘awesome and renowned,’ and that is the good old Kiwi favourite – Banana Cake (aka) Banana Loaf / Bread.

Mind you I have tried the odd banana cake here and there which weren’t great from few local bakeries and some of them prepared by others which left me pitying their futile attempts at besting a traditional entity.

Finding a good tasting banana cake was just about forgotten when along came a banana cake in its most simple form, without icing or cream, in a good old lunch box. My colleague offered it to me which I sampled and it was love at first bite and I felt compelled enough to ask for the recipe so I could trial it. My colleague who in her offhand casual manner said … ‘Hmmm, it’s just the Edmonds recipe that almost everyone follows’. She said she just whipped it up last night because the bananas were going off and she didn’t want it to go to waste.

And wind to flashback, there I was imagining me making ‘hard to swallow’ and ‘Ugh’ faces of the number of times I had to force myself to finish over ripe bananas to just keep it from going to waste. But voila…here was a simple sensible idea to make use of the bananas before they become worm food. And I have it on good authority that the blacker the banana skin the better your cake’s going to turn out.

So here was my first day of leave in yonks, I pulled out my never-before-used Edmonds book and located the recipe for Banana Cake. I am not a huge fan of chocolate icing on the banana cake, but chose to do with this icing to indulge my chocolate loving (choc-crazy) Mother in law 😀

Ingredients:
 
For the cake – 
125 gms softened butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups mashed ripe bananas (3-4 bananas)
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp hot milk
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
 
Method:

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Add mashed banana and mix thoroughly. Stir baking soda into hot milk and add to the banana mixture. Sift baking powder and flour into the mix and fold. Grease a 20 cm round cake tin or loaf tin and bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 50 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Leave in tin for 10 minutes before turning it on to a wire rack. When cold, ice with Lemon or Chocolate icing or dust with icing sugar.

For the icing –

1 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp cocoa 
2 tsp softened butter
Few drops of Vanilla essence
1 tbsp boiling water
 
Method:

Sift icing sugar and cocoa in a bowl. Add soft butter and a few drops of vanilla essence. Pour in boiling water and beat well. Spread immediately and leave it to set.

If you looked at the above list and thought it was too much trouble, don’t be….it looks laborious but its anything but. Whip it all together and you have a star!

Okay, that’s me over and out, time to go bananas………!

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imageFrom my previous posts you may have noticed my love affair with middle eastern food. This time round yet another sweet delight caught my eye while watching one of my favourite TV Shows – World Kitchen presented by Nici Wickes.

The very presentation of this dessert being baked to a perfect golden crunch and the glossy syrup on the pastry was just too hard to resist, that watching it on TV alone was not enough. And so yes I just had to make it.

I normally play it safe when entertaining people at home. But this time I felt a bit too brash and felt like taking a bit of a risk. It was received with gusto and much appreciation. So much so that my friend asked me to make it for her thanksgiving dinner and I also made it on the occasion of my farewell send off at work this week as a special thank you to you my work mates.

Handling filo is normally a challenge, but this is probably one of the most easily prepared sweet treats. So don’t be daunted and feel adventurous. And the effort is so worth it and you’ll experience bliss in every mouthful. And the Orange Blossom water is unlike any other ingredient I have ever used in cooking. It’s by far the most exotic  ingredient I have used in cooking and the outcome is every bit so.

Here’s the recipe for M’hancha, a sweet treat all the way from the culinary haven of Morocco.

Ingredients:

Almond Filling
2 cups ground almonds
1 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons orange blossom or rose-water
3 tablespoons butter, melted
For the pastry
 
13 sheets filo pastry
3 tablespoons butter, meltedHoney Syrup
½ cup honey
Zest from one orange
1 tablespoons orange blossom
¼ cup slithered almonds
 

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Place a baking paper in a circular pie plate or baking dish.

In a  bowl combine the almond filling ingredients and mix well to form a smooth firm paste. Divide the filling into 4 portions, each portion pinched in the form of a log  so this can be placed along the edge of the filo pastry.

Take one sheet of filo and brush with butter, then layer another 2 sheets on top, buttering between each. Keep the remaining filo covered with a damp tea towel so that it doesn’t dry out.

Place one of the almond logs across the long edge of the filo layers and roll up loosely. Repeat the process so that you have total of 4 pastry logs. Leave a spare sheet of filo to patch up any cracks.

Place one log on the baking tray, seam-side down, and carefully curl into a spiral, pinching the centre end closed. Join the next log onto the end and continue to coil, then add the remaining two logs and spiral until you have a large coiled pie! Patch up any cracks with the spare pastry and give the whole pie a final brush with butter.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and crispy. Meanwhile, heat the syrup ingredients in a saucepan. Remove the pastry snake from the oven. Brush or drizzle with honey syrup, and then scatter with almonds.

Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.

imageWhen serving  I coupled it with some ‘Deep South’ French Vanilla ice cream which was super yummy. The warm sweetness of the pastry with the cold ice cream was both sunshine and snow on a single plate. Ultimate heaven!

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End of Summer Succotash

This is a recipe I love making. Quick and easy!!! And a great shared lunch/Bring a Plate idea, healthy and yummy.

MODERNATION

While I love Fall and am looking forward to the crisp weather, there is no need to say goodbye to the wonderful summer produce quite yet. I will miss fresh corn (does anyone else think that corn was especially delicious this summer?) and dark red, juicy tomatoes. To enjoy the summer vegetables one last time in all their glory, make this summer succotash. You can use it in so many ways. I served it with whole wheat pasta at room temperature with a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese.  YUM! You can also top it with grilled fish or chicken, or just eat it as a side dish or meal all it’s own.

End of Summer Succotash
2 medium zucchini, diced
3 roma tomatoes, diced
3 ears corn, corn removed from cob
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon salt and pepper
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400…

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