Thursday, April 23, 2015

Open Streets + Japan Day 2015

Auckland was definitely feeling vibrant last weekend, with two events side by side downtown: the Open Streets initiative organised by Auckland Transport saw part of Quay Street closed to traffic (well, one side of the road anyway), and Japan Day brought the crowds to the Queens Wharf area, between The Cloud and Shed 10.

Neither event would have been as good on its own, and while both could be improved (closing off more of the road and having more food stalls would help), we still enjoyed the atmosphere.

Open Streets

I didn't take too many photos of the Open Streets activities (this is a food blog after all), but it was great to see the little kids on their bikes on the road. There was plenty of entertainment too, from clowns to accordion players, to games and rollerskating, to stunt riders on BMX bikes, to a samba band performance.

A fireman's bike was displayed at one exhibit.

Japan Day

We were mainly checking out the food for Japan Day, but inadvertently came across aikido, kendo and some dance and music performances as well. Some attendees definitely made more of an effort, with kimonos and cosplay in evidence.

A busy stall near the ferry building.

There were far more people than the stalls could handle, with queues of an hour. Some things were sold out by the early afternoon, and even the Taiwanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and non-Asian stalls were full of hungry people.

Although we only dashed around quickly (as much as the crowds would allow), we still saw some things that looked interesting. For instance, there was a demonstration of how to make mochi.

Making mochi.

You could buy freshly cooked cakey things like dorayaki and baby castella.

Making baby castella.

For those after more savoury street foods, you could buy dango (marinated rice balls on a stick), yakitori skewers, and marinated cucumbers.

Marinated cucumbers.

We filled ourselves up on teppanyaki fried noodles, but there were plenty of other Japanese foods to eat, including takoyaki, okonomiyaki and udon.

Fried noodles from one of a number of stalls.

There were some beautiful pastries for sale, as well as green tea ice cream, black sesame pudding, banana rolls, and (as I discovered later) crepe cones.

Next time, we would make sure to arrive early, so the queues are hopefully shorter!

Fish-shaped wind socks.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Incredible Edibles and More @ Kings Plant Barn

We went to Kings Plant Barn in Saint Lukes last weekend, and I was amazed by the diversity of edible plants you could buy from there. I expected maybe herbs and different varieties of things you can find at the supermarket, like lemons, tomatoes, feijoas and even figs and passionfruit, but there were plenty of other exciting plants too, including ones I would never have thought of growing (like peanuts or pine nuts) and ones that I had not heard of till now (like orangeberries).

The Incredible Edibles Range

Many garden stores (as well as hardware stores like Bunnings which have garden sections) now sell the Incredible Edibles range of fruiting plants, and there are so many delicious-sounding things I would love to try!

Here are some that I have seen for sale:
  • Chilean guava (a.k.a. NZ cranberry)
  • Coffee
  • Guava
  • Japanese raisin
  • Mountain pawpaw
  • Mulberry
  • Orangeberry
  • Pepino

Orangeberry plants next to a sign with precautions because of the Queensland fruit fly.

Unusual Citrus Fruit

Apart from the lemons and limes, there were some interesting citrus varieties for sale. I was particularly intrigued by the finger limes and limequats.

Finger lime plants.

Limequat espallier.

Asian Herbs and Vegetables

Asian ingredients are widely available these days, but if you want to grow your own, you can do that too! Growing herbs (Asian or otherwise) is always a good idea because you only need a little bit, and they are so expensive if you buy them when you need them.

Here are some Asian herbs and vegetables I came across at the garden centre:
  • Lemongrass
  • Vietnamese mint
  • Curry tree
  • Snake bean
  • Edible chrysanthemum ("tong ho" in Chinese)
  • Peanut
Edible crysanthemum.

"Superfoods" and Medicinal Plants

If you are after plants with supposed health benefits, you are also in the right place. For example, you could grow your own:

Chia seedlings, amongst other plants.

Gotu kola and goji berry plants.

I don't have a big enough garden, or enough time and experience to grow these things, but it's good to know the option is there!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Meal in Brief: Spring Trees New Sichuan Cuisine (早春二月), Newmarket

We came here because my parents suggested it for being cheap and tasty. After doing some web searches, I discovered the Sichuan restaurant is part of a chain which started in Beijing in 2008. The original store had a couple of trees growing through the roof of the main dining room, hence the name of the restaurant.

Entrance to Spring Trees restaurant.

The menu was huge, both in terms of the size of the pages and the number of items available. It was full of colour pictures, some taking up a whole page.

Large full colour menu with lots of pages.

The setting was new and modern. There was a dining room on the right, a series of booths on the left of the corridor, and private rooms down the back, which you can have a nosy at on the way to the bathroom. Along the way, you'll also see some food storage areas that are less tidy too. The restaurant was pretty much full, so I would recommend you make a booking.

Dining room area.

The service was fine, the usual busy Chinese restaurant experience. Our teapots were filled when empty, and we were able to order extra rice. Staff switched happily to English when we struggled with Mandarin. When we went to pay and asked for takeaway boxes, we were given a choice between free polystyrene ones, or plastic ones with a fee. (I recommend the plastic ones, not only because they are more environmentally friendly, but also because you don't want to run the risk of spilling red chilli oil everywhere.)

What we ate included:
  • Nanjing-style salted duck 金陵盐水鸭 ($12) - as the name suggests, this was salty. It was also chilled, with relatively dry flesh, like tasty preserved meat.
  • Mapo tofu 麻婆豆腐 ($8) - this Sichuan dish with bean curd and pork mince was really well done, and the portion size was huge for the price.
Nanjing-style salted duck and mapo tofu.

  • Mixed beef and honeycomb with chilli sauce 夫妻肺片 ($10) - there didn't seem to be any honeycomb tripe here; not sure if they didn't have any or if my parents asked for just beef without me hearing. This cold dish had nice flavours, as with everything else we ate.
Beef with chilli sauce.

  • Griddle cooked lotus root 干锅莲片 ($12) - there was a generous serving of lotus root pieces with little pork slices, set atop a platter with a tea light underneath. Just a little bit spicy, we enjoyed the crisp and slightly sticky nature of this dish.
Griddle cooked lotus root.

  • Fried pork with cabbage 手撕包菜小炒肉 ($10) - this was less cabbage than it looks in the photo, because there was a lot of meat underneath. In hindsight, we should have ordered another dish with greens. Despite being cooked with chilli oil like many other Sichuan dishes, this was not very hot and did taste different from everything else.
Fried pork with cabbage.

  • Delicious dasheen roll 香芋吐丝卷 ($5) - literally "taro toast roll", these cigars were dipped into crispy sesame at each end, and filled with a sweet taro paste. The toast part itself was not particularly crunchy, probably due to their reheating method, but can't really complain for that amount of money.
Taro toast rolls.

  • White rice ($1 per bowl) - if all the dishes above seemed ridiculously cheap, the rice made up for it by being rather steep. Each bowl was tiny, maybe only three soup spoons worth. I guess they have to make their money somehow.

Overall, Spring Trees is a great choice for flavourful Sichuan food, with low prices and decent surroundings. It will be a relatively oily meal which you will want to supplement with plenty of white rice, but the dishes are skilfully cooked and well worth trying. Call ahead as this place is popular.

Restaurant Details

Spring Trees (早春二月)
100 Carlton Gore Road, Newmarket, Auckland
(09) 302 0465

According to their business card, they also have a satellite branch at Unit 13, 16 Gooch Place, Meadowland, Auckland, (09) 533 5008.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Homemade Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Ever since I was gifted some sourdough starter many months ago, I have kept it barely alive in my fridge, baking the odd bread, and making many more sourdough crumpets than I needed. (If you have ever tried making sourdough before, you will know the starter gets out of hand very quickly, since every time you feed it flour and water, you are doubling its volume.)

Naturally, when Easter rolled around and I thought about baking hot cross buns, I looked around for a sourdough recipe. Apart from needing to use up starter again, you can't buy sourdough hot cross buns in many places, and I was keen to taste them fresh from the oven. It's just as well we have public holidays right now, because they took quite some time to make, but the end results were delicious, if I do so say myself!

Homemade sourdough hot cross buns.

Here are some snaps from the bun making process. I settled on Kresha Faber's recipe on Nourishing Joy, simply because the photo of her creations looked so amazing.

I was lazy and pulled the starter straight out of the fridge, rather than feeding it again to make sure it was at optimum health. It had bubbled out of the jar a couple of days earlier, and I didn't really need twice as much batter again!

Sourdough starter with not as many bubbles as earlier.

The dough was supposed to come out sticky, but mine was getting dry, so I stopped adding flour, and even added a bit of water back in.

Combining the starter with the other ingredients for the dough.

Rather than making 24 hot cross buns of the same type, I divided the dough in half, and replaced the raisins with chocolate bits in one half. The pictures below are of the raisin ones though. Adding the butter made it beautifully soft.

Half of dough, with raisins and fruit peel mixed in.

After a couple of rounds of resting, the dough hadn't grown much, and I was worried that my buns would turn out to be dense bricks. However, I went ahead and shaped the dough into balls and placed them into buttered pans anyway.

Half of dough shaped into 12 balls.

To help the process along, I placed a piece of cling film (dusted with flour) over each tray and let the balls rise in the warmth of our hot water cupboard for 4 hours. They started nudging up against each other.

Dough after 4 hours in the hot water cupboard.

The recipe didn't specify how to make the crosses, so I followed the instructions from another recipe, this time from Paul Hollywood in the Good Food magazine. Unfortunately, I took "about 5 tbsp water" to mean exactly that much, and I ended up with a stiff batter that was very difficult to pipe. The crosses also came out quite hard after baking.

Buns piped with crosses.

The bread came out of the oven with a golden crust, looking a bit dry...

Hot cross buns after baking.

... but brushing on the glaze (I had no orange juice, so just thinned honey with a little bit of water) caused the crust make crackling noises and look a whole lot more appealing.

Hot cross buns after glazing.

I am used to supermarket hot cross buns being completely soft, but I enjoyed my own flavourful rolls with a crackly crust more, especially when hot and fresh. The bread was soft on the inside, and beautifully fragrant with lashings of butter.

Enjoying my hot cross buns.

This recipe made quite a few buns, so even though I gave half away, I may have to turn the rest into bread and butter pudding when they get stale. If you didn't want the buns to stick together, you would need to leave more space between them, so you could consider halving all the ingredients. To make them even better, I would be tempted to try using a more custardy recipe for the crosses next time, like in Ima's ones. Having said that, my first batch of hot cross buns exceeded my expectations anyway!

This post is part of Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event aimed at inspiring us to try new things. This month, it is hosted by Nikki from Everyday Life Mom.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Auckland Diner's Diary: March 2015

Eating Asian

Tasting Turkish

Bistro Meals

Coffee Fix

Sweet Treats

Branching Out
Coming Soon

A Meal in Brief: Paradise Indian Food

We came here because we had heard lots of good things about Paradise, including from blogger Easy Food Hacks. While Chinese eateries upped their game in the Dominion Road Dumpling Wars by switching to neon signs and more recently renovating, over in Sandringham, Paradise Takeaway was quietly expanding, gaining enough space from neighbouring shops to have separate restaurant and takeaway areas. I noticed they were building a live kitchen back in 2013, but somehow never managed to try the food till now!

Live kitchen nearly open in December 2013.

The menu was large, and featured "moghlai" food. The restaurant took particular pride in their Hyderabadi biryani and tandoor-cooked dishes, but you can also order Indian Chinese, more familiar curries and other dishes.

The setting was simple and modern. You walk down a corridor, then past the ordering area to get to the seating. The dining area did not have a view of the live kitchen (which faced onto the street), but one side of the walls were adorned with framed cricket bats, while the other had pictures and TV screens.

Live kitchen in action: view from the footpath outside.

The service was friendly and people were happy to explain things, but this place still felt a bit like a takeaway because you have to order and pay at the counter next to the dining room. We asked for rice to go with the specialty stew called harleem after the dish came out, but it wasn't until the main curries came out that we were given some.

What we ate included:
  • Paneer tikka ($12) - this entree arrived on a sizzling hot plate and was served with a mint yoghurt. The fresh cheese cubes were hot and fragrant, easily one of our favourite dishes here.
Paneer tikka.

  • Haleem ($12) - available as a weekend special, this Hyderabadi delicacy had a porridgey consistency, a wedge of lemon on the side, and the flavour of chicken and spices. It was pretty filling, even without the boiled egg it came with. The person who cleared our table explained it was like brown rice, which we took to mean wholemeal, since the menu said it combined "wheat and tender meat". Although nothing alike and not at all sweet, it reminded me of a Turkish dessert containing chicken. We were less keen on this dish, though it probably didn't help that it didn't arrive particularly hot, and we had no rice or naan to eat it with until later.
Hyderabadi haleem.

  • Paradise special chicken masala ($16) - when you've got your restaurant name on a dish, it's got to be good. This lived up to expectations completely, with a beautiful cashew and saffron sauce enveloping the boneless chicken.
Paradise special chicken masala.

  • Bagarey baigan ($14) - the "Spicy aubergines in tamarind gravy in an irresistible vegetarian Mughlai delight" was indeed delicious. This was the only dish we managed to polish off, rather than ending up in (polystyrene) takeaway containers.
Bagarey baigan.

  • Mutton dum biryani ($12) - we found this rice dish to be not particularly interesting, despite being what the restaurant is supposedly famous for. Perhaps our tastebuds were skewed by the flavourful curries which arrived first.
Mutton dum biryani.

  • Butter Naan ($2.50) - the freshly made naan bread was unlike any we have had elsewhere, relatively sweet and soft. Different in a good way.
Naan (and biryani).

Overall, Paradise is a pretty apt name for this restaurant. The tikka and sauced based dishes we tried were amazing, even though we were less enthusiastic about the biryani and harleem. Prices were reasonable and portions were huge. We would definitely come back to try some more dishes from here.

Restaurant Details

591 - 595 Sandringham Road, Sandringham, Auckland
(09) 845 1144
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