Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Eating in... Auckland

For so long, Wellington has been known as the foodie capital of New Zealand. With great cafes, quality dining options and apparently the most eateries per capita in the world, the claim was not far fetched.  However, recently, Auckland has been stepping their game up.

In the last year, it seems as if a new cafe or restaurant has been opening there every other week. They're all designed with their own strong sense of character and are equally as enticing as the next. Lately, I've managed to try a few different spots: The Food Truck, Federal Delicatessen (next to Al Brown's other Federal Street joint, the repeatedly tried-and-true Depot), Orleans and Fukuko.

The Food Truck Garage, City Works Depot, 90 Wellesley Street
Luckily for me, I arrived at chef Michael van de Elzen's cafe, derived from his successful television series The Food Truck, at 2.50pm - 10 minutes before the kitchen closed for lunch.  I promptly ordered the Paua Dog (paua and pickled free range pork with horseradish, avocado salsa and lentils in a spelt flour roll) and Baked Chips (skin-on Agria potato, swede and beets with lime emulsion), while I was served complimentary sparkling water with a slice of lemon.  Lovely.

I have been a Food Truck fan since the start, enjoying van de Elzen's healthy and refreshing take on takeaway comfort classics. His variation on the hot dog, incorporating the often under-appreciated 'steak of the sea', excited me as soon as I read it off the menu. I'm a big advocate for paua so I was happy to see it being employed in this unexpected manner.

Food Truck Garage

It did not disappoint. The paua and pork sausage was plump and juicy, and you could taste hints of the sea whilst not being overwhelmed. Perfect for those who might be skeptical of the concept, but I would have loved an even stronger paua flavour. The avocado salsa worked brilliantly to counter and lighten the meatiness of the sausage, while the micro greens brought a delicate crunch to the mix. The roll also was a standout in itself. Fresh, soft, textural, with the addition of seeds to provide bite - it was a star component.  More than I expected, it was the most pleasant of surprises.

The Baked Chips and Paua Dog

The Baked Chips were, comparably, okay. Being the last run of lunch service was no excuse for dried out potatoes and this was disappointing. The swede and beets were better and with the lime emulsion, it provided a fair accompaniment to my 'dog.

Federal Delicatessen, 86 Federal Street
Complimentary crisps with a smoked salmon dip helped me to make a more rational - less hunger-driven - decision
The array of salads: (l-r) Grilled Eggplant, Spiced Roast Pumpkin and Roast Cauliflower
 A fine selection of lox, including spiced, dill and citrus, with a slice of lemon meringue pie with freeze-dried raspberries being prepared in the background

Saturday, October 5, 2013

An Everlasting Meal

Following completion of the Live Below the Line challenge, I can honestly say I've been thinking about food a little differently. Often, it's the more magnified understanding of what food really costs but equally, I am able to remind myself about what it can cost. I spent most of last weekend eating out and spending twice the amount of five days living below the line ($11.25) on a below par meal was very frustrating (Beach Babylon, you've seen the last of me).

I am pretty pleased with the meals I created over the challenge (especially the nachos) and considering the budget, even more so. During the week, I made a variation of the pumpkin, carrot and potato fritters, adding both white and black sesame seeds for colour, some pinenuts (for lack of cashews in the pantry) for richness and a large tablespoon of Australian bush herbs. All simple enhancements, based on what I have lying around - this is full-heartedly the type of cooking I enjoy.

A glimpse into my humble pantry

I'm sure it is becoming evident for anyone who reads my blog that I thrive on making the most of what's already in the pantry/fridge or what's cheap and readily available (e.g. in season). Maybe it's been ingrained into me since I was a kid, shopping at the supermarket with my parents where we only ever bought items that were on special. It never occurred to me that everyone else didn't do the same until I started flatting in university! Of course, now, there are exceptions for specialty ingredients but the principle has stuck.

Reflecting on the limited budget available during Live Below the Line, this is in fact how many people have to shop every week. As while we are aware of those who live in extreme poverty in underdeveloped countries, there are also those who struggle to live week-to-week, even day-to-day, in our developed towns and cities.  Even for those of us who are merely on a budget, for any number of reasons, we have to make sure we can get the most out of our dollars.

Instead of teaching people how to spend their money, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, by Tamar Adler (2011), teaches readers how to cook: simply, smartly and, as the title suggests, with economy and grace. She inspires readers to rediscover food and, most importantly, to find the courage to trust their intuition.