Monday, 30 April 2012

Consumed with great enthusiasm

Bonjour mes amis! I am dying to show you excerpts from a friend’s recent weekend Autumn excursion to the paradise that is Waiheke Island, in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. See above the near remains of a chocolate mousse cake from Red Crab in Oneroa...

But, first, let me tell you a little of what there is to expect from Gail’s tailor made short breaks away in Italy. She'll design you something that suits your personality and your plans - like a week or so in Piedmontright up in the top left hand bit of 'The Boot'. Piedmont is a land of plenty traversed by the mighty Po River and reaching the very summits of the Alps.

Let me tell you, the cuisine of Piedmont is mind-blowing! The "Slow Food" organisation (the opposite to fast food) was born and nurtured in this zone. The markets positively drip with wonderful fresh produce and the pasta is made slowly – by hand – and consumed with great enthusiasm! Gail says the region is perfect as a bike, walk, drive kind of affair. With lots of eating.

Italy’s most bountiful region
In Piedmont you will enjoy the comforts of superb accommodation, as you explore this most bountiful region. You can sup glorious wines, savour powerful seasonal cuisine – and escape the tourist traps by getting right off the beaten track.

The region has frequently been under foreign domination, and castles appear on nearly every hill. Many were built as early as the 10th century. But you will be safe, mes amis, because all that foreign nonsense seems to have quietened down now.

Shall I give you a snippet of what you can expect to see and do in Piedmont? Ok.

You can visit a grissini maker and a local vinoteca, travel to moscato vineyards, ride through the Barolo appellation on cycle paths (lots of glorious wines here), experience traditional flag throwing, indulge in fresh market produce along the way and, yes, you may even be able to go truffle hunting!

You will also encounter CHOCOLATE. Gail says Piedmont is famous for its chocolate, including drinks so thick the spoon will stand up! Italy's very first taste of this magnificent drug confection, was in Piedmont when some kind soul brought it over from Spain. Bless.

Easy and quick to organise
I know this all sounds rather romantic and unbelievable, but it is true, and I have only mentioned some of the treats you will discover. Gail is an experienced tour designer and she knows her (Italian) onions! All you have to do is email Gail Trapp or visit the active gourmet travel website for more delicious details about your next travel adventure.

Now back to Waiheke! 

Here is my friend’s picture essay of her brilliant weekend – eating, drinking, pootling about, eating at the Saturday morning market at Ostend, shopping (too much), cat-sitting and, did I mention, eating? The weekend in its entirety was consumed with great enthusiasm – it is obvious, no?


Monday, 2 April 2012

Strawberry clouds forever

This summer I joined the happy band of people around New Zealand making and eating Annabelle Langbein’s dreamy strawberry cloud cake.

Mmmmmmmmm - essentially it’s a huge uncooked pavlova frozen into a fruity moussey fluffy thing that sits on a buttery crust of crushed Superwine biscuits liberally laced with coconut and zhooshed with cinnamon ! For true !

The “cake” is garnished with fresh raspberries, drizzled in berry syrup and swallowed with a dollop of whipped cream. Apparently it lasts in the freezer for up to a month – who would know? There is never a crumb left when I make it. Hungry hungry hippo….

If you, like me, enjoy baking when you have plenty of time and you’re in the right mood – hippos often arent - but don’t get a buzz out of it, stop right now and consider this:

The feelings that come from making this pink cloud of deliciousness are close to euphoric  (I know, I know  a hippopotomus is just a mud-wallowing water hog with bad breath and a penchant for cabbages) but…. I adored making this thing and I bet you will, too.

I wasn’t just elated that it was so easy and quick to make, I was in awe of the amazing transformation of the mess of egg whites, lemon juice, sugar and strawberries to this glossy, pale pink whip of edible cumulous nimbus.

Where did all those strawberry pips go? How come the gritty sugar melted away to nothingness? Who knew the joy of the heft of meringue forming under your shaking arm muscles as you beat the crap hell out of it ? It was indeed a magical mystical moment in my culinary life.

The cloud had to go into the freezer for four hours – a frozen cloud. It put me in mind of our approaching winter. (Fully cheated out of a summer, I am not ready for winter again so soon).

I spent the time surfing the interweb looking for more pink summer delights on the other side of the world. Do the French have such culinary treats?

Ah, mes amis, look what you can eat in France: macarons, which I have talked about before.

And, in Italy, I found this giant 200-foot-long pink rabbit lying on the side of the 5,000 foot high Colletto Fava mountain in northern Italy’s Piedmont region. Weird. You cant eat it, but you can climb it.

Gail can take you to the Piedmont region  to visit other exotic treats. Believe me, your head will be in the clouds for weeks after an activegourmetravel tour. For true!

Strawberry Cloud Cake

(Courtesy of Annabel Langbein’s book The Free Range Cook)

150g plain sweet biscuits
0.5 cup desiccated coconut
1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 heaped tablespoon caster sugar
100g butter, melted

2 egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
250g punnet of ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Line the base of a 28cm springform tin.

Crush the biscuits in a paper bag with a rolling pin. Tip into a bowl and stir in the coconut, cinnamon, sugar and melted butter. Press this mixture into the base of the tin and put in the fridge.

In a bowl put the egg whites, sugar, sliced strawberries, lemon juice and vanilla. Beat on high speed for about 6-8 minutes until the mixture is really thick and the sugar has dissolved.

Spoon over the chilled base, place baking paper on top and freeze for at least four hours.

Use a knife that has been warmed in hot water and dried to cut the cake. Garnish with fresh berries and a drizzle of berry syrup.

Bon appetit