The Yamazaki vs. The Hakushu

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Japanese Whiskies are a new love for me, and thanks to a dear friend of mine back in Malaysia, I got to taste my first Hakushu from Suntory back in December, and I haven't looked back since. 

This same friend then sent my family a bottle of The Yamazaki 12 Years Single Malt Whisky as a house-warming present when we moved to our home in Auckland some months back, and it's been amazing to be able to compare and contrast two such beautiful, distinct whiskies.

The Yamazaki is Japan's premier single malt with a delicate and elegant taste and layers of complex aromas. It first came into market in 1984 and was the first seriously marketed Japanese single malt whisky. It has a rich flavor and good body, with hints of vanilla, toffee and cloves and what I call 'winter spice' with a smooth, lingering aftertaste. It is easy to see why this whisky has won so many awards all over the world - it is incredibly easy to love (and drink)!

The Hakushu 12 Years Single Malt Whisky on the other hand, is fresher and crisper. There is plenty of fruit on the palate, and it is vibrant and soft at the same time, and so incredibly smooth that it is one of the few whiskies I enjoy drinking straight. This is also award-winning, and has recently won 1st place in the 'Best World Whiskey' Category in the 2015 International Whisky Competition.

It was incredibly difficult to choose a favorite as I thoroughly enjoyed them both, but because I really enjoyed the softness and sweetness of The Hakushu, I'd say this one wins the Suntory Whiskies competition for me.

A week of My Food Bag

Monday, 24 August 2015

My Food Bag is a growing meal delivery service in NZ, helmed by 2011 NZ Masterchef winner and Chef Nadia Lim, whom I also happen to be a huge fan of.

There are four different food bags to choose from, ranging from Individual (newly launched) to Classic, Gourmet and Family Food Bags. Each week, Nadia, together with her team of chefs and nutritionists come up with new dinner recipes in their test kitchen, shop for the ingredients, and then deliver it straight to your front door on a weekly or fortnightly basis, so you can cook interesting, new meals daily without the hassle of deciding what to cook each night or shopping for ingredients.

The Husband and I decided to trial a week of the Family Food Bag (NZD162.50), which is designed for two adults and two ‘younger’ children. We arranged for our ingredients to be delivered on a Sunday evening at a time we were sure to be home. It arrived on time, with the dry and fresh produce and seasonings in two large paper bags and the chilled items in a small chilly container. In the bag was also a folder you can use to keep your recipes in, divided by seasons (ever so practical and handy especially if you are a frequent user of the Food Bag) and also, of course the recipes itself.

Monday's Fish, Cheese and Leek Sauce Bake
Over the course of the week we prepared the meals as recommended. (Actually, The Husband did all of the cooking as I get home from work much later than he does). There were many things we loved about the service – first and foremost being the recipes, not having to wonder what to cook each night as well as the excitement of cooking something completely new and anticipating the final result.

The recipes were relatively easy to follow and utilises seasonal ingredients which is always nice, although we did find that with some of the meals, the time it took us to prepare and cook the meal was significantly longer than stated on the recipe card. This is most likely because we were cooking things we'd never cooked before and taking longer to prepare and double-checking the instructions instead of taking shortcuts or doing it automatically.

Tuesday's Asian Turkey Rissoles with Sesame Spinach Rice and Apple Chutney

Wednesday's Roasted Lamb Rump with Kumara, Vegetable Toss and Orange Cream Drizzle
The portion sizes were really generous, and we really did enjoy all the meals we had for the week, although the one that captured my heart (and my tummy) the most was undoubtedly the delectable Turkey Rissoles with Sesame Spinach Rice. I could eat this everyday!

In my option, however, the Family Food Bag that we trialled would have been a better fit for a family with slightly older children (although it says young children on the website), and not toddlers like we have who: a) do not eat their meals at the same time as us, and b) probably won’t appreciate a piece of steak or lamb rump, however delicious it may taste. 

Hence, a lot of the meals ended up being too much for The Husband and me, with plenty of leftovers, and we still had to cook separately for the children who have their meals around 5pm while we eat closer to 7.30pm when I get back from work, so in the end it wasn't an ideal situation. However, every family is different, and what works for one family may not be the same for another. The only way for you to find out is to actually try it like we did.

Thursday's Citrus Roast Chicken, Roasted Potatoes, Green Beans and Peas

My conclusion? I think My Food Bag is a great concept with plenty of wonderful recipes, and certainly an ideal solution for busy families who want to take the hassle of meal planning out of their days while still being able to cook different meals and try new recipes each night, but it is not a one-size fits all solution. Depending on your timing, your schedule, your children’s schedule, the age of your children, and whether or not you all eat at the same time, you may find that a typical Family Food Bag may not actually fit your family’s needs, such as I did.

Friday's Baked Pumpkin and Ricotta Ravioli

It should also be noted that there does need to be a certain level of commitment to cooking each night, which really isn't a bad thing. There are days when The Husband and I really struggle to find the motivation to cook, and ordinarily this would mean we would revert to a grilled-cheese sandwich, perhaps grab a takeaway if someone volunteers to drive out, and more often than not, resort to instant noodles. But having our meal already planned and the produce waiting in the pantry meant we had to use them up, and it forced us to prepare a healthy, home cooked meal, even on those evenings when we didn’t quite feel like the effort – although the result, I have to admit, was always worth it.

What I do really like is that you do not have to be committed to the delivery service for any specific length of time. You can choose when to sign up and when to stop, which gives you the chance to try the different bags and see which one fits your needs the most.

The Family Food Bag was probably not the most suitable one for our family as we’ve since discovered; perhaps the Gourmet Food Bag for two adults would have worked better for us. Nevertheless, for a week we had fun cooking new dishes, being a little more adventurous in the kitchen, having healthy, delicious meals without putting any thought into it, and now we have five new recipes to add to our repertoire. Would I do it again? Without a doubt.

Find out more about My Food Bag here.

2011 Ode d'Aydie Madiran

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Until I studied and sat for the WSET Level 3 exam, I'd never heard of, or come across 'Madiran', a village in the South West region of France famous for its rich, concentrated Madiran wines made from Tannat grapes. If I thought I knew my wines, Level 3 has taught me otherwise. There is so much more out there in the complex world of wine that I'd never come across, and certainly plenty more to learn, absorb and discover.

I've enjoyed undertaking my wine studies at the New Zealand School of Food and Wine, although I have to admit there were moments when attending eight-hour classes on weekends, absorbing all these new information and attempting to commit them to memory, and the process of studying again (and consequently the fear of failing at something that I care so much about), all while managing a full-time job and being mum to two little boys, had me flailing about like a headless chicken for more times than I care to remember.

That said, it helps to have dedicated and passionate tutors, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to learn from both Celia Hay and Joelle Thompson, who are both esteemed wine professionals in New Zealand, educators and authors of numerous wine books. More than that, they are passionate, extremely knowledgeable, and excited to share their knowledge and experience, which made all the difference, to me at least.

Incidentally, it was also Celia who brought out this bottle of Madiran during our little celebratory drink session after the group of seven of us had sat for our Level 3 exam. Throughout the course, both Joelle and Celia have tried to provide us with tastings of the wines we learn about from all over the world, and it's been tremendously invaluable in helping me to better understand the different styles and characteristics of each grape, and how factors like climate, soil, altitude and winemaking techniques can influence the wine.  

Consequently, this 2011 Ode d'Aydie Madiran will always be in my memory bank. Inky purple, powerful, firm and with excellent structure, it also has plenty of black fruit characters, dark berries and juicy plums, and a wonderful concentration and finish that makes for excellent aging. 

This is a memorable wine on its own, made even more special because every time I see a bottle of Madiran from now on, it will remind me of my wine studies at the NZSFW over the past three months, the friends I've made who share the same obsessive passion, my wonderful teachers, and most of all,  the beginning of what is hopefully a life-long journey into the professional world of wine writing.

The Cellar, Sofitel Auckland

Friday, 14 August 2015

I started a new job as editor of a trade publication this week, and I'm also gearing up for my WSET Level 3 exams this weekend, which means the blog will have to take a backseat until my life settles down a little.

The Cellar
However, I wanted to quickly post about a new venue that I had the pleasure of being introduced to last week. The Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour has recently launched an exclusive, intimate French-inspired venue - The Cellar; and I was one of a lucky few introduced to this wonderful, rustic new space over an exquisite lunch prepared by Chef Sebastian Hindrichs from Germany, who’s recently taken the helm as Executive Chef following seven years heading up the kitchen at the renowned French Cafe Restaurant.

The Cellar features a hand-picked ‘library’ of French and New Zealand wines, alongside the hotel’s signature charcuterie boards and cheese platters.

I thoroughly enjoyed my three-course lunch, starting with the Ora King Salmon with ginger, cucumber, radish, avocado and caviar, which was exquisitely prepared and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, bursting with fresh, mouthwatering flavours with every bite. This was paired with the Brancott Letter Series 'B' Chardonnay, a lovely, elegant wine with plenty of acidity and subtle peach and apricot flavours with a hint of smokiness that went wonderfully with my fish.

For my main course, I had the Hawkes Bay Lamb with smoked potato, melted leeks, shallots and black truffle. This was another wonderful creation. The lamb was tender and juicy, oozing rich, savoury flavour with every mouthful, and quite possibly the best lamb dish I've ever had! This was paired with the Dourthe No 1 Cabernet Sauvignon, a rich, complex and structured Bordeaux with plenty of black fruit and oak characteristic that stood up well to the play of textures and strong flavours on my dish.

For dessert, I chose the Creme Caramel with poached rhubarb, ginger, crumble and frozen yoghurt, the perfect end to a faultless lunch. The frozen yoghurt was delightful and refreshing, the creme caramel was smooth, creamy and rich, and the rhubarbs added a lovely fruitiness and acidity to the dish. Another winner as far as I'm concerned!

Unfortunately, The Cellar is currently available for bespoke events only such as wine tasting and private dinner events. However, the wonderful dishes that sent the foodie in me to gastronomic heaven is available at the hotel's signature restaurant, Lava Dining, for those of you who'd like to have a taste of Chef's Sebastian's genius in the kitchen.

Wouter de Graaf, General Manager of The Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour and yours truly
Executive Chef Sebastian Hindrichs
As part of The Cellar’s select wine offering, guests will also have the opportunity to embark on wine journeys with the Sofitel wine flights. Each flight is composed of a tasting of five wines accompanied by the Sofitel bread ritual and artisan olive oil. For lovers of champagne, an exclusive champagne flight is also available with Softel’s sommelier, ready to take guests on a journey through the origins, history and varieties of champagne.

For more details, contact the team on +64 (9) 354 7455 or visit

Ramen Takara, Browns Bay

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Ramen Takara is my current favorite place for, well, ramen of course, as well as many of its other delicious Japanese dishes on the menu. With two outlets, one in Browns Bay and one in Ponsonby, this Japanese eatery is all about fresh local ingredients, flavors and wonderful service.

The interior is cheerful, contemporary and spacious enough to push a stroller through, a far cry from the typical food court atmosphere often association with Japanese noodle bowls, and rightly so - for the bowls of ramen at Ramen Takara is far from simple. Noodles are made on-site everyday using only quality New Zealand flour, fresh local eggs, salt and water, and the delicate broth that comes with it is prepared every morning and left simmering for over three hours.

There is an impressive selection of ramen on the menu here, but there are many other notable items as well. I've tried the Tonkatsu ramen packed with chāshū pork, egg, bok choy, spring onion, bamboo shoots, ginger and mustard leaves and each slurping mouthful of noodles was soft and silky, and full of savory, meaty flavor. The Husband's Yakisoba was also delicious and incredibly more-ish, with the same silky consistency and filled with tasty pork belly and cabbage, and garnished with Bonito flakes and mayo. 

Other standouts we've had here are the Crispy Karaage Chicken, which was well-seasonsed, crispy, delicious and surprisingly light, the Pork Gyoza - crispy on the outside and filled with juicy, tasty meat on the inside, as well as the Pork Belly Spring Rolls, which were some of the best spring rolls I've ever had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into.

There is also a Children's menu here, from which we ordered a portion of Chicken Teriyaki for the boys to share. It was well-presented, but the chicken was a little dry, and the meal was perhaps more suited to older kids who can sit at a table on their own than toddlers swinging their legs in high chairs. Our boys much preferred the delicious noodles they could grab with their fingers. ;)

I have to also commend Ramen Takara for being one of the more family-friendly dining establishments around. The waitresses were patient and helpful with our children, there are crayons and paper for coloring, ample room for strollers, and we spotted a number of highchairs in the corner of the restaurant which is always a good sign. 

4 Anzac Road, 
Browns Bay, Auckland
Tel: +64 (9) 476 6041

Auckland Food Show 2015

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The long awaited for Auckland Food Show started today, and I have to say that I'm really glad I went on the Preview Day. The show officially started at 10am, and by the time I arrived at 10.40am, the car-park was full. Thankfully the neighboring carpark at the Alexander grounds were open to show-goers ($8 to park) and it wasn't a far trek to the ASB Showgrounds where the event is being held.

If you're planning on checking it out over the next few days (it runs until Sunday), I've got some helpful tips and tricks on enjoying the show below:
  • Go really early in the day (i.e when it opens) or later in the evening. The crowd seems to surge from around 11am - 2pm. 
  • It might be easier to leave the kids at home for this one. Although it is a family-friendly event, the huge crowd can make it hard to push strollers through unless your kids are old enough to walk and explore on their own.
  • Wear comfortable shoes! The Food Show encompasses three rather large halls, and if you're wearing heels, your feet may start to hurt after the first hall. There are not many places to rest/sit unless you grab some food/drink at Jacob Creek's Pop Up Eatery or sit in on a cooking demonstration at the Whirlpool Cooking Theatre.
  • Speaking of, check out the schedule of the Whirlpool Cooking Theater for free cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs! I caught a bit of Australian duo Bondi Harvest's demonstration today, as well as Sachi Nomura's demonstration on some classic Thai cuisine. Bonus: You can also pick up the recipes from the demonstrations at the entrance to the theatre. 
  • Bring a bag! Seriously, bring one. And the bigger and sturdier the better. Feel free to even bring a wheelie trolley (you can purchase one from the Merchandise area for $20) or a small suitcase on wheels so your arms don't get tired lugging all your newly-purchased goodies around. You won't be the only one doing so, I promise.
  • Bring cash or your Eftpos card. That's the only way for you to buy anything. 
  • Come with an appetite! You'll probably be full just from the many food and drink items to sample, although there are plenty of wonderful food/meals you can buy on the spot as well.

All in all, I enjoyed myself at The Food Show today despite feeling a little under the weather. There are so many wonderful new products and delicious food and drinks to sample and buy, and the health trend is huge this year - with plenty of paleo and gluten-free options! 

Some of the highlights/must-trys of this year's show for me include: Freshly shucked oysters from Mahurangi Oysters, Peppermint Hot Chocolate from West Coast CocoaDr Feel Good's Salted Caramel and Apple Ice Cream, the Manuka Crunch from Clean Paleo, Raw Protein Bars from Honest Food, Black Stag Deli's delicious German sausages, and the Black Vinegar Braised Pork Bao from Judge Bao which is part of The Street Collective stand. 


Food Show Info:
When: Thursday 30th July - Sun 2nd August
Time: Thurs - Sat (10am - 6pm) and Sun (10am - 5pm)
Where: ASB Showgrounds, Greenlane
Buy your tickets here or at the gate.

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