Author Archives for Tracey O'Brien

About Tracey O'Brien

Devoted foodie, food blogger and traveller. Let me share with you the food I love to cook and eat and the places I've travelled to.

A crash course in food photography – and a girls’ weekend in Wellington

It’s been some time since I’ve had a weekend away with a girlfriend. I was happily reminded recently just what a great time is to be had.

A few months ago I came across a short weekend course offered at Le Cordon Bleu on Food Photography. Immediately I was interested – until I read the equipment required.

Enter my friend Svea. As an enthusiastic amateur photographer I was certain she’d be able to assist. Sure enough, she had all the equipment on the list, was more than happy to loan me what I needed and even decided she’d like to come along.

And so a girls’ weekend in Wellington was organised. By the end of the day we had a place on the course, flights booked, and rooms at a fabulous hotel. What more could you ask for?

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Fish with Coconut & Tamarind Sauce

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is not the post I’d planned for this week. On a recent visit to my local gourmet market I had a list in my head of what I needed to pick up for dinner that evening. But it all changed when I strolled past the fish counter.

And when I say stroll past, I invariably end up stopping to see what beauties are on offer. My local market has two fresh deliveries of seafood every day. It’s important when you’re buying fish or seafood to have a reliable provider who you know will have the freshest produce.

On this particular day the ocean had brought them blue cod. Although blue cod is endemic to New Zealand it is more commonly found in the waters of the South Island and so not always available in Auckland. Such a treat when it is. I couldn’t resist. My plan for dinner that night was changed in an instant.

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Spiced Parsnip Soup – a celebration of the winter vegetable

I can’t resist starting this post by telling you how excited I am by my recipe this week. Just so excited! Can you tell? I made this soup on the weekend for Sunday lunch and it was such a triumph. I had been quietly confident when I embarked on the cook that it was going to be delicious but this parsnip soup exceeded my expectations. Don’t you love it when that happens?

I always enjoy making soups during the winter months and parsnip is a favourite. But I wanted to try something different by way of ramping up the flavour with some spices. I took care as I made it to get the flavours and level of spice just right. It was more than just right. So delicious I can only be profoundly grateful that a batch went into the freezer. It winks at me now every time I open the freezer as a small reminder that I have a treat in store.

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Biscotti and Espresso – the perfect pairing

When it comes to savoury vs sweet, I generally tend towards savoury. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a sweet treat. But I would always prefer to go for something that isn’t overly sweet.

Those who have a fierce sweet tooth are happy with a full on sugar hit. But I prefer dishes and treats that hint at sweetness without making you feel as though you’ve just swallowed several spoonfuls of sugar. And for me texture is crucial.

One of my favourite desserts is panna cotta. I love the smooth silkiness of the set cream with the familiar scent and taste of vanilla running through it. Not too sweet, a gorgeous texture and it looks beautiful. But it has to be served with something that will contrast all that smooth silkiness. Biscotti is just the thing.

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Are we all just muggles? The wonderful world of Harry Potter

I’m a little tardy with this post. That is to say last month – 26th June to be exact – marked twenty years since Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone was first published. Yes, twenty years since Harry’s first adventure.

If you’re not a fan or you’ve never read the books (really??) then that may not mean much. But if you are a fan then this anniversary is something quite personal. Because it conjures memories of the first time you read the books. Of how incredible it was to be introduced to Harry’s world and all the wonderful, weird and sometimes dangerous characters that inhabit it.

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Slow-cooked Chicken with Lemon and Honey – and a childhood memory

My mother remarked recently on how often she gets a mention in my posts. It’s a happy mention when I’m talking about food and my mother. That’s because writing about food often evokes the smells and tastes from my childhood. Memories of the food we ate as a child are powerful. And not necessarily always in a good way – a bad eating experience in our younger years can linger for decades.

But I like to think the scales tip towards good memories. And perhaps my fondest of them all is my mother’s roast chicken. It was my favourite meal as a child. And not something we had too often. In those days (oh dear!) chicken was not the cheapest of meats and roast chicken was a treat.

Does everyone grow up believing their mother cooks the best roast dinner in the world? It’s certainly how I felt as a child. As soon as the chicken came out of the oven I would lift myself into position on the bench and watch as Mum deftly handled and plated the fabulous bird. She would tell you that she was lucky to get any of it on the plate if I was in range. And her roast potatoes! It was such a beautiful thing.

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Italian Sausages with Tomato & Cannellini Stew

It seems appropriate that I’m currently snugly settled in a cafĂ© with coffee and my laptop while the weather rages outside. Appropriate because my recipe today is another winter warmer.

Yesterday was the winter solstice in New Zealand and therefore the perfect time to share this recipe that I am extremely fond of. Not great timing for my fellow Northern Hemisphere bloggers (a heat wave has been sweeping Europe!) who won’t be putting winter warmers on their cooking agenda at the moment. But it’s great fun to store recipes away and then revisit them when the seasons change.

This dish has many things going for it – simple to make and packed with flavour being among them. And I’ve always loved a sausage. They are so comforting and versatile. But the key as with most things when it comes to food and cooking is quality. You really do need to start with a good quality sausage.

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Dinner for Two – Roasted Butternut Risotto with Prosciutto and Sage

It was only a few months ago that my fellow bloggers were posting winter warmer recipes while my own blog was alive with fresh berries and all things summer. Now the seasons have shifted and it’s been turned upside down – winter in the south and summer in the north. But there must be balance in all things.

I have no problem with the change in season. As much as I love summer I look forward to winter – for two reasons. One is boots – laugh if you will but there is something very special about the first outing of winter boots once the weather cools.

The second, of course, is winter food. By the time autumn creeps in I’ve had my fill of salads and sprightly summer food. Time for a bit of comfort – dishes cooked long and slow in the oven, hot puddings, hearty porridge for breakfast and, of course, those fabulous autumn and winter vegetables.

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Guacamole – and the incomparable avocado

If you asked me what could be used in place of avocado I’d have to reply . . . well, nothing really. Is there a substitute for avocado? It is so unique in texture and flavour that anything used in its place will come in a poor second.

As for taste, it’s difficult to describe how an avocado tastes except to say it’s neither sweet nor bitter. Some might say it has little flavour but often ingredients with subtle flavours are underrated. Think fresh mozzarella – a very subtle flavour compared to stronger cheeses but nevertheless utterly delicious. For me a big part of an avocado’s charm is its texture and how it feels in my mouth. Creamy and buttery but with a freshness that makes it so perfect for salads – and the famous guacamole.

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Sydney, Australia – two perfect days in this fabulous city . . .

So, what’s a girl to do when her husband announces that he has a training conference to attend in Sydney?

Well, this girl immediately says, “can I tag along?”

Which is how I found myself winging my way to Australia only a month after returning from Melbourne. Except this time the destination was Sydney. It’s a city I know well and one that holds many good memories. In my mid-twenties I made the break and left New Zealand to live abroad. Sydney seemed a good place to start. I knew I liked the city and it was close to home (just in case it all went wrong).

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