You may recall that I left you last week at the end of the first day of our NZ Food Bloggers conference. But things didn't end there. There is much more to share with you and, in usual fashion, if you keep reading, I promise you food - a wonderful Rocket, Fennel & Mozzarella Salad to be exact.
So, day one of our conference wound up with all of our participants being whisked off to a secret location, which turned out to be Floyds in Island Bay, for a pop-up dinner and wine matching event. The evening began with a cocktail making mini master class with Justin McKenzie of Liquid Winks, who served us up a gorgeous cocktail that definitely whetted the appetite.
And then the food, prepared by chef Ben Barton of Pop Dining, began to roll out and it just kept coming - course, after course, after delicious course, with wines matched to the food by James Pederson of Floriditas.
As you might expect from any gathering of food bloggers around a dinner table, there were more iPhones on the table than cutlery, and as each course rolled out cameras flashed and tweeters tweeted. There were sighs of satisfactions and delight; wonderful and stimulating conversations took place as we got to know new bloggers and reconnected with others already known to us; and, of course, there was huge amounts of laughter. It was a great night, and the last cab load of us to leave rolled home very satisfied and more than a little weary.
Day two of our conference began, like day one, with chocolate. Our first event of the day being a mini master class and chocolate tasting with Jo Coffey from L'Affaire au Chocolat. Jo shared with us a wealth of information and knowledge about everything from bean to block, and although I've always had a love affair with chocolate, I certainly have a new found appreciation for it.
Next up was Rachel Taulelei of Yellow Brick Road talking to us about Sustainable Fishing and Seafood. Rachel is a very engaging speaker, clearly passionate about her business of sourcing and supplying responsibly caught seafood to the restaurant industry. Ethical eating and sourcing of the food we put on our tables each day is a subject which is dear to my heart, so Rachel's session was definitely one of the highlights of the conference for me. Setting aside the fact that Rachel could actually talk about two flies crawling up a wall and make it sound interesting and funny, her message really resonated with me.
Time then to break for morning tea, prepared by the Le Cordon Bleu pastry chefs, accompanied by some treats from The Collective Dairy. The cheese scones were divine, but you had to be quick to get to them before Mairi, and the Collective Dairy treats were particularly welcomed by those of us who had skipped breakfast. Love that mango yoghurt drink.
Next we moved on to a soda tasting with Joseph Slater of the Six Barrel Soda Co. Six Barrel Soda Co make small batch soda syrups using fresh fruit, spices and nuts. Their flavours include: lemon, ginger and kola nut, all of which we got to sample, as well as cherry & pomegranate, raspberry & lemon, lime, and vanilla cream. Personally, I've never been much of a cola fan, but was surprised to discover that I loved the kola nut - deliciously spicy and not overly sweet - in fact it was my favourite of the three that we sampled. Can't wait for someone to start stocking this in Nelson so I can get my hands on some.
With the sun almost over the yard arm, it was time to turn our thoughts to wine and an address on the State of the Vines from Chris Archer of Archer McRae. Just to make sure it wasn't a dry argument, we sampled their surprising new product - Ritzling Bottled Happiness. I say surprising, because I was quite prepared not to like this - Ritzling is in fact a sparkling riesling and (perhaps unreasonably) I fully expected it to be unpleasantly sweet. However, accompanied by a wedge of lime, I found it to be an absolute delight, and it fully delivered on its promise of being bottled happiness. I foresee consuming quite a few bottles of this over the forthcoming summer.
After suitable libation, it was time to move onto a mini master class and lunch, courtesy of the lovely ladies from Little Penang. The master class was both fun and informative and the lunch sublime. I love Asian flavours at the best of times, but the Nonya curry really rocked my boat - definitely one of the stand-out meals of the weekend for me. These photos do not even come close to doing that beautiful meal justice.
After lunch we were treated to another wonderful mini master class, this time with the Queen of Dumplings, Vicky Ha from The Dumpling House. This was a great workshop - we all had a chance to make our own dumplings, some savoury, some sweet. Vicky was good enough to share some of her recipes with us and I can't wait to give these a try at home - job for a wet Saturday afternoon I think. That's my dumpling in the foreground of the photo below, and Alessandra Zecchini's behind it - a couple of very good attempts I thought.
From there we had another one of our breakout sessions, and while some chose to do a pastry making class with the Le Cordon Bleu Head Patisserie Tutor, I opted for making mozzarella in under an hour with Alli Pirrie-Mawer. I loved this workshop. Alli is a great teacher, and she definitely made mozzarella seem easy. So much so, that I couldn't wait to try it again when I got home, and it is my own home-made mozzarella which makes an appearance in the recipe I'm sharing with you today. Alli teaches these classes regularly at her Auckland cooking school, The Gourmet Gannet, so if you live up there or are passing through I highly recommend taking a class with her if you can.
Our last session of the day was a Tea Tasting & Food Match with John van Forp of t Leaf T. We tried three different teas - Jasmine Dragon Pearls, Kawakawa Fire, and New Zealand Breakfast, with samples of all three turning up in our goodie bags. I especially loved the Jasmine Dragon Pearls and the Kawakawa Fire, which you may recall I used in the upside down pineapple cake I shared with you last week.
And so, all good things must come to end. It was a fantastic couple of days, and I have no doubt that every single person agreed that Shirleen, of Sugar & Spice ... and All Things Nice, and Alli, of Pease Pudding, did a fantastic job of organising everything to a highly professional standard, and they now have a job for life organising future Food Bloggers Conferences. Of course, such an event would not have been possible without the support of so many extraordinary sponsors - incredible people who gave of their time and fabulous products to ensure that we not only had a great conference but went home with bags full of wonderful goodies to try. Please check out this page to see all the incredible people and companies who helped to made this such a fantastic event, and if you get the opportunity do try some of their amazing products. I'm not just saying that because they gave us free stuff - yes, they did, but having now munched and sampled my way through two big goodie bags, I can also tell you with absolute sincerity that this free stuff also happens to be the really good stuff. Keep watching this space for more recipes using some of these great products. Lastly, if you happen to be a New Zealand food blogger (whether you are living in New Zealand or abroad), and if after reading this you feel inspired to join up, then head over here - it will cost you nothing and I promise you won't regret it.
And now, as your reward, for being so patient and reading so far, I give you salad. The jumping off point for this salad came from using the home-made mozzarella I was inspired to make after doing Alli's master class at the conference. Of course, if you're not up for making your own mozzarella, you could use whatever you can get your hands on - buffalo would be ideal. I had some rocket (that's arugula to some of you) and fennel in the fridge, which seemed like they would be good mates with the mozzarella, and I wanted to team them all up with some of the gorgeous Moon Over Martinborough extra virgin olive oil that was in our conference goodie bags. The quantity given below was perfect for me as a main meal, but it would also make a great side to just about anything and as such would serve two to three. This salad is light, crisp, fresh ... all the things a spring salad should be.
Rocket, Fennel & Mozzarella Salad Recipe
Serves 1 person as a meal or
Serves 2-3 persons as a side dish
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
(Note: I think of this dish as being "vegetarian-enough" for me, but look for vegetarian mozzarella if you want to make it strictly so)
1x ball buffalo mozzarella
(I used about 4 small balls of home-made mozzarella)
1x lemon, zest & juice
extra virgin olive oil, best quality you can afford
flaky sea salt
freshly ground pepper
2-3 large handfuls of baby rocket (arugula)
1/2 large fennel bulb (or 1 small one)
dash of maple syrup
Cut mozzarella into slices about 1cm (1/3 inch) thick and place into a small bowl. Add the grated zest of half the lemon, and juice of the whole lemon, along with a generous slosh of olive oil (about a tablespoon). Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Season well to combine and set aside to marinate for a couple of hours.
To prepare the fennel, remove the fronds if there are any and set them aside to garnish your finished salad with. Cut off the woody stalks protruding from the bulb, and remove the thick outer "leaves" - discard. Cut the bulb in half and remove the woody core, which you should also discard. Then slice as thinly as you possibly can - a mandoline is especially useful for this job if you have one.
To assemble the salad, arrange the rocket and fennel over a serving platter. Remove mozzarella from its marinade, reserving the marinade, and arrange over the salad.
The marinade is now about to become the dressing for your salad. Add another generous slosh of olive oil and a dash of maple syrup to balance out the tartness of the lemon, and whisk to a vinaigrette consistency. Taste and adjust any of the seasonings to suit your palate.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad and, if you have any fennel fronds, strew them over the top.
I hope you enjoy this salad. I'm no expert on food and wine matching, but I'm guessing that a drop or two of that Ritzling Bottled Happiness would be good company with this ... if only I'd kept mine long enough to find out. Still now that I know where to get it in Nelson, you can bet that I will be able to confirm this recommendation in the near future.