What a week. On Monday my friend Rosemary came for Wellington on a Plate; her plane landed in sunshine but by the time we got to the Te Papa carpark, en route for lunch at Hippopotamus, snowflakes were falling thickly. Lunch was terrific from start to finish, completely different from Arbitrageur - no second-class treatment, a perfect table with the best view of the harbour (slate-grey, with a strange snowlit sky over the dark Eastbourne hills) and excellent service to go with the faultless food (Wairarapa lamb shank tortellini, bluenose on sautéed Ōtaki leeks with beurre blanc sauce). After a trip to Moore Wilson, we got home just before the snow covered the drive to match the garden.
We had some more good lunches, but the star turn was the concert and dinner put on by La Bella Italia at the Lower Hutt Little Theatre. By then the exotic snow had given way to relentless sheets of rain and a howling southerly, so we were incredibly grateful when two of the four friends we were going with drove us out and then insisted on driving us back, even though they live in the Hutt. Four soaring songs from soprano Julia Booth, prosecco and antipasta nibbles in the foyer, another four songs, then dinner at beautifully set tables right on the stage itself. (I think that's my black back right of centre - I was wearing warm velvet with layers underneath, and I needed them!)
We had risotto with taleggio cheese, pears, and walnuts, roast pork stuffed with prunes, and almond panna cotta. It was great fun as well as great eating, I was so pleased I'd managed to organise it.
The other highlight came courtesy of Julio. I hadn't had much time to get ready for Rosemary, and he offered to make a dessert for Monday night. I thought he said "pudding", but in fact it was "pudin" - a brilliant Brazilian version of creme caramel, again featuring condensed milk.
Pudin de leite condensado - Julio's creme caramel
1 cup hot water (poured from a boiled kettle)
Butter to coat the dish - you need a deep round china or glass dish with straight sides
Melt the butter and brush it very thinly over the base and sides of the dish.
In a small heavy-based saucepan, heat the sugar with a splash of water until about a quarter of it has melted.
Using a wooden spoon, give it a gentle stir and continue to cook and stir until it's turned to liquid and is a dark golden colour (10-15 minutes in all). Take the pan off the heat and carefully add enough water to give you the amount you need to thickly coat the base of the dish. You might need to remelt it over the heat and stir to get rid of any lumps. (I like LOTS of caramel. If you're a bit scared of this process, use the microwave caramel recipe I gave here.)
Carefully pour it into the dish, turning the dish to coat the bottom evenly and go a little way up the sides.
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp flour
1 tin milk (not trim milk - use the condensed milk tin to measure it)
Preheat oven to 220C.
Sieve the eggs into a bowl.
Add condensed milk, stir well, and blend in the flour with a whisk.
Add milk and blend it in too.
Pour into the prepared dish, leave it to cool a little, and cover the dish with foil (dull side up).
Stand the dish in a metal roasting dish. Pour enough boiling water around it to come 3/4 of the way up the sides.
Bake for 1 hour or until the creme is well set. Remove from water, leave it to cool, cover with cling film and put it in the fridge. Take out at least an hour before you want to serve it.
To serve, carefully run a thin knife blade around the creme. Place a large plate with slightly raised sides or a rim (to hold any runny caramel) on top of the dish. Holding the plate firmly in place, turn the dish over so that the creme settles neatly onto the plate with the caramel on top.
This was just as delicious as any of the professional creations I ate this week. Rosemary was very impressed. Obrigado, Julio!
PS: I wrote this whole post last night but Google threw a hissy fit and lost the lot!