When we first moved to New Zealand, Andy and I put all our worldly goods on a ship and set off with our backpacks to get here overland. We arrived in Auckland, miraculously within a couple of weeks of our furniture getting here - through luck rather than good judgement, believe me - hired a car and mooched our way down the country slowly, heading for Wellington, our final destination. We spent some time on the Coromandel, in Hawke's Bay, through Rotorua and Taupo, getting further and further south, until we were within one day's drive of the city. Talking to people on the way down, their comments started to change from general "oh lovely, it's a great city" observations to "the journey's not so bad, once you get over the hill", and "just the hill to cope with now!" We'd laugh and nod along, then when alone, turn to each other, confused, and wonder, "what hill?"
What hill indeed. For those of you that don't know New Zealand, Wellington is cut off from a large part of the North Island by a hill range (or, as we call them in NW England, mountains) named The Rimutakas. We have since learned that they get better with experience but that first time, to two newbies from the UK, they were horrible. Hugging the wall of the hill to one side, with sheer drops on the other and nothing to separate you from plunging down a ravine but a rickety fence (oh, and actual driving skills of course), they will never be a favourite way to spend an afternoon but two things make it marginally better: 1) Wilson, our van, refuses to go uphill at speed (or anywhere at speed) so we take it fairly easy, pulling over frequently to let people past and feeling like the most popular people on the hill at all the thank you beeps and waves for doing this, and 2) the Wairarapa, on the other side of the hill, is just lovely.
We went over to the Wairarapa for two weekends in a row - the first, we camped at Martinborough, home of wine in this neck of the woods, while we went on a day trip to watch a rugby match at the Tui Brewery - fully recommended as a day out, it was relaxed and sunny and fun and a bit of an eye opener so perfect all round really. Combined with a lunch at our favourite vineyard, Vynfields, on the Sunday, it was pretty fantastic.
The main house at Vynfields was originally located about 10 houses away from where we currently live, which gives me a mild thrill. Moving house here can sometimes be meant quite literally.
The second weekend was to the small village of Featherston, to celebrate the wedding of two good friends. They're a very fun and stylish couple, and this was reflected in their fun and stylish wedding - such generous hosts, the emphasis was very much on the party - after all the dancing I would willingly have paid someone to remove my feet if it meant removing my VERY high heels with them. Similarly my head the next day after all that lovely wine.
Two busy weekends in a row meant that by the Sunday night I was craving beef. And broccoli. My withered head couldn't make sense of that at that moment in time; when I processed it a day or so later it was obvious I was feeling somewhat low on iron. And so Monday, coinciding with Chinese New Year, found me making Chinese Beef & Broccoli with Special Fried Rice. Good job I left it a day really; on Sunday I was lying on my sofa pitifully whimpering "beeeeeeef", and I definitely could not have coped with all the last-minute togetherness that these two dishes require. Really good though.
Chinese Beef & Broccoli with Special Fried Rice
Adapted from the brilliant blog, Steamy Kitchen
The rice you need to start much earlier than you want to eat - it's a good use for leftover plain boiled or steamed rice, provided you cool it down quickly and keep it in the fridge. I wasn't this organised, so cooked some in the rice cooker earlier on in the day then fridged it.
1 decent sized sirloin steak, thinly sliced (if you find it difficult to slice, put it in the freezer for 10 minutes and it will be a bit easier)
1 head of broccoli
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed (or do as I do and finely grate it on the Microplane)
1 teaspoon cornflour, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon soy sauce plus 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon plus another teaspoon Chinese rice wine
0.5 teaspoon cornflour
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
0.25 cup chicken stock
Start off by marinating the beef in the teaspoon of soy sauce, teaspoon of rice wine, 0.5 teaspoon cornflour and plenty of black pepper. Leave for at least 10 minutes.
While this is marinating, cook the brocolli for about a minute until still crunchy. Drain and give a quick dunk under the cold tap to stop the cooking process.
Put the oyster sauce, chicken stock, teaspoon of rice wine and tablespoon of soy sauce in a small bowl, and stir well - this is the sauce.
Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat, and when hot, add the cooking oil. Add the beef and leave it, no stirring, for about a minute. Turn the slices over, keeping them in one layer as much as you can, then add the garlic. After about 30 seconds - this is really quick work - pour in the sauce, add the broccoli and bring to a boil. Pour in the cornflour in the water and stir until thickened - about 30 seconds.
10 large prawns (I used frozen ones that I'd left to defrost while the rice was cooling)
salt and freshly ground pepper
0.5 teaspoons cornflour
1 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 spring onions, finely sliced
Cooked and cooled rice - from 1 cup of uncooked rice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Handful of frozen peas, thawed
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Marinade the prawns in the salt, pepper, and cornflour. Leave it for 10 minutes. This is the same length of time as the beef marinades for which is either kismet or coincidence.
Heat another large pan over high heat. When it is hot, add one tablespoon of vegetable oil, fry the prawns without moving them for 30 seconds, then turn them, and cook for another 30 seconds. Try to make sure they are in a single layer. Using a slotted spoon, remove them to a plate, leaving as much oil in the pan as you can.
Turn the heat down to medium. Pour in the eggs and scramble them then, when they are nearly cooked, tip them out to the same plate as the prawns. Wipe out the pan with kitchen roll. Heat back up to high.
Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, add the spring onions, stirring them for about 15 seconds, then add the cold rice, mixing well with the onions and to coat with the oil. Spread it out over the surface of the pan and leave it, no touching, for about a minute or so - listen to it and you will hear it start to crackle and pop - that's when you flip it, and spread it out again.
Pour the soy sauce over the top, then the peas, the prawns, eggs and sesame oil. Heat it all back up again 'till it's super scorching hot. Taste it, adding some more soy sauce if you think it needs it.