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Little luxuries

April 9, 2010

Everyone likes to splurge on different things. For some girls it’s shoes, or sparkly things, or I don’t know, ribbons. I’ve always found (and being a student with a pretty modest cashflow helps) that most of my splurges go on food items. Why? Well, first of all, splurging on some olives for example might cost about $10, compared to a dream pair of shoes that might cost two hundred pounds, and goodness knows how much to ship out to where I am. If they even ship them at all. Anyway. I want to know what everyone else splurges on and why, because it helps knowing which things are worth paying that little bit extra for. I mean, I’ve had my share of disappointments (and you’re welcome to share those too), and no one likes splurging on a dud. Here are a few of the current splurges:

From left to right:

Telegraph Hill Garlic Olives (300g for $9)
bought at Countdown above the deli fridges
These aren’t pitted so are totally packed with flavour (Jamie Oliver would approve, and seriously, who can resist his advice?), plus they are soaked in a blend of balsamic and garlickyness. Also they’re in a sealed pouch, which is genius. Did I mention these are SO MUCH NICER than olives from a jar, or god forbid, a can? If you’re seriously clever you can use the juices to make a delicious salad dressing or throw it into a tagine or stew for extra flavour.

Sovrano Pantelleria Salted Capers (normally $8 for 100g)
bought at Countdown above the deli fridges
I picked these up for $3.50, and I just tried one. Erm, all I can say is that I’m glad I didn’t pay $8 for these, but they’re not bad. Strange after being used to sour capers. Verdict with potato salad to come.

Lindt Dark Chocolate (ok, any of their chocolate) (100g for $4)
Most supermarkets worldwide and most delis
If you ever bake something that requires only chocolate, try using Lindt, and you will be blown away by the difference it makes. Not only is Lindt smoother, but there is no acrid aftertaste, just pure, unadultered bliss. It’s also still cheaper than using Valrhona, especially in New Zealand.

Cyclops Organic Yogurt (500g for $4)
Most supermarkets in New Zealand
The creamyness of this yogurt is pretty extreme, and even plain, it’s amazing. Very tart and tangy, so a little will be all you need. Definitely thicker than your average yogurt and probably the best yogurt you can get easily at most supermarkets. Awesome in smoothies.

The Village Press Extra Virgin Olive Oil (1L for $21)
Countdown and Fresh Choice supermarkets
I love the fact that this comes in a light-proof box with a tap so oil doesn’t get all over the sides of the bottle. It’s very easy to control your drizzling with the tap this way. I prefer the Manzanillo olive blend but they don’t do this in 1L containers. This makes stunning olive oil doughs perfect for pizza bases or a simple focaccia. That’s the only time I’d ever apply much heat to it though – proper cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is light and heat sensitive (well, it’s healthy bits are anyway). Just some good olive oil on fresh tomatoes with some salt and pepper, plus some fresh torn basil, is a treat to be savoured.

Balsamic vinegar from Modena (Aceto Balsamico di Modena)($8.50 for 250ml)
I got mine from Mitchelli’s in poplar lane. Usually good delis will have something similar.
There is no way to really replicate or replace or reproduce a good balsamic. It’s the basis of most of my salads, and this stuff comes in a handy spray bottle which is great for diffusing the flavour on lettuce leaves. Because of how strong the flavours are, I only use a spritz or two, or a teaspoon if i’m dipping bread in it.

Vanilla beans (Equagold) ($9 for 4×8″) in a tube in front of the balsamic bottle
Petrini in Ferrymead, or Piko Wholefoods do 2 beans for about $6
If you’ve never used vanilla beans, START NOW. Those little bottles of vanilla extract at the supermarket are seriously taking you for a ride. Why? To make vanilla extract, use one of your old bottles. Wash it out. Fill it almost to the top with vodka, split half a vanilla bean, pop in the bottle, screw the lid back on, wait 2 months. You will have vanilla extract to envy. Make a batch of vanilla cupcakes, and you will thank me (hopefully with fresh flowers or chocolates, but I’m not fussy). Or make vanilla sugar by splitting a bean or two and letting them sit in an airtight sugar container. shake every now and then, and swoon when you open the container even just a week later. This will save you so much on vanilla products. The beans in the extract can be used 2-3 times, and the vanilla in the sugar can be left in there for years. Or you can pick them out and stick in a jam. Or you can use fresh vanilla beans, scrape out the seeds and make anything just heavenly. Seriously smart on the value front and so rewarding. I will stop ranting about vanilla now. But only for now.

Stoneground organic wholemeal flour ($20 for 5kg)
Fresh Choice, possibly New World, Piko Wholefoods and any other organic stores.
I wouldn’t say the taste is necessarily affected, but the fact that this is stoneground means that you definitely get the good wheatgermy bits (the healthiest part of the wheat kernel). Plus because of this, the flour has to be pretty fresh as the germ is the first part to go rancid. Partly this is produced locally as well, which means it’s likely fresher than imported flour. Also the stoneground texture is slightly finer and softer on the tongue than regular wholemeal which can have sharp bran bits (the original reason I hated wholegrain stuff). Since I bake all my own bread and make a lot of my own pastry, I figure I’m saving enough on the bread front, right? Plus, the deep brown colour this flour makes is just comforting.

Dried porcini mushrooms ($5.80 for 20g)
I got mine at Petrini, but they’ve been spotted at Piko and Countdown above the deli fridges (close to the overpriced cheeses).
I know the price seems extreme (works out to $290 per kilo), but due to the fact that NZ doesn’t do fresh porcinis, the fact that mushrooms are light in the first place, and the fact that dried mushrooms are even lighter, it ends up being just about acceptable. These pack a huge punch flavour wise. I only used about 10g for a risotto that would serve 3. They swell up once soaked overnight too, so breathe. Also, never pour out the water you use to soak these with, they are like a very amazing stock.

Mainland Unsalted butter (500g for $4.80)
I remember the days when you could get butter for $2. Then again, I also remember making salty brownies. Unsalted butter is the way to go, and good unsalted butter is even more fabulously creamy and dreamy. Mainland is the best value for money in New Zealand, especially from the foil-wrapped variety (foil prevents other odours in your fridge nestling into the butter apparently…I just like my brownies not too salty, thanks!).

Sovrano Hazelnut oil, price unknown
I was lucky enough to get this as a gift from the lovely Ro, so thankfully, I don’t know how much this stuff costs. Nut oils are always expensive, but DAMN, this hazelnut oil is awesome! For me the top 3 flavoursome nut oils are: walnut oil, hazelnut oil, and sesame seed oil (shush now, I know it’s not a nut). They actually do taste stunning, either in salads or drizzled over cooked veges. Ro also made carrot cake with the walnut oil and recommends that. If you buy little bottles you might even be able to eat the rest of the week!

Dried shiitake mushrooms ($7 for a 150gish bag)
Most Asian supermarkets have them, although I got mine from Full Season Fruit and Vege shop. It’s best to get good quality ones, and try them out in small batches. Shiitake mushrooms are absolutely amazing for vegetarians or vegans, because they’re incredibly meaty and being dry, easy to store in the pantry for ages. You only need a little and they puff up quite dramatically in water (the super juicy ones are best). Did I mention that their flavour is amazing?! Very savoury and sort of smoky and rich. I actually preferred the dried ones to the fresh ones I had when I was in China. Soak them with a dash of soy sauce for extra punch. Also, never pour out the water you use to soak these with, they are like a very amazing stock.

Not pictured:

Real cheese from a dedicated cheese shop. If in Christchurch, Canterbury Cheesemongers or Petrini do lovely cheeses. Everything in that place looks SO good (the cheese sticks and gingerbread at CC are amazing).
Ok, good cheese is pretty expensive. However, if you love cheese, it can be worth investing in about 100g which will last you a good while as they are so strong you only need about 1/4 of the amount of regular cheese if you’re using it in something. On crackers or breads you only need a sliver. Which comes with its own benefits (ie, less fat too). What I love about proper cheese shops is that you can try before you buy, get as much or as little as you like, and the selection is just so huge! Most of all though, the cheese is noticeably richer. Sometimes it’s not even much more expensive than what you would pay at a supermarket. Plus anyone who works at a cheese shop can usually recommend good cheeses based on your personal preferences, and this advice is invaluable. After eating supermarket gouda and being put off, the ladies at CC restored my faith in trying things you thought you didn’t like. They always have specialty condiments that are incomparably nicer than their supermarket counterparts too, like quince jams and walnut and fruit jelly logs. My guilty pleasures include goat’s gouda, smoked brie and a not-too-mature parmesan.
Remember to store cheese in the paper, then in a plastic container.

Good quality cocoa, often not available at the supermarket
I bought my revolutionary cocoa from Piko Wholefoods. It’s now essential for any cocoa cakes or brownies I make, and I will never ever go back to buying anything from the supermarket (well, anything like Cadbury’s or Nestle anyway).

Clearwater Organic Yogurt
Available at Fresh Choice and some delis (Traiteur in Merivale), as well as Piko. This yogurt made me almost fall off my chair. This yogurt is better than ice cream, or you know, life itself. Life and love and all that is good in the world. It’s made with actual fresh milk, no powdered milk, and boy does this make a HUGE difference. It’s sad that it’s one of the few that is only made with real milk. If you don’t like wibbly custardy things, maybe go for Cyclops yogurt, but otherwise, mix Clearwater’s with some gooey honey or maple syrup, spoon straight onto the tongue, and you will faint with joy, ecstatically gurgling rather sloppily, and no longer fear death itself. It’s very mild and not too heavy (not like greek yogurt), but somehow it still inspires open mouthed demands for more.

Fresh nuts, not from a supermarket
Sorry supermarkets, but nuts have to be fresh, and frankly, you let them sit on the shelf for far too long. Head to Piko, whose nuts (as it were) are amazing, especially their roasted hazelnuts. Or a farmers market maybe. They’re not any more expensive than supermarket nuts, promise, but they are sooooooooooo much nicer, not rancid like the ones at supermarkets.

Quince Paste from the Farmer’s Market
Sadly I don’t remember the lady’s name…but for $4 a pottle her quince paste was affordable and memorably delicious. I have no idea how to make quince paste and what goes into it, but I’ve had supermarket sourced quince paste and let me tell you – they don’t even taste like they come from the same fruit! The stuff I managed to pick up had fabulous hints of honey, so if you’re a blue cheese fan, head on out this Saturday. Or if you’re not free this Saturday, Canterbury Cheesemongers have a fantastic selection too.

Mozzarella on home made pizza
Check if the grated stuff is cheaper, because oddly sometimes it is. Other than that, if you try it, then I will need to say no more!

Non-pitted olives
Those scary little black things that get put on cheap pizzas give olives a bad name. Even at your supermarket deli, they will sell plump deep purple olives with their pits intact. The pits are not fun to remove, granted, but the difference in taste is amazing

Home made smoothies and milkshakes, with real fruit
Can you tell I have finally invested in an immersion blender? Use tip top ice cream and nice yogurt if you’re going to make your own smoothies. Then use fresh fruit. Then smile. Although you could use poached/stewed fruit or even jam if you’re using a super sour yogurt.

Bread from an independent baker
Well, even those bakeries outside the supermarket will do, but if you want bread nirvana without getting your hands covered in flour, then I suggest heading to a farmer’s market or specialty bread shops. My favourite place for fabulous bread in Christchurch (it’s open 7 days and is also a really good cafe) is Vic’s bakehouse, on Victoria Street.

So what do you splash out on, and why?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2010 11:12 am

    Your tips on the vanilla sound really good! Mmm, vanilla. Yum. I love Cyclops yoghurt, too (although I haven’t had it in ages).

  2. Phoebe permalink
    April 10, 2010 9:44 pm

    Hazelnut oil sounds grand :) On that note, I guess I splash out on caramelised nuts. Yuuum…I don’t have them regularly though. After trying these mind-blowing caramelised nuts in Sydney I think I’ve become some sort of elitist caramelised nut-eater. Mwahaha. <3 your blog by the way :)

  3. April 11, 2010 1:02 pm

    I am reknowned for going on holiday and coming home with a suitcase full of “foodstuffs”. Other women come home with shoes and handbags – me I would be the Imelda Marcos of the pantry department (if there were such a thing)! My favourite thing to splash out on is white truffle butter (haven’t found it anywhere in Christchurch) but you can get it online from Sabato, about $20-$25 for a small bottle – but hey, way cheaper than $70+ for a single truffle, and still packs plenty of flavour. Got the idea from an Ina Garten recipe – we had Tagliatelle with White Truffle Butter for Xmas lunch – super easy ansd felt like a really luxurious treat.

  4. April 11, 2010 1:47 pm

    YL: Cyclops is teh bomb for smoothies. Also if you’re a real scrooge like me I use the dried out vanilla beans from my vanilla sugar and throw them in poached fruit, then scrape out the seeds once they’re rehydrated. It’s amazing how much potency those little black beans keep!

    P: I’ve been meaning to make nut brittle from Pastry Pal for aaaages! She makes it look really easy too. Here’s the link if you’re stretched for craving cash:

    C&C: I’ve only seen truffle oil but even for me, $36 on a little bottle is a little much. Especially since I also recently indulged in pricey boots :$ Although I do hear a little goes a long way…I will definitely post about it if I do swipe some though! Cheers for the link to Sabato too!

  5. Rob permalink
    April 11, 2010 6:55 pm


    My, not strictly vegetarian, addition.

    Oyster Stout from Three Boys Brewery. Really thick and flavoursome, its pretty much a food item. Also made locally and is un-pasteurised, which means it’s healthy, which means its a rather common splurge for me actually. Probably really good it stews etc. if I could ever stop myself from drinking it straight.

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