30 December 2007

Benny: "And The Owner Of That Lot Next Door Has A Right To Do With It As He Pleases" Collins: "Happy Birthday, Jesus."

As the above quote shows, Rent, though written in the nineties and set in the eighties, can still be relevant to people today. Well, me, at least. My parents' house - the place I grew up in - is mere pit-spitting distance from what used to be the local tavern, back when tiny country villages patronised such premises. It has long been closed down, but now a company wants to turn it into an enormous, chugging oil-rerefinery, which will mean that as we look out our windows the spectre of sky-high silos will greet us. So, the small community is doing its Erin Brockovich Darn'dest to oppose this, but unfortunately, like Maureen's laboured protest in Rent, we don't have all that much to fight with.

Meanwhile, camping is blissful, and I am spending a brief hiatus at home in order to pick up Tim, who is travelling up to join us today. I realise Christmas is old news now, but because I have been a trifle busy/lazy, I haven't got around to posting the pictures till now. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were both a complete flurry of mad cooking in the midday sun.

Above: Nigella's Frangipane Christmas Mince Tarts. Any smugness I felt at actually making my own fruit mince to put in the pastry cases was swiftly obliterated as I grappled with the nightmare that was the pastry. My parents don't own a food processor (they do have a blender, so they aren't complete heathens) so I had to make it by hand, which in the oppressive heat doesn't make for cooperative pastry. I ended up patching bits onto each other, praying that it wouldn't stick to the tins, and couldn't roll it out for love nor money so I only got to make a half batch.

Above: Luckily the sodding things were delicious...all smugness returned.

Above: I made two of the Marzipan Fruit Cakes from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, to give away as presents. They are very easy to make, and the mixture is delicious, all orange scented and rummy. The only difficult thing was lining the sides of the tins with baking paper. Nearly ended up throwing the whole thing out the window.

Above: The baked cake, paper lining and all. Chunks of real marzipan and dried pears make this rather different and luxe, but also make it a mission to stir without flinging chunks of batter into one's hair.

I don't seem to have any photos of the Christmas lunch itself, which must have been on a different camera. It was a very relaxed, joyfully low-key affair, and we feasted upon roasted lamb with Za'tar (Christmas present!!), roast chicken, new potatoes, and roasted capsicum, beetroot, and zucchini .

Above: Nigella's Pomegranate Jewel Cake, from Feast. The perfect cake for (a) a family with members dabbling in Gluten-free, and (b) a family whose members uncharacteristically do not want anything tooo rich for pudding. It is also perfect for Rosh Hashana, for that is the chapter in Feast it came from. It is not, however, a cake to make when you are stressed and have fifty thousand other things that need baking too and you suspect your oven is on the blink. Miraculously everything got cooked in the end, and I even managed to turn this slightly fragile cake out onto its own plate (not having the right-sized springform tin.) Pomegranates are expensive in Waiuku so I only used one, not the two that the recipe stipulated, but I think this still looks gorgeously rubied and very, (although not obviously intentionally), Christmassy.

So that was Christmas Day, and we did the whole shebang again on Christmas Night with a family who have been our neighbours, one way or another, for many many generations, and who are exactly the sort of people you would want to have second pudding of the day with. Now that we are out camping we are still eating very well; I would be able to show you photos as evidence but Blogger won't upload for some reason. We have been camping there for 21 years now, and each year it gets better and better, but also more crowded unfortunately. I have already read four-and-a-half books - what more could one want for their summer?

27 December 2007

"Up With My Tent!"

...so spake Shakespeare's Richard III before launching into battle with Richmond, he of the perfectly coiffed hair and charming Welsh accent - at least in the BBC version.

It is also what I would have been saying today had it not been raining intermittently, followed by an icy blast of clattering hailstorms tonight. It is still bucketing down now. We managed to find a brief patch of sun in which to claim a patch of ground at the campsite, in the manner of the Outrageous Fortune Christmas Special - but in this weather I fear for the state of the tents which we left behind as a marker of our territory. Nevermind - being damp and uncomfortable is part of the many joys of camping.

In other news, I spent Boxing Day eating leftovers and reading the charming Anne of Green Gables,wishing resentfully all the while that my eyes were at least half as starry as the titular Anne's are constantly made out to be. I hope everyone had a fabulous Christmas. As at least a third of my readership spent Christmas in my company, I know I can reply fairly confidently that yes, it was a great day. Actual blogging will ensue shortly, with lots of pictures of the "flesh and wine" that was consumed in enormous proportions.

I am, however, still stinging at the $80 that Pacific Blue charged me in overweight luggage fines...

23 December 2007

I'll Be Home For Christmas...

But Tim won't be. I have just returned from the cable car, where I left Tim who was on his way to get his bus to Palmerston North. I'm catching a flight in an hour to Auckland...I know it's only a week, but why oh why is Palmerston North so far away from Waiuku? Anyway, no need to be doleful because Christmas is nearly here! Hoorah! Fa la la la la! Today is the 23rd of December, "Little Christmas Eve" as my brother and I call it, and this is my last post from Hadfield for the year - next time it will be from the computer at home, and possibly after Christmas.

We have been eating funny meals lately, lots of bits and pieces. We had some bananas growing rapidly decrepit in the fruit bowl, so I thought I'd better make something with them. I ended up making the Banana Muffins from Nigella's How To Be A Domestic Goddess. I had previously bypassed this recipe because, well, it didn't really interest me - banana muffins are nice and all, but nothing new, if you know what I mean. Well I should have known that Nige would be able to create something exciting from even the most commonplace thing. The muffins were wonderful - light, spongy, redolent with honey. There is only 2 tablespoons of honey, no actual sugar, only 30g butter (bugger all when shared between 12 cakes) no eggs and no milk. I almost thought there was a typo when I first scanned the page - what on earth held the mixture together, I don't know, but again, they tasted beautiful.

Above: Nigella's banana muffins. Eating is believing - these really are special.

Above: Last night's dinner was effectively the last meal I was going to be cooking for Tim and I before we went our separate ways, and anyone who knows how I feel about cooking dinner will know that this is a big deal. I didn't want to spend any more money on food, so I followed Nigella's wonderful pasta recipe, which makes a feast out of bugger all (some flour and a couple of eggs.)

There is a running joke in the flat that Tim and I get very, very tense with each other while trying to wrangle the pasta maker, causing the other flatmates to get nervous at its very presence. Luckily we were mature enough to work out our differences last night, even when I accidentally left the cut pasta in a fast-congealing lump and we had to re-roll the whole lot again. The pasta machine was an impulse buy (as one does) but is worth the effort for the silky, tender, unbelievably delicious pasta it yields.

Above: I tossed the pasta in a little butter and freshly grated nutmeg, and roasted the last of whatever veges we had in the fridge to go with it. Delicious!

Above: Because we are so recklessly impulsive, Kieran, Tim and I decided to go out for breakfast this morning instead of packing. Which is, to be fair, a rather miserable job. We went to Epic again, and it was just as amazing as it was last time. From left - Kieran's Eggs Montreal, my Vegan big breakfast ("The Herbivore") and Tim's Ranch-style cookup. I didn't feel like anything too heavy, which is why I uncharacteristically went for the vegan feed. It was perfectly filling, the veges were delicious and the grainy bread it was served on was incredible. We sat outside in the sun and sipped spirulinas with our meals. Seriously - go there if you are in Wellington.

Now I have to run round and do that last minute panic thing, as you do, and say goodbye to the goldfish. Not sure when my next post will be but I'm sure everyone's far too busy to be online anyway. My bags are laden with all the foodie gifts I've made for people - I hope like heck that I don't get fined for overweight luggage at the airport. Merry Christmas Everyone!!

21 December 2007

"Oh, The Weather Outside Is Frightful"

But let me tell you, this cheesecake is delightful.

Above: It worked! Oh how it worked. Nigella has a whole stash of cheesecake recipes that up until now I'd put in the basket labelled "hmm looks pleasantly gratifying but a little too hard and - waterbath! Heck no, sister!" Am now a complete convert.

It shows that you really should trust more in Nigella, when she says not to be put off by the waterbath...well, don't be. Wrapping the batter-filled tin with foil and placing it in a roasting dish, which I filled with boiling water and then got Tim to ferry precariously to the oven - well it wasn't that difficult at all. Now I'm looking forward to trying out in the future her chocolate cheesecake, New York cheesecake, apple cheesecake...and maybe taking out shares in Philadelphia cheese.

Above: Just to put it in context, (and because it's not all about me) I'd better mention that we had a shared dinner on Wednesday night - it was supposed to be a barbeque but it was hosing down with rain, in a non-summery kind of way. Naturally, it was the day that Tim and I picked three weeks ago to go Christmas shopping. What a long day! I was exhausted by the end of it all, (and terrified to look at my bank balance!) We went into the Christmas Grotto (or whatever they are calling it these days) at Kirkcaldie and Staines, and nearly had a hernia at all the blinking lights. There were different 'concept' trees everywhere, and Tim and I (okay, mostly Tim) estimated that one tree alone -we checked some price tags- would cost upward of $3000 if you wanted to duplicate it in your home. We also found this music box that - would you believe it - recreated the entire Nutcracker ballet with little cake decoration dolls and scene changes and everything. I dragged Tim through the Cuisine section ("This would be such a thoughtful gift for someone") before we trudged out into the rain to recommence.

Tim made some sugar free jellies in my old fashioned moulds for dessert on Wednesday. One was a 21st birthday present from my mother's sister, and the other was something I scavenged out in a second hand shop. He turned them out onto the plate with ease and don't they look all jewel-like and festive! The cheesecake tasted lovely - very creamy but also tangy with lime, and the chocolate base was very, very moreish.

I made kedgeree for dinner last night, in one of those "Good grief what on earth will we have for dinner" moments that occur sometimes. Kedgeree always reminds me of Dad because he would often cook it for us at home, though I admit it's not something, to paraphrase Nigella, that you would serve to the ambassador of India. What we ate last night was merely cooked rice with frozen peas, a tin of tuna, some hard boiled eggs and spices stirred through. Still delicious and a good store-cupboard fallback.

Can't tell you what else I cooked last night because there is a good percentage of my readership for whom it will be a Christmas present! I know something you don't know...tee hee.

18 December 2007

Let The Good Times Roll

It is hard to contemplate (A) that it is exactly one week till Christmas and (B) that Outrageous Fortune has really finished- it just doesn't feel like a Tuesday without it. Tim and I are getting up super early tomorrow to go Christmas shopping, so hopefully there is nice weather for it - there were massive wintry rainfalls today which was a bit worrisome.

I've been trying to make sure we eat relatively healthily this week. It doesn't always work.

Above: I always thought that rice paper rolls were a bit like haircuts - best done by professionals. But the recipe in Nigella's Forever Summer showed me that they were in fact, incredibly do-able. A little fiddly, yes, but nevertheless a simple, impressive, and healthy nibble. We even made them while camping last year, if that is any indication of their non-threateningness (should such a word exist.) I made very simple rolls on Sunday night - just grated carrot, sliced avocado and mint, no noodles or anything. I think they were in fact the nicest ones I have ever made. Once you get into a rhythm of dunking the rice paper, laying the filling on their softened surfaces, and rolling them up, there's not much to it at all.

Above: The rice paper rolls were a precursor to our actual dinner, which consisted of roasted vegetables, boiled potatoes, and my usual fall-back when I have no idea what to cook for dinner but Tim wants some kind of meat component to the meal - mince spiced with cumin, cinnamon, etc. I added some cooked down red lentils to the mince, just to make it all the more sparklingly healthy, and grated in some carrot. All in all a model dinner...until...

Above: The real Canadian cake! Alicia's friend sent her a box of Betty Crocker cake mix, complete with a TUB OF ICING and we made it after dinner. Although I am generally vehemently opposed to cakes made from boxes, I was intrigued to say the least. You might not be able to see it in the photo but everything on the packaging is charmingly translated into French as well as English. Anyway, we mixed this up and baked it while watching the Simpsons movie on DVD. How do I put this - the cake was appallingly fabulous. It had this spookily puffy, moist texture, like something not found in nature, and the icing tasted like butter. It also had little clumps of e-numbers, I mean sprinkles, clustered throughout. It tasted pretty amazing, but left me rolling around groaning afterwards, filled with too much sugar.

Above: This was last night's dinner and I have to say, all self-congratulatory, that it was an absolute stonker of a feed. Tim and I went to New World Metro in town to grab some milk after work and ended up spontaneously buying some steak for dinner. I followed a recipe from the New Zealand cookbook, which basically involves frying it and deglazing the pan with sherry and cream. I used the sherry Mum gave me, and the little bit of cream that I had leftover from the pav. Well. It tasted INCREDIBLE, like restaurant food or something. The smell, when the sherry hits the hot pan and starts sizzling, is sensational.

To go with I made a salad of raw, sliced beetroot, blanched brocolli, and cashews, which was very fresh and crisp tasting, and roasted some potatoes. What a feast.

Above: Tonight I kept it fairly simple. Penne pasta, with avocado and roasted beetroot, capsicum, and courgette. I drizzled over a little of the basil oil that Mum and Dad got me when they went to Australia earlier this year, and it was the perfect foil for the mix of flavours on the plate. The beetroot inevitably stained the pasta, but I thought the combo looked rather festive.

Above: Well, I kept it simple until I started to make baked cheesecake, that is...Apparently we are having some kind of flat barbeque tomorrow, I say apparently because it is Emma that is organising it and I'm not quite sure on the particulars. As long as it doesn't rain like it did today we should have a jolly old time. Either way I'm always up for feeding people and so volunteered to make the Chocolate Lime Cheesecake from Nigella Bites, using gluten free cookies for the base. It is largely a case of bunging all the ingredients in the processor, the difficult bit is baking it in a waterbath, but not much is difficult in the kitchen when you have Tim to lift things for you. It is cooling on the bench now and smells pretty amazing. I'll let you know tomorrow night what the general consensus is. I've never made a cheesecake before so it's all a bit exciting.
Alright, it's now past midnight and I have to brave a shopping mall tomorrow, so I need my sleep.

16 December 2007

Epic Proportions

I didn't realise how long it was since I've last posted here, so another long post, sorry! This time of year is pretty busy though, and I can't believe that there is only one week till I go home for Christmas :) and Kieran leaves our flat :( although obviously, he will always be a part of Team Hadfield.

Above: It has been so humid and tropical in Wellington lately that we have been eating our dinner outside a lot. I made this for dinner the other night, using some chops that Tim's parents gave us when we went to their farm in September to help with docking. After defrosting them (naturally, I hadn't kept them in the fridge for three months) I baked them with some of the cranberry conserve that Santa gave me last year, mixed with a little dry mustard powder. They were delicious, all sticky and blackened and meaty. To go with I made the Egyptian Tomato Salad from Nigella Bites, using some of the tomatoes we got from the vege market. This recipe is very easy and really summery. You peel the tomatoes, slice them up with some spring onion, pour over a little olive oil, and leave it to sit for a while for the flavours to develop. The potatoes I just parboiled and fried in my non stick pan in cubes, with some cumin seeds and plenty of salt.

On Friday night I didn't even have dinner (Tim had some toast and leftover lentil soup) because we went to the stadium to see the Phoenix vs Queensland, and by the time I'd got home from work there wasn't any time to cook. It was a very warm, muggy night, perfect for being outside, and the game was lots of fun. We went with Kieran (flatmate) and Alicia (Canadian who also works at Starbucks) and I have to say that being in a crowd of soccer fans (I think there was just over 9000 people there, pretty good for a non-Beckham game here) is a great way of letting out any repressed anger you might have as you yell and curse and chant along that "All we want is a decent referee."

Above: I wish I could say I made this! Tim, Kieran, Alicia and I went out to breakfast the next morning (how very Sex and The City! I thought to my unsophisticated self) at Epic, on Willis Street. They serve the most amazingly enormous and imaginative breakfasts, for very reasonable prices. The above - savoury French toast with mushrooms, chorizo, spinach, grilled capsicum, hollandaise and chutney was only $13, and being the glutton that I am, I got a couple of hash browns on the side. It was seriously good and slowed me down too - I hate paying for tiny meals - and everything tasted of quality, not as though it was out of a packet.

Above: Tim ordered the big vegetarian fry up and then, rather idiosyncratically, asked for bacon and kranky on the side. He had started eating this by the time I took a photo of it, but really, it looks pretty good, huh? Tim said his eggs were cooked perfectly.

Above: Kieran had the Mexican Big Breakfast, with corn fritters on the side, and Alicia had the three-egg omelette. Everything was sooo good! We got there bang on 9.00am (quite an achievement on a Saturday morning, especially since we had been drinking the night before) and there were hardly any people there, but it filled up quickly.

If you are ever in Wellington, make sure you check this place out. There was also a blackboard menu which I forced myself not to look at for fear of never being able to make a decision. Kieran and Alicia got latte bowls, Tim got a flat white (I think the general concession was 'good, but not as good as Starbucks') and I got a lovely spirulina.

Tim had work to go to, but Kieran and Alicia and I made the most of the sun by driving out to Island Bay, which is near to the airport. I'd never been there before - it's such a jewel of a place on a sunny day, real postcard stuff - blue sky, blue-green sea, the cliffs...we chilled in the sun (and yes, I schmeered myself with copious amounts of sunblock) on the pebbly beach and tried to avoid being bitten by the mosquitos that were as big as 747s.

Above: Island Bay. Unlike many beaches in NZ, this one has sun-warmed pebbles instead of sand.

When I got home I started making a pavlova. I didn't have any real motivation to do it, in that we weren't celebrating or something like that, but I had a pomegranate, and I had lots of egg whites in the freezer, and since we are all going home for Christmas soon it's a nice time to eat that sort of food. So, following the recipe for Pomegranate Pavlova in How To Be A Domestic Goddess, I started whipping those egg whites into shape.

Above: Everything was going fine until I realised I'd ran out of cornflour, and of course in the unstable world of pavlova every ingredient is crucial. So I thought maybe I could substitute it with custard powder, which is mostly cornflour anyway, right? Well, I sifted it in, poured over the vinegar...and it made this funny bubbling noise. So I folded it all together, spread the shiny mixture onto the baking tray, and put it in the oven quickly. Then I looked at the ingredients on the custard powder and it had cream of tartar in it. Uh oh! I thought. And hoped for the best.
Anyway while it was baking I got on with dinner, which was good old spag bol (hey, we are students) I put some of the red wine that I wasn't drinking in the spaghetti sauce, which made it smell delicious. I also added some red lentils to it, which cooked down into nothing and added texture and of course, added healthiness. But of course you all should be familiar with my lentil obsession by now...

Above: We ate outside again, because it was so warm. The spag bol tasted great - if only cheese wasn't so expensive, we could have grated some over the top.

We were sitting outside drinking and talking (Tim: beer, Emma: Loud and Lola Cosmopolitan mix, Kieran and I: Red Wine) when the timer went off for the pav. I checked for signs of disaster but apart from being ENORMOUS (it has expanded to take up nearly the whole darn baking tray, which I think the cream of tarter may have had a hand in doing) it seemed to be absolutely fine. I whipped some cream and spread it thickly over, and then came the fun part.

Above: You may or may not know this, but one of the more effective ways of seeding a pomegranate is to hit it repeatedly with a wooden spoon till the ruby seeds rain down. So, here I am, well, smacking the pomegranate.

Above: This pav was soooo delicious, all crisp and sugary without and yieldingly marshmallowy within. The pomegranate also makes a great topping - it looks gorgeous and its fragrantly acidic, crunchy seeds go well with the cream and all the sugar. This is the third pav of Nigella's that I've tried and I have to say they are fantastic recipes.

Above: From the top, the Pomegranate Pav, the Nectarine and Passionfruit Pav, and the Chocolate Raspberry Pav. They make me think of Miss World contestants, all lined up like that. Which do you think looks the prettiest? I sure can't decide...
In other news: Less than ten days till Christmas! Aaaaahhh!!!

12 December 2007

Get Behind Me, Santa!

Yes, I am excited about Christmas, but December seems to be going too fast. It's difficult to focus on each day as it goes by, when you do that get up-go to work-come home-get up for work again thing too often. I realise this sounds horribly patronising coming from a student, but as Jamie Cullum said in his eponymous song, "blame it on my youth," because uni in no way prepares you for the "real world." I guess what I am try to say, in my bungling way, is that I don't want to suddenly wake up and it's Christmas and I have completely forgotten to enjoy the buildup. And go shopping.

By the way - and I can't think of any better place to say it than here - it is one of my greatest regrets in life that I can't sing. It's not like something you can work for in a New Year's Resolution kind of way - you either have it or you don't. You may wonder why I begin my post like this, but I was singing loudly along to the Rent soundtrack today while doing the dishes and as I listened to myself caterwaul it struck me that no matter how much I love to sing, no one would ever hire me to star in a Broadway show. Sigh.

Anyway, enough grumbling! There is lots to catch up on! And I sent Tim on a mission to find tinsel after work, so I can feel more seasonal. The $2 Shop mini tree on top of the microwave just isn't cutting it.

Above: Tomato Rice, a recipe from Nigella's How To Eat, which I made for dinner the other night. This is a perfect example of Nigella's genius. Seriously - please make it!

Tomato Rice (The title is thusly because I can't decide if this is more of a soup or a risotto.)
  • Take a jar of tomato pasta sauce. Empty into a pot, then half fill the jar with water, put the lid on, give it a shake and tip the contents into a pot. Biff a teacup or so of long grain rice into the sauce, and add more water if there doesn't seem to be enough liquid. Cook at a lowish heat for 20 or so minutes, stirring so it doesn't stick, until the rice is cooked. Pa-dah!

It is warm, and comforting, and transports even the most low-rent jar of pasta sauce into something seriously delicious.

To go with this I made Nigella's potato and onion hash, from Feast. It is basically cubed potato, fried till crispy with onion, topped with a fried egg. The perfect supper.

Above: Ahem. You don't need me to point out that I'm not so good at cracking eggs into a pan. But still - it tasted great and is easy as to make. I recommend microwaving the potatoes for about 5 minutes first though, otherwise they take forever to cook in the pan.

Another dinner we had recently was a chicken curry. It was probably more Indian than Thai, despite the presence of a kaffir lime leaf. It's funny, we hardly ever have chicken breasts - they are just so expensive, and thighs taste much better - but they are versatile. So, I thought that I'd have it made when I found some drastically reduced in price the other day (their best before date was looming.) But I couldn't for the life of me think of anything to do with them. Anyway, I ended up making a kind of free-form curry. I fried an onion, and added cumin seeds, ground coriander, tumeric, garlic, and a spoonful of coconut cream, to make a kind of paste. To this I added the diced chicken, a tinful of chopped tomatoes, and a kaffir lime leaf. This simmered away and then I swirled in some more coconut cream and frozen beans before serving over rice. To be honest I was rather impressed with myself - it tasted really good!

Above: The curry bubbling away.

That night (Monday, by the way) I decided to make the Canadian Cake, from my great grandmother's Aunt Daisy cookbook. This title amused me endlessly, I suppose because there is no explanation given for its nomenclature, and because we had a Canadian friend around who was equally amused (it doesn't even have maple syrup in it!) I really had no excuse not to make it.

I made the whole thing in the food processor, which helped for the slightly unusual aspect of this cake - it had a whole orange biffed in it. I should have put the orange in sooner though, instead of at the end once the flour had been incorporated, as it took a while for the chopper blades to wear it down. Nonetheless, it was very easy to make, and despite the fact that we spontaneously decided to drink a lot of red wine on our courtyard outside I managed not to botch it up in any way.

Above: If you were wondering, this is what a Canadian Cake looks like. Tastes good too - a light, moist sponge with a distinct orange flavour and sultanas strewn throughout. Another winner from Aunt Daisy!

Last night's dinner was something altogether different, the Spaghettini Al Sugo Crudo from Nigella's Forever Summer. In layman's terms, it is pasta with a sauce made from chopped tomatoes, steeped in olive oil and garlic. The only difficult thing about this recipe is actually finding decent inexpensive tomatoes. Luckily they are starting to fall in price - I can't remember the last time Tim and I bought some - and we got a bushel of healthy looking ones at the vege market on Sunday. You have to peel them for this recipe but it's really a doddle - just pour over boiling water and let them sit for a bit.

Above: This pasta is so delicious - very simple flavours, but elegant and summery. In a move that Aunt Daisy surely would have approved of, I used the water that I'd poured over the tomatoes to blanch the brocolli and cauliflour, and then used the same water to cook the pasta in. Could I be any more environmental right now?

Finally - I swear, this is the last thing - I made the Blackberry and Apple Kuchen from Nigella Bites. Nigella's version is a sweetened slab of bread which has apple, blackberries, and crumble tumbled over before baking. I had found a punnet of blackberries at the local Four Square for $2.50, and so taken was I with how cheap they were that I had to buy them. This recipe is very easy, the dough is silkily easy to knead and roll out into its tin, and then all you have to do is dice the apple and make the cinnamony crumble. It's a miracle that I didn't muck it up somehow, as the final of Outrageous Fortune was starting when I put it in.

Above: Kuchen in the kitchen. This stuff is sooo good!

Am now off to make a list (and check it twice, I know) of ingredients for all the Christmas presents I'm going to be cooking over the next two weeks. Am also hoping that I get paid soon -eek!

11 December 2007

Slings and Arrows

Just a quick post to say IT'S OVER...We just finished watching the season 3 final of Outrageous Fortune, there was so much drama that I got muscle cramp from being so tensely clenched. Loretta had a bairn and Van delivered it! Judd and Cheryl talked! Munter finally got out of prison in time for his wedding! Gary is Rita's son! And Wolf is still sinister!! How will we cope till season four starts?

Actual cooking tomorrow, I promise.

10 December 2007


"The costumes are retro now, but they weren't retro then. They were 'nowtro.'" (A Mighty Wind) (one of my favourite films.)

After a retro cooking challenge was issued by an online food forum I frequent (ooh, alliteration!) I had a think about what I consider to actually be retro food. There is the obvious stuff - cheese fondue (which I have made successfully, and yes, it is delicious) or prawn cocktail, Boef en Croute and black forest gateaux - the sort of thing one reads about in a Jilly Cooper novel. And I concluded that as a child of '86, I was really too young to be thinking about foods as retro - the closest I can get is being snide about that period in the late nineties/early 2000's, where if it wasn't drowned in balsamic vinegar it was covered in sweet chilli sauce, and chicken, cranberry and brie was the height of haute cuisine.

So I decided to let what was in our cupboards decide for me, and ended up with two distinctly different 'retro' dishes - one being Ratatouille, a dish densely packed with vegetables and, I understand, a classic of the seventies. The other thing I made - little coffee flavoured cakes, inexplicably named "Crybabies," came from an Aunt Daisy cookbook that belonged to my great grandmother. Its margins are scrawled with notes and it is a piece of family history - indeed, social history- which I am very happy to own. It's not what I would necessarily call retro, since the book would have been published in the 30's or 40's, but still pleasingly seems to go with the notion of cooking from the past.

Above: Ratatouille! The recipe I found in Nigella's seminal text, How To Eat. It is so easy to make and is, if one entertains friends this way inclined, both vegetarian and gluten free. I had bought most of the ingredients at the vege market, and the only thing I didn't put in the eggplant-courguette-tomato mix was capsicum because they are really expensive at the moment. It turned out absolutely delicious, by the way, and was a breeze to make in the non-stick pan I got for a 21st birthday present from family friends. (More alliteration, brought to you by the letter F)

Above: The Crybabies (sounds like a bad, coat-tail riding sixties girl group, speaking of retro...) These little cakes were so delicious and easy to make, that I'm going to list the recipe. I halved the original, by the way, but if you have the patience and a ton of golden syrup- be my guest.


Mix together the following: 1/2 cup hot, very strong coffee, 125 g soft butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup golden syrup (or, 6 tablespoons if this helps) 1 t each ground ginger and nutmeg. Stir in enough plain flour till it has a thick, cake batter dropping consistency. Pour 1/2 a teaspoon vinegar over one teaspoon baking soda, let it foam up and stir thoroughly into the batter. Drop spoonfuls onto a baking tray and bake at 180 for 20-25 minutes.

These are so good - spicy and doughy and treacly and perfect for dipping into a hot drink, or, as we ate them, to accompany a good movie. In our case, the amazing animated film Spirited Away, which we watched last night.

So; that was my retro project. I have a small problem now - I am going to be cooking lots of presents for Christmas - if this makes sense - but I can't blog about it because a large proportion of my readers (ie my family) are to be the recipients for said food-gifts and I don't want to ruin the surprise. So, although I have a lot of exciting stuff planned for the rest of the fast-speeding away time before Christmas, you probably won't hear about it!

8 December 2007

"The Brain, The Brain, The Centre of The Chain."

The title doesn't have much to do with anything except for the fact that I am very excited, in a sniffly, boffinish way, to have discovered a Baby Sitters Club blog wherein a 20-something woman goes back and re-reads the books and then writes up all the glaring logistical errors and continuity flaws. The quote is taken from the BSC movie, something I had forgotten about until recently. Yesterday's obsession is todays' charmingly kitsch retro-pop-culture...so watch out. And by that, I mean that I have been on Trademe for BSC books. Shh!

We don't have a heck of a lot of food in our cupboards at the moment. After the massive spree that was shopping for the Christmas dinner, I didn't want to spend any more money on actual groceries. Let me tell you, I am looking forward to the vege market tomorrow.

Above: This here is the very last of the leftovers, and indeed, the last of most of our vegetables. I'm not so good at 'making up' salads, but I was proud of this concoction - the rest of the roast chicken, with roasted cauliflower and red peppers, avocado, and capers. It was so unbelievably delicious! We had this dumped on top of rice, and it was surprisingly filling (you know, for a salad.)

Above: Fish Pie. It is actually a kind of low-rent fish pie that I make a lot in Winter, and since the weather was jarringly cold and wet the other day I decided to have another go at it. Basically it is a can of tuna stirred into white sauce with anything else you have in the fridge - in my case, frozen peas and beans - and topped with breadcrumbs made from crushing toasted bread in your hands. It was inspired by a recipe in the NZ Cookbook, which uses a splash of sherry in the white sauce. I used the sherry Mum gave me recently - its first outing! - and the sauce smelled divine, all winey and warming and delicious. We had this with rice too, some Basmati that Mum sent us (and yes, it does taste a lot nicer than Budget Long Grain.)

Above: Lentil and Potato Pie...you may or may not know that I have a slight obsession with lentils, I think it's just because they are so good for you that I find their very presence in my meal soothing. This was such an easy dish to make, and came from the NZ Cookbook also. Just layers of onion, potatoes, and brown lentils (I biffed a handful of red lentils in too just for kicks) and then pour in some stock and bake for an hour. I used the Knorr porcini stock cubes (that Nigella uses!) that my aunt brought back for me from Italy, which are so intensely savoury and almost fudgily dense with flavour that they make any bland combination of flavours taste wonderful. This was even better the next day, cold for breakfast, as unappetising as it sounds.

Above: I served the potato-lentil amalgam with mince. Just mince. Sometimes I try so hard to make mince exciting and different to what we had the night before (ie, Bobotie, anyone?) that I forget how nice it can be on it's own, just fried with some onion and a splash of soy sauce (for Alison Holst Chic!) It reminds me of this time when I was much younger and Mum was away for the week somewhere. Dad cooked us mince and mashed potatoes, (and no doubt some veges too, knowing Dad) plain as anything, and suggested that the two were nice mixed together. It was so delicious I can remember this meal over ten years later. So, simple can be your friend.

I didn't post last night (Mum, I'm talking to you, here) because of the stonkering fabulous Friday night line up on UKTV. After America's Next Top Model on 3, there is the genius Green Wing on UKTV, followed by Little Britain, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and Shameless. The only thing missing is the old Men Behaving Badly, which I always had a soft spot for. But for real, what a night! How is anyone supposed to move from the telly to go out and do Friday night-type things?
Anyway had better go and cobble together a meal before Tim gets home from making syrup-cinos, so...

Good Bive!

Above: I know, I said no more kittens and music and non-food stuff but...I didn't mean it. Got this photo off a colleague of mine who was also at the game and could nay resist.

5 December 2007

We'll Meat Again

"I don't feel a house is a home until there are leftovers in the fridge, and Christmas leftovers are my all-time favourite."

-Nigella Lawson

At times like these Nigella is highly reliable for a quote about food that doesn't get eaten. She is possibly the only person I can pluck out of the air that fits this description. Having said that, and not surprisingly in a house of five voracious people, there really isn't that much food left after The Christmas Dinner, so my visions of playing what Jade from ANTM 6 would have called "Leftover Lady" have been somewhat quashed. Nevertheless:

Above: Paprikasburgonya! Although it sounds as though it should be followed by the word Gesundheit, this is actually the name of what I made for Tim and I on Monday night to go with the rest of the sweet, sweet ham, and comes from my lovely Jewish Cooking for Pleasure book. And no, I didn't pair the kosher with the pointedly non-kosher just to be funny...the opportunity merely presented itself when I discovered I had all the ingredients.

The title doesn't lie: it was indeed a pleasure to make. Whole, boiled potatoes are cubed and fried till crisp, with capsicum and onions, sprinkled with paprika and swirled with sour cream. Although it sounds stodgy it tasted surprisingly light and used up the rest of the sour cream that went into the rugelach pastry. Pleasingly circular, no?

Last night I thought I'd better use up some of the chicken, which was stirred into penne pasta along with some of the cream cheese (it sort of melts into a sauce), peas, tomatoes, capers, feta and walnuts. Not sure what I was going for, but it certainly tasted alright.

Above: We ate this while watching Coro...which was really just something to occupy our time until Outrageous Fortune. We were all lulled into a soft fug of warm-fuzziness at Loretta being nice and sisterly to Pascalle, and at how adorable Van was being, when we were slapped in the face with Munter's arrest! Not kind, wise Munter! Not to mention the inevitable fireworks that will ensue at Wolf's return - oooh he makes me nervous...

I have the day off work today, which means I can have a leisurely breakfast rather than the usual hastily snatched feed before dashing off. Although breakfast isn't usually my thing - I mean, Weet Bix, those overpriced sawdust-cakes, barely deserve the title of food, and who has time to make stacks of pancakes or blueberry waffles on weekdays, like the supermom in Sweet Valley High "who is often mistaken for the twins' older sister." I suppose this attitude stems somewhat from my years at boarding school, where the only options for breakfast were depressing cereal or cold toast with margarine, not butter. They fed us well there, it wasn't some kind of Dickensian institution, but the breakfasts left a heck of a lot to be desired.

What a rant! Never realised how I felt about the first meal of the day, when all I was trying to say was that I had something nice to eat this morning.

Above: Toast with the most:Nine grain bread, toasted and spread with avocado, linseeds and Maldon sea salt. Worth getting out of bed for!
I have noticed that tons of food bloggers lately are cooking from La Lawson's new book, Nigella Express. If I were a character in a comic book, there would be wiggly lines above my head surrounding the word COVET!! I had a quick look at it in a bookshop in town the other day, and it looks seriously gorgeous. There aren't many things in this world that get me all anticipational like the idea of new Nigella material. But, it is also a lesson in restraint (she says, having cooked a million kilos of meat this week) in that I could probably afford to buy it but need to keep money in the bank for rent and bills and the like.
Also, while I am musing indulgently, you may have noticed a new addition to my Pet Sounds - Loveless, the album by My Bloody Valentine. I got this from my younger brother, a guy with relatively impeccable taste in music (he does like some rubbish stuff, but hey, I like Rent) This is my New. Favourite. Album. I listened to it on my iPod at work yesterday, and as soon as it was finished I listened to it again. It is seriously dreamy, and lush, and swirly, and shuffling, and all those other nice words, and slightly Cocteau Twins-esque, and a little difficult to listen to with all the layered guitar- I like music that doesn't just hand it to you on a plate. I played it for Tim and he didn't really like it. Now, I am always trying to get Tim to like stuff (haven't succeeded yet with Rent, but finally managed to convince him that a life without Neil Young is a life wasted) but I had to admit it did sound a bit rough coming out of the computer. Then I tried listening to it this morning through these really good headphones that we have, and it sounded incredible. So, I have concluded that this is an album to listen to by yourself, with headphones, unless you have high class speakers, otherwise it will just sound jarringly messy.
By the way, I seriously apologise for the massively chunky paragraph above, I have tried a million times to enter a break between the separate points, but for some reason Blogger isn't having a bar of it. It stings the eyes!

3 December 2007

"Bring Me Flesh And Bring Me Wine"

"lalalalalala....deep and crisp and even..." Thanks to Mum for the idea for the title by the way. And the donation - we would be eating bread dipped in water were it not for her kind, unexpected cash injection. And - just try and act surprised - this is a lengthy post, so don't read it if you have to be somewhere in the next hour.

SO, the Team Hadfield Annual Christmas Dinner is officially over. I am officially all kinds of shattered after Tim and I spent over an hour doing the dishes (I washed, he dried, I felt like the sorcerer's apprentice with the neverending plates appearing) but I can't really complain since I'm the reason all the dishes were there in the first place. The dinner was a massive success, so much fun, and left us all groaningly full. Here it is - no pictures of Beckham, no kittens, no music reviews. Just FOOD.

As you know from the previous post (that's if you actually read it and didn't just pause on the David Beckham picture) I had been making things in advance, and the same pattern continued on Sunday. Tim had work at Starbucks at 7.30am, so I was awake fairly early. That is, my body was awake, my brain was a little on the fuzzy side.

First thing I did was make the ice cream. Sound a little madcap, I know, but I thought the Lemon Prosset would look rather stingy in bowls on its own and this is the easiest ice cream recipe I know. Nigella (who else!) has variations of it in a few of her books, the version I used was the Bitter Orange Ice Cream from Nigella Bites. It defies everything one is taught about making ice cream and shouldn't work, but oh, how it does. Simply dissolve icing sugar - about 150g - in the juice of a couple of oranges, add 600mls cream, whisk till softly whipped and...freeze. You are supposed to add lime juice to this but I didn't have any, so I upped the orange hit with a teaspoon of my beloved Boyajian Orange Oil (Nigella actually namechecked it in her books!) which made it headily...you know it's difficult to find a synonym for "orange" so I'll stop talking about it.

Above: The Orange Blossom Special...I used a whisk, rather than the electric beaters, because I figured that any extra activity would be beneficial. Considering all the cream.

While the ice cream was a-freezing I got on with the Rugelach. Now, I'm not one to appropriate other cultures - she says - but I think that there is nothing wrong with enjoying the many foods that the world has to offer. I say this because of a photo I saw of Justin Timberlake poking out his tongue in imitation while receiving a powhiri - Maori welcome - on his recent visit to New Zealand. I'm not quite sure why this annoyed me, but I had a bit of a think and concluded that it was one thing for me to make Jewish food, but it would be another thing entirely to say, wear a yarmulke while doing so. Anyway, I was getting so philosophical you could call me Anne of Green Gables and I nearly forgot to actually make the blooming things. Luckily they are a doddle.

Above: Doesn't the sight of this make you want to convert...just a schmeer? Rugelach is pastry (which has butter, sour cream AND cream cheese in it, making it very sticky but easy to roll out) brushed with melted butter and, for artery thickening effect, rolled around chocolate and brown sugar. It is glutinous, but it was the only glutinous thing on the menu and frankly I'm not a miracle worker. This recipe comes from Nigella's Feast and is, she says, a Hannukah treat. Nigella herself is actually Jewish, although not a practising one, hence the fact that I used her recipe for ham as well!

My cousin Paul came over at this stage and I realised that (a) I needed more chocolate to dip the truffles in and (b) I really wanted a drink. Luckily I managed to juggle both without detrimental effect, but I will say this - vanilla Galliano is sickly. I tend to enjoy a drier drop. There was a funny limbo time in the afternoon, because I didn't want to get started on the meat and veges too soon, but of course everything would need quite a long time cooking.

The Fully Festive Ham, also from Feast, is a complete joy to make. It is worth pointing out that what I used was not what New Zealanders would know as ham - here we tend to get ours precooked, which we then just glaze and cook on Christmas day. The stuff Nigella uses - which is easier to find in England than here - is uncooked ham, called gammon, or here, pickled pork. Don't be put off by the 'pickled' bit, it's truly just uncooked ham. This means you can simmer it in whatever you want. Like coca cola. But that's another story...

Above: The ham, submerged in a litre each of apple and cranberry juice, plus onion, cinnamon sticks, pink peppercorns and a star anise. You are supposed to use allspice berries but I didn't have any. Anyhow I thought the star anise looked rather pretty bobbing round and the pink peppercorns would add the necessary earthiness. This simmers away for a couple of hours so it doesn't really require too much effort.

I stuffed the chickens, which was about as undesirable a job as I remember it to be (and the cavities are strangely cold.) I scrapped the idea of challah, and bought some bread rolls, as well as a gluten-free loaf instead - didn't have the psychological space in my head for dealing with more dough - so luckily I didn't have to worry about faffing about with oven temperatures.

The potatoes went in the oven and the kumara and parsnips were chopped up to go in Tim's electric frypan that he got for his 21st. It is worth knowing that you can quite effectively "roast" vegetables in this machine, if you are feeding a crowd. I made a quick salad, to offer crisp contrast, out of a packet of fancy salad mix and half a block of feta. Ooooh I love feta. I made a quick dressing out of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and that was it - simple is best sometimes (ha!)

Above: The ensalada. The "green stuff" that saved our arteries from all the chicken and ham and chocolate...

As we were setting the table, Emma said "weren't you going to do some peas?" Bugger! Quickly biffed them in the microwave, and then thought, heck, I might as well make some gravy too. So I poured the chicken roasting juices into a pot, with a spoonful of the cranberry sauce that I used to glaze the ham (which was in the oven at this point) and even though it ultimately makes things gluggy, a spoonful of gluten-free cornflour. While this was boiling up I added a slosh of Marsala, quarter of a porcini stock cube and a cup or so of water and let it bubble away.

Above: "They call it riding the gravy train..." I'm something of a gravy novice, and gluten-free is probably not the best way to start, but it was pretty good stuff. Behind you can see the remainder of the stuffing which I cooked in my silicone muffin tray for people.

And then, it was time to eat.

Above: The groaning board (which handily extends out.) Far left is the ham, then the chickens, and the salad on the right. Of course the chickens were free range, they taste so much better, and as the ham came from our delightful local butchers I was reassured it was a happy pig in life.

Above: Tim's plateful. I'm full just looking at it.

Mercifully, everyone liked it. The stuffing was very well received, the ham was unbelievably tender (hey, it's a good recipe) and we all just ate and ate and ate and ate. We had a brief pause between courses, just enough to try and locate a nook into which pudding could fit.

Above: Psychocandy - from front to back, the Rugelach, the Crunchie Bar Slice, and the Chocolate Truffles. For some reason I never got a photo of the ice cream or the Lemon Prosset, but here - one looks pale and slightly orange, the other looks pale and slightly yellow. As Jack White opined, "Sugar never tasted so good." I'm so glad I decided to do heaps of things- I honestly can't decide which I like more. By the way, the sweeties above are resting in none other than my Nigella Lawson Living Kitchen platter, which is ENORMOUS. I got it ridiculously cheap on Trademe and didn't realise how huge it was when I bought it. It is gorgeous though and the perfect vessel for the dessert. Again, a giant "phew" that everyone loved the desserts. I knew the Lemon Prosset wouldn't fail me!

Now that I have been cooking for two days, washing up for over an hour and typing for two hours...well I don't know how to finish that sentence but my brain is tired and I'm not looking forward to work tomorrow. It was a seriously rewarding weekend (not least because of all the eating) and I had such a great time cooking up The Feast and feeding people who are important to me. It doesn't feel that long ago that we had ours last year, and I who knows where we will be this time next year...

By the way if anyone is here at this point -thanks for reading so far and sorry if it is a little uninspired...but to be fair, my sinuses are packed with ham and my lungs are filled with truffle mixture which may have contributed to the syntactical errors and glaring ommissions above...To finish, it has to be said that the only thing that is better than having an enormous Christmas dinner...is roast potatoes for breakfast the next day. Note to self - rekindle your relationship with Pontious Pilates.