Cheers everyone for your enthusiastic well-wishing for Tim's and my big move, I've built it up so much that soon it will surely have its own snappy title, corresponding font, and swelling theme music.
I feel as though every time Old Frau Winter hobbles into town on her icy boots, I complain that it's the coldest one we've had yet. Even though I suspect it's human nature to largely block out any past discomfort and focus on what's happening to the body right now, hot damn if it isn't the coldest June in living memory. It's a particular quality of temperature - that bone chilling, dry, Nordic chill, which, combined with the damp, windy climes of Wellington, makes for quite the experience.
With this in mind, we've been doing a lot of that bolstering, sustaining style of eating lately. While I love sponteneity in the kitchen I hate cooking in an entirely reactive way every night (as in, "cripes I'm hungry and it's 7.30pm! Why did I spend all that time looking at Tony Award performances on youtube instead of making dinner? Now I have to cobble together something incoherent from what's in the cupboard!") One of the nice things about this season is sitting down with recipe books, post-it notes and a notepad, planning out slow-cooked winter meals and writing a shopping list accordingly. One such planned meal was the following casserole, taken from Nigella Lawson's seminal text How To Eat. (I think I refer to it as that every time. It's like one word in my head: seminaltexthowtoeat.)
Beef With Stout and Prunes
I realise that the words 'stout' and 'prune' aren't overly come-hither. Nigella says this is a version of Beef Carbonnade which is possibly a better option if someone fussy asks what's for dinner tonight.
I'll be honest, my copy of How To Eat is buried under a lot of other cookbooks in a neat pile behind another hefty pile of cookbooks and it does not behoove me to disturb the order of things and dig it out. Plus I'm feeling lazy. You hardly need a recipe for this though, so allow me to guide you through the process gently but firmly. Dust sliced beef in mustard-spiked flour (I used beef shin from Moore Wilson's, basically you want a cut that requires long cooking) and sear in a hot pan. Transfer into a casserole dish with some carrots, sliced into batons, finely sliced onions, and prunes that have been hitherto soaked in some dark stout. I used Cascade, an Australian stout from Tasmania, because it's what they had at the local shop and wasn't heinously expensive. I also added some whole cloves of garlic. Cover this and place in a slow oven, and cook for as long as you like but no less than two hours. I served over plain basmati rice. It can be a little brown and plain to look at, so by all means sprinkly liberally with chopped parsely which will please both aesthetically and...tastebuddily.
Et viola, a rich, hearty, deeply flavoured casserole for you and your loved ones. And if 'your loved ones' means just you and your stomach, then so much the better. Freeze in portion-sized containers and microwave it back to life when you need a fast dinner. This recipe actually comes from the low-fat section of How To Eat, as long as you don't fry the floured beef in six inches of melted butter, enticing as that now sounds, it really is a trim meal all up, with the only fat coming from the meat.
The Cascade stout came in a six-pack and while Tim was happy to quaff the unused five bottles, he impressed upon me how a chocolate Guinness cake would be an economical, ideal, nay, the only logical use for the remaining stout. So I made one. I always forget how utterly stupendous Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake is. It's so ridiculously transcendent that it makes me type excessively in italics like some overexcited damsel in an LM Montgomery novel.
The Cascade Stout was not as abruptly bitter as the stipulated Guinness but more than held its own as a worthy understudy for the part. The above photo was taken on the bedside table, as Tim has had some blood sugar antics happening in the middle of the night lately and so that's just where the cake was sat. Because he has had nocturnal low blood sugar with soothing regularity, a lot of the cake has been eaten by him while I'm in a half-asleep state and so I only managed to secure about two slices to myself after all that. It really was as delicious as it should be though: large, dark, densely chocolately and like Angela Lansbury, even better with age.
Chocolate Guinness Cake
From Feast, by Nigella Lawson. (It has a chocolate cake chapter, so, you know it's good)
145mls sour cream (one of those little yoghurt-tub sized, er, tubs, or roughly a 1/2 cup)
1 T real vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Set your oven to 180 C and butter/line a 23cm springform tin. First of all you want to get a big pan, pour in the Guinness and add the butter - cut into small pieces - and gently heat it so the butter melts. It shouldn't bubble, keep the heat low. Now, simply whisk in the rest of the ingredients and pour into your tin. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on your oven. The kitchen will smell heavenly, I promise you.
Once cool, ice with a mixture of 200g cream cheese (NOT low-fat), 125mls whipped cream, and 150g icing sugar folded together. I refrained from icing it this time round as I just couldn't be bothered spending exorbitant amounts on dairy products, but the combination of sharp icing and dark, damp chocolate cake is incredible, the icing really makes it sing.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the other key player in this cake: (apart from the stout and Tim's persuasiveness) the cocoa. And not just any cocoa - proper Dutch cocoa from Equagold. The very first time I've ever used it. Don't act all shocked, I've only just started working full time and in the food world there's so much to keep up with - do you spend your money on the vanilla beans, or the premium brand happy pig bacon, or the Himalayan pink salt and if you let one ball drop is it tantamount to subterfuge meaning that you are forever shunned by food bloggers worldwide? I know I add fuel to the fire myself by going on about vanilla beans vs vanilla essense. With that in mind I'm lucky enough to have a wonderful whanau who will often give me such treats for Christmas and birthday presents. I'm not sure quite where I'm going with this rant but before I carry on shaking my fist for no good reason any more I'll get back to my original point: proper Dutch cocoa has until now eluded me because it is really expensive. But as Led Zeppelin say, now's the time, the time is now, and so I decided to buy myself a jar last week from the delightful La Bella Italia cafe/restaurant/deli on The Terrace. The woman behind the counter was impeccably helpful and friendly without being the slightest bit pushy and I emerged a very satisfied customer.
And when I opened the jar for the cake...My word. The first thing I noticed about it was the incredible cocoa scent, the second thing was how rich and dark the colour is. The deep-toned flavour of this cocoa stood comerade-like against the strident flavour of the stout and made for a surprisingly complex chocolate cake, to the point where I felt I should be eating it like one would drink a really expensive and fancy glass of wine - slowly and with reverence. What more can I say - this cake is begging to be made! Oh the feuds that could be ended with a slice of it (unless the parties who have beef with each other happen to be gluten-intolerant).
In smashing news, I interrupt this waffling to say:
My dad Mark, (el presidente of the Otaua Village Preservation Society - OVPS ) received a phone call from the OVPS's lawyer today to say that WPC have withdrawn their appeal to the Environment Court. This means that they are no longer considering relocating their business to the Otaua Tavern site.
To reiterate: this is an "unofficial" withdrawal by WPC. There are still the lawyer's bills to pay so the fund-raising continues. And the Otaua Tavern site is still vacant and who knows that a group even more shadily heinous and heinously shady may want to move in?
But for now: an enormous, enormous THANK YOU from the bottom, sides, inside and outside of my heart for everyone who helped by watching the video at my behest, for your supportive comments here and on youtube - it really did make a difference, and at last not just to our morale. I shudder to think of what might have had to have gone down if had the sorry WPC had their way and moved in (does that sentence even make sense? I'm a little excited, sorry for the nightmarish syntax). I have been so touched that people all round the world, people who enjoy making elaborate cakes and beautiful roasts and who have nothing to do with the woes of a tiny, clout-less village in New Zealand, have been so actively supportive. Though I am often conflicted in what I believe in (well, I'm only 23, I'll 'find myself' in good time yet) I am pretty well certain on something: good deeds reap more good deeds and positive thought can have positive impact. One doesn't want to get too mawkish and Miss World-like in one's thank-you speeches so I'll endeth it here, but it is an absolute relief and a triumph to be reporting this news to you all. Kia ora.
Am pretty sleepy after a weekend spent attending Smokefree Rockquest events here and in Lower Hutt, which may go some way towards explaining why my writing is so scatty but it could just be that this is how I write and you're all dooooomed to deal with it forevermore. The students performing in Smokefree Rockquest here and in the Hutt basically melted my brain with their seriously fierce talent. I look forward to seeing some of them blaze a musical trail in the near future. Oh and I got to present an award last night. I'd like to think my many years on stage as a dancer/etc stood me in good stead, but as I was announced there was a perceptible milisecond of awkward silence that I feared would stretch into a yawning wave of quiet indifference from the audience. Luckily Tim and my godsister were there as my plus-ones to cheer and get the momentum going...
On shuffle while writing this:
Overture, from Jesus Christ Superstar, 1994 New Zealand Cast recording (just try and find it in shops. Your loss.)
Watermelon Blues from The Legend Of Tommy Johnson, Act 1: Genesis 1900's-1990's by Chris Thomas King
Das Hokey Kokey (Original Version Vocoder Mix) from Das Hokey Kokey by Bill Bailey
Next time: Tim and I have one episode left on our DVD of season 1 of The Wire and if it turns out as traumatic as I think it will I may need to go to ground for a bit. Believe the hype. It's incredible. But don't let your kids watch it, there's violence and cussing and whatnot by the spade-load. (And by 'whatnot' I mean low-level nudity.) But otherwise, have I got some stuff for you. I made the bread and butter pudding to end all bread and butter puddings. Stale, defrosted hot cross buns, Marsala wine, no recipe...could have been a tear-inducing disaster of Anne Shirley proportions but sweet fancy Moses it turned out delicious.