On the 13th my blog will be two years old. Considering the blinding speed in which the internet turns around, in which networks are signed up to enthusiastically and then never updated, and also the fecklessness of youth (well, I'm only 23 and therefore highly likely to be lacking in feck) it's a pretty tidy achievement all round. Two seems like such a tiny number to measure the amount of time that this blog has been existing. But I guess it's likely to be a lot more significant to myself than, say, anyone else on the planet. I also guess that this gives me a free pass to bake something ridiculous and unnecessary in the name of celebrating my blog's anniversary.
Funnily enough I used a recipe the other night that I last used exactly a year ago - Rendang Asparagus and Shallot Curry, from Simon Rimmer's pretty awesome book The Accidental Vegetarian. Incidentally the photos I took last year were much better than the photos you're going to see today, which shows that no matter where I live, there is always potential for uselessness. Asparagus is one of the few things I'm happy to wait around for. Well, it would be choice if it was available for the eatin' all year round, but it's not, and it's usually worth the wait. If I'm eating asparagus it means that the weather is getting better and Summer's on the way.
This recipe is so good, even if the original is a little deranged in terms of volume of sugar, coconut and chilli. Simon Rimmer writes an excellent recipe, but we don't see eye to eye on what 'mild' is. Simon Rimmer thinks nothing of flinging eight chillies into a recipe for general consumption. His tastebuds must be made of asbestos-reinforced concrete roofing tiles. This is truly delicious though, and the combination of soft, caramelised buttery onions and juicy green asparagus is pretty fabulous. I'd go a little easy on the amount of brown sugar you use, between that and the coconut milk it can be almost like eating pudding if you're not careful.
Rendang Shallot and Asparagus Curry
75g brown sugar (I used less)
20 banana shallots
400ml tin coconut milk
3 T toasted dessicated coconut
Coriander to serve
Melt the butter in a pan, add the sugar and when it starts to dissolve throw in the shallots, peeled but left whole. Turn down the heat and cook slowly for at least 20 minutes, (he recommends 45 but they were more than fine with less). Blanch the asparagus and refresh in cold water. I sliced them into two-inch lengths.
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
3 red chillies, or however much you desire
1 tsp ground coriander
1 T tamarind paste (or substitute lemon juice)
1 t tumeric
1 t curry powder
1 stalk of lemon grass
pinch of salt
Whizz the lot together in a food processor, or chop and mix everything well like I did using my mezzaluna. This results in a chunkier but no less flavoursome paste. Heat a little oil in a pan and gently fry the paste, carefully, and stir in the coconut milk, letting it bubble away and thicken slightly. Add the now magically caramelly shallots and the blanched asparagus, letting it simmer for about ten minutes. Finish by stirring through the toasted coconut and chopped coriander. If you like, add a handful of frozen peas or soybeans to beef it up (as it were). Serve over rice. This should feed four easily.
On Thursday I realised I hadn't cooked any chicken in a long, long time. In fact that I hadn't really eaten meat in ages. A trip to Moore Wilson's quickly changed this, and I had a go at Nigella Lawson's Slow Roasted Garlic and Lemon Chicken from Forever Summer.
I'd bought a couple of Maryland pieces (ie thigh and drum attached together) because it was cheaper than buying just thighs. I figured I could cleave them in half, capable-modern-lady style with one of the many enormous knives we have in our kitchen. But, could not cut them for the life of me, even using this ridiculously sharp knife and putting all my body weight on it. They remained uncloven. Strains of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner singing I Will Never Leave You from Side Show ran through my head.
Resigned to the fact that we were going to be eating enormous pieces of chicken for dinner, I arranged the ingredients artfully in this fancy schmancy roasting tin I bought from Briscoes that made me feel very Nigella - it's one of those deep, rectangular dishes with metal handles that she's always flinging about. It was also about 20cm too wide for our oven. Aaaaargh. By this stage I was tempted to biff the lot out the window. But, I patiently transferred the contents into a smaller dish and left it to roast for the requisite two hours - one of the nicest things about this recipe. You have a large window of time to chill out.
Ever more and always, we'll be one though we're two (Seriously, watch the clip. It may well blow your mind.)
This is a really simple recipe but what's there works wonders. Soft cloves of garlic and chunks of lemon, a slosh of wine and some olive oil all relax into a deliciously juicy sauce, and the slow, slow cooking of the chicken renders it ridiculously tender.
Slow-Roasted Garlic and Lemon Chicken
From Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer.
This is Nigella's recipe with her proportions - scale it down or up as you like.
1 chicken cut into 10 pieces
1 head garlic, separated into unpeeled cloves
2 unwaxed lemons, cut into chunky eighths
Small handful fresh thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil
150mls white wine
Preheat oven to 160 C.
Put everything into a roasting tin. A roasting tin that you know will fit into your oven. Make sure the chicken is skin side up. Cover with tinfoil fairly tightly, place in the oven and leave for 2 hours. Once this is up, remove the foil, raise the heat to 200C, and cook uncovered for another 30 or so minutes till everything is nicely browned and crisp. Serve straight from the roasting tin. Serves 4-6.
Not having eaten meat for a while, particularly roasted chicken, I had completely forgotten how strong it is, how that oiliness can be really heavy in your stomach. I'd also forgotten how amazing it smells as it roasts and how good the pan juices taste drizzled liberally over rice. So there you go. I can see how people could go vegetarian, but then I could also happily eat a steak on a daily basis.
Speaking of things ornithologian, on Saturday I had the privelege of seeing the Imperial Russian Ballet performing Swan Lake at the Opera House. I went with Tim and my godsister, Hannah, and we had fantastic seats. There were a LOT of children in the audience, which I don't have a problem with - I'm all for encouraging nippers to go to the theatre - in fact it was the adults in the audience who were more fury-inducing. Some idiot behind me decided to rustle a wrapper or chip packet of some sort right in the middle of the swans' dancing. For about 45 seconds. I have no idea what was so important in their life right at that moment that they had to rustle this plastic so incessantly. Meanwhile, another person behind me was keeping time to the music by tapping the floor heavily with their foot and slapping their knees. Why? What can tiy possibly add to the experience? The only other negative I have to get out of the way is that the Opera House isn't the nicest location. It looks like a shadow of its former grandeur. The fact that the sound came from speakers, not an orchestra, dulled the majesty somewhat.
The dancers, however, were absolutely stunning. Swan Lake, Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet are three ballets which don't so much tug at my heartstrings, as blow them up and make a balloon animal out of them. The music is just so achingly beautiful and it was beautifully captured by the dancers. The girl playing Odette/Odile had a mournful featheriness with a steely reserve that showed exactly why she was chosen as the leader. The prince was leggy and leapy and could express pain and happiness and that's all you really need. The costumes were gorgeous and the whole thing was just intensely riveting. I know I go on about Broadway a lot but while I was brought up on a fairly equal diet of musicals and ballets, dance was my first love and it's always a pleasure to see it live.
On Shuffle whilst I type:
Saturday Getaway from Rookie Card by PNC featuring Awa from Nesian Mystik. This guy is probably the best thing to come out of Palmerston North since Tim.
Nobody's Side from the recording of Chess In Concert by Idina Menzel. I bought this today at Real Groovy and the very sight of it was so unexpected and so exciting that I proceeded to tell the lady behind the counter how awesome it was and how ridiculously excited I was about it. Probably should have played it a little more cool. But seriously though, Chess is a nightmare to follow but the music is ridiculously good and Idina tears this song to shreds.
The roundabout, kind of oblique (eh, it's 10.30pm on a Sunday night) title for this post is brought to you by: Stephen Sondheim and his song Not A Day Goes By from Merrily We Roll Along. Bernadette Peters sings it and can't be argued with, but predictably I'd like to offer Idina's one-off take on it, worth it for the hatey youtube comments alone.
Next time: Well, I probably will end up baking something frivolous in the name of celebrating my blog's two-year existence.