26 January 2009

don't you courgette about me


If I have been quiet lately it's only because every time I try to talk it sort of comes out as "lksjdflkjsdkfjjjjjblaaaaarg," on account of the fact that I saw Neil Young and Leonard Cohen in concert within five days of each other. These two musicians have been such an important part of the soundtrack of my life, so to see them live? People, it was intense. I was pit spitting distance from Neil Young, due to some assertive and judicious manhandling of myself to the front of the audience. I barely sang along, I didn't shriek, I just stood there, transfixed during his set. My obscenely expensive Leonard Cohen ticket yielded - mercifully - a very decent seat, and I actually cried when he sang "Hey That's No Way To Say Goodbye" and "So Long Marianne." But every time I tried to properly describe the concerts to someone, I simply couldn't form coherent sentences. I couldn't describe it. For someone as, you know, excessive with words as I am, this is something. Even now I'm just talking around it, so my basic summary is: they were both sublime. I can't believe that I managed to see Rufus Wainwright, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young within the space of a year, in New Zealand of all places.

So courgettes are incredibly cheap at the markets right now, and they're not only cheap, they're big, substantially cucumber-esque in size. So over the last week or so they have been featuring heavily in what Tim and I have been eating.

Firstly, in the form of a George Forman-ed dinner (we received a grill from Tim's parents for Christmas and have already used it a ridiculous amount), where I discovered the joy of tiger-striped grilled vegetables. Seriously, all you do is slice up the courgettes, slam them in the grill for a bit, and they're done. No dishes, no fat, but those glorious stripes...To go with we had grilled chicken, that I'd dusted with ras-el-hanout spice mix, some wild rice, roasted capsicum, and a kind of salad - more of a sprinkle than a salad though - of kalamata olives, feta cheese, and chopped preserved lemon, from a stash that had been kindly made for me by my godmother. I'd never tried preserved lemon before but I'm quite addicted - they belong to that same sharp, salty taste family as capers and olives but with an intense, salty lemon hit that's pretty exhilarating when paired with the quieter tastes of chicken and courgette.

Courgette risotto was the next night's dinner, nothing revolutionary in the mix here - just garlic, arborio rice (I can't afford anything more authentically Italian-sounding than that), vermouth, diced courgettes, vegetable stock. It has been a while since I've made a risotto and I forgot how long they take but I don't mind the constant stirring, and the finished result was rich and toothsome. With more grilled courgettes on the side, because they look so profesh.

Obviously you can't move at cafes these days without bumping into corn fritters, but I think there's a good case for the courgette version being the superior of the two be-frittered vegetables. I found this recipe in Nigella Lawson's seasonally appropriate (for me in New Zealand, anyway) Forever Summer and decided to make them after discovering that I actually had all the ingredients. Once you've got all the boring grating out of the way these are pretty straightforward, and so delicious, knocking the beyond-ubiquitous corn fritter into a cocked hat.

Courgette Fritters

Approx 750g courgettes
3-4 spring onions, finely chopped
250g feta cheese
handful each of fresh parsley and mint, chopped
1 T dried mint
1t paprika
140g plain flour
3 eggs

Grate the courgettes. This is annoying, I grant you. Also somewhat annoying is that you then have to put the grated shreds of courgette onto a clean teatowel and let them sit, so the towel can absorb excess (and there is indeed excess) courgette liquid. It's not like it's difficult, but you will end up with a green, damp teatowel, and no matter how hard you shake it over a bowl, some flecks of courgette will remain stuck to the towel fibres. Anyway, put the spring onions, crumbled feta (and you should probably know that I left out the onions and used about half that amount of feta because that's what I had) and herbs into a bowl. Stir in the rest of the ingredients till combined. Heat a little oil in a frying pan (although I didn't use any because I have a good nonstick pan) and drop heaped spoonfuls of the raggedy green batter into it, flattening with the back of a spoon as you go. Cook for about 2 minutes a side, I find those silicone spatulas really useful for turning them over. As these are lovely room temperature, don't fret unduly about getting them to the table now.

Nigella recommends lime wedges to squeeze over. To which I say, go right ahead, if you don't mind paying $19 per piece of dry, unjuicy fruit or whatever it is they're charging for whatever is masquerading as the humble lime these days.

Full time work is keeping me busy, and it was in a flurry of excitement that I received my first ever business cars last week. I don't know if it means I'm institutionalised or what, but it was so exciting seeing my name on the index card.

I'm hugely tired and I have - naturally -work tomorrow so here endeth my song. Next time: well, I bought a huge watermelon at the markets on the weekend and eagerly turned it into slushy, rose-pink sorbet, so that may well feature.

12 January 2009

start me up


First post of the new year! Well, if I can't be fashionable, I might as well aim for fashionably late. I've been largely away from technology while on holiday, and then coming back into full time work has, funnily enough, kept me ridiculously busy. To be honest it was a little liberating being apart from my blog but now I'm ready to spend some quality time with the kitchen and slide back into blogging like a pair of old socks. Hopefully the 'good writing' section of my brain gets swiftly awoken, but in the meantime, to make up for all the no-blogging I bring two recipes that are flipping delicious.

Looks like I'm as adept as ever in the kitchen.

I found this recipe for chocolate beetroot cake in a Jill Dupleix book that I got for Christmas from Nanna a couple of years ago. I've professed my love for all things roast beetroot in the past, but was completely intrigued, nay, consumed with the idea of using it in a cake. I have to admit I used a drained can of beetroot, which is perhaps not what Dupleix had in mind, but hey ho, the finished product was delicious, without betraying any of its vegetable-y origins. And call me a freak, but butter, sugar, and pureed beetroot mixed together is...bizarrely good.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake, adapted from New Food by Jill Dupleix

I made quite a few changes - canned instead of fresh pureed beetroot, I used a food processor to make it, and I used 250g melted butter instead of a cup of oil because that's how I roll.

1 cup cooked beetroot, pureed
1 1/2 cups castor sugar
250g butter, melted
1/2 cup good cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 eggs

If you're using canned beetroot, drain it and then puree it in the food processor (which will take a couple of goes, whizzing and spatula-ing) then add all the rest of the ingredients, blitz to a pinkish-brownish batter (once again, scraping down the sides with a spatula occasionally) and pour into a 23cm paper-lined cake tin. Bake at 190 for roughly 45 minutes.

Above: Seriously, there is no hint of beetroot in the finished product, but you're left with a moist, surprisingly light, unthreateningly plain chocolate cake. It's delicious. Don't be afraid...

While wandering aimlessly through the revamped Moore Wilson's Fresh (off Tory Street in central Wellington) on Sunday, it struck me that I haven't eaten roast lamb in forever, so I purchased a goodly slab of it and made off home to cook my spoils. I also purchased a bottle of Moore Wilson's fresh-squeezed orange juice, they literally have a guy there squeezing it for you. Once you've tried it, it's difficult to go back to any other bottled orange juice. It's so fresh you can practically feel the vitamin C coursing through your veins with every sip.


Using a suggestion of Nigella's, I rubbed the lamb in olive oil and ras-el-hanout, that utterly, ridiculously deliciously fragrant spice mix. I roasted it for an hour and a half at 210 C, basting occasionally. To go with, I made a salad from a book I got for Christmas from my godfamily that I'm quite wild to cook my way through: Christelle Le Ru's French Fare..


Salade d'Aubergine (I don't think I need to translate this?)
1 aubergine
1 shallot
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 red pepper
1/2 bunch parsely
55g feta cheese

Preheat oven to 210 C (375 F) Prick the aubergine with a fork and wrap it in foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, roll the pepper in foil and bake for about 10 or 15 minutes. Halve the aubergine, remove the flesh (it shouldn't be too hard to peel at this stage) and press the flesh very firmly in a sieve to remove any juice. Remove seeds from the pepper, and chop both vegetables relatively small. Peel and finely chop the shallot. Mix all the vegetables together with the olive oil and chopped parsely. Finally, season with salt and pepper and crumble over the feta cheese.

This deliciously summery salad, which is quite versatile - I used mint instead of parsely and scattered some chopped walnuts through - went marvelously with the lamb, in a sort of pseudo-Meditterranean way. For tonight's dinner I stirred the leftover, chopped lamb into the leftover salad, to which I added more feta and walnuts, plus the seeds of half a pomegranate, and served it with some grilled courgettes and wild rice. The lamb itself was tender and pink and pastorally delicious, and maybe even nicer second time round...

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It's not a bad time to be me lately: tomorrow a whole bunch of us are going to see The Arctic Monkeys, then on Thursday Tim and I fly up to Auckland for the Big Day Out festival on Friday (ie, omgaaaaaah NEIL YOUNG) and then the following Tuesday I am - have mercy - going to see Leonard Cohen. I finally caved and spent a rather frightening amount bidding online for a ticket to his sold out gig; I figured it was only money and a once in a lifetime experience, but don't even try to ask me how much I purchased it for because I'll nay tell ye.

Well, that wasn't so taxing, so hopefully I can keep up this food blogging lark with more regularity than I did over the last couple of weeks. I hope all your 2009s are getting off to a cracking start and I look forward to getting back into reading all the other fab blogs out there!
Edit: Actually, this is taxing. I've tried for the last fifteen minutes to split up the paragraphs in this last section but they persist in messily squishing themselves together! Aaargh! *shakes fist furiously at blogspot*