30 March 2009

viva las veges


It's the miracle of life! I have borne fruit! (well, a vegetable, to be precise)

To grow you is to love you.

It seems I can't pick up a magazine or lifestyle section of a newspaper without some recessionista sighing smugly about how they are positively overrun with their homegrown zucchini and if they have to eat another fritter they will just die. Tim and I, with all the best intentions, embraced our inner hippies and exchanged a large amount of coin for various packets of seeds, a bag of potting mix, a pair of gloves that make your hands chafe and a trowel that bends at the slightest pressure. Three months of tenderly weeding our little garden, gently throwing coffee grounds and potassium-rich banana peels at it in the anticipation of a bounty of zucchini, beetroot and runner beans...

And our impotent, nutrient-deficient soil threw forth one, solitary sodding zucchini.

I couldn't be prouder. Okay, so gardening isn't as easy as every chatty columnist claims it is, (I mean, exactly where are our beans and beetroot?) but the endorphin increase I got from this single vegetable must equal a positively delirious hallucinogenic head rush if you actually manage to harvest an actual garden of edible goodies. So we're planning to buy some more seeds and start again - the grow must go on...

The zucchini was sliced lovingly and went into a ratatouille to accompany the above roasted chicken on Sunday night. I had a feeling that I hadn't eaten meat in forever and needed to remedy this immediately by consuming the sort of protein you just can't get from lentils. When we do eat meat I want it to be good. Luckily the chicken I purchased from Moore Wilson's was tender and fleshy and tasted like the happiest ex-bird ever to socialise and dust-bathe in its natural environment.

While I was being unorthodox, and continuing with the homegrown theme, I thought I might as well make some flatbread to mop up the chicken and ratatouille juices. I don't know about you, but if the gap between the present moment and when I last made bread grows too wide, I become a little antsy. Making bread is just something I really enjoy - watching the unlikely mixture of flour and liquid come together as I knead it, the slow swelling of the yeasted dough, and the incredible smell it imparts as it bakes. To say nothing of the ridiculously wonderful taste of it hot from the oven (with butter, thank you...)

I've made this recipe a couple of times before, it's a very easy dough to work with and while home-made flatbreads aren't perhaps as visually rewarding as a proudly towering traditional loaf of bread, they are just as delicious and make a meal feel like a feast.

Garlic and Parsely Hearthbreads adapted from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, by Nigella Lawson.

500g bread flour
1 sachet (7g) instant yeast
1 tablespoon nice salt (if you're using iodised table salt, halve this amount)
300-400mls warm water
5 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 190 C. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then stir in the water and oil. Stir to combine then knead till it becomes a soft, springy dough, which I find happens quite quickly with this particular recipe. Form into a ball, wash out and dry the bowl, tip in a little olive oil and turn the ball of dough in it before covering it with clingfilm and leaving it to rise for an hour or so. Meanwhile, trim the tops off two large heads garlic, dribble with a little olive oil and wrap loosely in tinfoil, then pop n the oven to cook for about 45 minutes. If you sit the bowl of dough on top of the warm oven it will aid the rising process.

Once the dough is sufficiently risen, punch it down and leave it while you remove the garlic from the oven and turn it up to 200 C. Divide the dough in two and press each out into a large, roughly oblong shape (you will need two lined baking trays for this) Prod them with your fingers to make dimple marks and cover them with a teatowel and allow to prove for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Nigella recomends blitzing the cloves of garlic (squeezed out of their skins) and a good bunch of flat leaf parsely in the food processor but you might find it easier just to chop it all together. Mix in a little olive oil either way, and spread this fragrant mixture across the dough.

Bake for 20 minutes or so until the breads are golden brown and cooked.

These are unbelievably delicious.

Is it slightly obscene that the two of us ate roughly one and three quarters of these enormous flatbreads on Sunday night?

I've also been doing a bit of baking. I like to keep the old tin full at all times in case of any unexpected dips in blood sugar from The Diabetic One, but I just like to bake selfishly for its own sake too, to be honest.

I found this recipe in the February/March edition of the magazine Essentially Food. It can be hit and miss in terms of content, but it's improving and they are really worth sifting through because there's almost always a couple of brilliant recipes in there. This is one of them - Belgian Slice. I don't know if y'all around the world get Belgian biscuits which are essentially two small spicy cookies bound with jam and bearing a disc of pink icing. What they have to do with the nation of Belgium is beyond me - perhaps they'd be more appropriate if they smelled of fine beer and were sandwiched together with aioli, but who am I to question culinary history? This following recipe is infinitely easier, combining the flavours of Belgian biscuits in non-threatening slice form.

Belgian Slice

120g butter
120g sugar
1 egg
1 Tablespoon golden syrup
2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 170 C. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the egg and beat well. Mix in the golden syrup and then the dry ingredients. Press the mixture into a baking paper lined swiss roll tin and spread carefully and evenly with the jam. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Essentially Food recommends covering it with pink-tinted icing before sprinkling over raspberry flavoured jelly crystals but as I didn't have any in the house, I compensated by adding raspberry flavouring to the pink buttercream instead.

There's something about the refined, spiced biscuit underneath and the garish, artificially flavoured buttercream and the contrasting textures of each that is both comforting and strangely delicious. Like a culinary crossroads between "childish" and "grown-up" flavours.

I'm really tired this week, all this going out to gigs and such is kind of catching up on me. My feet are bruised from being constantly stood on in audiences and my neck ached all last week from craning my neck (being undertall, I was doing this quite a lot...) The Kills last Wednesday were great fun, I was right up in the front and could practically grope their achingly hip, Kate Moss-dating ankles. However being up the front meant we were dealt a terrific mauling due to the extremely vigorous jostlings of the audience. We emerged feeling like potatoes that had been pressed through an expensive ricer (well those weren't Tim's exact words). At Kings Of Leon on Friday it wasn't much better, even though we were considerably further back. They were in cracking good form and handsome as ever, even though they didn't talk as much as they did at their concert last year. The next big thing on my horizon is the production of The Winter's Tale, directed by (gasp!) Sam Mendes, up in Auckland and Sylvie Guillem back here in Wellington later next month. I think I can confidently say that watching Shakespeare and ballet should be fairly moshpit-free.

In other news, (self-pimping alert here) I've been asked by menumania.co.nz to write for their blog. Check out my first post by clicking ---------------> here. I'm still finding my feet with the direction I want my posts to take but it's fun to stretch myself and certainly an honour to be noticed and invited!

Next time: Bearing in mind that what I say will happen next time often bears little relation to what actually happens next time...I have this pie recipe I really want to try from an old edition of the gorgeous Cuisine magazine. Watch this space.

22 March 2009

won't get fooled again

Two things that cause within me a sense of intense anticipation and upon which there is much potential for happiness or dismay - a new cookbook, and a new avocado. You know what they are when you go into the shop, you know that they can be awesome, you might even pick them up appraisingly to gauge whether it's worth your time and money. But it's not till you get them home, open them up and try them out that you really know what they are like inside.

I've had a pretty fortunate run of things lately with my avocado buying - every last one of them has been firm but yielding, nuttily rich and buttery and as chartreuse as a satin blouse from 1995. I was able to take advantage of the fact that Tim was out one night last week and made myself a solitary dinner of grilled mushrooms (one of Tim's least favourite vegetables), spinach, and a whole avocado. A private pleasure, is the avocado - I'm loathe to share once I've found a good one. If you ask me for a bite of mine I'll probably sigh and roll my eyes and make you feel bad that you even suggested it. But after this particular dinner, even someone as elephantine of appetite as I had to admit that a whole avocado is way too rich for one person.

It was a pretty fabulous meal though, one that I think will definitely go in my little notebook of potential recipes that will pay off my student loan. I clamped two large, flat field mushrooms in the George Forman grill, and while they were stewing away I used my mezzaluna to make quick work of roasted peanuts, capers, and a slice of preserved lemon. This was spooned over the outstretched palm-like cavity of the mushrooms and grilled again for another couple of minutes until wonderfully fragrant. I crumbled feta on top of them and sat them on a bed of spinach leaves, and then chopped up my triumphantly green, whole avocado.

For something containing no carbohydrates and bugger all protein it was hugely filling. I don't know if this is a well documented problem - The Foodie's Dillema perhaps - or just a personal quirk, but does anyone else ever find themselves in that position where they are becoming uncomfortably full, but can't stop eating because (in this case) the avocado is so delicious and I can't waste the opportunity for this perfect avocado over something as trifling as my waning appetite? I'm not sure if I explained it well, but it's a bit like how I always eat lots of food if it's there for free, even if I'm not hungry...Don't even get me started on the caveman-style, eating for the next six years that I do at buffet tables.

Anyway, please do try the mushrooms because they were amazing. There's no point being modest and coy, they really were delicious. They're gluten free and vegetarian to boot, although I guess you could leave off the feta and call them vegan and dairy free as well.

As I mentioned earlier, avocados and cookbooks have many similarities. I tried out a recipe from a new cookbook of mine recently, Jo Seagar's The Cook School Recipes. It was my first recipe from this book and I was really excited and it went DRAMATICALLY WRONG. Is there a disappointment as disappointing as gathering together ingredients and time and excitement and ending up with a gluey, sticky, doughy mass instead of a cake? I don't want this to stop you from rushing out and buying Jo Seagar's book - the culinary version of getting back onto a pretty horse that bucks you I suppose.

But riddle me this: does the idea of a cake, made solely from 2 cans of crushed pineapple, 4 cups self-raising flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar and 3/4 cups dessicated coconut, mixed together and baked for 45 minutes not sound somewhat unlikely? I mean, I can handle the fact that there are cakes out there that don't have butter in them, and not everything is leavened with eggs. And I really wanted this to be amazing, because I loved the idea of such a store-cupboard, economic-climate friendly, and delicious sounding cake. Unfortunately it was awful. Even baking it for a further hour and a half couldn't turn it into anything resembling a cake and it was far too gluey to serve as some kind of exotic trifle base. But with the hat of resourcefulness upon my head I turned to the woman who will never let me down - Nigella Lawson - and found a way to at least turn the non-cake into something useable.

In her book Nigella Christmas, La Lawson has a recipe for these little truffly bonbon things made from crumbled fruitcake, melted chocolate, liqueur, and golden syrup, which are then rolled into balls and festooned with white chocolate and cherries to look like miniature Christmas puddings.

So I thought why the heck can't I create pina colada truffles using the crumbled up pineapple cake instead of fruitcake? I used melted white chocolate (125g) and a splash of Cointreau along with the golden syrup (3 tablespoons) and using my increasingly sticky hands rolled this challengingly viscous mixture into small balls. Tim and I then set to with toothpicks spearing the chilled truffles and rolling them in melted white chocolate. A fun job, but truly, you need more melted chocolate than is humanly fathomable to coat these truffles. Ours started off luxuriously blanketed, but the ones towards the end were only kind of smattered in chocolate. The main thing is that they tasted curiously...wonderful. A fine example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

I am of course predisposed to like these since I'm a mad fiend for the white chocolate, but there is something appealing in the combination of chewy, fragrant interior and crisp smooth exterior. And I love not wasting food. Although a small voice in my head says that I would have saved more money had I just thrown the cheap cake in the bin rather than adding expensive chocolate, liqueur and more chocolate to it. But whatevs.
Of course if you wanted to recreate these without damaging your nerves, go out and buy a sponge cake, allow it to go stale, adding a little pineapple juice and coconut as you go. But like me, you needn't be restricted by Nigella's recipe. I'm sure there are truffles just begging to be made out of anything - stale blueberry muffins, a chocolate cake that didn't rise, the last of a lemon and poppyseed loaf (which would probably be equally sensational coated with dark chocolate as it would white). Let your imagination run wild. And as for Jo Seagar's book, like I said I'm not put off and I'll definitely be trying something else out of it soon. It would be fantastic to hear from any other kiwis out there that have had success with this cake though. Surely the recipe must work or it wouldn't have made it into the book at all, yes?
Like Julia Murney (and Patti LuPone before her) in Evita, my mother will be able to say "What's new, Buenos Aires," as she is now officially in South America. I look forward to using this newfangled invention they call Skype to keep in touch with all her exciting news. My younger brother is heading to Australia next week to help out a dear family friend of ours at the motel she owns, and my dad, keeping it local, is working hard with the help of others on maintaining momentum in the fight against the intensely dislikeable Pukekohe Waste Petroleum Combustion Ltd who, as I've said time and again, are trying to render Otaua Village a lifeless vacuum by thwacking an unwanted waste oil plant there, regardless of the children, livestock and history that the place is teeming with and with full knowledge of the fact that we don't have a lot of money or resources to fight them with. Very admiral stuff.

The reason that Otaua Village is so present in my mind is because I was just there on the weekend - which also accounts for my rejuvenated vigour in trying to promote and defend our cause. The reason I was up home is because Tim and I were fortunate enough to be able to go to see The Who with Dad and my brother Julian. Well, what's left of the Who. People of a certain age and perhaps background (like the man who owns the chip shop down the road) will scoff and say "that's not the real Who," well, that's what they're calling themselves and I'll take it, especially as I'm only 22 and it's the only way I'll ever come close to experiencing this sort of zeitgeist-embodying, era-defining music, the sort of music that many people of my generation listen to on their iPods with a yearning nostalgia for an age they never even born in. I could describe the evening for you but instead I've gathered my thoughts together in the form of a bad poem.
The Who
Saturday, 21st of March
Our seats are excellent
If I had a dollar for every mullet haircut
Hello Sailor are the opening band and hearing Gutter Black live is a joy
Then the Counting Crows, who play...competently
Feelings of mild ambivalence towards them
turn into feelings of "Why are you here and why are you not the Who already"
The man sitting next to me eats slice after slice after slice of plastic-wrapped, processed cheese
the scariest cheese of all
Finally The Who appear
Roger Daltrey dapper and youthful of face, Pete Townshend wearing a hat
They are wonderful
Both in good voice
Nearly faint from the brilliance of Baba O'Riley
The knowledge that my godfather, a longtime Wholigan and fan to end all fans is in the audience makes me even happier
Forgot how fab the guitar riff from My Generation is
Their background videos rival Roger Waters' for dizzying intensity
Hey! Ringo Starr's son is on drums!
Feel benevolent towards the world, even the horrible tall people in front of me
A bittersweet feeling at the end with just Daltrey and Townshend onstage together...
Praise mercy our dubiously parked car was not towed away
Next time: I just got a bunch of second hand Cuisine magazines and I'm in one of those I-want-to-cook-and-bake-everything moods but I haven't really got anything specific planned yet.

16 March 2009

aubergine genie

I'm writing this in a slightly dazed state of mind - I was working at the Vodafone Homegrown music festival on Saturday from 9.30am till midnight and at about 3pm this afternoon I got slapped in the face with the wet fish of exhaustion. If I start making vicious syntactical errors or mumbling about my desire to own a donkey, discreetly ignore me and scroll down to the recipes. It's nothing that a stretch of good night's sleeps and several mugs of hot tea can't make right. Although having more than one early night in a row is a thing of the past (no, I haven't given birth to octuplets) as we are in the thick of March and it seems that every other day I am going to a music gig.

Last Thursday I had the good fortune to see Amanda Palmer at Bodega, and she was formidable. She attracts a largely female audience who, like me, seemed to appreciate not only her strong stage presence and personality but also the way she bantered generously with the audience (at one stage doing a Q&A session). She began by stalking out to the front of the stage and howling an unaccompanied version of this Irish ballad (according to Google) by Robert Dwyer Joyce called The Wind That Shakes The Barley, all about slain loves and blood in yon river and of course, barley. The crowd that had been screaming at her entrance was utterly silent for the whole song. At one stage when her keyboard was wobbling on its stand a rare male in the audience called out asking if she needed a man. "Do I need a man?" she repeated incredulously. She then got him to come up on stage, kneel down, and hold the keyboard in place for the next couple of songs. After her amazing encore she came out again, ukelele in hand, leapt up onto the bar and sang Radiohead's Creep. It was an intense, but good night.

It's unfortunate that Tim really isn't into aubergines because (a) they are very cheap at the market, and (b) I just keep on cooking them. My latest recipe using them is the Aubergine Moussaka from Nigella Lawson's consistently astounding seminal text How To Eat. There is nothing out there quite like this book. I can abandon it for weeks and then come back to it and be inspired anew by some previously forgotten recipe. I'd never tried this particular one but since I had all the ingredients to hand and it seemed like an inexpensive meal, I thought I might give it a go. There's one thing you should know - it's nothing like the traditional idea of moussaka and I'm still a bit in the dark as to why it got its name. It's more of a warm, gently spiced chickpea vegetable curry. Which in itself is a good thing, just not very moussaka-y...

Aubergine Moussaka, adapted liberally from How To Eat

2 large, glossy aubergines, diced
2 onions, finely chopped
8 fat cloves garlic, also finely chopped
150g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight then cooked in boiling water till tender
1 ½ tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 can chopped tomatoes
½ teaspoon each cinnamon and allspice
200mls water
mint and feta to serve

Fry the onion, garlic, and eggplant in a little oil till softened and lightly golden. I actually used no oil at all, if the pan is hot enough and you stir regularly, the eggplant cooks quite nicely. Add the rest of the ingredients, simmer for an hour, and serve over rice or indeed as is, sprinkled with mint and feta. By the way, I don't have any pomegranate mollasses so in its place I used a chopped up slice of equally fragrant and sour preserved lemon (made for me by my godmother. Viv, if you are reading this: they are addictive. I have to stop myself from just picking them out of the jar and eating the lot...)

I must admit: I added some sneaky beetroot when I made this. Predictably it made the whole thing bright pink which was a little distracting but tasted fine. As a whole the flavours and textures are wonderful and it's delightfully easy to make. It also reheats well and is the sort of vegetarian dish (actually without the feta it might even be vegan, come to think of it) that is wonderfully satisfying, rather than making me look wistfully at the patch on my plate where a steak could be resting juicily.

I promised last time that I was going to get old school with Girl Guide biscuits, and old school I did get. I'm pretty sure Girl Guides or Girl Scouts are a fairly universal concept so you know what I'm talking about, yes? Wholesome, jolly young gals trying to sell biscuits is a yearly thing here in New Zealand and despite me being dreadfully snobby towards shop-bought biscuits on the whole (apart from the miraculously good Toffee Pops and Squiggles), Tim and I bought a couple of packets because of the sheer nostalgic appeal they wielded. They just taste like your average hydrogenated palm-oil based plain cookie but there's nothing like tradition to add a veneer of deliciousness. Plus with the biscuits come a dizzying array of sugary recipes on the Girl Guide website, including that New Zealand modern classic, Chocolate Fudge Slice. I remember making this once with Mum back when I was in Brownies (another young gal's brigade, nothing to do with the cake unfortch) and I marvel at its squidgy deliciousness now as I did when I was nine years old.

Chocolate Fudge Slice (adapted from the website)

This looks like it shouldn't hold together but somehow it does. The website has such modern-fangled additions as preserved ginger and chopped cherries but pah! I say. 1/2 a cup of coconut, however, would be quite permissible.

1x 250g packet Girl Guide biscuits, crushed
1 egg
125g butter
¾ cup sugar
1 Tbsp cocoa
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ tsp vanilla extract (or don't even bother if it's just essence as the website suggests. I don't mean to sound disparaging of this useful and friendly website, but really. It's 2009. Get some real vanilla.)

Melt the butter, and stir in the sugar, cocoa, walnuts, vanilla, biscuit crumbs and lightly beaten egg. Press into a greased 20x30cm tin and refrigerate overnight. The website suggests icing it with cocoa buttercream, and while I'm never one to say no to buttercream, I had run out of cocoa and so abandoned that idea and it was more than serviceable.
Above: This stuff just tastes...aagggghhh...magically delicious. And how could it not - it's full of all the good things in the world - cocoa, biscuit crumbs, butter...it's impossibly to stop at one piece and frankly it's kind of difficult to get the delicious mixture into the tin in the first place without snarfing the lot, doing the dishes and pretending you never started at all. More pragmatically, you could also make this coeliac-friendly by crushing up gluten-free biscuits instead.
It's not just a busy time for me. This Friday, my very talented mother flies to Argentina for a month (in a plane, by the way, her talent isn't that she can fly) to live with a family and teach in a school there on some prestigious scholarship thing she successfuly applied for (that incidentally my godmother - the one who made me the preserved lemons - has also done). Unfortunately I won't get to see Mum before she goes, but I'm sure the month will go fast enough and the wonders of modern technology mean that we'll probably keep in touch more than we would have when we're both in the same country.
Also - you may remember last year the ongoing battle against the Pukekohe WPC waste oil treatment plant who wanted to taint Otaua, the village of my youth, with their silos of poison (hey, it's late at night, I can get mildly dramatic if I want) - initially we managed to overthrow them in a hearteningly David vs Goliath manner. But because this isn't a Hollywood movie, they appealed, and because they've got money and we don't they'll probably get it. I've got a solution for you WPC: Just...don't. To the Franklin District Council: Make it stop. You're the council. You should be looking out for, you know, the people of Franklin. (Again, it's late at night- I can be dramatic and overly simplistic.) If I'm psychologically exhausted considering the implications for the future of Otaua I can't even imagine how drained the Otaua Village Preservation Society must be feeling. Just food for thought anyway. A part of me would love it for someone working against us to Google themselves, find their way here, and be conflicted by the overwhelming hate-vibes being directed towards them from my direction and their desire to continue reading my blog for the intriguing cake recipes.
Next time: Well, it's St Patrick's Day tomorrow which means I shall call upon the Irish blood cells that make up a goodly chunk of my lineage and make Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake. Grown men have wept (in my imagination) for this cake. It's special stuff. Do join me...

8 March 2009

last of the summer whine


I can't buy cherries. They don't exist. They are neither on the shelf at the corner shop or on the stands at the vege market. Their season has passed. And it's probably just as well, because had my addiction to them been allowed to continue, my future children would never enjoy things like shoes, or a university savings fund. All financially debilitating fruit-eating habits aside, it was my lack of cherries that really made it clear that summer is fast melting into autumn, like an icecream inadvertantly dropped on a hot, concrete footpath. The mornings are darker, the evenings cooler, the cardigans emerging from the bottom drawer. Waah!

Having thrown all that bleak imagery at you, I should point out that this weekend has been absolutely gloriously sunny. Yesterday Tim and I, along with my godsister Hannah who has started university down here, took advantage of said weather and bussed out to Lyall Bay to the Maranui Surf Cafe. They hardly needs my endorsement - it was absolutely packed and there was a constant stream of people through the door. We had to wait for a table, which made me feel a little nervous - after all, it was my idea to shlep all the way out there in the first place - but it really wasn't that long before we were seated. Somehow, even with my chronic uselessness riding against us, we ended up with the best table in the house - in the centre of a huge picture window, gazing out over the sea.

There's a reason why it's always packed - the food was fantastic. I had the big vegetarian breakfast and Tim had the regular big breakfast (I gave him some of my avocado and he gave me some of his kransky), and I kid you not, it was the best of its type that I've had in Wellington. Every cafe under the sun has some form of "Big Breakfast" and they can be anything from boring to meanly portioned and soggy. But this was incredible - generous amounts of avocado and pesto, large, glossy mushrooms, softly poached eggs, wonderful grainy bread and tomatoes that were so delicious I could have eaten a kilo of them on their own. I mean, I'm actually considering ringing and asking where they got them from. I wish I'd thought to bring my camera. Personable service and not-entirely-terrifying prices means I'll definitely be back but with my 9-5 job the weekend is my only option, so maybe try to go on a weekday if you can when it's likely to be more chilled out.

One more thing - the big breakfasts are really, really filling. I mean, I'm quite the horse when it comes to appetite size but was forced to concede bitterly that I didn't have any space for one of the many enticing cakes on the counter. In fact, several hours later Tim and I still didn't really feel like much for dinner. Unusual. So while Tim did his readings for Honours, I flung together something fairly light that wouldn't be burdensome on our constitutions.

While brown rice was on the boil, and a foil-wrapped beetroot was roasting away in the oven, I assembled feta cheese, capers, sliced preserved lemon (made by my godmother), walnuts, and grated carrot. The beetroot was chopped into chunks and along with everything else, spatula-d into the drained rice and piled into two bowls. Delicious, and the sort of thing you can basically eat a vat of without feelings of self-loathing and regret arising after. While the making and eating of dinner was going on, we listened to a greatest hits CD of Joe Cocker. I'd just like to point out that on the whole I hate greatest hits compilations, and I wasn't entirely committed to listening to J-Cock all evening, but as it turns out I'd somehow forgotten how much I love the old so-and-so. Every song was pure gold. The man's a genius! Who else on earth can cover the Beatles so lavishly and not only get away with it, but sound brilliant? I also like how the album ended with killer song She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, and not, like many other artists' greatest hits albums, with an ill-advised late nineties hip-hop disco remix collaboration track.

I found this recipe on Scrumptious blog for Eggplant and Tomato Curry. It's easy to make and tastes fantastic - I can see it becoming a regular fixture so long as the ingredients stay cheapish at the market.

Above: I added cauliflower because I had some kicking round and thought it might bring a bit more substance. I guess if you wanted you could add some coconut milk or use different vegetables, even adding meat of some kind - it's quite a nice starting point recipe for tinkering round with. Speaking of tinkering round, I received a bottle of passionfruit vinaigrette for Christmas from my brother and apart from drinking the stuff straight from the bottle because it's so delicious, I've been trying it in all sorts of things, including as a marinade for chicken breasts. If you don't actually have the Wild Appetite vinagrette like I do, I'd use a mix of pineapple juice, olive oil, a pinch of tumeric and a splash of cider vinegar. I cooked the chicken on our George Foreman Grill, which caramelised the sugar in the marinade, imparting a smoky deliciousness.

I sliced the chicken into chunks and served it with roasted beetroot, spinach, and brown rice. I'm not sure what I was really going for but it seemed to work, and I can highly recommend the vinaigrette-as-marinade route...I'm sure Paul Newman's dressing would be incredible!


Overheard in our kitchen:

Tim: So really, capers are just like really small olives?
Laura: Yeah, more or less. So why is it that you like capers but not olives?!?
Tim: Maybe if you cut the olives up into tiny little pieces?

Next time: I get old-school with Girl Guide biscuits, and bake a cake with only four ingredients, none of which are butter or eggs. Yeah, I'm suspicious too, and I haven't actually tasted it yet so if it has all the flavour of a well-boiled sponge I'll probably just conveniently forget that I said I'd blog about it...if it turns out well then you'll just have to wait for the next post to see what these four mysterious ingredients are!

1 March 2009

souperstar (do you think you're what they say you are)


Beetroot soup. Not the most wildly titillating words someone could whisper in your ear. Especially...lukewarm beetroot soup. But beetroot soup must have something going for it if Nigella Lawson has no less than three different recipes for it. And if anyone can bring the titillation, it's La Lawson. I mean, I say this as a beetroot fan from way back, but this following soup is not only delicious in the traditional sense - it tastes good - it's also visually delicious. Check it out...

This soup is the deepest crimson, perhaps what the word "love" would look like if someone threw it in a blender and added vegetable stock. Sorry, got a bit carried away there with my imagery. Look how beetroot affects me so.

Having said that, I didn't entirely follow Nigella's recipes, I sort of did a cross between the one from How To Eat and the one from Forever Summer. To clarify, the soup from HTE is basically boiled beetroot blended with stock, while the FS one is roasted beetroot blended with stock and sour cream. I roasted the beetroot but didn't add sour cream...wait, are you still interested?

Roasted Beetroot Soup

2 large beetroot (I'm talking actual beetroot, not anything from a can)
1 teaspoon ground cumin (I actually used ras-el-hanout because I am a bit addicted to it)
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
250g sour cream (which I didn't use but I'm sure is nice)
Feta and capers to serve

Wrap the beetroot in tinfoil and bake at 200 C for 1 and a half hours, or until you can plunge a cake tester into them easily. Unwrap partially and leave to cool somewhat, then carefully peel by rubbing off the skin (seriously, that's what you do) and chop them roughly. Biff into a food processor and whizz till kind of pulpy. Add the stock...maybe in batches...and blitz once more until it resembles soup. Add the sour cream if you so wish, ladle into bowls and sprinkle over feta cheese and capers.

While you're making soup you might as well get some bread on to go with. To be honest the beetroot soup doesn't really need a carbohydrate chaperone, but if you're making something a bit more lentil-and-vegetabley the following would be perfect. And it doesn't even knead needing. I mean need kneading. Excuse me.

Above: And it's nubblier than a sweater on The Cosby Show. It's funny, the words 'seedy' and 'grainy' aren't so attractive when used in conjunction with darkened streets and online video quality respectively, but when used to describe bread they become highly desirable adjectives.

This recipe comes from Nigella Express and is not entirely unrelated to a recipe from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, only simpler. It's also a good example of why both books are so marvelous...

Lazy Loaf

200g best quality sugar-free muesli

325g wholewheat bread flour

1 sachet (7g) instant dried yeast

2 teaspoons sea salt, or 1 teaspoon table salt

250mls (1 cup) skim milk

250mls (1 cup) low-fat water (just kidding y'all, they haven't invented that yet)

Mix together the dry ingredients. Add the water. Mix all that together. Tip into a silicone loaf tin (or a normal one, lined with baking paper and flour). Put into a cold oven, then immediately turn to 110 C and leave for 45 minutes. After these 45 minutes are up, turn it up to 180 C and bake for a further hour. Unorthodox, yes, but once you have completed these simple tasks you'll have a loaf of real bread.

If you don't have actual muesli to hand, you can just use about 180g rolled oats and make up the rest (and then some) with any dusty kibbled bits you have to hand - wheatgerm, amaranth, linseeds - in this modern age I know you have something like that in your pantry. I basically threw everything at it - all of the above plus poppy seeds, ground linseeds, kibbled rye and bran. Which is why I wasn't in the slightest bit stressed that I only had plain white bread flour. You should also know that this is wonderful the next day, sliced and grilled and shmeered with avocado (which is what we had for breakfast this morning).

Above: And like everything in life, brilliant with butter.

Cultural roundup time! Are you ready to absorb my recommendations? On Monday, Tim and I went to see a singer called Jolie Holland. That's right, the word Jolie is being used without "Angelina" preceding it. She was absolutely stunning, with a kind of old-school blues vibe about her. I'm talking 1800s old-school. She had an absolutely gorgeous voice, she bantered generously with the crowd and, non-insult to non-injury, she did a cover of a Leonard Cohen song (the ever-stunning Lady Midnight, for those of you playing at home.) She played guitar on many songs but we were lucky enough to see her play a kind of rough-hewn violin-fiddle thing (yes, that would be the technical term) and for her lengthy encore she invited the warm-up act, a man whose name eludes me, to sing with her. And it is a shame that I can't remember his name because he was quite a gem - if some of his songs did sound a little similar to each other it didn't matter because the voice he sung them in was so rich and lovely.

Last Saturday we went to Te Papa museum to see the Monet painting exhibition. If any of my readers are passing through Wellington I heartily recommend it, I'm a bit of a geek for the Impressonists and have been since I was a child (it's no wonder I was so popular) so it was a genuine thrill for me to see some of the exemplary works of this period up close and personal. And, be still my beating heart, included in the mix were two Degas sketches and a sculpture...

On Thursday I had a double-bill night, beginning with Tick...tick...Boom! at the Garden Theatre which was everything I'd hoped - ie, it didn't suck - and followed by the band of Montreal. It was, for reasons mentioned last time, hugely exciting for me to see TTB live, and the cast seemed to be as happy performing in it as I was watching them. They all sang gorgeously, had sparky chemistry, and really seemed to get the characters as opposed to just singing the lines with their faces forming the appropriate expressions. Erm, I could go on. I actually saw it again on Friday night, which should tell you a lot about me as a person. But truly, I can't say enough nice things about this production. Hearing those fantastic songs live - magic.

of Montreal were brilliant live, lead singer Kevin Barnes all enigmatic and urchin-like with his blue eyeshadow and orange sparkly tunic. Although light on banter they were heavy on theatrics - including a fellow who came out wearing an impressive array of animal masks and a grey-leotarded person who would swing from bars on the ceiling - and the music was a ton of loved-up swirly-electro fun. The audience was painfully hip (lots of carefully chosen vintage dresses, arty tshirts, canvas shoes and disdainful looks) and there is, in my heart, a special dark hatred reserved only for the bloke in front of me who was not only tall and bouffant-y of hair, but, insult upon insult, wearing a large trilby hat, the circumference of which completely blocked my view as he swayed intuitively from left to right at the very same time as me. May his view one day be obstructed in a similar manner. Hopefully by someone in a sombrero.

Finally, speaking of soup - and back to food now - after purchasing a half-price can of chesnuts, I made the lentil and chesnut soup from How To Eat. Friends, it is extraordinarily good. It's also not that photogenic. But I wanted to throw it open wide to you all, you foodie types, what would make a good substitute for the chesnuts? Because they're too expensive to make this soup a regular option. I tried substituting potato, which was pleasant enough but too similar in texture to the cooked lentils to be really delightful. Any thoughts?