I got back to Wellington yesterday evening, after a week's camping at the same beach my family and I have camped at since 1986. This constant bookend to each year of my life means I fall into a pleasingly familiar pattern once in the camping frame of mind...read books, dip toe doubtfully in water at the beach, drink gin, observe fat woodpigeons in wonder, go for walks, read more books etc... While letting all that go isn't fun, I'm very, very happy to be back in the city where mosquitos don't seem to exist. I got so ridiculously bitten this time round, my legs resemble a topographical map of the Hunua Ranges.
All awkward itching aside, I had a seriously wonderful break. Lazy breakfasts merged into lazy lunches, books were read, long conversations were had with family, that sort of thing. For some reason the birdlife this year was particularly bold, but in a cute, Disney-esque way that makes you want to stride through the forest while singing scales and engaging in dialogue with squirrels. Or something. I managed to catch up with lots of family and also with one of my very best friends who I don't see very often, which was fantastic. Unfortunately Tim wasn't able to come to the beach because Starbucks stops for no man (and to be fair, he needed the money) and I suspect my family was even more disappointed than I was that he couldn't make it along. ...
Since we weren't going to be seeing each other for a while, on the night before I flew up to Auckland to go camping I thought I'd make us a decent dinner, of souffle and chocolate mousse. I didn't plan to have such a glam dinner menu - it was more a case of "what on earth is in the cupboard". I guess I wouldn't be much of a food blogger if my scraped-together meal didn't involve separating eggs and dark chocolate.
Both recipes came from that most seminal of all seminal texts, How To Eat by Nigella Lawson. I love coming back to this book - I bought it back in my first year of flatting when I hardly had any money for rent and bills, let alone enormous fancy cookbooks. But it has more than paid for itself since then. Actually that's a lie, between the pomegranates and the vermouth and the endless variations on homemade custard this book may well have financially crippled me and could be the reason Tim and I haven't been on a holiday since we started living together this time four years ago.
Both recipes are both easier than they sound, even though there's some egg-white whisking involved. Yeah, separating eggs is never fun, but there's something about the word 'souffle' that still equates to 'death-defying act of cookery' in many people's minds. You can choose to capitalise on this and win their gasps of admiration when you casually place a souffle in front of them, or you can just own up that they're not difficult at all. Doesn't bother me.
Notice the nice salad servers in the background - Christmas gift from Tim's parents.
So, I altered this recipe a tiny bit in that it was originally a pea souffle but all I had was soybeans and goat's cheese...yeah, I know. It should really be the other way round.
Goat's Cheese and Soybean Souffle
Although soybeans (or edamame) aren't normally paired with cheese, their soft nutty flavour makes them seem like they should. If you want to make the original pea souffle, and it's really really good, just replace the soybeans and cheese with 120g frozen peas and 85g gruyere or something similar.
150g frozen soybeans
30g butter, plus more for greasing
125mls (1/2 a cup) full fat milk
pinch of nutmeg
50-100g goat's cheese or feta cheese, roughly chopped
Set the oven to 200 C, putting in a baking tray when you do this, and butter 2 x 250ml ramekins. Melt 15g butter in a pan and cook the soybeans till they are softened. Set aside. A souffle is basically white sauce with eggs and other things stirred in, so you need your white sauce first. Melt the second 15g of butter, and stir in the flour, letting it bubble away slightly before tipping in the milk and stirring constantly over a low heat till smooth. Remove from heat.
Separate the eggs, and stir the yolks into the white sauce, then add the soybeans, goat's cheese and nutmeg. In a metal bowl, whisk the egg whites with a small pinch of salt till frothy and standing up in soft peaks. This is fairly important as it's the air bubbles trapped in the egg whites that are going to give the souffle the push it needs. Using a metal spoon, put a good dollop of egg whites into the yolk mixture and stir it in to 'lighten' the mixture. Then fold the rest of the egg whites in, not beating it toooooo vigorously but not too fearfully either. Divide all this between the two ramekins, place them on the baking tray and shut the door carefully. Immediately turn the heat down to 180 C. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, and serve immediately while they're still risen and gorgeous - they will deflate, it doesn't make you a bad person.
Mine rose higher than this, I swear! Taking photos just gave them time to get all...deflatey.
These taste SO good. Intensely puffy in texture. Strangely it's the soybeans providing a buttery, creamy flavour while the rich goat's cheese gives a lemony sharpness, rather than the other way round. Definitely worth the little bit of effort that goes into it - these look and taste gorgeous.
The chocolate mousse we had while watching Season 4 of The Wire. Don't worry, we actually talked to each other while eating the souffle. The Wire time is quality time. The recipe comes from Nigella's chapter on children's food (which is possibly my most-used chapter in How To Eat, whatever that says about my eating.)
Nigella's recipe uses milk chocolate and golden syrup. I only had dark chocolate and honey so I used this instead. If you keep the dark chocolate instead of her originally specified milk, it makes this mousse dairy free.
100g dark chocolate
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon clear honey
2 eggs, separated. Obviously because of the uncooked-egg thing, you want these to be nice eggs.
Over a very low heat (or in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water if you're nervous), melt together the chocolate, the honey, and the water. Remove from heat. In a separate clean metal bowl, whisk the egg whites till stiff peaks form. Nigella says it'll be easier if you wipe the surface of a cut lemon half over the bowl before you start; I believe her. Beat the egg yolks into the slightly cooled chocolate mixture. Take a dollop of egg white and stir it briskly into the chocolate/yolk mixture which will, as with the souffle, lighten it up a bit. Then gently but firmly fold the rest of the egg white mixture in with a metal spoon. Divide between two smallish ramekins, around 250 ml capacity. Nigella says to chill it for 6 hours, I'd say you could get away with an hour or two. Eat.
Possibly because of the lack of cream, this mousse was a little different in texture to what I expected - it had settled into almost a chocolate pudding rather than anything light and fluffy. No harm done, it was still completely amazing. Silkily rich but not overly heavy, this mousse tasted of nothing but chocolate, so don't be put off by the slim list of ingredients.
Title comes to you from: The song Air sung by the gorgeous Kacie Sheik, from the Broadway cast recording of Hair, as a salute to the significant reliance on air bubbles in the recipes I gave you. I am legit obsessed with this album. You may have noticed it popping up occasionally here. So it must be good, right? It has indeedy been getting a lot of repeat visits, this album of the current Broadway revival cast, starring the lovely Gavin Creel who bears the heavy crown of being one of the few stars of Broadway that Tim likes. Today I also started listening to the original Broadway cast recording (ie, the 1968 one) and fell in love with that too. Everyone sounds like Joan Baez! So you might as well try the original like me while you're at it.
On Shuffle these days:
Well, I've been away from technology for seven days and didn't really have my iPod on while out camping - it was mostly birdcalls and the sound of tent zippers for me as far as music went. But today I bought the soundtrack to The Wackness, which is a very enjoyable listen, with the same warm, eyes-half-closed summer vibe the movie has. I don't normally go in for soundtracks but this one is the reason why...I occasionally do. Right now Sam Cooke is providing a mellow background to my Sunday night.
Next time: My summer holiday is officially over - I'm back in the office tomorrow. This week is going to be busy however as I'm flying up to Auckland to work with the Big Day Out music festival. But there will be cooking! I've been to the vege market for the first time in weeks and feeling good about connecting with the kitchen again. In the meantime, if anyone has any remedies for speedy healing of mosquito bites I'd be most grateful...