11 April 2010

open sesame

I'm blogging on a full stomach. Food is so strange. I really, really want it, visualise creating it, feeding people, feeding myself, that sort of thing. But if I have slightly too much, suddenly even just thinking about food feels like an awkward way to pass the time. I start to question how a person could ever possibly want to eat anything but cool, bland lettuce. I never force myself to blog, but on the other hand I've started this and want to get it done so...hopefully it doesn't read like I'm averting my eyes while typing.

My aimless flicking through recipe books recently while shopping stopped being aimless once my eyes settled upon a recipe for shortbread made with tahini, in Jewish Cooking, Jewish Cooks by Ramona Koval. The book was pricey but my curiosity was prodded, and, figuring it was absolutely the same as hitting up Google, without taking the chance that this recipe hadn't been documented online, I hastily scrawled the instructions on my arm. Luckily I found a pen in my purse, my only other option being a black eyeliner. Much as I like the idea of turning my body into a walking cookbook, googling would have been easier - trying to transcribe the scribbled, condensed and sideways version of the recipe from my arm to paper was not a fast task. The things we do for our craft, hey?

Tahini is seriously cool - a thick, rich, throat-binding paste of ground sesame seeds. Like peanut butter it'll stick to the roof of your mouth and refuse to let go so be careful about wading in and eating it by the spoonful. With that in mind this recipe might sound pretty Schafer-tastic, like the sort of grainy snack the characters of Hair would eat to give them energy to sing about their hair. Wrong. This recipe contains a lot of butter. Watch out. I've never used tahini in anything sweet before but making these inspired me to get into all kinds of experimentation, I'm thinking toasted sesame ice cream...

The shortbread is stunningly good stuff and on the back of its excellence I may well end up buying this cookbook. I love that you press it into a tin and slice it up later. So, there's none of that biscuit-fatigue where you've eaten way too much mixture and want to lie down on the floor and sleep it off but you still have to keep rolling and cutting circles of dough and waiting for the tray of cookies in the oven to finish baking so you can swap it with the next batch. Nope, none of that at all. Refreshing.

Halvah Shortbread

Adapted from Ramona Koval's Jewish Cooking, Jewish Cooks

170g soft butter
1/2 cup tahini
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 cups flour

Set oven to 180 C. Either - whizz the butter, sugar and tahini together in the food processor, pulsing in the rest of the ingredients till combined. Or - cream butter, tahini and sugar together with a wooden spoon till well incorporated, then beat in the almonds and flour till smooth. Press into a baking dish - I used a round silicon flan dish - and bake for about 15 minutes till golden on top. Allow to cool, then slice into pieces.

Makes as many as you like - about 20 decent sized slices, or, you know, 400 wafer-thin shavings...

This shortbread is incredible - thick, golden slabs of buttery biscuit softened but deepened by the intense and complex nuttiness of the tahini. It's literally one of the most delicious things I've eaten in a long time. I want to eat the whole trayful. Well, I wanted to eat the whole trayful but now - as previously mentioned - I am too full for such dreams. It is worth buying a jar of tahini just to make these - don't think it will loiter sadly at the back of the fridge like a kid whose parents forgot to pick them up from school - I go through about a jar a month. Drizzle it over Meditteranean style food, spread it across flatbread when you do make kebabs or wraps, thicken up homemade hummus, or make this satay sauce.

On Saturday night Tim and I found ourselves at Watusi for Auckland-based rapper David Dallas. Based on the fact that Watusi is tiny and the Facebook event page had well over 350 confirmed guests, we thought we'd better err on the side of early. We were at the back for opener Percieve, and when the Homebrew crew came on it clicked that we had seen them before in Auckland. They could, judging by the lyric chanting, dancing, and basic sheer elation from most of the males around me, have probably filled the venue in their own right. Props to Homebrew Crew for this, considering how many times they reminded us about their underground nature. Maybe they hadn't reckoned on how Wellington thrives on unearthing the underground.

We got hustled to the front by an enthusiastic friend for David Dallas' set, which was not a bad place to be, if a little confronting. His explanation for Big Time - wanting to do something big but not knowing what made me prod Tim on the shoulder and say "me too!" It was a pretty bare set-up - just Dallas plus backing tracks - but it still sounded good, the mellower songs given more punch when blasted through speakers. The music spanned from older Frontline stuff, touching acapella material, (where being close enough to hear the voice before it hits the mic is pretty nice), singles from Something Awesome, and a throwback to his verse on Scribe's rather famous Not Many. The last time I'd seen this song live was at the 2004 Pasifika Festival so it was a pleasant blast from the past. This guy was nominated for the inaugural Taite Music Prize and was just overseas performing at SXSW so to see him perform in such a laughably tiny setting was definitely...um, sorry, how else am I supposed to wind this up...something awesome.

Title coming atcha via: Kool and The Gang - according to Wikipedia Open Sesame was described by critics as their "least funky" album. I don't know what level of funk said critics were dealing with but I mean...I liked it.

Music lately:

Ms Dynamite's Wile Out, a track I swear plays every time I flick on the radio. It was only tonight that I managed to hear the announcer mention who sang it, nice to see Ms Dynamite back in such fine form. A straightforwardly excellent tune, to me Wile Out wouldn't have been out of place in late 2004-2005 which makes it comfort listening in a way - that was the time I went over to work in England and really, all music sounded pretty exciting in that context.

I Need A Dollar by Aloe Blacc, which is what seems to get played on the radio if the above isn't on rotation. It's being used as the theme to a new HBO show called How To Make It In America, which I don't have an overwhelming interest in seeing just yet, (is it just me or does their theme sequence attempt to do what The Wire's did?) but this trudging melody is certainly engaging, like a modern Brother Can You Spare A Dime - not that this song hasn't ever been relevant itself.

Next time: Today Tim and I bought a new camera, a DSLR - the piece of equipment I, until very recently, never really thought I'd own. Our current camera has done noble service, seeing me through many situations and undoubtedly improving the look of this blog but a quick look at, say, the girdlebuster pie post should indicate why a new camera isn't a bad idea. I'm really looking forward to getting to know this gorgeous new creature that we own, and getting to grips with such interesting features as manual focussing. What this means for you is (hopefully) cooler photos on here, since lo-fi food photography is never going to win anyone any friends!


  1. Looks like you scored a real find in this recipe! Tahini is so yum and goodness, in a short bread. Sesame seeds are totally what I live off - in cooking, in biscuits, sesame oil, etc. Asian cooking uses it so much so I'm a total obsessive nut when it comes to that. YUM. I might have to make this at some point. They look really more-ish. x

  2. As always, looks wonderful. Don't have anything to say about tahini as I know so little about food, but just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading about your take on it.

  3. New camera - how exciting (also, I'm totally envious)!! I'm surprised that you don't see shortbread/biscuit recipes using tahini more often (or, as often as you see peanut butter), because it seems like it works pretty well here.. yum :)

  4. This looks amazing!! I love halvah. When I visited Israel, the stuff was everywhere- - I swear I would eat it every day. Making it into a shortbread was a great idea.

  5. I love tahini and this is such a divine way to utilize it!

  6. Looks good - and easy. I have just bought a new container of baking powder- one usually lasts me about five years so it's looking promising. I've been occupied with stewing large apples from our tree. They have accommodated a few beasties but, once I have removed them, the apples taste very nice.

  7. *Miss Dynamite-ee-e!*

    That shortbread looks divine. Combining 2 of my favourite things - tahini and shortbread, delicious! I usually just eat tahini spread on toast with soymilk for breakfast, yum yum.

    xox Sarah

  8. If your scribbling makes you a bit naughty, then I'm like... Enron. There's a very, very small chance that I took sneaky photos of a few recipes from books in Borders in New York the other day... but, um, my suitcase was full...

    I didn't end up with anything as scrumptious-sounding at tahini shortbread, though. What a waste of illegal behaviour. *shakes head*

  9. Ommmmm I now need to get myself some tahini! What a great non-dairy spread too.

    Cheers for this!

  10. I Need A Dollar is great. I watched How To Make It In America a couple of weeks ago and even though the first couple of episodes weren't that great, it was still worth checking out.I find that I can't skip over the credits at all because of that song.

  11. Amazing! I was thinking that with bbq season in swing, I needed to stock up on tahini for hummus, but now I just want it for this! Yum!

  12. What a fantastic recipe - I just saw this mentioned by Foodycat and had to have a look immediately. I'm a fan of tahini anyway, but would never have thought of using it like this. I will be giving this a try for sure.

  13. Hi! I subscribe to your blog and there are many things I like about it!
    Each recipe is carefully chosen and i have already made a banana loaf I found here which was great, but this halva shortbread is out of this world! I have made a batch this afternoon and it is so good! It makes a huge amount but I doubt that will be a problem. Thank you :)