I found this recipe for Orange and Saffron Confit in the latest Dish magazine. I always thought confit was something submerged in fat for purposes of preservation and deliciousness, but this is basically slices of orange simmered in syrup. I guess it's for the best, although you know I wouldn't turn my back on orange slices in a jar of melted butter. It sounded like so much fun, and even though I didn't really have any need for it in my life I really wanted to try it.
It's pretty cheap to make, and even if you never, ever use them, the jar looks unbelievably pretty with its tangerine-bright layers of orange spooning in their glossy liquid.
Saffron is admittedly really expensive, and the reason I'm relaxed about using it is because I've received it as a Christmas or birthday present so many times (I looooove getting food as presents FYI) that I've got plenty I can use. If you don't have saffron to hand I reckon this would be amazing with a vanilla pod or a couple of cinnamon sticks (for a very cheap option) as a replacement.
Orange and Saffron Confit
From Dish Magazine (the current one with the pumpkin on the cover)
2 large seedless oranges (I used 3)
3 1/2 cups water (just under a litre)
Pinch of saffron threads, or whatever substitution you're using
2 1/2 cups caster sugar (I used regular)
Trim the ends off the oranges. Cut into 1/2 cm thick slices and place in a wide saucepan with the water and saffron threads. Bring to just below boiling point, let it simmer away gently for about 20 minutes. Then sprinkle over your sugar and continue to cook gently for about 30 minutes, until the liquid has reduced a bit. Occasionally you could spoon some of the liquid over the oranges but don't try stirring them or they'll fall apart.
Let them cool in their syrup, then carefully transfer the slices to a clean jar or two and pour over the remaining syrup.
Warning: You and your benchtop will get covered in sugary syrup. There is no way of avoiding this. This is what I've learned in my travels around the kitchen, anyway.
It smells so good while it's simmering away, and for very little effort you end up with soft, gleaming slices of intensely flavoured orange and a gorgeously golden syrup flecked with red saffron strands and fragrant with that grassy, saffron-y perfume.
In case you're thinking "yeah nice, but now what?", well apart from loudly admiring your handicraft whenever someone walks past, Dish suggests a few options for using this confit. These include decorating cakes, accompanying chocolate mousse, or serving over ice cream. For a while there I was thinking it would be fun to give someone you were only pretending to like a jar of this as a present, so you could imagine them fumbling round trying to (a) come up with a use for it and (b) act like they're sophisticated and orange confit is something they understand and deal with on a daily basis. However there's actually plenty of uses for this stuff. Today I decided to chop up a few slices to use in a fruit cake of Nigella Lawson's - but this cake is amazing on its own so don't feel that the first recipe here has to happen before you can do the following one.
And if you can't be bothered making the orange slices to go with this, take comfort in the fact that even though they look pretty, they make slicing the loaf a total pain.
Fruit Tea Loaf
From Nigella Lawson's very amazing Feast
1 x 250ml cup black tea
375g dried fruit (I used half dates, half sultanas)
125g brown sugar
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch ground cloves (I used cinnamon)
Optional: 3 slices of orange from the above confit recipe, roughly diced, plus extra slices for decorating.
Make the cup of black tea (I used English Breakfast) and pour it into a bowl with the dried fruit and sugar, stir well, then leave sitting overnight. I know, I've just told you that you can't have this cake until tomorrow. If you've got a microwave, you can try blasting it in there for a little bit to speed up the absorption process, letting the fruit cool a little before doing the rest of the recipe.
Set your oven to 170 C, and line a loaf tin with baking paper. Beat the rest of the ingredients into the dried fruit (retaining the liquid) and then spoon the mixture into the loaf tin. Bake for around an hour or so. If you've got some orange confit kicking round, drape a few slices over the cake and spoon over a little syrup.
I can't even emphasise with words (only by gesturing wildly with my hands) how easy and delicious this cake is. If you haven't got much in the bank for baking fancy things, this is the cake for you - dried fruit like sultanas, dates and apricots are always cheap. There's no butter in it and only one egg. But it comes out of the oven tasting like one of those special Christmas cakes which have had days of effort and paychecks going into them. It's really moist and fruity and rich, and the orange slices lend a sunny zestiness. For all that people get up in arms about Nigella's recipes which have lots of expensive ingredients in them, if you take the time to properly read her books there's a complete goldmine of practical, cheap things to fill your stomach with. And come to think of it, this cake would make a genuinely lovely gift to someone, at any time of year.
I really hadn't thought about what I'd do with the slices of orange as I start cutting into the loaf. Guess I'll just have to try hacking them up as I go? Or maybe I could push them further and further back as I slice more off the loaf...but it looks pretty. Speaking of pretty, I am a bit in love with that plate of ours which (you can't see because there's a slice of cake on it) has a guy and a girl earnestly playing tennis. Picked it up for a dollar from an op shop in town. The joy I feel whenever I see it is dampened a bit by how old it makes me feel that I get worked up about really ugly plates.
Last night Tim and I went to an evening of Rogers and Hammerstein with the always-awesome NZ Symphony Orchestra and West End conductor Martin Yates, with songs performed by West End soloists Jacqui Scott and Andrew Halliday. It was a fantastic evening - Tim and I probably lowered the average age of punters by about forty years - but I will point out that the Michael Fowler centre is awful, with its semi-circular seating arrangement meaning that 40% of the audience can't see a thing, and for the price they were making people pay, you'd think Kerry Ellis or even Elaine Paige herself were going to be there.
The NZSO were in good form, providing a lush, expansive amble through some of Rogers and Hammersteins best-loved musicals, and songs like Shall We Dance, Some Enchanted Evening, Oklahoma, Climb Every Mountain, and Soliloquy were performed through the evening. The two singers were fantastic - Halliday had a rich and smooth Gavin Creel-esque sound and Scott was blessed with a powerful soprano voice. Gotta say even as a hardcore musical theatre person the Oklahoma can sometimes be a bit much for me - all that talk of how "birds and frogs'll sing altogether and the frogs'll hop". The darkness of Carousel is more my scene, and to their credit, without any costumes or scenery and only marginal context, the two singers were great at switching characters between songs. If anyone's listening, an evening of Sondheim would be seriously awesome. I probably wouldn't even complain about the price of seats.
Title via: Johnny Cash, who sung Orange Blossom Special at Folsom Prison and San Quentin prisons. There is some incredibly good footage on Youtube of him performing, if you're ever sitting round wondering what to do with your time you could definitely do worse than entering his name into the search bar.
King Kapisi feat Mint Chicks, Superhuman - a seriously meaty collaboration between two of Aotearoa's finest acts. I've been lucky enough to see both of them live (Mint Chicks at SFBH in 2006 and earlier this year, and King Kapisi at Pasifika Festival at Western Springs in 2000 or 2001, my memory fails me - anyone else remember?), hopefully there's the opportunity for people to see them perform this song together at some stage.
Speaking of collaborations, we're still loving Nas and Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley's diamond of an album, Distant Relatives. Truly. Find it.