28 March 2010

where is my master, the rebel quince

It's astounding. Quinces are fleeting. Madness takes its toll. When you realise that you've just come to truly love the fruit and there's none to be found, not a damn skerrick, for a whole year. Like some kind of token gesture from Mother Nature to say sorry for ending summer, quinces appear with autumn, but unlike the terrible weather, their time with us is ridiculously brief. They're like the Jimmy McNulty of fruit, charming but unreliable, showing up at random intervals to steal your heart then run off again. I mean, I saw them at the supermarket and a week later there were no more. I didn't even see them at all at the vege markets this year, although I was out of town one weekend. So you have to live every fruit as if it's your last.

Now that I'm writing all this, like I'm some kind of bearded prophet issuing a clifftop warning, it occurs to me that it's probably not the best subject to blog on, since...by the time I get round to hitting the 'publish' button quince season may well be over and this post will be of no use to anyone. Seriously, last time I managed to get my hands on quinces was 2007. What luck do the rest of you guys have? Ah, well, I've started. Gonna plough.

If you've never tried quince before, think of them as a cross between an apple and pear with a hint of lemon in flavour, and like persimmon in texture. They are gorgeously fragrant and really need cooking down to be edible - they're far too dry and wooly when raw. I thought sorbet would be a good way to showcase these subtle flavours, and actually apples or pears could be substituted for quinces in their absence, which does make this post a bit more relevant to you.

Quince Sorbet

This recipe is slightly fiddly but not too bad. It's just something I made up, so there are probably improvements that could be made. A bit of equipment helps, as always...

3 large, firm quinces
1/3 cup sugar plus another 1/3 cup
125 mls water plus another 250 mls

Chop the quinces roughly (as per the photo above) and place in a roasting dish. They're pretty tough little beasts, but nothing a good sharp Victorinox can't handle. Be careful though! Sprinkle over the first 1/3 cup sugar and the 125 mls water, cover with tinfoil, and place in a 160 C oven for about 2 hours or until completely soft. Once they've cooled a bit, puree the lot including any juices or liquid in the roasting dish. Here I should point out that I tried pushing the puree through a sieve, and then a potato ricer, to get rid of all the skin. I think I should have peeled the fruit to begin with but this is up to you - you either get sorbet with bits in it or you don't.

Bring the 250mls water and second measure of sugar to the boil in a pan and let it bubble away for a bit. You're not trying to make a full on syrup, just allow the sugar to dissolve and the liquid to thicken slightly. Pour it over the quince puree and stir thoroughly. Pour into a container and freeze till solid. You may want to blast the frozen mixture in the food processor, which will make it extra smooth and creamy.

This doesn't make an awful lot - around 600 mls. However I was just experimenting and so didn't want litres of sorbet on my hands. You could always use more quinces and indeed, add a couple of chopped up apples to the mix to make the overall volume greater.

Because the ingredients are fairly simple, the delicate, fresh crisp apple flavour of quinces were able to shine in this sorbet. Quinces tend to run into oversweetness but the iciness of the sorbet stared it down nicely. It is truly delicious and really the only disappointment was (a) that it'll be a long time till I can make some more and (b) the colour was a bit unimpressive, a kind of nondescript pinkish-brown. I guess I should have stuck a mint leaf on top to make it look a little nicer. I guess I'll have to wait till next year...

Speaking of things leaving town, last night Tim and I went to see the Royal New Zealand Ballet in From Here To There, a showcase of three different modern ballet works. I love ballet so much, and try to support these guys where I can. Christopher Hampson choreographed Silhouette, the first piece. I was lucky enough to see his Romeo and Juliet many years ago, the ending of which completely slayed me in spite of the fact that I knew exactly what was going to happen. His choreography here was witty, crisp, stylish and a little camp, with plenty of good old fashioned man-leaping, the kind you normally only get at the end of story ballets. A Song In The Dark, the second work, choreographed by Andrew Simmons, was frantically beautiful and set to the glorious music of Phillip Glass. A Million Kisses To My Skin, the final piece choreographed by David Dawson was joyful, playful, and stunningly costumed. Throughout all three pieces there were incredible displays of strength, balance, flexibility, trust, and energy. The entire season finishes tonight so if you haven't already seen it, like the quince, there's not much you can do about it now.

Afterwards we headed to Happy bar to see Auckland rapper Tourettes reading some of his poetry. Nothing like some poetry near midnight at a dark underground bar to make you feel a bit grown up. The enchantingly friendly DJ Alphabethead started us off with some blindingly fast moves on his turntable, and then Tourettes appeared. He's a favourite musician of mine but it was rather brilliant to have the opportunity to hear his equally excellent spoken word material, both old and new. While his words are raw like a steak in places there was also plenty of funny-because-it's-true hilarity from Tourettes, who is so self-deprecating that he self-deprecatingly calls himself out for being so self-deprecating. It's all brilliant stuff and if any of the above sounds vaguely interesting and you live in the Auckland region I absolutely recommend trying to catch him live, buying his albums or for starters, watching this mini doco from TVNZ 6's The Gravy.
Title brought to you by: Opera Hunk Rufus Wainwright, who were were lucky enough to see live a few years ago, and his brooding, French-tinged tune Rebel Prince from his truly lovely album Poses.

Music while I type:

Straw Into Gold from Idina Menzel's evergreen stunner of a debut album, Still I Can't Be Still. I know I said it on Twitter already, but I hear this album when I listen to Florence and The Machine. Was Florence listening to this when she wrote Lungs? Well, I'd like to think so, which is a start.

Yeasayer's Ambling Alp from their album Odd Blood. I hate the song title but gosh it's catchy, and uplifting with it, a kind of modern equivalent to S Club 7's Bring It All Back, but for cool people. These guys have been around for a little while so maybe it's kind of ho-hum to bring it up now, but they really do sound a bit special and stand out from the crowd.
Next time: I made this vegan apple cake today, it's still in the oven as I type. If it's any good, you'll be the first to know, if not, I'll pretend like it never happened but secretly be grumpy for a week.

23 March 2010

it's sweetness that i'm thinking of

Girdlebuster pie. There's not much I can say about it that its list of ingredients doesn't explain better. There really isn't one positive thing about these ingredients. It's a menace to society. This pie is as punk as they come.

Tim: We should have this pie before and after dinner.

I made Girdlebuster pie from Nigella Christmas three weeks ago for Rod Stewart Appreciation Day. However, I also made a roasting dish full of macaroni cheese and plenty else besides, and hadn't banked on how full everyone would be. The pie remained in the freezer. My best friend was visiting Wellington and came over for dinner last week. I planned on serving this pie triumphantly for pudding. However the dinner I made filled us up too much and we were too tired to eat anything else. The pie remained in the freezer. I began to wonder if the pie was cursed.

In hindsight this is kind of stupid, and maybe I just need to stop overfeeding everyone I meet.

Unable to deal with it sitting there sullenly by the tray of ice cubes, I brought it out after dinner last night. Holy cow. It won't just bust your girdle, it'll dissolve your teeth. Potentially it will remove years from your life. But people, it tastes incredible.

Girdlebuster Pie

From Nigella Christmas. Who else could this have come from?
  • 375g digestive/superwine/Girl Guide biscuits 
  • 75g soft butter
  • 100g dark or milk chocolate, chopped
  • 1 litre coffee flavoured ice cream
  • 300g golden syrup
  • 100 light muscovado sugar
  • 75g butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon (I used whisky)
  • 125ml cream
In a food processor, blast the biscuits, the butter and the chocolate pieces till it's all crumbs. In all frightening honesty I added a little more butter as it seemed too dry. Press into a 23cm pie plate (I had a 25cm one which was sweet as) working carefully to form a 'lip' of biscuit higher than the rim of the dish if you can. Took me a while but wasn't too tough. Freeze, till solid.

Let the ice cream soften, then spread it into the biscuit base carefully. Cover in clingfilm, return to the freezer. Meanwhile, put the sugar, syrup and butter into a saucepan and let it melt over a low to medium heat, then turn it up to boiling for five minutes. It will get darker and bubbly but try and let it stay there as long as you dare. Without it burning fully of course. Remove from the heat and add the bourbon. It will hiss and splutter a bit. Add the cream, stir in thoroughly, then allow the sauce to cool a bit. Pour it over the pie to cover the ice cream layer, and return to the freezer. Serve it straight from the freezer - no need to let it thaw.

I always offer a sneer when a recipe says to cut into small slices because it's rich. With that in mind, kindly don't sneer when I ask you to do the same here. This isn't so much rich as deadly, deadly sweet. Its sweetness is like anaconda venom. Fun at first, but then five minutes later you can't feel your legs. Maybe I'm mixing my metaphors here. Long story short, don't wear a high-waisted pencil skirt while you're eating this (fellas, I'm looking at you too).

Apologies for the terrible photography. For some reason my camera was on a particularly grainy setting...like there was a dusting of sugar across the lens...

Aside from the fact that one slice sent me into a frantic, blinky downward spiral as my blood cells united to try and fight off the caramel sauce, it is rather delicious. It's not rocket science - chocolatey biscuit base, cold, creamy ice cream centre, and sauce, darkly toffee-d and deepened by the splash of alcohol - but experiencing them all together is something of a revelation, like every single public holiday and birthday and bar mitzvah condensed into one pie dish. It's delicious, but it's hardcore. Eat with trepidation.

Tonight I went to a preview of BOY, a film by the exceptionally talented Taika Waititi (of Two Cars, One Night and Eagle vs Shark). Boy is a rather stunning film, with lots of quickly cut light and dark moments, gorgeous visuals (including hand-scrawled animation) and perfect music choices, but what really moves it forward is the beautiful acting performances from everyone on screen. Go see it if you can - it's pretty easy to love.

Title brought to you by Neneh Cherry's Buffalo Stance! Such an excellent song! That it deserves more exclamation marks! The video I link to is her looking amazing while performing at the Smash Hits awards in 1989. I wonder if they still have the Best House/Rap/Dance outfit award? This song is from her album Raw Like Sushi, which is just the sort of simile I'd employ if I was making that album too. Love your work, Neneh.

Music while I type:

Lazy Line Painter Jane by Belle and Sebastian from their EP of the same name. I wouldn't say I'm a Belle and Sebastian fan but I do love this song - from it's purposefully strummed opening chords to the rather glorious coda five minutes later. Worth sitting round for.

Grandmaster Flash, The Message. The other day Tim was singing away, all "Don't. Push. Me. Cause. I'm. Close. To. The. Edge" while we were doing groceries and kid you not, I told him to stop singing Limp Bizkit. Oops. Either it has been too long since I've heard this song or Tim is really bad at his vocal interpretations. Either way we both kind of suck. You have to admit, taken out of context, those lyrics do have a nu-metal tang to them. Unlike us, this song doesn't suck. Hypnotic beat, relaxed delivery, and completely, completely classic.

Vampire Weekend, Cousins, from their latest album Contra. This is the first song Vampire Weekend has put out there which has really gripped me (not that they care, I'm sure.) It's so high energy and catchy and over before you know it and all those other good things that a pop song should be.
Next time: I might make something a little more grown-up. I have two quinces in the fridge, I'm trying to work out how to best celebrate them being in season, I'm thinking sorbet...

20 March 2010

tuna or later

I really don't eat a lot of kaimoana, which is a bit stupid since I live in a long thin country surrounded by healthy salt water. The fish are plentiful. With the weight of a thousand magazine articles about how Omega-3 will solve all your problems and also a feeling that I was some kind of useless lover-of-food if I wasn't cooking fish occasionally, I went to the counter at Moore Wilson's and confidently pointed at a slab of ruby-red tuna.

I was inspired by a recipe that I read on Lori's Lipsmacking Goodness for soba noodles with salad, the particular eye-catcher being the peanut sauce that went with it. The further I read into the list of ingredients the hungrier I became and I felt like the salty, chilli flavours in the sauce, plus its richness, could stand up well against the heavy, oily tuna. After flicking through a couple of my Nigella Lawson cookbooks I decided to coat the tuna in a rubbly mix of roughly crushed peppercorns before searing them in a hot, hot pan, figuring that the sharp heat of the pepper would provide a further contrast to the fish beneath it.

Seared Pepper Crusted Tuna with Soba Noodles and Peanut Sauce

Thanks to Lori for the peanut sauce recipe and inspiration!

Serves 2

200 - 300g fillet of tuna
2 tablespoons mixed peppercorns
Salad leaves and soba noodles for 2 people

Roughly crush the peppercorns in a pestle and mortar. Do this carefully, as the little suckers will ping out all over the place. Sprinkle half of them over one side of the tuna, pressing them in gently. Meanwhile, heat a nonstick pan till it's good and hot. Slide the tuna, pepper side down, onto the hot pan and let it cook for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle the rest of the pepper on the other side of the tuna. Once you're satisfied with how cooked it is, carefully flip the tuna over using a couple of spatulas or a fishslice or something, and sear on the other side. Remove to a plate and cover in tinfoil. Cook the soba noodles in plenty of boiling water - this shouldn't take long.


1/2 teaspoon red chilli paste
4 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons rice bran oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
1 tsp ginger, finely chopped

Whisk all the ingredients together. This makes quite a lot - I halved it. I also had no Hoisin sauce so I left it out, and added a little garlic instead.


Arrange a bunch of mixed salad leaves on two plates, and top with the soba noodles. Thinly slice the tuna - about 5mm-1cm thick. Arrange the slices on top of the soba noodles, spoon over the peanut sauce, and top with sesame seeds or coriander if you like.

Feeling as though Nigella, across the other side of the world, would instinctively shudder without knowing why if I overcooked the tuna, I made sure to keep it fairly rare. With its red interior and seared crust it may resemble a steak, and certainly has the meatiness, but its texture is a lot softer and it is definitely richer than any of its four-legged counterparts. As I'd hoped, the tuna, the hot pepper, and the nutty sauce all worked together seriously well. The leafy, noodly base gave further, completely welcome textural contrast without competing too much flavourwise.

The sauce was a total revelation - thick, rich, amazingly nutty and spicy and delicious. I imagine it would be amazing poured over any number of other things - beef skewers, tofu, plain noodles, rice, or as a dipping sauce for sliced vegetables, spring rolls, rice paper rolls - seriously, it was wonderful stuff. Thank you Lori! Will I be cooking more fish? I guess I'll try. The tuna ended up being pretty expensive but it was delicious - light years apart from the stringy, grey chunks of fish that you get in cans which are actually really expensive themselves. What's with that? Nigella has so many recipes that I want to try, which is a good push in the direction of the fish counter. As long as I don't have to look at the crayfish in their tank. Call me a hypocrite, I mean I eat meat, but the sight of those knock-kneed, sad-eyed crowded creatures makes me want to fall on the floor and sob. It's true.

Speaking of, on Wednesday night Tim and I had the massively good fortune to see the Dead Weather live at the Powerstation in Auckland, afterwards I was wanting to fall to the floor and sob at Jack White's BRILLIANCE. Please don't expect this to be a definitive review - I feel like the more I talk about this gig the less I really say. What a line up - Queens of the Stone Age's Dean Fertita, Jack Lawrence of the Raconteurs and Alison Mosshart from the Kills comprise the rest of the band and were, you know, really good. But as the song goes, I only have eyes for yooooooujackwhite. Friends, he was sublime. The Dead Weather's music - heavy, sludgy, intense and metaphorical - sounded wonderful in the venue, particularly I Cut Like A Buffalo. Tim and I managed to negotiate a patch pretty near the front of the stage, but the crowd wasn't the most fun to be in, especially these girls on our right who may or may not have been on P, judging by the way they were dancing so aggressively in such a tiny space. Narrowed eyes and a "huh?" expression don't go very far in the dark. They continued all night, inciting more and more hatred in me as their heads swung round. The girl on the left continuously tried to push in front of me - we were so tightly packed that I have no idea where she thought she might end up. Apologies for getting caught up in the negatives but it was irritating to be in the presence of such an exciting band and for everyone to be so focussed on themselves. Am I secretly a naive yet curmudgeonly old man? Anyway!

Stripped of his eyebrow-waggling White Stripes persona, Jack White was as enigmatic as ever and completely amazing as a musician - switching from drums, to guitar and vocals and back to drums again. As I said the crowd was very full-on and afterwards my neck was actually twitching - I think I got carpal spine just from trying to stay upright in the seething mass of overexcited teens. Once it was all over, Tim and I, with no shame whatsoever, waited as close to the stage door as possible (flipping miles away, in case you're wondering, but the security were nice guys and let us stay) and waved at Jack White as he was driven away in a large white van. He grinned, knocked on the window and waved back. It was a stupidly exciting moment considering what it amounted to really. I know I go on about lots of different things but Tim and I really, really love the White Stripes and all Jack White's inspired tangents so to get the chance to see him performing again was incredibly special. Hence the dorky photo above outside the Powerstation.

I didn't waste time while up in Auckland, going to lots of work meetings with plenty of lovely people. Maybe it's a throwback to my rural upbringing but Auckland always seems a bit exciting no matter how many times I go there. I do love Wellington though and it is great to be back, despite the mountain of work that piled up in my absence. This weekend I am catching up with my best friend from school, we hardly ever see each other so I can't wait. May even break out the girdlebuster pie which is still sitting quietly in the freezer...
Title brought to you by: Bob Dylan's song One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later), and yes, sometimes on reflection it feels a little lazy to squeeze awful puns out of his back catalogue but the carpal spine I contracted while trying not to die in the audience for the Dead Weather has prevented me from doing anything cleverer. I didn't mean to treat you so bad...

Music these days:

Billy Porter, King Of The World, from At the Corner of Broadway and Soul. Unfortunately no youtube video exists of him executing this song but you can listen to it at that link (it's worth it - the ending is amazing!) I have recently reconnected with the astounding voice this man possesses. Watch him sing Beauty School Drop Out. Seriously. I think he discovered a new octave.

David Dallas, Big Time, the gorgeously mellow single from his album Something Awesome. Along with a whole bunch of other New Zealand artists, Dallas is at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and hopefully his sound resonates with that audience because - for what it's worth coming from me - it feels like he could go so far. Not just saying this because I had a crush on him back when the remix for Scribe's Not Many came out years ago.

Electric Blues from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Hair. I know, would I stop talking about it already? I just keep getting more and more obsessed with this music. Every time I think I'm cool, I'm cool, I'll see one tweet by Gavin Creel and then I want so bad to go to London to see the Broadway Cast transfer over there.
Next time: I'm not just going to invite my best friend round for dinner so that I can finally eat this girdlebuster pie, but if it does happen, y'all will be the first to know about it. Promise!

16 March 2010

shiksa goddess i've been waiting for someone like you

More cake! That's just what it's like living with me. There will be cake.

Last weekend was a small miracle in that Tim and I had time together. I don't mean to sound useless. I have friends to spend time with. I also like being alone. I welcome being alone. When I'm alone I can sing hideously to showtunes, eat more cake mixture, do impromptu soft-shoe dancing, and entertain fantasies of winning rap battles with my deft flow and astounding vocabulary. But for once Tim wasn't making coffee for people on the weekend and so we were able to do all sorts of leisurely things, including finally seeing what's on the second floor at Moore Wilson's. Turns out that while there's groceries and alcohol on the ground floor, upstairs they sell basically everything else in the world. It felt like we spent 7 hours up there browsing, each aisle bringing the fresh wonder that comes when you realise how many different kinds of bowls there are specifically for ice cream.

My favourite bit was the cookbook room, where I found myself instinctively drawn somehow to a book entitled The Jewish Princess Cookbook, by Georgie Tarn and Tracey Fine. I didn't realise that a Jewish Princess was an established thing, but the book entirely dispells that ignorance on my behalf. Some Jewish food I love (Challah at me!) some is a little more challenging, but I definitely see eye-to-eye with the way that food seems so central to everything.

The first recipe I tried from this charming book was a Honey Cake, which rather delightfully contains four different types of sugar. Not in major quantities, but it's still fun to say it out loud to shock passers-by. The cake filled the house with the warm fragrance of spices and honey, in fact for the duration of its time in the oven it was rather like living inside a giant scented candle. I managed to wait till the evening to enjoy this cake with a large mug of scalding but astringent green tea; it was a perfect combination. This cake is quick to make, dairy-free, and flipping delicious.

Honey Cake

From The Jewish Princess Cookbook

225g plain flour
115g caster sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
50g clear honey
115mls golden syrup (a slightly difficult measurement to come to, roughly 1/3 of a cup plus 2 tablespoons)
50mls oil - I used rice bran
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
80 mls smooth orange juice

Preheat the oven to 170 C/325 F. Grease and flour a 20cm cake tin (I used 21cm, the cake batter didn't notice) In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and spices. Pour in the honey, syrup, oil and eggs and beat well to a thick, smooth mixture. In another bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the orange juice, stirring well (it will fizz). Quickly add to the cake mixture, spread the mixture into the cake tin, and bake for 30 - 40 minutes. I ended up baking it for 50 minutes (with tinfoil covering for the last 15 minutes).

It tastes so good - almost chewy on top with moist, dense cake underneath. The honey and golden syrup gently add complexity of sweetness and the spices make it smell incredible. It's one of those fantastic cakes that gets better after a day or two although naturally it's a losing battle to make it last that long. This book is awesome for any food lover, especially as it's an American book which has a UK edition using metric measurements - genius! Don't doubt for a second that you'll be seeing it more in this blog.

Fittingly, two of the public figures I most admire in this world - Nigella Lawson and Idina Menzel - are Jewish. Though, Idina famously documents her lack of Bar Mitzvah in haunting song while touring and Nigella, well look at all her pork recipes. She is not a lady who shies away from a cloven hoofed animal.

Amanda Palmer on Friday night at Bodega was wonderful - I initially got stuck behind some tall people but managed to find a good patch for myself to watch her show unfold. She began with a cover, on ukulele, of Radiohead's Fake Plastic Trees and from then it was a mix of her solo material, Dresden Dolls songs, question-and-answer sessions and stories. She has a powerful voice and is incredible on her keyboard, seemingly flinging herself at the instrument while playing technically difficult songs. A few of my favourites weren't sung but many were - with the bonus of her recently penned ode to Vegemite. It was an amazing night.

If I sound a bit all over the place it's only because we're heading up to Auckland to see the Dead Weather tomorrow night. I've got a whole lot of meetings tomorrow and Thursday but am finding it a little hard to concentrate...I said over dinner tonight that while I love the Dead Weather's music, what's really making my heart do a soft-shoe dance of its own is the fact that Jack White is in this band and we're going to be seeing him. Tim agreed. No offense to the other deeply talented band members, Jack White is just pretty special. We watched White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights last night, it's a beautiful and thrilling documentary which tracks their journey performing across Canada in 2007. By the end I was even more fascinated by Jack and Meg White and was wishing that they'd spend some time in the studio again. I guess releasing this DVD and their first live album is a step in the right direction.

Title comes to you via: That man with a vatful of talent Jason Robert Brown, and his song Shiksa Goddess from his musical Last 5 Years. It was originally sung by the truly loveable Norbert Leo Butz who here seriously resembles Dexter's Michael C Hall, yes? Who also spent time as a hoofer on Broadway? Notice you never see them in a room together? Anyway, I don't elevate myself to the lofty ideals of the song's title but love it all the same. This musical is pretty heftily emotional and this song is nothing but welcome humour. And I like saying the word "shiksa". Satisfying.

Music lately:

White Stripes, everything really, but for the sake of neatness let's pin down one song: Let's Shake Hands, from their tenth anniversary concert in 2007 in Novia Scotia...I love the way Jack says "let's be friends, Meg".

Stylo, the new Gorillaz song, featuring Bobby Womack and Mos Def. I've always loved this creation right from the start and this meditative, shuffling song is as engaging as anything they've ever done. From their new album Plastic Beach.

Megumi The Milky Way Above, from local Connan Mockasin's album Please Turn Me Into The Snat. I've never ever been a real fan of the undoubtedly creative and talented Mockasin - his music almost makes me feel a bit queasy, like I'm spinning round too fast or like the sound is too floaty...or something. But what do you know, I really, really like this song. It's a bit difficult to describe but it's pretty lovely.

Next time: Tuna! In a fit of extravagance, coupled with a fear of having no omega-bla-bla-bla in our diet, I bought a juicy, crimson tuna steak and cooked it respectfully. Also you may expect a run-down of how the Dead Weather concert went...

12 March 2010

who's gonna keep the coffee sweet with secret recipes


Chocolate is already so good on its own that a cake has to do a lot to really knock a sock or two off. I feel like my eyes have been narrowed and my heart hardened by all the confoundingly-dry-yet-unpalatably-rich wedges of cake stacked in cafe cabinets. Sometimes however a recipe comes along that reminds you not only what's so exciting about this dark flavour in cake form but also that homemade stuff often tastes nicer. The recipe I found on A Twist Of Spaghetti for Cappucino Chocolate Cake is one such example of this. There's nothing overtly flashy about this but it tastes good.

This cake very quick to put together - witness the instructions below which aren't much more than a long-ish sentence - and it also has contains no eggs. Despite never buying anything less than a tray of eggs at a time, they always seem to be the things I run out of first.

Cappucino Chocolate Cake

Recipe care of Chef Aimee at A Twist of Spaghetti

1 1/3 cups plain flour
1/2 cup cocoa (good cocoa - I use Equagold Premium Dutch Cocoa)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup plain yoghurt
3/4 cup strong coffee
1 teaspoon coffee liqueur
1/4 cup flavourless oil, like rice bran

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F. Combine wet ingredients then tip in the dry ingredients and stir till well blended. Pour into a 21cm caketin, lined with baking paper, and bake for 35 - 45 minutes.

Glaze (optional)

Melt together 2/3 cup chopped dark chocolate and 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur, and drizzle over the cake. My drizzling kind of failed so I went for the "thickly smear" option instead.

This cake is moist, light, and keeps for days, despite not having an awful lot holding it together. The coffee flavour wasn't flamboyant but intensifies all that cocoa very pleasingly. It's the sort of thing that you can whip together in moments for when someone announces they're dropping by, and according to the recipe source the yoghurt can be replaced with a soy alternative to make it dairy free.

Miracle of miracles, Tim isn't working at all this weekend. Apart from when he requests the time off months in advance, it's the first time he's had a weekend off since roughly...February 2006. What do couples even do on the weekend these days?

Title coming at you via: Finale from Broadway musical In The Heights - the music is so gorgeous, I can only imagine that it's pretty brilliant live. Lin-Manuel Miranda won a Tony for writing the score when he was only 28! Seriously.

Music lately:

Buffalo, the brand new offering from locals The Phoenix Foundation. Would I like this song as much if it were not sung from the perspective of a buffalo? Probably, because the music itself is fantastic, both driving and twinkly at the same time. They're offering a (limited) free download of the song on their website so get in there if driving and twinkly sounds like your thing.

Bring Me Coffee Or Tea by wurstrockers CAN from their album Tago Mago... mysteriously good.

As I'm seeing Amanda Palmer tonight at Bodega she has been on high rotate... Have to Drive from her debut album Who Killed Amanda Palmer is particularly incredible. I love the way this slowly climbs to an amazing apex. I'm SO excited about seeing her live again tonight!

Next time: I actually don't know. Guess I'd better cook or bake something this weekend then...but after all this talk of the Capuccino Chocolate Cake I'm in the mood to make it again. Which would be nice for me, not so useful for the blog...

10 March 2010

rod only knows


As I struggled ineffectually to transfer a roasting dish of Nigella's macaroni cheese into oven, it made me think of that ecclesiastical conundrum, Could God make chilli so spicy that even He couldn't eat it? I'm not to compare Nigella to any god, but it made me chuckle, and when you're faced with roughly ten squillion kilos of macaroni cheese what else can you do?

Sunday was an intense day on many levels, as the last home game for the Wellington Phoenix happened to fall upon Rod Stewart Appreciation Day this year. It was a day of such parlour games as "pin the mole on the Rod" (awesomely organised by Anna, with medals for prizes) and listening to his many albums on repeat. I have to admit I'm not really a fan of Rod Stewart but there is definitely plenty of scope for appreciation. The eternal blonde hair. The boundless fertility. The early pout, which became the latter-day leathery smirk. The ludicrous lyrics for You're In My Heart. The weird chest-swelling feeling you get in spite of yourself during Rhythm of my Heart. The actual fabulousness of Stay With Me, technically a Faces song, so. The leopard print...apparel.

So if a whole bunch of people are descending upon you for soft-rock and pre-football cheer and you've insisted on catering, there's not many other options but to provide kilos of macaroni cheese, Nigella-style.

Three days later, I'm still too full to even think about it for a good long time. I'm so full I can't even deal with typing out the recipe from Nigella Christmas. Just think of any decent macaroni cheese recipe you know and then increase the ingredients TENFOLD. (It did taste so, so very good by the way, or at least I thought so.)

Perhaps all the dairy products went to my head or something but I found myself making cupcakes at 10:00pm the night before then rising early the next day to ice them with Rod Stewart's official tartan. Or at least as close as my collection of food colouring could get to it.

Yes, it's electric pink instead of red but...I feel like it's what Rod would have wanted. While I was at it I thought I might as well ice the rest of the cupcakes in homage to the mighty Wellington Phoenix (or "The Pheen" as they are known...in my head.)

Okay, simplistic, but what were you expecting? A sensitive and detailed buttercream rendering of the Phoenix crest? A lovingly crafted sculpture of Ricki Herbert's head made from marzipan? Maybe if they win the league.

Unfortunately everyone left before I got to bring out the pudding...which means we've still got an entire girdlebuster pie and ice cream cake sitting in the freezer, awkwardly untouched. In fairness to everyone attending the day was about Rod Steward and the Phoenix, not my ability to make pie for people, PLUS with the macaroni cheese and everything else we ate in the morning (the spread was bolstered by people bringing in fruit, bagels, chicken, buns etc) thoughts of eating even more were most likely the last thing on peoples' minds. This evening Tim and I finally busted into the ice cream cake, which was amazingly good and perhaps even nicer being eaten with the knowledge that we didn't have to share it with anyone else.

Please excuse my actually rubbish photo! It was dark and the subject was melting. My peace offering is a recipe for the Peanut Butter Sauce poured over the ice cream cake - you may think that Nigella kind of goes on about it but a mere spoonful of this will assure you that she speaks the truth. And then some.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Sauce

From Nigella Express

175ml cream
100g smooth peanut butter
100g good milk chocolate, chopped (I'd recommend Whittaker's...I used dark chocolate because that's what I had)
3 tablespoons golden syrup

Tip the ingredients into a pan and gently melt together over a low heat, stirring occasionally. I used a mini whisk to move it about. It might look a little grainy and non-cohesive at first but if you keep it warm and stir it frequently you will end up with a thick, glossy pool of sauce. Sauce that tastes incredible.

Incidentally, it hardens up when left in the fridge and can be turned back into sauce by sitting the container in a bowl of hot water for a while. But once solidified, it can be eaten by the spoonful and tastes like some kind of ridiculous Reeses Cup-style peanut butter chocolate truffle...I can't see it lasting now that we've started it. And I guess I could always just keep the Girdlebuster Pie in the freezer till next year's festivities?

In a very happy end to the day, the Pheen won against the Newcastle Jets, making it their 19th consecutive unbeaten game at the stadium and putting them that much closer to the finals. By the game's thrilling conclusion I was almost teary eyed, but whether it was the game or the missed opportunity to eat Girdlebuster Pie is anyone's guess. It may have also had something to do with the fact that the young offspring of various Phoenix team members ran onto the field to find their respective parents, and while I always think children are like horses, best admired from a distance and looked after by someone else, it was heart-into-puddle adorable. A draw forced the game into excruciating overtime but the Phoenix scoring two goals in swift succession made it one of the more exciting sports events I've seen in my entire life, I know that's not saying much. But it's true.

Title brought to you by: While I was toying with labelling this Bigmouth Strikes Again instead I lean towards an awful pun courtesy of the Beach Boys' God Only Knows from Pet Sounds. I know it has been used in far too many romantic comedy soundtracks but it really is a gleaming gem of a song.

Music lately:

Freedom 90' by George Michael from his album Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1. I am truly not a fan of George Michael's music at all but this song is exempt from anything: it is amazing. The jingle-jangle piano is intoxicating. If someone could make me a mixtape of every song from the 90s featuring that piano sound I would love them forever. (I know for one there's a Primal Scream song that would make a good starter for this project)

I Ran (sang here by Manoel Felciano) from LaChiusa's intriguing Little Fish, a musical about quitting smoking but also about the larger things in life around it... I am more or less obsessed with the cast recording but especially with this song. If you can find and listen to Gavin Creel singing this then you are doing well.

Almost Out Of Water from Who Says You Can't Dance To Misery by Tourettes featuring Anna Coddington. Just because it's pretty and all doesn't mean the grittier stuff on this album isn't equally brilliant, but I do love the way Coddington's gorgeous vocals float over the airy melody.... Hope he tours down to Wellington again soon.

Next time: I have Friday off work (time in lieu for working at Homegrown on a Saturday) so I'm looking forward to sleeping in and going for a leisurely morning blog. A while back I made this chocolate cake recipe from the Spaghetti Twists blog that was so fantastic that I'm going to share it with you all...maybe by that stage we will have finished the macaroni cheese leftovers in the fridge. Maybe. Don't get me wrong, I love leftovers. It's just that this macaroni cheese seems to be regenerating itself or something.

Oh yeah! And if you are a New Zealander, I totally recommend that you buy this month's CLEO magazine, because I'm in it! For this blog! (Can't imagine why else I'd be there) There's also the rather fantastic Chloe Sevigny on the front plus a Bachelors calendar that comes recommended by my mum AND my Nana.

5 March 2010

let's have a ball girl and take our sweet little time about it


My nana is seriously fantastic. She's the only person in my life who will txt me to say that RENT is on TV and that she's going to tape it, while also being able to identify buttonholing and stitching on a opshop dress of mine as dating it back to the 1950s. She was one of the very first readers and supporters of this blog back in 2007 and has always been a positive presence in my life. As if all that weren't enough, a while back she commented on a tofu-centric post on this blog with Tofu "Balls", a recipe she "used heaps over 20 years ago."

I guess the title isn't overly inviting - anything with inverted commas seems a little hesitant. That said, these literally are balls of tofu - just because there's not any meat doesn't make these any less, erm, ballsy, so there's no need for them to cower behind quotation marks. Amusing thought they may be.

All hesitancy aside, they're really, really delicious. I did kind of tweak the recipe - I love tofu, I love rolled oats, but I don't think I can face them together. The combination belongs back in the shadows of "over 20 years ago"...for everyone's sake. That said, if you're game, then certainly go ahead and use them instead of the breadcrumbs/ground almonds.

Tofu "Balls"

With thanks to Nana for the heads-up.

In a food processor, mix the following till a crumbly mixture forms.

1/2 cup chopped peanuts or cashews
1 finely chopped onion
2/3 cup soft breadcrumbs, or 1/2 cup ground almonds
1 egg (optional - leaving it out makes these vegan)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 Tablespoons Shoyu or soy sauce
1 block firm tofu (I used half, or two squares, from those four-packs of firm tofu you get from the vege market)

Roll into balls, not too large - about the size of the old 50c pieces, or a walnut. The second time I made these I rolled them in ground almonds which was rather nice, but the world won't fall apart if you don't do it. Heat a little rice bran oil in a wide pan, and cook till the balls are crisp and browned on all sides.

Nana also recommended a sauce made by bringing peanut butter, lemon juice and water to the boil in a pan while stirring with a spatula, although I imagine any kind of dipping sauce you have to hand would work with these - chilli sauce, for example...

Forget your fear of tofu and maybe your further fear of well-meaning vintage recipes involving tofu. These are so good! A crunchy without, nutty and mouthfilling like peanut butter within. The tofu has a really lovely fresh flavour which balances out the richness of the nuts, but the softness of the texture means that they really slow you down - which is why you don't want to roll them too large. They went brilliantly with a crunchy green salad of sliced cabbage, sugar snap peas and avocado, plus soba noodles, slippery and cool with sesame oil and soy sauce. Because tofu is so awesome and kind of holds everything together you can afford to toy with these as you wish. If you wanted to you could also add into the food processor a number of ingredients...sesame seeds, tahini, sunflower seeds, lemon rind, chopped ginger, garlic...As well as being a very filling main meal, you could make them even smaller - like bonker marble sized - and serve with toothpicks and a variety of dipping sauces at your next soiree.

Busy times lately - Tim and I spent both Thursday and Friday night at the cocoon of body heat that is the San Francisco Bath House firstly to see Brooklyn - as in New York - band Dirty Projectors, then local sensations Mint Chicks last night. Dirty Projectors have this unusual, intriguing sound - kind of minimalistic, with wonky time signatures, chunky drumbeats and flutey harmonies that take the role of instruments in places. Occasionally the sound got a bit repetitive, (and all those "ehhh-ohhhs" make me think of the Tellytubbies) although if I could sing like the gorgeous ladies in the band I'd probably do the same thing over and over too. They all looked really happy though which tends to endear me to performers, and damnit if I haven't been humming the stunning No Intentions constantly. I'm glad we went and saw them - there's some extraordinary talent within the band, I just wonder where they're going to go from here with their sound.

Two of the Dirty Projectors. They looked so young, and for some reason the more the girl on the left - the main female voice - belted, the younger she looked...

The Mint Chicks' set last night was fantastic although so loud that I occasionally felt nauseous. A compliment? More than any other local band I can think of they always feel like A Big Deal whenever they roll into town. That said, the audience - largely composed of new-in-town or returning students - seemed a little disengaged. Like the couple who spent 90% of the time pashing extensively next to me. Why even leave the house! Hopefully it was a good experience for the Mint Chicks themselves, they all looked completely impassioned while onstage but who could know? The sound quality seemed decent, so the scrawlyness of their music translated really nicely into a live setting and didn't turn into a incomprehensible blur of noise. Their older songs sounded as brilliant as ever and their newest track Bad Buzz was maybe my favourite moment - it's such a ridiculously fantastic song as I clumsily tried to explain here. I hadn't seen them live since 2006 so it was wonderful to catch them again, hopefully they stick around and keep on creating...

Title brought to you by: Ball and Biscuit from Elephant, the album you probably own if you're a casual White Stripes fan. Casual we are not.

Music to blog by:

The Dirty Projectors' No Intentions, as above, from their album Bitte Orca. See? Intriguing! Hummable!

I Cut Like A Buffalo from the Dead Weather's debut album Horehound. The music video for this is compelling stuff. I hope sincerely that Jack White recreates that dance on stage when we see them live on the 17th. I don't think I'll be that functional on the 16th. 2005 seems a long time ago.

Patti LuPone singing Rainbow High - say what you will about Andrew Lloyd Webber, but the music to Evita is stunning, and this cabaret performance from LuPone at Les Mouches in 1980 is particularly ferocious. Makes me want to grab a microphone and snarl "so Christian Dior me!" too. Wish someone would stage a version of it here.

Next time: we're having a combined Wellington Phoenix pre-game get-together/Rod Stewart Appreciation Day thing tomorrow (long story...actually no, that explains it all really) which I'm catering (self-imposedly) and the menu is growing more and more dizzying in proportions...no doubt I'll have plenty to blog about. Like Nigella's Girdlebuster Pie. Do you not want to know more with a name like that?