Tim and I belong to a book group, which Ange, our ex-flatmate but still-friend started in early 2010. Every month we get together at someone's house and discuss a book. Last night it was at our place, a commitment that always fills me with joy. Firstly because everyone in the book group is really, really nice and fun to be with, and secondly because I get the opportunity to provide a spread for people. An opportunity I'm always keenly looking for. Normally I do one recipe per blog post, but instead today I've serving up three small nibbly recipes; Marteani, Beetroot Hummus and Cannellini Bean Dip; all in the name of playing host.
As I've outlined somewhere in my unrestrained 'About Me' section, I like to keep the recipes here fairly accessible, but also amazing. Every now and then though, usually under the influence of Nigella, something kind of impractical takes hold of my imagination.
Like Marteani. Which uses lots of Cointreau - quelle expensive - vodka, and Earl Gray Tea (hence its name) to make a cocktail of orange-scented sumptuousness. Cointreau is not the kind of thing I would normally have just knocking around. However. I had about an inch in a 750ml bottle that my step-grandmother had given me, and then I had a further litre bottle that I bought in duty-free on the way back from Tim's and my trip overseas in March. Both had sat untouched ever since they'd arrived (I think I got that partly-empty bottle in 2009?) and while it's good not to use up all your expensive things at once, whatever they may be, there's also a case to be made for actually enjoying what you've worked for before you drop it on the floor or something.
A little extravagant, sure...but never ever wasteful.
"I want your spirits to climb, so let me entertain you..."
Unfortunately I didn't have a better-looking jug to put it all in, but tra la la. That in the background was another duty-free conquest - a strapping 1.75 litre bottle of Absolut. As far as vodka goes (and I don't mean to sound like that guy from American Psycho, "I told you to keep Finlandia in this place") I'm very particular. There are just some horrible vodkas out there that I don't see any point in drinking. On the other hand, vodka is pretty pricey. Generally, I move between Absolut, for mixing (with soda water) and Zubrowka (yes, another duty-free, we really tested its limits) for sipping from a small glass over ice. When I drink at all. As I saw fit to last night, for book group.
If you've got a smallish amount of people coming around and the means to make it, I definitely recommend Marteani. It's a recipe from Nigella Lawson's book Nigella Christmas, and she suggests it with brunch.
I tripled the tea content and halved the Cointreau - well, it was only a Monday, and Cointreau is still expensive. This made it go a lot further, while still maintaining a liqueury thrill. This would probably be ideal served in actual Martini glasses, but not having any, I just poured small amounts into whatever glasses we could find. Including a small glass jar shaped like a beer stein which used to have mustard in it (Tim bagsed that one.)
250mls/1 cup strong, cold Earl Gray Tea
250mls/1 cup vodka
250mls/1 cup Cointreau (or Nigella suggests Grand Marnier or Curacao or Triple Sec.)
Pour all the ingredients together in an ice filled jug. As I said, I used 750mls tea and 125 mls Cointreau. It was still extremely fine stuff.
Also I forgot to make ice ahead of time so I just put it in the fridge till needed: still good.
If you don't have resiny, syrupy Cointreau then Limoncello would be an excellent substitute - it can be pretty reasonably priced and is in that same juicy, citrussy family of flavours.
Should you be having people around, I also emphatically recommend the following dips. One - the Beetroot Hummus - is kind of involved, and the other - Cannellini Bean Dip - delivers so much disproportionate deliciousness for how simple its recipe is that I could cry happy tears just thinking about it. Alas, you really do need a food processor for these. A stick blender could probably do the trick, otherwise maybe find a friend who's got one and share some of the resulting dip with them.
Adapted from a recipe in the 2011 River Cottage Diary, a demonstratively multi-purpose book sent to me by the lovely Lisa at Prime TV.
3 medium sized beetroots, leafy tops and creepy tails trimmed off
1 piece of white bread, crusts removed
50g walnuts, almonds, brazils (whatever you can find - probably not peanuts though, their texture and flavour isn't quite what's needed here)
Ground cumin or Ras-el-hanout
Salt and olive oil to taste
Wrap each beetroot in tinfoil and roast at 180 C/350 F for about an hour and a half - till a fork can easily pierce through. Allow to cool. Toast whatever nuts you're using - if you like, add them on a small tray to the oven that the beetroot are in once you turn off the heat, if that makes sense.
In a food processor, blitz the nuts and the bread until fairly fine. Remove the beetroot from the tinfoil, rub off their skin - it should happen easily, leaving you with oddly silky-smooth peeled beetroot - and chop them roughly before adding them to the food processor as well. I don't recommend you wear white for this. Blitz again till a dark, chunky purple-red paste forms. Add a little salt, the spice, and a little olive oil if you like, and blend again. Spatula into bowls and serve.
Note: I completely missed the instruction in the recipe to add a tablespoon of tahini - which I love, but didn't have any of anyway. It's still brilliant without it, but it would add a little richness and texture, plus that sesame flavour.
Cannellini Bean Dip
This incredible recipe is one I've adapted slightly from the Scotto Family Italian Comfort Food book. It has barely any ingredients and yet is the most ridiculously creamy, luscious thing you can imagine. Especially considering it's made from beans, not known for being life of the party, food-wise.
2 cans cannelini beans
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (or avocado oil, or some other oil that you don't mind the taste of)
Drain the cans of their liquid, pour the beans into the food processor, add a little salt, and blitz to a thick, wheat-coloured paste forms. Pause, scrape down the sides with a spatula, taste to see if it needs more salt. Blend again, pouring in the oil. That's all.
The beetroot dip excellently plays up the vegetables sweetness and earthiness with the nuts and the cumin respectively. The beetroot becomes rich during its time in the oven yet the finished result - despite the nuts and bread - is very light. The cannellini dip is just all plush and velvety, like the dip version of...a bunny rabbit.
In case you're wondering, the book I'd chosen was Barbara Anderson's Long Hot Summer, which we all agreed was fine, but seemed to leave many potentially dark or exciting plot avenues gently unexplored. That said, we've been reading things like Therese Raquin and Frankenstein, it's possible we just weren't ready for such mildness.
Unfortunately the lurgy that I was labouring under a couple of weeks ago seems to be taunting my immune system once more. The weather in Wellington has been headline-makingly cold, and there has even been moderately unprecedented snow around the place - not in our neck of the woods, unfortunately. When I get the time, I plan on getting the thyme (HA! HA!) to make this restorative sounding brew. Anyone else in NZ had snow?
Title via: Sondheim's amazing musical Gypsy. Let Me Entertain You is a thematic tune running through the whole show, starting it off as performed by Baby June in her squeaky voice and eventually developing into what Louise sings during her stripping montage. Gypsy in all its stage and screen forms has starred some seriously stunning women over the years as Rose and Louise - Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Ethel Merman, Bette Midler, Laura Benanti, Natalie Wood...Hopefully I'll see it live one day with a similarly worthy contender for the roles.
I think I'm becoming a bit obsessed with Judy Garland. There, I said it. I might have listened to her Live At Carnegie Hall record three times in a row (which takes up quite a bit of energy, what with it having four sides and all.) I love Lena Horne's famous version, but when Judy sings "can't go on, everything I have is gone" in Stormy Weather my eyes can't help but start pricklingly anticipating tears. (It really doesn't help to listen to her singing while reading a biography of her.)
Moana and the Moa Hunters: AEIOU, especially as analysed by Robyn Gallagher on her fantastic site 5000 Ways To Say I Love You - wherein she will watch every single NZ On Air funded music video she can find.
Well, I saw this and any alternate plans disappeared.