27 August 2012

you got it allison. you got it raw!

It is crunch time. The time is crunchy. There is less than a month till my manuscript is due, and just over a month till Tim and I go to America for a holiday. We've been having three photoshoots a week, we're surrounded by cakes, and it was only as I, with primal instinct, rapidly transferred handfuls of fresh clean spinach leaves by the handful into my mouth while Celine Dion's Power of Love played in my head, that I realised I haven't eaten a lot of vegetables lately. I'd like to add that I'm not saying this in a "now I need to go for a jog to work it off!" kind of way. Just that my nutrition has been at the mercy of whatever it is I happen to be preparing for photoshoots on a given day. And: I feel great!

I couldn't be happier. It's like being in a montage! Here are some fleeting scenes that have been part of it all lately:

- Did I mention Tim and I are surrounded by cake. At first it was a novelty, and then I felt horrible that it was no longer a novelty, so I've been trying hard to make myself feel like it is, by constantly saying "look at all this cake! What a novelty! What is life?"
- I was on the way to the supermarket today to pick up some ingredients, checked the mail on the way, only to find a letter from Mum to find a much needed, much appreciated supermarket voucher.
- I had to make a pavlova at 11pm on Friday while feeling a little queasy. Said pavlova inevitably failed, when I went to check on it the next morning. A  snap decision was made to make another one again, an hour before a photoshoot. It mercifully worked.
- Did I mention I was making said pavlovas with nought but a whisk and a bowl (and ingredients too of course, smarty-pants.) Have been pretty much unable to use my right arm ever since. It's weird, because I make cakes and whip cream and so on with a whisk all the time. I think the franticness must've made my muscles extra tensile.
- I have been paying what feels like obscene amounts of money for out-of-season fruit and vegetables. Since winter is here the only thing actually in season is one sole, limp, rapidly browning parsnip. And it is $7.
-Breaking: a hangover from a ridiculously enormous party is not conducive to wanting to test lots of recipes. And yet still I cooked.
- The kindness of friends continues to bring joy. Jo lent me her mother's wonderful pottery and also offered her freezer for excess ice cream storage. She also came up with the use of the word [redacted] for when we're tweeting about recipes for the cookbook. Willow lent me some glorious tablecloths. Martha of Wanda Harland gave our plate collection an early boost by loaning us some beautiful stuff. Jason (one of the photographers) bought pretty much the most stunning dessert spoons I've ever beheld. And it goes on.
- Since I have been making so, so, sososososososososo much food for photoshoots and general recipe testing, it has been persistently difficult to find time and energy and - importantly - general hunger to make food that I can blog about. There's just no chance to be hungry. Don't get me wrong. As far as problems go, this one is pretty wonderful, what with it being because I'm writing a cookbook and all. But still!

This is why these marinated tamarillos are perfect. Sharp, sweet, aromatic, spiced. Small slices with a cracker and some cheese makes for a snack of thrillingly punchy flavour and relief-inducing smallness. Frankly I really just love eating them with a spoon.

Recently I was able to attend a demonstration from Megan at little bird organics. It was a supercool experience, as she took us through making several courses of food - all raw. Their ethos is about food tasting and also making you feel amazing, and this recipe from the evening in particular caught the attention of my tastebuds. Clearly I am not a raw vegan, or even vegetarian, but I enjoy being inspired by people who love food, and being exposed to new ideas. Which is exactly what happened. Thanks so much Megan for allowing me to share this recipe here. Because it is freaking delicious.

Marinated Tamarillos.

With huge thanks again to little bird organics for the recipe, that I have adapted ever-so-slightly. 

8-10 tamarillos
1/4 cup honey
250ml (1 cup) red wine
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves

Slice the tops off the tamarillos and using a sharp knife, slice off the skin. Then slice the newly naked tamarillos lengthwise, or however you please, really. Place them in a bowl. Pour over the honey and the wine, spear with the cinnamon stick and the cloves, and grind over plenty of salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. I don't have a dehydrator, but the recipe recommends putting them in it if you do. 

There will be a lot of syrup - I just drained it off. I held on to it because I have a feeling it'll be fantastic topped up with gin and soda.

Something in the salty, wine-deep intensity of these is quite compulsive. I love them. It may look like you're making tons, but you'll get through it all easily, I promise. Best of all, tamarillos are actually in season here and reasonably priced. But once they're gone, I think I'll try making these with sliced pears, and then next Autumn, perhaps I'll make it with feijoas. Inbetween times, I predict this would also be a wonderful marinade for sliced plums...all I'm saying is, there are options for you outside the realm of the tamarillo. But it's a very, very good start.

I saved the best montage scene for last. This afternoon I had to make a [redacted] pudding for tonight's photoshoot. It felt like it was going to be highly straightforward. Well. I screwed it up royally. It did not cook right at all. So I panic-ate it. I just...ate it all, in a kind of fugue state. It felt oddly logical, so I went with it, because that way it would be gone and the ingredients wouldn't be wasted and so on and so forth.

My second attempt at making the pudding failed also. Freaking out about wasting ingredients, about wasting precious time, about this stupid, sodding, straightforward pudding just refusing to work, I may have panic-eaten a goodly proportion of the second one, too. Luckily I came to and binned the rest of it, before my insides corroded. A few prickly, selfish tears were shed, I had some rescue remedy, and looked up pictures of Tom Hardy holding a dog. And, weary but sufficiently emboldened, I made a third go of that pudding. I could feel - perhaps a little irrationally - the ingredients not quite coming together the way I intended them to, but shunted it hatefully into the oven all the same. As soon as I could ascertain that it was not entirely successful, but at least relief-inducingly good-enough...I lay down on the ground and drank some vodka.

Lucky for me I have such a brilliant team in Kate, Jason and Kim. They've been able to make even the most doubtful dishes look so beauteous, it makes me feel this might all come together and...work. As Jessi says to Kristy in the Baby-sitters Club movie, "Kristy, this brilliant idea might actually be brilliant!" (I'm not sure whether the actor is not so great at her job, or the line is so bad that she couldn't do anything with it, either way it's kinda terrible - yet so applicable.)

In the face of all this exciting, tiring, wonderful, stressful, emotional, sugar-soaked, um, stuff, sometimes there is only one response:

A large Campari. If you can't be fancy, you might as well fancy yourself as fancy.

PS: If you're in Wellington and feeling able and up for it, there's a Celebration Rally for Marriage Equality on Wednesday 29 August at noon in Civic Square. This is so important! I'm not sure that I'm going to have time to make a sign or anything, but I'm definitely going to be there. If you're interested, click the link for details.
Title via: Normally I quote songs but this is a line from a movie - a musical comedy, in fact, but the point is, it is Cry-baby. An over-the-top, hilarious, sweet, wonderfully bizarre movie from John Waters starring a young Johnny Depp who overacts deliciously when saying such quotable lines as the title for this blog post. Also: there is Wanda Woodward. Find it, fast.
Music lately:

Over at Lani Says I got wise to the ways of Jessie Ware. Her song Wildest Moments is LUSH.

Safety Dance, Men Without Hats. Make of this what you will. I can't help loving this ridiculousness. And if your friends don't dance then they really are no friends of mine.

Never not obsessed with the musical Hair. Here's Flesh Failures/Let The Sun Shine In from the original Broadway cast.
Next time: Next time, I'll be ever closer to the manuscript due date. And therefore you can look forward to me making even LESS sense than I did in this post. Good times, good times.

16 August 2012

every task you undertake, becomes a piece of cake

It was The Spice Girls who first said in their seminal text Wannabe, "now here's the story from A to Z, you wanna get with me you gotta listen carefully". And so it follows that if you wanna get with this cake you too should closely heed this recommendation. I guess what I'm saying is, this cake isn't complicated but there's plenty going on and so you might want to take the following hints into account. And the subtext: I really like quoting the Spice Girls on this blog.

- I can't think of a better way of extracting the juice from the mandarins than peeling the fruit, holding it in your fist and then clenching thoroughly over a receptacle of some kind. It's visceral, it's effective, it neatly does away with including another kitchen implement that you have to wash.
- You can of course use oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, any other citrus that I've shamefully failed to name here instead of mandarins.
- The texture of your yoghurt will affect how much icing sugar you need. If it's the more liquidy stuff, more icing sugar. If it's the fabulously whipped-cream thick variety, perhaps less is needed.
- With this in mind, go slowly with adding more yoghurt to the icing or it might all just slide right off the cake and make you nearly cry frustrated tears when you put it on the cake. How do I know? I just do.
- Only arrange the plums just before you serve this. Or they will fall off. They just will. Perhaps it's their passive-aggressive way of reminding us that they're not in season, and therefore they're not going to cooperate with no upstart food blogger.
- This cake is really delicious and not as scary as I'm making it sound.

Mandarin Cake With Yoghurt Icing and Plums

Cake adapted from a recipe in the Best of Cooking for New Zealanders by Lynn Bedford Hall. Icing and stuff all my idea though, for what it's worth.

125ml mandarin juice (this depends on your mandarins, but maybe seven altogether?)
125ml plain oil, like rice bran or grapeseed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
175 sugar
250g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt

6 plums
3 tablespoons sugar
1 extra mandarin

3 tablespoons plain unsweetened yoghurt
150g icing sugar, plus more if necessary

Set your oven to 170 C and line a 21cm springform tin with baking paper.

Whisk all the cake ingredients together (that's from mandarin juice to the pinch of salt inclusive, by the way) for a few minutes till it forms a thick, pale golden batter. Tip this into the caketin and bake for an hour, though check after 45 minutes. Ovens can be tricksy.

Meanwhile, slice the plums into wedges and place them in a bowl. Sprinkle over the sugar and squeeze over the juice of the mandarin. Leave to sit at least for as long as the cake needs to cook, but overnight is even better.

Once the cake has cooled, whisk together the yoghurt and icing sugar till thick. Add more of either ingredient if necessary. Icing can be tricksy, too. Spread this thickly across the top of the cake, and place the plum slices on top.

Juicy plums, oddly-yet-pleasingly tangy icing, soft-crumbed and sweetly citrussy cake. Worth every Spice Girls quote it took to get to this point (and if you're not weary of Spice Girls quoting, ignore that sentence and instead read this one: Yay, Spice Girls!)

As I said, plums aren't in season, but they were only $6 a kilo and you can hardly get anything for $6 these days. If I sound a little defensive it's only because I recently had the good fortune to meet Nadia Lim, winner of 2011 Masterchef, and she is VERY big on seasonal eating. Which is highly admirable. Sorry to let you down, Nadia, but if it's any consolation, mandarins are in season right now so hard. And these ones couldn't be fresher or more local, as they're from Tim's grandparents' tree in Wairoa.

How did I meet her? My dear friend Jo and I were both invited to her Wellington On A Plate Masterclass by Pead PR. You can read Jo's thoughts on the event here. As well as being a great friend, Jo is also good to hang with at a party. She's all "Oh hey there Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, let's hug and talk about our lives and this is my friend Laura". And she stayed with me right to the end (the champagne helped the time fly by, admittedly) while I waited to meet Nadia and talk with her. Nadia herself should be commended for her massive patience in taking the time to talk to me after having talked to roughly a million other people beforehand. I admit I never actually saw Masterchef - we don't have a TV, and while I love cooking shows I honestly find the hugely competitive ones a little stressful to watch. All that running around and plating up and being edited to look like a mean person! So while I'd heard Nadia Lim's name around, and had read a few interviews with her and such, I didn't have much of a feel for what she was like as a person or a cook. Well, she seems awesome. She's enthusiastic about food, which I love, she's confident and fun, she's highly knowledgeable, and she made three different salmon entrees (using Regal King salmon) and a dessert in her half hour masterclass. All of which I wanted to try recreating myself as soon as possible. You know sometimes when a recipe is so simple and practical and delicious that you think "why haven't I been making this all the time?" That's how I felt about her salmon recipes.

And as I said, I got to have a chat with her and she graciously answered the three questions I threw down.

HungryandFrozen x Nadia Lim

Me, Laura Vincent: You've just had a cookbook published. What's something people should know about the process? 

Nadia Lim: Mine was a seasonal cookbook, so if you shoot in winter...I had to use imported stuff which I hated, because I'm a huge fan of eating seasonally and locally, it was a huge dilemma. There are things I had to leave out...and some things I just couldn't use at all, like I couldn't put feijoas in. That was a challenge.

Me: I hear that. I am struggling to find strawberries for my photos. Luckily butter's always in season... I think it's awesome that you're young - 26 - and you've got a cookbook, you won this TV show, you're out there getting yours. In an industry generally presided over by older males, what do you think a younger perspective brings?

Nadia: I've always stayed pretty true to my food philosophy. When I was twelve I came up with my philosophy of 'eating from the ground, the sea and the sky, not the factory. But when you're younger, you're more more willing to learn new things. Sometimes people are a little stuck in their ways, their techniques, how they do things, but I'm very adaptable and I like to learn from lots of different people, I'm really open to it. And I also think the young generation has a real responsibility, now we're going back to more, you know, finding out about your ingredients. Whether they're ethical, sustainable, healthy, what their environmental impact is. That's really important.

Me: Say someone gave you a million dollars and you could travel anywhere in the world to eat their food-

Nadia [immediately]: Turkey. Yes. I love Middle Eastern flavours. I haven't been to the Middle East yet but I use a lot of their ingredients in my cooking. I love things like pomegranates, dukkah, labne...Turkish cuisine often - well, you know the flavour wheel, of whether your tastes are more tart/sour dominant or sweet, or salty...I'm quite sour orientated, and a lot of their food is quite tart, like their cheeses, and pomegranate molasses.

Me: And sumac?
Nadia: Yeah! They use so many things that I love in that type of cuisine, and it's quite healthy, lots of grains and vegetables and freshly made food.

Me: I have spent one afternoon in Turkey - I didn't eat anything, I had one glass of apple tea. 

Nadia: Apple tea is so good!

Me: Yes! Based on that I can definitely recommend the place. And thanks heaps for your time.

Nadia: Thank you!

Thanks again Nadia Lim, now established as my second-favourite Nadia, right after Ms Comaneci.

In a world where there is so much to be outraged at, like awful pizza companies being awful, I'd like to also throw some light on some things making me happy lately. Whittaker's sent me a wealth of their wonderful chocolate to assist my recipe testing, for which I'd like to individually hug every single Whittaker's employee. Tim and I found out we're going to be able to go behind the scenes at Third Man Records and will get to talk to co-founder Ben Swank when we're in Nashville in October. We went to a Whisky Breakfast for Wellington on a Plate at Arthur's cafe - our friend Kim has some glorious photos here on her blog. I got to meet Nadia Lim (okay, you already know that from just ten seconds ago, but I'm not above recycling nice news.) I finally finished and uploaded episode 3 of my podcast, The HungryandFrozen #soimportant Podcast. You can listen on iTunes or on the website. If you like.

And finally, this excellent cat video made me laugh.
Title via: Was *this* close to quoting the 'jaded mandarin' line from Jesus Christ Superstar, which I thought for a long time was Judas calling Jesus a mandarin as in the fruit. But instead: MARY POPPINS with A Spoonful of Sugar. She is so important. 
Music lately:

Willy Moon, I Wanna Be Your Man. He is one smooth babe.

Placebo, Slave to the Wage. Forgot how much I love them.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Down By The Riverside. She is the coolest.
Next time: I'm as shocked as anyone, but it's nearly spring! I'm hoping there'll be some new fruit and vegetables coming in soon...I love winter so much but I'm ready for more fruit and for asparagus!

PS: I totally forgot to upload the photos first time I published this. Fail! But lots of people reminded me right away. Hooray for the people!

5 August 2012

how lucky can you get?

I intended on publishing this on Thursday or Friday, but a ton of other things got in the way, and then Tim and I have spent the last 24 hours driving many, many, many and then some miles to visit his grandparents, having realised we hadn't done it in a while and it was an important thing to do. I'm all good with family outweighing this blog, just as I'm cool with this blog outweighing my need to sleep and generally function. Let's go, on with the show.

You know what I love? What really makes me want to hug myself but also not want to draw attention to it for fear of breaking the spell and then it'll all be over? Spontaneous good times. I just wish I could schedule them into my life more often. Like, "You there! Closest friends of mine! Nothing's happening this Saturday, so let's all pretend like we're going to do other things separately but actually we all secretly understand that we'll meet at someone's house at 9pm and then drink lots of whisky and stay up all night talking about our lives and feelings!" Obviously life doesn't actually work like that, but I think if we all tried to maintain this pretense, it could be quite, quite rewarding.

I say this because last Saturday, after a five-hour photoshoot for The Cookbook, we had a couple of people round for a game of Game of Thrones. (Yes, it's a boardgame; no, it's not just a group of us dressing up and talking all ye olde and calling everything we drink Summerwine or Good Brown Ale; yes I would probably be up for that too though; no there is no alternative to calling the board game 'Game of Game of Thrones'.) That photoshoot was particularly exhausting - sounds ridiculous, but it takes it out of a person - we were all super low in energy when it was done, and I figured it was going to be a very quiet night. Smash cut to 11:00pm when I tweeted "Everyone in the world is at our house and no-one is allowed to leave until they've drank all our alcohol and eaten all our food" (because if I like you, that's the kind of host I am.) There was a dance party in the kitchen. There was the Game of Thrones TV theme song sung while Brendan played it on the accordion (which is the most magnificent thing to hear - not us singing along with it so much, but the accordion itself - so imposing!). There was, well, pretty much everything the tweet implied. 

It was so fun, and I had no idea it was going to happen. So let's all plan for more spontaneous times, okay everyone?

But what about this chocolate cake already? It's from Lucky Peach magazine, 'a quarterly journal of food and writing', exploring food with a kind of irreverence and fearlessness and coolness that hasn't quite been done before, which in this everything-has-been-quite-done-before world is impressive. Like: David Simon, creator of The Wire and Treme, writes about his father's love of sodium in this latest issue. By way of shorthand illustration of its coolth. (Also: coolth is a word. Cool huh!)

It's not pretty, it's occasionally kinda ugly, but the design is compelling and fun and the writing is generally super brilliant. It's expensive but it's only out four times a year and it'll probably take me a quarter of a year just to read this issue. And it has this cake from pastry chef/musician Brooks Headley. It appealed to me - a plain, but excellent-sounding chocolate cake is what everyone needs up their sleeve (figuratively) and in their mouths (literally). The recipe is all in cups, being American, and in the magazine it was three times bigger than this - all I needed was one cake so I scaled it back. Forty-five minutes later when I finally figured out the mathematics of it all, I can attest that it is a fantastic recipe.

Chocolate Olive-Oil Cake, by Brooks Headley, from Issue 4 of Lucky Peach

Life is strange. I buy really expensive cocoa which actually tastes like chocolate, and used that here, but I couldn't bring myself to use a full 2/3 cup of also-pricey olive oil, so I went for 1/3 cup olive oil and 1/3 cup plain cooking oil. You do what you like.

1/2 cup cocoa 
2/3 cup water
1 1/3 cups flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 t baking soda
1 t salt
2/3 cup buttermilk (I used unsweetened natural yoghurt)
2/3 cup olive oil
1 egg

Set your oven to 170 C and line a 20 or 21cm caketin with baking paper. 

The hardest thing you'll have to do is heat the water and cocoa together. So to do that: in a decent-sized pot or pan, since you might as well mix everything else into it, stir the cocoa and the water together and heat gently - continuing to stir so it doesn't burn - until it just starts to bubble. Remove from the heat and allow to cool down some - I filled the sink with an inch of cold water and whisked the cocoa and water to move this process along - then whisk in the remaining ingredients. Pour into your caketin and bake for around 30 minutes. 

Brooks states that this recipe is "foolproof". I am wary of this description. Getting your learner driver license is foolproof, they told me. Well this fool just failed, I replied, tearfully. It goes on. But this cake really is very straightforward. And importantly: delicious. Don't be scared of the olive oil, it has its own nutty, buttery flavours that are perfect for chocolate and it makes for a long-lasting cake with a light crumb. I made this to augment the contents of the 'snack table' during some photoshoots this week and the final slice, eaten for breakfast yesterday before driving up to Tim's grandparents' place, was every bit as good as the first.

So thanks, Lucky Peach. Long may you be excellent.
Title via: How Lucky Can You Get, the Kander and Ebb song from Funny Lady, the sequel to Funny Girl. I love Barbra, but Julia Murney interprets it deliciously. As she does with everything. 
Music Lately:

Frank Ocean, Bad Religion. OBSESSED.

It's not music, but I have been watching this video lots and crying nearly every time, which is what I tend to do with music anyway. Nadia Comaneci in 1976, getting - spoiler alert - a perfect 10 for her floor routine. I used to be so (here comes that word again) obsessed with her as a kid, and youtube has helped me remember just why.
Next time: Whatever it is, I'll blog about it sooner this time, promise!