23 June 2016

fancy plans and pants to match: hanging ditch part two

honestly, what a great photo 

Well hello there, and welcome to another installment of Fancy Plans and Pants to Match. This is an occasional segment of my blog where I break the fourth wall and turn to the camera with a rueful shrug to acknowledge that sometimes nice things happen to me as a result of me being the best food blogger in the world. Wanting to be informative without being irritating is the mother of self-deprecation, so if you're alright with this idiot dingus taking you on a journey: come with me. This segment is named for a quote from the stirling and spry Jimmy James, a character in the sadly underrated 90s sitcom NewsRadio.

So here's the thing: In October of last year I attended the opening of aggressively rad cocktail bar Hanging Ditch, run by old mate Benji Irvine and Andy Gray, and I wrote about their cocktail selection for you. It was a lovely night, and Hanging Ditch is now a fully-fledged addition to the snug collective occupying the Hannah's Laneway precinct: once a grubby old alleyway, and now home to Goldings Free Dive, Six Barrel Soda, Leeds Street Bakery, and much more. 

The pitch: Time has moved appallingly fast and it's suddenly late June, the upshot of which is the Hanging Ditch has an updated cocktail list for your winter imbibe times. I was invited to try some and to share my thoughts, feelings, and interpretive dance moves about them for you. 

talk about raising the bar (she says, apologetically)  

my review of A Year Abroad: "yeah!" - a broad 

What happened:  The updated menu favours a more wintry vibe - cocktails best drank in our current icy-as climate. Having amassed some serious quantities of experience in some of the best places in town to drink; you know you are in safe hands with this team and that they are 100% not mucking around.

The drinks I tried included...

Hair of the John: Jamesons, tomato juice, cracked pepper, honey, garlic, Cholula hot sauce and Worcester sauce. A Bloody Mary made special with the robust flavour of Jameson's Irish whiskey and the mellow, floral sweetness of honey. My favourite is usually the Bloody Maria, which uses tequila in place of the usual vodka - there's something about tequila which makes it so friendly to salty, savoury flavours - but this variation was a revelation and a perfect start to the evening. A garnish of flamed rosemary added smokiness and herbal depth.

A Year Abroad: Papaya, Bourbon, Aperol, lemon, rhubarb bitters, albumen. As well as being incredibly pretty - a kind of rosy peach concoction topped with an airy cloud formed by the albumen (or egg white, in the common tongue) this tastes SO good. Aperol is like a gentler Campari - less sticky and bitter - and that plus the caramel sweetness of the bourbon is delicious against the lemon juice and zingy kiss of rhubarb bitters and the fruity papaya. I am a huge fan of classic sours featuring lemon juice and egg white - if you're not used to it, yeah it might sound weird but the egg white simply blends anonymously into the drink and creates the most lush, silky texture and thick froth. I know you've all eaten brownie batter or cookie dough while you're baking, so uncooked egg shouldn't freak you out so long as it's free-range and you're not like, allergic. Back to the drink though: OMG yes.

Quarter to Three: Beefeater 24, Picon, Yellow Chartreuse, Fernet Branca, Lactart. So much going on here to catch my interest - first of all I love Beefeater gin, secondly I was intrigued by the use of yellow Chartreuse since I only ever use the green stuff, thirdly I'm a Fernet magnet (not a magnate, alas), fourthly what even is Lactart? So! Lactart is this lactic acid extract stuff, a few mere droplets of which allows you a similar sourness to several spoonfuls of lemon or lime juice. This drink was fascinating - there's a lot of different alcohols jostling for position here but it was all incredibly balanced, with just the slightest nudge of mint from the Fernet. I liked how the bursts of orange from the elaborate garnish and the Picon were complemented by the acidity of the lactart - this is one hell of a drink, people.

The Muffin Man: Raisin Cognac, homemade gingerbread syrup, lemon, orange bitters. Just as the Hair of the John was the perfect kick-off, this was an excellently puddingy finish - cognac already has raisin vibes, so doubling down on that, plus the spice in the gingerbread syrup, made for a very wintry, richly flavoured cocktail. The gingernut biscuit astride the glass was rendered delicious once soaked in the alcohol. Basically this is the cocktail equivalent of sitting by a roaring fireplace while someone strokes your hair.

Also of note - the Resperation remains on the menu, which I described last time as tasting like that moment when the couple on a TV show that you love finally kiss after you've been waiting for them to do it for ages. I also tried some butter-infused 666 Vodka which was every bit as wonderful and up my alley as it sounds.

The Muffin Man? The Muffin Man!

The best bit: great chats with Benji while watching him make all the cocktails; shout out to the bar stools for being stupidly comfortable with surprising lower back support. 

On a scale of 1 to Is This The Real Life, Is It Just Fantasy: Okay so as I said last time I wrote about this place, this gets a 1 out of 10, but that only means that while I had a fancy time this is definitely a place I hang out at of my own accord and drinks I'll buy for myself. That's a good thing! 

Would I Do This Again For Not-Free: have, and will. Can enthusiastically vouch for their negronis and daiquiris, by the way. 

Earnest Thanks For Making Me Feel Fancy To: Hanging Ditch, which you can find next to Goldings at 14 Leeds Street. They operate Tuesday through Sunday from 3pm till midnight and it's a damn charming place to hang out. 

PS: read all of the Fancy Plans and Pants to Match archive here! It's great. 

11 June 2016

this town's a different town to what it was last night, you couldn't have done that on a sunday

I swear I ate and cooked best in my second and third year of university, weird though that seems - I mean, my first year was definitely full of lukewarm toast and trying to stay alive in a flat made of damp breakfast cereal held together with cobwebs (if it weren't for that vigilant spider army my flat probably would've fallen down. Thank you spider army, I respect and fear you still) - but by second year I'd hit my stride. Living in a marginally less cold and damp flat felt like occupying a palace and importantly, I had both the time and the means in winter to make a ton of stews and casseroles and soups and slow-cooked things. Going into the office-job life obliterated that, because there's no time during the day and when you get home you want feeding immediately, and going into hospo means I just eat when I can, and that might be 3am. But as a student: goddamn. All that free time during the day between lectures, searching out super cheap cuts of meat or soaking dried chickpeas because it cost less than canned, baking a cake so we'd be warmed by the oven's heat - I'm totally not nostalgic for that time, or anything, but I also don't want another winter to pass me by without somehow making the most of food that suits the icy weather.

(I went back to my very early days of writing this blog post just to make sure I wasn't making this all up and glorifying the past and if anything, I undersold it. I used to make pudding every night! In one of my blog posts from November 2007 I talk about how sick I am of blind-baking pastry for pies! That's how often I was making pastry by hand for homemade pies and tarts! Last year I literally did a blog post about cinnamon sugar on toast and a McDonalds burger. It was a difficult time, sure, but still.)

bread! stuffed! with three! different types! of! cheese! 

I believe it's without even the slightest bit of hyperbole that I say my life would be unmitigated and incomparable garbage without Kim and Kate, the two earth-angels whom I call my best friends. Remember that Because You Loved Me song by Celine Dion? "You were my strength when I was weak, you were my voice when I couldn't speak, you were my eyes when I couldn't see, you saw the best there was in me" etc? I never understood that song when it was first on the radio and/or everyone's mum by law had a copy of that cassette so it was perpetually in the background. I was like...is she singing to her boyfriend? Or is she a pet rock singing to their owner? Seriously, if you imagine a small rock with googly eyes stuck on it singing this song to someone it makes so much sense than a human singing it, so utterly codependent and clingy and bodily needy it is. It's definitely sung by a small rock.

At least that's what I thought, until my aggressively supportive and beautiful friendship with Kim and Kate. Then, at last, did I understand the lyrics to Because You Loved Me. ("You've been my inspiration! Through the lies you were the truth!") I'm like, ah, this song is chill and not at all hysterical. The lyrics are calm and normal.

So between all that and me wanting to get back into slow-ass cooking and, monumentally, Kate being very close to travelling through the UK and Europe for a month (excitingly for her, tear-stainedly fraught for the rest of us) I decided to make the three of us a lavishly rustic, simple lunch before my shift at work on Sunday. It all came together despite attempting a recipe I've never tried before, the upshot of which is, if I can manage to throw this together in the middle of three ten hour shifts then all you need is a passing interest in cooking and a small amount of motivation and you can definitely achieve some version of this yourself with massive ease.

Nigella Lawson's magical cookbook Feast inspired both the recipes I made - firstly, a red and gold root vegetable stew with turmeric and saffron from which I used a Tunisian meatball dish as a starting point. Kate is vegetarian and Kim can't do garlic or onions so my result ended up having about two ingredients in common with what was on the page, but that's how inspiration works, yeah? The second recipe, a Georgian cheese-stuffed bread called Nana's Hatchapuri, was more direct - I just fiddled with the quantities a little to make it more affordable. Speaking of affordable, feel free to leave the saffron out of the stew - I just have a ton of it around because I'm the kind of person who gets given food by people for my birthday etc (which I love) but in all honesty the turmeric completely does the trick as far as flavour and colour. I don't care about the tautological goldenness though, the doubling down was a pleasingly luxuriant note in an otherwise, let's face it, highly plain stew.

Anyway, both were SO GOOD. And somehow so do-able. The vegetable stew I made more or less effortlessly the day before and just left it on the hob, ready to reheat. The cheesebread - despite the lengthy looking recipe below - was made very quickly before Kim and Kate got to mine, and once I'd let them in - my hands covered in flour - I just shoved it in the oven while we joyfully mixed orange juice and Lindaeur that Kate had both bought and brought from the nearest dairy.

nana's hatchapuri (georgian cheesebread) 

my gently adapted version of Nigella's (who had already adapted it from a woman named Nana, so) from her book Feast

six cups plain flour
two cups thick, plain yoghurt
two eggs
50g very soft butter
one teaspoon baking soda
one teaspoon sea salt, or a pinch of regular table salt
one 250g tub of ricotta cheese
two large handfuls of grated mozzarella, like, the super cheap stuff 
150g feta cheese
one more egg

Set your oven to 220 C/450 F and place a baking tray in the oven to heat up. Put the flour in a large bowl, and mix in the yoghurt, eggs, and butter till a soft, sticky dough forms. I used a wooden spoon to stir in the yoghurt and eggs and then my hands to work in the butter; you end up looking like your hands belong to zombies, but it's very effective! Otherwise just keep on stirring. Add a little extra flour if it's toooo sticky and knead this in with the baking soda and salt, which should leave you with a springy, soft ball of dough. Cover and leave it for 20 minutes. 

Slice the dough in half and roll out both pieces into a rough oval shape around 1.5cm thick, although it's up to you, really. Circle, square, Mickey Mouse ears, whatever works. I recommend rolling them out on two large pieces of baking paper, that way it doesn't mess up your bench top and you can then slide it straight onto the baking tray when it's ready to cook. 

In the same bowl that you mixed the dough in - because, why not - roughly mash together the ricotta, the feta, and the mozzarella with the remaining egg. Spread this golden mixture thickly across one of the rolled out pieces of dough, leaving a few centimetres border around the edge. Carefully lay the second rolled out dough across the top of this - if a few holes appear, just patch them up, the dough is pretty forgiving - and roll over the edges or pinch them together securely with the prongs of a fork. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until it's puffy and golden and bready on top. Give it a few minutes before slicing into it. 

root vegetable stew with saffron, cinnamon, and turmeric

a recipe by myself, inspired loosely by Nigella's Tunisian stew in Feast. This recipe is vegan and gluten-free.  

olive oil
about four sticks of celery
three carrots
two parsnips
half a butternut squash, or one small crown pumpkin, or that quantity of similar
two tins of tomatoes
one cinnamon stick
two heaped teaspoons turmeric
a pinch of ground cumin
three tablespoons golden sultanas (or dried apricots, chopped roughly)
a handful of sundried tomatoes, chopped roughly
pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, to garnish, plus any green herb you like - flat leaf parsley or coriander would be great here 

Using a large knife, finely chop the celery sticks and two of the carrots into small dice - it doesn't have to be neat, just keep chopping till you have a pile of formless orange and green. 

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan and tip in the carrot and celery. Sprinkle over some salt and allow to cook gently over a medium heat until softened. Meanwhile, chop the remaining carrot into thick cubes or half-moons or whatever you like; slice the parsnip into short sticks, and peel and cube the pumpkin. Throw all these vegetables into the pan and stir them, then add the two tins of tomatoes, the cinnamon stick, the turmeric, cumin, sultanas and dried tomatoes.

Add some salt and pepper, and bring all of this to the boil. Reduce the heat back to low, and then let it simmer for about an hour, adding a little water or stock if it looks a bit too dry. You're basically done at this point, but you could carry on simmering it for several more hours if you like, or let it to sit and then reheat it the next day - essentially, nothing can hurt this dish. Add more spice or salt and pepper if you see fit. Once you're ready to serve it, simply scatter it with pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, and bring it to the table. More olive oil to drizzle over would be nice. 

Obviously softly sweet pumpkin and parsnip with earthy turmeric and saffron and richly tomato-y sauce is going to be wonderful, all hearty and spiced and twinkling with jewel-like green pumpkin seeds and golden sultanas, but the main attraction was obviously the cheese bread. Three different kinds of cheese? In this economy?

The combination of salty feta, the barging-into-your-mouth melty nature of mozzarella, and mild, milky ricotta is superb, and when surrounded by soft, warm, scone-like bread, leavened only by eggs and baking soda, it's celestially - almost stressfully - good. Make this, I implore you. My only other proviso is to grind over plenty of black pepper once you've sliced into it - the cacio e pepe vibes make it spring to life.

The three of us sat on the floor around my flatmate's amazing coffee table, toasted to ourselves with the world's cheapest mimosas, ate heartily, and cackled with laughter at ourselves, half in the funny-haha way and in the oh-my-god-what-is-life-I'm-breaking-the-fourth-wall-to-ruefully-shrug-at-the-studio-audience-haha way. And then I staggered to work, full of cheese and good feelings (one and the same, really) and safe in the knowledge that when I got home there was a billion tons of leftovers.

Extra delightfully, I got to dance with my two best girls last night at Dirtbag Disco, the fundraiser dance party for Ballet is For Everyone. If you've ever considered supporting a cause, this is a super nice one. Please keep Kim and I in your prayers and candlelit vigils during Kate's absence, although having consumed a large quantity of this hatchapuri already this week I see it filling the void that her presence leaves more or less adequately.

PS: If slow-cooked vegetable food appeals, then maybe consider similar blog posts I've done, about Penang Tofu Curry and Slow Roasted Eggplant and Butternut with Fried Cauliflower.
title from: Arctic Monkeys, From the Ritz to the Rubble from their amaaaazing first album
music lately: Dirtbag Disco edition

A$AP Rocky/Drake/2Chainz/Kendrick Lamar, F***in' Problems. This song remains so addictive and the best thing to dance to.

M.I.A, Bad Girls. This song remains so addictive and the best thing to dance to.

Rihanna, We Found Love. This song remaings so addictive and the best thing to dance to.
next time: all I've been eating is leftovers from this! But I will make something happen. 

6 June 2016

eleanor rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been

I started writing this blog while slightly hungover after the Visa Wellington on a Plate launch party, and I'll finish it slightly drunk. Or at least that's what I thought two nights ago when I got in after work (and after a couple of after-work drinks); when I woke up on Sunday morning I realised I'd been distinctly less productive than how it felt at the time, and had to delete a very rambling paragraph where I tried valiantly to really convince you of the specificity of the tanginess of buttermilk. This is what happens when I miss out on my window of opportunity to write solidly! On the upside "The Specificity of the Tanginess of Buttermilk" sounds 100% like a lesbian novel set in the 60s that would get adapted into an acclaimed and beautiful but ultimately award-snubbed feature film, doesn't it? 

It was now a whole week ago that I made this, but it resonates still: a risotto containing not much at all but somehow still incredibly full of flavour depths and things of interest to your tastebuds. Walnuts toasted in butter, sizzled capers, slightly crisp from the heat, miso paste and buttermilk. 

The miso paste acts like an instagram filter, boosting everything it touches while still leaving the original risotto below fairly unchanged. The buttermilk, even more than the miso, is the magic ingredient here - it gives the aforementioned specific tanginess that echoes thick Greek yoghurt or sour cream, but somehow still gives a creaminess to the texture as well. It makes the richness of the browned butter more sharpened without making the overall dish too heavy. It's just really good. You end up with this aggressively simple yet deeply-toned dish that's as intensely comforting to eat - all soft and warm and creamy - as it is to make. Or at least, I find risotto comforting to make, all that endless stirring of the rice as it slowly, slowly swells and cooks becomes meditative, like white noise in food form. In Nigella Lawson's book Kitchen she refers to it as "the solace of stirring", and the result is threefold, TBH - as well as the cooking and eating of risotto being calming, reading about Nigella describing the calming nature of risotto is honestly the most soothing thing ever. 

buttermilk risotto with miso, toasted walnuts and capers

a recipe by myself 

around 25g butter
a handful of walnuts (70 - 100g) roughly chopped
two tablespoons of capers 
one cup of risotto-friendly rice such as arborio or carnaroli
three tablespoons of dry vermouth such as Noilly Prat, or use dry white wine (sparkling is fine! Just nothing too sweet) 
one stock cube of your choosing (I used chicken because that's what I had) 
one tablespoon white miso paste
three tablespoons of good-quality buttermilk (I used Karikaas - it has the texture of thin yoghurt. Some commercial buttermilk is kind of lumpy and weird. But also: aren't we all.) 

Fill a kettle with water and bring to the boil. (You'll be using this in a bit to top up the risotto as it's cooking.) Melt the butter in a saucepan and then tip in the walnuts. Once they're lightly browned remove them from the pan and set aside (I just put them on the plate I was planning to eat my cooked risotto on) and then throw in the capers. Once the capers are thoroughly sizzled, remove them to the same plate as the walnuts, and pour in the rice. Stir the grains in the butter so they're all covered and get a chance to toast a little, then pour in the vermouth - it will hit the pan with a hiss and smell amazing. Once it's absorbed, crumble in the stock cube and stir in the miso paste. 

Pour in some hot water from the kettle and start your stirring process - just keep stirring over a medium heat till the rice grains have absorbed it all, then add more. This will take a good twenty minutes and there's no way around it, but it's nice to just stand there in a trance over a warm pan. 

Once the rice is thoroughly cooked, all soft and creamy but with a tiny bit of bite, remove from the heat and stir in the buttermilk - adding more if you like - and tip over the walnuts and capers, scraping in any browned butter that has pooled under them. Stir in more actual butter if you like (I always do) and serve immediately.  

I tried turning the leftovers into arancini but they fell apart pretty well immediately (to which I was like "I can relate to this") but having swiped a forkful of the cold risotto before adding eggs and breadcrumbs and then ruining everything, I can attest to the fact that it definitely keeps well. The walnuts can be changed out for whatever nut you like, but I did choose them on purpose - their autumnal butteriness and soft bite is the only interruption I want in this otherwise formless bowl of rice. 

Back to where I started on this post, I would like to reiterate that the Visa Wellington on a Plate launch was super cool! I ate lots of gin and elderflower jelly and drank many chardonnays (I once had a dream about chardonnay where it was described as "buttery and rowdy" and I swear that's how all chardonnays have presented themselves to me since) and hung out with cool people and hooned much fernet and champagne at the extremely great Noble Rot wine bar launch afterwards. Never mind moderation, I'm about spending three weeks in bed followed by sand-blasting myself with glamour and fanciness for 24 hours. Better than any fancy event this week however was the fact that I finally saw a capybara IRL after being fans of them for many years, and five years on from my tragic (tragic, I tell you!) and fruitless wait at the Berlin Zoo to try and see them. There are FOUR of them at the Wellington Zoo direct from Paris - how sophisticated - and seeing their beautifully regal, yet utterly dingus-y faces today made five-years-ago me feel finally at peace. 

 So calm. Like a risotto.

PS: If you enjoyed reading about this risotto and want to immerse yourself in the damn stuff, please consider considering this Oven-baked Risotto and this Pea Risotto that I've also blogged about here. 

title from: Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles, although for many years I genuinely believed my dad wrote this song because his band did a cover of it and so my first introduction to it was hearing them play it during their Sunday band practices. 
music lately:

Johnny Cash, I Hung My Head. It has the most phenomenally beautiful - and immediate - building of piano chords, which are typical of many of the songs in his later collections of covers. (Kudos to one of the user comments on the Youtube video: "how are like all his songs about playing with guns going wrong")

The Cribs, Mirror Kissers. Whatchu know about 2006 nostalgia? 

Joan Osborne, Right Hand Man. This song goes OFF and I don't know how that What if God Was One of Us song became her only real big hit when this one is so big and hitty. 
next time: I made a big lunch for my two best friends and I'm gonna blog about it!