31 October 2007

"Brevity is the soul of wit..."

Spake the irritating Polonius in Hamlet, before launching into a lengthy speech, unaware of his foolishness...well at least I'm aware that this is a long post.

As I type I am having a very serene afternoon tea- a bowl of miso soup (made by adding boiling water to a spoonful of white miso paste.) I am even drinking it straight out of the bowl, both hands cupped around its warm curves - how very zen!

Above: What Othello might have called "Ocular proof" that I am, in fact, having soup. Anyway, I need all the "zen" I can get, as I have Shakespeare coming out my ears, rather than staying in my brain where he belongs, and our exam (Monday by the way) looms ever closer.
Last night I decided to peruse a much-loved but never used book of mine - the Victoria League of Auckland's Tried Recipes, 5th edition (price: 2/-) It has recipes sent in by Good Women of Auckland, and has many chapters, including "Creams, Jellies, and Pretty Sweet Dishes" and "Gravies, Forcemeats and Sauces for Meat Dishes." How I yearn for the days when cream-based puddings had their own category in cookbooks. I must admit, I was surprised to see the chapter "Vegetarian Cookery and Salad Dressings," in that I small-mindedly didn't think anyone was 'allowed' to be vegetarian in 'those days.' Should the discerning vegetarian about town in the 1940s/50s be looking for a meat-free substitute for brawn, this book has it. (And I quote - "The sago binds it")

This book, like all good books of its kind, has three trillion variations on fruit cake, not to mention a plethora of obscurely named puddings that all seem to be the same - has anyone out there ever heard of: Chandos Pudding, Russel Pudding, Verney Pudding, Totnes Pudding, Marlborough Pudding? I think it's worth pointing out that you could replace the word 'pudding' with 'disease' or 'syndrome' and they would sound quite credible. I know they were economising on eggs and butter but surely not beautiful words too? (also noted - the book includes recipes for both American Pudding and Canadian pudding and they are different, thank you very much.)
I know it sounds like I'm making fun of this book, but oh how I love it, and others of its ilk (Aunt Daisy, I'm looking at you.) In fact, last night's dinner came from it, and I was snared instantly by its straightforward, thrifty title: "A Way to Cook Fish."

It goes thusly: Fry an onion in butter, add some fish, lemon juice, and two egg yolks (into which I stirred a little cream.) It took as long to cook it as it did to type it out, and it is very, very good. I served it on top of pasta, with some greens that I had squeezed the rest of the lemon over.

Above: Yes, not much based on canned tuna will ever be photogenic. But, it tasted great. So, to Miss E.T Rose, of Stonehurst, Auckland, from whence this recipes came, I salute you.

In the spirit of economy, I decided to use the egg whites for dessert. I had found a recipe on Nigella.com for Butterscotch Mousse, which sounded like one of those store cupboard recipes that the Victoria League would go nuts for. It is very simple. First of all, make a caramel sauce, by melting 75g butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 100 mls cream together in a pot. Let this cool thoroughly, and then whisk up two eggs whites till stiff, and fold them in, followed by 200mls whipped cream (I used the same bowl.) It is rich and creamy and has a wonderful caramel flavour. If you cannot be bothered with whisking things, the sauce on its own would be great poured over ice cream.

Above: The Mousse, partially eaten.
It doesn't 'set' like a gelatine-based mousse but completely makes up for its gloopiness with its voluptous butterscotch kick. We all (even Emma - it's gluten free!) ate out of the same bowl, passed from person to person, as we watched Outrageous Fortune (technically studying since the title is a quote from Hamlet.)

30 October 2007

A Simple Tart...

When I bought the rhubarb that has graced many of my posts here, I also grabbed a big bag of apples for $2. As they sat on our kitchen table, threatening to fester at any moment, I realised I'd better do something with them. Apple Crumble was the first thing that popped into my head, but although I love it immensly I felt like something a little more challenging. Nigella's butterscotch tart from How To Eat called my name, especially after reading about its success on this lovely blog.

With that in mind, I thought I ought to have something relatively healthy for dinner. And so I turned to someone who would never replace butter with a low-fat margarine - Nigella. Her Vietnamese Coleslaw from Nigella Bites is so good, it would be one of her recipes that I make the most. It is basically a shredded cabbage, carrot, and chicken salad with Vietnamese dressing, but I hardly ever put chicken in it as it is wondrous and cheaper without. I'll give you my adapted recipe for the dressing as no one needs to be told how to chop carrots and cabbage (mind you, it is infinitely easier and quicker whizzed up in the food processor)

Mix together:
-1 1/2 t rice vinegar
-1 1/2 tablespoons each of lime juice, fish sauce, vegetable oil, and sugar.
With this goes a crushed garlic clove and as much chilli as you can handle. I suppose you could replace the sugar and chilli with a spoonful of sweet chilli sauce. I usually have lemons, not limes, to hand, which works fine, and I quite often leave out the oil and replace it with a few shakes of sesame oil. Anyway, mix all this into the vegetables, along with chopped mint, which gives it an incredible freshness. Seriously, I could eat this by the bucketload. It even looks quite beautiful, so one can revel smugly in their healthy dinner -

Above: World's. Best. Coleslaw.

With that I made the Chicken with Soy and Sherry from the New Zealand cookbook. Except...we don't have sherry, so I replaced it, a little recklessly, with Sake, ie Japanese rice wine, a substance that I looooove to cook with. This recipe (which I deviated from slightly) is a very simple combination of great flavours. Basically, in a roasting dish I put chicken pieces, ginger, soy sauce, garlic, onions, Sake, and sesame seeds for crunch. I realise that putting Japanese and Vietnamese flavours together may seem a little dismissive of the respective nations' cuisines but...if food tastes good, eat it!

Above: A sliiightly blurry photo of the chicken. Despite having no added fat (oh alright, a few shakes of sesame oil) it was crispy and toothsome.
While the chicken was in the oven, I got started on the pastry. I have to say, pastry makes me nervous, but Nigella does have it pretty sorted. As with the cole slaw, life is much, much easier if you use a food processor. Okay, so cleaning it is a bit of a pain, but it knocks so much time off the making process. I am suspicious of anything labelled 'fool proof' (ie, my learners driving liscence..."any fool can pass it," they said...not this one) but Nigella's pastry pretty much is. The crucial thing is to freeze the flour, and half its weight in fat, for a bit in the actual processor bowl. Cold= good, warm=bad for pastry, and the less you handle it the better. Whizz the two together, add a little cold, lemony water, refrigerate for a bit, and then roll out. It actually is remarkably do-able, even for someone like me who gets flour everywhere.

Above: the pastry, which was a dream to roll out waiting to be pressed into my silicone pie-tin.
One of the BEST things about this pie, no, THE BEST thing about it, is that it doesn't need baking blind. Oh, how I hate baking blind. I can never manage to escape from burning myself while removing the weights.

Above: I did manage to use quite a few apples in this and thus justified my desire to make pie!

This doesn't really further the plot but I thought this looked pretty, which I am not always capable of in cooking. Looking capable isn't always my forte either, come to think of it...
All that happens now is a dense mixture of brown sugar, cream, eggs and flour is poured over, and the pie is baked.

Above: The finished product. Isn't this wholesome and comforting to look at, with its monochrome butterscotch colours and bits of apple peeking out from the toffee flavoured filling. That's a statement, not a question.
This was so, so yum, the filling had a texture similar to frangipane and contrasted delightfully with the sour apples, while the pastry was feather-light and crisp.
In other news, Tim and I have been studying hard for our exam next Monday, so things may be a trifle slower round here...I had a dream about Shakespear's Cymbeline last night in which I altered the ending, I don't know if this a good thing or not!

28 October 2007

Hey Hey, Chai Chai (Into the biscuit)

Yes, that is a slightly forced Neil Young reference in the title.
Nana kindly emailed me a recipe for some delicious sounding Chai spiced cookies, which I tried out this afternoon. I have had Chai tea before (as you know from previous posts) and I absolutely love its aromatic warmth. It is funny because I was just thinking about how Chai would make a great flavouring for something when I got the email from Nana. Doo dee doo doo (twilight zone theme, etc)

The recipe gave a blueprint for Chai flavouring - a heady combination of ground cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and white pepper. Unfortunately I didn't have the cardamom like I thought, so my biscuits weren't quite what the recipe specified, but were still fantastic, and pleasingly complementary to a mug of hot Chai tea.

Above: Cookies, straight from the oven...with the malevolent black beans lurking in the background...

Above: Cookies and Chai...I was trying, not altogether successfully, to imitate the photography in posh food magazines. I should point out that I never store or serve my bickies like this.

They tasted seriously good together though. Will definitely be making these again - thanks Nana!

The black beans (sent to me by Mum, by the way) ended up in a sort of loose Mexican style dinner, as you can see below. I love how they look more like gleaming beads than something actually edible.

Above: Dinner. I sauteed an onion and some garlic, tossed in some cumin and coriander seeds, browned the mince, added the mild chilli from a jar, paprika and a little cocoa for kick, biffed in beans both black and frozen, stirred in a tin of tomatoes and some water and let it simmer for half an hour. I served it over rice and it was really good - I just wish I'd had some fresh coriander to go with.
We ate this while watching the Christmas special of Outrageous Fortune on our DVD, the one where they go camping...it made me want to go to Awhitu so bad! Roll on summer! (And once again, no, TV3 isn't paying me for free advertising of their show. I wish...)

Christmas is a-coming...

And if I don't be careful, it won't just be the geese getting fat. Ah well. As I mentioned in earlier posts, I had acquired a glut of rhubarb, which I finished off today while making Nigella's Rhubarb Vanilla Mincemeat from Feast. I don't like it when Christmas starts tooo early (particularly in areas of retail) but I didn't want the rhubarb to wilt and mincemeat can only improve on sitting. Nigella says it would make an excellent gift, and after tasting some of the end result, I'm inclined to agree. So if you like what you see, take a number, stand in line...

First of all, I chopped up my stash of rhubarb-
Above: It's really that colour! To paraphrase Anne (she of Green Gables, that is), you could say "pink" a thousand times and it wouldn't describe how pink this rhubarb is.

I then did something that falls into the category of "silly but not surprising for Laura." I measured in the brown sugar, and the spices, and the dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, currants) before realising that the rhubarb and sugar needs to be simmered alone first before adding the fruit. So I spent a good ten minutes fishing out 300g of raisiny things out with a spoon, before I started simmering the rhubarb.

Above: A darkly fragrant vanilla bean, sliced in half and then into bits. All the seeds are scraped into the rhubarb and the pods are chucked in for good measure.

Above: Once I had simmered the rhubarb, I returned the fished out raisins, currants and sultanas to their rightful place! This needed simmering for half an hour, and filled the flat with a gorgeous, spicy fruity aroma.

Above: Mincemeat! The rhubarb sort of "melted" into the fruit. The final step was to toss in some brandy (which I don't have and so used the more-than-worthy substitute of Marsala All'uovo)

The mincemeat is now cooling, along with some black beans which I boiled and left to soak in anticipation of tonight's dinner (I'm thinking something Mexican-esque.) Once the water heats up, the beans turn everything black:

Above: Oh, you sinister beans!

27 October 2007

What would Scarlett O'Hara Do?

I admit that I haven't actually seen Gone With The Wind, but I remember reading years ago in...a Sweet Valley High book (oh the delicious juxtaposition between high and low culture) that she was particularly resourceful. Incidentally, is it worrying that "Johanssen" not "O'Hara" is the first thing that pops into my head upon hearing the word Scarlett?

Anyway, what S'OH might have done, if she found out that her boyfriend had deleted the photos of roast pork and the ensuing stir fry (when of course, she should have uploaded them sooner so the blame is on both sides)...is shown the world some photos she prepared earlier! This year, before I started this blog, I was taking photos fairly regularly of recipes (usually Nigella's) that I'd made. In fact, it was in pondering why I took these photos that I first considered starting a blog.

So; with a flourish to distract you from the empty promises of previous posts- a trip down memory lane! Disclaimer - these photos were taken before I started this blog and so aren't that great - not that the rest of my photos are - but, well, this is what our food looks like under the light of our kitchen.

Above: Custard Cream Hearts, from Nigella's Feast. The custard buttercream filling is quite, quite addictive. I'm lucky there was any left to fill these beauties!

Above: Chickpea and Zuchinni Filo Pie, from Nigella's How To Be A Domestic Goddess. It sounds much more like something you'd buy at a cafe and not ever contemplate making at home, but it isn't tooooo fiddly (despite the word 'Filo' in the title) and tastes soooo good, all fragrant with cumin and tumeric. I recommend this if you are ever needing to seduce a vegetarian.

Above: Chocolate Fudge Cake, from Nigella Bites. It is an old fashioned, solid chocolate cake and the icing is just ridiculously good.I made it for Tim's birthday in September.
Above: Pasta from my impulse-bought pasta machine. It is more delicious than any pasta I have ever had...definitely worth the effort! I used the pasta recipe from Nigella Bites (1 egg to every 100g flour, which feeds one person - an easy equation) and got Tim to help me crank the machine. It cooks in literally seconds, in boiling salted water, and I dressed it simply in butter and nutmeg. If I had the time, I'd probably eat this every day.
The roast pork, by the way, was from Nigella's Feast, and was an Italian recipe for New Years called "Roast Pork Cinghiale." The marinade involved marsala fine, pink peppercorns, garlic, allspice, olive oil, brown sugar, and a few other bits and pieces. Once roasted, the sugar and the wine caramelised it wonderfully while the pepper and spices provided a densely earthy flavour. A seriously great way of treating pork.
In honour of the New Years Pork: I resolve to be more organised!

Oh, wouldn't it be luver-lee...

Tim is off at his awkwardly early staff Christmas party, to which partners (ie me!) are not invited. With him is the camera you see, and since I forgot to upload the latest photos it will be a wee while before you can see how the roasted pork turned out, and indeed, the Thai stirfry with cubes of leftover roast pork that we had for dinner the next night.

All is not lost though, because as per usual, I have plenty to ruminate upon. I walked into town with Tim today, and left him at Starbucks to begin his shift while I went off to wander round town, clutching my complimentary Chai steamed soy milk. It was cold and drizzly today- the perfect weather to be inhaling the spicy gingerbread scent of Chai. While on a fruitless mission locating Kilner jars (for Christmas food projects!) I ended up in Kirkcaldie and Staines - a place I don't really frequent for fear of knocking over something expensive, or having some long thin woman look down her long thin nose at me.

However, in their "Cuisine" section, I found the place where I want Santa to visit for me this year. It's as though they read all of Nigella's books, wrote down everything she uses, and then sourced it out for this shop.

I found all manner of enticing goodies including (not exclusively, by the way, I'm sure I've forgotten a few things in the excitement):

-Dried Trompette De Mort mushrooms, sold 25g at a time, along with chantarelles and porcini
-Beautiful glace fruit, glistening with sugar; Orange slices, figs, and muscatel grapes
-Gelatine leaves
-Carnaroli Rice (like arborio rice for risotto, but well, more expensive)
-Tiny sugar flowers for decorating cupcakes
-Smoked paprika
-Canned chesnuts, whole and pureed (I was lucky enough to get a can of them last Christmas)
-Mushroom Ketchup, something that has presented a giant question mark in my mind since Nigella mentioned it in How To Eat...well, it exists!

In the cookware section I salivated over copper pots, mini bundt and savarin tins (although what on earth would I do with them?) ceramic pie weights for blind baking and of course, Nigella's range of Living Kitchen gear. I had a moment of wishing I could buy the lot (singing "If I were a rich wo-man, do do do de do de do de do de deeee) but sometimes it is nice just to dream, and happily I felt satisfied and inspired, rather than resentful and skint. In the end I bought a present for Tim - some very classy looking sugar-free shortbread. The man before me at the checkout had bought some leaf gelatine, but he didn't look at all pleased about it like I would have. I suppressed the temptation to say to him, "Isn't it a trifle off-putting that in large letters the label states that the main ingredient is pig skin?" Maybe he'd already noticed.

Thus, with my Starbucks takeaway cup and Kirk's bag I must have looked a lot richer than I really am, strolling down the road.

In other news, after seeing the headlines in the Dominion Post (can't remember specifically, but it was tantamount to "The End Is Nigh and nothing you can do will stop it") I unplugged all possible power cords at our flat, and quaked nervously for a bit. Our flat is actually pretty green - most of our lightbulbs are the aforementioned long lasting ones, we recycle religously, we only use cold water in the washing machine, we only buy free range eggs, do all our groceries in one go (less car trips!) and anyone who leaves a lightbulb on while out of their room gets a withering look. I know every bit helps, but it's not easy to keep from freaking out at such headlines as the Dom Post had. I do, however, see the irony of doing all this while drooling over imported foreign Nigella-friendly food items...c'est la vie...

25 October 2007

24 Little Hours...

After all that steak-and-cake, I felt like doing something a little lighter for dinner last night. A bit difficult to say this with a straight face though, as I currently have almost 2 kilos of pork marinading in the fridge...

Above: Marinading pork - you know those arcarock plates aren't small either!
Well, the pork was only $7.99 a kilo at New World Metro in town, which is actually cheaper than mince was when we last went to Pak'n'Save. Nothing against mince though, as it was used to great effect at last night's dinner, Thai beef in lettuce from Nigella's Forever Summer. It is so quick, all you need to do is zap some rice to go with. It is also cheap to make and a great use for Fish Sauce, should your bottle be languishing in the cupboard. The kindest way to describe fish sauce is pungent...but it really is worth getting over the initial scent for the salty depth and flavour it brings to food. It's only about $2.50 a bottle, to boot.

Thai Crumbled Beef in Lettuce Wraps
-1 t vegetable oil
-1 red chilli, finely chopped (I used some of that chilli and lime that comes in a jar, because neither Tim nor I can handle tooo much heat)
-375g beef mince (or however much will feed the people you are serving - this is a loose recipe)
-1 T Thai fish sauce
-Zest and juice of one lime
-Coriander and iceberg lettuce to serve.

This is a loose, undemanding recipe, which I have adapted slightly from the book. Heat the oil in a wok/pan, and when it is hot add the chillis and stir till softened. Add the mince, and cook till it is no longer pink. Stir in the fish sauce, lime juice/zest, and most of the coriander. It might look quite dry and crumbly, but don't worry. To serve, rip off whole lettuce leaves and fill with the mince, so the lettuce acts as a kind of bowl. Sprinkle over the rest of the coriander. It might end up looking something like this-
Above: Last night's dinner. I sprinkled sesame seeds over, and stirred some frozen beans into the rice because, well, it's so easy.

This is seriously delicious! Speaking of which...here is the blonde mocha cake, 24 hours later...
Above: That's how good it is! 

24 October 2007

Shameless Self Promotion

Hoorah! This page has had 200 views! Not bad considering I have about 4 readers. Also exciting is that this blog has been around long enough to have archive pages...

The 200th view may or may not have had something to do with me clicking the 'refresh' button...

The Hardest Button To Button...

...is the name of a White Stripes song...and it also describes how I felt about my jeans after last night's dinner. We had a bit of a feast because, well, yesterday marked two years since Tim and I started going out. Yay for us! We toyed with the idea of going out to dinner but (a) it would cost too much, (b) I like to cook too much and (c) we didn't want to make too big a deal of it. So instead, we splurged on some steak, which I marinated, Scandinavian-styles, in vodka, garlic, thyme and olive oil. This recipe comes via Nigella's Feast and is very simple. I did take a photo of the steak marinading in one of those bags you get at the bulk section at Pak'n'Save (which I always hold on to for this very purpose) but...it looked a little too unattractively like something out of "Silence of the Lambs" for my liking. For all of our sakes, it will not feature here.

I had a hankering to do something with white chocolate for pudding and found the perfect recipe in Nigella's Forever Summer: Blonde Mocha Layer Cake, so named for its pairing of coffee and white chocolate flavours. Sounds like hard work, but really it isn't. It is a coffee flavoured sponge sandwiched together with creamy white chocolate icing, and it's a doddle to make. So, while the steak was marinading fleshily, I got on with the cake.

It is based on a Victoria Sponge recipe, one that Nigella often adapts in her books. I creamed equal amounts of butter and sugar (225g) and added four eggs, 225g self raising flour, 1/4 cup strong black coffee and a tablespoon of milk. Dollop this into two buttered and lined 21cm caketins and bake at 180 C for 25 or so minutes. This recipe can be made plain - with all milk instead of coffee - and roughly halved (that is, 125g butter, sugar, and flour, 2 eggs, 2 T milk) it makes fantastically easy cupcakes, which you bake for about 20 or so minutes. Anyone passing through our flat earlier this year will remember my brief but torrid affair with cupcakes, which resulted in all sorts of creations (mostly Nigella's)...lavender cupcakes, orange cupcakes, carrot cake cupcakes, coca-cola chocolate cupcakes...The point is, it is all kinds of versatile.

Above: Two moons! Actually, the golden coffee flavoured sponges fresh from the oven. (incidentally, I found out that it was the place where I work that was behind the "Two Moons" ad all those years ago! It has been their most well received ad campaign ever apparently.)

While they were cooling I boiled the potatoes in preparation for another recipe from Feast, "Sticky Garlic Potatoes." While they were bubbling away I heated up some olive oil in a roasting dish in the oven, and chopped some garlic cloves. The idea is, once you have drained the boiled potatoes, you bash them up a bit with the end of a rolling pin or somesuch, tip them, with the garlic into the hot roasting dish, and roast them, the garlic and oil sort of "catching" the fuzzy bits and making it all crispy and delicious.

Once they were in the oven, I heated up the pan for the steak and put some frozen beans on to boil. Now I have to admit here that I forgot to scale down the marinade ingredients (Nigella's recipe feeds a lot more than two) so...the steak was a schmeer on the intense side. To be honest, I had to send it back for a second go in the pan in order to cook out all the vodka. I was a bit annoyed with myself because I'd made this before with great success. In the end it tasted great - and looked pretty good too.

Above: Say it with steak, not flowers, I reckon...the potatoes were all they promised to be: crunchy (but creamily fluffy within!) and garlicky. The beans were...well, they made our dinner look healthier.

Because the table was too covered in junk for us to eat on we opted for the lounge where we watched another installment of Season 2 Outrageous Fortune on DVD...before switching over to TV3 to watch the current season's episode. They should definitely be paying me for all the free advertising I'm giving them! In the ads I made the icing for the now-cooled sponges. It involved butter, (90g) white chocolate, (250g) sour cream (250g) and icing sugar (250g) in rather terrifying proportions. It was very easy to make though - melt this, stir this, sift that - and looked absolutely wondrous:

Above: Mmmmmmmm....There was actually rather a lot of icing, which made licking the bowl all the more gratifying.

I then thickly iced and sandwiched the sponges. It has to be said that the baked sponges look rather shallow and unimpressive, but once they are filled and iced it is another story altogether. I thought a dusting of cocoa on top might make it evocative of a cappucino...See?

Above: The finished Blonde Mocha Cake.

I have to say, it is an inspired flavour pairing. I think if I was having an actual espresso, I would rather have some dark chocolate, but for coffee in cake-form, white chocolate is the way to go. It's rich fudginess is the perfect foil for the smoky depth that the coffee provides, the slight bitterness of which means that the combination isn't at all cloying. Definitely not for everyday consumption though.
Here's to many more years of me cooking dinner and Tim eating it!

22 October 2007

Happy Labour Day!

Tim and I decided to honour Labour Day by doing as little as possible.
We did consider going for a picnic in the Botanical Gardens, but concluded that it would be far too much effort and easier, not to mention just as pleasant, to have lunch outside our flat. Not only did this capitalise on the fab weather, it also dealt with some leftovers, "European Style." We had the minestrone and crepes-canneloni from the other night, and I whipped up a quick pasta salad. It is based on one I have eaten at Tim's place a few times, (I believe it is his Mum's recipe and a family favourite.) I can't say that mine was as good as the original, but still pretty moreish. I boiled up some pasta spirals, ran them under cold water, and then added sesame seeds, soy sauce, sesame oil and chopped celery. I also made a batch of rhubarb muffins from Nigella's Feast, which made a small dent in my enormous bunch of the stuff.

Above: The chopped rhubarb for the muffins - look how pink it is!

The muffin recipe is very easy, as most tend to be. While they were baking, we had our lunch, with a table fashioned from Stefan's chilly bin.

Above: Pasta Salad, Minestrone, Crepes-Canneloni...

Can I just say that the Minestrone tasted a trillion times nicer after its time in the fridge? Make it before you even think you might want it, is my advice. We managed to put away quite a lot, and it was lovely sitting out there in the sun. We had Rufus Wainwright on the stereo because we are seeing him in concert next year (am Very Excited about it - for those of you who don't know, he's the guy who sang Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah for the movie Shrek) After eating all that, plus wine and beer (European Style!) I wasn't sure we'd have room for muffins but...look at these babies.

Above: These muffins were awesome - soft and warm from the oven, with a great sweet-sour contrast from the brown sugar sprinkled on top and rhubarb encased within. What a great day...back to work tomorrow though!

21 October 2007

Madeleines, Crepes-Canneloni, and...Judi Dench?

Warning: Long Post Ahead. Anyone reading this who knows me will be used to this...anyone reading this who doesn't know me...Welcome!

Yesterday was that rare, rare thing in Wellington: A sunny day without wind. Unfortunately it was pretty much wasted on us as Tim had work all day at Starbucks. Nevertheless, we made the most of what time we had and went to the vege market in town to get a tray of free range eggs (definitely worth it, even if you are on a budget - plus we have a strict "happy chicken only" policy in our flat) They were white eggs, which is pretty unusual these days, although contrary to popular belief brown eggs aren't in any way superior to white ones, it's just that, (like people I guess) brown hens seem to lay brown eggs and white hens lay white ones.

So, while Tim toiled away making syrup-cinos for people, I went back to the flat, sat out on our sunny courtyard (with sunblock on and with my head in the shade, by the way) and read some Shakespeare. I was so busy basking in the sun and feeling self-satisfied that I almost forgot to read but it was a nice way of studying whilst not missing out on the weather.

I had started making some Proust's Madeleines from Nigella's How To Eat before I started studying - this is because they require an hour's sit in the fridge. I know of the late Proust but not about him; a bit like when you get a word in Pictionary that you know you could easily spell but not draw a description of. A quick Wikipedia search reveals him to be an asthmatic, gay French novelist who expounded the delights of this little cake in his novel, À la recherche du temps perdu. Since I have recently acquired a natty silicone madeline tray (at the same time I got the steamer) I wanted to try them out, and enjoyed the sense of history behind my baking venture.

The recipe is pleasingly simple. I don't know if anyone out there has a madeleine tray and would appreciate the recipe - let me know if you do. Firstly, one beats a couple of eggs and some sugar till thick. Nigella recommends using electric beaters, and so do I, in hindsight, but I decided to pursure with a mere whisk, not only in the hopes of dovetailing making cakes with excercise, but also to keep in the spirit of Proust himself, whose madeleines most likely preceded the invention of the electric beater.

Above: the whisked eggs and sugar, with How To Eat behind the bowl.

To this one adds sifted flour and some melted butter with a tablespoon of honey mixed in. I used some manuka honey that Mum and Dad had sent in a parcel. This needs to sit in the fridge for an hour, and then out of the fridge for half an hour, to get to room temperature. I don't know what the reasoning behind this is, but I dutifully did it anyway. This isn't something one could make spontaneously, but is definitely not taxing if you have the time, a bit like making bread from scratch. So, while it sat patiently, I went and absorbed myself in Shakespeare's Cybeline. To help out with our learning, Tim and I have been watching lots of movie adaptations of the plays we have been studying - the lavish Branagh Hamlet, the reliable BBC Richard III (both over four hours long.) A particular gem though is a 1960s, avant garde take on A Midsummer Night's Dream which not only features a young Helen Mirren as Hermia, but also has young Judi Dench as Titania, queen of the fairies, naked but for a few strategic flowers and covered in green and silver paint.

While this was happening, I was defrosting some mince and some frozen raspberries - the one for dinner, the other to go with the madeleines. After I had had enough Shakespeare, I started to make the crepes for the Crepes-Canneloni from Nigella's Feast. It may seem rather taxingly fiddly - mince rolled up in crepes and baked in a tomato sauce - it couldn't be simpler. The crepes take all of ten minutes to make and are reliably easy to flip, even for someone as cack-handed as me. I put them on a plate to the side, and used the same pan to brown the mince, which is then rolled up in the crepes and placed in a roasting dish. As for the tomato sauce, it is just a large can of tomatoes mixed with a little sugar and milk. This goes over the top and then you bake it. At any rate, it's much easier than lasagne...

The madeleines only need about 6 minutes to bake, which meant I had to be hovering round the oven keeping an eye on them. As soon as they look brown on top they are done. The silicone mould meant that they slid out easily and retained their characteristic shell-markings. But first things first: Dinner, which I served with beans and some bulghar wheat (a little pan-European, but it meant extra carbs for Tim, plus it is fast and I couldn't be bothered cooking rice or pasta.)

Above: Crepes-canneloni - delicious! One is supposed to use buffalo mozzarella on top, which we absolutely didn't have...so we used colby instead. Still great.

As for the madeleines, they were fantastic! Soft, puffy and redolent of honey. The raspberries, which I had sprinkled a little caster sugar over, had formed their own syrup once defrosted, the tartness of which went beautifully with the cakes.

Above: The Madeleines, with the raspberries sitting darkly behind. Proust would have been proud.

Not to be outdone, Emma, who has been making quite a bit of jelly recently, produced this number: Orange jelly with orange pieces suspended within. Last week she made a gorgeous-looking raspberry jelly with raspberries in it, but I never got a photo of it. However, here is the jelly from last night:

Above: Emma's jelly. Tim unmoulded it a little lopsided, yes, but no-one else can do it.

It tasted really zingy and summery, the orange pieces somehow completely lifting your everyday orange jelly. It was made from a sachet of sugar free jelly to boot - good for diabetics and celiacs alike! Hoorah!

As if all that was not adventure enough, after dinner our entire flat drove to Brooklyn (next 'burb over from town) where there is a playground, complete with flying fox. It is actually three flying foxes (foxi?) set up next to each other so that three people can go at the same time. We had so much fun whizzing up and down (even I did, and I am intensely suspicious of anything that reminds me of OPC.)

After that we hit the actual playground, and while Emma and I rediscovered the simple joy that a good swing can bring, Kieran, Tim and Stefan (especially Kieran) attempted to garrot themselves on the spiderweb climber. Our downfall was probably jumping on the seated merry-go-round and taking her as fast as she could go. All of us emerged queasy and unable to walk in a straight line. A go on the see-saw seemed to put the internal organs back in place and we drove home happy and tired to watch the DVD of Outrageous Fortune, season 2. (Purchased like this: Tim and I decided to walk past the sales at the CD shop to practice not spending our money on crap. Ten minutes later, we had bought the DVD. We need to work on this.)

From Pig's Bum to Cowpats...

Haven't posted in a wee while on account of studying for an upcoming Shakespeare exam, my only one - hoorah!

Last night's dinner came via Nigella.com, which has a section where people can post their own recipes. It is indeed fertile ground for food creations, and I found two recipes that suited the ingredients I had to hand. The main was a Turkish dish, very easy, more of a suggestion than a recipe. Into a casserole dish go chicken pieces (I used thighs as that is what we always have) a chopped onion, chopped potatoes, a can of tomatoes, and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Bake till the chicken and potatoes are cooked, and well, that's it. To go with I made something called Pumpkin Tian, which involves cubing some pumpkin, dusting with a little seasoned flour, sprinkling with grated parmesan and baking.

The end result:

Above: Turkish Chicken with Potatoes and Tomatoes.

There was a photo of the chicken with the pumpkin on the side but the stove looked a bit toooo grimy for my liking - it has since been given a wipe so don't worry! The chicken tasted great, really warming and hearty, and cooking everything bathed in tomatoes meant that the chicken was super moist and the potatoes flavoursome. I can't honestly say that I tasted the cinnamon, so I added an extra shake before serving. If I was to make this again I might biff a whole cinnamon quill in while it cooks and fish it out at the end, for extra flavour.

Because it was a day of the week ending in Y, I had a hankering for some pudding. To go with the homestyle dinner, I thought that a chocolate self-saucing pud might be good. I think chocolate self saucing pudding is one of those dishes in the canon of "classic" New Zealand food, I'm not sure how or why this came about though. I remember Mum making it occasionally for pudding when I was younger, in my household it was called, rather poetically, "Chocolate Floating Pudding." The recipe I used came from Nigella's Feast, and is not only easy to make but requires the simplest of ingredients - a great one for when you think you have nothing in the cupboard. Nigella's recipe is a somewhat modern take on the original though, with cinnamon in the mixture and an optional slug of rum in with the water that goes on top. Not having rum, I used some Marsala all'uovo.

Above: Closeup on the Chocolate Floating Pudding. Nigella succinctly notes that the pudding "isn't the most beauteous creation, there is a touch of the cowpat about it." I feel that my photo is a direct visual realisation of her description.

No harm done, as it tasted fantastic. The marsala added resiny depth and fullness of flavour and it was as easy to eat (doused liberally with milk) as it was to make.

18 October 2007

Pig's Bum! (Need I say more?)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have got myself a big bunch of rhubarb. Happily, tonight's dessert not only uses this rhubarb to glorious effect, it also fulfils my desire to steam things. To top it off, it is called Pig's Bum, thus indulging my love of silly names. Ultimate Pudding.

But first, dinner. Again, no meat, but we definitely didn't go hungry. The weather was - you guessed it - rubbish today, and I felt like something bolstering for dinner, so I made a sort of loose minestrone. That is, I didn't follow any particular recipe, instead, just used what I had kicking round. That happened to be: onion, celery, carrot, pumpkin, potato and later on, asparagus. It must be one of the most virtuous dinners you can eat - a trillion vegetables, bound together by stock and a bit of pasta. It is so healthy that it pretty much obliterates the calorific dessert that follows...right?

Above: Veges for the minestrone - so many that I needed two chopping boards! Healthy!
So, I sweated the veges in a little butter and olive oil for about ten minutes. I then crumbled in a stock cube - Knorr Porcini flavoured cubes brought back for me from Italy by my aunty Lynn. (it's what Nigella uses!!) I then added water to the pot, brought it to the boil, and let it simmer away while I made the pud.
I wish I had thought to take a photo of the rhubarb (microwaved for a few minutes with a spoonful each of sugar and water) - it was just so pink, it looked as though I had added food colouring. The pudding, which is from Nigella's How To Eat, is basically a Victoria Sponge batter mixed in with the rhubarb. I have to agree with Nigella when she says how great the batter tastes. I have always been a sucker for eating the mixture though...Anyway, you heap it all into the greased pudding bowl, cover it, and steam for two hours.
Once the pudding was a-steaming, I added some chopped asparagus and a handful of macaroni to the pot of soup. Once the pasta had swelled up and cooked, I ladled it out and grated over some parmesan. It was perfect - warming, comforting, tasty.

Above: Tim's minestrone (rhymes with pinecone?)
As for the Pig's Bum, it turned out beautifully, an incredibly light sponge with flecks of pink throughout.
Above: Pig's Bum!

It tasted amazingly good, especially considering it took all of five minutes to make. Unlike the last couple of things I have steamed, it wasn't stodgy in the slightest - really very light in fact. So, by the time Tim and I had ploughed through it, and Stefan and Kieran had had some too...there really isn't much left! Will definitely be making this again at some stage.

17 October 2007

May I Interest You In Some...

I am a person who likes to tick their recipes as they cook them. I enjoy looking over a cookbook peppered with notes and markings - it shows that the book is being used, and loved, not to mention that it shows what recipes I had particular success with. Keeping them pristine and smudge-free just doesn't interest me. While perusing the Supersavers Cookbook for the Cauliflower Bread recipe to tick off, it struck me just how many fantastically awful sounding recipes this book has. After receiving my paternal Grandma's Aunt Daisy cookbook I was particularly taken by some of the recipes - Simple Tart and Wholemeal Prune Surprise being among the more amusing - but the Supersavers Cookbook, despite being published a mere 27 years ago, completely trumps Aunt Daisy. I entirely forgot about looking for the Cauliflower Bread and instead immersed myself in compiling this list of the following recipe titles which actually exist in the book. None are made up...
  • Curried Apple Soup
  • Beef in Fruit Sauce
  • Red Flannel Hash
  • Potted Bloaters
  • Oatmeal and Carrot Soup (might go well with wholemeal gravy, Mum...)
  • Cucumber and Beer Soup
  • Jellied Fish Mould
  • Prune Mousse

And the piece de resistance -

Pigs Hearts A L'Orange!

What the!?

Pizza for two, roast veges for twelve...

Another vegetarian dinner for us, involving one of my very favourite things: melted cheese. I made a pizza base following a recipe from Nigella's How to Be a Domestic Goddess:

Above: The dough, rising on the stove - it is actually covered in glad-wrap but you can hardly see it!

While it was doing its thing, I chopped up parsnips, carrots, onions, and potatoes and roasted them with a little olive oil. I got Tim to grate some cheese (he will, without fail, obligingly do the two kitchen jobs I hate the most - grating cheese and peeling/washing potatoes) and I shmeered some tinned tomatoes onto the pizza base.

Above - the oven-ready pizza.

Okay, I have a confession to make - there was a LOT of cheese and while it tasted wonderful the photo of the baked pizza looks reeally oily in the photo. A bit like the Bobotie that I wrote about below - not very photogenic but tastes delicious. So, I'm making the executive decision to not post the picture...however, here are the roast veges, which didn't turn out so badly...

Above: Mmmm....okay so it's a lot for two but...Tim need his carbs?

Tim, Kieran and I went to Kaiwharawhara today to do some various jobs - Kieran to get his stereo fixed, and Tim and I went to Spotlight for some trouser lining and goldfish chow. While we were there I stopped in to a fruit and vege shop and got a big bunch of the most gloriously scarlet rhubarb which I can't wait to tinker with! Maybe tomorrow...

16 October 2007

You Say Banana

Went out and bought some more asparagus today, for the express purpose of roasting it for tonight's dinner. As I mentioned in the previous post, the weather here is rubbish - and it makes you want to EAT. We had a meatless dinner tonight, (A) because I hadn't defrosted anything and (B) it's good to make the meat go a little further by ignoring it sometimes. Our dinner comprised of roast asparagus, roast pumpkin, and a curiousity found in the Supersavers book called Cauliflower Bread. I have to admit the name drew me in. This oddity in no way resembles bread (it is in fact, gluten free) and is made of mashed potato, steamed, mashed cauli, eggs, cheese and butter all mixed together and baked in a makeshift bain-marie (ie, sit your dish in a roasting pan filled with boiling water while it bakes.) The result is actually really good, gratifyingly stodgy and almost a complete meal - protein, carbs, and veges in one. Didn't take a photo because the batteries for the camera needed charging. But, luckily they were charged in time for dessert...

Kieran had bought a packet of puff pastry for some reason ages ago and admitted he was never going to use it. I acquired it, but decided to bake a pudding for everyone (well, everyone except Emma, luckily she was out.) Had a shmooze through some books before deciding upon the Banana Butterscotch Upside Down Tart from Nigella's Forever Summer. Very simple - slice up bananas and place at the bottom of a pie dish (warning - you need a lot!) Melt butter, and a surprisingly small amount of sugar together, before stirring a scant tablespoon each of golden syrup and cream. Pour this caramelly mixture over the banana, then roll out the pastry, (I got Tim to do this - he actually did all the really hard work for this recipe) tuck over the top of the bananas, bake, et voila!

As you can see below, the pastry puffed up beautifully.

Above - the baked banana tart. Yes, our stove is grimy.

Tim also did the next bit - turning out the boiling hot tart onto a plate. I have to say, he did it without any stress and didn't burn himself with the caramel as I undoubtedly would have...

Above - the finished product. Am not the most die-hard banana fan, and the idea of warm bananas doesn't really light my fire but this stuff was super moreish. You probably don't need me to tell you that it's nearly gone already...

Pontius Pilates has a new friend

Okay, so it's not quite as funny as the time I set my flowers on fire in the chapel at my school leavers' ceremony but nonetheless, still amusing.

A couple of weeks ago, Tim, Kieran and I went up to Tim's parents' farm to help out with docking the lambs (ie, cutting off their tails) I baked some bits and pieces to add to the general pool, including an oaty slice from the New Zealand Cookbook simply called "Crunchies." Anyway, we are sitting there having our lunch on the grass, having docked a couple of mobs of sheep and lambs, and having brief respite from docking the next lot. I offer round this slice, and comment to Kieran that because of it's seedy, oaty nature "It's a bit like that energy stuff you take hiking, you know...scrottage?" Apparently this was hilarious. I think what I was looking for was "scroggin" (which sounds equally testicular if you ask me) but anyway, it didn't put people off eating it and since then, Scrottage it is. Shows how often I go hiking!!

So, today began gloriously, woke up with the sun streaming through the windows, and cloudless blue sky. Mere hours later, and it is cold, grey, hosing down, and of course, windy. Welcome to Wellington - where one's choice of clothes in the morning may be wildly innapropriate by the afternoon.

On days as cold as this one has become, one's thoughts turn to baking, and I decided to rustle up another batch of Scrottage. It is particularly good in that it is very cheap to make and then Tim doesn't have to buy muesli bars.

Above: Scrottage, fresh from the oven.

A Steaming Mishap, and late-night brownies.

I got home from work a bit early yesterday, and convinced myself that it was cold enough to use my steamer (it was quite mild outside really.) In my Supersavers book, there is a recipe for what looks like steamed, deconstructed, spag bol. That is, you cook some short pasta (I did macaroni, as the book recommended) add mince, canned tomatoes, frozen beans, dried thyme, garlic and an egg. Put it in your pudding steamer and steam for two hours. I was smitten not only because I got to steam something again, but also because miraculously, we had the exact ingredients required. So, two episodes of Season 1 Outrageous Fortune later, (did I mention that we bought the DVD and are rapturously pleased with it?) it was ready. I served it with the remaining asparagus, which I roasted, as per a suggestion of Nigella's in How To Eat. If you are a fan of asparagus, PLEASE try this! It is wonderful! Just a 220 C oven, a tablespoon of olive oil, 15 minutes, and then sprinkle it with a little salt. It is nutty and slightly crispy and absolutely fantastic. Second only to asparagus rolls (on white bread with canned asparagus) for my favourite way of eating it.

Anyway...maybe I didn't grease the pudding bowl enough (didn't grease it at all, come to think of it) but the steamed mince thingy really didn't unmould well - only half of it, as you can see below, came out. No matter - it's not what you would call a 'photogenic' dish and I'm sure that it would have looked ugly even if it had turned out properly!

Above - Half of our dinner. The other half is still in the steamer...

Well, it tasted good, which was the important thing, but I don't see how a combination of its ingredients could really go wrong. And it did seem like the exact sort of recipe you could expect to find in a book called "Supersaver's." It benefited from salt, and it could have definitely been improved with some cheese. But, cheese is expensive and grating is a pain, so we don't often eat it frivolously. As you know, the asparagus was amazing.
Emma was babysitting last night, and Kieran, Stefan, Tim and I were all watching Outrageous Fortune. (pausing only to switch off the DVD and turn to Prime for Flight of the Conchords) Somewhere in the middle of this, I got a real hankering for some kind of pudding. Problem was, time was ticking on. Suddenly I decided to make something I used to do a lot as a youngster - Alison Holst's chocolate brownies. Now, I'm not teeerribly fond of La Holst (she does seem to take the fun out of cooking) but as I said, I am very familiar with these brownies and knew they'd do the trick. I used the Dollars And Sense cookbook that Mum gave me some years back (a book filled with many gems actually) and got Tim to help me round up ingredients so as to get it going faster.
It is very easy, one of those wonderful one-pot melt and mix recipes that leave you with a minimum of washing up! No fancy ingredients required, but I added some chopped dark chocolate (had a bit lying round in the cupboard.) We put it in the oven, and halfway through another episode of Outrageous Fortune, they were ready. Not as densely squidgy and delicious as Nigella's, but good for a quick fix, and much cheaper. You can see below what was left of them!

Above: Brownies, made in a silicone tin (can it still be called a tin if it's made of silicone?) that Tim's parents gave me.

14 October 2007

Whole Lotta Pav

Last night's dinner came about largely as a result of Tim deciding to clean out our freezer the other night. It hadn't been touched since we moved in last November and was pretty feral - you know, Japanese soldiers in there waiting to surrender, etc. Anyway, he found some egg whites I'd frozen after making some ice cream all the way back in February! Also some spare ribs. In the interest of saving freezer space, I decided to defrost both overnight to play with. Yesterday morning, I marinaded the ribs in a pretty standard "bit of this, bit of that" fashion. Since it was out of my own head (but nothing revolutionary, mind you) I can safely tell you: 2 Tablespoons each of golden syrup, sesame oil, white vinegar, soy sauce all drizzled over the ribs in the roasting dish (lined with foil for ease of cleaning!) followed by a few shakes of cinnamon and some grated fresh ginger. I bought the ginger at Pak'n'Save the other night for 55 cents! And it smells unbelievably wonderful, really zingy and fresh, like sniffing a just-opened bottle of ginger beer. Tim, Kieran and I went into town because it was sunny (but we were fooled! It was also debilitatingly windy!) While sheltering in some shops from the cold we ended up buying two Jools Holland DVDs, the complete Black Books DVD, and Series 1 DVD of Outrageous Fortune, (don't worry, there was a hefty sale) so...all was not lost.

I started making the pav when I got home, as the egg whites had defrosted just fine. The pav is gluten-free, which is good for Emma, and comes from Nigella Lawson's Feast.

Above:Me, whipping up a storm. Those egg whites went HUGE!

I baked it on this great silicone baking sheet that Tim's parents got me. It has useful circle measurements on it so i just filled in the one I wanted with all the marshmallowy eggwhites.

The baked pav was enormous!


I made a kind of pilaf thing to go with the ribs as I thought it might complement the flavours. I didn't end up taking a picture thought because...we ate them too fast. They were soooo good!

Emma, Kieran, Tim and I had drinks and played Pictionary after dinner. That's the kind of flat we are...after Tim and I whupped them (okay it was pretty close) and before I had drank too much red wine, I decorated the pav to Nigella's specifications. I have to say, it's one of the prettiest things I've ever made - as Twiggy on America's Next Top Model would say, "The camera loves you!"

Above: The finished product. Pretty, no?

I actually think it is prettier than the last pav I made, Nigella's chocolate Raspberry Pav from Forever Summer - What do you think?

Anyhow, we all ploughed through it. Including Kieran. YUM.

Above: Kdizzle dominates the pav.