31 January 2008

I DO Like Green Eggs And Ham...

Above: What a genius idea - crepes, flavoured with pesto, wrapped around slices of ham. Nigella, you magnificent woman. Having said that, I wouldn't be making this if I hadn't found some heavily reduced pesto at the supermarket - these days companies will quite coolly charge you $9 for a small tub of flavourless green sludge.

Green Eggs and Ham (from Nigella Express)
- 1 egg
- 75g flour
-75g pesto
- 150mls skimmed milk (I used half full fat and half buttermilk because that's what we had)

Mix all this together, heat up a pan with a tiny bit of oil (or use non stick) and fry this mixture, in dollops of a quarter of a cup or so. When the top looks dry and the edges are cooked, flip and cook for a little more. This makes about 5 or 6, perfect for two. Delicious, and all the more charming for it's name being Seussical. I could eat these in a house, I could ("could" meaning I have the ability, not that I want to) eat these with a mouse - our flat is currently plagued by the wee blighters.

This was tonight's dinner, by the way. I know I normally waffle on before getting to the food part, but I'm tired, and being tired makes me type recklessly, heedless of syntax or flow. Apologies.

Above: This was the rest of tonight's dinner. In the background on the left you can glimpse the Green Eggs and Ham, and to the right is - surprise - roasted beetroot with avocado. I didn't make a big deal of it, surely you don't need to see another photo of this! In front however, is what Marjorie Dawes from Little Britain would call "Summin Else!" Oeuf En Cocotte, also from Nigella Express, could not be simpler or more elegant. I actually used some white truffle oil, that I had bought myself, as Nigella recommends - it was quite exhilarating. The basic premise of this recipe is that into ramekins go plain, but quality ingredients: A free range egg, a spoonful of cream, Maldon sea salt, truffle oil. This is then baked quickly in a bain-marie till softly set. I'm sure this would have been perfectly pleasant on its own, but with the white truffle oil it truly tasted magical. It is difficult to describe the flavour of this stuff (mercifully, it tastes good) but it is sort of rich and savoury and earthy...and gratifyingly, it tastes of expense. We finished off the last of the homemade bread with this, its grainy texture went nicely with the unctuous eggs.

Above: This is the Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, which has the wondrous virtue of being super easy, but also wonderfully intense. I had passed this by for a while, as it only had two eggs and 100g dark chocolate in it - How dense could it be? I scoffed (worryingly...) But yesterday I felt like doing some baking and gosh darn it, we had all the ingredients. The batter is faint-makingly liquidy (250mls boiling water goes into the mix) but all comes right in the end. The texture is incredible - fudgy, warm, somehow almost mocha flavoured (I think it's the muscovado sugar that does that,) and yet resolutely cakelike - comforting and sliceable, not rich and moussy. If you have this book, it is definitely worth the $3 or so to buy the muscovado sugar, not to mention the fact that the batter tastes out of this world delicious.

Now for something completely different. I mentioned in previous posts that I got a Jill Dupleix book from Nana for Christmas, New Food. For the last couple of days I have been making myself her overnight muesli, or "Summer Porridge" as I like to think of it (I forget what the recipe is actually called.) It is very good - not exactly delicious, but it couldn't be more virtuous than if it was made of lentils, and you know I'm a sucker for that sort of thing. Basically, you get your bowl, put in half a cup of rolled oats and quarter of a cup of water. Leave in the fridge overnight. The next morning, grate in an apple (if you like the misery) or slice in a banana, (much easier) and away you go! I usually dispense with the fruit (because my alloted time for "figuring out what the heck to wear today" almost always runs over into my "dealing with fruit" time.) I stir in some LSA (linseed, sunflower seed and almond meal) and have it with soymilk, which I genuinely enjoy the taste of. You leave the house not only filled with Low-GI goodness but with the absolute smugness that can only come from having a stupidly healthy breakfast.

Above: This is not something I have cooked, but is worth looking at all the same - the sunrise this morning. This photo was taken at Victoria University, where Tim and I expand our minds...While you marvel at the beauty of the photo, spare a thought for Tim, who took the photo at 5.30am while on his way to make Orange Mocha Frappuccinos for about a million people.

In other news, Ange came round last night and we, with Emma, watched my feature length documentary on Jonothan Larson, the late author of Rent (did you know that Rent won a Pulitzer Prize? Tim still doesn't like it even though I told him that.) Then, as these things happen, we ended up watching the whole movie AGAIN. And Tim sat through the whole thing, completely mocking it. This made me think of when boys in school throw mashed potato at you and trip you up because they secretly like you. (Although I have to agree with him - the "Bon Jovi" moment in Santa Fe is completely overwrought.) Anyway, we ate the chocolate loaf cake throughout (except for Emma, as it wasn't gluten free) and everyone agreed that it was amazing. If I had the energy I'd type out the recipe for you, but if you really want it let me know and I can do it another day. "Another dayyyyyyyy..."

In OTHER, non-Rent-related news, there is apparently a new Nigella book (I know, already!) coming out in October called "Nigella's Christmas." I wonder if we grass-hut dwelling New Zealanders (I kid, we have had electicity since like, 1982) will actually see this book before Christmas arrives. Anyway, excitement!

29 January 2008

"I'll Cover You" or, "Today It's Your Birthday, We're Gonna Have A Good Time!"

Firstly: HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Dad and my younger brother. They were born on the same day, many years apart (but of course!) If I could, I would be singing "Birthday" by the Sugarcubes (ie, early Bjork) in Icelandic: Once heard, never forgotten.

Today was one of those rare days in Wellington, city of much wind, where you could wear a skirt without fear that your knickers will become fair game for passers-by to gawk at. Unfortunately I gauged it wrongly this morning (gauging has never been one of my skills) and ended up sweltering in jeans at the office all day. It is still warm enough here to have the bedroom windows open at 8.30pm. Oh how I love summer, even though it means I have to be super vigilant about not getting my pale, pale skin burnt.
You may have noticed, O faithful reader, that we seem to have been eating a lot of roast cauliflour lately. Tonight was no exception.

Above: Although roasted cauliflour is seriously dear to my heart, roasted beetroot is a close second. You don't even need to add any oil, (for those of you who worry about such things, as I do occasionally when my jeans feel tight.) Avocado is the perfect foil for my roasted vegetables - it provides cool, silky contrast in texture, and the colour seems to do something lift-y to the whole operation too. One of the best things about summer is how cheap and consistently edible the avocados are. No matter how often I eat them they still taste exciting.

Above: Tonight's dinner, as well as the roast vege avocado thing, was also Chicken with Soy and Sherry which was basically an idea I got from the New Zealand Cookbook, and some leftover gratin from last night - she says, realising I haven't even written about the gratin yet - and...

Above: We probably didn't need this on top of everything else, but I had all the ingredients and it is really rather light. I used the Simple Tomato Tart recipe from The Accidental Vegetarian, and the title does not lie - a few slices is all it takes. I grated parmesan cheese over and cut some dinky stars out of the leftover pastry. It tasted flipping delicious - summery and buttery and tomatoey. Did you know that tomatoes are actually better for you if you cook them? It increases the lycopene in them. Which makes me feel better about eating them on a mound of pastry...

Above: This is the aforementioned gratin, Potato and Mushroom Gratin, specifically, from Nigella Express, which was last night's dinner. It was quite easy to make, although I don't recommend you attempt it if you are doing the dishes - the dish is a complete nightmare to clean afterwards, and requires lengthy soaking. The gratin itself tasted great, the mushrooms were a fantastic addition and the fact that it was only cooked in milk meant I didn't have to rush out and buy any cream.

Above: I served it with the Bacon and Tomato Hash from Feast. This is so simple - just fried bacon and tomatoes - so simple that I passed it by for a long time (also, bacon is kinda expensive.) But it is seriously good, fast, and well, good again. Since there seems to be a theme tonight of revealing what things are after I've mentioned them, I might as well tell you that we mopped up the salty tomato juices with the leftover bread that I had baked the night before.

Above: I made this on Sunday afternoon. It is a recipe from the excellent Brenda, from the food forum I am a member of, and this is not the first time I have made it. Let me just come right out and say this: I LOVE making bread. I love kneading it, watching it rise, the smell of it baking...I can see their use, but I don't think I could ever own a breadmaker - it just takes all the fun out of the process.

With this I made the Chef's Salad again - that's how much I like it.

Above: This one was even better than the first one I made, because I had actual chunks of ham in it, not shaved ("ham ends" were very cheap at New World, perhaps because with a name like that no one would buy!)
And that is basically everything we have eaten up until this point.

Much as I hate how whatever they are calling the generation after me tends to overuse the word "Random," Tim and I had a very random Sunday night. Tim was doing a shift at Starbucks that afternoon, when some American guys came in. They got to talking, after ordering their Venti Mocha Whatevers, and it conspires that these Americans were in fact, in a band that was playing at the San Fransisco Bath House (an ostentatiously named venue in the city) that night. Their name is Me First and The Gimme Gimmes. Their gig was sold out and Tim had never heard of them before, but he must have absolutely charmed them with his, well, charm, because they told him they'd put his name on the door with a plus-one (that's me!) and he could go to their gig. Tim was pretty stoked with the whole name on the door thing, and came home and told me. You may be asking who this band is. Basically put, they are a punk rock covers band, which may not sound terribly alluring, but I had a massive thing for these guys in third form and so was pretty excited that we could just waltz in for free. And also the idea of one's name being on the door of an event makes one feel pretty darn grown up.

They were excellent fun, and played some of my old favourites that I used to listen to on Channel Z - like Leaving on a Jet Plane and Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Amusingly, they would say "Okay, for this next song we're going to play a cover" before every tune they played. Purists may well sneer at a punked up cover of Blowin In The Wind, but how can you resist when they precede it by saying "Here's a song we've basically stripped of any meaning whatsoever." After the gig we talked to their sound guy, (I'm sure there is a more technical name for what he does) who was very friendly and gave us the set list. Rock and Roll!
It might not be quiiiite as cool as the time the guy who plays "Hands" on Boston Legal went to Tim's work, but it is giving me half a mind to quit my job and work at Starbucks if only for the occasional celeb sighting. Yes, "You can take the girl out of Hicksville" etc etc.

27 January 2008

"I'm Not Crying...It's Just Been Raining On My Face"

I'm sorry to again be bearing tidings of stuff other than joy, but you should probably know that one of our goldfish died yesterday. I'm not sure if it was Laurim or Taura (our flatmates named them, inspired by such amalgams as Bennifer and Brangelina and TomKat and...Speidi) because neither fish had any particularly distinguishing features. Laugh if you want, and I completely understand why, but our goldfish were pretty gorgeous, and I'll really miss little Laurim-or-Taura. Their bowl is right beside the computer so as I would sit here a-blogging, they would swim around merrily or bob around as though they were saying hi. We got the fish in early September, and despite being unable to hug them, we became very attached to them. So now we are down to one. But really - I'm not crying..."I've just been cutting onions...I'm making a lasagne...for one."

Somewhat callously, this segues into what we had for dinner the other night - Tuna and Beans, or Tonno e Fagioli. (Too soon?)

Above: This is a deceptively simple meal, taken from Nigella Express. (Yeah, again from that book. What can I say, I'm a kid with a new toy.) It barely needs a recipe - some red onion, sliced and steeped in lemon juice, mixed with some canned cannelini beans, canned tuna, olive oil, salt, pepper, and parsely. It is surprisingly substantial yet light at the same time, and would, I suspect, make a lovely filling for pitta pockets or the like. Also, did you know that cannelini beans are an excellent source of complex carbs? For every serving or so, there is something like 23g of carbs but almost no sugars. Result!

Above: To go with, one of my big food addictions (what am I saying, it's an addiction across the board), roasted cauliflour, which I teamed with some steamed brocolli and capers. To roast cauliflour, simply place florets in an appropriate dish and leave in a very hot oven - I usually go for 220 C - for about 20 minutes or longer. It will look slightly brown in places and somewhat wizened. Don't fret, this is normal. In fact, this is to be welcomed.

Above: Finally, I grilled some tortillas which I had brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with some za'atar that I got for Christmas. Za'atar is a fragrant mix of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds, and tastes lovely and smoky once it has been under a hot grill. I wanted to say something about how we broke these into shards and ate them with our fingers as a relaxed starter but it sounded so laughable that I think I'll leave it out.

Above: Another dinner. As you may guess, my Chicken, Bacon, and Mushroom Pie has a little "L" on it. I think this picture nicely demonstrates the cuteness of these wee pies, which also hail from Nigella Express. Despite the extravagant title, this recipe was one of the few I could find on my trawls though cookbooks that seemed to match what we had in the cupboards. It also tasted seriously, seriously good.

Above: Ooh, floor pie! But for real, these pies are SO great, and very simple in execution. I think it is the inclusion of Marsala in the filling that really gives it an edge. Plus I'm a sucker for anything encased in pastry. Which would explain so much.

The green stuff on the side: Cabbage with Cumin Seed, which came from my Jill Dupleix book, New Food. This was a Christmas present from my Nana, one I was super excited to recieve because I have heard really good things about this particular author. Although I still have no idea how to pronounce her surname (I'm guessing it's not Dew-plee-icks though.) This book was published in 1994, which means it charmingly waxes lyrical about Balsamic Vinegar and how overused sundried tomatoes are (look at me being a food snob, I was eight years old in 1994!) Anyway, Dupleix has a lovely, breezy style of writing, and lots of fab looking recipes. Unfortunately as I read through the book there were pretty much NONE that worked with what ingredients we had, apart from this cabbage recipe. Which was delicious - very simple and healthy, with great flavours. As well as that there was MORE roasted cauliflour, with roasted beetroot, some of the Moonblush tomatoes, and avocado.

This time next week, Tim and I will be in Auckland hotly anticipating the Rufus Wainwright concert which is on Monday the 4th. With any luck I will be able to meet him and convince him to be my future wedding singer. If I was rich enough, I'd just pay him to follow me round everywhere, singing.

R.I.P Laurim-or-Taura. If nothing else, I can be glad that he didn't look like...

...Blinky, the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons.

23 January 2008

Crowded House

If there was a better way of typing out a sigh, onomatapoeically, rather than saying the word "sigh," I would use it right now. We learned of actor Heath Ledger's death today, I'm sure if you are reading it here it won't be the first time you have heard about it, indeed, this isn't the sort of blog one would go to for that sort of news. But I can't let the event pass without giving some kind of recognition to it. For all that people seem to be more shocked at "celebrity" death depending on how good looking the person was and the circumstances surrounding it (I speak as someone who has been trawling gossip blogs in order to find out news and gauge peoples' responses), and even though say, Fox News will give far more coverage to this than the death of Sir Edmund Hillary...he is no less dead. He was only 28, an exceptionally good actor, of the Johnny Depp school of excellence in my opinion, and he had a two year old daughter. A terribly sad thing to hear. Sigh.

Meanwhile, at stately Wayne Manor, I am still cooking for various people, including Tim's friend, who is still staying with us, and my cousin Paul, who is moving into our flat. But - I like feeding lots of people, so I am not being hard done by in the least.

Above: I like pasta for feeding a crowd. It's not as austere as rice, but just as quick - and is there anything lovelier, when you are slavering with hunger, than a vat of pasta? It is also about the only thing that is cheap in the supermarkets these days. I'm still not over the price of dairy, (if only there was some way I could protest - but I love butter too much) but we did some groceries today and EVERYTHING was expensive. Even with a $60 voucher, (thanks to Mum and Dad) and minimal purchasing of meat, it came to $130. I kid you not. I was going to buy some raw mixed nuts with which to make Mum another batch of Nigella's fabulous muesli, and a small bag at the bulk section came to $9.50. I nearly wept. Sorry Mum - the muesli might have to wait a while. What is wrong with New Zealand's economy?

Above: Pasta Carbonara, recipe courtesy of Nigella's Feast, has got to be one of my all-time favourite meals. Bacony, creamy, vermouth-y, carbtastic...frankly there's not much more to say, except that I added some frozen peas at the last minute (not so last minute that they were still frozen while we ate, of course) because the lack of vegetables made me a tiny bit panicky.

Above: Another nice thing about feeding a crowd (ie, when there is more than two of us: we are big eaters) is that you can feel justified in making pudding. Which, in this case, was a sensationally easy Tarte Aux Fine Pommes, from Nigella Express. Okay, so I can't pretend that the edges of the pastry didn't get a teeensy bit singed but it still tasted great, and there was something pleasing about the elegant layout of the apple slices.

Above: I didn't really need to make the Moonblush Tomatoes from Nigella Express in this silicone dish, but I loved the red-on-red vibrancy it produced. Tomatoes were cheap at the market, and this recipe sounded so easy that I thought I'd give it a bash. Basically, you sprinkle tomatoes (supposed to be cherry ones, but big ones were much cheaper) with a tiny bit of salt and sugar, and some dried thyme, put them in a 220 C oven, and then turn it off and leave them overnight. By which stage they should look like this:

Above: This may not look too impressive, but they smell incredible - like the most intensely condensed tomato soup. I'm not sure that I'm selling them well, but really - if tomatoes came with comparitive superlatives, these would be the tomatoeyest things on earth. Good grief. First I'm making up words to describe my feelings for Nigella, then I'm not satisfied with the word 'sigh', and now I'm taking sweeping liberties with a noun that was never meant to be used as an adjective. Who do I think I am, butchering the English language like this?

Above: As well as being so fragrant that they drive me to mess with grammatical institutions, the tomatoes go rather excellently in a pasta sauce. I made one up on the spot for dinner the other night; Onions, chopped up pork sausages, a couple of the moonblush tomatoes, a splash of sherry, some capers, a little cream...it tasted deeply flavoursome and delicious. The salad that you can see there was made from radiccio (which I found cheap at Moore Wilsons) roast beetroot and diced avocado. The sweetness of the beetroot and the creamy texture of the avocado seemed to nicely balance the somewhat bitter, yet beautifully purple, radiccio.

I realise I am breaking the cardinal sin of writing for people: Be concise. I am not concise at the best of times...but if you have made it to this point and are thinking, "But how much more can they possibly have eaten?!" fear not - there isn't much more to go.

Above: Making one's own chicken nuggets does, on paper, sound absolutely deranged. And I admit, they don't look that great in the photo (it's the overexposure?) but these are just so good and not taxing in the slightest. I do, however, recommend you get a buddy to help you with the turning of these in the hot oil or they will burn - the one thing I am likely to do in the kitchen, as you can see from the apple tart above. The recipe comes from Nigella Lawson's Feast and is all kinds of basic - chicken breasts, cut into goujons, marinated in buttermilk, dipped in cracker crumbs and shallow fried till magically delicious. You'll never go to McDonalds again...

Above: I've heard mixed reviews for Nigella's Chef's Salad, but take it from me and my discerning taste buds - this is SO good. I could have snarfed the whole bowl were it not for the fact that it had to go round other people too. It is a mixture of iceberg lettuce, corn kernals, emmental cheese, ham, and avocado, and although it may not sound spectacular it is nigh on addictive.

Above: Despite all my hand-wringing and exclaiming about EVERYTHING above this point, I really think that I have saved the best for last. This is the Caramel Croissant Pudding from Nigella Express, and though I can't say the recipe looked too exciting at first glance...it is wondrous. I should point out that I have a rather bad habit of going out and buying an expensive main ingredient because I have all the peripheral ingredients, and this is one such instance. I basically made this because Tim was given some bourbon and there are two or so tablespoons in this recipe. Luckily croissants are relatively cheap at the corner shop, and the rest - milk, sugar, etc - are usually close to hand. This was ridiculously fantastic, every bit as good as Nigella says and then some. That's right. Then some.

From croissants, one's mind springs to crumpet, and thus, back to Heath Ledger. Hopefully this is the last of such events in this year that has barely started.

20 January 2008

"Napoleon, Make Yourself A Dang Quesadilla!"

This Monday is Wellington Anniversary Day; which I can't honestly say means too much to me except that I get to neatly evade the worst day of the week. Hoorah! The weather has finally sorted itself out, and is actually being summery. For a while there it was both humid and windy, which is the worst of both worlds; you're sweating like a mule and your hair's a disaster.

I have been cooking more goodies out of Nigella Express. Witness:

Above: Sesame Peanut Noodles - the dressing has peanut butter and sesame oil in it and is seriously good. Oh and yes, that is a Nigella Mini Whisk, which I bought on a self-indulgent whim recently, and used to make the dressing. Already I'm wondering how I lived without it...like a true Nigellavangelist. You may have noticed that I am trying very hard to work my word into the common vernacular (surely there are endless possibilities for its use?) but Google hasn't been very useful for information on how to copyright a word.
With these noodles we had Nigella's cocktail sausages, which is, admittedly, an incongruous pairing, but as they were cooked with similar flavours - sesame, soy, honey - it actually worked. Unlike the photo, which I won't post because it showcases how filthy our roasting dish looks...

Above:Two of Tim's friends stayed for the weekend, and I made us all dinner last night. Nigella's Quesadillas were very well received (there's nothing like the smell of melting cheese...) which I served with a rice pilaf and a salad of avocado and roasted cauliflower and capsicum.

Above: I got some cheap avocados at Moore Wilsons...I think I could eat an avocado every single day and never get sick of them. They always taste like a treat, you know?

Above: Something completely impractical and yet somehow necessary: DIY chocolate croissants. They are really far too small to bear the name of croissant in my opinion, but they are so easy and lovely and it is such a novel idea. Thankyou, Nigella. Two ingredients: puff pastry and chocolate. The most difficult thing, for a geometry-challenged gal like myself, was cutting the triangles correctly. In case you were concerned, I made them on the washing machine because...it was the only benchspace we had that morning. By the way am I the only one who thinks the rolled up pastries look not unlike the tiny paper creatures that torment and chase Haku in Spirited Away?

Above: Sorry again for the overexposed photos. I am no Annie Leibovitz. Heck, I'm not even Nigel Barker. But you'd think I could figure out how to make photos people can actually look at...

Back to the wee pastries - they were delicious, and fun, and just as easy to eat as they genuinely were to make.

Above: Sticking with the chocolate theme, I decided to make a cake, for general picking at over the weekend. I used a Nigella recipe from How To Eat which is a fantastic, one-pot melt and mix sort of thing which produces a luscious, moist cake with very little fuss. Note the mini-whisk again, which did a stirling job of amalgamating this darkly rich mixture.

Above: Caution: I baked the mix in two 20cm tins, with the hopes of sandwiching it together with custard buttercream...but they turned out super flat, like chocolate pancakes. Delicious chocolate pancakes, but nonetheless, I recommend just using one tin, like she says in the recipe. It still tasted great though and the buttercream filling that I made plumped it up somewhat.
I have to say we have been eating a lot of what some might call junk over the weekend...which may have something to do with going into town last night...and not going to bed till 4am...

17 January 2008

Indian Summer...

Breaking-ish news - Rent is closing on Broadway (it is the 7th longest running musical ever, which didn't impress Tim in the slightest.) There goes my hopes of going to New York and seeing it (with the original cast magically reprising their roles..."it's nice to dream.")

Tim and I had our voucher-based date night last night, and a very pleasant evening it was. Monsoon Poon is seriously fantastic! We arrived at 7-ish (would have got there sooner were it not for the fact that high heels slow me down.) It was incredibly busy and we got directed to the bar, (I refrained from saying "you should have bloody booked like I told you" because I didn't want the night to start badly.) As it was we needn't have worried. It was airy and cool in the bar area, and because of the voucher we splurged uncharacteristically on a drink each, Tim opting for a Tiger Beer and myself for a feijoa-vodka-elderflower-apple-sauvignon-blanc hybrid called Maid in China. We were seated before we finished our drinks and the waiter was seriously attentive. I mean, the place was absolutely packed, we were blatantly not high-rolling customers, and yet we were treated like the most important people in the room.

Above: Another uncharacteristic splurge - a starter. We ordered these droolsome tempura-style vegetables in a chickpea batter with yoghurt raita. I'm glad this was shared between the two of us, as it was pretty big. It would make a good vegetarian main, with some rice. It was also seriously great; the crispy coating contrapuntal to the delicious, soft vegetables within and the creamy, minty yoghurt.

Above: Our mains. In front, I had chicken and prawn dumplings, and Tim had the lamb maharaja. There were three dumplings in my bowl, I must admit I looked askance at them and thought "that is supposed to fill me up?" Well, 2/3rds of the way through I was so full that it was getting uncomfortable to breathe. They were delicious, as was Tim's lamb - spicy and flavoursome - but let me tell you about the enormous naans. I'm not sure if you can see from the picture, but they were SO vast - like duvets of bread. I could have worn one as an edible cape. They were HUGE! The entire meal - sans drinks - came to $5 over the voucher's worth; a tidy sum for such a great dinner, all told.

Afterwards we (following the directions of the friendly maitre'd at MP) zoomed to the nearby Rialto movie theatre to cash in one of Tim's vouchers at the 8.50pm showing of The Darjeeling Ltd. It has an excellent, dynamic cast, intensely elegant Louis Vuitton luggage, unbearably beautiful cinamatography of India, and flashes of unexpected humour and sadness. And it is definitely a better use of Owen Wilson than the unfunny mess that was You, Me and Dupree.

Above: This is me, by the way, getting ready to go out to dinner. I got the dress from a certain favouritest shop in the world of mine, the Waiuku Op Shop. Tim wore the red, bespoke trousers (a la Jack White) that I got him for his 21st, but was not feeling the photo-op. I'm not in the habit of posting pictures of myself willy-nilly, but as I am lamentably unphotogenic and it is so rare that I get a half-decent photo of myself, I thought this might as well be your impression of the face behind the Nigellavangelism. (Did I coin that, by the way? Should I get it patented? I've always longed to coin something, this could be my big break...)

It has been - finally! - sunny the last couple of days here in Wellington, I only hope it stays like this for the long weekend (Wellington Anniversary Day on Monday! Hoorah!) Sunny weather means only one thing for me: (apart from copious amounts of sunscreen)

Above: Vod and Ton. "To fruits, to no absolutes, to Absolut..." Ah, Rent. So reliable for a quote. But seriously, Vodka and Tonic is my favourite summer drink, any time of year. I do like it with a slice of lemon, but I didn't have any to hand yesterday. The vodka must be good quality; and I do prefer Schweppes tonic water. The blue things in the glass, by the way, are those dinky freezable waterfilled shapes that don't dilute one's drink. The libation (that's Nigella's wording, not mine) is perfect on a sunny with, say, Primal Scream's Screamadelica playing in the background.

Above: I have diverted briefly from Nigella Express, to another of her volumes: Forever Summer, appropriately enough. I finally found some yellow courgettes, at Moore Wilsons Fresh - an absolute MECCA for foodie types. I don't know why, but I have only ever gone to their grocery department, which is seriously exciting in its own right...I was so excited because in Forever Summer there is a soup made from said yellow courgettes, Happiness Soup...I couldn't resist. It is very simple, and I had all the ingredients, the only changes I made were substituting some ham stock for the chicken stock, and instead of basmati rice, I used the gorgeous, tiny "Stelline" pasta that my aunt got me from Italy. Isn't it beautiful?

Above: Now, this is a thing of beauty. Doesn't it make you sigh happily just gazing at that bowl of fragrant liquid sunshine? (You weren't to know it smells good, to be fair, but you could have imagined it.) This soup is delicious and I suspect it will be even better tomorrow. I was a bit worried that the ham stock (frozen from when I made the Ham in Cider from How To Eat sometime last year) would overpower it but it was fairly delicate. Even though it meant faffing about and extra dishes, I served it in the beautiful casserole that I got from Mum and Dad for Christmas, I don't think I need to explain why.

Above: Because soup alone does not constitute a meal for a Type 1 diabetic, I made some pasta as well, following Nigella's recipe for Cappelini Con Cacio E Pepi, also from Forever Summer. This is, in prose, pasta with parmesan and cracked pepper. I don't have any cappelini, and presumed a mix of old penne and spirals would do; and I used the beautifully coloured and deliciously mild pink peppercorns that Mum and Dad also got me for Christmas. This was a perfect pasta recipe, simple, elegant, quick, great tasting. I roasted some beetroot and red capsicum to go with; a very satisfying meal.
Just googled Nigellavangelism...nothing came up except yours truly. I did it! I made a word!

16 January 2008

"Express Yourself (Hey Hey!)"

It's funny, I can never figure out whether or not I really like Madonna. On the one hand, you have to admire a woman in her forties who maintains the body of a 12 year old Korean gymnast and has constantly kept one step ahead of the fashions for 20 or so years...but on the other hand I think I prefer a more Nigella-type body shape, and Madonna really looks like she has no sense of humour. And I do rate personality over looks. You may think that sounds over-righteous, but after five minutes of watching The Hills I realised that being very pretty and thin doesn't gloss over the fact that you are completely vacuous and can't hold a meaningful conversation. Where on earth am I going with this? Well, Express Yourself has always been a Madonna song that I liked, and since I have been cooking from Nigella Express...You know, I do realise that if you have to explain a joke it means it's not very funny. I should really try to stop being so verbose and just tell you what we had for dinner.

That's right - "we." Tim is back! By the by, Ange and I made Emma watch Rent. She said something along the lines of "Well that wasn't as awful as I thought." The next day she said she couldn't get the songs out of her head. I think we are on to something. Tim said not to hold my breath that he would become a fan. I still have hope. I mean, I got him to like Neil Young (but then how could anyone with ears and a soul not...okay, onto the food.)

Above: My first Nigella Express recipe: Linguine with Mushrooms, Lemon and Thyme. It is so simple - chop up button mushrooms, let them sit in olive oil, lemon juice, salt and thyme while you put the water on to boil for the pasta. Let the pasta cook, stir the lot together, and hey presto. I must admit that the marinading mushrooms were so magically delicious that I nearly snarfed the lot before putting them in the pasta. This was Monday night's dinner. I met Tim at the train station where his bus was getting in (he didn't know I was coming; he doesn't have the monopoly on impulsive gestures you know) and it took us a while to get home and this was still quick to make. And seriously easy to eat as well.

Above: Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Coleslaw, which was last night's dinner. It might sound a little low-rent, but sometimes that is what you desire. This hails from the chapter "Instant Calmers" and indeed, calms instantly. I didn't follow the recipe to the letter, not that I think it matters since Nigella is constantly encouraging the reader to play around and not be so stringent. I used the sandwich press that I got for my 21st birthday (and a very handy present it is, too) and made the slaw - all very quickly. So quickly that I got a bit silly and decided to make potato cakes too...Well, Tim does need the carbs.

Above: Sorry the images are a little over-exposed, Tim's camera bit the dust and I don't know how to change the settings on Stefan's one. Anyway, this was never going to be one of those blogs with really professional looking pictures. We are looking for a new camera today though, I promise! These are the potato cakes, which Nigella gives as a kind of canape recipe with smoked salmon and shots of vodka. (I'm guessing the latter is optional, but adds extra Swede-ness.) I know anything that you have to fry and flip pancake-style looks like a drag but these are so easy, and charmingly are made from instant potato flakes. They took three seconds to mix together, cooked quickly, and tasted wonderful spread with hummous. And I made the whole lot - potato cakes, sandwiches, coleslaw - in about 20 minutes. It is very exciting. For me. I realise not everyone is as Nigellavangelical as I.

Above: This is what I am really excited about. Nectarine and Blueberry Gallette. I have never bought pre-made pastry in my life - not necessarily because of some snobbish instinct, although I do like to make my own shortcrust - but after reading through Nigella Express I bought a pack of puff pastry sheets (surprisingly reasonably priced, too.) Fruit is marvelously cheap at the moment (better eat up for when it skyrockets in winter) and so I splashed out and got the ingredients for this recipe. It is so simple: Score a one inch frame round a square of puff pastry. Brush the inner square with a spoonful each of jam and cream (I used milk, was all we had.) Tumble over blueberries and sliced nectarine. Bake at 220 C for 15 minutes. And you end up with the most gorgeous, puffy, kid-yourself-into-thinking-it's-healthy pudding.

Above: Make it! I urge you!

Ange has caught a bus up to Auckland to go to the Big Day Out, which we aren't going to - I am really looking forward to Rufus Wainwright though. Tonight Tim and I are going out to dinner at Monsoon Poon, (because I have a voucher) and afterwards we are going to the flicks to see The Darjeeling Limited (because he has a voucher.) Our date nights are largely supplemented by other people, it would seem...

13 January 2008

It's a Lot Better...

With a lot of butter, to paraphrase the old TV ads. Tim still isn't back, which makes cooking a little interesting, not because I can't eat without him (quite the opposite, unfortunately) but because I can't do a big grocery shop. I've moved on from bags of twisties for dinner but am still requiring comfort food it would seem, to wit - starch. Ange and I went to the vege market this morning, and came back via New World Metro, where I purchased about 12 different varieties of carbohydrate (tortillas, egg noodles, arborio rice...okay that's it really.) I'll just deviate briefly here to rant about how unbelievably expensive dairy is at the moment! $15 for a kilo of cheese! You could get a kilo of ground almonds for that price (trust me, you can!) In this land of milk and honey, it's no wonder parents are giving their children coca cola to drink, because the milk is too expensive. Dairy me! (but really.) Don't even get me started on the insultingly non-summery Wellington weather.

I have finished reading Nigella Express, and despite being a trifle apprehensive at first (it has recieved a mixed reception) I am in love. What a fantastic, practical book, positively brimming with recipe after recipe, perfect for midweek dinner. Everything looks so inspiring and fresh and delicious. There has been a bit of brouhaha (or fooforah?) over her use of canned foods and prepackaged things; I think this is rediculous. Firstly, she explains that she does this because it saves time, secondly she stipulates that you use excellent quality canned stuff, thirdly, she does it so self-deprecatingly that you know she hasn't completely turned into some kind of person shilling for microwaved meals. Again, this book is so practical I could see myself using it every day of the week. I still haven't cooked anything from it though - I'm waiting till Tim gets back, whenever that may be.

Above: Sorry the photo of my mushroom risotto is a little psychedelic; I had to borrow Stephan's camera and for some reason the flash was very intense.

For dinner tonight I made myself Nigella's Restrained Mushroom Risotto from How To Eat. I had some button mushrooms from the market, some dried porcini and Knorr porcini stock cubes from my aunty Lynn, and some Porcini powder from the lovely Linda. A 'shroom extravaganza, you could say. I decided in the end to leave out the whole porcini, I thought it might be a little strong, and opted for a more mellow triple-shroom combo of buttons, stock, and powder. Indeed, this risotto would have been titularly restrained, healthful even, were it not for...the mountains of butter I kept stirring through it. I can't even blame this on Tim's absense, I am just pathologically drawn towards the stuff it would seem. The risotto tasted incredible though - definitely something I will make again. It was rich, creamy, and intensely flavoursome, and the porcini powder - although essentially glorified dust - gave it a genuine, woodsy kick.

I made a cake yesterday: The Damp Apple and Almond cake from Feast, which is presented as a pudding option for a Passover feast. There were no such celebrations at Casa Hadfield, but the cake was enjoyed all the same. It is gluten-free, incredibly moist, and very easy to make. Not a cheap cake - 8 eggs and 300g ground almonds - but as I'd bought a kilo of them from Moore Wilsons before Christmas (telling myself it was cheaper in the long run) I figured I was halfway there.

Above: Told you it was eggy...Wooden spoon courtesy of my younger brother who got me a bunch for Christmas - I can never have enough wooden spoons. Like I said, this is a very easy cake to make - all you do is cook some apples to mush, then the rest is light stirring. The mixture is very dense, as you could imagine with all those almonds.

Above: The cake was delicious, very grown up tasting and quite filling - it's not often you'll see me stopping at one slice.

In other news, Ange and I watched Rent the other day and...she loved it. I could not be happier with this turn of events, indeed it gives me hope that one day Tim will like it too. I also like this movie better than ever - some movies grow worse for repeat viewings but this one actually gets better every time.

12 January 2008

"I'm On Call, To Be There...I'll Come A Running"

I got back from the Kings of Leon concert about half an hour ago, and have just been chilling, even though it's around midnight now. I haven't posted for a while what with one thing and another, but hopefully I can soon get back into my "happy little rut," as Marge Simpson calls it, of cooking dinner and photographing it and subsequently writing about it.

I found out two days ago that Tim's uncle, a man that I liked a lot, had died unexpectedly. Tim and his entire family are foremost in my thoughts at all times. I won't say much more about that, but Tim couldn't go to the concert tonight and I couldn't go to be with him or be there for him, leaving me feeling a little muddled, helpless even. I don't know when he will be coming back here, which is obviously understandable, but it certainly changed my feelings about going to the Kings of Leon gig, it felt odd to be doing something so frivolous. But I went, and so did some of my flatmates, and the band were amazing - absolutely wonderful. The title for this post comes from one of their songs, by the way.

Ange, who used to live with us (and is therefore a card-carrying member of Team Hadfield) dragged me right up the front of the crowd, a place I am normally far too bashful and nervous to approach. I ended up getting an absolutely incredible view of the band, and was able to hold my own during all the pushing and shoving. Afterwards, our flatmate Stefan met up with his cousin, who was also at the gig. His cousin, the jammy dodger, had caught the guitar pick that the lead singer threw into the audience! And I got to touch it! Squeeeee! Seriously, I think the Kings of Leon do such fantastic music, all Southern and bluesy and brilliant (I refuse to say "whisky-soaked," that overused phrase.) If you don't like their music you barely deserve ears. But really - try it sometime. For newcomers, I recommend their first album Youth and Young Manhood.

Above: Because this is a food blog, I thought I oughta show you what I had for dinner. Yes, an entire bag of twisties. Well, they're comforting, in their own funny way. As I ate I was reminded of when I was younger and would tell myself that "when I grow up" I'm going to eat nothing but, say, cheezels and roast chicken and butterscotch sauce all day long. I have to admit, all the sodium and yellow food colouring made me feel a tiny bit odd in the stomach as I jumped up and down at the concert.

Above: The kindness of strangers reminds me that it is in fact an okay world, after all. The lovely Jilly, from the food forum I frequent, sent me the long-coveted Nigella Express all the way from Australia- simply because she had an extra copy. If that isn't the nicest thing you've ever heard...another act of kindness came from Linda from the same forum, who sent me some porcini powder 'just because.' Thankyou both ENORMOUSLY! I haven't read much of Nigella's new tome so I am very excited about getting into it at last.