29 February 2008

Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!

So Uni is more hardcore than anticipated. Despite having the word "beginner" in the title and being at first year level, my photography class is unbelievably, intimidatingly advanced. I thought I'd stumbled into the PhD masterclass by mistake. I'm terrified to mention that I just want to take nice snaps of casseroles and cupcakes, in case it isn't avant-garde enough. The teacher is, shall we say, a little unhumourous...but I shall persevere. For your sake!

Tim and I desperately need to do some groceries (damn you Kieran, for leaving us bereft of a car!) Which is why we end up having disjointed meals like this.

Above: From the top: breakfast sausages, brown lentils, salad leaves, and couscous with ras-el-hanout. (A muskily delicious spice mix, by the way.) I'm toying with this brown lentil recipe in my head, I can't decide if it is to be a kind of salad dressing or more hummous-leaning, either way it is amusing to annoy Tim by calling it "Lentil Paste." I'll let you know which way I eventually go.

Encore une fois! I made the Pasta with Beurre Rouge again and Tim wisely decided that in fact, it was a magically delicious dinner. I promise you, he conceded this without any pressure from me.

Last night Tim, Emma, Paul and I went to a pub quiz in town, and came first equal! We won a $100 bar tab. Which means we have to go back to that awful pub to spend it sometime. Still. $100! Team Hadfield for the win! We thoroughly trounced everyone else, which is quite a satisfying feeling, let me tell you. Sufficiently emboldened, we may try another pub quiz next week.

Above: Well, I clearly haven't learned any skills from my photog class yet. But don't judge these lush, buttery scones on their appearance. Please?

My mum and I used to love watching the Two Fat Ladies show when it screened in New Zealand. One thing we particularly lol'd over was when - I think it was Clarissa - was making soup, and she said helpfully to the camera that it was a "useful way to get rid of leftover Stilton." This seemed so amusingly extravagant to us. So as I made these scones, thankful that the recipe would require the rapidly aging Camembert that Tim's aunt and uncle gave us a while ago, I couldn't help but chuckle. And crave a wheel of cheese.

Peppered Camembert Scones

This recipe was first posted by Kerryanne on the food forum I frequent.
3 cups SR flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cracked black pepper (I used pink peppercorns. Recommend!)
100gms camembert,chopped
90g butter,melted,cooled.
1/2 cup milk + 1/2 cup water
Preheat oven 210 C. Sift flour into a large bowl. Stir in pepper and cheese.Make a well in the centre. Combine butter, 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup water.Pour into well. Using a knife,mix until just combined.Turn out onto lightly floured board. Knead gently until dough comes together. Divide into 8 portions. Roll each into a ball and flatten slightly.Place on greased trays,allow for spreading.Brush tops with a little milk. Using a small sharp knife make 3 slits in top of each damper (I forgot to add the slits, and they were okay) Bake 12-15 mins,or until golden and skewer comes out clean.

For tonight's dinner I tossed some pasta with a can of salmon, some capers (it's worth looking for the salt-packed ones, they are far superior to the brine-pickled capers,) a tin of tomatoes, and lemon juice.

Above: Also made with things from our cupboard, although a heck of a lot more cohesive than our last dinner.
Received a package in the mail from Mum today - a Hudson And Halls cookbook, from the late seventies - filled with delightfully camp (I know, it's all to easy to say camp around these two) musings and wonderfully conversational recipes. For those of you who don't know, Peter Hudson and David Halls had a TV cooking show in New Zealand in the seventies and eighties, and basically perked up the genre with their, well, perkiness. I anticipate perhaps making "Posh Soup" or mayhaps the "Super Duper Pancake..."

26 February 2008

Across The Universe-ity

No more Shakespearian quotes for a spell, as I am instead to consume myself with The Duchess of Malfi. And not avoid it to have Tetris Tournaments with Tim and Paul (I'm winning!) So far uni is going well, although my skirt blew over my head yesterday just as a bus was pulling into the campus and I couldn't for the life of me explain the concept of "number eight wire" during my media lecture...

Above: On Saturday night I made this quick pizza, using a scone-base recipe from Alison Holst's Dollars and Sense cookbook. This is a great stand-by recipe, very fast to make. I couldn't live from this cookbook alone but, well, someone could.

Quick Scone Dough Pizza Base

2 cups flour
2 t baking powder
1 T oil
1/2 cup (125mls) milk

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl, stir in oil and milk, and mix to form a dough. Roll out onto a greased tray, (this rolls out very easily), cover with your desired toppings (tomato paste and cheese in my case) and bake at 220 C for 15-20 minutes.

That night Tim and I got very drunk, and met up with Emma, her friend Scott, and Paul in town. Sunday morning, natch, was a complete write-off. By Sunday afternoon though, I was feeling up for something cultural and so trekked across the waterfront to see the Philharmonic Orchestra give a free performance of famous film scores (You know, Harry Potter, Psycho, that movie with swords in it, etc.) It was thoroughly enjoyable but after a while it started to rain heavily which brought things to a halt. And made for an awful walk home. Yeh I was wearing a skirt again. I think that's how the weather knows when to be rainy and windy.

Above: By the time Sunday evening rolled gently around, I wanted to eat something healthy, in order to pretend that it would erase the previous night's excesses (and okay, we had McDonalds for breakfast.) So I came up with this Thai Beef Salad. It's not entirely original, in that anyone probably could have thought of it, but I wanted to do something different with mince - use it in a more elegant way. This is basically mince, onion, capsicum, fish sauce, lemon juice and sesame oil, cooked together and tossed with some of those pre-packed salad leaves that make EVERYTHING look like you've made an effort.

Above: Pasta with Beurre Rouge. Last night, our vegetarian ex-flatmate Ange came round to watch Fame (which I finally found, for $10 at Real Groovy! Kapow!) and I cooked her some dinner as well. In a self-absorbed kinda way, the entire meal was based around my recipes - the Miso-Honey Roasted Parsnips, the Carrot and Zucchini Salad, and something new - Spaghetti with Beurre Rouge. Now it's not actually an authentic French dish, it's just something I had an idea for, (as I was about to fall asleep the other night), a kind of tomato-flavoured Beurre Blanc. Hence the name.

I reduced Vermouth with some garlic, simmered it with tomato passata, and whisked in some butter, pouring it over cooked pasta. Here's the flummoxing thing though. I absolutely LOVED it, thought it was the best thing I've ever come up with (I know I say this every time) while Tim just thought it was...nice.
Which totally confused me. Had I actually come up with something good? So I'm going to make it again tonight, just to make sure I wasn't imagining how great it was...or that Tim is completely demented. Ange loved it, which helped my bruised ego somewhat. I shouldn't stress too much, this thing happened the first time I made him listen to "Needle and The Damage Done," come to think of it...

22 February 2008

"Thus Goes Everyone To The World But I, And I Am Sunburned."

Since I resume my higher learning on Monday, I thought it only appropriate to begin with a Shakespearian quote. Having said that though, enrolling was a complete and utter mission. Tim is rather smug as he got fully enrolled on like, the first day, while I dithered about which classes I was going to do. Which meant that yesterday I had to run around the campus getting papers signed. And then I had to dash into a campus in town...and then back...up fifty million staircases and hilly inclines (I am barely exaggerating.) Words don't really do my 3-hour turmoil justice though. Instead, say it with doodles.

Above: The A-B line represents what the Uni enrollment office told me I would have to do. Go from A to B, get my paper signed, and get out. The line below represents what actually happened. Once I'd finished stumbling blindly about the hinterland, sweating madly in the midday sun and growing ever more panicked and horribly aged...I had just enough energy to make dinner.

And yes, I know, I should have been more organised, but the uni system really is dreadful.

Above: Tim arrived safely back from Napier...with a very burnt nose. I am extremely annoyed, especially as I see a lot of terrifying information at work about the effects of sunburn. I really like Tim's nose, (it is indeed a fine example of that particular facial organ) and don't want to see it being gouged off his face by melanoma. Off soapbox, but long story short - wear your sunscreen!

I was so hot and bothered after the day's exploits that I felt like eating something temperature-appropriate. So, I decided to make home-spun kebabs. Not like the pork satay ones I made the other night - as you can see in the below post - but the sort you might perhaps ill-advisedly consume after a night getting trolleyed. I can't exactly say this is an original idea - surely everyone knows that marinating lamb in yoghurt makes it deliciously tender - but it goes as follows. It is very simple - mostly a bit of chopping. Sobriety is probably recommended while making these.

Homemade Lamb Kebabs:

200g diced lamb
125mls thick plain yoghurt
1 T cumin seeds
1 t ground cinnamon
1 garlic clove, minced
- In a shallow container, mix the above ingredients, cover, and leave to marinate for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight (but I only did it for three hours because I got home so late and it still tasted fine!)

Place 1/3 cup burghal wheat in a bowl (I used this great organic stuff I got for Christmas) and cover with boiling water. Leave to sit while you get on with other things: grating carrot, dicing cucumber, chopping up tomato if you like.

Once the burghal wheat has absorbed the water, (drain off any if necessary), heat a non-stick pan. You don't want much yoghurt going into the pan, but I haven't figured out a good way to do this yet - I suppose you could wipe the meat on some Handy towel or something. Sear the lamb and let it cook through.

Now, assemble your kebab - lay a soft wrap/tortilla on a plate, spoon over a little burghal, some diced cucumber, some carrot, the meat, and finally spoon over some garlic yoghurt sauce, made by mixing 125mls thick plain yoghurt with plenty of chopped garlic and coriander. Wrap it up as you like, although I always find mine falls to pieces after a few bites anyway...This serves two, by the way. I go by 100g meat per person, the rest is fairly obvious. If you have some ground sumac handy, try adding a teaspoonful to the yoghurt sauce.

Above: I made this recipe from a Jill Dupleix book I got out of the public library. She calls it Double Happiness Beans, frankly...I don't know why. But they taste great and also I finally got to use some of that Black Bean Sauce that had been languishing on the shelf.

Above: This is another something I cooked up out of my head; I got Paul, Emma, and of course, Tim, to try it out. I told them to be harsh, critical, judgemental, but the feedback was surprisingly rapturous. Needless to say, I was super-happy about this. You be the judge, if you like:
Miso-Honey Roasted Parsnips (thought this one up just as I was drifting off to sleep the other night)
2-3 parsnips
2 teaspoons white miso paste
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Heat oven to 200 C. Chop the parsnips in half, and then chop each half into quarters. Place in a small roasting dish. Mix the following three ingredients in a small bowl and spoon over the parsnips. It will be quite a thick mixture, you will be smearing, more than drizzling. Roast for 30 minutes. To serve, shake over a couple of drops of sesame oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Finally - this really is the day for recipes, isn't it - the Cinnamon-Date Icecream. I would be seriously appreciative of anyone who tried to make this and gives me feedback, at least so I know it wasn't some crazy fluke that it worked in my kitchen.
Cinnamon-Date Icecream
150g dates
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
60g butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup water
500mls (2 cups) cream
1 tin sweetended condensed milk
Full cream milk (sorry about all the dairy by the way, but if it's any consolation dates are very cheap!)
Thoroughly chop the dates - a mezzaluna is very useful here - and check for any errant stones or woody bits. (Judging from flatmate feedback, woody bits in the teeth aren't really appreciated.)
Melt the butter in a pot, add the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and stir over a low heat.
Tip in the dates, and let them become covered in the caramelly butter. Pour in the water, stirring constantly till the dates soften. Add another 1/4 cup water if it needs more, and let it simmer for a bit, till a lumpily amalgamated sauce is formed. Don't worry - this won't take long.
Remove from the heat, and pour in the cream, stirring thoroughly, followed by the tin of condensed milk. Fill the now-empty tin with full cream milk, and tip into the pot. Finally add the second teaspoon of cinnamon, and stir everything to combine. Taste the mixture at this stage - if it needs more cinnamon, feel free. Pour this into a freezer-safe bowl, and, well, freeze. Stir occasionally if you want, during the freezing process. This ice cream melts very easily but more than makes up for this fact with its ridiculously good flavour. I hope...I guess I have talked this up a bit.
By the way, as I type, we are having a Back To The Future marathon...oh sweet Micheal J Fox! (Although I do have a soft spot for George McFly.)

20 February 2008

"Remember My Name!"

I had the most enormous craving to watch Fame tonight. I love this movie - how it starts off so great, gets really dark and twisted, and instead of offering the slightest inclination of resolving any of the subplots, it just ends with the main characters singing a song. A great song, admittedly - the soundtrack is fantastic. (Also, am I the only one who thinks that had Irene Cara been born ten or fifteen years later than she was, that she would have made a spectacular Mimi in Rent? Crossover appeal!) Furthermore, did you know that the guy who directed Fame also directed Pink Floyd The Wall? Tim is in Napier tonight, having a boy's weekend (even though it's only Wednesday) with Paul and a couple of his colleagues, watching the NZ/England cricket game. I had to work today and although I don't really enjoy cricket in the slightest I am a bit miffed to be missing out on the fun. Perfect time though, to be watching self-indulgent movies. So I thought. Could not find Fame for love nor money anywhere in Wellington. I didn't know it was that obscure... Eh, I guess I'll just watch Rent again, like I usually do.

Speaking of fame, I made up a recipe that I really think is The One. Nay, THE ONE. I don't like blowing my own trumpet (truly) but this really is something. It is - tentatively titled - Cinnamon-Date Ice Cream. I was going to call it Sticky Date Ice Cream but I thought it didn't convey the cinnamon aspect so well and also I didn't want it to seem like an icecream version of a pudding, you know? Anyway, as soon as I tasted a spoonful I said to Tim that if I ever get famous, it will be because of this recipe.

Above: Pity it doesn't look that great. It was nobody's fault really; the ice cream was too melty and I just ain't that great at taking photos.

Above: Even when I did that whole, "close up and dusted with cinnamon" thing it didn't really mesh. In fact...it kind of looks like hummous.
Nevermind - it tastes brilliant! Brilliant I say! Dense, fudgy, intensely caramelly and warm - somehow amongst the cold - with cinnamon. Really, ridiculously moreish. I meant it when I said that I'm not one to boast, but this really is pretty special. There are a whooooole lot of posts below where I don't talk myself up like this, if you are a new reader thinking I am some kind of egomaniacal, er, maniac. Honestly, I'm so amazed that I of all people managed to come up with something like this.

The recipe is still in its loose stages but I will write it up soon so you can try it (if you like - I'm pretty bashful about it, in spite of all the shameless self promotion.) I have bought myself a little red notebook to write my recipes in. Who knows what will happen if I get enough of them! "Remember my name...FAME!" Ahem, etc. At the very least, I'll have a collection of recipes that I made up.

Above: Well...you probably don't need to see another photo on here of roast veges, least of all beetroot (no cauliflower though!) but I liked the colours of this. I can't even remember which night we ate this, since I make roast beetroot so regularly.

Above: This is another recipe I made up (I need a more sophisticated term than made-up, I think...) I dubbed it Hearty Lentil and Chickpea Soup, since that's what was in it (y'all know I'm a fiend for lentils) and to be honest...I wasn't 100% taken with it. It sort of felt like it was missing something elusive.
Surprisingly though, Tim absolutely flipping loved it, so it might still be going in the notebook. I used red lentils - which I love for their ability to dissolve into mush - and canned chickpeas - along with a selection of vegetables and a can of tomatoes. It was nice, don't get me wrong, it just didn't make me want to jump on a couch a la Tom Cruise the way the ice cream above did. More garlic next time, I think...

Above: I went to the public library the other day, having quite forgotten what a treasure trove it is, and found Vatch's Street Food, written by the same guy (with one heck of a name that I can't even begin to spell off the top of my head) who did my Healthy Salads of Southeast Asia book. Judging from a quick read, the main difference that street food has over healthy salads is that everything is fried. And it's pretty seductive reading...Last night I made some pork satay, which was incredibly delicious. I looove satay sauce and this one, coconutty and tangy with tamarind, was amazing, and not the slightest bit throat-catchingly peanut buttery.

Uni starts next Monday so my Thoroughly Modern Millie phase comes to a close. I'm looking forward - yes - to learning, but I'm not looking forward to essays...First term papers are - Renaissance Lit, some media paper I'm doing to make up my major, and - get you this - beginner's digital photography class! Everyone wins!

15 February 2008

My Funny Valentine

Ah, Valentine's Day. The day where I say to Tim: "It's just a commercialised, Americanised cold-hearted event thought up by Hallmark in order to sell more cards" while inside I'm thinking "pleeease do something for me!!" I honestly don't want much. I meant what I said about it being commercial and tacky. Well Tim, bless him, completely exceeded expectations and not only got me a card but also got me (even though I told him not to) a beautiful bunch of flowers - delivered at work! So, for one of the few times in my life, I got to be that smug gal who walks home clutching a bouquet.

For my part, I made a rather nice dinner last night. Nothing too taxing - a free range bird, some potatoes roasted stickily in garlic, some frozen peas. But also the nicest thing to eat, to be honest - there is nothing so simple but also celebratory as a roast chicken.

Above: The only thing I love more than roast chicken is planning what I'm going to do with the leftover meat. Because chicken breasts are very expensive, having the cooked meat to toy with is rather thrilling.

Above: At the behest of Nigella's Feast, I chopped potatoes into cubes and roasted them with olive oil and garlic cloves. After a while I threw in some cauliflower, because you all know how I feel about this particular member of the brassic family. I must admit, every time I took the tray out of the oven to have a stir, I ate more and more of the sweet, sweet, crispy bits...we were rather lucky that there was anything left for dinner.

For dessert, however, I put in a bit more grunt. I had a concept, which didn't entirely materialise as I thought it might...but hey. It's the thought that counts on Valentine's Day, right?

Above: Admit it. If you took this photo yourself, you'd be quite proud. I don't think I'm too forward in thinking it would not look out of place on a much more chi chi food blog. Especially when you take into account the fact that I don't take particularly good photos in the first place. I like this so much that I'd better actually tell you what it is - Pomegranate Ice Cream. Monumentally easier to make than the name would suggest, you merely stir icing sugar in the juice of a couple of ruby-red pomegranates, add some cream, stir some more, and freeze. It tastes heavenly. Almost unfathomably good. And it comes out a very pretty, Valentine-y pink colour.

Look what happens when you stir it!

Above: Ooooooooh.

To augment this, I made some flourless chocolate brownies, (the recipe for this, along with the ice cream, can be found in Nigella Express) and the Barbados Cream from How To Eat. Barbados Cream is equal quantities of cream and Greek yoghurt stirred together briskly, with dark brown sugar sprinkled over, left in the fridge overnight. It tastes amazing - creamy and tangy and intensely caramelly.

Above: Pa-da! Yes, that is a heart made out of berries. To be frank this didn't turn out how I'd hoped, visually, I think I was yearning for some kind of Donna Hay style-presentation. Considering I don't like Donna Hay all that much I guess I shouldn't try and channel her, especially considering how generally cack-handed I am - it could only end badly. Luckily everything tasted good. According to the flatmates (the night wasn't toooo romantic) the brownies are amazing, which is always nice to hear about something you have baked. Everything tasted great together, even if it didn't look so pretty.

I have been making other stuff lately:

Above: I mentioned in my last post about how enamoured I am with my new yoghurt maker. I am LOVING having yoghurt around (like chicken breasts, and, well, everything, yoghurt is pretty expensive) and used some of it in this Greek Yoghurt Cake that I found in Jill Dupleix' New Food. It is a very easy to make, and bakes into a large, golden, fragrant cake. I was pleased with how the whole 'dust-icing-sugar-over-cut-out-shapes' went, but to be honest I was even more pleased with how good it tasted. I made this on Wednesday in order to herald Kieran's brief returning to Hadfield before he went back to work in Napier.

Above: I made this for dinner the other night. Burmese Salad from the Healthy Salads book, grilled potatoes with tumeric, steamed beet greens (or pinks as they ought rightly to be named), and meatballs flavoured with, inspired by a recipe in New Food, sake. It was pretty great, not to mention totally, smugly healthy.

Above: Our entire flat (which now includes my cousin Paul, hoorah!) got really quite drunk after pudding last night, which means that it was No Fun getting up for work this morning. However it is in complete sobriety that I wish you Happy Valentine's Day, dear readers (but I love you every day of the year!)

11 February 2008

Lentils, Rhubarb, Burghal Wheat and Humidity (Wait! Don't Run Off!)

Okay so the title isn't really selling it much but I'm too brain-weary to come up with a kicky pun.

Sorry to be a complete bore and talk about the weather and the rising price of dairy again, but good grief! Tim had to get up at 5am this morning to go to work at Coffee Bucks, and the sky was be-flashed with lightening and rain was bucketing down. By the time I went to work at noon, it was intensely humid. I mean, I was sweating like a mule carrying a barrel of tequila. So I figured it was safe to wear a dress. After work (where I embarrassingly stuffed up every single invoice I was supposed to enter - there's a Neil Young song that described my mood perfectly but as I like to keep things clean I won't tell you which one it is) there were gale force winds abound and everyone was looking at me disapprovingly for wearing so little clothing. I know, "four seasons in one day," etc, but really! What's a girl to wear? Get it together, Wellington!

We watched the report on Campbell Live tonight (bless his enthusiastic socks) and it is just unnacceptable (okay, I feel the pain more keenly than some about the lack of butter, but whatevs) that butter can be sold for upwards of $5. You practically need to take out an overdraft to make a bowl of macaroni cheese. A family was interviewed and they are driven to using margarine instead of butter because it's too expensive. Margarine? What is happening to my country!?

Rant over.

I've been experimenting, by the way. With lentils. And rhubarb. Now, I know there are a lot more potentially exciting things I could be experimenting with, but I am totally smitten with making up recipes.

Above: I didn't make this up. I wish I did though, it's so head-smackingly simple but also seriously delicious. It is basically pasta, baked with onion, garlic, tomato passata and cheese, and the recipe came from this great Medditeranian Vegetarian cookbook I got for Christmas. My mother is determined to keep me in pink peppercorns, so I thought I'd use some to mildly pungent effect sprinkled over the top, along with what's left of our dismal parsely plant. We had this for dinner the other night and I can see it becoming a regular fixture.

Above: Now this, I actually did invent and I am rather proud of it. It is a very simple salad and goes as follows:
Raw Zucchini and Carrot Salad (sorry, that's not a very enticing title)
-2 good sized carrots
-2 zucchinis of the same size

Wash, but do not peel the vegetables, and grate them. Yes, this is a pain, so you might want to employ the nearest child/friend/other half to do it for you.
Mix your orange and green shreds together in a large bowl. Pour over 1 teaspoon of basil oil, then stir thoroughly, and repeat. I only have basil oil because my parents gave me some, so if you don't have any I'm sure good olive oil and chopped basil will do. Finally, sprinkle over some good salt, stir, sprinkle over a little more and stir again. This is important, it sort of brings the flavours together (or gives it flavour in the first place, if you will.)
Not to talk myself up or anything but I personally find it very edible. I could just sit there and eat a whole bowl full.

Above: Despite Tim being all "when I was a kid we ate what we were given" he is kinda picky about mushrooms (and eggplant!) but Nigella's mushroom risotto was hoovered down without complaints when I made it for dinner the other night. (Okay, I've just made him sound like a whining vacuum cleaner when he's really so much more appealing than that...) 

Above: This festive burghal wheat salad is from Nigella's Feast and is part of a menu for a Mezze party (oh, how I long to throw a Mezze party now). Since I pretty much had all the ingredients I thought I'd give it a shot for last night's dinner. However Tim really wanted to go to this all-you-can-eat restaurant (I said I didn't want to because my head cold was being unpredictable and I didn't want to pay for a meal I couldn't taste) but it was with a sinking heart that I cooked this because I knew nothing could really live up to the imagined wonder of an all-you-can-eat. Which reminded me of that Simpsons episode - Lawyer: "Tell them what happened next, Marge." Marge: "We drove around looking for another all-you-can-eat restaurant." Lawyer: "Then what?" Marge: "We went fishing" (sobs) Lawyer: "Does this sound like the actions of a man who'd had all he could eat?"

Ahem, anyway, I used some dried cherries that I got from Santa, and substituted juicy pomegranite seeds for the pomegranite molasses, and walnuts/pinenuts for the pistachios but it was basically the same burghal wheat salad Nigella had in mind. It was also seriously good- fresh and not at all heavy but also somehow deeply flavoured too, and Tim was won over by the meatballs I made to go with.

Above: Well, this is definitely something I'll be making again. It is from Jill Dew-plee-icks' New Food (okay, her surname is Dupleix but NCEA Level 2 French isn't getting me any closer to figuring out how to pronounce it)

Cooked brown lentils (ooh, lentils!) are simmered with onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, and canned tomatoes till they form a richly textured earthy sauce, and natural yoghurt is stirred in before you pile the lot onto cooked pasta. It is SO good and I am disproportionately happy to find another good lentil recipe. Again, why didn't I think of this? By the way, the yoghurt was homemade- my aunty gave me her yoghurt maker and it is my New. Favourite. Toy.

Above: Rhubarb and Apple Crumble Tartlettes. Does that sound like something you'd want to make? I got the idea for these the other day and since I had all the necessary ingredients I had a go at trying to produce, in food form, the vision that was in my head (I know, I know, they aren't the bloody Sistine chapel, but this is pretty exciting for me.) And my idea actually worked! They are a triumph! Seriously, I finished making them this morning at 11.00am and by the time I got back to the flat from work at 5.30pm there were only two left. Once I figure out the minor details I can post the recipe here if you like. They are pretty easy to make, even easier if you don't make your own pastry like I did (I acknowledge the two schools of thought, one being "Life's more rewarding if you make your own pastry" the other being "Life's too short...") And crucially, they taste pretty fantastic. I think I'm drunk on my own power.

Yesterday was seriously humid as well, not the most pleasant weather to be at the Vege market but Tim and I trekked in all the same (eh, he does all the heavy lifting.) Tim went to work and Ange came over, and we watched Chicago. Do you know why? Because I realised that oh-so-smooth Taye Diggs (ie, Benny from Rent - and Mr Black from The Wild Party, if you want to go even further) is the anouncer/piano player guy. Yeah, we are boffins. He certainly makes a fine MC but it's a shame he didn't get to sing. Also it's scary how healthy and alive CZJ looks next to Renee Zellweger, who, all the same, does a stirling job - I can't even imagine Ashlee Simpson taking the role of Roxie in the West End - ugh! I'd forgotten what a good movie Chicago is, I think its strength lies in the fact that it is so darn SLICK. And John C. Reilly is pretty heartbreaking.
PS - I know I said I'd been experimenting with lentils, and it's true - I tried cooking up red lentils and using them in a muffin recipe. I decided to call them Lentil-Bran Patties (even though they were actually muffins, this title was mostly to annoy Tim- "But they AREN'T patties!") but they were remarkably good. A little stodgy, but...yeah, good, and of course, very, very healthy. Another thing to catch a cab back to the lab for...'cause I KNOW you're all gagging for the secret recipe to my Lentil-Bran Patties.

9 February 2008

Anarchy! Revolution, Justice, Screaming for Solution...(and Buttercream)

I realise, looking back, that the last post was bordering on being unbearably wordy, so kudos to you if you made it to the end without vowing never to return. As anyone who had received one of my emails from England knows, once I start typing about stuff I'm a bit excited about, I find it hard to stop.

In order to appease you, this post is largely made up of pictures. Soothing pictures. (Especially if there are any Generation-Y kids reading, I've seen how, bless you, growing up amongst all this technology has stunted your attention spans!) The reason for this is that the Auckland posts took ages to do but in the meantime, dinner kept happening and needs blogging about.

Before I launch into it though, I have news that is potentially exciting to me only! The Levin Performing Arts Society is putting on a production of Rent! Okay, it's not the damn Nederlander theatre in New York, but Levin is only an hour from Wellington and if it looks like it won't be entirely rubbish I kinda want to go. It's odd though, I've passed through Levin on the bus before and it doesn't look like the sort of place that would take on such a production. Shouldn't be all judgy though, as I know nothing about the company...I just hope the actors are decent. Because - Rent!! Opportunity!

Above: Nuts! When I was up home (for less than 24 hours, can you believe) I made Mum some more of Nigella's muesli from Feast, which she has taken a real shine to (mercifully, as I gave her some for Christmas. I don't think she's just being polite.) It is very plain, simple, and good breakfast fare: Rolled oats and raw nuts, toasted in the oven for a bit, stirred with sultanas and a spoonful of brown sugar. That's all. You could add whatever dried fruit or seeds you want. It may sound dull, but let me tell you, there is something quietly Zen about making one's own muesli.

Above: Don't you feel all warm and wholesome just looking at it?

Above: This may well look like baby food...which is what I suppose risotto is, in a way, baby food for grownups. What I mean, is that it is so mushy and comforting and formless that it is rather like...well I'm not entirely sure what I mean, I just don't want to insult any Italians that might be roving by. That is, if they aren't already offended by this dish's Anglo title of "Cheddar Cheese Risotto." Now I didn't actually have any proper cheddar to hand, so I used a pleasantly golden mixture of Emmental, Parmesan, and er...Edam. This came from Nigella Express and we ate it for dinner when we got back from Auckland. Despite some trepidation about whether normal cheese and risotto belonged together, it was seriously fab-o.

Above: While in Auckland, I got a cookbook from Borders by a guy called Vatcharin Bhumichitr, called Healthy Salads From Southeast Asia. It was, apparently, one of Nigella's top ten books of 1997 - is there indeed a higher recommendation? This book looks stunning, I want to make everything from it. But I started off with this bean salad. Very simple flavours of soy, lime, garlic - not the first things I'd think to pair with beans but simply delicious.

Above: This is a chicken salad from the same book, and let me tell you, this photo doesn't do it justice (do any of my photos, come to think on it...) This salad was soooo good, I was almost disappointed that I had to share it with Tim.

Above: For some reason, whenever I hear someone say "Ratatouille," I always want to say "Rata-three-ee" just to be facetious. Anyhow, I had the opportunity to do so when I cooked it for dinner the other night. Tomatoes, capsicums and zuchinni are cheap and plentiful, and after Auckland we really oughta eat some vegetables. So it all worked out rather nicely. I didn't use a recipe, just kind chopped and stirred and simmered stuff together with tomato passata.

Above: Okay, so there have been salads and the like but I know what people reeeally get excited about is the sweet stuff. It was Waitangi Day on Wednesday, and I don't know why that equated to butterfly cakes in my mind but that's what I really wanted to do with my time. I used the recipe from Nigella's How To Be A Domestic Goddess, it couldn't be easier. I also used these nifty silicone cupcake-holder thingies that I got for Christmas from my godparents, not only are they useful they also suited my colour scheme!

Above: Now, I'm not one of those girls who is all "Pink pink pink pink! Everything must be pink!" But you know as well as I do that it is the only colour right for the buttercream.

You don't know how hard it has been not to eat the entire lot in one sitting.

As well as that, I made up a cake recipe. That's right- I'm actually super excited about it, as I have massive admiration for people who just make recipes out of their heads. Now that I've started, I want to make more - it is rather intoxicatingly fun. Or weird, depending on how you look at it.

Above: As you can see, I had a pink icing thang going on that day. This cake doesn't as yet have a name, although I was inspired to ice it pink with walnuts by a description of a cake I read about in Anne of Avonlea (what is it with me and Canadian cakes? "What's your business in Canada" indeed!) Anyway, the working title is "Coffee Cinnamon Sour Cream Walnut Cake' although I concede that it is a schmeer cumbersome. I can't pretend that this is the only cake in the world with these flavourings, but I haven't seen one recently, and I didn't use any recipe books.

More importantly, the cake tastes gooood. I got Ange and Tim to give me harsh feedback, but they had nothing but praise. And good thing too, or it would be a bit of a waste of ingredients. Anyway, I might make it a few more times before I settle on the ur-recipe, but trust me: it's an exhilarating experience, making up a cake recipe. Do you know how finite and precise baking has to be? Do you realise how imprecise and unmathmatical I am?

Okay, so in the manner of Green Day in the Simpsons Movie - "We've been playing for three hours now, but we'd just like to take a minute of your time to talk about the environment!" They were booed, and eventually killed. Please hear me out though- it's a little serious and political, but to be fair, I am so rarely either of these things. For what it's worth (as it were):

The country village I grew up in - Otaua (always fun to spell out over the phone) - is being threatened by a company called Waste Petroleum Combustion. They want to put massive oil silos - for more than a million litres of oil - and start a treatment plant. Across the road from my parents' house. Next to a whole swag of farmland. A stone's throw from a school. I can't speak on this with too much authority, but as it would happen, we got on the national news show - you can read the story here - but I wanted to say something, to use my blog as a kind of platform. I realise that this will probably only reach a few foodies in Australia and England, and my mother, but then look what happened with the Rufus Wainwright video below. I have mentioned this here before on my blog (if nothing else, I got a really pleasing Rent analogy out of it) but it seems to be getting serious so I thought I might as well mention it again in order to make people aware. I'm not sure what we are going to do about it but my Dad is now the President of the Otaua Village Preservation Society ("We are the village green preservation society...") which is a promising start. If nothing else, we could try feeding the people of Waste Petroleum Combustion some pink butterfly cakes - if that can't win someone over, I'm not sure what could.

Damn the man!

7 February 2008

A Weekend In The City Part 2: Whereat we "...Have General Run of The Town."

Okay, so apart from seeing Rufus Wainwright and pestering local celebrities, we ate stuff...and apart from eating stuff we actually did things too.

I have a head cold at the moment (guess who I caught it off?) so I really just want to go to bed, but I have to get all this out otherwise it will take forever. You don't need me to tell you how sucky a blocked nose is...although it's funny, no one gets any sympathy for having the common cold because it's, well, common - yet once you get it, there is nothing quite like that awful trapped-in-your-own-head feeling you get when unable to breathe out your nose. And I have to eat standing up or my nose shuts off completely and I can't taste anything. It's not as bad as last time I had a cold...You know, that's probably about as much as you need to know about my nasal passages, so back to Auckland...

One thing Tim and I noticed about Auckland was that there were three trillion minimarts/convenience stores. They are EVERYWHERE, and I am only barely exaggerating about the amount of them. Tim and I tried to go into every one we saw, but we just couldn't do them all. Simply couldn't. I think if you gave yourself a week, and only went into minimarts, you might start to scratch the surface. From one of said minimarts we bought some bread and some expired peanut butter (only a dollar!) to have for our breakfasts. The kitchen at the hostel was really clean and spacious and well-appointed - we have seen some seriously grubby ones in our time, so this was quite a relief. And the "Free Food" box was bountiful to say the least - we got a bag of couscous and a whole pack of fettucine!

Above: There is no Wendy's outside the Auckland region. I'm not talking about Wendy's the icecream chain (I have no idea how two companies ended up with the same name in the same country, explanation anyone?), but the burger place with the really annoying guy on their ads. Annoying or not, their burgers are seriously good- the buns of which are rather magically delicious, I'm guessing because they are pumped full of sugar. Tim and I had dinner at Wendy's on Queen Street on Sunday night, before going to see the movie Juno. Which was very sweet, if a little talky. Apparently sales of hamburger phones have gone up 759% in America since this movie (the sassy protagonist owns one.) Frankly, I craved a rich, smooth orange tic-tac after seeing Micheal Cera's character chomp through them - I wouldn't be surprised if their stock begins to rise, too.

Above: I'm not sure whether or not Tim will appreciate me putting up this picture of him but I wanted to illustrate how enormous the Wendy's cups are, in a scratch your head, "Is that legal?"' kind of way. (Also there is a photo of me with the cup but I was having an unphotogenic, er, moment.) Look closely. That cup is about as big as Tim's head. It's more vessel than mere receptacle. I've seen spa pools smaller than that. Et Cetera.

On Monday morning we took a soujourn through town; stopping at Real Groovy which is indeed much groovier than the Wellington branch of this shop.

Above: It even proclaims its own grooviness with a big lit up sign! I have nothing bad to say about this place: Tim found a White Stripes single with heaps of live cuts, I found Leonard Cohen's I'm Your Man DVD for $15 (!!) I finally found the Rent OBC recording including its original booklet (!!!!), we got a CD from 1998 featuring a Rufus Wainwright radio interview and live performance, and they gave us a tour poster for free. Which we left in the airport terminal. But if we send them a self addressed envelope they'll send it back to us! In the end that free poster will be pretty expensive.
We visited the Aotea Centre, where I used to go to see a lot of ballets and shows. They have a giant feather and giant paua shell sculpture that I used to love looking for, so it was fun to see them again after so long. There was also a photography exhibition in honour of the Beijing Olympics downstairs, so we got some culture with our shmoozing. I have to say though, the place is looking a little...shabby. That eighties decor was pretty exciting to a six year old in 1992, but however many years later...at least vacuum the place.

The Art Gallery also featured on our itinerary, where there was a rather awesome portraits theme going in the free area. Some were gorgeous, some were thought provoking, some, (the ones by Yvonne Todd) were seriously sinister...There was a mini-exhibition of Tony Fromison, someone who I had never heard of, but who certainly made some great artwork (I hate talking about art, to be honest. What use are the words "interesting" and "good?" And as I have found out, writing Art History essays, there are only so many times you can get away with the word "juxtapostition...")

Above: We lunched at Wagamama... The only thing Auckland has in more abundance than minimarts is places to eat. It's daunting. It's downright mindboggling. How do they all get customers? How do people know which ones to go to? We had been wanting to go to Wagamama for a while, as we had gone there while in London and absolutely loved it. Of course when it comes to NZ it doesn't go to Wellington...anyway everything they do is crisp and fresh and flavoursome and fast. I had a ginger chicken noodle salad and Tim had something similar but with pork. It was so delicious, and a breeze gave us merciful respite from the often overpowering heat of the city.

Above: This is a metaphor for...actually it's just a photo of our rapidly emptied plates.

Tim and I played a lot of air-hockey during our stay in Auckland. Now, generally I hate those video game places, like Time Zone, because they are always so seedy. The only game I like to play is air hockey...incidentally the only computer game I like to play is Tetris. So after every big meal, Tim and I would hit the machine and play a couple of rounds (as if it was going to do us any good, although I did have a bit of a sore arm after playing.) Normally I'm not that bad, but I was just awful this weekend - half Tim's goals were scored by me.

We walked down to the waterfront in the afternoon, which took forever - Queen Street is pretty long - and passed many a Starbucks, occasionally dipping in to various shops we felt like browsing through. On the waterfront we paid a silly amount of money to go to -5, the bar that is...made of ice. You put on this puffy coat and gloves, and go in and get a cocktail. You have 25 minutes. It was pretty cool, get it? Seriously though, it was truly made of ice and had lots of ice sculptures - Ed Hillary, an eagle, a lion - all very awesome stuff. We paid another silly amount of money to have our photos taken within the shroud of ice, which I will have to scan and post here at some stage. It was definitely fun, although it might have been a bit more fun if the gal behind the counter hadn't been so surly. I realise it was 2.45 in the afternoon and we were her only customers but come on! We are your bread and butter!

It was hotter than ever when we got outside, thanks to the contrast in temperatures. We headed back to the hostel to relax but not before paying a visit to K Road's most overpriced op shops (admittedly, cheaper than Wellington's ones) where I heedlessly bought quite a few things - a glo-mesh handbag, a Sass and Bide top (nothing flash though) a shirt dress, and a silk scarf with horses on it.

And you all know what happened next...

I figured I might as well upload another video of Rufus. It would be a shame not to share this talent (which is such a pale word for what he has) with people who weren't there.

Disclaimer: Don't hate me for it, but my petulant voice takes up about five seconds of this video - I'm asking Tim to do his cool whistle (he grew up on a farm, and hey, he can whistle really loud.) Also you can hear Tim singing along sometimes. Hee. The lesson here is kids, never say anything you wouldn't want to have commited to video and put on the internet. (But really, his whistle is pretty impressive.)

Above: This is an excerpt of Rufus singing "California" - isn't he jaunty on the guitar!

On Tuesday morning we had a bit of time to burn before our flight, so we decided just to wander the streets lazily, with no agenda whatsoever. We went into Smith and Caughey's, which is (ha!) not as good as Kirkcaldie and Staines. I did, however, spend a good few minutes in their 'foodie' section, and bought myself some Savoiardi biscuits for making Tiramisu or something. The lady behind the counter called me "ma'am" about five times, I didn't know whether to feel grown up or haggard...

Above: I ended up buying two packs because they are rather hard to find and because the more I spend the more reckless I get, it seems.

We had lunch in the food court by Borders, and although my heart (and thighs) were saying "brown rice sushi, just over there" we ended up having enormous slices of pizza with wedges. I told myself it was like when Carrie and her friends on SATC would get similar huge pizza slices. I always feel like stuff you eat away from home "doesn't really count" anyway...Afterwards we had one last Air Hockey for the road, before getting our shuttle to the airport. Auckland feels so different to Wellington (not least because it was raining when we got back to the capital), it's hard to put my finger on what it is exactly.

Right, well I'm going to do my Ruby Gillis best to conquer this cold, before I am back again- as Jilly Cooper would say, I've drank so much herbal tea I'm going to turn into a bouquet garni.

5 February 2008

A Weekend In The City Part 1: "Can't Sleep In This City Of Neon And Chrome..."

Never mind the food. That's right, you heard me. Well, never mind the food for now, anyway... all photos by Tim.

Above: We were THIS close to La Rufus. It was almost unbearably wonderful.

Above: Zing! Went the strings of my heart, let me tell you!
You may have noticed I've been a little thin on the ground lately (one of the few times I could use the word thin to describe myself) - or you may not have, judging by the fact that my mother is the only person who has commented on my last post! Well, either way, Tim and I took a mini-break up to Auckland to see the fabulous Rufus Wainwright in concert. We paid the whistlingest of whistle-stop visits to Mum and Dad, before getting on a bus to the Big Smoke. I realise this may sound funny coming from someone based in the city themselves, the capital no less, but Auckland is a lot bigger that Wellington, and, unfortunately, it is where a lot more stuff happens.

If that wasn't enough - guess who we met (read: forced ourselves sweatily upon) at the gig...

Above: Pascal and Loretta from Outrageous Fortune! Now, you know we feel about this show. I must have plugged it, oh, a squillion times on this very blog. Our entire flat went into a decline when Series 3 ended. Tim and I bought the first two seasons on DVD when we really couldn't afford it, and then went on to watch the whole lot in one weekend, even though we really should have been doing other things. We even went and logged in to all those online NZ magazine polls so that Robyn Malcolm would have a better chance of winning. That's right, we are boffins, and so to those of you who haven't heard of Outrageous Fortune, this was kinda a Big Deal.
We were all, "Should we? Shouldn't we?" Until we settled on the fact that we'd never be cool anyway, so there was no need to be like all the other people milling round with their shields of ennui. So we went up to them, and said hi, and that we were enormous fans of the show and we were sorry to bother them but would they have a photo with us? Now, the above picture is admittedly pretty awful: Photographer Tim's face is chopped off, I really hope I don't look like that in real life, even Siobhan something-or-other and Antonia Prebble (they have names!) look kinda shiny, and on the whole the photo is haplessly bungled. But still: SQUEEEE!!!

I know I tend to gush over things, "exaggerate," some might say, (although I'm really not exaggerating! I just like a lot of stuff!) and I do use the word 'ridiculous' a lot... But Rufus was just bafflingly excellent, ridiculously talented, and completely charming. His voice is staggeringly beautiful. It soars. The concert felt really special, it was just him, a pianny and a guitar. Nothing else. He talked to us between songs in a surprisingly nasal Canadian accent - about how he always loved Kiri Te Kanawa..."but I hear she's a bitch! We grew up with her music...I loved to think of her practicing Strauss...on the beach..." and performed a haunting song from Brokeback Mountain, hinting at the added significance of this song but breaking the tension afterwards by saying "it was, of course, filmed in New Zealand...just kidding, ha!" And then he put on his guitar with a red-sequinned strap and said he was going to sing a song about America...not the one from the new album that everyone is expecting - "but it's still negative anyway, so don't worry! Here we go-" and launched into California, one of my favourite songs of his. One of my favourite songs of anyone, really.

He was supported by - speaking of Outrageous Fortune- Madeleine Sami and her two sisters, who are seriously lucky: as well as being completely gorgeous, having wonderful voices and a knack for writing kicky but bittersweet songs, they got to open for Rufus. Some people... but really, they were great, they didn't give themselves a name but they were light years better than most of the crap on the radio these days.

Above: This was the view out the window of our room...with a view...Did you know that K Road is seriously noisy? Distractingly so; Tim and I got to our hostel on Sunday afternoon - a Sunday - and at 12.30am there were still voices, cars, music, sirens...it kept us awake and made me realise how serene our little neck of the woods in Wellington is! But still it was kind of exciting, in a Spongebob Squarepants kind of way, to a country gal like me - I'm being kept awake by sirens and yelling...in Auckland...

I'll write about what else we got up to and what we ate tomorrow, I just couldn't hold all this in but I didn't want to subject you to the whole darn thing in one enormous post. As a parting shot though, here is a video that Tim took from last night. Don't, don't for goodness' sake judge Rufus' voice on the really pretty awful sound-recording capabilites of Tim's aging camera, he sounded clearer than the clearest bell could ever hope to sound. But isn't he good on the piano?

PS: I also found the Rent OBC soundtrack at Real Groovy on Queen Street...Result!!