30 April 2008

"I Had A Brain That Felt Like Pancake Batter..."


I couldn't think of a title for this post. Nothing seemed to work in my head. So, when in doubt, why not quote Jack White? He certainly describes how I currently feel, as you will find out later...Unfortunately I haven't actually cooked any pancakes. Goodness knows what I'll use for a title when I do...

This is my 100th post! How about that! Between this, and my six-month blog anniversary, and my birthday all occuring recently, I hope you don't think I'm one of those girls who bursts into passive-aggressive tears if my significant other doesn't buy me a diamond pendant to mark the three weeks that have passed since our first date.

Above: Picadillo, which ended up focussed backwardly. Depth of field, I do not haz it.

There's something about those cheerfully forced "midweek meals" that womens' magazines regularly publish that seem so, well, cheerfully forced. In my line of work I am exposed to a lot of womens' mags and though I keep a keen eye out, it has been a long time since I've been inspired by any of the recipes. They never quite get it sounding right, what with their Thai Pumpkin and Couscous Bake and Sausage Chow Mein with 2-Minute Noodles. I mean, everyone needs those midweek meals, including me, it's just the ones I see seem to be so...colourless. Although I cook dinner at every possible opportunity (sometimes even at lunch) this week has felt particularly practical and magazine-y. Monday: Picadillo, a Cuban mince dish (done in the slow cooker!). Tuesday: Salmon burgers, even the kids will like them! Wednesday - Spaghetti Puttanesca... which Jill Dupleix coyly describes as pasta for "working girls." I like to think of it (rather gleefully I'll admit, but how often do you get a name like this) in its more literal sense - Whores' Pasta. Suddenly things aren't looking so dull after all...In fact happily everything has tasted great so far.

On Monday night, spurred on by a recipe on the Tea and Wheaten Bread blog, which in turn was using a recipe from Culinary Travels of A Kitchen Goddess, I chose to make Picadillo. It looked easy to make, very cheap, and a bit out of the ordinary. Even though it has risen so alarmingly in price that it's not much of a cliched student ingredient anymore, mince would still be what Tim and I eat most of from the meat family. And it is difficult to find new twists on it. So when I saw that this had olives, raisins, and lots of spices in it, not to mention that I could bung it in the Crock Pot and forget about it, I had to try it...unfortunately I forgot to put the raisins in. I always forget one crucial thing it seems, even when the recipe is right in front of me. But it still tasted great. To be honest I didn't initially think there was much point in doing something like mince in a slow cooker - it's not like it's going to get any more tender - but it definitely seemed to enhance the deep, mellow flavour. I'll be making this again for sure this Winter, and hopefully will remember the raisins next time (well, I'd substitute sultanas. I know they're practically the same thing, but I can't stand raisins. Maybe I subconsiously left them out on purpose.)

On Tuesday night I decided that I (rather desperately) needed some brainfood, so attempted to make salmon burgers. Because I was in overachiever mode, I made the buns as well, using a laughably easy recipe from Nigella's Feast, that I have made so many times I know it off by heart. Well at least I hope I do. It is rather late at night that I'm typing this...

Above: the background necessarily blurred because I have carny hands, "neither beautiful nor practical." Hopefully it looks a bit upmarket on top of that.

Nigella's Buns (*titter*)

  • 500g high-grade/bread flour
  • 1 sachet yeast (the sachets come in little cardboard boxes, I can't deal with any other sort)
  • 375mls milk
  • 25g butter
  • 2t sugar

Place the flour, yeast and sugar in a large bowl. If you use a large enough bowl, you don't even need to get your bench dirty as you can just knead the dough inside it. Well, it works for me...Warm the milk and butter in a small saucepan till the butter has melted and the milk is tepid. You don't want it too cool, but neither should it be anywhere in the neighbourhood of 'hot.' Tip this into the flour, and using one hand (I find it handy - ha! - to just use one) knead this mixture till smooth, cohesive, and elastic. For some reason this mixture comes together remarkably fast. Once it's looking good, tip the mound of dough onto a plate, and grease the bowl it was in. Put the dough back in the bowl, turning so that all sides get a little shiny, then cover tightly with gladwrap and leave in a warmish place for an hour or so.

In an hour's time, punch the now spookily-puffy dough (satisfying!) and then shape into buns. Nigella recommends quite small ones, (these are dinner-roll type thingummies) but because I was using them for burgers I made mine bigger, and therefore got less out of the mix. Now, leave them to sit on a tray, covered with a teatowel, for about 20 minutes. You might as well turn your oven to 200 C and sit the tray on top so as the residual warmth helps them to rise even more. Finally, brush with a beaten egg or melted butter (guess which I plumped for, as it were) and bake for 15-20 minutes. Actual timing is a bit vague, it's dependant on size of bun and type of oven, but reckon on something like that. These babies smell incredible, and though they don't have the staying power of shop-bought stuff, can be recussitated the next day in the microwave.

Above: You're supposed to tap them on the underside to see if they sound hollow, therefore cooked- but fresh-baked bread is one of the hottest things known to man. Use oven mitts, please...don't go down the same sorry path I did (on the upside, should I choose to commit a heinous crime, the police can't fingerprint me!)

Above: Breakage.

While all this was happening, I set about making my Krabby Patties, using a tin of salmon, some bran (hey, why not? You can't even taste it but it's doing you good) an egg, two grated, parboiled potatoes, and a few spoonfuls of Za'atar. I think the lack of flour was what made them a pain to cook - you had to be insanely delicate with the spatula or they'd break. I had two casualties, and four proper ones. Not too bad. You could quite easily have one patty per bun, but I am a greedy, greedy person so Tim and I had two each.

Above: Ooh they were good. The combination of tender, still-warm buns and slightly crunchy salmon was awesome. Worth the effort, I assure you.

Finally, my pasta a la doxy. This came from Jill Dupleix' Lighten Up and was a very easy (ha!) meal. You barely have to think while making it. Unfortunately I didn't have any anchovies to hand, (couldn't justify spending $4 on a tiny tin of them, yes, I know they're good) so I just pretended that I was vegetarian for the moment and meant for it to happen that way. I also used pitted black olives, which I know are basically the devil's snack as far as food purists go, but again, they were much, much, much cheaper than the lovely real thing, and I figured that by roughly squashing them they might look more like something Jamie Oliver would approve of.

Above: Unfortunately this was the best shot I could get, the lens kept steaming up and none of my twirly-fork tricks were working and anyhow pasta seems to get cold and claggy very fast, so I just snapped and served it. Tasted much nicer than the photo looks though. I love how the olives and capers provide an addictive saltiness that is so much more complex than just salt itself.

I am not good at many things - mathmatics, tidiness, committing to a healthy eating and excercise plan - but I am very, very good at Tetris. To paraphrase Stacey from The Baby Sitters Club, it's true, I'm not being conceited! One of my many addictions is online tetris - if you feel like immersing yourself into this heady underworld, go to freetetris.org- and nearly everyone in the flat is quite into it. Basically it is fairly cruisy until level 9, where it gets a lot quicker, and by level 10 it is quicker again. Everyone was amazed when I got to Level 19 while they were floundering round 8. Now most of the flatmates can make it to about 14, but then on Monday night I managed to get to...Level 31. We didn't even know it existed. It was insane. And then guess what happened on Tuesday night. I said to Tim, "If I get a score of quarter of a million will you watch Rent with me?" He said only if I got half a million.

Above: The only way this could have been more triumphant was if I'd managed to get a score of 525,600. Don't worry, I won't force the poor lad to watch the movie again...but there is that production opening in Palmerston North soon...
I apologise if this post has been a little lacking in my usual lustre, but with all these essays and photos bearing down on my head like the sword of Damocles I'm feeling pretty weary. (*googles sword of Damocles* - okay it's not really a pertinent simile.) I got some not-very-good results back today on a test I did in Photography about aperture and stuff - apparently the test was "too easy" and anyone who got under 75% was very disappointing. I got 65% and felt those disapproval rays loud and clear! Seriously though, there are so many numbers involved in digital photography, and that sort of thing makes my head swim. However I have had some fun taking photos for my current assignment. If I get a decent mark I'll upload a couple for your viewing pleasure, if I don't, I'll just go to sleep until next semester. By the way, to those of you who have noticed out loud my improved photography skillz - mostly due to Picassa and my nifty wee tripod - thank you, it means a lot that you comment on it :)
And finally, because I like to talk about the weather even though no-one cares about it, by gum it is rainy here in Wellington. I'm talking get yer ark pronto.

28 April 2008

Visions of Sugarplums...


It's this time of year -though not exclusively of course - that my thoughts turn to baking, and I have this incredibly strong desire to bake something sugary and smear it thickly with buttercream, preferably tinged mint green or pink, even though I don't even like pink that much...

I mean I do feel like this on a fairly regular basis, but rightaboutnow my proclivity is particularly insistent. What time of year is it exactly? Essay time. And it'll happen again in the midway point of next semester. I have a sqillion lengthy essays to complete in rapid succession, plus a 6-part photo assignment and a 15% test on Photoshop (which is still completely over my head). Instead of being able to concentrate on "The Mediated Nation" and "The Public Sphere" and so on, I keep thinking about baking. With the feijoa cake and Anzac biscuits but a distant memory now, (I know, it was three days ago, aren't I petulant!) it feels like forever since I whipped up a fluffy batch of cupcakes or made a layered sponge, or drizzled white chocolate over something. Gahh!

Above: It's lucky I enjoy cooking dinner so much. Tim and I are trying to cut back on our spending, another reason I can't bake too much, though it's difficult when food is my main vice and it grows ever more expensive by the day. I mean, I always cook with economy in mind, but I like the finer things in life as far as food is concerned, too. Although they don't soothe my desire for buttercream, lentils are definitely pleasing to the soul - and cheap.
There aren't many foods left that are this delightfully inexpensive. I love filling my snaplock bag to the brim with red lentils at the bulk food section of the supermarket, only to have the weighing machine eject a price sticker that says something like $0.86.

Because we ate so much junk over the last couple of days - I ate a large bag of twisties on the train to Levin, had KFC for dinner while there (and mighty fine it was), and fish and chips for Friday night's dinner - I was pretty desperate for the presence of some vitamins and minerals at our next possible meal. So on Saturday night I made a lentil curry, which is basically my not-quite-fully-formed lentil soup recipe but with less water. Thick with tomatoes, spicy with cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, garlic, and of course, lentils, I'm not sure how authentic it was (notice I didn't call it dhal) but as Nigella says, it was "authentically good." I'm afraid that even though I covered it hopefully in coriander, the photo of the finished product was so awful that I elected not to show it here. Much as I love them, cooked lentils aren't terribly photogenic and it would take greater skillz than mine to make them so...

Above: The very sight of this dish practically erased any remnant traces of KFC from my system with its chlorophyll-green symphony of...okay I'm getting carried away, but it is healthy and vibrant looking, and if healthy food looks good then that's half the hard work done. Of course, it has to taste fabulous, which this certainly does. I came by this recipe via Healthy Salads From Southeast Asia by Vatcharin Bhumichitr, a book I love, every time I read it I want to make something. And, it was only $11 from Borders on a table with all those other authorless, soulless, step-by-step cookbooks! Kapow!

Green Salad with Coconut and Mint Dressing

100g mange tout, topped, tailed, halved
100g French beans, trimmed and halved
1 small cucumber, halved lengthwise, deseeded, and diced
100g Chinese cabbage, roughly shredded
100g broccoli, cut into small florets.

I should point out here that what I used was a mixture of frozen beans, frozen peas, cucumber, broccoli and regular cabbage. Still kosher, I'd like to think.

Bring a pan of water to the boil and one by one blanch each vegetable - yes, even the cucumber - for about 4 minutes, refreshing in cold water and draining well. Place vegetables in a large bowl and set aside.

For the dressing: Heat 2 T vegetable oil in a pan and fry 1 clove of garlic, crushed, until golden brown. Add 2 small green chillies, finely chopped, 2 t sugar, 3 T coconut milk, 1 T fish sauce, and a few tablespoons of water, and stir well. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 T lime juice and 1 T finely chopped mint. Pour this over the vegetables and stir well. Delish.

I should also point out that because neither Tim nor I are 'ard enough, I reduced the chilli component considerably. Feel free to do so yourself.

Above: I finally made my first recipe from my new Jill Dupleix book, Lighten Up, in the form of her Cauliflower and Barley Risotto. Barley, like lentils, is stupidly cheap, very good for you, and not terribly sexy. However according to Nigella in How To Eat, a risotto made with barley is called an orzotto, and I have to say, giving it an Italian name makes it much more alluring. The recipe was straightforward enough - sauteed onions, carrots, and cauliflower stems, then barley, white wine, cauliflower, stock...simmer...serve. I roasted the cauliflower itself first, because I am pathologically incapable of walking past a floret without shoving it in the oven. I think should I make this again - and I will, it was delicious - I'll stick with this method.

Above: Surprisingly creamy and delicious, and very 'comfort food' in nature. I didn't have any walnuts, as the recipe specified, so I scattered over pumpkin seeds and flaked almonds instead.
We really cannot afford to spend too much on food, but frankly we don't have any space either. If our kitchen is practically a cupboard in its own right, can you imagine the size of the cupboards within said kitchen? Luckily lentils tend to have a high turnover so I don't worry about buying them in large amounts...
So, though I long to take a week off to bake lamingtons or purple cupcakes or who knows what, I have to force my sluggish brain to stay focused on the Venture Tripartite and Banal Nationalism. Don't get me wrong, I love university, and learning, and the Venture Tripartite truly are an incredibly charming lot, but I'd like to meet the person who could muster enthusiasm for writing essays...
PS - not that I'm garnering for praise here - ah heck, I always am to be honest- but I finally did something about my dreary header and uploaded a photo I took in our kitchen and tinkered about with on Picassa. You like?
PSS - Tomorrow marks 12 years since Rent first moved to Broadway at the Nederlander theatre. If this is significant to anyone here other than me, I'd love to know, and if it's not...did you know that it won a Pulitzer Prize? Thank you, Jonathan Larson...

25 April 2008

A Sentimental Journey...


For those of you lurching on tenterhooks (I know you're out there...right?) you can breathe a sweet, sweet sigh of relief. Tim and I went to Levin, got back safely, and the show was excellent- well worth the enormous effort it took to get there. I can't tell you how exciting it was to finally see Rent on stage - truly, I can't express it. Some blogger I am. Unbelievably, this performance has no review (at least online) so I shall offer my own thoughts on it - at the end of this post. It's very long, it's repetitive (there are only so many adjectives for "nice") and it's only my opinion, but for what it's worth, keep reading. For those of you who are sick of my fangirl dribblings, you can just read the foodie bits that follow tout de suite.

Above: Today is ANZAC day in New Zealand and Australia, which commemmorates the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought in WWI. I won't give you a massive rundown of what it is about, as I'll just be pasting large chunks from Wikipedia, but it is quite a special day for New Zealand. In 2005 I spent some time exploring the battlefields of Northern France and Belgium, and I was struck with the rows upon rows of white crosses or gravestones everywhere we went. There were enormous memorials enscribed with unfathomable lists of names of the fallen soldiers. Not only was it sobering, it was chilling, horrifying even - what on earth is worth that much loss? And of course, it didn't stop at WWI...

We left Levin at 5.30am today, and once I got back to the flat (after leaving Tim at Starbucks to start work) and fortified myself with a cup of tea, I decided to make ANZAC biscuits. Oaty, golden syrupy, and chewy with tradition, these biscuits have been made for generations in New Zealand but were first shipped out to the troops in battle by caring mothers because they were economical and travelled well. I used a recipe of the redoubtable, late aunt-of-the-nation Aunt Daisy's, bolstered by comparisons with Alison Holst's (because I was too lazy to translate from old fashioned ounces and such into metric.)

ANZAC Biscuits

100g butter
2 T golden syrup
1 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup dessicated coconut
1 t baking soda, dissolved in 1 T boiling water.

Melt the butter and golden syrup gently together. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir carefully till it coheres. Roll into balls and place onto baking paper lined trays, allowing for some spreading. Bake at 170 C for 10-15 minutes. I got two trays out of this, there would have been more but I have to admit I did eat an awful lot of the mixture. It's pretty seductive in its oaty way...

Above: Now for something completely different: pasta salad. From the same Meditteranean Vegetarian cookbook as the baked tomato pasta, and entirely addictive, in spite of - perhaps because of - the unorthodox (well, to me) inclusion of chopped dates in the recipe. I didn't have all the ingredients but I did have dates, so I improvised on the rest and this is what I came up with.

Meditteranean Pasta Salad

250g penne or short pasta
3 T pine nuts
2 T pumpkin seeds
2 T salt-packed capers, rinsed
1 red capsicum, diced finely
1/3 cup dates (I didn't really measure this, just grabbed a small handful) chopped
2 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta till tender. While this is happening, dry-fry the nuts and seeds carefully in a pan till browned and waftingly fragrant. Drain the pasta and run cold water over it. Toss with all the other ingredients, and blanket with chopped mint and parsely. I couldn't get this effect because I only have a few valiant shoots of each respective herb, but I think it would be good with more, frankly. Also more nuts wouldn't go amiss - the recipe in the book recommends pecans, which I think would be delish. This serves two generously, but simply increase proportions to feed more.

Above: I was going to make some rice paper rolls using a recipe from my new Jill Dupleix book, but I had almost none of the required ingredients (apart from, of course, rice paper sheets themselves.) So I kinda improvised with carrot, cucumber and grapefruit. The grapefruit was a schmeer bitter for my liking, but once they had been liberally doused in dipping sauce (fish sauce, lemon juice, palm sugar, sesame oil, maybe something else, it was a couple of days ago now) they tasted lovely, fresh and healthy. Which I've learned can be a good thing...

Above: Our giant bag of feijoas from Hawkes Bay was starting to get all bruisy and soft so, after checking out Linda's blog, I swiped her recipe for Chocolate Feijoa Cake. If you have a glut of this marvelous fruit, by all means see the recipe on her page.

This cake has an intriguing flavour, and the chocolate really complements the feijoas, the inclusion of which keeps everything dense and moist. I can imagine this being really, really good with vanilla ice cream...

Tonight's dinner - fish and chips from the new chippy down the road. Tim's reward for going to see Rent. Well, not "reward" as such, he's not four years old (thank goodness) but an incentive to make nice, anyway - we never get take-out (not because I'm a miser, but because I get really grumpy if my dinner-cooking duties are usurped.)

Which leads us into - my thoughts on last night's show, put on by the Levin Performing Arts Society. Anyone truly not interested, this is your cue to exit (perhaps stopping by the comments box to spit irately "I thought this was a food blog!") First of all I'd like to point out that Tim did enjoy himself, and not only did he concede that the character of Collins gets to sing "wicked" parts, he even mooed during "Over The Moon"! (the audience is supposed to moo, so this was a good sign, O uninitiated ones.) However when asked today what he thought of it, he only cagily said that it was "exponentially beneficial" to his wellbeing. Hmph. I think he enjoyed it more than he'd like to admit.

The Levin Performing Arts Centre is seriously charming - instead of being in cold rows of fold-down seats, we were sat at tables, cafe-style. Tim and I had a table for two near the front, and there was quite a decent crowd, you know, for a Thursday night showing of Rent in Levin. Tim and I admired their dedication- there were "eviction" notices plastered on the walls, along with "Roger Davis at CBGBs" posters everywhere. Someone obviously knew what they were doing. All the front-of-house people were very friendly and welcoming, and the wine and beer was laughably cheap.

They began the musical with "Seasons of Love," as the film version does, which is quite a good idea in my opinion - it is such a wonderful song, everyone is on stage and it sets up various themes, as well as making you think "holy heck this is going to be amazing if the rest of the musical is anything like this song." The ensemble sounded incredible together - really beautifully harmonised, with excellent soloists. Seriously, my heart did a big damned flutter at hearing and seeing this song live.

The characters: Thank goodness, nobody was balding.

Mark Cohen: Nick O'Brien did a great job of evoking Mark and his awkwardness. He had a decent voice (though I'm hardly in a position to judge) and was likable but not smarmy - there's nothing worse than a smarmy Mark (I'm looking at you, Joey Fatone! Don't ask me how that got past the powers that be.) According to the programme it was his first time on stage - what a debut! My only real gripe - and it is a picky one - I think they could have got a better scarf for him. There, I said it. I didn't like his scarf.

Roger: Well with his throaty, Jon Bon Jovi-esque voice, (and I hope I'm not insulting him with the comparison) it's clear how Aaron James Henry got the role of Roger. Although he didn't seem to hit all the notes he looked great and played the part with real depth. He was highly impressive in the more emotional songs (which seem to be everything that Roger is in come to think of it!) I was impressed with his guitar playing, too, but then I have two left hands...

Mimi: Sera Devcich performed this role with aplomb, and had a wonderfully sweet voice which contrasted well with Roger's more gritty one. I personally think that "Out Tonight" could have benefited from using more of the original stage choreography, at times it seemed like what she was singing about and what she was doing were heading in two different directions...She definitely had energy though, and in slower songs like "Without You" her voice really shone and the fragility of the character came through.

Collins: Tim and I both agreed that Jordan Hudson was a really, really good Collins. He was likeable, which is important, and he had a fantastic voice. Great chemistry with Angel - with everyone in fact, and of course I am always impressed by that pole-twirly move in "Santa Fe." In "I'll Cover You" (the reprise) - he was amazing - seriously moving.

Angel: Obviously a challenging role - to be a believable drag queen - but Cliff Thompson was not only charming and hilarious, he could sing beautifully, too, and made the character more than just a camp characature. As soon as "You Okay Honey?" began I was relieved that they had cast someone that was going to do the part well. He was also very impressive in "Contact" although I was intrigued as to why everyone else had a backing track...

Maureen: As soon as Darlene Mohekey began singing "Over The Moon," I was like, well of course people will moo. She's brilliant! Seriously, the girl has got lungs. Anyone doing a role of Idina Menzel's has enormous shoes to fill, but she was fantastic, seemed to be having heaps of fun, and "Take Me Or Leave Me" with Joanne was dynamite...Lucky Levin to have her on their team.

Joanne: Fleur Cameron played Joanne and boy does she have a gorgeous voice. Her solo in "Seasons of Love" was just...okay I'm running outta adjectives but you know, it sounded really good. She was fun in numbers like "Tango:Maureen" and "We're Okay" but also did wonderfully in emotional songs like "I'll Cover You" (Reprise).

Benny: Mark Peni as Benjamin Coffin III looked fantastic - all smooth and imposing in his trenchcoat - but didn't seem to have the strongest voice. He did a very convincing job as Benny though, providing a polished and composed contrast to the rest of the characters. I thought he was particularly good in "Happy New Year B," which has pretty wordy lyrics, he carried it off well and it didn't lose any impact.

The rest of the company were excellent, always staying in character, clearly enjoying themselves, and filling the minor roles brilliantly. Considering how small Levin is, there is a heck of a lot of talent in this company. Everyone seemed to be having a great time on stage and looked to have researched their roles. The set was effective - I liked the use of shadows for the phone messages and the moving staircases - and the whole shebang was seriously impressive.

There only things I think they could consider improving - bit late now that it's nearly finished its run - I thought that though the chorus looked great in their coats and hats, but once they were in "La Vie Boheme" there could have been some more effort with the costumes to make them look a bit more Late 80s New York Boho (or whatever...just not halter tops and white skate shoes, you know?) It was fantastic to see "Christmas Bells" on stage - it's such an amazing song, full of syncopated and contrapuntal singing and while it was good it got a bit muddied towards the end which was disappointing. The programme definitely needed a detailed synopsis - the story can be confusing and not everyone is as sweatily obsessed as I am.

My real beef is - they killed off Mimi at the end! She's supposed to live! I was so surprised I nearly fell off my chair! I mean, if you went to see Romeo and Juliet and they both lived at the end, what would you think? Now the whole (non Renthead) audience will think that this is the actual story. I'd like to know their reasons for this decision...

Clearly it was a very momentous night for me and the Levin Performing Arts Society did a seriously brilliant job. But oh, how jealous I am of those lucky people who got to see it first time round with the original Broadway cast... Finally, I can wholeheartedly recommend the lovely, friendly Totara Lodge Motel if you ever find yourself needing accommodation in Levin (hey, it happened to me!)

23 April 2008

"Today For You, Tomorrow For Me"


Oh good grief. Why is it that whenever I get to that point in a particular scheme where I can't back out, things just get more and more difficult?

You may, if you have eyes, have read in previous posts about Rent coming to Levin (or really Levin coming to Rent, it is their local performing arts group doing it.) Well, I booked tickets for Tim and I for tomorrow night. Well it's Rent, I have to go.

It is times like this that a car would be useful (indeed, a driver's liscence at all.) Tim has work at 7am on Friday (I know, it's ANZAC day, way to honour the fallen with frappucinos, Starbucks), and there are no late trains or busses out of Levin on a Thursday night. The Friday night show isn't an option as Tim has work at 6am the next day, and we have no way of getting to the Saturday night one. We are going to get the commuter train to Levin after I finish work tomorrow, but after the show we have six or so hours to kill until our 5.30am bus back to Wellington. Unfortunately their McDonalds isn't open 24 hours on a Thursday and I don't fancy living on the streets for the night so...we have had to book ourselves $90 worth of motel accomodation (the cheapest we could find! There are no hostels!) from after the show till 5.00am.

So, I really, really hope the show is good.

What if the audience is tiny? What if the performers have no chemistry? What if they have an unconvincing Angel? What if nobody starts to moo during Over The Moon?

As you can see I am very nervous about the whole operation especially since I am going to end up spending a week's pay on it (And Tim's only there under the "you have to be nice for my birthday" clause.)

On a more culinary note, I have been tagged again! This time by super-blogger Amy, who wants me to post ten of my favourite food photos that I have taken. This is quite good actually because I am far too frazzled to upload the photos of what I made for dinner tonight. Funnily enough, not many come from the fledgeling, badly-lit days of my blog, but if you feel like a chuckle then peruse the archives by all means.

Above: This is actually one of my earlier shots, from October in fact. I made the incredible Rhubarb Vanilla Mincemeat from Nigella's Feast, and thought a close-up shot would look rather nifty. It kinda does, right? Click *here* to see the link to the original post, and how it all turned out.

Above: This is a vegetable stew - Tunisian if I remember correctly? - again from Feast. Nigella fully opened me up to the magical world of vegetable stews, which are far more delicious than the stringy name would indicate. I made this dish for a family birthday party when Tim and I flew up home for the Muse concert. The light at home seems so much nicer than in the flat. I suspect the fact that our flat is wedged halfway down a valley with a thousand other flats squidged around it might play a part... Click *here* for the original post.

Above: One from our new camera, this home-made Creme Fraiche picture was taken recently (you could scroll down if you like but I'll give you the link anyway!) This photo is quite important to me as it's the only photo I've managed to get onto Tastespotting, and it ended up being one of the top 25 most popular photos of the week! You would not believe how flipping excited I was about this - well, maybe you would.

Above: This is another one taken with our new camera. I made the Chocolate Guinness Cake from Feast, which has become one of the more popular cakes in the flat. What can I say, it's an amazing recipe. I liked the light and the colouring in this photo - plus photos of cakes and desserts are always more popular, aren't they!

Above: This photo is from the Christmas Feast I cooked for the flat last December, and do click *here* for the original post, I'd be most obliged if you'd read about how it unfolded. Because flatmate Emma is celiac, I tried my best to keep the whole meal gluten free but I couldn't get around Rugelach (again from Feast) which I had been longing to make. Consisting of varying proportions of butter, dough, chocolate and brown sugar, it's no wonder I loved them. This photo isn't very well lit but I like the composition and I like that it reminds me of that fun time.

That's not anywhere near ten photos but it's all I (and possibly you, dearest reader), have the energy for right now. Isn't it funny that four of the photos are from Feast? (ooh, try saying that quickly.) I guess it's just a right place, right time thing. Anyway it's getting late and I have to pack, and worry, and dither, and all sorts of other time consuming things. As with my previous post, I can't think of anyone else to tag, but if you feel like having a reconaissance through your favourite photos knock yourself out and say it was at my insistence.

This time tomorrow, we'll be seeing Rent! I'm nervous, but I'm excited...but I'm nervous...I'm in a glass cage of emotion!

22 April 2008

Tag, You're It!


I always used to lose when we played tag at school (don't even get me started on piggy in the middle!) Any long-term readers of this blog don't need another vitriolic diatribe on how PE scarred me for life, but what I'm trying to blunderingly say is that not all forms of tag are bad. Particularly the sort you can play from the comfort of your own computer.

To the point, the lovely Erica (she of the delightfully named Oh my! Apple Pie! blog) has 'tagged' me to describe myself in six words. She did it herself, lots of others have, suddenly it's my turn.

But first, while I deliberate - roasted cauliflower.

Above: I would never turn down cauliflower blanketed in cheese sauce, but secretly (okay, not so secretly at all, would I stop talking about it already) I think this is my favourite way of eating it. Roast florets at 200 C (give or take) until charred and smoky and slightly crispy in places and more delicious than you could believe possible from looking at this innocent white vegetable.

Above: This monumentally comforting dish comes from a Vegetarian Mediterranean cookbook that I got for Christmas from a family friend, and is a lot more delicious than its innocuous ingredients would suggest. When Tim and I got back to the flat yesterday - our trip home what very whistle-stoppish in nature - I made this for dinner. Already a simple recipe, I've simplified it further, because I'm lazy as heck and want to wash as few dishes as possible.

Baked Tomato Pasta (for 2)

300g spaghetti or fettuccine
400g can crushed tomatoes, or the same weight of passata (superior, but more difficult to find)
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 or 2 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed
grated cheese to top

Bring a large, ovenproof pan of salted water to the boil. Once bubbling merrily, add the pasta, and let it cook away till relatively tender - about 12 minutes does it usually. While this is happening, set your oven to 180 C. Drain the cooked pasta, and return it to the pan (off the heat), while you stir in the garlic, tomatoes, and capers. Sprinkle over as much grated cheese as you like, and bake for about 25 minutes or until burnished and golden and...well, you should be able to tell by looking at it that it's done. Maybe serve with a salad on the side if you are doing the "proper dinner" thing, otherwise I like it eaten out of a bowl with no accompaniments.

This probably serves more than two, to be honest, but what can I say. We are growing lads. Plus, without leftovers, you can't discover the charms of a pasta omelet...something I always dismissed as some kind of over-fangled modern cafe-style horror, but actually it turns out to be rather delicious...

Above: This was the best photo I could get, as the rising steam kept fogging up the lens and I was too hungry to let it cool into eggy rubber. For some reason though ,when I see this picture I think of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Tim and I saw for the first time last week (truly bizarre, but nice to see the so-often parodied scenes in their original context). I don't know why, there is just something planetary about the look of it. Anyway, it tasted out of this world (ba-doom boom!) and meant that the pasta didn't go to waste. The recipe comes from Nigella's Feast, and makes for a very simple, cosy supper served with warm buttered toast. (I know, so much for lightening up.) All you do is let a knob of butter sizzle in an ovenproof pan, add the pasta and some eggs and a splash of milk - I used four eggs because the pan was rather large - let it cook a bit before flashing under the grill to cook the top. I sprinkled it with a little grated cheese, too.

Right, me in six words. For what it's worth...

Passionate - I'm not talking your everyday passion, I'm talking passionate to the point of one-eyed bloody-mindedness. I'm passionate about things I love, I'm passionate about things I hate. As I say to Tim, (often!) "I'm not exaggerating, I just feel very strongly about things!"

Bendy - I could do the splits at age three, I can do the splits now, and I plan on being able to do the splits when I'm eighty. If that doesn't define me, what does?

Nervous - As with being passionate, I'm not fooling around here. I'm a very nervous person. There is so much that I'm afraid of. Examples...praying mantises (even cartoon ones, heck, even the words make me shudder), natural disasters, and brain aneurysms have all kept me awake in clammy fear at night. All too often. Which segues nicely into -

Imaginative - I have a very, very vivid imagination. In fact I tend to overthink situations regularly (which makes for more nervousness as I imagine every possible eventuality to a situation.) It does make for some nifty dreams though. Have you ever dreamt you were a white rabbit, chasing through a forest after an orca whale, in the name of unrequited love?

Silly - I am very, very, very silly. But never just for its own sake - it always (unfortunately or otherwise) comes from a place of real silliness.

Self-absorbed - yeah, I am a bit. Frankly, I enjoy talking about myself. Why else would I tell you what I cooked last night? Or indeed, how self-absorbed I am?

I'm pretty sure anyone who would be interested has already been tagged by now, but in lieu of this, why not check out the other food blogs on my blogroll to the right. Reading them is always inspirational, whether to cook or to take better photos or just to eat and eat and eat some more. Or click on the links of the people who comment me (although I'd say comment #11 on my last post looks distinctly spammy, maybe give that one a miss.) I may not be any good at tag, but leapfrog isn't so hard - jumping from blog to blog is a great way to discover amazing writing. But don't you forget about me!

18 April 2008

Country Roads...Take Me Home...


I'm writing from home - not the flat - Tim and I flew up yesterday morning and already it feels like I've never left. Funny how quickly you adapt to your surroundings. We had Mum's vegetable soup last night for dinner and not only was it instantly soul-nourishing and delicious- it was much nicer than mine. Some things are worth traveling miles for...

Tim and I went out for brunch for my birthday on Thursday (it was supposed to be breakfast, but I always take too long to get figure out what to wear.) The weather was cold and miserable and I was half-tempted to stay in and make pancakes or somesuch but we persevered in the name of paying someone else to do it for us. We ended up at Epic Cafe on Willis Street, where the servings are large and the prices aren't terrifying, and you can briefly feel like a character from Sex and The City for dining so well. Unfortunately the foul weather ruled out any would-be Carrie-style clothing creations, I went for practicality in jeans, hoodie, scarf and Chuck Taylors.

Above: I ordered the savoury French toast with sauteed vegetables and pine nuts, plus a side salad. There weren't actually any pine nuts on mine...but the combination of their delicious hollandaise, tangy tomato sauce and amazing toast won me over, and, being the pansy that I am, I didn't complain. The side salad was pleasant enough - for $3 - although I would have preferred some dressing. You'll have to excuse the badly lit photographs - they were taken rather hurriedly - not only was the waitress looking at us funny but I was far too hungry to make more of an effort.

Above: Tim got the El Rancho Fryup, which featured perfectly cooked eggs and delicious, sweet-salty bite sized corn fritters that I longed to steal off him (I did manage to exchange one for a bit of my French toast.) Not to mention enough beans for one to want to avoid polite company for some time after.

We met up with my aunt who has been child-wrangling at a boarding school in Western Australia, it was fantastic to catch up with her and we spent a leisurely and loquacious afternoon in Smith The Grocer cafe in the Old Bank Arcade. Tim and I were still far too full from brunch to eat anything but I can tell you that their cups of tea come with a deliciously spiced complimentary wafer. She gifted me all sorts of wee foodie goodies including some black food colouring which I am very excited about trying out (she suggested an All Blacks cake - as if!)

Above: This is what I made for my birthday dinner. Because we were leaving for three days the next morning I couldn't do anything too wildly extravagant - which was probably for the best, considering what it might have cost - but I did splash out and purchase some bacon. I fried and deglazed it with Vermouth, and added it to a vat of pasta along with brocolli, peas, lemon juice and the last of the creme fraiche. It was a lovely combo and also managed to use up a few things loitering sadly in the fridge. Please excuse the low-rent photo (noticing a theme?) the lens kept steaming up and this was my most serviceable shot. Any tips from more seasoned bloggers on how to prevent this?

Other things we have been eating lately...

Above: I made this free-form tart the other day for dinner, and though it really shouldn't have worked...well, it did. First I made pastry out of 125g each of butter and flour, and bound it with a little buttermilk. I did this by hand, as I couldn't be bothered dragging out my food processor (and there was anyway no benchspace for it) but I quickly was reminded why it's worth the effort, as rubbing all that butter into the flour takes forever and strains the wrists substantially. Eventually I had a lump of something resembling pastry, so I rested it in the fridge, rolled it out, and started to freak as it began to almost melt on the tray, which had been heated by the oven underneath. In a blind, twitchy panic I flung my ingredients at it (creme fraiche, tomatoes, capers, pine nuts) and baked it at 200 C.

I expected to see a gooey, floury mess 25 minutes later but miraculously the pastry had come together. The tomatoes became deliciously scorched in places, making them even sweeter, which contrasted rather fabulously with the salty capers. The pastry itself was buttery and flaky, even though it really shouldn't have been. Not the healthiest dinner, but a delicious one all the same, and something rather more "restaurant-y" than we normally get. Try it yourself - maybe even get out your food processor - and use whatever you have in your pantry that you think would go well together. I can imagine thinly sliced courgettes and parmesan being wonderful, for example...

Above: I don't really go in for stir-fries that much - they seem kind of overdone and it's easy to make them claggy and oily (not to mention all that damned fiddly chopping!) However upon seeing a can of water chestnuts gathering dust in our pantry I decided to make something resembling one for dinner the other night. We didn't have a heck of a lot of vegetables so it comprised of courgette, carrots, garlic, ginger (the real, knobbly, amazingly zingy thing, not the acidy stuff from a jar), sliced water chestnuts, and cashews. A fairly slim meal, yes, but there were only two of us, and once it was banked up against a pile of brown rice and had a few judicious droplets of sesame oil, it was quite substantial. I flavoured it with fish sauce, lemon juice, and a little bit of black bean sauce. Black bean sauce is so slow moving and it is impossible to scoop it out of the narrow bottle with a spoon, so I made the mistake of shaking it over the pan with the lid off...which resulted in salty black streaks all over the wall.

All that aside, the end result was quite lovely, the water chestnuts have an intriguing texture and it was gratifyingly salty. Also, anything accompanied by brown rice makes me feel instantly Zen; a nice payoff for the long time it takes to cook.

On a "happy birthday to me" whim I purchased Jill Dupleix' Lighten Up from the warm and friendly Unity Books on Willis Street. I have often flicked through this book and thought "eh," but closer inspection revealed that it was actually full of exciting recipes. I'm quite wild with anticipation about trying her Lentil and Sweet Potato Pie for example... There is something about Dupleix' authoritative "tone" that can be a bit annoying, even laughable at times, but on the whole her cookbooks make very enjoyable reads. Mum and Dad gave me a $100 grocery voucher for my birthday so I can't wait to go buy lots of vegetables and get cooking from it. Speaking of purchases, today they bought a shiny shiny new oven (the last one made industrial grinding noises every time you turned it on which was most disconcerting and it never got hot enough). The new oven is self cleaning! What an age we live in...

17 April 2008

"I Was Twenty One Years When I Wrote This Song...


...I'm twenty two now but I won't be for long..."
Billy Bragg, A New England

14 April 2008

Just Spent Six Months In A Leaky Blog


My blog is six months old! In a time where technology moves so eye-wateringly fast, I feel I'm justified in getting a little misty-eyed over the half-year existence of my little blog that could. It feels like just last week that I was getting excited over my 200th hit!

Speaking of milestones, our weekend in Hawke's Bay (for Tim's grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary) was a fantastic time, a large part of which was spent solidly grazing. We were also able to reap the benefits of one of life's happiest pairings - someone who has a massive feijoa tree but doesn't like to eat them. The feijoa is one of my very favourite fruits, and for some reason in my mind they are one of those fruits you don't actually go out of your way to buy - you should just know someone who has a windfall. When living in a damp city full of apathetic university students though, one can't expect to find them that easily. While up north we managed to get two shopping bags full of this wonderful fruit, by pillaging a family friend's trees, and I absolutely can't wait to do something with them - feijoa ice cream mayhaps - slices perched atop a pavlova - maybe some kind of pork-adorning salsa - or just eaten one after the other after the other after the other, cut in half and scooped out with a teaspoon.

For some odd reason, the feijoa is only really widely known in New Zealand, which seems a nice enough trade-off for all the things we don't have here (Primark, Minstrel chocolates, access to Neil Young, 12th century cathedrals) It has a dense, gritty, pear-like texture and an elusive fragrance not unlike passionfruit. Heavenly.

Speaking of our weekend away, I completely forgot to post about the gluten free peanut butter biscuits I took up along with the Quince Loaf. This is the third time I've made these biscuits and the third time I've forgotten to blog about them...and the third time I've been solemnly staggered by how quick, easy and delicious they are. The recipe can be found here, from when I made them a few weeks ago.

Above: I ended up with two-tone biscuits, because the ones on the tray on the top shelf of the oven browned faster than those on the bottom shelf. Rigorous testing proved that there was no difference in taste though. Equally fab.

By way of further illustrating why you should always write things down (or is that, why I should write things down), I give you tonight's dinner. I thought that I could use my creme fraiche in a simple pasta dish loaded with vegetables and garlic, and only realised after eating it that I'd forgotten half the things I was planning to put into it.

Above: There was carrot, courgette, and capsicum, but my brain mislaid the information about adding tomatoes, frozen peas (even though I bought them specially after work!) and pine nuts.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++ +++++++++++++++++++++++

I began by julienning the carrots and capsicum (all the while imagining I was a sous-chef in New York - inexplicably the words "julienne" and "sous-chef" are intertwined to me), and blanching them in a pan full of water in which I also placed about five cloves of garlic. The garlic simmered away and became soft and mellow, rather than burning and acrid. After fishing out the vegetables, I cooked the pasta in the same water and then drained it, stirring in some creme fraiche and the cooked vegetables. The garlic cloves I chopped roughly and mixed in too. It was certainly good - the creme fraiche made a kind of instant sauce - but all I can think about is what it would have been like had I not forgotten half the components.

This weekend we are flying up home for my best friend's 21st, and next weekend I hope that we can go to Levin (in all honesty, the first time I've used "Levin" and "I hope that we can go to" in the same sentence) to catch a performance of Rent. I can't find a review online for love nor money so it's a bit of a gamble, but the idea of finally seeing this show onstage, no matter where, is too exciting to miss out on. In what seems like positively providencial circumstances, Palmerston North will be having their own production of Rent in May. I'm trying to convince Tim that two productions so very close to Wellington means this is a sign that it's all meant to be but he's still not quite buying it. Never mind, my birthday is a-pending which means he is obliged to humour me (if only briefly, for his sanity's sake.) Oh and did I mention that Puccini's La Boheme, the opera which inspired the very musical of which I speak, is coming to Wellington?

<.twilightzonevoice/.> "Doo-dee-do do, Do-dee-do do"

10 April 2008

Jonesing For Quinces

I am taking off to Hawkes Bay for a few days but have an inordinately long post to compensate for my absence (should my absence bother you...)

We have been feasting rather decadently of late. On Tuesday, spurred on by Tim's loud hints that we hadn't eaten any meat lately, I defrosted some sausages and used them to fill Piroshki, which are small yeasted buns baked around a filling. They look and sound a lot harder than they are to make, something I always rather like in a recipe. I adapted this from the AWW Meals From The Freezer book, which my brother Julian got me for Christmas a few years ago. I halved it - there is only Tim and I to feed, after all - but it would be quite easy to double back to their original proportions.


450g plain flour
1/2 sachet dry yeast
2 T sugar
1 egg yolk
250ml milk, warmed
125g butter, melted

Combine all the dry ingredients, mix in the wet ingredients thoroughly, scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover and stand in a warm place for an hour or so. Oh, and don't do what I did, which was eat rather a lot of the surprisingly moreish dough...

Filling: (this is the bit I came up with)
1 onion, finely diced
3 fat cloves garlic, minced
3 proper pork sausages (ie, not those greying pre-cooked things that shall not darken my door!)
1 t paprika
1 t ground cumin
1 t dried oregano
1 T slivered almonds (or whole almonds, roughly chopped
1 T red wine

Heat a knob of butter in a pan, and sautee the onion and garlic till softened but not browned. Add the spices, and then - this job is either amusing or vile depending on what kind of person you are - squeeze the sausagemeat out of its casing into the pan. Let it cook through, stirring regularly, then add the red wine (I used Marsala though) and the almonds. Put it aside to cool for a bit, while you deal with the now-risen dough.

Heat oven to 210 C. Divide dough into balls - I got about nine, I think - and flatten each into about 12-15cm rounds. Put a small spoonful of sausagey filling into one of the rounds, and gently pinch the edges together to enclose. You don't have to be too gentle with these, just be careful not to let the filling break the dough. Place your piroshki onto a baking tray, brush with a beaten egg, and let sit for 15 minutes (I just pop the tray on top of the heating oven, the warmth of which helps them to prove.) Bake for 15 minutes. Eat.

Although I haven't managed to use the quinces yet, I have made good use (ironically) of the quince glaze I made from last year's season. A recipe of Nigella's, this jammy stuff had been hidden in the back of the fridge for too long. I might try freezing my current bunch, as the things I want to make with them are the sort of things I would make in the lead-up to Christmas...

Anyway, I tried marinating some chicken wings in this quince glaze, (two tablespoons) with cumin, garlic, and lemon juice. The alluring sweetness of the glaze became slightly scorched in places which was, of course, completely delicious. They needed a bit of salt to counteract the sugar, but otherwise...rather perfect.

Above: For the less Antipodean amongst my readers, for whom quince season is still months away, I should think that marmalade or honey would make a decent substitute. I served the sticky wings with potatoes that I'd cut into wedges and mixed with olive oil and za'atar - I make this heaps these days, because it is so simple but delicious. Za'atar is a heady mix of sumac, sesame seeds, and thyme, and lends its distinct flavour well to the crispy potatoes. The bowls that these are pictured in were given to me by the very generous Linda, who is always full of surprises!

Above: After marinating the chicken wings in it, I thought the quince glaze might also work well in a loaf cake. What can I say? It was buttery, fragrant and - phew! - delicious. I am taking the cake up to Tim's parent's place tonight but had to have a slice myself (just to make sure it had worked out okay...)

Quince Loaf Cake

150g butter, softened
3 T quince glaze
85g sugar
2 eggs
250g flour
2 t baking powder
1/3 cup buttermilk (or milk with a squeeze of lemon juice in it)

Preheat oven to 180 C. Cream butter, quince glaze and sugar together till creamy and fragrant. Add the rest of the ingredients, tip into a well greased and lined loaf tin (I used a silicone one so didn't have to worry) and bake for 45 minutes. You might consider covering it with tinfoil after 30 minutes, so as it doesn't over-brown, but ovens do vary. Once it's out of the oven, brush with a few teaspoonsful of warmed quince glaze.

As with the chicken wings, any number of jams would make a decent replacement. Although I thought it would be rather mean not to give you the recipe from which sprang forth all this inspiration...from Nigella's How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

Quince Glaze
1 quince
750 mls water
750g caster sugar

Roughly chop the quince, (they are blooming rock hard so use a good knife) and put the pieces - peel, pips and all - into a medium sized pan with the water and sugar. Bring to the boil, then let it simmer away for a good hour or so, till gloriously pink and reduced by half. Strain into a prepared 350ml jar, store in the fridge.

It is wonderful with anything apple-centric - a spoonful to glaze an apple pie or mixed in a crumble - and it goes marvelously with ham.

Finally - I made Creme Fraiche. Look how casual I am about it! You can be, too! It is so expensive that I have never actually purchased it but there is many a foodwriter who will try and convince you that you are positively heathenish if there isn't a pouch of the stuff in your refrigerator. Luckily the bare ingredients - cream and buttermilk - aren't too taxing on the pocket, and even if they are a bit splurgy, you do get a lot of creme fraiche out of this.

Above: Creme Fraiche!
Inspired by this blog I decided to have a crack at it quietly just in case it didn't work out. Well, it did, and now I want everyone to do it. It's so easy! Simply find some cream - I used 600mls - and a few tablespoons of buttermilk - heat gently in a pan but do not boil - sit in a jar or tub in a warmish place overnight - stir - and pa-dah! Creme Fraiche, to be stirred into mashed potatoes, to add luxury to a pasta sauce, to serve with baked plums...it goes on. Now, our flat is very, very cold these days so after a couple of days I decided to sit it in my yoghurt maker, which did the trick. But I assume most of you aren't living in digs as derelict as mine, so this shouldn't be a problem. All the same, see what works for you - this is a surprisingly forgiving recipe.
Now, because the internet froze up at the eleventh hour, I have to absolutely zoom to pack my clothes (Tim of course, was packed long ago) and run to the train station...I will keep an eye out for Rent posters as we chug through Levin...

7 April 2008

"In The Cold, Cold Night..."


Baby, it's cold outside...in Wellington, at least. Talk about hungry and frozen. I didn't plan on making vegetable soup this early on in the year but what else can you do in this situation?

Above: Vegetable soup always reminds me of home, of making a large vat of it every weekend in winter, and letting it sit warmly in the crock-pot, only getting better with time.

I don't follow a recipe, but I think you have to have onions, celery, and carrots - the basis of many a slow-cooked meal - and I like to really let the vegetables cook (I refuse to say sweat!) before adding any liquid. Because I was all out of the classic King's Soup Mix, I just used some lentils and barley that I found in our pantry. By the way, King's Soup Mix isn't nearly as declasse as it sounds - it's just a prepacked bag of lentils, beans and barley. It is very cheap, and so good for you - I don't know why people don't make this all the time.

So that was dinner last night. To go with I made a rather sassy Puy lentil, pea and feta salad. After adding peas to my lentil soup the other day, it struck me that this humble frozen vegetable could be paired with lentils in other ways. The earthy darkness of the Puy lentils, the perky green sweetness of the peas and the creamy saltiness of the feta was surprisingly moreish.

Above: I didn't actually measure anything so I can't give you an exact recipe...however I did make a dressing out of three tablespoons each extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. With so few ingredients it should be easy to recreate it yourself, if you are so inclined.
Above: Unfortunately I remain intimidated by our new camera, as you can see by this picture where the meal is out of focus and the wooden spoon is in. I tell you, I can't seem to get it the other way around. I'd like to think there's something wrong with our camera...but I suspect it's still me.
More soul food (if you can see it in that photo, anyway!) tonight in the form of a layered meat and pasta dish from Annabel Cooks, by NZ author Annabel White. It is very basic, a kind of no-effort lasagne - cooked small pasta is mixed with sour cream and cream cheese, and layered with mince that has been cooked in the usual spag-bol kind of way, topped with cheese, and baked. It sounds too simple and seen-it-all-before to be any good, but in fact I think she's on to something. Much depends on the quality of your meat sauce, I'd recommend using red wine in it, and a tin of tomatoes instead of some premade pasta sauce. It is very comforting bowl-food, and helped to stave off the chilliness of our (inevitably freezing) student flat momentarily.
As Nigella The Wise says in How To Be A Domestic Goddess, the benefits of colder climes are largely culinary, and I heartily concur. I can't wait to try out more soups (getting ever-closer to The Lentil Soup), rich casseroles, melting stews, baking more bread in the weekends (proving it by the heater if need be), dusting off my pudding steamer...and, er, my Pilates DVD...

5 April 2008

Rainy Day Woman


Today - Saturday - was just as wet and miserable as last weekend. Luckily I love rainy weekends - cosying up with a blanket, becoming engrossed in a book, lazily browsing the internet...However with breakfast and lunch lamentably comprising only of Chocolate Guinness Cake, I forced myself to leave the house to get some fresh air, and found myself at Moore Wilson's. Wherein I bought some organic buttermilk, some feta, a tub of white miso paste, and two quinces.

Above: Oh! You pretty things. I love quinces. In New Zealand now is the time for them, so grab one if you can. They are impossible to find year-round, absolutely rock hard and have to be cooked very slowly but their incredible fragrance and sweetness makes it worth the effort. Nigella has a whole swag of recipes for this particular fruit so I look forward to trying something new.

I got back to the flat in an advanced state of saturation. My $4 Kmart white canvas sandshoes (that are now rather fashionable and you can't get them cheaply anymore) are on their last legs, and were completely filled with water. So, after getting out of my miserably drenched clothes I decided to make a warming curry for dinner, filled with vegetables and even some soul-soothing lentils to counteract the day's cake-eating. (That's a little misleading actually - I assure you, I did put some more clothes on before starting on the curry. I think the world only needs one Naked Chef...)

Pumpkin Curry For a Rainy Saturday

This is a very gentle and mild - no chilli at all, come to think of it - so if your tastebuds are made of stronger stuff than mine, by all means add as much chilli as you dare.

1/2 a pumpkin, chopped into large dice
1 T butter
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 red capsicum, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
2 T tomato paste
1 t ground cinnamon
2 t cumin seeds
1 t ground ginger
1/4 cup red lentils
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 t garam masala

Melt the butter in a decent sized saucepan. Stir the onion, garlic, cinnamon, cumin seeds, and ginger together over a gentle heat till the onion is soft, but not browned. Add the tomatoes and paste (or if this is too much of a pain, just half a tin of chopped tomatoes) and the capsicum, and let this cook for a bit. Tip in your orange chunks of pumpkin, and then add 250mls water to the pan. You might need more depending on the size of your pan, you want the pumpkin pieces half-submerged in the water. Bring this to the boil then lower the heat and simmer till the pumpkin is nearly tender. At this stage add the lentils, and a bit more water - about half a cup. Simmer till the lentils have disappeared into the sauce. Finally add the coconut milk and the garam masala. Don't let it boil at this stage. Serve over rice. This will feed 2 or three people. Just add a bit more of everything if you have more people over.

Above: I served it over brown rice, which is not so hard to cook as people think. This is the method I use: bring a pot of water to the boil, tip in a cup of brown rice, boil the living heck out of it for about 15 minutes or till it's soft but firm, then drain. It barely takes longer than white rice. The curry itself was warm and inviting, the perfect thing to be eating by the greedy bowlful with this inhospitable rain beating against the windows.

Above: I made this quick pizza for dinner the other night, using a recipe of my paternal grandmother's that I found whilst browsing through a folder of recipe clippings that I compiled as a teenager. I don't think she was that much of a 'foodie' - for all I know she may never have actually made this recipe - but it is still meaningful to me that I got her cookbooks and bits and pieces. This particular recipe involves melting butter and frying in it garlic, diced tomato and sliced courgettes, and I assume it is supposed to be a side dish. Well I made it one night, and was so taken with the simple but delicious flavours, that I had to make it again, and soon. On Thursday night, having made it for the second time, I spread it thickly over a scone dough base (the recipe of which I found in Alison Holst's Dollars and Sense, which my brother got me for Christmas) topped it frugally with cheese, baked it, and ate it whilst watching Coronation Street on telly, which Katie has got me back into. I see that Gail Platt is as depressing as she was last time I was into this show -rather comfortingly, some things never change.
We are having something of a David Bowie Renaissance in the flat - his songs are just so densely brilliant that they don't lose any gloss with repeat (and I mean repeat) listenings. Just try not to hug the next person on the street you see after listening to Modern Love - possibly the greatest song of all time (along with all the other greatest songs of all time.)
It is just Tim and I in the flat tonight - Paul is in town, Katie and Stefan are in Napier, and Emma has trotted down to Dunedin. I'm trying to convince Tim that watching Rent would be the perfect way to end a rainy Saturday...but I think we might end up compromising with Green Wing, Season 1. Eh, either way I win!
Update: We actually watched some Black Books instead. Whenever I watch this show...I sort of wish I actually was Bernard Black, just for a bit.

3 April 2008

"Crumb By Crumb..."


I like to spend my Thursdays doing everything I shouldn't - browsing the internet, reading non-uni literature, (*ahem* Baby Sitters Club books) and baking frivolously. Today was a fairly exemplary Thursday, in that I baked two cakes (one of which I made up!)

Above: Remember this one? At the requests of Tim and Paul, and because there was - surprisingly - an errant can of the stuff in the fridge, I made the Chocolate Guinness Cake from Nigella's Feast again, after only just having made it a couple of weeks ago for St Patrick's Day. I have to say, if I were Homer Simpson the sight of the mixture for this cake, which begins as butter melted into the Guinness, would make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Indeed, if I was a beer drinker, Guinness with chunks of butter floating in it would probably be my beverage of choice.

You think I'm bluffing, don't you?

Above: It was as good as ever. Dark, dense, moist, complex, fabulous. What can I say? Go buy Feast! You won't be sorry!

Above: I had an idea for a Pear and Nutmeg Custard Sponge in the middle of photography class yesterday. I quickly jotted down a rough recipe in my excercise book (and went back to paying attention straight away, don't worry!) and tried it out today.

Mercifully, it worked! I don't have the money to triple-test my recipes a la the Australian Woman's Weekly (obviously I make a special exception for lentil soup) so I need things to work first time round.

Above: It tasted lovely, too - grandmotherly, somehow, with the pear and the nutmeg and the custard-softened crumb of the cake going marvelously well together. As I ate I mentally patted myself on the back for this burst of inspiration.

If you feel like being my test kitchen, I would not mind in the slightest :) the idea of someone actually making my recipe would in fact make me seriously happy.

Pear and Nutmeg Custard Sponge

150g soft butter
150g sugar
2 eggs
3 Tablespoons custard powder
200g flour
2 t baking powder
1 t ground nutmeg
1 pear, diced
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 180 C and butter and line a 21cm springform tin with baking paper. Beat the butter and sugar together till pale and fluffy. Add the eggs and custard powder at the same time, and beat till incorporated together. At this point, sift in the flour and baking powder, and add the nutmeg, diced pear, and milk, folding together gently. Spread into your prepared tin, and if you like, arrange some pear slices across the top like I did. Bake for 50 or so minutes, depending on your oven, till a skewer comes out clean. I found it took an hour in our oven, but they do vary. You may want to put some foil over the top for the last 20, if it is getting too brown. Finally, grate some fresh nutmeg over, or sprinkle over a little pre-ground. Slice into fat, golden wedges and eat with a cup of tea.

It is great fun thinking up recipes. I don't know how people like Nigella end up with over 100 for their books though. I've only come up with about 15 max, and no one is going to want to buy a cookbook that woefully slim!

Last night the whole flat went out to dinner for Stephan's birthday. He is the first of us to turn 22! We went to Monsoon Poon, which is situated off Courtney Place, and unfortunately we had to wait forever to get a table. Luckily, once you are seated they serve you amazingly swiftly. Tim and I have been here before, earlier this year, and loved it, and it was just as good as we remembered. I had the Duck Noodles, which were delicious - gosh I love duck, but it's so expensive that I only buy it a couple of times a year. So, I always look for it when I'm at restaurants. I ordered a medium plate (there is a large option) but it still was enormous; it was only the fact that the noodles tasted so incredible that I managed to finish it off. The only disappointing thing was that some of the duck was a bit fatty, and needed trimming. Tim had an insanely good lamb curry with 25 herbs and spices, the meat was amazingly tender.

Unfortunately I didn't keep tabs on what everyone else had (well, there was six of us) and the photos I took weren't very good, so I won't bother putting them up here. Everyone enjoyed their meals though, and it's really not very expensive at all - my noodles, and a naan the size of South America, came to $22. And David Beckham has dined there - what further recommendation do you need? I would make sure you get in early (they don't take bookings) so as you don't have to wait round for ages though. Or make sure you are with a group of people you like, so if you do have to wait, there are no awkward silences...

Today in the paper (in the 'Life' section) there was an article about Nigella, entitled "Curvy Goddess or Dumpy Frump: Too Much of A Good Thing?" The article ended up, characteristically, being about nothing much at all. Shame on you, Dominion Post, for having such a tabloid-style title, and for intimating that someone with Nigella's hourglass figure is "dumpy." However, thanks for the delicious picture of her. This picture is supposed to be showing how much larger Nigella has become in the last ten or so years, however I say she looks incredible. The article is poorly researched, describing her as a "celebrity chef" and then saying she has had no formal training as a cook. It makes much of her high calorie recipes and ignores the fact that much of her food is packed with vegetables (as I found out when I went through her books, armed with post-it notes)...and that her seminal text, How To Eat, had an entire low-fat chapter...

In music news (insofar as I can call my opinion news), two gals I am monumentally obsessed with at the moment are April March and Joan As Police Woman. This is all courtesy of Ange who is remarkably commited to ferrying excellent music from her computer to mine and Tim's via memory sticks.

Check out "Eternal Flame" on Youtube by Joan As Police Woman - this song is seriously beautiful. And April March's delightfully kooky Chick Habit, an English song off her largely French language album, can be found here - no music video though.

And if you reeeeeeally feel like indulging me, this video from eight years ago of Idina Menzel singing a song from The Wild Party musical, is one of the reasons that I truly love Youtube.

PS - I'm pretty sure I was joking about the butter and beer...but then as I said, I'm not a beer drinker, so who knows? ;)