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.


  1. Had the odd downpour here too.

    Love the buns - they look great and can almost smell them from here.

  2. I love Nigella, so it's great to see her recipes being used! This looks really delicious - and it would probably behoove me to make it, to balance all the naughty crap I've been baking lately! ;)

  3. AnonymousMay 01, 2008

    Some gorgeous food going on Laura. Love the new blog header too.

  4. Some lovely things here :) I did the picadillo as well, and it's lovely.

    Hope your head is de-pancaked soon :)


  5. Everything looks so good!

  6. Mum: Thanks, they really are quite easy to make. Hope your teef are feeling better soon. Tim has a dentist appt today, hopefully it doesn't use our entire savings account...thieves! Ahem. x

    Ann: Her recipes definitely find a happy home here. Also I'd define all that cake as "necessary" rather than "naughty" :)

    George: Thanks, I like it too. Thanks for the Picadillo recipe (in a roundabout way) :)

    KJ: Thanks for stopping by, and I do too!

    Elle: Merci!

  7. Your Picadillo looks great! I made it once an while ago but I left out the olives. I have been wanting to try making it again with the olives ever since.

  8. AnonymousMay 01, 2008

    LOL your title cracked me up. Congratulations on the 100th post! Is there a difference between sultana's and raisins? I always just figured it was one of those "you say to-MA-to I say to-MAY-to" things.

  9. A fellow food blogger with carny hands!!

    Oh My!!

    spookily ookily!!

    Great site, love!

  10. ... I got a backyard with nothing in it...

  11. Kevin: Thanks, and I can totally recommend it.

    Marc: The only difference I can see is that sultanas are nice and raisins are disgusting :) Have you ever tasted marmite and vegemite side by side? But let's not go there...

    Purple Goddess: Love your username, and uh, snap!

    Sarah: Hee :)

    CEF: Thanks! Indeed!

  12. 12 comments?! Your getting popular Laura! Anyway, that picadillo looks scrumptious and I love how puffy your buns are.

  13. Hi there,
    Wow.... you are going really well with your blog and comments. Congratulations.

    Mark says there is going to be a food festival in Wellington shortly - thought you may already know about it.

    Still on soft food - just spent another two hours in the dentist today - looking forward to be able to approach a gingernut with confidence again.

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