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...