28 June 2008

Primal Ice Cream

I said I was going to feature my raw-vegan-food experimenting, but, I lied. Should probably have thought a little harder before commiting to that "next time" feature. To make up for it; a post about 'gasp' JUST ONE DISH. The reason for such uncharacteristic brevity is not a sudden foray into the soul of wit, but to display my entry for the Ice Cream blogging event - my first ever go at a blogging event - at Mike's Table: I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Frozen Desserts. While the name doesn't trip off the tongue, it did get me inspired to make something frozen, perfectly timed for Wellington's bitterest winter since July 1929. Disregard that last bit, as I made it up, but don't disregard this amazing Cinnamon-Date ice cream. Which I also made up. See what I did there?

You may well wonder, where does she get off saying her own creation is amazing? Well, frankly it is. Lucky break, I guess, but there's no need for false modesty. I've made this before, and looking back it is a nice pat-on-the-back reminder that I really did learn a bit in my photography class since then.

Above: All together now, "I wanna live with a cinnamon girl, I could be happy, the rest of my life..."

Cinnamon Date Ice Cream

This is an original recipe insofar as I (a) haven't seen it anywhere before and (b) entirely invented it myself. Having said that, I am studiously avoiding googling it in case there are forty-squillion variations and it's common as muck. You don't need an ice cream maker for this because...I haven't got one and have made perfectly lovely stuff without it. This is altered slightly from my original recipe, but only in the name of improvement.

150g dates, chopped
1/4 cup muscovado sugar
50g butter
1/4 cup water
2 t ground cinnamon
1 400g (or so) tin sweetened condensed milk
Full cream milk
500mls (2 cups) cream. Okay, so it's not going to win any health awards.

Probably the most difficult thing about this recipe is chopping the dates. They are sticky and don't take well to cleaving (well, would you?) Firstly, melt the butter in a good sized pan and stir in the brown sugar. Once it has combined into a caramelly puddle, tumble in your dates and water and stir thoroughly. The dates will soften and the whole thing will become almost jammy, add the same amount of water again if need be. Remove from the heat, and stir in the cinnamon and condensed milk. Now, fill up the empty can with full-cream milk and tip that into the pan, stirring the whole thing together thoroughly. Finally, whip the cream and fold it into the mixture. It will be a little odd as the date mixture is so liquidy, but persevere and it will come together without any trouble. Taste - and taste again because it's so nice - and decide for yourself if it needs any more cinnamon. Pour into a container and freeze, stirring after a couple of hours to break things up a bit.

This is intensely fabulous - as I noted first time around, the cinnamon makes it somehow warming even though it's frozen. The tooth-dissolving sweetness of the raw mixture is banked down when it freezes, leaving only caramelly smoothness. The dates become marvelously toffee-ish when frozen, almost like chunks of praline. Very grown-up stuff, and the perfect ice cream for winter.

So, there it is; my entry. I should note that I enjoyed being able to revisit one of my recipes, as I can't really afford to test them out rigorously. I look forward to seeing what other people have come up with, to store the inspiration for when we are enjoying balmier climes...

I've already mentioned once or twice that I long to write one brilliant cookbook, but as I was walking to work (via a visit to Tim at Starbucks) I had - and one must turn to Elphaba who says it best - "a vision almost like a prophecy; I know it sounds truly crazy, and true, the vision's hazy..." It was so unbelievably simple that I ground to a halt. I want more than just a cookbook-I want - one day - a bakery/cafe, where I make all sorts of goodies - including inventive gluten-free fare, fresh-baked bread rolls, and any number of amazing cakes and cakelets. Tim could make the coffee and manage the mathmatical side of things, and he could also be my chief recipe taster. I could purchase lots of mismatched, otherwise-unloved second-hand chairs and cutlery and cups and saucers and play only fantastic music over the speakers. Tim's coffee would be incredible (the boy has talent) and we'd have Havana and Mojo and Illy and all the other big names fighting to be our providers. In the summer I could make tubs of ice cream to dish out by the coneful, and in the winter, a huge pot of ever-simmering soup. We'd live in the flat above the shop, and never branch out into a franchise - just keep it cosy and exclusive. We'd have a whole host of regulars - possibly including an inscrutible customer who drinks black coffee and types on their laptop and eventually goes on to write the great New Zealand novel - And from there I could write and finance my cookbook, while doing a little freelance subediting on my computer (no, I haven't let go of that one, it's just the idea of a life spent hunting solely for mis-placed semicolons seems a little...cold.) And one day our bakery-cafe would be known as an icon of wherever it may be located.

Well, a gal's got to have a dream, doesn't she? I don't know why it suddenly hit me that this was what I wanted, I've never had any real desire to work in hospitality (I can tell you now, I'd be a terrible waitress) and I even worked in a bakery for the better part of a year without thinking it was where I wanted to make my career. But such is the prerogative of youth. Tim even seemed enthusiastic. Well, I said "accounts" very quickly and "chief taster" loud and slow. Obviously it can't happen for a good long while - does there still exist those cosy little shops with flats above them? But you might as well know because there's only so long I can keep this thrilling, distracting idea hugged to myself, and I don't see any reason why it can't work out exactly as I'd like it to.

Finally - we had a visitor on Thursday.

One of the particularly charming things about where I live is the dense cat population. I'd never seen this particular kitty before though. He was a solid, brickish cat, entirely grey, and BIG. He reminded me of the late Micky, a cat who was also barrell-like and vocal. This cat had the most peculiar miow, it sort of went...mirwooo.
Above: He wasn't camera-shy, either.
Next time: Forty-seven different dishes in one post, including, definitely, the raw veganry.

26 June 2008

What Am I? Chopped Liver?


Obvious, but how could I let that title pass me by? I also considered "De-liver-ance" and "An Offal-y Big Adventure." Sometimes I spend forever diddling over a title and now I have an embarrassment of riches. But truly, liver: it ain't that bad. It's not all that cheap either, unfortunately - a 300g pot of chicken livers costs $3.50. Considering the nature of offal - the fact that it's so undesirable - shouldn't it be cheaper? But after prowling through my Nigella books and also spurred on by Claudia Roden's The Food Of Italy, I decided to dip my toe into the heady world of eating vital organs.

Above: Claudia Roden's Chicken Livers with Marsala. As well as being generally disliked by children world-over, liver is also not going to win any Miss Photogenic sashes any time soon. Even soft-focus didn't really help.


Overheard in our kitchen:

Me: Tim, don't hate me but...
Tim: (urgently) What did you do?
Me: We're having liver for dinner.
Tim: Ah. (nonplussed silence ensues.)


This was actually genuinely very, very good. Oh, I won't lie, livers can have a funky texture - almost chalky in places, and disarmingly squishy in others - but they taste fine. Tim really liked it too. But then how could you turn down anything dripping with butter, bacon, and ambrosial Marsala wine? Probably a running shoe could be embiggened by being cooked in those ingredients.

Fegatini di Pollo al Marsala (sounds so much sexier in Italian, doesn't it?)

200g chicken livers
1 small onion, chopped
15g butter
2 slices pancetta or bacon, chopped
6 T dry Marsala

Clean the livers and leave them whole. I should point out here that I diced them, because I felt I could handle them better in smaller chunks. Fry the onion in the butter, until soft but not browned. Add the bacon and fry for 2 minutes, stirring, then add the chicken livers. Saute quickly, turning over the pieces until browned but still pink inside. Add salt and pepper to taste and the Marsala. Cook for 1-2 minutes longer, then serve over noodles with lots of chopped parsely.

That wasn't the end of my foray into liver though. Inspired by a couple of meatball recipes in Nigella's How To Eat, I thought that combining beef mince and chopped liver to make meatballs would not only make the mince go further, it would provide intriguing flavour and add lots more vitamins. Livers are very, very healthy you know. Probably wouldn't be so healthy if chickens were able to drink alcohol like humans.

Now I want to put liver into every meatball recipe. These were fabulous - soft and light and almost smoky in flavour. And because of the liver, we got eight meatballs each. Woohoo! I also added an egg, a grated carrot, some bran, a pinch of ground cloves, and a tablespoon of semolina. Frankly, the mixture looked completely nasty, but once they started to bake the kitchen smelled incredible. I whipped up a quick sauce by reducing some red wine (the dregs of a bottle from Tim's and my night out a few weeks ago) and added a tin of chopped tomatoes, some dried oregano, and a spoonful of butter, before piling the whole lot over some rice. Tim flipping loved these. Hoorah for offal!

Above: The obligatory whisk-with-something-attached photo.

Not liver, but I'd completely forgotten to mention this so here it is. After Tim's tooth operation last week (the utterly stupid dentists only completed about a quarter of his necessary work and then sent him off, unable to get an appointment for another week) he was in some crazy pain, so a dinner in puree form was my challenge. I came up with a Potato, Carrot, and White Bean Mash, which filled his need for carbs (and my need for legumes) as well as providing vegetables and protein. It was beyond simple, I just boiled the heck out of 500g unpeeled floury potatoes (hey, it was a cold night and we eat big) and 2 chopped carrots. I drained a tin of cannelini beans, before tipping the veges over them in the colander. This I tipped back into the pot, and using the masher, pulverised the lot. Because of the nature of the ingredients, this is never going to be super-fluffy, but nonetheless it's worth getting out the whisk. I whisked in some milk, butter, salt and nutmeg, and piled this puffy, orange-and-white mash into two bowls. It turned out to be incredibly comforting stuff - warm, soft, buttery...If you are ever feeling fragile, I totally recommend it. It is probably worth mentioning that this would serve 3-4 normal people as a side dish.
It is so nice to be on holiday but a bit depressing that it's basically half over already. However, I can hardly describe the joy I felt in reading a book for its own sake. Just grabbing a book that I wanted to read. I turned to page one of Wicked: The Life and Times of The Wicked Witch on Sunday afternoon, and by Monday morning I'd finished it. It was so good - so fully realised - so sinister -and so heartbreaking by the end. Thanks to everyone who attempted to vote for me at the Bloggers' Choice Awards - I have no idea when it closes but I'm more than happy to reciprocate if there are any bloggers out there also having a go. And uh, yeah, their page is a little, shall we say, obtusely designed.

Next time: In complete contrast to chicken livers, I dabble in raw vegan cookery. I'm not joking! Although cookery is obviously the wrong term. Perhaps 'assembly'?

17 June 2008

Like A Rolling Scone

Sure, New Zealand has the Fiordlands, and the Franz Josef Glacier, and well, the whole South Island, but really as far as cities go, I truly think Wellington is the best we have to offer. If any bands or singers are reading this, (I'm looking at you, Joan Wasser and Jack White) don't bother playing in Auckland. Sure it has a million inhabitants, but Wellington has genuine charm and a dense concentration of everything essential for a travelling roadshow - eateries, drunkeries, and self-conscious hipsters. As a pink-cheeked country gal, I still find living in the city rather thrilling. Though, I know I've become acclimatised because I have developed a special look of cold, steely hatred reserved solely for those miscreants who dare to walk on the wrong side of the footpath at 5pm. Yes, there is a wrong side.

But as well as charm in bucket-fountain-loads, Wellington also has wind. I felt like the sorry love child of Dorothy Gale and Nanook of the North yesterday as the wind literally manhandled me to work , my 12 coats flapping about and - I kid you not (though I was kidding about the 12 coats) - my iPod headphones flew out of my ears. Yes, it's windy here.

Where am I going with this? Frankly, nowhere. I just felt like complaining about the weather.

Our flat is close-ish to some local shops, one of which is a small but charming deli, where I bought a crumbly wedge of cloth-aged cheddar on Saturday. The deli boasts an enticing range of cheeses, meats, cakes, and other sundry items - gluten free pasta, quinoa, nifty olive oils, you know the sort of thing I mean. The girl behind the counter not only accepted my business cards graciously, she also suggested quince as a good pairing and gave me a small piece of the cheese to sample before I purchased it. If you ever find yourself meandering aimlessly on Upland Road, thinking "where on earth can I spend my money" may I suggest you stop in here? It's the only deli on the street, so you can't miss it.

As it happened I had some of Nigella's quince glaze still knocking about in the fridge, which would provide a sweet contrast to the sharp, tangy cheese. To provide a third contrasting flavour, I whipped up some oaty scones, based on Alison Holst's basic recipe, from her Dollars and Sense cookbook that my brother got me for Christmas. I added some extra bits - oats, bran, poppyseeds - and was hoping they wouldn't end up all lumpen and horrible but they turned out very fluffy and light.

Alison Holst's Scones...ish.

I got seven good sized scones out of this. I never roll the dough out, just scoop up a scone-sized lump with a spoon. Makes for the least amount of handling and has constantly given me light scones...Could be that I'm too lazy to break out the rolling pin though.

2 cups self-raising flour
2 t sugar (optional)
25-50g butter (guess which I went for?)
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup water

Heat oven to 200 C. Rub the butter, flour, and sugar (if using, and I used a squirt of golden syrup added with the milk instead) together in a bowl until there are no large lumps of butter. Here I added a handful of bran, a handful of quick-cook oats, and a tablespoon of poppyseeds. Pour in the liquid all at once, and carefully stir till everything is sticky. Careful not to overmix. Put good sized spoonfuls (which I pat into a uniform shape) onto a baking-paper lined tray and bake for about 20 minutes.

Above: The three components worked together fabulously. This particular cheese really is very intense, but there was almost something addictive about the salty astringent cheddar and sweet, sweet quince glaze together. The nutty solidness of the scones provided a calming background to this. Or something. It made for a delightful and elegant supper. I began thinking of other ways I could eat this cheddar- perhaps with maple syrup, a handful of walnuts, and a crisp apple...oatcakes, a smear of honey, and slices of pear...Tim really liked it too, which surprised but pleased me, as his tastes can be a little more conservative than mine. I'll never forget our terse, lengthy debate over the differences betweeen olive and canola oil....

Above: The scones were also terriff with slowly-melting butter pooling in their oaty crevices. Expense be damned, happiness is a warm scone.

By the way, we - Tim, Katie, Emma, Scott (our fabulous doctor friend) and I watched the first episode of Outrageous Fortune Season 4 on TV3 last night. Friends, it was sublime. Tip o' the old cap to TV3 for managing to hold on to this gem. Cheryl is as awe-inspiring as ever, and Wolf is back in a big way, which means that Katie and I are constantly having mad palpitations of the heart. Kudos on the producers' choice of child to play Loretta's baby - she really is a cutie. The episode started off solidly and then built to sheer gloriousness. The only thing that stings is the lack of Judd, for goodness' sake come back to Cheryl and don't get back with Glen or whatever your ex-wife's name is. That is one plot trajectory that we all roundly agreed would result in boycotting (okay not really, but definitely in fists being shook.) For those of you overseas, I offer a patronising, pitying smile, because you are missing out on TV GOLD. Did you know you can buy it on DVD through Fishpond? Ugh, I'm sorry. (But really, it's a fact.)

However, you don't have to live in New Zealand to see this interview with Van/Jethro actor and possibly the best looking famous man in New Zealand, Anthony Starr. (I can't pretend I've never found an All Black attractive - there was the short-lived Doug Howlett frenzy of 2003 - but really, look outside the square, people.) I've said it once before but it bears repeating; during scenes with Van and Jethro together, he has chemistry with himself.

Above: As you may have noticed I'm having a bit of a fling with poppy seeds at the moment, I just want to put them in everything for some reason. Luckily Tim and I are way past that "maintain a sense of mystery stage" so I don't have to worry about the dreaded poppy-seeds-in-the-teeth situation arising, with people delicately pretending to ignore it and then you find out three days later what's happened (inevitably meeting every possible person you don't want to see in the process.) It's the culinary equivalent of hoisting your skirt into your pantyhose (and I've so been there too...)

Erm, anyway I had this idea of incorporating poppy seeds and my Boyajian orange oil into a shortbread recipe. Then I thought that adding a spoonful of raspberry jam would be cool. But I also wasn't sure if it would be a socking great disaster, so in a surprisingly scientific move (from someone pathetically bad at science) I divided the dough into three, leaving a "control" group of plain shortbread so that if my dabbling in experimentation went wrong, I'd at least have a small pile of edible biscuits.

They were all delicious! I couldn't be bothered coming up with a base recipe of my own, since most shortbread recipes are much of a muchness anyway - hey, I have Scottish heritage, don't go getting up in arms - so I used Nigella's basic recipe - 200g butter and flour, half that of icing sugar and cornflour - and did nothing to the control group save a dusting of vanilla sugar. For the orange and poppyseed biscuits I added half a teaspoon orange oil (it's potent stuff!) and rolled the cylinder of dough in poppyseeds. For the raspberry orange poppyseed biscuits I added orange oil, a tablespoon of poppyseeds, and two tablespoons of Tim's diabetic-friendly raspberry jam (which is so much better than most commercial jams, because it's way fruitier.)

Fun and educational!

Above: Shortbread, three ways. There's probably an off-colour joke in there somewhere, but I'm too lazy, or perhaps not lazy enough, to think it up.

I'm not sure if it's good news or not but Tim managed to scrape together enough money through various loans to cover the costs of his dental work (appointment this afternoon!) but they will need to be paid off which is kind of worrying especially when we're trying to save. Seriously, these dentists better be giving him some diamond-plated grillz or something for what they're charging. Anyway, Tim and I got all righteous and "damn the man!" and wrote letters to both the Minister of Health (David Cunliffe) and the Minister of Tertiary Education (Pete Hodgson). We asked the hard questions - actually they're not that hard, seriously, how do these people get paid so well to make so many illogical decisions - and I hope we get a reply. A thought-out, not automated reply. But think nice, anethatised thoughts for Tim this afternoon as his teeth get prodded. Whatever we have for dinner tonight, I'm guessing it's going to have to come in puree form...

Overheard in our kitchen:

Tim: These carrot sticks are really nice.
Me: Cool.
Tim: What'd you do to them?
Me: Put them in the bowl that the pork fat had been in.
Tim: Ohh...

13 June 2008

"Sell Out, With Me Oh Yeah!"


I never thought I'd have reason to quote the one-hit ska-punk band Reel Big Fish on my blog but life takes you to some funny places. You may have noticed a new feature of my sidebar, if not, may I subtly direct your attention to it? I've been aware for a long time that it's possible to advertise stuff on one's blog, but I resisted, because of some would-be righteous "it ain't me" attitude I suppose, (although the idea of being submerged Daltrey-style in a bathtub of baked beans is engaging)...however I figured if I can gain some revenue off this site then I have no reason not to try at least.

I admit, Fishpond is a little expensive but let me state my case; for kiwis, most things are cheaper on Trademe, but this site has access to all sorts of difficult-to-find texts (including Idina Menzel's gorgeous but not-released-here album I Stand - if you like slightly overproduced MOR, buy it and she might finally come tour New Zealand!*) which you could never find in Whitcoulls let alone on Trademe, and if you are from America or Britain or elsewhere, as I know several of my readers are, why not give Amazon a miss for once and play the Fun Exchange Rate Game? Buy a book for NZ$50 and it will only cost you about three pounds or ten US dollars! Minutes of pleasure to be gained, I tells ye. And to cap it off any moolah I gain is going towards Tim's and my savings fund. Like I said, there's no harm in trying...and watch out for subliminal messages throughout the post...


Okay, that was veering on the side of super-liminal. I don't want to coerce people in any way, this is a place of food, and Nigella-worship, and self-indulgent pop culture references, not some kind of mercenary avaricious...um, I'm losing steam here. What I'm saying is, no pressure, nothing ventured nothing gained, and time for ham.

Above: So I made Nigella's Ham in Coca Cola the other night, and it was behaving worse than the most petulant hamster on ANTM, that is, it was very difficult to get a decent shot. I had to resort to using the flash button to get any kind of photo at all. Much to Tim's horror, I professed my love of the the cola/pork simmering liquid, and only dug myself further into a hole of shame when I tried to explain how I wasn't eating the pork fat, just the pork attached to the fat...Oh dear. Before I put you off forever, this is a truly delicious recipe, the Coca Cola imbuing the ham with a beguiling, addictive spicy sweetness. In England, you would buy gammon, in New Zealand, pickled pork, and it is merely simmered in a potful of sinisterly bubbling fizz (with a bobbing onion for added flavour) before being briefly flashed in the oven with a treacly, mustardy glaze. Trashy as it sounds, this is one of the very nicest things you could possibly have the good fortune to eat...

Above: A slightly more sedate, less carnal-tastic photo. We managed to make this last THREE meals, even though we could have happily snarfed the entire 1.5kilos by the fistful on day one. I made a surprisingly lovely parsnip orzotto the next day, into which I stirred some diced leftover ham, and then we finished the ham, sliced as above, with a salad the day after that.

Above: This is one of those meals that comes about after scanning your cupboards and fridge and trying to make things fit together coherently...I roasted diced pumpkin, a whole red chilli, a bulb (yes, a whole bulb, what can I say, I like it) of garlic and once everything was done I left the pumpkin to cool a little while I vented any frustrations I might have had on the garlic and chilli in my pestle and mortar, adding cinnamon, sea salt, and olive oil. I don't know what made me go for cinnamon, I was thinking nutmegnutmegnutmeg as you often do when dealing with pumpkin but made the last minute switch and it was really good - the warmth of the cinnamon reflected the muted heat of the roasted chilli rather pleasingly. So, where was I...I poured the dressing over the pumpkin and added a drained can of borlotti beans, mixing it gently, and finally sprinkled over gorgeously nutty poppy seeds. The only real bad thing about this was...I got the wrong beans. Cannelini beans are great for diabetics, lots of slow-release carbs and little sugar. Borlotti beans have about as much carbs as a steak. So Tim had to have some toast after this. This salad could, if you ate enough of it, make a decent lunch in its entirety as well as being an out-of-the-ordinary side dish which is how we had it. And as you can imagine, it's even better the next day when the dressing has really steeped into everything.

Above: And of course, there have been noodles. I have eaten so much noodle-based stuff lately, mostly soba or udon floating snakily in broth, but there was also this marvelous stirfry, inspired by a post on the stunning stunning stunning
Use Real Butter blog. Sometimes I don't even photograph the noodle-food (foodle?) we eat in case you become weary of overexposure towards it...actually, and I digress violently and suddenly, I have noticed on my travels that I am one of the only bloggers who talks about more than one meal per post. I don't see many other bloggers attempting to fashion their titles out of song lyrics or obscure puns either. I don't know how you do it, to be honest. I salute you for your ability to be concise, regular with your posting, and lucid with your titles. Hopefully my method isn't too confusing.

Above: Back to the noodles. For all that the stir fry conjures up images of a swift, healthy, crisp dinner, I find that it's very easy to get wrong, greasy, over and undercooked at the same time, and boring. Somehow though, in my hamfisted way, I cobbled together a really nearly perfect one and true to form, didn't write down what I did. There were lots of capsicums, and I simmered the carrots and parsnips in with the noodles. The oyster sauce that I added was the thing that made it special I think, along with the miso in the ginger-carrot emulsion (adapted from the recipe on Use Real Butter) that I stirred through. Not just plain salty, but complex and savoury and richly flavoursome. The ginger-carrot thing was supposed to be a salad dressing but something about the combination of ingredients made me think they'd work in a stir fry, and oh, how they did.

It just occured to me recently that I should give credit to Marc, he of the elegant
No Recipes blog, for the idea of using green tea as a broth for noodles, he mentioned it on his blog and I tried (and loved) it and wrote about it a post or two ago, and should have known I couldn't have come up with something as nifty as that on my own...Perfect for after sweating it out after a Bikram Yoga class (and inevitably one gets stuck next to the hairy, flatulent guy who wants to get in touch with more than just his chakras) or indeed any time you want your comfort food to be light but nourishing. I have this quite often, but as I mentioned just before, have spared you many bog-standard shots of it in my white soup bowls...

New Zealand is such a funny little country. I had been working at my current job for about a year when I found out that the receptionist, Kerry, is related to me. In hindsight it makes so much sense, despite our differences there is a kinship between us - fostered, I believe, by a love of the ridiculous and the beautiful - that makes me think "well how could I not have known that he and I were family." Ah, New Zealand. Probably the only place where your mother taught the guy you just met at the bar, or your gyneacologist lived down the road from you and paid you to mow their lawns as a child, or your dentist is Peter Jackson's aunty. Possibly even the Garden of Eden had more degrees of separation.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere, to be honest. But anyway, across the road from where we work is a small, but perfectly formed, Belgian chocolate shop. I had resisted it for some time, for the obvious reasons - money, thighs - but Kerry one day surprised me with THREE chocolates from this shop - Melting Perfection - and I was utterly smitten with them. In the picture above is the White Chocolate Champagne Truffle, the Maple Cream, and the Poire William, which I bought on a whim today after nearly going insane - you think I'm exaggerating - from hours of dealing with invoices. These chocolates are some of the very, very best I've ever tasted. The Champagne Truffle was just ridiculous - the touch of alcohol providing that elusive note of flavour that somehow made the white chocolate taste butterier, creamier, but also lighter and not in any way cloying or over-sweet. The chocolates are beautiful, handmade, and taste like they were made by someone who knows what they were doing. If you are ever in Wellington you should absolutely go to their Featherston Street shop (#109, on the way to the railway station) and if you are not in Wellington, then friend, it's worth the pilgrimage. For loving photography and a list of the imaginative chocolates they sell (and yes, there's even something there for the sea-salt and caramel kids out there) visit their website: Melting Perfection. Mention my name when you visit their store and recieve a bewildered look!

*To clarify - from what I've managed to hear online I actually really like Idina Menzel's new album (of course I do!) but it definitely falls into the realms of that category I dread - Adult Contemporary. It is a lot more polished and less kooky than her earlier pop efforts, probably because she wants to you know, shift some actual units, but is also a heck of a lot better and more real than any other misery-inducing music being put out these days in that bracket. Obviously her personality helps, as well as her unmistakeable voice, but the songs absolutely grew on me, and truly, I don't listen to any music that I don't genuinely love (life's far too short.) I hope she collaborates with Jamie Cullum for the next one, they both have that confessional style of writing, and he knows his way round a likeable tune. Anyway, this album isn't released for sale in New Zealand, (I've recieved many a funny look by asking for it at the counter at CD shops) and so if enough people buy it off a New Zealand site mayhaps her record company will want to send her out here for some kind of promotional tour (probably after I've scraped together just enough money from shilling her album to head overseas...)

7 June 2008

"I Am A Synonym Bun"


Intrigued? Mais oui, I pretend to hear you say.

I'm afraid I can't tell you about this peanut butter chocolate slice that I made (recipe care of Nigella, natch) because...it is appearing in a magazine this month and you should all go out and buy that instead! I am published! Okay, it's not quite Cuisine, or Gourmet Traveller, but Tearaway is one of the better teen magazine in New Zealand and is particularly brilliant because they genuinely welcome contribution from young writers. I grew up reading Tearaway back when it was a newsprint broadsheet (now it is A4 and distinctly shinier) and even though I'm really not sure if cooking is what the kids are into these days, I've managed to get in there with my humble food column. Whether it becomes a regular gig remains to be seen, but still, it's a foot in the door. As Burns would say, "Patience, Monty, climb the ladder..."

*Update 9/6/08 - Just got sent a copy of the magazine in the mail today with a cheque for $30! I didn't even realise they were going to pay me so as you can guess this was a more than pleasant surprise. I feel like Anne Shirley, or Jo March, or *implodes suddenly from geekiness* I can put the money into our savings account and as for the magazine..."That's going straight to the poolroom."

Here's something I can actually elaborate on:

Above: Long-time readers should know I am friend of the beetroot, particularly when roasted. I'd never heard of making chips out of them, until I found this post on Adaptations, wherein fine slices of beetroot are baked in a low oven till they sort of dehydrate and crisp up and become SO much more delicious than this description would suggest. Of course it does sound like the sort of too-worthy, unnecessary, overcompensatingly healthy recipe that would have you running for the sour cream and chive Pringles. But these are truly delicious in their own right - and beautiful too, like dried rose petals - with a delicate smoky crunch to them that is very moreish. I only made a small amount, because I wasn't sure if it would work out or not, but I'd definitely commit to making this with lots of beetroot again. They'd make quite a grown-up nibble with drinks...

To augment this I chopped up some carrot sticks and made a quick dip out of Greek yoghurt, the salvageable remains of a disappointing avocado (and a disappointing avocado really stings), sea salt, lemon juice and sumac. Simple enough, but the creamy tang of the yoghurt and the earthy, lemony sumac provided intriguing flavours as they were scooped up by the vegetables.

Above: To offset that very healthy starter, I did a culinary 180 degree turn and served buttery pasta for dinner...it was something I came up with on the spot but I was impressed with how elegant it all turned out to be. I didn't really measure anything but you hardly need a recipe for something like this. I put fettucine into a pan of boiling, salted water, and while it was cooking I melted a good amount of butter in another pot, letting a garlic clove brown in it which I binned afterwards (that's to say: I ate it) allowing the butter to really get dark and nutty. Into this I tumbled some chopped walnuts, then turned off the heat while they gently toasted in the residual warmth. Finally I drained the now-cooked pasta, biffed it in with the butter, and added a handful of shredded beetroot leaves (you could easily use spinach) which wilted instantly. Pa-dah. Very, very delicious.

Above: Speaking of very delicious, I give you Shnecken (gesundheit!) or more literally, cinnamon buns. Now Nigella is generally fairly enthusiastic about food, one of the things I adore in her writing. But when she says uncompromisingly, of these buttery, walnutty, caramelly yeasted buns: "God I love them" - then you know, before even commencing, that you are onto something quite promising.

She speaketh the truth. Schnecken = love. These buns are ridiculously wonderful, as delicious as Nigella says and then some, and come from that fabulous book How To Be A Domestic Goddess. I honestly can't be bothered typing out the recipe (well, methods involving yeast are just so lengthy) but I found a copy here, unfortunately it's in American, but if anyone outside the US wants to make it (do!!) you need one sachet of dried yeast, some form of brown sugar for the magical, magical syrup and half a cup of butter (how do you measure butter in a half-cup??) is about 125g. Maybe it would have been quicker to type out...

Above: You know that scene in Spiceworld? Where they are all superheroes with a special power? And then Posh Spice appears and she doesn't even have a power, she just stands there looking gorgeous? (I think she points and winks too, as was the style of the time) That's what these buns are like. They just sit there, looking fabulous, and you think it's almost enough just to look at them, until you take a bite...oh my gosh they are nice. The brioche-like dough, the brown sugar with the cinnamon and walnuts...the butter. These are something special. The title of this post came courtesy of Paul, by the way, and worryingly, I can't remember the context of our conversation but it made me laugh, and I feel that it's a succinct description of myself, so what better reason to elect it to head of the post?

Above: Mmmm, food pr0n.

Speaking of porn, I saw Sex and The City on Thursday, and I'm not talking about the titular sex here (as it were), I'm talking clothes - this film was a veritable orgy of fashion. I'm no Stacey McGill, but by my calculations they changed outfits roughly every 3.5 seconds. I was feeling a little cynical about it beforehand (although 2-for-1 cosmopolitans at the bar helped put me in the mood) but it really is a good movie, if you like the TV show. In spite of myself I was excited about what these women had done with their lives and yes - about what Carrie would be wearing. They looked noticeably older - which is nice, considering how they were actually supposed to have aged in the film - and gorgeous, seriously if I have Kim Cattrall's body when I'm her age I'm going to become a nudist. Mr Big's constant, childish "ooh I can't commit" attitude got wearisome, and it did feel as though some plotlines were skated over, but on the whole, very enjoyable, indulgent montages and all. I realise that I referenced the Spice Girls AND The Baby Sitters Club in this post, (what next, po-mo Power Rangers quotes?) A new low, or indeed, high, depending on your view of pop culture.
Tim and I are, as you might know, trying to save to get back over to England (where we met, three years ago, on our respective Gap years.) We've been saving since 2006, and have a fairly tidy sum considering we really had NO money till last year, but we need so much more and so, have started making some serious decisions in the last month or two. For me, it means having rolled oats for breakfast instead of buttered toast (truly, I have it every day: rolled oats, softened briefly in water, with or without the addition of bran, linseeds, wheatgerm- how am I not size 0?); having miso soup for lunch at work; not buying fun ingredients willy-nilly; less meat and more lentils, being strong around cookbook sales and not getting Anthony Rapp's autobiography and The Rent Book imported at great expense... For Tim it is not buying fizzy drinks and Instant Kiwi tickets; having porridge instead of eggs on toast for breakfast; putting up with the lentil onslaught; and for both of us it means not going out drinking much and not buying DVDs recklessly. Both our bank accounts have become genuinely plumper with all of these corners cut, and our savings account is impressive for two poor students, but really, the only way we'll get over to England next year is if we win the lottery (and then hopefully we can pay for Tim's root canal too...but don't get me started on that.) Any tips on how to save or make money without resorting to eating Pot Noodles 24/7?

4 June 2008

"Reasons/To Justify Each Move..."


I have a bad habit of telling Tim about things I was going to, but didn't. Like, "oh Tim, I was going to buy you No Country For Old Men on DVD for you but I didn't because it was too expensive," or, "I was going to photocopy that Raconteurs interview I found in a magazine at work but then I ran out of time," or, "I was going to hang out the washing but...I didn't." I sort of justify it by saying, hopefully, "it's the thought that counts?"

A bit like how I justify my complaining by saying to him "if I didn't complain, you wouldn't know how I feel!" (and then inevitably find out that he has had a mercilessly sore tooth for three days and not said a word.)

Today I found myself in the changing room at Portmans with some cardigan- I don't even like Portmans, I was in town to buy the book American Psycho - thinking "good grief are those my thighs?" (yes, them again) and wondering how I could justify doing all that baking when I really am trying to eat healthily and do excercise. One step forward, two steps backwards before falling on one's cushiony bottom. And no matter how often I tell myself "Marilyn Monroe was the most beautiful woman in the world/I'd turn gay for Nigella/Meg White has chubby arms but is adorable" it's hard to actually apply that knowledge to my personal self. As you may have noticed from my constant complaining about it. But if I didn't tell you, you wouldn't know how I feel...So I baked anyway. Although my legs are too short, life's even shorter.

Above: I've made these gluten-free brownies before, and had a hankering to make them again, brought on partly out of necessity - the bananas in the freezer were taking up too much room and needed to be dealt with. Oh, and although blackened, overripe bananas are often said to be the best for baking, no-one ever mentions how disgusting they are to handle. There's something unbelievably nasty about their softly slippery texture, and the creepy oozy liquid left behind from the skins. (Still feel like brownies?) Sorry, but someone had to say it. No matter, once incorporated into the mix, they are nothing but delicious.

I won't repeat the recipe because you can just click the link above, but I added a spoonful of golden syrup this time, and cooked it for slightly less - 25 minutes at 180, then 10 minutes at 150. Don't know why, it just instinctively felt right.

Above: And ohhh how delicious they tasted, emitting cries of "but they don't even taste gluten-free!" from those who tried them. I realise it's easy for me, a red-blooded gluten-muncher, to say, but for all that I'm thankful for advances in technology I love gluten-free baking where you don't have to go purchasing forty different bags of various flours and pastes to make the whole thing stick together. These brownies are tenderly bound with the magical alchemy of peanut butter, bananas, cocoa, and eggs, and somehow come together to taste squidgy and densely chocolatey, and not at all like some kind of sawdusty substitute.

That's not all I baked. At work yesterday, I was flipping through a magazine and no sooner had I snidely commented "You know, I'm never really inspired by the food section of the New Zealand Woman's Weekly, there's something so dull and prosaic about their recipes..." than I found myself contritely scribbling down TWO recipes onto post-it notes because I wanted to try them myself. To the NZWW: I apologise. The following recipe is brilliant...

Above: I was very taken with the idea of this chewy slice, containing some of my favourite things - caramelly dates, walnuts, dark chocolate (I threw in some pumpkin seeds)...and there's no butter in it which sort of keeps costs down (of course, once you've bought walnuts and chocolate it's hardly cheap, but c'est la vie). The recipe itself called for a 400g pack of dates which I thought would swamp the delicate mixture, so I used about 300g. Oh and it asked for vanilla essence, for shame! Use vanilla extract or vanilla sugar, but don't ruin your gorgeous ingredients with essence, please....*climbs off soapbox*

Chewy Date, Walnut and Chocolate Slice

2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup self-raising flour
Dates, chopped, between 300 - 400g as you see fit
Chopped walnuts (they ask for a cup, I just threw in a handful willy-nilly)
Dark chocolate, chopped, I used about 100g

Turn your oven to 160 C. Beat eggs and sugar together like mad for about five minutes, till pale, thick and moussy. Use a whisk, it's good arm excercise and means you can eat more slice later. Oh and try not to do what I did, which was dribble batter onto the bench, then accidentally hit the whisk's handle so it flings batter all over the stove top and onto my face and clothes...gently, gently, fold in the flour, then the extra bits, and spread into a baking-paper lined medium sized brownie tin. I use a big piece of paper which overlaps at the edges so I can lift it out in one go afterwards for slicing. Bake for 35 minutes, and I recommend leaving it for a bit before you slice it. Nonetheless, this is easy and quick enough to whip up should company unexpectedly arrive demanding tea and cakes (without actually saying so, of course.)

Above: Paul and I were the only ones home when I made this so donned our tester hats, (I made him vow that if it turned out to be a disastrous mess we'd bin it and pretend I'd never baked anything in the first place). Luckily, t'was fabulous, the moussy eggs and sugar baked into a light casing for the delicious fillings, and as I bit in I never knew if my teeth were going to hit buttery walnuts, chewy dates, or soft, melting chocolate...It cracks a bit on top as you cut it, but this isn't really a problem unless you're making it for the sort of person for whom aesthetic issues like this are a problem, but as I try not to associate with people like that I think things will work out nicely. I can definitely see myself making this again and again in the future.
Finally, finally, finally we are starting to see promo ads for Outrageous Fortune season 4 on the telly. Can't wait. We also finally got round to watching some of our Season 3 DVD last night - it just felt right for some reason - and it's so emotionally draining, I get so invested in the lives of these characters that I have to tell myself firmly "they're just characters!" I mean, I know they aren't real, that's not what I'm saying, I guess it's just testament to the skill of the actors (Anthony Starr, who plays the twins Van and Jethro, actually manages to have sparkling chemistry with himself) and the writers, but yeah, it's full-on stuff.
I mentioned quite a while ago that Rent is closing on Broadway - juuuust too soon for me to consider actually going there to see it (well, we have to get to England first, let alone New York) but the original cast are going to appear at the 2008 Tony Awards sometime this month, so hopefully some bright spark puts it on Youtube asap. Speaking of Youtube and Rent, there was recently a benefit concert of Chess with Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal (I know!) Although I was lucky enough to see many musicals as a youth I never caught Chess, but after watching a couple of clips on Youtube, wow! "Nobody's Side" is one heck of a song, the sort you want to start again as soon as it finished. And I did. It made so much sense when I found out that the two B components of ABBA were behind the writing of the music...