31 July 2008


It has recently occurred to me that while I frequently wax lyrical about rolled oats and quinoa flakes and kibbled dust and the like, I rarely consider them in their most natural state: porridge. I have a few childhood porridge-memories - my late maternal grandfather making it for me when I stayed with him, having a bowlful at Nana's place and bemusing her (I distinctly remember this bit for some reason if you're reading Nana!) by sprinkling over white, instead of brown, sugar. To be frank I wasn't the biggest fan of its blandly creamy flavour, I ate it more out of an early-indoctrinated sense of politeness than anything else. But, as you may have gathered from my endless praise, I'm having something of a porridge revolution. I guess that would make this Revolution 1 (as opposed to "number 9...number 9..." get thee to the Beatles White Album if you don't know what I'm on about. Not that I know what they're on about.)

Even though it sounds faintly vile, I tend to have cold 'porridge' in the mornings - just oats, and whatever other kibbled and ground bits I have to hand, with cold water stirred in, and a dash of cinnamon. The oats soften remarkably quickly - I usually leave them sitting wetly for about five minutes - and the fragrant cinnamon makes me feel like I'm actually eating something more than paste. The ratio usually goes something like; 2 1/2 T oats, 2 1/2 T quinoa flakes, 1 T wheat bran, 1 T ground linseeds, 1 shake cinnamon, water to cover. What you see in the picture above though, is actual porridge...after a Swiss Ball class at uni on Wednesday I felt like something a little sustaining and warm, as it was inevitably raining again. So I microwaved the bowl of oats for a bit and added a swirl of golden syrup - perfect! It's funny, even though I was not, as aforementioned, a massive fan of it as a child, there seems something so wonderfully comforting about eating it now.

Forget what the Milo and Cornflake and Nutella ads tell you about sustained energy for today's kids, oats are so filling it's ridiculous. When I wasn't having them for breakfast, I always would end up feeling all light-headed and incompetent around 10am, and now I just feel incompetent (sh-k-boom!) but in all honesty, I can putter along quite happily till 1 or 2 without really needing to eat a thing, I realise this is hardly a new revelation - I've mentioned it before on this blog in fact - but until you try - she says wide eyed and evangelically - you have no idea of the difference it makes.

Before you run away in fear from my Flanders-like enthusiasm ("it's less fun that way!"), I present you the dairy-laden spectre of cheesecake.

In the name of journalistic integrity, I can't tell you toooo much about this cheesecake, as I made it for the September issue of Tearaway magazine. I was getting a bit freaked out because it has been raining nonstop here in Wellington (and most of NZ in fact) for the last couple of weeks - oh, you think I'm exaggerating. I'm not. Utterly, utterly mercifully, it eased up on Tuesday afternoon and I had a window of opportunity to take some photos in natural light. Thank goodness, otherwise who knows what I would have done (my deadline is a-looming!). Anyway, I won't show you all the rather nice photos I took, because they're for the mag, but I couldn't resist just one, especially because it is such a great recipe, and absolutely fuss-free - no gelatine to deal with (which, in my case, inevitably turns into gooey strings instead of folding coherently into the mixture) and no baking. Five points if you guess who the recipe is from. Oh that's right...

Cherry Cheesecake from Nigella Express.
By the way, this is only 'cherry ' by way of the conserves that she specifies you heap on top of the finished cheesecake. I'm sure you could use anything you fancy without the Cheesecake Police coming after you.
200g plain sweet biscuits (Nigella says 125g but friend, I like a thick base)
75g soft butter (I tend to trust Nidge's instinct for butter, and didn't add any more)

Blitz the biscuits in the food processor with the butter, press into a 20cm Springform.

300g cream cheese (At room temp, unless you have serious guns)
60g icing sugar
Juice of a lemon
250mls cream

Beat the cream cheese, sugar, and lemon juice. In another bowl, whip the cream, then fold, about quarter at a time, into the cream cheese. Pile onto the base, smooth...refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight...and that's it. It does hold together, despite not having much to it, and is coolly, creamily, tangily delicious. I don't know if it's just me - do all family parties have a buffet table? - but it is just begging for a can of drained, crushed pineapple to be folded through the mixture too.
By the way, thanks for the suggestions regarding the brisket, I cooked it tonight (didn't photograph, as I still find it difficult to make stews look anything other than sloppy), slowly with canned tomatoes, garlic, onion, cumin, nutmeg, a pinch of...tumeric...twas delicious! As I said before, natural light is a bit of a rarity here. Not only does it rain whenever I leave the house, it also seems to be particularly deluge-inous whenever I leave the house for Swiss Ball class at the uni rec centre. Maybe someone up there is trying to say something. We don't have it so bad though - Mum and Dad have been repeatedly without power, their driveway was flooded and a tree fell over, and Tim's parents' farm is a complete mess, with several sheds absolutely smashed. It's scary how quickly it all happened.

Next time: might be a little while off as I am getting freaked out with assignments for uni. However, I absolutely excelled myself as far as time management goes by mixing and kneading a loaf of bread this morning before work (at 7.30am). I left it to rise in the fridge, and baked it to go with dinner when I got home at half five, and I will blog about it when I get the chance, should the photos be useable.

Finally - finally - Tim and I splashed out on tickets to see the marvelously hilarious Bill Bailey (of the intensely funny Black Books show, etc) when he comes to New Zealand! They were pretty expensive but we run a fairly tight ship most days of the year and it will coincide with his birthday. Tim's, not Bill's. And we are totally going to wait at the stage door for him! Squee!

28 July 2008

Solid Gold Easy Action


These potatoes are neither radioactive nor laced with the sort of E-numbers that will keep a three year old awake for a week. It is in fact, my new friend tumeric, which I'm sneaking into everything these days. It has a squillion medicinal properties (and Mum, according to Wikipedia it repels ants if you sprinkle it in the garden), a delightfully earthy sweet flavour, and stains your food pleasingly, eye-scorchingly yellow.

Panchphoran Aloo, or potatoes with whole spices, comes from Nigella's seminal text How To Eat and is what I made for dinner tonight. HTE is so densely packed full of wonderful recipes that with initial reads it is impossible to take everything in. It took me a while to pick up on this fabulous potato dish but now I've made it so many times that I don't even use the (tumeric-smudged) book anymore. What you want to do: Get lots of floury potatoes, scrub them and then parboil for five-ten minutes. Nigella doesn't instruct you to do this, but it makes them a lot easier to cook. Drain and dice the potatoes, then toss them into a hot, non-stick pan, stirring occasionally still somewhat golden. Add a spoonful or so of the following and stir: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fenugreek, fennel seeds, mustard seeds...tumeric. There's a bit of standing and stirring involved but it's really simple to make and tastes marvelous, especially with plenty of sea salt.

This is a very cheap meal for me because I have all those spices to hand (including a 500g catering-sized pack of cumin seeds that I've made surprising headway with) but I can see why the lesser-stocked amongst you might freak out at an ingredients list like that. I find health food stores really handy for cheap bags of spices and things if you want to start somewhere. There's one on Cuba Street which has all manner of enticing wee bags of things...that I am quite embarrassingly addicted to purchasing. Last time I was there (on the way to The Dark Knight) I walked out clutching 2 bags of quinoa flakes, a bag of kibbled rye, a bag of ground linseeds and a bag of bran. It's addictive I tells ye.

By the way, I apologise for the harsh photography. I'm having ongoing camera issues, which, coupled with the total lack of natural light here (it has rained for about 3 weeks straight) does not good food porn maketh. I also apologise if this post is lacklustre...these assignments are keeping me stressed and busy, instead of stressed and stationary.

With the rain and the sleet and the damp and the cold comes a couple of benefits. For example: steamed pudding. I first bought my pudding steamer in the infant days of this blog (back when I had permanent poor exposure and no depth of field, ah, circularity) and it occurred to me that it hadn't gotten any use in a while. A casual flick through Nigella's delicious How To Be A Domestic Goddess (while I should have been doing something more productive) had me longing suddenly to introduce butter to its amigos sugar and flour. You have to get going in advance - the whole two hours steaming thing - but apart from that these things practically make themselves. And they're so delicious, not stodgy at all, but miraculously light. And I love the way a fat, golden jammy slice of this pudding slowly soaks up the milk pooling in the base of the bowl...I highly recommend you look up all your very old cookbooks, you know, the sort that have recipes for salads set with gelatine, and make yourself a darned steamed pudding. Unless you're in the northern hemisphere in which case maybe wait a few months. It's one of the best things about this weather.

If I can't be perky, nothing livens things up like the neighbourhood cat - seriously, I defy you to view this and not feel the slightest stirrings of mirth in your soul.

Above: This isn't our cat. If the landlord is reading, this isn't even a cat, it's...a teddy bear (ceci n'est pas un chat?) But seriously, it's this kitteh that hangs round our 'hood and occasionally stands by the door looking cute and vulnerable and what would you do? Turns out that its most natural, ideal sleeping position is...face-planted. Did you know cats can breathe out their ears?

Next time: I'm not sure, again, so I'm also not sure why I persist with this "next time" feature. I bought some brisket though, with a view to cooking it slowly somehow...any suggestions?

25 July 2008

The Dark Of The Matinee



Tim: That was amazing.
Me: Oh my gosh yes. I haven't been this moved by a film since Rent.
Tim: *exasperated silence*

Well, since everyone else in the world is talking about it I might as well too...Just a quick post to say that we (myself, Tim, Emma, Paul, Scotty and Matt) went to see The Dark Knight when it opened here in New Zealand on Tuesday night...okay it was actually 5.30 in the afternoon but it was pitch black and howling with sleety wind so none of the excitement was lost. Anyway; WOW. I hate scary movies and go out of my way to avoid them, but this wasn't so much scary as intense and brilliant. The hype is pretty well justified, I'd say. Heath Ledger was just electrifying as The Joker but it was eerie seeing him, so recently dead, 20ft tall across the screen. And Christian Bale is quite amazing as Batman/Bruce Wayne - darkly charismatic. Maggie Gyllenhaal I could take or leave, but Micheal Caine was as fun as ever. A very, very good movie.

In other housekeeping, I've just discovered that I have about 470 assignments and presentations due over the next three weeks so posting might be a little light. Or, you know, daily. I am also having...erm...camera issues...and clumsiness issues...and warranty issues (you join the dots) which is very depressing and might take a while to sort out, thus impinging on my already dubious ability to take blog-worthy photos.

You can find my articles (2 so far, another one on the way) for Tearaway magazine here, if you feel like wincing at my overeager attempts to sound down-with-the-kids, or indeed trying the recipes, which are quite good I think.

And I'm done. Cakes below. Not sure whether I'll pop back in here or not at this stage, but have a good weekend!

22 July 2008

A Cake Is A Cake Is A Cake Is A Cake Is A


Tim and I have been studying the sometimes-unapproachable poetry of Gertrude Stein in our American Lit class. I didn't know an awful lot about her before this, apart from the fact that she was namechecked in (a) an Anastasia Krupnik novel and (b) the La Vie Boheme number from Rent. (Interestingly, Langston Hughes, who we will be discussing in our next lecture, also had a glass raised to him in this song.) It would be pretty cruel of me to write this post to write this post in the style of Gertrude Stein, if I were to write this in the style if I were, if I were, if I were to write the style of, if I were to, would it, if I were, in the style, in the in the in the Gertrude Stein if I were, if I were to, would you if I were, would you throw your computer out the window and send me hate mail?

And would I even be writing in the style of Gertrude Stein or in fact of the publisher who archly rejected her? "Hardly one copy should sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one."

Anyhoodle, enough highbrow literary references - on with the cake!

I've made Nigella's Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake from Feast before, and her Chocolate Fudge Cake from Nigella Bites, and this cake above, the Chocolate Sour Cream Cake from How To Be A Domestic Goddess is in fact somewhere in the middle of the two. It disappeared quickly and is, like the others in the tripartite, a rather perfect cake. It's not overly rich, but moist and cocoa-y, and has lots of lovely, creamy icing which softly sandwiches the two layers together. It's also simple to make, the sort of thing you can knock together on the spur of the moment - as I did. A rose is a rose, but a cake is not just a cake, it brings joy - well, maybe the making of it only brings happiness to a food nerd like me, but the eating of it is something else altogether.

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake (slightly adapted because Nigella seems to like using lots of bowls, which is all very well and good if you actually have a dishwasher)

200g butter
200g sugar
2 large eggs
40g best cocoa
150mls sour cream
200g plain flour
3/4 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1 1/2 t best vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180 C, and butter and line two 20cm cake tins. Beat the butter and sugar together thoroughly, add the eggs, cocoa, and fold in the flour, raising agents and sour cream. For some reason the mixture was a little too stiff (hee) for me, I'm sure adding a tablespoon or so of milk won't harm anything. Spread between the two tins - and it will be stiff stuff - and bake for 30 minutes, allowing the cakes to cool thoroughly after. They will look woefully flat, but once sandwiched thickly with icing it will appear more pleasingly majestic.


150g dark chocolate
80g butter
125g sour cream
1 T golden syrup
Icing sugar

Melt the butter and chocolate together, and let it cool a little. Stir in the syrup and sour cream, and enough sifted icing sugar to create a deliciously spreadable mixture. Use it to sandwich an ice the two cakes, and then...lick the bowl.

Rather uncharacteristically, it was a two-cake week. Wherefore? Well, the local Glengarry bottle shop had a fire a while back and had only just re-opened...on a whim Tim and I went in for a look, I have to say the people that work there are always very polite to us and answer our questions very seriously (even if we're wearing those grey trackpants with elasticated ankles...both of us...) Before I knew it Tim had purchased some Guinness and implored me to make Nigella's world-famous-in-our-flat Chocolate Guinness Cake. I can't say no to a request like that.

I've made this before, several times in fact, and it is always astounding. The combination of dark, bitter beer and chocolate cake may sound like some kind of fusion-nightmare, but it is a ridiculously, rapturously good pairing. It has just occured to me that while I've blogged about this cake many times, I've never posted a recipe for it, I might as well change that right now. This page in Feast has become smudged with cocoa and smeared with batter; when I open the book a small dust-cloud of flour rises. Therefore it is with no small recommendation that I give you this recipe.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

By the way, I didn't mistype the amount of sugar. Yes, it's a scary amount, but...it's a big cake. And it's not overpoweringly sweet in the slightest.

250mls Guinness
250g butter
75g cocoa
400g sugar
145mls sour cream (one of those little yoghurt-tub sized, er, tubs)
2 eggs
1 T real vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2 1/2 t baking soda

Okay. So, set your oven to 180 C and butter/line a 23cm springform tin. First of all you want to get a big 'ol pan, pour in the Guinness and add the butter - cut into small pieces - and gently heat it so the butter melts. It shouldn't bubble, keep the heat low. Now, simply stir in the rest of the ingredients - I use a spatula - and pour into your tin. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on your oven. The kitchen will smell heavenly, I promise you.

Once cool, ice with a mixture of 200g cream cheese (NOT low-fat), 125mls whipped cream, and 150g icing sugar folded together.

This, like Dame Helen Mirren, only gets better with time. I would find myself making excuses to go to the kitchen to shave off thin slices...and I wasn't the only one, the cake swiftly shrank, chunk by chunk, getting denser and tastier and intensely more delicious with each day.

What's that noise? Oh yeah. It's your conscience, saying "mmmmaaaa-aaa-aake the chocolate Guinness cake..."

And finally, because like cakes, not all cookies are created equal, I bring you, erm, cookies.

These also make a very regular appearance, in fact I hardly even photograph them these days. However there was actually something resembling natural light outside yesterday (hey, it is Winter) after I pulled these out of the oven so I quickly started snapping. These cookies are amazing, as I said I make them lots, but the best thing about the recipe is that it's so forgiving, and...it contains oats. Much like lentils, oats have a special place in my heart (perhaps near the arteries, holding a cool, soothing hand to whatever their feverish forehead would be) and I love incorporating them into my food wherever possible.

This particular batch of cookies contain shards of intense, 80% cocoa dark chocolate, ground linseeds, poppy seeds and - oh yes I did go there - quinoa flakes. I realise this makes them sound like Little Patties of Earnest Nastiness, but they taste exactly like chocolate chunk cookies ought to, because all the extras just sort of melt into them. They are in fact, my favourite permutation of these cookies, and trust me there have been several varations on this theme.

And they're practically healthy. I mean quinoa. It pwns even lentils in terms of greatness and lets face it, a few nutty flakes of quinoa are more appealing in a cookie than a paste of cooked lentils. But really, as far as that 3.30pm-I'm-going-to-eat-everything-in-the-house feeling goes, you could do worse than to have one or two of these.

I wrote all of this before Outrageous Fortune but have just finished watching it now...what an episode! A flicker of promise between Cheryl and Judd and...we got to see Wolf's bum (swoon!)

Next time: I haven't the foggiest, to be frank.

20 July 2008

Pink Goes Good With Green


Kay - the one who is not my mother - hit the nail on the head. The title of my last post was a pun on a quote from the musical Wicked. The long explanation can be seen on youtube in this video of Kristin Chenoweth as Galinda singing 'Popular' to Idina Menzel's Elphaba. The short explanation - Galinda puts a pink flower in the green girl, Elphaba's hair, and says "pink goes good with green" - I think it's supposed to be symbolic of their friendship too ('scuse my geekiness...) Not a real post today, because I've squandered all my time on wine, women and song; oops I mean I've been doing uni work and frantically writing my column for Tearaway magazine. And now I have to take off to town even though it's bitterly cold outside because there is a football game on with The Phoenix, remember them? The team who played David Beckham last December? Anyway, I don't even have time to make sure this post is actually coherent! I'll edit this properly when I get home, promise! Au revoir!

Update: We won! 1-nil vs the Mariners who are some team from Australia. They're in "The League" though, and whatever this mysterious league is, apparently it's quite prestigious and the Phoenix are the only NZ team on it. I have to say, football is more fun when it's summer and...you've had a couple of red wines. Nevertheless it was a good time, even for a dyed-in-the-wool sports hater like myself.

While I have something resembling your undivided attention, may I direct it Helen Mirren-wards? I saw this post on Go Fug Yourself, a sassy blog dedicated to pointing out the lamentable flaws in celebrities wardrobes, they do however graciously concede when something is worn well. And oh my, how she wears a bikini well. In all seriousness, her cleavage is mesmerising.

Finally in this update...Tim and I have been watching The Johnny Cash Show DVD, it has amazing footage - a ridiculously young Bob Dylan harmonising with Cash on The Girl From The North Country...Tammy Wynette, with mind-bogglingly vertical hair singing Stand By Your Man...and a personal favourite of mine - Neil Young strumming a guitar and singing Needle And The Damage Done. It is a silencingly good performance. We seem to acquire DVDs in our sleep, our collection grows all the time, but I'm glad we got this one.

Next time - I went slightly mad this week and made chocolate cakes, unfortunately the pictures are of dubious quality but that's what happens when the cakes barely sit still long enough to be photographed...

14 July 2008

Pink Goes Good With Grain


If anyone can tell me what is behind the (admittedly forced) pun in my title you win a million dollars.

Not. But, I would be kinda tickled if anyone can work it out.

Mum got me a bag of quinoa - something which I have, nerdily, been quite wild to try for some time now. I never thought I'd come across something more virtuous than lentils, but here I am. Life sure can take you on some interesting journeys. The Incans called quinoa the "mother of all grains" and are you going to argue with that recommendation? It contains forty squillion different vitamins and minerals and has more protein than any other non-meat product, and with all this you'd expect it to be kind of high maintenance, right? But no, a two year old could cook it. All you have to do is let it simmer for ten minutes, no pre-soaking or anything. As if all that weren't thrilling enough, it actually tastes really good. Closest in texture to couscous, but much lighter, it has a somewhat nutty flavour which lends itself nicely to having chunks of roasted vegetables folded through...

Of course, adding roasted beetroot instantly turned the entire bowl of quinoa bright pink. Also in the mix was roasted carrot, walnuts, chopped spinach, and a perhaps-slightly-toooo-generous spoonful of ras-el-hanout. I thought about drizzling in some olive oil but the quinoa is so light and fluffy that I didn't want it to be bogged down with gluggy oil.

Above: I did something very similar with some wholewheat pasta - more roasted beetroot, spinach, etc, but this time I included some mashed cloves of roasted garlic. The sweet nuttiness of the beetroot complemented the nuttiness of the pasta (I really need a new synonym to describe nuttiness huh?) and the garlic was a perfect addition. Again, as soon as I gave it a stir, the whole lot turned irrevocably, gaudily...pink.

Above: Once more - with organic burghal wheat. You probably don't need me to point it out, but this inexplicably became tinted the pinkest of them all, which contrasted pleasingly with the snowy feta (added at the VERY last minute here for photographic purposes.) After that I kind of cooled it on the beetroot front but look, they're really cheap and good for you, okay? And sometimes you have to take what you can get.

So it has been a bit of a wholegrain orgy in my kitchen lately. I know I'm smitten with them, but trust me, they're more alluring than their earnest, hessian-weave image would suggest. And it's not all roasted beetroot, for example, witness rolled oats cleverly disguised as pancakes...

I made these following an old recipe of Alison Holsts's. It doesn't make a lot, so is suited nicely to a cosy, lazy Sunday breakfast for two. They are surprisingly filling, but aren't stodgy or lumpen at all.

Oaty Pancakes

3/4 cup rolled oats

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup flour

1 t baking powder

1 egg

2 T sugar

2 T butter, melted

Pour the milk over the rolled oats in a good sized bowl, and leave to sit for 5-10 minutes, perhaps while you potter round getting the rest of the ingredients. Stir in the rest of the ingredients without overmixing, and add a little more milk to slacken if the batter looks too stiff. I did. I also melted the butter in the pan I planned on cooking the pancakes in, before tipping it into the batter (thus saving on dishes! Like a true student.) These work best as smallish cakes, about the size of one of Jennifer Lopez' hoop earrings circa 2002 (meow!) and need flipping once bubbles appear. Don't leave them for too long though as the bubbles aren't as obvious with all those oats in the way. Eat however you want, with butter, with golden syrup, whatever.

All these various foods - oats, quinoa, burghal wheat, wholewheat pasta - are not only delicious they are also incredibly good for you. They are filling - when I used to have toast for breakfast I would not only be intensely hungry at lunch, I would also have that horrible empty-head-empty-stomach feeling. This is why I eat so much of them: So that I don't end up buying chocolate bars at 10.00am, and so that I don't feel bad about the big ol' chocolate cake that I made this afternoon (and will blog about soon...)

In other news, I'm really enjoying all my papers so far this term. I may not feel that way when I'm wading neck-deep through assignments but so far, so enjoyable...however I am being positively haunted by advertising for Wicked in Melbourne, even long-suffering Tim pointed out a poster in excitement to me before - "oh" - realising it's an Australian performance. Nevermind, these things all happen when they're supposed to and it wouldn't be so bad to see it in the West End even if I have to wait a while...Speaking of Broadway I am currently in love with the Spring Awakening soundtrack, if you don't mind a little salty language and teenage angst the songs are utterly gorgeous.

10 July 2008

Sugar Never Tasted So Good


I have been a little frugal with my posting lately. This is partly due to the useless light for food photography (it's pitch black outside at 5.30pm and glaringly lit within by energy-saver bulbs), but also, happily, because my mother and godmother were in town on a conference and have been recklessly indulging Tim and I in many meals out in town. Being relatively impoverished students we rarely go to restaurants and cafes so this was rather thrilling. As you may have read in my last post, I have been making a lot of soup for dinner - it's so cheap - but there has been the occasional sweet respite hither and thither amongst the lentils and wholegrains. When it's this cold outside - and inside - can you see your breath when you exhale in your house? - dinner alone isn't always enough, one needs more, more more in the form of something (inevitably) buttery and sugary.

Crumble is the pudding I always turn to when I am cold and require quick solace and am unable to ignore my instinct to continue eating after dinner. The other night, as with all nights, I was feeling that way, and decided that an apple crumble for Tim and I wouldn't be the end of the world. I plumped out the apples with a diced kiwifruit, and made a veeeerry generous topping of crumble (well, what's the point if it's only a mere sprinkling?) out of all manner of good things - butter, flour, custard powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, oats, bran...

They were, like every crumble in the world, absolutely perfect. In particular I liked the nuttiness of the oats, the creaminess that the custard powder imparted, and the sharpness of the kiwifruit...

I made the Pineapple Upside Down Cake from Nigella Express quite a while ago now but never got round to blogging about it what with one thing and another. It couldn't be easier to make and is very good, I do love canned pineapple (drinking the leftover juice straight out of the can was always something I loved doing as a child) and it caramelises nicely under the batter. Unfortunately my can of pineapple rings didn't cover the tin properly so I arranged some dried apricots here and there to fill in the gaps. Though you may think Nigella's assertion that the inclusion of pineapple juice makes the cake layer fluffier is fanciful at best but honestly, it does...

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

100g each of butter, sugar, and flour
2 eggs
1 can of pineapple slices in juice (by my calculations you need 7 pieces), juice reserved
1 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
2 T sugar, extra

Set oven to 200 C. Nigella recommends either a 20cm tarte Tatin tin or a 23 cm cake tin, I, like perhaps many of you, do not own a tin de Tatin and so used the 23cm cake tin...I think a 20cm one would be better but then I do prefer a thicker layer of cake. Anyway, if you're using a cake tin it's not allowed to be a springform or loosebottomed one - for once. Sprinkle the 2 T extra sugar over the base of your tin and arrange the pineapple on top. Then, simply throw the rest of the ingredients in the food processor (or proceed with a wooden spoon) and make sure you remember to add 3 T of the reserved pineapple juice. Spread this over the pineapple, and don't go eating any batter because there's not a lot to go round. Bake for 30 minutes then carefully invert onto a plate. Slice into golden wedges of retro-deliciousness.


Overheard In Our Kitchen:

Me: I think I might make those apple blondies again today.
Tim: (more animated than I've seen him in years) Yeah!
Me: But I mean, I don't really neeeed to make them. Butterexpensivemythighs...
Tim: You should make them.
Me: We don't even have any apples.
Tim: Yes we do.

*dramatic pause*

Me: I'm gonna bake them. Now.


It's not all puddings. Sometimes a gal's just got to bake gratuitiously. Oh sure, I can tell myself it's for when Tim gets low blood sugar - and these have justified its existence in that respect more than once - but really, I just made these Apple Blondies for the sheer what-the-heckery of wanting to bake. As you can tell by the above-transcribed conversation, I didn't even truly want to be talked out of making them. I knew as soon as I saw the recipe on Kelly-Jane's blog - and see it too for reference - that I was going to make them, and soon.

The first time I made these, I reduced the sugar greatly (Well, there's 5 cups! In once recipe! *clutches pearls*) and halved the icing. They were great, but I realised the icing was there for a reason: it's frigging magical. So, when I made them again just the other day, I was a bit more careful. I reduced the sugar in the batter, and replaced some of said sugar with dark, crumbly muscovado, which is so dense and caramelly and perfect with apples. I reduced the sugar by about a third in the icing, which meant there was still a nice thick spread of it. I doubled the apple content of the batter and added some milk because it seemed quite dry, which made for a much nicer blondie than my first batch. So, I might as well give you my adaptation of the recipe, but see Kelly-Jane's blog for the original if, unlike me, you have the metabolism of a toddler. Can I just point out though, that the original recipe calls for 2/3 of a cup of butter. Are there any Americans out there who can enlighten me how you measure butter in this way? America has bestowed upon us some fabulous things - Motown, The Baby Sitters Club, Idina Menzel, Johnny Cash, the concept of peanut butter as an ingredient...but I can't fathom how measuring butter in cups is a good way of going about things.

Apple Blondies with Brown Sugar Icing
180g butter, softened
1 1/4 cups brown sugar (or a mix of brown and muscovado sugar, which I recommend)
2 eggs
2 apples, skin on, diced
2 cups plain flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 cup milk
As many walnuts as you like...although I find Brazil nuts lovely here.

This recipe is delightfully simple. Set your oven to 180 C and line a medium brownie tin (13 x 9 inches is what the recipe says) Beat the butter and sugar till fluffy and aerated, then add the eggs. If you are using a wooden spoon like I was, this will take a bit of muscle. Next, merely fold in the rest of the ingredients carefully, adding a little more milk if you deem it necessary. At this point do not whatever you do taste the mixture or you will never make it to the finished product. It is truly delicious stuff. Spread it into your prepared tin and bake for 25-30 minutes. Once cool, make the icing...

125g butter
1/2 cup muscovado sugar
2 T milk
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
Melt the butter and muscovado sugar together in a saucepan, then add the milk, stirring all the time. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Stir in the icing sugar once it has cooled a little, I didn't actually measure the icing sugar at all, just stirred it in till I was happy with the consistency. Using a spatula, spread over your now-cooled blondies...

This stuff is wickedly, ridiculously, marvelously delicious. Prepare to win friends and influence people as they bid for a slice of it. If you can possibly help it, hold out till the next day (baking this at midnight if you have to) because it gets even better with a bit of time sitting round. I say this as a big fan of caramelly flavoured things, but it seems to be a crowd-pleaser across the board. Such superlatives have not been bandied about in my flat since the Chocolate Guinness Cake I made for St Paddy's.

It has been a busy week, inbetween having a lovely time catching up with Mum, Tim and I were also in our first week back at uni. So far my classes are interesting (I'm in my third year of tertiary education and 'interesting' is the best I can come up with?) but I think it will be full-on as far as assignments are concerned.

Next time: I try Quinoa for the first time, thanks to Mum for giving me a bag of it...

6 July 2008

O Broth, Where Art Thou?


Just because it is summer in America, does not (unfortunately) mean it is summer in New Zealand. Just putting it out there - while y'all are consuming sorbets and frozen yoghurts and cooling salads, we have had snow in previously un-snowed locales, closed roads, gale force winds...Because of the said seasonal conditions, I have been on something of a soup kick lately. We've had it in various forms all week for dinner, and it's ideal for combatting the incessant sharp chill of winter that permeates our damp, un-insulated, World Health Standard-violating flat.

Soup 1:

Above: Gold on gold...a taste of sunshine for when it's rainy outside. This soup is something I came up with while riffing on my standard pumpkin soup recipe. Basically it is the same - roasted pumpkin, mashed roughly with a wooden spoon and with stock stirred in - but I added dense, mushy cooked red lentils, a good 2/3 cup which and pretty much made it a complete meal. As well as this I sprinkled over plenty of yellow tumeric, as you can see in this picture, and ras-el-hanout, a spice mix to which I am quite addicted. It isn't too obscure, most places these days are stocking it, and it imparts headily warm, aromatic, gentle spiciness.

As well as being seriously healthy, pumpkin and lentils are two of the cheapest things around these days. The lentils I used were some organic ones my mum sent me and the pumpkin was from the local vege market. Mmm, moral fibre and actual fibre in one bowl.

To go with the soup, and to augment the sunny golden-ness, I whipped up a batch of cornbread. The recipe I use is Nigella's and is a favourite of mine, it always works and can be fiddled and faddled with to no ill effect and is the perfect accompaniment to almost anything (particularly butter...)


175g cornmeal (or polenta, same diff so look for either)
125g plain flour
45g caster sugar
2 t baking powder
250ml full fat milk
1 egg
45g butter, melted

Set oven to 200 C. Grease whatever you're using - a muffin tin, a 20cm-ish brownie tin, etc. What I usually do is melt the butter in a decent sized microwave-proof bowl. Then I stir in the milk and egg with a fork. Then tip in all the dry ingredients, mix till just combined - don't worry about lumps - then pour into your receptacle and bake, for 20-25 minutes. I have made this with superfine cornmeal and the more granular stuff, and a mix of the two, anything is fine really although the granular stuff gives slightly more bite to your finished product.

We had this soup again, with leftover cornbread for mopping up, the next night. This time I roasted some carrots as well and mashed them in once tender. They gave an added note of natural sweetness which was quite effective...
Soup 2:

One of my favourite things about Cuisine magazine is Ray McVinnie's Quick Smart column, where he gives, every month - how does he do it? - an exhaustive list of meal ideas and recipes based on a particular theme. After reading his promptings to make any number of soups, I tried this. I sauteed finely chopped onions and garlic, then added some chopped free-range bacon, stirring till cooked. I added diced, floury potatoes, dried thyme, and porcini stock, and allowed it to simmer till the potatoes were utterly tender and melting into the stock. I sprinkled over some nutmeg and pink peppercorns and biffed in a crisp green handful of chopped spinach, which wilted on impact. This deliciously thick, comforting soup was what Tim and I ate while watching Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story on DVD. After we finished watching it we weren't overly impressed, but the next day we were repeating quotes back and forth and cracking up...anyway it's worth it for Jack White's cameo as Elvis Presley alone.

On Friday night Tim and I had fish and chips, a decision perhaps fuelled by the amount of wine I had at after-work drinks that afternoon (nothing to worry about, but put it this way - I didn't make it to Bikram yoga.) Through work I scored free tickets to see Samuel Flynn Scott, one of New Zealand's most prolific musicians. He is well-known for his work with the Phoenix Foundation and the Eagle vs Shark soundtrack, as well as dabbling in other side projects yet...I'd never really heard any of his stuff. All I knew about him was that he was endowed with a fullsome beard and had participated in our Smoking: Not Our Future campaign. What can I say - we had a great night. He and his equally beardy band Bunnies on Ponies were tight, charismatic, fun, and the banter mercifully tended to err on the side of witty. Because I've never really heard much of their music I wouldn't want to make any comparisons in case they were absolutely wrong but...they had a kind of ModestMouse-happyREM-SplitEnz thing going on. They finished with a rousing cover of the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society, a ditty that I love...

On Saturday I was lucky enough to catch up with my mother and my godmum, who were in town for a language teachers' conference...after an enormous lunch with them at the Black Harp Tim and I had soup number 3 for dinner - a light, noodly Japanese-style broth.

Soup 4:


I have stopped buying exciting ingredients with such mad gay abandon these days, partly because of money, partly because of lack of space, but when I found some dried borlotti beans going very cheaply at the Meditteranean Warehouse in Newtown I consciously ignored that rule...They were soaked, and simmered up for Nigella's Pasta e Fagioli from Nigella Bites. It couldn't be simpler - it is basically just cooked up beans and pasta. I added a tin of tomatoes and a splash of sherry, and it made for a perfect Sunday night dinner. No accompaniments necessary, apart from a spoon.

Tim and I start back at university tomorrow. It seems like just yesterday that I was dashing up hill and down dale in February trying to register for my classes in the sweltering heat and now I'm in my final term. I'm doing three 3rd year papers this semester, hopefully it's not too gruelling, but then I think to myself, surely nothing could be as gruelling as the photography paper. By the way, I finished up with a good, solid B as my final mark for that particular gem of a class, not bad eh what? And in a matter of months I shall be Laura Vincent, BA...

3 July 2008

Tag Hag


No-one's perfect, I've got taggage...The seriously spunky Ann from Velvet Lava (note to self: why is this gal not on my blogroll?) has tagged me to participate in this erm, tag, wherein I answer some questions about ME. I've already given my vague opinion on tags yet I can't help but do them every time; I think I just love any excuse to talk about myself (hey, why else would I blog?) Hopefully I give you something new and interesting, although I'm afraid it's not likely. Ooh she likes butter and Nigella and Rent. Yawn. Those of you expecting food, either waltz on past to the post below about raw vegan salads and pumpkin muffins, or wait patiently for the next installment.

What was I doing 10 years ago? Ten years ago - 1998 - I would have just turned twelve. I imagine I would still have been mourning Geri "Ginger Spice" Halliwell departing the Spice Girls. I loved the Spice Girls fervently, and still look back on them with fondness for that reason. I wore a black ribbon in my hair for a week after Geri left, and often cried myself to sleep listening to Viva Forever. I was an interesting child. Pursuits of note - writing my own makeshift Baby Sitters Club books (I was too young to know about fanfic) reading Dolly magazine, doing regular ballet, tap, jazz, folk and contemporary dance lessons, buying clothes from charity shops and dreading any PE classes at school. Gosh, I can't imagine why I didn't have a boyfriend. Well, at least I had Girl Power.

Five snacks I enjoy: Kiwifruit, miso soup, Twisties, white chocolate, anything buttered.

Five things on my to do list: Only five? First of all would be to simply take up less space...oh I'm not obese by anyone's standards but it would be nice to have thighs that I'm not in constant trepidation of. Secondly: To save enough money/win the lottery with Tim to go over to England and whoop it up round Europe. Thirdly, and you know about this, to come back to NZ and start a fabulous coffee shop from which I can write my fabulous cookbook. Fourthly: Start reading American Psycho for my American Lit paper next term even though I'm too scared to start it. It has an R18 sticker on it! A book! Fifthly, if there is such a word, to keep our room tidy. Or at least keep it tidy till Mum's visit this weekend. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, don'tcha know.

Five things I would do if I was a billionaire: (1)Pay Warner Brothers whatever it takes to get Idina Menzel to do a gig in New Zealand. They haven't even put her CD in the shops here! We exist! Maybe I'd put the hard word on The White Stripes to come back here too. (2) Make sure my family - both our families in fact - were totally cosy and comfortable for life. (3) Stop stressing about saving for England. (4) Buy lots and lots of food and nice kitchenware and COOK LIKE MAD! (5) Buy a whole ton of cats from an animal shelter. Oh the things I could do with lots of money - fund diabetes research, give to charity, buy Dad a nice car, buy Nigella's love...

Five jobs I've had: I don't think I've even had five. Okay, well my first job was when I left school for my Gap year in England, where I was general whipping-girl at a performing arts school. I did matron stuff (getting kids to bed) teacher stuff (tutoring 8 year olds in grammar and things) labour stuff (painting the set for shows) warden stuff (name ticking, lunch duty, supervising swimming) big sister stuff (getting lollies and stuff for kids from Tesco) bartender stuff (working on the bar during shows) and all manner of things. Since coming back to NZ I've worked in a German bakery (where I never could balance my till correctly) and now work in a social marketing firm which manages organisations like Smokefree, Sunsmart, Feeding our Futures and Problem Gambling.

Five of my bad habits: Okay: bloody-mindedness, chronic untidiness, extreme nervousness, a tendency to binge-eat and a very bad case of over-thinkery.

Five places I've lived: In a way I've only ever lived in my house in Otaua (an hour from Auckland, two from Hamilton) because that is where I grew up and my parents have never moved from there. But; for two years I lived during the week in Hamilton at boarding school, then I lived for a year in Tring, England, and I've flatted for the past two and a half years in Wellington.

Five people I'm-a pass this on to: I always hate this bit because people either have already been tagged or vehemently hate being picked for it. Well, tough.

Sarah Nicole at Cultural Musings
Kerry at Me and My Three
Erica at Oh My! Apple Pie!
Linda at Thinking About Food
Kelly-Jane at Cooking The Books

1 July 2008

I Fought The Raw And The Raw Won


So. Raw, Vegan Food. Doesn't exactly inspire lusty salivation. Especially not in the middle of a cold, sharp winter. I have nothing against shunning meat - why, some of my best friends are vegetarian! But I feel it's a bit like deep-frying and haircuts and hiking: better done by other people. And I suppose I can see the thought process behind veganism, you know, don't harm animals, sustainability, etc. But two crucial words: no butter. It just seems so strident, so militant, so charmless. And is there anything more unloveable than forced-smile cupcakes made with a cup of mollasses and powdered egg replacement?

I'm hoping here that the vegan community doesn't rise up with fists and come to bludgeon me with a sustainably produced baseball bat. What I'm trying to say is, while I don't think a life without butter (don't get me started on cheese) is really a life lived, I do, despite appearances, love diversity and finding new recipes and being healthy. Some of the best places to look for these are vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, because of what they lack a certain fresh inventiveness is inherantly required. And this is where my raw, vegan stint came in.

It's not difficult to imagine the benefits of a raw vegan diet. No nutrients lost, no consumption of anything even vaguely guilt-inducing, no animal fats. I also absolutely could not live off it. For one thing, how would Tim get his carbohydrates? Raw potato, methinks, is not that appetising. And I have no desire to create "cakes" using a dehydrator. But there is a wealth of interesting stuff out there, a particular favourite of mine being the above salad. It was ambitiously labelled a "tagine" on the original site I found it on but...it's a salad. It's filling and delicious though, and almost indecently healthy, which is something I always appreciate. I give you my adapted recipe.

Raw Cauliflower Salad

1/2 a good sized head of cauli
1 beetroot
2 carrots
a small handful each of dried apricots and dates
1/4 cup nuts - pistachios are good, as are brazils
Poppy seeds

Basically, you need to chop everything Very Small. That's all. It's a bit of a pain, but try to enjoy it as part of the cooking process. Mix everything along with the poppy seeds in a large bowl and pour over the dressing. This is better the next day and makes quite a lot.


1 T tamarind paste, soaked in 1/2 cup water for 30 mins
1 T olive oil
1 T ground tumeric
2 t cumin seeds
1 t coriander seeds

Using a pestle and mortar, bash up the seeds with the olive oil. You could of course, use ground spices and a fork. Add the tamarind water and tumeric, and carefully pour over the salad, mixing it thoroughly (I find a spatula useful here, for scraping out the dressing from the pestle and mortar and mixing the salad without flinging.) Add salt, you'll probably want a good amount, plus lashings of coriander and mint, which really make this work.

Seriously, this is very good stuff. I happily ate it as dinner in its entirety (along with some rice for Tim) and...it also goes surprisingly well with proper pork sausages. Another recipe I tried but photographed badly was merely a large beetroot, topped, chopped, and blitzed in the food processor. I stirred in lots of sea salt and coriander and served it as is - we both loved it. Beetroot is so good for you and so cheap this time of year.

Above: This is, of course, Nigella's classically brilliant Thai Cole Slaw, which I've made about a squillion times. You can find a rough guide to the recipe here in one of my much-older posts. And, also composed entirely of raw vegetables and various flavourings.

This is not something I could stick to - as you can tell by my posts about ice cream - but I've had fun finding recipes and there's nothing wrong with eating things as fresh and untampered with as possible. I imagine that the cauliflower salad would be fabulous at a buffet dinner, or as an unorthodox inclusion on the Christmas table (perhaps more applicable to a sunny New Zealand Yuletide though) or just in the fridge for picking at when peckish as one inevitably is 24/7.

I gotta say though, there are some...interesting raw folk out there on the internet. Reminds me of that episode of the Simpsons, where Lisa has the crush on the hardcore vegetarian, who doesn't eat "anything that casts a shadow." Hee!

Back to the real world. These are of course, cooked, but quite healthy...I like to keep a stash of muffins in the freezer for if Tim gets low blood sugar or needs a boost. Freezing them is a good way of making sure they don't get absent-mindedly inhaled (you know how that happens) and it is a good excuse for me to happily potter round the kitchen with butter and sugar without feeling as though I'm contributing to Tim going blind or gangrenous one day (diabetes is a slow but harsh mistress.)

I somehow over the years acquired a few copies of the New World Essentially Food magazine, which, I have to say, can be a little hit and miss with its recipes. Some of them read like packet instructions, and some are just plain undelicious sounding, but it would be hugely uncharitable to say that I don't enjoy this magazine and haven't used it. Anyway, within its pages I found this Pumpkin Muffin recipe and loved the sound of it - not least because pumpkins are one of the few very cheap vegetables these days. I added some also-cheap carrot to the mix too. I'd give you the recipe, but Tim and I tidied our bedroom and as is so often the case, I am beggared if I can locate anything, including that particular magazine. If anyone's really champing at the bit for these though, email me and I'll see if I can hunt it down and reply. The muffins were so good (sorry!) - hearty and moist and cinnamony.

Above: So good. So good they get the Italicisation of Approval. And yes, I really did look for that rogue magazine.
Well, I'm now off to watch Outrageous Fortune. Thrilling! The only thing on telly really worth watching (apart from Nigella of course) and the best thing New Zealand has done in my 22 years at least.
Next time on Hungry and Frozen: I have no clue at this stage. But at least you won't have your expectations dashed!