29 October 2008

Gelatine-age Kicks

What a kerfuffle. I apologise heartily for neglecting the blogs I normally peruse loyally. If it's any consolation, between studying for my exam next Tuesday, stressing about WPC Ltd's attempt to bring their 'environmentally friendly' waste oil treatment plant to my hometown, vigorously promoting the protest video on youtube, and working, I've barely managed to attend to this blog. What can I say, it's rather difficult to type when you're shaking your fist at people. It makes me so furious that the WPC and members of the Franklin District Council that support them can go to bed at night, placidly untroubled about what they're doing to an entire community, while I find myself reading the same page of Kerouac's On The Road seven times because I'm so distracted with worry (perhaps also due to this book not being nearly as good as everyone claims it to be, perhaps not.) The hearing to decide the fate of Otaua is happening today and tomorrow, so you understand that I'm a little jittery. I'd like to say now that it was four years to the day on the 29th that my maternal grandfather died. He spent most of his final years living just up the road from us, and I imagine him watching over the proceedings, perhaps also with a fist held angrily aloft.

To the food: There is something about recipes involving gelatine that fills me with trepidation, I think it stems back to an incident involving Neenish Tarts when I was a child. The recipe called for the filling to be set with the dreaded stuff, which formed stringy, gummy strands the moment it hit the mixture. As people politely bit into the finished tarts, their teeth would meet with clumps of it, the texture of chopped up erasers marring the otherwise smooth and creamy filling. My gelatine experiences since then have been few and far between. Earlier this year though I spontaneously purchased some gelatine leaves from Kirkcaldie and Staines and decided to use them the other day to make Apple Tea Jelly, a recipe from the September 2005 Cuisine magazine that has held my attention ever since I read it. The weather is finally warming the shoulders enough to make this sort of thing even worth thinking about.

Above: Gelatine leaves. Nigella Lawson raves about them, which is enough to get me to hand over significant amounts of coin for something. But don't they look like some kind of ethereally golden church window? Hold them towards the sun and the Hallelujah chorus practically starts playing. Of course, those with a delicate constition may want to ignore the sole ingredient in these fairy-like sheets: pig skin. Moving along!

Powdered Turkish apple tea can be found in most supermarkets, but I happened to acquire a half-full box from my aunt after a comprehensive cleanout of her well-stocked pantry (which, up until said cleanout, was always something of a mystical haven for me, my version of Narnia). I never knew what to do with the stuff - it's too sugary to actually drink (I prefer a stiff black tea or something a bit more minty and natural, thankyou), and although the powder is intensely delicious eaten by the spoonful - like the best sour apple sweets you've ever tasted, dissolving ascerbically on the tongue - the idea of eating the whole lot makes me wince. So when I found this recipe, which uses a good amount of the stuff, I verily leapt with joy.

Above: The apple tea powder. Seriously, if you have some kicking around, try eating it with a spoon. It's intensely yummy, especially if you have what Nigella refers to as a sour tooth, rather than a sweet one. I have what I call a "fat tooth."

The recipe is very simple and specifies six 100ml dariole moulds, but since I was only feeding Tim and myself, I poured the whole lot into a little 600ml, old-fashioned Tala tin - also from that same aunt come to think of it. (Cheers, Lynn!)

Apple Tea Jelly

600mls boiling water
6 leaves gelatine
6 Tablespoons powdered apple tea

I funked it up a little by adding an apple-friendly chamomile teabag to the boiling water for a spell, and strewing some finely-chopped mint through the mixture once it was nearly set. But first: dissolve the apple tea in the boiling water. While that's happening, soak the gelatine leaves in a large lasagne-style dish filled with cold water for about a minute. They will soften slightly, and then, one at a time, pick them out of the water, squeeze them - which is rather squelchily pleasurable - and stir into the boiling apple tea, whereupon they will dissolve instantly. Pour the gelatined apple tea into your chosen receptacle, and then refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

Above: The unminted jelly, ready for refrigeration.

When you're ready to eat it, find a likely looking person (in my case, Tim) to dip the tin briefly in hot water and turn it out onto a plate. I refuse to do such things myself, I know it will only result in tears - not necessarily mine - and jelly in my ears.

And what a beauty it is! Shivery, diaphanous, and with a subtle, fragrant apple flavour that is a million miles from whatever lurid, food-colouring flavoured stuff you can get out of a packet. I love packet jelly, but this is just absolutely gorgeous stuff, alluringly wobbly and very impressive to the casual passer-by ("you made jelly? Not out of a packet? Ooooh.") I imagine it would be wonderful on a hot summer night, after some kind of spice-heavy dinner.

Like I said, I have been attempting to study for my English exam next Tuesday. In fairness to WPC Ltd, there has been one other thing distracting me from my books: The Mighty Boosh. I've been a fan for a while now but Tim and I got ourselves a DVD of Season Two and watched all six episodes in one sitting. I laughed so much I nearly pulled a muscle. It's sheer brilliance, a little like Flight of The Conchords only British and surreal and even funnier (I realise I seem to compare everything to FOTC but that's because people are generally afraid to try new things unless they can relate it to something they already know. Gelatine - it's like Flight of the Conchords, only it dissolves in hot water!) More loveable than Little Britain, more endearing than Mr Bean, more surreal than Green Wing, and almost as sharp as Blackadder. Actually I'd put it on a par with Black Books. Hath there existed greater praise for comedy?

The other exciting thing going on - okay, so you already know about Neil Young coming to town, but guess who else is going to be here in January. You'll never guess. Okay: Leonard Cohen. The gravel-and-maple-syrup voiced lothario himself. Since Tim and I were lucky enough to witness Rufus Wainwright earlier this year, that will be my entire Canadian Music Tripartite that I've managed to see in concert and I'm only 22! I honestly never thought I'd get to see Mr Cohen, at least not in New Zealand of all places. I couldn't be more excited than if Idina Menzel herself decided "what the heck" and booked a tour of New Zealand even though you can't actually buy her albums in shops here (are you listening, Warner Brothers Records?) Although there have been whispers over the ether that Morrissey himself *faints* might be paying a trip to New Zealand in January. As you can imagine, what with one thing and another, I've been having a lot of mood swings lately. Thanks awfully for sticking it out with me.

Finally, further proof that the cat is secretly on quaaludes:

Above: "I'm under your bed, befriending your dust bunnies..." He just sat there, with enough of him sticking out so we could see him. A desperate cry for attention (as if he doesn't rule our lives already) or something more sinister?

Wait, what's that you say, Oscar?

If the above makes no sense, visit I Can Has Cheezburger? for further info (it still may not make sense, but you should get a laugh out of it.)

Next time: Not sure, though I'll try to keep it coherent. I did buy myself (with the aid of a voucher) the Wagamama Noodle cookbook which I've been getting lots of use out of, so mayhaps something from that. The video on youtube has hit a mighty 1800 views, words can't express my gratitude to those of you who have been watching it. For further information, keep checking the Otaua Village Blog for updates.

22 October 2008

Do You Hear The People Sing?


I know I've plugged the Otaua video incessantly, in fact you are perhaps thinking "Gee, I know already Laura, you might get a waste oil refinery right by your house, I've watched the video three times, what more do you want from me?!" Firstly, a massive thankyou to those who have watched the video and especially to those who have commented with words of support. The thing is, the Franklin District Council actually...doesn't care. They think that right in the middle of residential Otaua village is a fine home for this oily oil plant. I'm guessing that if it was their home and hometown poised to be ruined forever it would be a wee bit different. Basically, it's not looking terribly positive for us, but the more support we have the more likely it is that the council will wake up to the fact that it can't happen. If nothing else, knowing the eyes of the world are upon them will annoy the council and the WPC Ltd. If you're wondering what else you can do apart from watch the video, well...there's not a lot. But you can visit the brand, spanking new Otaua Village blog, read an article and look at the lyrics to the song on the video. Hopefully there will be more to read soon. I know I keep talking about it but it's all I can offer in the way of help for the cause. Frankly I'm scared about what's going to happen. And angry.

So, Tim bought a barbeque yesterday. A $40 barbeque. It's pretty flimsy, and has all the power of an electric toothbrush, but he and Paul were monumentally excited in a primal, alpha-male kind of way. What is it about barbeques? (Or is that barbequi?) I look at them and think "oooh, griddled eggplant and Japanese marinades and stone-fruit kebabs!" while Tim and Paul de-evolve back to Cro-Magnon Man.

Above: Cro-Magnon Man is, however, modern enough to buy free-range organic chicken nibbles rather than woolly mammoth steaks.

Above: Fell in love with a grill...

The chicken nibbles were pre-marinated (*clutches pearls*) but still delicious, because there's little better than that smoky, outdoorsy, slightly charred taste that comes from barbeque-ing. It wasn't even particularly sunny yesterday (and it's downright icy today) but sitting round "Big Red" as it has been dubbed, with a glass of wine and the smell of protein coagulating over a hot flame, well it felt as though we were in the middle of some endless summer. I can't wait to think of things to cook on it...

Above: Beef - (a) the meat from an adult bovine (b) inf. gripe, objection, grudge. We got both.

Last time I went up home, Mum bought a healthy slab of corned beef for Tim and I which flew back to Wellington with me (much to the chortles of the guy scanning my backpack at the airport). It was sufficiently chilly over the weekend for me to defrost it and shunning the normal slow-cook way of cooking it, submerged in liquid, I instead adapted a recipe from the Best of Cooking for New Zealanders by Lynn Bedford Hall. I made several incisions in the flesh and pushed in a mixture of butter, white miso paste, garlic and parsely. I know, miso and corned beef, sounds hideously fusion-y, but think of it as a slightly more mysterious version of worcester sauce or marmite. Its mild, complex saltiness makes it good for more than just straightforward soup. The beef was then braised slowly on the stovetop with onions, Stones Green Ginger Wine (also courtesy of Mum), a little stock, some tomato puree, a squeeze of golden syrup and a dried bay leaf. This created a marvelously flavoursome, surprisingly moist corned beef, which we ate with mashed potatoes on day one...

Above: And on day 2, cold and sliced with soup.

I made a version of Nigella's South Beach Black Bean Soup - by that I mean I was too lazy to actually find the book with the recipe in it for fear that I'd be mising half the necessary ingredients and just souped it on the fly. First of all you need to simmer your black beans, I think I did about a cupful but I don't actually remember, I don't think it really matters though. Bring them to the boil in a large pot then turn it down to a simmer for about half an hour or until you can bite into a bean without breaking a tooth. Drain them, and (in the same pot if you like) slowly fry an onion, a diced capsicum, a teaspoon of cumin seeds, a diced, seeded red chilli if desired, and a a teaspoon of ground coriander. Then I added a slosh of dry sherry, the black beans, and plenty of chicken stock, and let it simmer away. It's so simple but also something a little out of the ordinary to add interest to cold leftovers.

The flavours are perfectly complemented by the earthy-yet-perky taste of coriander. And...the feathery green leaves prevent your soup looking like a bowl of swamp water. I mean, let's not lie here.

A few months ago I installed Google Analytics on my blog, which allows me to find out how people are accessing my blog. For high-powered business websites it's an asset, for the casual blogger it's merely a source of occasional interest. It comes into its own, however, when it lets you see how people have found you through Google. I haven't checked it in a while, and there are some intriguing paths being trekked to my kitchen door.

Firstly, I must be a veritable guru, nay, a shaman of burghal wheat because there is a staggering number of searches for it that resulted in people viewing my blog.

To the people who googled "Otaua WPC" and found my blog, well now you know to visit the Otaua Village site. If it was anyone from the council or indeed, WPC Ltd, I hope you were intimidated by my special brand of intimidation. Many food bloggers across the world now have contempt for your policies! Be uneasy!

To the person who googled "Bit on the side roast pork Allison Gofton Watties", you won't find any of that Food-In-A-Minute, cover-it-all-in-Watties-Sauce-and-potato-pompoms business here. I said good day!

To the person who googled "oat fritters" - oh dear. Even I, patron of the oat, wouldn't go that far.

To the many, many people who googled "the brain, the brain, the centre of the chain" from the Baby Sitters Club movie and ended up here - you are not alone. Re-reading your old BSC books is kitschy nostalgia, not worrying behaviour.

To the person who googled "Idina Menzel" and ended up here, I salute your dedication. Out of curiosity, I went and googled "Idina Menzel" and, thirty pages in, still had no sign of my blog. Clearly, our paths were destined to cross. But to the person who googled "Ina Menzel" and found me - I hope I set you on the right track. It's Idina. And it's not pronounced "eye-dina" because you strike me as the type. Also googled was "how many units of Idina Menzel's 'I Stand' have sold". Because a food blog is the obvious place to find out. But it's a nice thought that such queries would lead a person here.

To those who googled quotes pertaining to Rent, Wicked, Spring Awakening, The White Stripes, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Billy Bragg, Flight of The Conchords, and Neil Young and ended up reading my blog, it proves that quoting pop culture is nothing if not beneficial to your hit count.

And finally, to the person or people (please don't let there be more than one of you) who asked "why can't we eat polar bear liver" and inquired after the "polar bear liver iron count" - what you do in your own time is your business, but don't go dragging me into it. (also - Sarah Palin, is that you?)

To finish on a mildly amusing note, I found this carton of buttermilk in the fridge. I bought it a while ago, but haven't found the right use for it yet. Turns out I can take my sweet little time about deciding what to do with it.

Above: hey, if we can have adorable lolcats, why not lolkitchns also? According to this audacious little carton of buttermilk, I have till the year 2023 to use it. Now, I'm no dairy maven, but that strikes me as a little...optimistic. You better believe though, that if in ten years time I go to make a batch of muffins and this very buttermilk has disintegrated into dangerous spores, I will be complaining. 'Disgruntled of Wellington' demands a year's supply of buttermilk...or at least a voucher.

15 October 2008

Still Hungry and Frozen

I was highly excited anticipating the one-year-anniversary of my blog. I invisaged all manner of things - maybe some kicky new features, or a photo essay dedicated to the cat, or some kind of conceptual baking, or maybe a video, something new and fun to try and make our relationship last beyond the honeymoon, "hey this blog is mildly diverting" stage and into full-on commitment. But then I had to hand in a 3000 word essay, and if that were not enough we exceeded our 20gb internet limitation...by a lot. We lack the technology to make a cooking video happen and I was not feeling telegenic in the slightest. So, a few days late, I apologetically offer you this post, like a bunch of wilted flowers and slightly melted chocolates purchased at the last minute from a petrol station.

But really - it is exciting to me that this blog has existed for a whole year. I remember having the epiphany to make one, I don't remember when, it was just an idea that made so much sense to me. I'd read blogs and thought "I'd like to do that," and I read other blogs and thought, hubristically, "well I can definitely do better than that." Little did I realise that my badly lit photos taken on auto were not going to cut it with fickle blog readers. I rather naively assumed that my terrible photography would be seen as charming and positively daring, but actually it was just...terrible. And as I learned new skills (helloooo macro function) I gained more readers. But I'd like to think it's the content and recipes as well as the photography that makes people stick around, especially because my photos still have a long way to go. Indeed if you have a little time on your hands and you're up for a laugh, why not peruse my very early archives? I truly thought that all I had to do was put my opinion out there and the adulation would pour in. I love my blog wholeheartedly and with complete bias though, it has been a haven, a diary, a self-indulgent soapbox, a recipe file, and a record of my life for the past, swift-moving year. I look forward to seeing how long it lasts.

I went to the vegetable market on Sunday and gamely trudged back up the hill with my spoils, (sweating like a donkey all the while, as is the nature of Wellington hills) but it wasn't till I got my breath back and stopped perspiring that I realised how utterly gorgeous the vegetables were. They made me want to don a voluminous cape and floppy beret and paint them in a still life. Fellow food-bloggers, tell me I'm not the only one who thinks food is really preeettyyy.

I mean these would not look out of place in some medieval, suckling pig feast. I've honestly never purchased shallots before (don't faint, but I've always used onions instead when a recipe asked for it, well I am a student) which is probably why I'm so embarrassingly enthusiastic, but they were cheap and rather beautiful so I grabbed a bunch.

Oh asparagus how I love you. Especially when it's two fat, healthy bunches for $3, that can last for four separate dinners. I used the shallots and asparagus in an intriguingly delicious recipe from Simon Rimmer's excellent, inspiring cookbook The Accidental Vegetarian. It was so monumentally good that I considered making the whole thing again the next night, or perhaps eating the whole lot on my own and pretending it never existed. I've altered the recipe a bit as Rimmer's version was more coconut-happy than I go in for. It's a little fiddly but not difficult, and makes the kitchen smell completely fabulous.

Rendang Shallot and Asparagus Curry

50g butter
75g brown sugar (yes, it does sound like a lot and yes, I used less for the two of us)
20 banana shallots
400g asparagus

400ml tin coconut milk
3 T toasted dessicated coconut
Coriander to serve

Melt the butter in a pan, add the sugar and when it starts to dissolve throw in the shallots, peeled but left whole. Turn down the heat and cook slowly for at least 20 minutes, (he recommends 45 but they were more than fine with less). Blanch the asparagus and refresh in cold water. I sliced them into two-inch lengths.

Curry Paste:

1 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
3 red chillies, or however much you desire
1 tsp ground coriander
1 T tamarind paste (or substitute lemon juice)
1 t tumeric
1 t curry powder
1 stalk of lemon grass (which I left out because I didn't have any)
pinch of salt

Whizz the lot together in a food processor, or chop and mix everything well like I did using my mezzaluna. This results in a chunkier but no less flavoursome paste. Heat a little oil in a pan and gently fry the paste, carefully, and stir in the coconut milk, letting it bubble away and thicken slightly. Add the now magically caramelly shallots and the blanched asparagus, letting it simmer for about ten minutes. Finish by stirring through the toasted coconut and chopped coriander. If you like, add a handful of frozen peas to beef it up (as it were) quite easily. This should serve four-six.

The combination of flavours were so perfect - zingy, spicy, earthy, fresh, sweet. I truly could have eaten this whole thing surruptitiously by myself. And shallots - oh my! Rich, mild, gently oniony, what have I been missing out on all this time!

My blog's one year of existence coincided rather bittersweetly with the closing of [title of show], one of the most exciting new shows on Broadway...I, of course, make this statement without having seen it at all, such is the nature of being a theatre fan from New Zealand. Rice Krispie treats are referred to in one of the songs, and I've had a distinct hankering for them ever since hearing it for the first time. Nigella has a version made with melted marshmallows which indeed sounds delightful, but I opted for an old Edmonds recipe for what we in New Zealand call Rice Bubble Cake, using honey and butter to bind the cereal together in sugary squares.

Rice Bubble Cake

125g butter (incidentally, one year ago a block of butter was $2.70 from the corner shop, now it's $5)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon each of honey and golden syrup

Melt the butter and sugars together till gently bubbly. Once it has bubbled away for a little while, remove from the heat and carefully stir in 4-5 cups rice bubbles. Spread this into a waiting square tin, and allow to cool. The butter-sugar mix will be very hot, so don't go sticking your face into it or anything.

Rice bubble cake makes me reminisce twofold; I remember making this with mum as a child, wanting to eat the buttery sugary mixture so bad and not thinking it would be enough to cover all those rice bubbles. It also reminds me of my gap year in a boarding school in England, where the kitchen would serve up cakes of some sort for afternoon tea with soothing regularity. One of the mainstays of afternoon tea was rice bubble cake, sometimes it was sublime and sometimes it was crumbly and oily and weird. We never knew what happened behind the scenes to make it so, and frankly I don't want to know. But for those of you who've never tried this before, I know it looks a little odd, but just try and stop at one piece. Or three. Crunchy, texturally delightful, caramelly, buttery - it's great stuff.

To paraphrase [tos], let my blog be the Rice Krispie Treat?

Overheard in our kitchen: (in the throes of discussing what we'd do if we won the $30 million lotto this weekend)

Me: I could fund my own cookbook and get it done next year. Then I could create my own stage show around it, where I bake stuff and tell hilarious anecdotes and feed the audience and...maybe sing and dance...
Paul: You mean like an infomercial?
Me: NO! Like a proper stage show! But with baking, which I'd give to the audience! And it can promote my book but also be a fantastic piece of theatre in its own right!
Tim: So...it'll be an infomercial.

Well, I do have plenty of hilarious food-related anecdotes (particularly involving grapefruit and Jersey Caramels as friends and family will know from the many times they have been told). But that's the thing about imagining what you'd do if you won the lottery, especially if you have a particularly vivid imagination like me - your mind bounces from concept to concept and then you get overexcited and your heart starts to thump wildly with the very fullness of your own potential excellence and then you remember that you haven't won $30 million at all.

As I said earlier in this post, I handed in a 3000 word essay - well it was my final essay for uni. I have an exam on the 4th but my lectures, assignments, etc, are over for good. Luckily I've finished on a relative high, getting A's on two essays (on the social influence of Idina Menzel and the subordination of female Beat poets respectively) and loving all my papers. I started this blog while still in the middle of uni, now that I've come to the end of that time it's a little sad, but also exciting to think what might be in store for me next. Hopefully you, the reader will stick around with me - I'd flatter myself that this is kind of a fun read - and not just come here if Tastespotting tells you to.

In the words of Rent: "How do you measure a year in the life...how about love?"

In the words of the always inspiring Nigella Lawson: "I have made the most of being a food obsessive. For good or bad, it's my life, it's me and I don't see anything changing."

And appropriately, in the words of [title of show]: "I'd rather be nine peoples' favourite thing than a hundred peoples' ninth favourite thing."
So true. Quality over quantity any day. And ah, maybe next year I'll do something more exciting to mark the occasion.

8 October 2008

Pasta Of The House


I apologise in advance if this post is lacking in my usual sparkle and moxie (presuming of course that I usually possess said qualities), Tim and I went out last night to our good friend Dr Scotty's birthday shindig and...I awoke this morning with a sliiight (by which I mean thumping) headache. And now I'm craving apple crumble and so help me, we have no apples. Tim and I had a great night though, and I made some chocolate cupcakes to add to the general pool. At the last minute I adorned them with some garish sweets that mum gave me a while ago, and took a quick photo.

Above: Yes, I took the photo on Auto but I was in a hurry, my point being to illustrate the alarming extent to which these lollies resemble plastic. And don't they just? But nothing says "par-taaayyy" like an elephant on a cupcake. They certainly seemed to go down well.

When I saw this recipe for Manti last week in the September 2004 Cuisine magazine I thought, "I've got flour, I'm got mince...cheap dinner! Kapow!" It wasn't until halfway through that I realised I was actually knee deep in home-made ravioli, which, when put like that, sounded so much more complicated.

You'd think I would have figured it out sooner, since it completely resembles ravioli In. Every. Way. It really is easy in execution though, and has that rare virtue of being something new to do with mince. This is supposed to serve 6 as an entree or light lunch...but you could also comfortably serve it as dinner for two people like I did.

Okay I have a confession to make. After extolling the simplicity of this recipe, while re-reading it to type it up I just, JUST now realised that I actually missed out an important step. Where the recipe it tells you to cut the pasta into small squares, I just...didn't. So Tim and I ended up with eight large ravioli as opposed to many small, dainty pieces as per the recipe. I mean it was delicious but...missing a whole step of the recipe? In the words of Rush, "Why does it happen? Because it happens."

Manti - Turkish Ravioli

Pasta Dough:
1 egg
190g flour

Combine the egg with 1/4 cup water, mix into the flour and knead for five minutes till the dough is smooth and elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for half an hour. Chill the dough that is, although feel free to kick back and relax yourself.

Filling: Mix the following in a bowl.

250g minced beef or lamb
1 medium onion, grated (I used some of Nigella's caramelised onion that I'd made earlier and frozen in 100g lots. I haven't blogged about it so...nevermind)
handful finely chopped parsely
pinch of good salt.

Cut the dough into six pieces, and roll out each piece as thinly as possible. I did this by layering it between two pieces of gladwrap, which made it clean and easy to roll without sticking. Cut each rolled out piece into 5 squares about 9x9cm. Place a heaped teaspoon of the filling in each little square, fold over diagonally and press down to seal. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt well. Cook the ravioli in batches for about 3 minutes each, then drain well.

Above: Yes, I did take this photo on top of the washing machine. Well, it was the only available benchspace. I'm still Laura from the block you know.

I served the giant ravioli with a sauce made from Greek yoghurt, sumac, and chopped garlic (that I'd poached in the boiling pasta water to soften and mellow the flavour). Roasted asparagus and cos lettuce on the side, coriander sprinkled over...it really was a marvelous meal, the pasta was not stodgy in the slightest in spite of my heavy-handed rolling and the sauce gave it that lovely rounded flavour that only garlic and more garlic can provide.

One more recipe, because this is too delicious to let it get lost in my archives of dinners that I've photographed...

From Simon Rimmer's excellent and meaty-in-the-non-literal-sense cookbook The Accidental Vegetarian comes Pan Haggerty, which you could describe as a kind of low-rent dauphinoise. It comprises astonishing proportions of butter, cheese, and potatoes, so need I say more?

Pan Haggerty
50g butter
1 onion, finely sliced
200g new potatoes, cleaned and finely sliced
75g mature Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 180 C. Heat half the butter in an ovenproof fan and fry the onions till soft, then set aside. Put a layer of potato in the pan and fry for a few minutes. Layer up with fried onion and sliced potato, finishing with a layer of potato on top. Dot with the remaining butter, bake for about 40 minutes. Just before serving, grate the cheese over and pop under a hot grill for a few minutes. If you don't have an ovenproof fan, you can do what I did which was just transfer the fried onion and potatoes to a smallish pie plate. I forgot to layer the onions and just left them on the bottom but they went all caramelly and soft and wonderful so you know, serendipity! Oh and I used what was left of the Havarti cheese that mum sent down with me so feel free to use whatever you have to hand.
Once again, sorry for lacking in lustre, I'm just pretty weary. Tomorrow Tim and I will attend our last ever lectures at university, which is pretty heavy, although we aren't altogether finished - I have a socking great essay due on Monday and we both have an exam on the 4th. Hopefully after a good night's sleep I can produce the kind of bloggery that you deserve...especially since this blog is almost one year old. Good night!

4 October 2008

Spring Awakening


Momentous times: Next week will be my very last week ever of university classes. On the 13th, it shall be my one year blogoversary. On the 23rd, Tim and I have been 'going steady' (or whatever other mildly nauseating term you want to apply to it) for three years. Stick around, folks because where we're going, we don't need roads.

We do need comfort food though. Despite the fact that it has officially been Spring for a whole month now, the weather is still regularly chilly (punctuated by brief, teasing bursts of sunshine) and so my northern hemisphere readers may well get the same kick out of this food as I did down here in New Zealand.

I have oft sung the praises of NZ food magazine Cuisine, which I believe is the classiest one on the market. Elegant yet functional, inspiring but attainable. Also kind of expensive for the average student, which I why I source out back copies at second hand book stores. I found this interesting sounding meatball recipe in the September 2004 edition, and I know, meatballs are meatballs are meatballs but this is utterly fabulous - warming, softly spicy, saucy and comforting. Here is my adapted version, although I'll cite the original proportions of ingredients. As I have a well-stocked spice collection and mince is always in my freezer, this was a very cheap meal. Not to mention that I got a sizeable bag of gorgeous wee new potatoes from the vege market for a cool dollar...

Oven Baked Meatballs and Potatoes

Don't be put off by the list of ingredients, this is so easy and mercifully doesn't use as many pots and pans as you might think. Also, the original recipe specified a jar of artichoke hearts as an ingredient, if you have some, be my guest.

Serves 6

800g minced pork (although I used beef, lamb would be fab too)
1 onion, finely diced
2 t ground cumin or whole seeds
2 t ground coriander
a pinch sweet smoked paprika if you're lucky enough to own some
1 cup finely sliced, washed spinach leaves
a handful of chopped coriander leaves
1 egg, beaten
2 T plain flour, plus extra
6 or 7 waxy new potatoes...as many as you fancy really, chopped into smallish chunks.
2 T tomato puree
1 litre chicken or beef stock

Heat oven to 190 C. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan, then add the onion and spices, stirring till the onions are soft and becoming fragrant. Add the spinach, cooking briefly till it wilts. Tip all this into a bowl with the mince, egg, and coriander. Squeeze it all together with your hands, roll the mixture into meatballs, and toss them in the flour. Using the same pan that you fried the onions in, brown the meatballs in batches, transferring them to a shallow oven dish as you go. In that same pan, cook the potatoes gently for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a spoonful of flour and let it absorb all the residual pan juices, then add the tomato puree and stock, bringing to a robust simmer. Carefully pour this over the meatballs, cover with foil (I admit I forgot to though) and cook for at least half an hour.

With spring comes asparagus, that wonderful vegetable that I've been waiting for since, well, since last October. A stroke of luck led me to find a generous bundle of it for a staggeringly cheap $1 at the vege market last week, and so we were able to have roast asparagus - one of my favourite things - twice with dinner this week. If you have not yet experienced the joys of this then amigo, read on and learn.

This is something I picked up from Nigella Lawson's marvellousmarvellousmarvellous How To Eat, but it's barely even a recipe. Heat your oven to 200 C, and place your asparagus spears on a foil-lined oven tray. Roll them in a little olive oil, then bake for 25 or so minutes till slightly crispened. If you have asparagus of the tough, stringier variety, you may need to trim an inch or so off the bottom. Serve sprinkled with a little good salt. This is near on perfect, but imagine rolling the spears in basil pesto before roasting would appeal also...

And of course, when the weather is cold I crave some kind of pudding. Also when the weather is fine. Either way, we haven't had a proper pudding in a while and after dinner on Thursday I didn't quiiiite feel ready to finish eating for the night. I played with the Chocolate Pear Pudding from Nigella Express, I've made it before but it's quite adaptable. Here it takes the form of Chocolate Banana Surprise Pudding, (the surprise being the unexpected square of chocolate that is nestled within the batter!) It is beyond simple to whip up. What I did was cream 150g soft butter with 125g brown sugar. I added an egg, 1 overripe banana, 125g flour, 25g cocoa and 1 t baking powder. You may need to add a little milk if the mixture is too stiff. This went into three 250ml ramekins - although I'm sure you could play with proportions - and I pushed a couple of squares of dark chocolate under the batter of each. These were baked for 25 minutes at 200 C. The tops are cakey and delicious while a spoon, plunged into the heart of the pudding reveals stickily saucy chocolately depths. Perfect with a spoonful of Banana, Pear and Dark Chocolate Sorbet melting into it...

Last week I was fortunate enough to embark on my first business trip. I was taken up to Auckland because Smokefree, who I work with, were one of the sponsors of the Juice TV music awards, and there was a swag of signage that needed to be erected. I got to stay in a lovely hotel, meet some fantastic people, and attend the event. Here are some things I learned...

-Wellington is a nicer city than Auckland. Hands down.

-The people that work at Juice TV are awesome, friendly and welcoming.

-The NZ musicians present at the event seemed to think they were somehow above it all. I'm looking at you, Mr young blonde whippersnapper, late of Zed and now playing guitar with The Feelers. Hardly a career trajectory, so why are you so lacklustre on stage? Look alive! Furthermore, many of them chose to hang languidly outside the performance room hobnobbing with each other rather than actively support the bands on stage. I mean really. You're not Mick Jagger.

-Boh Runga, younger sister of NZ wonderkind Bic Runga, is really, really pretty in person.

-Just because you are impossibly leggy and have doe-eyes does not mean you make a good TV presenter. It does still make you impossibly leggy though, to which I say *sigh*. Would I take good legs over a personality though? Well, perhaps not.

You may be pleased or disappointed to know that my night finished quite early, not with me snorting cocaine off a dolphin, but with a cup of tea and a good night's sleep. It was an interesting time though, and great fun, and I may be repeating the experience again come mid-November for the SouthernAmp festival...

Speaking of music, once more shall I plug dad's protest video on youtube because, well, it's still important to me. If you've watched it already, if you're curious, if you pretended that you watched it last time but didn't actually, help out our cause and please, see it by clicking here. If you have a youtube account, any comments of support would be wonderful! We are currently on 879 views which is flipping AMAZING for a video from the tiny tininess that is Otaua. While I'm plugging things I might as well give you the link again to this amazingly hilarious [title of show] video. Once again, if you are lucky enough to live in New York city, go see this sparklingly brilliant musical before it sadly closes. If you are like me and don't live in NYC, then watch the video because it's ridiculously funny. Even Tim laughed, which, given his weary suspicion of most of the Broadway shows I'm into, is quite the endorsement.

Next time: I make my own ravioli.