27 June 2009

let the bun shine in

Tim whacked his knee on the bedframe yesterday (a common occurrence here, except I'm clumsier and shorter so my thighs are perpetually a fetching dappled shade of purple). I took advantage of his searing agony and got him to agree that we should go to dinner at La Bella Italia. An hour before we are due to leave the house, I remember that La Bella Italia is not open on the weekends. I don't know if this is karma or just standard issue stupidity on my part. I call stupidity, as I forgot that La Bella Italia is only a Monday-Friday joint and Tim did seem keen in spite of himself. Either way I feel there is some kind of proverb emerging... "Ask not the significant-other in deep pain to take you out to dinner, you don't need to pay $23 for a bowl of pasta to 'really communicate' with each other. The sharp teeth of karma bite ye once more!" But maybe not. I feel like it's a recurrent theme of my life that I get really, really excited about something and then it doesn't materialise. You'd think that now that I'm all grown and wise with 23 years under my belt I'd see these situations approaching and tamp myself down accordingly. Not so. I was really flipping disappointed last night that we couldn't go to La Bella Italia. We ended up having chilaquiles and watching DVDs of 30 Rock and Dexter like every other night which was fun, but still. La Bella Italia. The food just...slays me.

A similar situation has been happening recently. Bearing in mind that we're moving from up the hill in Kelburn down into the city centre, I said to Tim that we should have a coffee at Cafe Mode down the road and sample their seriously lush scones asap before we leave. Well we've been there seventeen thousand times in the last two weeks, and every single time they've been out of scones. Every single time. It's like wanting a baby or something. I'll start telling people that we're "trying really hard" for a scone. There's not a big window of opportunity - the clock is ticking! I need some kind of beeper to let me know when the cafe is scone-ulating!Sometimes random aspects of my existence can be kind of exhausting. But I will get my scones, damnit.

Okay, I'm pretty excited about this particular recipe so I'll launch straight into it rather than try and offer some kind of esoteric lead-in paragraph. Do you recall, back in April I made hot cross buns only to inadvertently turn them into burnt offerings instead. And if you don't recall, may this handy url jog your memory for you? Refusing to let this culinary snafu get me down, I sliced off the charred bits and froze the rest of the hot cross buns, relatively inedible as they were, to use down the line in a bread and butter pudding.

As we need to start using up any extraneous stuff lurking icily in our freezer, it occurred to me last week that it might be pertinent to make this bread and butter pudding already. I defrosted the hot cross buns (or cold cross buns if you will, hahahahaha) and while I was being practical, pulled out a massive slab of sheep that Tim's parents sent us back to Wellington with a while back. I know mutton isn't all that fashionable (which can only mean it's due for a wildly fashionable comeback in restaurants) but it really does taste good, especially when the sheep had been fortunate enough to live a happy life on Tim's parents' farm, baa-ing merrily with verdant grass nuzzling its hoofs. The idea of having an old-timey roast and bread and butter pudding for a Sunday dinner was hugely pleasing to me.

Carne con carne. All I did to the mutton was put it in the oven for about 5 hours on a very low heat (around 160 C). That's all. No spices, no oil, no tinfoil, no nothing. And it was beautifully tender, densely meaty and rich, and filled the whole house with the heavy perfume of roasted protein. I didn't serve it with a gravy, since rendered sheep fat just isn't that sexy. I did, however, bake some potatoes and other vegetables and it was an absolutely wonderful meal. A roast is so delightfully low-maintenance, you just bung it in the oven and that's it. The next night I made us shepherd's pie out of the leftovers, surprisingly quick when you don't have to actually cook the meat. And really, really good.

But the bread and butter pudding. I swear I could hear angels chorusing when I took a bite. It was exquisite. Considering it started its life as tough, dry buns, it was a makeover of Hollywood film proportions. Actually there isn't really a Hollywood movie that uses the makeover theme that I can compare this to, as in all those movies - Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries, She's All That, My Fair Lady, Miss Congeniality - the "ugly duckling" is always blatantly stunning. What is Hollywood trying to impart to us? That brunettes can never truly be happy unless their eyebrows are brutally waxed to pop music in a montage scene?

Um, anyway, what I'm trying to say is that to look at, these hot cross buns were seriously nothing special, no glimmer of Anne Hathaway or Sandra Bullock beauty within their overcooked exteriors. Because I made the recipe up totally on the fly, I wasn't even sure if it would work or if I would end up just chalking it up on my list of things-I-got-disproportionately-excited-about-which-then-turned-to-FAIL. But it was an absolute minx of a pudding, the eggy custard giving the buns a soft, burnished, gloriously puffy texture. The spices - cinnamon, cardamom, ginger - were heavenly nestled against the warm, rich Marsala wine that I generously sloshed into the mix. The whole thing was just flipping marvelous. Gather round, my children. And listen:

Hot Cross Bun Bread and Butter Pudding

Obviously, you don't need to go to the trouble of making your own buns and then overcooking them. Because we live in such a flagrantly heathenish age, I'm sure you can go down to your local supermarket and purchase hot cross buns at any time of year. So, buy some, allow them to go stale, and you're good to go.


6-8 shop-bought hot cross buns, allowed to go stale or 10-12 slightly burnt hot cross buns made to the recipe from Nigella Lawson's Feast
50g very soft butter
75g brown sugar
3 eggs
500mls milk
Marsala wine

Heat up the milk and about 1/3 cup Marsala in a pan. I don't want you to boil it, but it needs to be hot enough that you really wouldn't enjoy the whole lot being thrown in your face. Slice up the buns and layer across a loaf tin. Beat the butter and sugar together, add the eggs and whip as though you were making a cake. Slowly whisk in the hot alcoholic milk, then pour this crazy mess over the buns. Let this sit for about 10 minutes to absorb the liquid somewhat, then bake at 170 C (roughly 330 F) for about 40 minutes. Eat. Ice cream would make an ideal partner, as would cream or just plain, cold milk.

Serves 4

Seriously compelling stuff. In hindsight, I probably could have cut off some more of the darkened bits of the buns, but truly this was less alarmingly carginogenic looking in real life as it is in this photo. I'll just coolly pass it off as "ramshackle" and ignore any dissenting views.

On shuffle whilst I type:
Israelites from A Little Bit Wonderful by The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra
Problems from Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols by The Sex Pistols
Stars and The Moon, a song by Jason Robert Brown sung by Julia Murney and OH MY GOSH it made a small compartment of my life quite complete to hear her sing this beautiful tune.
I Ran from the Original Cast Recording of Little Fish. I am pretty well addicted to this song. Itunes may not have actually 'shuffled' on to it every time if you know what I mean.

Next time: July is set to be pretty manic. So as yet, the next post is a mystery to us all. And yes, my title barely makes sense but I don't care, I'm on a Hair kick right now. Never mind that it doesn't make sense, the revival cast living it up on Broadway right now are absolutely stunning, listen to it enough and EVERYTHING will make sense.

21 June 2009

twist and stout


Cheers everyone for your enthusiastic well-wishing for Tim's and my big move, I've built it up so much that soon it will surely have its own snappy title, corresponding font, and swelling theme music.

I feel as though every time Old Frau Winter hobbles into town on her icy boots, I complain that it's the coldest one we've had yet. Even though I suspect it's human nature to largely block out any past discomfort and focus on what's happening to the body right now, hot damn if it isn't the coldest June in living memory. It's a particular quality of temperature - that bone chilling, dry, Nordic chill, which, combined with the damp, windy climes of Wellington, makes for quite the experience.

With this in mind, we've been doing a lot of that bolstering, sustaining style of eating lately. While I love sponteneity in the kitchen I hate cooking in an entirely reactive way every night (as in, "cripes I'm hungry and it's 7.30pm! Why did I spend all that time looking at Tony Award performances on youtube instead of making dinner? Now I have to cobble together something incoherent from what's in the cupboard!") One of the nice things about this season is sitting down with recipe books, post-it notes and a notepad, planning out slow-cooked winter meals and writing a shopping list accordingly. One such planned meal was the following casserole, taken from Nigella Lawson's seminal text How To Eat. (I think I refer to it as that every time. It's like one word in my head: seminaltexthowtoeat.)

Beef With Stout and Prunes

I realise that the words 'stout' and 'prune' aren't overly come-hither. Nigella says this is a version of Beef Carbonnade which is possibly a better option if someone fussy asks what's for dinner tonight.

I'll be honest, my copy of How To Eat is buried under a lot of other cookbooks in a neat pile behind another hefty pile of cookbooks and it does not behoove me to disturb the order of things and dig it out. Plus I'm feeling lazy. You hardly need a recipe for this though, so allow me to guide you through the process gently but firmly. Dust sliced beef in mustard-spiked flour (I used beef shin from Moore Wilson's, basically you want a cut that requires long cooking) and sear in a hot pan. Transfer into a casserole dish with some carrots, sliced into batons, finely sliced onions, and prunes that have been hitherto soaked in some dark stout. I used Cascade, an Australian stout from Tasmania, because it's what they had at the local shop and wasn't heinously expensive. I also added some whole cloves of garlic. Cover this and place in a slow oven, and cook for as long as you like but no less than two hours. I served over plain basmati rice. It can be a little brown and plain to look at, so by all means sprinkly liberally with chopped parsely which will please both aesthetically and...tastebuddily.

Et viola, a rich, hearty, deeply flavoured casserole for you and your loved ones. And if 'your loved ones' means just you and your stomach, then so much the better. Freeze in portion-sized containers and microwave it back to life when you need a fast dinner. This recipe actually comes from the low-fat section of How To Eat, as long as you don't fry the floured beef in six inches of melted butter, enticing as that now sounds, it really is a trim meal all up, with the only fat coming from the meat.

The Cascade stout came in a six-pack and while Tim was happy to quaff the unused five bottles, he impressed upon me how a chocolate Guinness cake would be an economical, ideal, nay, the only logical use for the remaining stout. So I made one. I always forget how utterly stupendous Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake is. It's so ridiculously transcendent that it makes me type excessively in italics like some overexcited damsel in an LM Montgomery novel.

The Cascade Stout was not as abruptly bitter as the stipulated Guinness but more than held its own as a worthy understudy for the part. The above photo was taken on the bedside table, as Tim has had some blood sugar antics happening in the middle of the night lately and so that's just where the cake was sat. Because he has had nocturnal low blood sugar with soothing regularity, a lot of the cake has been eaten by him while I'm in a half-asleep state and so I only managed to secure about two slices to myself after all that. It really was as delicious as it should be though: large, dark, densely chocolately and like Angela Lansbury, even better with age.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

From Feast, by Nigella Lawson. (It has a chocolate cake chapter, so, you know it's good)

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

Set your oven to 180 C and butter/line a 23cm springform tin. First of all you want to get a big 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 whisk in the rest of the ingredients 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. I refrained from icing it this time round as I just couldn't be bothered spending exorbitant amounts on dairy products, but the combination of sharp icing and dark, damp chocolate cake is incredible, the icing really makes it sing.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the other key player in this cake: (apart from the stout and Tim's persuasiveness) the cocoa. And not just any cocoa - proper Dutch cocoa from Equagold. The very first time I've ever used it. Don't act all shocked, I've only just started working full time and in the food world there's so much to keep up with - do you spend your money on the vanilla beans, or the premium brand happy pig bacon, or the Himalayan pink salt and if you let one ball drop is it tantamount to subterfuge meaning that you are forever shunned by food bloggers worldwide? I know I add fuel to the fire myself by going on about vanilla beans vs vanilla essense. With that in mind I'm lucky enough to have a wonderful whanau who will often give me such treats for Christmas and birthday presents. I'm not sure quite where I'm going with this rant but before I carry on shaking my fist for no good reason any more I'll get back to my original point: proper Dutch cocoa has until now eluded me because it is really expensive. But as Led Zeppelin say, now's the time, the time is now, and so I decided to buy myself a jar last week from the delightful La Bella Italia cafe/restaurant/deli on The Terrace. The woman behind the counter was impeccably helpful and friendly without being the slightest bit pushy and I emerged a very satisfied customer.

And when I opened the jar for the cake...My word. The first thing I noticed about it was the incredible cocoa scent, the second thing was how rich and dark the colour is. The deep-toned flavour of this cocoa stood comerade-like against the strident flavour of the stout and made for a surprisingly complex chocolate cake, to the point where I felt I should be eating it like one would drink a really expensive and fancy glass of wine - slowly and with reverence. What more can I say - this cake is begging to be made! Oh the feuds that could be ended with a slice of it (unless the parties who have beef with each other happen to be gluten-intolerant).

In smashing news, I interrupt this waffling to say:

My dad Mark, (el presidente of the Otaua Village Preservation Society - OVPS ) received a phone call from the OVPS's lawyer today to say that WPC have withdrawn their appeal to the Environment Court. This means that they are no longer considering relocating their business to the Otaua Tavern site.

To reiterate: this is an "unofficial" withdrawal by WPC. There are still the lawyer's bills to pay so the fund-raising continues. And the Otaua Tavern site is still vacant and who knows that a group even more shadily heinous and heinously shady may want to move in?

But for now: an enormous, enormous THANK YOU from the bottom, sides, inside and outside of my heart for everyone who helped by watching the video at my behest, for your supportive comments here and on youtube - it really did make a difference, and at last not just to our morale. I shudder to think of what might have had to have gone down if had the sorry WPC had their way and moved in (does that sentence even make sense? I'm a little excited, sorry for the nightmarish syntax). I have been so touched that people all round the world, people who enjoy making elaborate cakes and beautiful roasts and who have nothing to do with the woes of a tiny, clout-less village in New Zealand, have been so actively supportive. Though I am often conflicted in what I believe in (well, I'm only 23, I'll 'find myself' in good time yet) I am pretty well certain on something: good deeds reap more good deeds and positive thought can have positive impact. One doesn't want to get too mawkish and Miss World-like in one's thank-you speeches so I'll endeth it here, but it is an absolute relief and a triumph to be reporting this news to you all. Kia ora.

Am pretty sleepy after a weekend spent attending Smokefree Rockquest events here and in Lower Hutt, which may go some way towards explaining why my writing is so scatty but it could just be that this is how I write and you're all dooooomed to deal with it forevermore. The students performing in Smokefree Rockquest here and in the Hutt basically melted my brain with their seriously fierce talent. I look forward to seeing some of them blaze a musical trail in the near future. Oh and I got to present an award last night. I'd like to think my many years on stage as a dancer/etc stood me in good stead, but as I was announced there was a perceptible milisecond of awkward silence that I feared would stretch into a yawning wave of quiet indifference from the audience. Luckily Tim and my godsister were there as my plus-ones to cheer and get the momentum going...


On shuffle while writing this:

Overture, from Jesus Christ Superstar, 1994 New Zealand Cast recording (just try and find it in shops. Your loss.)
Watermelon Blues from The Legend Of Tommy Johnson, Act 1: Genesis 1900's-1990's by Chris Thomas King

Das Hokey Kokey (Original Version Vocoder Mix) from Das Hokey Kokey by Bill Bailey


Next time: Tim and I have one episode left on our DVD of season 1 of The Wire and if it turns out as traumatic as I think it will I may need to go to ground for a bit. Believe the hype. It's incredible. But don't let your kids watch it, there's violence and cussing and whatnot by the spade-load. (And by 'whatnot' I mean low-level nudity.) But otherwise, have I got some stuff for you. I made the bread and butter pudding to end all bread and butter puddings. Stale, defrosted hot cross buns, Marsala wine, no recipe...could have been a tear-inducing disaster of Anne Shirley proportions but sweet fancy Moses it turned out delicious.

17 June 2009



Kia ora readers. For those of you who don't keep candlelit vigil on my Twitter account, you may not have absorbed the news that Tim and I are moving house. In the grand scheme of things, a little ho-hum maybe, seeing how people do this all the time. Especially young people living in flatting situations. But considering that we've been at our current digs since November 2006, it's pretty significant.

There's no one real reason we are moving out, but there have been various frustrations that we will be glad to leave behind - including the olive oil on the kitchen shelf regularly solidifying in the cold, the sight of breath in front of our faces as we talk to each other inside the house, the bathroom where long-legged spiders rule with eight iron fists each on slowly crumbling walls, or perhaps the undulating and loose-bricked stairs leading down to our flat from the road which bely the idea that a landlord should have their tenants' wellbeing in mind.

When we first moved in in 2006 it was tantamount to being in a mansion compared to our first flat - there was carpet as opposed to billiard table covering, the toilet wasn't in the same room as the shower, our rent was halved, and there was a hot water cupboard! Oh, and the landlord wasn't going to try and run us down with a steamroller (we had some 'issues' with our first one) And we were students, living with a group of friends, life could not have been sweeter, really. The theme song from Cheers could almost be heard whenever you walked in the door. Now that Tim and I are the last ones left of that initial group and while we could easily carry on living here for a good long time - it's not that bad - we decided that this was to be our final year here.

And then one of my colleagues who is moving overseas lives there and sent round an email asking if anyone knew anyone who knew anyone who wanted to move into her fantastic place in town. Not to be overly dramatic, but I knew this was it. Luckily my instincts, while hysterical, were accurate: the other guy living there seemed to like Tim and I. We got the room.

One of the many exciting things about this new place we're moving to next month - perhaps the single most exciting thing (apart from the fact that it has a sauna, I know) is that it gets sunshine. Real, genuine, sunshine. Imagine you've spent your whole life using synthetic, cheap vanilla essence and then suddenly you inhale the scent of a real vanilla bean (possibly smearing its shiny black seeds on your face to enhance the effect). That's what it will be like. Amazing.

Which will mean exciting things for my food photography potential. Much as I'd personally take content over photography, the wider body of blog-readers seem to demand exquisite, magazine-ready photography as well as scintillating, original prose. Not that I'm claiming I can (or do) provide either, just...I'm going to be in a better position to take nice pictures, which can only be a good thing for us all.

Just realised I used that vanilla analogy in my last post. So much for original prose. And come to think of it, I could have just said "imagine you've been living in a cold dark house and then you move to a nice warm sunny house." Hmm. Anyway, I predict lots of reminiscing from Tim and I between now and when we move, possibly resembling one of those cheesy clip shows that surface occasionally on things like Friends, and Home Improvement, and Saved By The Bell, which was really one giant clip show in a way. Or, knowing Tim and I, it might be more like THIS.

What I'm listening to: A lot of Amanda Palmer, They Might Be Giants, and Michael John LaChiusa.

Next time: Chocolate Guinness Cake!

10 June 2009

tortilla queen (guaranteed to blow your mind)


The month of June is a fast dame. August is lapping at my heels like a rising tide. July is more packed with commitments than a half-cup of brown sugar. Kindly excuse my ramblings, I found a nice notebook to write my thoughts in and am suddenly convinced I am an artiste, like almost all those people who carry notebooks to write thoughts in. I've been traipsing hither and yon across the country (well, I went to Dunedin for two days and a pub quiz last night) and haven't really had any meaningful eye-contact with the blog lately, but the month of June isn't really helping matters by going so darn swiftly.

I usually save my food-blog browsing for after I've finished a blog post of my own, because I'm in the right frame of mind and have the time to do it. I've occasionally wondered if it comes across as a little self-interested (oh hi, that looks delish, I haven't been here since the last time I updated my blog and wanted comments ohwhatacoincidence) but that's just how I roll. I roll without agenda or ulterior motive. Anyway while on such a blog-perusing journey after finishing my last post, I found on Thursday Night Smackdown a most enticing missive dedicated to chilaquiles. Mexican food here in New Zealand for the most part runs to bland, pre-packaged DIY enchilada kits, with dry, curling flatbreads and pre-spiced cans of watery beans. Not so bad, just I feel it's not a cuisine that has been thoroughly probed here. Which could be why I've never heard of chilaquiles before. They're sort of like huevos rancheros, only a bit more deconstructed and a lot less healthy.

I gotta say, there was something about Michelle's post on Thursday Night Smackdown that really sold this idea to me. I was genuinely excited about making this recipe, which more or less comprises a spicy tomato sauce, tortilla chips, and a fried egg. By the time I got halfway through it making it all though I was starting to have my doubts. Why would anyone want to soak tortilla chips in tomato sauce? Would a fried egg on top of tortilla chips taste freaky at best? Why have I never realised how much fat is embedded into tortilla chips?

Despite the fact that my version was hugely low-rent - and despite the fact that my tastebuds were shuffling their feet dubiously - this is beautiful. Incredible stuff. There's something about the spicy sauce and the way it softens some of the crunch of the chips, and then the savoury fried taste of the egg kind of drips all over everything. Again, I hasten to add the disclaimer that my chilaquiles were seriously inauthentic, but they were fast and also used what I had in the cupboard. For those of you playing at home, I sauteed a finely chopped onion, several cloves of chopped garlic, a chopped capsicum and a diced carrot in a large pan. Once all that was soft, I poured over half a jar of spaghetti sauce and added a little minced chilli from a jar. After allowing that to bubble and thicken, I poured it over two substantial bowls of tortilla chips (chilli lime flavour, now with extra trans-fats!) and quickly fried two eggs in the pan, not really bothering to wipe it clean or anything. Once done to done-ness, the bowls had an egg each draped overtop and a generous bump'n'grind of salt and pepper. Obviously coriander would be ideal, but I just didn't have any and remain fairly unscarred by this omission.

The eggs really make it though. You have to buy good eggs. On a whim I purchased some GlenPark Woodland Free Range Eggs, thinking they were quite the bargain. Turns out my mathmatical prowess is exponentially deteriorating with each year because according to Tim I am wrong and they're actually bordering on heinously expensive. That said, they are, and I do not say this lightly, the single most delicious eggs I have ever eaten. I know, I know, I wax enthusiastic about everything but these eggs truly are exquisite. It's like the moment you first smell vanilla beans after a lifetime of using synthetic vanilla essence. It's heady stuff. Find them. Buy them. Eat. I will definitely be buying these again.

The flat we're living in is blooming ancient, and, as I've often whined, freezing cold. One of its particular idiosyncracies is having, at best, one powerpoint per room. This is 2009. We plug in a lot of stuff. Including a heater, without which one might as well go recline under a tree in the rain and read a book of an evening because inside really isn't much balmier than outside. What all this exposition is leading up to is that the other night - an hour shy of the premier of Outrageous Fortune - we blew a fuse. All four bedrooms and the lounge were unusable. And freezing. In a mad, generation-Y frenzy fuelled by lack of technology I dovetailed my two main interests at that point - staying warm/alive and blogging - by utilising the one room that still had power - the kitchen. I made banana muffins. And then got all up in the oven's personal space to try and defrost. If I could have, I would have curled up in the warming drawer.

I've made these muffins before (recipe here and, after re-reading my old post I'm not sure if I could improve upon the description of them) and they're fantastic for when you feel as though there's nothing in the cupboard, because the batter is essentially tiny. Don't go eating any (I don't know if this is a warning necessary for sane people, but as you know I tend to eat a lot of mixture) because there's not a lot there. What is there though makes beautifully tender, cinnamon-warm muffins, the sort you'd never see in a cafe because those bulbous, dry, sandy $3.90 cakes (the sort that especially frequent airports and chain coffee shops) are de rigeur instead.

Tim got home at this point and with a mere manly flick of a switch on the powerboard restored the soothing hum of electricity to our flat. Just in time for Outrageous Fortune. Phew. Last night Scotty graced us with his presence to watch the second episode, and I didn't know which was more mesmerising - Kasey's magnificent bosom or the welcome presence of some character development in Judd. Scott and I also both agreed that an episode should be devoted to little more than the character of Van holding baby Jane. Clearly, Season 5 is going to be good.

Finally: The Tonys happened. Not here in New Zealand on TV of course, because basically no-one knows about them over here (that said, we have some bizarre programme placement choices made here, and why?) but importantly: Alice Ripley won best actress in a musical. Some say her speech is weird, some are getting strangely angry over it, I think she was truly magnificent. I wish I could speak in public like that. For what it's worth though, Brett from Poison's untimely collision with a piece of scenery could have been the best thing to happen to the already awesome show Rock of Ages - the clip of him getting smacked upside the head by a giant sign has been zooming round youtube and was actually on the news here. I admit to being wildly excited that the word "Tony's" was used on mainstream TV news.

On Shuffle whilst I type:
Black Tambourine, Beck, from the album Guero (because Tim's currently obsessed with him)
Flume, Bon Iver, from For Emma, Forever Ago
Birdhouse In Your Soul, Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Greene, from the Pushing Daisies soundtrack (this song is like crack and it uses the word "fillibuster".)


Next time: I realise the photography has been a bit up and down lately, that's because if I photograph stuff at night it looks awful, during the day, not so much. I'm not sure what I've got on the upcoming food agenda but I'm hoping for something a little more friendly on the eye.

3 June 2009

sweet dreams (are made of this)

Tim and I have been pondering whether to purchase an espresso machine. Not the sort where you press a button, I mean the real deal, steam wand and inserty-doohicky with pressy-downy thing and all that. Not one of the ones that costs the same as a small European commonwealth either, we're neither of us rich and still trying to save to travel. But there have been some inexpensive ones on the market and we both love our coffee. And you know, good to help out flailing businesses in the recession and whatnot.

Apropos of little, I mentioned a while ago on here that I did a training session at work where I was defined as a "Creator-Innovator." We had a follow up sesh this afternoon. Exciting as being creative and innovative sounds, I can't deny that bearing the rather triumphant title of "Thruster-Organiser" appeals also. Unfortunately I am neither organised nor sufficiently thrusty according to the pre-test. Anyway, as previously stated, Creator-Innovators are future-thinking dreamers, full of ideas. And not so good with deadlines. As you may have noticed.

Even though we don't even own the espresso maker yet, I've already dizzily planned what I can make with the egg whites left over from making the ice cream that I've set aside a precious vanilla bean for so that we can make affogato (affagati?). Did I mention that Creator-Innovators sometimes appear to have their head in the clouds? (That's actually what the description in my booklet said. Head in the clouds.) I'm actually excited about cooking from the leftovers of something I haven't cooked yet to go with something that doesn't exist yet. The training session was nothing if not a windex-ed mirror held up to my soul.

We were fortunate enough here in New Zealand to have Monday off for the Queen's Birthday. It's nice to have a baggage-free long weekend, and the occasional four-day week cannot be underestimated in terms of well-being and morale. I did very little, apart from meeting a friend in town for coffee on Saturday, and it was all rather blissful. The fact that the weather was unfortunate helped with this - although largely cold, bleak, rainy and windy, there were also intermittent bursts of hail and blazing sun. Tim had about forty different essays to write for uni so I kept out of his way by baking and doodling and happily pottering through books and magazines, my trackpants ensconcing me cosily like a pastry case. On Saturday night I made a slow-cooked beef stew - all happiness-inducing cold weather weekend activities.

So, the baking. Y'all know the torrid flirtation I have with white chocolate. Buttons of it lure me, siren-like to the cupboard to eat by the handful. An actual bar of the stuff can be dealt with in a matter of semiquavers. I don't know why - it's not as darkly complex as proper, cocoa-y chocolate but as I said today in the team meeting when talking about RENT*, you can't predict or control what will have an impact on you in life. For me: white chocolate.

* We had to bring in some pictures/things that would help describe ourselves to the group. I may or may not have indicated explicitly that Nigella Lawson has influenced every business decision I've made this year. I was met with troubled shuffling of papers from the team.

So when I saw this recipe for white chocolate cheesecake cookies on Hayley B's blog, well, I'm sure I don't need to explain at this late stage how enamoured I was to the point of openly salivating with the very thought of them. (apologies Hayley, for besmirching your good name with imagery of me drooling, but you started it with all that white chocolate.)

The recipe is very easy and bears the distinct virtue of having the finished product actually taste even better than the uncooked dough. Don't try to pretend like you haven't tried raw cookie dough. You have the butter and sugar, which tastes pretty special, then you add egg, which makes it taste all raw and nasty, but then in goes the flour, which somehow neutralises the egg and makes it taste amazing again and...well that's probably enough delving into my dark psyche for one day. I'll give you the recipe.

White Chocolate Cheesecake Cookies

I modified this ever so mildly by using roughly chopped white buttons instead of chips.

225g butter
225g cream cheese (ie, one tub)
1 cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate chips/3 handfuls white chocolate buttons, chopped roughly

Preheat the oven to 180°C, line a couple of baking trays with baking paper. Cream butter and sugars together, add the egg, cream cheese, and vanilla extract and beat until well-incorporated. If your cream cheese is super fridge-cold it won't mix in very well but I liked the idea of having small pockets of cream cheese in the cookies anyway. Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Fold in chocolate. Try not to eat the lot. Roll tablespoons of dough into balls and place on baking tray. Flatten each ball if you want a flatter cookie, but they're fairly well behaved and won't spread alarmingly. Bake for 8 minutes, or until edges are slightly golden. Don't worry if they look underdone, as long as they are visibly set on top then they'll be perfect. If you bake them any longer they'll lose the cheesecake tang. They will be very soft but once cool will be recognisably cookie-ish.

These are basically the nicest cookies I've had since I was born.

They are soft with a soft crumb, and a magical sweet-and-tang kick from the combination of cream cheese and sugary white chocolate. Seriously...genius. Words fail me on how to describe the vanilla-butter flutter that the white chocolate imparts and how it contrasts with the almost lemony squish of cream cheese. Actually that sort of does describe it really.

Because we had the necessary ingredients, and again, to remove myself from out of Tim the Vigilant Essay Writer's way, I decided to just...keep on baking. I first made Apple Blondies back in July 2008, a simpler time when my life too vaulted from uni essay to uni essay and I hadn't yet tasted quinoa. They are no less delicious 11 months later. The fact that they are called Blondies I could take or leave - this is basically one of your average slice-cake things. I don't know if I'm being particularly close-minded but I personally feel that it's not a blondie unless a goodly portion of it is made of white chocolate. And therefore, not a brownie. Actually come to think of it, this recipe would be amazing with a couple of spoonfuls of cocoa in it. I guess you could call it an apple brunette in that case.

The recipe can be found here from last year's blog, although you'll have to wade through all manner of other things before I actually start talking about the apple blondies. Ah, the naive Hungry and Frozen of 2008, with so much time on her hands. The blondies were as moist and apple-tatious as I remembered them to be, although considering their presence in my life in conjunction with the cookies I decided not to ice them. Yes, after eating half a batch of white-chocolate encrusted cookie dough and then making sugary apple cake, not adding icing can definitely be classified as a heavy consession.

I used four apples in the recipe but really, two is plenty. Any more and the batter almost can't hold it all together. What I got in the end was still delicious - a moist, fruity counterpart to the full-on sugar of the cookies. The spritz of apple in the batter made the kitchen smell incredible while it was baking. Many thanks to Kelly Jane, via whom the recipe was snaffled all those months ago.
On Shuffle whilst I type:
Here I Go Again from the Rock of Ages Original Broadway Cast Recording (The Great Whitesnake Way?)
That's The Way by Led Zeppelin, from Led Zeppelin III
Dogs Were Barking by Gogol Bordello, from Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike
Next time: possibly less psychobabble, more slow-cooked meals. I made an Italian beef casserole with pasta on Saturday and last night's dinner was beef shin in stout with prunes, a Nigella Lawson recipe from How To Eat. I'm heading down to Dunedin this weekend for work (my first ever SmokefreeRockquest!) so it may be a tiny while between posts but I'm sure the wider world will cope. Peace.