19 July 2009

bake this longing


Enamoured with the kitchen in my new house, I have been making all these really interesting, healthy, beautiful dinners lately. Dishes with slow-revealing, layered flavours and more often than not featuring something really quite beautiful, like a whole cinnamon stick or a poached egg draped lovingly across the top, or Israeli couscous... But despite all this, I've decided to showcase a bit of baking today. It has been too, too long since I've baked. (At least ten days.) We've finally unpacked all our boxes and the bookshelf is upright and laden with goods and so help me I actually found myself looking almost flirtatiously at all my cookbooks leaning across the shelves. Clearly a sign that (a) the 'going mad' process has stepped up a notch, and (b) it was time to connect with some butter.

I bring you two fairly disparite recipes: one for very sober, bran-dense biscuits and the other for flamboyant Italian chocolate puffy meringue things. They both stand together under the broad umbrella of "cookie" and while equally delicious, couldn't be more different in appearance or method.

Health Biscuits

This recipe is from the wildly successful, and justifiably so, New Zealand cookbook Ladies, A Plate by Alexa Johnston, although my recipe came via the September 2008 issue of Cuisine. Not what they were talking about in the film The September Issue, but beautiful and exciting nonetheless (to me at least.)

These biscuits are calm and unfancy but not in any way boring - they have a gorgeous crisp, snappish texture and are the ideal partner to a cup of tea. They keep well and the syrup used makes them seemingly taste better and better with age. And any recipe that uses this much butter while calling itself "Health biscuits" gets many a bonus point from me.

225g soft butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons malt or golden syrup (I used maple)
1 cup bran
1 cup wholemeal flour (I used plain)
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sultanas (I used currants)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 small teaspoon baking powder
extra white flour

Set oven to 180 C/350 F, line two trays with baking paper.

Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add the egg and the syrup. Add all the rest of the ingredients and knead together adding extra white flour till a good stiff-soft biscuity dough is achieved.

Roll out sections of the dough pretty thin and slice into squares or rectangles, transferring to the baking trays with a spatula. They don't spread much so put them close together. The recipe says to prick them with a fork; I totally forgot but I'm sure it helps. Bake for about 20 minutes, no longer, and they should be a lovely deep golden brown and smell heavenly. Cool on a rack and then store in a tin.

The original writer of the recipe suggests that these biscuits be served buttered; I suggest she is a genius.

The next baking adventure was one of a different nature, involving copious amounts of egg whites. And you know, egg whites are so the diva of the cooking world. The Barbra Streisand, the Mariah Carey, the Elizabeth Taylor. Egg whites are difficult to get hold of, and once you've managed to get some face time with them there's still massive room for error. They're all, "I only respond to a copper bowl. If there is any yolk present I'll just refuse to work. Where is my assistant! Also, I want the kitchen repainted to match my eyes, and I will only work by candlelight. By that I mean candles imported from Belgium at great cost to you." And it goes on.

That said, you can get some pretty exciting results from egg whites, once you've coaxed them out of their shell without disturbing the yolk, got them in the correct bowl, used the right utensil, and worked quickly so they don't get huffy and deflate or separate. The following recipe is one such example. I saw it in my gorgeous Scotto family cookbook and was intrigued, and the time seemed right, as after making vanilla ice cream I had egg whites sitting in the fridge waiting to be used.

I kid you not, the quantities I specify below are half what the original recipe asked for.

Brutti Ma Buoni

This is Italian for "ugly but good." I can think of many things that are ugly but good, but these meringue-like, matte-brown, light-as-air puffs are quite lovely in my eyes. So with these standards in mind I'd rather not be coolly appraised by an Italian any time soon. I wonder what their word is for "neither beautiful nor practical?" Or, "could stand to wash the cake batter out of her hair?"

5 egg whites
400g icing sugar (or 1/2 pound powdered sugar - this is an American book after all)
1/2 cup good cocoa
1/2 cup walnuts or almonds, roughly chopped

Set the oven to 150 C/300 F. Measure out your cocoa and icing sugar. Place the egg whites in a large metal bowl and whisk continuously till foamy. Gradually, slowly, add the icing sugar, whisking till a stiff meringue is formed. I should warn you that my meringue was very thick and shiny by the end but not so stiff that it would stay still; it continued to form ribbons no matter how vigorously I whisked. To elaborate further, it takes quite a bit of shampoo to get meringue out of one's hairline. Fold in the cocoa and nuts, and I added a bit of finely chopped good quality chocolate for good measure.

Line a tray with baking paper and measure out medium sized spoonfuls. Bake for 35 minutes. As I said I wasn't sure if my mix was a total disaster but it worked beautifully so fear not. You can even make it in batches - the mixture that waited round for 35 minutes was in no way inferior. Carefully peel the cooked Brutti ma Buoni off the baking tray and leave to cool before eating.

These are wonderful, definitely worth the jumping through hoops that egg whites make you perform. Light but dense at the same time, crisp on the outside and melting on the inside, and, despite a wince-inducing amount of icing sugar, they're not painfully sweet. Give them a go if you end up with some egg whites - they're a step up on meringues and go well with a dark coffee at the end of the night.

On Saturday night Tim and I went to see Dimmer at bar Bodega. They were beautiful. Even though they started at 11:50pm. At night. According to Wikipedia the erstwhile Straitjacket Fits frontman Shayne Carter is pushing 45, (and looking strangely fabulous still) so there you go. I'm clearly not very rock'n'roll. As I said though it was a wonderful, wonderful gig. Find their albums. But then I look on fishpond.co.nz and all their albums are currently unavailable or discontinued. Good one, fishpond.

Speaking of music, if you suspect that the words "Jack/Meg White have my babies" apply to you, then you may want to check out this preposterously interesting blog, Every Jack White Song. I'm notorious for being late to jump on a bandwagon so I hope, not just for the author's sake but for my own smug-ity, that this becomes huge. It certainly deserves to, anyone who devotes so much time critically analysing Jack White songs should go far, no argument.


Still speaking of music, on Shuffle whilst I type:

Who Says You Can't Dance To Misery? from the album of the same name by NZ rapper Tourettes. I wouldn't even to begin to consider myself a hip hop connoisseur (more of a dabbler) but this guy is massively intriguing and I love what he does.

You Are Not Real from the original cast recording of The Apple Tree. This song has a ridiculously moreish waltzing melody and a delightful, singalong chorus. Did you know that MASH's Alan Alda was in the original cast? However I find the eye-popping revival cast, namely the magnificently eyebrowed Brian D'arcy James, the magnificently moustachioed Marc Kudisch, and the generally magnificent Kristin Chenoweth even more exciting...

Idioteque from Kid A by Radiohead. I like this album better than OK Computer. There. I said it.


Next time: I totally go on business this week, but will endeavour gallantly to get in another blog post before I leave. Because I really have been making some nice, blog-worthy dinners lately...Among other things, I've made lentil salad with poached egg and feta, beetroot risotto with rice and barley, and roasted vegetables with Israeli couscous. That kind of thing.

15 July 2009

ceci n'est pas une new post


This is a bit of an interim thing. The equivalent to those four songs in the middle of a teen pop album from the late nineties. We've officially moved into our new stomping ground on Cuba Street and I've started cooking again, with a gas-top stove and an expel-air, oh untold joys abounding. But, if my free time were a pizza, right now unpacking boxes and arranging the objects that represent our lives to fit in this new space is eating nearly every slice of my time-pizza, not to mention my side order of headspace-fries with aioli.

To tide you all over - because I will start posting with soothing regularity asap to assuage the palpitations of the heart that surely start in my prolonged absense - I thought I might do a round-up of all the restaurants and cafes that I've reviewed since starting this blog in 2007 so that they're in one nifty post. This idea may fall flat, especially considering my international readership, but whatever. This is my blog, I'll openly pad it out with recycled filler material if I so wish. And if you should ever find yourself in Wellington - and why not? It's easily the best city New Zealand has to offer the world - consider this a starting point for where to eat.


Read about what we thought of Auckland's Wagamama - back in the dark days before a branch opened in Wellington - and the Wendy's burger joint: click HERE

Read about Alleluya Cafe on K'Road, home to an excellent Jewish Ginger Cake: click HERE


Read about Monsoon Poon, home of a cheeky cocktail and excellent service, and where David Beckham chose to have dinner while in town: click HERE and also for a second outing HERE

Read very briefly about Satay India, which deserved more of a review than I gave it because it was delicious: click HERE

Read about the faint-makingly fantastic chocolates on Featherston Street's Melting Perfection chocolaterie: click HERE

Read about the Black Harp Irish pub, where wonderfully hearty meals are served daily and where we have dined several times with family and friends: click HERE

Read about Kelburn's as-seen-on-TV Red Tomatoes cafe, where the pizza is flipping brilliant even if the service is a schmeer patchy: click HERE

Read about the Maranui Surf Cafe which doesn't even need my endorsement because it's always packed, rain or shine, and with good reason: click HERE and also HERE (this one has pictures)

Read about Deluxe cafe, which is so cool that I felt as though it was my fault when I didn't enjoy it that much, Roxy Cafe on Cuba Street which has the BEST hash browns, and Casablanca, a cheap and cheerful BYO: click HERE

Read about Rise Cafe on the Terrace, where a good coffee and excellent service can be found: click HERE

Read about the gorgeous La Bella Italia on The Terrace, which has utterly marvelous food and is infuriatingly not open on weekends: click HERE

And there it is, friends. A rough guide to eating hither and yon across Wellington and a competely understocked guide to eating out in Auckland. A little something to let you know I still am very much in existence.

On Shuffle whilst I type:

Horehound, the debut album by The Dead Weather, ie how much more wine can Jack White squeeze from his mind-grapes? The man is relentless! As is the seriously brilliant album. Jack White, you genius, you've done it again.

Next time: for one thing, an actual post with pictures and recipes. I've got a whole mess of baking planned for this weekend, and our espresso machine has finally entered the world so I also predict affogatos every which way to Sunday. On top of that there is something quite bewitching about living on Cuba Street. I'm noticing things I've never seen before. Like the Babylon Kebab shop - why didn't they just call themselves Kebabylon? Or, for maximum flair, Babylon Kebabylon? There is a quilting supplies shop just down the road from me that I never knew existed. At Moore Wilson's the other day (now divinely close to our house) Tim didn't even twitch when I bought tofu and actually actively suggested that I buy Israeli couscous. This from the fellow who once thought there was no discernable difference between canola oil and extra virgin olive oil. There may have been salty language employed to let him know the difference. You know what I'm saying.

7 July 2009

strange but not a stranger


As Liz Lemon, a character from 30 Rock and my kindred spirit would say: "aw, blerg". It's a third of the way through July already and I have only just now managed to put pixel to webpage. This is partly because Tim and I have been quietly absorbed with Dexter (brutal but good!) and with rewatching season 2 of 30 Rock (brutal but good!) and, of course, packing all our earthly belongings into boxes and suitcases (merely brutal!) in anticipation of the big move this Friday. Or, as they might say in a Baby Sitters Club book, The Big Move. Unlike bicoastal Dawn or choice-burdened Stacey it's not really a difficult wrenching decish for us. We're excited about moving.

I haven't really been doing a lot of cooking lately, because we are trying to use up what's in the cupboard and fridge. And not make anything huge that needs to be frozen or eaten over several days. Or use too many pieces of cookware. Which restricts us a schmeer. Last night Tim had spaghetti on toast before choir and I had a pub quiz after work. Monday night we went to Red Tomatoes Pizzeria and Cafe. On Sunday we cooked up 12 sausages at lunchtime that we'd defrosted from the freezer "for space-saving purposes" and...honestly...by nightfall the two of us had eaten them all. Not kidding. 12 sausages, two people, 6 hours. Saturday night was Burger Fuel because we had to be at the Film Archive by 7pm for the showing of my beloved Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps. Friday night was take-out satay noodles from Chow Mein Cube on the Terrace. Tomorrow night we'll be getting takeaways because everything will be packed away and on Friday we'll get takeaways because we've been moving all day. You get the idea. I'm really not cooking. And I can feel myself occupying more space than I normally do. Which is why next week I'm promising myself to embrace vegetables and shun sugars. But for now, it works. It's simpler this way.

It doesn't completely resemble the innermost circles of Hades here though. There has been some cooking - prior to all the non-cooking - occurring mostly because of the divine inspiration I garnered from the latest Cuisine magazine. Despite having a fridge rapidly emptying and a cupboard filled with increasingly disparite spices and condiments, I found myself turning pages of my Cuisine magazine and saying to myself rapturously (and loudly) "I can make this! And I have the ingredients for this! And also this! And still further recipes!"

So I did.

One rather genius dish that I tried was a Fiona Smith recipe of diced vegetables, basted in a salty dressing of miso, mirin, sugar and oil, roasted and mixed gently through sushi rice. Engaging stuff, yes?

Miso Roast Sushi Salad

The vegetables need to be cut into small, equal pieces so that they roast quickly and evenly without scorching the sauce. I found the amount of vegetables, once chopped, to be enormous, so ended up more than halving the amount. I suspect this is a very forgiving, adaptable recipe and can be changed up depending on what you have, more or less. I used a mixture of kumara, carrot, and parsnip. I left out the mushrooms because Tim doesn't like them and the tofu because we just didn't have any and it was still, despite this, just right for two people.

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 teaspoons caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sushi rice
1 1/4 cups water
4 cm strip kombu (optional)

4 tablespoons miso paste (you could happily sub this for black bean sauce)
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 tablespoons sugar

200g firm tofu, cut into 2cm chunks
4 cups chopped winter vegetables (pumpkin, carrot, kumara, parsnip)
2 cups mushrooms, quartered

Preheat oven to 200 C.

In a small bowl, stir together the first measure of sugar with the vinegar and salt and set aside. Place the rice in a colander, run under cold water then sit to drain while you prepare the vegetables. The draining step is apparently quite important so make sure this is the first thing you do.

Whisk together the miso, mirin, peanut oil and second measure of sugar. Chop all the vegetables into small cubes and mix in with the mushrooms and tofu in a large bowl, adding the sauce and coating thoroughly. Spread onto a paper-lined baking tray and roast for 20-25 minutes till the root vegetables are tender.

While the veges cook, place the rice in a medium saucepan with the seaweed if using, and cover with the 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to the boil, stirring, then clamp a lid on and cook at the lowest heat possible undisturbed for ten minutes. Take off the heat and leave undisturbed for ten minutes. Tip the rice into a large bowl and remove the kombu if used. Pour the vinegar mix over and stir gently, then add the roasted veges and tofu and carefully combine the lot together. Serve in bowls with sesame seeds and coriander with soy sauce and wasabi to serve if desired.

Serves 4.

This is very, very cheap and utterly delicious, the sort of thing you can happily eat by the heaped forkful while sitting cross-legged in front of the heater watching a DVD. It will, without a doubt, become a regular dinner this winter chez nous.

As I mentioned, last Saturday we went to see Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps at the Film Archive, and a very satisfying night it was too. We were part of a bare handful of under-forties whippersnappers present in the audience. It was a wonderful experience - big, beautiful sound, comfy seats, Neil in all his sneery glory on the big screen and of course his songs. Ohhhh the songs. I was tempted, in order to assert my right as a whippersnapper to be there, to state loudly, "I know! I've seen him live! It was a moment of spiritual clarity!" Speaking of films, I really, really can't wait for Away We Go to open here in NZ (about 12 months after it opens in the USA, naturally). It has the most incredible cast and I'm not kidding, the trailer nearly made me tear up. And it has cameos from Catherine O'Hara, who I have a mad crush on (Catherine, call me!) and Broadway's Allison Janney! Still speaking of films, we have been perusing the NZ Film Festival guide and circling various films we want to see, but mostly trying to find the most delightful foreign name for someone listed as working on one of the films. So far our hard-to-trump favourite is an actor called Knut Berger. Together, we salute you.


On Shuffle whilst I type feverishly:

Carry That Weight from Abbey Road by The Beatles (I love this song. It's like launching into the built-up end of an epic, Hey Jude-like song without having to wait for the build-up. It's like fast-forwarding to the "it's meeeee!" part of Defying Gravity. It's instant gratification.)
Welfare Mothers from Rust Never Sleeps by the divine Neil Young (was there e'er a cooler opening line than "people pick up on what I'm putting down"?)
Planet Z from Still I Can't Be Still by the divine Idina Menzel (Tim actually admits to liking this song. Heavy. Very heavy. Also: buy this album. It's ridiculous.)
Roadrunner by Modern Lovers from their eponymous album. I think I could listen to this song a squillion times and never tire of it. And I have a mad crush on the ageless Jonathan Richman. Call me, Jonathan!


In other significant happenings, Tim garnered an A and a B for two respective honours papers at uni which is just backflip-inducingly awesome. This is most likely the last blog entry I'll post from this flat. Considering this very flat is where I began this blog as a mere blog-ling in the October of 2007, that's...something. Right? We'd be much obliged if you could think happy, good-weather, box-lifting thoughts for us come Friday. Who was the patron saint of severely pulled muscles due to lifting from the back instead of the legs? We should probably be lighting a big old candle to him or her right now. (Not just being PC here, I wikipedia-d it and there really are a lot of lady saints.)