24 August 2009

it's all grand and it's all green


Overheard in our kitchen...

Tim: Imagine if all this time, tofu was actually made out of meat.
Me: All those vegans. All those people being good to the environment by eating tofu.
Tim: And it takes...four kilos of pork to make one block of tofu.
Me: What if there's an actual tofu beast out there? Literally an animal made of tofu?

two days later

Me: So if there's a tofu animal, what do you think it would look like? I'm thinking an oblong block of tofu with four little legs.
Tim: What kind of noise would it make?
Me: It would go "soy, soy, soy"
Tim: Maybe it calls out "tofu!" and that's how it got its name.

Lengthy discussion over whether this is plausible ensues, because there aren't even that many animals named for their animal call.


So the best place to buy tofu as far as I can ascertain is the vege market on a Sunday. I branched out this week and went for soft tofu instead of firm; the name doesn't lie. It near on falls to pieces if you look at it sideways. I guess it's kind of the minced beef to firm tofu's rump steak.

I ended up with a whole lot of root vegetables that needed eating on Sunday night. Usually my fallback option in this situation is some kind of pseudo-Moroccan would-be tagine-esque thing, which is seriously what I thought I was cooking last night until I realised it had actually shifted direction altogether into a curry. It's a fine line - all that cumin, tumeric, coriander... suddenly I found myself wondering whether I should add more tomatoes and feta cheese or biff in a can of coconut milk. Coconut milk won out and I suddenly had this rather gorgeous vegan curry on my hands.

I defrosted some unshelled soybeans (I go through bags of them these days) and popped the beans within into the stew for a little colour contrast...to stop it being overwhelmingly like a braised curtain from the 70s (or, in fact, the curtains I remember us having at home while I was growing up - I have distinct memories of some yellow and brown floral motif...Mum?) The soybeans were awesomely elphaba-green against the earthy vegetables, their colour softened by the coconut milk.

While licking the lid of the coconut milk tin, to catch the sneaky extraneous cream that gathers there, it occurred to me that chocolate ice cream made with coconut milk could potentially be mindblowingly nice. Especially with chunks of milk chocolate and toasted coconut shreds, like a posh version of the Choc Bar ice creams of my youth (and occasional nights in town - for some reason I always crave ice cream if I'm out and about of an evening, you can keep your kebabs and pies thank you). If you haven't had a Choc Bar it's basically the above but in a $2.50 icecream-on-a-stick form and laced with palm oil (yeah, I went there. And while I was there, through rigorous testing, discovered that Whittaker's white chocolate is comparitively amazing.)

The recipe for this suddenly-curry is chilled out, the only thing I measured out with any strict attention to detail was the rice. Nevertheless I'll tell you exactly what I did in case the idea takes your fancy. It made a fantastic relaxed Sunday dinner. Warming and hearty, the creaminess of the coconut milk soaking into the ridiculous amount of vegetables (seven veges - eight if you count the tofu, which you might as well.) You basically can't get it wrong which is also nice.

Root Vegetable Curry with Tofu and Soybeans

1 Onion
3 garlic cloves
1 swede (is Swede a root vegetable?)* diced
1 carrot, diced
1 parsnip, chopped
1 kumara, diced thickly
1/2 a cauliflower, chopped into small florets
Good handful soybeans

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons tumeric
1 teaspoon ginger
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped (optional if it's not your thing)
Zest and juice of a lime
1-2 teaspoons of honey

1 tin crushed tomatoes
1 tin coconut milk
As much tofu as you like

Chop onion and garlic finely and gently saute in a wide pan. Once it has softened a little, add the spices, chilli, honey and lime juice. This will caramelise the onions slightly, you want to keep stirring it so the spices don't char.

Add the vegetables at this point and stir thoroughly to coat them in the spicy onion mixture which by now will be quite dry. Tip in the tin of tomatoes, half fill the tin with water and swish it into the pan. Stir, cover and allow to simmer till the veges are tender (the swedes are the slowest to kick into action I've found).

Stir in the podded soybeans, tofu, and as much coconut milk as you like. Allow to simmer for ten minutes or so. Serve over rice (or ree-cheh if you will)

Serves 4

This was delicious. The vegetables (and inevitably, my entire face) all stained yellow by tumeric, the coriander seeds providing bursts of subtle citrus to complement the lime, the strident warmth of the spices cutting through the creamy coconut...the emerald-bright soybeans doing no wrong as per usual...

Further hopelessness overheard in our kitchen...
Me: Do fish bleed?
Tim: .......................Yes.
Me: Yeah, but when you cut into them...there's no arteries...they're not like, say, sheep, which are basically built like humans in that they've got leg bones and muscles and...
Tim: They're just like sheep. They bleed.
Me: Yeah, but you cut open a fish and there's the skeleton, but it's just...surrounded by fish fillets.
Tim: I was thinking more like fish fingers.
Me: Yeah. Tightly woven fish fingers.


Tim and I went to see Wizard of Oz at Embassy cinema yesterday afternoon. It was wonderful seeing it on a big screen, partying like it was 1939. The technicolour made me gasp and the Wicked Witch was still as terrifying as I remember from my youth. But, this is the first time I've watched this film since reading the jaw-dropping Wicked and making a connection with the musical of the same name. And it was impossible to remove that context, to view it without that lens. Why does no one show sympathy when the Wicked Witch's sister has died? Why did the Wizard get away with lying like that? How is Glinda so 'good' when, let's face it, she appears to be on valium? She can hardly connect with Dorothy's feelings of fear - although let's also face the fact that the film wouldn't have been so satisfying if, 23 minutes in, Dorothy was safely assisted back to Kansas.)

I actually cried during Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Judy Garland - so tragic! And it's a beautiful song). And again when the Witch dies - it's an emotionally fraught moment! I couldn't help but imagine Glinda somewhere behind a curtain or pillar watching it happen a la the musical. Or the Witch being frantic by lack of sleep and an inability to communicate effectively a la the book. And I might have cried again when Dorothy said goodbye to the Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion. (Who, in retrospect, are deeply camp, yes? Also: Fiyeeeeeeeroooooo!) I really never cry in films or books or things like that so I'm always a bit interested to note when I do. And...I really want to see Wicked now. I know, it's so done by all the cool people already but as I've said many times, it's not as easy when you're in New Zealand.

On Shuffle whilst I type:

Die, Vampire, Die by Susan Blackwell and the rest of the cast of [title of show] from the cast recording of [title of show]. Had a slight epiphany Monday morning while unable to sleep (I woke up at 5:00am! And remained awake! It's not fair!) that I could so do the role of Susan Blackwell. It's like it was made for me (except it was made for the real Susan Blackwell. Confused? Maybe you should be. But if you've made it to this segment of the blog unsullied by confusion then you're doing pretty well, all things considered. Also, Wikipedia it, my children.)

Rez, by Underworld, from INCredible Sound of Jo Whiley. It's this compilation from the nineties that I found. I don't know why the first letters of Incredible need to be emphasised. I would have preferred it if it was iNCRedibLE just to mess with people trying to pronounce it. I wish I'd had this compilation back in the actual 90s because it would have made life a lot easier. Instead I lay awake at night with my ear pressed to the radio and its hopelessly crackly signal, waiting for Flagpole Sitta - back in the days before the internet when I didn't even know what the song was called, but the lyrics "the agony and the irony they're killing me" seemed so meaningful to a 13 year old - or something by Radiohead to come on. Anyway Rez by Underworld is incredible - like what I imagine the fairies from Shirley Barber's beautiful picture books would dance to if they went to a rave on a lily pad. See? Also, who knew Jo Whiley had a biography? Not I.

Galang by MIA from Arular. Have been a fan of hers since I saw the video for Bucky Done Gun in a hotel room in Germany in the summer of 2005. Didn't realise music was capable of sounding like that.

Is it bad that I have this urge to make some kind of dish (probably ice cream, my default flavour-carrier) heavily featuring galangal so that I can use galangalangalang as my blog post title?

The title for this post is bought to you by: One Short Day from the musical Wicked, where Glinda and Elphaba travel to the emerald city for the first, fateful time...pausing only for a kicky song-and-dance number.

Next time: Considering this post bears little resemblance to what I promised would be happening I'm not sure if it matters what I write here. Truth be told I'm a bit terrible at snappily rounding things off so this is like an 'out' for me. Like on Whose Line Is It Anyway when Colin Mochrie would pretend to faint so that he didn't have to come up with a verse in an impromptu hoedown. Does anyone remember the vastly superior British version of that show? Whatever happened to it?

16 August 2009

brown sugar, how come you taste so good

I've got a bit of that Sunday night 'blah' feeling that can happen after a really good weekend. The reason for this weekend going so well was because several family members (Mum, godmother, godmother's sister) coming from afar to visit, acting as entourage for my godsister who was having her university house ball. Now that they're gone and my mind has to turn to practical things, like waking up early tomorrow for work...You know how it goes. Of course there are several cures for such feelings: make sure you live in a charming flat on Cuba Street for one thing, listen to the relentlessly sunny revival cast recording of Hair, eat tofu, absorb the happiness of those around you that the Wellington Phoenix football team actually won a game, that sort of thing. I happen to be doing all those things simultaneously right now so there's barely a moment to feel wibbly.

I spontaneously invited everyone round for dinner on Friday night. We had take-out noodles from my noodle hut of choice: Chow Mein Cube on The Terrace, plus hot chips from the excellent chippie across the road. I made a salad and they bought the wine. Pudding consisted of brown sugar meringues that I'd made that evening after work (I know, how deranged housewife am I) and two different kinds of ice cream, Kohu Road vanilla and Whittaker's Peanut Slab. It is with some pinkness of cheek that I admit my love for the peanut slab ice cream, since I had so emphatically stated that Kohu Road is the only kind of non-homemade ice cream I'd ever consider buying. Well, now I can add Whittaker's to the list. It's flipping lovely stuff.

These meringues have the edge on their paler sisters - I normally find meringues to be a bit too blatantly, in-yer-face sweet, whereas here the brown sugar gives complexity of flavour and a pleasing dark caramel taste. You could of course use something like muscovado sugar for an even more intense experience. I found this recipe in Italian Comfort Food by the Scotto family, a cookbook that persists in changing my previously held perception that all American cookbooks are unusable and ask for incomprehensible ingredients like Bisquick and half-and-half.

Brown Sugar Meringues

Adapted from Italian Comfort Food by the Scotto Family.

4 egg whites
1 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 140 C/300 F and line a tray with baking paper. You may need two trays but I managed to squish everything onto one. This recipe is so simple you could fit it into a Twitter update. Whisk egg whites till frothy. Carry on whisking, slowly adding brown sugar till a stiff meringue forms. Drop spoonfuls onto tray, bake for an hour. You should get 16-18 out of this. And I made it with an actual whisk so don't feel like you can't either. No need for heavy machinery here.

What's really, really fun is then to take spoonfuls of ice cream and sandwich it between two meringue halves. This becomes almost impossibly sublime after a day or two when the meringues have softened slightly. It's so good you practically need to slap yourself back into reality afterwards. The contrast between cold, creamy ice cream and resolutely dry room temperature meringue is surprisingly seductive while the strong caramel of the slowly cooked brown sugar counteracts any excessive sweetness. They're aesthetically pleasing too, calling to mind those fancy macarons that you see all over the place but in a much simpler, ramshackle fashion.

It's a little difficult to really paint a picture in words how delicious this is, especially when it seems so simple. I might have to eat another so that I'm inspired into further colourful description.

If your life is like the Tom Wolfe novel Bonfire of the Vanities you might consider making your own ice cream to go with the meringues. It will drive home to your dinner guests that you are an aggressively accomplished cook. Their self esteem will wither and the only way they will be able to jump over this raised bar is by baking individual souffles at their next dinner party. Even if your life is not like a Tom Wolfe novel and does not involve making individual desserts while wearing pearls, and even though we're all well aware by now that there is perfectly sufficient stuff available on the market, making your own ice cream is not difficult. To paraphrase an argument that I often employ (if the Dire Straits were that good, surely I'd like them?) if ice cream was really that difficult then surely I wouldn't be able to achieve it.

A while ago I got it in my head that palm sugar might be a delicious ice cream flavouring. It is highly likely that I should have been focussing on spreadsheets at the time which is why the idea was not immediately acted upon. However this time of idea-incubation allowed me to also consider adding kaffir lime leaves to this icecream-in-my-mind.

Last weekend I had a crack at it, making a custard boldly infused with kaffir lime leaves and a syrup of palm sugar. The two were mixed together and frozen and I'll be honest, it actually worked. The flavours were subtle but intriguing. Not overtly limey and not wildly sugary, but both elements definitely present, cutting through the frozen custard with their unfamiliarity.

I'll give you the recipe I used - which I made up - but I'm not quite sure it's the exact final prototype yet. There was something about the texture that I wasn't entirely sure about. However Tim, with his simple rustic wisdom, said I was overthinking and he couldn't see anything wrong with it. So feel free to give it a go yourself.

Palm Sugar and Kaffir Lime Leaf Ice Cream

4 egg yolks
3 tablespoons brown sugar
600 mls cream
5 dried kaffir lime leaves
4 lumps of palm sugar (does this make sense? Palm sugar generally comes in rounded lumps. There might be a better way of describing it)

Heat half the cream (300mls) with the kaffir lime leaves in a pan till it's pretty hot but not boiling, just slightly wobbly. Remove from heat and let it sit for a while to allow the lime leaves to infuse. Whisk the egg yolks and brown sugar together gently, then pour the heated cream into it, still whisking. Rinse and dry the cream pan and then transfer the egg-sugar-cream mix back into the pan and heat it gently, stirring all the while, till it thickens into custard. This isn't hard at all but it can be good to have a sink full of ice cold water ready to plunge the pan into to stop it cooking. You can choose to remove the lime leaves at any stage here, but I left them in as long as possible.

Put the custard aside to cool while you put the palm sugar into a pan, and add 1/2 cup water. Heat very gently till a syrup forms. Depending on the palm sugar it may take a while to break down. The aim of this excercise is more to melt the sugar into a usable liquid rather than cook it into a caramel, if that makes sense. Once it has dissolved into liquid put it aside to cool for a little bit before whisking it into the custard (with lime leaves removed) and finally, stir in the final 300 mls cream. Sorry if this all sounds a bit complicated.

Pour into a container and freeze, stirring occasionally. It makes around 900mls which is a good, non-threatening quantity for an experimental batch like this.

Anyway it must have been pretty good because Tim and I managed to get through it in less than a week. Largely aided by the fact that it tasted so mind-blowingly smashing sandwiched between meringues. Be not afraid to try it. The instructions may not fit on a Twitter update but they're pretty straightforward.

Last night the lot of us - Tim, myself, visiting family members went to La Kasbah, a Morrocan restaurant down the Left Bank arcade of Cuba Street. It's an adorable place with a short but solid menu, gorgeously painted walls and friendly wait staff. We were all very much taken with our meals and in particular I loved the tumeric-yellow bread that came with the breads and dips. Well, I hope it was tumeric that gave it that radioactive tint. I'd love to know their recipe because it's gorgeously moreish stuff. It was a seriously lovely night and I definitely recommend it if you're looking for another BYO to add to your inventory.

The title of this blog is bought to you by: The Rolling Stones

On Shuffle whilst I type:

Where Do I Go? sung by Gavin Creel and the Tribe from the 2009 revival cast recording of Hair. It's more thematic than plot-heavy, which makes sense for a show that follows its own rules, but I have the feeling that this is currently among the best ways to spend a few hours on Broadway right now. The current Broadway cast is so full of energy and joy that even a million miles and continents away it is impossible not to love them.

Meadowlark by Patti LuPone from Patti LuPone at Les Mouches. Recorded in 1980 this is an utterly gorgeous and occasionally hilarious album.

You've Got Her In Your Pocket (live) by the White Stripes from the Blue Orchid single. Thought this song is most excellent on the album, live it just...soars.
Next time: Nigella Lawson has this chocolate Coca Cola cake in How To Be A Domestic Goddess, and I thought it might be fun to switch the cola for ginger beer. It was flipping lovely, let me assure you, and you'll be finding out all about it in good time...

11 August 2009

soy division

I remember reading the Sunday Star Times at a cafe earlier this year, turning to the Escape section first, and saying to Tim that my blog would be ideal for it. You know, I could be that person they ask to write down what they eat over the course of the day (do people really tell the truth in those things?) or feature as an example of the general excellence available on the web these days. The thought left my mind when I flicked over the the column where Annabelle White compares various brands of organic muesli. That sort of fortunate occurrence only happens to established, famous-enough-to-appear-in-a-local-reality-show kind of people. It was Cafe Cubita on Courtney Place and I had an extremely pleasant lamb salad.

Turns out that, with a frequency just high enough to keep you trusting in mystical forces, if you put it out there, the universe can provide. It worked when I said I wanted Tourettes to come do a gig in Wellington - and lo, it was so. While I always feared it would be unlikely that Idina Menzel would come to New Zealand, the utter randomness of Patti LuPone making a tour stop here reaffirmed my faith in the world. It doesn't always work - goodness knows I've wistfully hinted to the powers that be that a faster metabolism would be nice.

Oh my gosh, anyway, enough of my chatter: the point is, this blog, this very blog, was mentioned by the editor of the Escape section of the Sunday Star Times, a national newspaper. Favourably. And not just in my head - it really happened! I feel like Mark Cohen in RENT, when his footage of the riot after Maureen's performance gets on Buzzline. I feel like Elphaba in Wicked when she finds out she's going to see the Wizard - "he asked for me? Personally?" I feel like Jeff, Hunter, Susan and Heidi in [title of show] when they get a good review in the New York Times. I feel like...I'm so excited and self-pinching right now that all I can do is project my feelings onto pre-existing characters. If there are any new readers who have solely appeared here because they looked me up after reading the lovely things Angela Walker wrote about this place in the Sunday Star Times; Kia ora! Welcome! Kindly stick around.

Just when you thought I couldn't bring any more excitement, I'd like to announce that I am on a massive soy kick right now. If you've been keeping an eye on my twitter (@HungryandFrozen) then this will be no secret, for some reason expressing my love for soy in 140 character bursts is my idea of a good time these days.

I realise tofu is as maligned and practically as unsexy as lentils. Just because it has a bad rep doesn't make it intrinsically bad though. Like Michael Jackson jokes, I feel that wrinkling one's nose at tofu is not only easy, it's lazy. Anyone can do it. Takes temerity of spirit to actually try this surprisingly delicious stuff. (And no, I don't get a kick out of Michael Jackson jokes. Ooh, make fun of a brilliant but deeply troubled dead man. Aren't you quite the sparkling wit.)

Tonight I stir-fried a few cloves of chopped garlic in a non-stick pan, sprinkled over fish sauce and mirin, and added a block of firm tofu, which almost braised in the bubbling liquid, slowly taking on colour and absorbing the flavours of the sauce. While dealing with the edamame though, the liquid quickly reduced and the considerable sugars in the mirin caramelised on the spot, creating a thick, dark sauce. In places it actually had reduced down into a kind of brittle or toffee, disturbingly good with its salty, sweet, garlicky crunch. This is what happens when I turn my back - it gets all Heston Blumenthal up in here. I believe this is what the cool kids describe as umami - a deep-toned savoury flavour. The deliciously sauced tofu teamed with the mellow, impossibly buttery edamame made a wholly satisfying dinner, so good that I quickly snapped it and wedged it spontaneously into this blog when I was really going to write about something else altogether.

Currently on Shuffle whilst I type double time thanks to the power of soy:

Calling All Angels, by Alice Ripley at the Kennedy Centre, 2003. Say what you want about her - I personally adored her speech for winning the Tony - but I think she's utterly brilliant. And, and, she writes the kind of songs I would want to write if I was a singer-songwriter. This is one such example.

I'm Going Home by the Sacred Harp Singers from the Cold Mountain soundtrack. The only reason we even watched the movie is because Jack White was in it, I don't recommend it - it's relentlessly brutal and violent although the joy of Jack White provides some respite. But the soundtrack is pretty wonderful and this particular song is astoundingly beautiful and like no other sound I've ever heard before. And you know, this is 2009. We have mash-ups and stuff.

All I Really Want by Alanis Morisette from Jagged Little Pill. Delightfully mid-nineties and talky as heck but still brilliant stuff to throw yourself around the room and sing along to. I actually saw her live at the Supertop in 1996, was possibly the only 10 year old in the audience. She's always cool to me. If you like this album, it's not too much of a stretch to hope that you'd like Minuet by Idina Menzel from Still I Can't Be Still...

This blog title is bought to you by: Joy Division. And so obviously, this song.

Next time: I was going to write about ice cream in this one but frankly soy was more exciting right now, not to mention a large chunk of space was occupied by my bragging. As Rufus Wainwright sang in his tribute concert to Judy Garland, "you go to my head". This week Sunday Star Times, next - who knows. Possibly the same level of mild obscurity. Various whanau members are coming down to Wellington this weekend so I am currently browsing Menumania to narrow down some cool places to take them for lunch and dinner. And definitely going to talk ice cream next time.

4 August 2009

complainte de la bundt

It's a truth universally acknowledged that cakes look more exciting and complicated if they're baked in a fancy tin. It just seems more impressive if it's shaped like castle turrets or a giant rosebud or the Trevi Fountain. I mean, it's not like you actually painstakingly sculpted the cake into this particular form with a palette knife while wearing a beret. But there you go.

I was predictably excited to buy on sale recently a good sized silicone bundt caketin. I feel as though a bundt tin falls comfortably between practical and largely dust-gathering on the kitchenware scale. It's really just another cake tin, not as usable as a 23cm springform but not as confoundingly quixotic as, say, a madeleine tray (nothing against madeleines - every time I make them I end up wondering why humans haven't evolved to make small, honeyed cakes a staple food). A bundt cake just looks so majestic with its undulating curves and waves and towering hilltop form, so much more than your perfectly serviceable but normal looking regular round cake.

I was initially going to make a fabulous sounding orange cake from Annabelle White's Annabelle Cooks, which sported a large, fetching image of an orange bundt cake. However the recipe specified a 26cm springform tin and the disparity between instruction and image made me far too nervous. Not on my first bundt.

Instead I went for an equally lovely sounding Spice Cake from my charmingly eighties (if it moved, they set it in gelatine) Best of Cooking For New Zealanders cookbook by Lynn Bedford Hall (look for it in your local charity shop - I could use it every single day). As well specifically requesting a ring tin, it also used less eggs than the spurned orange cake. It was all going just peachy. You know me, always happiest when messing around with cake batter. I piled the cinnamon-spiced, nut-spiked batter into the tin, put it in the oven, marvelled as the house filled with the warm, happy scent of cinnamon...Oh how wrong I was. Fate (and possibly Annabelle White) were standing behind me, pointing and laughing the whole time.

Because then this happened.

What now? That's just not fair. You know how there's that saying? Pride goeth before a fall? Well with me it's excitement goeth before a fail. If I had a dollar for every time... Seriously, I don't know what went wrong. Half the cake just decided it wasn't ready to leave home yet. Any guesses from seasoned bakers out there? The tin was silicone and everything. I wonder if I didn't leave it long enough before turning it out? Maybe I left it too long? I'm in a quandary!

Aesthetics aside, the cake itself is really delicious though and very, very easy to make. Whatever I did wrong - presuming it was my fault at all - I definitely won't take it out on the recipe itself. If you want to recreate this psyche-damaging disaster in your own home feel free, may you have better luck than I had...

Spice Cake

2 tsp baking powder
350g brown sugar
2 eggs
450g flour
345mls buttermilk
250ml (1 cup) plain oil, like rice bran or grapeseed
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp baking soda
175g sultanas (I used currants)
125g chopped nuts (I used walnuts)

Set the oven to 180 C (350 F). Place all the ingredients except for the nuts and sultanas into a large bowl and mix with electric beaters for one minute.

If you don't have electric beaters (like me), mix together the oil and sugar, then the eggs, then everything else till it's incorporated good and proper. Then, fold in the nuts and sultanas.

Spread this thick mixture into a bundt tin and bake for an hour, covering loosely with tinfoil if it starts to darken too much. Stand for five minutes (which I did!) before inverting onto a cake rack.

As you can probably tell from the ingredients this makes a large, moist, delicious cake that keeps well and has a gentle warmth from the spices used. Which means I can overlook the fact that it had a total breakdown in front of me. And I will carry on bundting.

For my sake at least, so I don't feel completely like what the French call les incompetents, here below is an example of something I actually achieved without a hitch.

I've made this caramelly, oaty slice before, blogged about it even, but whatevs. I'm calling upon it again. And at least you know it's good.

Breakfast Bars

From Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson

1 can of sweetened condensed milk (roughly 400g)
250g rolled oats

75g shredded coconut
100g dried cranberries

125g mixed seeds (sunflower, linseed, pumpkin, etc)
125g unsalted peanuts

Preheat oven to 130 C, and oil a 23x33cm baking tin or throwaway foil tin. Warm the condensed milk gently in a pan till it is more liquid than solid. Remove from heat and then add the rest of the ingredients, stirring carefully with a spatula so everything is covered. Spread into the tin, even out the surface, then bake for about an hour. Let cool for about 15 minutes then slice up. I swapped the expensive cranberries for a handful of currents lurking agedly in the pantry and left out the peanuts because I just didn't have any.

Nigella reckons this slice gets better with age and I agree - it just sort of settles into a chewier, nuttier, caramellier bite the longer you leave them. Super easy and good to have on hand to assuage any dips in blood sugar.

For what it's worth, and I realise there's little more nauseating than couples who start talking in their own cutesy language, but we've ended up pronouncing the word slice, as in oaty slice, "slee-che", inspired largely by Dr Leo Spaceman (pronounced spa-che-man) from 30 Rock. It's funny how many words you can start manipulating in this way. Face, place, rice, ice...it's like a Dr Seuss book here sometimes. Actually I have a really bad habit of mangling words when speaking casually. Such as 'whatevs' instead of 'whatever' which is a bad enough word in itself. I like to lengthen the 'i' in chicken so it rhymes with 'liken' and drop the end of 'decision' so it's just 'decish' and frequently substitute the letter 'j' with a 'y' or an 'h'...it's all a bit obnoxious really but I like to think of it as taking a simple joy in linguistics. Look at this, I haven't even been tagged with an internet meme and yet I'm revealing a bizarre fact about myself. Is that allowed?
The big news in our lives right now is that Tim is walking around looking all medieval, as while I was in Auckland one of his teeth just crumbled on him like an uncooperative bundt cake. He didn't tell me till six days later when we met up again as he couldn't figure out how to explain it in a txt message. Fair enough, I guess. As per usual the dentists want him to mortgage the tooth against our house with his liver as bond (ooh, I'm typing all heavily just thinking about it, the prices dentists charge get me all fired up.) Because he couldn't afford a root canal and I couldn't even afford to support him for it, he instead paid a smaller (but still hefty) sum to have the tooth pulled altogether. It's causing him no small amount of pain, and we've been eating very soft, liquidy dinners over the last couple of days - soup, long-simmered, falling apart stews, that sort of thing. Luckily it's not an entirely visible tooth but nevertheless, I'd like to think he has the panache to pull off looking like a Renaissance-era minstrel.

On Shuffle whilst I type:

Amen by Jolie Holland from Escondida. We were lucky enough to see her in a beautiful, intimate gig earlier this year. If the idea of Appalachian folksy blues appeals to you then you would do well to look her up. This particular song is simply stunning.

John The Revelator by Son House from The Roots of The White Stripes, a compilation of the original blues and folk songs that the White Stripes have covered either live or in albums. Sounds tacky as hell but it's not - it's a fantastic listen packed with gems both dust-covered and well known.

Why Can't I Be Like The Boss a song cut from the 2006 Tom Kitt musical High Fidelity. I kinda love this song, especially when the Bruce Springsteen character really gets going.


This blog title is bought to you by: Rufus Wainwright
Next time: I got it in my head that ice cream flavoured with palm sugar and kaffir lime leaves would be pretty sassy. So I think I'm going to make that this weekend. Hopefully Tim's teeth, or lack thereof, are up to it. And one day, I will make another bundt cake.

2 August 2009

don't dream it, be it


Do you ever think up something new only to find out that this something already exists? Recently I was mildly amused by some of the artists on offer while flicking through the blues section at Slow Boat Records, and thought it would be kinda fun if there was some kind of "Blues Name Generator." A website where you enter your name and it in turn spat out out something that would ostensibly be your blues artist name, something like Stumblin' Tuscaloosa Mary or Three Fingered Lowell Pickering or Pork Cracklin' McDooley. But yeah, the internet is already home to multiple blues name generators. Multiple. Shoulda known. Moving on.

It must be the nature of existing in the world we do though, right? There are millions and millions of people wandering round and it's only inevitable that some of our ideas will overlap and occur without connection to each other. Sometimes it can be a positive thing though, this doubling up of concepts. It can act as a kind of reinforcement that the idea was a good thing in the first place. (Not that people can't have collectively terrible ideas, where to start with examples...)

To wit: I had it in my head that lentils topped with a poached egg might be cool. This developed further when I thought about padding it out with what else was in my kitchen - butter-fried leeks, a sprinkling of almonds and feta... Then I completely second-guessed myself. Is lentils and egg together both freaky and depressing? At best? Leeks - are they still hip? Would the whole thing be too earthy and aggressively sulphuric? Would the brown, yellow and green shades call to mind a polyester blouse from the 70s instead of effortless culinary elegance?

Then, reading a copy of esteemed local publication the Listener, I found in Martin Bosley's food column a recipe that more or less mirrored what I came up with. Since Mr Bosley himself is such an estimable and celebrated local foodsmith, like a passive fairy godmother saying "you shall go to the ball," I gained from his similar idea the confidence to proceed with my own.

Not saying you shouldn't be afraid to experiment. Not at all. But seriously. Lentils. Sometimes a little positive reinforcement helps. And this definitely leans more towards modern elegance than 70s polyester in food form. I should have had more faith in myself - after all, it seems these days you can drape a poached egg over practically anything and it suddenly becomes chic.

To have this happen in your own life, bring a large pan of water to the boil and once it is at a merry rolling bubble, pour in 150g brown lentils. (I added the rest of a near-empty packet of tiny stelline pasta for no other reason than it was annoying me) The lentils should cook through in about 20-25 minutes. Meanwhile, wash and thinly slice a leek. Melt a generous knob of butter in a pan and once it's sizzling gently add the leeks and stir continuously till they collapse and become slightly caramelised. I added a splash of very good balsamic vinegar because I'm lucky enough to have some. Once the lentils have cooked through, drain them thoroughly and transfer them to the pan of soft, buttery leeks (now off-heat) and stir through. Finally, poach four free range eggs. Divide the lentils between two plates, place two eggs on each, and sprinkle with sliced almonds, feta cheese, and smoked paprika.

Serves 2.

This dish is pretty delightful. The softened, slightly fuzzy lentils against the silky egg yolk, the nutty bite of the almonds against the slippery leeks and sharp, creamy cheese all tastes brilliant together. The range of flavours and textures made it way more interesting to eat than it could initially sound. Thanks Martin Bosley for unwittingly providing the affirmation that I needed.

It's not being precious or, I don't know, elitist to say that you need really good free range eggs for this. It's pretty simple. Surely Jamie Oliver has put out enough TV shows for this to be obvious now. Granted, laying eggs is what hens do, but it surely isn't the most dignified way to make a living and I'm pretty sure these hens aren't supposed to be laying eggs on command every single day while being underfed and cramped in a tiny cage with no room to move, alongside thousands of their similarly oppressed sisters like a nightmarish scene from a dystopian novel from the 1950s. Hens deserve better than that. Why, buying free range eggs is positively an action of female empowerment. Support your feathered sisterhood. I think I'm on to something here. Free range is a feminist issue. Unless it has already been written about by the lovely Bust magazine or somesuch... At the rate I'm going I wouldn't really be surprised. Ooh I've thought of something. No. It already exists.

So there's all that. But also, importantly, free range eggs taste comparitively amazing to the super cheap, sinister battery cage eggs. They really do. If you think otherwise, I'm afraid your opinion is wrong. Choose free range: not only are you getting a better tasting egg, you're helping hens break through the glass ceiling! Or something.

This next dish comes without any such quasi-political fist-shaking attached to it. This was dinner a week or so ago.

Roasted Kumara with Roasted Beetroot Risotto. Seriously good stuff. I wrapped a large kumara and a large beetroot in tinfoil and roasted the pair for about an hour in a hot oven. I made a risotto of half arborio rice, half pearl barley (any excuse to use an unsexy grain, me) and once the vegetables were roasted I roughly chopped the beetroot and stirred it through the risotto. The kumara I cut in half and divided between two plates along with the risotto and sprinkled it with coriander seeds - my latest obsession, their dusky lemony flavour is delicious - and also actual coriander which I discovered quietly floundering in the fridge in dire need of use. It's funny, I always feel like I need coriander but then whenever I buy it, it tends to get forgotten about.

A pretty fabulous dinner this was, and unlike the last dish, a Bollywood-bright plateful of gorgeous colour. The earthy sweetness of the beetroot and kumara, emphasised by the long roasting time, went really nicely together and I've always loved the texture of pearl barley which lends itself easily to a risotto.

Had a smashing time up in Auckland (I was up there for six days, hence the rolling tumbleweed/chirping crickets nature of the blog lately). I met some fantastic people and ventured into the oft-talked of 'burb of Ponsonby, wherein I felt often felt pretty Wellington and occasionally...very rural. I was naively excited to patronise such classy places as SPQR and Prego, that I'd previously only read about in Cuisine magazine. You're not in Otaua now, Laura.

Words can barely, barely express the joy that was Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin in concert. I read an adequate review of the night from the NZ Herald newspaper but I think what the author missed out on was how exciting it is that these two people are in New Zealand at all. This sort of thing just does not happen. Broadway stars don't come here. Whoever at The Edge organised it, I salute you and hope this sets a prescedent for other performers that there is, in fact, an audience for them in New Zealand.

Anyway, words clouding issue here. They were both spectacular. For those of you who don't know, I usually found it easiest to describe Mandy Patinkin to people as the guy who played "My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die" in The Princess Bride. Patti LuPone probably graces a lot of peoples' CD collections without them realising it - Wikipedia her. She should need no introduction but it's not really our fault here in New Zealand, at the bottom of the world, that we're not exposed to people like her very often. When she sang that intensely dynamic opening line, "I had a dream, a dream about you baby" from Everything's Coming Up Roses, from the show Gypsy that she won a Tony for last year...it was surreal. And incredible. Tim was there with me, and Mum and Dad at the last minute bought cheaper rush tickets so it was nice to have people around to share the excitement with. I could go on about how fantastic they both were - wait, I already have - but it's not really necessary, it kind of goes without saying. They were both so comfortable on stage and a serious joy to watch. And I got a photo afterwards with Mandy. Woohoo!

Also: saw It Might Get Loud, which only served to make Tim and I each fall more in love with Jack White (Meg is awesome too, but he was the focus of the film, so). Jimmy Page was a complete gem and of course the Edge is a talented guy. It's not his problem that U2 isn't really my thing, I'm sure. On Thursday night I saw a fab local band called Alex The Kid who play super fun music with a scientific bent; due to their name they're a bit hard to google so why not click here for their Myspace? The following night, after It Might Get Loud we went to see Auckland rapper Tourettes, who I've been enamoured with for some time now. The opener was this guy called Tommy Ill, when he came onto the stage I totally judged him on his Where-the-wild-things-are style furry hat but he was adorable and fun and I'd easily pay money to see him again. Tourettes was just seriously fantastic, and I was beyond stoked that he did two spoken word segments during the gig. I can't pretend I'm a huge listener of rap, I like a bit of De La Soul (specifically: Ooh), Wu Tang Clan and Beastie Boys, but it's not really my first choice. So maybe that amplifies how much I like this guy's stuff.


On Shuffle Whilst I Type Feverishly

Farewell Ride, from Guero by Beck. It's funny, I never think of myself as being a massive Beck fan but every time something of his comes on Shuffle I'm all, hmm, yeah, I like that.

La Ville Inconnue from L'Immortelle by Edith Piaf. She continues to amaze.

Thank You For Sending Me An Angel from More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking Heads. Imagine if Talking Heads and Velvet Underground never existed. What on earth would cool people these days be influenced by?

Honourable mention: The chords G and C. Tim bought a guitar! We're gonna be rockstars!


Next time: I made my first bundt cake using my new silicone tin. I was predictably excited. The results were unfortunate. All the gritty details for you... Hopefully I'll have something that actually worked to display as well since I'm pretty sure food blogs don't blossom on fail. Hence why I didn't even bold out the text in this segment.