31 October 2009

raw into gold


I realise most food is better for you in its most untampered, natural, unadulterated-by-animal-products form, but some things about going full raw don't quite sit right with me, and it's not the obvious (no butter). Take that stalwart of the non-meat eater's reportoire, lentils. Lentils are so good for you it's almost obscene, but how are you supposed to eat them raw? Hmm? And then what about potatoes? How do you eat them without applying heat of some kind?

Though, complex being that I am, I can get every bit as excited about the rawest of raw vegan recipes as I might over some butter-thick seven layer chocolate cake. Sometimes you read through an ingredient list and everything just makes sense. This happened when I was perusing Elle's New England Kitchen and found this recipe for Cinnamon Rolls. The name is basically correct - there's cinnamon in there and you roll them up - but don't go getting a mental image of some kind of buttercream-smeared sticky bun. This is a whole different beast, and it's probably better to think of it as a Cinnamon Roll in its own right, rather than a substitution for something else. Funny how you often have to go through these mental processes when eating ridiculously healthy food - "this is exciting, this is a treat, I'm not missing out at all".

Anyway, I was reading through the recipe and realised I actually had all the ingredients in my pantry - even the agave nectar, which was a Christmas present last year. The method sounded fun and Elle painted an enticing picture of how the finished product tasted. So on Monday I set aside my buttery prejudices for the time being, and gave these Cinnamon Rolls a go.

It's slightly terrifying in places - the sushi-style rolling of the mixture had me worried, plus the slicing of the now rolled up log, which threatened to crumble every time the knife came near it - I guess I'd go to pieces if someone was trying to cut me up too, haha - but overall it is very do-able, with plenty of faffing and stirring and mixing and measuring to make you feel like you're actually doing something in the kitchen.

Raw Vegan Cinnamon Rolls

You can just, of course, simply call them Cinnamon Rolls, but I like to keep the "raw vegan" bit there at the start in the same way that if I actually wash the dishes I like to tell Tim about it repeatedly - why yes, I would like a medal for it, and thank you.

Don't go freaking out at the list of ingredients - it's all pretty simple straightforward stuff really, and most of it can be found very cheaply in both supermarkets and health food shops. Substitute honey for agave nectar if you like, if anything it would probably add a more complex depth of flavour - agave nectar is viciously sweet and not much else.

1 1/4 cups ground flaxseeds (I actually used whole, but we'll get to that)
1 1/4 cups ground almonds
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 pinch sea salt
1 cup soft pitted dates
1/4 cup water
1/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup sultanas (the original stated raisins, but um, ew. I shall irrationally prefer one foodstuff over another very similar foodstuff.)
1/4 cup nuts of some kind

I am not the hugest fan of ground flaxseeds - the texture and flavour can be all murky and gluey. However - lesson learned - whole flaxseeds don't really grind themselves down in a food processor. If anything, the whizzing blades make them ever more defiantly whole. Luckily this didn't affect the finished product, however I imagine the texture would be a bit different - and probably less crumbly - if you use the ground flaxseeds that the recipe actually asks for.

Tip the flaxseeds, almonds, 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon and pinch of sea salt into a large bowl.

Blend the dates and water till very smooth. I actually soaked the dates in boiling water for about half an hour beforehand just to make them super soft. Scoop out just over half and mix it into the flaxseeds/almond mixture, along with the olive oil and agave. Mix really well - it shouldn't be too dry but add a tiny bit more date mixture if it does.

Carefully flatten this mixture on a sheet of baking paper, making a good sized square of around half an inch thick. Add the rest of the cinnamon to the the date mixture in the blender, along with the sultanas and pulse briefly to mix. Spread this thinly and evenly over the square of mixture, making sure all surfaces are covered to the edge. Sprinkle over the nuts and a few extra sultanas.

Here comes the tricky-ish bit - using the baking paper for help, carefully roll the mixture into a tight, fat log. Don't be afraid of it - the mixture should hold together. Keeping the log wrapped in baking paper, refrigerate for an hour or so to let it get good and firm. Slice into discs as thin or as thick as you like, using a very sharp knife. The good thing about this mixture is that if a slice looks like it might fall apart, you can simply press it back into shape using your fingers.


If you want - feel free to top it with this intriguing mixture.

1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water for at least four hours
1/8 cup water
6 Tablespoons honey
Juice of an orange

Blend the cashews thoroughly with the water. Add the honey and orange juice and continue to blend till the mixture is thick and smooth. What with my palate being used to buttercream and such I wasn't sure how to take this, but as you can imagine something that full of cashews must taste good. 6 Tablespoons seemed like a lot of honey to me, but you need it for the texture - I stopped at three though. Instead of the orange juice I used a couple of drops of Boyajian orange oil, basically because I have some in the fridge and like to think it's a useful purchase. This becomes a thick, hummus coloured mixture that is strangely good...I think next time I make these I'd be just as happy to leave the cinnamon rolls uniced.

These are actually...completely delicious. Nutty, rich, wholesome but toothsome, and warm with cinnamon. One roll is pretty filling - I guess it's all the protein and such - and keeps you full of energy for a long time. Of coure, let's not get carried away, these are possibly hugely calorific, what with all the nuts and dried fruit and oil and so on...but - and I hate focussing on calories anyway - you can be assured that every particle, every last molecule of these is doing you good. They'd be sweet as without the topping but I guess it makes the finished product more aesthetically pleasing, as well as providing a bit of textural contrast as you bite into each disc. I've been eating them for breakfast for the last week and I definitely make it through to lunch without wanting to eat my body weight in chocolate - not a bad litmus test of any foodstuff, really.

Last night we saw Mamma Mia, of which New Zealand was lucky enough to host the international touring cast. A friend of ours from England is in the cast and got us tickets to their final show. The story is more lightweight than a baby kitten holding a helium balloon but it's great fun, the cast was gloriously talented and classy and we spent the whole time grinning away, even though neither of us are what you'd call ABBA fans. Hilariously, one of the male leads was played by Michael Beckley, known to New Zealand audiences as Rhys from Home and Away...It was also a bit mind-boggling just catching up with this friend of ours in the cast - she'd been a student at the performing arts school in England that Tim and I worked at in 2005, and now she's in the international tour of a top-selling musical. She's the first person we've seen (in person, Facebook doesn't count) from that time of our lives and it felt a bit like Glinda dropping in to see Dorothy in Kansas or something - a strange overlapping of worlds. But fun!


Title of this post comes to you via: Straw Into Gold, a bewitching song that doesn't really see the light of day that much from Idina Menzel's debut album, Still I Can't Be Still.

On Shuffle while I type:

Junk - a collaboration between Eyedea and Abilities from their album By The Throat. I love it. It's one of those songs that cleverly combines minty freshness with the feeling that you've heard it a million times before already.

Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You sung by Sherie Rene Scott and Norbert Leo Butz on the original off-Broadway cast recording of Last 5 Years. This song. Those driving piano notes...the way Sherie says "I open myself one stitch at a time"...it's almost too good to listen to, except that would be silly.

Next time: Everything's been a bit plantain-heavy lately - I do get overexcited by stuff - and so I have lots to show for myself. Will try and get on to it a little swifter than I was with this post!

25 October 2009

slice of heaven

Marvel at the joy that is butter and sugar mixed together.

When left to my own devices of a weekend I tend to start baking without even thinking. Ginger Crunch or Ginger Slice or even Ginger Crunch Slice if you want to be equal-opportunistic, is something of an example of traditional New Zealand baking and for some reason it has been top of my to-do list for a while...I guess since I last baked something. Sometimes I can be thinking about baking something but also excitedly anticipate the next thing I'll bake after that - special, huh.

Google Ginger Crunch and you will be met with roughly the same recipe from all the usual reliable channels - Edmonds Cookbook, Alison Holst, Chelsea Sugar (who I am deeply suspicious of now that they've released chocolate-flavoured icing sugar - I hate the term 'nanny state' but that's what, of all things, sprang to mind when I saw it on shelves) etc etc. I can now say with confident confidence, that the Ginger Slice I made yesterday improves greatly upon anything you will find on Google. I say 'improves' not 'is vastly superior and practically perfect in every way' because in all fairness, I simply added a few crucial elements to the various traditional recipes floating round everywhere and would not have come up with it in the first place were it not for what has been set in place by Edmonds et al.

Ginger Crunch Slice

250g soft butter
1/2 cup dark muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
2 teaspoons ginger
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons bran (optional, I just happened to have some in the cupboard)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Set the oven to 180 C. Grab a regular sized square or rectangular brownie/slice tin - you know the kind I'm talking about - and tip in the rolled oats. Put this tin in the oven for a couple of minutes while the oven is heating till the oats are nicely toasted but absolutely not burnt.

Using a wooden spoon or spatula or some other kind of utensil that takes your fancy, beat the butter and sugar together till light and creamy. Muscovado sugar is a little dense and crumbly so fear not if some of the sugar remains in lumps. As I said, brown sugar is fine too, and is what I generally use if I see muscovado sugar asked for in a recipe. But muscovado was cheap at the local supermarket...

Tip in the toasted oats (putting a sheet of baking paper into the now-empty brownie tin), bran, flour, ginger and baking powder. Stir together carefully till it looks like biscuit dough, soft and clumpy. Tip this mixture into the brownie tray, pressing down with the back of a spoon. Bake for 15-20 minutes till nicely golden on top.

100g butter
3 heaped tablespoons golden syrup
2-3 teaspoons ground ginger
2 1/2 cups icing sugar

This is one of the simplest and loveliest icings you can make. While the base is baking, gently melt together the butter, golden syrup and ginger in a small pan over a low heat. Once it comes together in a golden spicy puddle, remove from heat and stir in the icing sugar. As soon as the base is cooked, pour the icing over it, still warm and smooth out if necessary. Refrigerate for 1/2 an hour or so before slicing into fingers.

I lined this photo up all carefully on the benchtop and then realised that I couldn't see into the viewfinder and that the icing was moving faster than I could take photos and this is why you see the icing being poured from a mysteriously hovering vessel with no-one apparently holding on to it. But the price is right.

Ah, the cutesy things we do with our food for the sake of our food blogs.

Anyway: this stuff is quite ridiculously amazing. Adjectives fail me.

Not to sound like the girl who cried 'ridiculously amazing', I admit I say this about lots of things that I blog about, but I guess this means I only cook stuff I really like to eat, right? The base is thick and biscuity, with a slight nutty quality from the toasted oats. The icing is incredible, fudgey and dense and throat-warmingly gingery. So delicious you'll want to pour it all over your own head. Together? Faintmakingly excellent. There's something about the caramel qualities of golden syrup and dark brown muscovado that provide the perfect vehicle for ginger's heat and fragrance. Kindly don't just take my word on this - make it immediately! It's so easy and quick and you'll have people simply falling at your feet with gratitude. If it was physically possible, I would have fallen at my own feet after eating a slice of this slice. As I said earlier though, it was entirely inspired by the original recipe that you will find in the Edmonds Cookbook and other stalwarts of New Zealand food-making that I duly salute here.

It's actually currently Labour Day weekend here in New Zealand, which means that drearly melancholy Sunday afternoon feeling that can sometimes set in is bypassed by a happy Monday off work. My weekend is a mellow one but I've got a few ailments that I'm trying to fight off so it's nice to just have time to chill out. On Friday night Tim and I had the immense joy of seeing Little Bushman combining their considerable talents with that of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at the Town Hall, for an evening of incredible, incredible music. The sound ranged from the deepest psychedelic rock to the most hushed of gentle ballads, amplified by the full-on orchestra surrounding them. Our tickets were a bit of a last minute acquisition but I'm so glad we went.

No thanks whatsoever to Ticketek though, who made us pay $8 extra for "venue pickup". After waiting 20 minutes in line at the venue we were told that we had to go to the Ticketek office down the road to get the tickets. While I've got my ranty hat on, can someone who falls under the category of 'powers that be' please enlighten me - why on EARTH are theatres built with seats from which you may be hidden behind an enormous pillar or can't actually see the stage? And then tell me why companies like Ticketek can charge enormous amounts for "restricted view" seats? It makes no sense. By the way, we're going to see Elaine Paige. Or at least, we're going to hear Elaine Paige while seeing an enormous pillar's dramatic interpretation of Elaine Paige. Maybe we can stick a cutout of her face on the pillar? (I don't actually know if we're literally behind a pillar, and it is admittedly my fault for not buying tickets sooner, but my point stands: why? Also: I hope she does Nobody's Side! Am currently listening to Chess like there's no tomorrow.)


Title of this post brought to you by: That perennially sunny song from Dave Dobbyn and Herbs, Slice of Heaven, from the Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale soundtrack. We had it on video (taped off the telly) when I was young and it was completely thrashed. I could probably act it out for you from start to finish I watched it so often as a wee nipper. After the movie was done it would fade into Mr Bean's Christmas special which funnily enough we were also happy to watch year-round. I dunno if this song has also been thrashed - though not as much as some of Dobbyn's tunes - but listening to it now still makes me feel happy.

On Shuffle While I Type:

- Nature of Man from Little Bushman's album Pendulum
- Welfare Mothers from Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps - was on a complete Neil Young kick today and while I'm not someone who chooses favourites, this amazingly good track is definitely up there with the other thousand favourite songs I have.
-Minuet by Idina Menzel from her debut album Still I Can't Be Still. You won't find this in shops but it's a gem worth tracking down...seldom have I heard an album so full of personality, depth, honesty, so full of self as this, plus the mid-to-late 90s overproduction is adorable. It's ideal for blasting loudly on a weekend morning.
Also: am jumping from song to song on Youtube. Neil Young to Little Bushmen to Elaine Paige to Judy Kuhn (the original Florence from Broadway's Chess AND the singing voice of Pocahontas!) to Lea Salonga to Sutton Foster to Audra McDonald. Try it! It's fun!

Hope all the New Zealand readers have a peaceful, restful, generally super Labour Day break. And that everyone makes this ginger slice. It's marvelous! Feel free to pronounce it 'slee-che', people will think you're really sophisticated if you do.

18 October 2009

cinnamon girl

Even though I'm usually about as rock'n'roll as Rod and/or Todd Flanders today I make an exception: I wrote this operating on about three hours' sleep, having danced merrily till 5am on Saturday night at San Francisco Bath House to the enchanting stylings of the UK's DJ Skitz and Deadly Hunta (who charmingly professed a liking for my peanut butter cookies and therefore I'll not hear a word against him.) However other members of our entourage returned home around 10.30 on Sunday morning which gave me some perspective. Anyway, you have been warned: coherency at this stage is likely to be a joke, at best.

It was also at 10.30 yesterday morn when I quietly photographed this Kumara (sweet potato) Spice Cake, making the most of the crisp, chilly Sunday light. I pilfered the recipe from the lovely lovely Hayley's blog, knowing as soon as I read her post that I'd have to recreate it as soon as possible, because it sounded so fantastic.

I adapted the recipe slightly. I added some cinnamon. I didn't have any white chocolate in the house so dark chocolate was drizzled over instead. Now, I love me some white chocolate - I'd spread it daily on hot buttered toast. But I do think that the dark chocolate I substituted contrasted so awesomely with the sweet earthiness of the cake and its spices that it would be hard to use anything else. It's a complete breeze to make and happily requires a bundt cake tin, thus justifying me actually owning one.

Kumara Spice Cake.

The title is a bit dubious, so if you know you have fussy people to feed I'd just refer to it as spice cake or something. The rest of the world knows the secret ingredient as Sweet Potato but here in New Zealand we call it by its Maori name, kumara. Your word is more universally explanatory but I like ours better.


1 large Kumara/Sweet Potato, peeled and chopped
125g soft butter
75ml Maple syrup (I used mostly golden syrup and a little maple flavoured syrup because I am a bad person and real maple syrup is ridiculously expensive. Unfortunately maple flavoured syrup doesn't give a lot of flavour so it was a slightly pointless excercise.)
75ml Golden Syrup
1/2 cup tightly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 and 3/4 cups plain flour
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp bicarb soda

White chocolate icing

2 T cream
100g white chocolate (or dark!)

Cook sweet potato in a saucepan of lightly salted water for 15-20 min until tender and drain well, running cold water over the colander to cool it down faster. You should be able to mash it with a spoon but feel free to puree it in a blender, either way it needs to be smooth with no lumps.

Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly grease and flour a 6 cup bundt cake tin.

In a bowl, beat the butter, maple syrup, golden syrup, and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time beating well after each addition. Fold in sweet potato puree. Sift flour, ginger, bicarb soda into the bowl and fold in gently till combined. Spoon batter into prepared pan, smoothing top. Bake for 45 min until cake pulls away from sides and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean and dry. Cool in the pan for 10 min or so.

This is just our kitchen bench. It's wide enough that it creates a kind of limitless visual space on film, ideal for when I want to attempt fancy-looking photos. I am still in wonder at how decent our new kitchen is.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and add the cream then drizzle over the cooled cake. Watch out for the chocolate running down the wavy dents in the cake - fun! Using a silicon spatula, scrape out the bowl with the icing in it and eat the rest once you're done. Magical stuff.

Not a bad job considering I was drizzling chocolate, taking photos and trying to remain standing on two feet this whole time.

There is something strangely alluring - to me at least - about cakes which have vegetables in them. It's fun to tell people after they've had a bite, and to think about cake offering nutrients (the actual kind that a food nutritionist would recognise. Not emotional nutrients.) It also opens a new world of texture and flavour possibilities. This cake is amazingly good so don't be scared of the vege content. The kumara keeps it amazingly moist, offering a subtle but particular flavour, and an absorbent, softly sweet carrier for the more strident ginger and cinnamon.

The title of this post is brought to you by everyone's favourite model train enthusiast: Neil Young and his song Cinnamon Girl off the crunchier-than-cornflakes album Rust Never Sleeps._____________________________________________________

On Shuffle Whilst I Type:

A dirty great ton of RENT.

I've been watching the RENT final performance DVD. It's beautiful and beautifully done. It should be required viewing for everyone in the world. In the words of Lars Olfen, it's a mitzvah. I'm so glad someone decided to make this happen. I say this now because I'm on a dirty great RENT high, give me a few days to calm down and get cynical.

If you are in Auckland and get the chance to go to the I Love The Islands benefit tonight, do it! There's a lot of horror in the world but the earthquakes that deeply damaged Samoa and American Samoa recently have stuck with me, I guess because New Zealand has not so much close ties with Samoa but a total overlap, a weaving of the fibres of our fabric that make up some metaphor of what we are or...something. Basically, it's completely terrible what's happened, the line up for I Love The Islands is amazing and it's for a really good cause. Do it if you can.

13 October 2009

in the flesh?


Note: Post edited 14th October to remove a lot of details which I, in my naive over-excitement, talked about far too loudly. This means you get the blog equivalent of films that get the swearwords and love scenes bleeped out for airlines, but the story is at least safe. Although, as the media has never had the slightest inclination to get in touch with me before it's flattering to think that this blog could shake things up.

Okay, guess what. I hate suspense so I'll tell you right now: I got interviewed by a nationwide publication about my blog. Never mind that I've been trying to thrust my food blog onto peoples' radars for years now. I've been keeping this a secret for a good week and a half till the story got confirmed. Which it has been. Turns out I should have kept it quiet a bit longer as it's not being published for a while but what can you do? I mean, there will be other food blogs, don't think it's a feature entirely devoted to my blog (all in good time, are you listening Cuisine magazine?) but whatever, it's me! I'm giddy with excitement! How do famous people handle it? Important note: The story is due to run sometime in November. Deal with it.

That said, I may completely regret spreading this news far and wide when the story is published, as I really have no idea how, apart from sweaty, I came across in the phone interview. I spent the rest of my day second guessing myself ("I didn't quote [title of show]! I didn't convey my love for Nigella adequately!) The aforementioned Ange and I were talking about how interviews with celebrities always hinge on how petite they are and how they glow with thousands of luminous spheres. You know. "[Insert starlet here] enters the room, her delicate wrists offsetting her endless eyelashes and skin as dewey as a meadow after the rain. Despite wearing a plain grey tracksuit and not a lick of makeup, she exudes effortless chic and charming approachability. Merely gazing at her is like walking down a Parisian boulevard."

It made me wonder how my intro would run. "Laura walks straight into the doorframe as she attempts to enter the room. She is wearing $6 men's grey trackpants, the kind that Wolf from Outrageous Fortune wears in prison, and her thighs are even larger than she claims on her blog. She should really consider a deep-conditioning hair treatment...and she's glaring at me." Well, you've got to make the jokes about yourself before everyone else does. Anyway, let's all hope for the best that I made a good impression and focus on the joyful fact that I've had my first proper interview. It's really exciting, right? I was jittering all over the place when I found out and completely unable to concentrate. And also, finally, finally, the New Zealand lifestyle media is waking up to the fact that there are flourishing food blogs out there and that people might be interested in them.

To the food:

I think, lately, I've been eating so much tofu and soft, diaphanous rice stick noodles and coconut-drenched everything that I now instead crave something more animalistic and hearty. And they don't come much heartier than lasagne.

I'm not going to give you a recipe for it, because I don't think anyone needs it and I don't even really know what I did...just a buttery, nutmeggy bechamel in one pot, tomato-sauced beef mince with garlic and red wine in another...all layered up with sheets of pasta and topped with cheese and finally baked for a while. I'm not saying that everyone should know how to make lasagne like a spider knows how to spin a web or they are failures at all aspects of life...just that it's not something you necessarily need to stick slavishly to a recipe for.

I haven't actually made lasagne since September 2007 (having a blog makes you know these useful facts) and I'd forgotten how rather brilliant it is...The best bit is the bubbling cheese on top (and only on top...who can afford to put cheese in every layer?) but the whole combination is amazing - soft pasta, milky sauce, rich, red-winey beef...If you possibly can, wait till the next day before eating it as the layers all settle in together and the flavours really develop feelings for each other. And it won't fly everywhere when you try and cut it. I think the reason that I never make lasagne is that it's a complete mission to cook and uses every pot and pan in the house, but seems so rustic and old-school that no-one thinks you've gone to any effort. Good lasagne is a bit of a revelation still though. And a squillion miles removed from those deepfried, crumbed Toppers that you used to be able to get from the school canteen. I feel slightly uneasy just thinking about them.

Continuing on this meaty theme, (with apologies to flinching vegetarian readers - although you can hardly claim that there's a lot of meat on this blog), I finished off the Maryland chicken pieces last night by making Nigella Lawson's Garlic Chicken from her seminal text How To Eat, the sort of recipe that garlic was surely invented for.

Garlic Chicken

2 heads garlic, cloves separated but unpeeled
400mls olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
16 chicken wings

I scaled all this down accordingly for two large chicken legs. Don't feel you have to stick to chicken wings for this either.

Put cloves of garlic in a small pan of cold water, bring to the boil and boil for ten minutes. Drain, push the cloves out of their skins (a little messy, but easily done) and whizz in a food processor with the lemon juice and olive oil. Or you could just mash/chop them roughly like I did, which, although you don't have a food processor to clean, is actually much more of a pain to do.

Pour the garlic mixture over the chicken and marinade in the fridge overnight or whatever (I tend to err on the side of 'whatever' but no doubt this will be nicer the longer you leave it) When you're good and ready, roast at 210 C for around an hour. Serve sprinkled with salt and perhaps with more lemon wedges for squeezing over. Easy as that.

Don't even think about skipping the bit where you have to boil the garlic. It's this which softens the eye-watering viciousness of it all and keeps the entire dish a mellow delight as opposed to some kind of excercise in how to encourage early-onset balding. The garlic marinade permeates every nook and cranny of the chicken while making it all good and crisp and magically delicious. I served this with ratatouille (eggplants have come down in price, rejoice!), new potatoes (which I frugally boiled in the garlic water, hoping it would impart some kind of wafting flavour...it didn't) and roasted asparagus, also fantastically cheap these days. A totally fabulous meal full of flavours that totally kick winter to the curb. Even though it has been freezing and blisteringly windy and rainy for the last week. You tell yourself what you have to.


The title of this blog is meatily brought to you by: Pink Floyd's In The Flesh? from that troubled album The Wall. The bombastic guitars and wry lyrics make it a genius choice for a concert opener, a practice adopted by steely erstwhile Floyd member Roger Waters. Check it out here, in a clip from his In The Flesh DVD which would have a profound effect on my mid-to-late teenage years. We saw him live in 2007 opening his concert with this song - bliss. Aside of that, don't you think he and Richard Gere are a bit doppelganger-y? They could surely play each other in the respective biopic films of their lives.

On shuffle while I'm a-typing:

Standing In The Rain from local group Opensouls, from their album of the same name. We saw them at Bodega on a whim last Friday and they are fantastically sassy live -somehow managing to sound straight out of the sixties but also really fresh and modern and funky. Beautiful stuff, I highly recommend it.

Rising 5 by Hudson Mohawke from his forthcoming album Butter. This song seems to be all over every single radio station I flick between. It's really sunny and summery for want of a better word, and for some reason reminds me of the sounds I was listening to in England back in 2005, which is not to say it sounds dated. Pitiful explaining aside, anyone calling their album Butter must be worth a listen.


Next time: Contritely, I probably won't mention the interview again.

10 October 2009

it looks like you'll stay, as the days go by


On the 13th my blog will be two years old. Considering the blinding speed in which the internet turns around, in which networks are signed up to enthusiastically and then never updated, and also the fecklessness of youth (well, I'm only 23 and therefore highly likely to be lacking in feck) it's a pretty tidy achievement all round. Two seems like such a tiny number to measure the amount of time that this blog has been existing. But I guess it's likely to be a lot more significant to myself than, say, anyone else on the planet. I also guess that this gives me a free pass to bake something ridiculous and unnecessary in the name of celebrating my blog's anniversary.

Funnily enough I used a recipe the other night that I last used exactly a year ago - Rendang Asparagus and Shallot Curry, from Simon Rimmer's pretty awesome book The Accidental Vegetarian. Incidentally the photos I took last year were much better than the photos you're going to see today, which shows that no matter where I live, there is always potential for uselessness. Asparagus is one of the few things I'm happy to wait around for. Well, it would be choice if it was available for the eatin' all year round, but it's not, and it's usually worth the wait. If I'm eating asparagus it means that the weather is getting better and Summer's on the way.

This recipe is so good, even if the original is a little deranged in terms of volume of sugar, coconut and chilli. Simon Rimmer writes an excellent recipe, but we don't see eye to eye on what 'mild' is. Simon Rimmer thinks nothing of flinging eight chillies into a recipe for general consumption. His tastebuds must be made of asbestos-reinforced concrete roofing tiles. This is truly delicious though, and the combination of soft, caramelised buttery onions and juicy green asparagus is pretty fabulous. I'd go a little easy on the amount of brown sugar you use, between that and the coconut milk it can be almost like eating pudding if you're not careful.

Rendang Shallot and Asparagus Curry

50g butter
75g brown sugar (I used less)
20 banana shallots
400g asparagus
400ml tin coconut milk
3 T toasted dessicated coconut
Coriander to serve

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

Curry Paste:

1 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
3 red chillies, or however much you desire
1 tsp ground coriander
1 T tamarind paste (or substitute lemon juice)
1 t tumeric
1 t curry powder
1 stalk of lemon grass
pinch of salt

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

On Thursday I realised I hadn't cooked any chicken in a long, long time. In fact that I hadn't really eaten meat in ages. A trip to Moore Wilson's quickly changed this, and I had a go at Nigella Lawson's Slow Roasted Garlic and Lemon Chicken from Forever Summer.

I'd bought a couple of Maryland pieces (ie thigh and drum attached together) because it was cheaper than buying just thighs. I figured I could cleave them in half, capable-modern-lady style with one of the many enormous knives we have in our kitchen. But, could not cut them for the life of me, even using this ridiculously sharp knife and putting all my body weight on it. They remained uncloven. Strains of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner singing I Will Never Leave You from Side Show ran through my head.

Resigned to the fact that we were going to be eating enormous pieces of chicken for dinner, I arranged the ingredients artfully in this fancy schmancy roasting tin I bought from Briscoes that made me feel very Nigella - it's one of those deep, rectangular dishes with metal handles that she's always flinging about. It was also about 20cm too wide for our oven. Aaaaargh. By this stage I was tempted to biff the lot out the window. But, I patiently transferred the contents into a smaller dish and left it to roast for the requisite two hours - one of the nicest things about this recipe. You have a large window of time to chill out.

Ever more and always, we'll be one though we're two (Seriously, watch the clip. It may well blow your mind.)

This is a really simple recipe but what's there works wonders. Soft cloves of garlic and chunks of lemon, a slosh of wine and some olive oil all relax into a deliciously juicy sauce, and the slow, slow cooking of the chicken renders it ridiculously tender.

Slow-Roasted Garlic and Lemon Chicken

From Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer.
This is Nigella's recipe with her proportions - scale it down or up as you like.

1 chicken cut into 10 pieces
1 head garlic, separated into unpeeled cloves
2 unwaxed lemons, cut into chunky eighths
Small handful fresh thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil
150mls white wine

Preheat oven to 160 C.

Put everything into a roasting tin. A roasting tin that you know will fit into your oven. Make sure the chicken is skin side up. Cover with tinfoil fairly tightly, place in the oven and leave for 2 hours. Once this is up, remove the foil, raise the heat to 200C, and cook uncovered for another 30 or so minutes till everything is nicely browned and crisp. Serve straight from the roasting tin. Serves 4-6.

Not having eaten meat for a while, particularly roasted chicken, I had completely forgotten how strong it is, how that oiliness can be really heavy in your stomach. I'd also forgotten how amazing it smells as it roasts and how good the pan juices taste drizzled liberally over rice. So there you go. I can see how people could go vegetarian, but then I could also happily eat a steak on a daily basis.

Speaking of things ornithologian, on Saturday I had the privelege of seeing the Imperial Russian Ballet performing Swan Lake at the Opera House. I went with Tim and my godsister, Hannah, and we had fantastic seats. There were a LOT of children in the audience, which I don't have a problem with - I'm all for encouraging nippers to go to the theatre - in fact it was the adults in the audience who were more fury-inducing. Some idiot behind me decided to rustle a wrapper or chip packet of some sort right in the middle of the swans' dancing. For about 45 seconds. I have no idea what was so important in their life right at that moment that they had to rustle this plastic so incessantly. Meanwhile, another person behind me was keeping time to the music by tapping the floor heavily with their foot and slapping their knees. Why? What can tiy possibly add to the experience? The only other negative I have to get out of the way is that the Opera House isn't the nicest location. It looks like a shadow of its former grandeur. The fact that the sound came from speakers, not an orchestra, dulled the majesty somewhat.

The dancers, however, were absolutely stunning. Swan Lake, Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet are three ballets which don't so much tug at my heartstrings, as blow them up and make a balloon animal out of them. The music is just so achingly beautiful and it was beautifully captured by the dancers. The girl playing Odette/Odile had a mournful featheriness with a steely reserve that showed exactly why she was chosen as the leader. The prince was leggy and leapy and could express pain and happiness and that's all you really need. The costumes were gorgeous and the whole thing was just intensely riveting. I know I go on about Broadway a lot but while I was brought up on a fairly equal diet of musicals and ballets, dance was my first love and it's always a pleasure to see it live.


On Shuffle whilst I type:

Saturday Getaway from Rookie Card by PNC featuring Awa from Nesian Mystik. This guy is probably the best thing to come out of Palmerston North since Tim.

Nobody's Side from the recording of Chess In Concert by Idina Menzel. I bought this today at Real Groovy and the very sight of it was so unexpected and so exciting that I proceeded to tell the lady behind the counter how awesome it was and how ridiculously excited I was about it. Probably should have played it a little more cool. But seriously though, Chess is a nightmare to follow but the music is ridiculously good and Idina tears this song to shreds.


The roundabout, kind of oblique (eh, it's 10.30pm on a Sunday night) title for this post is brought to you by: Stephen Sondheim and his song Not A Day Goes By from Merrily We Roll Along. Bernadette Peters sings it and can't be argued with, but predictably I'd like to offer Idina's one-off take on it, worth it for the hatey youtube comments alone.


Next time: Well, I probably will end up baking something frivolous in the name of celebrating my blog's two-year existence.

4 October 2009

america is not the world...


...but they do know a thing or two about peanut butter.

Though we'll enthusiastically spread it on our toast, I'm pretty sure I can confidently say, without sweepingly rewriting our heritage, that here in New Zealand we've never had a history of using peanut butter like America does. In fact, we're probably more likely to spread Marmite or Vegemite on our toast (The former owned by Seventh Day Adventists, the latter by Philip Morris and Australians, so choose whichever you find easier to swallow.)

Which is possibly why, when faced with an emptying jar of peanut butter approaching its use-by date, none of my New Zealand cookbooks offered any solutions for what to do with it. All I wanted was a simple peanut butter cookie, and even Nigella Lawson with her love of Americana didn't have a specific example. I've only got one American cookbook and it's all about Italian cooking so I finally turned to the internet. Had a flick through the search functions of Tastespotting and Foodgawker and found a recipe at Erin's Food Files, which highlighted a product gratifyingly American - maple flavoured peanut butter (oh the rich tapestry of life!) I thank Erin for the recipe, which I fiddled with only slightly. However you may like to refer to her website if you are already more comfortable with measuring butter in cups and baking with Fahrenheit.

Maple Peanut Butter Cookies

Adapted from a recipe on Erin's Food Files.

125g soft butter
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup peanut butter
2 teaspoons maple syrup (or golden syrup if you don't have maple to hand)
1 cup plain flour
1/3 cup rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
75g good dark chocolate (milk also would be nice), chopped roughly into chunks and shards.

Set oven to 160 C/325 F.

Using a wooden spoon (because it's better that way), cream together the butter and two sugars until the mixture is lightened and fluffy. Then beat in the peanut butter, followed by the egg and syrup. Stir in the flour, oats, baking powder and baking soda and finally the chocolate. It will be a relatively soft mixture.

Drop heaping tablespoons of the mixture onto a lined tray - no need to flatten - and bake for about 15 minutes, no more. They may still be soft when you take them out of the oven but will continue to cook as they cool. Transfer them carefully by spatula to a rack or just another tray while you bake the second batch.

Delicious from this angle...

...and also this angle.

These cookies are really, really good. I can't say that the maple flavour is terribly strong, so don't fret if you haven't got any. The oats don't make themselves stridently felt either, almost melting into the mixture as it bakes to provide an overall satisfying chewiness. You want to make sure your butter is really good and soft, and it's a bit of a faff to get the peanut butter out of the bottom of the jar without covering yourself head to toe in the stuff, but apart from that these cookies are very little hassle to make and surprisingly quickly done.

Elaine Paige is coming to Wellington to do a show which is really rather cool. If you don't know who she is, here's a good way to find out. Take a dart, and throw it at any West End production cast recording since 1970-something and it's likely she played a starring role in it. Seriously, I'm surprised she wasn't cast as Elphaba when Wicked opened in London. You may not have her in your memory, but trust me, you know her so well. (Okay, sorry for the tenuous puns.) She's been all over theatre in Britain (and Broadway) since forever and it's really exciting to have the opportunity to see her. Tickets are a little on the jaw-droppingly expensive side, but I think I'll file it under "Merry Christmas to me" and deal with it.


The title of this post is brought to you by: Morrissey. All you need to know about him you can probably find in the youtube comments.

On Shuffle whilst I type:

Not specifically on my computer, but on the shuffle of my mind if you will, is the Newtown Rocksteady, a band of many people, copious facial hair, several hats, and much skill. Caught them at the Southern Cross last night as one of the members is a friend of our flatmates. Their joyful sound whipped the audience into a frenzy of dancing (and may well have been what inspired the couple directly in front of me to kiss passionately and at great length.)

To be honest I've been to busy at work this week to listen to an awful lot of music (apart from the usual Broadway-on-my-way-to-and-from-the-office) but I have been streaming a lot of George FM and 95bFM. Both great channels, and although bFM can be ludicrously Auckland-centric, as they are primarily an Auckland-based channel it would be remiss to shake my fist at them for that. Especially when there is such great music and dialogue abounding.


Next time: I was gifted a healthy bunch of asparagus today from my flatmate's friend (the one in the band...such a kind act would I suppose now make him my friend now too). Plus I bought, on a whim, some whole wheat - also known rather charmingly as wheat berries. Am looking forward to using both tonight and documenting it...