24 December 2010

imagine christmas wishes shooting out of your eyes...


Merry Christmas everyone! It's mine and Tim's first Christmas together in our five years of being-togetherness (which means a lot of clenched-toothedly muttering "this has to be the best Christmas ever", which is my way of trying to be funny, although the joke may have been so overplayed by me that it has become a serious, serious statement.)

Also for the first time in ages, I'm home a few days before Christmas. Tim and I flew up to Auckland on Tuesday afternoon for the Gorillaz concert, which was words-fail-me-ingly amazing, and the next day caught the train down to Manurewa to be picked up by Mum. The humidity has been intense but it's so nice to be home. It's fun introducing Tim to all our Christmas traditions - the Tin Lids and Disney Favourites cassettes from the late 80s/early 90s which have magically not warped after all these years, the increasingly frantic, late-night cooking marathons, the great-grandmother's plates which can't be put in the dishwasher but need to be used, the increasingly terse, late-night cleaning sessions...although admittedly last night's was fun, an attempt to clean the kitchen turned into us cleaning out all the near-empty bottles of liqueur in the alcohol cupboard. I prefer a dry drink but there's nothing like a sherry glass of ancient butterscotch schnapps at 11pm when you're supposed to be stacking pots and pans. (And avoiding "wipe down kitchen ceiling" which was actually a task on Mum's to-do list.)

It's also fun seeing the cats again. I miss them heaps during the year. I always end up taking heaps of photos of them.

Roger and Rupert. These photos were taken within seconds of each other. I'm not sure if they just love sleeping on cars or if they planned to do it simultaneously to be funny. Either way, their continued indifference cannot stifle my love for them.

Of course, one of the things I love most about Christmas is cooking food. This year I'm having a go at Nigella's Chocolate Spice Cake, and I'm introducing her Cornbread and Cranberry Stuffing to the feast too. Tomorrow we're having family round for lunch and then heading out to dinner with the extended family, the same way we do every year. It'll be a smallish Christmas day with the whanau this time - some are overseas and available on Skype only, some have other places to be, some just aren't with us anymore but continue to have presence in our minds. Either way it will be awesome, and despite the lack of sleep and the humidity I've loved all the cooking that's gone on and can't wait to spend time with everyone.


Some people have a Christmas angel, my parents have Enoch the skeleton to herald glad tidings to all.


Title via: 30 Rock's Tracy Jordan...

Next time: Hope that whatever you celebrate (or don't) that you have a fantastic day on the 25th. Probably won't get another blog post done till the new year so cheers to all you readers for a fantastic 2010. Stay safe and happy and mellow.

19 December 2010

you're a sensitive aesthete, brush the sauce onto the meat

So, six days till Christmas. Fa la la la la. Hope everyone's staying as mellow as possible. I was doing all good, until our computer broke down and I found out that the place my family's been camping at since I was a TINY BAIRN is full up till the 4th of January so I can't be out there for very long before going back to work and Tim probably can't be there at all since he's got work on the 5th and hasn't accumulated enough leave yet. Writing that down and re-reading it like that makes me realise that well, we've still got a lot of things going for us this Christmas (jobs! Family!) and it's very easy to lose perspective. But I still couldn't help a bit of significant sulking at the people who innocently thought the place we go camping in every year would be a nice place to spend their summer. Which...is fairly pointless. But seriously. The campground isn't even that great. Go to the Coromandel, everyone. Leave our place alone.

And yeah, our computer spontaneously busted on Wednesday morning. The guy at Harvey Norman declared it certified broken, but I think Tim managed to impress upon the guys at the computer-fixit place how central it is to my wellbeing, so we're able to have it home for the weekend. It's become like a brand new, empty one though - while I'm pretty sure most of our stuff was backed up, I did have a terrible habit of saving things to desktop…and I had a whole bunch of photos lined up to blog about that are now stuck somewhere in a sticky mess of binary code. Luckily I still had some stuff on the camera's memory stick and they even kinda go together. So here goes.

I found this recipe for Dijon Sauce in a semi-unlikely place, being the latest issue of mighty music mag Rip It Up, in a very cool article where local musicians talk about their love of food and share recipes. As someone who has enjoyed forcing food and music into one blog for a long time now, this feature made total sense to me, and I was drawn to Iain Gordon's (of Fat Freddy's Drop) recipe - his partner's actually, as he acknowledges.

Dijon Sauce

Cheers to Rip It Up and Iain Gordon for sharing

75g butter
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup cream
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Juice of a lemon

Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Whisk three egg yolks and then add to the butter, continuing to whisk. Add cream, mustard, and the lemon juice. Stir over a very low heat till it has thickened. Be careful to keep stirring and not let it get too hot or it'll curdle, but apparently it can be rescued by pouring in more cream.

It was the day after our Christmas Dinner and we had heaps of leftovers, including half a loaf of sourdough bread, so I cut some thick slices to make sandwiches with. This sauce used up some leftover egg yolks (from the Baked Alaska) and cream (from the chicken) and gave a rich, golden mustard-hot hit to the sandwiches of chicken, roast capsicum, stuffing (hell yeah!) and avocado.

You could probably adjust this to what you have - two egg yolks and slightly less butter should still make plenty. And it just occurred to me that if you didn't have Dijon you could use wasabi, and it also occurs to me that I really want to try making that too…Anyway, it's worth keeping this recipe in mind over the next stretch of time because its buttery deliciousness is perfect for not just perking up Christmas leftovers, but for pouring across the whole Christmas feast itself.

While we're on a sauce tip, if you've gone to town with the cheap prices and bought more strawberries than you can handle, you've got to try this amazingly good recipe. I made it for a work Christmas thing the other night, not only does it look so pretty, it's also incredibly delicious and seems to last for a while in the fridge too. If it's a hot hot day on the 25th I couldn't think of anything much nicer than ice cream and this sauce for pudding. Or breakfast.

Strawberry Sauce

I found this recipe on a site called Julia's Kitchen - cheers Julia!

2 cups strawberries
1/3 cup honey (I used the last of my Airborne Tawari)
1 vanilla bean (optional - I didn't have any to hand so I used good vanilla extract. The flavour is great in this sauce, so use what you've got really)
1 1/2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar

Instead of measuring out two cups of fruit that you're just going to chop up anyway, I cut off the tops of the strawberries and then halved them and put that fruit into a cup measure till it was filled, then repeated…I hope that makes sense.

Put everything except the balsamic vinegar in a pan and bring to the boil. If you are using the vanilla bean, split it open, scrape the seeds into the pan and then chuck the pod in too. Otherwise just use a teaspoon or two of good vanilla extract. Bring to the boil and then simmer over a low heat for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. I used a little wire whisk to stir this, which helped to break up some of the bigger pieces of strawberry. When the sauce is thicker, add the vinegar and continue to cook for another couple of minutes. Store in the fridge.

This is beautiful stuff - soft pieces of strawberry suspended in lipstick-red, honeyed syrup. The balsamic vinegar might sound strange but there's something about its dark sweetness that makes it a natural friend of the strawberry. It gives a kind of acidic punchyness to the syrup which is then mellowed out by the soft vanilla flavour - excellence all round, really. I reckon you could fold it through cream that had been whipped up with a little icing sugar, and then freeze it to make a seriously amazing fast ice cream.

Life is going to be full-on busy over the next couple of days - Tim and I are flying up to Auckland on Tuesday afternoon to see the Gorillaz (caaaaaan't wait) and there's heaps to be done beforehand. But it's not Christmas without a few frantic late nights, right?


Title via: Santa Fe, from RENT (ohh, RENT, such fertile referencing-ground).

Music lately:

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects, their nod to a 'dappy holidays' tuneholy this lady is amazing. Tim and I saw Jones and the Dap-Kings at the Opera House on Friday night, it was just a truly incredible show. And as a surprise bonus we ended up sitting behind Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie. We took some photos on the night (of the band, not McKenzie), check 'em out at 100sand1000s (click on the date to see the photos in full).

Clint Eastwood, by Gorillaz…did I mention we're excited about seeing them next week? Doesn't even start to cover it. I've loved this band since they first appeared, in fact their debut album was one of the first I purchased with my own money (hey, no source of income made this a big decision) along with Dre's 2001 and the Moulin Rouge soundtrack.

Fat Freddy's Drop, Roady - nothing like the power of suggestion. After making that sauce I had a massive urge to listen to this sunny sunny song featuring the gorgeous vocals of Ladi6.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas sung by Christine Ebersole…she takes a song you've heard a million times and does nothing in particular with it, but it's so stunning. That voice.


Next time: Tim's got to take this computer back to the computer-fixing guys, hopefully they can work their magic. I may well be able to get another hasty blog post in from home (I mean Home, where the whanau is) before Christmas though...

12 December 2010

food beyond compare, food beyond belief...

Another year goes past, another flat Christmas dinner is planned for and cooked and eaten and then reminisced about. Our first was in 2006, before I even had this blog, and when we'd just moved into our then-flat. The second one was the day after the David Beckham game, 2008's was when I'd finished uni and started full-time work and Emma our then-flatmate was stranded in Thailand. She got back to NZ just fine, by the way, but still. Last year was our first Christmas dinner in our current flat and was also the day that I was on the cover of the Sunday Star-Times Sunday magazine (which meant a lot of "oh this? Oh I had no idea that was on the table there lookatmeeveryone") This year was a pretty low-key happening, with just seven of us, but it was an amazingly happy day. Partly because of the awesome friends and whanau who were there, and partly because...my first ever Baked Alaska was not a disaster.

I've made this Involtini from Nigella Bites for the last three Christmas Dinners and it's one of the best Christmassy vegetarian recipes I've ever found. Basically it is spoonfuls of herbed, nutty cooked bulghur wheat rolled up into parcels with long thin slices of fried eggplant, which are then tucked in to a casserole dish, covered with tomato puree and baked. It's incredibly good and can be done ages in advance, and while Nigella's original recipe contains lots of feta, it's easy enough to make this dairy-free or completely vegan as I did. Pistachios are even prettier than feta anyway...
This year I had the idea that I could cook the eggplant slices quickly in a toasted sandwich press brushed with a little oil. It totally worked! Didn't look as sexy as Nigella's glistening griddle-striped slices, but since it's all getting covered in tomato sauce anyway, I didn't really care, and it saved me from sweating over a hot oily pan.

The roast chicken was the only thing in the whole damn day that had dairy products in it, and that's because Ange, our very good friend and ex-flatmate, is vegetarian as well as dairy-free. I poured cream all over the chickens before roasting them, inspired by a recipe of Ruth Pretty's I read in the 2005 Nov/Dec issue of Cuisine magazine. It felt like an amazingly extreme thing to be doing, plus it made the birds tender, golden and crisp. Notice in the background the boiled potatoes and roasted capsicums...I don't have the energy to photograph and talk about them individually: just know that they were there too and they tasted great. I didn't plan for gravy but quickly boiled up the roasting pan juices (there was heaps, was a shame to waste it) with a little flour and, without any white wine to hand, threw in some sake instead. It smelled amazing and tasted just fine too.

(Sorry to keep putting you on the spot Ange) For the first time my favourite stuffing (Cornbread and Cranberry from Nigella's Feast) was dairy-free, made with rice bran oil (what, you thought margarine? Pffft) and soymilk. Even though I really love the bit where you crumble the already buttery cornbread into a pan of melted butter and cranberries, it was still delicious, and in fact the soymilk made it almost spookily puffy and light-textured. Except I ended up baking it for too long so instead of a soft, moist stuffing it was more like a large savoury biscuit. Eh, still tasted good.

The cranberry sauce! I have to co-sign with Nidge on this one, it really is as redder-than-red as she insists. I didn't even up the saturation in this photo.

Anyway all that was cool, but The Baked Alaska. Oh my gosh. I always like to use this day as an excuse to try out a challenging new pudding but this one had an element of stage fright to it. (In case you're wondering, 2006 was Nigella's Rhubarb and Mascarpone Trifle, 2007 was her Rugelach, 2008 I made her White Chocolate Almond Torte, and last year I did her Chocolate Pavlova.) The cake and ice cream I made in advance but the last bit - whipping up meringue, spreading it over them and blasting it in the oven right before serving had humungous potential for wrongness.

I used a recipe from the Floridita's cookbook for the base and invented my own coconut-blackberry ripple ice cream for the next layer, partly because I had some blackberries in the freezer already. I know it seems unfair to recommend making your own ice cream when it's only going to be covered in meringue. But the good thing about it is that without the preservatives and who knows what else that goes into a lot of commercial ice cream it's way more solid and therefore a bit more forgiving when you shunt it under a blazing oven. I'd argue that it's much more fun to make your own but that's just me. I like making ice cream.

The ice cream was made by whisking together 4 egg yolks (the egg whites I put in a plastic container and refrigerated to use, plus two more, for the meringue) and about 150g sugar. I then heated a can of coconut milk without letting it boil, and quickly whisked it into the egg yolk mixture. All of that got returned to the pan and gently heated, while constantly whisking, till it thickened like custard. I stirred in a can of coconut cream and then began to freeze it in a shallow dish (the same one I baked the cake in actually). Then I defrosted about 150g blackberries (you could use any berry really) mashed them with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and the juice of a lemon, and drizzled it into the still-softish ice cream.

Tim took this photo and also put the ice cream and cake on top of each other on the tray while I whisked up the meringue topping. For which I'm seriously grateful, because it only occured to me halfway through making the meringue that I still had to do all that.

I made sure to follow my Nana's advice to make sure the meringue completely covered the cake and ice cream - it provides a thick blanket of protection which allows the ice cream to survive under the heat, but if it's not uniformly covered, the ice cream can seep out and then you've got a small crisis on your hands. I also followed some last-minute tweeted advice from Martin Bosley about warming up the sugar first before its beaten into the egg whites. It's not every day that this kind of interaction comes my way so I thought I might as well try it - sat the sugar in a shallow metal bowl in the oven while it was heating up, enough to make the crystals warm but not enough to melt them into syrup. Cannot deny that my meringue whisked up in minutes with more volume and shine than a shampoo commercial.

But it worked, it worked! I felt a rush of happiness and pride just looking at it. Baked Alaska are generally supposed to resemble mountains, mine was admittedly more of a plateau, like a Baked Cape Town Table Top Mountain.

Look at the jelly in the background somehow managing to steal the show with its ruby-glow.

So on top of looking spectacular - like a pudding from a Dr Seuss book, or a Graeme Base book, or let's face it, a Barbie film adaptation of a classic fairytale - it tasted wonderful too. It's like having three puddings at once, all compressed into a handy cube. The radicalness of hot meringue against still-frozen ice cream. The sweetness of the topping and the creamy berry-sharp coconut ice cream against the dark cocoa-y cake. Stunning. I may have high-fived myself.

Finally: Cakeballs! So satisfying to say, make and eat. They came about because when I made the cake for the Baked Alaska and tried to turn it out of its tin onto a tray it...broke. Not so much that it couldn't be more or less patched up, but it did leave me with a significant pile of cake crumbs. I could have eaten the lot in despair, but then I remembered Nigella's recipe in her Christmas book for "Christmas Puddini Bonbons" aka...cakeballs. Mine were pretty simple - the cake crumbs mixed with about 125g melted chocolate and 2 tablespoons golden syrup before being rolled into balls and drizzled with more dark chocolate. What gave them that superfunk-Christmas look and transformed them from "hastily covered-up mistake" to "incredible bonbons that I will fight you for" was the judicious sprinkling of edible glitter. I've walked past the cupcake lady at the City Market nearly every Sunday asking how much her edible glitter is. Finally I decided that it wasn't even expensive at all especially considering it lasts forever, and bought a small vial of it. Ohhhh how I love it. Had to hold myself back from glittering up the roast chickens.

Tim and I have been living off the leftovers ever since, which I love. We're going up to my place for Christmas this time next week so we're trying not to buy too much new food...just using up what's there. I tell you, there's nothing like standing at the kitchen bench, wordlessly eating leftover jelly off a plate to bring you closer together. (I grabbed two spoons from the draw, and then was like "Well I've got my spoons" like I was going to have one in each hand. Yeah, I gave him one of the spoons. But I think he believed me...I think I believed me for a second.)


Title via: Les Miserables, Master of the House. Last night Tim and I saw the live recording of the 25th Anniversary Les Mis concert at Embassy Theatre. It was amazing - Norm Lewis (he of the faint-making voice), Lea Salonga, Ramin Karimloo, erm...Nick Jonas (he wasn't awful per se, anyone would look useless next to Ramin). Matt Lucas of Little Britain was Thenardier, who knew the man could sing so well! I know Les Mis isn't the height of pop culture awesomeness, especially in this post-Boyle, post-Glee time, but whatever, the music is still incredible, totally unashamed about the tears that appeared during Salonga's I Dreamed A Dream and Lewis' Stars.

Music lately:

I've been listening to A Very Little Christmas heaps - it was put together by a whole bunch of local musicians, has some excellent seasonal tunes both original and familiar, and you can download it free, what!

Sideline, a new track from David Dallas with Che Fu. Woohoo! Is all I have to say. Because I've spent three days trying to write this blog and my sentence-forming ability is dissolving like sugar in a hot oven...

Next time: Proper recipes...vegetables...

10 December 2010

i see red i see red i see red

So every year I do a Christmas dinner thing with my flatmates (which we've started having at lunchtime but I still call it Christmas dinner, I don't know) where we get together for some good eating before going our separate ways. That's all it was in 2006, the first year, but with my intense love for making feasts, it's expanded into a bit of a mystique-surrounded juggernaut...I'd like to think. There's usually some point - in this case, Thursday night - where a bit of frantic cooking happens. Which, by the way, is my idea of a Good Time. In case you were thinking "well she brought this on herself". That's right I did. Nigella Lawson's Redder Than Red Cranberry Sauce was the last thing I made before going to bed.

Nigella seems convinced of how awesome and red her cranberry sauce is, so this year I took her at her word and tried making it for the first time. I feel a couple of decent sauces at Christmas - or any time - can act like a distracting poncho or statement hat to aggressively carved meat or disappointingly ungolden roast potatoes. It's an easy recipe, to call it child's play would insult the child. A fairly motivated bunny rabbit could probably manage this. (Of course, no offense to rabbits either. But their massive population indicates they are...fairly motivated by nature.)

While this sauce was made very late at night, the photos were taken very early in the morning. I ended up eating way too many teaspoonfuls of the sauce while taking these photos to try and get it looking right, probably a sign that the 'soft focus sauce in a teaspoon' look wasn't the best choice. Seemed like a decent idea at the time...

Redder Than Red Cranberry Sauce
(her words, not mine. Although I like flourish so will leave it as is)

350g cranberries (not dried ones, although frozen is perfect, the freezer's usually the only place you can find them anyway)
200g sugar
45mls cherry brandy, OR Grand Marnier/Cointreau, OR the juice of an orange
1/4 cup water

Throw everything into a pan, bring to the boil and then simmer away for about ten minutes till the berries start to soften or disintegrate and release a lot of juice. Stir occasionally. After about ten minutes, give a final aggressive, berry-breaking stir, then allow to cool slightly before pouring into a jug and refrigerating.

When you get up the next morning (if you made it at 11.30pm like I did) it will have become as solid as jelly - that's all the pectin in the cranberries' round red bodies. Give it a good stir before you use it and maybe thin it down with a tablespoon of hot water if you like, but spoonable cranberry sauce is just fine.

Apart from the complete easiness of the recipe, it's gorgeous, and tastes fantastic - the lack of ingredients allows the sharp lemony taste of the cranberries to shine, without being too overtly sour. It did occur to me as it was bubbling away on the stove, that a jar of this would make a pretty nice Christmas gift. If you're going down this road, some other things you could consider making and giving to people this year:

Orange slices in syrup (aka Orange Confit) (there's also a recipe for fruit tea loaf)

Superfast blog post today - there'll be a full rundown of the Christmas Dinner food on Sunday (or whenever I scrape together the time) though.


Title via: Split Enz, I See Red from their album Frenzy...I accidentally just typed it as "Splut" which is actually kind of appropriate given the NZ accent. When I was a kid this was one of the songs Dad's band covered so I've always been fond of it, it reminds me of Sunday afternoons when they'd have band practice in our garage...

Music lately:

Brian D'arcy James (aka Burrs in The Wild Party...aka you've probably seen him in womens' magazines posing with celebrities during his stint as Shrek on Broadway) A Michigan Christmas from his album From Christmas Eve to Christmas Morn. I was SO happy when I found out he had a Christmas album. This is the only track from it I can find on youtube, but I totally recommend the whole thing. His voice (and eyebrows) astounds.

Nas and Damian Marley, Tribal War ft K'naan from Distant Relatives. Speaking of things that deserve capitalisation, I was SO SO happy when I heard the news they were coming to New Zealand - heard rumours from a reliable source a few months ago, but wasn't counting on it coming to fruition. Not only are they coming to NZ, they're doing a Wellington show too! I love it when acts do that - no flights to Auckland, no taking leave, no accommodation costs...Seriously good news all round.

Next time: As I said, this is just a quick post...full rundown of the Christmas party, plus those vegetables I promised last time.

5 December 2010

what good is cake you have but never eat?

I don't know why, or how to explain this in a straightforward way, but if there's a recipe for a cake with an ingredient that wouldn't normally be in a cake, I'll really, really want to make it. Which is why I got my cake on immediately after finding the Beetroot Cake recipe, the Kumara Cake recipe, and...digging into the 2007 archives before I committed to a lyrical pun for every title...Chocolate Chickpea Cake (No lie. Chickpeas.) If it has a vegetable or similar trying to disguise itself as a cake - bring it on.

And then I found a recipe for a cake with mayonnaise in it. In a way it sounded familiar, like I'd heard of this combination before. But till now an actual recipe has never appeared to me, in fact it wasn't even something I was actively searching for. Then I was reading the new issue of Spasifik magazine, and there was an advertisement for Best Foods Mayonnaise with a recipe for Amazing Cake Pasifika, sent in by the staff of the Glenn Innes Library. And it all made sense. I had to try it. Especially with an awesome title like that, as someone slightly given to hyperbole, I like a cake that announces itself as Amazing before you even try it.

When you think on it, mayonnaise in a cake isn't so spooky after all. It's more or less just eggs (or egg yolks), oil and vinegar - all things that help give a cake its cakeyness. Just don't use aioli by mistake...and maybe check how high stuff like mustard appears on the list of ingredients while you're at it...

Amazing Cake Pasifika

With gratitude to the Glen Innes Library Staff (if there's any GI locals reading this, feel free to give your library staff a high five for me) and Spasifik Magazine.
Original recipe here.

1 cup Best Foods mayonnaise (if you don't have that, then use some other decent mayo)
1 cup brown sugar, packed in
1 cup orange juice
1 cup coconut (desiccated is all good, but I saw "fancy shred" at the supermarket and was drawn to it...if I ever became a DJ - don't worry, I won't - DJ Fancy Shred could definitely be my pseudonym)
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F. In a good sized bowl, whisk together the mayo, brown sugar, and orange juice. I will tell you now...it tastes kinda good. Mix in the rest of the ingredients and pour - it'll be a fairly liquid batter - into a lined, greased 22-ish cm caketin. Bake for 45 minutes or so. The recipe suggests a lemon cream cheese icing (yum) but I just sprinkled it with more coconut (which looked pretty but fell off as soon as I cut into the cake...so. Stupid fancy shred.)

I guess it was something in the mayo, but this cake is incredibly moist, soft and light. Not actually so great for cutting into as you can see from the photo below - the slices would droop a bit and fall apart if handled too aggressively, but despite this it's exactly the sort of thing you want to have if family or friends drop in on you - a big crowd-pleaser of a cake. You can even use it as a conversation starter if things start to get awkward ("hey, guess what the secret ingredient in this cake is?) Between the orange, coconut and the spices it might sound kind of aggressively flavoured but it wasn't - just fragrantly delicious with an amazing golden colour.

And can you even taste the mayonnaise? Nahhhh (well a tiny bit. But only if you concentrate. The cake's delicious, so if you can't deal with mayonnaise in it then all the more for me, but if it helps, just remember the separate ingredients: egg, oil, vinegar.)

Tim's down in Christchurch this weekend to see the Wellington Phoenix (starting to suspect that it's Phoenix here *hold hand high* Laura here *hold hand less high*) and luckily they won - I was following the scoring on Twitter while writing this and it seemed like there was some kind of red card situation and...actually I'm not the best person to explain this. I've had an awesome weekend on my own - the weather was incredible on Saturday, I ate a whole eggplant for dinner tonight (Tim hates them), I did a yoga class, had a Christine Ebersole youtube marathon, and last night caught up with ex-flatmate but not ex-friend, Ange.

On Friday night Tim and I went to the Wellingtonista Awards at the mighty Mighty Mighty bar and...I didn't win! I really wanted to but in the end it's all good. It was fun just to be nominated, especially because I had no idea it was coming, and we had a seriously good night all the same. The crowded nature of the place - I was perched on a beer crate because there were no chairs left - meant we ended up getting practically on first name basis (if we'd thought to ask their names) with the sassy ladies of Wellington On A Plate who were next to us - at first it was all "we'll cheer for you if you cheer for us" but suddenly we were rejoicing in each others raffle ticket victories and consoling ("it's great just to be nominated") each other's respective non-wins.

We also ran into the lovely Anna Dean from Tiger Translate and Kate from Lovelorn Unicorn and tried to be cute in the super fun Amazing Travelling Photobooth. Good times all round. On top of that we won a Grow From Here voucher and a night tour of the Zealandia sanctuary (kiwis!!) from the raffle, so we didn't even go home empty handed. A massive massive thanks to everyone who voted - I realise there's been a bit of "vote for me! Please! Oh sorry I didn't even win" highs and lows this year but I really, really appreciate it.
Title via: Ate The Cake I Had, from the 2006 musical Grey Gardens. I'm sure there's probably some mayonnaise lyric out there but I'm on the most humungous Grey Gardens kick these days (see: Christine Ebersole below) so it's all good.
Music lately:

ChakaKhanletmerockyouletmerockyouChakaKhan. On Saturday morning Tim and I grabbed I Feel For You on vinyl from Slow Boat (with "Happy Christmas, Annie" written in ballpoint across the front, did you just write on your album sleeves back then or something?) and I love the title track so much. And also Chaka Khan's hair.

Christine Ebersole's entire back catalogue - a brief but dazzling intro here on 100sand1000s.

Mariah Carey's Oh Santa from Merry Christmas II You. It cracked me up how the sticker on the CD claimed it was her new Christmas classic, but to be fair: it's awesome. It maintains its upward bounce and has some minor key action and it's extremely catchy and happy without trying to be All I Want For Christmas Is You. Love it.
Next time: a couple of interesting new vegetable dishes I've tried out lately...

2 December 2010

i'm miss world watch me break

You just don't see elaborate dishes created in people's honour these days. I mean, there are those so established that you forget - Peach Melba, Fettuccine Alfredo, Margherita Pizza, Beef Stroganoff... but nothing like the "Souffle Bowes-Lyon" from the QEII recipe book I once bought from an op shop, very 1980s with its tales of how much champagne they go through weekly and chilled gazpacho and colour plates of extremely tanned people with large hair.

A couple of years back Mum sent me a Hudson and Halls cookbook, and then this year at the library book sale I picked up another of theirs - a plastic-wrapped cookbook called Favourite Recipes from Hudson and Halls. Published in 1985, its black, dustjacketed cover has H & H in tuxedoes gazing solemnly at the reader, positioned in front of various items on a bookshelf and dresser - a clock, a lamp, a trumpet, 'A Woman of Substance'. Inside, their forward foreword breaks formalities with its "we have cooked together for nigh on twenty years, some of it good...some of it not so good!" Inside I found a recipe for Chicken Salad Lorraine with Peanut Cream Sauce which they named for 1983's Miss World, New Zealand's Lorraine Downes. I love a recipe with a decent backstory like that and I also really love peanut sauce...win win.

An often quoted line of theirs is "are we gay? Well we're certainly merry". With hindsight there's sadness in that while the studio audience of their TV show would drink their wine and laugh at their comic timing, some kind of societal necessity prevented any actual openness at how this was a TV show fronted by two men in love with each other. At the time of the cookbook itself being published, the problematically worded, but comparatively progressive Homosexual Law Reforms were only just coming into effect in New Zealand. We don't exactly live in a liberal wonderland right now, and I'm no expert on the history of NZ's gay rights, but certainly leaps and bounds have been made since. As I'm privileged to have the world I live in and the media I consume largely reflect my own life, I can only guess at what it would have been like for H&H back then. I do know they wouldn't have been the only ones in their position.

I'm not sure if it's a mid-eighties thing or what, but H&H specified melons (oh my!) in the salad and much as I'm fairly adventurous, I wasn't quite ready for it covered in peanut sauce...I figured the easier-found cucumber was within the same gene pool and along with some capsicum, would provide colour and juicy crunch. As I switched the required egg noodles for a lighter-textured pile of slippery, soft rice noodles, there's nothing stopping you swapping the chicken for slices of fresh, firm tofu. And the more I think about it, the more it feels like peanut sauce on melons would have worked just fine...if you try it yourself, let me know!

There is on youtube an opportunity to see H&H in action which, apart from their merry chemistry, is a joy in itself as a slice of New Zealand television at the time - the giant electric frypan, the grey animated opening titles, the pinkly lit background of the studio kitchen. They snap and banter with each other, and burst into laughter. As Hudson spoons ingredients into a pan, listing them aloud, Halls interrupts offscreen with "Garlic?" to which Hudson responds "I haven't got there yet, could you just mind your own business?" But then Hudson throws out the aside of "very good for the wrist action" while grinding pepper, which, while not as camp as Halls' crying "Isn't he wonderful!" while throwing his hands joyfully in the air, is still the sort of thing that continues to raise eyebrows when Nigella says it over 20 years later. I could go on and recreate an entire transcript but you might as well watch it - it's wonderful stuff.

Chicken Salad Lorraine with Peanut Cream Sauce

With thanks to Hudson and Halls

300g good, free-range chicken thighs
1 stick of carrot, a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, coriander seeds and sprig of thyme if you have it
1/2 a lemon
1/2 a cucumber
1 yellow (or red or orange) capsicum
Peanut or sesame oil
Spring onions (optional)


3 heaped tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup stock (from poaching the chicken)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
small piece of ginger, peeled and grated or finely minced
1 teaspoon sugar
Juice from the other 1/2 a lemon
Tobasco or other hot sauce
About 1/2 cup of cream or thick Greek yoghurt or sour cream.
Egg or rice noodles to serve.

Place chicken thighs in a pan and just cover with water. Add the carrot stick, bay leaf, peppercorns, seeds and thyme (I didn't have any thyme but it still tasted all good) and turn on the heat, allowing the water to simmer and bubble away gently till the chicken is no longer pink and seems tender - around 15-20 minutes. Remove the chicken to a chopping board and get rid of the spices and things. Bring the remaining liquid to the boil and let it reduce somewhat. Shred the chicken or slice into bite-size chunks. Poached chicken thighs aren't the sexiest to look at, but there'll be plenty of distracting colour later on.

Set aside 1/4 cup of the stock for the peanut sauce, and top up the remaining stock in the pan with water, bring to the boil and cook your noodles in it according to packet instructions. Drain the noodles, toss with the peanut or sesame oil, and divide between two plates.
Slice the capsicum and the cucumber into sticks, and arrange on top of the noodles along with the chicken. Finally, whisk together the dressing ingredients (or you could blast them in a food processor) till very smooth. Drizzle the sauce over the two plates of salad, scatter with spring onions or coriander if using.

Note: I didn't have a lemon or cream, but I did have some amazingly thick, tangy Zany Zeus Greek yoghurt which I figured would cover off both needs. It did, and how. Sour Cream would probably be great as well, or you could just leave out the dairy altogether and replace the stock with water (or vegetable stock).
Serves 2

Lorraine Downes' name was not taken in vain here - this salad is stunning. Though, it was easier for me to arrange it between two plates rather than put it all in a bowl, so I'm not quite sure if it really even is a salad still. Oh well - the poached chicken is amazingly tender, the peanut sauce is thick but light, blanketing the crunchy vegetables and soft, deliciously bland noodles. I just love peanut sauce but even so, the mix of textures and tastes is wonderful and it's a great dinner on one of those evenings that is hot, but not so hot that you only want to eat an ice cube for dinner.

There's plenty to love in this book, especially the descriptions before each dish - some of it practical, some hilarious ("once met someone who was on a diet and was drinking rum essence in diet cola...it tasted abysmal.") When you turn to the back cover, they're on a farm, Hudson is wearing a bucket hat and sunglasses and leaning on a spade, while Halls wears tiny shorts and has a rifle casually swung over his shoulder while lunging against a fence - two large black dogs sit beside them. Hudson died of cancer in 1992 and Halls left pretty soon after him. Their books aren't so easy to track down - while they might be due for a reprint sometime soon, it's worth hunting next time you're in an op shop or at a book fair. They're a lesser known chapter of New Zealand history, not to mention there aren't many other places these days you'll find a salad named after a 1983 beauty queen.

Tim and I were at Wellington's opening night of Rocky Horror Show at the St James tonight - it was an absolutely incredible show, I seriously recommend you go along if you're even halfway curious. The staging, the quality of the acting and singing, and the sheer energy is all turned up to eleven and besides, watching an audience so joyfully receive music - it's a beautiful thing. Obviously it was exciting to see the strangely ageless Richard O'Brien who created the show, star as narrator (the round of applause on his entrance brought the performance to a halt) and you gotta hand it to Kristian Lavercombe playing O'Brien's original role of Riff Raff with such wicked aplomb. Special mention must go to Juan Jackson who played Frank'n'Furter; he barely needed acting ability with his charismatic muscle structure, but luckily he could emote realistically, sing like the great-grandchild of Paul Robeson, and skip carelessly in platform heels. Being a rock opera it maintains a cracking pace - it's easy to forget just how many incredible songs are crammed into this one wonderful show.
Title via: Hole's Miss World from Live Through This. Have much love for Courtney.
Music lately:
I've been trying to avoid Christmas songs but seeing as it's December 1st (eeeeek!) I've indulged myself with the sublimely ridiculous Turkey Lurkey Time from Promises Promises. Seriously, just watch it.

As well as the seasonal stuff I've been listening to a fair few John Peel compilations lately - which means Buzzcocks, What Do I Get/Lion Rock by Culture etc etc...
Next time: For some reason this blog post took me forever to get done, and I guess things are only going to get busier from here on in...but hopefully I'll get another blog post in before the end of the week, it'll either be something vegetable-based (woo!) or this amazing cake recipe I found which has mayonnaise (what!) in it.

24 November 2010

honey to the bee that's you for me

Note: As mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve been nominated for a Wellingtonista award, and while it’s seriously exciting and happiness-inducing to be amongst some distinctly high-profile nominees, it’s also quite nice to be voted for, so I can hype myself up into thinking I might win. As well as myself, you can also vote for other Wellington-related things you like, or nothing at all – the only compulsory fields are your name and email address. What I’m trying to say is that if you do vote (here here here) it’d be really great and I’d appreciate it heaps and heaps.

I recently got sent some honey - two jars - from the astute folk at Airborne. I was caught off-guard when they contacted me, am not sure where I stand on "accepting then blogging about free stuff" because it hasn't really happened till now. Some people are hardline about this, refusing to accept anything, and I suspect I'd want to avoid it too - this is my blog and I'll talk about what I want when I want - but damnit, I liked the idea of free honey and was 99% sure it would taste good and not compromise some kind of policy I haven't even got the kind of clout to be developing in the first place. To find out more about Airborne, by the way, their "Why Choose Us" page is a reassuring read - these people treat their bees and their honey well.

So, two jars arrived - a large jar of thick, creamy Kamahi and a smaller jar of liquid, clear Tawari. And, thought I, here's the chance to try all those recipes with lots of honey in them! But for some reason I either couldn't find anything, or the stuff I could find, I was all "eh" about, so I decided to just make up my own stuff instead. (That said, Mum, if get the time could you please email me the recipe for those honey buns we used to make? From that handwritten recipe book I think?) (Edit: Thanks heaps Mum!)

At the vege market down the road there's this amazingly good tofu at $4 for a large block, scored into four 'fillets' as I call them. However no matter how much I try, I can never quite finish it before it starts to go all orange and creepy. There's only so much dense, filling firm tofu I can get through in a couple of days. On top of that we somehow ended up with three heads of brocolli, because I forgot that we had it and then bought some more. I hate wasting food but I'm also very forgetful, so this just sometimes happens. This following recipe however takes some neglected brocolli, some teacher's pet asparagus, and some tofu that was somewhat past its best (not at the 'unsafe' stage or anything, just not looking so happy to see me when I opened the fridge) and turns it into a feast.

Honey Miso Roast Vegetables

I used a square of firm tofu, a head of broccoli, and a handful of asparagus. Use what you have - the veges need to be able to withstand some roasting. Cauliflower and kumara would be pretty perfect here too.

Whisk together:
  • 2 teaspoons white miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon clear honey (I used Airbourne's Tawari)
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) sambal oelek or other red chilli paste
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
Set your oven to 200 C. Chop your vegetables and tofu into fairly similar sized smallish pieces. lay the chopped vegetables on a baking-paper lined tray and spoon over the miso-honey mixture. You could also pour the mixture into a big bowl and toss the veges through it, but I couldn't be bothered with the extra dishes. Roast for about 20 minutes or until everything looks burnished and cooked through. Eat over rice or noodles or just as is.

Don't be alarmed by the dark, miso-toffee bits that appear (strangely delicious too, I couldn't help peeling it off the baking paper and eating it) as whatever clings to the vegetables and tofu will taste incredible - sticky, savoury and full of complex, fragrant flavour. The tightly clenched branches of brocolli stretch out under the heat and become deliciously crisp, while their stems remain juicy and tender. The flavour of the asparagus intensifies under the caramelly, hot honey and the tofu becomes...totally passable.

Obviously with honey some kind of pudding or baking attempt is only right. It was relatively recently that I learned about frangipane, a buttery, almondy mix for filling pies and tarts and so on. I had an idea that honey could be a good exchange for the sugar. So I did it.

Honey, Almond and Dried Apricot Tart

1 square of bought puff pastry (I guess you should try and get good quality all-butter stuff. The ingredients on my Edmond's ready-rolled sheets said "butter" but I have heard terrifying rumours of some awful sounding substance called "baker's margarine".)
1 egg
2 tablespoons creamy honey - I used Airborne's Kamahi
Heaped 1/3 cup ground almonds
40g butter, melted
About 20 soft dried apricots

Set your oven to 220 C, and place the square of pastry onto a baking paper-lined tray. Lightly score a 1cm border around the edge with a sharp knife (don't cut right through). Once in the oven, this will puff up and look really pretty.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and the honey. Stir in the ground almonds and melted butter. This will make enough for the tart plus a generous amount for you to taste (it's delicious!) Spoon carefully over the centre of the pastry, spreading a thin layer across to meet the edge of the margin you've scored (as per the picture.) Carefully pull or slice the apricots in half or - if you've got lots of apricots, just leave them whole - and arrange on top of the pastry. Paint a little melted butter or egg yolk round the margin if you like. Bake for about 15-20 minutes - as long as you can leave it in without burning.

The first time I made it, I was doing the dishes and forgot to check on the oven. All the sugars in the honey and apricots couldn't take being ignored, and the tart was a blackened mess (did this stop us eating it? Erm, no). It was late at night, the kitchen was covered in frangipane-smeared implements (myself included), and the ingredients aren't the cheapest, so I may have yelled "I'm never doing the dishes again! It's a sign! I hate everything!" Or something to that effect.

The second time I made this tart earlier in the evening and with new enthusiasm, I watched it like I was judging gymnastics at the Olympics - focussed, scrutineering, coldly assessing for any stepping outside the lines. I can't have eaten nearly enough delicious frangipane mixture though because there was too much on the pastry - it billowed up and spilled over. I quickly turned the oven off to halt the frangipane pilgrimage to the edge of the oven tray, but this meant that the centre of the pastry sheet didn't have time to get light and flaky. It wasn't uncooked, just sadly damp, floppy and uncrisp.

While this was happening Tim was watching footage of the Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall, who can't have slept in the past week, showing a map of where the 29 miners were thought to be, deep in the stomach of the earth. The projector cast shadows across Whittall's face, and I looked at the tart and thought "oh well". So we ate it, and it was fine - delicious in fact, with what I considered a bonus breadth of cakey frangipane to pull off the tray contemplatively. Yes, the underside needed longer in the heat, but the soft dried apricots were warmed to an heady, jammy perfumedness, while the fruity, creamy Kamahi honey somehow amplified the fresh, Christmassy flavour of the often dull ground almonds.

While it may need some tweaking here and there, you can feel free to go ahead and make this recipe. Although, while I ended up with deliciousness I've only made this recipe twice and it was somewhat fail-y both times...don't blame me if you get frangipane all over your oven/walls/hair.

For any international readers, the Pike River mine explosion last Friday caused the disappearance, followed by confirmed death after a second explosion on Wednesday, of 29 miners on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island. I was a bit naive and was saying "I hope they're staying calm" to which people would reply, "if they're alive". The sickening sadness that their families, friends, colleagues and community went through, and continue to go through, makes the heart ache. If you read the newspaper (and it's usually the narrow columns to the left and right of the page that relay the saddest stories in the briefest of paragraphs) you'll see that tragedy happens everywhere and every day. The scale and public nature of this disaster means it has particular resonance across the country though. With that in mind - with anything in mind really - a burnt or awkward tart is something I can shrug at.

On Thursday morning, the Kamahi honey was spread thickly across hot toast, cut from a loaf of Rewena, the honey slowly filling the pools of butter that gathered in the bread's crevices. The simplest solution of all, and it was so good. And, at a stretch, a kind of an early prototype version of the above tart. Actually I bet honey and apricot jam on toast (just spontaneously riffing here) would be amazing.

Title via: YES, quoting Billie Piper's Honey To The Bee here. It's strange how, while not one note of the rest of her music appeals to me, I have an intense and unapologetic love for this one song. The swooning rapturousness with which the bizarre lyrics are delivered, the slow-dripping melody, and the late-nineties technological charm of its video make for quite the experience.

Music lately:
Mariah Carey, Emotions from her album of the same name. Listening to her non-stop brings me no closer to the secret of what makes her so flawless.

The Damned, Eloise. Excellence!
Next time: most definitely the Chicken Salad Lorraine, plus we're off to Tiger Translate tonight so there'll probably be a breathless account of that too.

20 November 2010

sugar dumpling, you're my baby, i love you in every way

I drank a massive amount of coffee before photographing this dumpling, it's verging on miraculous that the pictures turned out alright.

Sometimes I find recipes that are so full of things I love dealing with that I can hardly concentrate till the time I get to create them for myself. I recently discovered the delicious Sasasunakku blog written by Sasa, a New Zealander living in Austria, and the first recipe I found therein was Germknodel. My eyes became wider and wider as I read through it - Austrian snack, yeasted dough, butter, sneaky jam filling, steam-cooked - I like the idea of all those things! At the point where you're instructed to pour even more butter over them and sprinkle over poppy seeds, my eyelashes were near-on touching the back of my head (no mean feat, when you've got my stumpy lashes and high forehead). Yeah, this might all sound a bit dramatic and ridiculous, but just imagine something you really like - shoes, for example - and then imagine you found a way to make a shoe that you didn't even know existed - actually I don't think this is an idea that's open to analogies. Just...bear with me.

It would be a big bad lie to tell you these are straightforward as to throw together, but they're definitely not too difficult either, if you're up for a bit of kitchen adventurism. If not, you could always just have jam on toast. They're practical in their own way - each jam-filled ball can be frozen before cooking, and then steamed back to life direct from the freezer. I had it in my head ("oh well") that we'd just have to eat all ten dumplings after they'd been steamed, but this is obviously also good.


With thanks to Sasasunakku - and please see her blog post about these for much clearer instructions than mine with several handy pictures.
Gently mix the following in a bowl and leave for 10 minutes:
  • 80ml (5 tablespoons or 1/3 cup) lukewarm milk
  • 10g fresh yeast or 1 sachet dried yeast (I used dry, was what I had)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 30g flour
While that's happening, weigh out 500g flour and set aside.
In another bowl, place the following:
  • 40g sugar (3 and a half tablespoons)
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 eggs plus one egg yolk
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 80 soft butter
  • 125g (1/2 cup) room temperature milk
Pour the yeast mixture into the flour, briefly mix, then add the other ingredients and mix into a dough. Note: My butter just wouldn't soften, so I measured the 500g flour into a bowl, rubbed in the butter, then mixed in the rest of the ingredients listed with the butter, followed by the 10-minute yeast mixture. This might be inauthentic, but it still turned out fine, and solved the problem of my solid butter (plus less bowls to wash!)

Knead this sticky mixture till it is springy, smooth, and resembles the lump of dough in the picture above. You can knead it inside the bowl if it's big enough. I always forget that I now live in a place with a bit of benchspace and so took great joy in kneading it on the countertop. Place this dough-ball in an oiled bowl (I just rinsed out the bowl I mixed everything in) cover with a clean teatowel and leave to rise for 30 minutes. Doesn't have to be in an overly warm spot - if you heat it too much, the yeast will give up on you. I used to sit bread dough on our hard drive before we got our new computer, but anywhere not fridge-cold is fine, really. A hot-water cupboard is great, I've lived in three different Wellington flats and never had one though.

Meanwhile, cut out ten squares of baking paper. Once 30 minutes has passed, roll the dough into a large, fat log and use a dough-cutter or a knife to divide it into ten roughly equal pieces.
Find: A jar of jam - I used Jok'n'Al's sugarfree Blackcurrant and Apple Spread (what with Tim's diabetes and all) but Sasa recommends Powidl, an austere Austrian plum spread - she also suggests Nutella, hello!

Flatten each piece slightly in the palm of your hand and place about 1/2 teaspoonful of jam in the centre. Pinch the edges together to make a round, jam-filled pocket. This dough is pretty forgiving so if you're too rough and the top splits, you can easily patch it up. It's best to use only a bit of jam though to make sealing each bun easier. Repeat with the remaining portions of dough.

Place each jam-filled ball seal side down on a square of paper on a baking tray, cover with the teatowel and let them sit for fifteen minutes, where they will rise up once more and become puffy. At this point, you can freeze them until you feel like eating them - OR - set a large steamer over a pan of simmering water and steam as many dumplings as you can handle for about fifteen minutes.

Once steamed, pour over a little melted butter, and sprinkle with icing sugar and poppyseeds. I didn't have any poppyseeds on me but found a bag of black sesame seeds which I figured would provide similar dark nutty crunch. I was right. A teaspoon of plain sugar stood in for icing sugar, which I also didn't have.

Yes, these are a bit of a mission, but each stage is relatively easy - the dough comes together quickly under your hands and patches up easily during the jam-filling, it only has to rise for half an hour, and you don't even need to cook them right away. In fact the hardest thing was typing out the long recipe. Even cooking them is easy - unlike baking which can be a bit touch-and-go, steaming is very forgiving. The dumplings could sit in there for 25 minutes and still be edible. Speaking of, I use a large bamboo steamer which we got for about $6 from Yan's Supermarket which we use regularly for steaming either pork or coconut buns (also from Yan's) - while it might take a bit of roaming round the neighbourhood, don't be fooled into paying $30+ for them at fancy cookware shops. Because that's what they'll try to charge you!

These Germknodel (say it! "gare-m-kner-dil!" And try not to smile!) taste amazingly fantastically delicious - incredibly soft from their sauna-time in the steamer, but with that gratifying real-bread flavour from the yeast, the murmer of lemon zest and jammy surprise centre - okay, I put it there myself but still, surprise! - providing tart fruity respite from all the buttery goodness. According to Sasa these are typical post-skiing treats for the Austrians. Which adds to their charm. I share Sasa's inability to ski (inability barely describes me, I've had one terrifying go at skiing, trembling my way across the gentlest of slopes, falling over constantly onto the unfairly rock-hard snow while three-year old ski-bairns scooted and Telemarked merrily around me, occasionally backflipping, and Gunter the ski instructer gazed unhappily into the majestic Canterbury ranges. I now live with someone who skis excellently for fun, I am in great awe of anyone who can actually derive enjoyment from it. You deserve a jam-filled dumpling for that.)

Guess what? While I can't ski (and just as well, ski-pants are really expensive) I can stare into a computer screen and type about myself, and the fine people at The Wellingtonista agree - I've been nominated in their The Annual Wellingtonista Awards for "Best Contribution To The Internet From Wellington" which is damned exciting really and took me completely by surprise. Yay for Wellingtonista, yay for the rest of the nominees who all seem to actually "contribute to Wellington", and frankly yay for ME.

You can feel free to vote for me (or anyone! Truly!) HERE. It's very, very easy, and even if you're not from New Zealand you can vote because the only required bits are your name and email address. I won't hassle you too much though.

Title via: The lovely Sam Cooke and his song Sugar Dumpling, a mighty happy tune which I can't help but interpret literally as I gaze at the Germknodel.
Music lately:

Dudley Benson and the Dawn Chorus with the compelling, call-and-answer song Ruru which you can hear, along with other music creations of his, at his website. Tim and I saw him perform last night at Pipitea Marae before a very supportive audience. You're probably best to read his bio and hunt round his site rather than have me recreate it here. It was an evening of beautiful music - just Benson, four guys as chorus, and Hopey One, beatboxer extraordinaire, filling the whare with the shaping and manipulation of their voices. Despite his warm, happy-go-lucky interaction with the audience between songs, there was a steely discipline to the performance - with incredible skill, accuracy and genuineness of spirit.

And The Angels Sing from Elaine Stritch's unfussily named album Stritch. She is just so great.
Next time: Either some honey-related baking or a salad named after a former beauty queen. Truly.

16 November 2010

only a prawn in their game

You know that saying "do something each day that scares you?" Yeah, well as a naturally scared-of-everything person, I can't relate to that idea at all - I'm all about the reduction of nervousness. However I very recently did something where the payoff was worth a bit of risk a squillion times over. Some people might see that saying and think "go skydiving" or "finally get that tattoo" or "ask boss for a raise" or something. I...bought some frozen prawns for the first time. And cooked them for dinner. All of a sudden I couldn't think why I'd never done it before, since Nigella has so many recipes for them and all. I'd eaten them before, not often, yet in my mind they had an aura of great expense and difficulty about them. It couldn't be more the opposite. $16 for a kilo of frozen raw prawns (I understand the frozen cooked ones are pretty nasty), considering 100g is one serving and there's only two of us, and considering what a kilo of various other meats would cost, it's pretty reasonable. Although nothing is as reasonable is the enormous $4 block of tofu that I get from the vege market...

The first recipe I made was Nigella's Japanese Prawns, and it was watching her make these on her latest TV show Kitchen which finally got me to make the simple connection between 'Nigella makes lots of easy recipes with prawns' and 'I could make lots of easy recipes with prawns'. Nigella confides to the viewer that it's a recipe that she probably cooks the most of, and I thought "O RLY," a bold claim when she has so much excellence to choose from, but after tasting them I am inclined to agree.

Japanese Prawns

From Nigella Lawson's Kitchen
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sake
pinch sea salt
1 tablespoon lime juice (I didn't have any - used cider vinegar)
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
2 teaspoons garlic oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced
200g frozen raw prawns
Salad leaves, rice or noodles and coriander to serve

Whisk together the water, sake, salt, lime juice and wasabi.

Heat the garlic oil in a large pan till sizzling, then stir in the spring onions and tip in the frozen prawns. Cook, stirring frequently for a couple of minutes till they're properly pink. Tip in the sake mixture, allowing it to bubble up, and cook the prawns in it for another couple of minutes. Tip out onto a bed of salad leaves and sprinkle with coriander. Serve with rice, noodles, or just as is.

The smell of sake hitting a hot pan has got to be one of the best things in the world, savoury, fragrant, almost like the smell of bread baking. Combined with the sharp, mustardy wasabi and served with the gentle ocean-taste of the prawns, it's a faint-makingly good dinner. Nigella also mentioned how she liked the clattering of frozen prawns tumbling into the pan, I had my doubts but it is oddly satisfying.

Having successfully cooked them once, I was in love, and I wanted to cook ALL the prawns. They're just so easy. They're done mere minutes, but there's something about them that looks as though you made a huge effort, as if you'd hewn each curly pink crustacean by hand out of...a bigger crustacean.

Equal rapture ensued when I made Nigella's Lemony Prawn Salad from Forever Summer. Another extremely simple recipe combining quickly fried prawns with a flavour-heavy coat of dressing. In the background of the above picture you can just see Tim, patiently waiting while I take photos of his dinner...

Lemony Prawn Salad

From Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson

1 lemon
2 cloves garlic
1 spring onion
2 tablespoons plain oil (I use Riceola Rice Bran oil)
5 tablespoons olive oil
375g raw prawns
cos lettuce and chives, to serve

Cut the top and bottom off the lemon, then slice off the peel and pith till you're left with just a nude lemon. Chop it into four and place in the food processor with one of the cloves of garlic and the spring onion and blitz to mush. Scrape down the sides and then stick the lid back on and process, pouring in the plain oil and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil down the funnel as it goes. Tear your lettuce into pieces, toss it with most of the dressing and divide between two plates. Gently heat the remaining garlic clove with the remaining oil in a large pan. Remove the garlic clove and once the oil's hot, add the prawns to the pan, and cook through. Transfer them to the two plates and snip over the chives, and spoon over any remaining dressing.

  • I didn't have that lettuce but I did have a packet of rocket.
  • For two people that seems like a huge amount of oil, I reduced it by about two tablespoons.
  • I used just 200g prawns and it was all good.
  • I didn't bother with the garlic infusion thing...
  • I had an old-timey lemon with soft skin and enormous amounts of snowy pith and seeds. The more modern lemons with thin skin and hardly any pips work better for this logistically.
  • I had some brutal, burning cloves of garlic so I added a tiny pinch of caster sugar to the dressing to counteract this - worked nice.
  • You want the pan to be really pretty hot, because the frozen-ness of the prawns cools it down a bit and you want them to sear, not limply stew.
The dressing is magical - the lemon chunks and oil turn into a creamy, sour, rich yellow emulsion, which slides over the prawns and leaves onto the spaghetti below, basically making everything incredibly delicious.

The juicy, crisp-tipped asparagus was excellent with it too - it was just a seriously amazing meal. There are still many, many more prawn recipes I want to try now, and like Jasmine and Aladdin it's a whole new world. Thank you, Nigella - thank you, prawns.

Tim and I (well, just Tim, but I was in the room when it happened) worked out a calendar of all the things we've got coming up over December and January - it's dizzyingly busy times ahead. I think it would be completely logical to make December six weeks long so that you can fit in everything you need to but still get to sleep every now and then.
Title via: Bob Dylan, Only A Pawn In Their Game. Ah, Bob Dylan. He's quite good. Although Tim insisted on getting this horrendous later album of his from a bargain bin, it was fairly unlistenable. It was Dire Straits-esque. I guess Dylan only had so much "Blowing in the Wind" inside of him. I like this song though, and how it speeds up and slows down whenever he says the title line.
Music lately:

Pharoahe Monch, Push from his album Desire - he's in New Zealand right now but we didn't have the time or the funds for it this time round - in lieu of that, he's always available on youtube...

Kristin Chenoweth, Taylor The Latte Boy from As I Am - I generally can't deal with stuff this intentionally cute but her stunning voice and quick-wittedness makes this strangely compelling.
Next time: I made the awesomest dumplings from this blog here...I also have some honey-related stuff to talk about...