27 October 2010

one night in bangkok makes a hard man crumble

Crumble has got to be some of the the best kind of food in existence, among the comforting-est of all the comfort food. In Nigella Express, there is this very cool idea where you make up some crumble topping in advance and freeze it so if you ever want pudding, but the thought of actually having to cook makes you weepy, you're still good to go. I mean, there's a bit of initial effort that goes into it. But that's the good thing about Nigella - there's options. Whether you're in the mood for a seven layer trifle where you make your own sponge and custard by hand, or something more or less instant but not so instant that you're sitting on the couch ejecting a can of whipped cream into your mouth, she's got you covered.

That said, I can't help being suspicious of crumble recipes, and will often think "that's not nearly enough butter!" as I read the list of ingredients. I definitely trust Nigella Lawson, the woman who taught me that 250g butter in one cake is just fine, but even so when I saw that her recipe was for four servings, it took effort to stick to the 50g she stipulated. Worrying, maybe, but true. No one wants wafer-thin crumble coverage.

Turns out 50g was all good, and there was no need to get so hand-wringingly righteous over it. That said, when you divide 50 between 4 that's only like...less than 1 tablespoon of butter per person. That's practically nothing. But go with it, you somehow end up with just the amount of crumble you need. Nigella calls this "Jumbleberry Crumble", which is just an olde English term for "whatever berries you have". I had the end of a packet of frozen blackberries, plus some cranberries leftover from last Christmas. While I held back from exaggerating the topping quantities, I did add some dark chocolate chunks to the fruit. It felt right, but then adding chocolate to things usually does...right?

Jumbleberry Crumble

From Nigella Lawson's Nigella Express

For the Crumble Topping:
50g butter
100g flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons brown sugar

Rub the butter into the flour and baking powder, till it resembles coarse crumbs (with some inevitable floury dustiness). Stir in the sugar, and then tip into a freezer bag till needed.

Set your oven to 220 C. Get some ovenproof ramekins, fill with frozen berries (and a few dark chocolate chunks if you like), sprinkle over 1 teaspoon cornflour, two teaspoons sugar, and a couple of tablespoons (roughly 50-75g) frozen crumble topping. Bake for 15-20mins depending on the size of the ramekin - 125g ones for the lesser time, but 250-300ml ones will take a little longer.

I made these fairly late at night with both low lighting and low camera battery, not giving me a lot of room to move as far as getting quality photos. Next time?

These were delicious - the chocolate melting into the sharp juices released by the frozen berries as they stewed in the oven, creating a thick, rich sauce for the fruit. The crumble topping was highly satisfying despite my earlier nervousness - biscuity, sweet and gratifyingly crisp in places. Plus, because there's only the two of us, I've got some crumble mix in a sandwich bag in the freezer, just waiting to be sprinkled over fruit on another cold evening. For all that I talked about Spring and skipping along in the mild sunshine with armfuls of asparagus bushels in my last post, the weather in Wellington is so variable (and it varies heavily towards the murkier, chillier end of the scale more often than not. This is a pain, but there is an upside when it means you're more likely to be in the mood to eat crumble.)

Title via: One Night In Bangkok from the musical Chess. Confession: I actually thought that my title was the lyrics but it turns out it's actually "makes a hard man humble". Whatever. I love this song - the strange, theatre-plus-rapping that became a chart hit despite having perhaps seriously Top 40-unfriendly lyrics and concept. Adam Pascal's take is pretty fabulous, from the 2008 concert with Idina Menzel and The Wire's Clarke Peters, but is cruelly unavailable on Youtube. You'll just have to buy the DVD...Nevertheless Murray Head's original has its dubious charms also. I did a jazz dance to this many, many years ago, I can still remember bits of it to this day.
Music lately:

The Little Things by TrinityRoots. We saw them on Sunday night at the Opera House on their 'reunion' tour. They seemed so comfortable with each other - spinning a tune out for ten minutes and then with a collective nod seamlessly bringing it back down to earth. All three of them are wonderful to watch - Warren Maxwell looking calm and a bit spiritual, Riki Gooch's boyish face belying his monster talent on the drums and Rio Hemopo, who looks somehow familiar (I realise he's a musician and all) providing bass in both guitar and voice. They were supported by Isaac Aesili, who is hugely talented in his own right, and Ria Hall, who I'd met before when she emceed the Smokefree Pacifica Beats, and has an absolutely stunning voice. It was a beautiful night.

What's Going On, Marvin Gaye, from the album of the same name. Tim got some Marvin Gaye on vinyl and this song is just up there with the very best of all music, like crumble is among the best of all foods.
Next time: As I said last time, I have some options, so it all depends on what I feel like...by the way, I've tinkered round and added the option of a Facebook 'like' button just below, in case you're all "I don't like change!" I don't even really like Facebook so am a bit unsure about actively letting it invade my blog but wanted to give this 'like' thing a whirl. Considering how rubbish the photos are this week it possibly isn't the best place to start and will probably put any new readers off, but anyway, if you don't know, now you know...

22 October 2010

and all shall fade, the flowers of spring

Whenever Spring rolls round again (I know it's boring to insist how fast the year seems to be moving but: the year seems to be moving fast) there's this flurry of asparagus-loving that goes on in the food-related media. Which is fair enough since it's really delicious and takes its sweet seasonal time getting here and, importantly, its arrival means we're getting closer to summer. Somehow I haven't really embraced asparagus much this year - it's nearly November and this is the first time I've cooked it. I've been travelling round a bit lately and had a few late nights that slow down my ability to get to the vege market, and while "social life > asparagus" looks good on paper...it's good to finally have some in the fridge.

I couldn't fight the inexplicable need to take lots of is-it-isn't-it-focussed photos of it first.

This would have been a lot more dramatic if I'd had more asparagus, but whatever.

The reason I don't have more asparagus up my sleeve to take fancy photos of is because I used half my stemmy green bounty earlier this week in something that Nigella calls "Sweet Potato Supper" - a roasting dish of chopped kumara, stems of asparagus, and chopped bacon, sprinkled with thyme and drizzled with oil then baked for an hour. So good.

With the remainder, once I'd finished snapping it from high and low angles, I made a recipe from the Floriditas cookbook. Floriditas is a restaurant down the road and the sort of place that I find myself gazing wistfully at as I pass. Similar to how, if we were ever at the Warehouse in town, I used to ask salespeople to find out how many Spice Girl polaroids there were left in stock, and how much one cost. When they came back and told me I would then sigh and say "okay, thanks" and just stand there, looking wistful. I don't know why, I guess I was hoping some eccentric millionare would be wandering through the Pukekohe Warehouse and take pity on me or something. Anyway, Floriditas is so, so nice. I've only ever been in there for coffee and cake as it's a bit out of our reach but their elegant cookbook allows it to come closer to home.

It's divided into months, beginning with December, and recipes reflect the seasonal produce and mood of each time of year. It assumes you know a lot - recipes tend to be sparsely worded - and it could have done with a bit of subediting, but there are a lot of beautiful things to be made, gorgeous pictures and a lovely introduction from Julie Clark and Marc Weir, both of whom can often be seen through the windows serving diners. I only really wish that it had more baking recipes in it - but then as their cakes are so amazing maybe they don't want to play all their cards at once.

My main reason for attempting their Asparagus and Tarragon Spaghetti with Garlic Crumbs was that I'd spontaneously bought a giant tarragon plant from those stands selling herbs at the supermarket because it felt like a good idea at the time. This recipe not only helped out with that but also is a decent showcase for the asparagus spears sitting in the fridge and the idea of 'garlic crumbs' was pretty alluring. It's a recipe for two people but you fry the breadcrumbs in 100g butter. It's like they were thinking of me, specifically, when they were writing this.

Asparagus & Tarragon Spaghetti with Garlic Crumbs

Adapted slightly from Morning, Noon and Night, the Floriditas cookbook.

For the crumbs:
1/2 a loaf fresh ciabatta
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
100g butter
2 tsps olive oil

Tear the ciabatta into chunks (I left the crust on, despite being told to remove it) and use a food processor to chop the bread into fine-ish crumbs. I should have done this, but couldn't be bothered getting out the food processor for one job, so instead I hacked and sliced the crumbs into submission with a serrated knife. In a large pan, melt the butter and oil together, then add the crumbs and garlic, stirring regularly till they are golden and crunchy and starting to colour slightly. It might look a bit terrifying to some at this point but the bread absorbs all that butter very quickly. Anything you steal from the pan at any stage will taste amazing.

For the spaghetti:

100g spaghetti (I upped this to 200g for the two of us - 100 seemed too little)
1 bunch asparagus
olive oil
1/2 cup fresh tarragon leaves
4 T freshly grated parmesan
Optional: I added a handful of frozen peas to the pasta during the last five minutes of the cooking time. With all that butter I wanted a bit of extra vegetable.

Cook the spaghetti as per packet instructions in a pot of boiling salted water. Meanwhile, slice the ends off the asparagus then slice the stems diagonally. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and saute the asparagus till it turns bright green and is cooked through and a little darkly crisp in places. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and toss into the pan with the asparagus, mixing gently to disperse (never very easy, to be fair). Add the tarragon leaves, parmesan and crumbs, mixing gently again, and then divide between two plates.

I knew if I made the crumbs first I'd end up eating them all while the pasta was cooking. So, to save the crumbs and also to save on washing up, I sauteed the asparagus first, set it aside, then made the crumbs in that same pan in the last five minutes of the pasta cooking. I thought this was a good thing but it turned out to highlight how my good intentions don't always turn out right. Nothing dramatic, I just forgot that I'd set the asparagus - one of the central, yay-it's-Spring-already ingredients - to the side. It wasn't till I'd finished taking photos and we'd sat down to eat that I remembered.

So there's the asparagus, hastily

It was incredibly good - the grassy, slightly scorched sauteed asparagus against the deeply buttery crumbs and intense garlic flavour. It possibly doesn't sound like much of a meal - bits of vegetable and bread on spaghetti - but it's not only filling, it also tastes somehow luxurious but comforting, with the smell of fried bread as you stir the crumbs...it's a fantastic way to celebrate one of the nicest Spring vegetables, but even if you don't have asparagus you could make this with just peas, or maybe courgettes, to give green juiciness against all that butter and crunch.

Last night Tim and I went to see Sage Francis at San Fransisco Bath House. I didn't know a lot about him till this year when I read an article about him by Tourettes in the late Real Groove magazine. I'm very glad we went along - it's supposed to be the last tour he's ever doing - and whether or not he decides to pick it up later on isn't something you want to count on. We've seen opening act Alphabethead once or twice before and he was as alarmingly dynamic as ever, deftly throwing in So So Modern's Berlin (a couple of the band members were in the audience) and doing things that I can't even describe on the turntables but they looked very complicated. And he seemed really happy to be doing it, which is awesome. Sage Francis appeared draped in a flag bearing the logo of his record label and gave us his fired-up, powerful and occasionally humorous material, (at one point ripping off a toupee) delivered with amazing flow - the way he twisted words and rhymes around rhythms (all in his American accent with its hard R's that Seth Rudetsky would be proud of) was awe inspiring. Tim and I hung back, curious and interested observers, but it was cool to see many in the crowd obligingly throwing his own lyrics back to him whenever he lifted the needle on the track. He finished with the stunning, spine-tingly The Best of Times, which, even if you aren't sold on my description of the evening, I urge you to check out. Then he jumped into the crowd and started shaking hands and taking photos. We left the true fans to it, feeling like we'd seen something seriously special.

Speaking of turntables, Tim got home from work yesterday holding one. We've been together for five years now ('anniversary' sounds a bit uncool but there it is) and he decided to get it as a present for us, even though we don't really 'do' presents. I guess it was more of an excuse than anything, but to be fair he did secretly bus to Petone to one particular second-hand music shop to find me some old Broadway records. It's exciting times - there's all these ancient recordings and they're so cheap. I've been listening to the original Broadway cast recording of Hair more or less non-stop. Not that we're going to replicate our music collection on vinyl, it's more of a case-by-case thing (or for me, a caseload-by-caseload of Broadway thing). Although, now that I've fleeced Real Groovy and Slowboat, it might be time to look further afield...especially if I want Sondheim...

Finally in music-related stuff, my dad's band Apostrophe has their first music video for their song The Skeptic - I'm proud as, especially as I know all the work that went into it. Bear in mind it was all made during whatever spare time was available, with zero funding and relatively unfancy technology. Feel free to check it out by clicking ---> HERE.

Title via: Spring Awakening's finale, Song of Purple Summer. A beautiful song with some gorgeous harmonies. Going more 'thematic' here since there just isn't a wealth of songs about asparagus.
Music lately:
Amongst the Streisand and the Liza and the (unfortunately skippy) Godspell and so on, we picked up this amazing collection of 38 Bessie Smith songs. All gold, but If You Don't, I Know Who Will is one of my favourites.
Typical Girls by The Slits. Ari Up, aspirational woman who formed The Slits when she was only 14, died on the 20th aged 48.
Next time: I am in a rare situation where I've ended up with a ton of things to blog about so it could be anything depending on what I feel like writing about when I next get some spare time - but my money's on that crumble.

19 October 2010

that one treasure, thick golden crust and a layer of cheese

As I said in the sign off for my last post, I'm probably going to have to lay off the Nigella Kitchen recipes before I end up recreating the entire book here, because I'm not sure it would go down well with her camp (that said, there are a squillion food blogs out there and I doubt her camp is watching me. If they are...hi Nigella, you're amazing!).

Anyway, here we are again with Kitchen. While I'm more than happy improvising dinner from what's around, it's nice to look at a recipe and realise you actually have everything and you don't have to make any special trips or put it off or never even consider making it ever (like that cake in How To Be A Domestic Goddess which has about a litre of real maple syrup in it). Nigella's crustless pizza recipe is a nice example of this as I had everything, even the more expensive cheese and chorizo, within reach. Not that there's a lot to it. A little flour. One egg. A cup of milk. Somehow it turns into a seriously good dinner. I wish I'd known about this back when I was a hungry student.

Nigella's description of her Crustless Pizza was a little confusing - I pictured a pile of melted cheese and toppings especially when she says "think of it as a cheese toastie, without the bread". So...just cheese then? I thought it turned out more like a giant pancake myself, but the main point is, it tastes absolutely amazing and comes together when you think you've got nothing in the cupboard.

Crustless Pizza

From Nigella Lawson's Kitchen

Serves 2 - 4 but I wouldn't want to share this with more than one other person.

1 egg
100g plain flour
250ml (1 cup) milk
100g grated cheese
Optional - 50g chorizo, sliced finely
1 round ovenproof pie dish, about 20cm diameter

Set your oven to 200 C. Whisk the egg, milk and flour with a little salt to make a smooth batter. Butter the pie dish, pour in the batter, using a spatula to make sure you get it all, and sprinkle over half the grated cheese. Bake for 30 minutes. While it's baking, get your chorizo ready. Once this time's up, sprinkle over the chorizo slices and remaining cheese and bake for another couple of minutes till it's all melted. Cut into four slices.

I was nervous about it sticking to the tin but using a plastic pie-lifter fish slice thing it came away easily. I did butter it pretty generously though, and if you're worried that you've got a sticker of a pan on your hands maybe you could go to the trouble of cutting out a little circle of baking paper. Or, you could just eat the whole thing straight from the pan, digging it out with a fork... it's what I'd do.

It's not crustless at all, more like sort-of-crusted, but that just sounds bad... The egg, flour and milk forms a deliciously thick, crisped pancake-like base for the cheese and chorizo. I just loved how simple and fast it was and couldn't believe that so few ingredients turned into something so delicious and comforting to eat - but then I just love melted cheese. You could probably replace the milk with soymilk and leave out the cheese to make the base dairy-free, but how to replace the egg is a bit beyond my skills, however if you're a vegan maybe you've already got an artillary of egg-replacements up your sleeve and don't need me to clumsily google them for you. Of course the chorizo doesn't need to be there - although it is delicious, all oily and spicy - it could be replaced or supplemented by any number of things, the obvious one being tomatoes...

Title via: Horse The Band's Crippled By Pizza, just one of their heavy, driven odes to pizza. Even if you don't like their hardcore sound, there's something likeable about an EP devoted to pizza.

Music lately:

Mara TK's the main vocalist for Electric Wire Hustle who we saw earlier on this year electrifying the packed crowd at San Francisco Bath House. Like many local artists, he doesn't stick to just one project, and he's now got some solo stuff happening - check out Run (Away From the Valley of Fear) on his bandcamp site and watch out for more mightiness from him in the form of Taniwhunk, his pending EP.

On Saturday night Tim and I headed to Watusi to check out Eddie Numbers who was down from Auckland. Our flatmates brother was on the decks and while it was well, an intimate set (I guess not many people knew it was happening) it was fun and I'm glad we went. I'd already heard some of his stuff here and there (specifically Cracks In The Evening) and it was cool to see someone talented doing what they love, he even dropped a Wellington-specific freestyle on the spot. I've sadly forgotten the name of the guy who was on stage with him but he had a sweet voice too....
Next time: I made an awesome crumble tonight, the lighting was low and the camera battery ready to fall asleep but I managed to get a few good snaps, I also made this awesome pasta recipe from the Floridita's cookbook...

17 October 2010

she likes her hair to be real orange

I made Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake yesterday and I gotta say, I absolutely love it, for all that I was never massively sold on Jaffas as a kid. Not that we ate lollies all the time, or that I would have turned Jaffas down given the chance. But when the rare money I came across coincided with a trip into town I would tend towards a dollar mixture, or those sherbety fizzy lollies, or, eventually, showing my Spice Girls influnce, chupa chups. What I bought most of all though was Grape Hubba Bubba bubble gum, fifty cents a packet if I remember right. I loved that stuff. The combination of fleeting, fake-grape flavour (a million years removed from the wasp-guarded vine that grew - then withered away - on our wire fence) plus the bonus time-passing activity of blowing bubbles was pretty heady. Especially since casually snapping gum and consuming grape-flavoured things seemed very American, which was pleasing since I was so obsessed with Baby Sitters Club books. Erm, anyway Jaffas were never that high on my list. Although I've since realised that they're probably not the best example of the two flavours anyway, I doubt that any actual oranges or decent chocolate suffered in their making...

Reading through Nigella Lawson's new book Kitchen, which continues to make me want to cook everything from its pages, her Chocolate Orange Loaf called out to me (not literally...though give it time). Plain, dark-brown, oblong, it's nothing fancy to look at, and in fact I was almost about to make her Blondies which has cool stuff like chocolate chunks and condensed milk in it. But then fate, or maybe something way less dramatic, like me just making a different decision, intervened. And I'm not even that fussed because I'll probably make the blondies too before the weekend is out. Either way I'm glad I went the way of the chocolate-orange combination, forgoing my Jaffa-indifference, because the result was pretty stunning.

Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake

From Nigella Lawson's Kitchen

150g soft butter
2 x 15ml tablespoons golden syrup
175g dark brown or muscovado sugar
150g flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
25g best-quality cocoa (I tend to buy Equagold, nothing else seems to taste as good)
2 eggs
zest of 2 oranges and the juice of one

Set your oven to 170 C/340 F and butter and line a loaf tin (or hunt down a silicon one). Beat the butter, golden syrup and sugar together. This is the hardest part, really - it tastes so good. Nigella asks you to alternate the dry ingredients with the eggs but I didn't have the energy and I'd somehow already made a ridiculous mess so I just beat in the eggs - which makes the mixture much lighter and aerated - then folded in the dry ingredients with a metal spoon (more control than a fling-y spatula), followed by the orange zest and juice. Don't fear if it looks a little curdled at any stage. Pour into the tin and bake for around 45 minutes.

I was worried that I'd overcooked mine - it looked a little 'solid' round the edges. I considered doing my usual cake-rescue method of making up a syrup to pour over, but after curiously slicing off a sliver, it turned out the loaf was just fine. Better than just fine, even.

The orange flavour isn't overpowering, more fragrantly suggested than in-your-face, but what's there is completely delicious. The citrus and the caramelly golden syrup seem to pick up something good in the dark, dark cocoa, giving the cake an almost gingerbread intensity of flavour even though it's very light-textured. It's seriously good with a cup of tea and I reckon it would be amazing spread with cream cheese but unfortunately I didn't have any in the fridge to test this theory.

I'm not sure how long this would last for but it seems to be one of those Bernadette Peters-style cakes which just keeps getting better and better as the days go by.

Title via: The Flaming Lips' sweet tune She Don't Use Jelly from Transmissions From The Satellite Heart. Which cavalierly rhymes "store" with "orange". Whatcha gonna do?

Music lately:

I've been on a bit of a Sondheim kick, although it's more like a Rockettes kickline than a solitary burst of commitment...I've been listening to so many interpretations of his music on youtube lately that linking to just one is a bit misleading but feel free to enjoy the late Eartha Kitt's I'm Still Here from Follies.

Yesterday we bought Aloe Blacc's new album Good Things, and the title doesn't lie. It is a bit gloomy towards women but if that's the experiences he had prior to writing these songs, well I guess fair enough, and it's nicely balanced by the lump-in-throat inducing Mama Hold My Hand. The bouncy, catchy I Need A Dollar would be his best-known track but I love his slow-paced, sultry cover of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean, which isn't actually even on the album. Go find Good Things, it's very easy to like.


Next time: I have so much Nigella going on right now that I'm probably going to have to hold up before I end up reproducing her entire book here on this blog. I've also made and loved her Apple Cinnamon muffins and crustless pizza and so they'll no doubt end up on here soon.

12 October 2010

bangled tangled spangled and spaghetti-ed

Firstly, sorry for the lack of blogging over the last week - I've been busy all over the place and was basically out of the house every single night. Presuming the lack of updates concerns people, I'll try not to let it happen too often.

I was very, very lucky to be sent a copy of Nigella Lawson's brand new book Kitchen which I've finally been able to spend some quality time with. The book fell open on the page with a recipe for Spaghetti with Marmite. I know it sounds like a kinda weird combination but as soon as I saw it, I was reminded of the million marmite and cheese sandwiches I must have eaten as a kid before ballet classes. Well, it was either that, or a Big Ben pie, or a 2-minute noodle or one of those dusty pasta snacks - if it could be microwaved, I would eat it. My specialty was stacking up about four pieces of white, heavily buttered toast bread, all spread with marmite and layered with slices of cheese, then microwaving it till the cheese was melted and bubbling fiercely in places. Marmite was my staple but sometimes I'd swap it for tomato sauce to make a kind of low-rent lasagne. With that in mind, the idea of stirring Marmite into pasta doesn't scare me. Not much could, after that kind of after-school snack.

Anyway, Nigella attributes this recipe to Anna Del Conte and compares it to the Italian practice of spaghetti tossed with butter and a stock cube, so with that in mind this dish is practically high-class cuisine.

Spaghetti with Marmite

From Nigella Lawson's Kitchen

375g dried spaghetti
50g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon Marmite, or more, to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling, salted water. When it's nearly done, melt the butter in a small pan and add the Marmite and a tablespoon of the pasta cooking water, mixing well. I don't know if NZ Marmite is a bit special but it didn't blend too easily - I had to use a mini whisk and stir hard to get it mixing. Although I'm sure it doesn't really matter too much. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the water, and pour the Marmite mixture over the top, stirring carefully to mix it through and adding a little of the reserved water if needed. Serve topped with plenty of parmesan.

Parmesan is too expensive - or at least, it's one of those things that I always set out to buy, but then can't bring myself to pay upwards of $7 for a tiny triangle of yellow matter. So I just grated regular cheese using the smaller holes to make it look fancier.

Tim reckoned I was too cautious with the Marmite but once it's done it's done - it's not like I could smear more on the cooked pasta once the sauce was distributed. So with that in mind, don't be too nervous with the "antipodean ointment" as Nigella typically and charmingly over-names it.

It tastes fantastic - but then buttery, slightly salty pasta will, right? It was admittedly a bit unusual on the tastebuds but overall fantastic. That savoury, salty-sweetness of Marmite is a perfect match with salty, rich butter (as years of experience have taught me) which is absorbed by the starchy pasta and only enhanced by the topping of cheese. Of course, you're welcome to use Vegemite in this recipe - I hate the stuff but when you take a step back they're both pretty freaky, and I can see how it's just a case of personal taste.

For what seems like the first time, in Kitchen Nigella acknowledges that not everyone sweats money like her. She talks of cheaper cuts and substitutions and of her luxury of choice. She also seems a little defensive of any sugar content in places, but I think people just like to look for what they want to see - she has a huge variety of recipes in her books. So, it's interesting charting the development of Nigella through her books, but this one is just as exciting as any of her others - the sort of thing where I flick through and think "I want to cook EVERYTHING! I love you Nigella!" Like the more grown-up equivalent of listening to Mariah Carey and wondering how she manages to put your feelings into song form.

So as I said, it's been a busy time. Cool for me, this busyness included seeing two musicals and flying home to catch up with my family. Last Tuesday I saw the Toi Whakaari second year students' production of Stephen Sondheim's Company. I've been listening to this musical on high rotation recently so it was an awesomely awesome coincidence that I suddenly got to see it in real life. Overall, the performance was polished, sharp, clever and beautifully acted and sung - I absolutely loved it and wished they'd had a longer run.

On Saturday morning Tim and I flew up to Auckland to see 42nd Street with my family. Tim and I caught the shuttle into Queen Street then walked to Ponsonby Road to observe. Unfortunately, when Mum, Dad and my brother met up with us we somehow intuitively picked what had to be the worst cafe on the whole road for lunch, but that aside it was awesome to see everyone again, considering I hadn't been up since RENT in April. 42nd Street was brilliant - although - the plot is definitely not as sharp as it seemed to me when I saw it nearly 20 years ago...the tap dancing and the singing was wonderful though, and it was great to see Derek Metzeger as Julian Marsh when I'd seen him about 15 years ago in Me and My Girl. The music is amazing and has so many brilliant lyrics that it makes me wonder how the dialogue got to be so bad. Fortunately it wasn't long between tap dances.

It was an awesome 24 hours at home - five seconds in the local supermarket and I'd run into half the whanau, found out that my aunty had got the most votes and was elected to the local council, and had my plans rejigged to take in a dinner quickly organised at my Nana's. The next day we took my cousin (age 7) round visiting even more people, before zooming back to the airport. I'd been up in Auckland already that week for meetings so I was pretty zonked by the time I got back to Wellington - but nothing that some spaghetti with Marmite can't fix...


Title from: The musical Hair's title song. Amazing as revival-star Gavin Creel is in so many ways, I do seriously love the way James Rado says "gimme" in the original Broadway cast recording with such conviction. Thinking about Hair has reminded me of something else I hate about the film adaptation - they cast Annie Golden, who has such a sweet voice, and didn't get her to sing by herself once.

Music lately:

Southside of Bombay, What's The Time Mr Wolf? Last week news came that Ian Morris had died. His was one of those names I'd seen and heard around a lot but it was admittedly not until people began to share their thoughts that I became fully aware of his contribution to New Zealand music. Originally a member of Th'Dudes, he went on to produce some of our best music, including this song by Southside of Bombay, a band with a name that I've always liked because of its geographic relatability to where I grew up. A sunny tune with a questioning chorus that gets stuck in the mind....

Lullaby of Broadway from 42nd Street. Jerry Orbach (aka the dad in Dirty Dancing and the old guy in Law and Order) is typically fantastic originating the role of Julian Marsh on Broadway - this song is the first chance he gets to sing in the musical, at the start of Act 2, and he's given plenty to work with, till it builds into yet another enormous song-and-dance number.
Next time: Definitely more of the same Nigella book - hard to tear myself away from it.

3 October 2010

don't have time for things unsaid, for baking bread

Stumbled across Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course book recently with the opportunity to take it home - someone was having a cleanout-of-stuff. While I was initially pretty taken with Ms Smith gazing mildly out at the reader from the cover picture while holding an egg aloft (I'm not even exaggerating), a quick flick through didn't really show me anything hugely exciting (not even her recipe for ox kidneys) and my cookbook-shelf is both narrow and overflowing already - to have a book I wasn't completely in love with lurking round trying to fit in would just be annoying. So I left it. But not without photocopying one recipe first.

Her Soured Cream Soda Bread made significant eye contact with me - I love the Jilly Cooperish way she calls it 'soured cream' which somehow sounds posher and more petulant than regular sour cream (not to mention "bicarbonate" which Nigella often calls it too, is this a British thing? I remember seeing it once in a book when I was younger and didn't realise it was the same as baking soda, I pronouced it "bicker-bonnet"...anyway). Soda Bread is a traditionally Irish creation, and according to Wikipedia, it all kicked off when baking soda was introduced to Ireland in 1840. It doesn't indicate who specifically had it in their head that what the Irish really needed in their lives was a boatload of raising agent pulling into their harbour, but nevertheless they ended up with it and this is what they cleverly made of it.

Like a giant scone, soda bread is quickly made and benefits from minimal handling and fast eating. Delia's recipe is a bit unusual in that it uses sour cream instead of butter, and while I'm normally like "BUTTER WHERE IS IT WHY ISN'T THERE MORE IN FRONT OF ME" I was also a bit interested in what the sour cream would bring to the table.

Soured Cream Soda Bread

450g/1lb wholewheat flour (I used white, it's all I had)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
150mls sour cream
150mls water (plus maybe a little extra)

Set your oven to 220 C/425 F. Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly, whisk together the sour cream and water and pour into the dry ingredients. Stir together with a spatula, adding a little more water if needed. Carefully, lightly knead, turn it onto a baking tray lined with paper or a silicon sheet. Slash a cross in the top with a sharp knife and bake for 30 mins. Cover with foil if it darkens too much. Cool a little first before eating - this will help it slice easier.

Delia very coolly tells you to knead the dough. What she doesn't tell you is that it's difficult to work with, to the point where you half-expect it to don a feathery leotard and insist Miley Cyrus-like that it can't be tamed. By the time I'd finished attempting to shape it into something that resembled any shape - let alone the "round ball" with "the surface smooth" that she talks of - there was dough clinging to my arms and hair and I looked like the guy at the end of the Comfortably Numb segment of The Wall. Once you've got that out of the way though it's delicious stuff - the soda and sour cream giving it a distinctively light, slightly tangy tang that goes mighty well with the salty creaminess of butter. It's quite a dense loaf but - and I don't know if this was just because I didn't get the top smooth - quite crumbly round the edges. It goes quick - Tim and I basically ate all but a small remaining shoulder of the loaf for dinner with cheese, hot sauce and gherkins.

The next day a person I work with handed me a recipe they'd photocopied from a newspaper for American-Irish Soda Bread, which is apparently what happened to Soda Bread once people started arriving en masse from Ireland to American and looked distinctively sweeter, eggier and fruitier than its ancestor-recipe. I very unhelpfully left the recipe behind on the day I was determined to make it and managed to cobble together a rough recipe from what I could remember plus a bit of online research. Ended up with a completely different finished result to the previous bread - but still seriously delicious in its own way. Of course I didn't write down the recipe I came up with so what follows is me trying to remember something I've already forgotten once before - you've been warned.

Irish-American Soda Bread

4 1/2 cups plain flour
3 tablespoons sugar
50g butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (I just happened to have these, but leave them out if you don't)
70g currants, golden sultanas or just plain sultanas
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Set your oven to 200 C. In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour, then stir in the sugar, baking soda, seeds and fruit. Make a well in the centre and crack in the eggs, pour in the liquids and using a spatula, carefully draw it all together without overmixing to create a soft dough. This stuff really can't be kneaded, so get a baking dish - the sort you'd make brownies in - and either sit a silicon sheet inside it or get put a piece of baking paper in it extending over both sides - and dump the dough into it. Dust the top with excess flour and try cutting a cross in it, although it probably won't show at the end. Bake for around 30 minutes, although keep an eye on it - might need less or more time.

This is completely different to Delia's recipe - it spreads out into an enormous loaf with a golden crust. The strangely anise-like caraway seeds pop up occasionally to stick in your teeth but give a sophisticated flavour to the loaf while they're at it. The relaxed sweetness and dried fruit make it seem like a morning-with-cup-of-tea kind of creation, and it toasts well in a sandwich press or under the grill (and then spread with butter and honey!) which is just as well because it loses its springiness quick.

Tim was out on Tuesday night when I made this, and it wasn't till a full 24 hours later that he tried it. To be fair, the loaf was most definitely on its way to stale-ville. His reaction was something to the effect of "Mmmm, this isn't dry at ALL!" and I replied "Well if you hadn't abandoned me and my unleavened bread," and wasn't sure where to go from there and even though neither of us were being overly serious I started laughing anyway because that's not the sort of thing you get to yell at someone every day of the week.

Speaking of Tim, he and I saw Exit Through The Gift Shop on Friday night at Paramount cinema, it was in the Film Festival earlier this year and as time went by it racked up considerably positive reviews from people whose opinions I take notice of. Luckily Paramount has it on offer because we completely missed it first time round. It's directed by difficult-to-pin-down artist Bansky and follows Thierry Guetta, a man who feverishly films everything around him, and his attempt to...well I don't know, just get by and enjoy himself. Naive that I am, it didn't even occur to me that it would be a hoax but theories are scooting round the internet from various reviewers that it's all a giant fake. I don't really care - it's brilliant to watch whether it's true or not, and if it comes to a neighbourhood near you I definitely recommend it.
Title via: the incredible Idina Menzel singing Life of the Party from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party. It's hard to talk about this musical without mentioning the rest of the amazing cast (Julia Murney, Taye Diggs, Brian D'arcy James) but this song is a big moment for Idina alone in the show. Feel free to humour me (but benefit yourself greatly!) by listening to the shinier album version as well as viewing footage of her actually performing it hard. The ending is mind-blowing.
Music lately:

Cold War by Janelle Monae from her album The Archandroid. I love the urgency, and how the words in the chorus are repeated in different ways with emphasis on different parts, and also the whole thing. She's doing well for herself, but how this lady isn't the best-selling, most-awarded artist right now (along with Idina Menzel, naturally) is beyond me.

Benny Tones feat Mara TK, Firefly from Chrysalis - silky soulful local goodness.
Next time: I did not get ANY baking done this weekend. Partly because I ended up being kinda busy. But also for a very stupid reason, which I'll probably tell you about again next time anyway, but the short version: I got the new Nigella Lawson cookbook, was so excited about my weekend revolving around it, and then I left it at work. D'OH! And next week I have something on every single night so it's even further out of my reach. But the next thing I make in the kitchen will absolutely be from it.