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...

13 November 2010

and if you don't want to be down with me, you don't want to pick from my apple tree

I made these Apple and Cinnamon muffins ages ago - they were the second thing I tried from Nigella Lawson's book Kitchen after the Spaghetti with Marmite (which got slated in a column in the local paper - any Dominion Post readers out there, don't disregard its deliciousness! I guess that was one opinion, and mine is merely another, but still.) I don't know why it's taken me so long to blog about them, but...here they are.

I do agree with Nigella's emphatic and continued suspicion of the muffins you run into in many cafes and supermarkets. What they lack in tenderness and flavour, they make up for in height and overpricedness. It could be easy to dislike the concept of muffins altogether if your main experience of them is handing over $4.50 for a mountain of foam mattress sprinkled in chocolate chips, somehow dry and oily simulataneously. Maybe you like this, or your experience of shop muffins is better than mine. All good.

However home-made muffins, while less uniform in shape, are very easy to make and as long as you don't over-mix them, pretty well guaranteed to be extremely delicious. I realise apple and cinnamon muffins might sound like the obvious-est of the obvious but this recipe of Nigella's is incredibly good - dense and sweet with honey and yoghurt and textured with chunks of apple and almonds. And it probably costs less to make a whole dozen than it would to buy just one from the supermarket.

Nigella uses spelt flour in this recipe instead of regular flour, which makes them more acceptable for some people who eat wheat-free, but not necessarily those who are gluten-free - it's a little complicated but go with what you know is best for you, I guess. I bought a bag of spelt flour a year ago and never ended up using it so it was nice to have the opportunity to try it out. These muffins are so full of flavour that I couldn't say they were distinctively spelt-ish, they just came out looking and tasting like muffins should. You could definitely just use regular plain flour rather than rushing out to find spelt.

Apple and Cinnamon Muffins

From Nigella Lawson's Kitchen

2 apples
250g spelt flour (or just plain flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
125g brown sugar
125ml honey (1/2 a cup)
60ml (1/4 cup) natural yoghurt
125 ml oil (1/2 a cup - and I use Rice Bran oil)
2 eggs
75g natural almonds, roughly chopped.

Set your oven to 200 C and line your muffin tin with papers.

Chop the apples into small dice, leaving out the core of course, and put to one side. Whisk together the brown sugar, honey, yoghurt, oil and eggs in a bowl.

Tip in the apples, flour, baking powder, half the almonds, and one teaspoon of the cinnamon into this and gently fold it together with a spatula. Try not to overmix - I tend to lift and shift the batter rather than do a full on stirring motion, if that makes any sense at all.

Spoon evenly amongst the muffin tin, and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon and almonds, plus a little more brown sugar if you like. Bake for 20 minutes. Let them stand 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

While the comfort-food element of cinnamon and apple obviously works, the almonds, growing smokily nutty under the oven's heat, and honey, complementing the diced apple's clean but layered sweetness, keep these muffins from being predictable. They take minutes to throw together but stay good for ages in a sealed container, if anything becoming even more delicious with time (although that could be a product of imagination and anticipation, waking up thinking "OHBOY a delicious muffin for a mid-morning snack.")

In fact, one of the excellent things about muffins is that they're really just cake, but you can eat them any time of day including breakfast, without getting strange looks - in the sort of way that a pavlova or ice cream might. Not that avoiding strange looks should be your main motivation in life, not at all! It's just a nice thought...breakfast cake.

Tim and I went out to Petone yesterday and at the record shop partway down Jackson Street, I found the original Broadway cast recording of Company on vinyl. I didn't even think it existed in New Zealand - considering the juggernaut that is Amazon.com only has about 6 copies, one for US$90...and now for relative pennies I've got Elaine Stritch barking "she's tall enough to be your mother" as people originally heard her the first time round in 1970. I had to keep taking it out of the bag and looking at it on the bus back into the city in case I'd just done a really good job of imagining it. But it exists. It's damn exciting.

Speaking of, I am seriously anticipational about Tiger Translate on the 26th of November, if you're in Wellington around this time you should most definitely give it your time of day. Even though I feel like I don't quite have a grip on what it is, there's a whole lot of creativity that'll go down and there will be some amazing locals performing. We've been lucky to witness many of them in action already over the last year or so, with their powers combined who knows what kind of fresh mayhem will occur. TrinityRoots' stunner drummer Riki Gooch, Julien Dyne and Parks who we saw just last week onstage with Ladi6, Homebrew, whose lyric-memorising male fans still astound months after we saw them with David Dallas at Watusi, Adi Dick who despite being in a squillion different music projects we've never actually seen live, the mighty intriguing Orchestra of Spheres, the amazing Electric Wire Hustle who we saw back in February and have since been galloping round the globe, Tommy Ill, Alphabethead whose happy style we love, Scratch 22, Fried Chicken Sound System, The Jewel School plus particularly special guest DJ Zooloo from Mongolia. Tim and I are going to be there and if you get a move on the first 500 people to register online get free tickets - not sure if this has filled up but either way check out their website for more info.

While I'm talking to Wellington, can anyone tell me where to get decent garlic? It seems like even the expensive stuff from the supermarket, with the pretty purple-tinged papery casing is all chomped and denty, gets green shoots quickly, and burns the tongue like raw onion. I guess people selling garlic have no way of knowing what's underneath the stuff you peel off, but I'm also guessing you can't return a bulb once you've bought it. Sure, there's the mulched up stuff in jars, but for those times you want whole cloves...?
Title via: Erykah Badu and her song Appletree from the beautiful album Baduizm. Such an amazing woman - I wish she'd tour on down to New Zealand.
Music lately:
I Learned The Hard Way, by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, from the album of the same title. Now there's an amazing woman who is coming to New Zealand, and luckily for us we were able to buy tickets. Can't wait.
Obviously, have got Company doing many revolutions right now. Can't get enough no.
Next time: I am on a prawn high right now, watch out.

8 November 2010

if you want my gravy, pepper my ragu

I guess the food I grew up on wasn't fancy. Things like 2-minute noodles, boiled potatoes, microwaved frozen mixed veges were standard. I've probably said it before, but for a long time we mostly ate just microwaved food (sure, Mum had this amazing golden syrup sponge pudding recipe, but there's definitely a reason why 'Microwave Gourmet' cookbooks are always over-represented at op shops and book fairs). Anyway, we ate just fine, and I should count myself lucky to have got regular meals anyway. But I wonder if it's a product of my non-fancy upbringing, plus maybe some general deep-seated New Zealand backwards-in-coming-forwards-ness that I sometimes feel a bit bashful with fancy sounding recipes. Just realised I've said fancy about twelve times now. Anyway, the reason I got to thinking about this was that I have a recipe for Ragu Di Piselli - Italian for Pea Ragu - and for some reason my mind automatically went "well I'll just call that peas and tomatoes". Why? False modesty? At what? It's not like I have to worry about Tim not eating his dinner because it doesn't sound familiar (ha!). It's not like you readers can't handle some culinary Italian language.

Really, you can call this what you like, although it's nice to acknowledge the lineage of something, food or not. I found this recipe in a Cuisine magazine (September 2005) and if nothing else, the Italian name cleverly masks the fact that this sauce is just peas and tomatoes. Maybe the sort of person who would sneer at an unrecognisable name for their dinner would also sneer when they found out that their dinner largely consists of two vegetables. Maybe these people can deal with it and learn something - it's seriously delicious. From my own experience, Italian food can be aggressively simple. It's good to just go with it, rather than be nervous that what you're serving isn't 'enough'. (as I learned with the Peaches In Muscat back in February.)

Ragu Di Piselli/Pea Ragu/Peas and Tomatoes

From the September 2005 issue of Cuisine magazine

50g butter
1 T olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
100mls white wine
200g frozen peas (or fresh, but frozen is mostly how they arrive)
400g can cherry tomatoes or whole peeled tomatoes
One teaspoon tomato paste
Salt, pepper, parsely and Parmesan to serve

Melt half the butter with the olive oil in a pan. Saute the chopped onion till translucent, pour in the wine and allow it to fizz up and evaporate slightly. Now, add the peas and tomatoes. If you've got cherry tomatos, handle them carefully so they stay whole, but if you've got bigger tomatoes mash them up. Add the tomato paste, simmer on a low heat until the sauce thickens slightly. Stir in the remaining butter and serve.

  • Canned cherry tomatoes are getting easier to find. But the usual whole or chopped ones are fine.
  • One teaspoon of tomato paste is an annoying measurement. If you don't have any, just leave it out.
  • I've made this before with sake when I didn't have any white wine. It was awesome.
  • I added some frozen soybeans along with the frozen peas here.
  • If you just use olive oil and leave out the Parmesan (which I hardly ever have anyway) you've got yourself a vegan dinner. If you want to take things in the other direction, chorizo or bacon could be added.
  • The recipe apparently serves six, but...nahh. This amount fed two of us.
  • I served it on a huge pillowy pile of polenta, which I'm a bit obsessed with, but pasta is obviously good and what the original recipe recommends.

Simple, sure, but also amazingly delicious. The tomato becomes sweet and soft and intensified, the peas give texture and bite, while the wine imparts a mysteriously good flavour once it makes contact with the hot pan. Something about the vibrant colours and juicy tomatoes means that it doesn't feel like you're just eating two vegetables stirred together (a bit like the soup from last time). Whatever you want to call it, this dinner can be made entirely from stuff at the back of your cupboard and freezer, which is really awesome for when you want to make dinner but feel like there's nothing around. Sometimes I do run out of frozen peas and canned tomatoes...that's not fun.

The conference last week up in Auckland went really well - my presentation bit was hitch-less, I learned heaps and I had an amazing lychee shake at a Vietnamese restaurant in Panmure that I really want to recreate. I got back on Friday night absolutely exhausted though, so even though I had grand plans to head out again, I ended up quickly faceplanting, unfortunately missing the fireworks. Luckily people round Wellington have interpreted this as "Guy Fawkes Season" rather than sticking to the actual night itself, and so there have been plenty of lit-up skies. I love fireworks (and still have a soft spot for sparklers) so it was a shame to miss the big show on the waterfront. The weather on Friday night was particularly brutal though, so I was happy as to just flag it and go to bed. Either way, it felt so, so good to be back in Wellington.

Title via: The cast recording of Chicago (Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, Jerry Orbach, hello!). The 2002 film soundtrack I can hear in its entirety just by closing my eyes thanks to an aunty who played it a lot (something I can totally understand.) From it comes the beautiful Queen Latifah's portrayal of Matron Mama Morton, whose big number When You're Good To Mama is where this title comes from.

Music lately:

I know I mentioned her last week, but whatever. On Saturday night we saw Ladi6, back in New Zealand after some significant creative time in Berlin, at San Francisco Bath House. She was amazing and I wrote some thoughts here at 100s and 1000s. Her punchy ode Like Water from new album The Liberation Of... has been rippling persistently through my mind ever since then.

Gomez, Bring it On, from their album Liquid Skin. I'm not sure how consistent these guys are but there's a lot of amazing stuff on this album - maybe I'm a bit biased as I listened to it a lot back when I was in England - I love the mix of layered, bluesy sounds and voices.
Next time: I'll probably start panicking about how close to Christmas it is. I've found some photos from the first recipe I made from Nigella Kitchen (apple cinnamon muffins) so I should really blog about them sooner rather than later...

2 November 2010

sunshine is a friend of mine...

I've got about a squillion things to get done tonight (including "make your own muesli" "watch the rest of The Simpsons season 4" "PACK YOUR BAG ALREADY" and "have an early night so you can get better") because I'm flying up to Auckland for a conference for the next three days...and I've been annoyingly sick for ages now, a rotating cast of germs is using my body as a stage, with coughing, sneezing, headaches, feeling weak and insomnia all starring. So to get it crossed off the list I'm trying to make this post relatively succinct. I don't even know what the word for this is but I'm also trying to avoid that situation where I'll write a sentence then delete half of it then rewrite it then delete it all and repeat that over again till I suspect I have actually got no thoughts at all about the soup.

The soup in question, luckily, stirs up heaps of thoughts, even though it's more or less just corn and capsicums and water. For all that Nigella Lawson barely has to murmer an item's name to send armies of viewers hunting tirelessly through supermarkets for pomegranates and sugar roses and and tiny whisks (surprisingly useful), hot damn does she have some economically and nutritiously sound recipes.

I love corn in all its various alter egos, from the canned creamed corn on toast that was a regular weekend breakfast as a kid, to the softest polenta (where I'll amuse myself by feeding it with butter which melts into the grains - both yellow, so it's deliciously difficult to notice the saturation point). Corn fritters can be stodgy and damp and gross, but done well it's easy to see how they managed to become as ubiquitous as camembert and cranberry paninis (now that I never liked) in cafe cabinets. I don't think I'd ever really had corn soup before, but I wish I'd had this recipe a few years back when Tim and I were trying to scrape together an existence while scraping the mould off our student flat's walls as it's a cheap, nutritious and satisfying meal (let's be honest though, we sent ourselves off to university, no-one forced that pennilessness on our relatively comfortable lives). Not to mention this soup is aggressively cheerful to look at, if you subconsciously associate 'yellow' with 'happiness' like I guess I must do. Well, Nigella does it too, calling this 'Sunshine Soup'.

Sunshine Soup

From Nigella Lawson's Kitchen

1 yellow pepper
1 orange pepper
2 teaspoons garlic oil
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock, whether homemade, powder, cube or concentrate, preferably decent stuff
500g frozen sweetcorn kernels

Set your oven to 250 C. Cut out the core and seeds from the peppers and then slice thickly. Lay them on a baking sheet, drizzle with the oil and roast for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the stock to the boil, add the corn and bring back to the boil again, simmering for about 20 minutes.

Remove about half a cupful of corn for later, then blitz the rest, in batches if necessary, along with the peppers in a food processor. Serve with the reserved corn stirred back into it.

Because of the starchy, fibrous nature of corn this will never turn into a velvety puree, but it's worth digging out the food processor for, otherwise all you've really got is corn floating in water. Leaving that visual aside, this is delicious stuff - deep bowls full of golden, fragrant sweet flavour. It is surprisingly hearty despite, as I said, not having much to it.

Speaking of, that's all there is to this tonight.

Title via: Baltimore's sparkily dance-tastic Rye Rye and her MIA-chorussing track Sunshine.

Music lately that I'm too tired to talk about properly:

Bang Bang, new single from the amazing Ladi6, who has just released her new album The Liberation Of... More on her later, as we're seeing her live at San Fransisco Bath House on Saturday night. Can't wait.

While we're local, Homebrew's 12'' Last Week arrived in the mail today in all its bright blue vinyl glory. I'm not sure if "hard to dislike" is a proper compliment. These are seriously enjoyable sounds from a master of words and familiar stories. Love it.
Next time: I better be better, I'll definitely have more time on my hands and words in my head, and after all this dinner it's probably about time for some baking...