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.