31 January 2011

you're not into making choices, wicked witches, poppy fields...

So, I recently became in possession of 1kg of poppyseeds.

From Moore Wilson's grocery store of course, and while they're not all-bulk, I guess they've seen enough people come and go to only stock their poppyseeds writ large and behind the counter. Ask for them by name. I only wanted some to make the dressing for this bean salad, and assumed rakishly that I could use up the rest with ease. But, like some cruel, curve-of-the-earth perspective trick, whenever I walked towards the bag it seemed to grow bigger and bigger, poppyseeds regenerating themselves when removed by the incremental spoonful.

Actually it's not as dramatic as that. There is in fact...no drama. The bag of poppyseeds can sit pretty much forever on the shelf waiting to be used. It's just that their plentiful existence has caused me to consider them pretty closely, and what I could do with at least some of them.

Unfortunately a perfunctory search of recipes didn't serve up anything too inspiring. And then I wondered, as I always wonder, if they'd make a decent ice cream, especially since I had some lemons lurking round that Tim's mum had given us. Should I do a custard based ice cream? A semifreddo thing? That would've meant buying ingredients, and we're trying to save money by using up things we have in the cupboard. What I did have however, as always, was canned coconut milk. And so...that's all I used. I didn't even make a coconut milk custard, like I do for my Chocolate Ice Cream recipe. I guess it's a slight stretch to call this ice cream now, but it's a stretch I'm going to make. It sets so solid that all you can do is cut it with a knife like that's what you meant to do in the first place, and it's truly delicious.

I still have a little Cocoa Sorbet left in the freezer but decided that two ice creams on the hop would be practical. I can't remember how I justified it, I think it was something like "I love ice cream!"

Lemon Poppyseed Ice Cream

2 x 400ml cans plain, full-fat coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
Juice and zest of 2-3 lemons (depending on the juiciness)
3 tablespoons poppyseeds

In a large pan, gently heat the coconut milk and sugar, stirring, till the sugar has dissolved. Continue to gently heat and stir for another five minutes then remove from the heat and allow to cool a bit.

Stir in the lemon juice and zest, and pour the mixture into a loaf tin (depending on how much lemon juice you used and the size of your loaf tin there may be a bit too much mixture) Carefully - don't spill it like I did - place in the freezer. Allow to partially freeze, then stir it briskly with a fork or small whisk, then stir in the poppyseeds (at this stage, so they don't all sink to the bottom) and return it to the freezer. To serve, cut thick slices.

I love this ice cream. Firstly it's so easy to make. Just stir and pour. It has a popsicle-fresh, clean sweet lemony goodness, a thick and icy but still pleasing texture, and the nuttishly flavoursome poppyseeds delivered lovingly to your mouth in each spoonful. The coconut flavour isn't overly pronounced, but whatever you do recognise will only be enhanced by the other ingredients. And if you have poppyseeds around already, and you're lucky enough to either have a lemon tree or a lemon benefactor, then it's a very, very inexpensive recipe. You could always leave the poppyseeds out and use a mix of lemon and orange juice and zest. Toasted coconut stirred through instead of the poppyseeds might work too. Play round and see what you like, although I do recommend first just trying this recipe itself - the summery, zingy lemon with the poppyseeds is pretty lovely.

My poppyseed adventuring didn't end there, as, deciding on 'both' instead of 'which', I also made a lemon poppyseed cake (using this recipe here). Was it overkill? Most definitely not.

The very opposite of the ice cream, this cake is soft, buttery, and lush, the lemon flavour absorbed into the golden grit of the polenta and almonds to produce something wildly good. Pictured here is, sadly, the last piece.

Tim and I had an amazing night at Aloe Blacc's concert on Thursday - he was an absolute diamond performer with a stupefyingly lovely voice and hugely comfortable stage presence. We took some photos, which you can see here and here. Tonight we're going to the Wellington Laneway show which should be fun as, and if you're in Wellington and want tickets they're available for purchase here.

In our travel plan developments...we bought tickets to see Wicked in London! It sorta feels like the only appropriate response is a youthful OMG.

Title via: the song of the same name from the late Jonathan Larson's musical 30/90, which I was able to see performed by a local theatre group a couple of years ago. It was fairly thrilling then, so one can only speculate what the Lear Jet-voiced Raul Esparza would have been like in the lead role in his day.

Music lately:

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Round and Round from Before Today, strangely alluring with its "na na naaah" opening deceptively evoking the sort of music that plays when you're put on hold on the phone, swirling into something uplifting and exciting and...swirly. He'll be at Laneway too, so.

Sadly not at Laneway or anywhere near my line of vision, is Idina Menzel, whose album I Stand - which still feels recent-ish - became three years old the other day. You go, Idina. While her debut Still I Can't Be Still remains a flawless highpoint for me, I Stand is fantastic and I hope she continues to write music. And that I actually see her sing one day for real.
Next time: I made some gingerbread cut-out cookies but it has been heavy on the sweet things lately so I might instead do the pasta I made tonight with a raw tomato sauce. Either way: delicious.

26 January 2011

cream (get the money) dollar dollar bills y'all

In case you missed out on the really-exciting-for-us news outlined in my last post, Tim and I are going on holiday in April! To London, Berlin, Krakow, Warsaw, and LA! I've been to the first four of those before but that was many, many years ago, so if you know something good we should do, or if you'd like to be so kind as to extend us a couch for the night on account of how nice we seem (seeming is believing), or just have some insider knowledge like: "there's a new kind of currency!" or "You mean you haven't had your wombat vaccination?" etc, we'd be hugely obliged if you'd share it.

I guess this is a pretty exciting thing in our fairly mellow lives but I'll try to not talk about it to the point where you want to hoof your computer out a window in despair. I realised the other day that because this is our first holiday together and because it's such a big deal to us, we sometimes dope-ily end up projecting our feelings of extreme happiness onto other people, like we're all in this together and every single bank teller and travel-centre person and colleague and email contact are singing and dancing in jaunty formation like one of those TV ads where that sort of thing happens.

But bear with me. Till we actually leave the country we're trying to spend as little money as possible, which means just buying bare minimum stuff (milk, soymilk, eggs, bread, frozen peas, Dust-Bix for Tim, oats for me, butter for twenty...still) and trying to get creative with what already exists in the cupboard. We're really lucky that we live so close to a good vege market so all our greens can come from there for a cheeky tenner. As I said last time, we've done it before, but this time there's something really fun to look forward to at the end.

Not everyone's a food-loving food hoarder like me, so we're definitely going to do okay - considering I'd absentmindedly bought two separate kilo bags of bulghur wheat. For example. I had this bottle of cream that had been leftover from when we had friends over for dinner, and half a bag of blackberries taking up space in the freezer. Neither ingredients are overly expensive but admittedly they're also not necessarily the sort of things you'd always have mooching round waiting to be used. Unless you're like me.
The cream needed using and a pudding - specifically, a Fool - came to mind. While the blackberries themselves could've sat round happily in the freezer more or less forever, the idea of a Fool wasn't leaving my brain. By the way a fool is just a bowl of whipped cream with stuff (usually fruit) folded through it. Then eaten. It's a simple, but bold concept.
This recipe is very, very easy. It uses but three ingredients. And for a moment, you get to pretend you're in one of those TV ads where mixed berries and and a dairy product fly through the air at each other in slow motion to indicate how hardcore-ily fruity and authentic their product is.
Blackberry Fool For Two
1-2 cups frozen blackberries (I specify a vague quantity because I like to walk past the bowl and eat the sugary berries while they wait, so it pays to have back-up...)
1/2 cup sugar
1 300ml bottle chilled cream (or around 1 cup cream plus a splash more)
Place your berries in a bowl with the sugar, and leave for an hour or so - they'll defrost some, and their juices will absorb sugar and create gorgeous dark purple juices and it'll be all good.
Whisk your cream in a good-sized bowl - you can use electric beaters if this is easier for you, but I like to just whisk - until significantly thickened, and when you lift the whisk a peak of cream follows it. You don't want it too whipped though - keep it soft and relaxed of texture.
At this point, grab a spatula and carefully fold the berries and their sugary juice through the cream for a few seconds. You're after a kind of swirled pink and white look, not completely blended. Divide between two bowls, eat with a spoon.

Essentially you're eating a bowl of whipped cream, but the Fool has been around longer than all of us, with its origins in the 1500s (when it was known as 'Foole') and no doubt it'll be round in centuries to come. Probably because it's completely easy, but is still an actual thing that you can serve up with deserved pride. And importantly, it's incredibly delicious. A soft, cool mass of creaminess colliding with sharp, collapsing, superjuicy berries. It makes so much sense.
And, if 'pretty' is what you look for in a pudding, you're in luck. Well, I'd like to think so.
Lucky Tim and I - not only do we have distant exciting things, we also have immediately pending exciting things, in the form of Aloe Blacc's concert in Auckland on Thursday night, and Laneway Wellington next Tuesday. These were things we'd organised before we knew we were going away...beyond this it's nothing but DVD-watching for us so we'll enjoy it while we can (that said, I looooove watching DVDs).
Title via: Wu-Tang Clan, that many peopled and blazing-of-trail group who dropped their debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) from which comes C.R.E.A.M back in 1994, and are still creating in various formations and combinations today.
Music lately:
I left my iPod behind when I went home for Christmas and am still waiting on Mum to send it up...I'm really, really missing the Grey Gardens Off-Broadway Cast Recording, waiting all day to get home from work to listen to it on iTunes (if no-one's home)
St Rupertsberg, Albania - found out about this band on Tumblr from another band, Bear Cat. I like it a lot.
Next time: I asked whoever was listening on Twitter whether I should make lemon poppyseed cake or lemon poppyseed ice cream. And then, probably the conclusion I would have come to with or without input from others - I made both!

19 January 2011

no more cocoa leave-io, one two three

In 1993 the band Blur released an album called Modern Life is Rubbish. While I can't speak for Damon Albarn and his not-overly-merry men, maybe if that album had been made today, they might have called it Modern Life is Rubbish (Except For Twitter). Or even something like Modern Life is Rubbish (Except For Twitter, Wikipedia, free blogging platforms and the wide accessibility of humorous gifs which can replace actual content/emotion.)

Twitter briefly: a website where you log in with a username and deliver thoughts, or news commentary, or links to other content in 140 characters or less, as well as following people who do the same, and potentially re-share - with acknowledgement - those people's content of the aforementioned nature, people who may include verified celebrities, celebrity parodies, companies/brands, and people from other cities that you don't know but whose blog you really like. If you suspect it's not for you then you may well be right, and that's fine. Me, I love it.

Because of things like this:

My already cement-thick adoration for Twitter was further set into steadfast concrete last week. I'd been wanting to make Chocolate Sorbet for a long time now and not having a recipe, I asked my followers whether or not anyone had made it before and if they had any stories to share. Through one person replying and including someone else's Twitter name (yeah, talking about Twitter outside of Twitter can sound cringey), and that someone else happening to be Giapo, the extremely busy-with-good-reason gelato shop on Queen Street in Auckland. I ended up procuring a stunning recipe for Cocoa Sorbet because Giapo - whoever does their tweeting - delivered it to me via Twitter. Told me I only needed cocoa, and asked for the fat content of said cocoa in as caring a manner as 140 character tweets can convey. Kindly told me to go ahead and share the recipe here, that there's no intellectual property on what they do.

Well, it would've been churlish not to after all that effort. Luckily it tastes incredibly stunning, as it should - this recipe uses 200g of expensive cocoa. I trusted Giapo since they make their living from ice cream-related things, but I was still pretty wary, because it felt almost terrifyingly reckless to tip that much cocoa into one bowl. The point is, this recipe only has three ingredients, cocoa, sugar and water. The cocoa flavour will shine, so...it needs to be good stuff with around 20% fat content. I use Equagold, which comes in 300g jars and has 21% fat content. This does make it an expensive recipe, however the other two ingredients are cheap and free, respectively, and it's not like you're paying for eggs, cream, or chocolate. But still. Been warned.

This much cocoa!

Cocoa Sorbet

Recipe provided with thanks and acknowledgement to Giapo.

200g best-quality cocoa (with around 20% fat, such as Equagold)
200g sugar (any old white sugar! woohoo!)
500g water (from the tap! yeah!) (also: yes, grams. Weigh it like it's flour or something, for accuracy purposes.)

Bring your water to the boil in a pan. In the meantime, in a large bowl, measure out the cocoa, fan yourself at the amount needed, move on, and measure out the sugar into the same bowl. Important: stir this (I used a small whisk) untill the cocoa and sugar "are one and the same" in Giapo's words.

Turn off the stove when the water has boiled and pour it carefully into the cocoa and sugar. "Stir, stir, stir" said Giapo - you want this to become a thickish, dark syrupy liquid with no errant cocoa lumps. This is called a cold hot infusion. Allow to cool, then pour into a container and freeze. Every couple of hours go back and whisk it or stir it to break up any ice crystals. Allow to defrost a little before you try and eat it.

With that much cocoa in it, so light-absorbing and chocolate-ful, this recipe had to taste decent. However I was still nervous when I first rolled my spoon across the surface of the sorbet. But: it was actually amazing. The cocoa flavour is unsurprisingly strident, and while there's the necessary sugar to stop this being a throat-clogging, inedible paste, the cleanness of the water allowed the pure, heady, earthy cocoa flavour to be the star.

Without the (admittedly delicious) mellowing of any cream or custard this made for a fairly intense eating experience. A smallish portion satisfies with its aggressive cocoa-ness, but it's easy to keep going. Truly, truly delicious stuff, I absolutely recommend it. The only thing I would change - with all due respect - is to maybe up the amount of water to 750g. While the cocoa itself provides quite a lot of bulk, I feel that the mixture can handle being extended a bit, which also makes it go further and therefore helps justify the use of that much cocoa. I also figure that, if you've only got regular cocoa, you could maybe use just 100g of it, and roughly chop up 200g very dark chocolate and stir it in with the cocoa and sugar.

Hey! Exciting news! As if cocoa sorbet wasn't enough: Tim and I are going on holiday in April. Our first holiday together...ever. To London. And Berlin. And somewhere in Poland, once I remember if I preferred Krakow or Warsaw better first time round. And on our way back to New Zealand we're spending two nights in LA. That's LA, AMERICA! As soon as Tim told me that he jacked that stopover up at the travel agency, I can half ashamedly/half defiantly tell you that the Baby-Sitters Club Super Special "California Girls" was the first thing that sprang to mind. By the way, the reason I'm disproportionately excited about going to America is that I've never been there, whereas London/Berlin/Poland is a re-visit. This is pretty massive for Tim and I - while we met over in England (him from Wairoa and me from Otaua, haha) the last time we stepped foot in an international airport was when we got back to New Zealand in December 2005. We're now, in 2011, finally scraping ourselves into a position financially to be able to travel. We are SO EXCITED. And we're going to book tickets for Wicked in London! I'll finally see it - admittedly not with an Idina Menzel or a Julia Murney in the cast - but still. It has been interesting to love a musical to the point where my feelings have evolved into a kind of "how very 2007, and isn't it a flawed story" fondness without ever having seen it live...but it will be even more interesting to just see it for real. So we're trying something that I've called "nil by purse" where we basically don't spend any extraneous dollars. It'll be like back when we first moved in together, except now we've got an exciting endpoint other than just surviving.

So, since it's nearly six years since I've been to London, Berlin and Poland, and since all I know about LA comes from things like the Baby Sitters Club and music videos, if anyone knows any cheap-but-awesome places to eat, or if anyone would like to (but not in any way be obliged to, because that's just awkward) provide a couch or a floor for two extremely nice New Zealanders to crash on, or know of any amazing things to do and sights to see, then please share your knowledge! (and feel free to email me at hungryandfrozen@hotmail.com.)

Further exciting news: I'm trying to make a recipe index for this blog. Because I don't have a head for strategy it's a bit all over the place and there's not necessarily a heading for everything (mostly just for foods that are a priority to me, like tofu and ice cream). And it's not completed. But it might be useful! To find it, cast your eyes just under the heading picture.
Title via: the gone but not forgotten Notorious B.I.G with Things Done Changed from Ready To Die, which swirls round contemplatively to a pretty devastating final verse.

Music lately:

Emily 2.0 by Wellington's Mammal Airlines from their EP Life of Mammals which you can seriously download for free. I love their music, they deserve to be huge with fuzzy catchy goodness like this.

I Wanna Be Your Dog by The Stooges from their album of the same name. I managed to catch about 15 minutes of Iggy on my break at Big Day Out. From my vantage point up in the stands, miles away, the sound was fairly appalling and...I actually have no idea what I was listening to. But it was fun just to see him at all, exactly as he appears in video footage of other music festivals: sinewed, shirtless, boucy.

Next time: It has been a while since I've been on here, mostly because I was up in Auckland working at Big Day Out, which takes some recovering from. I'm working on more frequency though. Next time there'll probably more skiting about our upcoming holiday. Also, more relevantly, a recipe for blackberry fool.

15 January 2011

i've bean waiting so long, to be where i'm going

Have I got a relatively exciting bean salad for you. Bean salad in and of itself isn't all that thrilling, but compared to other bean salads this one is pretty special. Aaand I think I've used up my quota of saying "bean salad" just there. It was never something I sought out as a kid, although it's not like my tastebuds were all that sophisticated - mind you neither is bean salad. I do remember eying it up at the deli counter of the supermarket. It looked dubious, a pile of small brown and green pebbles bathed generously in a tub of watery vinegar. This recipe is neither dubious nor watery. It's verging on sexy. Again...relatively.

I found it while searching for something else entirely on Cuisine's website and was tangentially inspired, thinking it would be an awesome summer dinner - filling, fast, cheap, oven barely required. As I've veered well away from the original, you too can muck round with the following recipe. If you want to use cannellini beans or whatever, no worries. If you want to use more than three kinds, be my guest. If you want to use lemon juice instead of cider vinegar because that's what you've got, then you're more than welcome to. I included the avocado oil and nigella seeds because I got them for Christmas (thanks, Mum and Dad!) but also because I wanted their respective mellow richness and subtle oniony kick. However you use what you like. As long as there's some form of bean involved, otherwise...you're not even really making this recipe at all.

Bean Salad with Poppyseed Dressing

Inspired by this recipe by Fiona Smith from Cuisine magazine.

1 can borlotti beans
1 can chickpeas (I found some super intriguing red chickpeas on special, but regular is obviously fine.)
Roughly 1 cup frozen edamame/soybeans (I say frozen because I presume that's how you got 'em) You could use frozen peas or broad beans instead.
Handful of almonds
Mint, to serve

Cook your soybeans in boiling water - I tend to throw the beans and the water in the pan at the same time so they all heat up together, as I imagine it'll shave a couple of minutes off the cooking time. Drain and refresh under cold water. In a hot pan - you can use the same one once the beans are drained - briefly toast the almonds, and then slice up roughly.


3 tablespoons decent-tasting oil. I used avocado, but olive or peanut oil would be great.
2 tablespoons cider vinegar (or lemon or lime juice)
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons poppyseeds
1 fat clove garlic, finely chopped
A pinch of nigella seeds OR cumin seeds (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, the vinegar, and the honey. Tip in the poppyseeds, the garlic, the nigella seeds if using and a pinch of seasalt (or a small pinch of regular salt) plus some pepper if you like. Whisk again. Drain the two cans of beans from their creepy can-liquid, and tip into the bowl of dressing along with the cooked soybeans. Using a spatula or large spoon, carefully fold the lot together so that everything becomes properly covered with the dressing, but none of the canned beans get too crushed.

Transfer into the bowl you're going to serve it from, and top with the almonds and the mint. Or just add both to the bowl you've mixed it in if you want to save on dishes.

This salad is brilliant - light, filling, flavoursome, and kinda pretty as far as bean salads go. There's something texturally satisfying about the combination of soft canned beans and the bite-ier, nutty green soybeans. The dressing also pleases, with its balance of sweet, sharp, salty, rich, and crunchy, and soaks flavoursomely into the otherwise mild beans. The almonds and mint are really just there to make it seem more exciting (something about a plate of beans doesn't seem like anyone's first choice) but contribute in a way that you'd want them there every time.

This made enough for dinner alongside some brown rice and sliced, fried zucchini, with the leftover rice stirred into the beans to take for dinner at the Botanic Gardens. It was night one of the ASB Gardens Magic and we saw the wonderful Nudge (standing in for the Thomas Oliver Band). It started to rain about ten minutes into their show but we stuck around and had a fantastic night, first watching people dance round in the rain and then joining in ourselves.

Speaking of rain, but in more horrifying quantities, the dreadful flooding in Australia has been on my mind a lot. The number of deaths seems to rise like the water itself, and it must be awful to have everything you know just...underwater. For what it's worth, my heart goes out to everyone affected by it (including all the animals), and I hope this land of extreme weather settles down soon.

Having finished my first week back at work (hitting the ground at a brisk canter, this is a busy time for us) I can only conclude that my heart and brain are both at the beach. Feels like a squillion years ago that the most taxing decision I had was which book to read (answer: Donna Tartt's The Little Friend, Witi Ihimaera's Tangi, a tribute to Jennifer Paterson, and half of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock.)
Title via: Gotta say, when I started typing this up I thought "ha! There must be sooooo many songs that use the word 'been' which I can twist for my purposes." But with my aforementioned brain at the beach, Sunshine of Your Love by Cream was all I could think of. It's a mighty fine song, but I know there's something better out there. Hopefully for all of us my brain returns to its rightful location soonish.
Music lately:

The aforementioned Nudge. They crop up here and there in Wellington and are fantastic live, all three members being fearsomely talented and easily watchable.

Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy. Too beautiful.
Next time: I managed to procure from Giapo, via Twitter, a recipe for Cocoa Sorbet. Yay for Twitter, and yay for you if it turns out decent because I'll be blogging about it.

10 January 2011

i wear my leather jacket like a great big hug

Homemade plum fruit leather. Like rollups (in texture, anyway, they look more like Yonks here.) We didn't really get too many popular kid-type snacks in the lunchbox when I was growing up but I do have a distinct memory of folding a rollup and pressing it across my teeth like a slowly dissolving, sugary mouthguard. It's mildly surprising that I still have any teeth after that. This plum leather is like those rollups except super sour. Like DYC white vinegar in handy chewable form. It's a snack that you can't eat absent-mindedly, I'll give it that.

Even though we're well into January by this point, I still haven't shaken the whole new year contemplation vibe. Is there such thing as a good year? Being such a long stretch of time, it's fairly impossible not to accumulate some form of difficulty and sadness. Even if - just imagine somehow - every single person in the world was somehow able to not murder, attack, assault, rob, or cause any kind of physical or emotional harm or discrimination, and overwhelming poverty and lack of education was overcome with the help of many...well there's still Mother Nature to contend with. No amount of goodwill can hold back the earth's movements. And like most years before it 2010 was an absolute shocker, from the most orchestrated actions of humans to the unpredictability of nature.

On a personal level however, 2010 for me was pretty damn fantastic. Bragging, sure, but some decent achievements really did stack up for me last year and I'm pretty proud of myself.

- I was featured in a CLEO magazine article about food bloggers
- I was nominated for a CLEO/Palmolive Wonderwoman thing
- I was interviewed for the Morning Glory show on 95bFM
- I was nominated for a Wellingtonista Award for 'Best Contribution to the Internet By A Wellingtonian."
- Tim and I became cafe reviewers for Sunday Star-Times (the lower North Island edition). For what it's worth, I like our reviews better than any other Wellington-based ones I've seen round. You might too...
- I got a small but thrill-making mention in Rip It Up magazine, especially considering the high company my fairly nondescript tweet keeps on their quotes page.
- The seriously lovely Lisa from Sky TV just up and sent me Nigella Lawson's book Kitchen. Seriously.
- Tim and I started up 100sand1000s which has provided nonstop joy, from interviewing and feeding cake to Grayson Gilmour to staring quietly at gifs for hours.
- Tim and I hit the five year mark! Woo! And we got to spend our first Christmas together.

***Edited 13th Jan because I’m such a forgetful and ungrateful clod; clearly it’s a decent year when all the nice things that happened to you start to tumble out of your brain like icing sugar in a sieve.

As well as the above, I was also invited to the launch of
Wellington On A Plate by the fantastic Angela Moriarty. I got a nametag with my blog's name on it. I met Angela Walker from Sunday Star-Times and possibly alarmed her with my gratitude. I met the amazing Millie and Florence from Gusty Gourmet, who coolly quizzed a cheesemaker about pasteurising and taught me how to eat oysters. And then the three of us had the singularly thrilling experience of meeting Ray McVinnie, one of my food idols – in fact, one of my idols from any genre of leisure activity – seriously I don’t know how I forgot this from my list.

Angela M also gave myself and Millie the opportunity to meet up with such overwhelmingly legit aussie bloggers as Peter from
Souvlaki for the Soul, Helen from Grab Your Fork, Billy from A Table For Two, plus the lovely Andrea from Auckland's So D'lish. In an unrelated piece of organisation, I also got to meet up with some truly lovely and inspiring Wellington food bloggers (check my sidebar).

Go me. Now that I'm back in Wellington, (working again and lamenting the fact that the beach feels like it's several solar systems away), I'm hoping that 2011 will bring some similarly awesome opportunities and that I'll be able to keep blogging, hard. It has been a slow start but today I bring you this plum leather. I happen to get a kick out of making things that already basically exist. Like butter. Or marshmallows. But as far as it goes, homespun fruit leather seems like an alarmingly resourceful task, the sort of thing (like haircuts!) best left to the people paid to do it.

I found a good looking recipe though, the fruit it calls for is easy to get hold of right now and even though I've never felt any real suffering for lack of fruit leather, I felt drawn to making it.

It's basically plums simmered into paste, spread onto a tray and then baked in an oven set to low, about the temperature of heavy mouth-breathing. The only real taxing bit is all the time and patience involved. Plums are cheap as this time of year and apparently this stuff lasts for up to five months so you could make tons now and store it up for the year ahead if you're feeling particularly organised.

It's a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsal recipe, and while I know who he is and that he does good things, I've never actually tried any of his recipes. Having been kindly sent the River Cottage 2011 diary from Lisa and the good people at Sky though, which is filled with the sort of recipes - a generous three per month! - that make you nod frequently and think "I want to cook all those things", I have no excuse not to give him a try.

However I've noticed he's also - and it might just be the brief nature of the recipe layout in the diary - not one to make recipes super simple. The plum leather recipe could have done with slightly more information, which I can hopefully fill in for you now that I've tried it myself.

Spiced Plum Leather

1 to 1.5 kilos of plums

Roughly slice your plums, discarding the stones, and place in a large saucepan. You can be pretty cavalier with the quality of your plums but cut away any really bad bits that look like they're well on the fermenting-into-Moonshine process. Add enough water to just cover the base of the pan, and heat gently till the plums collapse a bit and release a lot of juice - around ten minutes although it all depends on your plums.

Push the pulp through a sieve into a bowl. No-one ever tells you what an excruciating job this is. There's no way to speed up the process or to make it feel like you're not wasting heaps of fruit, but persevere - I used a colander, the sort you'd drain potatoes with, sat over a bowl and a spatula constantly stirring and pressing. You should end up with a seriously good looking, deep cerise, thick liquid.

Scrape this back into the pan and simmer till thickened somewhat, stirring occasionally. Hugh doesn't give a time for this but I found it took about half an hour and even then, there was no dramatic change in the look of the puree, it had just reduced slightly. Add a little honey and a dash of cinnamon at this point.

Finally, spread thinly and evenly across two paper-lined baking trays using your spatula and bake for as long as you can in a very low oven (around 60 C, which feels like barely turning it on). You're supposed to leave it for 12 hours, but I couldn't psychologically deal with having the oven on overnight, even if it is so low. Maybe make this early in the morning when you know you're going to be hanging round. However it can also handle being baked in a few bursts when you have the time. Allow to cool completely in the oven, at which point you should be able to peel it off the baking paper, however you can roll it up and cut it into slices in its paper. Use within 5 months.

It looks truly gorgeous, especially when held up to the light, and has a strong jammy flavour from the slowly heated plums, tempered by an intense fruitish sourness.

But yeah, there's no denying this is fairly time-consuming and takes some effort. While I'd be hard-pressed to say that the flavour entirely outweighs this, if you were one of those kids who ate lemons or always went for the sour gummy worms then you'll love this. I'm sure you could add sugar to the fruit while it simmers without it coming to any harm - I mean, rollups were just toffee dressed up to look like a legit snack. And whatever the flavour may lack in accessibility, it's made up for with the extreme sense of accomplishment you'll probably feel once it's all done.

Title via: local long shadow-casters The Chills and their memorable 1986 tune I Love My Leather Jacket.

Music lately:

The Cure's Boys Don't Cry as covered by Tourettes and Caoimhe for the aforementioned Morning Glory show on bFM. You even have the excellent option of downloading a massive selection of such songs for free here.

Aloe Blacc's Miss Fortune from Good Things...even though there's a fair bit of effort, time and money involved we've booked ourselves in to his Auckland show later this month, I seriously can't wait.

Heidi Blickenstaff performing Kander and Ebb's Sing Happy at some one-off gig in New York...sigh. She's so lovely. Lucky New Yorkers, where things like this casually happen all the time.

Next time: I made an awesome bean salad, hopefully by the time my next blog post rolls around I'll have worked out a better way to describe it though.

3 January 2011

flourless, we are flourless


2011! What? How'd that happen already? Well, it's here and the changing of another year has passed me by in a non-threatening blur of crosswords, novel-reading, and playing 500 with Mum and Dad at the beach. And being absent from the computer, which really wasn't so bad at all. We're back out to the beach tomorrow, using the very last of my leave, but Tim's back to work tomorrow - he heroically came out to help us erect the tents and then cover them with tarps (couldn't possibly buy a new tent or anything) which we managed to do without having a family meltdown, maybe some lasting buried tension but no meltdown. In the meantime I'm serving up a recipe that I made for Christmas night, which...seems like an extremely long time ago now. And a mighty fine Christmas it was too, I was lucky enough to get heaps of food-related things which I'm sure will all eventually appear here on the blog when I get back to Wellington.

So, apologies for the now outdated Christmas imagery in the background...should have thought more about this and posed the cake in front of a beachtowel or a picture of a dolphin or something to make it more generally summery.

Ever since I can remember we've spent Christmas evening with the family who grew up next door to my Mum's family, and this year I was asked to bring along a pudding (suspect I would have taken it upon myself to bring one along whether it was asked for or not). The open brief of "bring pudding" is one of my favourites and for some reason, out of all the many many pudding recipes Nigella has (or anyone, but for me Christmas is Nigella's time to shine more than usual) my heart set itself on her Christmas-Spiced Chocolate Cake. It's a variation on her flourless chocolate cake, gussied up with the yuledtidish fragrance of cinnamon, cloves and orange.

It's very easy to make and apart from all the eggs it's pretty low-key, the quantities of chocolate, ground almonds and butter aren't terrifying and all you need to do is some melting and mixing. You don't even have to worry about it sinking - it's practically supposed to. Altogether a non-stressful Christmas pudding option that wouldn't be out of place any day of the year. As long as you don't use the title. Not that I referred to it by its full title at any point. Can you imagine walking into a room and saying "here's my...

Christmas-Spiced Chocolate Cake
From Nigella Christmas
150g dark chocolate, chopped (I used Whittakers Dark Ghana)
150g butter
6 eggs (at room temperature)
250g sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g almonds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Zest of 1 clementine/satsuma/just use an orange
4 teaspoons instant coffee (preferably espresso)

Topping: Juice from the above citrus fruit
15g butter
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch ground cinnamon
50g flaked almonds (they tend to come in 70g packets, you can use the lot here no worries).

Set your oven to 180 C/450 F, and butter and line a 23cm springform tin. That said, all I had at Mum and Dad's was a 21cm tin that I'd brought up myself and it was all good.)

Break the eggs into a good sized bowl. In another bowl, gently melt together the chocolate and butter. Mum and Dad have a microwave so that's what I did, but you can also put it in a metal bowl and sit it over a pan of simmering water...just melt the two together, it's not complicated.)

While the chocolate is cooling, add the sugar and vanilla to the eggs and whip together till thick and pale and at least doubled in texture. This is easier with an electric beater but not impossible with a whisk. Gently fold in the rest of the ingredients, including the magically delicious chocolate-butter mixture. A big silicon spatula is best for this, and for transferring the mixture into the tin. Bake for about 35-45 minutes, and allow to col completely.

For the topping, simmer all the ingredients together till thick and syrupy and then topple them over the chocolate cake, which may well have dipped significantly in the centre.

This cake is seriously fantastic, chocolatey in an upfront way but without making you feel like you're eating a damp, cocoa-scented piece of soap, as some flourless chocolate cakes can taste. The spices give it a real Christmassiness, showing that the sort of flavours which might show up in a fruitcake are equally fantastic against the slight grit of the ground almonds and the richness from the chocolate. The sticky, orange-syruped almonds on top make it look beautiful too - I just bunged them on and they somehow looked amazing, like shining golden tiles, so if you even put in the slightest bit of effort you're guaranteed some gorgeousness.

This overachiever of a cake is also gluten-free and keeps for ages.

Hopefully everyone had a decent Christmas/New Years - I don't really go in for resolutions, preferring to take each day as it comes but also to be receptive to as much positivity, creativity and safe fun as possible. Hope all that comes your way too.

Title via: Something about the panicky nature of Blackout from the fantastic Broadway musical In The Heights makes me feel slightly bad about appropriating their "powerless, we are powerless" line...not so bad that I haven't done it.

Music lately:

I actually haven't been listening to a whole lot of music this summer. I brought my ipod up but ignored it, preferring the sound of sea moving slowly across sand and tui calling to each other. Once I'm back in the city on Sunday and this holiday seems unbelievably far away I'm sure I'll have music coming out my ears (and then going back in my ears again, of course.)

That said. While I'm freely using content from 2010, Tim and I made a list, completely necessary only in our minds, of our favourite music from the year that was over at 100sand1000s...feel free to read, nod appreciatively, shake your head in horror, and seek out.

Next time: As I said I got a whole lot of food-stuffs for Christmas and it's anyone's guess what I'll get into first. While part of me never wants to leave the beach, I do miss Wellington and am looking forward to reconnecting with my kitchen...