22 March 2011

so let's find a bar, so dark we forget who we are

I'm tired as, partly from bad sleep and partly from the mental faculty resources required to organise yourself out of the country but here's a quick blog post before we go...

So: by the time today's over, Tim and I will be on our way to London. I realise people travel, or don't travel, every single day and we're not revolutionary or anything, but having saved and waited for ages, it's quite the test of our comprehension skills to deal with the fact that it's actually happening very soon. Not counting the time I got lost in the Christchurch airport last year, neither of us has been in an international airport since 2005. Our retinas are parched from being so wide-eyed, we're clench-toothed from smiling. We're ticking off so many to-do lists that...umm...anyway this is a big deal for us.

I'd like to say, massively sincerely but awkwardly, that I really hope all of you readers don't completely forget this place in the four weeks that we're away and then never read this blog ever again. I probably won't get to update this often or at all, baking not being so practical while travelling, but who knows. I'm absolutely going to pick it all up and start blogging hard as soon as I get back in four weeks. In the meantime, I guess there's the archives - my photography no-skills from 2007 are always good for a laugh.

For what it's worth, Tim and I started a little travel blog so that instead of sending out mass emails we can just update it when we get the chance. We're not going to be fervently overdocumenting every passing minute of our trip, but we'll aim to add to it fairly often. It's called Tim and Laura's Adventure and we made it late at night this week. Now that I look at it again the layout's pretty hideous but you know, feel free to read it, and I can tell you this: we won't use "London Calling" as the title of a post. I'll also be mildly active on Twitter, although all online stuff is at the mercy of wi-fi - luckily they're pretty on to it with that in the northern hemisphere.

I had a day off on Monday and did a little baking, partly to use up some bits and pieces, partly to take something to take to work to help them cope with my month-long absence (that's how I imagined it at least), and partly because I just love to bake so much and knew it'd be a while before it would happen again.

I tutu-d round with a recipe I found at grouprecipes.com and came up with the following. It's easier than biscuits, tastes wonderful and also used up the rest of this jam that I made a while back. You can mess around with the ingredients depending on what's in your cupboard - the type of nuts, coconut, oats and chocolate and the flavour of jam are all interchangeable with other types.

Chocolate Jam Bars

2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup brown sugar
200g butter, softened slightly
1 cup thread coconut or 1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1 cup almonds or other nuts, chopped roughly
1 1/2 cups whole or rolled oats
1/2 jam (or more) (I used this stuff)
100g dark chocolate, chopped roughly into chunks (I used Whittaker's Dark Ghana)

Set your oven to 180 C/370 F, and line a large tin (the recipe recommends 13 x 9 inches, mine was bigger and it worked fine) with baking paper. In a bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar and baking powder. Using your fingers, rub in the butter, till their are no large chunks left and the whole lot has a sandy texture. Stir in the oats, coconut, and almonds. Tip 3/4 of this mixture into the tin, and press it down flat with your hands, then smooth it with the back of a wet spoon.

Dot teaspoonfuls of jam fairly evenly on top of the base and then scatter the choppped chocolate over the top of that. Finally, evenly distribute the remaining flour mixture over the top of the chocolate and jam and bake for around 30 minutes.

I loved this recipe - it's undemanding to put together, it makes a generous amount, and the texture is stunning. The crunch of the nuts, the roughness of the oats against the soft bite of the coconut, the sticky jam against the softly solid chocolate chunks. Total stunner.

Is it weird that I'm already thinking about things I'm going to bake/cook when I get back? Like recreating the banana panikeke that I had at Polyfest, like hummingbird cake, like the Bolognese Risotto from Nigella's Kitchen book... Even if it's weird I guess it's not surprising, considering how I think about tomorrow night's dinner while cooking tonight's one and anticipate which second piece of cake I'm going to choose while eating my first piece. However, there's so much to enjoy over the next four weeks, maybe this is my brain's way of coping with it all - ignore the onslaught of mental stimulation by thinking about soothing cakes. Fingers crossed I can get heaps of awesome food over the border on the way home. New Zealand doesn't have a reputation for merciless airport biosecurity does it? Oh wait...

PS: I might be typing all lacklustre-ly but it's just the tiredness talking. Trust me, I'm grinning hard. CAN'T WAIT.

Title via: The song Out Tonight from RENT, the musical that gave this blog its name. Please: Original Broadway Cast (Daphne Rubin Vega) and movie adaptation version (Rosario Dawson). (Chocolate Jam bars...let's find a bar...see?)

Music lately:

Shopping Cart from Parallel Dance Ensemble (who include our recent interview subject Coco Solid). Saw the new video for it today, too tired to harness the power of description right now, but love this track all over. Another new video bringing our ears and eyes much joy is Ladi6's gorgeous track Like Water. Truly: get her albums, they're amazing. (told you too tired for descriptions right now)

Next time: Hahahaha. I don't know but as soon as I do know, you'll be next in line to find out.

21 March 2011

just a little too soft, al dente

In a triflingly small number of sleeps, Tim and I will not be in New Zealand anymore. For a whole month. So don't come looking for us. Unless you're in London, in which case by all means come find us. Unless you're into knife crime. Even though I never once felt unsafe during my time in London, well, at least up till July 7th 2005, I still can't help thinking "knife crime!" said like the scene-change 'dun-dunn!' on Law and Order. But we'll be fine. We're confident, like Maria Von Trapp. Thanks so much to everyone who has emailed in offering ideas and websites and even their roof for us to stay under. And a massive thanks to my godmum and her family who loaned Tim and myself some awesomely functional luggage, especially compared to our sorry, carpal-tunnel-inducing offerings.

I can't say that it has really made its way through to my brain properly - that instead of getting up and going to work every day, I'll be on the other side of the world to where I am right now, for a month. Firstly, there have been some extremely heavy events both locally and overseas filling my mind - natural disasters, disastrous man-made situations...plus I was up in Auckland again on the weekend just been, this time working at ASB Polyfest (amazing but exhausting) so between that and Pasifika the weekend before, there hasn't been much time to really properly consider it. Somehow it'll all come together though. As I said. Confident. Like a Von Trapp.

Part of making it all come together is using up any perishable food. This might mean chugging a hefty volume of soymilk, or it might mean lots of thrown-together pasta dishes like the following, where a vegetable that'd otherwise curl up remorsefully in the fridge becomes the star. The star of what I named Sexy Pasta. I just looked at our dinner and the name appeared to me, organically and fully-formed.

Admittedly, it looked a lot sexier in person. Now that we're further into the year and darkness falls earlier, I need to try and remember how to take decent photos at night.

But look at those ingredients. Hello. You don't have to use pappardelle - it's unfairly more expensive than other kinds of pasta, and I'm pretty unlikely to get it again for a long time, after the moment of wacky extravagance that got it in my cupboard in the first place. Regular spaghetti is more than fine, although something with a bit of width, like fettucini, would be great. I use almonds a lot because I bought a kilo from Moore Wilson's for relatively cheap (much cheaper than buying little packets in the long run, I mean, and also cheaper compared to other bulk nuts) but use what you have - walnuts, pinenuts, pecans, cashews or Brazils would all rule.

Sexy Pasta aka Pappardelle with Roasted Capsicums, Sesame Garlic Toasted Almonds, Capers, Lemon and Mint

160g pappardelle pasta or 200g other pasta
3 capsicums
1/2 cup whole almonds (be generous, this is your protein)
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed of their salt
Half a lemon
Handful of mint leaves

Bring a large pan of water to the boil with plenty of salt, cook the pasta according to packet instructions (around 10 minutes) and then drain.

While this is happening, set your oven to 220 C. Halve the capsicums, remove the core and stem, and place cut-side down on an oven tray with some baking paper on it. Roast for about 20 minutes or until they're a little blackened. Remove from the oven, tip them into a bowl and cover with gladwrap (this will make it easier to remove the skins later) and turn the oven down to 200 C.

While they're roasting, finely chop the garlic clove. Once you've removed the capsicums from the oven tray - leaving the paper where it is - replace them with the almonds and the garlic. Drizzle with the sesame oil, and use a spatula to get it all mixed well, so each almond is slickly coated with oil and the chopped garlic is well dispersed. Return to the oven for about 5 minutes - make sure you keep an eye on it, burnt nuts are no fun.

Carefully peel the skin from the capsicums - should come away easily enough - and tear them into strips.

Finally - assemble. Divide the pasta between two plates, then divide the strips of roasted capsicum over that (including any syrupy juices that appear in the bottom of the bowl). Tumble over the almonds and the capers, squeeze the lemon's juice on the top, and then rip the mint into bits and sprinkle over.

Soft, slippery capsicums, tender wide ribbons of pasta, salty capers, the sweetness of the almonds roasted into popcorn-crunchy, sticky nutty garlicky excellence, the fresh hit of the lemon and mint. The flavours and textures plow into each other to create a seriously gorgeous meal.

The next post'll be the last one before our trip, but I'll try to jump on here occasionally during our time away, to be all like "here's a fuzzy picture of a hot chocolate I had" and "look! Me in front of a Krispy Kreme donut shop!" etc...
Title via: PNC's recent single Murderer off his upcoming album. I love his music and it ably translated live, too, when we caught the end of his set at Homegrown earlier this month. I first heard this song a while ago and when he mentioned both Pad Thai and al dente I thought "huh, I'll most likely end up using that in a title sometime..."

Music lately:

Gary Numan, Are Friends Electric? Whether they are, not much gets my head swaying dreamily from side to side, Stevie Wonder-styles, like this tune.

While looking for Julie Andrews singing Confidence on youtube I found this clip of her tapping and singing Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious with Gene Kelly. As well as being half adorable, half bewildering, it showcases the incredibly polished, staggeringly professional nature of stars at the time. When in doubt, lightly banter.
Next time: Like I said, last post before we go, and I've got a recipe for Chocolate Jam Bars for you. And I'll maybe require some advice on how to be separated from your blog that you love for a month.

15 March 2011

tengo de mango, tengo de parcha...

Only ten sleeps till Tim and I go on our massive adventure overseas. And there's so much to do. Like pack. And suss out the best method of casually running into Angela Lansbury in London so I can tell her she's one of my heroes. And I'm going away for three days for work on Thursday.

Hence, the mood here is distinctly...squirrelly. Between all that, and keeping an eye on the regrettably escalating disasters both local and international, we haven't been to bed before midnight once over the last three weeks. I don't know if that's gasp-worthy or not compared to your own patterns, but 11-ish used to be the zenith of my awakeness on a regular day. Seems a harder to settle down and relax for its own sake now.

However, I had a day off today, slept in, did some yoga, and fully intended to make this Mango Chutney. Unfortunately, in my absence last weekend the two mangoes had achieved a state of maturity not wanted for that recipe.

So...I thought about sensible ways of using up these heavily ripe mangoes. Because of our trip, it has been on my mind that I need to use up anything perishable. I had a can of condensed milk in the cupboard which took from our work's emergency survival boxes (because it had reached its best-by date, like, I was allowed to take it). Despite the fact that so many other options would've been easier - including just straight eating them - I found myself deciding, trancelike, that the most judicious, pragmatic option would be to use the mangoes in a sauce to go with a chocolate cake using this *clearly dangerous* condensed milk.

See? Makes sense, right? I also kinda love the seventies vibes of the orange sauce against the chocolatey background.

Nigella Lawson has a recipe for chocolate cake which uses condensed milk in it, really easy stuff - one of those melt, mix, bake jobs. I adapted this a little to better serve the coconut-chocolate craving I had, and to make it more of a brownie than a cake. The mango sauce is my own creation and as long as you've got a food processor, it's completely simple. Of course, the mango sauce can easily exist without the brownies and vice-versa, but they do taste blissful together, and I barely had to convince myself that they both needed to be made. And further to this, since I already find baking a calming, endorphin-inducing activity, if you feel this way too it can only have a restorative effect on your nerves...

Some things to keep in mind - with all that condensed milk I wanted to counteract it with some good, heartily dark cocoa and chocolate. The initial melted mixture is unspeakably delicious, but you can kinda feel your teeth wearing away like rocks on the shore with sweetness if you sneak a spoonful, so the higher the cocoa solids the better. The mango sauce tastes really good if it's freezing cold. And the spoonful of Shott Passionfruit syrup isn't essential but if you've got some, you may well be as flabberghasted as I am about how distinctly passionfruit-esque it tastes. I bought it at the City Market a while back after tasting some - it's so delicious. Don't feel like this recipe is pointless if you don't have any - it's all about the mangoes, and the syrup just encourages its wild fruitiness. Vanilla extract, while different, would provide a similar and delicious function.

Something about the presence of condensed milk made me want to include it in the title, you do as you please but this is what I'll be calling them.

Chocolate Coconut Condensed Milk Brownies

Adapted from a recipe of Nigella Lawson's from How To Eat

100g butter
200g sugar
100g dark chocolate (I use Whittaker's Dark Ghana 72%)
30g cocoa
1 tin condensed milk
1/2 cup water
2 eggs
200g flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups long thread coconut OR 1 1/2 cups dessicated coconut

Set your oven to 180 C/370 F. Line a square or rectangle small roasting tin - the sort you'd make brownies in - with baking paper.

- In a large pan, melt together the butter, sugar, water, chocolate and condensed milk.
- Sift in the flour, cocoa and baking powder, mixing carefully.
- Mix in the coconut and eggs.
- Tip into the tin, bake for about 30-40 minutes.

This mango sauce is drinkably gorgeous, light, perfumed, zingy and bright orange. You could use it on 'most anything - pancakes, ice cream, porridge...

Mango Sauce

Makes about 1/2 cup sauce. Use more mangoes if you want more.

2 Mangoes, fridge-cold
1 tablespoon Schott passionfruit syrup OR 1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
1 teaspoon custard powder mixed with a tablespoon water

- Chop as much of the mango fruit off the stone as you can.
- Place in a food processor with the syrup and blend thoroughly till it's looking good and liquidised.
- Tip in the custard powder-water and blend again.
- Scrape into a jug/container, set aside till you need it.

I never really know what to do with sauces to make them look good - the spoonful that I draped over these brownies looked hopelessly drippy. So when in doubt: distract with a relevant garnish. In food as in life.

So what do they taste like? Separately, both recipes shine - the slippery, fragrant, island-paradise taste of mangoes, elusive and slightly peachy and barely tampered with in this sauce. The condensed milk gives the brownies a melting texture punctuated by the strands of coconut, like fibres in a coir mat (Wait! No! That doesn't sound nice at all!) and the combination of dark chocolate and cocoa gives a broad spectrum of chocolate flavour. Together though, far out they're good - the cool, fruity sauce cutting through the sweet, throat-filling brownie, the fragrant mango and coconut cosying up together in an extremely delicious manner.

And I'm pretty sure they'll disappear in a hot minute. So no need to worry about baking lurking round limply while we're overseas. Speaking of limpness, I nearly fainted from bunchy nerves after booking Tim and I into Ottolenghi's Islington restaurant for a 'birthday season' dinner on the 18th of April (the day after my birthday). So you know, my actual birthday was booked out, over a month in advance. Yotam Ottolenghi is such an exciting, inspirational food-creator - a recent addition to my heroes of cooking, a mighty team that includes Nigella Lawson, Aunt Daisy and Ray McVinnie. To actually eat in one of his restaurants is seriously thrilling. Just...imagine someone whose work you think is really, really awesome. Then imagine you get to experience it. It's like that.


Title via: I was totally going to quote M.I.A but her line felt more suited to the mango pickle that I never ended up making. If this process is of any interest to you; anyway instead today I quote Piragua, the song about shaved ice from Broadway musical In The Heights, from the pen of the gorgeous and formidably talented Lin-Manuel Miranda - special guest at the inagural White House Poetry Jam, for starters...

Music lately:

Cole Porter's Anything Goes from the musical of the same title. Thought on its breezy, timeless moxie today while watching a clip of the also formidable star Sutton Foster tap-dancing the heck out of it in rehearsals - seriously, watch this video. I kinda wish songs still had unnecessary preambles and lengthy dance breaks.

Dum Dum Girls, He Gets Me High: makes me want to dance round like this.


Next time: Well, I've still got those quinces to use. Anyone got any suggestions, preferably something that doesn't involve too much sugar?

13 March 2011

i hope you like jammin' too

Firstly - got unexpectedly mentioned in the Sunday Star-Times newspaper today in the Focus section, very exciting. With the title of Comfort Food even, something I feel strongly about (well, that food comforts, at least). So if you're here because of that, you clearly overcame the hurdle of some funny printing on the photo, making me resemble a hyperactive 12-year old who's just eaten a pineapple Fruju. I guess I look like that in real life plenty to be fair. The generous comparison to Nigella Lawson made me smile and do a self high-five although I did wonder about the mention of "skinnier" - is that positive/negative/true/necessary? Anyway, I hope sincerely (and unsurprisingly) that you like what you read and stick around.

Given the events of the past few days making jam might sound misguidedly whimsical, but my intentions were practical. I had a whole lot of rhubarb in my fridge from a lady at work who has an enthusiastic plant, and it needed using. This jam recipe keeps for ages in the fridge and involves not much more than a little time, a bit of stirring, and a few thousand granules of sugar.

But first: a non-jam related preamble. I flew back to Wellington from Auckland today. I'd been working at Pasifika festival at Western Springs. Ate some awesome chop suey and a massive steamed pork bun from the Samoa village for lunch. Then immediately regretted it because my already indecent sweatiness from the fiery sun was compounded by the heat of the food. Cooled my insides with this juice from the Niue village called Tropical Crush - banana, apple, pineapple and coconut blended together.

Had a run-in that I thought was pretty funny.

I was talking to this kid who mentioned she was going back to Wairoa after the festival.
"My boyfriend's from Wairoa" I said.
She asked what his name was.
He doesn't live there anymore, I said, but I mention his mum's family's name.
She knew someone with that name in Wairoa, turns out it's Tim's cousin.
"Is [Tim's cousin] your boyfriend?" the girl asked, suddenly confused.
"Nooo" says I jokingly, "he's a bit young for me!"
The girl still looks thoughtfully at me, squints and says "nah...he's in Year 12 isn't he?"

Year 12 is 6th Form, FYI, or just under a decade younger than myself. Refrained from asking "so just how old do I look to you?" because I remember having a skewed idea of what age was and what constituted being a legitimate grownup and that sort of thing. So instead I smiled and said "small world huh".

I also caught up briefly with Mum and my godmum Vivienne who were at a Spanish course in town (received a txt saying "Talofa y Hola") which was very, very lovely. But it was hard to maintain that relentlessly upbeat work-mode in the face of the incomprehensible disastrousness continuing to unfold in Japan. The footage was both numbing and terrifying. I really hope you all quickly get in touch with anyone you know over there.

So again I turn to Aunt Daisy, whose quantity of recipes, old-timey resourcefulness (there's a lot of things that weren't great 'back then' but hot damn they knew how to be resourceful) and her resolutely authoritative tone brings me comfort always, but especially now. I'm not sure if Aunt Daisy was super kindly, or more of the snapping-turtle variety of older lady, but when she drops lines like "Cut bread into 1 inch cubes. Roll in condensed milk (sweetened). Fry in hot deep fat" I feel like I'm posthumously sinking into her blouse-clad bosom for a big hug.

This jam recipe is very simple, even though it's not instant. Nevertheless I managed to burn it while - haha! - tweeting about how great my jam was. I acted fast - removed the pan from the heat, chucked it in the sink which I started filling with cold water, and then grabbed a spatula and transferred the jam to a bowl. I slid a cautious spoon into the bowl of jam half an hour later, tasted it and...all was forgiven. It tasted amazing. The sugars of the rhubarb had become toffee-intense during their brief scorching, and apart from the general texture being a little sticky instead of jammy (nothing that adding a bit of water while reheating couldn't fix) the jam was completely salvageable. Still, it's probably better if you manage not to burn it at all. So save the self-congratulatory tweeting till after it's off the heat.

Rhubarb and Dried Fig Jam

Recipe from Aunt Daisy's Favourite Cookery Book (more on that here)

Aunt Daisy asks for 6 pounds of rhubarb and 6 pounds of sugar and 1 1/2 pounds dried figs. This means you need roughly 2.5 kilos of rhubarb. Different times back then. I've adapted it a bit to suit my needs, the good thing is the method works for however much rhubarb you have.

Rhubarb (at least 400g)
Dried Figs

1: Weigh your rhubarb and then measure out the same weight in sugar. Trim and chop up your rhubarb, place in a non-ceramic bowl, layering with sugar from your measured amount. Reserve any excess sugar. Cover the rhubarb and leave overnight, or some similar length of time (like, if you do this in the morning you could come back to it late afternoon or in the evening).

2: An incredibly awesome pink syrup should have formed in the bowl of rhubarb, and everything should be all soft and shiny from the sugar. Drain off the syrup (reserve for adding to soda water or vodka or whatever you like, really) and tip the rhubarb slices into a pan with the remaining, reserved sugar from your initial measurement.

3: Bring to a simmer and don't go tweeting about how cool you are, because the sugar heats up fast. Instead, keep stirring. The fruit should collapse fairly quickly and start to smell amazing. Time will vary depending on your quantities, but if you're feeling like it's going to turn into a blackened mess, just tip in a little water or better yet, some of the syrup. Aim for ten minutes or so stirring over a low heat.

4: Chop up as many dried figs as you like, I'd go about a cupful or a decent handful per 500g. Add them to the rhubarb mix and simmer till the fruit softens and disappears.

Pour into hot, sterilised jars.

Rhubarb and figs aren't as sexy as raspberries or peaches or anything. Rhubarb's sweetness is austerely astringent and dried figs have a kind of medicinal, camphor-chest sugariness to them. Simmered slowly together though, they bring out the best of each other, giving you jam of rich, honeyed, fructose-deep flavour, interspersed with the unmistakable grit of fig seeds. It sets good and thick and can handle a little overheating. Cheers, Aunt Daisy.

In case you're thinking "great, now I have a sodding great pile of jam to use up", you could consider making it into these steamily delicious Germknodel, using it in this loaf cake, spreading it on top of hot homemade bread...or on buttered toast using whatever you've got.

One thing about making your own jam - it gives you time to be grateful that you've got the time, resources and ability to make jam.

Title via: another late-great, Bob Marley and his song which of course isn't about homemade preserves at all....Jamming from his album with the Wailers, Exodus.

Music lately:

Been so busy but...we were flicking through radio frequencies on the way to the airport this morning, and Sinead O' Conner's Nothing Compares 2 U came on. Something about the upward direction of her "Nuuuuthing" on the the chorus always gives me shivers.

Same but different - Tim and I interviewed the very cool local artist Coco Solid (and fed her cake) for 100s and 1000s, it was heaps of fun, check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you like!

Next time: Your guess as good as mine - I'm heading back up to Auckland again for work on Thursday, and so my dream of making that mango pickle is now fading a bit with my distinct lack of time...

8 March 2011

we go in a group, we tour in a troupe, we land in the soup

This minestrone has many, many good things going for it. You can make it up as you go along to suit what you've got (that's what I did). It doesn't cost much. It's filling. It's delicious. It's vegan. It's full o' vitamins. It made me feel better about the increasingly forlorn group of parsnips in the fridge, it might have a similar effect on you. Depending on what you add to it, it can be as summery or as stodgily wintry as you like. And it takes hardly any of whatever effort you've got left at the end of the day.

Maybe it's just me, and I realise being lacklustre isn't the best way to push a recipe, but the one negative about this soup is...with all that good-for-you worthiness and vegetables-only content it's not necessarily the most wildly exciting thing to be eating. If you're up for it, some fresh, buttery scones would be fantastic alongside, or at the least some (also buttered) toast.

However while you wouldn't think there'd be much to it (for example, because I told you) it's delicious and sustaining and comforting and, as I said, pretty cheap too. All good things now, and indeed at any time. And while I love stirring chilli and spices into food, what could be seen as holding this soup back is also part of its charm - the simplicity of flavour. Much of it comes from the alchemy of stirring onions over heat and simmering the sweet, starchy parsnips and kumara. They lift it from being a bowl of aimlessly boiled vegetables into something pretty superb.

Undemanding Minestrone

Use whatever related vegetables you have: a combination of leeks, other kumara varieties, potato, frozen peas as well as canned beans/chickpeas/lentils would all work here.

1 onion
4 spindly or 1 fat parsnip
1-2 zucchini
1/2 a big orange kumara
Handful of small pasta like risoni or the bashed up remains of a packet of pasta or a few tablespoons long grain white rice.
Olive oil, salt and pepper. If you don't have olive oil, use butter instead.

Slice the onion up thin. Heat the oil in a wide pan, and stir the onion slices in it over a gentle till properly cooked and browned slightly but not blackened. Grind in some salt. Chop all the rest of your vegetables into small chunks, add them to the hot pan and stir for about five minutes till they've started to become tender and have gained some colour.

Pour over enough water to come an inch above the vegetables, bring to a good bubbling simmer and tip in the pasta (or rice). Allow to simmer gently for another ten minutes or so, until the pasta is cooked through.

At this point you can leave it covered until you need to reheat and eat it - if this is any longer than a couple of hours then put it in the fridge.

As I said, one of the cool things about this minestrone is that you can add what you like to it depending on what you have. Its simplicity is great, but don't let that stop you. Tomatoes. Canned beans. Finely chopped cabbage. Barley. Carrots. Pesto. Chilli sauce. Whatever you've got, this minestrone can probably accommodate it. It's magic as is though, the pasta grains swelling up and absorbing the liquid flavoured by its vegetable inhabitants, the sweetness of the starchier ingredients stared down by the bolder onion and zucchini.

Meals like this are our thing at the moment. I'm away this weekend and next weekend for work and then the weekend after that, Tim and I take off on our Massive Exciting Overseas Trip so as well as wanting to eat things that don't cost much, it's good to get through whatever's in the fridge. That said, I did run into Millie Mirepoix at the supermarket today and was convinced (okay, convinced myself, but she was an enabler) to buy a couple of gorgeous, perfumed quinces, which will need some fairy immediate attention.

I haven't even thought that much about what I'll do with this blog while I'm away - I think I'll try to get a post done as close to our leaving time as possible and then just leave it as is, hoping for the best that you'll all be there when I get back. As Christine Ebersole as Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale in Grey Gardens said, "when violets return in Spring, will you?" I'm not sure it's all that relevant really considering New Zealand'll be heading towards winter come April, but this song makes me buckle at the knees with its beauty and I just like a chance to link to it semi-gratuitously.
Title via: Together, Wherever from the always quotable, always listenable Gypsy, a musical I would really love to see for real one day, till then making do with a couple of different cast recordings and my DVD of Bette Midler's made for TV movie version of it. I also found this amazing clip of Liza and Judy singing an abridged version of this song...I love you youtube.

Music lately

Till Tomorrow by David Dallas, I love this new video of his by Special Problems with its constantly moving, animated wandering hotdog and mustachioed donut visuals. Plus the bouncing, offbeat rhyming calling to mind, in a really good way, Can I Kick It?

Thunder On The Mountain by Wanda Jackson. Another of her tracks that sound both fresh and ancient, with a fast beat, full-on horns, and Jackson's deliciously roguish voice.
Next time: either way probably something in a jar because I've still got to make that mango chutney, plus I'm halfway through making this recipe for dried fig and rhubarb jam from my Aunt Daisy cookbook.

6 March 2011

better get that dough sister

Not all food blogs are created equal. Some get abandoned, their last update around the May 2009 mark, often saying something like "I've been so busy lately..." Some have light pink text on a dark pink background, briskly searing the eyeballs like marinated tofu laid in a hot pan. Some get book deals (pick me!) And some are resources that continuously inspire with their fresh perspective, genuine wordsmithery, love of food, and crack up humour. Like Hannah's blog, Wayfaring Chocolate. Here's yet another recipe via her writing that I've appropriated cuz it looked so good.

Although maybe I should say sounded so good. Vegan Cookie Dough Truffles sounds wildly delicious, at least to me. But. Because I gave my almonds and brazils a once-over in a hot pan, and they hold their heat, the chocolate melted and dispersed through the mixture in the food processor. Instead of bordering-on-adorable chocolate studded balls of cookie dough like Hannah's, mine were...uniformly brown. After eating one I moved on pretty fast though. They really have a cookie dough flavour, but in a rich, textured way as opposed to the more instantaneous sugar rush of that which this imitates. If you were feeling up for it (and possibly if you're serving them to guests) you could actually dip these or drizzle them with dark chocolate. And if you're feeling super up for it, you could probably chop these up and stir them through vanilla ice cream. But they taste mighty amazing unadorned, whether or not you find them attractive.

I actually tried dusting them with this vanilla sugar I got given for Christmas but by the time I got the camera sorted the sugar had kind of absorbed into the surface. So I moved on.

No-Bake Vegan Cookie Dough Truffles

With thanks to Hannah from Wayfaring Chocolate

2/3 cup almonds
2/3 cup cashews (I used brazil nuts which I figured gave a similar texture)
2/3 cup oatbran (blitz oats in the blender to make this if you haven't got it)
1/4 teaspoon (or more) ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
1/4 cup agave nectar (I used golden syrup)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
About 50 grams dark chocolate (has to be dark stuff to make this vegan, but do as you please) roughly chopped
  • Toast the nuts in a pan over a low heat if you like - gives intensity of flavour, although definitely makes this 'not raw' if that's what you're going for.
  • Process everything up until the syrup into a fine-ish rubble.
  • Add the syrup, vanilla and chocolate and process again till the mixture comes together. If it's looking super dry, add a tablespoon or so more syrup.
  • Roll into balls in the palm of your hand - it will feel like it won't stick but keep rolling, it works.
  • Freeze...then eat.
They taste absolutely wonderful, which is why I present them to you without any fear of what they look like. The nuts themselves give the truffles luscious body and softness (and in fact they'll probably do the same for your hair) their texture giving an almost-chocolatey bite to complement the actual chocolate. I know oatbran doesn't sound so fun but it gives general bulk to the truffle mix and whatever dusty oat-ness is there disappears into the rest of the ingredients, as well as adding to the general, but genuine, cookie dough stylings of this recipe. Don't leave out the salt, it means whatever flavour's there hits you that much faster, as well as hinting at that salted-caramel thing by bringing out the best of whatever form of syrup you end up using.

These are fantastic when you arrive home seriously hungry (or as a hasty breakfast on the run if it comes to it - all those oats and nuts keep you going for a while) and obviously keep just fine for ages, stashed in the freezer. If you're the kind of person who makes and freezes meatballs for a later date (and I am, very occasionally, that person) then...make sure you label things correctly. Biting into a frozen meatball while simmering these beauties in tomato sauce would be a grim outcome for such efficiency.

At this point in three weeks, Tim and I will be in London! We've still got a few nights' accommodation to book there but apart from that we're suspiciously organised. And, loving the sugary sweet names of the hostels we're staying at in Berlin and Warsaw respectively: The Helter Skelter and Oki Doki. A bit like how I like to make stupid words like "ham" when I'm playing Scrabble rather than trying to win, I can't lie that their respective names influenced me to want to stay there.

Yesterday Tim and I spent most of the day on the waterfront at the Homegrown festival, the first one I've ever attended instead of working at, and the first time it has rained on the day. Wasn't a thing though, as the bands were performing in big sturdy tents, and we mostly loitered between two in particular. Took in such excellence as Coco Solid, PNC, The Phoenix Foundation, The Clean, Nesian Mystik (I'm pretty sure It's On could've been released yesterday instead of 2002 and still be as smooth as freshly churned butter) ending the festival with a loud, aggressively athletic and seriously fun set from Die!Die!Die!.


Title via: Even though I never actually once liked the music of Pink, Mya, or Christina Aguilera (Lil Kim, I couldn't say, haven't heard enough) somehow the whole was greater than the sum of its parts and I still have a fondness for their melisma-tastic take on Lady Marmalade for the film Moulin Rouge (possibly because at one point in time I watched this film at least once a week. Possibly also the amazing Missy Elliot's work on it - I distinctly remember driving somewhere with Dad one time, and him turning it up on the radio and telling me to listen to the production values.) And let's take some time to appreciate the original by Labelle, who wore costumes no less astonishing.

Music lately:

After Homegrown we went back out to Happy to catch the back end of a quadruple bill raising money for Christchurch, namely Brains and Mammal Airlines. We'd never seen Brains before but liked them a lot, lots of dark moodiness and full-on drums and I'm very tired so that's as far as I'll try to go describing what we saw. Go listen and make up your own mind here.

Defying Gravity, from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Wicked, which belongs to the wonderful Idina Menzel. I hadn't listened to this song in so long, and I know it's prosaic, but for want of a better decision I've set my ringtone to the vertigo inducing coda of this song (if you can't deal with sung dialogue, maybe skip to the final minute and a half or so.) Everyone call me!

Next time: saw this recipe for mango chutney after it was linked to on Twitter, and as luck would have it, mangoes were going reasonably cheap at the market today and as such, I'm pretty sure this is up next.

2 March 2011

a custard pirate lost at sea

In the middle of writing this, there was a small but hefty-feeling earthquake in Wellington. At first it felt like a truck backed into our flat. Then the bottles on top of our fridge started clinking together and everything shook. I dove under the table which holds up the computer that I'm typing on, clutching my phone - just like I've imagined doing a million times over the past week actually. I'm normally over-scared of earthquakes as it is, but hot on the heels of last week's disaster in Christchurch a jolt like this, even though it was forty km deep and only went for about 10 seconds, had me unable to stop my hands from shaking while I tried to text mum to let her know. And then Christchurch got some aftershocks themselves. Ugh. Am looking very respectfully at the ground, at the hills in the distance (well, what I can see over the high rise apartments) and at the sky and asking them all to just...keep still.

First of March today, meaning it's only about three weeks till Tim and I head off on our massive-for-us trip to London, Berlin, Warsaw and LA. It has also been a week since the earthquake in Christchurch, which is hard to believe - time goes fast enough as it is, but that was really a blur. And we're not even in it.

After the fantastic time I had on Saturday baking and selling it for Christchurch at Grow From Here with Millie Mirepoix I got to thinking even more about comfort food. As I said in my last post, on Tuesday night when I got home, I made Tim and I a risotto. Since then we've eaten soup, curry, more soup, rice and beans...there's something about food that's hot and soft and bowl-confined, and I don't want to overthink it, which administers delicious psychological aid when times are tough.

One good reason not to overthink it is that I'm lucky to be in a position to choose what is my opinion of comfort food at all in this time, when plenty in Christchurch are eating whatever's in their rapidly warming freezer, whatever they can reach or whatever they're given.

Nevertheless, if you need comfort food, then the zenith of yieldingly soft bowl-food is probably this coconut custard semolina, which I invented fairly successfully this evening. It's hot, it's fast, you eat it with a spoon. Another example of how I'm really not doing so badly is I fully struggled with what to call it. On the one hand, it's really just custard flavoured semolina made with coconut milk, why I've named it thus. On the other hand I hate the word semolina but to call it coconut custard would be misleading given its ingredients. Yeah, this is how I think sometimes.

Of course the food that brings you peace might be some seriously spicy prawns or a giant steak or something (both of which appeal right now to be honest). Just in case you were considering it, don't let me tell you what your comfort food is, or that you should buy into the concept at all. However, the very act of making what is considered comfort food can be comforting in itself, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. The stirring, the heat, the slow thickening of textures, the minimum of chewing required.

At best you've cooked yourself something and have the attitude of: Look at me being inevitably comforted by this so-called comfort food against my better judgement! Looook at me! Oh my, I feel a sense of calm. At the very least you've cooked yourself something that will stop you feeling hungry for a bit, and which costs hardly anything.

Instant Coconut Custard Semolina

2 tablespoons semolina
1 heaped tablespoon custard powder
1 can (400mls?) coconut milk or coconut cream
Brown sugar

A little whisk is one of the best tools here but if not a wooden spoon or a silicon spatula is more than fine. In a small pan, mix together the semolina and custard powder so there's no lumps. Mix in enough of the coconut milk to make a smooth paste, then tip in the rest. Don't worry if it's a grey-ish colour from the coconut milk, it goes more golden as it heats up. Stir over a low heat for about five minutes.

It thickens quickly - at first like white sauce, before stiffening up significantly, like really thick cake batter. At this point take it off the heat, spatula it into a bowl or two, and pour over as much brown sugar as you like.

Initially I would've said this just serves one but it probably wouldn't be silly to divide this generous bowlful between two people. Looking back, one can of coconut milk is maybe a lot for one person. But it's delicious, so if you want to eat the lot yourself you have my blessing and my example to follow.

Until you add the brown sugar it's a formless, hot bowl of gently-flavoured mush. Which is more or less what I was aiming for. The grains of semolina swell and disappear, muting the coconut flavour somewhat. The milky vanilla of the custard powder is subtle in all ways except for the yellow food colouring. It's incredibly easy to eat, a thick, smooth, coconut scented paste untroubled by any semblance of texture. And then with the sweetness of the brown sugar it all makes sense somehow, the flavours immediately enhanced. The coconut, vanilla custard and melting caramelly sugar are all gorgeous without overpowering each other, but feel free to add a shake of cinnamon, which is one of the most comforting flavours I can think of, or some vanilla extract if you like.

Back to where I started, I can't believe we're actually going to be going on our holiday so soon. I'm a bit nervous (as I am about all things) but I also seriously can't wait. As I've said before, if anyone has been to London, Berlin or Warsaw recently and knows something good, your shared knowledge would be hugely appreciated. It's a different world now to back in 2005 when we were there. No more sequined boho skirts (as was the style at the time) for one thing.
Title via: local maven of tunes, Sam Flynn Scott. Mostly a member of the Phoenix Foundation, but also does his own delightful solo stuff occasionally too, like this song Llewellyn from his album Straight Answer Machine. He's also pretty fantastic on Twitter, one of those types where you nod and shout "me too" after everything you read.
Music lately:

I've been listening to the music of Michael John LaChiusa, both startling and awesome in its time signatures, pastiche of styles, and subject matters. Not much of it is on youtube, but Gloryday from See What I Wanna See, which I did track down, still gives me thrill-shivers every time I listen to it.
Next time: Again, one day at a time. Got some raw vegan chocolate truffles that I made which may end up being next in line though...