31 May 2011

take it all with a belly full of salt

We don't eat a ton of meat, it has been gradually receding from out meals, like the tide or someone's hairline, to the point where we probably only eat it once a week - if that. I don't know why. I mean, it has got more expensive, but it's not as though I made a proper stand or decision at any point. Analysis aside, if the right recipe comes along I'll make it, so today I'm serving up pork belly, care of a fantastic recipe by local epicure Martin Bosley. I found it many miles off the ground, in the pages of an inflight magazine - tore it out, tucked it in my handbag, and dreamed about it till I landed back in Wellington again. I love near-on everything that the terrific, radiant, humble pig offers up - bacon, sausages, ham, ribs - but pork belly is particularly special (admittedly, "particularly special" is what I'd be saying if I was talking about bacon or ribs here too) with its tooth-yieldingly, saltily sticky and fatty wondrousness.

Please excuse (sigh, again) the atrocious photos. Thought I knew my camera, but concede I'm no good at taking pictures when it's dark. Next week's will be better, I promise.

This recipe is extremely straightforward. The only real difficulty is when you have to faff around turning the heavy, boiling-hot pork over partway through cooking - use a couple of pairs of tongs, some oven mitts, and take care. I didn't use oven mitts, and a splash from the bubbling toffee-like heat of the marinade leaping from the roasting dish and landing on the tender inner flesh of my wrist is like...almost enough to make me vegetarian. The ingredients feel easy enough to get hold of - I didn't have any star anise so used fennel seeds instead, figuring they'd give that licorice twist flavour, although admittedly without looking anywhere near as pretty. If you don't have an orange you could probably use bottled juice, a lemon, tamarind or even some vinegar for a different sour vibe.

Martin Bosley's Pork Belly

Cheers to (surprise!) Martin Bosley for the recipe.

2kg pork belly
120g honey
3 T oyster sauce
1 orange
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 red chilli
4 whole star anise
salt and pepper

Wash the pork belly, place in a deep roasting dish. Mix together the honey, oyster sauce, juice and zest from the orange, and garlic in a bowl. Chop the chilli and add to the marinade along with the star anise and a little salt and pepper. Scrape the bowl of marinade over the pork with a spatula, turning it over so it's properly covered. Refrigerate for at least an hour, overnight if you can.

When you're ready to cook it, take it out of the fridge and set your oven to 180 C/350 F. Roast for 90 minutes, turning over occasionally. Slice and serve with steamed rice.

There is a lot of honey in this recipe but it's not like you're having pudding for dinner here - the honey caramelises in the oven, bubbling and hissing into the juicy fat from the pork and salty, pungent oyster sauce to create a fairly magical, darkly sweet and savoury flavour. Even though the recipe is simple, everything about the pork is worked with here - the honey and orange points up its sweetness, while the oyster sauce emphasises its saltiness and the anise and chilli distract from its richness. Brilliant.

Edit: I used free range pork and definitely recommend it, if you have the means.

Leftovers can be turned into a comforting noodle soup with stock, greens, broccoli, chilli, soba noodles (or any that you like of course), soy sauce, mint, and so on.

It has been a bit of a weird time in Wellington lately, making a soothing noodle-strewn broth entirely appropriate. What with the grimly embarrassing and regrettably expensive Wellywood sign apparently an unstoppable idea, plus our branch of the Real Groovy music shop and the Grow From Here garden centre - both practically Tim's and my neighbours and places that we'd spent a lot of time - shutting down. Hopefully something happy eventually comes from these doors closing. This morning the big story was that the Wellington Phoenix football team were going to be relocating to Auckland. I flag after 20 minutes of a game and I was dismayed, so imagine how Tim, obsessed as he is, reacted. Luckily the whole story seems to be an out-of-control rumour and completely untrue. Unfortunately, the Wellywood sign is not. One thing that can be counted on though, is The Food Show - Tim and I went on Sunday and while there were noticeably less exhibitors this time round it was still an extremely fun time with bargain-ly prices and nibbles a-plenty. But no Ray McVinnie! Practically needed smelling salts when I found out he wasn't doing a cooking demonstration. Luckily there was plenty of wine to sample...


Title via: Chris Knox, local wonder, flexing his wordsmithery in A Song To Welcome The Onset Of Maturity from 1995's Songs of Me and You.

Music lately:

Doubly sad news came over the weekend - first that Jeff Conaway had died, and then Gil Scott-Heron too. I love Scott-Heron's music and poetry - the world has lost any beautiful strong words and musical greatness he was sure to have continued to contribute. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised remains amazing. Jeff Conaway, despite evidently having a decent enough voice to tour with the Broadway production of Grease, wasn't really given much to go on with song-wise in the film itself, which is a shame. RIP to them both.

On a mildly happier note, the song Nothing To Lose by The Adults rules.

Next time: As with the last blog post, I got another cake recipe from my childhood - turns out it's vegan, which'll make a nice contrast to all this porkiness.

24 May 2011

just like honey

While in hindsight I did do quite a lot of baking as I was growing up, it wasn't to the point where it was really obvious that I'd start blogging fervidly about food a few years later. Like, if ever questioned about food in my childhood you're not going to hear me recount stories of instinctively rolling out pastry with an empty vermouth bottle found on the floor and studding it with halved plums from the orchard; or learning to handmake pasta while sitting on my great-great-grandmother's floury knee. I think I've read too many interviews with chefs who had romantic-sounding upbringings. Ain't nothing whimsical about 2-minute noodles and mass-produced "Kids Can Cook" books sponsored by 2-minute noodle companies, but...I seemed to have turned out okay.

There are a few recipes from my childhood which stick with me though, and which occasionally twinge both my heartstrings and tastebuds. Today's recipe for Honeybuns is dairy free - as promised last week, in horrified reaction to $6 blocks of butter at the supermarket - and it's one that Mum, and sometimes Mum and myself together, made a lot in my childhood. This isn't simply nostalgia for its own hackneyed, rose-tinted-in-photoshop sake, these are in fact very very good. I had the urge to make them a while back and asked Mum to email me the recipe from the - if I remember rightly - pink scrapbook with big yellow flowers on it. I have this feeling that these were made so often that I was even nostalgic about them at like, aged 12, although that might be now-me trying to heap extra significance on these plain little cakes. (Which reminds me of that flawless film A Mighty Wind: "to do 'then' now would be retro, to do 'then' then was very nowtro". I actually had an extremely vivid dream recently that Tim and I traveled to San Francisco and Fred Willard - who plays Mike LaFontaine in AMW - and Jake Gyllenhaal were shooting a movie on the street - some kind of comedy-Renaissance movie in fact - and I approached Fred and told him that I thought A Mighty Wind was a flawless film and in fact if I had to find a fault with it, it would be that it was too zealously edited and could've been longer. Jake was ignored until I asked him to take a photo of me and Fred. It was one of those dreams where you wake up thinking "YUSSS-ohhh wait.")

Even if you don't usually read through the recipe itself, I prod at you to sweep your eyes over this one - check out how fast and easy and ingredients-light it is. It's one of those recipes you can make when you're out of most cool ingredient-y things.

Honey Buns

I don't know where the recipe itself is from originally...expect Mum will fill in the blanks in the comments.

125g honey
5 T oil (I use Rice Bran)
Good pinch salt
4 T water
125g wholewheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F. If your honey is particularly solid, gently microwave or heat on stove till it's runny. Whisk in the oil, salt and water, then sift in the flour and baking soda together (I don't usually sift, but a few bad experiences with baking soda make me sift when it's included in a recipe) and whisk thoroughly till there aren't any lumps. Finally, mix in the two eggs. It'll be quite a liquidy mixture. Spoon into your chosen cases and bake for about 15-20 minutes. Cover with tinfoil if they get too brown. If you don't have wholewheat flour, plain is fine.

I would recommend if you can, switching the water for orange juice - from a carton/bottle is fine, although if you've got enough actual oranges, squeeze away. Its acidy freshness points up the fragrant nature of the honey no end.

These are actually much, much nicer than their squat, monotone appearance suggests. They're definitely plain to look at (hence the jazzy orange plate!) but the honey gives them surprising depth and a sticky, date-like sweetness kept in check by by the pinch of salt. They keep for quite a long time and even as its crumbs start to clench and become dry, a zap in the microwave and a spreading of butter (well, I can never keep it too far out of arm's reach) livens them up again. But in honesty, I took a couple to work today and it was only laziness that stopped me going to the microwave and my block of butter, and they really were just perfect without. I don't say this lightly or anything. And, back to the original issue, as these don't even gasp out for butter, you could remain $6 richer for a little bit longer.

Tim and I went to Lower Hutt last night to see the Speakeasy Theatre production of RENT at the Little Theatre. Having now racked up four different versions of RENT nationwide, I can easily say it was one of the strongest-voiced, best acted and excellently directed ones I've seen. The sound system was a bit shoddy, which was a shame as some nice harmonies were lost, but it really deserves to be seen, so if you're within cooee of Lower Hutt move fast because its last show is Saturday night. Tim wasn't exactly euphoric at being there but did concede that the singing was fantastic.

I don't find it surprising that the whole "Wellywood sign" thing has caught the awareness of so many. For what it's worth, I think it's a terrible idea. Putting aside the emphatically negative response from the public, the shuddery feeling that everyone else will think we did want it, the lack of relevance to NZ, the words "bucket list" being used as a reason, and the general marring of the landscape that it will bring...it just feels like an outrageous waste of money at a time like this. Or ever. I hope it doesn't go ahead.


Title via: The Jesus and Mary Chain's Just Like Honey from Psychocandy. I really like this song, even though with those opening drums I always think it's going to be the Ronettes, and then can't help being slightly disappointed in spite of myself.

Music lately:

Typing this word as many times as I have done just now, my thoughts turn to that another excellent song named after that excellent substance, Mariah Carey's Honey from the album Butterfly.

Walk on By, a fantastic song from local band Diana Rozz. We'd seen them before but not for a long time - then caught their album release show at Happy on Saturday night and they were so much fun, so cool, so noisy...even the people on the door were hilarious.


Next time: Mum sent me another childhood recipe upon my request the other day, but I might space out all that nostalgia-tripping with a Martin Bosley recipe for pork belly. Also: the Wellington leg of The Food Show is this weekend and I'm SO excited. Hopefully there's cheap halloumi and generous soymilk samples like last year!

19 May 2011

who is all ginger and jazz, who is as glamourous as?

As I said on Twitter earlier this week, I both realise and acknowledge that if I'm serious about wanting to write a cookbook, I can't just earnestly hope someone will say "hey, I'd like to offer you a book deal" while I'm walking down the street, like how some models are discovered. I've got to arm myself with a ton of recipes, and work hard on developing them. There's no cookbook without recipes. Maybe when I've got a whole bunch written I could take a week's annual leave and test them all, and you could all come round and sample them! A bit of a fantasy, sure, but a person can dream. Prepared-ly.

I didn't invent lemonade scones, and I don't know who did, but it's a fairly well-known recipe - the premise being that you mix a can of lemonade, a bottle of cream and a whole lot of self-raising flour and it magically turns into scones when you bake it. I had a wave of the brain one day that gingerbeer instead of lemonade might make for awesomely flavoured scones. I'm not trying to winkle out of making any original thoughts here, but this is one of the most fun things about cooking - taking an existing recipe, adapting and evolving it out of necessity - not having the right ingredients - or inspiration, and just seeing what happens.

My idea was more or less successful. Really delicious, light-textured, golden scones. But not exactly the ginger wonderland I predicted. Turns out that the gingerbeer became completely muffled by the blanket of flour and diluted by the cream. There was, if you concentrated and ate with your eyes shut, a fluttery subtext of flavour, but...yeah.

I liked them so much though, that I tried them again, with a different gingerbeer brand and a handful of chopped crystallised ginger. The latter of which you could definitely taste in the finished product. We loved both versions, so feel free to try them yourself:

Gingerbeer Scones

300mls cream (I use Zoorganic)
330ml can ginger beer
4 cups self raising flour; OR 4 cups flour plus 2 teaspoons cream of tartar and 1 tsp baking soda
Optional: a handful of chopped crystallised ginger, a handful of chopped dates

Set oven to 200 C. Mix all in a bowl together, as briefly as you can. Pays to sift the flour first. Turn out onto a baking paper-lined tray, pat gently into a rectangle. Using a knife, or better yet, a dough-cutter, slice into 12, keeping them very close together - helps them rise. Bake for about 25 minutes. Best served warm from the oven, but they keep surprisingly well.

So, the first time I made these I used Phoenix Organic Ginger Beer and added a handful of dates. For my second batch I was recommended Pam's ginger beer by Plum Kitchen, so I asked Tim to get some on his way home from work. He txts to ask if I was sure, because apparently "Bundaberg = best-a-berg!" I replied something along the lines of "Pam's = insur-pams-able!" but he came home with Bundaberg anyway, because there wasn't any Pam's at the supermarket.

It's not really fair to compare the two batches since the second had actual ginger in it, so my hypothesis notes are as follows:

1) It doesn't really matter what brand you use. From Budget all the way up to the most artisinal and elegantly-labelled product.
2) If you're not going to add crystallised ginger, these will still be really nice, but you might as well just use lemonade.
3) I'd like to think that a mix of gingerbeer and crystallised ginger mutually benefit and augment each other's flavours, rather than all the flavour coming from the crystallised ginger. Because then my initial idea would still be kind of right. Please humour me by agreeing?
4) On the other hand, that kind of coddling will get me nowhere in the cut-throat world of cookbook publishery! Humour me not!

Either way, these are a slightly more charismatic take on your regular scone. Something in the bubbles of the fizzy drink and the oleaginous properties of the cream bestows on the scones a charming lightness and softness of texture. I will make them again. Also, while typing right now, I had this idea that instead of lemonade, you could use a bottle of dry cider, add a pinch of mustard powder and some grated cheese, and how good would that be? A bit like a Welsh rarebit, but in scone form! On the other hand, maybe scones have been plain for centuries for a reason...

Title via: Barbra Streisand, she of muscular voice and enormous back catalogue, singing I'm The Greatest Star, a song about self-belief if ever there was one, from the excellent musical Funny Girl.

Music lately:

Gloryday from See What I Wanna See. Felt appropriate, given the rapture-baiting mood. Not to mention, Idina Menzel is always appropriate listening.

Never Can Say Goodbye, Gloria Gaynor. Isn't this song just amazing?

Next time: I went to the supermarket the other day and it was $6 for a block of butter! Is this real life? (translation: it'll probably be dairy-free recipes for a while now.)

16 May 2011

o souperman

This soup actually cured my cold. Either that or my cold was on its way out and the bold quantities of garlic, ginger, and chilli in this soup merely opened the door for it, put its hand in the small of its back (the soup's hand, the cold's back...I think) and kindly but firmly steered it outwards.

Soup isn't always the most exciting thing to have for dinner - it's generally never fried, crispy, crunchy, chocolate dipped, or any of those things that can be so, so good about eating. However this recipe is courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi, whose way with food is always exciting. That said, you've got to make sure you really read the ingredient list, simple as it looks, and don't miss anything out. Each thing, from the sticks of celery to the bay leaves play their important part, allowing the soup to neatly dodge the whole "wait, what? This is just bits of herbs floating in warm water" vibe.

Unfortunately I can't avoid my "awful low-lighting and also prosaic soup composition photos" vibe. First comes the better control of photography on a Winter's night, then comes the better composition. I promise you I'm reading...well, looking for, my camera's instruction manual.

Garlic Soup

From Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty

Serves 4

4 shallots (or an onion) finely sliced
3 celery sticks, finely chopped
40g butter (optional - just use the oil if you like)
2 T olive oil
25 garlic cloves, finely sliced (yes, peeled and sliced, sorry)
2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger root
1 tsp finely chopped thyme leaves
200ml white wine
generous pinch saffron threads (optional...because I accidentally left it out)
4 bay leaves
1 litre good-quality vegetable stock
1/2 tsp sea salt
Parsely, coriander and Greek yoghurt and harissa to serve.

Fry your shallots or onions and celery in the butter and oil till soft and translucent - keep an eye on them, don't let them turn brown. Add the garlic and continue to cook over a low heat, then stir in the ginger and thyme, followed by the wine which will bubble up and reduce down a bit. Then add the saffron, bay leaves, salt and stock and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Note: I acknowledge peeling and slicing all that garlic is a big pain, but it's worth it in terms of flavour. Maybe a buddy you can enlist, in exchange for feeding them soup?

Ottolenghi says to blitz with a hand blender or in a food processor but I didn't have the energy for that - all the lifting and the assembling and the cleaning on a cold dark night...and it seemed just fine as it was.

As I said, every ingredient is important - the wine against the hot pan, evaporating into concentrated savoury goodness, the vigorous burst of ginger heat, the softened, traditional flavours of the onion and celery. The heavy spoonful of yoghurt isn't exactly essential but I would definitely not leave out the green garnishy things on top - coriander's fresh taste goes well with the rest of the soup, but it also makes it look a bit more presentable. If you don't have harissa (I did) you've got a number of options - stir in some sambal oelek, chopped red chilies, or replace the olive oil with chili oil. Or, of course, ignore the chili altogether.

I realise I've spent nearly this whole thing saying how not-fun soup is, but this stuff is truly gorgeous (not-not-fun?), a broth of flavours unfurling like flannel sheets grabbed straight from the dryer - warming, comforting, lightly textured.

Work took me down to Christchurch on Saturday, and I was fortunately able to have a quick catch up with Mika of the mighty fine Millie Mirepoix blog who coincidentally was also down from Wellington. The chilling rubble of half-formed houses and the constant road-blocking cordons, the cracks in the road and the buildings that you had to look at twice to register that they were leaning on an angle or sunken in the middle made me feel a bit queasy and sad inside and it would've been easy to get stuck focussing on that. Not that it shouldn't be focussed on (it should! But in a "now what" kind of way, maybe? Not really my place to say) but what I mean is, it was really good to see a friendly face amongst it all, and to contribute in a small way to the local economy by getting coffee and a really, really good Cherry Ripe Slice at Beat Street Cafe and another fantastic coffee from Black Betty's. If you're heading to Christchurch I totally recommend these places - they're open, they're friendly and they're serving up seriously good food.
Title via: Laurie Anderson's intriguing, staccato yet tranquil O Superman. Admittedly I don't know a lot of her stuff (only really this and Language Is A Virus), and it can be, to someone attuned to songs being a bit verse-chorus-verse-chorus and so on, a bit challenging, but I do like it a lot, and not just because Idina Menzel cites Anderson as someone she studied for her character of Maureen in RENT (I heard Anderson first, so!)
Music lately:
Lena Horne - who died just over a year ago now - and her beautiful version of I Got Rhythm from the Lovely and Alive record.
Joy Division, Love Will Tear Us Apart. Heard it this morning for the first time in ages on the radio. It's a bit obvious, but it's always good. (Speaking for the original only, not cover versions...)
Next time: My invention of gingerbeer scones possibly hasn't been thought of before because they weren't as wildly gingery as I thought they'd be...but they were still delicious, and I took photos of them anyway.

10 May 2011

i want to be the girl with the most cake

I'm sure if someone made a perfume based on the feijoas, it'd sell heaps. Right? But then I'd happily wear perfume that smelled like bread baking, if only such a necessary thing existed. So far the only way I can scope that you could recreate that incredible scent is to tie a fresh-baked loaf to your head (or to any bit of you, really) and that's not a particularly practical option (no matter which bit of yourself you tie it to).

When Mum came down to Wellington last weekend, she brought with her a large box of feijoas, from my Nana's tree. (Thanks Nana!) At first it was enough just to let them be. Feijoas, like avocados, are objectionably expensive here in the capital, and so just having the option of grabbing one, slicing its thick green skin open and winkling out the contents with a teaspoon to be swallowed happily, was a pleasingly luxuriant act.

But being myself, I was looking for something to bake them into. Two people I work with helped me out, one by emailing me a recipe she thought I might like (thanks Alex!) and one by supplying a first-come-first-served bag of Granny Smith apples from his tree in Gisborne (cheers Tane!) which the intriguing recipe for cake required. From the East Coast, Waiuku and the desk across the office, many people have made it possible for this cake to exist.

So, it's a good thing it tastes extremely amazing.

The apples sort of dissolve into the mixture, while small chunks of hot, sugary crystalised ginger and grainy feijoa flesh give it texture and intense fruitiness. The sticky, buttery, chewy coconutty topping works better than any icing could (that said, I'm imagining a cream cheese icing with extra chopped crystallised ginger on top...)

Feijoa, Apple and Ginger Cake

Recipe from this site.

1 cup feijoa pulp
1 cup finely chopped apple (depending on size this may be one or two apples)
1/4 cup chopped crystallised ginger
1 tsp baking soda
125 mls (1/2 cup) boiling water
125g soft butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour


50g melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup thread coconut (or dessicated, if it's what you've got)

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F. Butter and paper a 20-22cm springform caketin.

Combine the feijoa, apple, ginger, baking soda and boiling water in a bowl, and set aside while you make the cake batter.

In a good sized bowl, cream the butter and sugar till fluffy, then beat in the egg, and stir in the flour. The mixture will be quite thick at this point - almost like scone dough. Fear not! Fold in the fruit mixture, stirring well, then tip this now significantly liquid-er mixture into your prepared caketin.

Bake for 40 minutes or until golden and not wobbling in the centre. Meanwhile, combine your topping ingredients and spread carefully over the cooked cake, returning to the oven for about 8-10 minutes till the coconut is golden.

I suspect it would be very difficult to overcook this cake, which adds to its appeal, and everything going on - the coconut topping, the ginger - are a fitting showcase for this seasonal and gorgeous fruit. However, I reckon you could very easily substitute the same amount of mashed banana when feijoa is out of season or unavailable (like if you live overseas). Or soft, ripe pears...or a drained can of apricots...so much potential for deliciousness.

Thanks for all the kindness on my last post in regards to Rupert the ex-cat. I guess it won't properly sink in till I next go home.

I'm sure Rupert would be entirely indifferent if he could know that he is remembered extremely solemnly round here...

Me: *wistful face*
Tim: Are you imagining a montage of the good times you and Rupert had together?
Me: Actually.....yes.
Tim: I'm sorry.
Me: (singing quietly) thankyou for the music, the songs we're singing, thanks for all the joy- (at this point a straight face could no longer be maintained, extreme laughter ensued.)


Title via: the excellent Doll Parts by Hole. I love the contrast between the gentle strumming and pretty harmonies against the sad lyrics.

Music lately:

Happy Birthday, by Altered Images. Maybe it has been done already, but the light, twinkly intro would be really good sampled in something. I think so, anyway.

(Version) For The Love Of It by Salmonella Dub, back in their Tiki-fronted days. A really, really good song. Something about the methodical rhythm and drawn-out chorus...I was happily reminded of it while reading this article from the archives on DubDotDash.

Next time: Don't know! Should possibly do something veering away from the puddingy side of things, just for a bit of contrast or something...

8 May 2011

filling up with brandy, killing with a kiss

That's brandy pooling round the edge of the bowl, by the way, not melted butter. Wait, which is more concerning first thing in the morning? Don't think I'd be above adding melted butter to my porridge. It's only one step removed from apple crumble topping.

Despite being shackled with a dull, greyish-beige colour and a name that implies the theme of Coronation Street tolls for ye (or indeed, the theme of the eponymous prison-set show) there is a lot to love about porridge. It's cheap. It sustains. It's warm. You can cook it pretty quickly. It contains such good things as - according to Wikipedia - fibre, protein, iron and magnesium. And I also have this thing where, if I make porridge, I feel like I don't have to do the dishes right away - just fill the oaty pot with water and leave it sitting in the sink for the rest of the day.

One way to make your morning porridge distinctly less greyish-beige is to topple spoonfuls of sultanas soaked in a syrup of sugar and liquor over it. What pushed me towards such sybaritic early-morning behaviour is a recipe in the Floriditas cookbook, Morning Noon and Night. Floriditas is a beautiful cafe in Wellington. Tim and I would eat there all the time if we could afford it. Till that time comes, we can eat like them whenever I make recipes from their cookbook. Morning Noon and Night's recipe calls for Pedro Ximinez sherry to soak your dried fruit in, and not having any of that, I used quince brandy. I realise quince brandy itself is a fairly specialised ingredient, but I believe regular sherry or brandy, Marsala, Cointreau or Grand Marnier, probably some whiskys or bourbons, or nigh on any liqueur or fortified wine (maybe not Midori though) would be lush as a substitute.

If you're wanting to make quince brandy, because if you move fast you should still be able to get hold of some, all you have to do is chop up the fruit (don't bother to peel or anything) and tip into a kilner jar or similar. Add a cinnamon stick and top up with brandy (as cheap as you like) then leave in a cupboard for about 6 weeks. It tastes and smells amazing, and the recipe comes from Nigella Lawson's significant book How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

Porridge with Pedro Ximinez (or whatever) Raisins (or sultanas)

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

Note: I used sultanas, because, even though they look exactly the same as raisins, I just prefer them. But, showing what being a Nigella acolyte can do to you, I also included some golden raisins, which for some reason I can deal with because they look so pretty. I get mine from Ontrays in Petone, but please don't feel your breakfast is a failure if you only use regular ones.

250g raisins or sultanas
190mls Pedro Ximinez sherry; or more or less whatever you like, I used Quince Brandy
50g sugar
50ml water

Dissolve the sugar and water in a small pan, then boil for about 5 minutes till thick and slightly golden. Watch carefully. Place the raisins in a bowl, pour over the syrup and refrigerate till cool. Then add the alcohol, mix well, and either transfer to jars or a container and refrigerate again. Leave as long as you can - these just get better with time.


1 cup porridge oats soaked overnight in 1/2 a cup water (soaking optional)
At least 3/4 cup water
Good pinch salt
Good pinch cinnamon

Place the oats, water, salt and cinnamon in a saucepan and bring to the boil, continuing to cook (stirring continuously) till thick and creamy. Please use this amount of water as a guide only - depending on your oats and your preference, you may need way more.

Pour into two bowls, top with spoonfuls of the raisins and a little syrup.

This is so delicious - the soaking makes the oats soft and creamy despite only water being used, the cinnamon brings warmth of flavour to the potential dullness of the oats, and the soft, swollen fruit releasing a small burst of gently alcoholic syrup into your mouth with every bite. And as long as you're a bit prepared the night before with the syrup and the soaking and everything, it comes together in bare minutes. If you're not down with ingesting a tiny bit of alcohol first thing in the morning - and that's completely up to you - some equally excellent options could include replacing the sherry with orange juice, or doing away with it entirely, doubling the sugar and water, and adding a good spoonful of vanilla extract or a generous dusting of ground cinnamon.

The sultanas would probably make decent gift for someone - they can be employed in many different ways, in cakes, on yoghurt, in puddings, or as we did last night, over ice cream. Mum, my godmother and my godmother's sister (that sounds complicated and austere, think of them as aunties) came down to Wellington for the weekend and Tim and I had them over for dinner last night. Mum turned up with a purple cauliflower and a block of butter, which some people might not think is a very good gift, but most people aren't me. Both were received with much excitement. It has been a really lovely time catching up with them and seeing Mum again although her visit came with some sad news - Rupert, the cat we got in 1997 from my Mum's sister who wasn't allowed cats at her then-house, had been put down after a his longterm nose cancer got the better of him. I loved that cat so much and in his fourteen year stay with us he outlived so many other co-pets that it almost seemed like he'd just carry on living forever. His surprising appetite, his ability to warm a lap, and his look that suggests that he can understand how much you love him but he doesn't care anyway because he's a cat and that's how he does, will all be missed hugely by me.

RIP Rupert. This is our last photo together, when we got back from our holiday overseas two weeks ago (yes, I added the black and white to make it more dramatic, but still. Look at the disparity between our enjoyment of this moment. That's classic Rupert.)

Title via: How Did We Come To This, the final song in Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, the musical which has the heavy honour of introducing me to both Idina Menzel and Julia Murney back in 2005. If you ever suspect you could be into musical theatre, this might well be the cast recording that confirms that for you.
Music lately:

Treme Song by John Boutte - it's a rare, rare soundtrack that I make the effort to find, but a few - like the music from the TV show Treme - are better than your average unnecessary cash-in attempt. This song is just so good, and I was reminded of that when we had book group on Friday at the lovely Kate's house and it accompanied our discussion of Confederacy of Dunces (and other things).
Next time: Mum brought down a massive box of feijoas from Nana's tree (thanks Nana! And your tree!) and my godmum Viv told me about how she replaced the dates in a sticky date pudding with feijoas...and I think I have to try replicate that immediately. Either that, or something featuring purple cauliflower.

4 May 2011

keep your culture

While we were overseas, I read a sad tweet from Andrea of the So D'Lish blog, that the price of dairy in New Zealand was going up again. As a habitual consumer of butter, it hurts to be handing over around $5 a block. Don't even get me started on the price of milk. Yeowch. Not understanding the outs and ins of economy, I'm sure there's a reason why it all continues to be so expensive, but it feels unfair and it kinda sucks.

With that in mind, please don't throw things at me when I say that Tim and I recently bought a 2 litre bucket of yoghurt (Americans, that's just over 2 quarts which seems...strangely straightforward as far as conversions go, but I'm not arguing with Google.) It started out that we just wanted "some yoghurt", and then it did work out so much cheaper per capita of yoghurt to go for the enormous tub, and it was organic yoghurt on top of that, and the final thing that un-narrowed Tim's eyes and convinced him that it was a sensible thing to do was when I said "It'll go so quickly, I can make all those recipes with yoghurt in them!"

And then - this happens every time - I couldn't find one stupid recipe to make. A bit like those nights when you roll from left to right in bed on a suddenly uncomfortable pillow under irritatingly grippy sheets, any recipe I did manage to find with yoghurt in it suddenly seemed completely uninspiring, and unused cookbooks piled up around me.

And then I decided to strike out on my own, with the help of that longtime hero of mine, Nigella Lawson. I adapted a recipe of hers from the important book How To Be A Domestic Goddess, ending up with a huge cake that you can add heaps of different flavourings to - I went for a sexy splash of Boyajian Lime Oil, which is outrageously expensive here in NZ but pretty reasonable in the UK where I bought it. I do not for one second insist that this is the only method of flavouring your cake. Some citrus zest and juice or some bottled flavourant will also do awesome things. The finished cake is so deliciously good that you don't even need to make icing if you're not feeling up to it. And to make up for the expense of using yoghurt, I used oil in the recipe instead of melted butter.

This cake was a bit of an experiment and it worked - light, puffy, golden, gifted with staying power - we took the last bits for lunch today, five days after it was baked, and it was still as good as day one. It can feed a bit of a crowd, too, making a satisfyingly large and easily sliceable slab.

Yoghurt Cake

Adapted from Nigella's Baby Bundt recipe in How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

250ml (1 cup) natural yoghurt
175ml (3/4 cup) plain oil, I use rice bran
4 eggs
300g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
250g sugar

Zest and juice of 1 lemon, lime or orange
1 teaspoon Boyajian lemon, lime, or orange oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or coconut essence

Preheat your oven to 170 C/340 F and line a brownie tin or similar, good-sized rectangular dish with baking paper.

Whisk together the yoghurt, oil, eggs, salt (don't leave it out! It helps the flavour) and any flavourings you desire. Fold in the flour, sugar and soda and stir vigorously. It will be a very pale mixture.

Pour into the cake tin, and bake - 40 minutes to an hour should do it, depending on your oven.
Ice as you wish or leave plain.


The yoghurt isn't exactly a flavour in its own right but works excellently to deliver any citrussy stuff you might add to the batter. However it did occur to me just now, as I type, that you could use some kind of fruit-flavoured yoghurt in this. Think of it as a bit of a blank palate cake, ready for wherever the meeting point is between your inspiration and what's in your cupboard - you could probably even change tack completely and add a few spoonfuls of cocoa to the mixture to see what happens. In case you're wondering, the yoghurt itself is from Clearwater's and is completely delicious, light and sharp but surprisingly creamy.

I just know that the moment my index finger gathers, silicon-spatula-like, the final drip of yoghurt from the base of the two litre pail, I'll suddenly remember a billion different amazing recipes for yoghurt. Not that this yoghurt situation is a problem or anything, barely a challenge in fact. (I hope you all assume this anyway, but sometimes it feels necessary to reiterate that I'm aware there's a world beyond my fridge). On that note, what a week, right? Seemed as though I found out everything on Twitter - from sitting round seeing exactly what it was Obama had to say, to discovering there had been a tornado on Auckland's North Shore. By the way, if any of you were in Albany at the time, I hope you're doing okay. Strange times. Finding out that the price of butter increased, of course, isn't quite a "where were you when" moment but either way, thumbs up to the good people on Twitter for keeping me informed.

And the yoghurt levels have slowly dropped - for breakfast, for marinating chicken, and also in this really cool recipe for bread rolls which I tried out over the weekend and am not only going to be repeating as much as I can, but also blogging about soon.
Title via: Three Houses Down, with this awesome song from their album Breakout...in yoghurt as in life, eh?
Music lately:
Richard Hell, Another World - unfortunately not on Youtube (another one of those things that's not actually a problem in relation to other problems, but don't you hate it when you search for something on Youtube and a drop-down menu pops up with exactly what you were looking for, and then the video itself isn't even there? Does that happen to anyone else?) but it is what I'm listening to. From Blank Generation, one of my favourite albums.
Broadway's Norm Lewis (who I met in London, did you know??) singing All The Things You Are with Audra McDonald - if I was a block of butter (which, sometimes, I practically almost am) I'd have completely melted off the bench by the time this song finishes.
Next time: When the weather's freezing and the butter's expensive, I turn to cheap, warming fare like porridge. Especially when I can soak sultanas in brandy and have them with it.

2 May 2011

don't feel so alone, got the radio on

So, the Royal Wedding on Friday night. I seriously didn't think I'd be watching it, I really wasn't more than passingly interested, and even then only so far as it was a big thing happening in my lifetime, as opposed to being all "Wedding!! Fairytale princess!!!!" Tim and I went out to dinner with good friends that night, and when I got home there seemed to be only moments between casually but curiously turning on the TV "just to see the dress"...and me sitting in bed, mug of tea in hand, crocheted blanket and hot water bottle on lap, tweeting complete strangers about Princess Bride references and Victoria Beckham's choice of hair extension and having txt conversations with Mum that went like "awww" and ":D".

Anyway, earlier that day I inadvertently ended up making something not a million years removed from Prince William's choice of wedding cake. Inadvertently, despite having read about his choice of cake already and, despite-er still, having read a recipe referencing it at the Kitchen Maid blog. I'm not trying to cash in on the wedding, I promise. Because the reason I wanted to make this recipe, is the following story.

I was on Wikipedia one time, and I was clicking on links and clicking and clicking and clicking as you do, and somehow I found myself reading about Radiokaka or Radio Cake, a type of Swedish confection "launched with the advantage that it can be eaten without a sound, without nibbling, which was an advantage when you listened to the radio with headphones..." That this doubly advantageous cake was thusly promoted to children appealed to me massively. I like the pragmatic approach; the radio needs to be listened to and cake needs to be eaten, here there is minimal imposition on either act.

Fact: a charming piece of information like this is the difference between me looking at a recipe and thinking "yeah, nah, boring" and me thinking "I need this in my life without delay".

To find the recipe, I had to translate a whole bunch of Swedish sites, and it became pretty clear that butter, Copha or coconut oil were the emollients of choice. I know butter's expensive these days but it's cheaper than coconut oil, and to me feels less creepy than Copha. That said I grew up ingesting Kremelta in various party-foods (and Mum's seasonal treat "White Christmas") so go for your life if that's what you'd prefer. For me: butter. On that note, it's probably best to just look at the ingredients, take it in, and then move on. There's no getting around them. And if it's good enough for generations of radio-listening, silently nibbling youthful Swedes, it's more than good enough for me. And there's really nothing here that you wouldn't find in a cake.

I normally don't even go down the biscuit aisle at the supermarket, in fact if Tim so much as glances sideways at them I'll inevitably roar "you want biscuits? I'll MAKE YOU BISCUITS" but in a friendly, couplesy in-joke kind of way, well I hope. However we saw some plain ones going cheap a while back and I grabbed a couple of packs in case of future cheesecake. Their presence in my cupboard seemed to make it all the more obvious that I should make this recipe.

The recipe itself I cobbled together from various translated sources, it seems there's not a heck of a lot of variation but I'm happy to be proven wrong. In a nod to the coconut oil, I added some threads of coconut to the chocolatey, biscuity layers. I think if I was making this again I might stir in a couple of spoonsful of good cocoa too, just to give a bit more of a dark edge to the chocolate. The recipe below might look really long and complicated but it's truly not - a bit of mixing and layering, is all - I just wanted to talk you through it, and through any potential hurdles.

Radiokaka (Radio Cake)

200g dark, dark chocolate. I use Whittakers Dark Ghana.
200g butter
2 cups icing sugar (loosely heaped, not tightly packed or anything).
2 eggs
1/2 cup coconut, either dessicated or thread
1 packet plain biscuits, like superwines. If you're in the US, pop culture would suggest...Graham Crackers?

Take a loaf tin, and line with either baking paper or plastic wrap.

Break chocolate into pieces and gently melt it with the butter over a low heat. Or if you like, get a small pot of water simmering away and then sit your pot with the chocolate and butter in it over that. As soon as it all starts to collapse, you can probably take it off the heat and leave it before stirring together, as the general heat will continue to melt everything.

Meanwhile, thoroughly whisk together the eggs and icing sugar until thick and very pale. Carefully pour in the chocolate mixture, continuing to whisk briskly (so that it doesn't sieze with the heat. Pour some into the base of your prepared loaf tin - enough to cover it properly, a few milimetres - making sure it goes right to the corners. Set this aside to cool and slightly solidify.

Once this has happened, carefully place a layer of biscuits on top of the chocolate. I realised halfway through that the biscuits weren't the right shape and I needed to carefully slice them in half. A bit of crumble-age isn't a big deal, it's just getting covered with chocolate anyway. Sprinkle with coconut (toast it if you like first) and then carefully spoon over some more chocolate. The chocolate may have set a bit by this point and will need some handling. Spread it evenly over with the back of a spoon - be rough, don't worry about the coconut staying put. Layer up biscuits and chocolate again, making sure you leave enough chocolate to cover the top. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

To serve, turn out and slice fairly thinly - about 1/2 to one inch gives you plenty.

Considering its ingredients it's pretty astonishing that the Radiokaka doesn't taste aggressively sweet. What it is, is rich. Rich rich rich. It's a good richness though, and the silky dark chocolate flavour, broken up by the almost-crunch of the softening biscuits and the relatively neutral coconut is a pretty extraordinary combination. It's a wonder the Swedish kids could concentrate on their frequencies at all. It keeps well (you can even freeze it), slices like a dream and is fancy enough to serve up at a dinner party but could also be served up for kids to demolish happily.

It's one week since Tim and I got back from our trip overseas and as I guessed, it's feeling more like a zillion years ago. However small things like making chocolatey Swedish recipes, flicking through the Musicals section of the vinyl selections at Slow Boat Records and watching the dogs being walked on the waterfront makes me glad to be back in Wellington, and just glad in general.

I guess there is a decent segue to be found in that this cake could be described as "a bit wicked" and then I could talk about Wicked the musical but as I really hate using "wicked" to describe food (worse still: "wickedly indulgent") and I can't think of a segue that doesn't irritate me, I'll just say - Wicked was incredible. You think you know something every which way to Sunday and then...seeing it live, I felt like that moment in the Wizard of Oz movie where Dorothy steps out from her black-and-white house into the world of Technicolour. Everything was heightened, more impressive, both funnier and sadder, given more meaning. By the end of the first act, when the crucial Defying Gravity scene happens, I was shaking, and I didn't even realise it. Another thing I didn't realise was that in Tim's and my travel blog it might've sounded like I didn't like it that much. What I was trying to articulate was, that a lot of people don't like musical theatre, but if you were one of these people there was still a lot to enjoy in the scenery and production values alone. I honestly didn't think it would impact me that much - there are many better-written musicals out there and there's music that affects me much more on a day-to-day basis than Wicked's score. But in person it delivers so hard that all I could think, once it was over, was that I needed another hit. Which means traveling to Australia...or even better, New York...maybe the next trip?

Title via: the kind of adorable Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers with Roadrunner, one of my favourite songs ever. Something about it - simple, repetitive, conversational - I can just listen on repeat over and over again and not get weary of it.

Music lately: sadly the branch of Real Groovy - across the road from where Tim and I live - is closing down at the end of this month. It's a place that I've spent heaps of time (and money) ever since we moved here in 2006. I'll miss it. They seem to be largely fleeced of most decent stock but I managed to pick up some Liza Minelli and Judy Garland on vinyl, plus some other bits and pieces. Liza Minelli's title track from Liza With a Z shows some serious work ethic in terms of actually delivering the song at all...it's so fast she's practically rapping.

Chico, by The Concretes. Tim's mum and sister came down from Palmerston North yesterday and this song was playing at the place we went out to get pizza at. I hadn't heard it in so long, and even though I normally like my songs to have a bit more, erm, concreteness to them, but with a bit of distance I was struck by how pretty it was - the twinkly bells and dreamy-woozy vocals make it feel like you're drifting off to sleep, which is very occasionally what I like in a song.

Next time: In the name of good value, we bought 2kg of yoghurt the other day so you can most definitely expect some yoghurty recipes soon, including a really delicious cake recipe. Plus some more slow-dripped travel stories.