30 August 2011

stone cold soba as a matter of fact

Note: I've been mucking round with fonts and things, Blogger's formatting is a bit of a nightmare and it has all gone horribly wrong. I ended up having to put my old font back but stupid blogger won't seem to let me get rid of all these weird gaps between the photos and the text. Shoulda left well alone! Maybe the .com went to my head...

Yes, again. Like you've never been obsessed with a plate shaped like an autumn leaf before.
I was recently reading Wayfaring Chocolate, one of my favourite food blogs, and its writer/custodian Hannah acknowledged her considerable fear of spiders, and how she hilariously freaked out at the sight of one in her room before realising it was in fact a sock that she'd owned for years, with spiders printed on it. In this spirit of laughing with, not at, I'd like to disclose how massively scared I am of...pelicans. Now as I said last time, I'm honestly pretty scared of many things, to the point of it not being particularly hilarious (I'm talking panic attacks) but people tend to find this specific fear funny. And well they might. When Tim and I were in Europe earlier this year we went to three different zoos and every time, I had to get Tim to be on lookout for them and whenever they were on the horizon, he'd tell me which direction to not look in order to avoid accidentally seeing their scary eyes and death-beaks.
If you'd read our little blog while we were traveling you'll know how much I wanted to see a capybara. At one point, when it was starting to look unlikely, I said loudly "wouldn't it be just my luck if the capybara and the pelicans were in the same enclosure" to kind of try and tempt fate or something, but no luck. There were just horrible shuddery pelicans (if anything, it's like fate misheard me and was like "okay, gotcha, so you want heaps of pelicans and no capybara, right?)
In case you're wondering what's the deal, well solidarity, for one thing. And it's a blog! I share without hurdles, I share without filters! (Don't worry, this is actually me filtering.) And in case you're wondering what's the deal with pelicans, I had a spine-freezingly scary nightmare about them. And from that night forth, I've tried to keep my distance and avoid eye contact with them.

Anyway: Noodles. I love them. Cold, hot, spicy, salty, satay-y, wide, thin, whatever. In this case, intertwined with vegetables and with a hot and sour sauce coating each cold strand of soba. The always-important Nigella Lawson has this cool salad in Nigella Express which uses tom yam paste in the dressing, which uses the flavours of soup that you'd normally use said paste in, but in a concentrated manner. I took that dressing and instead dressed grainy buckwheat soba noodles and steamed vegetables with it. It only turned out the way it has because of what I had in the fridge and freezer (not a lot, to be honest) - you could use any number of things to make it SO much better than mine. Like broccoli, avocado, carrots, rocket, zucchini, mushrooms and so on. You could also swap it for any other noodles you've got hanging round - rice sticks, ramen, somen...I wouldn't choose udon for this, since it suits a more solid bitey strand, but really as long as you've got the dressing, you're all good.

I know I said it'd be Banana Pudding Ice Cream this time, but I only ended up making it late last night, and it wasn't properly frozen this morning. So no photos, and therefore no blog post. I can tell you though, having ploughed into it with a spoon several times, that it is amazingly good and will be worth the wait.

Soba Noodles with Steamed Vegetables and Hot and Sour Dressing
(adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe)

Serves as many as you provide for. I'd hazard a guess that this dressing can deliver for noodles for between 1-4 people, any more than that and start increasing quantities.

Soba noodles
Selection of vegetables - I used frozen peas, frozen soybeans, cavolo nero, and one smoked capsicum because that's all I could cobble together.
Coriander or mint, sesame seeds, sesame oil etc to serve.

1-2 teaspoons tom yam paste (depending on your taste)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice (I had a lime - yuss!)
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
Good pinch of salt, or a splash of soy sauce

Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a large bowl.

Cook the noodles according to packet instructions. While you're boiling the water for the noodles, fit either a metal colander or a steamer over the top of the pot you're cooking them in and put in it any of your vegetables that need cooking (like...peas yes, avocado, no) and allow them to steam away.

Once the noodles have had their time, tip the colander of vegetables into the bowl of dressing, drain the noodles under running cold water in the same colander (well, this works if you used a colander - if you have a steamer just drain them separately.)

Tip the noodles into the bowl as well and carefully mix it all together to incorporate the vegetables and the dressing. Divide between the plates of people you're serving. Top with coriander and/or mint, and sesame seeds if you like.

Super spicy and sharp and awesome. Taste to see if you need any more of a particular ingredient - don't feel constrained to the (admittedly already vague) parameters I gave you. You might find you want more heat, more salt, or that you want it to be oilier. Tim and I had this for dinner on Monday night and it was damn wonderful, the slightly softened greens leaning into the noodles as they twirled round my fork, and the strong buckwheat flavour of said noodles being ably challenged by the hot, limey dressing soaking into them. We then had it for lunch today, and apart from the already annoying peas (they just don't stick to your fork) losing their bright colour overnight, it was just as good on day two.

Title via: Elton John's The Bitch Is Back. That's right I love Elton John. If you click through the footage of him singing this on Top of the Pops in 1974 is grainy, but very fun (like soba noodles, incidentally.)

 Music lately:
Somehow, even with the internet making everything accessible and instant, I hadn't thought to look up Missing You from the Set It Off soundtrack, which would make it...15 years since I've heard it? It's emotional, it's harmony-tastic, it's got CHAKA KHAN. Closely rivaled by En Vogue's equally dramatic Don't Let Go (Love) from the same album, for 'best song ever from a movie or anything ever'.

Next time: That Ice Cream.

28 August 2011

but if that salt has lost its flavour it ain't got much in its favour

There are many things in life to be afraid of. But, being a person who tends rapidly towards non-endearingly sweaty anxiety I can say this with confidence: adding salt to your caramel slice - or your caramel anything - should not be on that list of things you fear.

You know what else isn't so scary? Buying a DOMAIN NAME! I am now hungryandfrozen.com! It's really, sincerely thrilling. I know people have been doing it since forever (Tim: "this is truly a special day" Me: "Yes. No one has ever done this before. Surely good things will only come of this") but whatever. I'm inordinately pleased with myself for finally making it happen - someone might as well be - and surprisingly, that snappy little .com really does make me feel more part of it all. (Note: I really wanted to link through to a song called Part of it All from [title of show] there but inexplicably it's not on YouTube. I might've been the only person who actually listened to it, but it makes me feel better that you know what my intentions were, anyway.)

As I was saying, don't feel held back by the salt component of this caramel slice. The recipe is in the new issue of the excellent Cuisine magazine, and even though it's one of those hand-it-to-you-on-a-plate kind of recipes where you can tell immediately by the title that it's going to be really good, I was not prepared for just how amazingly amazing it'd taste.

As with browning butter in last week's recipe, salt sharpens up every good thing about caramel. It becomes more roundedly toffeed, more intensely buttery, and less straightforwardly sugary. Lay that salt on. I can't lie that it helps if it's the kind of nice, flaky sea salt that costs twelve times more than the regular stuff.

This recipe is pretty uncomplicated, with just melting and stirring and then more melting and stirring involved. However, there's a few elements that make it not your average supersweet chocolate-topped caramel slice. Not that I'm anti the regular stuff, I struggle, and always have, to choose anything else when I go to bakeries. First, there's the salt. Then, fine cornmeal is added to the base, giving a little contrasting grit and crispness, and echoing the sweetness of the contents more than just plain flour would. Finally, the sweetened condensed milk feels more heat than usual, boiled away in the pan and then further blasted in the oven, reducing its liquid and making it as spreadable and roof-of-mouth coating as peanut butter. That's a good thing, by the way. All told, it's one heck of a recipe.

Salted Caramel Slice

Adapted from a recipe by Fiona Smith, from the September/October issue of Cuisine. For example, I didn't have a tin small enough and so increased some ingredients.  

115g brown sugar  
100g fine cornmeal
100g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
150g butter
3 tablespoons golden syrup  
A 395g can of sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F and butter and line an average sized slice tin. Mix the brown sugar, cornmeal, flour and baking powder together in a bowl. 

In a pan, melt 120g of the butter. Pour it into the dry ingredients, mix together well and press into the base of the tin, flattening out carefully with the back of a spoon. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes.  

In the same pot/pan, melt the rest of the butter, tip in the condensed milk and the golden syrup, and cook over a low heat for six minutes or so, stirring plenty. The caramel should darken slightly and thicken up. Spread it carefully and evenly - it'll only be a thin layer - over the base, sprinkle with the salt, and return to the oven for another 10-12 minutes.  

Allow to cool, then slice how you like.

It is without hyperbole that I tell you that this is intensely dazzlingly delicious. Real special stuff. The sort of thing you should definitely make for your friends, or even people that you're hoping to be friends with, because it's so good and no-one could hate you after eating it, no matter how bad a first impression you made (unless they're allergic to dairy or something, in which case this would be a really, really bad first impression). And for all that it has three different kinds of sugar in it, it's not scarily sweet.

Speaking of things not scarily sweet, and for the sake of variety: a salad so healthy I served it in a plate shaped like a leaf. Because none of us will ever have the same ingredients as each other it would be unfair to tell you to stick exactly to this, but it was very good and served to clear out some packets of things that had been guiltily neglected for a while; quinoa, edamame, peas, torn up cavolo nero leaves, toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds, black sesame seeds, and a weird but good dressing involving peanut butter, cider vinegar, nigella seeds, ground cumin, lemon-infused olive oil and...something else that I forget. My rule for dinner salads is that there needs to be nuts or seeds involved, and an amazing dressing, and the rest will all fall into place - just use whatever's in the fridge, freezer, and cupboard.

Saturday was awesome - rapturous sunshine, a Petone food mission with Kate, Jason, Kim and Brendan; Tim joining us after getting a haircut that mercifully didn't make him look like a Hitlerjugend (I've seen his school photos, the regulation buzzcut was not kind to him); putting salmon and pork ribs into Kate and Jason's smoker; eating said food with heaps and heaps of cider. Later that evening Tim and I went to Kayu Manis - having had such a good time there the week before with Chef Wan - and I laughed both with and at Tim while he struggled with the chili content of his curry. Finally we went home and watched Parks and Recreation. It was so fun that Sunday couldn't help but be slightly mopey in contrast (but really: you go grocery shopping late on a Sunday afternoon, hear that really weird "Give me the Beach Boys" song playing over the loudspeaker and just try not to cry dismally.)  
Title via: Light of the Earth from Godspell, a musical that I love unashamedly (although loving musicals in the first place could be cause of shame for some, but not I!) This isn't even the best song from it. But it does use the word salt.  

Music lately: I really recommend listening to Judy Garland's You Made Me Love You followed by Sherie Rene Scott's hilarious version from her musical Everyday Rapture. Which does not appear to be on Youtube. But if all you can manage to locate is just Judy's original or anything by Judy and/or something that Sherie Rene Scott has sung, things are still looking up for you. All Your Love, John Mayall's Blues Breakers - Tim bought this record on Saturday and I was all "Eric Clapton? Boring!" but actually that was a bit of an unfair call.
Next time: While I was at Kate and Jason's I took stock of their other Lee Brothers book, and from it will be making Banana Pudding Ice Cream. I can't wait, haven't done any ice cream in aaaages. Also, If you're in Wellington, look out for people selling cupcakes for the SPCA on Monday 29, and if you like, be kindly towards them and buy said cupcakes. It's possibly too late to make some yourself now, although having spent many a midnight frantically baking I wouldn't rule it out entirely.

23 August 2011

hey world, i yam what i yam

Today: a completely manageable, non-taxing, leisurely recipe and succinct-ish surrounding blog post for you.


But yeah, nah, really. I'm going to make this pretty quick. I'm tired. It's my own fault, I stayed up late watching Parks and Rec with Tim the other night and now I'm paying for it, partly with exhaustion and efflorescent eyeballs, and partly with faint embarrassment that I'm really tired because of a TV series, not anything involving glamorous shoes or being outside the house. But then I think of Ron Swanson and such dedication all makes sense.

Yams seem to be reasonably priced these days, and what's rather fantastic about them is that you can just throw them into boiling water, whole and untampered, and their doubtful looking solid red exteriors melt away and will combust into mash at the barest pressure of a fork's tines. No peeling, no chopping, no trimming. The texture isn't silky smooth, but as long as you can see that coming, you're all good.

There is in the yam a light and clean sweetness, with an almost lemony astringence. This makes it entirely ideal to be sullied by rivulets of butter and crunchy fried garlic cloves. When you let the butter go brown in this way, every good thing about it is deepened and accentuated, and it becomes nutty and caramelly and salty and very, very wonderful.

Mashed Yams with Garlicky Browned Butter 

As I made this up on the spot (although am probably not the first person to eat this combination of ingredients) the quantities are really up to you. Go with what you need in your heart. I would suggest more yams than butter, but not to the point where you have to squint to taste it. Maybe 750g yams, 75g butter and 3 cloves garlic would be good for 2-3 people.

Garlic Cloves
Optional: buttermilk

Tip your yams, whole, into a good sized pot/pan and top up with water to cover them. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer away energetically. They'll lighten up considerably. When you can easily plunge a fork into their flesh, they're ready.

While they're boiling, roughly chop up some garlic cloves. Heat a decent amount of butter - as much as you feel is necessary at the given time - in a saucepan and throw in the chopped garlic cloves.

Let the butter get properly brown and bubbling. It'll separate into a kind of rust-red sediment and a nut-coloured liquid, and the garlic cloves will darken considerably. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Drain the cooked yams, and press down on them with a fork, stirring to mash them. Feel free to mash them with a decent splash of buttermilk if you like.

Divide between as many plates as matches your quantity of mash, and spoon over the butter.

This is a decent alternative to mash potato especially since, as I outlined already, you don't have to peel or trim or chop yams. They take a little while to cook but not nearly as long as their denser-celled tuber friends. It tastes comforting, because it's soft and buttery and warm, and it's comforting to make, because you barely have to do anything. Probably the most stressful thing is trying to peel the garlic cloves and having their papery cases cling to you, static-like and persistent. The idea is to properly brown the garlic in the butter, each granule becoming chewy and rich, embiggening even those bitter, burning garlic cloves which I can't seem to avoid lately.

Please continue to feel free to indulge me by voting for my cake on the Wellington on a Plate Bake Club photo competition. A massive thank you and held-slightly-too-long hug to everyone who has so far and shared it on their own page. Voting closes on the 25th, so after that no need to worry.

Title via: La Cage Aux Folles, I Am What I Am. Yes, that song on the shampoo (or whatever it was) ad came from a Broadway musical. One in which George Hearn showed off his considerable lungs (and presumably legs, too.)

Music lately:

Lady Day and John Coltrane from Gil Scott-Heron's Pieces of a Man record. We found it recently and it has taken a lot for us to play anything else.

MF Doom, Fenugreek. Not sure if I like this best on its own or as sampled in Ghostface Killah's 9 Milli Bros, but either way it's a flipping sensational track.

Next time: I made Salted Caramel Slice from the new Cuisine magazine. Be still my already struggling heart, it is mightily delicious.

21 August 2011

we are the custard pie appreciation consortium


Blackberry Coconut Custard Chocolate Chunk Cookie Pie!

But before the pie, one thing. I'm not even sorry for lulling you into a false sense of pie-related security, that was in fact my aim.

After becoming besotted with Parks and Recreation and watching it fanatically with Tim, I couldn't work out who the character of Ron Swanson reminded me of. And then, while looking through photos, it hit me: Rupert, our dead family cat.

I even uploaded this unfairly terrible photo of myself with Rupert so I could say: See? Look at the similar contempt in their eyes. Their comparable face shapes. Their pelts, both elegant and abundant. The resemblance doesn't stop at the physical or the disposition, either. Like Ron, Rupert's appetite was legendary. I'm pretty sure had we offered it to him, he wouldn't have turned down The Swanson (that's a turkey leg wrapped in bacon.)

Anyway, unsparing self-indulgence aside, here's some pie that I invented...self-indulgently.

I've had this idea tucked away in my brain for a week or two, but only had the time and energy to test it out this morning. That idea was: what if I made a pie, but instead of using pastry, I used cookie dough? It'd be like there was a giant cookie on top! But it'd be a pie! You can see how I got so enthusiastic about this.

I mean, I really thought this was a good idea. Luckily for me, it actually worked out well, because I can't predict what would've happened to my self-esteem/general demeanour if it had tasted awful or broken in half or something - I made such a huge mess of the kitchen in the process of making this and it was gratifying to have something delicious to justify it.

I guess you could employ near-on anything in the filling, but I wanted to use things I already had, which was frozen blackberries, dessicated coconut, and a little dark chocolate. The custard powder acts as a thickening agent, but importantly, along with the coconut, absorbs the bulk of the berry juice, thus preventing it seeping into the pastry and becoming soggy. This was my assumption, and it did exactly what I'd hoped. Apart from the sheer uncertainty of it all, and my chronic clumsiness meaning that there was a large and suspicious looking pile of baking powder on the floor, THIS PIE IS SO STRAIGHTFORWARD that I had to put that bit in capitals in case you were scrolling through this in a bit of a hurry and not really properly reading it, because (a) it's a very important point and (b) people do that, we're only human.

It's not only straightforward, it turned out vegan, so feel free to feed this to near-on anyone you like (except Ron Swanson, who probably wouldn't appreciate that there was no meat was involved.)

Blackberry Coconut Custard Chocolate Chunk Cookie Pie (it's a good name, right?)

Cookie Dough Pastry

Follow this recipe, leaving out the spices, but adding in a teaspoon of cinnamon. Note: the texture of the dough when I made it this time round was much more traditionally cookie-like, but I honestly think I forgot half the flour when I made it last time. Depending on your ingredients the results may vary but it should be recognisably like cookie dough.

Roll out a decent handful of the dough and carefully lay it in a pie plate (as you can see from the photos, I put a sheet of baking paper in the pie plate.) Press it down, but don't bother to trim the edges too much. Refrigerate.

Roughly chop about 70g dark chocolate (I used Whittaker's Dark Ghana) and stir through the remaining dough. Roll out another decent handful of this dough into a rough circle.

2 1/2 cups blackberries (or whichever frozen berries you like)
3 tablespoons custard powder
1 tablespoon golden syrup
2 generous teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
1 cup dessicated coconut

Mix everything except the coconut in a small pan, so that the berries are covered in the custard powder. Heat gently, stirring constantly. The berries will start to release their juice which will absorb the custard powder, slowly becoming brighter in colour. Slowly bring to the boil, by which stage it should be pretty liquid, then simmer for about three minutes, stirring the whole time. Stir in the coconut and allow it to cool a little.

Spread it all into the base of the pie and then top with the chocolate chunk layer. Pinch/fold the edges together.

Bake at 190 C/375 F for 15 or so minutes. Keep an eye out on it though. Like cookies, the dough will become more solid upon cooling.

This will make more cookie dough than what you'll need for a pie, but whatever you don't use, tip into a freezer bag and use in future as an instant crumble topping for fruit. Or if you've got the energy, roll it out and use it to make cookies.

So what does it taste like? All the nicer for sitting on this brazenly pretty plate shaped like a leaf, I can tell you. (It's from Vanishing Point at 40 Abel Smith Street and their stuff is very reasonably priced, considering this is Wellington.)

As I said, the hypothesis paid off and both the base and top were crisp and chewy and, well, cookie-ish, without the slightest hint of disintegrating into a pastry swamp from the berry juices. The cookie recipe's a good one, so it wasn't surprising that it tasted delicious, but the small bursts of very dark, velvety chocolate against the more sweet, fragrant filling was very delightful. The whole thing was pretty brilliant actually - richly berried, softly gritty and crimson of filling, sturdy and intermittently chocolately of exterior.

As far as endorsement that's not from me goes, Tim and I cheerfully fed this pie today to a cool crowd: Kate, Jason, Jo (thanks for the flowers Jo) Kim, and Brendan (who doesn't have anything to link to.) They all seemed to really like it, and not just because I was standing right there with a serrated knife. Also, it was ostensibly given in exchange for more Parks and Recreation from Kate and Jason (that kind of rhymes!) so it's all nicely circular. Tim and I watched an episode while having dinner tonight, it's actually concerning how hyped up we were. Mind you, we do this over a lot of TV, at least we're both like this. (Tim: "Mmm, both of us".)

It has been a good weekend: Yesterday I had the fortuitous opportunity to have lunch at Kayu Manis with the esteemed Chef Wan and several other local food bloggers (find out more and see the photos here) and on Friday night I had another very fun food blogger occasion in the form of a Wellington on a Plate dinner at Fratelli. Last night Tim and I went to see @Peace at Chow, which was a sort of awkward location, but it was a cool night. Well, a cool morning. It started after 1am. Hence these stilted and expressionless sentences. I felt things! I had emotions! I just had two really late nights in a row and am feeling increasingly useless at placing words in a row effectively as this evening wears on.

Luckily, this being 2011, my thoughts on this pie, and all other good things, can be summed up with one simple gif.

Title via: The Kinks' excellent, if lengthily titled Village Green Preservation Society, which now always makes me think of the good fight fought by the people of Otaua back in 2008.

Music lately:
Scritti Politti, The Sweetest Girl. Some songs that you initially don't think you like whatsoever and then end up listening to them on repeat many times over in one sitting? This one. Is one.

Have linked to it before but Disfunktional by the aforementioned @Peace is such a good song. Last night it was sent out to anyone fighting with their other half. Such is the fervour inspired in people by @Peace and its members, there was huge cheering from the audience, until they were told not to cheer because it's not something to be proud of. I guess you had to be there, but it was pretty funny. Probably because I was standing near one especially enthusiastic guy. Who cheered at that point.

Next time: Made a simple dinner of rice and peas tonight from the Lee Brothers' book - might put that one up next. Doesn't sound very fun, but it tasted just perfect.

17 August 2011

now everything's a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped

Last week I disclosed the tormented hours I'd spent with "A Bear Went Over The Mountain" stuck in my head. I think I managed to top that this morning, when I got Hail Holy Queen from Sister Act stuck in my brain, on repeat. Specifically, the alto part, which I learned for the Waiuku Combined Schools Choir Festival in...1994? Which is a whole other story, involving creaky, unsafe bench seats and droningly earnest songs about dying sparrows, but that aside, isn't memory a strange thing? I can remember the vocal parts (including Latin breakdown!) of a song I learned in primary school but frequently struggle to count things or do simple addition or return a movie to the rental place on time.

Luckily the part of my brain that has been reserved for that alto part (and a meaty one it was too, considering the rest of our songs were sung in monotonous unison) hasn't edged out the part of my brain that likes inventing cakes. It's possible that those two segments are right next to each other, sneering at the small part of my brain that's responsible for mathmatics. And then the mathematics segment says "Won't you let me play? I'm useful for recipes!" And then the recipe inventing bit says "Oh alright, but I'm only using you", and then -

Actually...I think that's run its course.

Upside Down Caramel Nut Cake is what my occasionally crafty brain came up with. Something in their very upside-downness is what makes these kind of cakes so come-hither. Whatever you put on the base becomes stewed and caramelised under its blanket of cake batter, and then when you turn it out you have an instantly good looking cake without having to faff around with making an icing.

I don't want to present you with this recipe and then make it sound like it's not all that special. It is indeed special just the way it is. However. It is very likely that you could use your own go-to cake recipe on top of the upside-down nuts, for example to make it gluten-free or dairy-free. In the meantime though, the cake I've created is sturdy and delicious, exactly suiting a gleaming, sugar-coated crown of toasty almonds. Don't be shy with the golden syrup, it's one of the best flavours in the world.

Upside Down Caramel Nut Cake

1 cup whole almonds
25g butter
3 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
125g butter
125g sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
2 eggs
125 ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk
250g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

Firstly, set your oven to 180 C, and put a double layer of baking paper in the base of a 22cm springform cake tin. The double layer is to stop the nuts burning. Heee.
Melt the first measure of butter gently in a pan with the golden syrup and cinnamon. Pour it carefully over the base of the springform tin and pour in the almonds, spreading them out so they're evenly spread in a single layer.

In the same pan (if you like!) melt the second measure of butter, then remove it from the heat and stir in the sugar and golden syrup. Once it's cooled a little, whisk in the eggs, buttermilk, and then the dry ingredients. Scrape this carefully over the nuts in the tin, smoothing it out.
Bake for around 40 minutes, or until golden. If necessary and it's risen up heaps, carefully trim a little off the top so it's flat, before clapping a plate on it and turning it upside down. Carefully peel away the layers of paper and - ta-da! Upside-down cake.

Possibly because I took these photographs early in the morning, but I was suddenly inspired to stick the plate on a small upside down bowl.

The nuts themselves get all candy-sweet and delicious, getting just enough heat to develop the toasty edge of their flavour, but not so much that they become bitter. The cake underneath is a triumph of balance: delicious in its own right, but not so amazing that it overshadows the nuts; robust enough to actually handle a topping but soft and light from the buttermilk.

It's possible that the makeshift cake stand was a little off-centre...

On Monday, something cool happened: I saw Stephen Fry! We had a moment! Well, it was a one-way moment - he didn't actually see me, but nonetheless, we were in the same room together. The room that brought us together for said imaginary moment was Hippopotamus, where I'd been happily sent to a Cocktails and Canapes evening for Visa Wellington on a Plate. Holy smokes it was good. It's a pretty pricey place to hang out (possibly why Fry was there) but everything is executed with both precision and panache, and it is one of those places that makes you feel like you're an important person just by being there. If that makes sense. It's occasionally a nice thing to feel. Tim was there too, but I was at the bar and Tim was down at a table, staring intently at a menu or something. My sincere attempts at telepathy didn't work, so in the end I had to try and throw my voice and say "TIM" through clenched teeth, then do that "over there" gesture with my head. So I guess all three of us had a moment, two out of three people actively feeling something in that moment isn't too bad I guess. Let me have my moment!
Title via: There's really only so much Bob Dylan I can handle, and predictably, this tends to be his 60s and 70s stuff. Idiot Wind is what gives us todays title and comes from the excellent album Blood On The Tracks.
Music lately:

Stevie Wonder, As. I have a bit of a thing for songs which feature minor keys in this fashion. It can make things very confusing when it's a song I don't actually like, but luckily here it's an extremely good song, too.

TLC's deliciously languid yet darkly cautionary Waterfalls from CrazySexyCool. All of a sudden enough time has passed so now it's one of those oldie-but-a-goodie songs. I actually heard it on an easy listening station recently...although alas, they used an edit without Left Eye's rap :( anyway, thanks to Peter McLennan of DubDotDash for reminding me of this song via the power of Twitter today.
Next time: I thought up this seriously cool pudding idea. Now...I just have to find time to actually try it out. Also, there's still a whole lot of buttermilk in my fridge and a whole lot of buttermilky Lee Brothers recipes to try...

14 August 2011

i fought the slaw and the slaw won

The brain does many strange things, one of which is the way songs can get stuck in it, without reason or end. If stereos were the size of tic tacs, it'd make sense. "Oh, that's why I keep hearing that song! My boombox got stuck in my ponytail again! Ha ha ha!" But this is not the case. It's just the brain. For example: last weekend when Tim was away in Taihape, one song got itself persistently in my mind, repeating itself with an alarming stamina.

That song was A Bear Went Over The Mountain.

Sometimes it was like the record had a scratch in it, and I would hear nothing but a sinister refrain of "and all that he could see! And all that he could see! And all that he could see!" Yeah. I don't know what qualities cause a song to do this, but sometimes I call my brain's bluff by actually loving the song that gets stuck in my head, like Kiss From A Rose (which I may have played about six times in a row on YouTube recently) or Purea Nei.

Basically I just couldn't bear that (bear!) alone, but it does lead into my next point: sometimes recipes do this to me too. The ingredients list curls around my inquisitive mental imaging faculties, lodging there fairly permanently till I can find the time to bring the recipe into existence. Luckily for me, the most recent time this happened, I didn't have to wait too long. On Friday night Tim and I went to the house of of the terrific Kate and Jason for an evening of ceaseless hilarity and sustained deliciousness - homemade cheese, sublime sweet potato pie with a lattice top, polenta, spicy soup, soft dinner rolls filled with fried tomato slices and the crispest bacon - and several of these recipes came from a particular book called Simple Fresh Southern by these guys called The Lee Brothers. I wanted the recipe for the cheese but Kate talked me into taking home the whole book to borrow, and I am so glad, because the moment I flipped it open (wait - the moment the wine wore off and I flipped it open) and made eyes with their Cabbage and Lime Salad with Roasted Peanuts recipe, I knew I had to make it my own. And then all the rest of their recipes. This book is so cool.

I agree with you entirely that a salad based on cabbage might sound severe and unsexy and like the very last sort of thing you want to eat in winter when there are casseroles and puddings to be had. But after a few nights out enjoying abundant food and wine and with more such evenings on the nearing horizon, I honestly do just want to bury my face in a cool, astringent, mustardy salad with bursts of citrus sourness.

Besides, the crisp peppery shredded cabbage, tart lime segments and hot mustard are mellowed out considerably by all the salt, the oil in the dressing, and the creamy bite of the roasted nuts. You could serve it with fish, chicken, a dirty great big steak, with rice noodles under or stirred into it, and so on. Or even on the side of a big slow-cooked casserole with a hearty pudding to follow.

Cabbage and Lime Salad with Roasted Peanuts

From Simple Fresh Southern by the Lee Brothers

1/2 small red cabbage, trimmed, cored, and shredded/finely sliced
1/2 small green cabbage, treated in the same way
1 tablespoon salt
1 bunch fresh baby spinach leaves, finely sliced
1 lime
Juice of 1-2 further limes
1 tablespoon Dijon or similar mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon peanut oil
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts (or whatever you've got!) roughly chopped

The recipe says to toss the cabbage with the salt, then sit it in a colander over a bowl for two hours so that lots of liquid can drain out. But honestly, not a drop of water was in the bowl after two hours. Maybe our cabbages are different here in New Zealand? You do as you please. Otherwise, mix together all the leaves in a large bowl. Trim the ends off the lime and peel it, then carefully slice it into segments, peeling off the membrane where you can, and tear these segments into small pieces. Toss them into the leaves too.
Whisk together the rest of the ingredients to make the dressing, and thoroughly mix this into the salad, and finally stir through the chopped nuts. Serve!

Note to yourself: I used just purple cabbage since I'm only feeding the two of us, I used cavolo nero instead of spinach and almonds instead of peanuts since that's what I had, and if you get a bit stuck you could use lemons instead of limes and wasabi paste instead of mustard.

This salad is punchily delicious, awakening you from any wintery downtrodden-ness with every drop of lime juice you absorb. It's also very pretty to look at, with its queenly purple and green gemstone colours.

(I mean fairytale queen, not the actual Queen of England - that would have to be a more pastel-toned salad.) (Also: I got the pretty, pretty bowl in a moment of sale-induced single-mindedness from Swonderful.)

As if Tim and I making friends and eating their food isn't enough excitement, this afternoon in Wellington it started SNOWING. It hasn't snowed in Wellington since 1995! Honestly, when I was a kid I didn't know that it snowed anywhere in New Zealand but that's because I grew up south of Auckland, not really within cooee of a snow-capped mountain. In the CBD where we live it was more rainy than snowy and it didn't really settle but there was an unmistakable icing-sugar dusting of snowflakes in the air and it was thrilling.
Title via: yes I've used this song before as a title holder but not in this way and besides, I'm very tired (just in case anyone's watching closely.) I love the Dead Kennedy's version of this which changes it to "and I won" but it's hard to go past Buddy Holly and The Crickets' singing that the Law did in fact win, which must've been fairly reassuring to the nervously suspicious adults of the time.
Music lately:
Tim and I saw the stunning movie Pina tonight, which luckily gives as much attention to sound as it does visuals. Shake It is one such example of its glorious music.

Speaking of Tim, being the diamond that he is, he bought me a Judy Garland and Liza Minelli live record and I love it. It's them at the London Palladium in the early sixties, and they're quite adorable, given the often distinctly non-adorable circumstances of Garland's life. Their personalised take on Hello, Dolly is very sweet and shows off how good their similar voices sound together.
Next time: Well I've loaded up on buttermilk to attempt more of the recipes in the Lee Brothers' gorgeous book, and at the prompting of excellent lady Jo both via email and in person, since we were fortunate enough to see her twice this week, I'll most definitely be pondering cupcakes for the SPCA Cupcake Day too...

9 August 2011

take back the cake, burn the shoes and boil the rice

While frantically making royal icing at 7.00am yesterday, sending clouds of icing sugar into both the air and my eyebrows with each rotation my whisk made around the bowl; spreading it over layers of cake and massaging sprinkles into a uniform layer across its still-wet surface, it was hard to imagine that soon there'd be events that would require more attention than the one at hand.

However life, in the way it does to everyone every day, presented me with a whole lot of other things to take in.

Yesterday I found out that Nancy Wake had died, aged 98. I grew up with the proud knowledge that I was related to her down the line, but also with a more general respect for all that she'd achieved. I won't pass wikipedia content off as my own here, instead I definitely recommend reading a summary of her life during WWII here. Where it says she was descended from Pourewa and Charles Cossell - those are my same ancestors, just a few generations back, of course.

A significant day in my life was when I met Nancy Wake in London in 2005 - sort of by chance, although you don't just run into someone in the Royal Star and Garter Home for the ex-Service Community. It was very lucky that I was able to go in and visit her, as I was told at reception that they have a no-visitors policy unless Wake herself had cleared it first. However, my sincere story (from New Zealand, related, happy to leave if it doesn't suit, just thought since this was my one chance, etc) randomly got the thumbs up and suddenly I was wearing a visitor's sticker and being escorted down a hallway to her room. I hardly remember what happened to be honest, apart from small details - she was wearing red lipstick and red nailpolish, there was a handwritten Christmas card from Prince Charles and his sons pinned to the wall, and I'd (a little naively) brought her a gift of homemade fudge, to which she said sharply "I can't eat any of that stuff." Tim was there too - it was right when we first started 'going out' or whatever, he loitered outside but with her permission snapped a photo of the two of us together. Nancy Wake was a hugely inspirational person (quoted as saying "I've never been afraid in my life", something that seems to have failed to reach my share of our DNA, as has her bicycling ability) and I was very sad to hear of her death. But, I also feel lucky to have had moment, though a slightly surreal moment, with her.

I've also been reading heaps of accounts of the rioting in London via Twitter and news websites. Hope everyone I know over there - and the list does grow the more I think about it - is doing okay and staying safe. Actually I just hope everyone is staying safe and that it somehow stops really soon. Scary, sad times.

It's almost like my body or soul, whichever is responsible for this kind of carry-on, instinctively knew I'd need cake at some point. I made this on Sunday, not for any particular reason but just because it felt like something I needed to do, in my heart. Maybe not so much for my heart, some might say, but I tend to believe my body's food-related instincts are always accurate. Firstly, I knew I wanted to make a big cake, secondly, I had a vision of a cake entirely covered in hundreds and thousands - this turned out to be way too difficult and so I compromised with just a rainbow-dotted top - and thirdly, I wanted the juicy acerbic squish of blackberries, which I already had in my freezer, against the buttery richness of vanilla and white chocolate.

Sometimes cakes and such will spring into my mind, fully-formed like this - in which case if I've got the means I just go with it. I'm glad I did, because this isn't so much a cake as an accomplishment, the sort of thing you want to put on your CV. (Actually, this cake should go on your CV, the one I've made here one only looks complicated.)

White Chocolate Layer Cake with Blackberries and Hundreds and Thousands

Adapted liberally from a basic cake recipe of Nigella Lawson's that appears in some form in nearly all her books.

225g soft, soft butter
225g sugar
4 eggs
200g plain flour
25g cornflour (or just 225g plain flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract/paste
100g good white chocolate (I used Whittakers) chopped roughly

Lots of blackberries (frozen is fine, but thaw them in a sieve over a bowl - they have SO much juice in them)
Royal icing:
2 egg whites
Icing sugar
vanilla extract/paste
Hundreds and Thousands (about a small container full, depending on your capacity)
  • Set your oven to 180 C/350 F and grease and line a 21 or 20cm springform caketin, or two if you have them.
  • Your two options for the cake are: Blitz the butter and sugar in the food processor, then the eggs, then everything else, scrape half the mixture into each of the cake tins and bake for 25-30 mins.
  • Or, do as I did, and beat the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon, then beat in the eggs, then fold in everything else and proceed as above. If you only have one tin (like me), just cook them one at a time, and when the first one's done, carefully remove it from the tin and leave it aside to cool, while you put more baking paper into the tin and scrape the rest of the batter into it and bake.
  • Once the two layers are cooled, put one onto a plate and spread the top thinly with the jam of your choice. Then, arrange the blackberries over the top of the jam, and top with the second layer of cake. Quantities are a little hazy here, but I didn't have nearly enough and had to top it up with some nearby scooped out tamarillo flesh, because the blackberries studded thinly across the cake looked ridiculous. Prepare more than you think you'll need, you can always eat the leftovers.
  • To make your icing, whisk the egg whites a little then slowly stir in icing sugar. This is an instinctive recipe, sorry, I don't have measurements, but probably 2 cups or so. When you've stirred in enough icing sugar that the mixture is thick and white, whisk it hard for a couple of minutes and add more icing sugar if it's too soft and runny. It needs to be thick and spreadable. Stir in your vanilla.

  • Spread the icing carefully across the top and sides of the cake, and tip over as many 100s and 1000s as you like.
  • Serve with heaps of pride.

This cake recipe is reliable and easy, although admittedly my layers didn't rise very high, I think this is because the wooden spoon I used to make them didn't beat as much air in as a cake mixer would. No matter. It's tender and buttery and good on its own; when paired with sharp berries, thick sweet icing steeped in vanilla, welcome lumps of white chocolate and the rainbow crunch of hundreds and thousands, not to mention more cake, it's pretty damn flabbergasting.

Luckily for you, there are many, many options if the stars don't align for you ingredients-wise.
Here's a few of them! (Tell us, Susan!)
  • If you don't have the energy/cake tins, just halve the recipe and possibly leave out the chocolate, for a small vanilla sponge cake.
  • Royal icing is practical, but also a little dull - hence why I vanilla-d it up to round off its sweetness. You could always use something else - buttercream or ganache, for example.
  • Fill with different fruits - whatever frozen berries are on special, canned pears, etc.
  • Pains me to say it, but the sprinkles are not essential. Or you could use different ones!
  • Use dark or milk chocolate instead of white
  • Add cocoa to the batter
  • And so on. Use your instincts, have fun. Add nuts, leave 'em out. Use fruit to join the layers, or more icing, or have no layers at all. Cake!

Be warned: sprinkles only need the barest encouragement to bounce all over the place and off your slice of cake and onto the floor.

I would finally like to send a quick "Hey!" and "Cheers" to Curd Nerd who snaffled me into the Beervana on Saturday, where I had a very fun time tasting tasty beers hither and thither, and sitting in on presentations by local prizewinning brewers and the redoubtable Martin Bosley.

Title via: Getting Married Today, from a musical that I just can't get sick of, not that I'm trying, Stephen Sondheim's Company. I once had a dream that I was performing this song most adequately in a local theatre production, if someone would like to make this happen in real life, that would be grand. I recommend first, original Broadway cast member Beth Howland; then 2006 revival cast member Heather Laws' admirable version, and finally the always wonderful Alice Ripley performing it with her usual commitment in Washington in 2002.
Music lately:
New music from Tourettes is always good news to me.

The Go! Team, Ladyflash. This song is so cheery that some of it's gotta rub off if you listen to it enough.

(Reach Out) I'll Be There, The Four Tops. There is so much good stuff in this song that it's only right to listen to it while thinking about the above cake. It's so upbeat it's almost on its way to being melancholic again, with all those minor keys and stuff (I really have no technical knowledge of what makes music sound the way it does...evidently.)

Next time: something a little more erring on the side of sensible. But not too sensible. It probably won't be very sensible at all, let's face it.

7 August 2011

the suburbs they are sleeping but she's dressing up tonight

This wasn't my intention. What I meant to present you with was a layered white chocolate and blackberry cake covered in 100s and 1000s sprinkles. But I left the caking too late in the day, forgetting how much heat their dense crumbs can hold onto, and the cake is still cooling on the bench now. While this Sunday started off sunny, it swiftly descended into greying darkness around 2.00pm, leaving my chances of photographing said cake with pleasing results significantly diminished.

But its stand-in of Fennel with Blue Cheese Buttermilk Dressing can still rightfully incite a little vaingloriousness within me. (Vainglorious! It's a good word. I think I managed to force it in there validly.)

Nigella Lawson calls this dressing a "fabulously retro US-steakhouse-style starter" when it's served over sliced iceberg lettuce. I wouldn't know personally, but I can't deny it's a mood I'm happy to try evoke through food. Or anything. Speaking of US-steakhouse-style, last night I went to a cowgirl-themed birthday party which was not only the last word in how to feed a crowd (honestly: cornbread, ribs, fried onions, biscuits and gravy, three different pies for pudding) but also continued so late into the evening that it was suddenly early in the morning. I wouldn't say I'm hungover as such...now...but I'm definitely trying to pummel weakly against the surprisingly firm and resilient punching bag of exhaustion. Just keep that in mind as you read.

(In case you're wondering, that stack of books in the background includes a Mahalia Jackson biography, one of the Jason Bourne books, Margaret Atwood's 'Dancing Girls' and 'Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls' - an original, not a reprint. Important.)

I didn't have any iceberg lettuce, and couldn't find any at the market or in the supermarket that looked satisfactorily perky and crisp. But I figured that fennel is not only in season, it also could provide that necessary water-cooled crunch. Further to that, its clean, aniseed flavour wouldn't be intimidated by the rich, aggressively blue cheese. The thyme leaves have a dual purpose - firstly, the herbal flavour complements everything else going on and goes well with cheese. Secondly, a pale vegetable, covered in a pale lumpy milky liquid, does need some help in the looks department and the pretty purply-green leaves are pleasing to the eye.

Blue Cheese Buttermilk Dressing

I was simultaneously inspired by Nigella's recipe from Kitchen and a recipe from an issue of Fine Cooking magazine. Nige's didn't need a food processor (considering what happened to it last week, we need some time apart) so she won. I simplified her recipe very slightly.

150g blue cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar
100ml buttermilk (or, if you don't have any, plain unsweetened yoghurt possibly thinned with a little milk)

In a bowl, mash the cheese with a fork or a small whisk. Mix in the Worcestershire sauce and vinegar and then slowly stir in the buttermilk. Taste to see if it needs a pinch of salt. The kind of blue cheese you use will affect consistency of the texture, but it's all good.

To serve:

2 large bulbs of fennel
Fresh thyme leaves from 2-3 stalks

Trim the base from the fennel, then slice vertically as best you can into uniform chunks and slices. Arrange the slices on a plate, spoon over as much dressing as you like, then tumble over the thyme leaves.

Serves 3-4 as a side dish (depending on the size of your fennel, really)

Keeping in mind that this is a boldly flavoured dish - you might want to run it past those who you're serving in case they don't like blue cheese or fennel. On the other hand, you're putting in time and effort to feed them, so you could contrarily slam the plate in front of them and say "deal with it, fusspants!" (Or however you'd like to finish that sentence.)

Your options for using this dressing are multitudinous. Of course, there's the original iceberg lettuce concept, and Nigella also recommends it over tomatoes and leftover beef. But its mix of sharp, salty and creamy flavours lends itself to many guises. I think you could also drizzle it over roasted beetroot; as a potato salad dressing; in a bacon sandwich; stirred through cooked, cooled mushrooms; as a sauce/dip for potato wedges; mixed through a coleslaw made of shredded cabbage and grated green apple...See? It's a highly functional substance.

Lucky me: on Friday I was able to attend a mightily swanky lunch at The White House on Oriental Parade (to wit: Tim gave it an unprecedented five stars to in our Sunday Star-Times review of it a few months ago) as part of the launch of Visa Wellington on a Plate. Among the esteemed guests was Lucy Corry, author of food blog The Kitchen Maid, who presented me with a thyme plant after us talking about thyme back and forth on Twitter. I was already dazedly on a high after the terrifically delicious crab raviolo and crisp-edged snapper with lemon curd (yes it worked, and how) but the unexpected kindness of the plant-gift had me filled with good vibes. And it's that very thyme plant whose leaves you see in the above recipe.

Later that night, Tim and I saw The Trip at Embassy (as part of the NZ Film Festival). I'd seen some episodes of the TV show version on the plane on the way to the UK earlier this year, and it seems like the film takes the pilot and then adds on an extra hour of action. Hilarity is inevitable when Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are stuck in small spaces together, but I wasn't quite prepared for how monumentally funny it would be. If you get the chance to see it by some means or another - it's not one you have to see in a cinema - then do. Something about the poster for this movie reminded me of Tim and I going to review cafes (which character we're most like probably depends on the day) although we aren't quite at the stage of competitively imimating Michael Caine...yet. We're not above imitating Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon imitating Michael Caine though. ("Michael Caine. Talks. Very. Slowly") My only complaint about the film was that Coogan didn't mention his powerful performance in the important movie Hamlet 2.

Title via: Blur, Stereotypes, from their album 1996 album The Great Escape (significantly, the year my crush on Damon Albarn developed. Significantly for me, not so much for him. Yet.)

Music lately:

Francois Hardy, Tous Les Garcons Et les Filles. I can't work out where I heard this song before - was it used in an ad campaign years ago? Maybe it was in the music from my old jazz dance classes. I don't know, but it's definitely familiar. That aside, it's also really pretty and sad, good Sunday evening music. Which might mean it's the kind of music you really shouldn't play on a Sunday evening, come to think of it.

I bought the original London recording of Sondheim's A Little Night Music from Slow Boat Records yesterday, and while it's excellent, nothing tops Glynis Johns' Send In The Clowns in my mind. However, feel free to compare levels of diction crispness between Johns and Judi Dench in her take on this standard.

Next time: That cake, I promise. It will be resplendent.

2 August 2011

"she used to say, harlan pepper, if you don't stop naming nuts..."

Having now made cashew butter for the first time, I can only hope that if you try it too, you don't experience the same terrifying lows, dizzying highs and creamy middles that I endured to achieve one small bowl of camel-coloured paste. I first heard about cashew butter in a Baby-Sitter's Club book, Dawn and the We Heart Kids Club, in fact. Who could've known that about fifteen years would pass before cashew butter had any further significance in my life?

Please 'scuse the green stain on the teatowel.

I've now relayed this story dramatically on Twitter and Facebook, but for context, and because I'm not good at letting go of things easily, I'll re-summarise here. I saw on Mrs Cake's blog that she'd done homemade peanut butter, and breezily so, and I thought her method could be easily transferable to cashew nut butter. The sort of thing I read about - see above - but have never actually eaten.

While pulverising my cashews in the food processor, I saw that a significant amount of cashew-matter had crept up the sides and remaining there, safely away from the whizzing blades. So, unthinkingly, I got my wooden spoon, poked it through the feed tube in the lid of the processor, and waggled it round to scrape down the sides. It worked! But then the blades forced everything back up again. Instead of sensibly turning it off and scraping down the sides with a spatula, I just stuck the wooden spoon back in the tube again. And dropped it. There was an awful noise as the processor was almost jumping around with the exertion of trying to blitz at full speed with a spoon jammed in it, and finally with a crash, the plastic tube broke, pieces of it hurtling into the air, and all this forced the lid off so the food processor finally stopped going. Leaving me with butter dotted with tiny woodchips, a significantly clawed and scraped wooden spoon (it was my favourite!) and a busted food processor lid.

If you follow this method *except* for the wooden spoon bit, I promise you'll have cashew butter - homemade, wildly delicious, fairly inexpensive if you snap them up on special, non-traumatic cashew butter. Unfortunately there's no getting around the fact that you need a food processor. I kind of need one now, too.

Homemade Cashew Butter

Roasted, salted cashews, as many as you like
Plain oil such as rice bran (optional)

I say roasted and salted, because this is how they're usually presented, but if yours are plain, then just roast and salt them as you wish.

Place the cashews in the bowl of the food processor. Put on the lid and blitz them pretty constantly, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides and give the motor a break.

Eventually - it does take a while - the cashews will go from being crumbly particles, to forming a smooth, solid mass. This might be extremely solid, so feel free to drizzle in a little oil to soften it up a bit.

Transfer to a container and refrigerate.

Really, if you're not going in for processor-busting shenanigans like me, the only difficult part of this operation is the horrible loud clattery noise that the food processor makes when it first starts chopping up the nuts. It's like the sound of a massive snarling dog sitting on top of a ride-on lawnmower driving over gravel.

Consider the cashew: it's a pretty ultimate nut. Classier and less abrasive than the peanut, easier to get at than a pistachio, less fancy than the pinenut, cheaper than macadamias, softer than Brazils, more savoury than the almond, and um...less wrinkly than pecans and walnuts. Its mild, creamy flavour and excellent affinity with sodium makes the cashew so favourably inclined to becoming a spreadable version of itself. The cashew butter has a caramelly richness which just hints at white chocolate (although I maintain that macadamias are the white chocolate of the nut world) but also that recognisable peanut butter quality of coating your throat and choking you if you eat it too fast. (I also maintain that clouds are the whales of the sky, but that's mostly to annoy Tim.)

In case you're wondering what to do with your cashew butter, apart from eat it euphorically (it really is good) you might consider these Spicy Cashew Noodles that I brought into being last night for dinner. In a bowl, place three tablespoons of cashew butter, chilli sauce in a make and quantity of your preference (I used 1 tablespoon sambal oelek) and either a little finely chopped fresh ginger or a brief dusting of ground ginger. Now add about 1/2 a cup water. Using a fork or a small whisk, mix this together till it forms a saucy sauce - the cashew butter will magically accommodate the water so add more if you like. The cashews are already salty and sweet but taste and see if you want to add sugar or salt. Finally, mix in a teaspoon of cider vinegar (that's what I had, I can't vouch for the taste of other vinegars but I'm sure they'll work) and stir the sauce through the cooked noodles of your choice. Me, I went for rice sticks. Tip over a little more chilli sauce and some coriander or mint if you like.

And pa-dah. You have dinner, of sweet, spicy nutty sauce which coats each delicious strand of noodle. If cashews are out of your reach right now, you could always make this with peanut butter instead.

The NZ Film Festival has started in Wellington, and Tim and I are filming it up large in response. I particularly can't wait for Pina and The Trip. Also Visa Wellington on a Plate starts this Friday so if you're not already - there's a significant amount of justifiable hype surrounding it like jus surrounds a cutlet - then Get Excited and check out their website for things to do that will bring yourself and food closer together.

Title via: A rare non-music title; the nut-monologue from Best in Show. A movie not quite as rapturously good as A Mighty Wind but still brilliance.

Music lately:

Ali Farka Toure, Beto. Beautiful music.

How To Dress Well, Decisions (Orchestral Mix) it's actually playing on the radio right now and I like it so much that I had to look it up. Nice work, radio. (Or should I say, Martyn Pepperell on the radio, since he's the one who played the song)

I know I go on about her a bit, but it's with good reason. You should see Mariah Carey sing the ever-loving heck out of one of her early hits Emotions in this video. (I mean her awesomely peppy song of that name by the way, not the gross BeeGees one.)

Next time: Strange as it seems, it feels like ages since I've done any proper baking so it might be that; I also have some tamarillos up my sleeve....not literally...