30 October 2011

i need to be dazzling, i want to be rainbow high

For all that I occasionally struggle to count to ten accurately (specifically, I lose count of things really quickly. I can count to ten. I can!) my brain does put itself to good use coming up with ideas. I was in the middle of implementing one pavlova idea that I'd thought up when my brain sidestepped and reached into a previously unused pocket and presented me with yet another cool idea for pavlova.

This is the first idea. I got to thinking that we humans cover pavlova with various fruits - and that's all. There's good reason for this - pavlova is tongue-dissolvingly sweet, and fruit provides contrast of both texture and relatively lower sugar content. But when thinking about things that aren't fruit, I hypothesised that a pavlova covered in smarties (or m'n'ms or pebbles or whatever, but let's stick with smarties while we're here) would be dazzling to look at and delicious to eat - imagining crunch of candy-covered chocolate against marshmallowy, yielding pavlova. Thick cream in the middle to sandwich it all together. And all those rainbow colours against an off-white pavlova base.

My hypothesis may have been shaky and my mathematics half-hearted, but truly:


+ all of this:

= oh my goshness unbelievable gasp flavoursome excellence jazzy rainbow candy wow (and also this whole time you were performing a gleeful can can without even realising it.)

It actually tasted exactly like I imagined it would. Nice one, brain o' mine! Now, don't be fooled: this is sweet. But the crunchiness somehow counteracts the solid sugar hit. Apparently a glass of milk alongside is good. This is a highly decent fall-back pavlova recipe too, with only four egg whites and a straightforward, as far as these things go, method. The end result was almost weightless, large, and had a crisp, melt-in-mouth exterior encasing a soft interior.

Smartie Pavlova 

(or whatever you call the lollies) (and really, name it what you like, I'm not watching at your window like Kathy in Wuthering Heights to see what you call it. I can, however, be persuaded to dance like Kate Bush's interpretation of her!)

Pavlova recipe itself from Nigella Lawson's seminal text How To Eat.

4 egg whites
250g sugar (caster sugar if you can)
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon vinegar - I used cider vinegar
300ml bottle of fresh cream 
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Between 300g and 500g smarties/m'n'ms/pebbles/equivalent. I picked out all the brown and white ones and ate them because I wanted bright colours only. 

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F. In a very clean non-plastic bowl, either whisk or beat with a mixer machine thing the egg whites till very frothy and quite stiff. In every other recipe in the world that I've seen, you're supposed to add the sugar a tiny little bit at a time, but Nigella reckons to just add this quantity a third at a time. I nervously went with the incremental approach, but anyway, it's going to get very, very thick and stunningly glossy. As you get on you can add the sugar in larger quantities. 

Spread it on a paper-lined baking tray to a circle of around 22cm across, smoothing out the top as well as you can, then put in the oven and carefully shut the door. Immediately reduce the heat to 150 C/300 F and bake for between an hour, and an hour and a quarter. Allow to cool.

Whisk the cream and brown sugar until stiff and spreadable, but not so stiff that it's getting granular and threatening to turn into butter. Spread it thickly across the top of your cooled pav, and then carefully topple over the smarties. Half of them will probably fall off, but just scoop them up and use them to fill in the gaps. Admire.

This pavlova was carefully ferried by myself to be sliced into by friends while watching the important modern drama Gossip Girl. As you can see in the above photo the colouring on the candy shells of the smarties bleeds out a little on the cream - this is no real biggie but if you're planning on trying this, decorate it at the last minute. The actual pavlova itself should last for a good long time in an airtight container, but everything else, assemble as late in the piece as you can to keep it at its twinklingly polychromatic best. Don't be afraid of how ridiculous this may seem to you: it's delicious and it makes sense when you gaze upon it and when you bite into it.

Oh, and if you're feeling only partially motivated to make pavlova, I've made another video to add to my collection of cooking tutorials this time with some fast tips and tricks on how to get your pavlova game on. I'm not sure how many tips there actually are, as you can see I lose count. But the price is right.

The pavlova that I'm making in the video, is the same pavlova that I'm talking about here. Synergy!

A few days after the last remaining slice of that pavlova disappeared, I met with the same group of friends at the same house, for a Halloween party. Neither Tim nor I had ever been to one before so we went all out, like Cady Heron in Mean Girls. None of this "I'm a mouse, duh!" here. I fulfilled a long-held desire to dress up as Elphaba/Wicked Witch of the West from Wicked (didn't have time or a willing photographer to let me recreate every promotional photo since 2003, but maybe next Halloween) and it was so fun. That's green eyeshadow all over my face, not facepaint - a little advice from me to you - and the hottest, itchiest, prone-to-moultingest $2 shop wig ever. A huge thanks to our amazing hostess Jo.  

Yeah, I downloaded Instagram. I wasn't glowing fuzzily like that in real life. It's just so prevalent that I start to wonder if the events I'm snapping really happened if they don't feature blown-out lighting or a rosy glow. And it makes my grainy phone photos look like they're supposed to be that way.

Tim...well, I asked his permission to put a photo of him here, which may serve as some warning for what you're about to see. So there's the TV show Parks and Recreation, then there's the mighty and wonderful character Ron Swanson, owner of glorious mustache, whittler of canoes, eater of bacon, resembler-er of cats. Until one episode where - spoilers! - things go wrong with an ex-wife he can't quit, and he ends up in prison, with cornbraids, a chunk missing from his mustache, a satin bathrobe and dark shadows under his eyes. Tim went as that version of Ron Swanson, and I spent two hours braiding his hair into what you see below (photo by Jo):

I promise Tim's fantastic-looking on non-Halloween days. Just type "Ron Swanson" into google images and you'll see pretty fast the point of reference. This photo is one of my favourites - the ominous red-eye, the ominous reflection in the mirror, the ominous gleam in his satin bathrobe. Proud of my handiwork. And it was such a good night, culminating in some feverish dancing to Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights (I told you I could be persuaded) and some very specific and still-memorised dance moves to the Spice Girls' important song Wannabe

Title via: Rainbow High from the musical Evita, which is such a gloriously stompy song and is best showcased by a much younger and giggly but still terrifyingly talented Patti LuPone, the original star on Broadway, performing it at Les Mouches nightclub.

Music lately:

Well, Spice Girls/Wannabe and Kate Bush/Wuthering Heights...of course.

Also the new video for David Dallas' awesome song Start Looking Round is as good as you'd expect it to be, considering his recent output. Even with no kittens in it like the last one had. 

Next time: On Saturday morning Tim and I met up with aforementioned Jo and also Kim in Petone and we kept running into each other and they gave me - well, Tim and I - parfait glasses! And now I want to make ice cream to put in the glasses. Because they are beautiful and I love them (the glasses AND the ladies.)

Oh yeah and the idea-within-an-idea for pavlova was, okay, imagine if instead of putting whipped cream on pavlovas, there was cream cheese icing instead? Maybe with caramel sauce on top or strawberries or who knows. Or imagine little tiny meringues sandwiched together with cream cheese. I just need a reason to try this, is all, so if someone has a need for an experimental pavlova in their life...

25 October 2011

"and one pasta with meatless balls (ew)"

It hasn't been all that long since I've blogged last but it feels like it - to me at least - and for a while I just stared at the photos of the quinoa I made feeling a bit "meh" and disconnected from it. Then the more I looked at the photos, the more I remembered how delicious it was and now I'm feeling all enthusiastic about this recipe again.

So why's it been a while since I've blogged? On Friday afternoon, Tim and I left the city to stay in Wairoa with his grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, sisters, mother...and some awesomely cute canaries that his grandad has been keeping. One of them honestly looks like its mum gave it a bowlcut, the feathers on top of its head all sprayed out flat give it the most adorably vexed expression. I tried to get a photo but it didn't work. I did, however, get a photo of one of their cats, an enormous thing that would come and lean heavily on you like a dog does, and which would luxuriate in the sun like so - in the sort of way that makes your own lazing around seem inelegant and stiff-ankled in comparison.

But, back to stuff that I ate ages ago. After a cool lady that I work with mentioned that she'd successfully imitated a particular dish from Deluxe cafe using quinoa, I was inspired to try it myself, only making it completely vegan - why not? You're already using quinoa, might as well go all out. And then I wanted to modify it further, to make a kind of meatballs-type recipe. I didn't like the name "quinoa balls" and couldn't think of what to call these nubbly orbs - something about "BALLS" in a food title to me indicates it's only imitating something else, plus, you know, the anatomical description does the dish no favours. ("Groin!") Strangely, meatballs themselves manage to safely avoid both connotations.

The quinoa ended up solving this issue for me, even though I didn't see it as a good thing at first. See, the quinoa would not be balled. See the above picture? You can spot the granules already escaping at the edges, unwilling to maintain sphericality, but I can't even express the amount of coaxing and spooning and rolling that it took just to get them to that shoddy, crumbling state. Nonetheless, I persevered and baked them, thinking that the heat might bind them together. It didn't. They got even more crumbly and reluctant. In fact, of the sixteen balls that I put my heart, soul, and flavoursome sweat into rolling, but one survived the journey.

So now it's just Baked Quinoa with Miso Tomato Sauce, and I don't have to worry about the whole "balls" naming issue. It took me some time to get to this calm place of acceptance, though. One ball. Out of sixteen.

The tomato sauce is particularly magical, with a secret ingredient. And that ingredient is Peanut Butter. Yes. It thickens the sauce up a treat, and gives it an ever-so-slight nutty richness without tasting like a piece of toast fell in your sauce by mistake. Don't leave it out! Unless you're allergic to nuts, but you didn't need me to tell you that.

Baked Quinoa With Miso Tomato Sauce (The M in Miso is also for "Magically Delicious") 

1 cup quinoa
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
3 tablespoons tahini, or hummus if you have it
1 teaspoon ground cumin


1 can tomatoes, preferably the chopped kind
1 teaspoon dijon mustard (or grainy, if that's all you've got)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon hot sauce (or more or none at all if you like)
1 tablespoon white miso paste
1-2 tablespoons peanut butter (or tahini, if you prefer)
A few tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Rocket and almonds to serve.

Set your oven to 200 C.

Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under cold water - helps get the inevitable dust off - and tip into a pan which has about three cups of water in it. Bring to the boil and cook till the grains are tender, pale and fluffy. Drain, back in that same sieve if you like, and tip into a bowl. Mix in the rest of the ingredients, season to taste, and spread across the base of a small roasting dish. (Line the dish with baking paper if you like - easy cleanup, hey-ohh!) Bake for 15 minutes.

Empty the can of tomatoes into a pan, then fill it halfway up again with water and tip that in the pan too. Add all the sauce ingredients except the thyme - using your wooden spoon to break up the peanut butter and miso and get it mixed in - then bring to the boil and allow to bubble away for a couple of minutes while stirring, till thickened some. 

Take the quinoa out of the oven, pour over the sauce, then return to the oven for another ten minutes. Strew with rocket leaves and almonds, and serve with pride.

Despite causing me some trouble initially, this is exceptionally good-tasting stuff. The quinoa's weightless texture and nutty flavour is emphasised with the addition of poppyseeds and sesame seeds, the sauce covering the deliciousness spectrum from salty to rich to sweet. Pour it over pasta or rice or even over real meatballs, it's supremely lovely.

And yeah, the rugby world cup final happened and we won. My disinterest in the game remains, but as everyone else was watching it on Sunday night at Tim's grandparents' it would've been rude not to play along. So I offered some ideas for the drinking game: 1) have a sip every time the commentators indulge in outrageous hyperbole like "a nation at a standstill", and 2) every time the word "groin" is mentioned we all cry "GROIN!" and sip our drink. I'm not actually big on drinking games, preferring to just drink in my own time, but fear not - it was more about coming up with rules than anything else, and we only had one drink each. I also, with not unnoticed irony, was the one of the whole rugby-interested crowd who managed to get the closest prediction of when the first try scored would be and what the final score would be. Flummoxedly baffled doesn't even cover it.

Title via: the Broadway musical RENT - again! - and the Act 1 closer La Vie Boheme. Not to write an essay - I could - but I like this bit in the song, because it really does swirl round in a flurry of earnestness but then the waiter appears talking about their orders for miso soup and seaweed salad and tofu and so on, as if to say just the sort of thing you'd expect from them, thus subverting the earnestness somewhat. Anyway. That's a story for another (hotly-anticipated, no doubt) essay. As always with RENT, I direct you towards both the movie version and the original Broadway version from opening night, 1996.

Music lately:

One of the fun thing about long car journeys is playing DJ. I didn't have the time to make an actual playlist (just another thing I didn't have time for!) so instead I went through the songs alphabetically and just chose one when it took my fancy. There's not much more fun when you've been going round winding roads and the driver's feeling weary, to put on Orinocco Flow and yell "Best Car Song Ever! SAIL AWAY SAIL AWAY SAIL AWAY!" It's always appreciated.

I also love this song Best of Me by local singer Ria Hall. Love that there's a mix of English and Te Reo in there and also that the station I listen to is thrashing it at the moment.
Next time: I'm making a pavlova, and if it works out alright, you'll be seeing it here. 

17 October 2011

girls would turn the color of the avocado when he would drive down their street in his el dorado

Magical things, avocados.

But first a BIG thank you, as big as the words Thank You made out of colourful rubber and inflated to the size of a forty-foot building, with a noble capybara balancing on top of it looking thoughtfully into the distance, for all the nice comments and emails about my last blog post. From the bottom of my chocolate-iced heart.

Back to avocados; aren't they exciting? Like nature's version of rich creamery butter, kept in an endearingly curvaceous, bumpy casing. Nutty and smooth and yes, buttery, I love it mashed into guacamole to be scooped up with corn chips, spread on toast for a breakfast treat anytime of day, or sliced into a bowl of salad so that you can try and surreptitiously dig for it all with the spoons when serving yourself.

But to turn them into pudding? Inconceivable!

Conceive of this. I know I go on about Hannah at Wayfaring Chocolate a fair bit, so I'll try and squash down the enthusiasm a little here so I don't sound like some kind of creepy person who waits outside your window and cries "the hunter has become the hunted!" No, it's not like that. It's just that she's got one of my favourite food blogs in the world, is all. And while I've heard of using avocados in non-savoury recipes, it was she who prised open my eyes to how delicious and non-threatening it could be. Through the medium of raw vegan brownies. Regular baked brownies have their place (and that place is a table marked "DELICIOUS THINGS HERE, PLEASE") but it's fun to push the limits of creativity in the kitchen sometimes by restricting your parameters. Which is what Hannah did with this amazingly delicious recipe.

Yes, those are useless-ish stripy novelty straws: they make my heart soar, and what price soaring? Occasionally I buy into pretty things, and occasionally...I literally buy them. Treat yo'self.

A daring mixture of dates and nuts are whizzed up in a food processor with cocoa to form the base, and then the power of a whole avocado is harnessed to create the icing. It's amazing - you add golden syrup and cocoa and suddenly it turns into this creamy, darkly chocolatey, shiny ganache-like substance.

Unfortunately when I busted anticipationally into the avocado it wasn't entirely usable - instead of two bowl-like halves offering up smooth, unbroken greenness, there were significant portions that were bruised and horribly stringy. I scooped out what was salvageable, and this is why the layer of icing on my brownies is sadly thin. But another time, another avocado. 

Raw Vegan Chocolate Brownies with Spectacular Avocado Icing

Adapted slightly, and respectfully, from Hannah's recipe which she adapted from another recipe of her own anyway: inception! Feel free however to just click through to hers.

2 cups nuts: I used a mixture of almonds and pecans, but near-on anything would suit. 
2 cups dates, roughly sliced
1/3 cup cocoa powder

Blend the living heck out of these ingredients in a food processor. It may take some time to come together. Eventually it will be a fine-ish, crumbly mixture of tiny ingredient particles. Turn it out into a baking dish, roughly 20cm square or a little bigger or smaller. Press down on it with a spoon, freeze while you make the icing.

1 ripe, perfect avocado
2 tablespoons golden syrup 
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (optional, by which I mean I forgot)
Small pinch of salt

Thoroughly clean out your food processor, then blend all of the above till smooth and shiny and amazing. Add more of anything to taste, then spread evenly across the base. Return to the freezer, slice once 'set'.

I admit: I had issues making this. I increased the base quantities a bit from Hannah's recipe and I don't know if it was because of that, but the food processor just Would. Not. Break. Them. Down. Rather than being sliced up, it was like the blades were some kind of carnival ride for the dates and nuts to scoot round on. I'd be processing the heck out of it, take the lid off, look in: perfect, whole almonds and dates. Stir it round, repeat. Look in: perfect, unblemished nuts and dates. So confusing. I'm not sure if I should've soaked the dates first or something but eventually, eventually, they started to break down. This is why I recommend you chop them first.

But despite that, as long as you own a food processor these are a complete breeze to make, and even though I've only eaten a few pieces I know I'm going to make this again, and often. For one thing, to get a better quantity of icing. For another thing, to try out all the different flavours (except carob, I can't go for that) like having maple syrup in the icing or walnuts in the base. This is incredibly delicious stuff - a little crumbly, although I suspect that's my own fault - but caramelly and dark and biscuity and cold and wonderful. Something about the texture of the dates and the intensity of the cocoa makes it taste and feel almost like solid chocolate. And the icing - oh my. Even with the mean scraping of it across the top it's almost aggressively luscious, showing how avocados in sweet things makes total sense - the buttery flavour, its yielding texture, and whipped-cream body. And they're vegan and gluten-free! (Well I'm not sure if golden syrup is strictly vegan, but it seems to be...if not, just use maple syrup as per her recipe.)

Thanks Hannah - and I urge you to run, not walk, to her blog and read through all the other good things she's come up with.

What have we been up to lately, apart from eating all this brownie? Went to the SPCA to drop off some newspapers but also to hang out with the beautiful cats and dogs there for a bit - seriously, I want them all. Baddddd. Words can only hint at how cool the cats were and at the depths of love in the dogs' eyes. I just wish we had the space! We were a little slow-moving that day though because what started off as a spontaneous BYO dinner to toast Jo's job success on the previous night had escalated into a spontaneous-er wingding at our place. On Sunday I went with Tim to the Wellington Phoenix's first football game of the season (The Pheen, as I call them, but it doesn't seem to be catching on). It almost didn't happen - the internet cafe I usually go to was inexplicably full, then when I finally found another one my e-ticket refused to print for ages. The upshot of it was that arriving late to the stadium meant I didn't suffer that mid-point slump - as I really don't like sports in the first place, my attention span is not cut out for ninety minutes of people running round kicking a ball. Anyway, they won, which was super pleasant. Hooray for weekends.
Title via: The laconic and shambling but nonetheless exciting Pablo Picasso, by the Modern Lovers. LOVE this band. Not least for the fact that they use the word avocado in this song.

Music lately: 

Shout, Isley Brothers. I know I say this about so many songs, but this has just got to be one of the best songs in the world. It's beautiful.

Badd Energy, Third Eye - am a huge Coco Solid (she who makes up part of this act) fan so clicked through the moment I saw a link to this. While it stands up easily on its own, if you can watch the video you're in for some fun times. Fun cats-wearing-robes-and-shooting-at-you times.
Next time: I tried making quinoa balls tonight, kinda like meatballs, and while they predictably fell to bits what was there tasted SO SO good and so that'll likely be my next blog post.

13 October 2011

how do you measure, measure a year?

...or four years, even. HungryandFrozen, this very blog that you are granting the power of your eyeballs to, is now four years old! How significant! To me! There's no "it's our birthday but you get the presents" happening here because I only just remembered a few days ago, and I'm not going to write anything profound that also sums up my whole life up until this point - but kindly let me indulge in some hazy-eyed pridefulness (I warn you, I'm writing this very late at night, so I may run into lengthy hyperbole even more so than usual.) HungryandFrozen has grown and changed and thankfully improved with me through the years, and become an important, central part of my life. Which might be a weird thing to say about a website, but consider that it has allowed me...

- to document my life
- to channel the millions of ideas flying in my head into something so said head doesn't fall off from the pressure build-up
- to help the village I grew up in
- to get free accommodation with strangers in Oxford (thanks again, Kate!)
- to make some of the best new friends ever (the kind you feel instantly able to tell all your secrets to and in turn never whisper theirs to anyone)
- to be on the cover of a magazine in all my resolutely unphotogenic glory
- to get a radio interview
- to be nominated for (but not win, sniffle) cool awards
- to attempt to become a kind of Ruth Reichl-esque double act with Tim while reviewing cafes for a national paper
- to learn from others' writing and photography
- to be certain that I'd be kindred spirits with certain other faraway food bloggers
- and to force my dreams upon you all in the hopes that if I say them enough and work hard enough they've just got to come true eventually.

And to create many a recklessly long and indulgently unedited sentence. It took me a while for the format to settle into this happy little rut with strict, unchanging elements: long-form, title quoting/mangling a song I like (or occasionally an exceptional TV/movie quote), recipe included, but never just a recipe, always with life and thoughts thrown round it like a cape - and it's not one I plan on straying from.

Let me tell you a story: Tim and I first moved to Wellington in early 2006 and we had very little money (or things - for about three months our bed was two single mattresses pushed together on the floor, with all the softness and back support of a weet-bix.) Tim forwent his insulin (kidding! I'm kidding so hard I can't even get to the end of the sentence before I interrupt to reassure you it's not true) so I could buy Nigella Lawson's seminal text How To Eat. I loved cooking so much and she had a way of presenting every meal, no matter how simple, as if it was something exciting for you to be doing for yourself. Like that's how you deserved to eat. Again, with the no-money thing, if I ever cooked a recipe from her book it felt like I should photograph it, because it was such a big exciting deal, every dinner an occasion. I guess that's where the whole documentation of what I eat vibe came about. Not a great story, but...it's true. And now, here's a cake.

This cake has nothing to do with my blog being four years old, it's just a coincidence. It's also a Hummingbird Cake, from the American South, where the food is good. 

I didn't bother shifting the mess in the background of this photo, because I was lazy, but it was symbolic of the mess this cake itself caused - while stirring up the cream cheese icing I moved my spoon a little too sharply through the mixture and ended up shifting a dust-cloud of icing sugar all over myself. I was wearing a wooly jumper at the time and the icing sugar gleefully burrowed into its fibres. But still I caked on.

How this came about was that Tim brought home some uneaten bananas from his work. I could've turned them into modest muffins or banana bread, but uninspired by those this time round I turned instead to Hummingbird cake. What is this? Imagine banana cake...but with pineapple in it too, studded with pecans, double-layered and thickly painted with cream cheese icing. It's like a really well-accessorised banana cake (the pecans would so be the earrings) (okay, on a roll here, the icing on top would be the cape, the icing in the middle a belt, and the pineapples...stick on diamantes? Sparkly hairpins?)

It's the sort of thing I'd be tempted to tinker further with, in the name of improvement - adding coconut, mangoes, rum, grated carrots, white chocolate, maple syrup, that kind of thing. But believe me when I say it's beautiful as is - anything else added would be delicious, but I wanted to try it in its purest form first. That said, I did spread some lemon curd between the layers. So, I guess I didn't quite listen to own lofty advice. That alone was the extent of my tinkering, I swear. 

While it might look terrifyingly well-stacked, for one thing there were some recipes calling for triple layers, and for another thing, as with many recipes that I present here, there are options. As this makes two hefty cakes which you then sit on top of each other, you could always just halve the mixture and still be having a good time. The cream cheese icing is a little non-negotiable, but leave it off and the recipe's suddenly dairy-free. Pecans, again, give it that proper southern vibe, but they are expensive - I believe their cheaper friend, the walnut, would be a more than delicious substitute.

Hummingbird Cake

Recipe via this one I found at The Enquirer - thanks, Enquirer!

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup oil (I use rice bran)
2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 4 bananas)
1 can crushed pineapple
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon salt

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F and take two 22cm caketins and line them with baking paper. If you're halving this, the three eggs are going to be an issue...My guess would be to use two eggs.

Whisk together the eggs, oil and sugar till frothy, then mix in the fruits and the cinnamon. Sift in the dry ingredients, fold together, then divide evenly between the two tins. Smooth out the surface with a spoon. Bake for about an hour until done - two cakes in the oven dilutes the heat a bit, I had to bake one of the layers for at least another half hour.


2 x 250 containers cream cheese
Icing sugar

This is going to make WAY more than you need, but I suspect that just one container of cream cheese wouldn't be quite enough. I'm happy to be proven wrong though. Make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature - that's important, it's like trying to stir a brick otherwise - and whisk it up till smooth. Stir it icing sugar, probably around 250g but just keep going till it's very thick and doesn't look like it's going to slide off the cake at the first chance. 

Sit one of the cakes on a plate, and spread it thickly with cream cheese icing, leaving about an inch border free to allow for spreading. Sit the second cake on top, and thickly spread this with the icing too. Most cakes you see online have the sides iced too, but I suspected, probably correctly, that my icing would just fall off. You could always follow the recipe I linked through to, which uses butter in the icing and is therefore more likely to be secure. 

The swiftest of glances at the ingredients list will mean it's no surprise how luscious and gorgeous this cake is, but let me tell you anyway. Rich-textured with all that banana, gratifyingly enormous, with the summery, juicy flavour of pineapple, the smoky, soft crunch of the pecans, and the sticky, sharp cream cheese icing glueing it all together. It's gloriously un-sensible and yet it's not too much more effort than a regular banana cake, and what little effort you do have to put in is rewarded with some outrageous amounts of deliciousness.

Speaking of un-sensible, I made a new tutorial video! 

This one's all about making bread, so if this intrigues you in the very slightest and you've got a spare ten minutes, kindly hit that play button.

Hard to believe it's already mid-October. It's also hard to believe the horrible, terrible situation in Tauranga with the Rena oil spill - I'm not going to say anything about it in case I say too much, but it makes me feel sick, sad and angry. 

So what next? I love this blog and I'm in no way ready to retire and receive my cut-glass bowl or gold watch. I guess I'll keep working on my list, keep trying to discover recipes, keep writing and climbing that mountain (totally metaphorical, I'd never climb an actual mountain...never again) and just generally do things that involve the word "keep". Thanks so much, from the bottom of my butter-clogged heart, to everyone who was there from the start (that's you, Mum and Nanna) to everyone who's stuck around, and basically to everyone who's ever given me their time. Because, while the love of food and writing about it is strong, the knowledge that there are people out there reading this every time something new crops up is what really keeps me coming back here. 


Title via: Since this blog started with the musical RENT it might as well have a mid-point reflection with RENT too. This song is so, so very beautiful and I recommend aggressively that you watch both the original Broadway cast version and the movie version featuring many of the original Broadway cast. As a shrewd youtube commenter said, "Whoever disliked this cant Measure".

Music lately:

I honestly nearly cried when I listened to Tina Turner singing River Deep Mountain High recently, I think I was a bit underslept, to be fair, but the combination of the incredible, soaring melody and her wobbly, emotional voice hit me like a pie to the face. An emotional pie.

Next time: Not nearly as much emotion, for one thing. I've got ideas, but I don't have anything actual, so we will see.

Also: editing this to submit it to Sweet New Zealand - monthly blogging event created by Alessandra Zecchini, and this month hosted by lovely Sue of Couscous and Consciousness. Late, but not so late...that it's too late.

9 October 2011

she gets too hungry, for dinner at eight

I am a tired person these days. It's because I think about this blog a lot. I think about what I can do on it. I think about whether other people are thinking about it, loving it as much as I do. I stay up late writing stuff. I write stuff early in the morning. I'm not sure if it's the sort of thing you're supposed to admit, but it's true. When I finally go to bed at night, instead of relaxing into a powerful sleep, my silly brain is all "meeean now's my chance to brainstorm! Get it? I'm a brain! Time to plan a squillion smurfillion things...to stay awake and think. Hard." My kingdom for a more cooperative brain! (Or as some dry fellow once said, "if I only had a brain!") (Also I had a late night last night at a party for cool lady Kim's birthday. Double tiredness! But this was the good kind at least.)

Conversely, I'll often arrive at needing to make dinner, one of my favourite times of the day, and my brain'll be all "umm...there's cookbooks everywhere, and yet...I can't even?" However this week, despite not sleeping all that much and having a brain whittled down to a nub, I somehow managed to get some spontaneous inspiration happening. So I made sure I remembered what I did. I don't have the monopoly on tiredness, needing to eat and wanting something delicious all at the same time, and these two hasty dinners I made recently might work for you too.

Spicy Tomatoes and Chickpeas with Coconut Milk.
Fun because: three cans of stuff = dinner. And it takes all of seven minutes and costs hardly anything.

Pasta with Bacon, Pears, Pecans, Rocket
Fun because: you can change heaps of the ingredients for other things you have. 

Spicy Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Coconut Milk

1 can tomatoes
1 can chickpeas
1 can coconut milk 
1 teaspoon each of the following: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon, nigella seeds...oh, whatever you like, really, but that's a good mix)
1 tablespoon chilli sauce
1 onion
Optional - to garnish - plain yoghurt, coriander, more coriander seeds.

Disclosure: my canned tomatoes were the cherry kind, and my chickpeas were "brun" because I go in for fancy stuff like that, but the plainest of plain stuff will be great too.

Slice up the onion, and fry it in a little oil over a good fierce heat till browned. Tip in the drained chickpeas, the tomatoes (with their juice), the spices, and the chilli sauce and let it come to the boil. Simmer away, stirring, for a couple of minutes, then pour in as much coconut milk as you like, stir, and remove from the heat. Divide between two bowls, and top with whatever garnish you fancy. 

We got delicious, quilt-sized garlic naans from Aaina (at 255 Cuba Street) and they were perfect for absorbing up this soupy spicy mess and making it feel like a feast. The mild coconut milk seeps into the spiced up tomatoes, the sturdy chickpeas give it some body - add a little chilli sauce and it's gonna rock your pants. It's vegan till you add the yoghurt - which isn't even necessary, you could just drizzle over whatever's clung to the coconut milk can - completely gluten free too.

Pasta with Bacon, Pears, Pecans and Rocket

This was inspired by a recipe of Al Brown's in the latest Cuisine magazine. I admit, I tried getting in touch with my deeply Germanic roots by making Spaetzle, a kind of pasta dish that I love but have only ever had made for me. The recipe didn't quite work for me...like the pasta ended up delicious but the dough was like the strongest adhesive and wouldn't go through the colander like it should and was a big complicated messy mess. I recommend you just use regular pasta.

200g pasta
100g streaky bacon, cut into small squares.
1 pear, cored and sliced.
Handful of rocket
Handful of pecans
Thyme leaves

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and cook your pasta till...it's cooked. Meanwhile, heat up a little butter in a saucepan and fry your bacon till nearly crisp, then add the pear slices. Let them get a good amount of heat on each side so they colour up a bit, then tip it all onto a plate and cover with tinfoil to keep warm. Hot trick: tip it onto your plate so you get extra bacony-flavour goodness when it's all served up. In that same pan, quickly toast the pecans. Drain the pasta thoroughly, add it to the pan along with the bacon and the pears, stir it all together, and divide between two plates. Cover with rocket and thyme leaves and serve. 

It's one of those dinners that might not look like much - almost like a bunch of different garnishes all piled on top of each other, masquerading as a proper meal. But hear me out. You've got the salty, butter-fried crisp bacon, the caramelised and juicily sweet pears, and toasty, softly crunchy pecans all twirled into your pasta. Cover it in a peppery tangle of rocket, both virtuous and visually sprucing and a few sprigs of thyme just because, and it's honestly tastebud magic right there. 

Apart from how spectacularly excellent it tastes, it's also versatile as: use whatever pasta you like, for a start, or even something like leftover boiled potatoes that have been fried in butter. The bacon's optional, the pecans - they aren't always cheap - could be walnuts or almonds or even sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Rocket could be swapped for spinach or any other green stuff you fancy, the pear could be a green apple...see? 

Despite my brain being like a crumbly old Ryvita, it has been a fantastic weekend - lurking with friends old and new, drinking tea and cider and vodka, making up ice cream, practicing cornrowing Tim's hair so he can look like Ron Swanson for Halloween (I'm going to be Elphabaaaa!) reading in the sun, admiring Snacks the goldfish, that kind of thing. The kind of weekend you wish it could be every weekend...

...it's also now time to get started on fulfilling the tasks on my List which I haven't really properly finalised yet (maybe I should add "finish list" to my list?)

Title via: there are literally zillions of awesome versions of The Lady Is A Tramp, but the most recent to take my fancy is a duet by Lady Gaga and Tony Bennet - am not a fan of her music or anything but she's incredible in this. 

Music lately:

Wooden Shjips, Lazy Bones. Rather like it.

Not Fade Away - it owes more than a little to Bo Diddly with that rhythm, which is possibly why it's one of my favourites by the sadly shortlived (of both career and life) Buddy Holly.

Next time: I still have that idea for the pear sorbet sitting there, but as I ended up using one of the pear's in that pasta, it's looking less likely it'll be happening right away. However, I have made my first hummingbird cake - I haven't tasted it yet but all the ingredients sound amahzing on paper at least. 

6 October 2011

hot like fire...take you higher

Given that the spiciest thing I was fed as a kid was Chinese takeaways....and considering chili can burn your face off like flaming magma...and also taking into account that the normalisation of ready-made Thai curry pastes and the like happened well after my formative years...it's unsurprising that it's only in the last few years that I've got into hot spicy food.

Spooning chillies! Is what I thought when I uploaded this photo to the computer. That third one's really getting into it. Giving the middle one a right old affectionate nuzzle.

Now, it's got to the point where I near-on crave chilli - the tingly burn it brings to the corners of my mouth and the back of my throat, the fresh, almost lemony flavour of its crisp flesh. With this big talk I'm surprised I wasn't crawling into the frame of the photo myself to spoon those chilies. What can I say. I'm a spicy convert. My latest chilli venture was to make Nahm Jim from a page I'd ripped out of a magazine - I didn't write down what the magazine was or who the recipe author was, but I do have a photo:

Anonymous, smiling "guest chef": thank you.

What is Nahm Jim? A flavour-ly balanced Thai sauce or dressing, which in this recipe harnesses the bright, colourful flavours of red chilli, coriander and lime, and rides them like a capable mule into the salty intensity of fish sauce and caramel fudge sweetness of palm sugar. It all becomes quite the drinkable finished product, which you can pour over things, mix into things, or use it like I did, to marinate things.

Red Chilli Nahm Jim

1 1/2 long red chillies, seeds removed, finely chopped (I used 3)
1 small red chilli, finely chopped (I didn't use one)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
4cm coriander stem with root attached, well washed and finely chopped (note: I just used the stem)
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons palm sugar (note: I ate so much palm sugar, it's delicious)
Juice from about five limes (note: I used lemons)

Using a mortar and pestle, bash the chili, garlic, coriander and 1 tsp salt to a paste. This really didn't happen for me, it was more just bashed up stuff, but it still worked. Use a food processor or just chop everything superfine by hand if you don't have the equipment. Work in the palm sugar, then add the fish sauce and lime juice. Check the flavour balance, add more of something if necessary and refrigerate in an airtight container.

Hot Chilli Tips:

So a chili's heat depends a lot on its size and colour. Big = mild, and red is milder than green, and therefore if you're just getting into it, use the biggest red ones you can find, make sure all the heat-packing seeds are scraped out of its lengthy belly, and don't whatever you do touch your face after dealing with them. I rubbed my nose after chopping up these ones and it was burning away for ages. It was a cold night, so it actually worked in my favour, but in the eyes is not so fun. That said, I wussed out of using the small chilli and upped the big chilli quantity - the sauce was gorgeous, don't get me wrong - but in the end it wasn't quite hot enough, so more fool me.

Who just puts noodles on the table? This fool. 

I had a very appealing idea for marinating chicken in a mixture of this Nahm Jim and coconut milk, but a look at our bank balance meant it wasn't really a chicken-buying kind of week. Instead I turned to that full-of-potential and megacheap foodstuff that is tofu, to make Coconut Nahm Jim Tofu and Rice Noodles.

My method went like so: slice up one block of firm tofu as you please (I chopped it into pretty diamond shapes which really just look like crooked squares, defeating the purpose completely) and place it in a small container (like a leftover plastic takeout one) and spoon over about half of your Nahm Jim. Or indeed any chilli sauce you like and have handy. Leave for as long as possible - I marinated mine for over 24 hours, on recommendation of Ally - and then about an hour before you cook it, like say when you come home from work, tip in half a can of coconut milk and let it marinate further. Heat up a little oil in a frying pan, spoon the tofu out of the container and into the pan, and let it sizzle away. I like my tofu to be either crunchily crisp, or super tender, and think this recipe suits it being on the tender side, but you do as you please. The residual coconut milk will bubble up and evaporate, and it'll smell amazing. Remove from heat when you're satisfied with the tofu's level of cooked-ness. Meanwhile cook up some rice noodles, drain them, tip in any leftover marinade from the container, a little more coconut milk from the rest in the can, and some salt. Serve drizzled with sesame oil, the remaining Nahm Jim, coriander and sesame seeds

I love tofu heaps and this may or may not convince you to also, but it's a pretty simple dinner that looks and tastes good. Not to mention, doesn't cost a whole lot. Tofu is so cheap and ridiculously filling, making it a pal to our bank balance. The Nahm Jim and coconut really soaks into its spongy surface during its marinading stage, and the sugars in both elements smell gorgeous when they hit the hot pan and start caramelising. While it's perfect straight from the hot element, if you let it sit for a while the slippery rice noodles absorb the coconut milk and become even more luscious and silky-textured. Mint would be a nice substitute for coriander if you've got it - nothing like a bit of green sprinklage to make a plate of food look more professional. Oh, and you could feel free to spoon the uncooked tofu into a salad or something straight from the marinade - it tastes amazing as is. 

Introducing The List:

I'm a very determined and ambitious person. Not that I'm used to things going my way. I am in fact extremely used to things going decidedly not my way. But in order to help me help myself to get more things going my way (if that makes sense) I've made a big to-do list, inspired by three friends, all outstanding in the field of excellence (Jo, Kim and Kate) who have all previously created their own. 

It's all very well and good to be determined and ambitious, but it's very very well and good to write stuff down so I don't forget things, and so I can be accountable to my own brain, which flings around ideas like a pinball machine. I've already started writing it (and you can read my list here) and I've got till the end of Sunday to finalise it, and from there, till June 30 2012 to complete the tasks. I'm looking for some more things to add to it, so feel free to make suggestions (I'm talking kinda broad thematic things, not like, say, "Oi Peter Gallagher, resolve to pluck your eyebrows!" because that's just not helpful.) Yes, I'm pretty serious when I say "get a book deal", I don't want this to sound like the tagline to a Justin Bieber movie but I dream bigtime big and I think I can make all these things happen, if I work at it. If I could keep our room tidy for a month though, that would honestly (I can't emphasise my hopelessness) be almost as much of an achievement. And now that it's written down on this list, I am going to make it happen. Hopefully. Wait, no! DEFINITELY. What would Leslie Knope Do? Is what I'll remind myself when things look uncertain. 

Oh yeah, and Snacks the Goldfish is now nearly two weeks into her new life with us and thriving. I like to amuse her/annoy Tim by singing at her whenever I get home from work and walk in the room. I can tell you with certainty that yelling "who let the dogs out!" and then pointing expectantly will not elicit a response of "who, who, who, who" from either Snacks or Tim. 

Title via: the always sadly-late Aaliyah, shortlived R'n'B perfection, with Hot Like Fire.

Music lately:

Who do you love? I love Bo Diddley, you blazer of trails and creater of amazing guitar rhythms. 

Nature Boy, Nat King Cole. We found a record of his at the Waiuku Bookfair that turned out to be the same one my grandparents on my dad's side used to blast all the time. Nice to be able to remember them while listening to his beautiful, restrained singing.

Next time: I still have that poached pear sorbet idea under my skull, but there's no way that can happen until we eat more of the existing ice cream...

2 October 2011

that's all you take, for a cup of cold coffee and a piece of cake

Fun to have up your sleeve: a super delicious cake recipe which can be easily made to look disproportionately spectacular in relation to the effort that went into it.

Not so fun to have up your sleeve: actual cake. Crumbly enough to make your elbows itch and move round everywhere as you try and shake it out, sticky enough to really winkle itself permanently into the fibres of the fabric.

Consider how many times a day that you blink your eyes. That's probably how often I think about cake. Well, if I'm being realistic, that's probably how often I'm thinking about all food, as opposed to cake specifically. While you're blinking, I'm blinking and thinking about food...ing. In this case, I found some lipstick-pink rhubarb sticks at the vege market last week and had a vision of simmering them up and having them dripping out from the layers of a cake. I had a whole lot of sour cream leftover from another recipe, and so I mentally inserted that into the layers with the rhubarb. And then I thought, what if it was a bundt cake? How cool would that look? All diagonal and undulating and with a veneer of intimidation?

Pretty cool, yes indeed. Could almost walk away right now and let the cake speak for itself. Except that would be an ineffectual blog post, and also the cake would probably say, in a spongy voice "errr, look over there at that...pikelet. Way more appealing than my regal, creamy body." And then the cake would quietly shuffle off to a hiding place. 

My grand visions don't work out the way I hope they will (this goes for dinners, clothing, and judging when it's the right time to say "that's what she said") so it's most definitely enpleasening and good for the soul when it does. But if you need some convincing as to why you should try making this full-on cake, consider the following:

1) It looks awesomely ridiculous and ridiculously awesome.
2) It's way easier to make than its outward appearance would suggest.
3) Without the filling, the cake is both vegan and delicious.

While you're considering that, you could maybe consider considering another cake worth your consideration: Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake, which was the subject of my most recent cooking tutorial video on YouTube.

All the cakes! The Guinness cake was the reason I bought all that sour cream, by the way. Not that it needs a lot, but subconsciously I would've reached for the bigger amount at the supermarket so that I could have leftovers to use in another baking caper. I've got another video about bread on the make, but I'm waiting for this one to climb in views before I upload it (also it needs some severe editing, would you believe I could talk about bread for A WHOLE HOUR and I was aiming for a six-minute clip.)

Back to this cake: the only bit where you really have to tap into your concentration faculties is when slicing it into layers, but even that's simple enough: just use your sharpest knife, go slowly, stop often to make sure it's staying even, then slide some baking paper underneath the layer you're slicing and lift it off. Onto the next one.

Despite sandwiching this together with sour cream wrought from the milk of the nation's finest cows, my eye was caught by this vegan recipe, which harnesses the awesome power of coconut milk and not much else and turns it into a cake most delicious. The website that I found it on is fairly confusing but the recipe itself is sound as a pound.

Coconut Lemon Rhubarb Brown Sugar Sour Cream Layer Bundt 

Working on that title. But if I left something out...recipe adapted from this site here.

1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup oil (I use rice bran, it's nice and tasteless-tasting)
1 x 400ml (or 14oz) can of coconut milk
1/4 cup lemon juice (or substitute with the citrus of your choosing)
Zest of the lemons you juiced
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut (disclosure: totally forgot to add this)

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F, and thoroughly grease a bundt tin.

Whisk together the sugar, oil, coconut milk, lemon juice and zest. Sift together the dry ingredients - super important that you don't have any lumps here or the whole cake will taste like baking soda. Whisk the flour in till you've got a thick batter, scrape it into the cake tin and bake for around an hour.

'Fraid I didn't actually weigh out the amount necessary but it was two decent-sized bunches of rhubarb, trimmed and chopped into short sticks, brought to a slow simmer in a pan with about 1/2 a cup of sugar (seriously, I'm sorry I chose this moment to be all instinctive and not record amounts.) Cook away, stirring often, till the fruit has mostly collapsed and softened. Allow to cool. Mix together 1 cup of sour cream (I used delicious Tatua stuff) together with 3 tablespoons of brown sugar. Cut the cake into two or three slices as per my instructions up there, then carefully spoon sour cream onto the bottom layer - less than you'd think and not all the way to the edge, as the weight of the next two layers pushes it out - and then spoon over some rhubarb. Carefully lift the next layer of cake and slide it off the baking paper and on top of the bottom layer. Repeat, finish with the top layer, dust with icing sugar if you like.

Whether or not you see all that as a lot of effort or not, this is delicious either way and encompassing all kinds of delicious flavours and textures: the double sour-sweet of the softly fibrous rhubarb melting into the cool, satiny sour cream. Squidgily creamy, sweet with coconut and pure sugar, sharply spiked with rhubarb and lemon, pink and golden like a decent sunrise, and tall as a house the size of a cake.

On Saturday I fed the cake to our top-notch friend Jo (well, she fed herself, but I passed the cake to her on a plate) and to myself before we went for a flounce round Petone, being fed truffled brie at Cultured, buying fizzy Limca drink, coriander seeds, mustard, and other food trinkets, browsing the treasures at Wanda Harland, and checking out the goods at the A La Mode relaunch, before driving back to the city to weigh up the whys and why-nots of buying whipped cream flavoured vodka (verdict: I want to try and make my own instead, but how??) All of which makes it sound like I'm some kind of obnoxiously frolicky blogger who runs around in a haze of pink-tinged high-contrast photos, but it's all in the framing. Am mostly grumpy nervous and opportunistic, as opposed to the kind of carefree imagery this might've served up. Also: truffled brie is incredible stuff. Just enough of too much of a good thing, you know?

Title via: Cat Stevens, proving his use to my blog once again. Matthew and Son is my very, very favourite song of his and I think I talk about this amazing video of him singing it at least once a week but if you haven't watched it...do.

Music lately:

Somehow a lot of time has gone by since I last had a proper wallow in some Julia Murney singing excellence. And then I realised, it's because she's just so, so good that if I watch too much it mucks with my brain and I get all miserable that I'll never get to see her live and so on and so forth. Long story short, her rendition of Nobody's Side from Chess is spectacular.

Soul II Soul, Back to Life. ("back tooo reality...")

Next time: I still have this chilli sauce recipe that I want to make, however I also had this pear sorbet idea which I haven't had time to execute, but maybe if I train my body and mind to thrive on a quarter of the sleep I get currently.