28 November 2011

i salt and pepper my mango

Story time.

The weather in Wellington has been particularly extreme over the last couple of days. It's no time for skirts or dresses. Luckily I've got a super awesome bright red jumpsuit with power shoulders, gold buttons and palazzo pant legs. Don't try and construct an image of what that might look like, just believe me on the "super awesome" claim. Especially when it's worn with a turquoise scarf. Said jumpsuit has all the delightful flippiness of a skirt, with all the reassuring practicality of pants. On most days. Today the breeze rendered the crotchal-region fabric near-pointless as it continuously inflated my trouser legs so they looked like spooning hot air balloons. No major biggie though, were it not for my rapidly-sinking stockings. They would not stay up. There came a point where they were making their way towards my ankles just as my pant-legs were flying upwards. Taking advantage of the quiet side street I was walking through, I hiked up my stockings back to where they belong, around my waist. Doing the job properly, I was getting quite into it - lunging and wiggling and really luxuriating in the hoisting action till they were back up on my hips again. Finished, I look up, and see an elderly person, holding a video camera. Pointing straight at me.

The camera wasn't sinister; I got the impression they were optimistically filming the nearby thoroughfare in case the wind caused anything strange to happen, so they could then pass it on to the humourous segment of a late-night news show so they could gain fame and riches. I...could well be that segment filler. Needless to say, my tights started sagging again immediately, but I didn't hike them up till I was round the corner. I have my dignity.

I have come to the conclusion that I'll never be intimidatingly cool, or even just intimidating and/or cool (either of which would've come in handy SO MANY TIMES in my life) but on the other hand...at least I've got some stories to tell. And you never need feel nervous about saying hello to me. Unless you've got a video camera and I've been lavishly adjusting my undergarments.

Also not intimidating: the recipes I have for you today. One, a simplified version of a beautiful Yotam Ottolenghi recipe - rice, mangoes, coconut, peanuts, chilli, mint - and the other, a little dish I came up with involving roasted cauliflower and whole spices and almonds.

I say simplified because I had so many moments of "well I can't find that so I'll use this" and "that's a bit expensive, I'll use this instead" and also I'm in bed and don't have the mental capacity to get out of bed and find the Plenty cookbook. So this is my adaptation. A truly lazy dinner. You're essentially cooking some rice and stirring stuff into it. But, as with any recipe of that tricksy and handsome man Ottolenghi, there's so much beauty and freshness and bold flavour that it's only you who need know how easy it really is.

Rice Salad with Mango, Coconut and Peanuts

Adapted from Ottolenghi's Plenty.

1/2 cup basmati rice
1/2 cup long grain brown rice (OR just one cup basmati)
1 tablespoon rice bran or peanut oil
1/2 a ripe, but firm mango
1 red capsicum
1/3 cup peanuts
1 red onion or a bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely sliced, or 2 teaspoons sambal oelek (which is what I used)
1/2 cup shredded coconut or dessicated (but preferably shredded) (but I only had dessicated, so)
A handful each of mint and coriander

In a large pan with a lid, heat the rice grains in the oil for a minute or two, stirring a little to stop it burning. Tip in 2 1/2 cups water and a pinch of salt, bring to the boil then lower the heat, clamp on the lid, and leave slowly cooking away for about 15 minutes (although check for done-ness at 10). Allow to cool a little and tip into a bowl.

Roast the peanuts till darkened in the oven - it takes a little while but don't ignore them. Fry the spring onions or red onion till crispy, thinly slice the capsicum and dice the mango flesh. Toast the coconut in a pan or spread it out on a baking sheet and use the same heat of the oven that you cooked the peanuts in, either way you want it to be light brown in colour.

Mix everything into the rice - carefully - and divide between two plates. Top with the herbs.

The right mix of raw and hot here - you've got the cooling, slippery, elusively fragrant mango and crisp juicy capsicum rubbing shoulders with almost-crunchy coconut, nutty (duh!) peanuts and the red chilli's bite. Rice itself tastes beautiful - I don't really appreciate it enough being a pasta fiend - but it really suits hanging out with these ingredients. Obviously it's better if you can find shredded coconut but I promise the cheapest dessicated stuff will have its place once you toast the heck out of it. Cheers, Ottolenghi.

As for my recipe, Roasted Cauliflower with Toasted Whole Spices and Almonds it's even lazier. Stick as many cauliflower florets as you like on a baking tray and roast them at a high heat - I went for 230 C, which is 450 F, till tinged thoroughly with brown. Towards the end - or even immediately after you turn off the heat on the oven - roast 1/4 cup whole almonds for five - ten minutes, till slightly darkened. In a pan, heat 1 teaspoon each of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, nigella seeds, and fennel seeds if you've got them. The two essentials are coriander and cumin, so play round if you like. Only do it for a minute or so, then remove from heat, stir in a shake of ground cinnamon and a pinch of salt, and tip onto a chopping board along with the almonds. Chop everything roughly (I'm not expecting much to happen here with the spices, just agitate them a little with the blade, it's the nuts getting chopped that's the main thing.) Arrange the cauliflower florets on a plate, drizzle with sesame oil, and sprinkle over all the nuts and seeds. Eat.

Viewed in close up, the seeds and nuts look all earthy and magical and like they should have the words "GAME OF THRONES" superimposed over the top (maybe just in my mind. How often can I use "it's so late at night and I'm tired" as an excuse? All the times!)

More importantly, it's delicious - all that heating and roasting and toasting brings out everything good about the ingredients. Coriander seeds have this addicting lemony-bitter-numbing quality while cumin seeds are more pungent and warm (it's also possible my spices are ancient) while cauliflower cooked in this way is nut-ular and crisp and its flavours are echoed pleasingly in the chopped almonds.

The weekend happened, it was good in places and intense in others. Had people over spontaneously on Friday night to farewell some lovely but impermanent Swedes that we'd become friends with, on Saturday Tim and I had a necessary coffee at Customs and exercised our democratic right to vote; later in the day we gathered with the sort of people you need round when the outcome of lots of people exercising said right unfolds. The night became the morning but somehow we had the energy to plough on with weekend-y activities, buying vegetables and having cider with Kate and one of us witnessing a much needed win from the Wellington Phoenix (clue: it was Tim) all finishing up by making the meal that I'm presenting to you now.  

Another story, one that you might've heard already: I've been nominated for the Concrete Playground Blogger Awards in the Food and Beverage Category. If you want to read my nervous thoughts on that, then read the blog post before this one, but basically - and blatantly - I'd love you to vote for me. It would seriously be very cool and important to me and wonderful and good. To do this, Click Here and look for HungryandFrozen and then click the "like" underneath it. My gratitude could fill several dozen generously-legged palazzo pants jumpsuits.
Title via: I've read sneering things about her, I've read hyperbolic things about her, but when Arular was released it was one of the most exciting albums ever to interest my ears and I've been into M.I.A's music ever since. Sunshowers from that album is where today's title gets itself from. 
Music lately:

Over at The Corner there's a two-part post on favourite Flying Nun songs (Flying Nun being an important New Zealand record label) which not only presented me with some brilliant writing but also plenty of unheard new-old goodness to listen to. Including Garageland's Struck.

The Marvelettes, Mr Postman; I love how chilled and restrained and yet disciplined and sharp the singing is on this track.
Next time: Whatever it is, I haven't made it yet. It could be another practical dinner, it could be a link to a video of "frowning girl adjusts pantyhose in public: The remix!" which could possibly do considerably more for my hopes to write a cookbook than actually working on developing recipes and so on.

24 November 2011

i don't want a lot this christmas, there is just one thing i need...

If there was some kind of chart for overachieving in the field of cake, right now I woulds be significantly off that chart. The needle on its spectrum gauge would be teetering nervously out of control. (Can't help but follow this up with "in my mind", the hilarious-in-our-minds insult that Tim and I hiss at each other all the time after the other person says something implausible. Or even just something like, you know, "I have lots of friends!" "In your mind" - see? Effective.) Anyway, why all this self-directed hyperbole? I made up a Christmas Cake recipe. And it turned out pretty delicious, damnit. And then - I went and iced it myself too. 

Aye, it's only November, but not only is Christmas Cake the sort of thing you can make way ahead of time, like the overexcited person you may well be, it's also good to be prepared. As that angry lion in the Lion King sang. And anyway, is the kind of cake you can make while it feels like you're disorganisedly letting everything slide - it's that easy. Even the icing is manageable. I know it's divisive - I'm not personally the biggest fan of it, especially because marzipan costs about $12 for a small cube and so you have to use almond flavoured icing, for which not one single almond suffered in the making of. But it's a fun challenge and you get to have this dazzlingly gorgeous cake to admire, eat, or pick up and reflect the sun off, to annoy the neighbours.

[Edit: awards voting now closed, ages and ages ago] You know what else is a thing? (Just watch me segue!) I got nominated in the Concrete Playground Bloggers Awards - "The Search For NZ's Best Online Writers - under the Food Blogger category. Now that is a title I'd like to call my own. And thanks so much to whoever nominated me - too much. So kind. Yes, I'm up against some blogs you'll likely recognise, but let's talk about me here, okay? I feel like a bit of a veteran of the vote-driven competition, having been lucky enough to land myself in quite a few over the last year or so, but not lucky enough to actually win any. This is really cool, and I'd love to win it  but I don't want to burn my brain up too much over it, because losing's no fun, on the other hand I want to definitely put myself out there because I believe in this blog - or I wouldn't be up at midnight writing on it - on the other hand...

Con: Faking being stoic if do not win
Pro: Voting for people in competitions a now-normal part of life.
Con: Feel nervous asking people to vote for me...again
Pro: I really am one of the best online writer in NZ about food. 
Con: In my mind...
Pro: You only have to vote once during the whole thing, not daily! Hey-ohh.
Con: Voting's done through Facebook, so if you don't have one...you get to dodge this whole hornet's nest. So this con is really a sneaky pro for some of you. 
Pro: COOL TO BE NOMINATED, FUN EXPERIENCE, CHILL OUT LAURA. One can still be the best food blogger in their own mind...for what it's worth...

What I'm clumsily and bad-attitudinally trying to say is; though I've failed you all before, it would be really cool if you could vote for HungryandFrozen, but only of course if in your heart it's actually the one you want to vote for. I would appreciate it with an embarrassing/refreshing lack of irony. Because seriously, NZ's Best Online Writer? I want that! So if you do: vote here. (Please, thanks, and cake for all. Also you have to scroll round till you find my blog and click the "Like" which means, yes, you need Facebook.)

And I realise there are far more crucial voting situations going on right now. Am not going to talk about my opinion in that area, although it shouldn't be hard to guess. But if you are in New Zealand please exercise your right to vote this Saturday - it's one of the more important things you can do and I think back to all those who fought so that women could do this today. Your voice counts and you have the responsibility - think about everyone who you could affect with this and choose wisely. 

Back to the Christmas Cake. Fa la la la la. I'm looking forward to December this year actually - Tim and I have been stocking up on old-timey Christmas records (so cheap! I love that I always want the vinyl no-one else wants) and I've got plans underway for the best, more hard-out flat Christmas Dinner ever. I don't want for much this Christmas, and our very short trip up home last weekend where I got to hang out with Nana and see so many people made me feel highly anticipational for some whanau time over lots of food. 

I'd been reading through a lot of old, old cookbooks and Nigella's books and all sorts of cookbooks, and my braincells were tickled by all the variations on Christmas Cake. I was really keen to try adding my own to the squillions of recipes already out there - a kind of mash-up of all the things that sounded fun about other Christmas Cake recipes. So I included a whole can of condensed milk, because having that on the ingredients list pleases me. I soaked the fruit in ginger beer and rum - Gunpowder's - spicy and intense - because how cool does that sound? (Are you starting to see a pattern emerging here? I'd see an ingredient, think "funnn" and that would be that.) I used dried pears which sounds extravagant, but it's more stupidity on my part, I bought them once on the supposed insistence of Nigella Lawson, ended up too fearfully nervous of how much they cost to make anything with them, and now they're nothing like the plump, full-of-potential specimens they started as. However, after a bathe in some rummy ginger fizz, they're perfect for a fruit cake. You could use apricots, dried apples, or anything within that realm of wrinkly fruit, really.

I followed a decoration idea of the aforementioned Nigella's because the gleaming white-on-white look appealed to me, and I also liked the lack of fuss involved in haphazardly piling up star shapes on each other. And then topped it with edible glitter because it cost about $9 for the tiny tub and I'm trying to insist it's highly relevant to many things that I bake and cook on a daily basis and I'm becoming increasingly drawn to glittery things these days, like a magpie. (Thought: If you painted a magpie's nails with glittery nailpolish...would you break the internet?)

The real question is: did it taste okay after all that? Can you really just go making up a Christmas Cake? Bit of a concern, considering how much fruit and nice liquor and time and effort and so on went into it. Luckily - BRILLIANT. Like, deck the halls with boughs of deliciousness.

And even if it turned out tasting like rum-soaked sawdust, it is pretty. It's a tall, but surprisingly light cake, as far as this kind of thing goes, with a distinct caramel-toffee vibe from the condensed milk. Strangely the ginger wasn't as prominent as I thought it'd be, but the dark rum definitely makes itself felt. The dried pears give a fudgy, grainy sweetness, and the sultanas are, well, they fulfill their role of being a sultana (is anyone passionate about the sultana?) All the little things - the cocoa, the cinnamon, the orange oil - mesh together to form this mysteriously tis-the-seasonal flavour. All up: It worked!

Dunno how the pencil got in there. It's...artistic?

Oh, and if you want to ice it, hey? Why not watch my new HungryandFrozen Show tutorial video, made late on a Tuesday after a tiny bit of sleep and edited on Wednesday night on even less? Please notice the better lighting, thanks to my Dad who lent me one that he normally uses when painting bits of the house at night. (Also Dad - it's only five and a half minutes! My shortest one yet!) Improving myself, while helping you improve. I mention it in the video, but a massive shoutout to our very good family friend Lorne - grandmother of the person whose birthday we drove up to last week and mother of my mum's best friend since childhood. In 2004 she taught me how to ice a fruitcake for Mum and Dad's 25th wedding anniversary, and it's that passing on of knowledge which allowed me to make this video with even a speck of authority. But maybe don't show her this, in case I've missed out something huge...

HungryandFrozen Christmas Cake

1 1/2 cups (375ml) ginger beer 
1/2 cup (125ml) rum (I used Gunpowder)
700g sultanas
300g dried pears or dried apricots or dried apples etc - or a mix.

300g butter
100g brown sugar
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin (I like to think it gives it 'something')
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon Boyajian orange oil (optional - could try replacing with the zest of a lemon)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cocoa
2 eggs
300g flour

More rum (or whichever liquor you're using.)

Soak your fruit overnight (at least) in the liquids. I'd say there was 1/2 a cup of liquid left when I made my cake so if you're nervous, drain out that much and discard/drink the rest. 

Take a 22-23cm caketin, line the base with a double layer of paper and then, as best you can, line the sides with a double baking paper which extends about ten cm above the edge. Pulling out a long piece of the paper, folding it in half, making it into a loop and then shoving it into the caketin and hoping for the best tends to work for me.

Melt the butter, sugar, condensed milk and spices together gently. Remove from the heat, stir in the fruit and its liquid and the baking soda. It might fizz up a bit at this point. Beat in the eggs then carefully sift and stir in the flour, making sure there's no lumps. Tip into your prepared tin, and bake at 140 C for around 2 1/2 hours. Pierce it at various intervals with either a cake tester or a piece of dried spaghetti and tip over a capful or three of rum. 

Title via: Queen of my ear canals, Mariah Carey, with the immortal All I Want For Christmas Is You. Will we ever see another modern Christmas song that's as good as this? Doubties.
Music lately:

Reach Out (I'll Be There) - Four Tops I probably mention this song once a month, but I think for a song like this it's okay. Frankly. And I love the "RAH!" at the start of each verse. 

Idina Menzel, Heart On My Sleeve. If you can't bring yourself to vote for me, at least indulge me by watching this entire video from start to finish - it's slow but so beautiful and never fails to make my tear ducts spring into action.
Next time: Probably hounding you respectfully for votes again, but also aiming for some cool recipes you'll want to try immediately.

18 November 2011

no boy, don't speak now you just drive

Last time I promised a Christmas Cake - and recklessly did I make one, at 11pm after an evening of Viognier (where I learned both how to pronounce "Viognier" and also that I like Coopers Creek's stuff). But even more reckless was my thinking that I could blog about the cake before this weekend just gone, where Tim and I drove up to Waiuku for an important family party, when we've had stuff on every night of the week. Perhaps reckless-est of all, on Sunday night after nine hours of travelling, I tried to blog. I didn't achieve the state of sleeplessness-fueled focussed intensity I was hoping for. I just fell asleep. So finally, here we are.

And instead of Christmas Cake, today's subject is Road Trip Snacks. I've never been on a road trip before - I know, what kind of friendless, half-hearted Kiwi am I - and this was really just a long trip which occurred via road but I'm claiming it and you can't take it away from me. I've learned that writing on a laptop while in a car with barely-existent suspension and handling isn't the easiest; the slightest tension is magnified by your ability to stare endlessly into the ever-approaching horizon (except Tim was all "yeah, nah, I didn't notice that" so clearly whatever I was tense over was so subtly conveyed he didn't notice it, meanwhile I thought I was being totally, point-makingly huffy.) Another thing I noticed is that when I'm in Wellington I put some effort into my clothes, but as soon as I get out of town I'm happy to shuffle round in trackpants, jandals and a saggy old singlet. And let us not forget the proliferation of roadside shops selling local crafts. I swear there's more sheepskin shops per capita than there are both sheep and capita.

And snacks are of great importance. I started off trying to think of something healthy, veered towards "morale boosting" instead. When you're several hours in and the countryside around you really isn't providing much variety, a snack is as good as a holiday, not to mention if you actually have no driving skills, it allows you to feel smugly like you're also bringing something to the table. Snack #1 is from one of my favourite new cookbooks, the brilliant Kitchen Coquette, and involved white chocolate, coco pops, and peppermint essence. Yes. That's right. I'm a devotee of the white chocolate so I was expecting to like it and all, but I wasn't anticipating this: it's one of the more perfect things I've ever eaten. Honest.

If you can, try to get decent white chocolate since the taste of it is so prominent here. I use Whittakers because it's extremely delicious. But also relatively affordable. White chocolate is a little fiddly to get right, and some stuff out there is loaded up with weird oils and flavourings in lieu of whatever it actually is that gets it to taste so magical. But not Whittakers. On the other hand, use the cheapest coco pops you can find, as they're all much of a muchness and breakfast cereal is expensive than perfume. The nearest supermarket to me gatekeepingly only had the proper stuff, but the finished recipe was so good it was worth every cent.

White Chocolate Coco Pops Slice

(It's called Peppermint Crispies in the book but with ingredients like this I really want to list them in the title.)

From Kitchen Coquette, by Katrina Meynink. I highly recommend it.

250g good white chocolate.
1 cup cocoa pops, puffs, snaps, or whatever you call them.
2 teaspoons peppermint essence (unless your pants are fancy and you have Boyajian Peppermint Oil, in which case use a couple of drops.)

Carefully melt the chocolate on the stovetop in a metal bowl sitting on top of a small pot of water that is half-full of simmering water. Throw the essence in and stir it round, which may make it sieze up a little - inexplicably - but persevere, tip in the coco pops and stir as best as you can.

Tip out onto a sheet of baking paper, flatten as best you can - try pressing down on it with another sheet of baking paper over the top - and don't worry about rough edges or anything. Allow to set, then slice up. It will break naturally into rough jigsaw pieces instead of neat bars - all part of the charm.

Note: I feel the white chocolate + peppermint aspect of this is crucial, but if you're unable to eat dairy, this would still be super alluring made with dark chocolate.

While I am not normally one to reach for the peppermint essence - it always makes me feel like toothpaste has fallen into my food - here it works stunningly, its icy heat cutting through the vanilla richness of the white chocolate and yet somehow, each mint-cooled inhale also enhances its buttery, melting-textured wonderfulness. The airy crunch of the coco pops amongst the surrounding white chocolate is surprisingly habit-forming, like edible bubble wrap. Something about the peppermint actually does wake up the brain a little as you trundle along. All told, a superior snack, and one that I feel truly lucky to know of.

Over on the other end of the snack horizon are these stunning Sesame Garlic Roast Almonds which I invented myself first to use in the Sexy Pasta back in March, but have adapted for more specific nut-eating purposes. Because they're too good to just scatter over pasta. Scatter 'em over your tastebuds too (but not the floor of your car because the scents of garlic and sesame are persistant.)

Sesame Garlic Roast Almonds

You could of course use any nut here, but almonds have a sweet edge and a popcorn-crisp texture once roasted and they're very reasonably priced in bulk at Moore Wilson - which is why they're my go-to fancy nut.

2 cups whole almonds, labelled "Dessert Almonds" on my bag.
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 heaped teaspoon brown sugar
Generous pinch salt

Set your oven to 200 C/400 F. Mix everything together in a bowl before tipping it out onto an oven tray. Putting a sheet of baking paper on it before doing this will save you a lot of dishes hassle. Roast the nuts for as long as you dare, until they're darkened somewhat and smell amazing. Keep an eye on them though because it's a fine line between roast and burnt. Allow to cool then tip into a container.

Also rivetingly good with their snappish texture and Inception-like nuttiness within nuttiness. And garlic, with its rich, rounded oniony flavour, is a far more suitable friend of the nut than chili, in my opinion. In case you're wondering what the stuff in the photo is, I just threw the sugar over without mixing it in properly, which meant that lumps of it bubbled up under the oven's heat and turned into a kind of garlickly brittle - strangely good. While the White Chocolate Coco Puff Peppermint slice has the edge in terms of immediate appeal, every time we brought these out to snack on we ended up grabbing them by the handful.

All that aside, we did have a terrific time up home - I got to hang out with my dear Nana a lot; see Tim dressed up as a Disney prince (veered between calling him Prince XYZ since they were never that interesting in the movies anyway, and calling him Prince Floribund which I just thought was funny) for the party we went to, which was a cartoon-themed dress-up one, in case you're wondering what brought this alarming behavior on. I was Sleeping Beauty, Mum and Dad were an Ugly Sister and Dick Dastardly respectively, and my brother went as Jack Skillington. There was also a massive supper, a pudding buffet, beautiful speeches and a very cool birthday lady dressed as Sailor Moon. Absolutely worth the harrowingly long drive there and back!

Finally, and importantly, I saw Poppy the Kitten again who has grown just a tiny bit and has mellowed out slightly - she's less of a baby raptor now, and will actually let you hold her without trying to claw out your nostrils. I did wake up with an ominous paw resting on my neck, but it turned out she was just using me as an overbridge so she could have a punch-up with the curtains. At 3am.
Title via: Bic Runga, lady of big achievements, with her early song Drive. I've loved this quiet, thoughtful song ever since Dad made me watch it on Video Hits or Max TV or something, saying "she's going to be huge one day." Shrewd, Dad.

Music lately:

I didn't have time to make any kind of iPod playlist, and Tim's sister's car, which we swapped for on the way up as our ute drinks up petrol like it's coming from one of those refill cups at Burger King, didn't have anything to plug the ipod into. We ended up listening to National Radio and learning a thing or two, because we couldn't find anything music-wise despite flicking obsessively through the stations.

On the last stretch of road home, having swapped back to the ute where we could plug in the ipod, we listened to Gil Scott-Heron's Winter In America and I'm New Here - ideal music for anytime, not just cars. But it felt particularly right just then.
Next time: the Christmas cake! That said, I have to taste it first to make sure it's okay. But I also want to ice it. Dilemma. 

13 November 2011

cooler than ice cream and warmer than the sun...

Mmmhmm. Another ice cream. What can I say. When the vision appears, there's nothing you can do but meet it head on, climb on top of it, and skilfully fly it round like a hovercraft till you can alight upon the grassy knoll of recipe-confidence.

Let that extended metaphor be a red flag that warns you not only of my 3am bedtime last night, but also of increased potential for further extended metaphors. Anyway this ice cream leapt to mind fully-formed, no need for contemplative hovering: Cranberry Curd and White Chocolate Ripple Ice Cream.

Cranberries are pretty synonymous with Christmas food, and if they're not for you they will be after reading books by Nigella Lawson. But I'm a fan any time of year, despite their kinda maligned image. They're not as give-it-to-you-on-a-plate sweetly juicy as strawberries, not as popular as raspberries, not as purple as boysenberries and their medicinal purposes aren't as dinner-table-conversational as blueberries. In fact cranberries are like the grapefruit of the berry world: sour, prone to bitterness, with connotations of...groin. Luckily Nigella Lawson's here, with her recipes for cranberry sauce and cranberry stuffing and all kinds of good Christmassy things, to save the cranberry's image.

I've gone one further, and taken one of her more interesting recipes - Cranberry Curd - and turned it into an ice cream, where swirls of frozen whipped cream whirl around slashes of crimson. A beautiful vortex, like holly berries on snow...that have been prodded at and moved around with a stick...the harshness of the berries muted with sugar, eggs, and butter; the plain cream embiggened by the gorgeous colour and the still-remaining hint of sourness, as well as the frozen, buttery crunch of white chocolate (Whittakers - my favourite and what I almost always use. Just enter the name into the search bar for proof...) While you can make this any old time, the colours and the frozen nature of it and the fact that I'm making it in mid-November means it's ideal for a yuletide pudding. Especially since December is summertime in New Zealand. Although if I had a glazed ham for every December 25th that was either coldly rainy or airlessly humid...

The method looks really long and complicated but there's nothing to get uncomfortably nervous about - apart from a particularly brutal sieving segment, the cranberry curd is delightfully untemperamental - and then you just half-heartedly whisk some cream, mix them together, admire the swirly prettiness like it's your 6th form art board and you're impervious to criticism, then let the freezer do its thing. My advice is to go slowly and calmly at all stages. I was on some kind of clumsiness roll and ended up doing many stupid things, like flinging cranberry curd everywhere and getting cream in my hair and wailing about curd on my tshirt before realising there was a slowly descending splodge of cream that had been there for even longer. Oh, and accidentally dropping all the remaining cranberries out of the sieve into the carefully strained mixture below. And dropping cream on the floor. It was like that scene with McNulty and Bunk in Season 1 of The Wire but with "WHY AM I SO CLUMSY" instead of one specific expletive used as my only dialogue. Mercifully it all ended up okay. More than.

Keeping in with the theme of Christmas usefulness, you could always double the cranberry curd ingredients, jar them up and give them away as gifts. It's exactly like lemon curd but with cranberries, doesn't it make you just want to invent a whole lot of different curds now? Banana coconut curd, raspberry curd, kiwi-strawberry curd...

Cranberry Curd White Chocolate Ripple Ice Cream

500ml/2 cups cream
3 tablespoons sugar
100g or so white chocolate, roughly chopped (I used Whittakers

Cranberry Curd:

250g cranberries (straight from the freezer's all good)
100ml water
200g sugar
100g butter
3 eggs 

Bring the cranberries and the water to the boil in a small pan till the berries are softened and have released their juices. Now comes the one horrible job. You have to try push all this through a sieve into a bowl. There's a technique - go slowly, keep pressing down and stirring with a spatula and then scraping the underside of the sieve with that spatula. You should end up with around 1/3 cup cranberry matter and a permanently clogged sieve. From here it's simple though. To the strained, velvety pink liquid add the butter and sugar and gently melt over a low heat, then beat the eggs and sieve them into the pan while stirring (ordinarily a pain but you've already got a dirty sieve, so?) continue to stir over a low heat until it has thickened a lot. Don't let it overheat and curdle after all that trouble - if you suspect shenanigans, just remove it from the heat and keep stirring. Allow to cool. Stir in a few daring drops of red food colouring if you like - this particular time I did.

Meanwhile, whisk the cream till it has thickened and has increased in body mass but isn't at the point where you'd call it whipped. Fold in the shards of white chocolate, and spatula all this into a freezer-proof container. Tupperware lunchboxes like the one I've used here are perfect.

Ripple technique: I worked this out on the fly, as the spoonful of curd hovered questioningly over the container of whipped cream. Firstly, spoon the curd into the container of whipped cream in three rough horizontal lines (across the width, like a bumblebee) then take the handle of a spoon or a skewer or something, and make lines up and down across the length of the container, through the stripes. From here, carefully swirl all this around till you're happy. Just remember you can't un-swirl, so go slowly and carefully.


All these surrounding ingredients really truly mellow out the cranberry, leaving it velvety and intriguingly sweet and berryish without any of that mouth puckering, tooth-coarsening quality that you might expect. The stripe method of swirling means everyone's guaranteed a decent portion of sherbety cranberry ripple to dissolve, and white chocolate is so delicious that I almost don't want to demean it by explaining why it's there, but its rich sweetness works perfectly with the ingredients and lends an alluring crunch to all that smoothness. I'm proud of myself for this one.

So I'm super tired because it has been a big weekend of activity, from a raucous book group on Friday night followed by a catch up with a friend at Havana, Saturday's plans for mini-golf were dashed upon the raindrops, but we all went to Denny's and ate a whole lot of food (including a proper coke float) and followed it up with a Whisky Appreciation Evening that carried on long after the night had turned into the next morning. That's what weekends are for, but now my brain's feeling a little frantically underslept - if nothing else I can lean on this container of ice cream, cool my fevered brow, and spoon it into my mouth while I'm at it with but a minimum of effort. Just like the ice cream itself. I feel like it's not too early to start thinking about Christmas-related things, but if you do, then maybe come back and re-read this post in three weeks so you can absorb it more comfortably?
Title via: Eurythmics, Who's That Girl - so our Whisky last night was Scottish, but I didn't realise babein' Annie Lennox was too. This song doesn't encroach on Thorn In My Side's Favourite Eurythmics Song territory, but it's still damn good.
Music lately:

Mos Def, Rock'n'Roll. I absolutely love Jack White, truly, but I was a little surprised he didn't get mentioned in this song.

Underworld, Rez. So twinkly and light and gratifyingly endless.
Next time: I started making progress on a Christmas Cake today. Would've actually made it but was far, far too sleepy. More fool me...

9 November 2011

your shoulders are frozen, cold as the night

It's been a long time, shouldn't have left you, without another ice cream recipe. Although this isn't ice cream at all but its tangy cousin, Frozen Yoghurt. I did that thing where I dream up a cool ice cream flavour, but then I went and forgot it and tried to retrace my steps mentally to work out exactly what it was that I thought was so good - a bit like that Sweet Valley Twins book where Jessica accidentally made those amazing cookies then pretended that it wasn't an accident and she had to recreate them for the TV show Lifestyles of the French and Famous and they stay up all night trying to work out what the flavour was and then they retrace their steps and get the flavour just in time and also the make up artist makes it look like they had a great night's sleep. And Jessica does not acknowledge that serendipity played a part in her success. Just. Like. That. Fun fact: I didn't Google any of this, I just knew it. 

Lucky for me, while trying to work out what it was that entranced me in the first place I managed to come up with something else entirely: Applemint and Fresh Tumeric Frozen Yoghurt. Yep, the very same tumeric that you normally put in curries, and yep, Applemint is just the words Apple and Mint squished together because it pleases me. Also pleasing is this combination of flavourants - crisp apple, cool mint and the golden presence of tumeric. Whatever the original idea was, this one wins - for one thing, it actually exists, unlike the other idea which continued to fade further and hazily-er out of reach the harder I searched for it. 

I'm not fussy about all things in life but I am about yoghurt. Clearwater's Organic is the kind that I used for this recipe - it's heavy and rich and topped with cream and you can buy it in a two litre bucket which I find truly exciting. Otherwise I'd look out for Collective Dairy or Zany Zeus, two other NZ brands that are outstanding in the field of excellent yoghurt. If you want to make this vegan, you could replace the yoghurt with a couple of cans of coconut milk and even call it Froconut if you like. Coconut milk makes awesome ice cream, so no need for fear here.

Please notice the beautiful parfait glasses, unexpectedly given to me on a trip to Petone by magnificent ladies Jo and Kim. Having these parfait glasses did motivate me to make some more ice cream to put in them, but that's not saying much really because I could look at a shrub, a sofa cushion, a small badger, and still suddenly want to make ice cream.

Applemint and Fresh Tumeric Frozen Yoghurt

Note - if you don't have access to fresh tumeric, leave it out and add in a teaspoon of ground ginger instead. If you don't have palm sugar, use plain brown sugar or any sugar at all, to be honest. And finally, if you don't have a food processor, just grate up the apple, and finely chop everything else and stir it in. This is just my lazy way.

2 1/2 cups lovely thick plain yoghurt
3 tablespoons palm sugar, roughly chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, roughly chopped (skin on)
About 1 centimetre segment of fresh tumeric, peeled and roughly chopped.
1/4 cup mint leaves - or as much as you like really - washed.

Blitz the apple, sugar and tumeric with a couple of tablespoons of the yoghurt in a food processor, until everything has become tiny and the green skin of the apple is as small as confetti. Add in the mint and the rest of the yoghurt, process for another ten or so seconds to mix everything in, then scrape into a 1-litre container and freeze, stirring occasionally.

Allow to sit out of the freezer for 20 minutes before serving so it's not rock-solid.

To be straight up with you, this will be a lot more luscious if you blast it in the food processor halfway through the freezing process. I couldn't be bothered, and this achieved me a frozen yoghurt full of ice crystals, which I soldiered through and ate anyway. It's still delicious, but keep this in mind. The delicate and fragrant yet juicy apple is perfect with mint's almost-spicy freshness, and the tumeric isn't overtly present but hints at flavours of carrot, ginger and lemon, and it sounds quite cool in the title so don't go leaving it out if you don't have to. It's all very light and refreshing but with plenty of flavour.

To remain straight up with you: frozen yoghurt doesn't necessarily make the most effective ice cream soda. Its icy texture doesn't really amalgamate in with the fizzy drink, instead busting into large particles floating round. It all looks unbelievably undrinkable, but it's all good, as long as you don't look too closely. I thought this flavour would be cool with ginger beer and I was so very correct - just avert your eyes and drink up. And yes, occasionally I succumb to pretty things and these stripy straws were one such instance of that. Just to convince myself that they weren't just bought out of  aesthetic aimlessness, I made myself drink the entire glassful through them.

Sometimes pretty > useful.

Speaking of, we had a big clean-out of our closet and found heaps of things that hadn't seen the light of day since we moved in two and a half years ago - including my old pointe shoes. And because instead of tidying, I tend to just wear as much of the clutter as possible...I tried them on.

That on the far left is a bloodstain, in case you're wondering. This pair is actually one of my cleanest - Grischkos, still with the same ribbons I would've sewn on and burnt the edges of so they didn't fray. While there came a point where it was very clear I wasn't going to be a professional of any kind, nothing gave me as much happiness as dancing - I guess not till cooking came along. Best believe I've been prancing round in these more than once since, in fact attempting a pirouette ill-advisedly on our wooden kitchen floor this very evening. Put a stop to that quick though, no need to add more blood stains to these shoes!

Can't believe I forgot to mention this but amongst all the hubbub of last week maybe it's not surprising. A couple of weeks ago Tim and I attended the excellent launch of Fast Fresh Tasty, a new, local food app filled with seasonal and beautiful recipes. It's best described over at the Wellingtonista - but if you're into food apps and have a smartphone I definitely recommend it. 

Title via: The Arctic Monkeys' exciting 2005 debut, I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor. I wrote a probably terrible essay in uni on how The Internet was changing the music industry because these guys had a fanbase on Myspace or something. It all makes me feel very old and very young at the same time.

Music lately:

The opening of The Crystals' Da Doo Ron Ron has got to be one of the best there is, with those blaring horns and galloping handclaps. We used to sing this song in primary school, but it wasn't nearly as cool as the original itself. 

Heavy D and The Boyz, We Got Our Own Thing. RIP, Heavy D.
Next time: No kidding, I thought up another ice cream recipe idea almost immediately, but I might put that on hold and serve you up an awesome Christmas Cake recipe - you can't ignore that it's rapidly approaching, and Christmas Cakes need plenty of planning ahead!

6 November 2011

am I ever gonna see my wedding day?

To sleep, perchance to dream, that is the question...is not actually what Hamlet said, but I've helpfully paraphrased. It seems I'm either pursuing or avoiding sleep, but hardly ever actually just having it when I should be. Damn you elusive sleep you! (and that definitely wasn't Shakespeare, although it's fun to imagine Hamlet saying it while shaking his fist so hard his pantaloons start to flap around.) Luckily this recipe for Cambodian Wedding Day Dip is so easy you could make it in while sleep deprived, but equally it's so loaded with aggressive flavours that it wakes you up fast like one of those dreams where you're walking along and then all of a sudden you trip over and slide into your own bed like an elaborate home-run in that sport with the home runs. (I'm just playing, I know it's softball - I was so dedicated to the Baby Sitters Club that I never once skipped the boring chapters about Kristy's team that she coached.)

The knife really doesn't have any purpose here but I'm so not good at these exposition type shots and it just felt right to put it there, okay?

My current state of sleepiness is self-inflicted though - last night Tim and I met up with our friends Pia and Fiona (Piona!) and went to this park on Mt Vic to have a picnic and watch the fireworks. They're two of the nicest, funnest people we know and excellent hosts - Pia was all "we made a fancy salad" and I was all "I know, I can see it" while having their beetroot and chickpea salad and then she was all "no, this!" and pulled out another amazing salad with sliced oranges and black olives. After the fireworks (which were spectacular, although not quite as exciting as Pia running from flames like an action hero when one of her own fireworks fell over after being lit) they then invited us to play Cranium with Fiona's sister and their friends, which went on till 2am. It may not sound so cool, but correctly identify Harry Belafonte's Banana Boat song after your teammate hums three bars of it and see how cool you feel.

Despite this ongoing feeling that I'm running towards something that keeps moving further away, this week has, upon reflection, been full of really good things. I'm going to try to keep this succinct: Broadway Bites is the blog set up by these actual Broadway stars like Adam Chanler-Berat of Next to Normal and Andy Senor Jr from a million different casts of RENT, including the international tour with  Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, and Matt Shingledecker from Spring Awakening. And all three of them are in RENT's off-Broadway revival. And they ran this competition on their blog where you email in your favourite breakfast recipe and so I did (these two) not even thinking I'd hear anything from it, and then - to take us back to the start of the story - I got this tweet from them saying I'd won, and it linked to this video of them having made the recipe and talking about it and making a porridge recipe I sent them and performing in the musical that this blog was named for. And tweeting me. To sum up: Ha-whaaa? While there's no reason people on Broadway should be interested in this blog just because I talk about Broadway musicals in relation to food, I've also always dreamed of this happening, ever since I started writing it four years ago. Now if the amazing Julia Murney could just check out my recipe for pancakes... (that's a Broadway injoke, sorry everyone.)

Then I get this parcel from Kate, who Tim and I stayed with in Oxford earlier this year - remember, her and her husband were complete strangers to us but they were from New Zealand and she liked my blog? We had a fantastic time and they were lovely of course, and when she emailed asking for my address because she had something to send me for my blog's fourth birthday, I was expecting, say, a novelty keyring, but it was in fact a cookbook almost but not quite as gigantic as author Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall's name, and entirely dedicated to vegetarian recipes, which I love.  

This recipe comes from that cookbook and as I said, it's called Cambodian Wedding Day Dip, which is a pretty romantic name because it's not only a food but it also sounds like a cool dance. The ingredients are the kind that I float towards like a moth to a light source - peanut butter, coconut milk, chili - plus plenty of chopped up mushrooms - all of which politely resist overpowering each other and instead all let each other shine gently as they roll over your tastebuds. Creamy, nutty sweetness respectfully busting a move with spicy, earthy smoky flavours.  

It's next-level delicious, somehow showcasing the richness of the peanut butter and coconut milk without tasting like you're eating satay sauce (not a bad thing, it's just different) and you don't even need to be having a wedding to dip sliced up vegetables in it. It's worth keeping in mind that the finished product is essentially a pale brown paste, hence my liberal carpeting of coriander leaves in the photos. Coriander is like the icing sugar of the savoury world: makes everything look all good again. Tonight Tim had it over rice for dinner, I'd eaten so much of it during the cooking process, that I was too full for that kind of commitment. But not to the point where I couldn't sneak out later and eat some dip and then cry "Agh! So Full! What Hath I Wrought!" like Hamlet totally would.

Truly. That stack of crackers - with which this Cambodian Wedding Day Dip is ideal - was much, much higher when I started taking these photos. Kate - thanks so much again for sending this to me and I totally recommend this recipe (gluten and dairy-free, hey-ohh!)

Cambodian Wedding Day Dip

500g chestnut mushrooms (confession: used plain old button shrooms. All I could find)
1 tablespoon oil (I use rice bran)
1 small red chilli, finely chopped (I used a tablespoon of sambal oelek, it's what I had)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon curry powder or mild curry paste (further confession: the vagueness of this direction and my lack of any curry paste whatsoever led me to leave this out and shake in a little cinnamon and ground cumin, some weird instinct kicking in I guess.)
2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter (confession: I followed this step exactly)
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
Juice of half a lime (used a lemon, had no lime)
Dash of soy sauce
Coriander leaves (optional, but used them because I actually had them).

Finely dice the mushrooms, or blitz them in the food processor. Not toooo fine - you want them to be the size of, say...I can't actually think but you want them bigger than grains of rice, okay? Like 4mm square, ish. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the mushrooms, stirring while the liquid in them appears and then evaporates. Add the chili and the garlic, and cook a little further, before adding the peanut butter and curry paste (if you've got it) and stirring through the mushrooms. Tip in the coconut milk, and then let it bubble away, stirring often so it doesn't burn, till it reduces down and is much thicker.

Those weren't the only good things that happened this week though, I know, what kind of happy-go-lucky weirdos are we? Not that happy-go-lucky, I promise you. I for one, am more like clumsy-go-anxious. But sometimes you can actually force happy-go-luckiness to come your way, like when you throw a Simpsons party and invite your friends round and make a giant donut and floor-pie and an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet and nuts'n'gum. And your friends bring twinkies and rib-wiches and candy. And you all drink Skittlebrau. It was amazing fun. I'm going to be writing about it for 3news.co.nz's National News section (just kidding, it's under lifestyle) so if you ever get the urge to throw yourself a similar party, you'll know how. So many people came along even though it was a very last-minute thing, the sort of people that are so good for your soul that all you can hope is that you provide some kind of similar function in return.

Title via: Wedding Bell Blues by the late Laura Nyro. Her voice is stunning, this song is all sad and poignant, and when you put the two together, my stars it is something. Props for the cool name too, Nyro. 

Music lately:

SWV, It's All About U. Some 90s R'n'B is so gold that while you're listening to it, it feels better than any music of any other genre ever. Not that it's a competition, you can like more than one thing. What I'm saying is, I love this song.

Erykah Badu is coming to New Zealand! That's good. But it's to a festival that's far, far away from Wellington. That's not so good. Might have to get my vicarious and much cheaper thrills by just playing more of her amazing music.
Next time: I made some frozen yoghurt! But I also made more things from this book. I think frozen yoghurt will win though.