29 December 2012

isn't it rich? are we a pear?

I know, everyone's on holiday and I said I wasn't blogging till next year, but as Britney sang in her cover of the song My Prerogative, it's my prerogative. Plus, cake! Cake.

The thing with traditions - they're wonderful. They give you something to cling to in this strange, scary world, a sense of where you've been and where you might go - they give you stories to relay and build upon and argue over the precise order of; they give you something to pass on to other people. 

They're also damn vexatious, because once you get sucked into a tradition it's very difficult to break it. I have done roughly the same thing for Christmas every single year of my life, and as such the idea of being anywhere else during that time is un-contemplatable. (Admittedly: am not particularly good at compromising. Sure, Eartha Kitt romanticises it for me, but compromise does go some way to making other people happy.) As such, Tim and I have only spent one Christmas together in the past seven years...and that was when he came to my family's place.

My family (in the very extended sense of the word) has been camping at this one particular beach every single year since I was born. I'm still pretty young, but that's a lot of years. This year, for the first time, owing to a lack of money and time in equal measure, I'm not going along with them. I know I vocally dislike nature, but this place is magical and special and all we really do anyway is sit around and drink gin and play cards. Sigh.

And finally, the flat Christmas Dinner that I have had every year since 2006, when Tim and I moved in together, was not able to happen this year again due to a lack of time and funds - and also moving house on the 15th of December.

Damn you, traditions, getting me all emotionally attached to things and being so difficult to extricate myself from and making my heart hurt a bit! Is this what being a grown up is about? If so, then I stamp my feet petulantly in response. But also get on with it. Damn you too, grownuphoodity.

Before this gets all too, too hand-wringingly larychmose, let us focus on a cake! Tim and I are spending New Years with a tangle of our best friends. I'm bringing novels of a worthy (Muriel Sparks) and trashy (Jilly Cooper) nature; plenty of whisky; languid-friendly dresses, and this cake.

I adapted it from a recipe that I found in the Meat Free Mondays book by Paul McCartney. I don't eat a ton of meat as it is, let alone on Mondays, but there is many a brilliant and inspiring recipe for any day of the week to be found within its pages. This has ended up being really quite different to their recipe, but it's what spurned on the idea, so a tip of the hat to them all the same. (PS: I would just like to say though, the caramel pear sauce was all my idea.) (I guess I'm not that grown-up yet.)

Pear and Almond Cake with Caramel Pear Sauce

PS: this needs a food processor to make it sorry - though if you don't have one, I'd make sure the butter was quite soft, cream it with the sugar first, then the egg, then fold everything else in. So: still do-able, for sure.

1 x 70g packet ground almonds
150g flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
150g sugar
170g butter, cubed
1 egg
1 can of pears

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
2 teaspoons cornflour
30g butter

Set your oven to 160 C/320 F and line a 20cm springform caketin with baking paper.

Tip the ground almonds, flour, and baking powder into your food processor bowl and process for a bit to mix them together. Then add the sugar and butter and process thoroughly till it forms a thick dough. Tip in the egg and blitz briefly to mix it in. Spread this thick, luscious mixture into your caketin - it won't be very high - and then drain your can of pears, reserving the liquid (important!) and arrange them, cut-side-up on top of the batter. 

Bake for about an hour, or till the cake feels springy and firm in the centre. 

Meanwhile, in a small pot or pan, mix the brown sugar, golden syrup and cornflour to an unlikely paste. Slowly mix in the reserved pear juice from the can, and then continue stirring it over a low heat. Allow it to simmer but not quite boil till it all becomes quite syrupy and thick and dark. When it reaches this stage, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter. 

Note: You have a choice when the cake is cooked - either do as I did, and leave it in its tin, spike several times with a skewer, pour over the hot caramel pear sauce and then allow it to cool completely. OR - unclip the cake from the tin, slice up, and serve the caramel pear sauce on the side to be poured over in quantities of each slice-eater's choosing. 

So uh, even though I made this for other people to eat, I had to judiciously remove a small sliver and eat it, otherwise I wouldn't be able to blog about it. Or I could, but the most conclusive thing I'd be able to say about it is that it's very instagrammable. 

Luckily for us all, I heroically ate said sliver of cake. And it's rather wondrous. The caramel sauce absorbs into its surface, making it a sticky confection of a thing, and the pear juice really does make itself known, flavourwise - giving the sauce a floral fragrance which elevates it above mere sugariness (though I do love mere sugariness too, to be fair.) The cake itself is dense and buttery and the almonds give it a slightly nubbly texture which echoes that of the pears. It's damn good stuff.

Due to obstinate fog in Wellington canceling my flight and delaying my departure by 24 hours, my time up home was sadly briefer than I thought it'd be. But all the same it was a lovely time, seeing my family again and spending Christmas day with them. Everyone loved the gifts I got them and I loved the trinkets I received.

Cleaning out one of the cupboards stuffed with my old schoolbooks and things was surprisingly diverting. I was reminded how utterly, utterly righteous I was as a child. Seriously, almost all of my schoolbooks are filled with firmly written opinions like "why must we do maths? Why aren't Spice Girls more integrated into the curriculum? UGH SPORTS WHY".

I relayed this to Tim, who astutely pointed out that I could've believably expressed that same opinion yesterday.

Case in point. I was a righteous young'un. (Yes, Mum was my teacher for a while in school. Yes, it had its ups and downs, this shrewd humouring of me here a clear up.)

I also adored hanging out with the cats. Or at least attempting to. Roger was largely disinterested, but at least sat still long enough that I could situate myself very close to him and pretend like we were friends. Poppy, ever the baby raptor, decided she hated me and tried to shred my face off every time we approached. I did manage to pick her up for a quick minute though, and even caught the brief affair on camera. Me, thrilled to the bone, Poppy, at least displaying only ennui, instead of her claws. A Christmas Miracle! 
Title via: Yes, I elect to end the year on a truly atrocious pun. And I'll probably start next year with one too, as is my wont. I was always a bit terrified of the song Send In The Clowns from A Little Night Music when I was young, because frankly clowns are scary as hell. But after listening to it properly, I came to realise it's one of Sondheim's most quietly devastating tunes, and I rather love it. Especially when Dame Judi Dench absolutely kills it.
Music lately:

The Smiths, How Soon Is Now? Tim and I saw Morrissey in concert the night before we moved house. I know he can be horrible, but his music just turns my insides to melted butter and I love his voice and it was just amazing times a billion. It doesn't excuse any of his horribleness, but I was glad we had the opportunity to see him. Before the show, Tim and I each picked three songs we really hoped he'd sing - cutely, or maybe grossly, we both picked the same three - and he did! He sang all three. This was one of them - a song from his erstwhile band which is so good I hardly ever listen to it, because it makes me feel all queasy inside. Not the best recommendation, but if you've never heard it before...just try.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Blank Generation. Since being lent speakers by some friends, Tim and I have been ploughing through all the vinyl we bought over in America. This album of the same name is so utterly great, and I love this song, and Richard Hell is impossibly dreamy. Which maybe helps make the song sound better, who knows?
Next time: This really is the last post I'm doing for 2012 - have a joyous relaxed happiness-filled time, and I'll see you on the other side. 

22 December 2012

have a cool yule and a frantic first!

I suppose this will be my final post for 2012. So I'd better make it a good one. 

*crickets, galloping endlessly on spinning tumbleweeds as though they are hamsters in a wheel, whilst making their cricket noise that signifies on reality television that someone has nothing of consequence to say*

I actually do have plenty to say, I just really like imagining crickets traveling across the land by scooting inside rolling tumbleweeds, conveying concentrated nothingness.  

So here's what I have to say: I started my new job last week, only to find myself on holiday all of a sudden. To Tim's and my endless relief, I got paid for the small quantity of hours I managed to get under my belt before the year ended. And piling further relief on top of that, the Christmas Pulled Pork recipe that I'd had rolling around my brain since about June was made today, and worked. Because...Tim did some noodling around with our incoming and outgoing funds over the next few weeks and it would've been way painful had this experiment not worked out. I like to think I have something of a knack for inventing recipes that work the first time (I mean I wrote a damn cookbook) but I did have a play with this a few months ago and it really didn't turn out well. So I was wary. Nervous. Apprehensive. And other such synonyms.

Check that out though. That's no failure. It is being photographed on the floor (floorpork!), but we've only got one tiny table that friends have donated to us and it became immediately covered in stuff, the kind of stuff that you just don't know where to put, and I really couldn't be bothered clearing any of it. Also the wooden floor against the brick wall kinda aesthetically appealed, and this is, after all, a food blog.

I know pulled pork isn't necessarily what springs to mind for a traditional Christmas meal - in fact it's probably pretty far down the food chain after turkeys and chickens and so on and so forth. However. I have endeavoured to imbue this tender, shredded pork with so much Decemberific flavour that you can't help but wonder why we ever even bother with turkey in the first place. So - why not just make it this year?

Firstly, it's SO DELICIOUS and that argument alone should have some significant weight.  Secondly, it involves very little effort. It does admittedly take over the oven for a long time, and needs a low temperature, but you really hardly have to do anything to it. Thirdly, wow your guests with your unapologetic, tradition-flouting now-ness! For what it's worth. Fourthly: vegetarians aside, I've never met anyone who isn't tearfully, seraphically happy while eating pulled pork. Fifthly: In case you were concerned about the oven being occupied for so long, just make a coleslaw (out of red and green cabbage if you like, for seasonal tonality) and provide a pile of soft, fresh bread rolls, plus an array of condiments - mustard, mayonaise, etc - and you have yourself one hellish heck of a festive meal.

If Christmas isn't part of your life, you could of course change the title and just call it like, Cranberry Cinnamon Pulled Pork (which somehow sounds even christmassier? Sorry.)

Christmas Pulled Pork

A recipe by myself. 

2kg (or thereabouts - depending on how many you're serving, and you'll want leftovers) of belly-cut pork shoulder, or just plain pork shoulder. I used belly-cut here. Because it's what I could find.
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3 or 4 cloves - or 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon dried mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
A pinch of salt

1/4 cup strong, black coffee
2 tablespoons Cointreau (or similar orange liqueur, or the zest and juice of an orange)
2 tablespoons tomato-based chutney, or tomato paste
A handful of dried cranberries

Turn your oven to 140 C (280-ish Fahrenheit) and place the slab o' pork in an oven dish. I have this theory that ceramic or glass ones are good for slow cooking as they don't conduct heat so well as say, metal or enamel. But really, just an oven dish of some description is what you want. 

Mix together the spices, sugar and salt in a small bowl and spoon nearly all of it over the cut side of the pork. Then turn this over and rub the remaining into the fat. Cook it, fat side up, for four hours. 

Mix together the coffee, Cointreau, and chutney. Tip this into the roasting dish once the four hours are up, sprinkle over the cranberries, and cover the dish tightly with tinfoil. Reduce the heat to 130 C, and cook it for another half hour or so. 

Once this time is up, remove the tinfoil and carefully shred the pork to pieces - including the crackling, although discard some of it if it makes you feel squicky - I use a fork and a pair of tongs. Stir it through all the sauce and fattened cranberries, and then serve, with masses of pride.

I know the mix of coffee, orange liqueur, and tomato chutney sounds all kinds of odious, but please, trust me. The coffee just mellows and melts into the background, providing dark depth of flavour and a kind of general punchy undertone to the rich pork, without tasting like you've inadvertently dropped ham into your flat white. Both orange and tomato work oddly well with said coffee, while pointing up the pork's sweetness and bringing strident Christmas flavour to echo that of the cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. The coffee needn't be anything flash, as long as it's strong and black - even just some instant granules stirred into water will be fine. The dried cranberries are there because sometimes restriction causes solutions - I wanted to include cranberry juice in the liquid, but was wary of adding too much sugar - which could burn - and also of the fact that I would then have to go out and spend money on said juice. I then found dried cranberries in the back of my wardrobe (as you do) while we moved house, and thought they'd be even better - they become swollen with the meaty juices in the oven, and then provide bursts of sour-sweetness once dispersed through the torn apart pork. And they make it look a bit more twinkly and festive.

So whether or not I've convinced you to do it, I believe I will be making this on Christmas day for my family.

Our tree keeps on tree-ing!

Christmas is, of course, a time for thinking about consumer items you'd really like. Trinkets that I have my heart set upon this year (and don't take this to heart Santa, this is more like stuff I'll buy myself once my earnings buffer up my bank account again) include Pinky Fang's teeth barrette (just the word barrette fills me with Claudia Kishi thrills); Nigella Lawson's new book (I don't even care if it's good or not, I just love her so much); Devon Anna Smith's witchy Kittens and Oak print (obsessed); a really good thesaurus (I'd like to become even more wordy!); the dvd of Sondheim's Company (impossibly thrilling) some new pots and pans that are both photogenic but also really, really good (realised during the move that I have hardly any, and what I have is rubbish); a pet cat and a fleet of Alsatian dogs. Nothing less than a fleet will do. What about you? What's making you drop heavy hints around the nearest gift-giver in your life these days?

And of course, it's a time for being around as many people as you love as possible. Well, that's what they say in the Hallmark cards. I am truly looking forward to seeing my family again, to listening to our old tapes and CDs that are wheeled out every year (favourites: the Tin Lids "Hey Rudolph" tape and this jazzy, blatty, high-sheen Disney CD), to hanging out with the indifferent cats, and to making this pulled pork for everyone and seeing what happens. Since it's high summer, it'll likely be grey and insufferably humid - I can't wait.

(PS: not to make it all about me, except actually to make it all about me since I have this weird - endearing? - tendency to do that anyway, I do believe this strawberry ice cream cake would make the perfect pudding to follow this up.)

See you, yes you, in 2013! Fa la la la la! 
Title via: The so important Wanda Woodward in the John Waters movie Cry-baby. Inexplicably, I could not find a screencap or gif of her saying this, but just know that she is the most. To say the least. The very least.
Music lately: 

Watercolours, Pazzida. Brand new, and so very cool. Not least because she does this dreamy old-timey tap dance halfway through. I miss tapdancing.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Christine Ebersole. Voice like crystal, and fulfills my need for  Broadway stars singing seasonal songs.

Jessie Ware, Wildest Moments. This song is just so swoonful, o! how I wish I was seeing her at Laneway next year.

And one for luck: Johnny Cash and Neil Young, The Little Drummer Boy. A little strange, a lot wonderful. Their voices are like photo negatives of each other.
Next time: It'll be 2013! I look forward to blogging all often-like and stuff. And till then, I wish you all a Sensible Night, Appropriate Night. Function with relative ease!

18 December 2012

hush your mouth, it's christmas

Learn this lesson well: if you start a new job and also move house and suddenly have no internet all within the same week, your chances of blogging, no matter how much you want to, are really slight. So with that slight chance comes a slight blog post, more a round up than anything else, but a marginally exciting one, I hope. I'm typing it in a cafe on my lunchbreak. I don't know if it's going to really come together, but...Behold! 


It's pretty much last year's one but with a few more things added in that I've made over this strange, long year - because why not make people food as a gift? Sure it's ephemeral, but so many good things are. Like a satisfyingly large...sneeze. Whether or not you're a Christmas-goer - and so many people aren't - frankly I'm mostly in it for the food, the intoxicating scent of pine, and old-timey Hollywood stars' Christmas albums - this list might be of use to you should you ever want to give someone something but don't know what, or better yet, want to give them something but don't want to be presumptuous about what it is they'd like hanging on their walls or tchotchke-ing up their shelves. 

Homemade peppermint schnapps using candy canes! Serve with a stripy straw! All is calm, all is Pinterest. 

Jams and Sauces and Things In Jars But Are Actually Pretty Easy Despite Looking Fancy:

Orange Confit (This is just slices of orange in syrup, but is surprisingly applicable to a variety of surfaces. And pretty. And cheap.) (vg, gf)
Cranberry Sauce (Impossibly easy to make.) (vg, gf)
Bacon Jam (Best made at the last minute, because it needs refrigerating) (vg - kidding! - but yes, gf)
Cashew Butter (vg, gf)
Red Chilli Nahm Jim (gf)
Cranberry (or any-berry) Curd (slightly more effort, so I'd do this before midnight - but so pretty.) (gf)
Rhubarb-Fig Jam (gf)
Salted Caramel Sauce (gf, has a vegan variant) 
Apple Cinnamon Granola (vg)
Marinated Tamarillos (vg, gf)

Salted Caramel Sauce: well, it IS 2012. 

Baked Things, The Classic Choice: 
Look, my Christmas Cake is amazing. I don't have the time to be coy. Make it on the day, it'll still be great. 
Christmas-Spiced Chocolate Cake (This is also excellent for pudding on the day itself.) (gf)
Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake
Vegan Chocolate Cake (It's good! It's easy!) (vg)
Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies
Coconut Macaroons (gf)
Chocolate Macaroons (gf)
Gingerbread Cut-out Cookies (vg)
Coconut Condensed Milk Brownies
Salted Caramel Slice 
Fancy Tea Cookies 
Chocolate Olive Oil Cake 
Homemade Cherry Ripe
Also, if you click on the link to the Orange Confit above, you'll see a recipe for the easiest, fastest fruitcake loaf. It makes an excellent present, for the sort of person who'd like to receive fruitcake. And 'tis dairy free. 

Marinated tamarillos. For any of your relatives that talk about, like, Sauvignon Blanc and brie a lot, in an authoritative tone. 


Moonshine Biffs (like homemade Milk Bottles!) (gf)
Raw Vegan Chocolate Cookie Dough Truffles Candy (vg, gf)
Lolly Cake
Peppermint Schnapps (vg, gf) (Pictured above)

I Am Already Asleep But Need A Present For That Person Who Needs A Present Because They Just Showed Up NOW.

Candy Cane Chocolate Bark (No effort, vegan - well, I think candy canes are vegan - gluten free, amazingly delicious, just store it carefully so it doesn't melt)
White Chocolate Coco Pops Slice (Even less effort! Maybe try adding a little oil to the white chocolate so it doesn't sieze up like mine did.)

SO that's that. 

I have three minutes left on my lunch break.

So I will keep this swift like Taylor and be more talkative next time. 

We adore our new house. We also, uh, spontaneously bought a christmas tree in the middle of moving day. It just felt like the right choice, although admittedly our choice-making faculties were a little worn down given the circumstances.  

Baubles from our dear friend Jo, three handmade laser-cut decorations from dear friend Kim (who is BACK FROM JAPAN *high kick*) 40 metres of solar powered fairy lights from Tim's and my excellent choice-making faculties, and apparently some more decorations are on their way from Mum. We've had visitors and I've made a cake and it smells like pine needles, so even though there are still boxes everywhere...sorry to get gross...it's not just a house anymore, but a home! 

Well, it is nearly Christmas. Can't be grumpycat alllllll the time. 
Title via: RENT. It all starts and ends with RENT. This is from Christmas Bells, a syncopated mess that I can't get enough of. 
Music lately:

Still so obsessed with Royals, by Lorde, and because of the no-internet thing, have been cruelly, cruelly kept from listening to it. So you should listen to it twice as much for both of us! 

Nina Simone, Suzanne. Too, too beautiful.

Mariah Carey, Oh Santa. I know, not the obvious Mariah xmas choice. All I Want For Christmas Is You is actual perfection, but you know what? I flipping love this song. Mariah = flawless, even when she's not really.
Next time: A real blog post! With real recipes! From our new kitchen! Maybe I'll throw sanity to the wind and try to perfect that xmas pulled pork recipe I've been formulating in my brain. 

11 December 2012

pass the what? (pass the popcorn)

Once I'd finished thoroughly kicking myself for the very shamefulness of even uttering out loud the phrase "gosh, all this moving and job-hunting stuff means I've really failed to capitalise on the whole Christmas lead-up thing on the blog," I realised this would be my very last blog post written in our current flat. Aw. And it's about, uh, popcorn. When I say capitalise, I'm honestly not capitalising on anything (or I'd be blogging about something more grand than popcorn) but let's face it, it IS December, and this IS a food blog, and at this time of year many a person's thoughts inevitably turn to food of a particularly Christmassy nature and we're already nearly halfway through this month and I've barely acknowledged it. However, I'm hoping it's not too late. 

Note the enthusiastic piece of popcorn which popped right out of the pan after I lifted the lid. The escape act was all for naught, as I ate it anyway.

Burned Butter Maple Popcorn; Salt and Vinegar Popcorn. They both looked exactly the same so I sprinkled the maple one with rainbow sugar. Which immediately fell into all the cracks and crevices in the popcorn. So in case you can't tell, it's the top bowl. 

I've been eating so much popcorn, partly because it's deeply inexpensive which suits us right now (moving costs, unemployment, bills, and a persistent post-holiday overdrawn credit card) but also because I had forgotten how really truly delicious and easy to make it is. I've been fixing up bowls of it all the time, for a pre-dinner snack, for a post-pre-dinner snack, to go with drinks...it might seem a little unconvincing and unsophisticated to serve to your fancy friends, but it really works.

It's just so crunchy and porously butter-absorbant and flavour-permeable and a tiny quantity of popping corn makes so much fluffy white popcorn and - did I mention - I know I did, no need to be coy - it's so cheap. Also it's gluten-free, vegan-friendly if you use oil, and oddly thrilling as you wait for the mysterious dried corn to burst open.

We don't have a microwave, so I make it on the stovetop, and it's all very straightforward. I suppose you don't have to use any fat in it, but it tastes quite bland without it - but it's all up to your tastebuds. I like to heat up the popping corn kernels with the butter or oil in a lidded pan over a medium heat, wait for it to start popping after a minute or two, and that's it really. All you need is a large saucepan with a lid, and for that lid to stay on until you're quite sure the corn is done popping. Otherwise it will shoot out and land in your hair. It just will.

Burned Butter and Maple Popcorn

You don't have to use maple syrup if you can't get hold of it, it's so expensive that I'm always too nervous to actually use it in anything, and honey or golden syrup would be a worthy substitute. I do think the flavour of this benefits from being popped in butter and then having extra butter added, it's not the slightest bit gratuitous. Don't worry in the slightest about the state of the butter in the pan either, the more it burns in the hot pan the more wondrous it will taste - all smoky and nutty and incredible. 

30g butter plus another 20g extra
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1/3 cup popping corn

Place the 30g butter and popping corn in a large pan, cover with a lid, and place over a medium heat. After a few minutes the corn will start to pop, excitingly - hold onto the lid and give it a shake every now and then to ensure that the popped corn itself won't burn. Place one teaspoon and a grind of salt in the base of a large serving bowl, then tip most of the popcorn in and stir it around. Sprinkle over the remaining teaspoon of maple syrup, tip in the remaining popcorn and continue to stir. Do what you like to mix it all together really, this just seems to ensure maximum maple-coverage. Melt the remaining butter in the still-hot pan and then tip it over the popcorn evenly, giving one last stir. Rainbow sugar...optional. 

Salt and Vinegar Popcorn

Olive oil's rich, green flavour is perfect with popcorn, and the sharp vinegar and bursts of salt makes you want to pretty much shovel this into your mouth with a cupped hand till there's none left.  

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup popping corn

As above, heat the corn kernels in the tablespoon of oil in a lidded pan, allow them to pop, shaking it occasionally, and pour most of the popped corn into a bowl in which one teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and a grind of salt has been placed. Stir around, drizzle over some olive oil, stir some more, add the rest of the popcorn, sprinkle over the remaining balsamic vinegar, some more oil, and another grind of salt. Stir as best you can without flinging the weightless grains everywhere.  

So: popcorn. It's easy. It can absorb as much butter as you're willing to attempt to saturate it with. It's so cheap. And it's wildly delicious. 

By the way, guess what guess what? This might be old news if you follow me on Twitter, but I got a job! Some real employment! It's very exciting. But fear not, this popcorn is so excellent that we'll continue eating it long after we can afford to eat other stuff. Can I tell you what the job is exactly? Nay. It's not that I'm particularly important, it's just that it's of a governmental nature and requires some discretion - I'm a little overnervous that I'll say entirely the wrong thing about it. Just know that it has zero overlap with this blog and it's going to pay the bills and the most you'll hear about it might be the occasional "what a long day at the office and people who don't label their yoghurt pottles in the shared staff fridge, amiright?" type of relatably vague exclamation. Maybe even that was too specific. Nerves aside - I start tomorrow! - I'm so, SO PLEASED to be employed again. Things were getting bad-ridiculous. Now they can start to get good-ridiculous. 

I found out at 4.30pm on Friday - seriously, there is no better way to start your weekend than to discover you're newly employed. I recommend it. That night my old flatmate but always-friend Ange and I had a dance party of two, in which we danced not wisely but too well, to paraphrase Shakespeare - woke up the next morning with one fiercely sore neck from dancing so expressively. But it was worth it for the joy of the dancing, definitely. Now that the weekend's over Tim and I only have a few more days left in this flat that has been our home for the past three and a half years. I'm going to miss it - it's incredible! Tim and I could not believe our luck at being able to live in such a beautiful cool place. But I'm really looking forward to starting over - finding places for everything and getting to love a new place. Also, um, to not have to consider flatmates when, um, look: I'm just looking forward to not having to wear pants all the time, okay? They're just so restrictive! Even drawstring elastic can be burdensomely present in its own way, but with flatmates you're kinda obliged to not awkward up their days by going pantsless. With that delightful image in mind, I also can't wait to make the most of the beautiful light for photography and to go wild in the kitchen. All of which you'll soon see - it's kind of like you're moving with me, except without the hassle and the lifting and the barely-suppressed tension! 
Title via: Pass The Popcorn, from the supercool The Roots' very first album Organix. It looks like another one coming around...
Music lately:

ROYALS, BY LORDE. Capitals necessary. She's from New Zealand. She's a teenager. She's elusive. This song is incredible. I love that music can still surprise me like this. (This was danced to repeatedly on Friday night.) (Just LISTEN to it.) (Then to all the rest of her tracks.)

One other good thing about moving is that our living space will be big enough for me to try and learn magical Donna McKechnie's dance from Turkey Lurkey Time. This is how I know it's Christmas: I'm watching this incredible number from the 1968 Tony Awards. It's ridiculous and it's dated and it's...yeah, really ridiculous, but damn if it doesn't make my heart race every time it gets to the end.
Next time: New flat! New flat! Tra la la la la la! And something quite, quite Christmassy will be abounding. 

3 December 2012

extraordinary, just like a strawberry

There is no way to talk about needing to distract yourself while two of your closest friends are out of the country for a significant amount of time to sound like a dork (at best), so all I'll say is that Tim and I are moving house in two weeks and it is significantly distracting. I love our current flat of three and a half years in a way that I never thought a person could love the place they live - having had a succession of terrible, dark flats (crumbly, cold and damp like milk seeping into passionless wheaten breakfast cereal) overlorded by landlords ranging from the faintly bizarre to the terrifying. Here we have real sunshine, the kind that actually gets through the windows and blankets you in warmth rather than sodding off to hang out with your rich neighbours while your room is shrouded in darkness. We don't have dampness, we don't have mice, and so on and so forth. In the darkness and with mice my only friends was how I of course started this blog, and pretty much the best thing about living in horrible flats is that you get to spin ever-larger tales of their ill-repute later in life. If Tim and I, aged 19, had shacked up together in a mansion, well. Actually that would've been really awesome. I care not for the value of whatever lesson living in said horrible flat taught me: I'd take the mansion any day. 

Much as I hate things coming to an end, sometimes moving on feels right, and we've found a new place that we adore. It'll be just us (nothing to do with us being engaged, we just like that notion) it's enormous - plenty of dancing room - it has more storage room than we've ever known, and it has a dishwasher! I'm already pretty slovenly but I look forward to spiraling further downwards into a state of blissful sloth after welcoming this appliance into our lives. 

Packing has been strangely fun: I spent several hours doing it on Saturday while Tim was off playing the game of Game of Thrones. (I love the tv show, I devour the books, I can't abide the endless and endlessly complicated game and was happy to be left alone, in case you're thinking of getting righteous on my behalf.) On my travels through the dark corners of our wardrobe I discovered many a long-forgotten thing.

A faxed copy of my casually sexist birth certificate. My mum's occupation and the question of their surnames being different were apparently not of interest in the mid eighties. (Faxed to me during high school so I could take part in a first year university philosophy paper, what an overachiever that baby turned out to be!) 

We have some fairly embarrassing DVDs in our collection, but also some really, really good books.

I wasn't sure whether to admonish myself or be delighted at the sheer decadence of it all, either way I forgot that we had a bottle of champagne in the cupboard. Who even gets champagne at all, and then goes and forgets about it? Us sybaritic lotophagi, that's who. (And who even says sybaritic lotophagi? This dick.)

I made this ice cream cake a couple of weeks ago now for a potluck dinner which was also something of a farewell for the two aforementioned now-traveling friends. The recipe comes from this glorious American book from the sixties that I own called "Favourite Recipes of America: Desserts (including party beverages)" (punctuation my own addition.) I love old-timey desserts, and American ones tend to have this particular heedless, uninhibited nature which I particularly adore, and have discussed at length when I made a plum meringue crumble pie from this same book earlier this year.

This recipe is as much about texture as it is flavour - crunchy biscuit crumbs puncturing and encasing the creamy, cold ice cream, itself studded with sorbet-like frozen slices of strawberry. It is pure summer, in spoonable form. In that you can serve it with a spoon, but I took that to a new level by lying on the couch and verily spooning the roasting dish that I made this recipe in, while feeding myself spoonfuls of what ice cream remained in said dish. Seriously though: this would be perfect for a southern hemisphere Christmas pudding - what with strawberries being in season and all - but if you're up there in the northern hemisphere I recommend this insistently all the same, since you could easily use frozen berries and serve it alongside another pudding of a hotter nature. Just make it, okay? It's brilliant.

Strawberry Ice Cream Cake 

From Favourite Recipes of America: Desserts - recipe submitted by Mrs Elaine Cruikshank, Montrose, Iowa. 

I know the method looks weird, since every recipe with separated egg whites goes on about how it needs to be whisked in a sterile environment and it WILL fail on you and so on and so forth. And here we are throwing a bunch of ingredients in a bowl and whisking them all devil-may-care. What can I say, it just works! So go with it. Also: the recipe called for 1/2 cup chopped nuts in the biscuit stage but I left them out for someone at the party who had an allergy, you can of course feel free to put them back in.

1 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
125g melted butter
2 egg whites
1 cup sugar
2c sliced fresh strawberries (or use defrosted frozen, as I suggested)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup cream
More sliced strawberries for decoration

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F. Stir together the flour, sugar and butter till it forms a soft, stiff dough. Press it evenly onto a paper-lined baking tray, so that it looks like a giant cookie and bake for 20 minutes. You could in fact stop right here and enjoy your giant cookie. I might well do this myself one day. But what you want to do is let it cool, then crumble with your fingers, and sprinkle 2/3 of the crumbs evenly into the base of a medium sized brownie tin/medium sized roasting tin - or you could use a cake tin, even, it really doesn't matter. 

In a bowl, combine the egg whites, sugar, sliced strawberries and lemon juice. Whisk the heck out of this for as long as you can, but around 5-10 minutes. Despite the doubtfulness of it all, it will thicken and aerate and the whisking action will break down the strawberry slices, tinting the mixture a rather glorious pale pink. 

Whip the cream and fold it into the strawberry mixture, then scrape the lot over the top of the biscuit crumbs. Decorate with slices of strawberries if you like, and sprinkle over the remaining 1/3 of the crumbs. Freeze till solid. 

I already adore ice cream with inordinate fervency, but here with early strawberries, delicious with their early-season optimism, it's more glorious than ever. And this is so, so easy and straightforward. 

Speaking of optimism, how goes my job-prowl? Not bad. I mean, I'm still unemployed, and feeling its pinch pretty keenly (moving house is SO EXPENSIVE) but my interview on Friday earned me a follow-up coffee this morning! Which is very exciting. Especially since I was quite, quite convinced I'd blown the interview itself. I have another interview on Wednesday, and I still am yet to hear back from another interview that I felt went well, so we'll see. We'll see. Even if my perception of how Friday's interview went was way off, I promise you I'm perceiving this ice cream correctly: it's damn incredible. I love it. Make it. Spoon with it, even - you're not alone. 
Title via: Ini Kamoze, Here Comes The Hotstepper. This song has aged so well. In my opinion. And my opinion is correct.
Music lately: 

Rekindled my long-ago interest in Lisa Loeb. By way of playing Do You Sleep around 2938102938 times in a row one afternoon. You know how music can swiftly take you back to a particular time and place? Listening to this song now just reminds me of the time that I last listened to this song, because I have listened to it so much lately. Try it!

Tegan and Sara, Closer. It's like, here are your feelings, neatly packaged in jaunty song form!

Barton Hollow, by the Civil Wars. I'd heard of this band before but really got into them when they were recently covered on this TV show I'm obsessed with, called Nashville. (Especially fun since Tim and I were just IN Nashville and so it's all, "I recognise that landmark in this establishing shot!") This country-ish, harmony-rich song is delicious.
Next time: Lack of incoming funds + moving house has meant I've been making meals strictly based on what's in our cupboards, fridge and freezer. So: hopefully something even bordering on coherent for you. 

26 November 2012

but guess who is gonna be dessert

It's funny, I grew up in a little village, and there was pretty much no shopping to speak of at our nearest town aside from groceries and takeaways and florists and such. And yet I have this very distinct memory of choosing which clip-on earrings to wear to go to the public library. Though I'm pretty sure I've always been quite cynical, bordering on snide, it also did not take much for me to get disproportionately excited (in fairness: the library was damn thrilling. A diary entry from 1996 marks the singularly bleak occasion where neither mum nor dad wanted to drive in that weekend and WHAT was I to do now?) But in terms of things that were genuinely exciting, every now and then Mum and I might go on a small spree, in the form of purchasing a Lindt Chocolate Ball each from - I can't even remember which shop sold them, maybe the florist? 

The mouthpleasingly spherical chocolates encase a softer, buttery chocolate filling which bursts in the mouth with pupil-dilating deliciousness. Unlike many a chocolate from my youth, Lindt Chocolates have held up quality-wise, and still have that special-occasion, grab-your-clip-on-earrings rush of joy.

Which is why, when rereading Katrina Meynink's delicious book Kitchen Coquette, I became a little fixated on her Lindt Chocolate Puddings, in which not one but two entire chocolate balls, frozen, are submerged in batter and briefly baked to produce a dark chocolate pudding with a slowly liquefying white chocolate Lindt centre. I rationalised hazily that buying a ten-pack of Lindt chocolate balls was better value than the three-pack; that I'd been doing some temping; that if I didn't spend the money on the chocolates said money would only be sitting in my bank anyway, and that I'd really, really felt like pudding - one of those days, in fact, where you wake up and just know in your bones that you'll need pudding later on.

That said, if you're really fixing for this recipe but can't physically bring yourself to fork out for Lindt - and I understand - pieces of decent white chocolate from a bar will still produce a damn excellent finished product, I'm sure.

Gold, since they cost as much as getting a gold tooth inserted into your mouth. Kidding! It's more like the cost of a root canal procedure.

Seriously though, Katrina's book is totally dreamburgers, and she's a genuinely entertaining, evocative writer about food - not praise I really can say about all that many foodwriters. This recipe is but one of plenty recipes in Kitchen Coquette which will make you yearn to throw together ingredients immediately.

Lindt Chocolate Puddings

From Katrina Meynink's book Kitchen Coquette.
Note: I halved this recipe, went for two eggs but 50g sugar.

200g dark chocolate
100g butter
3 eggs
115g sugar
2 tablespoons flour
8 white Lindt chocolate balls

Place the chocolate balls in the freezer for at least an hour. When said hour is up, set the oven to 200 C and gather ye four 250ml ramekins.

Melt the chocolate and butter together gently, then allow it to cool a little and quickly stir in the eggs, sugar and flour. (This allows you to just use one bowl, but mix up the non-chocolate stuff separately if you wish.) Divide the mixture between the ramekins, and unwrap the frozen chocolates and push two into each ramekin, spooning over a little batter if they're popping out the top. Bake for 15 minutes, till firm on top and bulging out the top. Don't overcook - you want that saucy squish of barely-set cake batter.

And yeah, as I said, I've been doing some temping, the sheer exhausting nature of it being why it's been so long between posts here. It was fairly...um. I won't actually say what I did and how I felt about it or I'll just end up sounding deeply unprofessional: the point is, I got paid, it was only a week, and I got paid. As well as that I've had a couple of interviews lined up for jobs I've applied for, which is quite cool right? My last interview that I had was back in 2006, for a clothing chain store - I didn't get it - so going through the process again is nothing if not good practice. That said, Tim and I joked about having a bake sale today to boost our dwindling funds, and the joking turned kind of serious and strategic. I know I'm talking about a lack of money in the same breath as buying fancy-pants chocolate, but I'm not into policing how people spend their money, however limited, so...am hardly going to start on myself. And look at this pudding: what cost that happiness?

Two of my dearest friends are flying to Japan today - Kate and Kim, who both worked on my cookbook with me (stylist and photographer, respectively) and I'm incredibly happy and excited for them, especially having done a huge trip overseas myself, but Kate's not coming back till the end of January, which is really a long, long time away from someone so wondrous. Sigh. All the sighs. Kim is returning back to NZ in two weeks' time, like some kind of collateral or flat bond (but a million times nicer), so there's that. I'm hopeless at articulating myself at the time of significant goodbyes - but with people that are such good friends I feel that you don't have to make big speeches or anything, you just know. And also, fortunately there are still excellent and dear friends here still. It's Kim and Kate's time to shine, and I'm sure they'll shine hard like the ethically-sourced diamonds they are. If you hear any strange noises at any stage though, it's just me expressing my dramatic emotions via the application of a pillow to my tearducts. Totally cool. No big deal.

In amongst all this caginess and hand-wringing maudlinness, what of the puddings? Were they delicious? Hot damn, yes. Like a hot, barely cooked chocolate brownie, the frozen chocolates slowly melting within creating a vanilla-y, creamy contrast to the bitter darkness of that surrounding it. I liked mine with cold, cold cream filling a spoon-excavated dent in the top and spilling out over the ramekin, Tim austerely preferred it without. Make them, and make them immediately, without excuse or delay, as soon as you're able to and also feel like pudding.
Title via: Barbra Streisand singing You Are Woman from Funny Girl with Omar Sharif. OH, her voice. 
Music lately: 

Elastica, Connection. I remember feeling, speaking of 1996 diary entries, such injustice that Justine Frischmann and Damon Albarn were going out. Because that, specifically, prevented him being my boyfriend. Still sorta wish he was, still adore this song.

Neneh Cherry, Woman. Speaking of 1996. This song is intense, and intensely excellent.
Next time: a supercool ice cream cake from my 60s American pudding cookbook. 

14 November 2012

holy moly, me oh my, you're the apple of my eye

There is nothing like the frantic job-hunt to make you consider yourself - not as in the significantly annoying, yet impossible to remove from one's brain once it's there song from the musical Oliver! - I mean to consider your personality, and your approach to things, and your skills. Just your general self-ness. 

Yes. I, Laura Vincent, am prowling like a jungle panther in search of that elusive, distant gazelle: gainful employment. After three months of being married to the cookbook and a further month traveling in America, there are no more savings and no more distractions. I have learned that even with two significant smarty-pantses proofreading my CV I can still somehow then go and insert the words "data entry" twice into my list of skills. That's about all I've learned so far since I haven't got a job yet, but I am remaining positive. Six years since I last looked for a job, I've been finding it interesting reconciling the difference between talking about my achievements in a non-threateningly corporate manner while at the same time blogging in my usual lavishly verbose way here. Both the CV and this blog are totally honest, but I'm not going to talk here about a recipe being a series of key deliverables, just as I'm not going to mention having a panic attack or eating pastry dough on my CV. My CV says that I work well in a team, while in real life I'm a total non-compromising grump about certain things. Is my inability to compromise on what I feel strongly about a sign of immaturity and a bad attitude, or does it make me a strong person who knows themselves? (Probably both, right?) But see? All this talking myself up is making me self-scrutinise all over the place. Nevertheless, I'm hoping there's some kind of job out there for me - occasionally belligerent and anxious and over-analysey as I am, if any potential bosses are reading, I'm pretty much definitely employment material, honest. 

Now, if inventing new recipes constantly was an employable skill - which I suppose it technically is, what with my writing a cookbook and all - I'm sure I could work my way up to CEO quite fast. Ruling with the enthusiasm and abundant excellence of Leslie Knope, the powerful vintage dresses and street smarts of Joan Holloway, and the cool songs and intimidation abilities of Ursula from the Little Mermaid. Till that day, I'll just share the most recent recipes I came up with here for you all. Minus the intimidation and so on, although incidentally I am wearing a vintage dress today. (It's purple!) 

Have you ever had Turkish apple tea powder before? It'll set you back about $7 for a tin, but I can't apologise because it's so utterly, spoonful-by-the-spoonful delicious that you'll be glad to have it around for aimless snacking purposes. It occurred to me, as these things often do, that it might be quite fantastic rubbed into pork which is then slowly, slowly cooked. 

Well, speaking of honesty, I'm giving you this recipe with the caveat that I'm not entirely sure it was successful for me, but I'm very confident it could be successful for you. That is, it tasted incredibly good, but I don't think I quite cooked it long and slow enough. I'm not the Grand High Chancellor of Meat Knowledge (or am I...okay, I'm really not) and every recipe of my own is an experiment that might or might not work. If you just cook this a little slower and longer than what I did, it will undoubtedly be perfection.

Every other time that I've made pulled pork with belly-cut shoulder or pork belly, it has quickly become ludicrously, dissolvingly tender. This time with regular shoulder it resisted my fork's proddings, and its fibres didn't separate into meaty strands at the tugging of my tongs. I may have panicked a little, I may have contemplated whether or not human tears are an effective meat tenderising condiment, I may have played good cop bad cop with the pork in the oven (mostly bad cop.) At the very last minute it appeared to have gained some tenderness, but wasn't quite at the falling-to-pieces level I was used to. So I shredded it to bits anyway - surprisingly therapeutic, recklessly hacking at a large piece of meat with little care for aesthetics - and as the ever-pragmatic Tim ever-pragmatically pointed out, two kilos of pork is still two kilos of pork. The point is, it still tasted really, really good. So it's highly likely this will work for you.

Though the pork unavoidably requires a lot of your time, the accompanying slaw is as swift as swift can be. Its provenance is simply that I had silverbeet and parsley and horseradish in the fridge and not much else. I would've wanted a more interesting nut to go with, like almonds or pine nuts, but sunflower seeds are what I had. And with a little toasting they can hold their own. If you have almonds or pine nuts or whatever though, for goodness sakes use them instead. Sorry sunflower seeds, no offense intended.

Apple Tea Pulled Pork

A recipe by myself.

2 kg belly cut pork shoulder, or pork belly, or or or, pork shoulder
2 heaped tablespoons Turkish apple tea powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspooon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Set your oven to 130 C, and place the pork in an ovenproof dish into which it fits rather snugly. Mix together the apple tea and the spices, taste it if you like, as it's compellingly weird, then tip it evenly over the pork, turning the meat over to make sure it's evenly covered. Press the tea powder and spices into any slices in the meat and really rub it into the surface, spooning over any that falls off. 

Bake slowly for as long as you like really, but for at least five or six hours. Turn it over once or twice and spoon over any roasting juices. A couple of hours in, pour the vinegar over the meat, then return to the oven. 

Tear to shreds with a pair of tongs, one in each hand (or however you choose, this is what works for me) discarding any bones and off-puttingly large pieces of fat (I have no idea whether or not you want to eat it, it's up to you of course) and mix it in its roasting dish with any saucy liquid that has formed during the cooking process. Serve.

Silverbeet, Parsley and Horseradish Slaw

A recipe also by myself.

1 bunch of silverbeet
1 handful curly parsley
1 tablespoon horseradish sauce from a jar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
A pinch of salt
3 tablespoons sunflower seeds (or anything cooler. Almonds would've been cooler.)

Wash and drain the silverbeet if you like, then finely slice it into shreds, in the same way that you might with a cabbage if you were making coleslaw. Roughly chop the parsley. Mix the two together in a large bowl, or indeed, the bowl you're going to serve it in. In a small bowl or cup or whatever, mix together the horseradish, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt, then stir this through the leaves till they're evenly coated. Finally, toast the sunflower seeds in a pan till fragrant and lightly browned, and stir them through the slaw. 

Pork and apple are an OTP from way back, but this gives a new slant to these classic bedfellows. The apple tea powder soaks into every last filament of the pork, giving the already sweetness-friendly meat a kind of juicy, fresh sugariness. The paprika's throat-catching smokiness and the cumin's deep, earthy savouriness counteract any bubblegum tendencies and give it that I've-just-been-barbecued vibe even though it was just in my tiny oven for a few hours.

Silverbeet and curly parsley are both a little bulky and bitter and unsexy, but once finely sliced the silverbeet tendrils become light and aerated and the old-timey, boldly verdant flavours of both greens work surprisingly well together. It's the dressing that makes this memorable though, with the fresh sting of horseradish mellowed by the olive oil and the sweetness of balsamic, giving the potentially dull greenery a much-needed sprucing. The sunflower seeds aren't actually strictly necessary, but I like my salads crunchy, so what can you do?

I guess this shows my problem solving abilities (even if, like Kristy Thomas from the Baby-sitters Club, it's perhaps not so much about problem solving, but about seeing no problem, creating a problem, and then fixing it.) Yes, I hate to compromise and do things I don't want to do, but I'm also willing to put in a whole ton of effort. Um, for the want of pulled pork, but nevertheless: effort. And for all you know, I put data entry twice on my list of skills on purpose because I just really love it...okay I don't, but what human does? Experience has taught me though, that as long as I've got some headphone-funneled source of music, I can more or less shut off my brain and enter data for hours on end. So: still feeling positive about my job prospects, for now at least.

It's worth noting that the pulled pork is also quite magnificent cold the next day, as I found out while drinking gin with my dear friend Kim as we sat side by side and contentedly, silently blogged. We had nothing to eat it with, but both of us decided simultaneously that heaped into a bowl and eaten with a fork would be fine: it totally was. The caramelised sugars and spices lends the pork a certain beguiling smoky stickiness once cold - it's worth buying more pork than you feasibly think you can cope with for this reason alone.

Title via: Home, by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. When I first heard this I dismissed it as designed to manipulate your emotions immediately with its breezy twee-ity. And then I was like, shut up Laura, so is most pop music! And so now I just love it. 

Music lately: 

Atlantis, Azealia Banks. This woman is just flinging out singles like she's the one holding the bag of candy at a lolly scramble. I love the video for this, it reminds me of when my family first had a computer, and the amazingly terrible, but of course amazing-then graphics, but as well as that the song itself is brilliant too.

Another Hundred People, Melanie C. Spice Girls plus Broadway, that Broadway being specifically Sondheim's Company which I'm quite obsessed with? Oh, my heart. Melanie's creamy, elastic voice is showcased rather excellently here in this challenging song, too, and I like to think in this case she's singing about London rather than the intended New York. I like to think about these things, okay?
Next time: Still intent on making something from the Momofuku cookbook that I bought in NYC...