24 June 2012

and i will be alone again tonight my dear

I'm not all that good at just cooking stuff for myself to eat when Tim's not around - which is weird for so many reasons. Like, I love food. And cooking for two people involves only one more person than cooking for one. At best. And I'm not all codependent or anything, honest. But if Tim's not around, I tend to find myself spending the usual dinner-ing hours eating golden syrup or something. Maybe it's because I coincidentally feel like eating golden syrup at those times? I don't know. Sometimes things just happen and there's no reason for it. If I get famous off this cookbook I request that everyone overanalyses it for me in the comments section.

I'm saying this because I had lunch by myself today and I felt like eating something marginally more diverse to the palate than golden syrup. Having spent last night drinking whisky and sloe gin at Brendan's birthday party, I also didn't feel like expending any extraneous energy.

So I made this: Fried Onion Rice with Nuts, Cardamom and Cinnamon. It's literally just onion, rice, nuts, some water and some spices. And yet so much more vigorously flavoured than that restrained list would suggest. I adapted it from a recipe in Nigella Lawson's book Feast, a book I've read about a squillion times, and yet which can still jolt me from my indolence and make me want to cook something for myself immediately.

You do need to really crisp up the onions for this. You know how you're normally supposed to focus on the cooking? With this I encourage you to get distracted. I recommend checking twitter and perhaps peruse an aggregator of viral content like buzzfeed.com - whatever their latest list of animals doing cute stuff is, it should use up just the right amount of time to let the heat of the pan really char those onions. Don't go any further than that though - the onions are for flavour, not just texture - this isn't the time to go getting lost in a 'where are they now' quagmire of looking up 90s actors on Wikipedia or look at every single inexplicably happy photo on someone you used to go to school with's Facebook. We're not building a casserole here, people. 

Fried Onion Rice with Nuts, Cardamom and Cinnamon

Adapted from a recipe from Feast, by Nigella Lawson, moon of my life.

3 tablespoons/a handful/whatever of nuts - almonds, cashews or peanuts are good here
1 onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup basmati or other long grain white rice
Seeds from 3 cardamom pods (just slice the pods in half and shake out the seeds)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Peel, halve, and finely slice your onion. Heat a large pan and toast the nuts in it till lightly browned. Set them aside. Heat the oil in the same pan and fry the onions in it till good and browned - they should have reduced in size with most of them crisp and darkened. Set aside with the nuts. In your same pan, stir the rice and spices over a low heat for a minute - this just helps with the flavour of things - before tipping in 1 cup/250ml water and a pinch of salt and clamping on the lid. Turn the heat down low and let it simmer away without disturbing it for about ten minutes. At this stage the rice should be completely cooked, but if not let it go a little longer. Remove from the heat, stir in the nuts and onions, and shuffle everything onto your plate. Serves 1.

I have tons of cardamom pods - what, I'm a food blogger - but if you don't it's not the end of the world and this is fine with just cinnamon. But cardamom's particularly lemony-gingery, mildly eucalyptus-y flavour lends a particular elegance to the earthier, oilier flavours. But seriously, fried onions, nuts, rice? Some of the nicest things in the world, making this dish a worthy alternative to golden syrup. Less sticky and prone to getting in my hair, too.

Winter is good for so many things: cooking soup and stews and roasts and such; piling on as many soft cosy clothes as you can; weather complaining as a universal conversation topic; less potential for public sweatiness; whisky tastes better. It goes on. But above all of that, I love spending a lot of time watching TV, like really snuggling into a good TV series. I say that, because I really just wanted to say this:

Tim and I have been rewatching the short but incredible Freaks and Geeks and today I discovered I have the exact same sweater as the character Millie Kentner. I happened to be wearing it while we watched this episode. It's difficult to photograph one's self and a screen but trust me: these wooly jumpers are identical. Even in these exciting times, this stands out as a particular milestone.

The last week of June marks the last week of me being at my job - then my main focus in life is going to be bringing this cookbook into existence. It looks like it's going to be a little nightmarish, logistics-wise - but I'm telling myself that I've never been a slave to logic, so everything looks like a logistical nightmare to me. Right? Right. I'll totally get there though. Somehow.

But: if any fancy people out there are reading, but also staring out the window sighing wistfully because you can't find the right freelance foodwriter to pay some money to, may I suggest...myself? While the book is going to take a lot of time I'm hoping to pick up some extra opportunities to bolster my soon-to-be-flailing bank balance. I already do lots of freelancing for reassuringly real things like Sunday Star-Times and 3news.co.nz, and I'll tell you candidly: I think I'm a really good writer. And as another great writer made their awesome character say: thank you for your consideration.
Title via: Love's Alone Again Or. One of the most excellent songs I've ever heard. So there's that.
Music lately:

Azealia Banks, Liquorice. Not as immediately, life-changingly gripping as 212, but still super awesome with a catchy as heck chorus.

Nina Simone, Here Comes The Sun. Heard some Nina Simone on the radio today and reflected on how she can pretty much do no wrong, and how I wanted to hear more. So why not this video with its slideshow of unrelated artwork?
Next time: I got the new Cuisine magazine - maybe something from that? Time will tell, better than I am right now. 

14 June 2012

life's candy and the sun's a ball of butter

Is this a second post in a row featuring that bewitching golden distillation that is burnt butter? Affirmative. Is this some kind of salute to butter month that everyone has missed? Noooo...but then every day is Salute to Butter Month...day...when I'm around.

And yes, it is Burnt Butter Ice Cream. Snap Judge Ye Not! I've come to learn that some of my opinions are not the generally held ones (did you know I hated The Shawshank Redemption? And all the sports there are? Apart from watching Olympic gymnastics and figure skating with hands clamped over my eyes because I was scared they'd fall over?) and so I suspect that while I think butter-flavoured ice cream is something I quite casually make and see as normal, others might be horrified and pearl-clutching about. Let me straighten the record: butter flavoured ice cream is wonderful. Really, genuinely, hand-it-to-you-on-a-plate, unthreateningly delicious. Why, it's as real as you and me. 

It is in fact very normal tasting ice cream. Almost bordering-on-disappointingly normal for someone like me, but for the less liberally buttery of you, perhaps a relief. The intensity is muffled somewhat once frozen. What you get this roundly rich, deeply creamy golden ice cream which gives you vividly toffeed caramel flavours and a lingering buttery nuttiness. It just tastes like amazing ice cream.

Be assured, it's not like dragging a spoon across a cold block of butter. Nice as that is.

Be further assured, you don't need an ice cream maker machine thing for this. I don't have one myself, and my love for ice cream is way too river deep, mountain high for me to want to make it all exclusive or anything. All you have to do to this is freeze it.

It's a while since I've made an old-timey custard-based ice cream. Custard ice cream is the patient person's game. This is probably why I've avoided it for a while. But all that's involved is a lot of stirring. As En Vogue said, don't let go - just stand there by the pan stirring and stirring till the mixture finally rewards you by ambiguously thickening slightly. I for one recommend putting on a podcast (like mine, way-hey?) or an audiobook (I had Wuthering Heights) to distract the mind.

Burnt Butter Ice Cream

A recipe by myself.

I did dither over whether to call this browned butter, or just butter, but I like the total un-vagueness of 'burnt', because that's what it is.  

50g butter
2 cups cream
1 cup milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
(Note: New Zealand butter is always salted - if you're using unsalted, add a generous pinch of salt when you add the butter at the end)

First, gather ye a saucepan, a good-sized bowl, and a freezer-proof container (as you can see I just used a glass loaf tin. The kind you might bake a loaf in.) Melt the butter over a decent heat in the saucepan, allowing it to carry on cooking beyond your usual sensibilities. As you can see above, it will start bubbling vigorously and separate out into layers of sorts. Once it's all foamy and bubbly and darkened remove it from the heat and spatula it into a bowl while you get on with everything else.

In that same pan, gently heat up the milk and cream. While this is happening whisk together the yolks and sugars, it doesn't have to be thick, just incorporated. Once the milk/cream has heated sufficiently - you don't want it to boil, just get very hot - turn off the heat and carefully whisk about 1/2 a cup of the milk/cream into the egg/sugar mixture, then another 1/2 cup and another - continually whisking so you don't end up with scrambled eggs.

Then pour all that back into the pan and stir over a low heat, stirring constantly so it doesn't cook too fast. I warn you, this could take around 20 minutes. The texture will thicken to that of a good quality milkshake (if not thickshake) and the bubbles on the surface should minimise. The more egg yolks in your custard the thicker it will get so don't stress too much about it.

Finally, whisk in the butter, which will likely have solidified by this point. Pour everything into your freezerproof container and freeze, without stirring, till it is, unsurprisingly, frozen.

Luckily this ice cream is air-punchingly awesome, because I have been seriously lacking in lustre while writing about it. I am tired. The week started mighty promisingly - seeing the movie version of the Broadway show Rock of Ages with my dear friend Kim, and the subsequent marveling over how disturbingly HAWT Tom Cruise was in it and how much we love Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand's characters and how excellent Mary J Blige's pantsuits are. And how I am ever more in hot pursuit of bigger hair. But since then I haven't slept so well, a good wedge of my brain has been given over to working out details of my upcoming cookbook (obligatory mention!) and financial concerns, general stresses and what's-the-deal-with-my-body annoyances (I mean like, not feeling well, nothing else) and I've been catching feelings like you wouldn't believe.

On the up-and-up, there are Tony Award clips to watch, photos from Jo's Double Super Sweet Sixteenth birthday party and memories of intense bedroom dance parties therein to reminisce over, our October trip to America to plan, a new podcast episode to edit, and this ice cream to eat. Just got to get through June...and everything will be cool.

While I'm generally a bit suspish of over-dressed food photography, I have no defensiveness for this. I'd held onto the jaunty flag decorations from the quadruple layer birthday cake my friends made me for me a few months ago and this one seemed just right plunged possessively on an angle into the ice cream. Also a long-distance hug to my god-parents and their family for the equally jaunty ice cream cups. All the better to eat ice cream out of, hey?

Title via: Don't Rain on My Parade, from Funny Girl. Here's an effortless version from the sadly late Donna Summer. My very favourite person, Idina Menzel, singing it for Streisand herself at a concert with an adorable shoutout halfway through. And this incredible rendition by Lillias White from a 2002 benefit.

Music lately:

Rockin Back Inside My Heart, a cover by She's So Rad. As I've said constantly, I'm very obsessed with Julee Cruise's song, but this cover is glorious - the voice is more present and definite than Cruise's, without losing a shred of the song's deliciously dreamy nature.

Fiona Apple Every Single Night. I love this song. Beautiful. Watched the first frame of the music video and decided it wasn't for me though (spoiler: there's an octopus! I like my octopi at a distance!)
Next time: I promise, something non-buttery. I am super aware of how painfully expensive it is. I'm just slightly more super aware of how delicious it is.

6 June 2012

a dip in the butter and a flutter with what meets my eye

Aren't hormones just the darnedest things? I was thinking about the Spice Girls the other day and started crying a little. While on a public street in Wellington, walking to work. I know, what is life. It was pretty innocuous - something along the lines of 'they were so pretty but accessible and they really did seem like the best of friends" and then I just got a bit teary, out of nowhere. Last time I cried while thinking about the Spice Girls was back in 1998 when Geri Halliwell left and I couldn't listen to Viva Forever without my heart crumbling like a Spice Girls-branded Chupa Chup under someone's back molars.

That really has nothing to do with anything (apart from everything) but it was an anecdote too large for Twitter and too strange for Facebook, and an anecdote nonetheless. I don't exist on this many online formats to not be able to share awkward public tearfulness at the hands of a largely non-credible 90s pop group somewhere.

It has been a week of big decisions. The biggest being that with this cookbook looming ever closer, I'm leaving my full-time job to devote myself to writing. Writing the book, writing this blog (I don't want to ever be too busy for it) and hopefully doing some more freelance writing too, in order to keep myself and Tim in butter. It's not something I've decided to do lightly - money doesn't come from nothing, I've gained a lot of opportunities from my current workplace, and honestly it still feels so recently that KFC and several supermarkets never called me back. But the book needs to come first, and so the end of June will also be the end of my office life for a while.

I almost wasn't going to blog tonight - I did a lot of sleep-ignoring in the leadup to getting confirmation of the book deal and I can't quite convince my body to carry on at that same hyper level now I've got it. However I conceded that I should blog, and could easily upload an instagram of dinner. Then I figured I might as well use my actual proper camera. By the time I started thinking "By gosh, this photo could use a loosely folded teatowel" I knew I was committed. This is just something I came up with tonight, a response to the brutally cold wet weather and to what I had in the fridge. I'm not the best at cooking polenta but this method, while not traditional, tends to work for me. Polenta will absorb pretty much whatever you throw at it, so if you don't have cream, just use more water or milk and maybe add some butter, or you could use tomato juice, or well flavoured stock. There are options out there, this is but one.

Garlicky Polenta with Greens and Browned Butter

A recipe by myself.

1 cup fine polenta/cornmeal (they're the same thing, but make sure it's the finer, not coarser stuff.)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
2 cups water
As many green vegetables as you like - I used broccoli, spinach, and avocado. Also good would be beans, peas, Savoy cabbage, rocket, edamame, etc...

First, slice up any of your vegetables that need it and have them ready. 

Then, in a medium sized pan, carefully whisk together the polenta, garlic, cream, milk and 1 cup of the water till smooth. Bring to the boil, continuing to stir, and adding the extra water if it gets too thick. It will bubble a little - big, slow-moving bubbles - but just continue to stir it, till, when you carefully taste it, the grains are soft and not the slightest bit gritty, with a texture verging on mashed potato-like. 

Set aside while you quickly deal to the vegetables - heat up the pan and add any non-leafy, non-avocado greens to it. Tip in 1/2 cup of water and let it bubble away. Then add your spinach or other leaves, and continue to cook till the water has evaporated and the leaves have wilted. 

Finally - spoon the polenta onto two plates, put the greens (including your avocado if you've got it) on top, and then finally heat up the same pan you cooked the veges in and throw in about 30g butter. Let it sizzle over a high heat till darkened, with golden bubbles appearing. Remove from heat and spoon it over the vegetables and polenta. Serve.

Polenta becomes quilt-soft and gently creamy in flavour - incredible comfort food, the likes of which I never even knew existed a few years back. Browning the butter means burning it, but if you're wary of such brazen actions just know that it becomes more darkly rich and nutty and - oh, glorious new word! - pinguid than you dreamed possible. And hot browned butter on top of cool firm avocado is quite the revelation. It won't be the last you'll see this combination here, I assure you.

Pinguid pinguid pinguid. As satisfying to say as it is to think about things that are pinguid.

It has also been a week of podcast fraught-ness. If your original file never recorded properly, your laptop wall charger stopped working, you accidentally uploaded entirely the wrong file to iTunes and in a panic accidentally not only delete it entirely from your podcast website rather than calmly editing it, but also delete the first episode...would you feel like the universe was trying to say "stop trying to make fetch happen!"? It wasn't just any wrong file I uploaded to iTunes, but a video. Yes, if you can't tell by the crisp, stellar sound on my podcast, I just record myself talking on Photo Booth, then convert it to mp3, then upload it as a podcast. Except I forgot to convert it, so had you casually found my podcast on iTunes, you would've been greeted by my pale, unwashed face talking away in the semi-dark while I was wrapped in a wooly blanket, followed by me in an old tshirt with the angle of the camera directly up my nose, followed by me wearing the outfit I describe in the podcast, but still not at my best angle (I assume I have one.) iTunes does not make it easy for you to delete something in a hurry either. Awkward.

Again I'd like to throw some huge love in the direction of my friend Kate, who came and recorded twice after the first file was busted, whose husband volunteered me their own laptop wall charger after mine stopped working, and who is such a brilliant podcast guest that I was, while editing it, continually smiling and nodding and turning to Tim and yelling "I think it's going to be good!" because I forgot that I always shout when I'm trying to talk with headphones on.

So if you want to listen to The HungryandFrozen #soimportant Podcast Episode 2, you finally can, on the website or here in iTunes.

It has also been a time of parties! I was going for queen of the dinosaurs here, but despite my hastily cobbled-together garland of dinos, I somehow ended up looking like I was selling Pears soap or something. (Photo by Kate - I guess it's been a time of Kate too!) Still, it's a much better look than what I saved you all from in the accidentally-uploaded-video-podcast horrorshow. I wish there were more opportunities to wear dinosaur garlands, I guess since I'm not going to be in the office for much longer I can make my own opportunities, right? This imminent lack of job is paying for itself!
Title via: The Miller's Son from Sondheim's A Little Night Music. Sara Ramirez (as in Grey's Anatomy's Callie, or as in Tony Award winning Sara Ramirez) is so, so magnificent here.
Music lately:

Liane La Halvas, Age. She's gorgeous, the song's gorgeous. Yay for her.

This isn't a song as such, but if you have even the slightest interest in hearing people sing nicely (not to back you into a corner here) this Seth Rudetsky 'Obsessed' video with Morgan James of Godspell has me, well, obsessed. Her voice is incredible. Worth it entirely for the bit at the end, although everything leading up to it's great as well - I must've watched this a zillion times.
Next time: I can't get enough brown butter at the moment, and Brown Butter Ice Cream keeps appearing in my head, but we'll see, we'll see.

1 June 2012

here's your one chance fancy, don't let me down

It has been a little while since my last post but I feel I had a distinctly good reason to leave you all dangling expectantly, like...no, can't think of a not unsavoury simile to end that sentence with.

But if by any chance you hadn't heard me talking about it constantly, I still have a book deal and I'm still going to be publishing a cookbook and I'm still overcome with happy excitement. I'm a person who's quite used to disappointment from way back, you know, the picked-last-for-the-team kind of kid, so it's wildly unusual to have this existence of having achieved exactly what I wanted. I mean I still have to write the thing and it has to actually be a success, but even so, just getting asked to do it makes me feel like that scene in Fame, where Doris is slowly eating her dinner in a deeply aware manner, after her drama teacher instructs the class to study every aspect of how they move through life. Here I am, walking down the street, as a soon-to-be-published author. Here I am, putting on a sock, as a soon-to-be-published author. It's really something. In your face, people who picked me last! Actually I take that back, for two reasons: firstly it's not all those many kids' fault that the teachers continually enforced such an unjust, merciless system of group distribution; secondly I would've picked me last too. I was hopeless. I really was not the person you wanted on your longball team. D'you know what I'd pick me first at though? A damn book deal, that's what. And all you teachers who, King Joffrey-like, cruelly asked the cool sporty kids to pick teams? The book-deal-people (yeah I still can't tell you who it is yet) approached me. Out of the blue. I didn't have to go to them. In your face, specific teachers who did that! (But please buy my book.)

Let's leave the enforced ugliness of gym class behind us. There's better things up ahead. And I would like to present a sincere, heartfelt, serious thank you for all the nice things everyone has said to me about all this, via tweet and email and blog comment Facebook message and full-body hug. You're all good people, and I can't wait to write this book.

In the meantime, a gentle reminder that things will just refuse to fall into place more often than not, I invited my great friend Kate over to be on the next episode of my podcast. Because we fancy ourselves as fancy, I made these Fancy Tea Cookies from my Favourite Recipes of America: Desserts cookbook. We had us some crackling and sparkling dialogue for about 45 minutes, Kate left, I went to go edit the file to turn it into a podcast, and discovered that the recording had frozen up, ten seconds in. All of that for nothing, damn it.

Still at least they were good cookies. And completely...not fancy. But then the book was written in 1968, before the popularisation of, like, truffle oil.

Fancy Tea Cookies

Adapted slightly from Favourite Recipes of America: Desserts

250g soft butter
4 tablespoons sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup dessicated coconut
1 tablespoon sugar, extra

Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl with a wooden spoon (or whatever) till well combined, creamy, and light-textured. Carefully stir in the flour and coconut. If the mixture feels particularly soft, refrigerate for 20 minutes, then roll spoonfuls in your hands and flatten carefully (the mixture is a little crumbly but it will stick together if you push it into place!) Place the cookies on trays lined with baking paper, sprinkle with the extra sugar, and bake for 25-30 minutes at 150 C.

These don't taste intensely of coconut, so if you wanted to you could ice them and sprinkle over even more coconut. They do have this densely buttery flavour and a wonderful shortbread-style texture, and even though they look sturdy they're not even slightly crunchy, instead yielding - almost dissolving on the tongue - but not to overthink it, they're just really nice cookies, okay? Okay. And as the name says, really good with a cup of tea.

Some more good times have swung my way lately. Yesterday, the female-proud juggernaut that is BUST magazine graciously asked if they could please post the recipe to my Gin and Tonic Ice Cream. I said yes, of course. Then this morning I found out that the cool Jessica of Foxes shop was talking about me on her Oh My Blog segment on Charlotte Ryan's enviably excellent Morning Glory radio show on 95bFM. I was totally unprepared for how many nice things they'd say about me, I blushed so hard my face nearly fell clean off. Maybe something else will happen tomorrow and make it a trifecta of glory? Even if not, those are some laurels to rest upon.

While it might look like I'm going to do nothing but talk about this book deal, I'll try to stay chill and at least only bring it up when it's relevant. (Which I'm afraid is a 24/7/365 kind of thing.) I also don't have any more details about it to share with you but I definitely will reveal all as and when there's anything revealable to reveal. In the meantime, thanks again for all your kindness, and...I really do recommend those cookies.
Title via: Fancy, a Reba McEntire song, and though I have much love for Reba's eponymous sitcom, and respect for her music career, my favourite take on this cautionary tale is by Broadway star Julia Murney. She is incredible and could embiggen any old tune but this one suits her well, unfortunately the only version of it on YouTube isn't the bestest quality but there is a shinier studio version on her CD I'm Not Waiting if you're that keen to hear it.
Music lately: 

Gina G, Just A Little Bit. I do think this is a really good song still, it has aged better than some songs from, say, 2003. But perhaps Gina's distinct babeliness helps with that.

Savage Garden, I Want You. Let the record state that I am an absolute non-fan of Savage Garden. My dislike for them is immense. But I have an almost sick adoration of this song and I've come to terms with this, mostly by listening to this song about seventeen times in a row.

Just in case you were concerned you'd stumbled onto a blog from 1996, look at this recent song I love too! Azealia Banks, L8R. I love this woman but I'd warn you not to click through if you're made nervous by swearwords and stuff.
Next time: Haven't thought this through too much, as every time I go to think about something instead my brain says "book deal!"