26 May 2014

they go to a lake of fire and fry, won't see 'em again till the fourth of july

After all my harping on about being unemployed making it a lot easier for me to blog more often, it has definitely been a minute since my last post. I had my reasons, some of which were fun (Auckland mini-break with my friend Kate!) some of which were less fun (a vague sense of not being able to get my act together! Other personal stuff!) but here I am, ready to type, resplendent in my $10 floral leggings and $4 wooly jumper sitting in the north wing of my office (aka the couch. The south wing is my bed. There is no west wing because my apartment is kind of L-shaped. So to go hard west would defy the laws of physics and sensible-ness.)

it was an honour to briefly gallivant round Auckland with this stone cold fox

While in Auckland I finally got to go to Barilla, where you can eat incredible dumplings and drink green tea under fluorescent lighting. We got this side dish of fried beans with spicy salt, and they were honestly one of the best things I've ever eaten, crisp and piled high on this huge plate with dried chillis, cumin and coriander seeds, a slight crunch of sugar, and a ton of salty wondrousness. I got home and really wanted to recreate them, but had no idea how and also lacked most of the ingredients that I'd detected. Except, shamefully, dried chillis: I have a bag of them but they're right at the back of a tall cupboard and laziness overtook all things, including, quite shockingly for me, aesthetics. So I made up a sort of tribute to what Kate and I had, and while it didn't turn out like Barilla's elusively salty-hot dish, these beans are still super cool by their own damn selves. 

fried green beans with chilli and garlic

a recipe by myself, inspired by the beans at Barilla, but if you're in proximity of that place just ignore this entire blog post and run down there to order plateful after plateful of the real thing, seriously

many green beans (just...many, okay?)
two tablespoons olive oil
two tablespoon sesame oil
three cloves garlic, roughly diced
two teaspoons sugar
one tablespoon soy sauce
one tablespoon white vinegar
two tablespoons sriracha or other chilli sauce of your choosing
tiny pinch of ground cinnamon

Top and tail the beans and slice in half. If you've rinsed them in water before doing this, dry them thoroughly on a paper towel, because if even a droplet of moisture gets into the hot oil it will spit aggressively everywhere. 

In a saucepan heat the oils until you're quite sure they're stupidly hot. Throw in the beans and allow them to fry, stirring very occasionally, until they're uniformly blistered and browned and a little crisp.

While this is happening, mix the garlic, sugar, vinegar, sriracha and cinnamon in a small bowl. Remove the beans and sit them on a paper towel, and tip out most of the oil into your sink - carefully, it might spit a bit - and return the pan to the heat. Tip in the remaining ingredients and fry them for a couple of minutes before returning the beans to the pan, stirring them till everything's all sticky and wonderful-looking. Remove from the heat, spatula into a bowl, eat the lot. 

You weren't born yesterday, you haven't been living under a rock and this most definitely isn't your first rodeo, so I appreciate that it's a bit obvious when I say fried things generally taste better than when they're cooked any other way. But nevertheless, did you know that frying makes beans taste amazing? They go all wrinkly and crisp and a little smoky, with that grassy burst of flavour still present when you bite into them. The sauce goes all sticky and excellent, the sugars caramelising a little and the hint of cinnamon giving subtle depth, while the vinegar and chilli distract from, yet elevate, the oiliness. And it's really simple. The hardest thing is slicing the ends off the beans. Like, I can't stress enough what a burden this is. If you can lure someone else into doing it for you, perhaps with the promise of fried beans as a reward, then do so (bonus hilarity: they'll need to chop twice as many beans so that there's enough for them to be rewarded with.) 

Hey, so I know I talked a lot about Swonderful in my last blog post, but I would like to charmingly draw your attention to the rest of my amazing sponsors. Go check out their websites, do it for your own good, discover some delightfulness, or in fact ignore them completely, because it is a free country (despite many laws and discrepancies that conclusively suggest otherwise.) I love these guys, and you may well end up feeling the same way. 

Skinny Love: tiny, easy weddings, for if you don't want fuss and stress but still want maximum dreaminess and delight. I know I like, recently cancelled my own wedding, but that doesn't mean I can't celebrate cool people running the show and helping other people with their declarations of love. Dreamy weddings are not a zero sum game. Oh and even if you're not getting married they have a sweet blog with lots of lovely photos and inspiration and such. 

Holland Road Yarn Company: I have talked so much about how obsessed with knitting I am, and without this shop my life would be singularly bereft of all that woolly joy. If you're in Wellington there are often classes and events, or you can just walk into one of the two shops to politely nuzzle the yarn. If you're over yonder or overseas you can still purchase all the gorgeous stuff on offer, including the owner Tash's hand-dyed skeins of glorious Knitsch yarn. 

Six Barrel Soda Co: aside from the fact that I could and have spend entire hours at their eponymous cafe in Wellington, I gotta say, it is so wonderful having incredibly delicious non-alcoholic options for drinks now that they have started stocking their syrups more and more widely around town. With flavours like Vanilla Cream, Orange Dandy, Raspberry and Lemon, Cherry and Pomegranate, all hand-made and bottled in small batches, like, I can't even remember how I was planning to finish this sentence because I'm suddenly feeling really parched and in need of a fizzy drink. Anyway, you can order them online and they're soon going to be selling ready-made sodas too. Hurrah! 

Yay sponsors! Keeping the wolves from this unemployed blogger's door. Although I'd really like to befriend some wolves and have them as my loyal yet adorable companions, so...looks like someone needs a better metaphor. 

This chronic overheater and lover of burrowing into duvets also says: yay winter! 
title from: Lake of Fire, Nirvana's Meat Puppets cover from their majorly excellent MTV Unplugged album. Kurt Cobain's pretty face plus his raspy voice and the pleasingly old-timey stride of this song are a fairly amazing combination. 
music lately

Beyonce feat Drake, Mine. "Let's get carried away"...Kind of like when you look into a Viewmaster and click around the different scenes, songs from Beyonce's last album move forward and backward into significance for me. Currently it's this one on my mind. And while the music video is reliably stunning the album cut has the important line "been about you and I'm still about you" so I dunno, settle in and absorb both I guess.

Janine and the Mixtape, Little Bit. Love this woman and her new single is, as per usual, silky-smooth gorgeous R'n'B. 
Next time: I made a really cute chocolate cake. 

12 May 2014

share it fairly but don't take a slice of my pie

My flatmate is an actual sweetheart, and has done you all a favour. She used her professional photographer skills to be like "have you tried changing the white balance in the settings" and now I can finally, after starting this blog seven years ago, take pretty decent and decently pretty photos inside at night. See?

This recipe is from Katrina Meynink's really gorgeous book Kitchen Coquette. It's from a chapter that lists ideal recipes for the first time you cook dinner for someone you'd like to pash exclusively on a regular basis. I really can't speak to how effective it is in that regard...but if you ignore the brief and make it for yourself you (a) can't get your heart broken and (b) get to eat both pies.

chorizo wellingtons 

(I find the name particularly cute since I live in a place called Wellington. Also cute because these are not nearly as much of a horrifying undertaking as the traditional Beef Wellington.) 

a recipe from Kitchen Coquette by Katrina Meynink

100g frozen peas
60ml (1/4 cup) cream
2 chorizo sausages 
zest of a lemon
1 sheet of puff pastry

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F. Cook the peas in boiling water till very tender, then drain them and throw into a food processor with the cream, and blitz it into a smooth-ish puree. 

If you've got fresh/proper chorizo, squeeze the filling out of the casing into a hot pan, which is incredibly disgusting but in an undeniably rewarding way. If you've got the type that's more like salami, just slice it into 1cm rings. Either way, fry till it's crisply cooked through and then stir in the lemon zest.

Slice the pastry sheet in half down the middle. Put a generous spoonful of the pea puree about an inch and a half from one end, then put some chorizo on top of that, then fold over the other end - turning your rectangle into a square, essentially - and press down on the edges, using a fork to flatten and seal them and also to make cute forky indents that will look nice once it's cooked.

If you have any extra cream left it's nice to brush some over the pastries, but it's not essential that you glaze them with anything. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry is evenly golden. 

If you're feeling resourceful, or if you see the word resourceful that I've said just now and think "hey that could be me" then make double the pea puree and stir the rest through pasta sometime. These pies are dinner perfection - they feel special, but they're incredibly un-taxing to make, the juicy spicy chorizo against the soft creamy peas is wonderful, and flaky pastry makes everything more fun. If you're not sausagely-inclined, this would be great made with some kind of vegetarian substitute with plenty of smoked paprika added, I daresay.

Speaking of things that I dare say, I'd like to introduce my super cool sponsors (there are some more to come, also, I'm just impatient) over in the sidebar on the right. They are all gorgeous wonderful businesses that I love, but also many of them have an online shopping component in case - for once - not living in New Zealand means you feel left out. And in case you're feeling all concerned and betrayed because I'm talking about commerce and profit, I cannot possibly care, for the following reasons: I think I'm a good writer whatever it is I'm talking about so just keep reading, silly; I'm a grown woman generating money out of something I love; and Swonderful Boutique only went and made a dress named after me. Truly, you can buy the Laura Dress yourself, isn't that the most? To say the least? 

My friend Kim, who was one of the photographers for my cookbook and who I trust with my frozen if-it-ain't-a-selfie-I'm-terrified photo face, came over to take some snaps of the dress upon me. 

The Laura Dress. I am that Laura. 

*plays the theme song from New Girl*

so many accessorising possibilities: with hat or hatless, repeat, hatless

why the smug smirk, Laura? Because the exquisite cut of this dress celebrates how stacked I am and sometimes my eyes disappear when I smile too broadly.

Bonus outtake: me recreating Blair Waldorf's awkward photoshoot where her best friend Serena helps loosen her up. "Give me more tiger, give me more tiger!"

So thanks Swonderful for this blessing of a dress and thanks to the rest of my sponsors for being rad.

And thanks above all, to pie: always there for me.

title from: Pink Floyd's thematically on-point song Money. I used to be into Pink Floyd in an incredibly co-dependant kind of way, which is why it's probably advisable to not get tattoos too early in life otherwise I'd be covered in, I don't know, the lyrics to Shine On You Crazy Diamond or something. These days I'm more just nostalgically fond of Pink Floyd, because they wrote some ridiculously catchy tunes and took themselves SO seriously, to an almost adorable level. 
music lately:

Tim Paris featuring Coco Solid, Rain. Moody and 80s and unsettling and excellent.

Miley Cyrus, Wrecking Ball. Just can't stop listening, it's so full of feelings and emotion and references to building construction, two out of three of which I am really into.

Jennifer Lopez, Baby I <3 U! One of her most cruelly undercelebrated songs in my unhumble opinion.
next time: Unfortunately for you, probably not another elaborate photoshoot of me, but who knows, I mean, life, huh?   

6 May 2014

heartbeat drumming double time, i need one more chance to be with you

I'm not saying I don't have a tonne of feelings as I write this blog post - some might say I've got more than ever ("some" being my resentful self side-eyeing every last feeling involved in their unwelcome gentrification of my brain.) But you know, sometimes there's nothing new to say and sometimes it's too hard to articulate, and sometimes the food can just jolly well speak for itself. I mean, this is a food blog, not America's Next Top Best Friend. (I think it has the potential to be that, though.) Besides, if you are hanging out for my feelings like they're some kind of pizza delivery boy well overdue to knock on your door, well there's all the other blog posts I've written leading up to this point. With extra cheese.

So fried cauliflower is excellent, and roast cauliflower is excellent, but it occurred to me while mindfully spreading butter upon slices of raw cauliflower and consuming them, that...I don't know, I've got a lot of love for this vegetable. Let's not forget cauliflower cheese, which I don't see a lot of talk of lately but is still one of the best, most comfort-food foods there is. (Actually you know what else would probably be amazing? Cauliflower mac and cheese.) I thought it would be cool to double up on them as an ingredient, and combine the snappish crunch of raw florets, with their delicate, ever so slightly peppery-butter flavour, with some aggressively fried florets, oily and crisp and charred. It was so good that I pretty much ate an entire head of cauliflower in the process. I'm not sure if that's impressive or horrifying or really, really...unexciting. The point is, it happened, and only because the salad was so delicious.

double cauliflower salad

a recipe by myself

one large cauliflower
olive oil
a couple of tablespoons of capers
one lemon
a handful or two of walnuts

Slice and break the cauliflower into small florets. Place half in the bowl you intend to serve all this in. Squeeze over the juice of a lemon, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle over the capers. Heat more olive oil - a couple of tablespoons - in a wide saucepan and fry the remaining cauliflower. Don't stir it too much, you want to let it sit and properly brown and scorch in places. Once they look like they're nearly done, throw in the walnuts and let them toast for a bit. Remove it all from the heat, stir into the raw cauliflower in the serving bowl, and then...serve. 

(I also considered calling this Cauliflower, Fried and Raw because it reminded me of the title of the book Sarah, Plain and Tall - which I didn't even like - or calling it Raw Cauliflower and Fried Cauliflower Salad because I can be a bit too literal at times, but double cauliflower salad seemed both the most accurate and the easiest to fit in a tweet. Isn't food blogging just so fascinating and intellectually stimulating?)

As I said, the texture going on here is incredible, the buttery fresh crunch of the raw and the charred crisp crunch of the fried and then the soft, toasted walnuts echoing the flavours of both. This is surprisingly filling on its own, but could be something of a meal with bread and butter, or as a side dish to go with roasted chicken or some kind of pie, or could happily be stirred through cooled orzo pasta to make a salad, or served on top of soft, bursting-with-cream polenta. Or just eat the lot yourself. It's probably best made quite close to when you want to serve it, as the fried stuff will start to flop and absorb the lemon juice if left for too long, but I'm not saying that wouldn't have its own charms as far as eating goes.

Currently life is full of the following: taking myself and my laptop out for coffee dates so I can write and not end up turning my bed into my office, applying for jobs (hi!), getting rejected from job applications (hi!), having head pats and solace and general glorious friendship administered by Kim and Kate, saying "what the actual - oh my - what in the Rupert Campbell-Black was that?" at Orphan Black, and furiously knitting myself a jumper the colour of very rich dark red wine that is being drunk in a darkened room while you're wearing dark sunglasses. That colour. One other exciting thing: it's finally cold enough to spend evenings sitting by the heater while not actually wearing that much clothing, which is one of my favourite things to do in winter. Sure, not overly practical, but as Beyonce says: I'm a grown woman, I can do whatever I want. It's not a bad rule to have in your head as you stumble and strut through life.
title from: Ladyhawke, My Delirium. Swoon! 
music lately:

Lit, My Own Worst Enemy. Sometimes I really like listening to bratty music from fifteen years ago.

Frank Ocean, Bad Religion. Oof. Words fail me, y'know?

Kacie Sheik, Air, from the 2009 Broadway Cast Recording of Hair. This song is bonkers but she has got one of the damn cutest voices I've ever heard and she makes it all sound lovely. Just watch me spark, I glow in the dark.
next time: who knows, maybe it'll be truffles on truffles on truffles because I'll have a job? 

2 May 2014

fancy plans and pants to match: nautilus estate wine

Well hello there, and welcome to another instalment of Fancy Plans and Pants to Match. This is where I contritely admit that yeah, sometimes really nice things happen to me as a result of being a food blogger and published cookbook author, but try to do it in a way that isn't entirely insufferable and doesn't make you want to hate me. The name of this segment is a quote from Jimmy James, a character from the much slept-on 90s sitcom NewsRadio. It just felt right. 

So here's the thing: Nautilus Estate got in touch with me and asked if I'd like to develop some recipes for them to go with their fancy fancy wines. Oh my gosh yes, said I. I love wine, I love thinking up recipes, I love receiving a butt-tonne of wine in the mail, and honestly it's just nice to be thought of as someone who could do this, right? And then a whole lot of stuff happened in my life. Finally though, I got around to actually completing my original task. So thanks Nautilus, not only for the wine itself, but for your infinite patience and your "hey it's cool we can wait the wine will probably be kind of useful right now anyway" attitude.

The pitch: Nautilus Vintage Rose 2011 and Cuvee Marlborough NV Brut. Both fizzy and fizzing with deliciousness. All I have to do is come up with some recipes to complement what they've already got going on. Important note: I cannot get a swishy little accent on the 'e' in rose/cuvee for some reason so when you read it please pronounce it "rose-ayyyyy" and "coo-vayyyy" in your head.

What happened: Okay, so I really know very little about wine. I am your house-sav, eight-dollar-bottle-of-merlot-from-the-dairy, zero-brand-loyalty-because-I-don't-know-jack wine drinker. All of which makes me an excellent, ideal candidate for drinking your flashy wines and thinking up recipes for them, because my palate is unjaded. I am an innocent fawn stumbling through a meadow, I am a blank canvas, I am able to talk like this and convince you that it's a good idea to send me wine even though I don't have the faintest idea of what I'm talking about. All your wine has to do is make a good impression on me. I don't know why I can't get my head around wine, by the way. I also couldn't get my head around driving a manual car or the cash register at the German bakery I worked at for an entire year.

brunch: it's the most wonderful time of year 

For the rose I wanted to complement the strawberry flavours bursting through each tiny bubble (admittedly, the tasting notes said there were strawberry notes but I honestly did taste them myself independently of this) and also liked the idea of using it in a luxe brunch kind of way rather than just thinking of dinner and pudding recipes. Like, if I'm going to have a mid-morning drink, fizzy glamorous rose is totally on my top five list of ideal drinks. I also felt like pairing it with lemonade. I thought that would be kind of fun since lemonade costs about a dollar, but also to boost the sweet, bubbly lemony fragrant elements of the rose itself. And I wanted to see if I could make pancakes largely composed of lemonade. Okay, so now that you have the story of my life up until this point, did they taste good? You bet your $9.50 corner dairy Shiraz they did!

Pink and white on pink and white.  

lemonade pancakes with strawberry sauce

wine match: Nautilus Estate Vintage Rose 2011

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1 1/2 cups lemonade (not diet) although be prepared to add more

2 cups frozen strawberries (or actual strawberries, should it be summer when you read this)
3 tablespoons icing sugar
1/2 cup lemonade (or thereabouts)

Place the strawberries in a bowl with the icing sugar and let the former defrost while the latter absorbs into them while you get on with the pancakes. 

Whisk together the flour and baking powder, then stir in the egg, and finally slowly add the lemonade, whisking more thoroughly as you go. You should end up with a rather pale, thick-yet-liquidy batter, the consistency of, well, pancake batter.

Heat up a large pan, throw in a tablespoon of butter and let it sizzle, then use a 1/2 or 1/3 cup measure to scoop out quantities of pancake batter to tip into the hot pan. Once bubbles start to appear on the surface, flip the pancake carefully to the other side, making sure it has browned decently, then transfer it to a plate and move onto the next one. Maybe cover the done ones with a paper towel or something to absorb any steam. 

Once you're done with the pancakes, blitz the strawberries and icing sugar in a food processor and slowly pour in the lemonade till it forms a bright, thick, smooth sauce. Pour liberally over your pancakes along with plain Greek yoghurt or whatever else you want, really. Serve with a glass of rose because it's 11am and you're a grown woman who can do whatever you want. (You may not actually be a grown woman, this unexpectedly turned into a self-pep-talk. Either way, you can still have rose.)

 Um, this doesn't work as well IRL as it does in cartoons

Despite knowing little about wine I fortunately have a good instinct for flavour and texture and...basically everything except wine. And so. The lemonade made the pancakes light and gently sweet, which, along with the fragrant summery strawberries and thick, tangy yoghurt, was rather perfect with the rose's fine-textured bubbles and rich-yet-dry vibe. 

For the Cuvee I wanted something quite simple yet full of pugnacious flavour, as the wine itself is light and crisp yet not delicate - I felt like it could stand up to quite a lot. 

pappardelle with chilli butter, chorizo and feta

wine match:  Nautilus Estate Cuvee Marlborough NV Brut

150g dried pappardelle pasta
25g butter
a medium-sized firm red chilli, roughly diced
a lemon
2 chorizo sausages, preferably good stuff (I mean, not like I'm going to say "preferably the worst chorizo you can find, and then leave it out in the sun for a few days" but basically the quality does make a difference oh wow I sound so patronising I'm going to back away now.)
100g feta, the soft kind, nothing too crumbly or firm (the cheapest stuff is ideal for this, ha!)
olive oil

Put on a large pot of salted water to boil and once it is boiling, cook the pasta according to packet instructions - probably about ten minutes. While you're doing that, melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the chilli and the zest of the lemon. Allow the butter to sizzle and the chilli to soften a little (PS: seeds in or out is up to your level of heat-resistance) and then pour all of this into a small bowl and set aside. Slice the chorizo and fry in the same pan till crisp and browned. Using a fork, mash the feta along with the juice of the lemon you just zested and about a tablespoon of olive oil, stirring harder until it's quite smooth. 

Drain the pasta, schmeer the feta thickly on two plates (I know, fussy, but it's useful) and then divide the pappardelle between said plates, topping with the chorizo and spoonfuls of the chilli butter. The butter may well have firmed up by this point but the heat of the pasta will slowly melt it. Finally, scatter over a little sumac, and hey ho, let's go.

 you could use any pasta really but things just taste nicer when those things are pappardelle pasta

There's a lot going on here - sour, spicy, creamy, potentially-mouth-burning - and a lesser wine might've been overshadowed, or just taste lousy, against all of that. But the cuvee's sprightly crisp acidity and full, nutty flavour was not only balanced, it was, I boldly claim, enhanced by the same flavours echoed in the pasta. Also just something about the champagne style of the wine makes anything feel more exciting, and I already get one hell of a kick out of things like pasta and butter and stuff.

the chilli gets a lot more mellow as it sits in the butter, in case you're nervous

On a scale of 1 to "a whole new world, a new fantastic point of view, no one to tell us no, or where to go, or say we're only dreaming": I would say an eight. I got a lot of wine, all of it far more delicious and swanky than I'm used to, and it totally improved my life whenever I had a bottle in my hand.

Would I do this for not-free: Look, it's more expensive than the wine I usually buy, but not prohibitively so - if I was feeling both flush and celebratory I would most definitely go for a bottle of the cuvee. But also, the prices really are reasonable for what you're getting, and I suspect that you only have to be marginally less of a dirtbag than me to not flinch at them for casual wine drinking times.

Earnest thanks for making me feel fancy to: Nautilus Estate. They're damn rad. I'll be doing another one of these posts in the future sometime too, in case you're all "wait, Laura, don't go!"