This wasn’t my intention. What I meant to present you with was a layered white chocolate and blackberry cake covered in 100s and 1000s sprinkles. But I left the caking too late in the day, forgetting how much heat their dense crumbs can hold onto, and the cake is still cooling on the bench now. While this Sunday started off sunny, it swiftly descended into greying darkness around 2.00pm, leaving my chances of photographing said cake with pleasing results significantly diminished.
But its stand-in of Fennel with Blue Cheese Buttermilk Dressing can still rightfully incite a little vaingloriousness within me. (Vainglorious! It’s a good word. I think I managed to force it in there validly.)
Nigella Lawson calls this dressing a “fabulously retro US-steakhouse-style starter” when it’s served over sliced iceberg lettuce. I wouldn’t know personally, but I can’t deny it’s a mood I’m happy to try evoke through food. Or anything. Speaking of US-steakhouse-style, last night I went to a cowgirl-themed birthday party which was not only the last word in how to feed a crowd (honestly: cornbread, ribs, fried onions, biscuits and gravy, three different pies for pudding) but also continued so late into the evening that it was suddenly early in the morning. I wouldn’t say I’m hungover as such…now…but I’m definitely trying to pummel weakly against the surprisingly firm and resilient punching bag of exhaustion. Just keep that in mind as you read.
(In case you’re wondering, that stack of books in the background includes a Mahalia Jackson biography, one of the Jason Bourne books, Margaret Atwood’s ‘Dancing Girls’ and ‘Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls’ – an original, not a reprint. Important.)
I didn’t have any iceberg lettuce, and couldn’t find any at the market or in the supermarket that looked satisfactorily perky and crisp. But I figured that fennel is not only in season, it also could provide that necessary water-cooled crunch. Further to that, its clean, aniseed flavour wouldn’t be intimidated by the rich, aggressively blue cheese. The thyme leaves have a dual purpose – firstly, the herbal flavour complements everything else going on and goes well with cheese. Secondly, a pale vegetable, covered in a pale lumpy milky liquid, does need some help in the looks department and the pretty purply-green leaves are pleasing to the eye.
Blue Cheese Buttermilk Dressing
I was simultaneously inspired by Nigella’s recipe from Kitchen and a recipe from an issue of Fine Cooking magazine. Nige’s didn’t need a food processor (considering what happened to it last week, we need some time apart) so she won. I simplified her recipe very slightly.
150g blue cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar
100ml buttermilk (or, if you don’t have any, plain unsweetened yoghurt possibly thinned with a little milk)
In a bowl, mash the cheese with a fork or a small whisk. Mix in the Worcestershire sauce and vinegar and then slowly stir in the buttermilk. Taste to see if it needs a pinch of salt. The kind of blue cheese you use will affect consistency of the texture, but it’s all good.
2 large bulbs of fennel
Fresh thyme leaves from 2-3 stalks
Trim the base from the fennel, then slice vertically as best you can into uniform chunks and slices. Arrange the slices on a plate, spoon over as much dressing as you like, then tumble over the thyme leaves.
Serves 3-4 as a side dish (depending on the size of your fennel, really)
Keeping in mind that this is a boldly flavoured dish – you might want to run it past those who you’re serving in case they don’t like blue cheese or fennel. On the other hand, you’re putting in time and effort to feed them, so you could contrarily slam the plate in front of them and say “deal with it, fusspants!” (Or however you’d like to finish that sentence.)
Your options for using this dressing are multitudinous. Of course, there’s the original iceberg lettuce concept, and Nigella also recommends it over tomatoes and leftover beef. But its mix of sharp, salty and creamy flavours lends itself to many guises. I think you could also drizzle it over roasted beetroot; as a potato salad dressing; in a bacon sandwich; stirred through cooked, cooled mushrooms; as a sauce/dip for potato wedges; mixed through a coleslaw made of shredded cabbage and grated green apple…See? It’s a highly functional substance.
Lucky me: on Friday I was able to attend a mightily swanky lunch at The White House on Oriental Parade (to wit: Tim gave it an unprecedented five stars to in our Sunday Star-Times review of it a few months ago) as part of the launch of Visa Wellington on a Plate. Among the esteemed guests was Lucy Corry, author of food blog The Kitchen Maid, who presented me with a thyme plant after us talking about thyme back and forth on Twitter. I was already dazedly on a high after the terrifically delicious crab raviolo and crisp-edged snapper with lemon curd (yes it worked, and how) but the unexpected kindness of the plant-gift had me filled with good vibes. And it’s that very thyme plant whose leaves you see in the above recipe.
Later that night, Tim and I saw The Trip at Embassy (as part of the NZ Film Festival). I’d seen some episodes of the TV show version on the plane on the way to the UK earlier this year, and it seems like the film takes the pilot and then adds on an extra hour of action. Hilarity is inevitable when Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are stuck in small spaces together, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how monumentally funny it would be. If you get the chance to see it by some means or another – it’s not one you have to see in a cinema – then do. Something about the poster for this movie reminded me of Tim and I going to review cafes (which character we’re most like probably depends on the day) although we aren’t quite at the stage of competitively imimating Michael Caine…yet. We’re not above imitating Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon imitating Michael Caine though. (“Michael Caine. Talks. Very. Slowly”) My only complaint about the film was that Coogan didn’t mention his powerful performance in the important movie Hamlet 2.
Title via: Blur, Stereotypes, from their album 1996 album The Great Escape (significantly, the year my crush on Damon Albarn developed. Significantly for me, not so much for him. Yet.)
Francois Hardy, Tous Les Garcons Et les Filles. I can’t work out where I heard this song before – was it used in an ad campaign years ago? Maybe it was in the music from my old jazz dance classes. I don’t know, but it’s definitely familiar. That aside, it’s also really pretty and sad, good Sunday evening music. Which might mean it’s the kind of music you really shouldn’t play on a Sunday evening, come to think of it.
I bought the original London recording of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music from Slow Boat Records yesterday, and while it’s excellent, nothing tops Glynis Johns’ Send In The Clowns in my mind. However, feel free to compare levels of diction crispness between Johns and Judi Dench in her take on this standard.
Next time: That cake, I promise. It will be resplendent.