excuse my french but i’m in france

I’ve said before that I obstinately love winter. But I feel that above all, what really connects me to the nose-freezingly, spine-snappingly cold weather more than soft knee socks and duvets and watching dramatic, critically-acclaimed TV shows, and sitting by the heater, is the long and slow cooking of food. Casseroles, soups, stews, they’re the kind of thing that make me feel uncomfortably sweaty to consider in summer. But come winter, by putting some time into making meat fall from bones or dried beans swell and tenderise or, I don’t know, for other stuff to gradually turn into other stuff, I really feel at one with it all, like this is what I’m supposed to be eating and doing with my time. Despite these recipes usually being quite straightforward, making a casserole or soup from scratch over a matter of hours can feel like one hell of an achievement, and is the kind of food I can only properly enjoy this time of year.

The French, I posit sweepingly, know a thing or two about slow-cooked food. Coq au vin – which basically means chicken a la lots of wine – is excellently fancy but very old-world and rustic at the same time, and really quite easy. Or at least it is when I make it, more an homage than a strictly traditional method.

This recipe comes by way of Nigella Lawson’s important book How to Eat. Speaking of important…and a slight trigger warning here…I went back and forth and wrote and deleted things about what has happened to Nigella Lawson recently. I don’t want to write clumsily about domestic violence, but I don’t want to take her recipe then skate over other things brightly, politely. Much as I adore Nigella from afar, I don’t know her. But I do know that what happened to her, what happens to so many people, is not right. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google carefully. If you’re about to pick up a newspaper or magazine that looks even vaguely victim-blaming or rationalising of this, or any similar story…maybe take that money and donate it to your local women’s refuge instead.

So. Nigella already went and made an easy recipe for this, adorably calling it half-coq au vin. Then I went and made hers even easier, lazy creature that I am.  I suppose I could call it quarter-coq, but I think it’s more like two-thirds-coq. Wait, but that’s more than half, right? Ugh, maths! I didn’t quit it in sixth form for nothing, so let’s just get back to the food. You still end up with this intensely savoury, rich, meaty stew with plenty of wine-heavy sauce for spooning over rice or mashed potato, dissolvingly tender chicken thighs, salty bacon, and densely earthy mushrooms. Fry it up, shunt it in the oven, and some time later you have dinner so comforting you could just cry, except there’s already enough sodium in there to crystallise all the cartilage in your body, and it probably doesn’t need any more. I say this as someone who loves sodium…and doesn’t really know much of anything about cartilage. Except that it’s creepily fascinating. I’m talking about sharks, yo. Deep-sea creature made entirely of cartilage. Nope, okay, definitely back to the food now.

Note: you could happily, depending on the size of your oven dish, double or triple this and then freeze portions for future good times. Also, there are supposed to be baby onions in this, but I forgot to buy some. Then I figured lots of people are allergic to onions, and I could just tell myself I was one of those people on this day. Note: you can also use 500ml red wine instead of half wine half water.

half-coq au vin

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s seminal text How To Eat

250ml red wine
250ml water 
a sprig of thyme 
2 garlic cloves
75-100g (I kind of grabbed a handful, but my hands are tiny) streaky bacon rashers
6 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless. Although skinless is the bit that matters really.
1 heaped tablespoon flour
12 or so button mushrooms

Set your oven to 150 C/300 F. I used the enamel dish above, which can go on the stovetop and then into the oven. It’s joyous! But if you don’t have one, just cook everything in a pot and then transfer it to an oven dish before baking. OR you can simmer it in the pot slowly, but I think the oven does a better job of taking care of it – no need to stand around nervously hoping it won’t boil over or get burnt.

In a small pot, bring the wine and water to the boil with the garlic cloves and thyme floating around in it, then continue to let it bubble away till it looks like it’s reduced by about half. Fish out the garlic and thyme, throwing away or eating curiously, and remove the wine from the heat.

Meanwhile, roughly dice the bacon and fry it in your dish or pot till lightly browned and sizzling. Push the bacon to the side slightly with your wooden spoon or chosen implement, and place the chicken thighs in, allowing them to really sit there and brown on one side. It’ll take a while, but it will happen. Halve or quarter, depending on size, your button mushrooms and tumble them in once the chicken’s browned. Finally, stir in the flour – it will turn all rough and sticky at this point – allowing it to fry a little, then tip in the wine mixture and another 250ml water. Cover the oven dish firmly with tinfoil and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and serve, as you wish. 

I had the grand idea that, there being six thighs, and this being two-meat levels of extravagant, this could provide dinner for Tim and I on night one, and then lunch for us on day two and three. But then two of the thighs thwarted me by simply falling to small pieces in the sauce. Damn thwarting thighs! But still, two perfect meals out of this is not bad. While we enjoyed it served over rice, I get the feeling it would be sublimely good stirred into pappardelle pasta with some cream. Or spooned over creamy soft polenta. Or served with really crisp fries to dip into the gravy. This is just such superlative stuff.

The thyme really does make a difference, flavour-wise (okay, I will make a laboured joke about time making the difference here) but I don’t recommend fronds of it as a garnish like I did here. It got all tangled up sinisterly in the spoon every time I went in for more, like seaweed lazily but determinedly knotting itself round your ankles.

After an idyllically mellow weekend – Friday night drinks and living room dancing, Saturday brunch and knitting and the truly bizarre Mad Max 3, and Sunday morning coffee, afternoon scrambled eggs, and lounging with Luther and West Wing – this half-coq au vin was an wonderfully slow, methodical way to end the week. And after a fairly stupid Monday morning of forgotten things and spilled, badly-made coffee and bitten hangnails, it made for a wondrous lunch reheated in the microwave at work. 

Finally – if you like, but especially if you don’t like, you should definitely read my contribution to new site First Comes Love about my top five wedding locations, and my guest post for Holland Road Yarn about being a new knitter. What can I say, it’s a good time to ask me to talk to you about stuff! 

Okay, finally-finally: yeah, in case you’re wondering, I did make some deeply immature homonym-type jokes about coq the entire time I was making this dinner, and every time I referred to it thereafter. Cracking yourself up with utterly stupid wordplay is the highest form of wit.
title via: the spiky, brilliant, Kanye and Jay Z collaboration …Paris. Ball quite hard.  
Music lately:

Miley Cyrus, We Can’t Stop. Amazingly catchy-fuzzy pop. I do think it’s worth reading and acknowledging what Wilbert Cooper has written about this video also.

Metric, Help I’m Alive. Well, that’s a great song title. For a great song. I love how sinister yet low-key this is.
Next time: More slow cooking? More cake? Will see where my whims take me, I don’t have anything specific planned yet. 

reminds us of our birthdays which we always forget

As I was eating my dinner and watching Game of Thrones this evening, I thought: I really shouldn’t be doing this. Either eat, or watch Game of Thrones, but don’t do them simultaneously because the onslaught of viscera is decidedly not food-friendly. This has nothing to do with anything, I just wanted to make the point.

Anyway, it’s my birthday tomorrow! But you get the presents! In the form of a recipe for braised lentils. Birthday Eve, I call it, and as such, one’s thoughts turn to reflection. Ha. I live every day like it’s the contemplative lead-up to further aging, and reflect upon everything I’ve ever done so much that, like a long-running TV show, the whole process should be able to go into syndication so I don’t have to come up with new stuff any more. Instead, just looping around without any effort from me, while I take time out to snooze. I got to have a late, long lunch with the fantastically high-achieving and welcoming Marianne Elliot from La Boca Loca on Saturday, and we talked about everything – the names people will call women but not men to bring them down; standing by things you’ve said; tacos; and this sense of constantly running towards the next thing having barely achieved the last thing. The latter was oddly heartening, in that basic way that recognition of something can be. I have recently been getting back into that troubled but utterly addictive musical Chess, and there’s this line that I never even noticed before that Josh Groban doesn’t so much sing as massage into the air with his throat: “Now I’m where I want to be and who I want to be and doing what I always said I would and yet I feel I haven’t won at all – running for my life and never looking back in case there’s someone right behind to shoot me down and say you always knew I’d fall“. Heavy! And yet I was like whoa, Josh Groban, way to pluck words from my brain with your rich vanilla scented-candle of a voice and articulate them perfectly via a convoluted musical that can’t even commit to its own plot.

And yet, and yet. I received some final pdfs for my cookbook that I’m driving you all away from with my angst and lentils; and oh wow. As you know a lot of time has been put into proofing the proofs (if you didn’t know, the proofs are like, here’s what your book will look like but on hundreds of pieces of paper which you will immediately drop, and as they hit the floor they will both papercut the tender vamp of your bare foot and shuffle themselves out of order with the impeccable swiftness of a Vegas croupier.)

The proofs were really beautiful, and I felt every late night and early morning and email back and forth between the publishers and the whipsmart feedback of my friends and team, photographers Kim and Jason and stylist Kate, and every thought Tim had pretty much ever had since he’s good with wisdom-requiring stuff like this…was not only worth it, but completely evident in the soon-to-be real pages of this book. Which is out in September so sure, put a circle round that month on your calendar but also don’t go rushing into bookshops just yet – she says optimistically – because September is still some significant distance away. As I was reading through it I thought to myself: this book is amazing and you’re such a good writer and you deserve this. A surprisingly nice thing to think about one’s self. And also…a nice thing to think about a consumer item that you have to eventually put your name to in the public arena and sell copies of.

The word braised: I first heard it when I spent a couple of years at boarding school. It essentially means roasted but in significant liquid, but when the kitchen said “braised steak” was for dinner, they essentially meant wet beef, boiled cheerlessly in a weakly tomato-based sauce. And so…it’s not a cooking method I go out of my way to use. I’m not sure what I’m even thinking, trying to braise lentils, second only to tofu as far as maligned leguminous foodstuffs go. But word associations can change, and plus, something about the wilful ugliness of it all makes it almost head back round again to appealing? Well, whatever it sounds like to you – and I mean, it does help if you don’t entirely hate lentils in the first place – this is really very delicious. Simple and easy and surprisingly full of rich, bold flavour from the lemon, mustard and herbs, as well as a lot of oil and salt.

A lot of this can be changed for what you have to hand, although while I want to offer options it would be unhelpful not to have some kind of base recipe that I stand by. If you don’t have hazelnuts, almonds would be perfect, something like carrots would be fine instead of parsnips, use more rosemary instead of thyme, and so on and so on. But hazelnuts and thyme – my favourite herb – are rich and resinous, parsnips have a natural caramelised sweetness, and in a dish like this, cardamom is one of those stealth spices that lets you know flavour is present without revealing how or from where. But you could just leave it out.

Braised Lentils and Vegetables with Hazelnuts, Lemon and Thyme

Serves two, with some leftovers. A recipe by myself.

1/2 cup dried brown lentils
2 parsnips
2 courgettes
1 capsicum
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of one large lemon, or two of those stupid tiny near-juiceless ones that tend to dominate the supermarket
1 tablespoon dijon mustard (or wholegrain. I could eat either with a spoon.)
Pinch of ground cardamom, or seeds from two cardamom pods
1 teaspoon dried rosemary (or “rubbed rosemary” as my packet calls it. Which made me laugh. That said, if you don’t have it, dried oregano, sage or marjoram is also fine.)
Good pinch salt
1/3 cup whole hazelnuts
A couple of stems of fresh thyme, or a couple of teaspoons of dried thyme leaves

Place the lentils in a bowl and cover with freshly boiled water. Leave to sit for an hour – although the longer the better, really. An hour is fine though, and certainly makes the whole thing more feasible straight after work or at the end of a long day.

Drain the lentils, and tip them into the base of a medium sized oven dish. Trim anything inedible from the vegetables and slice them into fairly uniform strips/sticks, then lay them on top of the lentils in the oven dish. Set your oven to 180 C/350 F.

Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, cardamom, rosemary, and a generous pinch of salt. Pour this over the vegetables and lentils, then pour over a cup (250ml) of hot water. Place in the oven and cook for an hour. At this stage, taste the lentils – they should be firm, but cooked through. If not, return to the oven for a little longer. Then, turn the oven up to 200 C, scatter the hazelnuts and thyme leaves over the top, and return to the oven for a further ten minutes. Serve, turn the oven off and leave the door open to try and heat your house up.

The firm lentils and softly bulging vegetables slowly taking in all that lemony, oily dressing; the hazelnuts giving luxe and depth and crunch; my beatific smile at all of this being filled with more vitamins than my body can physically process. It’s a quiet, calming dinner after a Saturday night spent drinking cider while ten-pin bowling; grapefruit daquiris while celebrating the third birthday of coolhaunt Monterey, and beer while loitering at a fancy pub as Devon Anna Smith played records I liked (it maybe looks worse on paper, I was fine.)

Some facts about my birthday:

There are ELEVEN notable ice hockey players born on April 17, according to Wikipedia.
I’m the oldest child. I was born at 8.50pm-ish. I frowned a lot and immediately got colic and did not stop screaming for six months. Luckily I made up for it by being a very overachieving preschooler.
While I can’t afford all the trinkets I want I did buy this cool cat (bottom centre), a print from local artist Pinky Fang. It seems to go well with the sinister cat we bought in New Orleans, and my Devon Anna Smith print. Three cats seems like a good number to have around.
Tomorrow is the final reading of the Marriage Act Bill which will decide whether marriage equality is happening in New Zealand or not. Every day it seems more and more unfair that I’m allowed to marry someone just because of the ridiculous coincidence that they happen to be a man. I wrote a long thoughtsy thinkpiece paragraph after this and then deleted it because it’s much simpler to just say: this bill means a lot to me not quite just because I’m a more-or-less decent person who wants equal rights for all, or because Tim and I are engaged but have decided not to marry unless it goes ahead, but also because I’m also…not straight. The Q in LGBTQ. Yes. I won’t say much more about this, apart from that I realised it an awfully long time ago, but only articulated it relatively recently. Articulating all this was like putting on glasses and seeing things just as they are but a little clearer (I use this analogy a lot, sure, but looking at things is just so great since I got my glasses). Doing so is of course a totally private, personal choice for everyone, and this is just my way. While I worried that I’d left it too long -whatever that means – or that I’d somehow express all this horribly wrong, or that braised lentils wasn’t how I wanted to remember it happening in years to come, or that maybe I should say it next time, or next-next time, I also thought I’d just…say it. It’s still a scary thing to do. But every day brings us closer to a time when it will be less and less scary to say it. Armed with the knowledge that you’re all cool and I’ve never once heard anything said against it that made the slightest bit of sense, I figure you all know pretty much everything about me anyway, and this is just another thing to matter-of-factly know.

I’m turning 27. This is an age where people will still say “so old” but also “so young” at you, depending on the person. I’m not sure when that will stop.

Victoria Beckham is born on April 17. When I was in my deadly-fervent Spice Girls phase, sharing a birthday with one was seen as some kind of ancient sacrosanct blessing. (Seen by me, and me alone.)

Title via: Side By Side By Side, from the Sondheim musical Company. The AMAZING Sondheim musical. Please keep having birthdays, Sondheim. 

Music lately: 

Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke with Pharrell and TI. I am addicted to this song like wo. And also reminded of the massive crush I used to have on Pharrell.

Birthday, Sugarcubes. Ones thoughts also turn to songs with the word birthday in the title. Bjork’s soaring, growling belting here is outrageously amazing. Extra fun in Icelandic!
Next time: Hoping to have another I Should Tell You interview up on Friday. Who’s it going to be? Why, who do you think I am, some kind of organised person? 

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!

shedding a tear, lending a shoulder

On Wednesday night I had a panic attack. Wait, don’t click another tab. I know, food bloggers are supposed to drift round in a content haze of aspirational recipes, instagrammed photos of coffee and noodles, and bacon cupcake-flavoured macaron whoopie pies. Yet here I am. I was going to sort of pass it off with an “enough of that, here’s the food” kind of segue since this may not be what you want to read, but since the only criteria I keep for this blog is, did I cook it and/or did it happen to me...I’m talking about it.

I’m no stranger to panic attacks but it has been a while, and just in case anyone else had had a similar experience recently I share mine, in the spirit of you-are-not-alone-ness, of not-being-ashamed-ness, and other such forcibly portmanteau-ed words. So. I went from standing there aimlessly to sweating, heart thumping, knees buckling, having to support myself by leaning on a wall, weird thoughts flying round my brain, a massive sense of unease, gulping for shallow breath. It went for about five minutes. And then it just subsided, and all I was left with were shaking hands and confusion. The thing I found weird was that nothing in particular had happened that day. On the other hand, I tend towards being highly anxious pretty easily, and have had some fairly clenched-knuckled moments over the last year – possibly this was a reaction to a long build up of tension. It’s not ideal, and life would doubtless be much easier if I was more happy-go-lucky, but I’m not, and at least I know that…right?

You know what helps panic attacks? I don’t know, and pulled pork isn’t the answer, but it is what I was making when it happened. And the thing with making pulled pork is that it just sits there for hours and hours, but bully for me, the attack came on just at the point where it was in the middle of the basting/resting/pulling/making accompanying cornbread stage. If nothing else, it was good to have something to focus on, but my hands continued to shake for at least an hour after the attack, which is not so condusive to taking elegant blogworthy photos of my dinner. Earlier that week I’d spied some belly-cut pork shoulder that was both free range and on special, and without having ever considered making pulled pork before, suddenly it was on my mind. Pulled Pork is a classic American treatment for a side of pig, and generally one that requires a smoker or barbeque. Neither of which I have. There seemed to be so many differing methods, that I decided to gather knowledge from everywhere and make something that works for me. I’d like to lend particular gratitude however to Michelle at Thursday Night Smackdown whose recipe was the only one who advised me to sit the pork fat side up, and had the simplest method to emulate.

One does not simply walk into Pulled Pork. Although…I kind of did. At 10am I decided I wanted to make it, at 6pm we were eating it. That is not, I emphasise, a very long time for it to be in the oven. And, I didn’t marinate the pork for 12 hours in the way that every recipe recommended, either. This is a highly important step to audaciously leave out, but it was still the nicest thing I’ve ever eaten. My theory was that it’s in the oven for such a long time, on such a low heat, that the spices just marinate it as it goes along. It’s not right, but it’s okay. That is, it’s not deeply authentic, but it’s inauthentic with the greatest respect.

I literally did not require this pestle and mortar to make the rub, but gosh it made me feel like I knew what I was doing. (Further confession: I just put that cinnamon stick there for artistic effect and used ground cinnamon in the rub. If the panic attack didn’t get rid of you, hopefully that isn’t the final straw.)

Pulled Pork, HungryandFrozen-style. 

With thanks to Thursday Night Smackdown’s recipe for guidance.

2 kg or more – basically a goodly slab – of belly cut pork shoulder. Or just pork belly.


1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp mustard powder 
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds
A grating of nutmeg (or 1/2 a teaspoon ground nutmeg)
1/2 cup brown sugar, darker the better but plain brown’s fine
Decent pinch of salt

Mop (What you use to baste it, to ensure it’ll have not a skerrick of dryness about it)

1 cup cola

1/2 cup cold strong coffee (I used Carlos Imbachi from Supreme, but instant’ll honestly do the trick)
1 tablespoon chilli sauce (I used sambal oelek)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or malt vinegar)
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Another decent pinch of salt

Set your oven to low – around 140 C/ 300 F. Put your pork in a decent sized roasting dish. Mix together all the rub ingredients and rub into the surface of the pork, all over, leaving it fat-side-up and sprinkling over any leftover rub. Place in the oven and leave there for several hours – at least four. At this point, mix together the mop ingredients and pour 1/2 a cup of it over the pork every hour till it’s gone, then continue to cook for about another 1/2 hour after that to help the fat crisp up some.

Finally, remove it from the oven, cover with tinfoil and leave to sit for an hour to rest and cool slightly, before shredding the heck out of it with two forks. Bust up any bits of crackling that have formed and add them to the pulled pork too, and should you still have any porky-mop-spicy liquid in the bottom of the roasting dish, tip that in too. Ey, why not?

If you’re wondering what could motivate you to funnel that much of your time into a briquette of meat, the answer is pure, headrushy deliciousness. The pork basically melts down gradually over time till it falls apart unexpectedly when prodded (like me! This pork is both allegorical and delicious!) The spices, warm cinnamon and ginger and so on, and the sticky dirty coffee-cola mix just imbue the meat with mysterious savoury-sweetness, or umami if you will, laquering the fat as it crisps up and soaking the fibres with dark smoky flavour. 
It’s so wonderful.

I served it with this cornbread, which I’ve made roughly a squillion times, only this go around, as if it knew how much I needed it, the same old recipe produced the most beautiful, soft, tender cornbread of my life. Thanks, cornbread.

I wish it was Easter Weekend every week. This one just gone was amazing, the delightful times unfolding with increasing fantasticness, activities within activities (drinking wine while watching Flashdance while at Princess Camp; eating roast lamb while decorating cookies; busting one hell of a move to dubious music videos on YouTube while uh, drinking wine; watching Veronica Mars while tweeting about how happy I was to be watching Veronica Mars.) I flew too close to the sun though and the price for all that fun was getting absolutely nothing whatsoever done, and achieving a really sore neck from dancing so hard. But a sore neck was worth it for how great it was hanging out with the best people all weekend (and, presumably, worth it for everyone to witness my sweet dance moves.)

And thanks, not just to cornbread, but to anyone who did keep reading. Panic attacks aren’t the very worst thing in the world, but they’re also not the greatest – that is, I’m not seeking out Elizabeth Wakefield-type shoulder squeezes here, but I’m not trying to brush it off as nothing – it just is what it is.
Title via: Company, one of my favourite musicals ever, and its mid-point showstopper Side By Side By Side. 
Music lately:

Grimes, Oblivion. Really pretty obsess-over-able.

Chic Gamine, Closer. I’m not a fan of their actual name but I’m such a sucker for growly vocal riffs and harmonies like these.
Next time: Apropos of nothing, it’s my birthday next week! Whoa! Still working out what to do, but I’m hoping it involves more outrageous dancing to YouTube videos. This month is wildly busy though, might just have to have a very merry unbirthday later in the year…

oklahoma, every night my honey lamb and i

Lamb shanks are lots of fun – they simmer away and make your house smell wonderful; the bone is a ready-made grippable handle, depending on how conservative your company is; they’re generally cheaper than other bits of lamb; they’re full of sweet, youthful meaty flavour; and, you can point at your plate and suggestively say “hey, nice shanks“.

Overall though, lamb is not one of those things that fills me with good feelings of “I can afford this regularly” (likewise with All Dairy Products, as I’ve complained about at length recently.) In fact, the last time I had lamb shanks was May 2009 – back when we were in our old flat! – so it was with happiness that I saw them fall into the range of X-per-kilo that I’m comfortable with. They are not so much fun to photograph though. To lull you into a false sense of capable blogging security: their accompaniment, figs!
Actually figs, wrinkled and greying as they are, also aren’t that attractive. Foiled again.
To have lamb shanks slowly becoming tender in a fig-studded broth is about the cheeriest thing you can do on a freezing and rainy day like today. Shank Sunday! As I’ve called it. However if you’ve got the time, this recipe of Nigella Lawson’s is perfect on any cold day of the week. Putting lamb, figs, honey and pumpkin together as she does might sound troublingly sweet. But what I found was that the flavours of the sugary things caramelised together which, with the lamb’s sticky meatiness, made for an outrageously good combination, with partially jam-ified figs, lamb-infused kumara sauce and a little cinnamon to warm things up further. Let’s not be naive though. This is a rich dish. I could hardly finish a whole shank.

Nigella makes this recipe as part of her Rosh Hashana spread in her book Feast, with part of its significance being that sweet foods are consumed at Rosh Hashana in the hope that the year ahead will also be full of such sweetness. However she also offers it as a general dinner recipe – and really, any day that you can is good to be proactively adding some sweetness and hope to your life. Be it literal, symbolic, or in the case of these shanks, both.

Lamb Shanks with Figs and Honey

Adapted – scaled down that is – from Nigella Lawson’s beautiful book Feast. Her recipe serves 10, if you have that many to feed then it’s more like 10 shanks, 1kg onions, 500g figs, 80mls honey and a whole bottle of wine.

3 lamb shanks
Olive oil
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
Either about a teaspoon of fresh rosemary leaves, or leaves from one decent stalk of thyme
1 can pumpkin puree/1 orange kumara
9 dried figs
1 cinnamon stick (or, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon)
125mls red wine
1 heaped tablespoon (only way it can be done really) of honey
250mls/1 cup water

Finely chop your onions and crush/chop your garlic and – if you don’t live within reach of pumpkin puree – now’s a good time to peel and roughly, but finely, dice your kumara.

Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan and brown the shanks, in batches if you need to. Set aside, covered with tinfoil if you like.

Add the onions, garlic and herbs to the pan, sprinkling over a little salt, and allow to soften without browning.

Now add everything else (except the waiting shanks) to the pan, and gently bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to as low as possible, add the shanks and cook for an hour and a half – at least – partially covered.

– Figs are more expensive than I remember. You could always use dates, which I find stay reasonably priced, or even prunes or dried apricots – whatever works for you.
– As I’ve said, kumara is a decent substitute for canned pumpkin. If no kumara is to hand, butternut pumpkin is good too – it breaks down quickly. And if you’re really having trouble accessing them, Nigella recommends red lentils instead.
– I didn’t have red wine, so – sorry Nigella – just used some white. As I’ve said already, it still tasted amazing.
You may want to make this a day ahead, allow it to cool and then skim off any inevitable fat before reheating. Serve with whatever you like really – rice, mashed potato, more mashed kumara, a salad made of canned cannelini beans or chickpeas or the like, couscous, bulghur wheat – or just bread to scoop up the saucy kumara. Which is what we did.
As they sing and acknowledge in Chess, “these are very dangerous and difficult times“. But sheesh, this week has been quite the cluster of sadness and horror, with famine in the Horn of Africa, killings in Oslo, and Amy Winehouse’s death at age 27. Bad news is bad news, whatever the scale. It’s not a competition, and – as I saw written extremely well on Twitter today – compassion isn’t a finite resource. Something that’s good to keep in mind…as well as being thankful for things while you’ve got ’em to be thankful for.

Title via: Oklahoma, the song, from Oklahoma the musical. Which – while I strictly have to actually like the songs I quote here – I am not a huge fan of. I find the characters annoying (as admittedly many find those in RENT) and the whole dream-ballet segment feels awkward and overlong even within the context of when dream-ballets were more the norm. But the music, the music is amazing. One of my favourite renditions of this title song is by Tony Award winner Sutton Foster (who you may also know as Coco from Flight of the Conchords.) Also while you’re at it, it’s always a good time to watch her be triple-threateningly amazing in Drowsy Chaperone.

Music lately:

We went to the Bookfair yesterday and picked up so many fun second-hand books, but there were also heaps of really great records there. One such jewel was Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, whose songs like El Paso are as comfort food to the ears.
I was never an avid fan of the now-late Amy Winehouse, but definitely appreciated her talent, and certain songs stood out for me – like Tears Dry On Their Own. Just do yourself a favour and maybe avoid reading the youtube comments. It’s never worth it.

Next time: Tomorrow night book group is at my place and I’ve got a few discussion snacks on the make, one or more of which will likely end up here soon.

they served a real nice brisket and an 8 foot party sub

I don’t know why it took so long to blog about this brisket. It’s not like it wasn’t delicious and it’s not like it hasn’t been the right weather for it lately. Maybe because it’s not as good looking as baking, it always gets pushed to the back. Sorry, brisket.

A lesson: Not all second-hand cookbooks from the seventies and eighties are adorably quaint, some are just plain terrible. Like most aspects of pop culture, you get the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ cookbook, which, if you’re into that sort of thing, and I am, is why I continue to hold on to the QEII Cookbook with its Souffle Bowes-Lyon and tales of 24/7 caviar. Some of those cookbooks are genuinely uninspiring and dull though, and there’s a reason you see them at every single opshop. One pearl of a book that I picked up for $2 in Waiuku about three years ago is Supercook’s Supersavers Cookbook. Its title is dubious, its 1980 photography is dubious and even some of its contents are dubious (carrot and oatmeal soup ahoy) but I’ve ended up using it almost as much as any Nigella volume.
A recipe that I’ve made many times from this book is the Greek Pot Roast, which is brisket slowly braised in a cinnamon-spiced, tomato-y liquid and then served over pasta. I’m not sure what makes it wildly Greek, and there’s something about the word ‘braised’ that’s always sounded unsexy to me, but the idea of stew and spaghetti together appeals heaps and you could even call it “ragout” or something if you wanted to serve it to fancy people. Or just be straight up and see who your true friends are (if your true friends are all vegetarian then this probably isn’t the best litmus test.)

Brisket costs hardly anything, but if you have the option of sourcing good quality meat, where you have an idea that the cow whose life was taken for your dinner had been reared in relative comfort, then so much the better. Brisket can sometimes come to you with more fat than actual meat, so choose carefully.

By the way, I’m aware that today’s photos are terrible. Baking is always easier in winter because I can 
wait till the next morning to snap it, but dinner has to be photographed on the spot, which means when it’s pitch-black outside you’re going to get weirdly exposed images like these. Still, at least it matches the book that the recipe came from. I look at some of those 70s and 80s cookbooks with their weird exposure and overdressed sets and wonder how a generation of designers actually stood back and thought “Dammit yes this harshly lit image of a pot roast sitting on a frilly tablecloth with carnations and apples strewn gently about makes me hungry.”

Greek Pot Roast

From Supercook’s Supersavers Cookbook, find it if you can.

1.4kg brisket, rolled and tied if possible (I always just leave it)
3 medium sized onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cloves
1 bay leaf
150mls boiling stock
3 tablespoons tomato paste/passata

Note: I obviously don’t use that much meat for just me and Tim. I reduce the meat to around 400-500g for us both and use just one or two onions, but keep everything else the same. Also I just crumble in half a good stock cube and 150mls hot water rather than heating up a tiny amount of stock in a pan – same diff.

Heat your oven to 150 C/300 F. Heat a little olive oil in a flameproof casserole and brown the meat on all sides. Set it aside while you gently fry the onions, garlic and spices. If you don’t have a flameproof casserole, you could just do this in a frypan and then transfer it to an oven dish. Add the bay leaf, stock and tomato paste. Return the meat to the pan, cover and put it in the oven, leaving for at 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Serve over hot spaghetti with Parmesan cheese.

Or if you don’t have Parmesan, you could use, um, frozen peas like I did. Not quite the same, but still a nice contrast. And cheaper. And adds small bursts of vitamin-rich greenness to the incessant meatiness of the brisket. This is delicious and so easy, hence why it has become a regular fixture. The slow, low cooking process breaks down the potentially tough brisket and turns it into something intensely tender and rich-flavoured, which falls apart at the mere sight of a fork looming menacingly towards it. The tomatoey braising liquid doesn’t really reduce down or thicken up, but spooned carefully over the meat and pasta it’s delicious – deeply flavoured with the cinnamon and bay, all of which absorbs into the tangle of spaghetti below.

I hope all (do I even have any?) Canterbury and South Island readers of this blog are doing okay after the huge earthquake on Friday night, and its follow-up aftershocks. It was a scary time here in Wellington – mind you I’m terrified of earthquakes and always have been – but over pretty quickly and with no damage. Meanwhile, many, many homes and buildings in Christchurch have been completely wrecked. It’s incredibly good that not one person was killed, but there’s still so much damage to deal with – and it doesn’t help my nerves that the news media keep insisting that “the big one” is coming. Which means that every time I blink too hard I get nervous that it’s the overture tremors of said “big one”. Perspective though – I’m feeling very lucky to be sitting in my warm home with running water and electricity and to know that family and friends down in Christchurch are unharmed.
Title via: Errr…30 Rock‘s Werewolf Bar Mitzvah. “Boys becoming men, men becoming wolves!” To be fair, I couldn’t find a youtube clip of Maury Levy telling Herc he’s mishpocheh.

Music lately:

Elaine Stritch, Ladies Who Lunch, from Company. She’s incredible, but sometimes when she looks at the camera it feels like I got lemon juice in my eye. Wish I could have that kind of effect on people when I say “does anyone still wear…a hat.”

Mueve by Lido Pimienta. Read an interview with her in the new Real Groove magazine, looked her up on youtube and I’m entranced. It’s dreamy and sunny and – bonus – all en Espanol! Cross-posted to 100s and 1000s because I like it that much.
Next time: Well the Supercooks book was so fruitful that I’ve made something else from it – the awesomely, awesomely named Grumble Pie. You don’t know how hard it was not to push the poor brisket to the back of the queue AGAIN for this.

blaze a blaze galangalangalang

I’ve been feeling sorta dispirited the last couple of months, a bit “mehhhh”, like time is sliding by so fast and I haven’t been able to get a grip on the days and suddenly it’s August and, I don’t know, maybe this strikes a chord or maybe it makes no sense whatsoever.

I think, hypothesizingingly, this could have something to do with the fact that I have made almost no stews or casseroles or soups this winter. Nigella’s Slow Food chapter in that seminal text How To Eat has been unstained with ingredients, there’s been no brisket becoming meltingly soft as it cooks in stock over time, forcing you to wait for it, or kumara simmering with spices and all those other romantic things that you think about when you are, well, hungry and frozen. I guess I’ve just been busier lately, had more going on…anyway I’m trying. I made Nigella’s Beef with Stout and Prunes for the first time in more than a year over the weekend and it was SO good. Luckily in Wellington it’s winter for about 85% of the year anyway so even though it’s nearly September, there’s still plenty of scope for making up for lost time foodwise.
Me: I’m going to make Penang Beef Shin Curry for dinner tonight.
Tim: Woohoo!

Me: I’ve decided to use tofu instead of beef.
Tim: Woohoo..?
Luckily, Tim does like tofu. Actually, I take back that ‘luckily’. It’s not some great magnanimous concession to like tofu, the sort of thing you discuss later with starry eyes (“he doesn’t complain when I cook tofu and he puts the toilet seat down! What a catch!”) It ain’t luck. Tofu just tastes good. At least, when I cook it. Witness: tofu balls!
This not-beef Penang Curry was a recipe I found in an old Cuisine magazine – July 2004 – and while using tofu makes it significantly faster, it still has that involved, pestle-and-mortar, simmer-till-tender vibe going on. The list of ingredients might look a bit stressful, and I guess I’m lucky I live in Wellington where stuff is a bit nearer to my fingertips, but it’s not so bad -suss out your local markets, check out the local Asian Supermarkets, explore your neighbourhood or even the next ‘hood over…or just improvise with what you have. Shallots can become spring onions, dried chillis can be fresh glossy ones, and the gently fragrant galangal of my blog post title could just be plain ginger…but you might want to call it “Penang-ish” curry instead, I guess I should, too considering how much I’ve changed it up already.
Penang Tofu Curry

Adapted from Cuisine, July 2004

Penang Curry Paste

4 long dried chillies, deseeded and soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
Pinch salt
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons chopped coriander root and stalk
1 tablespoon chopped galangal
1 tablespoon chopped lemongrass stalk
A little grated fresh nutmeg
3 tablespoons natural peanuts, boiled for 25 mins, drained and cooled (I have to admit…I didn’t boil them for 25 minutes. Maybe five. And I didn’t let them sit round and cool either.)

Either blitz everything in a food processor, adding the peanuts last and pulsing to a roughly textured mixture, or go hands-on with a pestle and mortar. I did the latter, not because I’m all superior but because sometimes in my backwards mind, bashing away at herbs with a ceramic thingy is easier on my nerves than washing the food processor after using it. Either way, refrigerate until you need it.

2 square ‘fillets’ of fresh, firm tofu, sliced (or as much as you want, really)
1 can coconut milk
2 tablespoons grated palm sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce (I used soy sauce instead – you could too, to make it vegan)
2 cups loosely packed spinach leaves
4 kaffir lime leaves, torn in half
1 small, hot chilli, cut in half
2 tablespoons Thai basil leaves (didn’t have any of this)
5cm fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin batons (I just used more galangal)
1/4 cup coriander leaves

Bring half the coconut milk to the boil in a heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and add the curry paste, stirring as it cooks. Add the palm sugar, the fish sauce, and the tofu slices. Simmer for a few minutes, then stir in the spinach, lime leaves, galangal, chilli and basil. Serve in bowls with the coriander on top, over hot rice. This served two, but all you’d need is more tofu and more coconut milk to feed four.
Soul-restoring stuff – the gentle coconut flavour harshed up by the roundhouse kicky of the chilli, fragrant with the delicately gingery galangal, the incredibly good-smelling lemongrass and lime leaves and the coriander, all of which is absorbed into the fresh, delicious tofu. If you like what you see, maybe try making triple the curry paste, covering it with some oil and refrigerating it for the next time you need some midwinter zing.
Okay, I’d just like to point out that I initially typed “zingage” instead of just ‘zing’, and it didn’t get a little red spellcheck underline…weird. Sitting here typing, I can tell you that “flavour”, “harshed”, and “chilli” all are spelled wrong according to the red lines underneath them, but “zingage”, as in what I imagine to be “possesses zing” is apparently a legit word? Weirdage!
Title via: M.I.A’s very cool song Galang from her album Arular…gah I love this woman’s music. And also her dancing. Even if you start listening to Galang and feel like this scoop of spluttery, slangy excellence is not your thing, the constant dancing, graphic art, and colourful jackets in her music video are awesome (as is the harmonising towards the end).
Music lately:

I bought Liz Callaway’s Passage of Time online recently and it took soooo long to arrive, finally landing on my desk last week. Have been thrashing it ever since. Youtube is painfully lacking in Liz Callaway tracks but here’s a recording of her singing Make Someone Happy/Something Wonderful from this album – devastatingly good stuff.

Speaking of devastatingly good, Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night from the album of the same name. I heard a song from this album on the radio over the weekend and it reminded me how much I love this collection of songs. My favourite album of his, hands-down.

Still speaking of devastatingly good, check out the late, wonderful Lena Horne’s take on Rocky Racoon with the musical assistance of Gabor Szabo. Over on our blog 100s and 1000s, Tim and I shared our thoughts on some of the good Beatles covers out there, and Mum commented asking if anyone had every covered Rocky Racoon. Well here it is. And I only wish we’d found it sooner. Cheers Mum!
Next time: Apart from wanting to slow down and make more old-timey casseroles, I’ve also had the urge to make some cookies but haven’t had the time or energy. When you don’t have the energy for cookies you know it’s time for some stern self-talk. Find the energy, Laura! Make the time!

it looks like you’ll stay, as the days go by


On the 13th my blog will be two years old. Considering the blinding speed in which the internet turns around, in which networks are signed up to enthusiastically and then never updated, and also the fecklessness of youth (well, I’m only 23 and therefore highly likely to be lacking in feck) it’s a pretty tidy achievement all round. Two seems like such a tiny number to measure the amount of time that this blog has been existing. But I guess it’s likely to be a lot more significant to myself than, say, anyone else on the planet. I also guess that this gives me a free pass to bake something ridiculous and unnecessary in the name of celebrating my blog’s anniversary.

Funnily enough I used a recipe the other night that I last used exactly a year agoRendang Asparagus and Shallot Curry, from Simon Rimmer’s pretty awesome book The Accidental Vegetarian. Incidentally the photos I took last year were much better than the photos you’re going to see today, which shows that no matter where I live, there is always potential for uselessness. Asparagus is one of the few things I’m happy to wait around for. Well, it would be choice if it was available for the eatin’ all year round, but it’s not, and it’s usually worth the wait. If I’m eating asparagus it means that the weather is getting better and Summer’s on the way.

This recipe is so good, even if the original is a little deranged in terms of volume of sugar, coconut and chilli. Simon Rimmer writes an excellent recipe, but we don’t see eye to eye on what ‘mild’ is. Simon Rimmer thinks nothing of flinging eight chillies into a recipe for general consumption. His tastebuds must be made of asbestos-reinforced concrete roofing tiles. This is truly delicious though, and the combination of soft, caramelised buttery onions and juicy green asparagus is pretty fabulous. I’d go a little easy on the amount of brown sugar you use, between that and the coconut milk it can be almost like eating pudding if you’re not careful.

Rendang Shallot and Asparagus Curry

50g butter
75g brown sugar (I used less)
20 banana shallots
400g asparagus
400ml tin coconut milk
3 T toasted dessicated coconut
Coriander to serve

Melt the butter in a pan, add the sugar and when it starts to dissolve throw in the shallots, peeled but left whole. Turn down the heat and cook slowly for at least 20 minutes, (he recommends 45 but they were more than fine with less). Blanch the asparagus and refresh in cold water. I sliced them into two-inch lengths.

Curry Paste:

1 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
3 red chillies, or however much you desire
1 tsp ground coriander
1 T tamarind paste (or substitute lemon juice)
1 t tumeric
1 t curry powder
1 stalk of lemon grass
pinch of salt

Whizz the lot together in a food processor, or chop and mix everything well like I did using my mezzaluna. This results in a chunkier but no less flavoursome paste. Heat a little oil in a pan and gently fry the paste, carefully, and stir in the coconut milk, letting it bubble away and thicken slightly. Add the now magically caramelly shallots and the blanched asparagus, letting it simmer for about ten minutes. Finish by stirring through the toasted coconut and chopped coriander. If you like, add a handful of frozen peas or soybeans to beef it up (as it were). Serve over rice. This should feed four easily.

On Thursday I realised I hadn’t cooked any chicken in a long, long time. In fact that I hadn’t really eaten meat in ages. A trip to Moore Wilson’s quickly changed this, and I had a go at Nigella Lawson’s Slow Roasted Garlic and Lemon Chicken from Forever Summer.

I’d bought a couple of Maryland pieces (ie thigh and drum attached together) because it was cheaper than buying just thighs. I figured I could cleave them in half, capable-modern-lady style with one of the many enormous knives we have in our kitchen. But, could not cut them for the life of me, even using this ridiculously sharp knife and putting all my body weight on it. They remained uncloven. Strains of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner singing I Will Never Leave You from Side Show ran through my head.

Resigned to the fact that we were going to be eating enormous pieces of chicken for dinner, I arranged the ingredients artfully in this fancy schmancy roasting tin I bought from Briscoes that made me feel very Nigella – it’s one of those deep, rectangular dishes with metal handles that she’s always flinging about. It was also about 20cm too wide for our oven. Aaaaargh. By this stage I was tempted to biff the lot out the window. But, I patiently transferred the contents into a smaller dish and left it to roast for the requisite two hours – one of the nicest things about this recipe. You have a large window of time to chill out.

Ever more and always, we’ll be one though we’re two (Seriously, watch the clip. It may well blow your mind.)

This is a really simple recipe but what’s there works wonders. Soft cloves of garlic and chunks of lemon, a slosh of wine and some olive oil all relax into a deliciously juicy sauce, and the slow, slow cooking of the chicken renders it ridiculously tender.

Slow-Roasted Garlic and Lemon Chicken

From Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer.
This is Nigella’s recipe with her proportions – scale it down or up as you like.

1 chicken cut into 10 pieces
1 head garlic, separated into unpeeled cloves
2 unwaxed lemons, cut into chunky eighths
Small handful fresh thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil
150mls white wine

Preheat oven to 160 C.

Put everything into a roasting tin. A roasting tin that you know will fit into your oven. Make sure the chicken is skin side up. Cover with tinfoil fairly tightly, place in the oven and leave for 2 hours. Once this is up, remove the foil, raise the heat to 200C, and cook uncovered for another 30 or so minutes till everything is nicely browned and crisp. Serve straight from the roasting tin. Serves 4-6.

Not having eaten meat for a while, particularly roasted chicken, I had completely forgotten how strong it is, how that oiliness can be really heavy in your stomach. I’d also forgotten how amazing it smells as it roasts and how good the pan juices taste drizzled liberally over rice. So there you go. I can see how people could go vegetarian, but then I could also happily eat a steak on a daily basis.

Speaking of things ornithologian, on Saturday I had the privelege of seeing the Imperial Russian Ballet performing Swan Lake at the Opera House. I went with Tim and my godsister, Hannah, and we had fantastic seats. There were a LOT of children in the audience, which I don’t have a problem with – I’m all for encouraging nippers to go to the theatre – in fact it was the adults in the audience who were more fury-inducing. Some idiot behind me decided to rustle a wrapper or chip packet of some sort right in the middle of the swans’ dancing. For about 45 seconds. I have no idea what was so important in their life right at that moment that they had to rustle this plastic so incessantly. Meanwhile, another person behind me was keeping time to the music by tapping the floor heavily with their foot and slapping their knees. Why? What can tiy possibly add to the experience? The only other negative I have to get out of the way is that the Opera House isn’t the nicest location. It looks like a shadow of its former grandeur. The fact that the sound came from speakers, not an orchestra, dulled the majesty somewhat.

The dancers, however, were absolutely stunning. Swan Lake, Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet are three ballets which don’t so much tug at my heartstrings, as blow them up and make a balloon animal out of them. The music is just so achingly beautiful and it was beautifully captured by the dancers. The girl playing Odette/Odile had a mournful featheriness with a steely reserve that showed exactly why she was chosen as the leader. The prince was leggy and leapy and could express pain and happiness and that’s all you really need. The costumes were gorgeous and the whole thing was just intensely riveting. I know I go on about Broadway a lot but while I was brought up on a fairly equal diet of musicals and ballets, dance was my first love and it’s always a pleasure to see it live.


On Shuffle whilst I type:

Saturday Getaway from Rookie Card by PNC featuring Awa from Nesian Mystik. This guy is probably the best thing to come out of Palmerston North since Tim.

Nobody’s Side from the recording of Chess In Concert by Idina Menzel. I bought this today at Real Groovy and the very sight of it was so unexpected and so exciting that I proceeded to tell the lady behind the counter how awesome it was and how ridiculously excited I was about it. Probably should have played it a little more cool. But seriously though, Chess is a nightmare to follow but the music is ridiculously good and Idina tears this song to shreds.


The roundabout, kind of oblique (eh, it’s 10.30pm on a Sunday night) title for this post is brought to you by: Stephen Sondheim and his song Not A Day Goes By from Merrily We Roll Along. Bernadette Peters sings it and can’t be argued with, but predictably I’d like to offer Idina’s one-off take on it, worth it for the hatey youtube comments alone.


Next time: Well, I probably will end up baking something frivolous in the name of celebrating my blog’s two-year existence.

it’s all grand and it’s all green

So the best place to buy tofu as far as I can ascertain is the vege market on a Sunday. I branched out this week and went for soft tofu instead of firm; the name doesn’t lie. It near on falls to pieces if you look at it sideways. I guess it’s kind of the minced beef to firm tofu’s rump steak.

I ended up with a whole lot of root vegetables that needed eating on Sunday night. Usually my fallback option in this situation is some kind of pseudo-Moroccan would-be tagine-esque thing, which is seriously what I thought I was cooking last night until I realised it had actually shifted direction altogether into a curry. It’s a fine line – all that cumin, tumeric, coriander… suddenly I found myself wondering whether I should add more tomatoes and feta cheese or biff in a can of coconut milk. Coconut milk won out and I suddenly had this rather gorgeous vegan curry on my hands.

I defrosted some unshelled soybeans (I go through bags of them these days) and popped the beans within into the stew for a little colour contrast…to stop it being overwhelmingly like a braised curtain from the 70s (or, in fact, the curtains I remember us having at home while I was growing up – I have distinct memories of some yellow and brown floral motif…Mum?) The soybeans were awesomely elphaba-green against the earthy vegetables, their colour softened by the coconut milk.

While licking the lid of the coconut milk tin, to catch the sneaky extraneous cream that gathers there, it occurred to me that chocolate ice cream made with coconut milk could potentially be mindblowingly nice. Especially with chunks of milk chocolate and toasted coconut shreds, like a posh version of the Choc Bar ice creams of my youth (and occasional nights in town – for some reason I always crave ice cream if I’m out and about of an evening, you can keep your kebabs and pies thank you). If you haven’t had a Choc Bar it’s basically the above but in a $2.50 icecream-on-a-stick form and laced with palm oil (yeah, I went there. And while I was there, through rigorous testing, discovered that Whittaker’s white chocolate is comparitively amazing.)

The recipe for this suddenly-curry is chilled out, the only thing I measured out with any strict attention to detail was the rice. Nevertheless I’ll tell you exactly what I did in case the idea takes your fancy. It made a fantastic relaxed Sunday dinner. Warming and hearty, the creaminess of the coconut milk soaking into the ridiculous amount of vegetables (seven veges – eight if you count the tofu, which you might as well.) You basically can’t get it wrong which is also nice.

Root Vegetable Curry with Tofu and Soybeans

1 Onion
3 garlic cloves
1 swede (is Swede a root vegetable?)* diced
1 carrot, diced
1 parsnip, chopped
1 kumara, diced thickly
1/2 a cauliflower, chopped into small florets
Good handful soybeans

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons tumeric
1 teaspoon ginger
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped (optional if it’s not your thing)
Zest and juice of a lime
1-2 teaspoons of honey

1 tin crushed tomatoes
1 tin coconut milk
As much tofu as you like

Chop onion and garlic finely and gently saute in a wide pan. Once it has softened a little, add the spices, chilli, honey and lime juice. This will caramelise the onions slightly, you want to keep stirring it so the spices don’t char.

Add the vegetables at this point and stir thoroughly to coat them in the spicy onion mixture which by now will be quite dry. Tip in the tin of tomatoes, half fill the tin with water and swish it into the pan. Stir, cover and allow to simmer till the veges are tender (the swedes are the slowest to kick into action I’ve found).

Stir in the podded soybeans, tofu, and as much coconut milk as you like. Allow to simmer for ten minutes or so. Serve over rice (or ree-cheh if you will)

Serves 4

This was delicious. The vegetables (and inevitably, my entire face) all stained yellow by tumeric, the coriander seeds providing bursts of subtle citrus to complement the lime, the strident warmth of the spices cutting through the creamy coconut…the emerald-bright soybeans doing no wrong as per usual…

overheard in our kitchen
Me: Do fish bleed?
Tim: …………………..Yes.
Me: Yeah, but when you cut into them…there’s no arteries…they’re not like, say, sheep, which are basically built like humans in that they’ve got leg bones and muscles and…
Tim: They’re just like sheep. They bleed.
Me: Yeah, but you cut open a fish and there’s the skeleton, but it’s just…surrounded by fish fillets.
Tim: I was thinking more like fish fingers.
Me: Yeah. Tightly woven fish fingers.


Tim and I went to see Wizard of Oz at Embassy cinema yesterday afternoon. It was wonderful seeing it on a big screen, partying like it was 1939. The technicolour made me gasp and the Wicked Witch was still as terrifying as I remember from my youth. But, this is the first time I’ve watched this film since reading the jaw-dropping Wicked and making a connection with the musical of the same name. And it was impossible to remove that context, to view it without that lens. Why does no one show sympathy when the Wicked Witch’s sister has died? Why did the Wizard get away with lying like that? How is Glinda so ‘good’ when, let’s face it, she appears to be on valium? She can hardly connect with Dorothy’s feelings of fear – although let’s also face the fact that the film wouldn’t have been so satisfying if, 23 minutes in, Dorothy was safely assisted back to Kansas.)

I actually cried during Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Judy Garland – so tragic! And it’s a beautiful song). And again when the Witch dies – it’s an emotionally fraught moment! I couldn’t help but imagine Glinda somewhere behind a curtain or pillar watching it happen a la the musical. Or the Witch being frantic by lack of sleep and an inability to communicate effectively a la the book. And I might have cried again when Dorothy said goodbye to the Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion. (Who, in retrospect, are deeply camp, yes? Also: Fiyeeeeeeeroooooo!) I really never cry in films or books or things like that so I’m always a bit interested to note when I do. And…I really want to see Wicked now. I know, it’s so done by all the cool people already but as I’ve said many times, it’s not as easy when you’re in New Zealand.

On Shuffle whilst I type:

Die, Vampire, Die by Susan Blackwell and the rest of the cast of [title of show] from the cast recording of [title of show]. Had a slight epiphany Monday morning while unable to sleep (I woke up at 5:00am! And remained awake! It’s not fair!) that I could so do the role of Susan Blackwell. It’s like it was made for me (except it was made for the real Susan Blackwell. Confused? Maybe you should be. But if you’ve made it to this segment of the blog unsullied by confusion then you’re doing pretty well, all things considered. Also, Wikipedia it, my children.)

Rez, by Underworld. It’s on this compilation from the nineties that I found. I wish I’d had this compilation back in the actual 90s because it would have made life a lot easier. Instead I lay awake at night with my ear pressed to the radio and its hopelessly crackly signal, waiting for Flagpole Sitta – back in the days before the internet when I didn’t even know what the song was called, but the lyrics “the agony and the irony they’re killing me” seemed so meaningful to a 13 year old – or something by Radiohead to come on. Anyway Rez by Underworld is incredible – like what I imagine the fairies from Shirley Barber’s beautiful picture books would dance to if they went to a rave on a lily pad. See?

Galang by MIA from Arular. Have been a fan of hers since I saw the video for Bucky Done Gun in a hotel room in Germany in the summer of 2005. Didn’t realise music was capable of sounding like that.

Is it bad that I have this urge to make some kind of dish (probably ice cream, my default flavour-carrier) heavily featuring galangal so that I can use galangalangalang as my blog post title?

The title for this post is bought to you by: One Short Day from the musical Wicked, where Glinda and Elphaba travel to the emerald city for the first, fateful time…pausing only for a kicky song-and-dance number.

Next time: Considering this post bears little resemblance to what I promised would be happening I’m not sure if it matters what I write here. Truth be told I’m a bit terrible at snappily rounding things off so this is like an ‘out’ for me. Like on Whose Line Is It Anyway when Colin Mochrie would pretend to faint so that he didn’t have to come up with a verse in an impromptu hoedown. Does anyone remember the vastly superior British version of that show? Whatever happened to it?

twist and stout


Cheers everyone for your enthusiastic well-wishing for Tim’s and my big move, I’ve built it up so much that soon it will surely have its own snappy title, corresponding font, and swelling theme music.

I feel as though every time Old Frau Winter hobbles into town on her icy boots, I complain that it’s the coldest one we’ve had yet. Even though I suspect it’s human nature to largely block out any past discomfort and focus on what’s happening to the body right now, hot damn if it isn’t the coldest June in living memory. It’s a particular quality of temperature – that bone chilling, dry, Nordic chill, which, combined with the damp, windy climes of Wellington, makes for quite the experience.

With this in mind, we’ve been doing a lot of that bolstering, sustaining style of eating lately. While I love sponteneity in the kitchen I hate cooking in an entirely reactive way every night (as in, “cripes I’m hungry and it’s 7.30pm! Why did I spend all that time looking at Tony Award performances on youtube instead of making dinner? Now I have to cobble together something incoherent from what’s in the cupboard!”) One of the nice things about this season is sitting down with recipe books, post-it notes and a notepad, planning out slow-cooked winter meals and writing a shopping list accordingly. One such planned meal was the following casserole, taken from Nigella Lawson’s seminal text How To Eat. (I think I refer to it as that every time. It’s like one word in my head: seminaltexthowtoeat.)

Beef With Stout and Prunes
I realise that the words ‘stout’ and ‘prune’ aren’t overly come-hither. Nigella says this is a version of Beef Carbonnade which is possibly a better option if someone fussy asks what’s for dinner tonight.

I’ll be honest, my copy of How To Eat is buried under a lot of other cookbooks in a neat pile behind another hefty pile of cookbooks and it does not behoove me to disturb the order of things and dig it out. Plus I’m feeling lazy. You hardly need a recipe for this though, so allow me to guide you through the process gently but firmly. Dust sliced beef in mustard-spiked flour (I used beef shin from Moore Wilson’s, basically you want a cut that requires long cooking) and sear in a hot pan. Transfer into a casserole dish with some carrots, sliced into batons, finely sliced onions, and prunes that have been hitherto soaked in some dark stout. I used Cascade, an Australian stout from Tasmania, because it’s what they had at the local shop and wasn’t heinously expensive. I also added some whole cloves of garlic. Cover this and place in a slow oven, and cook for as long as you like but no less than two hours. I served over plain basmati rice. It can be a little brown and plain to look at, so by all means sprinkly liberally with chopped parsely which will please both aesthetically and…tastebuddily.
Et viola, a rich, hearty, deeply flavoured casserole for you and your loved ones. And if ‘your loved ones’ means just you and your stomach, then so much the better. Freeze in portion-sized containers and microwave it back to life when you need a fast dinner. This recipe actually comes from the low-fat section of How To Eat, as long as you don’t fry the floured beef in six inches of melted butter, enticing as that now sounds, it really is a trim meal all up, with the only fat coming from the meat.
The Cascade stout came in a six-pack and while Tim was happy to quaff the unused five bottles, he impressed upon me how a chocolate Guinness cake would be an economical, ideal, nay, the only logical use for the remaining stout. So I made one. I always forget how utterly stupendous Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness Cake is. It’s so ridiculously transcendent that it makes me type excessively in italics like some overexcited damsel in an LM Montgomery novel.

The Cascade Stout was not as abruptly bitter as the stipulated Guinness but more than held its own as a worthy understudy for the part. The above photo was taken on the bedside table, as Tim has had some blood sugar antics happening in the middle of the night lately and so that’s just where the cake was sat. Because he has had nocturnal low blood sugar with soothing regularity, a lot of the cake has been eaten by him while I’m in a half-asleep state and so I only managed to secure about two slices to myself after all that. It really was as delicious as it should be though: large, dark, densely chocolately and like Angela Lansbury, even better with age.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

From Feast, by Nigella Lawson. (It has a chocolate cake chapter, so, you know it’s good)
250mls Guinness
250g butter
75g cocoa
400g sugar
145mls sour cream (one of those little yoghurt-tub sized, er, tubs, or roughly a 1/2 cup)
2 eggs
1 T real vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Set your oven to 180 C and butter/line a 23cm springform tin. First of all you want to get a big pan, pour in the Guinness and add the butter – cut into small pieces – and gently heat it so the butter melts. It shouldn’t bubble, keep the heat low. Now, simply whisk in the rest of the ingredients and pour into your tin. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on your oven. The kitchen will smell heavenly, I promise you.

Once cool, ice with a mixture of 200g cream cheese (NOT low-fat), 125mls whipped cream, and 150g icing sugar folded together. I refrained from icing it this time round as I just couldn’t be bothered spending exorbitant amounts on dairy products, but the combination of sharp icing and dark, damp chocolate cake is incredible, the icing really makes it sing.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the other key player in this cake: (apart from the stout and Tim’s persuasiveness) the cocoa. And not just any cocoa – proper Dutch cocoa from Equagold. The very first time I’ve ever used it. Don’t act all shocked, I’ve only just started working full time and in the food world there’s so much to keep up with – do you spend your money on the vanilla beans, or the premium brand happy pig bacon, or the Himalayan pink salt and if you let one ball drop is it tantamount to subterfuge meaning that you are forever shunned by food bloggers worldwide? I know I add fuel to the fire myself by going on about vanilla beans vs vanilla essense. With that in mind I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful whanau who will often give me such treats for Christmas and birthday presents. I’m not sure quite where I’m going with this rant but before I carry on shaking my fist for no good reason any more I’ll get back to my original point: proper Dutch cocoa has until now eluded me because it is really expensive. But as Led Zeppelin say, now’s the time, the time is now, and so I decided to buy myself a jar last week from the delightful La Bella Italia cafe/restaurant/deli on The Terrace. The woman behind the counter was impeccably helpful and friendly without being the slightest bit pushy and I emerged a very satisfied customer.

And when I opened the jar for the cake…My word. The first thing I noticed about it was the incredible cocoa scent, the second thing was how rich and dark the colour is. The deep-toned flavour of this cocoa stood comerade-like against the strident flavour of the stout and made for a surprisingly complex chocolate cake, to the point where I felt I should be eating it like one would drink a really expensive and fancy glass of wine – slowly and with reverence. What more can I say – this cake is begging to be made! Oh the feuds that could be ended with a slice of it (unless the parties who have beef with each other happen to be gluten-intolerant).

In smashing news, I interrupt this waffling to say:

My dad Mark, (el presidente of the Otaua Village Preservation Society – OVPS ) received a phone call from the OVPS’s lawyer today to say that WPC have withdrawn their appeal to the Environment Court. This means that they are no longer considering relocating their business to the Otaua Tavern site.

To reiterate: this is an “unofficial” withdrawal by WPC. There are still the lawyer’s bills to pay so the fund-raising continues. And the Otaua Tavern site is still vacant and who knows that a group even more shadily heinous and heinously shady may want to move in?

But for now: an enormous, enormous THANK YOU from the bottom, sides, inside and outside of my heart for everyone who helped by watching the video at my behest, for your supportive comments here and on youtube – it really did make a difference, and at last not just to our morale. I shudder to think of what might have had to have gone down if had the sorry WPC had their way and moved in (does that sentence even make sense? I’m a little excited, sorry for the nightmarish syntax). I have been so touched that people all round the world, people who enjoy making elaborate cakes and beautiful roasts and who have nothing to do with the woes of a tiny, clout-less village in New Zealand, have been so actively supportive. Though I am often conflicted in what I believe in (well, I’m only 23, I’ll ‘find myself’ in good time yet) I am pretty well certain on something: good deeds reap more good deeds and positive thought can have positive impact. One doesn’t want to get too mawkish and Miss World-like in one’s thank-you speeches so I’ll endeth it here, but it is an absolute relief and a triumph to be reporting this news to you all. Kia ora.

Am pretty sleepy after a weekend spent attending Smokefree Rockquest events here and in Lower Hutt, which may go some way towards explaining why my writing is so scatty but it could just be that this is how I write and you’re all dooooomed to deal with it forevermore. The students performing in Smokefree Rockquest here and in the Hutt basically melted my brain with their seriously fierce talent. I look forward to seeing some of them blaze a musical trail in the near future. Oh and I got to present an award last night. I’d like to think my many years on stage as a dancer/etc stood me in good stead, but as I was announced there was a perceptible milisecond of awkward silence that I feared would stretch into a yawning wave of quiet indifference from the audience. Luckily Tim and my godsister were there as my plus-ones to cheer and get the momentum going…


On shuffle while writing this:

Overture, from Jesus Christ Superstar, 1994 New Zealand Cast recording (just try and find it in shops. Your loss.)
Watermelon Blues from The Legend Of Tommy Johnson, Act 1: Genesis 1900’s-1990’s by Chris Thomas King

Das Hokey Kokey (Original Version Vocoder Mix) from Das Hokey Kokey by Bill Bailey


Next time: Tim and I have one episode left on our DVD of season 1 of The Wire and if it turns out as traumatic as I think it will I may need to go to ground for a bit. Believe the hype. It’s incredible. But don’t let your kids watch it, there’s violence and cussing and whatnot by the spade-load. (And by ‘whatnot’ I mean low-level nudity.) But otherwise, have I got some stuff for you. I made the bread and butter pudding to end all bread and butter puddings. Stale, defrosted hot cross buns, Marsala wine, no recipe…could have been a tear-inducing disaster of Anne Shirley proportions but sweet fancy Moses it turned out delicious.