you think it’s easy, when you don’t know better

*Kanye voice* what she order, fish filet?

So it has come to this: ya girl has been a combination of too busy, overcommitted, otherwise engaged, and pretty much any synonym for busy that you can think of, to even think of cooking. I haven’t blogged for over a week, which, considering my insistence on overachieving, means that I may as well just delete the whole blog and throw my laptop in a river because I have clearly failed and everything is pointless. However, instead of that mildly hyperbolic behaviour, I’ve decided to just accept the past week as a write-off, and write on the few things I did make myself this week, even though those things are: fish finger butties and marmite-and-chip sandwiches.

I’m not trying to pretend like I invented either of these concepts, or that you need a recipe for them, or that they’re high art as far as food goes, but – both were really, really delicious and made me happy, and even if they’re embarrassingly easy and simple, to be honest that’s good enough for me to blog about. Especially since I have zero other options, but still. Also stupid as it may seem for me to be telling you how to put prepackaged stuff in bread; I feel like if nothing else this blog post can serve as a reminder that these concepts exist. I mean, it had been forever since I’d had a marmite-and-chip sandwich and having revived that combination for myself I am now wanting them at least daily.

I think in some countries fish fingers are called fish sticks, either way they honestly sound terrible

The inspiration for the fish finger butties (ps, buttie is another word for sandwich, and you could just call it that but the word buttie just sounds more celebratory) came when my amazing girlfriend and I needed some sustenance after striding around the zoo in the bracing cold and beholding cute animals. It went like this: we were in the supermarket, she pointed at fish fingers and was all, “we could make sandwiches out of these maybe” and I squawked “you genius!” in total wonderment, because I have a very low bar for being impressed and in awe, to be honest. (I was then like “better get this pack of forty fish fingers just to be on the safe side.”)

Whether you prefer to use mayo or butter – and I actually prefer mayo here – the bread has to be the softest, whitest, and thickest you can find. The fewer minerals and vitamins and general health-giving content the better. Similarly, if you can find those fish fingers that are crumbed and have maybe 4% actual fish content in the ingredients, you’re on to a winner.

With the marmite-and-chip sandwiches, the chips in question are the crisps that come in a packet, not fries (I don’t know why we have such confusing language around potato products, it’s very troubling!) and obviously you can use whatever sodium-delivery-spread you like – Vegemite, Promite, English Marmite. I grew up on Marmite and adore it, whereas Vegemite to me tastes like salty dirt and misery. Many of you probably feel the reverse. Whatever, as long as the chips are crinkle cut and the plain salted flavour, you’re all good. I ate marmite sandwiches roughly a billion times when I was a kid, but a marmite and chip sandwich – and I have no idea who first came up with the idea – was such an exciting upgrade. And there’s nothing like casually eating the food that was thrilling to you as a kid, when you’re an adult who can do what they want when they want.

marmite and chips on white bread: you can clearly see how I got my book deal and I should definitely get another

So, the reason either of these sandwiches are worth your time is the magical, transcendently good textural contrast between soft, soft white bread and crunchy filling. It’s as simple as that. Bursts of crispness, salty savouriness, and comfortingly pillowy blandness.

fish finger butty

four fish fingers (three for the sandwich, one for snacking on) 
mayonaise 
two slices of the thickest, softest white bread you can find

Bake or fry the fish fingers till crisp and golden. My cunning trick is to put them in the sandwich press, but do whatever is most convenient for you.

Generously spread mayo on both pieces of bread, lay the fish fingers across one slice and top with the other slice, eat the remaining fish finger so you don’t fade away between now and eating your sandwich, and then eat your sandwich. 


marmite and chip sandwich

a packet of ready salted chips, ideally crinkle cut
plenty of soft butter
marmite
two slices of white bread, as soft and thick as you can find

Spread both pieces of bread thickly with butter and then thinly with marmite. Pile up potato chips evenly on top of one slice, then gently top with the other slice. Eat. 

 

                       *Peter in Jesus Christ Superstar voice* I think you’ve made your point now
It’s kind of hard to photograph these sandwiches in a way that makes them look majorly alluring, I feel like sticking one next to a vase of flowers was not my best work, I guess I’m also pointing this out so that you know that I know. Like I said, I haven’t cooked a thing this week and so this is what I’m working with. But honestly, I’m so convinced of the excellence of both these combinations that I’m not even bashful about having blogged about them now, because if you didn’t know about them, you’ve been missing out on a world of deliciousness. I’m not saying I’m a hero, I’m just saying…nope that actually is what I’m saying.

 

befriending everyone’s dogs and cats is time-consuming okay

So just what have I been doing with myself if not devoting myself to blogging? Working; partying; helping a friend choreograph a tap dance routine for a drag competition; going on cute outings with people from work; loitering with birthday pals; seeing a friend’s band perform; recovering from watching Pretty Little Liars; taking up lots of time being amazed at how time has gone so fast and it’s July already; dancing wildly; working; berating myself for having achieved nothing this month; that sort of thing. Ya girl is determined to get cooking again though, what with it being my favourite pastime and incredibly dear to my heart and all.

title from: The White Stripes, Hardest Button To Button. I love these guys so much, that is all.

music lately: 

Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion. TUNE. Pop music that is really upbeat but sounds kinda sad is my kryptonite.

Chelsea Jade, Lowbrow. This honey just keeps making songs that are amazing. It’s amazing.

Nicki Minaj, Anaconda. Every time I listen to this or watch the video it just gets more and more spectacular and excellent, tbh.

next time: literal recipes, I promise

you know that i’d do anything for you, we should have each other to dinner

miso marinated salmon and pea puree

Let me tell you right now, the photos I took for this week’s blog post are objectively horrendous! It looks like something out of a microwave gourmet book from 1982! But like, you could go literally anywhere on the internet and find beautiful food photography, where else are you going to get the innovation of fizzingly good writing paired with completely disgusting photos that do a total disservice to both the quality of the writing and that about which I write? Honestly I nearly considered not posting about this recipe but if I learned anything from doing ballet since the age of three it’s that the show must go on. There’s only one word for my actions here, and that is: so brave. 
proof that I at least tried to take these photos and didn’t just cut them out of a 70s cookbook that had been not particularly recently dropped in a puddle (also: the perils of me cooking for you – having to wait for me to photograph everything.)
So, because of the hours I keep at my recently-acquired job, I never ever get to cook dinner anymore. I love my job! But also I love cooking dinner. So much. When I first started flatting nine years ago I used to kick up such a fuss if I missed out on one night of cooking dinner, because apparently I was an enormous brat, but at least in a way that reaped useful dividends. Now I’m lucky if I get to cook dinner once a fortnight. I know it’s more or less a chore and as such a weird thing to complain about, but as Selena Gomez said, the heart wants what it wants. On Sunday night I was able to combine my love of cooking dinner with another favourite activity, cooking dinner for other people: in this case, my excellent and marvelous girlfriend. Since I was spiralling this disproportionately into such a high-stakes occasion, I turned to my desert-island book, the seminal text How To Eat by Nigella Lawson. 
I latched onto a recipe for homemade beef carpaccio but when I went to buy the required piece of tail-end beef the price made me scream repeatedly, so I went with a second option, which was an entirely more affordable miso marinated salmon with pea puree (combining bits of two separate recipes from different chapters of How To Eat, based upon what I had already in the fridge.) 
the alpha and the omega-3  

I love salmon fillets, all tender and pinky-coral and oily, but the oiliness can be disconcertingly, lung-cloggingly present. Fortunately this marinade not only cuts through that, but it also adds layers upon layers of vehemently meaty yet subtly sweet flavour, in the form of miso paste, that magical and mysterious stuff, and coconut sugar, which has its own elusive, deep-toned caramel vibe. Lemon juice and vinegar lighten it up and briskly stop it from being altogether too much of an intense onslaught, and all you have to do is flash it under a hot grill for the skin to turn crisp and chewy – like pork crackling but thin and delicate as rice paper – and the flesh below to become utterly tender.

seriously this lighting is so bad, I need to remember how to take photos under regular lightbulbs again since it’s dark 90% of the time these days, thank you for continuing to read this far

I have a tendency when I get the opportunity to cook for people I hold dear to be all pending-apocalypse about it, like, let’s eat a vat of pasta big enough for a moose to comfortably nestle in and then we’ll have seven different puddings and also here are several side dishes all involving fried potatoes and toasted nuts. This time around I wanted something that wouldn’t bring on that frantic feeling of having consumed twelve kilos of food, so went for a weightless pea puree alongside, made luscious with butter and mascarpone. It’s billowingly soft and creamy and works quite perfectly with the salmon, honestly I could eat a whole bowlful of it on its own (and in fact I did the next day with the leftovers.) 
when even instagram can barely embiggen your lighting situation you know you’re in trouble
miso-marinated salmon with pea puree

adapted from a couple of recipes from Nigella Lawson’s important book How To Eat

two salmon fillets, around 150g each

one heaped tablespoon white miso paste
one heaped tablespoon coconut sugar (if you can’t find it, use brown sugar or better yet, palm sugar)
one tablespoon apple cider vinegar
the juice of a lemon

two cups frozen peas
150g mascarpone (or use creme fraiche or even sour cream or a little actual cream)
50g butter
salt and pepper to taste

Mix the miso paste, sugar, vinegar and lemon juice together and smear across both sides of the salmon. What I did was roughly mix the stuff together in the dish I was planning to marinate the salmon in and then kind of schmeered it on the salmon from there before just leaving it in said dish to sit and absorb the flavour, this saves on dishes but is admittedly kind of hard to explain. Leave this to sit for at least half an hour.

Set your oven to grill (broil, I do believe it’s called in America?) and turn the heat up high. Meanwhile, bring the peas to the boil in a pan of water, and cook until they’re very, very tender. Remove the salmon from the marinate and wipe gently with a paper towel. Place the salmon onto a baking paper lined oven tray, skin side up. Drizzle over a little oil (I used olive) and put them in the oven, grilling them for around 5 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain the peas and blitz them in a food processor with the butter (the heat should melt the butter sufficiently) before adding the mascarpone and blending again till it’s a smooth green puree. 

Serve the salmon alongside the puree with whatever salad leaves you fancy. Serves two.  

if I wasn’t supposed to make this obnoxious caption then why does pea puree rhyme with bae?  

It was so, so delicious. And incredibly simple. A combination I appreciate. And now that I’ve overanalysed it a few times, these photos aren’t thaaaat bad. They are in fact, unequivocally hideous. Location-based discomfort aside, I feel like maybe I should take all food photos in the bathroom from now on, since the light in there is so good for selfies.

I mean really.

guess which one of us is genteel and which one of us is a plate-licking heathen (for the sake of not slandering anyone I’m the heathen, it’s me, but in my defence spatulas are not considered to be cutlery so what’s a gal to do?)

Cheers for bearing with me during this difficult time, people, clearly I need to cook dinner more often so I can remember how actually to take photos of dinner. But I got to cook dinner at all and it was ridiculously delicious and made for a dreamy evening, and despite everything, that is actually what counts. 
Yesterday on another rare night off I went to my friend Pinky Fang’s first solo art gallery opening with said excellent gf, and met lots of other swell friends there and ate the most amazing candy and drank wine from plastic cups and it was all very very fun. But more important than wine and candy (it’s true) is that Pinky’s artwork collection is incredible! I’m so proud of her! If you’re in Wellington you should absolutely definitely go to Thistle Hall this week while her show is running and if you’re not in Wellington you can at least access some of her massively rad works from her online shop (I have the “shut up” cat print on my wall and can highly recommend having its presence in your life.) Yay art and friends and good times! 
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title from: Lovecats by The Cute. Uh, I mean The Cure. But if you’re gonna write a song this wilfully adorable you’re gonna have me to deal with. 
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 music lately:

Zendaya, Replay. This song is so great with such a head-swingingly big chorus and I love a dance-in-front-of-the-mirror music video to be quite frank. 

Scritti Politti, The Sweetest Girl. This 1981 song is unsettling but sweet, dreamy but sinister, I adore it. 
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next time: I mean I very rarely cook dinner these days so the chances of me having to deal with unruly nighttime light anytime soon are slim but I’ll work on it either way, promise. 

pour some sugar on me

Depending on what angle I look at it from, I have either had a terrible or a lovely week. Yes, I did faint at the gym, acquire a bellicose case of bad brains (you know, feeling down), get carsick, have very broken sleep every night, bite my nails too much, and have my laptop break down at lavish expense one week after our car did the same. And we’re still not allowed a pet cat, which hurts my heart so (this isn’t news, but I still feel injuriously inclined to bring it up occasionally.) But I also went to a restaurant opening and mingled with nice people and had cool cocktails, drank lots of coffee with Tim, had a swell Saturday night drinking beers with friends, read two novels (Scoop by Evelyn Waugh and Orlando by Virginia Woolf and yes I would like to talk about them), went to book group, saw a tragic French film with a friend and went out for yakitori afterwards with her husband and Tim, saw two further tragic foreign films with Tim, and made this sugar-cured salmon very successfully for Sunday’s dinner. I was resigned to the salmon perhaps inevitably failing, at least, it wouldn’t have surprised me after the week I’d had. But it worked, just how it should! I did, however, screw up the risotto that I’d hoped would accompany it. Like the universe was saying “you’re still you”. But then I decided that the risotto would’ve been too rich anyway, and the bulghur wheat that I hastily cooked up instead was a much better accompaniment, and we had the risotto for lunch the next day, like I was saying to the universe “how you like me NOW (please don’t drop an anvil on my head)”

So yes, the sugar-cured salmon: it worked. And it can work for you, too! It sounds really fancy but there’s really nothing to it, which is something I rather like in a recipe. I found this recipe in Kinfolk magazine, which is this beautiful publication full of beautiful people living beautiful, instagrammable lives. The juxtaposition of intimidating-sounding title and very straightforward method rather appealed, and also I just don’t cook fish as much as I ought, considering how it’s so fast and can handle so many different flavours and makes your hair shiny.

I was a little concerned that the sugar would seep too far into the fibre of the salmon and I would end up with dinner that thinks it’s pudding, and tastes like neither. Luckily it simply tasted…wondrous. You sit it in some salt and sugar (and I added a pinch of mustard powder, which I couldn’t taste in the slightest by the end so you do what you like) for a couple of hours, shunt it under a hot grill for single digit minutes, and then suddenly you have tender, satin-rich salmon, which has the barest hint of sweetness to it and a kind of rounded mellow juiciness, and that’s all. A little more sugar got caught in the butter that I added before I grilled the salmon, but bizarrely it tasted kind of amazing once it had caramelised and didn’t overpower it with sweetness at all.

sugar-cured grilled salmon

adapted from a recipe from Kinfolk magazine by Tara O’Brady and Nikole Herriott. Thanks for the inspiration, Tara and Nikole! Salmon is so rich and oily that I can’t eat too much of it, so this amount was perfect for two of us. But adjust quantities to suit.

250g salmon fillet, skin on. Boned or not, it’s up to you. We went for bone in, as it was about ten dollars cheaper per kilo, and only came close to choking us about seven times. 
A handful of sugar
two big pinches of sea salt (you only need the plainest sugar for this, so try to get hold of some fancy sea salt if you can, but if you can’t, just use a reasonable shake of salt for each side.)
1 teaspoon mustard powder (as I said, you can’t really taste it at the end. So leave it out if you like.)
Butter

Place half the sugar and salt in a bowl that will fit the piece of salmon, and lay said salmon skin down on it. Sprinkle over the rest, evenly. And the mustard powder, if you’re using it. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours.

Turn your oven to grill and let it heat up well. Take the salmon and carefully, briefly rinse it under a cold tap, patting dry with a paper towel. Place it skin side down in a roasting dish, dot with a little butter (maybe 25g?) and grill for about four minutes. Carefully flip it over, and grill for another two or three minutes. Serve, with or without ruined risotto as you please.


The salmon goes from brightly luminous orange to pastel pink as it cures then cooks. Like eating a sunset, you sybaritic creature you.

 Lemon wedges and salmon: friendly.

My life is instagrammable too? Also note the taco pickles, proving their worth as an ideal side for salmon. Also, the salmon’s skin goes crunchy and crispy under the grill and tastes excellent. Steal it all for yourself, if you can. 

I’m not focussing too much on the laptop situation, which is possibly my brain going into a protective exoskeleton mode. Because if I really thought long and hard about every photo that’s on its hard drive and all the information scattered recklessly on the desktop that I stand to lose, and have to pay a lot of money to find out either way, I might cry. During the day, for hours. What I am focussing on is the other thing in my life right now: my cookbook is out on shelves on the 23rd of this month. It’s literally happening this month. It’s a real thing. Oh my. It’s so exciting, in a physical, heart-racingly, spine-pricklingly thrilling kind of way. It’s also very overwhelming. There’s so much to do! So much to organise! So many things to try and make appear out of nowhere! So much to just…take in. Most of it very cool. And so you know, because it is pretty interesting – I hope – I will be talking a bit more about the book over the next couple of weeks and how you can find it and perhaps how it can find you (I’m talking competitions, yo) and what you can expect from it and probably just lots more run-on sentences like this, really.

Whatever happens with this book, I truly love it. I was scared I wouldn’t, but I do, and I’m very sure you will too.
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title via: Pour Some Sugar On Me, by Def Leppard. The lyrics are bananas, the tune is so deliciously catchy. And um, Tom Cruise’s rendition in Rock of Ages is so super hot (um, sorry Hannah for mentioning him again.)
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Music lately:

Gil Scott-Heron, Lady Day and John Coltrane. So beautiful.

Sleigh Bells, Crown on the Ground. I saw The Bling Ring tonight and it reminded me how much I like this song and its big bratty beat.
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Next time: Whether or not the photos of it are recovered on the laptop (shudder) I will blog about lemon cake with white chocolate buttercream!

only a prawn in their game

You know that saying “do something each day that scares you?” Yeah, well as a naturally scared-of-everything person, I can’t relate to that idea at all – I’m all about the reduction of nervousness. However I very recently did something where the payoff was worth a bit of risk a squillion times over. Some people might see that saying and think “go skydiving” or “finally get that tattoo” or “ask boss for a raise” or something. I…bought some frozen prawns for the first time. And cooked them for dinner. All of a sudden I couldn’t think why I’d never done it before, since Nigella has so many recipes for them and all. I’d eaten them before, not often, yet in my mind they had an aura of great expense and difficulty about them. It couldn’t be more the opposite. $16 for a kilo of frozen raw prawns (I understand the frozen cooked ones are pretty nasty), considering 100g is one serving and there’s only two of us, and considering what a kilo of various other meats would cost, it’s pretty reasonable. Although nothing is as reasonable is the enormous $4 block of tofu that I get from the vege market…
The first recipe I made was Nigella’s Japanese Prawns, and it was watching her make these on her latest TV show Kitchen which finally got me to make the simple connection between ‘Nigella makes lots of easy recipes with prawns’ and ‘I could make lots of easy recipes with prawns’. Nigella confides to the viewer that it’s a recipe that she probably cooks the most of, and I thought “O RLY,” a bold claim when she has so much excellence to choose from, but after tasting them I am inclined to agree.
Japanese Prawns

From Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sake
pinch sea salt
1 tablespoon lime juice (I didn’t have any – used cider vinegar)
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
2 teaspoons garlic oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced
200g frozen raw prawns
Salad leaves, rice or noodles and coriander to serve

Whisk together the water, sake, salt, lime juice and wasabi.

Heat the garlic oil in a large pan till sizzling, then stir in the spring onions and tip in the frozen prawns. Cook, stirring frequently for a couple of minutes till they’re properly pink. Tip in the sake mixture, allowing it to bubble up, and cook the prawns in it for another couple of minutes. Tip out onto a bed of salad leaves and sprinkle with coriander. Serve with rice, noodles, or just as is.
The smell of sake hitting a hot pan has got to be one of the best things in the world, savoury, fragrant, almost like the smell of bread baking. Combined with the sharp, mustardy wasabi and served with the gentle ocean-taste of the prawns, it’s a faint-makingly good dinner. Nigella also mentioned how she liked the clattering of frozen prawns tumbling into the pan, I had my doubts but it is oddly satisfying.
Having successfully cooked them once, I was in love, and I wanted to cook ALL the prawns. They’re just so easy. They’re done mere minutes, but there’s something about them that looks as though you made a huge effort, as if you’d hewn each curly pink crustacean by hand out of…a bigger crustacean.
Equal rapture ensued when I made Nigella’s Lemony Prawn Salad from Forever Summer. Another extremely simple recipe combining quickly fried prawns with a flavour-heavy coat of dressing. In the background of the above picture you can just see Tim, patiently waiting while I take photos of his dinner…
Lemony Prawn Salad

From Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson

1 lemon
2 cloves garlic
1 spring onion
2 tablespoons plain oil (I use Riceola Rice Bran oil)
5 tablespoons olive oil
375g raw prawns
cos lettuce and chives, to serve

Cut the top and bottom off the lemon, then slice off the peel and pith till you’re left with just a nude lemon. Chop it into four and place in the food processor with one of the cloves of garlic and the spring onion and blitz to mush. Scrape down the sides and then stick the lid back on and process, pouring in the plain oil and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil down the funnel as it goes. Tear your lettuce into pieces, toss it with most of the dressing and divide between two plates. Gently heat the remaining garlic clove with the remaining oil in a large pan. Remove the garlic clove and once the oil’s hot, add the prawns to the pan, and cook through. Transfer them to the two plates and snip over the chives, and spoon over any remaining dressing.

Notes:
  • I didn’t have that lettuce but I did have a packet of rocket.
  • For two people that seems like a huge amount of oil, I reduced it by about two tablespoons.
  • I used just 200g prawns and it was all good.
  • I didn’t bother with the garlic infusion thing…
  • I had an old-timey lemon with soft skin and enormous amounts of snowy pith and seeds. The more modern lemons with thin skin and hardly any pips work better for this logistically.
  • I had some brutal, burning cloves of garlic so I added a tiny pinch of caster sugar to the dressing to counteract this – worked nice.
  • You want the pan to be really pretty hot, because the frozen-ness of the prawns cools it down a bit and you want them to sear, not limply stew.
The dressing is magical – the lemon chunks and oil turn into a creamy, sour, rich yellow emulsion, which slides over the prawns and leaves onto the spaghetti below, basically making everything incredibly delicious.
The juicy, crisp-tipped asparagus was excellent with it too – it was just a seriously amazing meal. There are still many, many more prawn recipes I want to try now, and like Jasmine and Aladdin it’s a whole new world. Thank you, Nigella – thank you, prawns.

Tim and I (well, just Tim, but I was in the room when it happened) worked out a calendar of all the things we’ve got coming up over December and January – it’s dizzyingly busy times ahead. I think it would be completely logical to make December six weeks long so that you can fit in everything you need to but still get to sleep every now and then.
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Title via: Bob Dylan, Only A Pawn In Their Game. Ah, Bob Dylan. He’s quite good. Although Tim insisted on getting this horrendous later album of his from a bargain bin, it was fairly unlistenable. It was Dire Straits-esque. I guess Dylan only had so much “Blowing in the Wind” inside of him. I like this song though, and how it speeds up and slows down whenever he says the title line.
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Music lately:

Pharoahe Monch, Push from his album Desire he’s in New Zealand right now but we didn’t have the time or the funds for it this time round – in lieu of that, he’s always available on youtube…

Kristin Chenoweth, Taylor The Latte Boy from As I AmI generally can’t deal with stuff this intentionally cute but her stunning voice and quick-wittedness makes this strangely compelling.
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Next time: I made the awesomest dumplings from this blog here…I also have some honey-related stuff to talk about…

what if the octopus, the flounder and the cod think we’re rather odd

I’ve said it before here, that despite living in a country both surrounded and infiltrated by water, Tim and I just don’t eat a lot of fish. It’s not like it is that hard to come by, we just…don’t. (Yeah, cool story, bro.)

But – hold on to your hats – sometimes we just do.
Last Sunday night I made ceviche, a dish where raw fish is cured – and ultimately cooked without heat – through the mystical magic of citrus juice. Nigella Lawson has this recipe in Nigella Express where you chop the fish up small so that it only takes about ten minutes for the juice to ‘cook’ it – like a photograph developing before your eyes. Nigella suggests serving it on rounds of toasted bread or with tortilla chips but not having either, I piled the cooked-but-raw fish on top of lettuce, with crisp celery, juicy tomato slices, and soft chunks of avocado.
We loved it. But if fish that doesn’t look like fish-fingers makes you nervous, well, this might not change your mind. But don’t feel bad – I love fish fingers, I’m sure we had them at least once or twice a week for dinner when I was growing up. They have their place.
Chopped Ceviche


250g skinless and boneless black cod or monkfish fillet (or any fish that suits being eaten raw – I used red cod, it was the cheapest.)
1/2 a teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt or a small pinch table salt
80mls lime juice (I basically went with the juice of three limes, I don’t see this measurement as sacred)
3 spring onions, finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and chopped (I used red)
Bunch of coriander, chopped

Chop the fish finely into tiny dice. Place it in a shallow wide dish (I used a silicon caketin) and sprinkle with the oregano and salt and pour over the lime juice. Leave for eight minutes, shaking the dish occasionally or moving the fish around gently with a spatula to make sure it’s all mixed in. The fish should go from pinkish and pearly to a definite opaque white. It must be fun to watch with something like salmon.

Drain the fish, and mix in the spring onions, chilli and coriander. Then you’re done!


So, you could serve these as Nigella suggests, on top of grilled bread or with tortilla chips. Or you could have it in a wrap, or make a superfresh salad like I did – for raw fish, it is surprisingly practical stuff.


As you can probably tell by the solitary sprig on top of the salad, our coriander plant is more ‘gasping’ than ‘flourishing’.
The fish is soft-textured and intensely flavoured by the lime. The zinging lime and creamy avocado cool down the hot chilli and the lettuce, I don’t know, makes it better for you and gives a bit of crunch. Is anyone out there passionate about lettuce? I could eat a bowlful of avocados but lettuce I’m neither here nor there on. It’s filler material, it tastes fine but there’s things I’d rather eat, like cheese on toast.
Anyway, this ceviche was so good that we made it again for dinner this week. It’s so fast and while the fish is busily morphing (or evolving, for you rogue Pokemon fans out there) you can busy yourself getting the accompaniments ready. It’s fresh and light, and while it would be perfect in the middle of summer, the heat of the chilli and the eye-opening flavours are just right in winter if you’re getting a little over stews and mash potato (hey, it happens.)
Hopefully this all makes sense, because I’m feeling a little weary. On Saturday we stayed up till 5am dancing, not something we do that often, but it was a fun night – it was our temporary flatmate’s birthday (our actual flatmate is on holiday in Canada) and as well as nestling into some haunts we already knew, we discovered some more, met some awesome people, and between Tim and myself, even found 80 cents on the ground (is that sad? If so: whatever.) We’re lucky in Wellington – if the agenda of the night is buying expensive yet tiny drinks, then at least there are plenty of exceptionally good-looking settings to do it in.
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Title via: Um, Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Actually, forget that “um.” This film is flawless. Angela Lansbury is one of the most bodacious babes on earth, and don’t think I’m trying to be ironic when I say that. She’s an awesome lady. You thought you liked the zero-gravity fight scene in Inception? Wait till you see Angela and David Tomlinson’s underwater dance in Beautiful Briny Sea. Now those are effects that are special.
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Music lately:
Tim and I have started re-watching The Wire from Season 1. Everyone talks about The Wire and how great it is and I have already plenty of times so I won’t add to that here. It has been described as “slow-moving” and “worth the effort” but in rewatching, it feels fast-paced, the roles and connections between each character are easier to remember, and hints of things that transpire later in the season are easier to pick up on. Which is probably not so comforting if you’re 25 minutes in thinking “wait, who’s the good guys here? Is this going to wrap up soon?” The theme tune is Tom Waits’ Way Down In The Hole, sung in the first season by The Blind Boys of Alabama. They know a thing or two about how to deliver a tune well – this is typically brilliant stuff from them. I like how the intro keeps you waiting a little longer than you’re used to.
Audra McDonald’s take on Gershwin’s Someone To Watch Over Me. (In a nice segue, McDonald totally resembles Wendy Grantham, who shines as Shardeen in Season 1 of The Wire) As well as being a fantastic actress, any song is lucky to be sung by her beautiful, beautiful soprano voice.
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Next time: I’ve been baking hardout this weekend so there’s plenty to choose from for next time. I realise there’s been some space between blog posts lately – will try to counteract that by following this one up a bit more snappily!

tuna or later

I really don’t eat a lot of kaimoana, which is a bit stupid since I live in a long thin country surrounded by healthy salt water. The fish are plentiful. With the weight of a thousand magazine articles about how Omega-3 will solve all your problems and also a feeling that I was some kind of useless lover-of-food if I wasn’t cooking fish occasionally, I went to the counter at Moore Wilson’s and confidently pointed at a slab of ruby-red tuna.

I was inspired by a recipe that I read on Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness for soba noodles with salad, the particular eye-catcher being the peanut sauce that went with it. The further I read into the list of ingredients the hungrier I became and I felt like the salty, chilli flavours in the sauce, plus its richness, could stand up well against the heavy, oily tuna. After flicking through a couple of my Nigella Lawson cookbooks I decided to coat the tuna in a rubbly mix of roughly crushed peppercorns before searing them in a hot, hot pan, figuring that the sharp heat of the pepper would provide a further contrast to the fish beneath it.

Seared Pepper Crusted Tuna with Soba Noodles and Peanut Sauce

Thanks to Lori for the peanut sauce recipe and inspiration!

Serves 2

200 – 300g fillet of tuna
2 tablespoons mixed peppercorns
Salad leaves and soba noodles for 2 people

Roughly crush the peppercorns in a pestle and mortar. Do this carefully, as the little suckers will ping out all over the place. Sprinkle half of them over one side of the tuna, pressing them in gently. Meanwhile, heat a nonstick pan till it’s good and hot. Slide the tuna, pepper side down, onto the hot pan and let it cook for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle the rest of the pepper on the other side of the tuna. Once you’re satisfied with how cooked it is, carefully flip the tuna over using a couple of spatulas or a fishslice or something, and sear on the other side. Remove to a plate and cover in tinfoil. Cook the soba noodles in plenty of boiling water – this shouldn’t take long.

Sauce

1/2 teaspoon red chilli paste
4 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons rice bran oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
1 tsp ginger, finely chopped

Whisk all the ingredients together. This makes quite a lot – I halved it. I also had no Hoisin sauce so I left it out, and added a little garlic instead.

Assembly:

Arrange a bunch of mixed salad leaves on two plates, and top with the soba noodles. Thinly slice the tuna – about 5mm-1cm thick. Arrange the slices on top of the soba noodles, spoon over the peanut sauce, and top with sesame seeds or coriander if you like.

Feeling as though Nigella, across the other side of the world, would instinctively shudder without knowing why if I overcooked the tuna, I made sure to keep it fairly rare. With its red interior and seared crust it may resemble a steak, and certainly has the meatiness, but its texture is a lot softer and it is definitely richer than any of its four-legged counterparts. As I’d hoped, the tuna, the hot pepper, and the nutty sauce all worked together seriously well. The leafy, noodly base gave further, completely welcome textural contrast without competing too much flavourwise.

The sauce was a total revelation – thick, rich, amazingly nutty and spicy and delicious. I imagine it would be amazing poured over any number of other things – beef skewers, tofu, plain noodles, rice, or as a dipping sauce for sliced vegetables, spring rolls, rice paper rolls – seriously, it was wonderful stuff. Thank you Lori! Will I be cooking more fish? I guess I’ll try. The tuna ended up being pretty expensive but it was delicious – light years apart from the stringy, grey chunks of fish that you get in cans which are actually really expensive themselves. What’s with that? Nigella has so many recipes that I want to try, which is a good push in the direction of the fish counter. As long as I don’t have to look at the crayfish in their tank. Call me a hypocrite, I mean I eat meat, but the sight of those knock-kneed, sad-eyed crowded creatures makes me want to fall on the floor and sob. It’s true.

Speaking of, on Wednesday night Tim and I had the massively good fortune to see the Dead Weather live at the Powerstation in Auckland, afterwards I was wanting to fall to the floor and sob at Jack White’s BRILLIANCE. Please don’t expect this to be a definitive review – I feel like the more I talk about this gig the less I really say. What a line up – Queens of the Stone Age’s Dean Fertita, Jack Lawrence of the Raconteurs and Alison Mosshart from the Kills comprise the rest of the band and were, you know, really good. But as the song goes, I only have eyes for yooooooujackwhite. Friends, he was sublime. The Dead Weather’s music – heavy, sludgy, intense and metaphorical – sounded wonderful in the venue, particularly I Cut Like A Buffalo. Tim and I managed to negotiate a patch pretty near the front of the stage, but the crowd wasn’t the most fun to be in, especially these girls on our right who may or may not have been on P, judging by the way they were dancing so aggressively in such a tiny space. Narrowed eyes and a “huh?” expression don’t go very far in the dark. They continued all night, inciting more and more hatred in me as their heads swung round. The girl on the left continuously tried to push in front of me – we were so tightly packed that I have no idea where she thought she might end up. Apologies for getting caught up in the negatives but it was irritating to be in the presence of such an exciting band and for everyone to be so focussed on themselves. Am I secretly a naive yet curmudgeonly old man? Anyway!

 

Stripped of his eyebrow-waggling White Stripes persona, Jack White was as enigmatic as ever and completely amazing as a musician – switching from drums, to guitar and vocals and back to drums again. As I said the crowd was very full-on and afterwards my neck was actually twitching – I think I got carpal spine just from trying to stay upright in the seething mass of overexcited teens. Once it was all over, Tim and I, with no shame whatsoever, waited as close to the stage door as possible (flipping miles away, in case you’re wondering, but the security were nice guys and let us stay) and waved at Jack White as he was driven away in a large white van. He grinned, knocked on the window and waved back. It was a stupidly exciting moment considering what it amounted to really. I know I go on about lots of different things but Tim and I really, really love the White Stripes and all Jack White’s inspired tangents so to get the chance to see him performing again was incredibly special. Hence the dorky photo above outside the Powerstation.

I didn’t waste time while up in Auckland, going to lots of work meetings with plenty of lovely people. Maybe it’s a throwback to my rural upbringing but Auckland always seems a bit exciting no matter how many times I go there. I do love Wellington though and it is great to be back, despite the mountain of work that piled up in my absence. This weekend I am catching up with my best friend from school, we hardly ever see each other so I can’t wait. May even break out the girdlebuster pie which is still sitting quietly in the freezer…

Title brought to you by: Bob Dylan’s song One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later), and yes, sometimes on reflection it feels a little lazy to squeeze awful puns out of his back catalogue but the carpal spine I contracted while trying not to die in the audience for the Dead Weather has prevented me from doing anything cleverer. I didn’t mean to treat you so bad…


Music these days:

Billy Porter, King Of The World, from At the Corner of Broadway and Soul. Unfortunately no youtube video exists of him executing this song but you can listen to it at that link (it’s worth it – the ending is amazing!) I have recently reconnected with the astounding voice this man possesses. Watch him sing Beauty School Drop Out. Seriously. I think he discovered a new octave.

David Dallas, Big Time, the gorgeously mellow single from his album Something Awesome. Along with a whole bunch of other New Zealand artists, Dallas is at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and hopefully his sound resonates with that audience because – for what it’s worth coming from me – it feels like he could go so far. Not just saying this because I had a crush on him back when the remix for Scribe’s Not Many came out years ago.

Electric Blues from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Hair. I know, would I stop talking about it already? I just keep getting more and more obsessed with this music. Every time I think I’m cool, I’m cool, I’ll see one tweet by Gavin Creel and then I want so bad to go to London to see the Broadway Cast transfer over there.
Next time: I’m not just going to invite my best friend round for dinner so that I can finally eat this girdlebuster pie, but if it does happen, y’all will be the first to know about it. Promise!

"I Had A Brain That Felt Like Pancake Batter…"

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I couldn’t think of a title for this post. Nothing seemed to work in my head. So, when in doubt, why not quote Jack White? He certainly describes how I currently feel, as you will find out later…Unfortunately I haven’t actually cooked any pancakes. Goodness knows what I’ll use for a title when I do…
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This is my 100th post! How about that! Between this, and my six-month blog anniversary, and my birthday all occuring recently, I hope you don’t think I’m one of those girls who bursts into passive-aggressive tears if my significant other doesn’t buy me a diamond pendant to mark the three weeks that have passed since our first date.
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Above: Picadillo, which ended up focussed backwardly. Depth of field, I do not haz it.

There’s something about those cheerfully forced “midweek meals” that womens’ magazines regularly publish that seem so, well, cheerfully forced. In my line of work I am exposed to a lot of womens’ mags and though I keep a keen eye out, it has been a long time since I’ve been inspired by any of the recipes. They never quite get it sounding right, what with their Thai Pumpkin and Couscous Bake and Sausage Chow Mein with 2-Minute Noodles. I mean, everyone needs those midweek meals, including me, it’s just the ones I see seem to be so…colourless. Although I cook dinner at every possible opportunity (sometimes even at lunch) this week has felt particularly practical and magazine-y. Monday: Picadillo, a Cuban mince dish (done in the slow cooker!). Tuesday: Salmon burgers, even the kids will like them! Wednesday – Spaghetti Puttanesca… which Jill Dupleix coyly describes as pasta for “working girls.” I like to think of it (rather gleefully I’ll admit, but how often do you get a name like this) in its more literal sense – Whores’ Pasta. Suddenly things aren’t looking so dull after all…In fact happily everything has tasted great so far.

On Monday night, spurred on by a recipe on the Tea and Wheaten Bread blog, which in turn was using a recipe from Culinary Travels of A Kitchen Goddess, I chose to make Picadillo. It looked easy to make, very cheap, and a bit out of the ordinary. Even though it has risen so alarmingly in price that it’s not much of a cliched student ingredient anymore, mince would still be what Tim and I eat most of from the meat family. And it is difficult to find new twists on it. So when I saw that this had olives, raisins, and lots of spices in it, not to mention that I could bung it in the Crock Pot and forget about it, I had to try it…unfortunately I forgot to put the raisins in. I always forget one crucial thing it seems, even when the recipe is right in front of me. But it still tasted great. To be honest I didn’t initially think there was much point in doing something like mince in a slow cooker – it’s not like it’s going to get any more tender – but it definitely seemed to enhance the deep, mellow flavour. I’ll be making this again for sure this Winter, and hopefully will remember the raisins next time (well, I’d substitute sultanas. I know they’re practically the same thing, but I can’t stand raisins. Maybe I subconsiously left them out on purpose.)

On Tuesday night I decided that I (rather desperately) needed some brainfood, so attempted to make salmon burgers. Because I was in overachiever mode, I made the buns as well, using a laughably easy recipe from Nigella’s Feast, that I have made so many times I know it off by heart. Well at least I hope I do. It is rather late at night that I’m typing this…


Above: the background necessarily blurred because I have carny hands, “neither beautiful nor practical.” Hopefully it looks a bit upmarket on top of that.

Nigella’s Buns (*titter*)

  • 500g high-grade/bread flour
  • 1 sachet yeast (the sachets come in little cardboard boxes, I can’t deal with any other sort)
  • 375mls milk
  • 25g butter
  • 2t sugar

Place the flour, yeast and sugar in a large bowl. If you use a large enough bowl, you don’t even need to get your bench dirty as you can just knead the dough inside it. Well, it works for me…Warm the milk and butter in a small saucepan till the butter has melted and the milk is tepid. You don’t want it too cool, but neither should it be anywhere in the neighbourhood of ‘hot.’ Tip this into the flour, and using one hand (I find it handy – ha! – to just use one) knead this mixture till smooth, cohesive, and elastic. For some reason this mixture comes together remarkably fast. Once it’s looking good, tip the mound of dough onto a plate, and grease the bowl it was in. Put the dough back in the bowl, turning so that all sides get a little shiny, then cover tightly with gladwrap and leave in a warmish place for an hour or so.

In an hour’s time, punch the now spookily-puffy dough (satisfying!) and then shape into buns. Nigella recommends quite small ones, (these are dinner-roll type thingummies) but because I was using them for burgers I made mine bigger, and therefore got less out of the mix. Now, leave them to sit on a tray, covered with a teatowel, for about 20 minutes. You might as well turn your oven to 200 C and sit the tray on top so as the residual warmth helps them to rise even more. Finally, brush with a beaten egg or melted butter (guess which I plumped for, as it were) and bake for 15-20 minutes. Actual timing is a bit vague, it’s dependant on size of bun and type of oven, but reckon on something like that. These babies smell incredible, and though they don’t have the staying power of shop-bought stuff, can be recussitated the next day in the microwave.


Above: You’re supposed to tap them on the underside to see if they sound hollow, therefore cooked- but fresh-baked bread is one of the hottest things known to man. Use oven mitts, please…don’t go down the same sorry path I did (on the upside, should I choose to commit a heinous crime, the police can’t fingerprint me!)

Above: Breakage.
While all this was happening, I set about making my Krabby Patties, using a tin of salmon, some bran (hey, why not? You can’t even taste it but it’s doing you good) an egg, two grated, parboiled potatoes, and a few spoonfuls of Za’atar. I think the lack of flour was what made them a pain to cook – you had to be insanely delicate with the spatula or they’d break. I had two casualties, and four proper ones. Not too bad. You could quite easily have one patty per bun, but I am a greedy, greedy person so Tim and I had two each.


Above: Ooh they were good. The combination of tender, still-warm buns and slightly crunchy salmon was awesome. Worth the effort, I assure you.
Finally, my pasta a la doxy. This came from Jill Dupleix’ Lighten Up and was a very easy (ha!) meal. You barely have to think while making it. Unfortunately I didn’t have any anchovies to hand, (couldn’t justify spending $4 on a tiny tin of them, yes, I know they’re good) so I just pretended that I was vegetarian for the moment and meant for it to happen that way. I also used pitted black olives, which I know are basically the devil’s snack as far as food purists go, but again, they were much, much, much cheaper than the lovely real thing, and I figured that by roughly squashing them they might look more like something Jamie Oliver would approve of.


Above: Unfortunately this was the best shot I could get, the lens kept steaming up and none of my twirly-fork tricks were working and anyhow pasta seems to get cold and claggy very fast, so I just snapped and served it. Tasted much nicer than the photo looks though. I love how the olives and capers provide an addictive saltiness that is so much more complex than just salt itself.
I am not good at many things – mathmatics, tidiness, committing to a healthy eating and excercise plan – but I am very, very good at Tetris. To paraphrase Stacey from The Baby Sitters Club, it’s true, I’m not being conceited! One of my many addictions is online tetris – if you feel like immersing yourself into this heady underworld, go to freetetris.org– and nearly everyone in the flat is quite into it. Basically it is fairly cruisy until level 9, where it gets a lot quicker, and by level 10 it is quicker again. Everyone was amazed when I got to Level 19 while they were floundering round 8. Now most of the flatmates can make it to about 14, but then on Monday night I managed to get to…Level 31. We didn’t even know it existed. It was insane. And then guess what happened on Tuesday night. I said to Tim, “If I get a score of quarter of a million will you watch Rent with me?” He said only if I got half a million.
Above: The only way this could have been more triumphant was if I’d managed to get a score of 525,600. Don’t worry, I won’t force the poor lad to watch the movie again…but there is that production opening in Palmerston North soon…
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I apologise if this post has been a little lacking in my usual lustre, but with all these essays and photos bearing down on my head like the sword of Damocles I’m feeling pretty weary. (*googles sword of Damocles* – okay it’s not really a pertinent simile.) I got some not-very-good results back today on a test I did in Photography about aperture and stuff – apparently the test was “too easy” and anyone who got under 75% was very disappointing. I got 65% and felt those disapproval rays loud and clear! Seriously though, there are so many numbers involved in digital photography, and that sort of thing makes my head swim. However I have had some fun taking photos for my current assignment. If I get a decent mark I’ll upload a couple for your viewing pleasure, if I don’t, I’ll just go to sleep until next semester. By the way, to those of you who have noticed out loud my improved photography skillz – mostly due to Picassa and my nifty wee tripod – thank you, it means a lot that you comment on it 🙂
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And finally, because I like to talk about the weather even though no-one cares about it, by gum it is rainy here in Wellington. I’m talking get yer ark pronto.