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! 
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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.
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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.
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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!

holy moly, me oh my, you’re the apple of my eye

There is nothing like the frantic job-hunt to make you consider yourself – not as in the significantly annoying, yet impossible to remove from one’s brain once it’s there song from the musical Oliver! – I mean to consider your personality, and your approach to things, and your skills. Just your general self-ness.
Yes. I, Laura Vincent, am prowling like a jungle panther in search of that elusive, distant gazelle: gainful employment. After three months of being married to the cookbook and a further month traveling in America, there are no more savings and no more distractions. I have learned that even with two significant smarty-pantses proofreading my CV I can still somehow then go and insert the words “data entry” twice into my list of skills. That’s about all I’ve learned so far since I haven’t got a job yet, but I am remaining positive. Six years since I last looked for a job, I’ve been finding it interesting reconciling the difference between talking about my achievements in a non-threateningly corporate manner while at the same time blogging in my usual lavishly verbose way here. Both the CV and this blog are totally honest, but I’m not going to talk here about a recipe being a series of key deliverables, just as I’m not going to mention having a panic attack or eating pastry dough on my CV. My CV says that I work well in a team, while in real life I’m a total non-compromising grump about certain things. Is my inability to compromise on what I feel strongly about a sign of immaturity and a bad attitude, or does it make me a strong person who knows themselves? (Probably both, right?) But see? All this talking myself up is making me self-scrutinise all over the place. Nevertheless, I’m hoping there’s some kind of job out there for me – occasionally belligerent and anxious and over-analysey as I am, if any potential bosses are reading, I’m pretty much definitely employment material, honest.
Now, if inventing new recipes constantly was an employable skill – which I suppose it technically is, what with my writing a cookbook and all – I’m sure I could work my way up to CEO quite fast. Ruling with the enthusiasm and abundant excellence of Leslie Knope, the powerful vintage dresses and street smarts of Joan Holloway, and the cool songs and intimidation abilities of Ursula from the Little Mermaid. Till that day, I’ll just share the most recent recipes I came up with here for you all. Minus the intimidation and so on, although incidentally I am wearing a vintage dress today. (It’s purple!)
Have you ever had Turkish apple tea powder before? It’ll set you back about $7 for a tin, but I can’t apologise because it’s so utterly, spoonful-by-the-spoonful delicious that you’ll be glad to have it around for aimless snacking purposes. It occurred to me, as these things often do, that it might be quite fantastic rubbed into pork which is then slowly, slowly cooked.

Well, speaking of honesty, I’m giving you this recipe with the caveat that I’m not entirely sure it was successful for me, but I’m very confident it could be successful for you. That is, it tasted incredibly good, but I don’t think I quite cooked it long and slow enough. I’m not the Grand High Chancellor of Meat Knowledge (or am I…okay, I’m really not) and every recipe of my own is an experiment that might or might not work. If you just cook this a little slower and longer than what I did, it will undoubtedly be perfection.

Every other time that I’ve made pulled pork with belly-cut shoulder or pork belly, it has quickly become ludicrously, dissolvingly tender. This time with regular shoulder it resisted my fork’s proddings, and its fibres didn’t separate into meaty strands at the tugging of my tongs. I may have panicked a little, I may have contemplated whether or not human tears are an effective meat tenderising condiment, I may have played good cop bad cop with the pork in the oven (mostly bad cop.) At the very last minute it appeared to have gained some tenderness, but wasn’t quite at the falling-to-pieces level I was used to. So I shredded it to bits anyway – surprisingly therapeutic, recklessly hacking at a large piece of meat with little care for aesthetics – and as the ever-pragmatic Tim ever-pragmatically pointed out, two kilos of pork is still two kilos of pork. The point is, it still tasted really, really good. So it’s highly likely this will work for you.

Though the pork unavoidably requires a lot of your time, the accompanying slaw is as swift as swift can be. Its provenance is simply that I had silverbeet and parsley and horseradish in the fridge and not much else. I would’ve wanted a more interesting nut to go with, like almonds or pine nuts, but sunflower seeds are what I had. And with a little toasting they can hold their own. If you have almonds or pine nuts or whatever though, for goodness sakes use them instead. Sorry sunflower seeds, no offense intended.

Apple Tea Pulled Pork

A recipe by myself.

2 kg belly cut pork shoulder, or pork belly, or or or, pork shoulder
2 heaped tablespoons Turkish apple tea powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspooon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Set your oven to 130 C, and place the pork in an ovenproof dish into which it fits rather snugly. Mix together the apple tea and the spices, taste it if you like, as it’s compellingly weird, then tip it evenly over the pork, turning the meat over to make sure it’s evenly covered. Press the tea powder and spices into any slices in the meat and really rub it into the surface, spooning over any that falls off. 

Bake slowly for as long as you like really, but for at least five or six hours. Turn it over once or twice and spoon over any roasting juices. A couple of hours in, pour the vinegar over the meat, then return to the oven. 

Tear to shreds with a pair of tongs, one in each hand (or however you choose, this is what works for me) discarding any bones and off-puttingly large pieces of fat (I have no idea whether or not you want to eat it, it’s up to you of course) and mix it in its roasting dish with any saucy liquid that has formed during the cooking process. Serve.

Silverbeet, Parsley and Horseradish Slaw

A recipe also by myself.

1 bunch of silverbeet
1 handful curly parsley
1 tablespoon horseradish sauce from a jar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
A pinch of salt
3 tablespoons sunflower seeds (or anything cooler. Almonds would’ve been cooler.)

Wash and drain the silverbeet if you like, then finely slice it into shreds, in the same way that you might with a cabbage if you were making coleslaw. Roughly chop the parsley. Mix the two together in a large bowl, or indeed, the bowl you’re going to serve it in. In a small bowl or cup or whatever, mix together the horseradish, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt, then stir this through the leaves till they’re evenly coated. Finally, toast the sunflower seeds in a pan till fragrant and lightly browned, and stir them through the slaw. 

Pork and apple are an OTP from way back, but this gives a new slant to these classic bedfellows. The apple tea powder soaks into every last filament of the pork, giving the already sweetness-friendly meat a kind of juicy, fresh sugariness. The paprika’s throat-catching smokiness and the cumin’s deep, earthy savouriness counteract any bubblegum tendencies and give it that I’ve-just-been-barbecued vibe even though it was just in my tiny oven for a few hours.

Silverbeet and curly parsley are both a little bulky and bitter and unsexy, but once finely sliced the silverbeet tendrils become light and aerated and the old-timey, boldly verdant flavours of both greens work surprisingly well together. It’s the dressing that makes this memorable though, with the fresh sting of horseradish mellowed by the olive oil and the sweetness of balsamic, giving the potentially dull greenery a much-needed sprucing. The sunflower seeds aren’t actually strictly necessary, but I like my salads crunchy, so what can you do?

I guess this shows my problem solving abilities (even if, like Kristy Thomas from the Baby-sitters Club, it’s perhaps not so much about problem solving, but about seeing no problem, creating a problem, and then fixing it.) Yes, I hate to compromise and do things I don’t want to do, but I’m also willing to put in a whole ton of effort. Um, for the want of pulled pork, but nevertheless: effort. And for all you know, I put data entry twice on my list of skills on purpose because I just really love it…okay I don’t, but what human does? Experience has taught me though, that as long as I’ve got some headphone-funneled source of music, I can more or less shut off my brain and enter data for hours on end. So: still feeling positive about my job prospects, for now at least.

It’s worth noting that the pulled pork is also quite magnificent cold the next day, as I found out while drinking gin with my dear friend Kim as we sat side by side and contentedly, silently blogged. We had nothing to eat it with, but both of us decided simultaneously that heaped into a bowl and eaten with a fork would be fine: it totally was. The caramelised sugars and spices lends the pork a certain beguiling smoky stickiness once cold – it’s worth buying more pork than you feasibly think you can cope with for this reason alone.
 

Title via: Home, by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. When I first heard this I dismissed it as designed to manipulate your emotions immediately with its breezy twee-ity. And then I was like, shut up Laura, so is most pop music! And so now I just love it. 
 

Music lately: 

Atlantis, Azealia Banks. This woman is just flinging out singles like she’s the one holding the bag of candy at a lolly scramble. I love the video for this, it reminds me of when my family first had a computer, and the amazingly terrible, but of course amazing-then graphics, but as well as that the song itself is brilliant too.

Another Hundred People, Melanie C. Spice Girls plus Broadway, that Broadway being specifically Sondheim’s Company which I’m quite obsessed with? Oh, my heart. Melanie’s creamy, elastic voice is showcased rather excellently here in this challenging song, too, and I like to think in this case she’s singing about London rather than the intended New York. I like to think about these things, okay?
 
Next time: Still intent on making something from the Momofuku cookbook that I bought in NYC…

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.

Rub:

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.
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Title via: Company, one of my favourite musicals ever, and its mid-point showstopper Side By Side By Side. 
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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.
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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…

and what’s more baby, I can cook

Christmas christmas christmas christmas christmas christmas christmas!
Christmas christmas christm- I’m just kidding. But it is upon us once more. Which means it’s time for our 6th Annual Christmas Dinner and follow-up blog post! Back in 2006 there were five of us, I wasn’t on Twitter and I didn’t have my blog. What did I even do with my time? Six years later, there were at least fifteen people, the party went for 10 hours and there were intermittent twitter updates from nearly all involved, because that’s just how life is these days. In every sense: I never thought those years ago that we’d have a veritable family of so many good people. I’m not the best out there at making and keeping friends – to the point where getting referred to by someone as part of “my ladies” nearly brought me to tears the other day. 
But anyway, let the bumper Christmas Dinner edition blog post commence! The day goes like this: I cook a huge feast, everyone turns up and eats it. This is my idea of fun, so don’t imagine me crying in the kitchen while everyone else is whooping it up. Alas, not everyone that we love could be there on Saturday but on the whole it was pretty astounding that we got so many people in the room this close to Christmas. Or anytime. 

Involtini. I make this every year. It’s Nigella Lawson’s recipe, which for me has evolved and simplified into slices of eggplant, grilled four at a time in the sandwich press, with a spoonful of herbed, almond-studded quinoa rolled messily in each, covered in tomato sauce and baked. You’re welcome to feta it up or use bulghur wheat but I had some well-meaning half packets of quinoa that needed using up, resulting in this being not only entirely vegan but also gluten free. Hey-oh!

Keeping it Nigella I simmered vast quantities of pickled pork, or gammon as it’s known in the UK, in liquids till they turned into ham – in the foreground is the one I cooked in Old Mout Cranberry Cider, and in the hindquarter is one I cooked in Budget Cola. Both wonderful. Cola has a smoky cinnamon kinda flavour while cider has that distinctive musky fermented-fruit thing going on, both of which are excellent when absorbed into the fibres of sweet, salty pink ham. Pickled pork can be a bit of a misson to find but it’s worth it – I got mine from Preston’s butchers (near Yan’s on Torrens Terrace in Wellington city) and the people there were so friendly and it was so reasonably priced and I totally recommend them.

Didn’t have the mental capacity for gravy, so instead I made up a batch of the wondrous balm that is Bacon Jam, and then – as you might be able to make out here – sprinkled over some edible glitter. Christmas christmas christmas! Honestly, this is one of my favourite discoveries of 2011 – nay, my life. It’s jam, but instead of raspberries or whatever, there is bacon. It’s perfect, it tastes as dazzlingly sticky and sweet and salty as it sounds, and it gives the feast an insouciant Ron Swansonish air.

This Hazelnut, Cranberry and Mushroom Stuffing was a new recipe from Fine Cooking magazine – entirely vegan, with the ingredients being both Christmassy but also ideally suited to each other. I simplified it to suit my needs and budget. For a recreation of my appropriation (across the nation!) roughly cube a large loaf of sourdough or similarly intense bread, drizzle with oil and toast in a hot oven. Meanwhile, fry up a diced onion and a whole bunch o’ mushrooms – the fancier the better, but I used regular button types – the real important thing here is quantity, as they reduce down. Mix together the whole lot, add a large handful of toasted hazelnuts and dried cranberries. Pour over 1 cup of stock (I used miso soup – it’s what I had) and bake for about 40 minutes at 190 C/350 F. The rich, sweet hazelnuts and savoury aggro of the mushrooms plus the occasional burst of cranberry against the croutonesque bread is some kind of taste revelation, I assure you.  

I make this cornbread stuffing every year. Cornbread’s one of my favourite foods as is, but mixing it in with eggs, butter, and cranberries then baking it again is perfection achieved. There was a bit of trouble in making it this time though, and I’m going to write it in tiny, tiny letters so you don’t all go green around the gills and start crying instead of my intention of making you salivate like hungry Alsatians. (Three rotten eggs in a row. THREE. They had weeks before the “use by” date and I even did the thing where you check it in a glass of water. The utter depressingness of that dull, formless thud with which the contents of the shell hit the bowl combined with the smell which hits you straight in the back of the throat takes you to a dark place when people are turning up in an hour, but with some reassurance, some rescue remedy and some hastily opened windows we got through it.) Also, spot the peas – I heedlessly bought 2kg of them going cheap at Moore Wilson a while back and so their presence on this table, in order to cut down on my freezer’s crowded infrastructure, was non-negotiable.

Butter in cubes on a small plate with a proper knife: because I am turning into my mother more and more every day. I love that my friends who stayed for ages and required a late-night snack asked where this butter was so they could spread it on the leftover cold potatoes. 

“FLIRTINIS ALL ROUND”. Because of a few lines in The Mighty Boosh, and because increasingly it seems everything I consume has to have a pop culture reference attached to it, I made this drink. Increasingly come-hither was that Nigella Lawson herself recently put a recipe for it online, giving me even more assurance that it was meant to be. Flirtinis are fairly hardcore but divided amongst many guests and with lots of food as blotting paper it’s all good. In a large jug, mix one cup (250ml) vodka and one cup fizzy white wine (eg, Lindauer) and top up with pineapple juice – about a litre, depending on the size of your vessel of course. Stir with a wooden spoon like you’re Betty Draper and serve in plastic cups so you don’t have to do so many dishes. 

Oh, this pie. Coffee Toffee Salted Cashew Pie, to use its full title. Another revelation from Fine Cooking, which I adapted quite easily to make necessarily dairy-free. And, with all due respect to Fine Cooking, to be less sugary and to include cashews. I think American palates have a different capacity for sugar than ours, and also cashews make a cheaper – but still exciting – substitute for their choice of pecans. 
Into a pie plate lined with a half-batch of this cookie dough, (minus the spices, and you don’t need to blind bake it) tumble 1 cup of salted roasted cashews and pour over a whisked up mixture of 1 cup golden syrup, 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons rum (I used Smoke and Oakum’s Gunpowder Rum), 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder – yes instant, it’s useful for baking and it smells weirdly alluring, okay? Look for the blue packet by Greggs – 2 tablespoons rice bran oil and three eggs. Bake at 190 C/375 F for 45 minutes to an hour, covering with tinfoil if need be. You then need to let it cool completely. I didn’t see this instruction and it would’ve saved me a reckless moment of “We’ll just eat it now and if it’s not set it can just be sauce for the ice cream, dammit!” Fortunately everyone managed to talk me down in a chorus of soothing voices while we stashed it precariously in the freezer, and it really was better for a good chilling, especially as the cold went some way to soften the intense sugar hit. It’s an incredible pie, with salty creamy cashews in their pool of intensely dark caramel-caffiene filling. 

And finally, some ice cream, since that’s my kneejerk culinary response to the promise of people in our house. This is the only photo I got of said ice cream, but in the back is my own Chocolate Coconut Ice Cream – which I’ve made many times now since Christmas 2009. It’s beautiful and it’s dairy-free and I can now make it in my sleep almost literally, but should you be awake and trying it for the first time it’s not overly taxing either. In the front is Lemonade Sorbet (with a hard ‘t’) which started life as failed jelly; it was a little weird but refreshing, and the price was right. 
There were also two roast chickens – but no-one wants me to try and take a decent photo of their sorry hides, and beautiful canapes from Jo, and homemade bread rolls brought by Piona (that’s Pia and Fiona but don’t their names condense perfectly?) There was a moment where everyone became anxious and queasy during Barbra Streisand’s Jingle Bells (you think I’m exaggerating! Not this time!) there was a psychological skirmish during supercool boardgame Apples to Apples; there was an incredible reveal from Pia whose orange dress looked cool enough under her coat, but upon removal of that coat it turned out the dress sleeves were layered and ruffly like a flamenco skirt on each arm; there was candy cane whittling; there was imaginary Christmas cracker pulling; there was semi-unpremeditated singing of Total Eclipse of the Heart; there was a portrait of me etched in a pudding bowl; there were at least ten candy canes per capita, especially once I got changed into my candy cane-esque dress; and there was so much food brought to donate to the Downtown Community Ministry Foodbank that Tim and I will have to drive it down in our ute because it’s too much to lug down in our collection of environmentally conscious yet aesthetically designed shopping carry bags. We love our friends.

And now, mere singular days from Christmas I am typically underslept, however I managed to finally get a tiny bit of Christmas shopping done, including a small gift for myself of a flower hairclip. It’s amazing how when your personality and brainpower has evaporated due to lack of sleep, put a big flower in your hair and you can trick yourself into thinking you’re still an interesting person.

It makes me feel like this: Look at how zany and witty I am! There’s a flower in my hair! I have such a personality!
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Title via: Lea Delaria singing I Can Cook Too from On The Town. This challenging and excellently subject-ed song is especially good in her brassy growl of a voice.

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Music lately: 

Still Haven’t Got My Gift by The Goodfun. Hilarious. But also a really nice tune.

O Holy Night, Liz Callaway and her sister Ann Hampton Callaway. You may think you’re over this son but Liz’s silvery voice against Ann’s rich golden one is pure joy for the ear canals.

Julien Dyne, Fallin’ Down – the mellow, slinky antithesis to my Broadway dalliances.
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Next time: I was really convinced I’d have time to blog about the roast tomato-stuffed roast capsicums, but it just didn’t work out, no matter how I tried. So I guess I’ll change up that aim to see if I can get them done before Christmas now…

she gets too hungry, for dinner at eight

I am a tired person these days. It’s because I think about this blog a lot. I think about what I can do on it. I think about whether other people are thinking about it, loving it as much as I do. I stay up late writing stuff. I write stuff early in the morning. I’m not sure if it’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to admit, but it’s true. When I finally go to bed at night, instead of relaxing into a powerful sleep, my silly brain is all “meeean now’s my chance to brainstorm! Get it? I’m a brain! Time to plan a squillion smurfillion things…to stay awake and think. Hard.” My kingdom for a more cooperative brain! (Or as some dry fellow once said, “if I only had a brain!“) (Also I had a late night last night at a party for cool lady Kim’s birthday. Double tiredness! But this was the good kind at least.)
Conversely, I’ll often arrive at needing to make dinner, one of my favourite times of the day, and my brain’ll be all “umm…there’s cookbooks everywhere, and yet…I can’t even?” However this week, despite not sleeping all that much and having a brain whittled down to a nub, I somehow managed to get some spontaneous inspiration happening. So I made sure I remembered what I did. I don’t have the monopoly on tiredness, needing to eat and wanting something delicious all at the same time, and these two hasty dinners I made recently might work for you too.
Spicy Tomatoes and Chickpeas with Coconut Milk.
Fun because: three cans of stuff = dinner. And it takes all of seven minutes and costs hardly anything.
Pasta with Bacon, Pears, Pecans, Rocket
Fun because: you can change heaps of the ingredients for other things you have. 

Spicy Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Coconut Milk


1 can tomatoes
1 can chickpeas
1 can coconut milk 
1 teaspoon each of the following: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon, nigella seeds…oh, whatever you like, really, but that’s a good mix)
1 tablespoon chilli sauce
1 onion
Optional – to garnish – plain yoghurt, coriander, more coriander seeds.


Disclosure: my canned tomatoes were the cherry kind, and my chickpeas were “brun” because I go in for fancy stuff like that, but the plainest of plain stuff will be great too.


Slice up the onion, and fry it in a little oil over a good fierce heat till browned. Tip in the drained chickpeas, the tomatoes (with their juice), the spices, and the chilli sauce and let it come to the boil. Simmer away, stirring, for a couple of minutes, then pour in as much coconut milk as you like, stir, and remove from the heat. Divide between two bowls, and top with whatever garnish you fancy. 

We got delicious, quilt-sized garlic naans from Aaina (at 255 Cuba Street) and they were perfect for absorbing up this soupy spicy mess and making it feel like a feast. The mild coconut milk seeps into the spiced up tomatoes, the sturdy chickpeas give it some body – add a little chilli sauce and it’s gonna rock your pants. It’s vegan till you add the yoghurt – which isn’t even necessary, you could just drizzle over whatever’s clung to the coconut milk can – completely gluten free too.



Pasta with Bacon, Pears, Pecans and Rocket


This was inspired by a recipe of Al Brown’s in the latest Cuisine magazine. I admit, I tried getting in touch with my deeply Germanic roots by making Spaetzle, a kind of pasta dish that I love but have only ever had made for me. The recipe didn’t quite work for me…like the pasta ended up delicious but the dough was like the strongest adhesive and wouldn’t go through the colander like it should and was a big complicated messy mess. I recommend you just use regular pasta.


200g pasta
100g streaky bacon, cut into small squares.
1 pear, cored and sliced.
Butter.
Handful of rocket
Handful of pecans
Thyme leaves


Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and cook your pasta till…it’s cooked. Meanwhile, heat up a little butter in a saucepan and fry your bacon till nearly crisp, then add the pear slices. Let them get a good amount of heat on each side so they colour up a bit, then tip it all onto a plate and cover with tinfoil to keep warm. Hot trick: tip it onto your plate so you get extra bacony-flavour goodness when it’s all served up. In that same pan, quickly toast the pecans. Drain the pasta thoroughly, add it to the pan along with the bacon and the pears, stir it all together, and divide between two plates. Cover with rocket and thyme leaves and serve. 

It’s one of those dinners that might not look like much – almost like a bunch of different garnishes all piled on top of each other, masquerading as a proper meal. But hear me out. You’ve got the salty, butter-fried crisp bacon, the caramelised and juicily sweet pears, and toasty, softly crunchy pecans all twirled into your pasta. Cover it in a peppery tangle of rocket, both virtuous and visually sprucing and a few sprigs of thyme just because, and it’s honestly tastebud magic right there. 
Apart from how spectacularly excellent it tastes, it’s also versatile as: use whatever pasta you like, for a start, or even something like leftover boiled potatoes that have been fried in butter. The bacon’s optional, the pecans – they aren’t always cheap – could be walnuts or almonds or even sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Rocket could be swapped for spinach or any other green stuff you fancy, the pear could be a green apple…see? 
Despite my brain being like a crumbly old Ryvita, it has been a fantastic weekend – lurking with friends old and new, drinking tea and cider and vodka, making up ice cream, practicing cornrowing Tim’s hair so he can look like Ron Swanson for Halloween (I’m going to be Elphabaaaa!) reading in the sun, admiring Snacks the goldfish, that kind of thing. The kind of weekend you wish it could be every weekend…
…it’s also now time to get started on fulfilling the tasks on my List which I haven’t really properly finalised yet (maybe I should add “finish list” to my list?)
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Title via: there are literally zillions of awesome versions of The Lady Is A Tramp, but the most recent to take my fancy is a duet by Lady Gaga and Tony Bennet – am not a fan of her music or anything but she’s incredible in this. 
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Music lately:
Wooden Shjips, Lazy Bones. Rather like it.
Not Fade Away – it owes more than a little to Bo Diddly with that rhythm, which is possibly why it’s one of my favourites by the sadly shortlived (of both career and life) Buddy Holly.
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Next time: I still have that idea for the pear sorbet sitting there, but as I ended up using one of the pear’s in that pasta, it’s looking less likely it’ll be happening right away. However, I have made my first hummingbird cake – I haven’t tasted it yet but all the ingredients sound amahzing on paper at least. 

my poor heart is achin’ to bring home the bacon

Bacon. Jam. Bacon jam. At last. Tim was all “How are you going to explain it? What do you even do with it?” but I think it’s pretty obvious. (For one: hide in your room and eat it all with a spatula.)

Think of Bacon Jam as a variation on caramelised onions, or chutney – to be stirred into soups or casseroles, or meat sauce made from minced beef. To be spread on bread or crackers. Added to meatballs or meatloaf, inside or on top of a burger patty. Folded through cooked pasta, chopped fried mushrooms, or mustard-sauced, sauteed cabbage, or cooked, quartered waxy potatoes. Mixed with chilli sauce and used to top rice and broccoli. Added to the steak part of a pie’s filling or blanketed with melting cheese in a toasted sandwich or showcased inside a baked potato, freshly busted open and filled with sour cream.

I also have this feeling that it’d be good on top of real vanilla ice cream. McDonalds was basically my babysitter for a large part of my life (well, it was across the road from where I had dancing lessons, and for about a dollar I could get food and read Tearaway and be in a fairly safe place till someone came to pick me up and take me home again) and it was there that I learned to dip my french fries into the 50c ice cream cone, and the strange deliciousness that the combination of salty and sweet produced. If potato chips and pretty nasty ice cream can taste okay, I bet sticky, toffeed bacon on top of ice cream would work. In fact, I’m not even going to google it because it has probably already happened somewhere (I know you can get candied bacon cupcakes, so ice cream isn’t that much of a stretch.)

We don’t eat a lot of meat so it felt kind of outrageous chopping up 400g of the bacon, but as I’ve demonstrated above, there are so many uses for this stuff that it’s practically…practical.

Tim and I buy free-range pork, but I have no way of knowing what’s accessible to you, so use what you’re able to. Given that bacon is the focus of this, I did appreciate the particularly good taste of the Freedom Farm stuff that we used, and also that it didn’t leak any watery liquid during the cooking process.

Bacon Jam

Many thanks to The Family Kitchen, from whom I adapted this recipe.

  • 400g bacon (I think streaky or middle is probably best for this)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup coffee (instant is fine, but make it strong)
  • 1/4 cup golden syrup

Roughly chop the bacon up, and cook in a large pan. At first it’ll just stew, because of the quantity of bacon, but eventually it’ll start to crisp up a bit.

Depending on your bacon, some liquid may have emerged at this point – drain off as much as possible, also drain away as much fat as possible, then transfer the bacon to another bowl for a minute.

Gently fry the onions and garlic in that same pan – no need to wash it, and be careful not to let them brown – then add the rest of the ingredients, and return the bacon to the pan, and let cook for around half an hour over a low heat till the liquid has significantly thickened and looks a bit syrupy. I partially covered it during this time, giving it the occasional stir. Remove from the heat, and transfer to an airtight container or jar, and keep in the fridge for a week or two. Makes about 1 1/2 cups full.

Notes:

  •  Instead of golden syrup, you can use maple syrup or honey.
  •  Instead of coffee, you can use cola or beer, but so bitterly nutty and dark and rich is coffee against the salty, supersweet flavours at play here, that without having tried any other variants it’s still what I’d urge you to use.
  •  Use muscovado sugar if you can get hold of it. It’s so severely intense in flavour compared to regular brown sugar, it kind of goes with everything happening here.

So, despite the relatively unusual combinations happening here (unusual depending on how many blogs about candied bacon cupcakes you’ve read, that is) it works and gloriously so. Even while cooking it, the sizzling combination of coffee, dark sugary matter and bacon fat tasted impossibly delicious. Seriously: coffee with all meats from now on, please.

 

Unfortunately I didn’t have a pretty jar to put it in, so an old takeout container had to do.

It felt like I hadn’t cooked anything in ages, so today (Sunday) turned into a bit of a frenzied kitchen session. As well as the bacon jam, I also had a go at making homemade Daim bars, as per my promise on Facebook (yeh, I started a Facebook page for this blog in the end, you’re welcome to join or not to join, I won’t narrow my eyes at you if you don’t.) They didn’t quiiite work out. I also made another batch of Nigella’s coconut macaroons, which I’m becoming very attached to, and which will also be featured in my next blog post. Tonight for dinner I’m making a variation on an Ottolenghi recipe, a kind of roasted cauliflower omelet. Unfortunately I blackened the cauliflower florets, but who knew that they still tasted okay, if not great, when burnt? Me, now.

Edited to add: Such was the extent to which my homemade Daim bars weren’t quite successful -Tim was reading through this and then turned to me and said “What homemade Daim bars?” and I pointed to where they were situated on the table behind him. And then he said “ohhh thooooose” in a regretful kind of way.

Title via: The Laziest Gal In Town (so appropriate to me) choose whether you prefer Marlene Deitrich’s or Nina Simone’s version, for I sure can’t. Tony Award winner Jane Krakowski also has a very cool version on her album of the same name, but you can’t find it on Youtube.

Music lately:

Turtle Pizza Cadillacby Parallel Dance Ensemble. One portion of PDE, the spectacular Coco Solid, performed at San Francisco Bath House last night. Tim and I went along, had a very awesome time cutting a caper on the dancefloor and rapping along where we knew the words. We also ran into some nice people from Twitter! As in…someone that I follow, not like Biz Stone.

Gil Scott-Heron, I’m New Here, from the album of the same name. I love this, it’s quiet, brooding, and – I don’t like the word, but what can you do – haunting.

Next time: the aforementioned coconut macaroons. Right now: Obligatory “OMG it’s July” statement. Where is 2011 going, and why in such a hurry?

take it all with a belly full of salt

We don’t eat a ton of meat, it has been gradually receding from out meals, like the tide or someone’s hairline, to the point where we probably only eat it once a week – if that. I don’t know why. I mean, it has got more expensive, but it’s not as though I made a proper stand or decision at any point. Analysis aside, if the right recipe comes along I’ll make it, so today I’m serving up pork belly, care of a fantastic recipe by local epicure Martin Bosley. I found it many miles off the ground, in the pages of an inflight magazine – tore it out, tucked it in my handbag, and dreamed about it till I landed back in Wellington again. I love near-on everything that the terrific, radiant, humble pig offers up – bacon, sausages, ham, ribs – but pork belly is particularly special (admittedly, “particularly special” is what I’d be saying if I was talking about bacon or ribs here too) with its tooth-yieldingly, saltily sticky and fatty wondrousness.

Please excuse (sigh, again) the atrocious photos. Thought I knew my camera, but concede I’m no good at taking pictures when it’s dark. Next week’s will be better, I promise.
This recipe is extremely straightforward. The only real difficulty is when you have to faff around turning the heavy, boiling-hot pork over partway through cooking – use a couple of pairs of tongs, some oven mitts, and take care. I didn’t use oven mitts, and a splash from the bubbling toffee-like heat of the marinade leaping from the roasting dish and landing on the tender inner flesh of my wrist is like…almost enough to make me vegetarian. The ingredients feel easy enough to get hold of – I didn’t have any star anise so used fennel seeds instead, figuring they’d give that licorice twist flavour, although admittedly without looking anywhere near as pretty. If you don’t have an orange you could probably use bottled juice, a lemon, tamarind or even some vinegar for a different sour vibe.

Martin Bosley’s Pork Belly

Cheers to (surprise!) Martin Bosley for the recipe.

2kg pork belly
120g honey
3 T oyster sauce
1 orange
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 red chilli
4 whole star anise
salt and pepper

Wash the pork belly, place in a deep roasting dish. Mix together the honey, oyster sauce, juice and zest from the orange, and garlic in a bowl. Chop the chilli and add to the marinade along with the star anise and a little salt and pepper. Scrape the bowl of marinade over the pork with a spatula, turning it over so it’s properly covered. Refrigerate for at least an hour, overnight if you can.

When you’re ready to cook it, take it out of the fridge and set your oven to 180 C/350 F. Roast for 90 minutes, turning over occasionally. Slice and serve with steamed rice.
There is a lot of honey in this recipe but it’s not like you’re having pudding for dinner here – the honey caramelises in the oven, bubbling and hissing into the juicy fat from the pork and salty, pungent oyster sauce to create a fairly magical, darkly sweet and savoury flavour. Even though the recipe is simple, everything about the pork is worked with here – the honey and orange points up its sweetness, while the oyster sauce emphasises its saltiness and the anise and chilli distract from its richness. Brilliant.
Edit: I used free range pork and definitely recommend it, if you have the means.
Leftovers can be turned into a comforting noodle soup with stock, greens, broccoli, chilli, soba noodles (or any that you like of course), soy sauce, mint, and so on.
It has been a bit of a weird time in Wellington lately, making a soothing noodle-strewn broth entirely appropriate. What with the grimly embarrassing and regrettably expensive Wellywood sign apparently an unstoppable idea, plus our branch of the Real Groovy music shop and the Grow From Here garden centre – both practically Tim’s and my neighbours and places that we’d spent a lot of time – shutting down. Hopefully something happy eventually comes from these doors closing. This morning the big story was that the Wellington Phoenix football team were going to be relocating to Auckland. I flag after 20 minutes of a game and I was dismayed, so imagine how Tim, obsessed as he is, reacted. Luckily the whole story seems to be an out-of-control rumour and completely untrue. Unfortunately, the Wellywood sign is not. One thing that can be counted on though, is The Food Show – Tim and I went on Sunday and while there were noticeably less exhibitors this time round it was still an extremely fun time with bargain-ly prices and nibbles a-plenty. But no Ray McVinnie! Practically needed smelling salts when I found out he wasn’t doing a cooking demonstration. Luckily there was plenty of wine to sample…
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Title via: Chris Knox, local wonder, flexing his wordsmithery in A Song To Welcome The Onset Of Maturity from 1995’s Songs of Me and You.
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Music lately:

Doubly sad news came over the weekend – first that Jeff Conaway had died, and then Gil Scott-Heron too. I love Scott-Heron’s music and poetry – the world has lost any beautiful strong words and musical greatness he was sure to have continued to contribute. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised remains amazing. Jeff Conaway, despite evidently having a decent enough voice to tour with the Broadway production of Grease, wasn’t really given much to go on with song-wise in the film itself, which is a shame. RIP to them both.

On a mildly happier note, the song Nothing To Lose by The Adults rules.
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Next time: As with the last blog post, I got another cake recipe from my childhood – turns out it’s vegan, which’ll make a nice contrast to all this porkiness.

we sell our souls for bread

Nothing like a persistently rainy long weekend to really push me back into the grippy arms of the kitchen. I seriously love making bread, but haven’t had a chance in ages so tip of the hat to the Queen for her birthday creating a Monday off this week. If New Zealand ever becomes a republic there’d better be some particularly concrete replacements for any long weekend we’d lose as a result. With extra time on my hands I’ve been making all kinds of things including this Nigella Lawson bread recipe from her flawless book of baking, How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

I was able to use these beautiful walnuts that Mum posted down to me from a family friend’s tree. They’re easy enough to get into, just a light tap from a hammer on the shell and a bit of digging quickly produces a pile of bamboo coloured, wrinkled heart shapes. They were soft and fragrant and tasted amazing – none of that tooth-coating bitterness that you sometimes get with those from a packet which have been sitting round too long.

This bread is fiddly-ish but no real mission to make. I didn’t have any of the wholemeal bread flour that Nigella specified but I did have plenty of half-empty packets of dusty offerings from the health food shop down the road (I don’t know, they’re just so compulsively purchasable) so if you’re in the same boat just do what I did and use 550g white bread flour and make up the rest of the weight with bran, rolled oats, that sort of thing. If you don’t have real maple syrup, use honey or golden syrup instead.


Maple Walnut Bread

Adapted from Maple-Pecan Bread in Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess (ie you can use pecans if you have them)
  • 500g wholemeal bread flour
  • 150g white bread flour
  • 1 sachet instant dry yeast
  • 300-400mls warm water
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 50-100g walnuts
  • Walnut oil (if you have it, otherwise use plain eg rice bran)
Mix the flours and yeast together in a large bowl. Pour in the water and syrup and mix to make a sticky dough. Knead for a couple of minutes, then let it sit for 20 minutes. Knead again, sprinkling over the walnuts as you go. It will take a little while to incorporate them, simply because this type of dough is a little tougher than usual. Keep pushing and kneading until the walnuts are more or less dispersed throughout the dough and until it forms a smooth, elastic ball. Pour over a good tablespoon of walnut or other oil, and turn so all surfaces are covered. Cover in clingfilm, and leave for a couple of hours to rise.

At this stage, punch it down to deflate it, then knead it into a loaf shape. Cover with a teatowel and leave it for half an hour, meanwhile setting the oven to 220 C. Bake for 1/4 of an hour before turning down the temperature to 180C and baking for a further 20 or so minutes, covering with a sheet of tinfoil if it starts to get too brown.


The maple syrup isn’t aggressively present in the finished, baked bread, but gives a subtle, layered fragrance and sweet, chewy crust which goes brilliantly with the deliciously toasted walnuts. Last night for dinner, inspired by a Ray McVinnie Quick Smart column in one of my Cuisine magazines, I cooked chunks of butternut pumpkin in boiling water till soft, drained and mashed them with coriander and cumin seeds, fried squares of diced streaky bacon and wafers of haloumi till sizzling, and served all that on top of slices of the freshly baked bread. The sweetness of the pumpkin was echoed in the sweetness of the bread, incredibly good with the contrastingly salty bacon and cheese. Unfortunately that’s the last of the cut-price haloumi I got from The Food Show so it’s unlikely I’ll be able to recreate such a smashing dinner for a while. If however you yourself are in the regular-haloumi-buying demographic then by all means try it.

Other things that happened this mighty fine long weekend include forsaking a long-time-coming sleepin to stagger to the pub to watch the All Whites’ friendly pre-FIFA World Cup game against Slovenia on Saturday morning. Unfortunately we lost, but full marks to Slovenia considering their population is only 2.2 million or so. The upshot of it was that we had a great excuse to go to Customs and order great quantities of beautiful, beautiful filter coffee served by the lovely people there. We don’t get to go very often but they even recognised that Tim had got his hair cut. As well as making me want to cook things, the rain also meant we had a fine excuse to watch The IT Crowd last night. Britain seems to positively fling out these small, side-poppingly funny yet under-the-radar comedies, and while I’d known about The IT Crowd for a while I’ve never pinned it down for a good watch. I really enjoyed Richard Ayoade’s work withThe Mighty Boosh so it’s nice to see him in a leading role in this. Find it if you can – we finished the lot in very quick succession.

Speaking of coffee, and in exciting news for future employers, Tim has left Starbucks after three years. No hard feelings towards the green siren – it helped pay our rent through university and is highly educative coffee-wise. If anyone out there requires a ridiculously great guy with an Honours degree in media studies to do cool stuff like using skills learned in both university and life, then truly look no further than the now-available Tim. You think I deal recommendations lightly? Think again.
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Title via: Electric Blues from the Broadway musical Hair. My preoccupation with its amazing score rides again. This song is so exciting and dynamic, and I presume they use the word ‘bread’ to mean ‘money’ in this context, but then…maybe they’d tried this recipe too. And while lyrics like “we’re all encased in sonic armour, belting out through chrome grenades” make me smile, the next stanza’s “they chain ya and they brainwash ya, when you least expect it, they feed ya mass media” could definitely find relevance at any stage.
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Music lately:
Beth, by localers Voom from their debut album Now I Am Me. I first heard this song years ago on Channel Z and while I can’t say I cried or anything, I certainly felt that good, self-indulgent kind of desolation that you get from wallowing in excellent sad music about situations that you’re not sure if you can relate to but you allow them to reflect whatever it is you’re feeling anyway. Some bright spark put the video onto Youtube so I can now enjoy and wallow all over again as and when necessary.
Janelle Monae’s Tightrope from The Archandroid. There’s already so much being said about her on – dun dun – the internet, but at face value it’s a stonkeringly good tune.
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Next time: Maybe even more exciting than baking bread and watching DVDs on a Friday night, I made my own ricotta cheese yesterday! The recipe is so easy I could almost put it right here as an afterthought. But no. You’ll have to wait for next time, well either that or call my bluff and google “homemade ricotta” and render me completely unnecessary.

“super funk christmas”

It’s rapidly zooming towards 1am. I still haven’t packed my bag for my flight home tomorrow afternoon. I do know that my overweight luggage fines will be such that they will probably be able to build and name a new wing of the domestic airport in my honour. The kitchen is covered in food. Oh yeah, and I’ve got work till 1pm tomorrow. Eek. Gotta say, Tim is being quite Florence Nightingale-esque amongst all this. Like a human cold compress. He’s rationalising all the Christmas presents into my bag while I type out this self-absorbed piece, and he’s got to be up at 5am tomorrow for work. Christmas can take you to some strange places. With all of that in mind, you know, be nice. I may not be lucid. But gosh darnit I will get this blog post done. My public needs me… I think.

In a salute to the season I made something bordering on ridiculously Christmassy today. It’s a simple but very clever idea that I discovered on the food forum I go on and would make a rather cute little gift, yes? Just looking at them makes me glad it is this time of year so that this sort of carry-on is allowed to even happen.

Even the hasty photo can’t disguise how cute these are. Simply face two candy canes together nose to tail (I trimmed the bases to make them more heart-y). Melt a little white chocolate, and carefully pour it into the recess till the two halves are somewhat poetically bound as one whole, and let it set firm. Can’t say I don’t recommend eating any leftover white chocolate either.

Dinner has been a bit all over the place lately, as both of us are going away to our respective homes for Christmas and therefore don’t want to be having a whole lot of perishables sitting around wilting glumly. Last night’s dinner was the result of several ingredients bought spontaneously at Moore Wilson’s while on a last-minute mercy dash for ingredients. So spontaneous that we ended up doing a dizzying circuit between Moore Wilson’s three adjoining stores, starting at Grocery, moving to Fresh, then to Alcohol, then back to Fresh and finishing in Grocery. Lists, and over-the-counter painkillers, were quite possibly invented for times like these.

But it ended up being a perfect pre-Christmas dinner.

Bodacious Hot Dogs (as opposed to the normal, watery ones) (that would also make a good band name)

It’s the ingredients that give it the edge over the usual stuff. Long, tapering sausages, a crunchy, doughy, seed-studded sourdough baguette, tomato sauce, Colman’s mustard, a tangle of caramelly fried onions. I chose these locally made sausages called Acme, and while I can’t find a website, if you see them it’s definitely worth dealing with the price they go for. They are expensive but completely free of additives and filler, and sweet fancy Moses do they taste good. Like a pig in tubular form. (Apologies to any vegetarian readers…you know I don’t eat a lot of meat). The onions I fried in butter and added a splash of balsamic vinegar, which evaporated in a whoosh of eye-blinking acidity and gave them an intensely savoury, honey-dark flavour. You could also try sprinkling over Worcestor Sauce for a similar effect. The hot, hot mustard against the sweet tomato sauce and rich pork, all sitting inside some really good bread was spectacular. Except I was so full afterwards – hotdog shock perhaps – that I basically had to sit there in a state of complete inactivity for an hour.

I recommend it sincerely. Italics are the most sincere of all the typefaces.

This may well be the last post I do before the New Year, and I’m going to quietly ignore the fact that it is written while half-asleep and neglecting all other tasks at hand. For all that I stress about it, Christmas means a lot to me – we’ve spent it with the same people, give or take a few variations, my entire life. To me, Christmas is about family. Tomorrow afternoon I’ll be flying home to spend it with them. (And to cook a giant, Nigella-heavy Christmas lunch for them.) Whatever this time of year means to you, I truly, truly hope that the time is spent with people you love and in a mellow, chilled out way. With lots and lots of good food.

Title brought to you by the late Marc Bolan of T-Rex, whose murmered message of glad tidings was the reason I even considered making my “Hark!” playlist in the first place. Plus I realised I’d barely referenced Christmas in any of my post titles this year. Plus I just like saying “super funk Christmas”….Super funk Christmas!

Whatever music I’m listening to right now, it’s probably brilliant. Okay I’ll do this semi-properly. I’ve been listening to Kristin Chenoweth singing anything but particularly Christmas songs (reading her autobiography will make you want to do that), Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night and the 2009 revival cast recording of Hair quite a lot lately.

Next time: Will deal with itself. In the meantime, I’m curious – what do you want for Christmas? It’s completely okay to say a diamond ring, instead of world peace (although of course I want world peace, whatever that even is). Me? I don’t even know – I don’t need much. Food and ingredient-type things are always my favourite things to give and recieve. I’ve had coconut scented shower gel on my mind, more blusher, I’d like to get a grip of Te Reo Maori as a language, love anything second hand or pre-loved in terms of kitchenware or really anything – like some hideous 70s dinner plates – an iPhone would be fun even though I only text about three people and call even less, and to be honest having a couple of pet cats would be great (none of this is a hint in the slightest by the way Santa, but it is if you can get perfect skin under the Christmas tree). But when I think about it I’d be quite happy with nothing much at all, the best thing will be just getting together with family who I haven’t seen in ages and having a big feed. Don’t let this somewhat sanctimonious, ‘end-of-It’s-A-Wonderful-Life‘ statement hold you back from sharing your heart’s desire though, no matter how frivolous. And while you’re at it, what’s your favourite Christmas song? I’m so indecisive I have a whole playlist (not to mention Christmas tapes from when I was a kid that still get brought out every year) because in Spice Girls as in life, I can never pick favourites.

And till next time, in the words of Marc Bolan I hope you have a super funk Christmas and a golden New Year. Yeah.

Festival Medley

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I’ve been back from Christchurch for a day now, and although a little tired from travelling, I was absolutely going to update but…

I have been a trifle distracted…

By…

Nigella Christmas.

Look at her go. Did you know she’s nearly fifty?

It arrived in the mail yesterday from home – an entirely unexpected present to say congratulations for finishing university. I’ve barely been able to tear my eyes away from this book since I first opened it – it’s truly gorgeous and very Nigella – in the first few pages alone she is urging me to purchase lychee liqueur. Economic downturn – what economic downturn? It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but there will be those who peevishly gripe at her lavish tendencies…completely ignoring the fact that, if you look beyond the blue cheese and pistachios and the pricey, difficult-to-find unguents, she has many practical, healthy and cost-effective recipes that are also very easy to execute. How else could a mere serf like me afford to cook from her books so regularly? Defensiveness aside, it is a beautiful book and I really thrilling at the thought of what I might make first from it.

I had a lovely time down south, even though Christchurch itself was not as immediately charming as Wellington. And it’s alarmingly flat compared to my hillocky adopted home. I don’t know why this bothered me…Anyway, I was working – yes, working – at the Southern Amp music festival, putting up anti-smoking signage and monitoring it throughout the event. This was a bit more full-on than it sounds, I wasn’t just swanning about watching music all day (again, excuse my defensiveness), and those posters and voluminous adshels don’t just erect themselves. Happily, I did get to see some brilliant bands, including Weta, a New Zealand band that I loved back in 2000 but sadly never got to experience much of since they broke up. For some reason they decided this was the place to get back together, and they were absolutely marvelous – all the songs sounded as cracking as they did when I was 13.

I also got to see the Charlatans…

Although whether the lead singer saw us is a whole other story. His hair was fascinating, a thick, homogenous bowl cut that clung over his eyes as though by suction. They played an all-too-brief set…perhaps they were miffed that their description in the brochure for the event described the pinacle of their achievements as a supporting slot for Oasis.

The Dandy Warhols were there, an intensely languid lot who bore the mild insult of being billed below The Living End. The Dandy’s slot was excellent as I’d forgotten how many of their songs I knew and liked, and because they played one of my favourite songs ever, the cumbersomely titled “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth.” Jordan Luck, a New Zealand musical legend – and yes, the word is bandied about a lot these days – was brilliant live, and is looking alarmingly like Rod Stewart in his later years. You better believe I warbled tunelessly along to “Victoria”, “Who Loves Who The Most”, “I’ll Say Goodbye” and “Why Does Love Do This To Me?” Helping me at the event was a Scottish guy from work who has been in the country for a month, it was an interesting juxtaposition considering I can’t remember ever not knowing those Jordan Luck/Exponents songs whereas it was his very first time hearing them. We also managed to catch the end of Fur Patrol’s set – lead singer Julia was in fine voice and had gorgeous hair which I coveted on the spot – and finished off by seeing Dimmer, a band who have had enormous critical acclaim but who I’ve never really heard anything of. They were pretty darn brilliant, playing these enigmatic, hypnotically droning songs, while intriguing frontman Shane Carter gyrated lovingly with his guitar. And got us all joining in on a rousing, spontaneous chant of “John Key…*silence*…yeah…”

The above paragraph will possibly make little sense if you aren’t actually in New Zealand. However, as a gal who grew up in the pre-Google age, reading Baby Sitters’ Club books and wondering what on earth a Twinkie or a barrette or a Ring-Ding was, vindication I say! I do however apologise for the fact that the title will only make sense if you have some knowledge of [title of show], that much cannot be helped.

We also saw this guy: Lindon Puffin. He described himself as visually reminiscent of Morrissey…um? I can’t say his music was entirely gripping, but sweet mercy the man is funny. If you see his name at any event, try and catch him because the laughs come at you thick and fast like soft-serve ice cream. I’m from the North Island so I can only imagine how funny his jokes about Oamaru and Picton are if you’ve actually been there.

I did, I really did have a whole lot of food stuff planned for this post, seeing as it is an actual food blog and all, but frankly the photos weren’t that great – and in this bloodthirsty and friend-against-friend age of blogging, you need decent photos just to keep your head above water – and it was so long ago that I’ve forgotten what I was going to talk about. Here’s a snippet though…

So, last week sometime – or was it two neglectful weeks ago now – I roasted a large slab of piggy, following a lovely recipe in Cuisine magazine using sherry and fennel seeds. I had a prowl through my Wagamama Noodle cookbook for inspiration to use up the leftover cold pork, and following a recommendation, checked out the gyoza recipe. I ended up veering shamelessly off-course of the recipe (not least because I didn’t have any wonton wrappers) but ended up making baked spring rolls, flavoured with all kind of good things – fish sauce, ginger, sesame…If you’ve ever made rice paper rolls before – and if you haven’t, they’re not as scary as they look – you should totally try popping them in a hot oven for a while. They crisp up wonderfully but, because there’s no oil involved, are still incredibly healthy. Since the concepts of “deliciously crispy” and “virtuously healthy” hardly ever meet to shake hands, this is quite an exciting breakthrough for me.

Above: These crisp little parcels, while a little time consuming to roll up, can also be assembled well ahead of time and baked at the last minute. Did I mention that they’re good? They’re sooooo good.

Unfortunately it looks as though my dreams of seeing Leonard Cohen are not to be. The old so-and-so sold out within moments and as I was flying back from Christchurch on the day they went on sale, I completely missed out.

Next time: I promise to try and do something that actually resembles a food blog post.