the burgers are two for one but i’m not having any fun

Halloumi and hashbrown burgers. Pictured: one serving. At best. Maybe more like quarter of a serving. Okay, this fed two of us, but now that I’ve said it I would probably eat four of them to stubbornly prove a point. A delicious point.

Post-confessional blog post confession: While I am glad I was open about being dropped by my publishers and having my cookbook slowly fade towards being out of print, I’m not necessarily doing any better now that this blog post has rolled around. But that’s understandable, right? You can have all the facts and logic and numbers and tough love (ugh, tough love, give me indulgence any day!) and still just stare blankly at them and feel downtrodden and sullen nonetheless. I mean this applies to anything. Relationships, jobs, talents, plans…pants…

But, I made halloumi and hash brown burgers, and for that simple, selfless act I think I deserve an internationally recognised award for Persistent Services To Deliciousness, or another book deal, or something. (That’s right: I can be aggressively hard on myself and aggressively self-believing at the same time. It’s…charming.) On the other hand, I hardly needed to write a blog post about these – it’s mostly just assembly, if I say the words “halloumi and hash brown burgers” that is kind of the whole recipe and information that you need right there. But while this may be simple, it’s still something you might not have thought of making before, and those are my favourite kind of recipes – the sort that make you say “oh damn!” in a low, appreciative voice, and make you watch the clock till you can next rush into the kitchen to lovingly cook for yourself.

Halloumi is essentially the flavour of butter suspended in the form of a captivating cheese that you can fry goldenly without melting entirely. Hash browns combine soft potato insides with magically crunchy exteriors. These two things just make sense together. The bulging cheese with the crisp hash brown, the salty, oily bliss of it all against the peppery rocket leaves and soft, chewy ciabatta – it’s burger brilliance, and it can be yours within minutes.

halloumi and hash brown burgers

a recipe by myself, although inspired by meeting someone who works at a cafe describing what they like to make themselves on their breaks.

two ciabatta buns
one 200g or so block of halloumi
four triangular frozen hash browns or two rectangular ones
a handful of rocket leaves
mayonnaise, lots of mayonnaise (or aioli if you like)

Heat up a large frying pan. Cut four thick slices from the block of halloumi, and split the ciabatta buns in half. Fry the hash browns for about five minutes on each side, till golden and crisp and y’know, blatantly not frozen. Set them aside on a plate and fry the halloumi slices. If you have space in the pan, add the ciabatta bun slices cut side down to warm/toast them slightly, but it’s not essential. Once the halloumi slices are deep golden on both sides, turn the heat off and, if you like, return the hash browns to the pan to let them stay warm in the residual heat.

Meanwhile, spoon mayonnaise generously onto both the top and bottom halves of the bun, then layer up your burger like so – bottom half bun, handful of rocket leaves, hash browns, two halloumi slices, top half bun. Eat immediately, pausing only to take instagrams because you suspect people will lose it over the sight of these on their dashboard.

The cheese and potato together are almost…meaty? Cheeseburger-esque? I can’t quite pinpoint it but the whole thing is breathtakingly good and you should make this for yourself and anyone else you care for. I guarantee it will make you unbelievably happy.

As I said at the start, I am not feeling terribly outstanding in the field of excellence lately – still deeply unemployed, although I have been applying for lots of things and pitching my writing to lots of great places and have had some flickers of interest, so there’s that. I’ve come to realise that I am not necessarily looking for a steady office job. I’m a people person when I’m not being sullen and a night owl and am hoping to find something that uses that side of me. And as I said in my last blog post, I refuse to let it occur to me that I might not achieve massive success and fame from my writing and cooking. It’s not so much that failure is not an option, it’s more that triumph is the only option. Failure, well, it only gets you closer to winning, right? (And other things we tell ourselves.)

(Olive, where the brioche is caramelly and buttery and the coffee is excellent and swift and the wifi is in existence and exists)

Till then, I’ll continue setting up camp at cafes around town with my laptop, drinking coffee and feeling like a Sophisticated Writer About Town (look the part, be the part, as Prop Joe said) sending hustle-atious emails and writing blog posts and making lists and looking thoughtfully into the middle distance in the kind of way that makes passers-by say, “how mysterious, what’s her story.” (And other things we tell ourselves.)
title from: OMYGOD! by Kate Nash, if you like your heart-stabbing poignance served via upbeat pop music, which I often do.  

music lately:

Right Beside You by Sophie B Hawkins. Just because this song is from 1994 I don’t know why it isn’t constantly top of the charts, it’s so, so good.

Brave, Sara Bareilles. Wise words for me, still.

Always Starting Over by Idina Menzel at the recent Tony Awards. Still the queen.

next time: raw chia seed berry jam. I think I like it better than usual jam?


that dizzy dancing way you feel as every fairy tale comes real

I felt a little drunk from tiredness today. Which is why somehow it took me so long to shape this blog post. Even though the recipe can be summed up in four words: sprinkles on buttered bread. Self-frustration is not good for self-editing. But here I finally am.

Not to sound like a 90s stand-up comedian but what is the deal with spam comments these days? They’re coming towards me thick and swift. I could change my blog settings but the codes to decipher before commenting are getting as complicated and unreadable as the spambots are blithely persistent. So in the interest of not putting off nice commenters, since said comments are so seriously delightful to receive, I instead choose to duel with the spambots. My deal-questioning though, lies squarely with that which the spambots peddle. Back in the early days of this blog, it was very easy to catch them. Y’know, :::::free viagara here::::, they’d say. Now they’re more subtle. More conversational. One spambot actually, and quite sinisterly, complained about the presence of spam. I like to look at is the “click on my website” bit of the comment. That’s how you know they’re spam, and that’s where things get weird. Well, weirder than me casually interacting with communication sent to me by robots.

Some of them are obvious – the sites they’re pushing me towards have names like “Get followers”; “Make fast money”; “Free poker game”, and with some inevitability, “Find out more about ejaculation guru”.

But there are the ones that make me say “what’s the deal with this?” I just wonder, who on this earth is out there behind the following websites that I have been urged to visit?

“Emergency plumbers in Birmingham”
“10th birthday party ideas”
“Cooking frozen lobster tails”
“Stretching exercises to increase your height” (admittedly, this might fall under the viagara category)
“Toe rings white gold”
And my favourite: “Cliffs of Moher pictures”.
Wait, this is my favourite – being directed to a website called “make the truck your office.”

I mean…this spam is more endearing than some people I know.

I really do find that kinda hilarious, but maybe the reason I doth protest too much about misguided spambots is that this recipe for fairy bread not only hilariously simple…it’s also that for a lot of people in New Zealand, this is more equivalent to a reminder on a post-it note. The concept of fairy bread has been around for so long that I feel like I should say “recipe” in scare quotes. As for people out of New Zealand who have never had fairy bread, it may appear to have all the flavour and appeal of eating a reminder written on a post-it note.

On Sunday I suddenly felt like eating Fairy Bread. So I made it. There was a delicate and delicious balance between the nostalgia for that which I ate as a child and the grown-up joy of doing as I damn well please.

So in case you’ve never heard of it, or you just need a reminder, here is the recipe. (I wrote and deleted quote marks around the word recipe literally eight times just now.)

Fairy Bread

White bread
Hundreds and thousands sprinkles (rainbow sprinkles)

Cut the crusts from the bread, or not. As you can see from the photos I’ve rakishly given myself both options. Butter the bread fairly thickly. Carefully tip over the sprinkles. Eat. (Allowing for sprinkle overflow to occur, they can’t all get indented into the butter.)

To paraphrase sweet Wesley from Princess Bride, we are people of action, lies do not become us. I cannot lie: this is really, really good. However, I don’t want to imply in any way that I invented this, firstly because I didn’t – it has been around since long before I was born and will surely outlive us all. And secondly because I’m not sure even my rainbows-and-sugar-loving brain could come up with something so simple and brilliant. I’m also not implying that you have no idea how to make this. It’s just – like I said – a reminder. Just not implying anything, okay? Other that “yeah Fairy Bread!”

But what does it even taste like? Beautiful though they may be, hundreds and thousands are more or less flavourless. They’re just mildly sugary. The appeal lies partly in eating a staple of the children’s birthday party and partly in the delicious unfolding layers of texture – the crunch of cavity-occupying tiny sprinkles embedded in the salty yielding butter, and the bread all thin and airy and soft.

And it’s really, divertingly, eye-flirtingly super pretty. Which, if the movies taught me anything, I bitterly concede counts for a lot.

So apart from louchely eating sprinkles on buttered bread, what else have I been trying my hand at?

My cookbook proof arrived. The name is appropriate, its existence is hard evidence to me that I didn’t just dream the last year. Right now I’m working deep into the night writing notes on it and making sure everything is as perfect as it can be, with the assistance of the book’s photographers and stylist (and my friends!) Kim, Jason and Kate. It was like the montage days of the cookbook photoshoots getting together with them last night to go over this. The old gang! Back for one last job! It’s also why this blog post took its sweet time getting to you. Proofing the proof hurts my brain. (PS: the cookbook isn’t coming out till later this year. If you read this blog, there is no way you can possibly miss it, because I will be justifiably talking about it a lot.)
I went to Webstock, which is this super-exciting conference held in Wellington every February. I had a brilliant time and left feeling all full of knowledge and inspiration and singularly brilliant catering. There were some specific things that were not cool (which became escalatingly troubling – and is outlined here by my friend Jo who also went) like some eye-rolling events of a dudebro-related nature. But there were also amazing people to meet or catch up with and incredible speakers like Karen McGrane and Adam Greenfield and Kelli Anderson (who gave me a new life goal: successfully pull off a heist.) The organisers do a breathtaking job and I’m now a tiny bit withdrawal-y that it’s over.

And, my glasses arrived! As a late-onset glasses wearer, everything that is second nature to Tim, who has had them since way back, is enchantingly novel to me. I’m all, “Hey! My glasses just steamed up when I opened the oven!” “Guess what! I went to push my glasses further up on my nose but they weren’t even there!” “I have glasses!” And so on. I…actually nearly cried when I picked them up, I could just see everything so much better and my eyes felt so relaxed. Now, a couple of days in, I’m still getting used to their presence – it’s like constantly having a cat sitting on your lap or something, how you can drift in and out of consciousness of its pressure against your body.

I really adore the look of hundreds and thousands sprinkles. I didn’t think I could love them more than I did, but they really look good through my glasses. The crispest rainbow ever. It’s a small thing, but it’s strangely exciting. But I think better than all of that, even better than food looking more beautiful…is how, because I have to use them for reading and computer work, I feel like Homer Simpson putting on his glasses when he does his Serious Business.
title via: A poignant-as comedown from all that food colouring, Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now.
music lately:

Elastica, Stutter. Too, too cool. Sigh.

Garbage, Only Happy When It Rains. Also too, too cool. Also, missing their Wellington show. All of the sighs.

M.I.A, Bad Girls. Never not obsessed. Never not losing the ability to make proper sentences about cool women making really great music too, apparently.
Next time: I stand by my fairy bread! But I promise a really, really complicated recipe to make up for the laughableness of this one.

the french are glad to die for love, they delight in fighting duels

Having Chocolate French Toast Sandwiches for dinner may sound a little subversive (as far as these things go), but really it’s exactly the same as having scrambled eggs on toast followed by a chocolate bar. Mind you, I was never shocked by the idea of deep-fried Mars Bars. In fact, I loved and welcomed them when I was travelling through Scotland. There’s nothing quite like eating one the morning after a big night out. I’m not saying they make you feel better. If anything, the consumption of one just sharpens any lingering liver-related remorse. For a few moments though all is good, as you eat the salty, crisp, oily battered Mars Bar, with warm chocolate melting onto your fingers.

This recipe isn’t just novelty or excessiveness for its own sake. Whoever invented it knew exactly what they were doing. It’s respectable, and awesomely so. When I first made this it was for dinner on Wednesday night. I love having breakfast for dinner, and, as noted when I made pancakes for dinner, there’s a Pippi Longstocking-ish thrill to be had about eating what you want when you want. Plus it seems kinda shortsighted to restrict so many good, fast and simple food ideas to the early morning. I made them again for lunch today, which is when I discovered a further point in their favour – they still taste brilliant after sitting round for a several minutes while I photograph them.
Chocolate – French Toast – together – it speaks for itself, really. Except I’m not going to let it, because this wouldn’t be much of a food blog if all I did was post pictures of things with a caption saying the title of the recipe and “Ya-huh?” or “See?” afterwards.
So: The sensory experience of biting into crisp-edged, egg-soft bread and the contrast between its buttery exterior, puffy interior and the tongue-coatingly cocoa-y dark chocolate holding it together, is pretty outstanding. Both in terms of both texture and – surprise – taste.
While I could eat white chocolate all day, every day, I think the darker stuff works best here, because while it’s rich, it’s not too sweet. Any more going on and your veins might not be able to cope from the spike in blood sugar.
If you want to galvanise this basic recipe and make it more debonairly savoury, you could do as I did and slice up some ripe pear and feta cheese and use that inside the sandwich instead. Because juicy pear and soft, creamy, salty cheese nestled in a cocoon of the aforementioned eggy, buttery bread is almost enough to steal its chocolatey counterpart’s glory.
Despite the namechecking of the French, it seems right that I found a recipe of such unrestrainedness in an American magazine. This magazine, called Fine Cooking, is one of the better ones out there – in fact when one of Tim’s co-workers gave him some issues of it to give to me I was surprised at how much I liked them. I’m very particular about food magazines and wasn’t expecting to find an American one, with their differences in measurements and common ingredients and so on, to be so readily fantastic. But the recipes are gorgeous with a good mix of easy and aspirational; the layout is appealing and the writing is genuine and knowledgeable. Which sounds like a pretty simple formula – but several magazines seem to miss one or two of those elements. While I don’t think you can actually find Fine Cooking in shops here in New Zealand, they have a very cool website where you can easily look up recipes. Such as this one here for Chocolate French Toast Sandwiches. Which surely and specifically demonstrates that they know what they’re on about.
Seriously, this recipe is probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to me all week. Well, that and the fact that Tim and I have booked tickets to go up home and visit my family (including NEW KITTEN) for a weekend in September. And the fact that I won tickets to the Chocolate Festival next month thanks to the lovely Andrea of So D’lish. Actually…that happened last week…we’re so unexhilarating lately, but I do like it that way most of the time.
Chocolate French Toast Sandwiches

Slightly adapted from this recipe in Fine Cooking.

Four thick slices of white sandwich bread
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
A pinch of salt
40g dark chocolate (I used Whittakers Dark Ghana)

– Cut the slices of bread in half diagonally, so that you have eight triangles.
– Roughly chop the chocolate.
– Lightly whisk the eggs, then add the milk and the salt and mix again.
– Heat a little butter – as much as you like really, I used about a tablespoon – in a wide saucepan. Quickly dip four of the bread triangles into the egg-milk mixture and fry on both sides in the butter till golden brown.
– Lay two triangles each onto two plates, and divide the chocolate over the top.
– Repeat the dipping and frying with the remaining four triangles of bread, and then put them on top of the pieces on the plate, to complete the sandwiches. The heat of the top and bottom pieces will slowly melt the chocolate.

For a Pear and Feta variation, slice up a pear and some feta, as much as you like, and use that to fill the sandwiches instead.
Title via: Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend, that evergreen song from Marilyn Monroe’s film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. (Look, I managed not to use the word iconic! Oh, wait…)
Music lately:

Laura Nyro. I’d heard of her before, but never actually heard her; oh my gosh. Been On A Train is strong stuff. Her voice is amazing. And, I had no idea she wrote the gorgeous Wedding Bell Blues.
Chess – for a musical about a game where the players are almost entirely sedentary, the music itself is – thankfully – extremely dramatic and exciting. While Nobody’s Side is the big power number for the ladies, I found myself on a bit of a Heaven Help My Heart rampage on Youtube today. Predictably, Idina Menzel’s version is my clear favourite, but Broadway original Judy Kuhn’s clear voice and emotional presence also makes for a beautiful rendition. Also Julia Murney’s is routinely amazing. Um, that’s all for now.

Next time: Not sure. Possibly something from Ottolenghi again, I just can’t quit that cookbook of his.