soy un perdador

P1180280

Over on my Frasier food blog I talk about tropes a lot – a trope is, loosely, a recurring theme or motif – and I feel like I’ve hit a vegan trope with this week’s recipe: tofu. Let us face it, there’s no food more generically symbolising the vegan life as a whole than tofu, (perhaps other than lentils) the implication being that in its meatless blandness it represents not only all that you are missing out on and have left behind but also the miserable and sepia-flavoured journey ahead that you’ve chosen. (There are those who say “how do you know someone is a vegan? Because they’ll tell you at any opportunity” and there are those who say that people pre-emptively berating vegans outweighs any levels of militance from the vegan camp, and then there’s me, and I say guess what: everyone has the capacity to be really annoying.)

P1180270_2

Rest assured, no one is forcing anyone to eat tofu. You can quite happily live your entire life without touching the stuff. I myself actually really like the taste of it – which is admittedly fortunate – and always have. It’s often said of tofu that peoples’ main mistake is not giving it enough flavour – but like, why would you want to make anything that doesn’t have flavour to it? If you cook something blandly, it’s going to be bland. A plainly-cooked chicken breast has no liveliness, it is at best tantamount to a dry flannel.

Anyway, if you are going to consume tofu, you might consider doing so in the form of this week’s recipe, since it’s monumentally delicious. I actually had the idea for the sauce first and worked backwards from there to fill in the blanks for how I could use it (other than just drinking the sauce in its entirety, I suppose) but it all worked so well that both the tofu and the sauce are the double-billing stars of the show.

P1180277

The golden crust on the tofu is made from a glorious mixture of coconut, sunflower seeds and breadcrumbs – light, nutty, buttery, crunchy, with anything that doesn’t stick to the tofu toasted in the oven and scattered over your salad leaves. I’m all about contrast in texture and the intensely crisp exterior giving way to bouncingly tender interior is marvellous. And the sauce! How it shines! Wasabi has this particular, sharp, mustardy, sinus-scritching heat to it, which is balanced perfectly against the cool hit of mint, the sour, fresh lime, and the richness of the oil. All of which is then further tied together by the power of an entire bulb of garlic, roasted into mellow sweetness. The resolute mildness of the tofu is the ideal backdrop for all this action, but this sauce would be wonderful on pretty much anything, I imagine. If you don’t have wasabi or can’t find it then horseradish or indeed mustard would surely be a fine substitute, since all three are part of the same family.

Coconut-Crusted Tofu with Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce

A recipe by myself

1 block of firm or extra firm tofu
2 tablespoons shredded coconut
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs (leave them out to make this gluten-free and up the coconut and sunflower seeds)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon of cornflour
salad leaves, to serve

Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce

1 bulb garlic
2 teaspoons wasabi paste, or add more to taste
3 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 mint leaves
A pinch each of salt and pepper
Set your oven to 180C/350F.

Slice the very base off the garlic bulb – the knotty bit holding it all together – and wrap the garlic itself loosely in tinfoil and roast it for twenty minutes in a small dish that you’ve drizzled the two tablespoons of olive oil into.

While this is happening, slice the tofu in half horizontally so that you’ve got two flatter rectangles, and either reserve one of them for later or add some more coconut and sunflower seeds to your coating and make two.

Blitz the coconut and sunflower seeds in a blender till they resemble breadcrumbs, and tip into a small bowl. Stir in the panko breadcrumbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

In another small bowl, mix the cornflour with a tablespoon of cold water.

Spoon some of the cornflour mixture over the tofu and then sit it, cornflour-spooned side down, in the bowl of coconut breadcrumbs. Spoon more cornflour mixture over the side facing you and turn it over. Continue spooning more cornflour over and pressing more breadcrumbs into it so it’s as thickly coated as possible.

Remove the roasting dish from the oven and carefully lift the coated tofu into it, sitting it beside the garlic. Return to the oven for another ten minutes. Reserve any remaining breadcrumb mixture.

Once the ten minutes is up, turn the tofu over and remove the garlic. Put the tofu back in for another five to ten minutes.

Unwrap the garlic and carefully – it will be hot as hell – squeeze the garlic cloves from their paper casings into a small blender or food processor. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and blend it into a lime green sauce.

At this point – you’re almost there – remove the tofu to a serving plate, sitting it on a bed of salad leaves or kale or something and tip any remaining breadcrumbs into the roasting dish. Put the dish back into the oven for a minute or two until the breadcrumb mixture starts to brown and the scatter them over the salad, then pour over as much of the sauce as you want. Finally, eat.

P1180284

So my usual plan is to send these blog posts out on a Sunday night to all the email subscribers (and sign up here if you want this to be you) but instead on Sunday gone I was too hyped up watching the Khabib vs McGregor fight before work to write (reacting to my livestream cutting in and out alone provided ample adrenaline) and then after work I accidentally got on the go from having several birthday shots given to me (not my birthday, I might add, I was merely collateral damage.) Not drunk, but precisely enough consumed to immediately and heavily fall asleep when I got home instead of diligently writing as planned.

I don’t know if it was my addle-headedness either just in general or post-shots but no matter how hard I revised, this recipe came out sounding monstrously complicated. It’s literally just sticking some stuff in an oven and then sticking some stuff into other stuff and then sticking that in an oven and blending yet further stuff but trying to explain it was oddly difficult; should you have glanced over the recipe and felt a quickening in your heart at how many steps are involved rest assured it’s just 1000% me talking myself into a corner. This is easy as. And so cheerfully resigned to a life of tofu am I, that the next day I made myself some tofu scramble, for the express purpose of (a) writing about it on my next Frasier food blog post and (b) eating. For, you see, the only thing I’m even more cheerfully resigned to is a life of self-promotion.

title from: Loser, by Beck. This is one of those songs where it’s like wow, he really just…wrote those lyrics down….didn’t he…but then that recurring guitar lick is so good and the chorus so singalong-friendly that I’m like you know what, who cares, sing on about rabbits shaving their legs or whatever, sweet Beck. Also because I’m always worried that people won’t get the joke – on account of I often need stuff explained to me – tofu is…made of soy…hence this title.

music lately:

Edwin Starr, 25 Miles He’s better known for the song War but I maintain that the “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah” bit in this song is honestly one of the greatest contributions ever bestowed upon the musical canon.

Fiona Apple, Hot Knife. “If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife” is such a perfect and simple metaphor to build this light, chatty and intoxicating song around.

Alice Coltrane, Om Rama. This song just drops you head-first into it and keeps it frenetically high-paced until the middle section where it dramatically changes tempo and gets all woozy and dreamy and just when you start to relax it speeds up again. I love this song so much.

Next time: GUESS WHAT, next time you read this my blog will have officially turned eleven years old, I don’t know quite what to cook to acknowledge this level of momentousness and indeed, welcome any thoughts and feelings you might have.

soy un perdador

tofu is made of soy, and soy is Spanish for I AM, as in “I am being so deep right now.”  

Right, well I intended for this blog post to be about the meal I cooked on Valentine’s Day, but what transpired was this: I had an elaborate dinner planned, then my reason for the season came down with a brutal case of tonsilitis, and then I mysteriously also ended up with a sore throat myself, and so postponed said elaborate dinner to instead make us the world’s most nourishing broth which I then took terrible photos of, so the whole thing was a flop, really. (That is, it was a very pleasant evening, mutual ailments aside, and the soup was also very pleasant, it was a flop only in terms of being bloggable. Let me be clear lest I sound more obnoxious than usual!)

With that option unavailable to write about, it took me a while to get my act together, but to paraphrase Beyonce the god, I woke up like this: craving tofu. And so I made myself this rather incredibly good tofu and cucumber salad for lunch today and now here we are!

those flowers were just sitting there on the table when I walked in but nevertheless I’m gonna assert that coordinating your flowers to your lunch is a clear sign of success in life

I know tofu gets regularly maligned for being flavourless or unfun or the epitome of dull vegetarian eating, but in the words of Harvey Danger, if you’re bored then you’re boring. Let the record state that I think tofu is amazing. Fresh, chilled tofu is an actual joy, all cashew-mild and milky of flavour with a softly firm (yes, both those things) protein-rich texture and the world’s most absorbent surface for whatever flavour you should choose to throw at it. Also deep-fried tofu is a revelation, but so is everything – I mean, probably even deep-fried socks would be palatable, so that’s not necessarily an impressive fact.

This recipe mostly came out of my head, although it’s inspired by a bunch of different things I’ve had at restaurants over the years. It’s so cold and crisp and refreshing and even though the dressing is all salty and oily and sour, somehow the cool juicy cucumber and dense cubes of tofu keep everything very mellow and calm. Both sesame and miso paste have this mysterious, magical savoury taste which help spruce up the ingredients that frankly do need some sprucing, and it’s all just very satisfying and nourishing and good. You could leave out the spring onion (by the way I think they’re called green onions in America, for my readers in that neck of the woods) but the flavour is so gentle and a million miles removed from actual raw onion.

tofu, cucumber and spring onion salad with sesame miso dressing

a recipe by myself. I know using olive oil in the dressing is a bit out of place with the rest of the ingredients but it’s all I had and honestly it tasted amazing so…yeah. 

100g firm tofu
half a cucumber
one spring onion
one tablespoon rice vinegar
one tablespoon soy sauce
one or two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
two heaped teaspoons white miso paste
a pinch of caster sugar
one tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Make sure your tofu and cucumber are well-chilled. Dice them both into small squares, about 1.5cm but, y’know, this is not a time for measurement accuracy. Just something smallish and squareish. Finely slice the spring onion, reserving some of the green for garnish.

In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy, olive oil, miso, and most of the sesame seeds until it comes together as a smooth dressing. Tip in the tofu, cucumber, and spring onion, stir to cover, then transfer to whatever bowl you’re going to be eating it from (if it’s a different bowl, that is) and garnish with the remaining sesame seeds and green spring onion slices. 

this serves one, but if you can’t work out how to increase it to feed more then…actually I cannot judge, my maths is hopeless, but seriously, it’s pretty easy to increase the properties to feed more people here.  

my new flat is a bit cute, yeah?

The other thing to note about tofu is that it’s aggressively filling. So even though this salad may not look like much, it is indeed…much. We’ve just ticked over into March here so it’s officially autumn, but Wellington is so whimsically changeable as far as weather goes and today I’m disgustingly overheated so this was a perfect meal for the temperature my body is currently burdened with, however I feel like this salad would be perfect any time alongside roast chicken and rice; to take to some kind of potluck thing, or with noodles that you’ve maybe also sprinkled with soy sauce and sesame oil. On its own though: a perfect little meal. 
I just realised this is pretty much my first blog post that include photos of my new flat, which is fitting, since I moved in just under a month ago and yet still am not entirely unpacked. I’ve decided to see the glass half full and congratulate myself on being amazing at progressing very slowly and being incredibly disorganised. My new room is so dreamy though, and will only get dreamier as I firmly take myself by the hand and make myself continue to tidy it up and unpack fully. 
fairy light grotto (they’re solar powered so hopefully I get to actually enjoy them, oh Wellington weather you’re easy to poke fun at! But really. I hope I get to enjoy them.)

make up n stuff nook! Also there’s nothing like the haunted eyes of Judy Garland greeting you as you wake up, if that’s wrong I don’t want to be right.

But really, it’s now March 2015, holy wow. From February last year to February last month it was basically nonstop turbulent difficult times, and even though I’m very much in this quagmire of “what the heck am I doing with my writing and am I making my own opportunities and why won’t endless flailing about wanting to write another cookbook afford me the ability to do just that” I am also feeling rather cloyingly serene and delightful about many things in life right, so watch out. Ya girl is quite happy. I mean, look how rapturous I’m getting about tofu.
___________________________________________________________________
title from: Beck’s shufflingly and charmingly dour song Loser. Check me out, making truly awful Spanish puns all over the place. Obvs Beyonce shoulda won that Grammy but this is a damn nice song and the opening guitar riffs are truly excellent. Nice work, Beck. 
___________________________________________________________________
music lately: 
Let Me Be Him, Hot Chip. The chorus (or whatever it is, this song just kind of drifts) is so uplifting and pretty and dreamy and full of “Oh-ohhh” bits and it’s just a lovely, lovely thing to listen to. Definite mood upswing stuff.
Eternal Flame, Joan As Policewoman. I’ve loved this song for years and years but have been listening to it over and over lately, it flickers like a candle and swoons and sways and the lyrics are so, so excellent. I love how soft and whispery and then deep and rich her voice goes. Oh yeah and also this is not a cover of the Bangles song which was later covered by Atomic Kitten, they just share a title, ya know?
The Killing Moon, Echo and the Bunnymen. Love a bit of tremolo, I do. 
___________________________________________________________________
next time: I’ve made two batches of this Nigella coffee ice cream but I keep eating it all before I can take photos of it. If this trajectory is anything to go by though, there will probably be at least one more outing of the recipe in my near future so maybe that’s what I’ll blog about next! 

i am the definite feast delight

Apropos of nothing: If – although let’s go with when – I get famous, I should like to do many things. I’d like to start a trend for not having to wear a bra if you don’t want to. Not that I can necessarily “get away” without one, but sometimes on a humid day they just feel so punishing and unfair. And really, if someone pulls you aside and says “look, you’re not wearing a bra and it’s making me really uncomfortable”, I’d wager it says more about them than you, right? Second order of business: try and wangle an OPI HungryandFrozen nailpolish range. Am thinking matte rainbow-coloured dots which look like hundreds and thousands sprinkles, a rich yellow butter colour, perhaps a sophisticated, buff-tinted “Cake Batter”, and something else which still hasn’t fully formed in my brain yet. Nigella-Cardigan-Pink? The colour of those heavy velvet curtains that sweep across a stage before and after a show? Something Claudia Kishi-inspired? The third thing I’ve been thinking about is just buying a huge warehouse somewhere with a huge speaker system, so anytime you want to dance around a room like this, you can hire it for an hour from me. Apart from the high likelihood that my dancing moves and I are occupying it already, that is.

Apropos of nothing, I really enjoy saying apropos of nothing! Indubitably!

Anyway here I am. Can’t hurt to daydream about everything in such minute detail that it can never possibly happen the way I want it to and I end up disillusioned and sad when it doesn’t, right? Right!

In the meantime I am rich in friends and famous in my brain, which is a good start. You know friends are good friends when you see them practically every day but it still feels like something exciting’s going to happen every time you do. As a few of us were coincidentally all going to see the band Bon Iver on the same night I suggested that I cook us all dinner beforehand. Which was perhaps an even more exciting prospect than the concert itself at the time. I just love orchestrating situations where I get to cook for people I like. The finished menu was a logical middle point between maximising on what I had on hand already, what recipes I liked the look of, and what would actually be delicious to eat.

It somehow, despite being entirely created in the space of an hour and a half, all came together to form a spectacular vegan feast. Which I liked so much that I’m going to share with you. All three of these recipes are very loosely based on actual recipes – the first two from the Meat-free Mondays book and the third from Katrina Meynink’s gorgeous Kitchen Coquette book. It’s not that the original recipes didn’t sound perfect as they were, it was all about minimising time taken and money spent. And yes, I did just happen to have pomegranate seeds lying round. In a container in the freezer no less. But if it’s any consolation they were over a year old. So I can be smug, but not that smug.

Lentils are just alright with me, but this is lifted from its admittedly beige earnestness by the juicy pomegranate seeds and smoky, tender eggplant.

Barley, Lentil, and Eggplant with Pomegranate and Mint


1/2 cup brown lentils
1/2 cup barley
1 eggplant
1 onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tomato, chopped roughly
2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon or hot lemon pickle (or just some lemon juice)
Seeds of a pomegranate and a handful of mint leaves

Optional – and I did – 1 can cannellini beans or chickpeas to beef (heh) it out. 


Soaking the barley and lentils at least a few hours before you get started will make the cooking process quicker. Boil them together in a pan with plenty of water till tender. Drain, set aside. Slice up the eggplant into chunks, fry in a little oil  – in batches is easier – till browned and softened. Tip them into the lentils and barley. Slice the onion up and in the same frying pan brown it with the garlic. Add the tomato, chilli sauce and lemon, and continue to cook for a little longer. Return the eggplant, lentil and barley to the pan, stir to warm through and season to taste. Serve scattered with pomegranate seeds and shredded mint leaves.

Feel free to just use barley OR lentils. But this is a great way to use up those stupid tail-end packets of things which inevitably sit round for guilty years in your pantry. Free your lentils, and your mind will follow. Actually the whole thing with these recipes is that since I’ve already messed around with them to suit my needs, feel free to do the same. They are very low stress. No watercress? Use rocket. No almonds? Use any other nut. No pomegranate? Sprinkle over feta or just use more mint or something!

Something about blackening the corn and partnering it with toasty-sweet almonds and peppery watercress in this salad is surprisingly spectacular.

Rice, Charred Corn, Avocado, Watercress and Almond Salad


1 cup rice – I used basmati but brown rice would be really good here.
1 cup frozen corn kernels (or you know, however YOU get hold of them)
1/2 cup rice bran oil plus extra for frying
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons chili sauce
1/2 cup whole almonds
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
A handful of watercress leaves, rinsed and chopped
1 avocado, diced


Cook the rice as you usually would, and allow to cool a little. Stir the 1/2 cup oil, the cinnamon and the chili sauce through it, plus plenty of salt. Taste to see if you think it needs any more of anything in particular. Set aside and heat up a frying pan. Mix together the almonds, sugar and cumin and then heat them in the pan till fragrant and toasted. Set aside. Rinse the pan – or don’t – and heat up a tablespoon or two of oil. Throw in the corn kernels and let them fry till some are slightly darkened and scorched in places. They might start to ‘pop’ and jump around a little so watch out. Stir occasionally. Tip them into the rice along with the watercress, almonds, and avocado and mix thoroughly. 

These are just edamame beans and regular green beans cooked in boiling water and stirred through a dressing made of 1 tablespoon shiro miso paste, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon honey and a little chopped fresh ginger and garlic. Miso’s intense, fermented flavour is strangely addictive and even more strangely versatile. Here it’s nutted up with sesame and used to coat creamy edamame and crunchy green beans.

Cheers to Kate and Jason and Ange and Ricky for indulging me. And cheers to Bon Iver for putting on a seriously good show.

I was almost as happy with my dress as I was with anything else. If only there was an Instagram filter called “Cheekbone Finder” or something. But yes, the show, wow. From listening to Bon Iver’s music, I was expecting one guy, one microphone, and maybe a mandolin and a few handkerchiefs. But there was a many-peopled band all outstanding in the field of excellence, a glittering light show, and the singer, Justin, seemed so happy to be here! Which is always an endearing trait in someone you’ve paid a lot of money to see. This might sound weird, but I think my favourite bit was an unsettlingly brilliant saxophone solo, which brought to mind the eeriness of the dinosaur sequence in Fantasia.

And…apropos of something, recently Tim and I were in line for another gig, in front of three guys. From their clothes and piercings and so on, they looked like interesting-enough, open-minded people. And then they started talking. And Tim and I wanted to vomit. I wanted to say something – especially since several of my friends have felt able to speak up to people to tell them what they think recently – but it was late, and there were three of them and two of us, all those kinds of reasons. Tim and I just had to stand there in line and listen. And while I wasn’t up to doing anything that night, I’m able to pass on to you my convictions instead. Please. If you ever hear people saying things so casually like “they aren’t saying yes but they weren’t saying no” and “if they’re that drunk they’re asking for it” or worse – please understand how terrible this is. How it builds. Keeps a particular victim-blaming attitude accepted. I’m not saying this very well but I feel really strongly about it so I’m going to let some other people say it better than I can. If you like pithy analogies, this one might help open your eyes a little. This might make you think about the conflicting messages women are constantly given, and this is the flipside which is told all too little. And this is Derailment Bingo. Many thanks to the Wellington Young Feminists Collective site for resources. If I was more confident in the results I could’ve talked to those people, if I was Veronica Mars I could’ve somehow sassed the bouncer into not letting them in, but all I can do is pass on some excellent links to people who, I would guess, might know all this already. I know it’s not usually the direction I go in on here, but this blog is where I write about what’s important to me…
________________________________________________________
Title via: Sugarhill Gang, Rappers Delight. The song is 14 minutes long so I don’t really feel the need to add anything further to the conversation.
________________________________________________________
Music lately:

Eileen Jewell, Shaking All Over. Her voice is deliciously mellow and relaxed and after hearing Wanda Jackson’s version so many times, I like the calmer but still dirty arrangement of this classic.

Christine Ebersole’s voice goes from crystal-clear to shrieky in a matter of seconds while she’s acting her face off in Grey Gardens the musical. Will You is one of the more crystalline moments in the show, and while the song was only written a few years ago it sounds like a lost track from the forties. Beautiful.

This is probably a decent Bon Iver song to listen to if you’ve never heard them before. It was way souped up live!
________________________________________________________


Next time: It’s nearly midnight and I feel like chocolate. And I don’t see any reason why that want would be inconsistent when I’m next in the kitchen cooking something…

"your wife is sighing, crying, and your olive tree is dying"

“Oh jeeez Tim, you’ve got a huge bit of sleep in your eye. Don’t let it fall in the cornmeal, I won’t be able to find it.” And other such romantic truisms of our time. As I say every year, I don’t dig Valentine’s Day (val-meh-ntines?) partly as a “whatever” to corporate pushers of expensive heteronormative cards and presents, but also as a fist bump of solidarity to the Dolly magazine reading full o’ sighs younger me. Waitangi Day is a much more important date to circle on the calendar for me. 
However, should you want to impress someone in a woo-ing manner, say it with tofu! If they reply with “NONE OF THAT EXOTIC FOREIGN RABBIT FOOD MUCK FOR ME”, then they’ll be really surprised and impressed with the deliciousness of this and they’ve handily let you know how small-minded they are so you don’t have to hang out with them anymore. If they’re a nice person who’s either “I love tofu!” or “huh, tofu, haven’t tried that before but this sounds nice” then you’re good to go. A further option: I just made this for myself, and it was wonderful. Indubitably! 

Would I ever shut up about the price of dairy in this country? Not till its price ceases to make me wince like lemon juice swiftly applied to a papercut. With this in mind, I recently got this strange idea – what if I could make tofu taste like haloumi? They’re the same shape, for a start. I was trying to analyze exactly what flavour haloumi is closest to, and settled upon black olives. Think about it. Oily, salty, intense…Then it turned out so delicious I decided to just call it what it is. Tofu pride!

Black Olive Marinated Fried Tofu Salad


Recipe by me.


1 block of firm tofu (250g-ish)
1/2 cup black olives, stones in
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 big cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 heaped tablespoon fine cornmeal 
1 tablespoon sherry
1 big handful green beans
1 big handful clean spinach leaves


Sometimes I suggest substitutions but please don’t undermine your own tastebuds by getting those pre-sliced olives – they’re so gross and vinegary and bland. Olives with the stones in them are a bit more work, but the oily fullness of flavour will reward you tenfold. Also, if you don’t have sherry, try sake, Marsala, or a little white wine. 


Squeeze the stones out of the olives (seriously, just squeezing them is the easiest way) and mash the olive flesh with a fork in a bowl with the oil and garlic cloves. Slice the tofu into cubes and mix with the olives – pour over a little more olive oil if it looks like it needs it. Leave it while you slice the ends off the beans and simmer them in a pan of water. Once you’ve got that sorted, add the cornmeal to the olive mixture and stir it round so every bit of tofu has some grains clinging to it.


Heat a frying pan up, and lift out all the tofu cubes (sorry, also fiddly) and drop them in it. Fry over a decent heat on all sides, till excellently crisp. Tip into a bowl. By this time the beans’ll be where you need them to be – drain and add them to the tofu. Roughly slice the spinach and add that to the bowl. Finally, heat up the frying pan again, tip in the remaining marinade, including all the squashed olives, add the sherry and fry for about ten seconds. Mix into the tofu and serve! 

It is wildly good. The olives have this soft, mellow intensity and a rich saltiness, which absorbs quickly into the tofu’s usefully porous surface. The cornmeal is subtly sweet yet unsubtly crunchy, and the flavour from the sherry hitting the hot pan is basically indescribably good, but generally adds to the whole savoury, buttery, lusciousness of it all. The juicy crunch of the beans are improved by a slick of oily marinade, and the spinach is…present. And makes the salad go further. Thanks spinach!

I am proud of my brain. It did right by me with this. And I can tell you it’s very, very good the next day too. Tofu doesn’t always last so well once it has seen the light of day, but if anything, this got even nicer. It almost tastes like cold fried chicken. Indubitably! (I like that word.)

The weekend was a full and busy one, where the hobnobbing was non-stopping. Caught up with my wise and awesome aunty who has been living in Australia for years, plus her son (my cousin) and his son (my cousin…twice removed…any Downton Abbey watchers know the correct term for this?) We played Settlers of Catan with Krendan and I surprised myself by loving it, and surprised no-one by yelling “the hunter has become the hunter” every time I picked up a card or ate a Cheezel or whatever. Went to Jo‘s not once but twice, for a party of great delightfulness and an afternoon of delightful greatness, where she introduced Tim and myself to the awesomeness of Veronica Mars. We visited our dear friend Ange at her tiny, tidy flat which is really close to ours (so we can be the Kimmie Gibbler to her Tannerino!) We also went to superlovely cafe Arthur’s with Kim and Brendan (Krendan!) and met up with Perth-based blogger Emma of Lick My Cupcakes, whose blog I just love. Her and her man were really sweet and I love that her photos of Wellington show the city in different way how I usually see it. Finally, Tim and I reflected upon Waitangi Day, shook our heads sadly at a few people and nodded them agree-antly with other, and watched some more of Season 2 of Twin Peaks. SO CREEPY. So important. “Mares eat oats and does eat oats…”
_______________________________________________________
Title via: All For The Best, a song from just one in a very long list of musicals with which I’m well obsessed: Godspell. I learned a tap dance to this song once, but muscle memory didn’t see fit to hold on to that one. Even if musicals aren’t your thing, a young Victor Garber was surprisingly babein‘ as Jesus.
_______________________________________________________
Music lately: 

Ten seconds in, all I could think was ‘this is a bit weak and makes no sense’ but as it goes on it becomes an intoxicatingly catchy song and I love it, indubitably. M.I.A Bad Girls.

Eclipsed only in catchy goodness by Kei Konei Ra by Ahomairangi. They’re young, they’re talented, they’ll make you want to press repeat over and over on this song.
_______________________________________________________
Next time: Aforementioned aunty got me some ceramic pastry weights for baking blind. If that makes no sense at all: it has to do with making pie. PIE! So I might do that. Or it might be something slightly simpler but still cake-tatious. 

hot like fire…take you higher

Given that the spiciest thing I was fed as a kid was Chinese takeaways….and considering chili can burn your face off like flaming magma…and also taking into account that the normalisation of ready-made Thai curry pastes and the like happened well after my formative years…it’s unsurprising that it’s only in the last few years that I’ve got into hot spicy food.

Spooning chillies! Is what I thought when I uploaded this photo to the computer. That third one’s really getting into it. Giving the middle one a right old affectionate nuzzle.

Now, it’s got to the point where I near-on crave chilli – the tingly burn it brings to the corners of my mouth and the back of my throat, the fresh, almost lemony flavour of its crisp flesh. With this big talk I’m surprised I wasn’t crawling into the frame of the photo myself to spoon those chilies. What can I say. I’m a spicy convert. My latest chilli venture was to make Nahm Jim from a page I’d ripped out of a magazine – I didn’t write down what the magazine was or who the recipe author was, but I do have a photo:

Anonymous, smiling “guest chef”: thank you.

What is Nahm Jim? A flavour-ly balanced Thai sauce or dressing, which in this recipe harnesses the bright, colourful flavours of red chilli, coriander and lime, and rides them like a capable mule into the salty intensity of fish sauce and caramel fudge sweetness of palm sugar. It all becomes quite the drinkable finished product, which you can pour over things, mix into things, or use it like I did, to marinate things.

Red Chilli Nahm Jim

  • 1 1/2 long red chillies, seeds removed, finely chopped (I used 3)
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped (I didn’t use one)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 4cm coriander stem with root attached, well washed and finely chopped (note: I just used the stem)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons palm sugar (note: I ate so much palm sugar, it’s delicious)
  • Juice from about five limes 

Using a mortar and pestle, bash the chili, garlic, coriander and 1 tsp salt to a paste. This really didn’t happen for me, it was more just bashed up stuff, but it still worked. Use a food processor or just chop everything superfine by hand if you don’t have the equipment. Work in the palm sugar, then add the fish sauce and lime juice. Check the flavour balance, add more of something if necessary and refrigerate in an airtight container.

Hot Chilli Tips:

So a chili’s heat depends a lot on its size and colour. Big = mild, and red is milder than green, and therefore if you’re just getting into it, use the biggest red ones you can find, make sure all the heat-packing seeds are scraped out of its lengthy belly, and don’t whatever you do touch your face after dealing with them. I rubbed my nose after chopping up these ones and it was burning away for ages. It was a cold night, so it actually worked in my favour, but in the eyes is not so fun. That said, I wussed out of using the small chilli and upped the big chilli quantity – the sauce was gorgeous, don’t get me wrong – but in the end it wasn’t quite hot enough, so more fool me.

Who just puts noodles on the table? This fool.

I had a very appealing idea for marinating chicken in a mixture of this Nahm Jim and coconut milk, but a look at our bank balance meant it wasn’t really a chicken-buying kind of week. Instead I turned to that full-of-potential and megacheap foodstuff that is tofu, to make Coconut Nahm Jim Tofu and Rice Noodles.

My method went like so: slice up one block of firm tofu as you please (I chopped it into pretty diamond shapes which really just look like crooked squares, defeating the purpose completely) and place it in a small container (like a leftover plastic takeout one) and spoon over about half of your Nahm Jim. Or indeed any chilli sauce you like and have handy. Leave for as long as possible – I marinated mine for over 24 hours, on recommendation of Ally – and then about an hour before you cook it, like say when you come home from work, tip in half a can of coconut milk and let it marinate further. Heat up a little oil in a frying pan, spoon the tofu out of the container and into the pan, and let it sizzle away. I like my tofu to be either crunchily crisp, or super tender, and think this recipe suits it being on the tender side, but you do as you please. The residual coconut milk will bubble up and evaporate, and it’ll smell amazing. Remove from heat when you’re satisfied with the tofu’s level of cooked-ness. Meanwhile cook up some rice noodles, drain them, tip in any leftover marinade from the container, a little more coconut milk from the rest in the can, and some salt. Serve drizzled with sesame oil, the remaining Nahm Jim, coriander and sesame seeds.

I love tofu heaps and this may or may not convince you to also, but it’s a pretty simple dinner that looks and tastes good. Not to mention, doesn’t cost a whole lot. Tofu is so cheap and ridiculously filling, making it a pal to our bank balance. The Nahm Jim and coconut really soaks into its spongy surface during its marinading stage, and the sugars in both elements smell gorgeous when they hit the hot pan and start caramelising. While it’s perfect straight from the hot element, if you let it sit for a while the slippery rice noodles absorb the coconut milk and become even more luscious and silky-textured. Mint would be a nice substitute for coriander if you’ve got it – nothing like a bit of green sprinklage to make a plate of food look more professional. Oh, and you could feel free to spoon the uncooked tofu into a salad or something straight from the marinade – it tastes amazing as is.

Introducing The List:

I’m a very determined and ambitious person. Not that I’m used to things going my way. I am in fact extremely used to things going decidedly not my way. But in order to help me help myself to get more things going my way (if that makes sense) I’ve made a big to-do list, inspired by three friends, all outstanding in the field of excellence (Jo, Kim and Kate) who have all previously created their own.

It’s all very well and good to be determined and ambitious, but it’s very very well and good to write stuff down so I don’t forget things, and so I can be accountable to my own brain, which flings around ideas like a pinball machine. I’ve already started writing it (and you can read my list here) and I’ve got till the end of Sunday to finalise it, and from there, till June 30 2012 to complete the tasks. I’m looking for some more things to add to it, so feel free to make suggestions (I’m talking kinda broad thematic things, not like, say, “Oi Peter Gallagher, resolve to pluck your eyebrows!” because that’s just not helpful.) Yes, I’m pretty serious when I say “get a book deal”, I don’t want this to sound like the tagline to a Justin Bieber movie but I dream bigtime big and I think I can make all these things happen, if I work at it. If I could keep our room tidy for a month though, that would honestly (I can’t emphasise my hopelessness) be almost as much of an achievement. And now that it’s written down on this list, I am going to make it happen. Hopefully. Wait, no! DEFINITELY. What would Leslie Knope Do? Is what I’ll remind myself when things look uncertain.

Oh yeah, and Snacks the Goldfish is now nearly two weeks into her new life with us and thriving. I like to amuse her/annoy Tim by singing at her whenever I get home from work and walk in the room. I can tell you with certainty that yelling “who let the dogs out!” and then pointing expectantly will not elicit a response of “who, who, who, who” from either Snacks or Tim.

Title via: the always sadly-late Aaliyah, shortlived R’n’B perfection, with Hot Like Fire.

Music lately:

Who do you love? I love Bo Diddley, you blazer of trails and creater of amazing guitar rhythms.

Nature Boy, Nat King Cole. We found a record of his at the Waiuku Bookfair that turned out to be the same one my grandparents on my dad’s side used to blast all the time. Nice to be able to remember them while listening to his beautiful, restrained singing.

Next time: I still have that poached pear sorbet idea under my skull, but there’s no way that can happen until we eat more of the existing ice cream…

 

every time I eat vegetables it makes me think of you

While I completely welcome, luxuriate in, and devote a lot of time to generating the puddings and soups and casseroles that Winter brings…sometimes it’s nice to interrupt all that, suspend the stodge-production and create something altogether more Spring-like and vegetable-focussed.
Although these are essentially just small pies, their unusual, sesame-studded pastry is light and crisp, and their filling has soft, caramelised vegetables contending with salty, fragrant miso. And I managed to make them while feeling physically dilapidated by a cold, which makes me think that they’re not that fiddly to make, either. (I’ve still got this cough, by the way, but I think as far as the battle goes I’m now winning.)
I found the recipe in the latest CLEO magazine (who, I should add, have been very good to me over the last year or so, if you see my “Attention” tab up the top there) and it’s by a clever lady called Janella Purcell who has a cookbook called Eating For The Seasons. Which, judging by this one excellent recipe, is probably a really good book. Despite what looks like Mistral font used on the cover.
The pastry is gluten-free, which is fun, especially if you can’t eat gluten yourself. I’m pretty sure that these are also vegan, so if you’re wondering what it is that’s even holding them together…read on.

Roast Vegetable Sesame Tarts

Adapted from a recipe by Janella Purcell, found in the July issue of CLEO magazine.

Pastry:

1 1/2 cups brown rice flour, or spelt flour, or whatever flour you’ve got really – even regular flour (which, I hope I don’t have to spell out to you, will mean these are no longer gluten-free)
1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted if you have the energy (I didn’t)
2 tablespoons olive, rice bran or avocado oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce or Tamari sauce
3/4 cup boiling water

Combine the flour and sesame seeds in a bowl. Tip in the oils, the water, and the soy sauce and mix together. Knead well till it forms a soft ball, then rest for 30 minutes while you get on with everything else.

Filling:

Olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1 cup pumpkin or kumara (I used kumara) diced or thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 tablespoon white miso paste
Toasted seeds to garnish – pumpkin, sunflower, or just more sesame seeds if you like. Pine nuts or almonds would be nice too, but seeds are less expensive and just as delicious.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and slowly cook the onions till caramelised. While this is happening, roast the vegetables on a tray at 200 C/400 F for about 20 minutes.

Once your onions are cooked, but while your veges are still roasting, roll out the pastry fairly thinly and use a cookie cutter or similar (I used one of those ramekins that you might make creme brulee in) to stamp out circles of pastry. It’s a little different to the usual – quite springy and playdough-y, and you’ll need to re-roll it a couple of times. Just bear with it though, it will work. Fit your circles of pastry into a greased and floured/silicon muffin tray, not worrying if you get folds of pastry, it’s all good if it looks a bit ramshackle – and bake them, as is, for 15 minutes.

Once the cases are out of the oven, dab a tiny bit of miso paste on the inside of each, then top with your roast vegetables and a sprinkling of toasted seeds. They should remove easily from the muffin tray – and then eat!

Makes 12.

Note – I made the following changes:

– Halved the recipe (so you can easily double what’s above)
– Used spelt flour instead of brown rice flour, as that’s what I had
– You’re supposed to use all sesame oil in the pastry but as it’s expensive and precious I cut it back and replaced some with other oil, but you do as you like
– I only had black sesame seeds, but it’s all good
– Used soy sauce instead of Tamari as that’s what I had
– Changed the vegetables a little – the original recipe didn’t have fennel and had pumkin instead of kumara
– I think that’s it. One other thing to note is that different flours absorb water at a different rate so don’t be afraid to add more flour if your pastry dough is a sticky mess, or more liquid if it’s not coming together. Just a little at a time though.
So as you can see I adapted this recipe quite a bit, and I think you could continue to do so yourself. Once you’ve got the pastry cases sorted, it’s really all a matter of what’s in your fridge.
For example, the following could be delicious…
– Roast capsicums and tomatoes, with toasted chopped almonds and a little orange zest
– Sliced leeks, softened and caramelised in a pan, with feta
– Roast mushrooms with thyme, then chop them up, fill the tarts and top with pumpkin seeds
– Roasted zucchini with capers
– Raw grated beetroot, coriander leaves and toasted walnuts
– Slices of avocado and raw zucchini, topped with mint…
– Mince and cheese! Yay. Or, like, slow-braised beef ragu and parmesan.
I’m also thinking about removing the soy sauce from the pastry, using a plain oil, and filling the cooked cases with sweet things instead, like berries, or chocolate mousse, or – best of all – nuts and caramel sauce. And beyond that, I’m also wondering if you could just roll out the pastry and stamp out and bake awesome crackers from it.
But all those imaginary tarts aside, how did the actual ones that I made taste?
Amazing.
So delicious. The pastry is all nutty and biscuity, and just a tiny bit salty – a very addictive combination. I personally am glad I added the fennel, its aniseedy freshness and quick-to-caramelise, oniony structure was quite lush against the sweeter softer kumara. And they taste really, really good cold as well, to the point where I was wishing I hadn’t halved the original recipe. Twelve mini tarts between Tim and myself just wasn’t enough.

Hooray for pie!

_________________________________________________________


Title via: The Ramones, and the song really is called Every Time I Eat Vegetables I Think Of You. I love them (the Ramones, but also vegetables.)
_________________________________________________________

Music lately:
Ella Fitzgerald, When I Get Low I Get High. I think partly because of its compelling Puttin’ On The Ritz style fast swing, Fitzgerald’s gorgeous voice, and partly the fact that it’s just so short, is why I would’ve listened to this song roughly a squillion times over the last week or two.
Matthew and Son by Cat Stevens, I’ve said it before but I love this song so much that it’s always worth repeating: oh my gosh I love this song so much. The video (if you click through) is also quite incredible. His shoulder-pumping dance, the strangely bland and unaffected expressions on the young people’s faces, the bit around 1.55 where he stares down into the camera while singing *fans self*
__________________________________________________________
Next time: Billy Crudup’s Grandma’s Chocolate Fudge Pie. It’s wild.

like eating glass

I was supposed to have this blog post sorted last night, but by 7.30pm I was a loose-jawed, slumpy mess and didn’t really have what it took to stage a decent blog-comeback. However, I managed to at least get dinner done – the following recipe for Glass Noodles and Edamame – whilst bearing the increasingly shackle-like load of jetlag that I can’t seem to shake. I don’t want to complain about it as such, (oh poor me, I travelled so much and now I’m just too fatigued for words), I just want to draw your attention to the fact that I did make it at all despite wearing a heavy cloak of semi-somnolence, and therefore you should be able to make it on any given day. That said, I understand if exhaustion and unmotivation of the non-travel variety is part of your day-to-day routine. I’m not the only person ever to feel sleepy, or worse, sleepy in the middle of cooking something involving a little concentration, causing you to collapse to your knees into a bowl of soaking noodles and cry ceilingward, What have I doooooooooone?

But this is do-able. Plus, it comes from the Ottolenghi cookbook Plenty, which Tim got me for my birthday. We’d actually also reserved ourselves a table for an evening at Ottolenghi the restaurant on the day after my birthday. (The day of was all booked out. A month in advance.) It was such a cool night. They made a huge fuss of us having come all the way from New Zealand, gave us prime seats, our waiter was genuinely friendly, our food was genuinely amazing. It was also wildly expensive but it’s not the kind of place we go often…or ever. So we put the price in the back of our minds while we feasted on tender shredded brisket, cheese-stuffed zucchini flowers (the first time either of us had tried them), barley with asparagus and radicchio, so many beautiful flavours, followed by a plain but perfect vanilla cheese cake carrying crunchy, sugary, caramelised macadamias. I’d been a fan of Yotam Ottolenghi’s for a while now, and I found it hard not to grin throughout our meal.

Plenty allows me to recreate those beautiful flavours and combinations at home. It’s a completely vegetarian cookbook, with no pudding recipes (yet I love it still) and when I saw the following recipe for Glass Noodles with Edamame Beans, I could see it was one of those dishes that largely relies on your cupboard being stocked up, as opposed to any skill, and therefore is ideal for the first meal after a month away. There’s a little heating and chopping involved, and then suddenly you’ve got this gorgeous piled-up pile of salty-sweet noodles and edamame beans that taste so nutty and creamy they betray the fact that they are actually a vegetable.

I know glass noodles as vermicelli or rice noodles, but kept the name because it sounds kinda pretty. However I removed the “Warm” from the start of the title – maybe I read too many Baby-Sitter’s Club book scenes of Kristy Thomas describing the SMS cafeteria lunch offerings – but whenever I see the word “Warm” in a title (and it does appear a bit, you know, “Warm Salad of Lamb and bla bla bla” etc) I always mentally add the word “socks” afterwards. Warm…socks. Not cool, but there it is. I get frozen edamame beans – soybeans – at the supermarket up on Torrens Terrace or in Moore Wilson (if you’re in Wellington) but if they’re too hard to find, this would still rule with frozen peas as a substitute. That said, my ancient Aunt Daisy cookbook has a recipe for “Soya Bean Rissoles” (easily digestible seems to be their selling point) so they can’t be that obscure, right?

Glass Noodles and Edamame Beans

From Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

  • 200g glass (rice, vermicelli) noodles
  • 2 T sunflower, rice bran or other plain oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 300g podded, cooked edamame beans
  • 3 spring onions
  • 1 fresh red chilli, chopped finely
  • 3 T chopped coriander, plus more to serve
  • 3 T shredded mint leaves
  • 3 T toasted sesame seeds

Sauce

  • 2 T grated galangal or fresh root ginger
  • Juice of 4 limes or 1 – 2 big lemons
  • 3 T peanut or rice bran oil
  • 2 T palm sugar, crushed or 1 T dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp tamarind pulp or paste
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt

Soak the noodles in a bowl of hot water for five minutes, or until soft. If, like mine, they don’t soften up right away, tip them into a pot with a bit more water and simmer for a bit. Don’t let them get too soft and collapsing though. Drain.

Whisk together the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Heat the sunflower or rice bran oil in a large frying pan or wok, and add the garlic. When it starts to go lightly golden and smell amazing, remove the pan from the heat and add the sauce and the noodles. Gently stir together, so that you incorporate the sauce but don’t crush the noodles, then add the edamame beans, plus the spring onion, chilli, coriander and mint.

Divide between plates or pile onto a platter and scatter over the remaining beans, sesame seeds and coriander.

Notes: I used sambal oelek instead of chilli, lemon instead of lime, and brown sugar instead of palm – and I just didn’t have any coriander or tamarind. My cupboard is pretty well stocked but I’ve been away for a month and wasn’t going to spend heaps on a few ingredients when I could wait till the vege market this Sunday and get them for cheap. I also didn’t use mint because it grows up on the roof at my place and it was raining and freezing and windy and I just didn’t want to go outside to get it.

Please scuse the photos by the way – now that the late-afternoon darkness is a daily occurrence, I really need to remember how to take decent night-time photos.

Even though I wish we were still traveling and doing things like this:

…on a cold and rain-soaked evening I’m so happy to be back in the kitchen, and this is just the recipe to welcome me back to it. The flavours of chilli, ginger, garlic and soy lift the bland, slippery noodles into something substantial and the beans not only look gorgeous, their pistachio-like taste makes this fairly cheap dinner taste luxurious as. As Ottolenghi suggests, you could double the soy content by adding tofu to make it more of a meal, but I loved it as is.

Actually this isn’t even my greatest jet lag achievement. I did manage – somehow – to make caramel ice cream at Mum and Dad’s place on our first day back in the country, and I helped with the feijoa and apple crumble that went with it. Have you ever separated 6 eggs on 2 hours’ sleep? I don’t recommend it, but my drive to make everyone ice cream overrode my drive to be sensible. We did have a great weekend at home, landing at 5.30am only to be whisked up to the Manukau Heads to see Dad’s band Apostrophe play at a school fundraiser. Despite calling to mind something that Coco Solid once mentioned about the particular awkwardness of performing in the daytime, it was my first time seeing the band play and it was very cool. I don’t think it was just the jetlag that made the songs sound so good – between absorbing all those Dad-penned tunes and seeing Mum make up a bread and butter pudding on the spot with bits of leftover hot cross bun and bread rolls, I left for Wellington with a bit of a “my parents are awesome” glow. We managed to see heaps of family on our short time at home which was so great, even if the later it got in the afternoon the less sense we made.

Just checked the clock and it’s 9.20pm which is the latest night I’ve had yet since we got back on Saturday morning – yuss.

Title via: Bloc Party’s Like Eating Glass from Silent Alarm. I remember when they were all new and exciting and now they’re just…a bit old and exciting. When Kele Okerere sings “it’s so cold in this house” it’s like you can see the puff of air coming from his mouth.

Music lately:

I haven’t had time to listen to much since I’ve been back but of course there’s Apostrophe, my dad’s band – they have so many good songs but to be fair, I really can’t judge ’em unbiasedly, anyway the only thing of theirs online is their single The Skeptic, check it out.

Next time: I’ve got a day off on Friday and I’m going to be baking SO many things. Or at least, more than one thing. I’ve missed baking. There might also be a moment-by-moment recount of how I felt during Wicked. I will also be catching up on all the food blogs on Friday, looking forward to all the pending inspiration.