you wanna play, let’s run away, we won’t be back before it’s christmas day

Tis the season to flop dramatically facedown onto your pie-crumb scattered bed, yeah?

Every year around this time I do a blog post rounding up links back to my own blog posts of recipes that make ideal edible Christmas presents, or indeed edible presents to be consumed for any occasion. This year I am making a small concession towards my own medication-induced exhaustion and simply linking to last year’s blog post rather than doing a whole ‘nother one. This is also due to the fact that I re-read last year’s post and was like…wow. this is so well-written and I’m not sure I could manage to be more entertaining about the same content than I was at that precise moment? Could anyone else be this damnably self-congratulatory while admitting extreme shortcomings?

It’s true though, as I covered in my last blog post my new medication is making life a lot easier but the mental wading-through-treacle vibes are still yet to level out and as such it’s been a lot harder to sit and write without genuinely needing a lie down. I’m annoyed that I can’t quiiite rise above the fog yet, but I am amused in a small way at linking to a blog post that is itself a list of links to my own blog posts, like an artisinal mille-feuille of self-absorption (putting the “me” in mille-feuille, amiright?)

I’m not leaving you entirely in the lurch you didn’t even know that you were in, though, as I’ve got another recipe to add to the list: a wonderfully easy one, at that. For me it’s just not Christmas without consuming a vast quantity of Nigella Lawson content (I mean, it’s also not like, a Tuesday without consuming a vast quantity of Nigella Lawson content either, but your experiences may vary.)

Putting some stuff in a jar is the universe’s gift to gift-giving. It’s simple, it looks pretty, it’s practical. I’m not talking about the modern nightmarish extrapolation-via-pinterest of overnight doughnut paleo ramen in a M*son J*r. All I’m saying here is like, if you’re in the mood to cook stuff in the first place anyway, making some easy jam or a simple chutney or sauce or Pickled Thing makes a lovely heartfelt gift that’s just as applicable to give to a colleage whom you had a frosty yet professional working relationship with as it is to give to your crush, your kindly neighbour, or your grandma. You can talk it down – oh, I made five kilos of this chutney and thought you might like a jar, it’s great with turkey – or you can talk it up, like, I heard you liked cherries so I macerated them in this liqueur which evokes the perfume you were wearing on the night that we first met – and here you reeeeally wanna make sure you read the room before launching into such talk or indeed, actions – OR you can just keep it all for yourself and have twinkling jars of pastes and emulsions ready to enliven your leftovers, embiggen your sandwiches, and en-sauce your un-sauced.

 please note we did not eat the cactus  please note we did not eat the cactus

I, myself, brought the peaches to the table for a Christmas Dinner (which was actually consumed as a late lunch but for some reason no matter what time of day Christmas-related food is eaten I call it dinner) with my two very best friends and twin lights of my life, Kim and Kate. We ate roasted chicken with herbed Greek yoghurt, cornbread and cranberry stuffing, potato-wrapped roasted asparagus, Potato Dish (you know the one) and roasted beetroot and feta spiced filo tart. We watched Imagine Me And You (“you’re a wanker number niiiiiiiine!”) and drank wine and negronis and just had a really beautiful lovely day. The peaches in all honesty would not have been missed if I hadn’t brought them along, but because the day itself was so wonderful they are inextricably associated in my head now with Good Times.

nigella lawson’s spiced peaches

a recipe by myself. Lol no it’s from her book Nigella Express. It’s my wording of her recipe though? Let’s just back away from this whole hornet’s nest and proceed with the recipe. 

  • 800g canned peach halves in syrup
  • one tablespoon rice wine vinegar, or similar
  • two cinnamon sticks
  • an inch or so of fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced into coins
  • half a teaspoon dried chilli flakes
  • half a teaspoon sea salt flakes
  • half a teaspoon black peppercorns
  • three whole cloves

Get a couple of jars ready to store the peaches in, and sterilise them using your chosen method (which may or may not include “giving them a quick rinse and hoping for the best”.) 

Empty the peaches and their syrup into a saucepan with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil, let simmer for a few minutes, remove from the heat, and tip into the jars. Refrigerate till you need them. That’s IT. 

These peaches are excellent, truly excellent, with cold meat and/or cheese, and they look absolutely super on the table with all your other dishes. I also have a suspicion that the spiced syrup would be amazing as a shot alongside a shot of nice tequila, like a kind of peachy pickleback.

Oh yeah, and here’s the link to last year’s blog post.  It’s quite frankly a really good read even if you have no reason nor intention of making gifts for any single human being now or at any time.

title from: RENT is the musical from which this entire blog gets its name, and the whole musical is actually extreeemely christmassy (especially the original stage version, damn you Christopher Columbus, movie director, for removing the Christmas Bells number from the film adaptation.) It’s the song Out Tonight by the scrunchy-throaty voiced Daphne Rubin-Vega from said original version from whence we get our title (I adore Rosario Dawson as Mimi in the movie adaptation but the lyrics are changed to “New Year’s Day”). 

music lately: 

I’ve been aggressively feeling 80s indie lately. Whisper to a Scream by Icicle Works is so, so good, like, makes you want to run down the street in a directionless yet purposefully-coming-of-age-film type way. The massive drums and “we are, we are, we are” refrain give it a kind of early pop-punk vibe which is naturally very pleasing. Listen to it!

I have a personal tradition whereby every year I make myself wait until December 1 to rewatch the spine-chillingly ludicrous performance of Turkey Lurkey Time from the musical Promises, Promises, at the 1969 Tony Awards. It’s SO STUPID and yet a geniuine feat of physical engineering and the perfect marriage of choreographer and medium, the medium being Donna McKechnie’s illegally rubber-jointed limbs. If none of this makes any sense, watching the video is really…not going to enlighten you any further, but you either get it or you don’t.

Not Empty, Garageland. This song always gets to me just the tiniest bit!

next time: IDK but here’s the link to last year’s blog post round up again just! in case! you missed it! 

bruises on the fruit, tender age in bloom

It has taken me what feels like forever to get this blog post done and it’s not because I’ve been doing anything exciting by any means, I’ve just been busy with work and overtired and rinsing and repeating. That’s a lie, I’m not even rinsing. Just grubbily unproductive. But here I am and I’m determined to make this happen because, if nothing else, the recipe I’m talking about involves quince which is in season for about the same length of time as the brief nap I wish I was currently having.

So quinces, yeah, they look like large pears and smell like if an apple was presenting you with a bunch of flowers and blushing nervously. They’re impossible to eat raw and rock hard when you try to cut through them and take forever to cook but once they do, you get blessed with soft, melting texture with just a little of that autumnal fruit grittiness, and intense, perfumed sweetness of flavour.

I bought two, knowing full well I’d probably get too busy to do anything other than occasionally appreciatively sniffing them before ruefully throwing them in the bin once they’d deteriorated beyond the point where I could ignore it; however I surprised myself by actually doing something. And that thing was delicious. I grated the quince – not the easiest task, since they’re so concrete-like, but I managed – and cooked it in plenty of butter with sliced pears, and then just added water slowly, almost risotto like, until everything was cooked and soft. A tiny bit of sugar was all that was needed, no spices or anything – I mean, you absolutely could, I just wanted the fruit to be the undistracted star. If I was going to add something here I’d personally go for cardamom – a tiny bit lemony and gingery and less obvious than cinnamon, or indeed, actual ginger. The butter with the fruit is so lush, and flavour enough, making everything all rich and sweet and juicy and, well, buttery.

buttered quince and pears

a recipe by myself

  • one large quince
  • two pears
  • 40g butter
  • one tablespoon sugar
  • water

Peel the quince (just use a vege peeler) and carefully grate the flesh, till you’re left with just the solid core. This is a bit of an undertaking because quinces are, as I said, extremely tough. Throw the butter into a large frying pan and over a medium to high heat, melt it and tip in the quince. Finely slice the pears and add them to the pan too. Continue to stir until the pears have softened a bit.

Sprinkle over the sugar, add some more butter if you feel like it, turn the heat up on high and add 125ml/half a cup of water. Continue stirring regularly until the water has evaporated, and then continue in this fashion, adding water and stirring till it’s gone, until the quince has almost dissolved into a nubbly paste coating the pears and everything is very, very tender and golden.

I ate it with extremely thick natural yoghurt, the type you can basically stand a spoon up in, and a mixture of toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds, roughly chopped and mixed with coconut sugar and sea salt. The textures and temperatures and sweet-salty-buttery-fruity thing going on was sensational, but also extremely, calmingly simple. You can do what you like with this nubbly fruity mixture though – put it under crumble, stir it into whipped cream, fold it into a cake batter, eat it with ice cream, and I suspect it would also work with some kind of pork or alongside sharp goat’s cheese.

If you’re up to your neck in quinces right now I also suggest some other recipes that I’ve blogged about – like quince sorbet, quince brandy, quince glaze and quince loaf cake  (that last post I linked to is from early 2008 which was literally 84 years ago).

And that’s like, it, really. In fact as soon as I hit publish I’m scooting to work again. I will do my very, very best to get into some wacky anecdote-worthy scrapes and capers for you so that the next blog post has more filler material. Au revoir till next time.

title from: Nirvana’s aggressively bucolic song In Bloom.

music lately: 

Gideonby My Morning Jacket. This song is from 2005 but sounds like it could’ve been written in like, 2015, it’s all soaring and dreamy and wonderful, but above all I’m thankful for this band because of the scene in Happy Endings where Alex is like “There’s my My Morning Jacket jacket!”

Santa Feby Beirut. God this song is uplifting from the second it kicks off, it’s just lovely and happy and simple and good.

next time: I made some extremely good polenta with olive oil and roast garlic, I’m also really, really wanting to do some kind of slow cooking with the weather being so freezing. I also promise anecdotes or something. 

workworkworkworkwork

Generally my ideas come all at once, fully formed, or not at all. Like I’ll stare at my wardrobe for a literal forty minutes, paralysed with the inability to choose a simple garment to prevent my public nudity (admittedly, ritalin has helped alleviate these vibes) or I’ll wake up being like “I’m going to channel Victor Garber playing Jesus in the 1973 film adaptation of the musical Godspell and this is exactly how I’m going to do it!” I submitted a cocktail to Wellington on a Plate this year for work and I came up with it, concept, recipe, title and all, in precisely five seconds, but on the very last day that submissions were open. There’s other examples, just imagine I’ve given them to you (I’m very tired right now.) All of which leads us to this pomegranate cheesecake that I made on Tuesday night, simply because the words “pomegranate cheesecake” plus the entire recipe appeared in my head suddenly, and I was like…guess I better act upon this. Who am I to ignore the voice telling me to make a cheesecake that no one was asking for nor needing in their life? Who am I to not act upon every damn whim that occurs to me, no matter what it is? Who indeed?

Luckily the cheesecake was as delicious as my odd little brain promised.  

This is an extremely easy cheesecake to knock together, and in fact the only difficult part is sourcing the one key ingredient: not actual pomegranate, because I am a heathen who decided to forge ahead with this despite the fruit in question being wildly out of season, but instead: Monin Pomegranate Syrup. I’ll be honest with you, some of their fruit syrups are spectacular and some of them are…less so…but the pomegranate stuff is pretty magical: lip-smackingly, butt-smackingly sour, zestily sweet, and appealingly pink in colour. If you live in Wellington it’s easily available at Moore Wilson’s, otherwise I would try buying it online, or using something like Six Barrel Soda’s Cherry Pomegranate Soda syrup, or perhaps scout your local bars for who has it in stock and ask nicely if you can borrow a small quantity in a takeaway cup in return for a slice of cheesecake. Or you could change tack completely and look for a good-quality raspberry syrup, the kind which real fruit was harmed in the making of; you’ll still get that appealingly sour red fruit flavour. OR you could go archly artisinal and use pomegranate molasses while upping the sugar content: in fact I’m now extremely curious about this variation and want to try it.  

But back to the actual cheesecake that I actually made, actually. (Cheesecake…actually…is all around.) 

I went into work on Tuesday night to knuckle down and overhaul the till to add and remove and shuffle a zillion buttons to make it more useable (it’s one of those ancient systems that’s about on the level a Brick Game or even, for those of you in the audience from the previous generation, an Atari, but also like, it’s MY system that I know how to USE and if anyone changes it I’ll be mad because I can’t be BOTHERED learning new THINGS.) I also had an ulterior motive: I was going to make this cheesecake, and then feed the troops with it the following evening once it had chilled sufficiently overnight. Yes, it’s a refrigerated cheesecake, not a baked one, and I honestly kind of prefer them. I’m down if you are to engage in a lively debate about this. 

All of which means it’s fantastically easy to make. The filling itself is just cream cheese and whipped cream which somehow holds together and I do not question it, the lack of effort involved is enough for me. This concept is based on a Nigella Lawson recipe, so you know you can trust it. I made the base before starting on the till, refrigerated it while I got stuck in on said till, made the filling when I needed a break after realising I’d been programming everything completely wrong and was about to cry, and then put that in the refrigerator and ploughed ahead until some progress was actually made on the damn till. The next day, I came in and photographed the cheesecake, and then left it there to be consumed by whomsoever happened to be around and desiring surprise treats. 

So that’s how I got there, but what in the heck did it taste like? Absolutely amazing. I didn’t actually eat the finished product as a whole but I can tell you I ate an alarming amount of the biscuit base as I was pressing it into the cake tin, and also a near-on hilarious amount of the filling as I was making it, so I can confidently say, with my hand on my heart and one hand in my pocket and the other one flicking a peace sign, that it’s a really, really good cheesecake. The tartness of the cream cheese echoes the tartness of the pomegranate syrup but it’s in such a sherbety kind of way – not truly sour, just fizzy and fruity, softened by the billowing cream. The biscuit base tastes good because of course it does, it’s smashed up biscuits and lots of butter, I don’t have to explain that to you. The colour, a merest blush of rosy pink, is really pretty, and that is also important. 

While I’m being extremely heathenish and cavalier with regards to the seasonality of produce, I did buy a package of pomegranate seeds to put on top and they kind of tasted like nail polish remover but they looked so nice that my love of aesthetic won in the end. Besides, as I reasoned, you can always flick them off before you eat your slice of cheesecake. If this horrifies you too much or you just can’t access pre-packaged pomegranate seeds, simply drizzle the cheesecake with more syrup, or leave it as a plain expanse of pale, pale pink. 

pomegranate cheesecake

a recipe by myself

  • one packet of plain biscuits, the boring kind that are only useful for cheesecake bases
  • 100g butter
  • 250g cream cheese, full fat (I’m not trying to be cute, low-fat has a weird texture)
  • 300ml cream
  • half a cup of icing sugar (just spoon it in, don’t pack it down, you can always add more)
  • 60ml Monin pomegranate syrup
  • Pomegranate seeds to decorate (optional)

Get yourself a 20cm springform cake tin and line the base with a sheet of baking paper. Then, get those biscuits crushed. Either put them in a food processor and blitz them into dust, or put them in a plastic bag and bash them with something heavy (in my case, it was a muddler that I usually use for making, like, caipirinhas.)  Apply some heat to the butter till it’s anywhere from extremely soft to totally melted, it really doesn’t matter, and mix it into the biscuit crumbs. Tip all this into the cake tin and use the back of a spoon to press it fairly evenly across the base (I find if you run the spoon under water it helps the crumbs to not stick.) Pop this into the refrigerator while you get on with the filling, which is a matter of moments.

Make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature otherwise you’ll never get anywhere, in cheesecake or life. Mix it, the icing sugar, and the pomegranate syrup together briskly. Taste to see if it needs either more sugar or pomegranate. Then, whip the cream until it’s softly bulky but not like, super stiff, and fold it into the cream cheese. By the way, you can do this in a food processor or blender, mixing up the cream cheese first, removing it, and then blitzing the cream, but just be really careful to not overwhip the cream. Spatula all this on top of the biscuit base, smooth out the top, and refrigerate it for at least three hours, but ideally overnight.

When you’re ready to go, run a knife around the inside of the caketin and carefully unclip the springy bit to remove the sides. Transfer it to a cute serving plate, and either scatter with pomegranate seeds or drizzle over more syrup, but basically just do something aesthetic, okay?  

I came into work later the next night: the cheesecake was all but gone, a slender wedge remained. Obviously overtired largely-broke hospo people will eat a pile of dirt if someone implies that it’s free food (just me?) but I took that as a sign that yes, it was delicious, and yes, it was a good idea, even if I have no idea why it appeared or whether I truly needed to follow through on it. 

On the other hand, I am also considering making it a weekly thing now, so, thanks brain. That good idea was a good idea. 

title from: Barbados gave us rum and it gave us Rihanna, both of which are true blessings. Rihanna’s song Work is as glorious as she is. Please enjoy both versions of the video, don’t deprive yourself. 

music lately: 

Mint Chicks, Bad Buzz. This song is not on spotify and it hurts my feelings because I can’t put it on a work playlist till it is!! It’s so good!

Lorde, Liability. It’s so inconsiderate of her to release music in my lifetime when it affects my heart so much? But here she is anyway. Well Lorde, I don’t respect it, but damn it: I respect it. 

next time: The weather is getting colder rapidly so I’m keen to respond in a culinary way. Something slow-cooked and extremely comforting. Either that or I’ll wait until an idea hits my brain with a bang.