you like tomato and i like tomahto

It’s nice to have a happy little rut of recipes that are easy enough that you can make them while mentally and emotionally exhausted, not to mention physically exhausted (for example: from merely existing, or from watching the latest Game of Thrones, amiright? Spoiler alert: omg.) But they’re also adjustable and reliably versatile, like an old comfortable bra, that you can really throw them into anything and you’ll feel like you’ve done something nice for yourself of an evening. Somehow, this Tomato, Almond and Smoked Paprika sauce has become that to me. I think it’s based on a sauce I saw on a cooking show one time – seriously, those are the only details that I can remember – and occasionally I add other things to it. But it manages to be utterly simple, vaguely nutrient-adjacent (considering the nutritional value of my lunchtime pot noodles is akin to that of their polystyrene containers) and yet a little flashy and sexy and interesting. One of my very favourite things to do with it is to very slowly fry eggs in about five tablespoons of olive oil, then use that olive oil in the sauce itself, then serve all of that over couscous. But on Monday – Queen’s birthday, oh that joyous occasion…of a Monday off! – I made it to have roasted vegetables dipped into it or blanketed under it, while my friend Kim and I watched The Craft

I was curious to see if The Craft was still the piece of important, flawless filmmaking that it seemed to be to me in 1996. It um, wasn’t quite. But it was also still really fantastic in some ways, most of them fashion-related, and I still appreciate what it meant to me back in the day. A film about women, into witchcraft, who said “we are the weirdos, mister?” Thumbs up.

(The red candle in front melted rapidly and spilled over onto the floor. Which we only noticed after the movie finished. I admit, at first my brain thought “gasp! It’s an evil thing like the thing from the thing in the movie!” But really…it was just spilled wax. Phew.)

This sauce is just ridiculously delicious, although frankly I think the batch I made for myself and Kim was my weakest so far. Possibly because I used multigrain bread, which meant the sauce had linseeds dispersed through it, which…yeah. Not quite what I was going for. Generally though, this sauce is rich and luscious and a little smoky from the paprika and brilliant with all sorts of things – the aforementioned fried eggs, stirred through pasta, poured over cubed roasted potatoes for a patatas bravas effect, tipped onto polenta…it just goes with all things. Particularly these crisp, collapsing and slightly charred vegetables.

Roast Cauliflower and Parsnip with Tomato, Almond and Smoked Paprika Sauce

A recipe by myself.

As much cauliflower and as many parsnips as you please. I found about half of the former and two of the latter fit comfortably on one oven tray and will feed 2-3.
Olive oil
2 slices thick white bread (I used seeded this time round. Uh…don’t.)
1/2 cup whole almonds
1 can tomatoes
1 heaped teaspoon smoked paprika

Set your oven to 220 C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Slice the parsnip and cauliflower up however you like, but the more flat/thin you go, the better likelihood of crisp-ity there is. Arrange in one layer on the tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, blast the bread and almonds together in the food processor till the almonds are good and nubbly and small. This may take some time. If your bread is quite stale, soak it in a little cold water for a while. Then drain the can of tomatoes of its liquid – I know, this seems kind of wasteful. I don’t know, drink the liquid if you feel bad about it (actually don’t, it’s weird and metallic and horrible on its own from the tin) and tip the tomatoes into the food processor with the bread-almond stuff and continue to process till it looks saucy and incorporated. Finally, add the paprika, a good pinch of salt, and plenty of olive oil – about three tablespoons – and process again. Taste to see if it wants any more salt or paprika, then either serve cold or heated gently in a saucepan in a bowl on the side of the vegetables. 

Dip the vegetables in the sauce or pile them into small bowls and spoon the sauce over. 

In case you’re wondering, the reason these are sitting on a cardboard box is because our one small table has our projector sitting on a chair on top of it. It’s kind of an awkward fixture to have in the house, but then we keep wanting to use the projector, so perhaps this is our life now. It’s not a bad life, considering how fun it is watching things projected in large scale onto the wall. 

What else happened on the long weekend? Why, plenty.

We went to our friend Craig’s 30th. It was a very fun night (less fun the next morning) especially bedizening ourselves with fake tattoos of Craig’s face (tattoo locations of Craig’s face include Tim’s actual face) and “Tattoos are for losers”.

First new duvet cover since 2006. As per, “is it instagrammable” guilelessly affected the decision-making process. It’s so crisp and clean and whenever I wake up I feel like I’ve been sleeping inside a bed of white chocolate ganache, I love it.

Amazing burritos occurred.
And finally I got an email telling me an advance copy of my cookbook (which isn’t due out till September so don’t try asking your bookstore about it yet, unless you think it will build up major h y p e) which I received in the mail today and nearly cried and threw up everywhere when I saw it because every emotion in the world suddenly played out in my brain. I mean, I’m really happy with it of course, but there was just such a rush of feelings when I held it in my hands for the first time, so much more intense than just seeing the printouts of the design and the manuscript and so on. I will have to work on this so I don’t black out every time I walk into a bookshop in September. It’s just very exciting and terrifying and strange and happy all at the same time. Cookbook! 
Title via: Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off, a song about a couple who say words differently sometimes. Adorable! Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong do a reliably snappy version

Music lately:

Mariah Carey feat Miguel, Beautiful. This dreamy, warm song feels like a return to form for my favourite singer ever who’s non-returns to form I’d totally justify anyway. Have listened to it many, many, many times. 

The final few episodes of Nashville just slew me. I shed human tears and couldn’t move for half an hour after the season finale. A joyful highlight though, was Clare Bowen as Scarlett O’Conner, singing the hugely pretty Looking For A Place To Shine. 

Polly Scattergood, Wanderlust. Cannot. Stop. Listening. To. This song. 
Next time: Umm. I know not of any specifics yet. Will see where my brain takes me. Could probably do with a better weekday lunch than pot noodles, that could be a thing. 

it won’t be long now, any day…

A true story about an untrue story: During my dictionary-reading, daydreaming, dancing, painting-my-nails-with-twink-ing youth, I tried writing a Baby Sitters Club book. I didn’t know it was “fan fiction” at the time, due to the internet not being widespread – the only people I knew who had it was my cool cousins who lived in Auckland, and my uncommonly tech-savvy Nanna. No, I pridefully considered it something of a manuscript that I could mail to Ann M Martin, and she would then be so grateful and impressed that she might publish it or something. (Fun fact: in the plot I may have unwittingly and independently invented the concept of grills/jewelled clip on braces. I kid you not.) 
I have a point. It is this: at the time of all this writing, I did not believe in self-editing. It was probably a bit of youthful vanity, as well as how I knew the Baby Sitters Club every which way to Sunday and they’re pretty easy to write once you get the hang of things. I would just write and write in my big notebook and then declare it all perfect. Fast forward to this year, when I went to a course where we were advised to reread everything we write for online then cut it in half, so it appeals to the fickle, short attention spanned readers. I’m better at editing now, but am still resolutely long-form in my blogging, no matter what the experts say.
Wait, this is the point: Christmas is coming, everyone’s tired, nobody has time, so I’m going to try make this blog post much shorter than usual by editing myself more ruthlessly. I could’ve just said that at the start of this blog post, but um, I’m not that good at self-editing. And what other food blogger’s gonna freely divulge their questionable, oblivious fan-fic past? (Because if there are others, can you let me know? I bet we’d be great friends.) 
This recipe is a convergence of a few different ideas that I had, turning into this: Halved capsicums, with a halved tomato tucked inside each half. Once roasted, fill a further time with scorched, crisp cauliflower pieces. It doesn’t sound like much but I promise you it’s brilliant. 

While I’m getting confessional, around the same time I also attempted to write a young adult novel about a teen girl who wins a radio competition to meet her favourite girl band who she’s obsessed with but she has to shave her hair first. Then her, her mum and her best friend fly to New York and meet the girl band. And make friends with a nightclub singer. (I’d just seen Pretty Woman for the first time, so I called the nightclub The Blue Banana.) Gotta admit, I did think it would make me a Teen Millionaire. (It didn’t.)

Roast Capsicum with Roast Tomato and Fried Cauliflower

Two firm red capsicums
Two ripe tomatoes
Five or so cauliflower florets
Rice bran oil
Brown sugar

Thyme leaves

Set your oven to 220 C (450 F) and put a sheet of baking paper on an oven tray. 

Halve your capsicums, carefully removing any seeds, membraney stuff and the green stems. Half the tomatoes, slicing out the green bit. You also want to slice out the dividing wall of flesh – no need to worry about the seeds, all good if they’re in or out – but you want to make sure there’s a bit of a cavity for the cauliflower later.

Sit a halved tomato inside each capsicum half, so they fit/spoon together. Over each, sprinkle about a teaspoon of oil and a pinch of brown sugar. Scatter over a little salt and lightly dust with cinnamon, then roast for 30 minutes or until softened, wrinkly-skinned, and slightly scorched.  

While it’s roasting, finely slice up your cauliflower florets into small pieces. Heat up a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pan and throw in the florets, stirring a bit but allowing to sit as well so it browns thoroughly. Remove the tray from the oven, roughly fill each tomato cavity with cauliflower and throw over some thyme leaves. Serve, with rice or pasta or bread or anything you like. 

They’re flipping delicious (of course they are, or I wouldn’t be telling you about them.) Something in the sweet, smoky red vegetables and the nutty, crunchy cauliflower with the rich thyme leaves makes it feel like you’re eating so much more than a few vegetables sitting awkwardly on top of each other. Anyway, they only sit awkwardly at first. Give the tomatoes and capsicums some time under the oven’s heat and they start nestling and burrowing into each other like sleepily benign cats, leaving plenty of space to add the cauliflower. Add anything you like to this – feta, coriander seeds, sesame oil – but I like it clean and plain and simple. 

This afternoon I fly up home for Christmas with my family. I’ll be a bit sad not to be hanging out with Tim over this time but I can’t wait to see whanau, to sleep, to eat, to hang out with the cats, to listen to our old Christmas cassettes and CDs, and to generally be thankful for the good things in life. What else can you do?

Witness the swiftness: this blog post is nearly finished already, while normally at this point I’d still be describing at length the emotions I feel when I eat cauliflower. Also: you may have noticed that the blog is looking slightly different, I had a tutu round and managed to score much bigger photos and a better font already for my header image. Am amazed I have any readers at all, considering how long my usual blog posts are and, upon reflection, how gross the font was on my previous header image. Give yourself a pat on the back for your perseverance! 
Title via: It Won’t Be Long Now, sung by the amazing Karen Olivo from the (presumably – I’ve never actually seen it) also amazing musical In The Heights, from the genius mind of mondo-babe Lin-Manuel Miranda. 
Music lately:

I bought Ria Hall’s EP this morning and have already listened to it many, many times. Best of Me is still my favourite song off it but I Am A Child struck me as particularly beautiful, all contemplative and dreamy but slowly building in momentum.

Pieces of a Man is one of my most-loved Gil Scott-Heron records, and while I don’t have a favourite track off it, When You Are Who You Are i songs that always makes me happy.
Next time: You know what, I reckon I can get another quick blog post in before the big day itself. I’m thinking last minute Christmas food gift ideas and several cat photos (well, that’s what I do when I’m at home – chase round after the cats with my camera.)