27 July 2010

we'll start with the seed of an idea

Truth be told, I love my food blog best of all. But I'm always inspired by other bloggers out there. There are so many great writers, like-minded souls, and awesome recipes to be found. My favourite discoveries are recipes where the overall result doesn't involve 12 layers of sponge or a tray of eggs or whatever, just something that's recognisable, but with a sassy combination of flavours to make you think I must make this immediately and I'm so happy the internet exists so I could find this and not even have to pay for it, even. Like this Spiced Sesame Slice from the very cool Wayfaring Chocolate blog. It's basically a cake. But then there's sesame seeds in it. And on it. Plus ginger and cinnamon. I don't know about you, but that sort of old-fashioned-plus-sexy-modern combination is pretty alluring. Then again, I get all hepped up over things that other people sneer at (like the music of Jesus Christ Superstar.) I may not be the best yardstick to measure "exciting stuff" by but trust me - this cake is damn good.

(If you're wondering what the foliage in the background is, on the left is harakeke and on the right is our boutique saffron plantation. If you weren't wondering at all, I just like calling two bulbs a boutique plantation.)

Spiced Sesame Slice 

Recipe from Wayfaring Chocolate...cheers Hannah!

50g sesame seeds
125g flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
2 eggs
140g brown sugar
125g butter, melted

Set your oven to 180 C/375 F and line a rectangular or square cake tin, don't worry about the size - just one of those usual-sized caketin things, you know? Even if you've got nonstick or silicone it would pay to butter it because this stuff sticks quite a bit. Not sure why.

First of all, toast the sesame seeds till they're good and brown and smelling popcorn-y in a pan. Set aside. Don't taste them, you'll burn your tongue. Like me.

Whisk the eggs and sugar till thick and creamy and increased in volume. Pour in the melted butter, and then fold in the dry ingredients and half the sesame seeds. Turn it into the cake tin and sprinkle over the rest of the sesame seeds. Bake for 20 mins until firm-but-springy to the touch. Let it cool for a bit before slicing up.

So delicious. It's really light-textured, and the buttery nuttiness and the warm spiciness is seriously good. It was so easy to just keep slicing off bits...tidying up edges...eating the broken bit...ah, you know how it goes. We go through bottles of sesame oil - its rich, dark nutty flavour is amazing, and the seeds work really well in a sweeter setting. I didn't have any allspice (does anyone ever have allspice?) so in a move that I hope Hannah of Wayfaring Chocolate would be proud of (she eats stuff like chilli-studded chocolate and kangaroo meat very casually) I used Ras-el-Hanout spice mix instead. But you could just leave it out, or even add more cinnamon and ginger.

And it's really, really good with a cup of tea.

Title via: Untitled Opening Song from [title of show], the musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. This show is pretty special to me, even though I obviously never got to see it on the Broadway, and I won't go on about it (although you know I could easily go on about it) but I will say this: don't anyone let a New Zealand production get made (and I seriously believe it could work) without me playing Susan. I just want to so bad, and I think that's a good enough reason to make it happen.

Music lately:

Apart from the sweet writing skills and chocolate-a-plenty and recipes, the other thing I like about Hannah's blog is that it always makes me think of the song Poor Wayfaring Stranger. We used to sing it in choir at school, which is when I really started to dig its melancholy, old-timey, Americana sound. This version by Dusty Springfield is particularly choice.

Gypsy Eyes from Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland...we just love us some Hendrix. Gypsy Eyes is a very cool song...I like the way he pronounces all the vowels on 're-a-lize that I've been hypnotised'.

The whole entire Distant Relatives album, from the one-two punch of Nas and Damian 'Junior Gong' Marley... amazing. Purposeful beats, powerful messages, impassioned delivery, but you only have to listen to first track As We Enter for five seconds to know it's special stuff. I like the titular togetherness of the lyrics as they go back and forth - "My man'll speak patois, and I can speak rap star..."
Next time: Butter is so expensive! Hey! Wha'happen? If anyone could make this all go away and get it down nearer to $2 a block I'd be most obliged. Till then, we're probably looking at some dairy-free times up ahead.

26 July 2010

what if the octopus, the flounder and the cod think we're rather odd

I've said it before here, that despite living in a country both surrounded and infiltrated by water, Tim and I just don't eat a lot of fish. It's not like it is that hard to come by, we just...don't. (Yeah, cool story, bro.)

But - hold on to your hats - sometimes we just do.

Last Sunday night I made ceviche, a dish where raw fish is cured - and ultimately cooked without heat - through the mystical magic of citrus juice. Nigella Lawson has this recipe in Nigella Express where you chop the fish up small so that it only takes about ten minutes for the juice to 'cook' it - like a photograph developing before your eyes. Nigella suggests serving it on rounds of toasted bread or with tortilla chips but not having either, I piled the cooked-but-raw fish on top of lettuce, with crisp celery, juicy tomato slices, and soft chunks of avocado.

We loved it. But if fish that doesn't look like fish-fingers makes you nervous, well, this might not change your mind. But don't feel bad - I love fish fingers, I'm sure we had them at least once or twice a week for dinner when I was growing up. They have their place.

Chopped Ceviche

250g skinless and boneless black cod or monkfish fillet (or any fish that suits being eaten raw - I used red cod, it was the cheapest.)
1/2 a teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt or a small pinch table salt
80mls lime juice (I basically went with the juice of three limes, I don't see this measurement as sacred)
3 spring onions, finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and chopped (I used red)
Bunch of coriander, chopped

Chop the fish finely into tiny dice. Place it in a shallow wide dish (I used a silicon caketin) and sprinkle with the oregano and salt and pour over the lime juice. Leave for eight minutes, shaking the dish occasionally or moving the fish around gently with a spatula to make sure it's all mixed in. The fish should go from pinkish and pearly to a definite opaque white. It must be fun to watch with something like salmon.

Drain the fish, and mix in the spring onions, chilli and coriander. Then you're done!

So, you could serve these as Nigella suggests, on top of grilled bread or with tortilla chips. Or you could have it in a wrap, or make a superfresh salad like I did - for raw fish, it is surprisingly practical stuff.

As you can probably tell by the solitary sprig on top of the salad, our coriander plant is more 'gasping' than 'flourishing'.

The fish is soft-textured and intensely flavoured by the lime. The zinging lime and creamy avocado cool down the hot chilli and the lettuce, I don't know, makes it better for you and gives a bit of crunch. Is anyone out there passionate about lettuce? I could eat a bowlful of avocados but lettuce I'm neither here nor there on. It's filler material, it tastes fine but there's things I'd rather eat, like cheese on toast.

Anyway, this ceviche was so good that we made it again for dinner this week. It's so fast and while the fish is busily morphing (or evolving, for you rogue Pokemon fans out there) you can busy yourself getting the accompaniments ready. It's fresh and light, and while it would be perfect in the middle of summer, the heat of the chilli and the eye-opening flavours are just right in winter if you're getting a little over stews and mash potato (hey, it happens.)

Hopefully this all makes sense, because I'm feeling a little weary. On Saturday we stayed up till 5am dancing, not something we do that often, but it was a fun night - it was our temporary flatmate's birthday (our actual flatmate is on holiday in Canada) and as well as nestling into some haunts we already knew, we discovered some more, met some awesome people, and between Tim and myself, even found 80 cents on the ground (is that sad? If so: whatever.) We're lucky in Wellington - if the agenda of the night is buying expensive yet tiny drinks, then at least there are plenty of exceptionally good-looking settings to do it in.

Title via: Um, Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Actually, forget that "um." This film is flawless. Angela Lansbury is one of the most bodacious babes on earth, and don't think I'm trying to be ironic when I say that. She's an awesome lady. You thought you liked the zero-gravity fight scene in Inception? Wait till you see Angela and David Tomlinson's underwater dance in Beautiful Briny Sea. Now those are effects that are special.

Music lately:

Tim and I have started re-watching The Wire from Season 1. Everyone talks about The Wire and how great it is and I have already plenty of times so I won't add to that here. It has been described as "slow-moving" and "worth the effort" but in rewatching, it feels fast-paced, the roles and connections between each character are easier to remember, and hints of things that transpire later in the season are easier to pick up on. Which is probably not so comforting if you're 25 minutes in thinking "wait, who's the good guys here? Is this going to wrap up soon?" The theme tune is Tom Waits' Way Down In The Hole, sung in the first season by The Blind Boys of Alabama. They know a thing or two about how to deliver a tune well - this is typically brilliant stuff from them. I like how the intro keeps you waiting a little longer than you're used to.

Audra McDonald's take on Gershwin's Someone To Watch Over Me. (In a nice segue, McDonald totally resembles Wendy Grantham, who shines as Shardeen in Season 1 of The Wire) As well as being a fantastic actress, any song is lucky to be sung by her beautiful, beautiful soprano voice.

Next time: I've been baking hardout this weekend so there's plenty to choose from for next time. I realise there's been some space between blog posts lately - will try to counteract that by following this one up a bit more snappily!

18 July 2010

go and part the seas in malibu

Yikes last week went fast. I most definitely meant to blog sooner but one thing leads to another and all of a sudden it's a dark Sunday afternoon and I'm pretty convinced it's time to go to bed but it's really only just past lunchtime. That's how you maintain a blog, people! That said, if the week went as quickly for everyone else, then no harm done - we're all on the same page.

Nothing like rifling through the sepia-d pages of the Edmond's Cookbook of Mum's that she gave me to make things feel a little more slow and relaxed. I've already made a bunch of crazy marshmallows from this book, but today I felt like something with more practical application to our lives. Not that marshmallows are an unreasonable possession. They have their reasons.

Am I trying to recreate a Frankie magazine photoshoot or what. Except theirs happen on beautiful fabrics and paper and stuff, and mine is on a cheap and grubby teatowel.

I've always been a fan of coconut but recently I've been really embracing the stuff - I love that it's so intensely rich and delicious and creamy and fragrant but also very cheap. That said it feels like forever since I've had an actual coconut, drank the water from it and bit into the chewy, juicy white flesh (so long ago that I can remember doing it but not where or when or anything...maybe I just dreamed this bit.)

Apparently New Zealanders have loved coconut for generations, although in its most mainstream form it's really the least appealing - I'm not talking fragrant curries or moist puddings eaten with mangoes or whatever here, I mean the dry, dessicated white flakes that cling to the edges of lamingtons or lolly cake (usually falling off and getting all over everything inbetween being on the plate and getting in your mouth). Nevertheless, as an ingredient dessicated coconut is definitely practical and still gives that definite, beachy flavour, and was recognised as such by several interesting recipes in this pretty old (sorry Mum) Edmonds Cookbook.

Coconut Kisses

These biscuity biscuits are supposed to be stuck together with butter icing...While I'm seriously the last person that would act as a gatekeeper between butter icing and the rest of the world, I liked the idea of having twice as many biscuits around if I left them alone.

110g butter
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
3/4 cup coconut
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder (you could do as the good book tells you to and use Edmonds)
Note: I added 1/2 a teaspoon Boyajian orange oil, partly for flavour and partly because it was really expensive and I like to pretend like it's a useful ingredient to have around, I mean it is and all, but, you know.

Melt butter and hot water together (I sat the bowl on top of a small pot of simmering water), mix in the rest of the ingredients. Roll into balls, put on a baking tray and flatten a little (I forgot!) Bake 15 minutes at 180 C/375 F. You can, of course, stick pairs together with butter icing.

Notice the lovely cake stand, given to me for my birthday by my godmother and family!

They don't look overly exciting but these coconut kisses are in fact mighty delicious - crisp on the outside but meltingly shortbready within. They'd be perfect dunked in a cup of tea as long as you didn't drop them - they're pretty small - and they have echoes of several coconut-flavoured biscuits out there on the market except of course they're way nicer, and much cheaper to make than buy. You could also try using oil instead of the melted butter - I'm sure it would work, and if so: vegan!

Because one kind of coconut flavoured baked good is just not enough, I also gave the Coconut Cakes a crack. They're really just small, coconut-enhanced scones, and in fact after eating one, what I really wanted to do was spread them with raspberry jam and sandwich them together with whipped cream.

Coconut Cakes

110g flour
45g butter
30g sugar
60g coconut
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
1 teacup milk (I used just under 3/4 cup)

Sift flour, rub in butter, stir in the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix to a stiffish dough with the milk. Edmonds says "place in rocky shapes" on your baking tray, I just dropped rough dessertspoons-ful onto the tray and hoped for the best. Bake 15 minutes at 180 C/375 F.

These are so good - really quick to mix up and incredibly tender and light, not a biscuit and not a cake. The coconut makes them flavourous and textural (yeah they're words!) and they smell amazing while they're baking. I think you could definitely get away with buttering these before eating (not that I'm the best yardstick to measure healthy buttering behaviour against) or serve with cream and jam as I mentioned earlier, but they're great just as they are - soft and delicious.

The New Zealand International Film Festival has rolled into town again, replete with cinematic plenty. On Friday night we saw The Illusionist at the prompting of our former-flatmate-current-friend Ange - it was directed by Sylvain Chomet, who also did Triplets of Belleville. It was beautiful, so beautiful but utterly sad and desolate as well. I definitely recommend it all the same, and don't feel that subtitled films aren't for you because in fact there is almost no dialogue whatsoever in this film. Just beauty! I also recommend that afterwards you go somewhere warm and drink French red wine and eat homemade chocolate macaroons, it definitely worked out well for us.

Title via: okay, all this coconut talk made me think of a certain coconut liqueur, and like all good songs named after an object or a person or something, the very thought of it had me humming Hole's wonderful 1998 song Malibu and now here we are. Of course, I've already outlined my enjoyment of Courtney Love previously here...

Music lately:

I Heart Nigella by Wellington band Mammal Airlines. Tim and myself interviewed them recently for our website 100s and 1000s (please excuse the insultingly bad quality of the video, we're getting there, we are...) and the three of them were awesomely nice and fun to talk to. But perhaps most awesomely nice of all is the fact that they have a song called I Heart Nigella, and what's more, it's really good. They've made both their EPs available for free download, so take advantage of that generosity, hey?

This Song Has No Title from Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I know Elton John has an electric boot planted firmly in the middle of the road these days but I have no fear in saying I love this album. The reason it's on my mind though is because Tim put it on the stereo and managed to trick me into thinking we were listening to War of the Worlds, which I really hate. I was getting pretty aggravated until album opener Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding dropped speed and changed tempo and all of a sudden I realised we were actually listening to Elton John. Now we sound like incredibly unexciting people, but it's a true story and you heard it here first.
Next time: I made ceviche for the first time and it was so good! Not so good was my pronunciation. Even though Nigella was all "it's Mexican!" I've been pronouncing it all French-like, "se-veesh"...

11 July 2010

don't dream it's pavlova

The New Zealand 'identity' has many characteristics to capitalise upon for advertising campaigns - how minimalistic we are as a people, how we generally don't go into excessive details or facial expressions or go in for fancy things. I found myself thinking about this when I was given the opportunity to submit this blog post as part of a promotion for mega-cook and food hero Rick Stein's impending visit to Aotearoa. The "ultimate New Zealand dish" was my brief, which is not something I feel authoritative enough to pinpoint down. But a pavlova immediately leapt to mind, and infuriatingly, so did all those ads.

On the one hand, it's kind of amusing that we have this famous pudding which has appeared in recipe books and graced tables for years and years, but which is seriously a bit of a mission to make. Oh, us kiwis, being all casual about this complicated dessert! On the other hand I was annoyed with myself for buying into it all by having an advertising-fuelled self-deprecating chuckle. On the other hand, it made me wonder whether we are even all that relaxed and simple or whether it's something advertising has constructed. On the other hand, marketing is hard, trying to get information to people in the spaces between the information they're actually trying to absorb is a mission and a half, and I can't help but salute any that winkle their way into everyday vernacular.

On the other hand, pavlova. Let's not overthink it, eh?

Pavlova - made from egg whites, sugar, and a lot of air - isn't overly straightforward, but if you're careful and patient, it's really no big deal. But importantly, it always looks like a big deal. Pavlova is one of those dishes over which arguments are dribbled back and forth between New Zealand and Australia about who thought it up originally. Fortunately the pavlova is unlikely to engage in the kind of reputation-smearing scandalous activity that prompts a flurry of "Australia can have him" responses from the public. While I'd like to think it's ours, because I love ballet so much and it was named after the great ballerina Anna Pavlova, whose ethereal white tutu it supposedly represented, I'm not overly fussed. If Australia really does have claim to the first pav, so be it - I'm more charmed with the idea of dishes being created in honour of people at all. Maybe one day there will be a "Heavily Buttered Toast with Marmite and Melted Cheese, Microwaved a la Laura" in the same way that you get Peach Melba and stuff like that.

With all this in mind, I've adapted a Nigella Lawson recipe for my take on pavlova. Yes, Nigella Lawson the British non-New Zealander. If you want a plain pavlova recipe I'm sure you couldn't do better than anything in the Edmonds cookbook or any other reliable local cookbook. My take on Nigella's version of our usual, marshmallow-white creation is a darker, and (dare I say it in the same breath as the wholesome Edmonds cookbook) altogether sexier pavlova. Aren't we always asking people, wide-eyed and hopeful, about what they think about New Zealand? Isn't it a compliment to us that the mighty Nigella has so many pavlova recipes? Yes, our usual pavlova is covered in a thick layer of whipped cream and maybe a few slices of kiwifruit or spoonfuls of passionfruit seeds. These are both incredibly good options and my version - Chocolate, Tamarillo, and Pistachio Pavlova with Coconut Cream - is just another option, rather than any kind of attempt to kick the original white pav.

Chocolate, Tamarillo and Pistachio Pavlova with Coconut Cream

Based on the Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova (also excellent!) from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer.
6 egg whites
300g caster sugar
50g good cocoa (I use Fair Trade or Equagold)
1 tsp balsamic or red wine vinegar

6 tamarillos
2 tablespoons brown sugar
150g dark chocolate (I used Whittakers - made in Wellington!)
100g shelled pistachios
1 can coconut cream

Set oven to 180 C. Whip up the egg whites till satiny peaks form, then continue to beat them while adding the sugar a tiny bit at a time. Maybe get a buddy to help with this bit. Once the sugar is all added the mixture should be thick, shiny and stiff. Sift in the cocoa and sprinkle over the vinegar, folding in carefully. Spread mixture into a 23cm circle on a baking paper lined tray. Immediately turn down oven to 150 C and leave for about an hour. Once done, turn oven off and leave pav to cool completely.

While the pav is baking, scoop out the seeds and flesh of the tamarillo, tip into a small bowl and sprinkle over the brown sugar, allowing it to dissolve. Swipe a sharp knife through the flesh if the seeds aren't loose enough - you want a loose, chunky mixture as opposed to large, separate pieces. I hope that makes sense. Melt the dark chocolate and drizzle spoonfuls generously, Jackson Pollock-styles across the pav. You don't have to use the whole lot, but don't let me hold you back. Spoon the tamarillo seeds, flesh and juice evenly over the top and finally sprinkle thickly with pistachios. Serve in wedges with a spoonful of coconut cream on the side.

Serves 6 or so.
Something I should probably point out is that I completely forgot to turn on the oven before making this, so the beaten egg whites sat around for a considerable amount of time before getting any kind of blast of heat. This, plus the fact that I made this using a whisk instead of any kind of electric equipment, may explain the overwhelming flatness of the finished product. Still, 6 egg whites were not going to be used in vain, and with a certain pioneering spirit (and very sore upper arms from whisking the egg whites) I carried on. I'd sent a txt to our good friend and ex-flatmate Ange, saying that for reasons too complex to explain in 160 characters I had to make a pav and would she like to help us eat it? Luckily she did, or I might have eaten the whole enormous flat mess while curled up on the floor - what pavlova? I never made a pavlova!

I really did this whole thing on the fly - running round Moore Wilson's and looking at what was in season without a clear picture of what I wanted the end result to be apart from "damn amazing". For a few dire moments it looked like the pavlova would have to be topped with mashed swede or something until Tim pointed out the tamarillos, dark red and rounded fruit encasing sharp, juicy flesh and seeds. My mind began to move remarkably fast, and I mentally paired the fruit with dark Whittakers chocolate and maybe some kind of nut for interest's sake. Pistachios, green and gorgeous, presented themselves once I got to the baking goods shelf and all of a sudden it started to make sense.

This pavlova replaces the dairy of our robust industry for a large spoonful of coconut cream. It's a nod to our place in the Pacific and also makes it accessible to those who can't actually eat dairy. Between the hastily assembled concept, forgetting to turn the oven on, the fact that the kitchen and myself were starting to be covered in chocolate, and the visitors turning up to eat it, I was starting to get a bit nervous about how it would actually taste after all that.

Friends - fellow New Zealanders - it was flipping excellent. What the pavlova lacked in, shall we say, body, it made up for in fudgy cocoa-y depth, with that familiarly crisp surface which dissolved alluringly on the tongue. The tamarillos were juicily sharp and fragrant, contrasting with the dark, rich cocoa taste of the melted Whittakers chocolate, the soft, buttery pistachios, and the mellow coconut cream seeping into each slice. We ate slice after slice (once I'd taken an excessively long time photographing it, of course) and then my flatmate and his friends came home and they had some too. Then Ange's boyfriend came over and ate some. It was a big pavlova but its lifespan was barely hours.

Is this New Zealand's ultimate dish? Oh, who could say. Put it next to a roast lamb or a fresh crayfish and it might seem far too fussy and "not us" and downright excessive. It is, however, an example of what you can do with one of our best dishes. It's a new take on a gorgeous original. Yes, we may be told repeatedly that we are short on emotion and expression but don't let this hold you back from enjoying something magically delicious, Aotearoa.

For more info on Rick Stein's New Zealand tour, give this site a look.

Two very cool things happened this week. One: I met Ray McVinnie. RAY MCVINNIE! Some know him as a judge on NZ Masterchef but I've been reading his Quick Smart column in Cuisine magazine hard for years and years now. Yes, he's more of a niche celebrity than a complete household name but he's easily my favourite NZ foodwriter and every single one of his columns is a diamond. If you don't know who he is, try to think of your favourite local celebrity who seems accessible enough in status but also roughly the awesomest in their chosen field, and imagine you got to meet them. McVinnie was at the recent Visa Wellington on a Plate launch that I was lucky enough to attend and along with two other Wellington food bloggers at the event, I just kind of prodded him on the shoulder, and said "hello, I'm Laura, I'm a food blogger, I'm a really big fan of your writing." We all introduced ourselves and even got a brief conversation out of him - "Keep writing about food," he said (oh how I will!) and also he said something about food being the glue that holds society together, I can't remember specifically what it was but I remember agreeing with it. No lie, I grinned all the way home (sorry to any passers-by), got in the door and did a high-kick of happiness. By the way, the Visa Wellington on a Plate sounds well exciting, all those set lunch menus at all the fancy restaurants is making me happy just thinking about it. For more info check out their website!

Then on Saturday, I had a seriously cool lunch at Duke Carvell's with a whole bunch of Wellington-based food bloggers, including the aforementioned ladies of Gusty Gourmet who I met Ray McVinnie with. (Ray McVinnie! Okay I'll stop talking about it now.) Everyone was super lovely, and just plain super, really, and it was fun learning about peoples' stories and what made them start writing, and who the person is behind the blog name. It was a good feeling, being amongst other people who love food and love writing about it, and who all live in Wellington. Blogger solidarity!

Title via:
Crowded House...maybe I should feel slightly apologetic about this one, oh sure it's a sharp-inward-drawing-of-breath-through-clenched-teeth-edly bad pun, but the way those opening chords teeter as if being plucked on the strings of a fully functioning heart instead of a guitar...I'm really not sorry at all.

Music lately:

New Edition's Something About You, from their 1996 reunion album Home Again. Those moves! It has been years and years since I've heard this song but I saw a tweet on Twitter mentioning 90s music and instantly thought of this. I used to love it and I don't know if it's just because I'm not really keeping an ear to the R'n'B ground these days but it feels like they don't make 'em like this anymore. (Poetically, fishpond.co.nz offers this album on cassette, before informing you that it's "currently unavailable"...no kidding.)

Meadowlark, a song from the musical The Baker's Wife, sung by Liz Callaway. I'm a bit obsessed with Liz Callaway at the moment, I've enjoyed her singing for a while but recently it's hit me just how intensely amazing she is. In a joyful coincidence, one of the songs she's most famous for is something I'm also obsessed with right now. I'll be trying to articulate this better on 100s and 1000s soon...

Next time: It has been real pie-making weather out there lately...I have pie on the brain. When it's this cold all I really want to do is read Nigella's How To Be A Domestic Goddess, and then cook everything from it.

5 July 2010

gunpowder gelatine, dynamite with a laser beam

Okay: I didn't win the blog category of that CLEO/Wonder Woman thing. In hindsight, I already knew this, but for a while there it felt like everyone in the world was voting for me and we'd all linked hands and started a wild mazurka of joy, spiralling with love for this blog and each other. And then I opened the July issue in a 24-hour convenience store at lunch today with Tim and the mazurka ceased, and David Dallas' Big Time ended its chorus in my mind. (What's a mazurka? You ask? Only one of the coolest folk dances ever, as this video confirms.) BUT as I've said previously, this has been a fun wave to flutterboard across and it was lovely being unexpectedly nominated, and of course, I'd like to extend a giant chocolate cake with "congratulations" piped across the top in icing to the actual winners at So Much To Tell You. I'm sure we all wanted this in equal amounts! I just felt particularly wanty, and this kind of obliterated any idea that anyone else could want it more and I wouldn't win. But it's okay. It was fun to be nominated. And to raise awareness of my desire to own a capybara. And a mightily enormous thanks to everyone that emailed in and voted for me: it means a lot! I don't bust out folk-dancing imagery for just any old situation.


Of powdered gelatine, Nigella Lawson authoritatively sneers "God knows how anyone can make that work...leaf gelatine is the answer". It sort of has an implied "and if you want to consider yourself any kind of fan of mine, lowly blogger, then you ought to agree" tacked onto the end. In some ways, Nigella is right - leaf gelatine is much more reliable and easier to use, and very pretty. But if a packet of Davis powdered gelatine hadn't been sighing unwantedly in my cupboard, I would not have been able to make Moonshine Biffs: then what?

My Mum gave me her old copy of the Edmonds Cookery Book, the 1971 edition I believe. It's the sort of thing you don't want to buy new, you want to be given it or find an old copy somewhere...I read once about how young people are able to have nostalgia for things they never knew - for things that their parents or even their grandparents experienced. Or even nostalgia for things that someone's parents and grandparents might have experienced (ie: the 60s), which, if any of that makes sense, could explain why I get a feeling of warm safeness inside when I turn the pages of this book and read curtly delivered recipes for spiced rock cakes or Dolly Varden Cake even though I never, ever ate them growing up.

As I was leafing through the pages I discovered the recipe for Moonshine Biffs and decided whatever the heck they even were, I was going to make them for their name alone (for the same reason I'm no good to play Scrabble with because I'd rather make silly words than gain points...and I get really impatient waiting for people to have their turn...And also I'm pretty sure I don't really like Scrabble.) I thought they'd be like marshmallows but they are in fact, better yet, essentially Milk Bottle lollies in square format.

Moonshine Biffs

From the Edmonds Cookery Book.

  • 3 dessertspoons Gelatine (I used a regular, stuff-eating spoon, the kind you'll find in the spoon compartment in your cutlery draw, you know...spoon.)
  • 1 breakfastcup sugar (I used just under a 250ml measuring cup)
  • 1/2 pint water (A heaped measuring cup) (psych! You can't heap water)
  • 1/2 pound icing sugar (250g)
  • coconut
  • vanilla
  • Place gelatine, water and regular sugar in a saucepan and boil for eight minutes. This was a little scary, but because the Edmonds Cookery Book is always pretty vague, to put an instruction in italics made me want to follow it. That said, if you suspect your stove-top generates a significantly hotter heat than what they had in the 70s then go slow and boil a little less.
  • Add the icing sugar and vanilla (I had some vanilla paste, proper extract would be fine, you could, I suppose, go era-specific and use essence) and beat until thick and white - I used a silicon whisk and nearly fainted from the exertion, you're welcome to use electric beaters or whatever.
  • Pour into a wet tin - again, silicon makes life easier here, otherwise use baking paper to line the tin - and leave to set for a couple of hours. It doesn't matter if it won't fill the tin - it's not a huge mixture and just stops and sets where it is. Slice up, toss in coconut. FYI, mine set very smooth and coconut wouldn't stick to one side of it. Edmonds didn't prepare me for that but I was chill.

As I said, these really do taste like Milk Bottles - chewy, a little creamy, very sweet. But good - so good. And they cost around 30 cents and a little arm-work to make. If your kids/flatmates aren't snobs about what shape their lollies come in, try them on a rainy weekend and see if you don't feel awesome about yourself and the world once you have a pile of them sitting on a plate in front of you.

On a gelatine rampage, I couldn't help trying something else further down the page: Toasted Honey Marshmallows. Significantly more sophisticated, these intensely honeyed, soft sweets would be perfect after a spicy dinner or alongside liqueurs and truffles instead of pudding. There's no getting around the fact that gelatine is not vegetarian, and is no less made of animal than if steak was the main ingredient of marshmallows, so if you are thinking of making either of these maybe check with your meat-shunning mates what their limits are.

Toasted Honey Marshmallows

Also from the Edmonds Cookery Book.

Soak 1 level tablespoon Gelatine in 1/4 breakfastcup cold water in a metal bowl for 3 minutes. Dissolve over hot water, by sitting the metal bowl on top of a small pot of simmering water. Tip in 1 breakfastcup liquid honey. Beat with egg beater (or whatever you have - again, I derangedly used a whisk) until fluffy and white - about ten minutes. Turn into a wet shallow tin (again, silicon is best here) and leave 24 hours. Cut into squares carefully with a sharp knife and roll in toasted coconut.

Yes, you have to wait for ages which is why these are less child-friendly, but as I said the flavours and textures that unfolded from such minimal ingredients were incredible. The taste of honey suspended within impossibly soft marshmallows against the damp, nutty and textured coconut was amazing.

Last week Tim and I, having read several two-thumbs-up reviews, went to see Cemetery Junction. Even though it all ties itself up nicely and eventually good things happen to all the good people, it's done in a way that makes you quite happy to be taken along with it. It's gorgeously filmed with some rollicking humour coinciding with those wonderfully quietly heartbreaking moments that the British seem to have patented, it's full of good-looking, shiny-haired young Brits (although solemnly countered by some more menacingly lived-in faces) and it's directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant so, hello. We recommend it heartily.

By the way everyone, Tim has a job! Yeah! Turn Big Time back up again! It's a Monday to Friday office job which might sound hellish but they all sound nice and after barista-ing at dawn on a daily basis, it's completely welcome. Apparently he saw off other people with more experience; of course he did! It's Tim! Anyway, cheers for the words of encouragement from everyone, we are now on a dual income which means if I do nothing but cook from the Edmonds book that pet capybara and my dreams of Broadway may not be so far off after all. Soon we'll hit the big time...


Title comes to you via: Queen's Killer Queen...I know they're not that cool, well neither am I. There's a lot of Queen I'm not keen on, luckily this song isn't in that list because I'm yet to see a better lyric about a setting agent.

Music lately:

Fats Domino's Ain't That A Shame...the way the chugging opening melody slides into the titular question really does somehow convey a sense of something being a shame, besides that it's a great, great song and I love Youtube for making all this old footage available.

Julia Murney singing People from the musical Funny Girl...I guess I do mention her more than occasionally but friends: this woman is amazing. The bad thing about being a Julia Murney fan is that while she performs a lot she's relatively below the radar and will never come to New Zealand and I'll never get to see her in New York, the good thing about being a Julia Murney fan is that she performs a lot of fabulous songs at benefits and concerts and they often find their way to Youtube. And uh, looks like it's the salute to Youtube segment on the show now.


Next time: I've been promising pavlova for a while but excitement about homemade marshmallows overrides anything else. Including whether I really have any true need for marshmallows. Pavlova truly will be next time, promise. Also, you're still most welcome to check out Tim's and my side-project blog 100s and 1000s, where so far we've interviewed Grayson Gilmour, talked about new music we may or may not like, and I managed to winkle an Idina Menzel reference in there.