Tuesday, March 20, 2012
This is the weather in Wellington right now:
It's Autumn, masquerading as the cold depths of Winter.
Autumn masquerading as Winter requires a few things. New tights (nice high waistey ones that hold everything in). New boots (they're on hold. The jury's still out. Layby?). Commitment to gym routines and schedules (because it also requires chocolate and pudding and pies and pasta, see below). A good duvet (check). A part time lover, or a winter boyfriend maybe? (only joking! or am I? bonus points if they live in the same city as you). Ugg boots (but not in public my pretties). A polar fleece onesie (refer to ugg boots, above). Plenty of fun things to look forward to (BYOs, dinner parties, brunch dates, road trips).
Food wise this is prime comfort food territory. Whether it's chocolate, or cheese, or slow cooked, or soup, this weather requires food which gives you warmth and nourishment and a full belly. Jamie Oliver's Beef and Guinness Pie does it extremely well if you have some beer leftover from your chocolate cake making escapades. This soup does the trick and rates well on the easy and budget scale, as does this pasta, from a similarly heartbroken time. Chocolate sauce with chilli drizzled over anything, and Apple Pie, enough said.
Macaroni cheese is another one of those comforting bowls of warmth I can't go passed in weather like this.
Place a large knob of butter in a medium-large saucepan on a medium heat. Sprinkle over some flour and stir constantly with a wooden spoon to form a doughy buttery ball. Add a splash of milk and mix in a bit, then add a bit more milk and switch aforementioned wooden spoon for a whisk. Get whisking, until the buttery floury ball is incorporated into the heating milk. Magically before your eyes, sauce will appear getting thicker by the second. Add some cheese! Add some grated cheese, edam is fine at this point, and keep whisking. If it's a bit thick, or if it hasn't given you enough, add a bit more milk, and keep whisking on the heat. Add some more cheese (aged cheddar is really good, as is a bit of parmesan), stir it up until it's melted through, and then you are basically good to go.
Cook your pasta according to packet instructions. Then drain and add to the cheesy sauce.
Now this is where you can get purist or fancy. The other night I added some sliced white onion, which I lightly fried for hardly any time at all, just to get rid of that raw onion tang but keeping a little crunch. I seasoned with salt and pepper, and then, without breadcrumbs in my cupboard, fried up some bread chunks with some chilli flakes (like makeshift breadcrumbs really) and sprinkled it on top. I served salad on the side for a splash of colour.
Growing up, ham and tomato stirred through was a favourite, and a dollop of wholegrain mustard can do great things. Or, to make this a bit posh you could stir through some chunks of blue cheese with maybe some crispy bacon. Any leftovers you could chuck into a toasted sandwich for double carby comfort. Here's smitten kitchen's recipe too, in case you like recipes which have quantities in them.
However you enjoy this back-to-basics classic, ride the weather out as best you can, rug up warm, and comfort yourself with carbs.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
I got a text message from my sister in the early hours of this morning: you better have a fun irishman story to tell me tomorrow. At the time, I was walking home from a St Patrick's Day house party, wearing green, and was half way through a felafel kebab. The humour of the scene didn't escape me. Haha yeah, the one where I'm walking up cuba street by myself mowing a kebab? Happening right now. Great story. SHAME.
Despite my ambitious declaration yesterday, the closest I got to a pash was mowing aforementioned kebab like my life depended on it. Pretty standard behaviour really. And this morning all I was left with was a slight headache. But! I cheered up no end when the following popped up on my phone: Morning! Would you like to join us for nigella's greatest hangover soup of black bean and chorizo at midday?
How could I refuse an invite like that? I armed myself with a crusty baguette, some freshly squeezed orange juice and yesterday's Guinness Cake.
My friends Jimmy and Nicky had told me about this magical, spicy soup of Nigella's which apparently cured hangovers a couple of weeks ago. This soup, along with juice, coffee, and star signs from the Sunday paper, are all recommend as hangover cures. Or just Sunday lunchtime essentials. If you're still feeling seedy after this steaming bowl of spicy goodness, well at least hopefully you've had a fun few hours with friends laughing at night-before stories and ridiculous things on youtube.
This soup is amazing. Seriously amazing. It's hearty and spicy, but with clean flavour combinations and nothing too rich. The beans are nourishing, the lime is crucial and it really is just delicious.
Nigella's Cuban Cure Black Bean Soup
Nigella made this as part of her Christmas series on Food TV. She sneakily whips it up when feeling a bit under the weather, in the middle of the night. It's great after a few too many pints, but it's also just a simple and impressive meal. The amounts below serve two, and the vegetarian among us still rated it very highly without chorizo.
2 spring onions
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 425g can black beans
1 fresh tomato, chopped (you could probably comfortably use a couple)
500mL chicken stock
the juice of one lime (likewise you may want to up this a bit)
2-4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1 fresh chilli, sliced (added by Nicky and a key addition I reckon)
Slice the chorizo and lightly fry in a medium-large saucepan for 5 or so minutes. Remove the chorizo from the pan with a slotted spoon. Finely slice the white parts of the spring onion and add to the pan with the chorizo juices. Add the cumin and cook over a gentle heat for a couple of minutes.
Add the black beans, tomato, chilli, and chicken stock. Stir it up and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the chorizo and coriander.
Ladle the soup into serving bowls and garnish with more coriander and squeeze in the lime juice. Enjoy!
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Everyone needs a good chocolate cake in their repertoire, although I have to admit it's a thing I think about making more often than I actually do. I've got a few goodies up my sleeve, this one for example, but I'm pretty fussy having eaten more than my fair share of average chocolate cake in my time. One recipe had been recommended so many bloody times I finally cracked this week, since St Patrick's Day was looming and guinness was in abundance at the supermarket.
I had my first ever pint of black gold in a pub in Ireland, where a covers band was playing Dirty Old Town. A group of us were doing a trip around for our Easter holidays, and having warmed up on whiskeys in Dublin, we'd bussed across to hit the Guinness in Galway.
Our hostel room had two bunks: my friend Gwen below me, and two Australian girls we'd befriended at the bunks across. A raucous night in this very cool town saw me safely make it home, remove my contact lenses, and soundly go to sleep on the top bunk in room 105. When I awoke, I squinted my hardest and whispered to Gwen to see what time it was, but when I received no response I uncoordinatedly lumbered down and got my face right up close to the body in the bed below. I quickly realised this was in fact not the long blonde haired Gwen, but a bearded man who looked possibly of South American descent. Still squinting I looked around to realise this room had 3 bunks and no one familiar in it. I gingerly tiptoed out, genuinely bewildered and embarrassed to find the room I'd found myself in was in fact room 132. I did the long long walk down the hostel corridor back to room 105 to find 3 girls laughing accusingly with calls of "where did you get too?" I couldn't tell them and they thought it was hilarious. Guinness makes me sleep walk, apparently.
It set the tone for the trip really, and not only did we tick off a pint in every town, I managed to swipe a Guinness pint glass from a pub which made it back to England, then to Auckland, and even down to my first flat in Wellington.
And so. Beer in a cake, you ask accusingly? Yes. What it does, is give it a rich, malty depth which adds a lot to a cake which only has cocoa for the chocolate element. Like I said, I'm fussy, so it's rare I'll make a chocolate cake that doesn't contain the real, dark stuff melted down, but this one really is up there. I think this was made particularly delicious because I'd shelled out on the best ingredients - I treated myself with fancy expensive blooker dutch cocoa and fancy expensive vanilla extract too. Top this with Nigella's luscious cream cheese icing and you have yourself an impressive beer inspired masterpiece.
So whether it's a birthday, an anniversary or just because you've got some guinness in the fridge, when a chocolate cake is required, and what Saturday afternoon doesn't need a chocolate cake really? This one comes through with the goods. Simply melt, whisk, beat, stir and bake.
Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake
from her book Feast and also available here on her website.
250g unsalted butter
400g caster sugar
142mL sour cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Preheat oven to 180C, and butter and line a 23cm springform tin.
Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter - in spoons or slices - and heat until the butter's melted, at which time you should whisk in the cocoa and sugar.
Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the saucepan. Finally, whisk in the flour and bicarb of soda.
Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45 minutes to an hour (mine needed an hour). Leave to cool completely in the tin on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.
Ice when cold with cream cheese icing, recipe available by clicking here.
Nigella reckons you should ice it "so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint" and who am I to argue with that?
Right. I'm off to drink some Guinness and pash some Irishmen.
Happy St Paddy's day everyone!
Sunday, March 11, 2012
I never thought of myself as the kind of girl who would need, at the end of any romantic liaison, to delete said liaison's number from my phone. I'd sit smugly when hearing friends tell mortifying stories of drunk-texting, pretending to myself I was far too mature for such behaviour. Whether the end came about due to distance, or bad timing, or because I was the victim of the dreaded communication-cut-back, I remained of the opinion that even after a few wines, my ego would be bruised enough so as not to entertain the thought of putting yourself back on said person's radar with a cringe-inducing text message.
I also never thought I would be the kind of girl who would be promoting a recipe which contains half a block of butter and an entire container of golden syrup. It turns out I was wrong on both counts, but life is more interesting when we continue to surprise ourselves now, isn't it?
So that's how I find myself on a grey rainy Sunday evening encouraging you to fill your life with rolled oats and plums, and just delete the goddam number. I am not to be trusted with golden syrup in the cupboard or numbers in my phone and there are few things worse than waking up with that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach, and then having that fear confirmed when you roll over and read through your sent messages folder. Except I suppose waking up and having that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach confirmed not with a phone but in fact another body. I wouldn't know though: like I said, I'm not that kind of girl. And this is a food blog for goodness sake!
"Slice" is not the sexiest baked good around, and it probably sits somewhere on the baked goods popularity scale between muffins and macarons. It sometimes entices me into buying as an accompaniment to a coffee though; if it features fruit and comes with yoghurt on the side.
This recipe popped up in the most recent Life section of the Dominion Post and comes from Wellington's Cafe Mamba, somewhere I admit to never having been (nor heard of, despite it having been on the Plimmer steps for over 15 years). The simplicity of the recipe appealed, as did the fact I had all the ingredients. I had mulled some of the Kitchen Maid's plums having received a big old bag of Martinborough's finest black doris from my friend the weekend before. I had also, in an uncharacteristic moment of self restraint at girly Friday wines a couple of weeks earlier, cracked open a bottle of Martinborough Pinot Noir, and hidden the only-half-finished bottle away in the cupboard when sleep time rolled around. I thought the remaining singing dancing guests had polished it off after I went to bed, but on Saturday morning I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover it. To the stovetop it went and into the slice the spicy rich plums went a few days later. I took it to work on Thursday for morning tea, and mulled plum oaty slice was welcomed with satisfied sounds of mmmmmm.
Mulled plum Oaty Slice
(From Cafe Mamba, Dominion Post Wednesday 7 March)
500g golden syrup
4 cups rolled outs
1.5 cups wholemeal flour
(That's all the recipe says as far as method goes. I softened the butter a lot, and mixed it up with a wooden spoon and then my fingers.)
Press half the mixture into an oblong baking tin (I used a standard brownie pan). Cover with fruit, such as berries, banana, pineapple and coconut, plums, peaches, etc. As noted above, I used these plums. If you use raw fruit you might want to add some cinnamon or other spice to the slice mixture. Also, simply because I had them in the cupboard, I added a couple of decent tablespoons of black sesame seeds which added a teency bit of crunch and a smattering of colour.
Cover fruit with remaining mixture and bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown (again, that's all the recipe stipulates, but I went with 30 minutes at 180C). Serve warm or cold, on it's own or lightly dusted with icing sugar and alongside some natural yoghurt.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
And so, ladies and gentlemen, with the first of March now upon us, that was New Zealand's summer. Pretty pitiful as far as sunshine-hours go, and apart from a blind date, a weekend away and some quite cute phone calls, no substantial summer fling to report. I know, I know. I'm as disappointed as you are that this isn't a sass-filled post of debauchery and romance. Instead, new stockings and new boots and that blasted southerly. And cupcakes.
I've made red velvet cake before as you all know, and I've made cupcakes before and even though I have quite strong feelings about them, if we get over the snobbery and the saturation and the fact that sometimes they are pretty but over iced and not up to much, they really are just misunderstood, miniature, bursts of deliciousness, if made properly. They are impressive, hard to mess up and most importantly quick and easy. The other thing is that you'll usually have all the ingredients required in your pantry. I nearly, at the risk of sounding like a sleaze from the '80s, prefer the term babycakes, simply because they don't have the same connotations (there really are some terrible blogs and books and in fact shops out there dedicated to this over-popular baked good). But call them what you want, they are bite sized and they are dangerous(ly good).
A few Saturdays ago I went to a surprise birthday party. I love a good surprise, and since it was a belated birthday I thought cupcakes would go down a treat. With my beautiful new piping bag and having mastered buttercream, I went with that as a white icing and red velvet for the bottom. Not content with just red colouring and cocoa, I added a decent 3/4 cup of formerly frozen but rapidly defrosting raspberries (our freezer door somehow was left open and there was drippy bloody steak, melted ice and slushy berries to clean up before the baking began. Gross.)
The result was a very tasty combination of a rich raspberry flavoured soft and luscious cake, contrasted with my now-perfected vanilla swiss buttercream (which isn't mine at all, and is in fact smitten kitchen's buttercream, but I have now made it a multitude of times and nailed it, so there).
Raspberry Red Velvet Babycakes with Vanilla Buttercream
You could use cream cheese icing instead and still be really happy with yourself. Adapted from Edmond's.
125g butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 cup standard plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
3/4 cup frozen raspberries, defrosted slightly
1 tblsp cocoa
1 tblsp red food colouring
Cream butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add raspberries. Mix food colouring and cocoa together to form a paste and add. Sift flour and baking powder together over the creamed mixture and mix it all together gently and spoon into 24 mini muffin pans greased and lined with patty cases. Bake for 15 minutes at 190C.
When cool (or if you are impatient, or running late for a surprise party, when lukewarm) ice with buttercream using a piping bag. The buttercream recipe is available by clicking here, and the only advice I would give is, like the recipe says, once the butter is added you just persevere and whip, whip, whip.
And what of Autumn, Winter and Spring? Well, change is in the air and there are plenty of developments, ah, developing, with lots to look forward to. The winter of my discontent this most certainly will not be. I just have to stop walking out of gym classes part way through in disgust at the happy-clappy blonde instructor's cheesiness, and stop this 4pm Almond Gold habit I've managed to develop this week, and I'm pretty sure everything will be more than fine. Especially if there's cake involved.