Category Archives: Impromptu

Basil bread

If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.
~ Robert Browning

When you go home on sick leave, everyone always drowns your ears in an ocean chorus of “go home and lie down! Feel better soon!”… but there are certain kinds of Sick that do not get cured by you lying down for hours. I mean the sort of Sick where panadol and manuka honey do zilch and leave you feeling like a burdened donkey (not well enough to concentrate and do a good job at work, but not sick enough to die yet, either).

I had a good rest at home, chatted on the phone with a friend in Wellington, cooked and ate my breakfast at 4pm:

- Chicken + mustard + garlic + lemon + basil

- Silverbeet + red pepper + oyster mushrooms + muscovado + salt + a pat of butter + sundried tomatoes + anchovy (yes, I had a “creative moment” and just went nuts).

It was a random meal, but I felt better after that.

Then, just ‘cos I could, I decided to try making some basil bread. The scent of basil certainly did my sore head a lot of good.

Sometimes I think that scaling flour mountains helps me think of ways to move the mountains in my own life. I know that sounds ridiculous, but… well, I do it. :-)

The yeast drove me nuts! Four failed attempts later (at making it activate), I got it to foam/bubble at least a little and I think I now have a better idea of what “lukewarm” water should feel like.

If you try making this bread (I adapted this recipe), you may want to use a bowl or make sure you have a very wide bench. The centre of the well has a tendency to gush.

Keep going with those sticky fingers and you’ll get some good-looking, good-smelling dough flecked with green.

It takes some waiting around.. but not too long. Just keep reading and singing while the dough plays its rising game.

I’ve only baked bread a few times in my life, and each time I enjoy it immensely even when parts of the process (read: fussy yeast, flour-showered pants, etc) drive me a little batty.

It fills the house with good smells…

Crusty, soft, warm…

I’m not sure if this violates any informal code of conduct re eating bread, but I really enjoyed having salt and butter and a tiny splash of balsamic vinegar on this bread. I ate a warm roll as the sun gave my window a goodbye hug.

Royal food for lazy folk #2

Cheese – milk’s leap toward immortality.
~ Clifton Fadiman

It resembled a generous slice of magic swirling dessert set to gather smiles from the Tooth Fairy…

It brought to mind a curious word I seldom think about…

It was better than dessert and the consideration of calories…

It was a jolly good Sunday lunch.

What you do – you slice some of your favourite bread (I used sourdough), lay it flat and add the layers:

    cheese*
    +
    honey**

…and if you are lucky like me and have a beautiful friend who makes you fig and walnut salami, you can add a little of that on too.

Sweet like a cherry on a cupcake.

* This triple brie with black truffle sandwiched in the middle is made by Over the Moon Dairy Company and is as amazing as it sounds :-) I picked up my wedge from a nice gentleman Roland at Grey Lynn Farmers’ Market on Sunday.

** I received a goodie bag on Sunday which included this jar of Northern Rata honey from J. Friend and Co… I very much enjoyed its delicate/earthy flavour and elegant texture, and look forward to experimenting more with it!

Royal food for lazy folk #1

I am simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy, and driven.
~ Author unknown

I was lazy tonight.

It would have taken just a few more minutes, and just another pan or two.

But I didn’t want to!

Didn’t want to fry garlic in a skillet, or cut the tails off the beans, or toast the bread, or crumble the feta nicely, or make a perfect whirlpool for my egg.

I thought about doing all those things.

But one word snatched away all good intentions. And that word (or sound, or whatever it is) was: naaaaaaaaaa.

What you do if you’re lazy like me – preheat the oven to 200°C. Get an oven-proof dish of some kind, carelessly throw in some chopped garlic + oil + washed green beans (tails intact) + tinned tomatoes + cinnamon + salt, give it a stir and bake it all up for around 15 minutes. Then poach an egg in salted water, slice some bread, crumble a sliver of feta and eat it all together.

What you do if you’re wiser than me – do the above, but don’t cut corners. “De-tail” and briefly blanch those beans. Fry the garlic, so it doesn’t taste raw and startling in your mouth. Toast your bread. Above all, make a salted whirlpool for your poor poached egg and rescue it the moment it’s ready!

Whatever you do, lazy or not, have yourself a lovely dinner.

Story of today: while it rained, I cooked

The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!
~ My Fair Lady, The Rain in Spain

The kitchen is a nice place to hang out when it’s pouring outside!

This morning’s experiments: orange + kahlua ganache truffles, lime + dark chocolate ganache truffles, and lime buttermilk* cake with a light lime juice/icing sugar glaze.

Cake is now sitting in tummies of flatmates, neighbour and friends (and me) – and truffles will be despatched by mail tomorrow after I check with the courier that they will survive the ride… cooking is certainly more fun when there are more people around to eat!

In other news, last night was -> the rugby (which I watched a tiny bit of) – and The Wizard of Oz. Mind still caught between Tin Man and the Yellow Brick Road today.

* = yes, I KNOW the word of the week has been buttermilk, but I’ve now finished the carton of it at last!

Chocolate and pear cake

Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
~ Abba, Thank You for the Music

2.02am. Eyes sleepily open. Ears ringing with songs from Moulin Rouge. I have always loved this soundtrack, and one of my best memories is dancing to “Elephant Love Medley” on stage with P… but for some reason I have never watched the movie! K watched it with me tonight – I think she was surprised to learn that I hadn’t watched it, and (rightly) thought it was a wrong that should be put right.

It has been a really nice Saturday. I made a new friend G, we chatted at the charming Little & Friday (Newmarket)… which, by the way, you may like to visit on your next trip to Auckland. With mint-infused water, a spotless interior, smiley staff and a delectable selection of goodies like lamingtons resembling mini brown mountains caught in a snow blizzard, berry-filled bread and butter pudding and crisp, inviting savoury tarts – it’s hard not to fall in like within five seconds of entering the place!

I then caught up with one of my favouritest people in Auckland – M. As always, an illuminating exchange. M constantly reminds me of what is true, and real, and everlasting. I make it a point to keep friends who carry truth in their hearts and wear it on their lips – they are worth more than gold.

And this evening, K came over and we cooked together. Have I mentioned how much I love cooking with this girl??

We made lemon risotto, ratatouille and Al Di La’s Torta di Pere – adapted from Saveur, Molly’s recipe in A Homemade Life, and Smitten Kitchen respectively.

There were two half-full boxes of arborio rice in the pantry, which were both sadly infested with moving black dots…(!) So we thought it best to discard them… and K made risotto with normal long grain rice instead.

So I had not known that you could make risotto successfully with non-arborio rice, but we had a very yummy risotto tonight. Cooking mainly by sight, taste and instinct, K whipped up a dish soft, subtle, creamy, punctuated with the fresh flavour of lemons. When in doubt, she just added a little more pinot gris – a good thing to do when making risotto me thinks ;-)

Last time I made ratatouille, it was nice but all cooked in the oven – so this time I decided to try Molly’s recipe. I modified it slightly for quantity and presence/absence of ingredients in my fridge. A bay leaf, fresh rosemary needles and basil, dried mixed herbs, salt and pepper were the primary seasonings.

I really like how Molly’s recipe involves roasting the eggplant beforehand, then cooking all the vegetables in stages – it’s so easy to overcook vegetables especially when you are trying to cook one dish combining a few different types of them! So this was so nice to eat, because they were all cooked just the right amount – soft, but not soggy; lightly scented with the herbs; warm… mmm.

The cake. With such ingredients as dark chocolate, Bosc pears and brown butter, I think we would have eaten it no matter how it emerged from the oven (ok, I would have…)

So luckily I did not have to eat gobbledy gop by myself because, as it turns out, the mix became cake.

What emerged was, as K says, reminiscent of apple pie – but in pear cake form (and with the addition of dark chocolate which provided a rounded, subtle sweetness). We sliced it into slabs, like brownie bars, and ate them with dollops of Greek yoghurt.

For me it tasted like softly roasted, sweet pear cubes tangible against the smoky, mellow, creamy flavour of warm dark chocolate set on a cloud of disappearing cake. By that, I mean the cake was so fluffy that it was like a floating cloud, a fairy’s wand waving itself in and out of my consciousness as I ate.

You know those days when you crave a sizeable chunk of silky rich, calorie-laden, so-decadent-your-teeth-tingle chocolate cake?

This is not a cake for those days.

This is a cake for picnics on a grassy hill, for the moments when your eyes troll through the menu 10,000 times and still nothing sounds ‘right’. It’s a cake to accompany a musical, and nights of singing; a cake to eat whilst standing by the sink, or from the depths of a plushy couch. Most of all, it’s a cake to enjoy with others.

And now it is nearly 4am. Evidently, I am starting to get sleepy and tomorrow morning I will probably read through this and find an incoherent post with more than one typo – but you’re used to that, aren’t you? And you will forgive me, and go and make some cake? Good night world.

[Edit] Recipe as follows:

    Al Di La’s Torta di Pere [Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake]
    Recipe adapted, with a few modifications, from Smitten Kitchen
    Ingredients:
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    3 eggs, at room-temperature
    115g unsalted butter
    1/4 cup muscovado sugar
    1/4 cup caster sugar
    3 Bosc pears, peeled, in a small dice (next time I will dice them smaller than I did this time)
    3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (I used Cadbury’s 70%)
    Just a quick initial note: if you can find a cake partner for this one, do – unless you are a whiz at multi-tasking (I am not). You will see why once you get into it!
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 180°C. Oil and flour a 9-inch springform pan (we used a square tin with a removeable base).
    Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside
    Using an electric handheld mixer, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick – approximately nine minutes (it should take around five minutes with a professional Kitchen Aid). It should resemble velvet custard.
    While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium-sized skillet (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty/like caramel (about 6 to 8 minutes). Scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes as necessary, to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.
    Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.
    Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixture down to stir (we just switched to a normal whisk at this stage), and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.
    Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 minutes, or a tester comes out clean. Make sure it is fully done before you take it out – if the top is overly brown and it is not cooked in the middle, put a sheet of foil over it and bake till it’s done.
    As mentioned above, we ate it slightly warm with dollops of Greek yoghurt and it was very good. Possible variations include barely whipped cream with a drop of almond extract in it, or buttermilk ice cream, as listed in the original recipe. Enjoy!

[/Edit]

Soup

Soup of the evening, beautiful…
~ Lewis Carroll

This is not the prettiest thing that you ever did see, but it was just what I needed this evening.

Love how soup is so agreeable! You just fry some sliced onions until the aroma takes over your nose, then chuck in vegetables you have on hand, herbs, cold water, some stock powder (if you are lazy like I was today!) and basically adjust what you need to to make it taste good until you are happy with it – no measurements or special powers needed. Bring to a boil, then simmmmmmeeeerrr for around 30 minutes (time will vary depending on how large your veg wedges are, and how soft you want everything to be).

Tonight, my soup contained two onions, a few glugs of water, some stock, two carrots, two celery stalks, one Agria potato, two onions, a wedge of suede, some parsnip, black pepper, cannellini beans, a forlorn fennel frond + bulb, a shower of fresh rosemary leaves – stripped from their stems. Made four servings.

What do you put in your soup?

An impromptu roast chicken, and other stories

Most of the food allergies die under garlic and onion.
~ Martin H. Fischer

Tonight I roasted a chicken ‘cos I felt like it.

Free range chicken, on special at the supermarket ($10!)
+ wild fennel and 2 sprigs rosemary and 3 agria potatoes from the farmers’ market
+ 2 of Mom’s lemons (zest and juice)
+ garlic cloves, some smashed and some intact (all a little messy really)
+ salt
+ pepper
+ sprinkle of fennel seeds
+ stream of olive oil
+ smear of mustard
+ oven @ 180 degrees C
+ 1.25 hours (take it out midway and bathe it in its juices)
= impromptu roast chicken.

Dinner + cranberry juice + conversation with Fran. Bright night.

Leftover chicken now in the fridge for us all to lunch on tomorrow.

The other night I visited Deniro with K where we drank red and ate pasta and risotto and a certain lovely lady we knew there got us a small (to save us from ordering the full) platter of calamari… :-) The calamari was nice and fresh, and the spaghetti bolognese – well you know, a good plate of spaghetti bolognese always spells “comfort” (see quick snapshot below)! K’s seafood risotto tasted of that magic kingdom – the sea.

I like Elliot Stables for the way it feels like a mini globe within! So many accents and types of food. Topped with smiling service and a bustling atmosphere… nice!

Later that night K also introduced me to the joys of Giapo… home to one of the best ice cream flavours ever to grace the earth – organic meringue with hazelnut cream! Light meets sweet meets nutty meets fluffy meets mmmmmm… :-)

Pastry from a farmers’ market = always a good weekend breakfast option – this was mine yesterday, as I ran out of groceries at home in the morning: choc and pear brioche…

Mooncake – so many legends surround this one, there’s the one with a Trojan horse of sorts and another involving star-crossed lovers (see Google for details)… so many tales, which to believe? Possibly just the memories of lanterns and relatives and tea – warm thoughts.

Pictured here is a chicken/apricot tagine that Dad made last night… have to admit I was slightly teary-eyed; seem to get this way nowadays when (1) my parents cook for me and (2) I get to eat with my family! The evening flew by, too quickly – the hands on the clock seemed to be sprinting!

And today I went to the Auckland Vintage Textile Fair with T. Wonder what it would have been like to live in a different era… I bought clip-on earrings and aprons which would make anyone look more domestic than Martha S.

Other delicious links:
Wicked: Ottolenghi’s Caramel Macadamia Cheesecake!
If music be the food of love, play on, Turntable Kitchen
Barter trade: I like

Elliot Stables – 39-41 Elliott Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 308 9334

Giapo – 279 Queen Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 550 3677