Category Archives: Impromptu

Mean green

What garlic is to food, insanity is to art.
~ Augustus Saint-Gaudens

I added two cloves of raw garlic to the green stuff you see in the photo. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was enough to make the soup yelping-ly spicy. And, oddly, even nice.

Like wasabi, the sting is not the lingering sort (i.e. the curry / chilli sort), and is – if you can just dismiss the false thought that says you’re dying – possibly even great.

It’s the sort of spicy that wakes your mind up to the things that matter, right here, right now.

And that… is always good.

Notes:

The soup also held notes of salt, pepper and basil pesto. Base – just steamed or boiled broccoli (estimate half a head of it per person, I used boiled broccoli today), and a dribble of water. And the garlic was blended with the rest of it, to cut out nasty surprises in the form of tangible pieces of raw garlic being caught in teeth. It’s a loose recipe, one that changes every time – and the originator of the whole Blended Green Stuff thing is my friend Matt, who would possibly prefer to be known as The Genius.

As for the bread, refer to this post.

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Lamb and coffee

I’ve got nothing to do today but smile.
~ Simon and Garfunkel

Glory of the humble steak.

For all its fuss-free ease (under eight minutes from pan to plate), it is one of my favourite experiences. Whisking clean laundry away into the bedroom (to avoid catching smells). Watching tiny showers of oil blitz with the sound of microscopic rockets onto the surface of the gas stove. Feeling fresh Wellington wind whip against my cheek as I stand at the hot stove with the kitchen window wide open. Seeing the meat lose its healthy blush and take on a golden, plate-ready glow. Slicing it, noting its soft seared / brown / pink layers… and just a trickle of juice flowing on to the plate.

Yesterday’s dinner: lamb steak, seared with ground chilli and a flick of oregano – and a fresh cup of black coffee on the side. I don’t want to say it was “magnificent”, since that seems too grand a word to bestow on a rapid dinner that took less than 20 minutes to prepare and eat… but to be honest, that is the word that flashed through my mind as I ate ;-)

And that is all I wanted to write about today. Good morning!

Easy flour tortillas

Humo[u]r is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.
~ Mark Twain

Occasionally, food items march through my mind unsummoned and uninvited. And, once in my mind, they simply refuse to depart until I make them (i.e. create them in the kitchen).

This morning, while getting a drink of water, my eyes fell on the tub of mole rojo paste from Jian. I thought about that meal with a big smile on my face.

Thereafter, though, thoughts of tortillas bloomed in my mind like happy wild mushrooms… no other thoughts could chase them away.

And so it was that I made tortillas today for the first time. Trusty Google led me to this recipe, and I was happy to discover that they are in fact so easy and quick to make!

While the balls of dough sat in their tea-towel-blanket-bliss, I cut onions, smashed garlic, blanched green beans, heated up black beans. I dissolved a spoonful of mole paste in chicken stock, added a few squares of dark chocolate for good measure, and tossed the sauce all over seared chicken cubes and a few prawns. I combined the cooked beans with diced onion and tomatoes. I preheated the oven to 50°C so it could keep everything warm.

The tortillas were all cooked in under five minutes, and happily emerged reasonably round and flat, given that I shaped them with my palms and fingers (we don’t have a rolling pin yet).

Still can’t adequately describe the taste of this mole rojo… smoky and elusive as ever.

Love the addition of creamy avocado and zesty lime…

Here are the beans…

And this is what Fran and I had for dinner tonight. What did you eat tonight?

Hope you all have a fantastic week ahead :-)

    Ingredients:
    1 1/2 cups flour
    3/4 tsp baking powder
    ~40g butter, at room temperature*
    2/3 cup hot water
    Method:
    Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, and whisk till well combined. Add in the butter and hot water, then mix the dough with your hands.
    On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough by hand for around 5 minutes. Roll the dough out into a snake-shaped log and cut the dough into 6 equal portions. Shape each piece of dough into a round ball and cover with a tea towel. Let them sit for 20 minutes (this is a great window of time to cook the rest of your dinner).
    Place a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Do not grease the pan. Flatten each ball of dough into a nice large circle, with a rolling pin if you have one – otherwise just with your palms and fingers. Cook the tortillas one at a time, 20-30 seconds on each side. Your tortillas should have little brown spots on them.
    They taste best warm. I like stacking them on an ovenproof plate and leaving them in an oven at 50°C until everything is ready, so dinner arrives at the table warm.
    Yields 6 tortillas** – enough for 2-3 people.

* If the butter is fresh from the fridge, microwave it for approximately 20 seconds so that it’s still solid but closer to room temperature.

** The sky is the limit with toppings – minced meat, grated cheese, sour cream, smoky mole, spicy salsa, guacamole… in fact, given their similarity to roti prata, I think they would taste pretty good with a spicy Malaysian curry too.

Magic, fairies and lamb

In order to make art, we must first make an artful life, a life rich enough and diverse enough to give us fuel.
~ Julia Cameron

On Sunday, Tracey and I had brunch at a cafe with a cool blackboard (and food, but that was second to the blackboard that day). Nestled amidst the menu specials were these chalky scribbles: “magic happens” and “fairies do exist”. ‘Cept the letters were flipped horizontally so that you could only read these properly when you gazed into the mirror on the other side of the wall.

And you know what, magic doesn’t just happen in stories, and fairies don’t always look like Tinker Bell. Magic comes in the way of fairy lights in January and vanilla/candy-floss-coloured sunsets, and fairies manifest in the form of amazingamazing friends, bus drivers, baristas (and you lovely readers of course! ;-)).

This week has contained some stressful moments, but it has also certainly involved magic and fairies.

See, today I was at the bus stop and a bus driver with kind eyes stopped his bus (which had “out of service” flashing at the front), asked me where I was going, and took me to town… for free. With the door wide open, so the wind rushed through my hair and the sun fell on my face. He did not know how beautiful he made my morning…

And when I went to buy a cup of coffee this afternoon, the smiling barista asked if I wanted a chocolate fish or marshmallows (as is the case if you happen to get a mocha in New Zealand) – or a chocolate fish and eight marshmallows (not usually the case even in New Zealand)… seriously, EIGHT?! Sweet hmm? (and not just literally).

I could mention a few other things too… but that might take all night, and I unfortunately need to go to bed soon. Something to do with being a responsible working adult and all.

Just quickly before I climb into bed though, I wanted to mention my dinner last night. I was quite pleased with it, firstly because I had it following a good swim and 45-minute walk in summery goodness, secondly because it tasted so good, and thirdly because I was generally happy that I had rediscovered the joys of swimming (or at least, attempting to swim)… the last time I swam, I was 12. Time flies, doesn’t it!

Dinner: I heated some oil in a skillet, threw in some chopped garlic and ginger, seared a few lamb chops, and added in a few prunes and apricots, half a sprig of rosemary from G’s backyard, salt, pepper and a dribble of leftover white wine… and had it with two-week old farmers’ market salad (yes, so good is this market – the greens were still crisp) and a slice of crusty bread. Juicy lamb, gently sticky-sweet prunes and apricots, crisp greens and bread that tasted like a hug… a jolly good meal to end the day with. :-)

Right, good night. May you all have a magical Thursday!

Poached pears and Charlie Brown

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.
~ Dr. Seuss

What to do with Monday Blues:

Kick them into a corner… let them whimper.

Open every window and blast “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (link via one of my favourite blogs The Breakfast Bachelor).

Get down on your knees and scrub the floor à la Cinderella.

Wash your hands, like hygiene really matters.

Peel and poach some pears.

Make some chocolate sauce.

Talk to the Paul of your universe (he is my macchiato-and-noodle-loving, way-talented-at-dancing, kinder-than-your-Gran friend who also helped me, via long distance email, to pick the photos you see on this post tonight. I took so many photos, I drove myself batty trying to decide which ones to use.) ;-)

Have three soft luscious golden winegingercinnamon-infused chocolate-coated pear halves for your dinner.

Nothing else.

No steak. No veg. No pasta.

Keep listenin’ to “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

    Poached pears with quick chocolate sauce
    Inspired by Orangette and Nigel Slater
    Ingredients:
    500ml leftover white wine (I’m still attempting to clear my post-Thanksgiving stash…)
    500ml water
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1 tbsp vanilla essence
    Juice of half a lemon
    1 cinnamon stick
    1 knob of ginger
    4 sturdy, ripe pears (I used Bosc)
    For the chocolate sauce*:
    8 squares dark chocolate (I used Whittaker’s)
    1 tsp instant coffee powder
    2 tbsp hot water
    1/2 tsp butter
    Method to my madness:
    Combine the sugar, water, wine, vanilla essence and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Throw in the ginger and cinnamon stick. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer. Peel and halve the pears, and remove the cores with a sharp knife and teaspoon. Place the pear halves in the simmering syrup and allow to cook for around 20-30 minutes, or until tender. They should be golden and bordering on translucent.
    When you are satisfied with how the pears look and feel, remove the saucepan from the heat and leave to cool (or not, if you are hungry).
    Pour the coffee powder, hot water and chocolate squares into a microwave-proof jug or container and microwave for approximately 20 seconds. Take it out and give it a stir, and microwave for a few more seconds if needed (do it in bursts of a few seconds, so nothing burns!). Once the chocolate has all melted, stir in the butter. You should now have a glossy, velvety sauce.
    Drain and plate the pears, drizzle the warm chocolate sauce* over it all, and tuck in.
    Yields 3-4 servings.
    * I made just enough sauce for three pear halves, for that is all I ate tonight – adjust quantities of ingredients to make as much sauce as you need/like.

Fettucine and scattered December thoughts

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
~Dr. Seuss

The wonder of cherry tomatoes – mmmm unassuming red lockets just waiting to meet your lips and release streams of sweet juice into your soul. The playful look of yellow scallopini, like spinning tops dressed in buttercup playsuits. The crisp morning scent of mint, especially beautiful on unprotected fingers. The magic dust that people call “cinnamon”. The agreeable crunch of macadamia nuts. The foamy sizzle of white wine in a hot pan. The series of sweet pops that fresh snap peas generate. The humble but transformative lemon. The happy union between shallots and garlic which always releases a wonderful fragrance in any hot skillet. The curling, comforting quality of warm fettucine…

I am always interested in observing how ingredients react to other ingredients, to heat, to fingers, to teeth, to time… food is so fun, don’t you think? There are always so many possibilities.

So many possible results or consequences.

So many ways to make things as simple or complicated as you like.

So many ways to nourish yourself or scare your friends.

This evening, I went about making my dinner the Simple and Spontaneous way. That’s been my approach to life these few days, you see, and I’ve rather enjoyed the results of this approach. It’s the path to serendipity.

Over the last two days, I found, as a result of tangled weekend plans or totally spontaneous decisions: a lovely cafe; flamenco by candlelight; a chance to watch a minute or two of live filming with a professional crew on the closed-to-traffic road; a chat with a nice guy at the store about all things molasses; and a cool store.

Being Christmas/silly season, I’ve heard a lot about PLANS and LISTS and BEING ORGANISED lately. And I can see the point of plans and lists… they’re helpful. Fail to plan = plan to fail and all. At the same time, though, I’m finding myself increasingly partial to spontaneity and keeping a very open mind to adventure (within reason). I find that having too many plans and lists gets in the way of real life, if that makes sense; also, they can sometimes cause us to lose sight of the important things…

I don’t want to miss the chance to read or talk to a stranger, while wasting my anger on the stupid bus system in Auckland. I don’t want to plan my weekly menu in detail and overlook that week’s freshest market produce. I don’t want to insist on squeezing into a fuller-than-Santa’s-sack bar and miss discovering another place. I don’t want to let “goals” become more important to me than people. I don’t want to care more about how my Christmas ham turns out than how my family members are doing. And I absolutely don’t want to get caught up in gifting, feasting and festivities and miss the real, non-commercialised essence of Christmas.

Lately my world has been filled with social events, craft fairs, lots-of-work, ideas-sprouting-in-my-brain and invitations to Christmas functions and weddings (whoever told me that deleting my Facebook account would mean no more invitations was wrong). And life is good, but I am acutely aware of the need to focus on the important things.

Also, I’ve been eating all sorts this week, and my stove has been nearly spotless – so tonight I attempted to make a mess in my kitchen and eat some proper home-cooked food! This evening’s haphazard recipe follows in case you are interested… in any case, hope you all have a week of sweet surprises :-)

    Fettucine with scallopini, snap peas, macadamia and cherry tomatoes
    Ingredients:
    A knob of butter
    Olive oil
    1 clove garlic, finely chopped
    1 shallot, finely chopped
    A handful of scallopini, ends removed and sliced horizontally (or use 1-2 courgettes)
    A handful of chopped macadamia nuts
    3-4 tbsp flour
    6 cherry tomatoes
    A handful of snap peas, ends removed
    1/2 lemon – zest and juice
    A few tablespoons of leftover white wine
    1/4 tsp cinnamon
    1 rounded tsp muscovado sugar
    Herbs of your choice (I used dried rubbed basil and chopped fresh mint)
    Chilli flakes
    Method to my madness:
    Set a skillet over a medium-high flame, and drop a knob of butter into it. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, then throw in some salt and enough fettucine for two.
    Place the scallopini halves in a bowl and coat gently with flour. When the butter is hot and beginning to foam (or you can let it brown, but I was hungry so I didn’t), add in the scallopini, shaking off the excess flour as you do. Sprinkle in some chilli flakes and dried basil (rubbing the basil between your fingers as you do). Give everything a good swirl and toss, then add in the chopped shallot, garlic and macadamia nuts. Fry for a bit till everything smells a little more pronounced, then splash in a little bit of white wine and listen to the sizzle.
    Add in some olive oil if the pan gets too dry at any stage. Pour in the snap peas, cherry tomatoes and lemon zest. Add in the cinnamon and muscovado sugar, toss and add another dribble of white wine. Stir well, so nothing burns.
    Once the fettucine is cooked to al dente (approx 11 minutes), drain it, add in the lemon juice and some olive oil, and give it a good toss. Once there are no visible traces of wine, the cherry tomatoes seem ready to collapse and the vegetables are barely cooked, turn off the heat. Stir the scallopini mixture into the fettucine, then plate and serve with a generous sprinkle of chopped mint.
    Yields two servings. Substitute vegetables and herbs for ingredients of your choice, and adjust the quantities of everything as you like.

See how they last

When I was in kindergarten, I had one line in a little play. I said, I am Patrick Potato and this is my cousin, Mrs. Tomato, and I heard laughter. I wanted to be an actress from that moment on.
~ Doris Roberts

Remember that Thanksgiving dinner, more than a week ago? And those tomatoes and various green things that made their way to the table for my Thanksgiving dinner friends? Well, there were a few luscious veges left over – which I crammed into the fridge amidst cheesecake*, pumpkin pie* and half-full bottles of wine* and promptly forgot about in the course of this busy week.

It was with a slight jolt that I suddenly thought of them yesterday.

I slowly approached the fridge, rubbish bag in hand, ready to collect brown wrinkled vegetables…

And… I was (nicely) surprised to see that the vegetables weren’t quite on the verge of death. The tomatoes were just beginning to feel a little softer, maybe, but they were still so good! The green things were still green too, but I have now popped the herbs into ziploc bags and into the freezer just to be safe.

Long live farmers’ markets and fresh produce!

Tonight, I preheated the oven to 180˚C and set two skillets on the stove. Into one pan went olive oil, chopped onions, garlic, rosemary, white wine, paprika and skinless chicken thighs. Into the other went more olive oil and some bright vermillion tomatoes.

Once the chicken looked more cooked than raw (really should’ve browned the chicken a little more, but never mind!), I poured everything from both skillets into a foil-lined oven-proof dish and baked it all for around 15 minutes. I then added in half a can of cannellini beans and popped it back into the oven for a few more minutes.

And that, with a loose handful of parsley, was dinner, which I started to eat, until a particular rendition of a Christmas carol made my feet itchy to dance. So dance I did, till a human and I locked eyes through the window… and I hastily sat down again to resume my dinner.

And on that note, here are some photos from last week’s trip to La Cigale, a picture of Saturday’s omelette and right near the bottom of this post are two photos of roses swaying in the sun. If only one could upload fragrances on blogs – I would post the smells from the market and the rose gardens… wouldn’t that be sweet!

* Some I ate, some I shared, some I regrettably had to bin.

La Cigale – 69 St Georges Bay Road, Parnell, Auckland – open Saturday and Sunday mornings [delicious bistro open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays]