the corn was golden, we lay in it for days

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(It’s not pretty, I grant you, but I was like “maybe a lil bow will distract”)

I had a dream about this corn and chilli relish and then upon reflection realised that it already existed more or less in a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Christmas cookbook, aptly named Nigella Christmas. All I’ve done to her recipe is halve the quantities, add some red chilli, use date syrup instead of honey (I am kind of on the fence on honey consumption vis a vis veganism but for simplicity decided to not use it here) and used ground cumin instead of celery salt because I didn’t have the latter and felt like the former, while different in flavour, brought some of the same energy.

This doesn’t come out like the chow chow you might see in the supermarket, it’s not thick and gluey but more like … bits of vegetable submerged in vinegar, neither of which sound massively appealing but my god! This stuff is addictive, I haven’t actually even used it in anything yet but I’ve already finished off an entire jar just by standing at the open fridge, eating it by the spoonful. Fortunately it makes two jars full.

As I said, you could ostensibly just go to the supermarket and buy a jar of this or something similar but there’s something in the act of making a recipe that then goes into a jar, preserving and putting away, which pleases. This is based on – as I’ve said before – both the sheer resourcefulness of it and the fact that you’re investing in your own future existence and, hopefully, happiness.

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(And then I was like okay that’s not working what about a bigger bow)

The finished result isn’t particularly attractive but it tastes incredible – the sweet crunch of corn and capsicum against the bursts of burn from the chilli and the sinus-scritching mustard, the sour-sweet sugary vinegar balanced by all the salt I poured in (this can handle a LOT of salt.) It’s also so easy to make, and indeed, you could totally make a ton more if you go with Nigella’s original proportions.

As for what to do with it other than eat it by the spoonful; I think it would be ideal piled into a baked potato, layered on top of a burger, or stirred into a pile of peppery crunchy rocket and iceberg leaves.

Corn and Chilli Relish

Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson from her book Nigella Christmas

  • 500g frozen corn kernels, defrosted
  • 1 red capsicum, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 large red chilli, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup/250ml apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup date syrup, agave syrup, rice malt syrup or honey
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 3 teaspoons sea salt (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 teaspoons English mustard (or more to taste)

Have two 300ml glass jars at the ready, and sterilise them if you like, can be bothered.

Mix all the vegetables together in a good-sized bowl. Wash your hands thoroughly and be careful to not touch your eyes after handling the chilli or it’ll sting like hell.

Bring the vinegar, syrup, sugar, cumin, salt, and mustard to the boil in a saucepan and allow to bubble away for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. It might bubble up and look like it’s about to overflow, in which case remove it from the heat and give it a good stir or – my usual trick – drop an ice cube into it.

At this point, pour the syrup over the corn mixture and give it a stir. Carefully divide between the two jars – the easiest way is to spoon the corn out of the syrup into the jars followed by the remaining syrup, which should be completely submerging all the vegetables. Screw the lids on and refrigerate. This tastes better the longer you leave it and will last for around a month in the fridge after opening.

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(And then I was like okay what about a new location)

I’m not sure if this is a confession that’s going to elicit gasps of muffled horror or conspiratorial acknowledgement that I’m not alone in this (as long as it’s not greeted with indifference tbh) but any time a recipe is all “sterilise your jars thoroughly” I’m like “you will be FORTUNATE if I give it a rinse of the most CURSORY nature in soapy LUKEWARM water”, and you have my full permission to do the same. If the jar smells too strongly of what it previously contained (tomato in particular seems to linger) a quick slosh of water and vinegar or lemon juice seems to do the trick.

I was able to go to a bunch of LitCrawl (a local literary festival) events this weekend and left feeling replete with inspiration and goodwill towards all those who shift words from their brain onto some more tangible surface. And I met so many nice people! Some were even like “oh you’re Hungry and Frozen” and I was like yes! These words are sweeter than any writing I’ve heard this entire festival! But, to that end, after seeing him perform his poetry on Friday night I read the entirety of Kaveh Akbar’s book Calling a Wolf A Wolf; it’s very beautiful and he has this incredible way of saying things with a sense of authority where they almost sound idiomatic but you’ve also never heard those words in that order before. Even his titles are blissful – My Kingdom for a Murmur of Fanfare. I recommend it sincerely. Positively frothing with inspiration and spurred on with the lazy insolence of tramadol and having watched a movie (Outlaw King) that I genuinely the entire time thought was the pilot episode of a Game of Thrones style prestige TV show because prestige TV has melted my brain; I myself put pen to paper to write a poem: for rough context, imagine a Game of Thrones style prestige TV situation but…with…pigs. All present found it highly amusing, I assume without verification.

A pig shall rise

There is no older story than this
A cloven hoof pierces the thick mud
A squeal like a crack racing up a mirror
The air smells, sinister and ominous
And like ham
A tail curls, small but purposeful
Narrow eyes and soft ears, gently crushed by a heavy crown
Smear your face in bacon fat and walk forwards into hell
It is better to live free and die at the hoof
Than to never know freedom at all
A pig shall rise

Thanks LitCrawl! (what’s that faint noise in the distance? Is it LitCrawl frantically gesturing that they don’t want to be considered even tangentially responsible for the birth of, or by any means associated with, this new work?)

title from: C’mon Billy by PJ Harvey. So snarly!

music lately:

Tadpoles, Poemme The sound of a petal floating in water, more or less, and so chill you could just scream.

IRM, Charlotte Gainsbourg. The sound of a lightbulb flickering and sputtering, more or less.

I Hate Danger, Bikini Kill. For someone who won’t stop talking I have a very short attention span most of the time and I do enjoy a song that panders to this.

Wedding, Smog. “I’m gonna be so drunk at your wedding.” Hypnotic.

Next time: I’ve been thinking up a bunch of recipes that could potentially sit proudly on the table at Christmas dinner and plan to run them all by you first.

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oh, these sour times

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There’s no dramatic reason for me missing last week’s post, I was literally just really tired and kept being too tired to do anything, and that’s all there is to it. It’s not the kind of tiredness that feels sickness-related, but then it’s also possible that my show-must-go-on hospo work ethic plus my show-must-go-on hospo work hours have completely raised my bar of what sickness looks like far beyond normal. For a minute I was like…is this depression again? But surely not! I’ve been pretty on top of that whole hornets nest for a while now? In this economy, who can honestly tell.

I decided to give myself a hall pass for my lost week because, well, I can’t get it back so I might as well move forward. This week’s recipe is tangentially inspired by a Nigella Lawson recipe – and if anyone’s going to get me up and at it again, it’s she – for something she called Salt and Vinegar Potatoes. I acknowledge that her recipe looks completely delicious, but also, hers and mine ended up completely different in execution. I thought it would be cool to simmer potatoes in heavily vinegared water then roast them a high heat and just like, see what happened as a result. What happened was: they were SO delicious.

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Now obviously you have got to have a taste for salt and vinegar potato chips in the first place, if you don’t then this recipe is not going to change your mind since it so beautifully imitates the flavour of their packaged provenance. As for me, ever since I was a kid I always loved their intense sour-salty flavour, the way they flay the skin from the inside of your mouth like sandpaper and burn your lips. A snack that maims. I have a vague childhood memory of being at a birthday party and alternating handfuls of salt and vinegar chips with handfuls of gumdrops, their gelatinous sugariness providing a neutralising agent in the same way that you might have a cold beer with a dish laden with hot chilli. (I also remember, possibly from the same party, possibly not, thinking it was a good idea to put lollies in my glass of lemonade, showing an early predilection for being either a culinary maverick or a horrifying concern, your stance may vary. There’s no fever dream like a sugar-fuelled child’s birthday, I tell you.)

So anyway, now we’ve established that salt and vinegar as a combination is not something that one sits on a fence about, let me continue insisting on how good this recipe tastes. The potatoes are sliced super thin to ensure maximum surface area for absorption, and I used a combination of apple cider vinegar – softer, mellower – and white vinegar – aggressive, face-dissolving, sour as hell – to simmer them in. Because of all the liquid they absorb the potatoes won’t get super super crisp in the oven, but with a high enough heat they’ll catch and brown while staying lusciously tender underneath. I guess you don’t have to use red potatoes but I like the way they straddle the waxy/floury cellular axis and the colour of the skin just looks good, okay? The finished result is so oddly compulsive – but then I find anything sour and salty to be this way – and you just want more, more, to the point where I don’t really know how many this recipe would feed: I ate the lot in two sittings, but if you’re serving it with other stuff as a side I guess it could cover four people. If in doubt, just add more potatoes.

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Salt and Vinegar Red Potato Gratin

A recipe by myself

  • 5 good-sized red potatoes
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • salt, lots of, preferably sea salt or similar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • fresh thyme, to serve

Slice the potatoes into rounds, as thinly as you can muster.

Place the potatoes in a saucepan with both the vinegars and then add enough water so they’re just covered. Simmer for 20 minutes, partially covered, until the potato slices are tender. If the liquid starts evaporating too much just add some more water, and give the slices a stir every now and then to make sure they don’t stick to the base and burn.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 200C/400F.

Drain the potato slices and arrange them (as you can see I did it fairly haphazardly, mostly because the slices were super hot to the touch) in an oven-safe dish; drizzle with the olive oil and scatter over plenty of salt.

Bake for fifteen to twenty minutes on a rack positioned fairly close to the top of the oven – basically keep the potatoes in there until you’re satisfied with the level of browned and crispness of the exposed edges. This will all depend on your oven, your opinion, and your patience. Sprinkle over some fresh thyme to serve and…serve.

Don’t even try to hold back on the salt: the wall of sourness from the vinegar needs to be countered somehow. The thyme isn’t just window-dressing, but it’s obviously not the most important aspect, it does lend a gentle fragrant herbal richness to the whole affair.

The only other thing to keep in mind is that this really makes your house smell like the inside of a bag of chips for the rest of the day so make sure your scented candle budget is prioritised this week and keep as many windows open as you can. Eating this is worth having your tender olfactory bits attacked by airborne vinegar particles though: it’s just that delicious.

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I hate that feeling of being in overdraft but with one’s own energy; in lieu of any external factors in my life changing (give or take the occasional kombucha or smoothie upon which I place enormous pressure to solve everything that has been and all that shall ever be) I can only hope to level up. I guess not being super hung up for too long for missing a week of blogging is its own kind of levelling up! And anyway, here I am, full of vim and vinegar, (heavy on the vinegar, working on the vim.)

If you want further potato times; may I suggest some further reading in the form of recipes for Potato Dominoes, Mashed Potato, or with a little more effort, Potato Pizza. These happen to just be great blog posts to read even if you ignore the recipe completely, I was pleased to note.

title from: Sour Times, by Portishead. So silky and noir-ish.

music lately:

River Deep, Mountain High, by Tina Turner. I’m kind of obsessed with that Phil Spector Wall of Sound sound, there’s something so emotive yet calculated about it (quite literally in this hugely incredible song: Turner was reportedly made to do take after take after take for hours before Spector was satisfied.)

Patterns, by Suse Millemann. My friend sent this to me thinking I might like it, and…I do! It’s very understated yet lovely.

Stoned and Starving, by Parquet Courts. I love these guys and they’re coming to Laneway next year and SO IS MITSKI but do I have the energy for a festival? They’re of that genre where you’re like ah, this album from 1982 is fantastic wait what they’re like my age brilliant what am I doing with my life.

Next time: I had a dream about chilli corn relish and then it turns out Nigella – that minx! – has a recipe for something very similar so I’m probably going to try to make that.

PS: If you wish to receive these blog posts every Sunday-ish in your inbox, days ahead of the general public, then consider signing up here. On the other hand, reading it on here is not without its exclusive content, for example: I’m actually eating salt and vinegar chips while posting this and am wondering if it is the food writing equivalent of method acting; I’m also drinking black coffee alongside it and they’re a strangely beguiling flavour pairing? Better sign up AND read it here as well, just in case, is my staunch advice.

daylight, see the dew on the sunflower

I admit, I held some concerns that this recipe was a little insubstantial, especially after the (a) pomp and (b) circumstance of the last blog post’s layer cake, but in a long long work week this felt, and was, manageable. On top of which, as I reasoned with myself: people always need dip. A pile of various crunch-adjacent foods and a bowl of something pliant into which to plunge them is 100% an ideal meal for me, there’s just something so abundant and yet casual, organised yet constraint-free about it.

And in case you were worried that it was all going to be too effortless, be assured that there are no less than two time-consuming steps involved in this, firstly the soaking of the sunflower seeds and then the roasting of the garlic. But nothing is required of you while both these things are happening!

I found this recipe while scooting around online and as you can see, if you click through, my recipe here is quite directly influenced by it. I made some distinct changes though based on interest and availability: the two main ones being I toasted the sunflower seeds before soaking to intensify their flavour, and because I couldn’t find the required black garlic I used regular stuff instead. Naturally I was all, “I feel like this calls for an entire bulb of garlic” – I’m at the point where my perception of garlic has shifted so much that I’m probably going to start treating bulbs of garlic as though they’re individual cloves, but we’ll cross that pungent bridge when we come to it. Honestly though once you roast the hell out of garlic like I did here the flavour is so sweetly mellow, if anything I wanted more of it but appreciate that it would be somewhat ridiculous.

(I also appreciate that it’s wantonly wasteful to turn an oven on for half an hour just for one lone garlic bulb, indeed, with guilt in my heart I also made a loaf of Irish Soda Bread to bake at the same time. It turned out to be absolutely disgusting somehow, completely inedible and I had to remorsefully throw the entire thing in the bin, with the best of intentions creating even more waste. Lesson learned: blameless garlic deserves to take up space.)

This dip (I cannot bring myself to call it hummus as per the recipe it’s based on since it doesn’t contain chickpeas but I grant you: the texture is similar) is just wonderful, buttery and fulsome with an intense nuttiness, with the earthy cumin and sharp lime keeping it from being too formless. Using sunflower seeds as the base was a bit of a revelation for me – they give gorgeous creamy texture and substance and incredible flavour, and delightfully, they cost hardly anything. I happily and willingly ate a whole plateful of vegetables simply because I had this dip to drag them through: against the sweetness of carrots the lime and cumin really sang, while the richness of the olive oil was a magnificent pairing with the surprisingly buttery baby turnips.

Toasted Sunflower Seed and Garlic Dip

A recipe inspired by this one

  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 whole garlic bulb
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (I only had black tahini leftover from this salted caramel ice cream recipe hence the murky colour of the finished dip btw)
  • salt and ground pepper, to taste

Toast the sunflower seeds in a dry saucepan (that is, no oil in it or anything) over a medium heat, stirring and keeping an eye on them till they’re all more or less lightly browned. Tip them into a bowl or small jug, cover with water and refrigerate for around six hours, or overnight if that’s easier.

At this point, set your oven to 180C/350F, wrap the garlic bulb loosely in tinfoil and pop it in the oven for about half an hour.

Now it can all come together: Drain the sunflower seeds and tip them into a high speed blender (or a regular food processor, the finished result won’t be quite as smooth though.) Remove the garlic from the tinfoil and carefully disrobe each clove from its papery casing and add them to the blender. The garlic will (obviously) be very hot, but the softened cloves should pop out easily enough. Add the cumin, oil, lime juice, tahini, and plenty of salt and pepper, and blitz the lot together till it has become a smooth, slightly nubbly paste.

Add a little fresh water to thin it if need be, and taste for whether it needs anything more – whether it needs the sharpness of more lime, a little extra body from the oil, depth from the cumin or the old fashioned helping hand of more salt and pepper. Spatula into a bowl or container and refrigerate till you need it, and festoon with mint leaves, more olive oil, and sesame seeds (or of course: more sunflower seeds) to serve, if you wish.

And finally, its salinity helped replenish my depleted vital electrolytes after watching the remake of A Star Is Born, that monumentally melodramatic movie that I consumed with predictable breathlessness. I have many thoughts about it which I wrote and then deleted (on the one hand, there’s a lot of “I see you, Brunette Girl” as a trope, on the other hand, at last: a movie where Bradley Cooper is handsome) and literally whenever I even think about the bit in the trailer where Lady Gaga walks towards the mic and starts howling I get tearful and frantic like a fretful infant, but I also can’t stop rewatching the trailer just so I can see that bit again.

If you agree, enthusiastically, with my claim that people always need dip, then may I also recommend the following recipes on here: Tarator (somehow basically just bread and water but also incredible) pomegranate-laden Hummus, or lush Cambodian Wedding Day Dip.

title from: Memory, the ubiquitous torch song from the musical Cats. For me there is but one person who I acknowledge in the role of Grizabella, and that is the late Laurie Beechman. I thought I’d heard this song so many times that its power was entirely diluted but her singing it makes me cry every time including right now. The emphatic h’s that she throws in at the start of words (“all alone h-with h-my memory”); the gentle vibrato rumbling on “enter innnnnn”; the slight youthful creak to her voice that’s just so appealing, (reminiscent of Glynis Johns or perhaps even Alma Cogan); the way she belts so hard while looking like she’s barely getting started yet and you’re looking around like where did that voice come from? Just watch her.

music lately:

The Sacred Harp Singers, Soar Away. Yeah, I don’t know, I’ve just been listening to a lot of this particular kind of old-timey church music. This one though: a stern and ominous banger, I have played it back easily 100 times in the last week without exaggeration. There are stirring enough versions of modern sacred harp groups performing it on youtube but to my ears, the definitive rendition (on spotify only unfortunately) is this, a decades-old recording which has a kind of shouty, nasal, rough-and-ready vibe that renders modern interpretations too soft and polished and frankly unfearsome.

Wedding Bell Blues, by Laura Nyro. Man, she was just not afraid to be sad and haunting, even, if not especially, in the middle of what sounds deceptively like just a classic sixties-girl-group song.

Will You Smile Again For Me, by …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. It’s very good!

Next time: well, not that damn Irish Soda Bread, that’s for sure.

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hold on tight, hold on eleven, this is paradise

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This blog post marks a relatively special occasion: Hungry and Frozen, this very blog that you’re reading, turned ELEVEN years old on Sunday. I’m proud of myself, sure, but I’m also astonished. I mean, I’m always astonished by the passage of time, in that push-pull kind of way (y’know, HOW is it October already but also HOW is it only 8.03pm I swear the clock said 8.07pm before) but eleven years? Doing one thing? Were you even born eleven years ago? Frankly, I doubt it.

As I stand majestically upon this precipice, surveying all that I have done, I acknowledge there’s only so much looking back one can do – and don’t honestly have anything particularly deep or clever to offer you in summarisation of my life up until this point. But I did reread my first blog posts and was struck by how breezily carefree I was and just how much I cooked and blogged: in October 2007 alone I did twenty three blog posts in fifteen days, a hilarious quantity, really. It was hardcore stuff too: pavlova and steamed pudding and marinated ribs and choux pastry and madeleines. Present-day me could do well to be inspired by the sheer drive of then-me, time-rich though I was.

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In the first post I pressed publish upon I asked “does the world need another food blog? There are millions! With really classy photographs as well! What on earth do I have to offer the world?” This was before Pinterest, before Instagram, before influencers, before videos of anonymous hands making recipes all over Facebook, before chiaroscuro or people dropping crumbs everywhere in their food photography, before Momofuku Milk Bar, before the recession – in fact I’m not sure what actually was around, come to think of it. Polka dots were big, if I remember correctly, and we were all getting into cupcakes?

Since then I’ve learned so much: how to take a photograph; how to write through literally anything happening in my personal life; to not be so righteous or else I’ll regret that I called vodka soda “a sneeringly dry drink” nine years ago; that if I refer vaguely to us all “reeling from the events this week” I will have absolutely no idea what I was talking about six weeks later especially in this rapid news cycle life that we’re stuck in; that if you hear me say something amusing in real life you’re probably going to read it repeated here because I only have so much material; and to write like I’m the most relevant and celebrated food blogger on earth even if there’s only one person in the audience. I mean where I stand currently, on this relatively fallow ground, it’s by no means a high point in my blogging career and it does weigh upon me heavily sometimes. But I’m also feeling happy and creative for the first time in ages, and I think that’s what I should be inspired by from eleven years ago: neither the quantity nor the quality, but the sheer confidence that someone out there wanted to read my writing and therefore I was going to throw my heart and soul into writing nonstop for them. And if I kept writing like that, if it was that good, surely more people would want to read it. Something I hope is still true.

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What care I for the obviousness of a cake to mark a milestone; especially when it’s as incredibly delicious as this one. The champagne is a celebratory conceit but really does add something to the buttercream – a certain biscuity minerality (which sounds horrible but…trust me.) I tend to avoid putting inaccessible ingredients in my recipes and acknowledge that this one contains not just the champagne – which was a gift, I can’t imagine just owning some – but also freeze-dried passionfruit, which gives this eye-wateringly intense blast of sour passionfruit flavour and is almost irreplaceable. If it comes down to it though: I’d replace both the champagne and the passionfruit powder with a few tablespoons of strained passionfruit syrup, it won’t have the aggressive flavour but will undoubtedly still taste good.

Chocolate Maple Cake with Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream

A recipe by myself

Cake:

  • 1 and 3/4 cups plain flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or similar non-dairy milk)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (not extra virgin – or just use plain vegetable oil)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream

  • 3 tablespoons good vegan butter (I used Nuttelex Buttery)
  • 4 tablespoons freeze-dried passionfruit powder
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons champagne
  • 3 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • a pinch of salt 

Set your oven to 180C/350F. Line the base of two 20cm springform cake tins with baking paper.

Stir all your dry ingredients together in a large bowl – the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda – so everything is completely dispersed and free of clumps.

Carefully pour in the water, golden syrup, oil, vanilla, almond milk and vinegar and fold the ingredients together gently till it’s just combined.

Divide this mixture between the two cake tins, using a spatula to scrape out every last bit. Make a swirl in the batter with the end of a spoon (or indeed, your finger) – apparently this helps it to rise evenly and flatly and I’m not sure if I truly believe it but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Bake the cakes for 25 minutes or until they’re both springy and a skewer prodded into the centre comes out clean.

Allow both cakes to cool completely.

For the buttercream, I find it easiest to use a food processor, but a bowl and spoon is by no means the end of the world. Blitz the butter, passionfruit powder, and icing sugar together, and then add the champagne and process again to make a thick, smooth, pale-golden icing. Add more champagne if it’s too thick, but only a little at a time.

Place one of the cakes on a serving plate, and brush half the maple syrup over it with a pastry brush. Spoon a large dollop of the buttercream onto the centre of the cake and use the flat side of a knife to spread it evenly over the surface. Place the second cake on top and repeat with the remaining maple syrup and most of the remaining icing, leaving some to patch up any spaces inbetween the layers. I do this by scooping up icing with the knife and running it around the curves of the cake’s sides. I then run the knife under hot water and run it around the sides again to make sure the layer of icing in the middle is thick and flattened while the cake layers themselves are relatively clean. It doesn’t matter though: the icing and cake will both taste good no matter how it looks.

Dot with sprinkles if you wish, and dust over a little more passionfruit powder. And that’s your cake.

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But nevermind what’s left out of it, let’s talk about what’s in it: this cake is rich and dense but fluffy and springy and moist and has an old fashioned taste to it – the sort of chocolate cake that storybook characters would tuck into. There’s a slightly nutty flavour from the oil and maple syrup (although hell, leave the syrup out too if you’re really strapped for cash, I know I am) and the dark, soft chocolate layers contrast beautifully with the shivers-down-the-spine tartness of the passionfruit. And it’s so easy to make – some idle stirring is all that’s required. While it uses a lot of cocoa powder this cake would be an ideal go-to recipe iced however you want – if you’re the sort of person that is in enough cake-related situations to require a go-to. On top of that, this cake really lasts – three days after making it, it’s still as soft and rich as it was on day one.

Eleven years ago I hadn’t yet met my two best friends Kim and Kate and I can’t even quantify in words or describe with statistics the effect they’ve had on me since. Needless to say there was no better people to share this cake, and the remaining champagne, with, so that’s what I spent the afternoon of this blog’s eleventh birthday doing. As far as reading about it goes though, why, there’s no one I’d want more to do that than you.

title from: Paradise, by Meat Puppets. I love the Meat Puppets so much and have absolutely nothing amusing to say about them.

music lately:

Cornelius Bros and Sister Rose, Too Late To Turn Back Now. That “I believe I believe I believe I believe” bit is just lovely.

The Sacred Harp Singers, I’m Going Home. I did not care for the movie Cold Mountain but it did at least introduce me to the Sacred Harp Singers, who perform – naturally – sacred harp singing, which is like…hymns but as discordant walls of sound crashing about your ears all at once. It’s hard to explain but when I watched this particular recording of the aforementioned song being sung at a convention I genuinely cried from the enormity of it and have listened to little else since. So put in some headphones and turn up the volume and see what happens, is my recommendation and opinion both. (There’s quite a bit of it on Spotify and I enjoy the existence of the album entitled New Years Eve at the Iveys’, 1972. Now, December 31, 1972 was in fact a Sunday and I love the idea of the sheer stone-faced Biblicality overriding any seasonal festivity. “What are we doing this New Years? Same thing we do every Sunday: we’ll stand in a square barking hymns discordantly at each other, and you’re a giddy and frivolous infidel for considering otherwise.”)

Decemberists, The Infanta. I’ve been rewatching Mad Men, and as they say in the Youtube comments, “Mad Men brought me here” when the song was used at the start of one of its episodes. The sprinting drums and use of the word “palanquin” though!

(I didn’t start this format of listing music I’d been listening to until April 2009, and the first songs – with absolutely zero commentary – were Mad Tom of Bedlam by Jolie Holland, Let Me Drown by Idina Menzel and Brian D’Arcy James from the off-Broadway Musical The Wild Party, and Farmer John by Neil Young. All of which hold up well, although I did in the same breath claim to “love music with a dark passion” so you can’t win everything.)

Next time: I used all my mental capacity coming up with this week’s one, but it’ll be good, if eleven years has taught us anything it’s that we can all be certain of this. 

PS: A dedicated fistful of people read this post already on Sunday evening – okay, Monday morning, but it should’ve been Sunday – and if you wish to be part of this enclave who receive my posts sent to their inbox first every week, sign up here. (On the other hand, the distance between that send-out and this post being published gave me room to add even more enthusiastic Sacred Harp Singing content, a trinket that you may or may not consider a reward for your patient waiting.) 

soy un perdador

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Over on my Frasier food blog I talk about tropes a lot – a trope is, loosely, a recurring theme or motif – and I feel like I’ve hit a vegan trope with this week’s recipe: tofu. Let us face it, there’s no food more generically symbolising the vegan life as a whole than tofu, (perhaps other than lentils) the implication being that in its meatless blandness it represents not only all that you are missing out on and have left behind but also the miserable and sepia-flavoured journey ahead that you’ve chosen. (There are those who say “how do you know someone is a vegan? Because they’ll tell you at any opportunity” and there are those who say that people pre-emptively berating vegans outweighs any levels of militance from the vegan camp, and then there’s me, and I say guess what: everyone has the capacity to be really annoying.)

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Rest assured, no one is forcing anyone to eat tofu. You can quite happily live your entire life without touching the stuff. I myself actually really like the taste of it – which is admittedly fortunate – and always have. It’s often said of tofu that peoples’ main mistake is not giving it enough flavour – but like, why would you want to make anything that doesn’t have flavour to it? If you cook something blandly, it’s going to be bland. A plainly-cooked chicken breast has no liveliness, it is at best tantamount to a dry flannel.

Anyway, if you are going to consume tofu, you might consider doing so in the form of this week’s recipe, since it’s monumentally delicious. I actually had the idea for the sauce first and worked backwards from there to fill in the blanks for how I could use it (other than just drinking the sauce in its entirety, I suppose) but it all worked so well that both the tofu and the sauce are the double-billing stars of the show.

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The golden crust on the tofu is made from a glorious mixture of coconut, sunflower seeds and breadcrumbs – light, nutty, buttery, crunchy, with anything that doesn’t stick to the tofu toasted in the oven and scattered over your salad leaves. I’m all about contrast in texture and the intensely crisp exterior giving way to bouncingly tender interior is marvellous. And the sauce! How it shines! Wasabi has this particular, sharp, mustardy, sinus-scritching heat to it, which is balanced perfectly against the cool hit of mint, the sour, fresh lime, and the richness of the oil. All of which is then further tied together by the power of an entire bulb of garlic, roasted into mellow sweetness. The resolute mildness of the tofu is the ideal backdrop for all this action, but this sauce would be wonderful on pretty much anything, I imagine. If you don’t have wasabi or can’t find it then horseradish or indeed mustard would surely be a fine substitute, since all three are part of the same family.

Coconut-Crusted Tofu with Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce

A recipe by myself

1 block of firm or extra firm tofu
2 tablespoons shredded coconut
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs (leave them out to make this gluten-free and up the coconut and sunflower seeds)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon of cornflour
salad leaves, to serve

Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce

1 bulb garlic
2 teaspoons wasabi paste, or add more to taste
3 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 mint leaves
A pinch each of salt and pepper
Set your oven to 180C/350F.

Slice the very base off the garlic bulb – the knotty bit holding it all together – and wrap the garlic itself loosely in tinfoil and roast it for twenty minutes in a small dish that you’ve drizzled the two tablespoons of olive oil into.

While this is happening, slice the tofu in half horizontally so that you’ve got two flatter rectangles, and either reserve one of them for later or add some more coconut and sunflower seeds to your coating and make two.

Blitz the coconut and sunflower seeds in a blender till they resemble breadcrumbs, and tip into a small bowl. Stir in the panko breadcrumbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

In another small bowl, mix the cornflour with a tablespoon of cold water.

Spoon some of the cornflour mixture over the tofu and then sit it, cornflour-spooned side down, in the bowl of coconut breadcrumbs. Spoon more cornflour mixture over the side facing you and turn it over. Continue spooning more cornflour over and pressing more breadcrumbs into it so it’s as thickly coated as possible.

Remove the roasting dish from the oven and carefully lift the coated tofu into it, sitting it beside the garlic. Return to the oven for another ten minutes. Reserve any remaining breadcrumb mixture.

Once the ten minutes is up, turn the tofu over and remove the garlic. Put the tofu back in for another five to ten minutes.

Unwrap the garlic and carefully – it will be hot as hell – squeeze the garlic cloves from their paper casings into a small blender or food processor. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and blend it into a lime green sauce.

At this point – you’re almost there – remove the tofu to a serving plate, sitting it on a bed of salad leaves or kale or something and tip any remaining breadcrumbs into the roasting dish. Put the dish back into the oven for a minute or two until the breadcrumb mixture starts to brown and the scatter them over the salad, then pour over as much of the sauce as you want. Finally, eat.

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So my usual plan is to send these blog posts out on a Sunday night to all the email subscribers (and sign up here if you want this to be you) but instead on Sunday gone I was too hyped up watching the Khabib vs McGregor fight before work to write (reacting to my livestream cutting in and out alone provided ample adrenaline) and then after work I accidentally got on the go from having several birthday shots given to me (not my birthday, I might add, I was merely collateral damage.) Not drunk, but precisely enough consumed to immediately and heavily fall asleep when I got home instead of diligently writing as planned.

I don’t know if it was my addle-headedness either just in general or post-shots but no matter how hard I revised, this recipe came out sounding monstrously complicated. It’s literally just sticking some stuff in an oven and then sticking some stuff into other stuff and then sticking that in an oven and blending yet further stuff but trying to explain it was oddly difficult; should you have glanced over the recipe and felt a quickening in your heart at how many steps are involved rest assured it’s just 1000% me talking myself into a corner. This is easy as. And so cheerfully resigned to a life of tofu am I, that the next day I made myself some tofu scramble, for the express purpose of (a) writing about it on my next Frasier food blog post and (b) eating. For, you see, the only thing I’m even more cheerfully resigned to is a life of self-promotion.

title from: Loser, by Beck. This is one of those songs where it’s like wow, he really just…wrote those lyrics down….didn’t he…but then that recurring guitar lick is so good and the chorus so singalong-friendly that I’m like you know what, who cares, sing on about rabbits shaving their legs or whatever, sweet Beck. Also because I’m always worried that people won’t get the joke – on account of I often need stuff explained to me – tofu is…made of soy…hence this title.

music lately:

Edwin Starr, 25 Miles He’s better known for the song War but I maintain that the “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah” bit in this song is honestly one of the greatest contributions ever bestowed upon the musical canon.

Fiona Apple, Hot Knife. “If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife” is such a perfect and simple metaphor to build this light, chatty and intoxicating song around.

Alice Coltrane, Om Rama. This song just drops you head-first into it and keeps it frenetically high-paced until the middle section where it dramatically changes tempo and gets all woozy and dreamy and just when you start to relax it speeds up again. I love this song so much.

Next time: GUESS WHAT, next time you read this my blog will have officially turned eleven years old, I don’t know quite what to cook to acknowledge this level of momentousness and indeed, welcome any thoughts and feelings you might have.

you’re lying with your gold chain on, cigar hanging from your lips

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I’ve been pretty committedly vegan for a few months now, but it felt like the one insurmountable hurdle I truly had to surmount was the issue of butter. And that’s because I’ve really made butter my thing over the years. Why, in 2009, when this blog was but two years old, I wrote the following:

“Maybe in years to come, when my blog has changed lives, and gets turned into a beautiful book, and then the movie of the book of the blog changes peoples’ lives (oh wait, that’s Julie and Julia that I’m thinking of, and somewhat more feasibly, I’ll probably slide quietly into further obscurity), and a naive child asks their grandparents what the ultimate blog post that would describe Hungry and Frozen would be, what the very distilled essence of this whole strange business is, the ur-text, the definitive piece of writing, their grandparents might lean down and utter with a wise, earthy croak: The one where she made her own butter.

(the blog post was about me making my own butter.)

I actually did of course, some years later but also some years ago, get my blog turned into a beautiful cookbook (such are my powers of manifestation) although it didn’t quite take the path that I so breathlessly imagined back then. The point is, I was extremely about butter and it’s scary backing down from anything you’ve been vocally definite about, right? When I first started this blog in 2007 the subheading was a quote from Nigella Lawson herself about butter and in all honesty, the very thought of butter alternatives (alright, margarine, the butter alternative that dare not speak its name) made me genuinely quite panicky. Like my reputation – whatever it may have been or currently be – would be utterly tarnished if one single person wasn’t wholly aware of my commitment to butter.

When you are as righteous and strident as I have been about ever so many things, it becomes extremely stressful to change that, because there’s this heavily-weighted sense that people will judge you for subverting the expectations that you’ve built up so thoroughly for them. That you’re letting people down somehow by stepping sideways into slightly newer versions of the person they usually recognise you as.

It’s chilling in every sense of the word (that is, it’s horrifying but also relaxing) that actually people never are thinking about you as much as you think they are; I’m also learning ever so slowly that being low-key instead of super righteous makes for much less stress in the long run, and reminding myself what people expect from me and what I owe people are pretty equally minimal. This is a good thing to remind yourself of, and while it’s easy to just say don’t worry about what people will think of you for your various life choices, just like…on the whole, none of us have to worry as much as we think we do.

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So with ALL this in mind, I handed over New Zealand Dollars in exchange for a butter alternative for the first literal time in my life the other day, and not only did the sky not fall in, not for want of me waiting for it to; the stuff I bought also tasted pretty decent. I do genuinely still believe there’s no better flavour on earth than actual butter but I’m also okay, currently, with just not having it. I suppose in the same way that any commitment you make has its compromises. Nuttelex Buttery is what I went for and it tastes quite similar to Lurpak, that pale European butter that I used to spread on my toast when I lived in England.

And I used it in this recipe (yes finally, the recipe!) comprising cauliflower roasted with miso and mustard, wrapped in sheets of filo pastry, each layer of pastry brushed with a mixture of the melted vegan butter and nutritional yeast. I purchased the former and the latter together and really felt like I’d levelled up in my veganism. If you haven’t had it before, nutritional yeast is this truly magical dust, it makes everything taste intensely savoury and savourily intense. If I were to describe the flavour it would be somewhere between parmesan, Marmite and roasted mushrooms, and it’s absolutely perfect with the cauliflower’s mildness and the papery-thin crispness of the pastry.

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I made these filo cigars very much on the fly, one of those recipes that is a reaction to whatever one happens to have on hand as opposed to the result of actual planning. But I was, as is often the case with such recipes, completely delighted with them and ended up eating five out of the six pictured in one go as opposed to having them sitting about for future snacking purposes. The whole thing is an exercise in savouriness – the sharp, salty miso mustard coating the cauliflower, the nuttiness of the sunflower seeds and the, yes, vegan butter, the crunch of the pastry with the aforementioned absolute magic of the nutritional yeast between each fragile layer.

Miso Cauliflower Filo Cigars

A recipe by myself

  • 9 sheets of filo pastry
  • 4 tablespoons vegan butter (or actual butter, or olive oil)
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (Bragg’s is the brand I got)
  • half a head of cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • Black pepper, to taste

Set your oven to 200C/400F.

Chop the cauliflower roughly into small pieces. Place on a baking tray, drizzle with the two tablespoons of olive oil and roast for fifteen minutes or until softened and browned at the edges.

Mix the miso paste, mustard, and black pepper together and spoon or brush it over the cauliflower, and return to the oven for another five minutes. Throw the sunflower seeds over the top at this point as well so they can get toasted by the oven’s heat, if you wish (I, for one, recommend it.)

Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave and stir in the nutritional yeast.

Three layers of filo pastry will yield you two cigars, so brush one sheet of pastry with the melted butter/nutritional yeast mix, then lay another sheet of filo on top and brush that with butter, and then finally another sheet. Cut it down the middle so you’ve got two layered rectangles.

Mix the breadcrumbs and dried rosemary in another small bowl (sorry about all the dishes involved.)

Spoon a small quantity of the cauliflower and sunflower seeds into roughly the middle of one of the pastry rectangles, followed by a heaped spoonful of the breadcrumbs. The simplest way to fashion these cigars, I find, is to tuck the sides in over the top of the cauliflower and then roll the whole thing away from yourself so you’ve got a thick parcel. Set aside onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, and repeat with the other rectangle of pastry.

Brush more sets of three sheets of filo with the butter and then cut, fill, and roll into cigars in the same manner. Brush the cigars with any remaining butter and bake for ten to fifteen minutes or until crisp and golden. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and more rosemary if you like. And then eat them.

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You could be as reactionary as I’ve been and make these based on what you have to hand or can easily access – broccoli would surely be just as good as the cauliflower, literally any nut would be fine instead of sunflower seeds, obviously you could use real butter or olive oil instead of a butter alternative, and if you wanted to bulk it out with couscous or bulghur wheat instead of breadcrumbs I suspect it would be fantastic. But as they are, as I made them, these tasted incredibly incredible, and even the one remaining cigar, consumed cold and moderately soggy after work sometime around 5am, was unexpectedly delicious. Maybe even more so.

title from: Off to the Races, by Lana Del Rey. The very distillation of a Lana Del Rey song, to be honest, and I love her for it.

music lately:

INXS, Don’t Change. As far as INXS songs go this one from 1982 is not nearly as well-known as their main hits but it’s so, so good! It has this drive and energy and sounds so ahead of its time, like a song from 2004 written by a band trying to sound like they were from 1982!

Felt, Primitive Painters. This already lovely song is sent into the stratosphere by the presence of Elizabeth Fraser, “the voice of god” – she sounds like cold falling water, like a feather being run across the back of your neck, like a casual angel (to corroborate this, should you have your doubts, may I direct you to where you’ve probably heard her already: Teardrop by Massive Attack.)

Tim Buckley, Song to the Siren. SO sad and pretty, a real exemplary example of this genre. (The genre being, sad and pretty.)

Next time: CAN YOU BELIEVE it’s technically, and worse, literally, October; I’m super excited to eat some asparagus, should I manage to ever not sleep through the Sunday markets, or indeed, Spring itself.

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death by chocolate is a myth, this I know because I lived

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I recently was re-reading Nigella Lawson’s seminal text How To Eat, a book I turn to in times of crisis, happiness, fragility, anxiety, normality, national sporting-related success to which I’m entirely indifferent, pre or post-jeans shopping – there’s literally no mood this book can’t augment. I got my copy of this book in 2006 and it’s really something reading the little notes that I wrote by recipes in the first blush of ownership – so earnest, so youthful! “Didn’t have red wine but used leftover sangria and it worked a treat” was scribbled beside a slow-braised lamb and bean dish, a troubling phrase that raises more questions than its supposedly helpful inclusion answers (Did it really work a treat? Was it really sangria or was it just corner dairy red wine mixed with orange juice? Why, nevertheless, did we have leftovers?)

What cracked me up was the amount of times I’d put a tick beside a title with a modifying note stating what part of the recipe I actually had been able to afford to make. Lamb and chickpeas (tick – just made the chickpeas.) Cod and mushy peas (tick – just made the peas.) Who could have predicted that twelve years later I’d be equally as broke and meatless: tick and double tick.

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All this was in mind as I went shopping for ingredients for this week’s recipe, these Chocolate, Coconut and Almond Cookie Bars. It was precisely the moment where I considered abandoning the recipe altogether because nuts are so whole-assedly expensive; but then I shrewdly deduced that buying dark chocolate with almonds in it ($5-ish) would be markedly cheaper than buying dark chocolate ($5-ish) plus a bag of almonds ($9,000,000.) I already was darkly resigned to the fact that maple-flavoured syrup is monumentally cheaper than the real stuff.

This recipe is based pretty tightly on one that I found online. I was taken with the simplicity of the concept of blending up bananas to essentially use as glue, holding the coconut, chocolate and almonds to the base. Strangely, but appealingly, it barely tastes of banana – just kind of gently sweet and caramelly. I was a bit panicked because at first, straight from the fridge, the slice honestly didn’t taste like much of anything. But the more it gets towards room temperature the more all the flavours reassuringly make themselves known. I made some slight adjustments to the recipe – I nearly doubled the oaty base because the measurements given seemed to make hardly anything; I fiddled with the quantities of what went on top, I added more maple syrup and I added plenty of salt, which I think was the most important addition – it just makes everything taste so much more confidently of itself, so don’t be afraid to scatter a decent amount across the top. The oat base gets super hard over time so you definitely want to consume this within the next day or so; if you can’t get through it then might I suggest microwaving it or adding an oat-moistening scoop of ice cream to your plate.

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With this low-stakes rollercoaster of establishing whether or not it tasted good out of the way, I can assure you that this slice is in fact, really very delicious – the toasty, nutty oats, the flutter of maple sweetness from the fake but gamely hardworking syrup, the bitter, cocoa-rich dark chocolate for your teeth to slice through, the damply chewy shards of coconut, and barely a whisper of intrusive banana. Sorry banana, but sometimes what you bring to the table is what you don’t bring to the table, you know?

Chocolate, Coconut and Almond Cookie Bars

based on this recipe from feastingonfruit.com

2 and a half cups rolled oats
7 tablespoons maple syrup or golden syrup
3 bananas
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped (or 200g dark chocolate with almonds) 
3/4 cup shredded coconut
Sea salt

Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a standard brownie tin (you know, one of those standard ones…rectangular…not too big) with baking paper.

Process the rolled oats in a blender till they’ve turned into fine dust, then pour in five tablespoons of the maple syrup and a pinch of salt and pulse briefly till it’s all clumpy. Spatula it into your brownie tin and carefully press it down evenly (use the back of a wet spoon and be prepared for it to take some patience) and bake for ten to fifteen minutes, until it’s firm and golden around the edges.

Meanwhile, rinse out the blender, and throw the bananas in with the remaining maple syrup, blitzing them to an airy yellow puree. Spread this evenly over the oat base, and then evenly sprinkle over the chocolate, almonds, and coconut. Sprinkle over another good pinch of salt. Return the tray to the oven for another forty minutes, although check after 30, and cover with tinfoil if it’s browning too much. Allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight, and slice into bars. Taste to see if it needs some more salt sprinkled over – these ingredients really benefit from it.

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Should you wish to use different nuts (walnuts would be excellent here I think) or different chocolate or add other textural elements altogether – perhaps chopped dried apricots, or smashed up pretzels, or dried cranberries, or chopped crystalised ginger – you just go with precisely the amount of creativity that the intersection between what you want and what you can afford allows you to act upon, too.

And if you’re on a specific chocolate buzz, may I also recommend such recipes as Salted Chocolate Cashew Butter Slice, or Homemade Bounty Bars.

title from: Death by Chocolate from Sia’s fourth album Some People Have Real Problems, absolute years before her mainstream breakthrough. This song is just gorgeous, melancholy with these occasional major key bursts, with real classic torch song vibes to it and a stunning coda that I almost wish was its own song, it’s so lovely.

music lately:

Nina Simone, Children Go Where I Send You. This style of song is known as cumulative and there’s something so weirdly thrilling about the way it builds and expands with each verse. Obviously Ms Simone is an absolute master of interpreting a song and making it the best, most joyful thing you’ve ever heard in your life. However! I also strenuously recommend Johnny Cash’s version with June Carter Cash (and the casually fulsome snarl in her vocals) and family, Carl Perkins, and the Statler Brothers on backing, it’s so earnestly rollicking and you’re like how does it keep going up a notch each verse? Was there ever even a more exciting song than this to be sung? I’ve literally listened to both versions of this song every day for the last week and would be happy to continue on in this manner for the actual rest of my life.

The Pharcyde, Drop. The incredible video has this almost queasy surreal vibe from the backwards-forwards Spike Jonze direction but even without the slightest hint of visuals this song is so so good, mellow and soft but just slightly sinister with amazing lyricism. You should definitely watch the video though.

Next time: I genuinely just want to make absolute bathtubs full of the corn butter from last time, but will attempt to look further afield for all of our sakes.

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