Blackberry White Pepper Gingerbread


In my ongoing battle to bargain with my brain to do small, unremarkable tasks, I’ve found that I have better success with my to-do lists if I scatter the jobs across the page — like sprigs of basil adorning a plate of pasta al pomodoro — rather than simply listing them one after the other. It’s stupid, but it generally works, which means it’s possibly not so stupid after all. Frequently, one of those untethered tasks is the phrase “vibe with food” which is my designated time to sit on the couch and try to invent or mentally develop and coax recipes into existence. Alas, because this task is non-urgent and fun it tends to get shunted (the system is sound but not bulletproof) but on my most recent attempt at vibing with food, two ingredients bobbed in my head: ginger and blackberries, and like Homer Simpson’s “dental plan/Lisa needs braces” reverie, through the repetition of both words I eventually thought: what if I put blackberries in gingerbread?


A reasonable question, as it turns out! Rather than reinvention for its own pompous sake I used an existing recipe by Nigella Lawson, my most trusted source on all things culinary, and pretty much all things, full stop. To that end this recipe is literally just her gingerbread + blackberries — so, if you’re suspicious of my fruity interference you can leave out the berries and still have an exemplary traditional baked good. However, walk with me here: this gingerbread is dark, dense, and sweet in a throat-burning kind of way, with the double fire of fresh and ground ginger and a fierce sprinkling of pepper to really bite back at you. The stair-step intensity of brown sugar, golden syrup, and creosote-thick molasses gives this a strapping, earthy sweetness, swirling with headily, bombastically aromatic cinnamon, allspice, and clove. Blackberries have their own musky spiciness, though mild in comparison to its teammates here, but this berry is made to be bathed in ginger, and its shirt-staining sourness brings a welcome treble note to all that bassy molasses.


I understand if the ingredient list and instructions both appear dauntingly endless, but the method is straightforward — if sticky — with everything stirred together languidly in one saucepan. Like David besting Goliath, somehow that one teaspoon of baking soda at the end brings this soupily liquid batter together to form a gingerbread of almost scientifically farcical dampness, like those days that are so humid it seems you could wring the air out with your bare hands, as though the clouds couldn’t possibly hold one more particle of moisture without exploding into rain. As such, this keeps for a long, long time (though I’d move the container to the fridge to prolong its lifetime after a week) and seems to taste more magnitudinously complex and damp with each passing day.


Because of its fa-la-la-la-la spices and generous shelf life, you could consider this as a low-key alternative to Christmas cake this December (in which case I might throw in a handful of sultanas or raisins). And for further adventures in baking with molasses, I suggest Bryant Terry’s Ginger-Molasses Cake, its cousin the Dark Chocolate Molasses Fruit Loaf, and my Christmas Star Cookies which you can obviously bake at any time of year.


Blackberry White Pepper Gingerbread

All I’ve done is put blackberries in Nigella Lawson’s vegan gingerbread recipe from Cook, Eat, Repeat — I love my addition and the blackberries truly sing with all that ginger but you can’t go wrong with her untampered original. This is dark, dense, and intense: perfect with an afternoon coffee, but you could serve it for dessert with a scoop of ice cream to cool off all that gingery, peppery heat. On that note, the pepper adds an extra layer of warmth to the ginger, but it’s not overwhelming — I liked the scansion of the two shades together so included it in the title.

  • 125g (2/3 cup) brown sugar
  • 150ml (2/3 cup) vegetable oil, eg rice bran
  • 200g (2/3 cup) golden syrup
  • 200g (2/3 cup) molasses
  • 8 pitted prunes, roughly chopped
  • 30g fresh ginger (about 2 inches), peeled
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 250ml (1 cup) oat milk or soy milk
  • 300g (just under 2 and 1/2 cups) flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 x 15ml tablespoons warm water
  • 2 teaspoons malt vinegar or ACV
  • 250g (roughly 1 and 1/2 cups) frozen blackberries
  • 2 teaspoons flour, extra, for the blackberries

Note: This is best made the day before you need it. Also, it really is a melt-and-mix affair but with all the various textures and quantities it’s impossible to write the instructions out succinctly, so please bear with me!

1: Set your oven to 170C/325F. Nigella recommends a 9inch/23cm square tin, however, I used a 20x28cm dish without the slightest hint of the tide being out, so if you only have, say, a 25cm square dish then proceed with confidence. Either way: pull out a large piece of baking paper to line your baking dish, ensuring the sheet of paper is long enough for plenty of overhang (as you can see in the photos.)

2: Measure the 125g brown sugar and tip it into a large saucepan, followed by the 150ml vegetable oil and 200g each of golden syrup and molasses. Doing it in this order means the syrup will slide out of the oiled measuring jug, but also — aha! — doing the sugar first stops it from sticking to any of the syrup. I say this presuming you’re using the same vessel since all four ingredients are 2/3 cup volume. To the same pan add the eight chopped prunes (or you could snip the whole prunes above the pan with with kitchen scissors), and then either grate or finely dice the 30g fresh peeled ginger and add it to the pan as well. Finally, add the spices and salt: two teaspoons each of cinnamon and ground ginger, one teaspoon allspice, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

3: Gently whisk the contents of the pan over a low heat — you want to just warm it through and meld the ingredients together. This shouldn’t take more than a minute, and once you have a coherently dark pool, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the 250ml of milk.

4: Whisk in (again, gently) the 300g flour in batches, using the whisk to press out any noticeable lumps against the sides of the pan. The flour will want to clump together — it’s not you, it’s the science! — so go slowly and patiently.

5: Measure the teaspoon of baking soda into a clean 250ml measuring cup (or just use a coffee cup or mug or whatever’s nearest) and stir in the two tablespoons of warm water, followed by the two teaspoons of vinegar. It will fizz up, justifying the size of the cup it’s in, and once all three components are combined, whisk this into the gingerbread mixture, scraping out all the baking soda that might have settled at the bottom of the cup, and ensuring it’s thoroughly incorporated into the batter.

6: Finally, toss the 250g blackberries (I used frozen, straight from the freezer) in the two extra teaspoons of flour, and, switching to a spatula, fold them into the gingerbread batter. Tip this very liquid (and heavy!) mixture into your prepared baking dish, using the spatula to scrape out the pan. Bake for 50 – 55 minutes (although check after 45 if you have a quick oven). Unlike most cakes you can’t use the skewer test on this one, however, the top should appear firm, cakey, and be a little springy to the touch.

Let the gingerbread cool completely first, and (as per the note above) if you can, let it sit overnight before slicing and eating. It settles into itself and the texture and flavours improve — Nigella suggests a layer of baking paper followed by a layer of tinfoil, so that’s what I did — and from then on, store in an airtight container in a cool place.

The number of slices depends on the size of your tin, but I got 20 hearty squares out of this.


  • Nigella’s recipe uses ground black pepper, so feel free to use the former if you have it. She also used muscovado sugar instead of brown, but I had the latter so that’s what I used and it was still magnificent; I would love to make this again with muscovado though, and if you have it then by all means use it.
  • If you’re fortunate enough to have fresh blackberries then use them instead — frozen berries tend to be a little heavier but the same volume will work fine.
    If you’re on the fence about the prunes, they somehow melt into the cooked gingerbread and are not individually detectable.


music lately:

Silent Air by The Sound, it commences with downbeat gloom and then those shyly optimistic keyboards come in and it’s like when you’re driving through the wide-open countryside in the rain but you can see far enough into the distance to where blue sky parts the clouds over some horizon-bound village (and if you prefer to be in the rain then reverse the metaphor, I guess.)

Again by Janet Jackson. Few people have such a commanding grasp on affecting chord progressions as she — see also the verses in Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun) — and that tearful crack in her voice in the final third makes me extremely emotional!

Theme from Sparta F.C. by The Fall. There’s a few versions of this and they’re all pleasingly tenacious yet nonsensical, but the earlier Peel Sessions one goes hardest.

We’ll Take a Glass Together by Michael Jeter and Brent Barrett at the 1990 Tony Awards performance of Grand Hotel; under the category of Tony performances that are ostensibly light-hearted but make me sob (there’s something about an audience’s appreciative mid-number applause for a dance formation that always gets me). Barrett is no slouch, dance-wise, but Michael Jeter is otherworldly — where are his limbs COMING from? How does his head remain so level? What physics-flouting witchcraft is this?

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

stovetop buffalo cauliflower mac and cheese


This may be a common way of visualising the various events and diary-dates of one’s life and not worth commenting on but when drifting through my memories I tend to recall most sharply what I ate and what I wore — that night was the Chorizo Wellington, that evening was the vintage black velvet jumpsuit, that party was the Lemon Prosset when I tried to make a double batch and it didn’t quite set, and so on. And so, it is with earned confidence that I can claim I’m very sure I’ve never actually had buffalo sauce, or any buffalo-adjacent dish in my life, and it is with unearned confidence that I present today’s recipe for Stovetop Buffalo Cauliflower Mac and Cheese. Does dousing something in buffalo sauce make it, well, buffalo? Possibly not. But, does this taste good? You already know!


As someone who grew up guided by the Baby-sitters Club I was already chapter and verse on mysterious, out-of-reach American foods. I have since gained the rueful wisdom that some of those foodstuffs are better in the realm of imagination than actual consumption (e.g. Twizzlers: tasted like oiled pleather). Happily, buffalo sauce lives up to the claims of its wide enjoyment. It’s spicy, yes, but in an invigorating and necessary way. I couldn’t eat more than a bump of cayenne pepper comfortably on its own — in this sauce the cayenne is stabilised by vinegar and fat to the point where guzzling it from the bottle is not out of the question. And in this recipe it’s used to coat fried, crisp florets of cauliflower which are then stirred through a luxuriantly saucy batch of macaroni cheese: the cauliflower itself almost velvety beneath its browned surface, the comforting white sauce tinted peachy-orange and submerging the pasta.


I haven’t gone so far as to strenuously include the components of ranch dressing, which often accompanies chicken wings cooked in buffalo sauce — one American culinary hurdle at a time, thanks — but the garlic and dried herbs echo its flavours a little, and if you have dill or chives growing you’re welcome to chop and scatter them over the finished dish. There’s so much going on — the pearly nuttiness of the cauliflower, the pickle-brine tang and clean propane heat of the buffalo sauce — that you could get away with not adding any cheese at all, if that makes life easier. It’s better with, I’m sorry to confirm, and just choose a solid workhorse grate-and-melt cheese here, but I’d still happily eat it without. (To that end, be my guest if you want to crumble in some blue cheese, which is also customarily eaten with buffalo wings.) Combining spicy, zingy flavours with creamy, rich flavours is an obvious win, but it’s a joyously delicious win nonetheless, and the consolatory soft mellowness of pasta and white sauce is the perfect heated pool for all that liveliness to swim in.

I can reliably be found corrupting mac and cheese to the point where it’s a conceptual figurehead at best, but the results have always served me well; with that in mind if this is your kind of vibe I also recommend trying my Chilli Corn Macaroni, my Triple Pickle Macaroni, or one of the most glittering jewels in my crown, the Thai Yellow Curry Mac’n’Cheese.


Stovetop Buffalo Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

Comforting yet abundantly flavoursome, this combines macaroni cheese with buffalo sauce-drenched fried cauliflower without using any extra pans than usual. Add more buffalo sauce as you wish, this dish can handle it. Recipe by myself.

  • 1/2 a head of cauliflower (roughly 250-300g)
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for the pasta water
  • 3 tablespoons plain oil, eg rice bran
  • 5 tablespoons bottled buffalo sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s) plus extra for serving
  • 200g macaroni, or small pasta shape of your choice
  • 50g butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup/250ml milk
  • 1 cup/250ml chicken stock (or, 250ml water and one stock cube)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried celery
  • 2 teaspoons crushed garlic
  • 100g grated cheese (optional, but obviously good)

1: Break the cauliflower into florets, and slice each floret lengthwise to maximise flat surface area on each small piece of cauliflower for browning. Stir the two tablespoons of cornflour and the half teaspoon each of white pepper and salt in a bowl or container and toss the cauliflower pieces in this mixture to lightly coat.

2: Heat the three tablespoons of oil in a wide frying pan, and fry the cauliflower pieces — shaking off any excess cornflower — in a single layer. I let them cook undisturbed for two minutes, then I turned the pieces over and placed a lid on the pan and let them sit for another two minutes — the idea being that steam builds up inside the pan and helps the cauliflower cook through — and then removed the lid and continued frying for another two minutes, turning any pieces that still needed browning. Use this timing as a guide and keep an eye on the cauliflower, as your stovetop may be faster or slower than mine, but by the end of this, the pieces should be cooked through and well-browned. Turn off the heat and remove the cauliflower to a bowl (I used the same one that held the cornflour, discarding any excess) and stir in three tablespoons of the buffalo sauce. Set aside.

3: Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, then add a generous amount of salt (about two teaspoons) and tip in the 200g macaroni pasta, letting it boil for about 10-12 minutes or until tender.

4: While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce by melting the 50g butter in the same pan that you cooked the cauliflower in (no need to clean it, but wipe out any excess oil with a paper towel if need be), then stir in the three tablespoons of flour to form a paste, stirring it for another minute over medium heat. Slowly add the 250ml each of milk and chicken stock, pouring in a little at a time and stirring briskly and thoroughly to prevent lumps. At first, the butter-flour roux will immediately absorb the liquid, but it will slowly loosen up and form a sauce as you go on. Once you’ve added all the liquid, let the sauce simmer, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes or until thickened. Stir in the remaining two tablespoons of buffalo sauce, the half teaspoon of dried celery, and the two crushed garlic cloves. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the 100g grated cheese if using.

5: By this point, the pasta should be al dente. Drain it and tip the cooked pasta into the sauce (and if the pasta cooks before you’re done with the sauce, just drain it and set aside) along with the buffalo-sauced fried cauliflower.

Serves 2 with leftovers, or up to 4 as a side dish. I drizzled over a little extra buffalo sauce and sprinkled over some more dried celery to serve.

Notes: I used soy milk here but whatever milk you’re used to should be fine; if you don’t have any butter for the sauce you could substitute three tablespoons of olive oil.


music lately:

God is Alive, Magic is Afoot by Buffy Sainte-Marie. Season 2 of Yellowjackets ended last week and I feel spiritually bereft (and Succession ending for good three days later didn’t help). This show has so many spectacular 90s needle drops which is to be expected, what did take me by delightful surprise was hearing Buffy Sainte-Marie’s haunting and crisp vibrato in this 1969 song — unsettling, beautiful, incantatory, with the lyrics taken from Leonard Cohen’s achingly scriptural poetry.

Simple Passing by Hammerbox. It’s genuinely preposterous how good the soundtrack to the 90s computer game Road Rash was, and what a gift that soundtrack was to impressionable young minds such as mine. I need a full oral history of how it came to be! Til then I am yet to discover the precise combination of supplements that will grant me the same level of energy that this song — from said soundtrack — generates.

Debaser by Pixies. Don’t ask me to choose my favourite Pixies song (or my favourite anything, that is, unless you have forty minutes to hear my answer) but…this could be the one, somehow the more incoherent their lyrics become the more clarity they present, right? I can’t even begin to explain the exhilaration that courses through me while listening to this.

Soave sia il vento, from Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte; on Friday night I channelled my inner Frasier Crane by attending NZ Opera’s production of this show. It was captivating, as you can imagine from this brief trio performance with all its buttery harmonies.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Small-batch Peanut Mocha Cookies (gluten-free)


Despite the fact that not once in my sixteen-year career as a food blogger have I ever had a large group of dependents to regularly feed, I still tend to bake as though many hands will be reaching for the finished product. What can I say, I like filling the tins, I like abundance, I like knowing that the sweetmeat I’ve eaten won’t be my last, that it has brothers rising up and multiplying behind it like the brooms in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (actually that’s not a great analogy because that part terrified me as a kid, but it demonstrates the vibe nonetheless.) What care I for the small-batch cookie? Not much, initially. But my head can reliably be turned by novelty value, and so here we find ourselves with these Small-Batch Peanut Mocha Cookies, the yield of which can be easily summarised by Dee Dee Ramone counting off a song.


There’s something about a recipe for only four cookies that feels like you’ve discovered a way to step outside of time itself, like these are cookies no god can see, taking a spoonful of this ingredient and a dash of that and barely unsettling the plimsoll line. That being said, there’s also something a little too cavalier for me about firing up the oven for single-digit results; I recommend throwing these in before or after you plan to use the oven for another dish to ease your conscience and/or valid concerns about the power bill.


I found today’s recipe at the reassuringly-named Mini Batch Maker site and my only change was to add a little coffee, the smoky savouriness of which sits well alongside the strong peanut butter profile. You see, these are gluten-free cookies and therefore the peanut butter makes up about 40% of the dough. Through the alchemy of baking soda a handful of ingredients turn into crisp, chewy, vastly-spreading cookies dotted with forthright chunks of chocolate. Peanut and chocolate are old friends, and so are chocolate and coffee, and when overlapped in these cookies — like a delicious Venn diagram — they enhance and embolden each other. The contrast between lacy-edged, Florentine-chewy outer and crisp, snappy middle is beguiling and the chocolate chunks make the journey more exciting. I admit gluten-free baking and cooking has not been particularly represented on my blog — I have a hyper-tolerance to gluten and am no expert in removing it from food — but these are impressively cookie-ish cookies, without any stretch of the imagination (or flour) involved. They are stoutly peanutty with a lapping caffeinated resonance, in a quantity that won’t overwhelm you — but also, so easy to make that if you hoon through them too quickly another batch needn’t be far away.

Come to think of it I don’t have a ton of peanut butter-related recipes either, but if your preference is for larger batches of cookies you could try my Marble Heart Cookies, the Pecan Sandies, or my Pistachio Toffee Cookies.


Small-batch Peanut Mocha Cookies

A small quantity of ingredients gets you a small quantity of cookies — and sometimes that’s all you need. These are chewy, a little crispy, and very delicious. These are also gluten-free cookies (and vegan). Recipe adapted slightly from these cookies at Mini Batch Maker.

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon mashed banana
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant coffee powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 squares of dark chocolate
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a baking tray/cookie sheet with baking paper.

2: Place the 1/4 cup each of brown sugar and peanut butter (easier to measure in this order given the peanut butter’s viscosity) in a small mixing bowl along with the tablespoon of mashed banana, and mix them together thoroughly. Sprinkle over the 3/4 teaspoon of instant coffee powder and the 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda — you may want to sieve them to prevent baking soda lumps — and fold them into the dough.

3: Divide the dough into four pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Place each ball of dough on the paper-lined cookie sheet. Leave them as rolled-up balls (that is, don’t flatten them) and allow about four inches of space between each cookie, as these really do spread out while they cook. Roughly chop the four squares of chocolate and push the chopped pieces gently into the balls of cookie dough, using a roughly equal amount of chocolate for each. Bake the cookies for 12 minutes, at which point they should be significantly spread out and golden brown. Sprinkle the cookies with the 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and allow them to cool down for about ten minutes on the tray before eating — or better yet, leave them to cool completely at which point they’ll be especially chewy. Either way don’t move them immediately, because they’re too fragile while fresh from the oven.

Makes 4 cookies.


  • I appreciate that 3/4 teaspoon generally doesn’t exist as a measurement; either use a 1/4 teaspoon three times or one teaspoon with the tide out.
  • The banana doesn’t make itself known, flavour-wise, and seems to be important so I don’t advise leaving it out. However, you could replace the peanut butter with a different nut butter.
  • The coffee powder is specifically referring to the instant kind that you mix with hot water in a mug; espresso or plunger coffee powder won’t work here, but the cookies will still taste great without the coffee.


music lately:

River Deep, Mountain High by Tina Turner. This song makes me SO emotional — her stalactite-studded cave of a voice billowing on “my oh my” the orchestrations barging at you like a freight train, the reckless hopefulness, all of it. May she rest in peace, what a loss.

Funtime by Iggy Pop. As someone who resists organised activities I appreciate the sinister, unsettling persistence embedded in that “all aboard for funtime” chorus.

Backwater, by the Meat Puppets. I’m just so fond of them!

Rez, by Underworld, if the word “magic” synthesised itself into music form it would be this, it is what glow worms play to get amped up for the night ahead, the softly powerful energy from this song could honestly light up Paris or something.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Sheet Pan Gnocchi Puttanesca


Look, I’m the first to yell about how SEO has ruined food blogging and I know we probably don’t say “sheet pan” in New Zealand, but sometimes you have to dance with the enemy in order to steal their jewels, and so this recipe is called Sheet Pan Gnocchi Puttanesca in the hopes that capitulating to Big Algorithm delivers me some sweet, sweet optimisation. That modern ugliness aside, what this recipe will undoubtedly deliver you is a delicious, hands-off dinner in little more than half an hour.


We all know what “puttanesca” means (or at least, we know what it translates to, quite what it’s driving at seems to be mildly contentious) and as a pasta sauce it’s usually found wound around long strands of spaghetti and made in a frying pan; here I’ve leaned into the slatternish element of its name by taking almost all effort out of the equation. Just throw some ingredients in a baking tray and shunt it in the oven and that’s it. I give the gnocchi a slight head start on its own — normally when I’m frying gnocchi I add a splash of water or cover the pan (or both) so it steams and crisps up at the same time, and I’ve transferred that method to this recipe. The gnocchi starts off in a shallow bath of stock and olive oil, emerging tender but with a little roasty bite to its surface.


The puttanesca sauce is a riot of salty, well-preserved intensity — meaty shreds of green olive, tiny morsel-ish capers, fiery chilli flakes. I added some roughly chopped pecans in the hopes their smokiness would play well with the other ingredients (it did) and you don’t need me to tell you that if there’s a tin of anchovies in your possession, they absolutely belong here. The joy of this sauce is that, aside from the parsley, it’s made up of ingredients that have a long shelf life, and so once you’re stocked up you can have it cooking away with very little notice at any time of day or night. The supple gnocchi provide the pillows against which this sauce reclines, and the contrast between squishy, dumpling-y pasta and spicy, high-kicking sauce makes a creditable case for their pairing.


Although this recipe is at its most pantry-standby-ish and low-effort with a package of bought gnocchi, if you feel like making this more effortful (but — to be fair — only just) there’s always my recipe for Instant Homemade Gnocchi; I’ve never tried roasting it but I’m sure it wouldn’t fail. There’s also nothing stopping you from panfrying the gnocchi dough and then adding the sauce ingredients from this recipe to the pan afterwards. And if you’re looking for other recipes that you can just throw into the oven you could try my Green Garlic Oyster Mushrooms, my Oven-baked Pearl Couscous with Pumpkin, Sundried Tomatoes, and Feta, or my Forty Cloves of Garlic with Potatoes and Artichoke Hearts.


Sheet Pan Gnocchi Puttanesca

This couldn’t be easier — just tip your ingredients onto a baking tray, shove it in the oven for a while, and there’s your dinner (admittedly the gnocchi is baked on its own for a bit first, but I think we can still call this easy). The sauce is punched up with olives, capers, and chilli — play around with quantities to suit your tastes. Recipe by myself.

  • 500g package gnocchi
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for serving
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) chicken stock
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup pitted green olives
  • 1/4 cup pecans or walnuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes (I used gochugaru)
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 cup curly parsley, or as much as you want

1: Set your oven to 200C/400F. Tumble your gnocchi onto a sheet pan (aka a wide, shallow baking tray) separating them out into one layer. Drizzle over the tablespoon of olive oil and pour over the half cup of chicken stock, and then bake the gnocchi for ten minutes. This step helps to cook through the gnocchi, effectively both steaming and frying them, so they’ll be tender with a little bite when you add the sauce ingredients.

2: Remove the sheet pan from the oven and tip in the tin of chopped tomatoes, the two tablespoons of tomato paste, and the tablespoon of capers. Roughly chop the two garlic cloves, the 1/3 cup of pitted olives, and the 1/4 cup of pecans — though you want the nuts and garlic chopped more finely than the olives — and tip all that into the gnocchi as well, along with the half teaspoon of chilli flakes. Fill the now-empty tomato tin with water, swish it around, and pour it into the sheet pan. Stir briefly to disperse the ingredients, then return the gnocchi to the oven for another 15 – 20 minutes, by which point the sauce should be bubbling and reduced down a little. If it’s looking too dry, add another splash of water.

3: Taste to see if it needs extra salt or a pinch more chilli. Drizzle over a little more olive oil — about a teaspoon or so — then roughly chop the 1/2 cup of parsley and scatter it over the gnocchi.

Serves 2-3, or 4 with other side dishes.


  • I used a full stock cube with 125ml water to make up the chicken stock required, figuring that the added tomatoes and water would dilute the saltiness. I was correct, so feel free to do the same.
  • Anchovies are an expected ingredient here so if you’ve got ’em, throw ’em in.


music lately:

Secondo Coro Delle Lavandaie by Roberto De Simone, this song goes SO hard. However hard you’re thinking, no, it’s even more than that.

Forever Close My Eyes by Dälek, this is the kind of pulse-rushingly, lung-fillingly lush song you can catch a ride on all the way up to the stars.

Invalid Litter Dept. by At The Drive In, the sort of music you should first hear age fifteen, or at least it worked for me then but! — still does, with its billowing emotion and bruising oratory and scattershot guitars; I also in all sincerity recommend their performance of One-Armed Scissor on Jools Holland, it is fantastically shambolic and chaotic and both the worst and best imaginable introductions to that song.

Side By Side by Adrian Lester and the 1996 Donmar Warehouse company of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company; this might just be my favourite rendition of my favourite Sondheim musical. Lester is magnificent as Bobby — charismatically isolated, passive and reactive, and look, what’s a more fitting addition to the scene, for a musical from 1970, to have this already-manic number a little more artificially-fuelled than usual?

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Banana, Pear, and Dark Chocolate Muffins


Of all the foods we’ve done a disservice to, muffins are probably low on the apology list, but! I just don’t think muffins should be six dollars, or the size of a sandcastle, or bogged down with too much ostentation. These are a simple, small cake, best homemade, cosy rather than mind-blowing, an accompaniment rather than dessert. Whenever a muffin is too rich or gilded or secretly a brownie or cupcake in a fake moustache and trenchcoat the effect is somewhat unsettling, like being drunk at 9am or regarding a map of Pangea with its sloshed-together outlines of all the countries. Muffins should be calm and small!


So, while these Banana, Pear, and Dark Chocolate Muffins aren’t going to make you rip a portal into time and space to see colours not found in nature, they are indeed calm and small. And not dull, mind you — the tender, banana-based crumb, the softly gritty and autumnally fragrant cubes of pear, and the intense full stop of dark chocolate is wonderful. In fact, it’s a combination that belongs to one of my earliest self-penned recipes in the early-early days of my blog (we’re talking Helen Clark administration early here) in the form of a sorbet, and it’s a pairing I’m always happy to revisit. Something in the classiness of dark chocolate, the workhorsiness of canned pears, and the boorishness of the bananas appeals to me, with the yielding sweetness of the bananas and pears tempered by the chocolate’s bitterness. And vice-versa.


If muffins are a simple cake to behold, they at least are gratifyingly simple to make as well — just one bowl and a fork will do the trick here, and the less stirring you can do once the flour is added the better. If overworked or blended too hard the muffins will come out dry and tough and heavy, so just nudge them into existence and you’ll end up with soft, dream-light cakes. Although muffins are at their best eaten promptly, the bananas lend a helping hand to make these keep well — I’m still working through them four days after baking and they have retained a sprightly freshness — though with each passing day, you may want to zap them in the microwave for twenty seconds to bring them closer to their starting point. A dab of butter wouldn’t be out of the question either. And if you have more bananas to get through — they do tend to ripen all at once out of nowhere — you could also try my Breakfast Banana Bread or my regular old Banana Bread.


Banana, Pear, and Dark Chocolate Muffins

One-bowl, delicious, and they keep well, as far as muffins go. The dark chocolate matches the fragrance of the pears beautifully but you could replace this with milk or white if you prefer, each has its charms. Recipe by myself.

  • 3 medium-sized bananas (around 250g, peeled weight)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup plain oil, eg sunflower or rice bran
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 x 400g tin pear halves
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a muffin tray with paper cases. Mash the three bananas in a large mixing bowl — I find a fork the most effective here — then stir in the half cup of sugar, the quarter cup each of oil and milk, and the teaspoon of vanilla extract.

2: Drain the pears and chop, roughly — you can tip them onto a chopping board, but I just stuck a sharp knife inside the can and jostled it around for a bit which seemed to do the trick. Roughly chop the 100g dark chocolate next, and it’s fine if there are some larger chunks of chocolate and if some of it is more dusty rubble. Stir both the chopped pears and chocolate into the banana mixture.

3: Sieve the two cups of flour, the teaspoon of baking soda, the quarter teaspoon of baking powder and the half teaspoon of salt into the mixing bowl and carefully but decisively fold in the dry ingredients. The important thing with muffins is to not overmix them, so you want to just coax the ingredients together rather than briskly beating them. Divide the mixture between the paper cases in the tin, and bake the muffins for about 25 minutes, until golden and firmly bouncy on top. Repeat this process if you have any mixture left.

The muffins are best eaten soon after baking, but they keep quite well in an airtight container — after a day or so you may want to microwave them back to life before heating, I recommend 20 seconds (any longer and the pears will be destructively hot).

Makes twelve regular-sized muffins, or about eighteen slightly smaller muffins (see notes)


  • If you have regular pears kicking around and want to use them instead, core and chop up two of them.
  • My muffin cases/tins are about 2/3 the size of regular muffin tins — they’re not mini muffins, just a lil smaller — and as such the muffins only needed twenty minutes to cook, if you’re working with a similar-sized tin then the same will likely apply to you.


music lately:

Shot By Both Sides by Magazine, real feels-like-the-first-time-every-time, leaves-you-speechless stuff here.

Planet Z by Idina Menzel, I am above all else a fan of hers and nothing hits quite like 90s Menzel when her voice still had scuff marks on it and she was writing like no one was listening and the production team were, shall we say, invigorated. Anyway, this song rules.

Some Kind of Wonderful by Soul Brothers Six. The joyfulness pinging from this! The Grand Funk cover is pretty well-established but the original outsells, my only qualm is I wish it were longer.

No Good (Start the Dance) by The Prodigy. A masterpiece! Once those vocals kick in around 1:48 it has me feeling stressed out like I’ve just broken a vase while housesitting yet wildly fortified like I could climb the Washington Monument bare-knuckled.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Four-Bean Soup with Kewpie Aioli


It’s the verboten, not-as-intended foods that I’ve always been drawn to — cake batter, cookie dough, pilfered leftovers straight from the fridge, cold canned spaghetti, uncooked 2-minute noodles. To this list, we can add today’s Four-Bean Soup with Kewpie Aioli in its ice-cold, waiting-for-tonight state. Despite the unappetising prospects of congealed barley, I could not stop swiping spoonfuls of it. Luckily for those of you who do not share my deranged tastes, it’s also excellent in the more expected temperature of piping hot — but it does benefit significantly from cooling down before being reheated. In that time the barley hungrily absorbs the murky broth while the beans mind their own business, and the flavour develops from 480p to 1080p in that mysterious way food can do.

When I was a kid every winter would see the stove bearing a bubbling pot of what we called Dog Bone Soup, where some cheap animal limb and a packet of King’s soup mix danced over a low heat, and I marvelled at how much better the soup tasted the next day despite nothing having been added to it — somehow all by themselves the cartilaginous meat, the lentils fuzzed almost into nothing, and the swollen barley all gained so much flavour just by sitting around. You wouldn’t think to look at pearl barley — a greyish-brown grain — that it could have so much power, and yet! Something in its tenderness and rice-fragrant plainness is very comforting and crucial to the success of this dish. I’ve taken the shortcut route with a can of mixed beans, and while there’s nothing stopping you from soaking and simmering each individual variety of dried bean here, the barley does the heavy lifting for making this soup taste like it was cooked for hours with loving, studied intention.

If you don’t have time to let it cool, this soup is still delicious — creamy bumps of beans amidst the barley like the colourwork in a Fair Isle cardigan, the familiar soffrito background of onion, carrot, and celery, and fat cloves of garlic simmered into submission in the soup before being smashed into Kewpie mayo and dolloped continentally into the soup. Although there is a culinary precedent for souping up your soup with aioli, if the idea doesn’t sit right with you it can always be spread over bread for dipping. The sweet lushness of Kewpie and the mellowly simmered garlic, however, add an extra spike of flavour and silky richness as it seeps into the broth. This is simple, soothing food, but not without panache.

I never thought of myself as a soup person but have blogged about it frequently this year — there’s probably some psychological or sociopolitical reason swirling around this decision-making, in the manner of Meryl Streep’s Cerulean Monologue. Whatever it is, soup is good, and should you be of this same mindset there’s also my Tomato and Bread Soup with Fried Carrot Pesto, the Chilled Cannellini Bean Soup with Basil Spinach Oil, and this Roasted Garlic Lentil Soup to consider.

Four-Bean Soup with Kewpie Aioli

A low-stress soup studded with barley and beans, ideal for cold rainy days — it’s all the better if you can let it sit for a while before reheating but if you need it now, it’ll still taste great. Simmering the garlic cloves in the soup before mashing them means their flavour will be softened and any harsh bite removed, without having to roast them. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried celery
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 1L (4 cups) water, plus more for topping up
  • 2 chicken stock cubes
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peel on
  • 1 x 400g tin four-bean mix
  • 1/4 cup Kewpie mayonnaise
  • leaves from 2-3 sprigs of thyme
  • salt, to taste

1: Very finely chop the onion and carrot, or — as I did — chop them into a few large pieces then throw them in a blender or food processor and blitz them into mush. An extra dish to wash is a happy trade-off here in my opinion. Warm the two tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan and then tip in the onion and carrot, along with the teaspoon of dried celery. Stir for about a minute over a medium heat.

2: Add the half cup of pearl barley to the pan, then add 750ml (three cups) of the water. Crumble in the two stock cubes, then drop in the five cloves of garlic, still with their peels on. Bring this mixture to the boil, stirring occasionally, then lower it to a simmer and let it bubble away gently until the pearl barley is tender, stirring now and then. This should take between twenty minutes to half an hour.

3: Once the barley is tender, fish out the garlic cloves and set them aside for a minute. Drain the liquid from the tin of beans, and tip them into the saucepan along with the remaining 250ml/cup of water. Let it simmer for another five or so minutes until the beans are warmed through, and taste for seasoning — I added a hearty shake of salt here, and then more after reheating and topping up with water. Meanwhile, squeeze the cloves of garlic from their casings into a small bowl and mash with a fork, then mix in the 1/4 cup of kewpie mayo. You can add a tablespoon of olive oil to thin it down a little if you like.

The soup is at its best when it’s had time to cool down and sit for a few hours, before being heated up again (at which point you will likely need to add another 250ml water). Divide the soup between your bowls with a dollop of the Kewpie aioli and a scattering of the thyme leaves on top.

Serves two with seconds, or three without.


  • You can replace the teaspoon of dried celery with a whole stick of celery (throw it in the blender or food processor with the onion and carrot) or, failing that, a dash of celery salt, bearing in mind the effect on the seasoning
  • If I’d found a five-bean mix then that’s what this soup would’ve been so go right ahead if that’s what is on your shelf
  • If you have an extra mouth to feed, just throw in a second can of beans instead of doubling the entire soup, but you may need more aioli
  • I love the specific Kewpie flavour, but you could replace it with regular mayo or aioli, or use sour cream instead, or very thick yoghurt would work too

music lately:

No. 1 Fan by Majesty Crush, the kind of swirlingly immersive song that consumes you right back.

El President by Drugstore featuring Thom Yorke, speaking of haunting songs with the lyric “kill the president”, those prowling strings are so sinister they could be accompanying a pneumatically powered prop shark named Bruce as he moves into frame.

Oh, Lady Be Good by Cleo Laine. I recently watched the film Lady Be Good (such is my love for Eleanor Powell that I will follow her into the flimsiest of storylines) and the titular Gershwin tune has been stuck in my head ever since; in Ms Laine’s spectacularly buttery contralto it sounds even better.

Eple by Röyksopp, the actual captured sound of shivers going up your spine.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Simple Rhubarb and Custard Tart


Sometimes when a recipe appears visuals-first to me the result is abundantly successful, like these Marble Heart Cookies. And sometimes, in the case of today’s recipe, which I envisaged decorated with pink plaited ropes of shaved rhubarb fibres to tumultuous applause and frantic, viral sharing, it…simply doesn’t work. The stringy fibres did not braid smoothly, producing a bedraggled, limp and hairball-ish rope that immediately unravelled. So I set aside that folly and continued with this Simple Rhubarb and Custard Tart unadorned but for some green tendrils of thyme, and perhaps it’s for the best: chewing through a fibrous lashing of interlaced rhubarb would be, at the least, counterproductive, and the brink-pink splendour of the rhubarb stems themselves provide their own plentiful visual spectacle.


The custard component is more of a streamlined frangipane-esque paste (but I haven’t actually called it frangipane lest the ghost of Escoffier rises from the dead, leaps through the window, and cudgels me with a jug of mother sauce for squandering the name) using fragrant almonds for their texture and rhubarb-juice-soaking properties and custard powder for its billowing creamy vanilla presence. Rhubarb is so viciously sour — just thinking about it sends shivers up my tastebuds — that it benefits greatly from being surrounded by sweet, smooth ingredients that balance without diluting that bracing fizzy tang. Like putting a scorpion on a sateen cushion and giving it a 1980s glamour photoshoot: there may be vaseline on the lens, yet the sting remains.


The ‘simple’ claim of the title is in earnest. The hardest thing about this recipe is parsing out my instructions for scoring a one-inch border on your sheet of pastry. Once you’ve got that sorted it’s a bit of chopping and arranging and barely twenty minutes in the oven to achieve golden, puffy parapets of pastry surrounding sugar-softened buttresses of rhubarb in the same electrifying carmine as a late-summer sunset. The custard below is gooey and rich without overwhelming the sharpened steel edge of the rhubarb, and the thyme leaves lend a little herbal sophistication and contrast. It’s lively enough to be dessert, but sliceable enough (though I recommend a serrated knife) to serve with coffee or a pot of tea during daylight hours.


Despite my frequent vocal assertion that keeping sheets of ready-rolled pastry in the freezer means you’re prepared for almost anything, I have not actually logged a ton of recipes that use this ingredient. However, if you’re wondering what to do next, I might nudge you in the direction of this Easy Apple Tart recipe. And if you’re blessed with so much rhubarb that this recipe alone cannot adequately serve you, there’s always my Rhubarb, Raspberry, and Cardamom Jam and Vegan Rhubarb Panna Cotta.


Simple Rhubarb and Custard Tart

A gorgeous and easy rhubarb tart, sour-sweet like fizzy candy, with flaky puff-pastry bearing tender rhubarb stems like tubes of pink liquid lipstick on a shelf. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 sheet of frozen ready-rolled puff pastry (roughly 25x25cm)
  • 1 tablespoon custard powder
  • 2 tablespoons milk, plus extra for brushing
  • 2 tablespoon sugar, plus 2 extra tablespoons for the rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon each almond and vanilla extract (optional)
  • 250g trimmed rhubarb stems
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1: Set your oven to 200C/400F. Cover a baking tray/cookie sheet with baking paper, and set your pastry square on the paper. Score a 1-inch border on the pastry by running the tip of a sharp knife over it to draw a smaller square inside the edges — without actually slicing through — and then stab the square of pastry inside that border in a few places. This will make the border puff up while the central square stays flat once the tart is in the oven.

2: Stir the tablespoon of custard powder and two tablespoons of milk together in a small bowl then stir in the first two tablespoons of sugar (reserving the remainder for the rhubarb), the half cup of ground almonds, the quarter teaspoon of salt, and the quarter teaspoon each of vanilla and almond extracts, if you’re using them. Chop the rhubarb into lengths that will fit within the central square of the pastry — as you can see I went for a sort of alternating size vibe, but whatever works.

3: Spread the almond-custard mixture in a thin, even layer over the internal/central square in your sheet of pastry, then arrange the rhubarb slices on top, making sure to keep them within the scored border. Sprinkle the remaining two tablespoons of sugar over the rhubarb, brush the pastry border with a little milk, and bake the tart for about 18 minutes, or until the border is puffed and golden brown (though keep an eye on it if your oven runs hot, as burnt pastry has little to redeem itself.)

Sprinkle the thyme leaves over the cooked tart and let it sit, out of the oven, for ten minutes before slicing it into pieces with a serrated knife. This is best consumed on the day it’s made, after which point the pastry starts to wilt, but there is something to be said for fridge-cold leftovers.

Note: if you don’t have thyme you could use fresh rosemary leaves instead, or leave out the herb element altogether. If you don’t have custard powder you can use the same quantity of cornflour (cornstarch) plus a little extra vanilla extract.


music lately:

Autobahn by Kraftwerk. Sometimes you need to listen to a sternly whimsical sitcom-length song that is so far ahead of its time that it’s still ahead of our current time, that makes you not so much feel like you’re driving but like you are in fact a car itself, anthropomorphically enjoying the road endlessly regenerating beneath you.

Leave Them All Behind by Ride. To be honest, you could turn it off right after those tremulous raindrop-staccato organ riffs at the start and it would still be an all-timer.

Tell Me by Groove Theory, an objectively perfect R’n’B song. Objectively!

Mood Indigo by Duke Ellington, as featured in Paris Blues, this could make you feel warm and relaxed in the middle of an icy tundra, but then just as you’re getting too somnolently cosy these strident ripples of horns come in to alter your brain chemistry.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Oven-baked Pearl Couscous with Pumpkin, Sundried Tomatoes, and Feta


For someone whose music and movie consumption is almost entirely dominated by the increasingly distant past (as a quick scan through the “music lately” section of these blog posts and my Letterboxd diary will corroborate) I am not particularly nostalgic nor am I interested in dwelling on the past. As Logan Roy succinctly stated: it’s just there’s so much of it. However, nothing makes me quite so heart-wrenchingly, Dorothy-watching-the-Wizard-fly-off-in-a-balloon desolate for days gone by as being unable to truly, accurately re-experience the key food product moments of my childhood. Squiggles biscuits aren’t the same, cheap chocolate tastes cheaper but costs more, the sweet, pillowy, sesame-studded special occasion treat that was Country Split bread disappeared into the ether, and Kango biscuits, Boomys and Fruju Tropical Snow were cruelly discontinued. The jury is still out on mock cream buns and Vienettas but while the odds aren’t positive, I’ll keep an open mind. And, perhaps most egregious of all, Wattie’s did something capricious and unforgivable to their canned spaghetti — a staple childhood food group for me, frequently cold, straight from the tin — and now their pasta has no structural integrity and their sauce tastes dim and milquetoast.

So, upon realising I’d accidentally reverse-engineered the flavour of the canned spaghetti of my childhood memories in this Oven-baked Pearl Couscous with Pumpkin, Sundried Tomatoes, and Feta I entered a kind of haunted culinary trance, and once the dust settled and clarity resumed, I realised my dad may have been not entirely in the grips of a conspiracy theory when he’d always insist they padded out their spaghetti sauce with pumpkin in the factory.


If you’re reading this from outside of New Zealand or if you were not someone whose young blood ran orange with canned spaghetti, let me offer some more relevant descriptive context for this dish. Being a food blogger (of terminally Charlotte Lucas means and prospects) in the midst of this avaricious and unceasing cost of living crisis feels rather like being the dog in that meme where the room is on fire and they say “this is fine“. There’s no method of economically cooking your way out of this because everything that used to cost one dollar now costs ten dollars and everything that used to cost ten dollars is now forty dollars and I’m not going to pretend that my recipes are budget-friendly or a way to make something out of nothing. Budgeting is irrelevant when broccoli costs $7 on a good day, to try and budget in this cost of living crisis is like trying to play chess with a football or planting pencil shavings in the ground and hoping a tree will grow from them. That being said! This recipe came about because I was weary of the overpriced, wilted, and often mouldy fresh produce in the chain supermarkets and wanted a recipe that relied on shelf-stable, long-lasting ingredients. The couscous, condensed pumpkin soup, and sundried tomatoes will last indefinitely, unopened packaged cheese generally keeps for ages in the fridge, and the lemon juice comes from a bottle. The herbs are fresh, but the dish won’t suffer much without them (and rosemary lasts hardily and staunchly in the fridge — the stuff in the photos is about three weeks old.)

Sure, this evokes the poignant memory of back-in-the-day spaghetti that has tormented me like a tomato sauce stain on a plastic storage container, but it’s elegant with it — the Rothko-esque red and white of the sundried tomatoes and feta and their bolstering salty richness, the softly bulging beads of couscous bathed in the sweet mellow pumpkin, the coppice-y fragrance of rosemary. The toppings galvanise the dish. But the couscous below, the titular pearls of pasta in miniature, is confidently compelling and gives comfort food without compromising on aesthetics or structure. As well as this, you get a foolproof way of cooking pearl couscous without having to pay much attention to anything other than your clock timer — you can dial this method back to just the pearl couscous and stock in the oven and then use it as a base or stir in anything else you like. Having primarily made pearl couscous on the stove top, I honestly think the oven is the superior way as far as taste, texture, and hands-off ease goes.

And if you’re after ways of using up the rest of that jar of sundried tomatoes, you might consider my Vegan Spaghetti Bolognese or Creamy Gochujang Tomato Pasta. I had it in my head that I had way more recipes featuring sundried tomatoes, clearly I have some making up to do.

Oven-baked Pearl Couscous with Pumpkin, Sundried Tomatoes, and Feta

Near-effortless elegant comfort food made using long-life pantry items and only a couple of dishes. You can use this oven-baked cooking method to cook the couscous on its own and springboard off to other creations. Recipe by myself.

  • 3/4 cup pearl couscous
  • 1 and 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 chicken stock cube, or flavour of your choice
  • 1 x 400g tin condensed pumpkin soup
  • 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 100g feta (vegan feta recipe here)
  • The leaves from two stems of rosemary

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F. Place the 3/4 cup pearl couscous and 1 and 1/2 cups boiling water in a roasting dish (the one I used has a capacity of 1 litre/4 cups, anything smaller and it won’t fit). Crumble in the stock cube, give the couscous a stir, then cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, by which point the couscous grains should be tender and swollen with all the water absorbed.

2: Gently stir the tin of condensed pumpkin soup into the couscous and return the roasting dish, uncovered, to the oven for another five minutes. While this is happening, blitz the 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes, the two tablespoons of tomato paste, two teaspoons lemon juice, half teaspoon of smoked paprika, and three tablespoons of olive oil in a blender to form a richly-red puree. Depending on the size and speed of your blender this may be super smooth or significantly textured (like mine was), either is fine so no need to stress about it.

3: To serve, drop spoonfuls of the sundried tomato puree onto the couscous and crumble over the 100g feta, and finally scatter over the rosemary leaves from the two stems.

Serves two heartily as a main, or three to four people as a side dish on a well-laden table.


  • You can replace the condensed pumpkin soup with about 1 and 1/2 cups leftover pumpkin puree or mash, bearing in mind that you might need additional seasoning.
  • The condensed nature of the soup is important, texturally, so if you can only find the non-condensed variety that’s more liquidy, you may need to bake it for another ten or so minutes.
  • If you don’t have rosemary, I’d sub basil or fresh thyme leaves instead — both have a similar resiny, fragrant quality. And if you don’t have any fresh herbs then it’ll still taste fine without them, or you could use a slight dusting of dried herbs.
  • You can easily boost this up to 1 cup couscous/2 cups boiling water without changing any of the other quantities (except you’ll need a slightly bigger roasting dish to cook it in, of course.)
  • For the record, my 1/3 cup of sundried tomatoes were pre-chopped in the jar, if you’re using whole sundried tomatoes you might want to make that 1/3 cup a generous one to account for the space.

music lately:

Railwayed by Kitchens of Distinction, kind of tugs on the heart and makes you feel miserable and soaring of spirit at the same time (with an agreeable, and I’m guessing unintentional, hint of The Stairs by INXS.)

What’s Golden by Jurassic 5, a song so excellent and immediately classic-sounding that it could have easily been made five to seven years earlier than its release date.

They Can’t Take That Away From Me, performed by Maureen McGovern — something in that soft, jazzy piano and those drum brushes and that Gershwin cadence is so hypnotic, as though it’s nearing Christmas and Norah Ephron is frantically writing every word that’s about to come out of my mouth in real time. Impossible to mention Ms McGovern and her immense talent without also bringing up Little Jazz Bird where she impeccably harmonises with the flute.

Spik and Span by The Gordons. My brother and I were discussing what the best local album of all time was, of course I immediately said the 1994 New Zealand Cast Recording of Jesus Christ Superstar and he said The Gordons’ first album, and since our tastes tend to overlap (in one direction, no one else I know is listening to this Jesus Christ Superstar album) I took him at his word and as per usual he was correct, this is just the kind of crashingly downcast post-punk type noise that I am always willing to become obsessed with.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Pumpkin Seed Pastry Hearts


Call it Occam’s Cost-of-Living-Crisis Razor: sometimes the cheapest solution is the best one. Or at least, comparable. This recipe started life using pistachios, because I am a simple woman who will always be swayed by the glamour of that specific drupe. As is often the case the easiest recipes require the most testing — and by round three of working out the precise ratio of honey to sugar to oven heat I replaced the pistachios with pumpkin seeds as a less expensive green placeholder. Before you know it, we had a Shirley MacLaine/Carol Haney/The Pajama Game situation on our hands, where the bigtime producers were in town on the one day the understudy went on for the star. The pumpkin seeds performed proficiently, so pumpkin seeds it is.


Rolling stuff up into pastry is a tale as old as time, but I wanted to create something that would place a questioning, haunting memory of the flavour and fragrance of baklava in the eater’s mind, while also being very adorably heart-shaped. As you can see from the photos — and as I freely admit! – these pastry hearts are ramshackle and unique in a way that may require some generosity of spirit. They’re homely. They’re quaint. They’re whatever you need to tell yourself. Somewhere out there in the internet likely exists a method for making perfect, Balanchine-uniform pastry hearts, but neither you nor I are going to find that out here.


These hearts are as charming to eat as they are to behold. Tenderly crisp pastry clenched around chewy, honey-soaked pulverised pumpkin seeds, dusted with a whisper of cinnamon and threaded with orange zest. The buttery nuttiness of the pumpkin seeds provides abundant richness and texture — though if you’ve got pistachios to hand then feel free to use them instead, you won’t be sorry — and the cinnamon and orange waft their perfume with a mysterious elegance.


Somehow they’re fiddly and easy to make at the same time, by which I mean, they take about five minutes but you need your wits about you to manage rolling the pastry edges to the centre, cutting slices, dealing with bits of pumpkin seed falling out and sticky fingers and trusting the process as you pinch the bottom points of the heart shapes and so on. But the taste, and the truly heartwarming sight of all those proudly coiled hearts, puffed up gold and dense green, rewards your toil immediately.

I’d happily serve these with coffee after dinner, and if you want to make a whole thing of it you could go the visually thematic route and offer my Chocolate Caramel Hearts and Marble Heart Cookies alongside. Alternatively, I’d rustle up a quick batch of Nigella’s eternally fantastic Chocolate Pistachio Fudge (using or not using the titular pistachios as you see fit) and pile both on the biggest plate you’ve got, filling in the gaps with whichever delicious seasonal fruit is the least audaciously priced, plus dates, walnuts, and dried apricots, or something to that effect from the bulk bin section of the supermarket, thus letting the hearts shine without any similarly-shaped culinary competition.


Pumpkin Seed Pastry Hearts

Adorable ramshackle hearts made of pastry curled around pumpkin seeds with just a little orange zest and cinnamon. A gentle evocation of the flavours of baklava, and a reminder that it’s useful to always have a package of pastry in your freezer. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 square sheet ready-rolled frozen flaky puff pastry
  • 1/2 cup (70g) pumpkin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • the zest from an orange
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons runny honey
  • 1 teaspoon milk of your choice
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a baking/cookie sheet with baking paper. Remove your square of puff pastry from the freezer and sit it on the baking tray to let it defrost, which should only take a few minutes.

2: Place the half cup of pumpkin seeds in a blender or food processor and pulse several times to pulverise the seeds into sandy, textured rubble – it’s fine if there are some bigger pieces here and there but it should be fairly gritty and fine-textured overall.

3: Tip the processed pumpkin seeds into a mixing bowl and stir in the three tablespoons of sugar, the orange zest, and the pinch of salt. Thoroughly mix in the two tablespoons of runny honey till the pumpkin seeds form damp crumbs and resemble a greenish streusel topping. (Also, if your honey is decidedly un-runny, microwave it briefly in a measuring jug first.)

4: Brush the sheet of pastry with the teaspoon of milk, and scatter the pumpkin seed mixture over the pastry in an even layer. Now comes the heart assembly, which I hope I can explain adequately. First, carefully roll the pastry up starting from the side closest to you, stopping in the middle of the square. Now, roll the remaining side towards you, till it meets in the middle, forming two parallel coiled connected tubes of pastry. Brush this pastry log with the two teaspoons of olive oil, and use a sharp knife to cut slices about 1cm (1/2 an inch) wide. These slices should resemble very squat, rounded hearts, so now pinch the pastry at the base of each slice to form the point of the heart. Don’t worry if it looks a little messy or ramshackle or if some of the filling falls out — once baked, the puffed-up pastry and caramelised sugar will bring it all together. You can also give the curved tops of the hearts a gentle pinch/push if they are threatening to fall away from each other. The pastry behaves best when it’s cool, so if it’s a very hot day or everything just feels like it’s getting a bit too warm, place the pastry in the fridge for ten minutes at any point during the heart assembly.

5: Bake the hearts – after shifting them around on the baking tray so they’re spaced evenly — for about twelve to fifteen minutes, or until the pastry is puffed up and lightly golden. Dust the cooked hearts with the 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, and allow them to cool. Don’t worry if the sugar and honey have significantly darkened on the underside of the hearts, so long as it’s not pitch-black it will still taste delicious.

Makes around 16 pastry hearts. Store in an airtight container and consume within a couple of days.


  • If you don’t eat honey, replace it with the same quantity of golden syrup. I wouldn’t recommend agave (too sweet) or maple syrup (too liquid), but if you’re in America and can’t easily get hold of golden syrup, then light corn syrup should be fine.
  • Should you have pistachios handy, you’ll need 2/3 of a cup of them instead of the half cup of pumpkin seeds, because the latter are smaller and therefore more of them fit into the measuring cup.
  • There are usually incidentally vegan puff pastry brands available at the supermarket, so it’s worth checking the ingredients.
  • The puff pastry squares are, at a guess, about 25x25cm, if you only have non-prerolled pastry to hand.
    For any Americans reading — if it’s not already clear — when I say “pumpkin seeds” I am referring to the hulled kind, which you might also know as pepitas.


music lately:

Clouds of Dawn by Dead Moon. Fred Cole’s voice was in that Neil Young vein of what you might call particular, but it embiggens the scrappy and plaintive qualities of this excellent song.

7 by Prince. This chorus is so addictive that there has to be a scientific explanation behind it. Perhaps psychological? Something’s going on there!

Let it Dive, by …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, feels like floating happily out to sea towards the sunset while dolphins leap into the air at a safe distance. Those strings! Those drums!

The Last Midnight from Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, performed by Patina Miller in the recent Broadway revival. This song is so immediately sinister and nightmarish with a mere flick of a chord progression and the looming horror of the title, and Patina’s masterful build from soft and measured to massive — and the way she sings “you’re not good you’re not bad you’re just nice/I’m not good I’m not nice I’m just right” sends tiptoes down my spine. I also hugely enjoyed Hannah Waddingham belting this song in green velvet and a Velma Kelly wig, but that production cut the iconic good/bad/nice line and I think the song suffers somewhat for its loss. (And why not make it a tasting flight with Bernadette Peters’ original interpretation: brittle, sardonic, terrifying, truly the owner of this song.)

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Truffle Mushroom Pasta with Gremolata


As a food writer, truffle oil — the closest I’m getting to that elusive mushroom these days — poses an engaging challenge for my powers of description. Can I get away with saying it has notes of armpit, if said armpit belonged to someone wildly attractive? Can something smell silky? If I say it tastes like running your fingers through the cool, mossy detritus on a forest floor while holding a roasted bulb of garlic in your mouth — without chewing! — will that make sense? That it tastes like being proposed to by a crackling fire in an alpine lodge that’s been in your family for generations?

Either way, you can see how we’re only working with a couple of drops of it at a time here.


That being said, you can leave out the truffle oil and this will still be a fantastically delicious mushroom pasta, so if all that talk of armpits and detritus is too much for your sensibilities, or if you simply don’t like the taste of truffle or you — quite reasonably — don’t have access to a bottle of truffle oil, there’s no need to miss out. Mushrooms themselves are no slouch in the arena of flavour that inspires overcooked metaphors, especially when you have a mix of oyster mushrooms and brown Swiss buttons as I have here — oysters for texture and delicately pronounced fungal richness, brown buttons for barky intensity, along with a sweetening splash of mirin (as with last week’s recipe, successfully taking the place of the wine I would’ve used if I’d had it) plus some herbs that echo the sylvan nature of the mushrooms.


Putting a full stop on all that headiness is a handful of gremolata, that enlivening fluff comprising parsley, lemon zest, and garlic — I sliced my lemon zest by hand with a knife so that tiny bursts of lemon oil would pierce through the sumptuous pasta, and the sheer freshness of the gremolata is an ideal contrast to that which it covers. I was delightedly surprised to find the frilly fettuccine you see in the pictures at the supermarket by San Remo, an everyday workhorse pasta company. A new pasta shape dropping from a bottom shelf brand is like hearing a new planet has been discovered — at least it is in this economy — and I love the way this fettuccine gathers the mushrooms and herbs up in its ruffled skirts. Any long pasta will do nicely here though — regular fettuccine, linguine, bucatini, or that most reliable stalwart workhorse herself, spaghetti.


The funghi component of this recipe is inspired by the mushroom ragout in Nigella Lawson’s seminal text How To Eat, and you could certainly subtract the pasta from the equation and serve these mushrooms, or an expanded quantity thereof, over polenta or mashed root vegetables or in any such capacity as you desire. And should you be needing further mushroom motivation, you could consider Nigella’s Pasta with Lemon, Garlic and Thyme Mushrooms, my Fast Crispy Sweet Chilli Oyster Mushrooms, or my Green Garlic Oyster Mushrooms.


Truffle Mushroom Pasta with Gremolata

A heady mouthful of truffle-tinted fried mushrooms tangled through long pasta, this dish is classically elegant and incredibly delicious — and if you don’t have (or want) truffle oil, just leave it out. The mushrooms can stand on their own two feet just fine. Recipe by myself, though inspired by Nigella Lawson’s mushroom ragout in How To Eat.

  • 150g oyster mushrooms
  • 150g brown button mushrooms
  • 25g butter or 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt for the pasta water, and to taste
  • 200g long pasta (eg fettuccine, spaghetti, bucatini)
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 stock cube of your choice
  • 250ml water
  • leaves from a stem of thyme
  • leaves from a sprig of rosemary
  • A couple drops of white truffle oil
  • 15g Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • zest of a lemon
  • 1 clove garlic, extra

1: Wipe any dirt from the mushrooms with a paper towel and trim the clustered ends from the oyster mushrooms. Slice the oyster mushrooms into strips about 1cm wide, and slice the brown button mushrooms thinly. Heat the 25g butter or two tablespoons olive oil in a large, wide frying pan and tumble in the sliced mushrooms, letting them cook over a high heat, stirring and turning occasionally until the mushrooms have reduced in size, browned in places, and the liquid released from them has evaporated. This took me about twenty minutes — don’t rush this step, as the mushrooms really do need to cook down in their own good mysterious time. While the mushrooms are sizzling, bring a large pan of water to the boil and, once it’s boiling, salt it generously. Transfer the cooked mushrooms to a bowl and set aside. Turn off the heat from the mushroom pan, but leave it where it is.

2: Add the 200g pasta to the pan of boiling water, and cook for ten to twelve minutes or until al dente. While this is happening, finely dice the red onion and crush or dice the first garlic clove. In the same, now-empty pan that you cooked the mushrooms in, gently fry the diced onion and garlic over a low heat for a couple minutes until softened. Stir in the two tablespoons of mirin, letting it bubble up, and then stir in the two teaspoons of flour and then crumble in the stock cube. Slowly add half the water and stir it into the onion mixture, which should become thick and saucy as the flour absorbs the water. Add the remaining half cup of water, or as much of it as you need, if the mixture is too thick. Return the mushrooms to the hot pan, along with the thyme and rosemary leaves, and stir to warm through.

3: Remove the pan of mushrooms from the heat and stir in a couple drops of white truffle oil. Drain the pasta and stir it into the mushrooms. Make the gremolata by roughly chopping the 15g of Italian parsley and finely dicing or crushing the garlic clove, and mix them together in a small bowl with the zest of a lemon.

4: Check the pasta for seasoning, and to see if it wants a little more truffle oil. Divide the pasta between two plates and scatter with the gremolata.

Serves 2.


  • You can play around with quantities and varieties of mushrooms — even if all you can find is white button mushrooms this will still taste good.
  • If you have a bottle of red open, or some Marsala handy, you can absolutely use that instead of the mirin.


music lately:

Bring it On by Organized Konfusion, just two verses and a very to-the-point chorus but those verses pin you to the wall! The way Pharoahe Monche kneads the syntax like it were bread dough and rhymes “lobotomy” with “pottery”!

Sunshine by Alice in Chains, Layne Staley’s voice is as much an instrument as anything else going on here: slinky, gravelly, sinewy, gargantuan.

Mother’s Day sung by Sherie Rene Scott from the Broadway musical adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar’s utterly glorious Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Despite its astronomically stacked cast this musical, for reasons I can’t fathom, was not well-received and didn’t last long. At least we have the cast recording; this number sung by Ms Scott is so wistful and acoustic it could almost be an early-to-mid-90s singer/songwriter track that got to number 37 on the hot 100 charts.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!